Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Did you lose your keys at Lands End?

My sister, who is visiting for Christmas, found a set of keys at Lands End in San Francisco on Monday, Dec. 22. We put up signs, but on the chance that these are your keys and you are searching the Web with keywords like San Francisco, keys, prism, lost, Lands End, Sutro Baths, El Camino del Mar, Seal Rock, e-mail me at sherel@sfchronicle.com.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloweens I Have Known

When I was a kid, my mom sewed my Halloween costumes. They were great; my faves were the clown (age 4) and Indian (age 5). And none involved a mask, which she felt might inhibit my ability to see or breathe. (Similarly, we never carved pumpkins, merely decorated them.)
Apparently, the mass marketing of millions of face masks -- none of whose owners ended up suing the manufacturer for injury -- did nothing to assuage her fear.

When I was in fifth grade or so, at the same time my mom was working at Di'Iorio's variety store in the Park 'N Shop shopping center, I was allowed to incorporate masks into my costumes. But not until after she'd taken scissors to them and enlarged the eye, nostril and mouth openings.

To this day, I choose mask-free costumes. Go figure.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Objects In My Past Are Closer Than They Appear

OK, first of all, apropos of nothing, I rode on a Ferris Wheel this morning. It was all part of the dedication of the renovations at Lands End, which just might be my favorite place in the world, aside from Phillip's Park in Newark, Del. I love carnivals! (I am planning a trip to Disneyland, where I've never been!)

More to the point of this entry, however, are my parents, and how current events are making me miss them more than ever.

First, my dad was a political sponge. He taught me to vote, every time I had a chance. This will be the first presidential election for which he will not be around to vote. And damn, I miss what he would have to say about it. Surely, he would be attracted to the idea that Joe Biden (my take on him here) finally made it on the executive ticket. But would it be enough to sway the vote of my WWII veteran father?

Secondly, though my lovely mom passed away in 1990, I can't help but feel her presence as I contemplate the Phillies entering the first World Series since 1980, whose games I watched with her on TV.

Mom, Dad -- I don't think either of you realized how much love you sowed. I miss you. But you are still with me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

From Here to Eternity (That's What I Can See)

My eyes still feel a bit scratchy after my surgery, but there's no doubt about it: I now have perfect vision. (20/15 as of my morning-after checkup, and I don't believe the chart gets any better than that.)

Here's the weird thing: I feel vaguely guilty about the whole thing! Is it my Catholic upbringing? My lingering Polish pessimism?

I mean, it just feels so weird to have undergone such a -- really -- miraculous transformation in literally less than 15 minutes.

I'm waiting for the other cornea to drop ...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Doctor, My Eyes Have Seen the Years

Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan with my Lasik surgery, I will no longer need glasses or contacts to see whether that's a cat or a shoe on the floor.

Of course, since I'm a pessimistic Pole, I have a hard time believing everything will go smoothly. And I feel vaguely guilty paying so much for elective surgery (it doesn't help that all of a sudden, everyone at work thinks I look adorable in glasses). It also doesn't help that my boss says things like, "So, you're getting your head cut open tomorrow?" and "You know, sometimes the laser malfunctions and goes into your brain."

It wasn't until I decided to undergo corrective surgery that I realized how I have measured the phases of my life with my glasses and contacts.

Once a year in grade school, we would line up at the vision testing machine and, when it was our turn, look into this magical device and call out letters, or discern numbers within a kaleidoscope of colored dots.
I am a geek now, so it's no surprise that I was a geek then. In the way that I couldn't wait to get braces, I waited for the year that I would need glasses.

Fifth grade was it.

My mom took me to order my glasses, and I could barely wait the two weeks it took for them to come in. On the ride home with my new specs, I looked at the signs on Main Street. "Were they there before?" I asked my parents. "Am I supposed to be able to read them?"

With sixth grade came new glasses with light-sensitive lenses that turned dark in the sun (see photo).

Then came the glasses with the curvy arms, and the gold monogram letters in the lower lens corner.

At 16, I was permitted to purchase my first soft contacts. Then there were the colored contacts, which made my eyes sea green.

College, it was John Lennon-style glasses.

After 9-11, TV anchor Ashleigh Banfield inspired the glasses I am wearing as I type this.

But as of tomorrow, fingers crossed, I will need none of the above.

I feel like I'm a participant in Extreme Makeover, but the "reveal" isn't the world seeing a new me: It's me seeing a new world.

I'm ready for my reveal.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Delaware: Small Wonder, or Woot, Woot! No more, "What state's that in?"

My sister called me the Saturday morning Obama picked his running mate. "Turn on CNN!" she said breathlessly. "Can you see me?"

Luckily, I knew that our Delaware homeboy, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, was in the mix for vice presidential nominee, or I would've about crapped my pajamas, imagining her amid a terrorist attack or somesuch.

But my sister inherited from my father a gene that carries a rabid interest in politics. I knew where she was, all right. She'd gone to Joe's house.

Oh, she's not a stalker or anything -- lots of people were there. Because that's what you can do in Delaware -- just traipse on over to the vice presidential nominee's lawn to wish him good luck.

And in fact, I did see her. I took a picture of the TV to prove it. That's right -- there she is taking a picture of the CNN camera, which is taking her picture, and there I am taking a picture of the TV. Do you feel all Escher yet?

I continued watching CNN, for Obama's introduction of old Joe (my brother as a state trooper had served as his body guard), and Biden's speech, and I have to admit feeling some pride in being from the Little State That Could.

And so it was that after scheming for summers with my girlfriends about how we could escape the First State, and spending years carefully listening to my speech so as to rid myself of the accent (trust me, there IS an accent), I promptly wrestled that cute little state into a Blue Hen bear hug and squeezed its toes (and that would be pronounced with a long, nasally "o").

If you are among those for whom Delaware conjures a memory of 10 minutes on I-95, here's what makes the state special to me -- aside from the fact that it had so little going on that it jumped right on in and became the first state to ratify the U.S. Consititution way back when.

Know the Heimlich Maneuver? Sure you do. But you wouldn't had it not been for Delaware Dr. Henry Heimlich (who really needs to share credit with Maryland and Pennsylvania, because you perform the move in Delaware, that's where the dislodged food ends up).

Among other Delaware natives you might have heard of: Elisabeth Shue, Valerie Bertinelli, Sugar Ray Leonard, Ken Burns (who lived three houses away from mine when his dad taught at U of D), Robert Mitchum, Ryan Phillippe and George Thorogood.

Delaware has one area code. How damn cute is that?

And with a population of roughly 850,000 (just about 100,000 more than the city of San Francisco and nearly 200,000 more than the entire state of Alaska), the DMV hasn't yet reached the need to add letters to its license plates. Drivers even have a decent chance of scoring a vanity license plate that says simply, "nurse" (or, in the case of an erstwhile high school chum, "Halen," but that's another story).

There is no sales tax. It was such a foreign concept to me growing up that as an elementary school student on a trip to Amish country, I thought the cashier was charging me a personal penalty when she announced that the tiny green rubber elephant I wanted to buy at the gift store would be a few more cents than the price sticker. (Don't ask why the Amish were trucking with green rubber elephants; I just remember I quickly lost interest in it after Bryan Amoroso promptly pulled off its trunk upon our return to our second grade classroom.)

And did you know that every fallen U.S. serviceman returns through the Dover Air Force Base? It's the country's only continental mortuary for the Department of Defense.

So let's give it up for this Small Wonder and my 15 minutes of feeling like I'm from a state where, like, people visit on purpose.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Made From Real Turkey Eggs, or Only a Pole

My ancestral past has always intrigued me. Being a late addition for my mom and dad -- at ages 42 and 44, respectively -- I never knew my grandparents, who died before I was born. My parents didn't seem to know much about their parents' pasts, or at least they didn't talk to me about it.

Here's what I gleaned: Mom's dad was from Minsk, now in Belarus, and her mother from Vienna. They came over on "the boat" when he was about 17; she was several years younger. I have no idea if they knew each other before they sailed, or met on the vessel. He apparently was illiterate, and an agent at Ellis Island gave him his last name, I imagine based on how he pronounced it, as it would have been written in Cyrillic.

My dad's mom was born to Polish immigrants; his father came from Warsaw. My dad knew Polish. I never learned, but he was proud of his heritage, and early on I became familiar with the Polish eagle, which adorned his license plate (in Delaware, you are only issued a rear plate and can put whatever you like on the front). A miniature Polish flag flew on my dad's desk and his tie tack. I joined my parents on annual pilgrimages to the Shrine of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa., and shared "oplatek" on Christmas Eve. You can imagine my father's pleasure at the election of Pope John Paul II, the first Polish pope.

On my recent trip to visit my sister, we made a pilgrimage to the Shrine and fell in love with it and all things Polish. Separately, apparently, my brother also had been investigating his Polish roots. And, he placed me on the mailing list for a catalog of all things Polish. How convenient.

I began this post with my reverance for my Polish roots, because from here on, it's going to sound like I'm poking fun at them. But only in the "I-can-make-fun-of-my-sister-but-you-can't" kind of way. Because while I find these things about the catalog hysterical, they endear me even more to my people, because this makes it even clearer that Poland is from whence my DNA came.

I will start with the date of the catalog I just received: Winter 2007/2008. It's August. Well, I figured, it is rather an arcane subject; perhaps they just don't publish often. So I looked on their Web site*: There was an Easter 2008 catalog. Which they didn't send me; instead, shortly after receiving the first catalog from last winter, I received another one. For last winter.

This catalog is so juicy, I spent several minutes on the cover alone. Beginning with the free gift for those who order at least $100 worth of items: A Polska dog tag, retail value of $14.95. Limited to the first 750 orders. Now that, my friend, is an incentive to purchase!

Then there are the hand-painted turkey eggs, which, the catalog says, are "Made from real turkey eggs!" (Well, I wasn't inclined to doubt you, but just the same, glad to know there's truth in your advertising ...)

Being a religious culture -- and, well, it being the (last) Christmas catalog and all -- in addition to the egg ornaments, we have our pick of a variety of creches (that would be a manger scene to you uninitiated). Ah, here's one now, perfect for the eco-obsessed Californian: A creche handmade out of natural products. "The artist uses wood, plaster, paper, bark, moss and selected grass planted for hay." That suits me -- I can't tell you the number of hours I spent in my childhood picking plaster. Good times.

As you may or may not know, Slavic folks tend to be a tad pessimistic. (As my father used to say, "I'd get excited about this good turn if I didn't know the other shoe was going to drop.") Hence, the "Typhoon sub clock," originally made for the Soviet Navy's nuclear subs and warships -- until the Reds fell on tough economic times. The catalog folks "cajoled" the factory into making "a few just for us," and voila! you, too, can own a clock that can "survive depths to 2,000 feet" as well as "depth charge concussions." That takes a load off my mind (you who have heard me snore will understand).

Indeed, there are a number of military replicas -- some authentic -- including "East German Police Submission Handcuffs" (incidentally, now banned for German police use). Ah, the good old days! When these cuffs were used to subdue "troublemakers" by "non-lethal" means. "With a quick flick of the wrist and a sharp twist, even the most obnoxious hooligan comes along quietly." Come to think of it, these might be of use on my reporters ...

Another tempting item is the "2 way Polish Army telephone," with whose discovery I began to doubt my dad was really Polish, as my engagement wasn't really necessary for most of our conversations. But I digress. If you choose to purchase one of these items for $29.95, be assured that, "All phones are used but are in good condition. These are probably in working order but are not tested."

Again, being a religious culture, we have our page of rosaries. The descriptions make it easy to pick which one I want: Only the Amber Rosary can be used "for all your praying needs." I, for one, am tired for having a separate rosary for everything.

And what's a rosary without a rosary box to keep it in? May I suggest the "Mary feeding" motif? Yes, that would be Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus. (If you are taken with this motif, but already have a rosary box, you might want to take a look at the silver-plated wall mounted icon of the same theme.)

But let's get down to brass tacks, so to speak, and flip to the crucifix selection. Here, I am happy to report that two of the three models offered are "ready to hang on your wall." Which is a relief, as it was a real downer to have to hammer in the nails myself on my old one.

But wait, there's more. I would say in one-quarter of the items, the catalog either ask you to "please allow us to select a color for you," or -- in the case of hats -- a size. After all, "Who am I to know what I want, or expect to get what I pay for?" (said in Eeyore voice.)

Indeed, the catalog pulls no punches; it even warns that your item -- once they pick it out for you -- might not even arrive intact. Take the "Spider of Straw" decoration. "Although we pack carefully to minimize movement, some crushing may occur," the description reads, adding, "Size is approximately 16"x 28", but may be different." ("I'm lucky to get what they give me," my inner Eeyore intones.)

Then comes the order form, which addresses "limited quantities and copy errors," advising that "All prices and discounts listed may change at no further notice," but you're responsible for whatever the "correct" price is.

Oh, and all defective merchandise? Must be returned in "factory condition." Um, if it was in factory condition, I wouldn't be returning it! Of course, in any case, expect to pay a 15 percent "restocking fee." To put the defective merchandise back on your virtual shelf, to sell to someone else?

The takeaway: Choose what you want; you might get it, might not. It might work, might not. Might be at the price listed, might not. Might fit, might not. And if they permit you to send it back, you'll have to pay them.


As my friends and I say ... Only a Pole.

Still, I can't wait to see what they pick out for me.

* What, you think I'm going to give you the URL? And have the first 750 Polska dog tags gone when I order? What do you take me for? A Pole?

Monday, August 04, 2008

You Can't Go Home Again -- Or Can You?

Growing up, I couldn't wait to get out of Delaware. Now that I've been gone 15 years, I can appreciate its charm, the memories I built and the friends I made there long ago.

It's been about two weeks since I returned from visiting my sister, with whom I had a heck of a time. For many people, this would mean partying, drinking and ill-advised hijinks (which otherwise I highly condone), but we Haven sisters have our own style of fun. We're total dorks.

One of the high points (I'm still awaiting video to post, ahem) is when we discovered that the mercurial calico cat my sister inherited from my father not only loves hanging out in cardboard boxes, but being pulled around the house's hardwood floors in them. This led my sister to create a sled ("sanki" in Polish, which in our dorky manner we studied as well), complete with cloth placemat affixed to the bottom so as to smooth the ride. Marcella would hunker down and lift her head to feel the breeze as I raced through the house with her, much like a dog sticking its head out of a car window.

"I Love Lucy" was watched and pored over, with such lines as, "As soon as I'm feeling up to it, I'm going to kill myself" and (when she and Ethel are stranded on the roof of their building), "I know, one of us can jump and tell the crowd I'm up here" oft repeated.

We had Bing's cookies and chocolate-covered pretzel-shaped shortbreads (OK, well I didn't get a taste of them. Ahem.), subs, cheesesteaks, iced tea (with a straw) and Friendly's peanut butter cup ice cream (the proper number of hard pretzels to include in the bowl was debated).

We hid the Noah's ark Christmas ornament I gifted my sister years ago and which I won't let her get rid of in various places -- most notably, I like to think, at the bottom of the peanut can. But then, it was pretty funny I didn't feel it when I unwittingly slept with it in my pillow case.

We became addicted to Dexter, and watched all episodes using the divine "on-demand" cable feature.

And we sought out places our parents used to take us: most notably the National Polish Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa., and Hollywood Beach on Maryland's Elk River.

I leave you with these pictures taken at the same spot outside the church, one at age 10, one at age 40. Guess which is which:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Kids Say the Darndest Things

So, I'm gearing up for my scheduled (as opposed to ninja surprise) trip to Delaware to visit my sister and brother, and so planning time with old friends like Moam.

This morning, I called Moam, and we were laughing at some old jokes when her 5-year-old-daughter -- who for some reason can't stand it when her mom gets animated, laughs or sings -- started yelling, "Stop it!"

Of course, that just led to a more rowdy round of us singing our signature Paul Simon song, "All along, along, there were incidents and accidents, there were hints and allegations ..." (in our version, "bone digger, bone digger" becomes "moamdigger, moamdigger").

At which point, as reported by Moam, Roo turned off her "magic buttons" (hearing aids) and covered her ears. Like she does when it's thundering and she doesn't want to hear it.

We were duly put "in our place."

Also to Roo's dismay, her mother shared with me a conversation the two had had recently that went like this: (Keep in mind we both call each other Moam, kind of the way that Shaken Mama and I refer to each as Frog.)

Roo: "Is Moam a mommy?"
Moam: "No."
Roo: "Is she a grandma?"
Moam: "No."
Roo: "What IS she, then?"

Meanwhile, Roo was dragging through the house a stuffed cat I had sent her when she was in the hospital, using a jumprope as a leash that she had tied around his neck. The cat is named Herman as a nod to Moam's insistence on calling my family's (female) cat "Herman" when we were kids, a habit that annoyed me no end.

Herman arrived with a collar, a personalized tag and a book I created about Herman, a cat in San Francisco who insisted on visiting Roo in the hospital 3,000 miles away, and achieved this with the help of strangers and various modes of transport, including a big rig and taxi.

I love it that Roo still cares for Herman, and takes him to school for "pet day." I would be so honored for Herman to become the equivalent of Ted E. Bear, which I have slept with for over 30 years.

Hey, Roo! If you'll be his bodyguard, he can be your longlost pal ...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home From Philly

A funny thing happened on the way home from Philly: I sat next to one of the 11 crew members of the Enola Gay who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. U.S. Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Morris "Dick" Jeppson had just turned 22 that June.

Tomorrow, he will be 85, the same age my dad would have turned last month. My dad also served in the Army Air Corps, a group that preceded the formation of the Air Force.

We were on a Southwest flight from Philly to Las Vegas, where he and his wife have retired, and they were sitting in the front row of the craft. That left one window seat, which I asked to have.

My first interaction with Dick was accidentally dripping water from my bottle onto his head as I attempted to shove my bags into the overhead compartment. I apologized profusely. He smiled his forgiveness and said, "It's nice and cool."

My second interaction, as I chatted with his lively wife, Molly, and propped my bare feet up on the carpeted wall in front of us was, "Nice pedicure."

(At that point, I didn't know who this affable gentleman was, which is a good thing, as I would have had to violate federal aviation regulations by pulling out my BlackBerry and texting everyone I know that one of the men who had dropped the first atomic bomb had complimented my toes! You can't make this stuff up.)

Molly flipped through a Vogue and told me about how she and Dick had been married previously, and after their divorces, each had married the other's spouse. Each couple having had three children, that made for interesting holiday get-togethers.

They enjoyed each other so much, and were so sweet toward each other, that I had to ask how long they had been married. Nearly 50 years, Molly said.

They had been at an air show in Reading, Molly told me. We started talking about checking luggage and all the new fees, and she mentioned that Dick had to pack a bunch of posters to sign. And I asked, what for?

Which is when I discovered I was sitting next to a living piece of history -- one of only two surviving crew members of the Enola Gay, the other being (I believe) navigator Theodore Van Kirk, who had been even younger than my plane mate. Pilot Paul Tibbets, after whose mother the plane was named, died Nov. 1, 2007. At the time of the mission, Tibbets was 30.

The first thing that flashed to mind was the book Hiroshima, by Paul Hersey, a fascinating but disturbing account of the destruction that I read in high school.

The second thing I remembered was that my father had always told me that, while many criticize the dropping of the atomic bomb, he knew that if it hadn't happened, Japan would have been the next stop for him and thousands of other soldiers. That mission, according to my dad, could have saved his life.

And I am selfishly thankful for that.

Politics be damned, I thanked Dick for his service and told him about my dad. And later, dagnabbit, I wished I'd gotten him to sign my toes so I could put them up for auction with all of the other Enola Gay memorabila.

Just sayin.

But most of all, I really wished my dad were still alive. He would have loved that story.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

In the David Mamet movie Oleanna, William H. Macy -- upon being surprised by a party for his birthday -- delivers a line to the effect that a surprise is an act of aggression. Shaken Mama was gratified to hear that when I told her, given the trauma I served up for her 24th birthday in the form of a surprise party that left her cowering in a squat in the corner, speechless and nearly wetting her skirt.

It was a very hot August night in Boston, and all of our friends in the Emerson College graduate writing program had been waiting in my tiny, un-airconditioned studio apartment for several hours for us to return from our yummy Ethiopian dinner. Apparently, there had been several false alarms, upon which dozens of party-goers had rushed to hide in the bathroom, a la clowns in a Volkswagen. Did I mention it was hot? Well, there's a reason that aggressive crimes increase in the heat.

By the time we arrived at my place and I lured her inside saying that my cats had a present for her, the guests were ready with some hot, pent-up aggression.

SM walked in to hordes of people screaming "Surprise!" over and over in the same tone one would yell "Hang 'em high!" Flash bulbs erupted, and one of our dearest friends, whom we affectionately had nicknamed "Stinky Boy" or "Stinky" for short, given that he smelled like antiques, accosted SM waving a wooden spoon in her face.

(Don't worry, she got me back on what I believe was my 35th birthday, when she arrived at the restaurant with a specialty cake in the shape of a clock. A biological clock.)

In any case, I digress. This post is about my most recent foray into surprising the crap out of people, in particular my wonderful sister, D., whose birthday was June 6. I had decided to fly back to Delaware to surprise her, knowing she would be home that weekend because she was having work done on her house. But I wasn't sure of two things: 1) How would I get her to open her front door around midnight? and 2) Would she consider having me around for four days a desirable surprise?

My brother, always up for a clandestine adventure, fetched me from PHL, and we hurtled toward our target in his delightfully airconditioned Tahoe, accompanied by the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack.

When we arrived at D.'s neighborhood, I called her on my cell phone, ostensibly to share a silly cat tale, for which she didn't have a lot of patience, as it was late, she was tired, in bed and would have to get up early to greet the contractors. I got out of the car and began walking toward her house.

Sensing my window was short, I asked her if she had received my birthday delivery from UPS. No, she said. It's really small, I persisted -- maybe it was put inside her screen door or in the mailbox? I just checked the Web site, I said, and it listed it as delivered. And I don't want it to be out all night -- it's something of Mom's.

OK, OK, she said. Let me put some pants on and go look.

My victory was shortlived, however, as she peered out her dining room window, caught a shadow of me and said, I think my neighbor's out there having a smoke or something. I don't want to open the door.


Just then, my brother walked up. Should I knock on the door? he mouthed. Yes! I nodded.

Now someone's knocking at my door! my sister said. Crap.

Why don't you answer it? I asked.

That's easy for you to say! she said, clearly peeved. You're in San Francisco. I'm all alone.

I'll wait on the phone and call the police, I said.

Crap, crap, crap, she said. All right. Stay on the phone.

Of course, I said, switching positions with my brother.

The outside light turned on, and I trained my video camera on her door, which opened slightly.

Surprise! I yelled, and began laughing maniacally. At which point, my intentions of preserving her reaction for posterity crumbled, as I forgot about the camera in my hand and started flailing my arms and stamping my feet, thus capturing the reaction of her mailbox (upside-down), the bottom left corner of the threshold and everything except my sister's face, in an uncanny resemblance of the Blair Witch footage.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Small State Hijinx

Just a short post from Just a Girl in Delaware:

What Delaware has all over San Francisco:

* My sister, the birthday girl
* My dad's old temperamental cat
* Subs
* Cheesesteaks
* Fireflies
* Hot weather and sunshine that can actually tan you
* No sales tax
* Parking places
* Bing's Bakery
* The Italian Festival
* OLD cemeteries
* Brick buildings
* Bennigans
* Grotto's Pizza
* The Deerpark
* Dunkin Donuts
* Long, loud freight trains
* Some of my favorite friends

Speaking of ...

Yesterday, I met my old friend Moam (who is the coolest, she's a probation officer AND mother of 3) for lunch at Applebee's in Middletown and she brought her adorable daughter Roo, the one who nearly lost her life to neuroblastoma. (Pictures of Roo and Moam to come when I return to SF.) Whereupon Moam shared this exchange that made me laugh so loud I think I embarrassed her. (Sorry, I can't take me anywhere! At least I didn't snort iced tea out of my nose...)

Roo is 5 now, and lately she's been asking her mom questions about death, which -- given that she was so close to it two years ago -- were more poignant for Moam than the average mother.

As related by Moam, an exclusive Roo moment, brought to you by JAGID, a subsidiary of JAGISF:

"Mommy, where we go when we die?"
"We go to be with Jesus, honey."
"Oh. So, we go home?"
(At which point Moam is touched and impressed by Roo's precocious understanding of a spiritual "home.")
"Yes, honey, it's like going home, being with Jesus."
"NO, Mommy! I mean, when we're done dying, do we come back to our house?!"

Monday, May 26, 2008

If I'd Known Then, or Shout Out to Girls Inc.

Much of who I am and what I've accomplished in my life (debatable as it may be) I owe to Girls Inc., which was still called the Girls Club when I joined back in grade school.

My girlfriend Kathy and I would ride our bikes up to the Unitarian Church the Girls Club rented, an airy space set back under a cool canopy of trees. Later, it moved across the street into some classrooms at West Park Place Elementary School, where I had attended kindergarten. Still later, it raised enough money to build a brand new facility not far away.

As I grew from a girl to a teenager to a college student, I went from being a member to a counselor to a part-time employee. I won writing contests there that helped finance my college tuition, took me to New York (where I kissed a mime, but that's another story) and gave me an opportunity to run with the Olympic torch.

I'm still on their mailing list, which is how I came to know about a book called If I’d Known Then: Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters To Their Younger Selves. Generally, I don't truck with these type of Chicken Soup for the Soul genres, but after checking out some of the women interviewed, I was impressed with some of the wisdom it had to impart. And it put me to thinking about what I would have to say to my younger self.

Knowing the stubborn girl I was, I feel a bit better knowing I wouldn't have listened to myself anyway and would have made the same mistakes. But maybe the exercise will channel my 60-year-old self (if I am fortunate to live that long), or at least remind my 40-year-old self of what I think I have learned that makes my life so fulfilling. So here goes, in no particular order.

Life isn't fair. That's not a good thing or a bad thing; it just is. The sooner you come to terms with that fact, the sooner you will appreciate your life for what it is, and stop judging it by its inadequacies.

Pray every day, even if sometimes you're not sure who's up there. And when you do, start off by saying "Thank you" before asking for anything.

You are beautiful. Trust me.

You are smarter than the average bear.

You are entitled to nothing, but you have the privilege of becoming anything you want to be.

You are younger than you think you are, and you are never too old to learn something new.

More people love you than you think.

Forgive yourself. No one is perfect, but believe it or not, your frailties make you loveable.

Delete the word "should" from your inner dialogues. Replace it with "can."

Wherever you go, there you are. It's just different scenery. And speaking of scenery: Pay attention to your surroundings. At best, it will help keep you safe; at the least, you might see something interesting.

Don't ever do something just for the money.

If you're unhappy with your situation, change it. Don't stay with a partner, a job or a living setup that is bad for you. Before you know it, you will have spent more years unhappy than you were happy with it. And you're not doing anyone else any favors -- they have a right to pursue their happiness, too.

Enjoy the ride, not just the destination. And take pictures.

If you are ever absolutely convinced of something, consider that the opposite might be true.

You are all you have. Learn to love yourself, and the rest will follow. The universe doesn't care whether you are happy or sad. So why bother feeling sad?

Be kind.

Laugh a lot, especially when you want to cry.

Walk on the beach, dip your hands in the water and taste the salt.

You will fail. People will leave you by dying or walking away. You will have moments of great sadness when you feel you can't go on. You can, and you will. And don't let the specter of loss keep you from trying or loving.

Life is short. Appreciate the small things. Breathe, and be.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I'd Like To Lease Another Planet, Please

The Earth is feeling a bit cramped to me these days.

I know it's all my fault.

Knowing that my ex-husband and an ex-boyfriend worked at Wired, I didn't have to hook up a newer ex-boyfriend with the older ex-boyfriend to get hired on there as well.

But now, things are really getting weird.

Although we both live and work in the city, share an affinity for North Beach and have jobs not only in the same field but same area of it (technology), you'd think my ex-husband and I would unexpectedly run into each other. In nine years, we have not.

Then a few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from my ex, who I will refer to as G.E., which stands for Gay Eagle. That is what my girlfriends nicknamed him after our divorce, inspired by a) their suspicion that he is or should be gay and b) the similarity in proboscises. (I, however, maintain that he is a handsome, charming, talented man. After all, he was the love of my life, which makes this all the more heart-skewering, amid the humor.)

G.E. had spoken at some sort of journalistic event at UC and run into two of my reporters. When he learned they worked at my paper, he said, "Oh, you must know my ex-wife." My reporters, surprised to learn I had ever been married, replied, "She's our boss!"

Small world, ha ha and all that.

Now, you know my proclivity for All Things Facebook. So not long after, I was checking my "news feed" only to find that one of my friends "is now friends with G.E." Grr. Especially because when I mentioned to G.E. that I was considering friending him on Facebook, he replied, "Oh, don't bother. My FB life is very, very dull."

After obsessing for exactly three minutes, I let that slide out of my freakish brain as well.

(At this point, you might want to pour yourself a beverage, take a potty break or fortify yourself with a little snack, as I am not nearly done here. Fair warning.)

Along comes Thursday, and I get an e-mail from my good friend G., alerting me that while at lunch with a friend at Le Petit Robert in Russian Hill, she had come across a "large, three-color poster" advertising one of G.E.'s performances. (Did I not mention? He's a lounge singer now.) "I was tempted to pull it down and mail it to you, Stella, and K. offered to help, but we forgot to do it on the way back. Ha ha." (I treasure her loyalty. Don't ever change!)

When I mentioned this to my best boy friend, J., he said, "Oh, I forgot to tell you, I saw one of those too, in my neighborhood, for Mother's Day or something."


But the final straw came yesterday, when I was checking out the older ex-boyfriend's new blog about North Beach (he happens to be the one who created my fictional presence of Stella Haven). And found this:

"Local singer (G.E.), a new voice who interprets the great American songbook, is holding down Thursday nights through June. (G.E.) says his parents used to drive up from San Jose for romantic evenings at Enrico's, so the boy is totin' a little DNA with him."

I shot off an e-mail to the author, who I shall call T., inquiring as to whether he had gotten the memo that one of my exes was not permitted to promote another of my exes (please don't think my self-absorption here is lost on me. I am, after all, all about me), adding that in fact, he is incorrect: G.E. is not toting his parents' DNA with him, because he was adopted. Hahaha. So there!

So you see, until my exes become clear on the concept of moving -- along with all my friends' exes -- to The Island of Never to be Heard from Again, I am in the market for another planet. Preferably a lease-to-buy situation.

I'll even settle for poor demoted Pluto.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What's Next, a Cigar Lounge?

Checking out SFGate this morning, I was accosted by this ad. It annoys me on so many levels.

If this chick tried to do this sitting next to me, I'd wrap the cord around her neck, saw off her hair with one of the plastic knives that accompany the overpiced Sky Chef repasts and steal her bracelet before being tased by an air marshal.

The airline industry appears to be unclear on the concept of its core mission: getting passengers from point A to point B, preferably on time and with working toilets.

I don't need to check my BlackBerry, or play a video game, or talk on my cell phone or style my hair. And I don't want any of the other sardines in the can to do anything, either, except sit there quietly, keep their kids away from me and refrain from farting.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Because I Can

We have a special guest reader now tuning in to a Girl, my sister D. And to welcome her, I present this photo, the mere mention of which never ceases to send us off into merry fits of laughter with an undertone of, "Thank GOD we don't look like that anymore!"

It is affectionately titled: "Stumpy and Pinhead." I am the 14- or 15-year-old Pinhead. That would have made it around 1982. The picture must have been taken by Aunt Bet, the early adopter of cool gadgets, as no one else I knew had a Polaroid camera.

Why am I posting this? Because I can.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

My Life, In Other People's Back Pockets

The avid Girl reader will recall a post last month in which I compared the life I always assumed I would have to the one I'm living now. After receiving some offline comments about it, I have some new thoughts:

First, being the editor of a magazine in New York and driving a '67 convertible Mustang can easily be translated to being an editor at a newspaper in San Francisco and driving a 2000 convertible BMW.

Secondly, after touching base with friends from high school and college who have gone on to get married and have families, I realize that my life is the persona that lives in their back pocket, of the road they could have taken. Which is kind of cool when you think about it.

Lastly, last weekend I got to actually visit the life I could have had.

My old boyfriend E. and I went out for one last breakfast in Noe Valley before he moves to Mountain View with his wife and 10-month-old son. E. and I have been friends and/or romantically involved off and on for the past eight years, until he met his wonderful wife. But there was a time when he and I were considering whether we should get married and have children.

So there we were, pushing a baby stroller together. When we walked into the restaurant, the hostess asked me if we would need a high chair. "Not the mom, know nothing about babies, just cats -- and they would need a high chair, but not today," I said.

E.'s son is adorable and pleasant and smart and is going to get to laugh a lot in his life, as E. is the hands-down freaking funniest person I know.

Looking at Jacob, I saw a facsimile of what I could have had with E. And while it felt really good to hold him and play with him, at the end of the afternoon I was more than ready to hop into my BMW, roll down the top and drive home to have a glass of wine with my cats.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Happy Birthday, Pops.

My dad was born May 3, 1923. He died June 26, 2005, of stomach cancer.
I thought the old grump was immortal.

My dad, who was Polish, admired Pope John Paul II, the first Polish pope. Somehow, between the myriad pictures and literature I grew up with in the house, and the fact that my dad and the pope kind of looked like each other, I felt their fate was intertwined. When the pope became ill, I felt a strange sense of foreboding. When he died on April 2, 2005, something told me my father was not long behind.

For my dad's birthday a month later, I wrote in his card, "Isn't this cool: You're 83 and I'm 38!" When I spoke with him on the phone he said, "You know, you're wrong -- I won't be 83 until next year."

I had a superstitious pang: He wouldn't live to be 83.

That June 6, my sister's birthday, she took my dad to the doctor because he was so weak, he couldn't get out of bed. Four days later, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer that had started migrating up his esophagus. The doctors told him he wouldn't live more than six months.

I was shocked. I shouldn't have been -- after all, at 82, my dad had outlived the average life expectancy, as well as everyone in his immediate family. But he just always seemed too damn stubborn to die.

Growing up, I didn't like my dad much. He was eternally pessimistic, seemingly unengaged with my life and always said "no" to whatever I wanted permission to do. He could be manipulative and mean. In general, not a pleasant presence to be around. I wondered what my mother -- who I viewed as a saint -- ever saw in him.

After my mom died in 1990, my dad started to change. It wasn't overnight, and he remained set in his ways til the end of his days. Or maybe it was I who changed, and stopped wanting to force him into the mold of the father I had in mind, and instead started to understand and appreciate who he was.

Whatever I did, he supported me. When my boyfriend moved in with me in North Carolina, he simply said, "You know I don't agree with living together before marriage, but I'll always support you."

When I moved to Boston for grad school, when he would have preferred I move closer to home, he lent me money and support. When I announced my engagement to the boyfriend I'd lived with in NC, he opened up his checkbook and happily paid for my modest wedding. When I moved to San Francisco, he told my sister that he didn't want me to feel lonely, and so dropped notes in the mail to me every week; my favorite ginger snaps at Halloween; Valentine's candy; and my favorite Reese's peanut butter eggs at Easter.

He would end every phone call with, "If you ever need anything, you just let me know." He nicknamed me "Bootsie" (with the emphasis on the "Boot") and liked what he called my "big laugh."

A wise professor at Emerson College, poet John Skoyles, once advised: "Whenever you think you are absolutely sure about something, consider that the opposite may be true."

And so it was: After a life of missing and mourning my mom, it turned out that my dad -- who I had so many arguments with, who I disrespected, who I tried to change, who I couldn't understand -- became the man of my dreams, the man who I would admire out of all men, and who I would miss, every single day of my life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Things They Carried

I've been thinking about things. "Thing," as in the dictionary definition: "a material object without life or consciousness."

Not valuable items, at least in the monetary sense. But objects that anchor me to my life, and more particularly to my past -- a past that I feel some kind of need to prove existed through a daisy chain of tangible objects.

I bury my face in a pink velour robe -- which still has a Hall's cough drop in the pocket -- that hangs on my bathroom door and think, "I had a mother. She wore this robe."

I sit in the teal blue 60s armchair my dad had in his bedroom and think, "My father sat in this chair in the morning and read the Bible."

I look at the Fisher Price Little People police car and its driver on my computer at work and think, "Once, I turned 6, and I had a birthday party, and my parents bought me the Little People village."

I look at this picture of my brother holding me when I came home from the hospital and marvel at the fact that in my home now, I have that end table, the mail rack on the door and the black ashtray there by the lamp.

It's the same reason I love going to the flea market -- to see the things that other people carried, and compare them with my own.

So maybe I'm not talking about things in the dictionary definition. Because these material objects do harbor life and consciousness -- my own.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Not Without My Daughter

Shaken Mama is claiming that I am the mother of her firstborn child. I was there for her entry into this world, and somehow, SM thinks, A. glommed on to me as her true birth mother.

I think she's right. In addition to the fact that Chebs looks more like me than SM, some damning new evidence has come to light:

1) People like to give her things. Kids on the subway, friends who come over to see the new baby ... so much so that upon waking from her nap, Chebs regularly asks if she got any presents while she was asleep. And you know what? Usually, she has.

2) She is similarly particular about things. When I was little, if I lost a piece to a game or toy, it was dead to me. I can't wear mismatched socks, even if no one but I will know. When I was in grade school, if I had a seam in my knee sock across the tips of my toes, I had to fold the end over the top of my foot so I wouldn't feel it. I cut the tags out of all of my shirts and dresses. I can't abide left-open drawers and cabinet doors. With this in mind, I give you the transcript of a phone message from SM:

"LISTEN! I think you should have to pay some sort of child support. Here's why:
First of all, today at "Music Together" class, one of the others kids had a blanket and A. obsessed. Instead of dancing around with everybody ... she just obsessed about making it all perfectly flat on the floor, perfectly straight, with all the wrinkles out of it.

Then when she went to bed, I was reading her a story and some of the kids in it were taking a nap, and she pointed out who was sleeping under a wrinkled blanket and who was sleeping under a non-wrinkled blanket."

3) Out of nowhere, Chebs is afraid to fly.
Sez SM:
"I have determined it is your responsibility to go with us on our road trip up to Oregon because it's your fault that my child is so afraid of flying -- out of nowhere. Why is she suddenly afraid of flying? I know! Because she's YOURS!"
The funny thing is, SM's newly born daughter entered the world with a full head of black hair --just like me (my older siblings used to tell me I was a Korean War refugee). I predict a lot more neuroses will surface ...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Thought Medley (Sorry, Trying to Get Rid of the Leftovers in My Mind Before Cooking Something New)

It's only Saturday night and this weekend already has been fun, fun, fun.

* I painted the town fuschia with niece Katie and her friend Kurt last night. She was born the summer before my senior year in high school. That feels like yesterday, and yet, now I'm partying with her in North Beach! She is the most delightful girl, a nanny in New Canaan, Ct. My sis done good. After dinner at Figaro, we hopped to Specs with some of my friends and her very cool companion, Kurt, then ended up in the middle of a lively police situation (as spectators, silly!), before I put them up in a nearby hotel. I, myself, conked out at my friend's pad in North Beach (he who dubbed me Stella Haven!) and had a pretty freaking amazing breakfast with a bunch of denizens of Caffe Trieste at Mo's. Then I picked up the Portable Dorothy Parker at City Lights bookstore. Sweet. Meanwhile, Katie and Kurt ambled down to Santa Cruz to dance on the beach.

* The temperature was in the 80s today. I ran for an hour on "my" beach (which was crowded with too many muggles for my taste), then washed my car and took a nap. Ahhh. Now, I'm waiting on a pizza!

* I admit it, I'm addicted to Facebook. But now, I also have fallen prey to catster.com. Where I have set up a profile page for one of my cats (Stosh will get his, don't worry). And guess what? Vesper's already been FRIENDED. What's up with that?

All right, gotta run, pizza's here!


Monday, April 07, 2008

Melange a Trois

I hesitate to publish a mere thought medley post as opposed to a truly thoughtful post, since good friend V.L. (she of the interesting earwax) told me that she doesn't think my blog is as good as it used to be (I accepted this as constructive criticism. And then trout-slapped her on Facebook). But always being the ornery one (maybe that cop thing wasn't a good idea after all), I'm gonna!

* My cat Stosh's head tips to the left, so that he's always looking quizzical. So much so, in fact, that the cat rescue named him "Tippy." He also has a funny meow that sound more like "Ayow." Add to that the fact that he does not like to be picked up, and gets antsy when I move to pet him with two hands, not just one, and I have come to the theory that he was injured by someone clenching his throat in their hands. How lovely is it, then, that he actually seeks out my hands, to rub him on his snout. (Just one hand, though. Two, and he knows he can't escape, might even be picked up.) I love that he trusts, and even is drawn to, the objects that may have caused him harm in a previous life.

* After running for an hour on the beach this a.m., I went to Louis' for some French toast, scrambled eggs and a vanilla malted milkshake. And I swear I wasn't imagining this -- the very cute cook, who is quite YOUNG and is a cross between James Dean and Willem Dafoe, was flirting with me! Could I possibly be a cougar?

* I woke up this morning at 8:37, which is my favorite time in the world because 837 is my favorite number in the world, because 837 Lehigh was the address of my childhood home. I have the number plate from my dad's house on the inside of my front door, and I look at it when I'm stretching in the morning to run.

That's all, folks. Sorry, V.L.!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Has Anyone Seen My Life?

The other day I wore to work a motorcycle jacket I bought the evening of Nov. 24, 1988, the day before Thanksgiving, from Wilson's Leather store in Christiana Mall, for $248 (I have a weird memory). After work, I stopped at Safeway and, before getting out of the car, slid my BlackBerry into the inside pocket.

As I did so, it struck me: I was placing a smart phone in a pocket that was created when cell phones and the Internet didn't exist, at least among the common population.

It got me thinking back to that year, when I was a junior at the University of Delaware studying English literature and journalism and working as an intern at the Wilmington News Journal. I was living with V.L., the earwax artist, in Southgate Aparments, and having one hell of a time.

Imagine being a reporter before the age of faxes and cell phones and the Web. Yeah, we actually had to go get documents, call information, knock on doors, track people down.

In 1988, I had a Radio Shack Tandy that had no hard drive; I inserted a floppy disk to install a word-processing program every time I used it. It was connected to a daisy wheel printer that never worked quite right.

Our phones had cords; CDs were new, and mostly we listened to cassette tapes.

And I had dreams.

I was to be a magazine editor in New York, with a red convertible '67 Mustang.

Previously, in my adolescence, I had aspired to be (in no particular order) a go-go girl (I didn't know what it meant, but saw the sign on the way to visit my aunt in the city); a nun; a spelunker (before I realized I was claustrophobic); a jet pilot (before I realized I was afraid to fly); a cop; a firefighter; a cosmetologist; a best-selling author; and a stay-at-home mom with lots of kids.

In high school, I realized I could write. And I realized that the only sure way to make money at writing would be to become a journalist.

So I did.

But now, I can't help wondering where the life I dreamed of went.

My close friend Shaken Mama and I have an inside joke where one of us will say, "I thought it was different!" And the other will say, "No, it's just like this."

I recall a wonderful piece that was published -- I thought it was the NYT but now I can't find it -- by a woman who married a man who developed a brain tumor and died. I read it about the time SM and I were deciding whether I should accept Mark's offer and move to California and get married. This author said she didn't think she would ever get married, and she felt like her alter-ego, the woman who didn't get married, was the persona stuffed into her back pocket.

I have often felt that way: There's me, and then there's where I thought Me would go.

I thought it was different.

But no, it's just like this.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Thank God I Didn't Do My Laundry

So, I've been back running (saw a coyote this morning! How cool a city is this?) and feeling fit and trim and so today wore a flowy, short little number, that number being a dress.

I had just returned without incident from lunch and was about to enter the building. I reached out to open the door and an opportunistic gust of wind lifted my skirt to the heavens.

That's right, lunchtime at Fifth and Mission. Total Marilyn Monroe. What could I do? I laughed.

Two reporters were coming in behind me (emphasis on "behind"), and we had quite a chuckle. The male reporter lamented that it was all too quick to catch on his camera phone.

Thank god I didn't do laundry last night, or I would have been wearing one of my new thongs!

Sometimes it pays to be lazy.

Monday, March 31, 2008

I Miss My Mom

I don't remember much of my mother's physical presence.

She began fading for me when I was about 10 and she was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, a condition of which I knew nothing until a few years later when she began losing her ability to do things, like walk and talk and maneuver silverware at the dinner table.

Looking back, I remember her getting the call from the doctor on the black rotary phone in the den, which was mounted on the wall by the cellar door so that one could stretch the phone cord into that area with the washer and dryer and pantry and freezer and shelves of old toys and Christmas decorations if one wanted privacy. She did. Then she came back to the couch where I was watching TV in my pajamas, to the sofa upholstered in beige fabric adorned with vibrant bluish-purple grape vines and green leaves and tiny flowers.

I remember her hands.

I can picture her crocheting on the end of the couch, with my head in her lap, watching Laverne & Shirley or Happy Days or Bosom Buddies or Nancy Drew or the 11 o'clock news with funny weatherman Jim O'Brien (who would die on a skydiving outing and whose daughter would play on Frasier).

Mom (or Marmee, as I called her, inspired by Little Women) would take a skein of yarn, wind it into a ball and place it inside a tupperware container, threading the end through a hole she would cut in the lid to keep the yarn moving freely without tangling as she crocheted afghans for each of her six kids. When she was through, she would sew a tag on the corner: "Made with love by Mom."

I slept under mine last night. It's my cat's favorite item; we call it "Nana's afghan."

I have her hands. I crochet, and I look at them and think, these are my mother's hands.

When she wasn't crocheting, she would rub my back as I lay with my head in her lap, listening to the noises of her stomach. She would scratch my back with her strong, long nails painted rose pink and then pull down the hem of my top when it rode up.

If you look at your left hand and can see the veins, you'll see they make a "Y." Mom's veins on that hand were raised, as are mine, and I would press my finger down the stem of the Y to make the veins part and then fold back together. It made me laugh, and she liked that.

My mother was no stranger to hospitals, which she hated. Whenever she was in the hospital and visiting hours were over, my sister and I both wanted to be the one to touch Mom last. This led each of us to "forget" something in the room that we had to run back for until we reached an agreement: We would both put a hand on Mom and then say, "One, two, three!" and raise our hands together.

When Mom died, and at her viewing it came time for me and D. to say goodbye, we knelt on the kneeler, looked at each other and put our hands on Mom. "One, two, three!" we said, and laughed a tight laugh with tears in our eyes.

These are the things I remember about Margaret Sczubelek:

She liked Chuckles candy. No matter how bleak the situation, she found something to laugh at. In tough situations, I was always to remember that it would be over. And to always do something constructive while waiting. She let me have licorice for lunch. She liked black, pink and yellow jellybeans. She answered the phone by saying "Yallo." She liked crossword puzzles and mysteries and adored us kids. And she was very proud.

Before she died in 1990, when she was in a coma, I had a dream that I was at her bedside. She was telling me that she wasn't afraid of dying, but that she would miss me so much. And she worried about me.

I told her I would be OK. And I was.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Match.com, You're So Fired; Smoke Alarms Scare Me; Loose Nipples?

I am posting this quite recent photo of me (yes, it's in a bar during daylight hours, you have a problem with that?!) to assure you, dear reader (IS anyone reading this?) that I do not have a second head, nor a pumpkin-sized goiter and that, well, for 40, I must say I'm not a bad-looking gal.

So why is it that NO ONE is interested in me on Match.com, and more importantly, WHY are men in Egypt and India all of a sudden "winking" at me and wanting to make my acquaintance? (Oh, this is just so sad.) Take "Sasasababy," a 47-year-old man in Ad-Duqqi, Egypt, (who, by the way, is looking for women 24-35), who describes himself:

iam man wants agood woman like childrens and good housing very buity and no make any problems want to life in pease, ia good man high income and want to life in
smooth and comfortable , ai like childrens very mush.
As for his politics, he claims "ultra conservative" and as for his date, "I do not drink alcohol."

Hey, Sasasababy, did you READ my profile? Really.

In other news, I have consumed every single last black jelly bean in my Easter basket, sent to my by my sister, because only we know what a proper Easter basket consists of. I sent her one as well, and when she opened it while on the phone with me (she's in Delaware) said, "Hey! I know for a fact that Reeses peanut butter eggs come in a pack of six! There's only five here!" Well, of course I ate one, and felt guilty about it until ... I received my Easter basket (they crossed in the mail), which contained only four of the aforementioned sweets! "Hey!" I said. "I know for a fact these come in a pack of six! Did you eat two?" "Of course I did," she said.

Furthermore ...

I HATE having to get up early. I hate it even more when my smoke alarm decides to go off at 5 a.m. because the battery's dying. I climbed up on a stool, wrested it from its electrical connection and removed the battery. AND IT STILL CHIRPED! A dying little chirp til it finally fell silent, as I stared in horror. Clearly, smoke alarms are living, breathing beings, most likely alien (and most definitely evil), sent to spy on us (coincidence that they're often mounted in the bedroom? I think not). I mean, sure, they save lives, but at what price?!
Finally, an exchange. I won't say who with, but she roomed with me in college and lives out here, too, and her initials are V.L. A professional, sophisticated woman. From her I received this e-mail today, titled "Something I Need to Share":

And you are the only person I know who might appreciate it! I enjoy cleaning my ears with Q-tips – I admit it. I’ve noticed that my left ear has been “gunky” the past few days. And then today, when I cleaned it, I pulled a big glob of brown stuff out of it with what looked like a gnat in the middle! It was fascinating, albeit gross.

So – any interest in getting together Saturday night now that you know about my

I LOVE that she knew I would appreciate this. Thus ensued an IM session that went something like ...

Me: Hey!

V: Did you get my e-mail?

Me: Yes, I LOVE that you know I would appreciate that.

V: Yes!

Me: It's like a good poo!
V: Yes! Dinner Saturday?

Me: Yes! Pacific Cafe?

V: I am getting my brows shaped, I will want to show them off!

Me: Woo hoo!

V: About 7, 7:30?

Me: Yes, P.C. will be good, as it's in walking distance, and I'm sure to have taken a tipple by then.

V: I'll have to make sure your tipple doesn't turn into a topple!

Me: Or a nipple! I don't need a third one, afterall ...

V: Or a loose one.

Me: A loose nipple?

V: Yes, they're a real problem.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Little-Known Fact: I Participated in the '84 Olympics

Yep, that's your Girl, back when she was Just a Girl in Delaware. I won an essay contest at the Girls Club and got to run a kilometer with the Olympic torch. I still have it -- and that fashionable ensemble -- as you actually just pass on the flame. A rare shot of me with Marmee and Poppy!

(Added bonus: The Pinto in the background and the Phillies fan on the bike. You just know he had a mullet.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Preacher Dies in Accident Involving Goat

Bopping around other newspaper Web sites this a.m. for a project I'm involved in, I came across this story from the Tennessean.

It is very sad. But a hell of a story! Not sure which has more "whoop" factor, the tale or the comments, which include these morsels:

Real country folks know that things can happen very quickly in a situation like this.

It would depend on what the person was doing with the goat. ... The thing I learned was that if you aren't doing something you're not supposed to be doing, there is very little problem.

Reminds me of one of my former editors here who used to joke that my goat "wasn't tightly tethered."

A colleague raises this valid question: "How the hell does a goat, with no opposable thumbs, hog-tie a human? ... Seriously, think what would happen if cats had opposable thumbs. It would be like raising a bunch of monkeys in your house."

While I couldn't find a photo of a true monkey-cat, this one that came up in a Google search struck me as cute enough to share.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I Peeped And I Purloined

(Photo and theme boldly, unabashedly and unapologetically stolen from my new favorite blogger, "Anne Nahm," with inspiration credit given to Shaken Mama for turning me on to this brilliance.)

All Peeps that die on Good Friday return from the dead Easter Sunday. Jesus Peeps? Hardly. They return as Zombies-Peeps. These Zeeps will hunt you down and eat your brains. And then, they will steal your eye. And look at you with your own eye.

Don't think I don't recognize what an assclown move it is to create a blog entry of my own based solely on someone else's humor. But I had to share this hysterical entry about why Peeps (which fascinate me) are evil.

On other evil notes, I want to program my computer to say, "What fresh hell is this?" whenever I log on to my Match.com page to find that all the men who I've put my heart out on my "wink" for have viewed me and passed. As my colleague at work put it: "Online dating opens up a whole avenue of rejection." Whatevs.

In closing, I am off to the flea market before all the good fleas are scooped up.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Ides of March

Today is the day, 18 years ago, that I got a call from my sister that my mother had died. She'd been in a coma since the previous Dec. 17. I will always "beware the Ides of March," the day Julius Caesar was assassinated.

Speaking of superstitions, did you know that Otis Elevator Co. estimates that 15 percent of its buildings omit the floor 13?

Be careful out there!

I miss you, Marmee!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

People Are Lovable Because of Their Frailties

That's what Shaken Mama's sister told me once, when I was newly post-divorce, and feeling imperfect and eminently unlovable. In his resignation speech today, Eliot Spitzer said something that reminded me of this, which was:

I go forward with the belief ... that as human beings, our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

I still love you, Mr. Spitzer -- and I'm tired of people criticizing well educated women for standing by their men. Life is complicated. Human beings are even more so. We've all wanted to do things we shouldn't. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. But god, I sure would hate a world where everybody was perfect. How boring would that be? (Not to mention I'd be out of a job.)

He Ain't Heavy*, He's My Brother

*At least he better not be, or this mother's going down.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thought Medley (No MSG)

Why can't I get Fergie's Big Girls Don't Cry song out of my head?

Meanwhile, if S.F. is ever annihilated, I hope special care is taken to preserve the couple of blocks around 21st and Geary Aves (because yes, the world revolves around me). It has everything I could ever want: Sakana Bune sushi with the floating boats (which I'm always tempted to load with a mysterious note for another customer down the counter); Moroccan treasure Aziza; Ton Kiang, where I first had dim sum on my first visit to S.F.; my current dim sum haunt, as it's cheaper, less crowded and just as good, Lucky Fortune; the incomparable Shlomit Heller and her Beauty Network; my favorite UPS store, where the owner recognizes me and all the crazy flea market finds (often military helmets) that I send my brother; and last but not least, the Moscow and Tbilisi Russian Bakery, where I snagged two cheese blintzes for $2 on a trip to the post office this afternoon to mail my sister's Easter goodies. Added bonus: All the cute Russian men in track suits that frequent this area. My Slavic genes salute you!

And ...
My alma mater, the Catholic Church, is continuing to bumble along in its attempt to win friends and influence people with its newest additions to the Sin List: pollution, mind-damaging drugs and genetic experiments. My laywoman's understanding of this -- with 12 years of Catholic school under my belt, mind you -- is that 1) Since you must be absolved of these sins by going to confession, you might as well rack up as many as you can before you take the time out of your busy day to enter the creepy confessional; 2) If you don't confess, you're destined to burn in hell; 3) Survey says 60 percent of Catholics don't go to confession. ... Which brings me to: Hey, Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti! Is there no more room in Heaven? Or are you shilling for the devil?

Monday, March 10, 2008

The New Thing in the Haven Household, Etc.

I bought "the boys" a window seat for Christmas and just this past weekend got around to installing it (hey, at least I'm not as bad as the neighbors who finally put their Christmas TREE out on the curb yesterday).

As soon as Stosh (the gray and white loller) began humping it, I realized I should have gotten two or None at All, so intense would be the rivalry of who gets to use it and when (the hours of sunlight being difficult to predict, this being the Outer Richmond and all). And the fact that -- who knew -- there actually is such a thing as having too much sun on the perch, at which time it becomes wholly undesireable to all occupants (at these periods, the jury is split over whether the earth-toned, geometric-patterned rug nearest the perch is preferable; or whether the rag throw by the sink is the place to be).

In any case, the boys have brokered a complicated peace agreement that should be envied by warring nations. It involves choreographed licking, synchronized napping and a short sprint through the apartment and into the bathtub -- where it is optional to deposit a cloth mouse or ball -- generally around 3 in the morning, a blessed hour when (usually) the amorous couple upstairs has finally fallen asleep.

In other Stella news ...

Match.com continues to disappoint, but I have developed a wicked crush on a checker named Geff at the Safeway;

I found a 1928, hardback copy of Don Marquis' "Archy and Mehitabel" for $1 at the flea market yesterday. It's really hysterical -- the premise being a man reincarnated into a cockroach who lives in the New York Daily newsroom and at night jumps on the typewriter keys to create his lowercase poetry (he can't navigate the shift key). He has a friend, a cat named Mehitabel who also is reincarnated, and who he wishes would get on the stick and kill the rat that also inhabits this fanciful universe: a reincarnated poet who continually critiques Archy's work;

It strikes me that ants -- which I continue to battle -- are like children. All they want is the sweet stuff. No interest in eating their (or my) vegetables;

And finally, (remember, I love bad TV), I recently caught an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians (whoever the hell they are) in which the family is trying to quash some pictures posted on the Web of one of the teen daughters having sex with her boyfriend. The FBI is called (our tax dollars at work) and the scurrilous offenders are tracked down, much to the delight of the mother, who says to her girls: "We've learned our lesson. What is that? TRUST NO ONE." Um, how about, "When your sister asks you to take pictures of her and her boyfriend doing the beast with two backs, Just Say No"?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Me & My Pleo

Well, actually, it's not mine, we'll have to give him back -- journalistic ethics and all -- but here, as promised, is the video of me and Pleo (I'm not "Hello" the kitty; I'm the technology editor):


Sorry, can't get it to embed, but the link should work. Note: My hair is up, I didn't cut it.

Also note what Ellen, who is more than three months pregnant, offers the Pleo: A dry-erase marker. What do I offer? A boob. Girl, you're gonna have to get your maternal on! :)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Thought Medley ...

I saw a video of myself today, interacting with the eerily lifelike Pleo. One of my reporters wrote a story about the new, pricey ($349) critter, and one of my other reporters (who's preggers! Yay, Ellen!) nabbed one from the flaky PR person to videotape with her cat (named "Hello"). It arrived yesterday, and we went into the multimedia room to "wake it up." Thereupon, my maternal instincts kicked in (who knew?), and I was quite the rubber-dinosaur-lovey-mommy. Ack. I can't help it! Anything remotely critter-esque or baby-like, and I'm like, "Ooooooh." Never one to shy from shame, of course I will post it here if my cameo makes the cut...

In other news, my staff was tickled by my obsession with today's L.A. car chase. (I thought I was going to get fired for a) boldly moving our 2:30 meeting to the conference room next to my TV-enabled office and b) straddling the doorway as we talked shop so as to catch all the maneuvers of the purloined SUV.) One of my most dry-humored colleagues announced upon the chase's completion that a collection was being taken up to buy my me own "spike strip" with which to engage my fantasies of Saving Mankind...

Why can't Girl Scout cookies be available all year round? It would definitely be better for my figure to mete them out on a year-round basis...

I have a lunch date with my first Match.com fella tomorrow. Is it too scary that he revealed in our first conversation that he was taken by my TOES?

Stay tuned.

Why Do Police Pursuits Happen Only in L.A.?

I can't help it, my eyes are riveted to the TV screen, which is showing a stolen white SUV running from the cops. It's all very polite and courteous, with the stolen SUV generally at least slowing at the stop signs and never speeding too far out of the sight of the pursuing police officers.

Then, of course, you have the helicopter cameraman following from above, and the commentators warning (dare I say hoping) that "anything could happen at any moment."

OK, WHAT is the guy in the SUV thinking? He's going to run out of gas SOMETIME. And police are like ants! Dude, there's not just one behind you, and they're communicating with each other. Your ass is so behind bars.

I have a lot of questions, people. Worse, I have a meeting in six minutes. HURRY UP AND CATCH HIM!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"If I Need Ya, Mom, I'll Call Ya!"

I still remember that title on a poster of a scared little boy about to close the door and submit himself to the dentist, a piece of artwork that hung in the Mouth of Hell, also known as the waiting room of my childhood dentist in Newark, Delaware.

My sister and I still share horror stories about Dr. Collins. He made us fear the dentist so much that I went seven years without a checkup when I became an adult. (When I finally screwed up the courage to go to another dentist in N.C., that doc had to prescribe me Valium for all my visits.)

This was the man who filled my many cavities (my mom distrusted flouride treatments); pulled my incisors to give me braces (yes, I literally gave my eye teeth to this character); inserted painful spacers between my teeth; cemented on braces and then cranked them every few months; extracted my wisdom teeth; and did it all with a poor chairside manner and some foul breath.

Oh, and whenever I cried, he slapped me. Let me tell you, those lame little plastic spiders and whatnot he gave from the prize basket when you left were not worth it.

It didn't help that I had a wicked, unrequited grade-school crush on his nephew. Love -- and dentistry -- hurts.

My current S.F. dentist, who I adore, believes that the roots on my two front bottom teeth are dead because of the force with which Dr. C. "corrected" my overbite. Then again, I do like my smile, so I guess Dr. C. wasn't totally evil. Maybe he had some goodwill hiding in his pinky fingernail.

Anyhow, visiting the dentist for my six-month cleaning yesterday made me wonder: Why do I care so much about pleasing the dentist? I mean, every other doctor you go to, you go because something's wrong. My pee looks funny, I have a temperature, I can't stop coughing and, oh, what's this odd rash on my stomach? But no, at the dentist, you're supposed to show up perfect: brushed, flossed, rinsed. And if you're not, there's the interrogation: "How often do you floss? What kind of toothbrush do you use? Do you smoke? Hmmm."

Hey! I'm paying you! Only my personal trainer gets my money for giving me grief.

But because I seek to please everyone, regardless of whether I hate them, or pay them, or don't even know them, or even if they're dead, mind you, for the past six months, I've been using my Sonicare toothbrush (a gift from my brother for my 40th birthday, don't ask); flossing; and rinsing. I was ready.

For the first time in my life, I could report truthfully that yes, in fact, I do floss daily. And something I've been doing has had some results: my gums have gotten healthier.

Though satisfying, the visit was strangely anticlimactic. Deep down, I think I was expecting a little plastic token of appreciation from the prize basket.

If I need ya, Dr. C., I'll call ya!