Monday, March 31, 2008

April Read A Poem A Day!

As I learned last year from Saipan Writer, April is National Poetry Month. Last year, I celebrated the month by posting my favorite poem, but this year I've decided I'm going to read a poem every day and each Tuesday post the titles and authors here. I'm so excited about it that instead of paying attention to the news on the way home I thought about which poems with which I want to start, some old favorites by Auden, Giovanni, Eliot, Shakespeare, Sandburg, and Ginsberg.

That's not pretension. While I'm not a professional one, I was an English major. I can prove it: I still have my Norton's Anthology of Modern Poetry.

Then Robert Siegel and Michele Norris caught my attention by announcing that Richard Fagles, who had translated Homer and Virgil, had passed away. I got through four years of a liberal arts education without reading either, though I made an attempt to read The Odyssey a couple years ago. The announcement of his death was followed by a recording of Dr. Fagles reading part of The Iliad. I take this as an auspicious start to celebrating National Poetry Month.

If you have poems to suggest I read, please do so.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fine Young Babysitters

When we were seniors in college, we received a call from a friend who was working for a video production company in Seattle. They were recording The Fine Young Cannibals at the Paramount Theater that evening, and our friend was on the phone looking for a babysitter for the child of one oft he band members.

Jujubi agreed to go, being a great babysitter and up for some adventure (and some money). Jujubi didn't have a car, so I volunteered to drive, also up for some adventure (and some money). I sucked at babysitting and hated it, but driving Jujubi to Seattle would be kind of fun, and babysitting a rock star's kid would be different. We weren't very familiar with the FYC, other than the two songs that were all over the radio that year. On behalf of her employer, our friend was relieved to have found someone to sit with the kid, who she told us was a four year old boy.

We drove up to Seattle and presented ourselves at the theater hours before the show. When we explained why we were there and who had called us, Security told us that there were no children of band members on the tour. Eventually he located our friend and gave us backstage passes. She took us to the Green Room and we met the kid we were supposed to watch. No four year old, he was still in diapers and very upset that he wasn't with his mummy - the hairstylist. Jujubi and I mostly followed him around the area while he cried, looking for her I guess.

Well before the first set was over, the hairstylist appeared. She was muttering handfuls of curse words to the man she was with, though it was hard to understand through her accent what had made her so angry. She grabbed the child and marched out. Jujubi and I looked at each other and wondered what we should do. Our friend wasn't available; she was working on the show. We walked around the backstage area until we found a member of the band's entourage. We said we were the babysitters who'd come for the hairstylist's child, and the hairstylist had taken him with her when she left. We hadn't been paid what we'd been promised for this gig (in fact, I doubt she even noticed us) - and I added that I'd been told I'd be reimbursed for the travel from Tacoma and parking.

The guy from the band had no idea who we we were and didn't care. Dealing with babysitters wasn't his "R." He shoved some money into Jujubi's hands and rudely invited us to watch the rest of the show, saying, "I don't know what you should do, go watch the show!"). Instead of flowing from one song into another, between each song the stage lights went down and everyone on stage changed positions. The audience stood up and shook their hands in time to the music in the same way for each song.

Afterwards, Jujubi and I went to the Last Exit on Brooklyn, a now-closed coffeehouse near the UW. The band guy had given us $20, which even we thought was generous for about 40 minutes of "babysitting" and less than two gallons of gas (when gas was less than $1.50/gallon). We spent it on tea and slices of the Last Exit's amazing apple pie with ice cream and caramel sauce, because it was free money: Someone gave us $20 for the privilege of watching a little kid cry for a short period followed by attending most of a concert we would not have considered attending otherwise. What a fun night, and so random.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Six Word Memoir

Have you heard about The Six Word Memoir? Mrs. P., the most voracious reader I know, mentioned it, probably because she's noticed how many memoirs have been turning up on my list of read books. She is a high school English and drama teacher, so she asked her students to write their six word memoirs. Then she asked her sixth grade son. And her parents. For all I know, she's asked the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker to do it too.

Of course I made my own attempts. This exercise reminded me a lot of the assignments in fourth grade to write haikus, counting out syllables on my fingers. It reminded me so much of that, in fact, that I had to remind myself not to count a words like "accidents" or "doesn't" by their syllables.

What I found hard about it were things that were true about me and my experiences, but that I didn't want that to be the whole story I tell of my life. The first thing that came to mind was "I learned: Love doesn't conquer all." Well, that's true, but my life hasn't mainly been about disappointment in love (if I were 20, or 26, maybe). So what has it been about?

All my turning points were accidents.

To elaborate (in six-words):

College decision made in grocery line.

Fell in love with best friend.

Harry's Mother downstairs, Yellow Brick Road upstairs (I know that's seven, but I can't call it "YBR" here).

Too many men, joined bi group.

Zirpu was Craigslist Bachelor Number Eight.

Started financial aid when college desperate.

Took up dancing on a whim.

Car accident in Fresno literally accident.

Googled food bank, selected wrong one.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Baskets in the Snow

When we were growing up, DeeKay's family had a condominium at Lake Tahoe. We all used it year-round; sometimes No and I went with them, sometimes just I went, sometimes my mom took us, with or without other kids. The condo's first floor had two bedrooms and the second floor had another bedroom and an open living room-dining room area with a kitchen counter that opened to the dining area. There was also a balcony with a hammock that looked over a dirt road that led from the condos to the rec area, which had two swimming pools and a spa (generically called Jacuzzis in those days), as well as a sauna and tennis courts. I remember the walk to the rec area as a little long, but I don't know now how far it was.

The path was fabulous in snow season as a sled run. It was wide and even, and had a good slope that was suddenly steeper at the end. Sometimes we built up the bump at the end of the steep part of the path so we could get airborne on the plastic toboggans and discs we had. No and I didn't ski at first (and I never did) so we sledded a lot. In the evenings we would hang our snow suits in the laundry room and put our boots and gloves next to the fireplace.

When tired from sledding, we trudged up to the rec area and sat in the spa until we got too hot. Sometimes Deekay would get out and sit in the snow to cool off so she could sit in the hot water longer. No said today he remembers people smoking "funny-smelling cigarettes" while hanging out in the water. I don't, but it was the '70s - I'm sure they were.

One Easter weekend all of us were at Tahoe. By then, J Jump Joyful's folks had a condo up there too, so almost the whole neighborhood had been transplanted to Northstar. I remember DeeKay's dad riding the long orange toboggan with their collie, Honey, who wasn't pleased about making the trip. JJJ's brother, who was the Oldest Kid, led us in building a snowman. As many of us as possible would get in one sled; we would race discs; we would run and jump in, like Olympian bobsledders; we would try standing up while the sleds started down the hill. The whole day was filled with sled down, walk up, sled down, walk up.

On Easter morning, No, DeeKay, and I awoke to find the ends of three strings with tags on them, each tag with one of our names on it. Our job was to follow the strings to our Easter baskets (and Easter baskets meant chocolate for breakfast!). The strings went everywhere: As I passed DeeKay on the stairs going down, No was coming up again. One of us unwound the string around the coffee table twice; another one had to crawl under the table to unwrap chair legs. Finally all three of us found ourselves downstairs in the hall and the strings went right out the door. DeeKay and I stopped to shove on our moon boots; No went right out into the snow in his bare feet.

Our Easter baskets were sitting in holes dug in the snow about ten or fifteen feet from the front door.

Another Mystery Plant

This is a bush near No and KT's house. Is "bush" the right word to use for something that seems like it's a succulent plant?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two Car Convoy

When I left Vernonia to return to the Bay Area, Denver D and drove down in two cars. He had started his trip to Santa Fe by stopping off to visit me and decided to come to California instead. We went in two cars, my Civic station wagon known as "The Tub" and his three-cylinder Subaru Justy.

We took I5 to Grant's Pass and jumped over to 101 via 199 so we could drive through the Smith River Rec Area and the Redwood National Forest, finally approaching San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge.

We spent the night in Eureka, and chose a hotel that advertised a continental breakfast. After a noisy night of trucks pulling into the Safeway loading dock across the street, I was in the shower when Denver D went down to the lobby to get the continental breakfast. When he returned, he knocked on the bathroom door and announced, "Wait'll you see what I got us for breakfast!" He was still chuckling when I came out to investigate.

The advertised continental breakfast was two Dixie cups of Tang and two Jiffy blueberry muffins.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Home Again

I left California for college in August of 1986, and returned ten years ago today.

A few days before I left, YaYa Words of Thunder and her family hosted a bonfire in honor of me and Denver D, who had ditched his plans to move to Santa Fe. About a dozen of us went down to the field and YoYoWOT set a pile of brush alight. I think we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, and we adults drank cocktails. YaYaWOT and I drank a lot of rum, and I remember tackling her in the spring mud to cheers.

The morning we left, I wept as I drove down the dripping green highway north of Vernonia. I was going home, but I was leaving home, too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I have been thinking this week that the loss of our dad clearly had an impact on our family, and yet No and I didn't grow up missing him.

We didn't grow up thinking we would not be having this or that experience if he hadn't died.

All three of us were lucky, after the stroke of incredibly bad luck that took Dad from us. I'm grateful for that, and so is No.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tattoo You

When I was 26, I seriously considered getting a tattoo. I seriously considered it for so long that I never got around to doing it, and here it is almost 14 years later and I have no tattoos. The only permanent marks I have on my skin are the kind of scars found on any child who fought with her brothers and sisters (in my case, the other kids in the neighborhood, whom I loved dearly and yet occasionally was driven to attempt to hurt badly).

At the time I was going through a lot of changes. Shobi-wan and I split up, which necessitated my finding a new place to live. At the same time, I was transitioning from being a regular "substitute" Residential Counselor at Harry's Mother to being a Crisis Intervention Specialist. RCs worked with the the youth in residence; CIS were the teen hotline, and worked at night and on the weekends doing phone counseling, springing kids from Juvie, doing intakes, and providing back-up for the RCs. I felt pretty challenged by this position because I felt like I was in crisis myself at the time, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing.

I caught on the idea of flames because fire burns something which results in something else. The example in my head was always that a log is wood, and even though the fire consumes it there is something left: ashes (not to mention the gas and energy that are released during the burning). I found the image I wanted in my big, hardcover copy of The Hobbit, from the scene in which the dwarves are captured by the Wood-Elves. The illustrations are prints of scenes from the Rankin-Bass version that aired on TV in 1977. I thought I would have the tattoo put over my heart, because that's where I felt all the struggle.

I never did it - or maybe I haven't yet.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

One Way We Knew She Loved Us

Mom hates Star Trek. She calls it "that show with the people with stuff on their heads." I think she probably hates Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine more than the original series, because there are a lot more people with a lot more stuff on their heads, but she didn't like the original series either. Somehow No and I convinced Mom to take us to a Star Trek convention when I was seven or eight. It was at the Civic Auditorium in 1976. One of the things we saw was a preview for a movie coming out which sounded totally boring to me. Then the next summer I wound up seeing it six times: Star Wars.

We were very excited. There were a lot of Klingons and Andorians, as well as humans and Vulcans in Starfleet uniforms. There were communicators and phasers and all kinds of Star Trek paraphernalia to look at. There was someone selling Tribbles! Mom got us a pair, and Star Trek uniform shirts. Mr. Spock was my hero, so mine was blue; No got a yellow one. Or maybe I got the yellow one because, as the older child, I should naturally be the captain.

While standing in a hallway, No and I saw the Salt Monster come up behind Mom and put its hand on her shoulder. We weren't afraid that the monster was really going to reduce Mom to a pile of minerals, but I could barely breathe. I don't remember what Mom's reaction was, but I remember that the Salt Monster seemed pretty benign that day, giving her a little "goodbye" wave as it glided away from us.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

$4/gallon gasoline

They're talking about $4/gallon gas coming this spring. I've already seen gas stations with premium gas around $3.90 per gallon, and passed one the other day with Diesel #2 for $3.95/gallon. I live in California and I listen to national news, so when I hear about average gas prices I add at least thirty cents to the figure quoted. I noticed in Colorado and in Texas that their medium-octane gas is the same as our low-octane gas. As big as this state is, as famous as this state is for cars (can you hear me, SoCal?), we are also famous for our concerns about the environment.

I heard about a study that indicates that the high gas prices seem to be finally affecting people's driving behavior. They're buying less gasoline, so the studiers think folks are carpooling and using public transit a little more, and arranging errands in clumps to avoid driving back and forth across town. The radio story included a piece about two people who started carpooling their 100 miles to work when they realized how much they were spending on gasoline.

I did the math. Where is my tipping point? I'm one of the fortunate ones with a relatively short commute without toll roads, free parking at work, and a hybrid vehicle. Yesterday my drive home was almost 20 miles, and the car averaged 50 mpg on those miles. Taking BART from the station near home round trip would cost $6.20 and would involve a 30 minute walk through a tunnel next to the traffic in the morning and the evening. While the air's not as bad in the Posey Tube as I expected, the noise is unbelievable. I'm sure repeated exposure to both would damage my lungs and my hearing.

[Warning: I'm slightly math impaired so these figures are not guaranteed, but I think they are close enough for this purpose]

Let's just do some simple rounding and say that I use about 3/5th of a gallon each day to get to and from work. At $4/gallon, I'd be spending about $2.20's worth of gas for my round trip. I think that means that gasoline would have to be $12/gallon for BART (at current fares) to be more cost efficient, and I'd still have the 60 minutes of walking through a dirty and noisy tunnel to cost out.

If I got 12 mpg instead, like the guys in the radio piece with an SUV and a minivan respectively, I'd need about three gallons a day for my trip to and from work. If I worked in San Francisco, with a much longer commute, a bridge toll, and astronomical parking fees, I would take BART at $8/day (and I have). The Killer Lady drives to SF for work, but she needs her car for her job, and No drives to work in SF because he gets off work after BART stops running. Also, both have free parking (and No usually drives KT's Prius).

I know that these figures don't include wear and tear on the vehicle and the insurance. Maybe I break even there by being a partial carpooler: I drop Zirpu at a BART station near the house every morning and most evenings we drive home together from a station a couple miles from where I work.

I suspect that this could sound like a rationalization, but isn't math a rational science?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I tuned the radio 10@10, my favorite radio program, today. A little game I play with myself is to miss the announcement of from which year Dave Morey will be playing the ten songs and then try to figure out what year "the big wheel landed on." This morning I knew immediately, though I tuned in at the very beginning of the second song, Jump, by Van Halen. Which everyone in my peer group knows was on 1984, which came out that year (no duh).

Part of this show includes snippets of news, ads from that year, speeches, and sometimes TV theme songs. One of the snippets went from an ad for the RCA videodisc player (for only $500! and with over 100 discs to play on it!) to several newsbites about how RCA was losing money on the disc player and then would be discontinuing production. The videodisc player was way out of my family's reach (or, honestly, interest), but it sent me on a trip down the lane of obsolete technology.

My first clock was a white and black plastic digital clock. The numbers flipped over every minute, like the pages of a calendar. I turned a knob to set it, while the numbers flipped. Because it was actually a clock radio, I could set it to play music for an hour before turning itself off, and to play music when the alarm went off ("the music came on when the alarm went off"?). Two or three years later I was given a clock radio with backlit green digital numbers that also had a cassette tape player, and I could set it so it would play the tape when the alarm went off.

One of my friends at camp had a cassette of 99 Luftballons, which we played constantly during free periods, along with Def Leppard, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson. Most radio stations only played the English version, so we listened to the German one a lot. The coolest thing about the tape was that if you listened to one version and flipped the tape over, it would already be cued to the other language version. You didn't have to rewind or fast forward or anything!

Sony came out with the Walkman ("Walkman tape player" sounds redundant to me, even at this remove) and everyone wanted one, even I. When I got one, I didn't use it too often, though. As I usually had my eyes on a book while I was walking around, I quickly realized I needed to hear the environment around me. I almost walked into the parent of one of the kids in the carpool because I wasn't watching where I was going and I didn't hear her approach. I only used my Walkman at home after that.

We had an Atari and a cassette drive for two really complicated games that none of us every figured out. One of them involved flying a spaceship through obstacles, but we could never get through a wall about ten minutes into the game. We played the first ten minutes often, though. The other was a text-based game based on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and we could only get about two minutes into the game: I remember typing in questions and getting responses like "You cannot see anything," "You cannot hear anything," "You cannot feel anything," "You cannot smell anything," and "You cannot taste anything."

Hewlett Packard donated twenty computers to my high school and "computer class" was instituted. I don't remember if it was an elective or because of our short school day and my specific schedule of classes, but I never took that class in the three or four semesters the computers and I were both in attendance. I must have learned how to use a computer at college; we all had floppy disks that were actually floppy, and to satisfy the math requirement I took the BASIC Programming course. I did my homework in the computer lab on the VAX, something I imagined to be a huge, grumbling machine with cords and pipes and coils of wire draped all over a basement room of Howarth Hall.

[Actually, I only did about half my homework. One of the computer lab techs with whom I was friendly helped me a lot. When I mentioned to Zirpu that I'd fluttered my eyelashes at this fellow and he'd done my homework for me, he chuckled and said he'd been a computer lab tech at his university, doing the homework of the girls who fluttered their eyelashes at him, too.]

I think in not very many years iPhone- or Blackberry-type machines that will be as ubiquitous as cell phones are now, and only power users will have computer towers and big screen monitors. Then, all the electronics I currently have on my office desk will seem like so much clutter.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

America's Ballroom Challenge

When Zirpu and I tell people that we ballroom dance, people immediately ask if we have have seen So You Think You Can Dance or Dancing With the Stars. I've seen one episode of each, and Zirpu hasn't seen either at all. I am only vaguely interested in the dancing, but the "judge reviews" really turn me off and that is the real reason why I don't watch them (and many others, like Survivor and American Idol). The shows have brought people into the studio though; for example, one guy whose background is in traditional Indian dance started about a year ago when he got interested in ballroom while watching "So You Think..."

However, I am interested in America's Ballroom Challenge, which is the broadcast of the World Professional American Smooth and Rhythm Championships shown on PBS. The Ohio Star Ball is a weeklong event in November, including workshops as well as many competitions. Jasmine Guy and Ron Montez (and Marilu Henner and Tony Meredith last year) had to pretend that they were "coming back next week" for the next phase of the competition, when it really happens all in one evening.


Andrei Gavriline and Elena Kryuchkova [unfortunately no video from this year yet] won the whole event. I thought that they had relied too much on gimmicky costuming, particularly in the International Latin comp and in the short program, and then for the amazing show dance they did their costumes almost hid their bodies. Andrei, who is quite tall, uses his long legs to create great lines. In comparison Elena seems very short (it's hard to tell if she's short compared to normal-height people), but she can make her legs look almost as long as his. Inspired by Elena, I'm going to work on creating a long-leg look in my own dancing.

I am so uninterested in competing in dance that I can't even imagine why someone would do it. A few of my studio friends compete, and for one of them in particular competing only seems to create stress and take away the fun of dancing. She's one of the most competitive people I know, but she always seems drawn and worried before a big event. I can't imagine competing in front of hundreds of people, even if I were good enough to do so. Of course, I just want to dance well enough to not panic when a stranger asks me to dance - so far, I can follow well enough to get through an unknown step.

I like to watch the professional competitions and the exhibitions, and be inspired by what I see.


I ran across a post with this list meme. She says at the end, "I'd like to "tag" everyone or anyone who reads my blog and would like to participate" so I'm picking up the thread until I think of some blog subjects on my own.

Five things I was doing ten years ago:
1. I returned to Vernonia after two months in California (during part of which I was helping Shmeen get ready to marry Shman) and finalized plans to come back permanently. In the midst of this planning, Denver D came through on his way to Santa Fe and asked if he could move to CA with me instead. YaYaWOT's husband's advice was since I was going anyway and it would be cheaper to move back with someone, I should say yes, even if it didn't work out.

2. Looking for social service work in the bay area. It took me some time to realize that with all the schools of psych around here no one would pay me more than $6/hour to do what I knew how to do. One executive director called me (after her assistant advised me to fax my resume) to ask, "If you don't have a master's degree, why are you bothering?"

3. Eating a lot of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (favorite flavors: Cherry Garcia and Phish Food).

4. Being 29 and becoming 30.

5. Doing tremendous amounts of yard work.

Five things on my list of things to do today:
1. Go to the gym. This will involve designing a new routine since it's a new month. [Done and done]

2. Maybe get a haircut. Definitely recolor whether I get a haircut or not. [Not done, either one]

3. Return Knitty's phone call. [Yep]

4. Drop off Zirpu at the movie theatre and buy a bathing suit at the nearby Sports Authority. The elastic has blown out of my current suit to the point where I can't feel it on my body. I always wind up checking to make sure it's covering my lower back before walking into the pool area at the gym.

[I did drop him off, but there were very few bathing suits at SA since "they're changing seasons." I was advised to come back in two weeks.]

5. Write at least one more blog post. [Yes]

Five snacks that I enjoy (right now):
1. Dried apricots.

2. Tortillas, toasted on the range, with melty butter. (I'm big into Trader Joe's "real handmade" tortillas right now).

3. Avocados.

4. French fries. Preferably not curly fries, and without ketchup.

5. Cheese and crackers.

Five things I would do if I was a billionaire:
1. Endow a grant fund for middling students at my college. Start 529 plans for every child I know.

2. Buy a new van for the food bank. Give the food bank an endowment for higher salaries for the Food Bank Director and the Program Coordinator (and/or for medical benefits for same).

3. Pay off our house and build a bigger back bedroom. Buy the house No and KT live in from my mom and give it to my brother. Also buy reconstruction for that house.

4. Take the train around the US and Canada, Pullman class, and get off the train to wander wherever I feel like it. This train trip would also include travel in interior Alaska, even if not by train (though preferably not by Vomit Comet).

5. Take Zirpu to every Cirque du Soliel show and to Teatro Zinzanni year-round.

That's more like ten things. Oh well.

Three bad habits I have:
1. Biting my nails.

2. Not reading the mail that comes from my retirement account companies.

3. Not closing drawers. Zirpu pointed this out to me the other day when I mentioned that he doesn't throw away his empty soy milk containers.

Five jobs that I've had:
1. Baking cookies at an Ultimate Cookie retail location on Haight Street.

2. Selling clothes, from t-shirts to vinyl dresses, and intimate wear at Daljeet's on Haight Street. I also worked at the warehouse, doing shipping and receiving.

3. Being a day camp counselor at the Jewish Community Center. A few years later I was asked in an interview, "Why do I get the feeling you're Jewish?" which was such an unbelievably illegal question that I was speechless.

4. Landscaper at the university.

5. Main propagandist - oh, I mean, Newsletter Editor - for a snake oil pyramid scheme company - oh, I mean, a health supplement multi-level marketing firm (now defunct).

Five things you don't know about me:

Hmm, having already responded to the seven weird things about me meme I'm drawing a blank on what to put here. What you don't know about me now, I don't want you to know.

To quote the person I got this from:

I'd like to "tag" everyone or anyone who reads my blog and would like to participate.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

By any name

I need reassurance that if the general election is McCain vs. Obama, that Obama will win.

I asked a friend for it yesterday and he said, "He will." He then went on to say that Clinton isn't electable because of too much political baggage, and that sexism remains stronger in this country than racism.

I heard Bill Cunningham on NPR the other day defending his use of Obama's middle name (it also turns out that Ann Coulter uses "B. Hussein Obama"when referring to him). Basically his defense was that Barack Hussein Obama is his name, and he'll use it, just as he uses John Sidney McCain Jr." What?

What I think is stupid about this is that I think people get to identify themselves. Obama doesn't use his middle name, just as I don't use my middle name, just as a couple people I know don't use their first names. There are occasions when we have to use our middle names, and maybe being sworn in as President is one of those occasions, but most of the time most of us get to use the name we choose.

I think the right to identify ourselves extends to all areas, like gender, sexual orientation, religion, and race. If someone insists on calling me by a name I've asked not to be called by, that makes that someone a jerk. Of course, some of those someones are not even worth responding to.