Friday, November 27, 2009

Attittude of Gratitude

This past Tuesday marked my third year of involvement with the Alameda Food Bank. My first volunteering gig was helping to hand out turkeys on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in the old trailer. Shortly after I arrived a Board member arrived with his son to assist - and it turned out that I knew this Board member from my previous life in financial aid!

So it is three years later and the food bank has been booming. We're serving half again as many clients as we were three years ago. Now a supervisor, I have recruited and trained (or, frankly, had other train) hundreds of volunteers, some of whom have come and gone, some of whom have come and are still working with me. I have managed the food bank through my colleague's parental leave; I have "shopped" at the Alameda County Community Food Bank; and picked up gleanings from the farmers' market, Trader Joe's, and Safeway. I have helped redesign the way we give out turkeys. I have attended Board meetings, and I have driven the forklift. I have counseled completed many, many intakes, and counseled families on local services. I've done a little college financial aid counseling. I have become good friends with my colleague and his family, and so has Zirpu.

I've been thinking about what was going on for me when I started at the food bank. I was really, really depressed, and didn't consciously know it. I had thought I was on the career track for life, figuring out what my next steps would be in the state association. When I left my last financial aid job, though it was my choice, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I had lost my identity as a professional, work I was proud of. Suddenly I was not doing it anymore, and was unable to pick up where I left off and look for a new gig immediately.

When people ask me how I got involved in the Alameda Food Bank, when I tell the story I always include that the AFB saved my life. Thinking about how miserable I was when I started, I especially realize how happy I am now. I recognize the sadness and the happiness in other people who have become volunteers. We do a lot more than give away food; we are all recipients of something at the food bank.

** If you're interested, please assist your local food bank by going to Feeding America, formerly America's Second Harvest, to find out how to help people in your community.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Visit From The Past

Jujubi gave me my first matryoshka (nesting) doll as a birthday gift. I have ten sets, all but one with at least five dolls, including one that is the size of a seed. Most of them have a lot of detail and glitter and gold flake, but one of them does not. She is not a spectacular, fancy doll, like the others that stand over the fireplace. There are just three dolls total in this matryoshka.

I bought her while we were in Alaska, because of the label on the bottom.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Freshman Falling Out

In the fall of my freshman year at college, I was assigned a roommate by the university's Residential Life Office. The books I'd read that took place at boarding schools or colleges had always shown that roommates were friends, and of course I was hopeful (actually, anxious) that my roomie and I would be friends as well. On paper, we matched pretty well. I had chosen a college far away from home which no one else I knew had heard of, let alone attended.

Things did not start out very well. I n retrospect, I think I bore a lot of responsibility for this. Because I was anxious I was more arrogant than usual. I remember specifically showing off that I was from a big city, saying that Tacoma was a small town (which it wasn't). This could not have impressed my roommate, who was from a bona fide small town in eastern Washington.

Our room was split in half, closet-bureau-desk-bed in a row on each side. Other people in our dorm freed up space by bunking their beds, but we didn't even consider it. Over her bed, she had a very current Wang Chung poster; over mine, there was a tattered American flag with 48 stars, with a chain hanging across it.

She had a job as a lifeguard and was out in the afternoons and evenings when I was home studying. I was out in the evenings and late nights goofing around with Denver D, Phil, Mrs. P, Bink, Jujubi, Spudwhip, and Tripp when she was at home. I only remember one conversation between my roommate and me, when I asked her was a "suite" was. I had been listening to Suite Judy Blue Eyes and she was enrolled in a music theory class. She told me, and that was the end of that conversation.

The big showdown happened toward the end of the semester. Phil and I had been hanging out at the Ceramics Building, and as usual I returned to the dorm after midnight. A bad feature of the doors in my dorm was that if the doors were locked from the inside they could not be unlocked from the outside with a key. I knocked on the door, first quietly and with relatively long pauses between knocks, and then louder and more constant. There was no response from inside, and I knew my roommate was home because if she hadn't been, if the door had been locked from the outside, I would have been able to get in.

Ultimately I went back outside, to the phone by the front doors that people used to call residents. I dialed our phone number and the phone rang and rang. I was really angry that my roommate was treating me this way, at the same time that I was puzzled about why she hated me so much. It also seemed to me that by not immediately letting me in, she was choosing to be kept awake by listening to me pounding on the door and calling. Eventually she answered the phone and I asked her politely to unlock the door because I was unable to get in to our room.

I moved out at the semester break.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Double Ten

On October 10, 2001, I was driving home on highway 13. I was almost at my exit so I stayed in the right lane. A white van was merging on the right, and I slowed down a little to give the driver space to speed up and merge over at the end of the solid white line. The van merged into my lane across the solid white lane, and I simultaneously turned the wheel, hit the brakes, and hit the horn.

Before I knew it (literally!) my car was against the center wall separating northbound traffic from southbound. My first reaction was to get out of the car, but as soon as I unbuckled my seatbelt I realized that I was on a part of the highway that doesn't have a shoulder on the left. I put the seatbelt back on and eventually got over to the right shoulder.

I got out and tried to wave down some help. Wouldn't you know it but my cell phone was dead and the batteries in my car flashlight were dying. Half a dozen cars went past, and finally one pulled over. I asked him to give me a ride to my house, since I couldn't call anyone and the only number I could remember in the moment was my mom's and she was out of town.

The guy who gave me a ride home lived on a cul de sac called Virgo Street a couple blocks from my house, so at least I didn't have to give him directions. When I got home I called Triple A and then I called Zirpu, who agreed to come up and hang out with me overnight. The tow truck driver arrived shortly after Zirpu, and the three of us went back down to the highway to get the car. In the seemingly short time since I'd left it, CHP had stickered the window with their cryptic code.

While I was signing the paperwork for the tow truck, I complained that Double Ten is supposed to be an auspicious and lucky day. The driver remarked, slowly, "Maybe it was."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Tracy Exchange

Mick Squirrely flies airplanes, small private aircraft with two or four seats. When we were dating, a few times we went to a private airport and picked out a plane. One time we went up and Mick just flew us around and over San Jose and the east bay region; I didn't recognize anything we flew over but it was fun. We weren't that high in the air so I could see people's backyards, and whether they had a swimming pool or a swingset or not. Showing me how slow a plane could go and not drop out of the sky, Mick brought the speed down to 40 mph, at which point I got nervous and told him to go faster.

This was way before I was afraid of flying.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve 2000 Mick and I were hanging out at his parents' house when his mother realized that she had forgotten to mail a gift to the child of one of Mick's cousins, who lived in Tracy. She became pretty agitated about not getting the gift to the little girl, and looked to Mick to solve the problem. I was not enthusiastic about driving out to Tracy and back on Christmas Eve, which I figured would take at least three hours.

Mick looked at me and suggested we fly out there. When going over the hills that line the eastern side of the bay area it got bumpy. Only one set of headphones worked in that plane so I looked out the window while the engine roared. We landed at the airport in Tracy, which was deserted and dark, except for the runway lights. No one was flying or getting ready for takeoff when we got there, which was good because there were no air traffic controllers either.

We jumped down from the plane and started walking toward what would be called a terminal in a larger airport. The gate to the airport was locked, and Mick's cousin's car was parked next to the ten-foot fence. We watched as his cousin climbed over the fence and walked toward us. The cousin took the proffered gift bag and climbed back over the fence while we returned to the plane. I don't remember anyone speaking, though we must have exchanged a "Merry Christmas," and I'm sure Mick introduced me. We flew back to San Jose, and I felt like we were spies in a Cold War movie who had met our contact to pass on the microfilm.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Word Games

When I was a kid and on car trips with other kids, like to Tahoe or to swim lessons in Redwood City, we played a bunch of word games. We never played Twenty Questions or I Spy. I'm not sure I even know how to play I Spy - unless it is as obvious as it sounds. I loved word games. Since I read so much, I often felt I had an advantage (and later was a Trivial Pursuit ringer).

One of the games we played, which I think we made up, was a game in which the group would pick a category and take turns. Each person had to start their word with the last letter of the previous word. The most boring category was states, because once you got on the A states, you were stuck in the A's until someone came up with Arkansas - and then the only places to go were South Carolina and South Dakota, which took you back to the A's.

My favorite one was Concentration. I could have played this game all the way up to Tahoe, if my friends hadn't gotten bored. You probably know this game: You smack your lap with your hands first, then clap your hands together, then snap the fingers on your right hand, and then on your left hand.

Concentration, aggravation
Keep the rhythm
Keep the rhythm of the game

We also looked for out-of-state license plates, which we hardly ever saw until we got up to Tahoe. We figured this was because we lived in such a large state so the borders were far away. We were actually kind of proud of the size of our state, and even as young as we were knew that while California wasn't as large as Texas and Alaska, our state had more residents, and therefore more representatives in Congress, than any other state.

But my favorite was Concentration.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Gift of a Day

A and S got married in the summer of 1995. They were going to have a small ceremony on a historic apple orchard run by A's employer, the Oregon Historical Society, and several of their friends, including Shobi-wan and I (who were no longer living together by then), helped with the food and other wedding details.

My wedding gift to them was to host the rehearsal dinner. A lot of the guests were coming from out of town, so I think there were 20 people invited to the dinner. My housemate and her dog were away for the summer, and in the meantime I was taking care (read: watering) the garden of peas and poppies, grass, and trees. The front yard would make a great party area.

I scheduled the day to almost the last minute, since it was going to be a very busy one. There was a staff meeting scheduled at my job at Coffee People. Staff meetings were scheduled before opening and after close, so I attended the AM staff meeting, which was at 5:30. While I would usually feel at least annoyed about having to be somewhere that early in the morning, it happened that being out and about at that time of day was going to give me a nice, long day to get everything done.

My plan was to go to the Canned Food Outlet after the staff meeting, which ended about 20 minutes before the canned food store opened. I sat at a table and drank an additional latte, thinking that this was going to be my last opportunity to sit and relax until late in the day. I hit the store and returned home by 730, turning on the sprinkler so the grass would be dry by the time of the party that afternoon. I washed dishes and cleaned the house, and then turned the sprinkler off and put it away.

I had already prepared Romanian Marinated Mushrooms from the Sundays At Moosewood cookbook, which was going to be both the vegetable and the dressing for a spinach salad. I made three lasagnes, one white and vegetarian, one vegetarian red, and one red with meat. The Florentine lasagne was from a recipe of Phil's mom's, who was moving toward a vegetarian diet, and the red ones were Jujubi's recipe doubled and split in half, with ground beef added to one of the halves.

It was only after I had made the third lasagne that I realized that I hadn't thought about baking them. I couldn't fit three lasagnes in the oven! And yet I didn't want to bake them in two batches, since it would take so long that the one baked first would be cold by the time the other two came out of the oven. This was a big hiccup in my otherwise perfectly-planned day. I barely knew my neighbors, but I was familiar with the little boy who lived next door, and his mother baked the white lasagne for me. She even brought it back to the house when it was done.

A, S, and Shobi-wan (who was the best woman) arrived about 90 minutes before the party was supposed to start. As soon as they arrived, I drove out to the airport to pick up my mom, as she was attending the wedding as well. Upon returning I took a quick shower and changed clothes, and while I set the banquet table Shobi-wan and the maid of honor laid out picnic blankets on the grass.

I had never hosted a dinner party by myself before, and that the timing worked out so perfectly, from the dried grass to the hot lasagne, made me particularly proud of myself.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The First Movie I Was In

When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine was taking a filmmaking class at SF State. He asked me and another friend if we would be in the movie he had to make for a class project, and of course we said yes. He promised to show us the film when it was finished and graded by the instructor at the university.

It took us only one day to shoot the movie, on 16mm film. It was a silent film about a young woman, played by me, dreaming - or not dreaming - about being in the '60's. I pulled my mom's Marimekko blue and white dress out of the closet, and our other friend showed up in what he usually wore, blue jeans and a denim jacket. I imagine other people were in the movie too, but I had such a crush on the other guy in the movie with me that I don't remember.

The filmmaker set up lights in my bedroom while I put on some pajamas. We had reset my clock to show 10pm and put a 49ers calendar on the wall next to the clock. Then I got into bed and pretended to sleep while the filmmaker pointed the camera at me.

After that part of the film was shot, we went to the big room downstairs and this time I changed into the blue dress and tied a bandanna around my head while the lights were set up again. My other friend rolled oregano (really) into Zig-Zag papers and we put the Rolling Stones on the record player. Then we sat on the floor and "smoked" the oregano joints while the filmmaker filmed us talking - which was, for lack of any need for a script, about all the clues to Paul's death.

We went back up to my room, I put my pajamas back on and got back into bed. The filmmaker filmed me waking up and smacking the alarm clock, and then quickly checking the 49ers calendar to see if it reflected the present, 1985, which it did. I mimed relief by rubbing my eyes and jumped out of bed. The filmmaker shot a close-up of the bandanna on the pillow.

We never did see that movie.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Faith Fishbowl

In September of 2001 I was working at Saint Mary's College, a small residential college. Zirpu called me on the morning of the 11th to tell me to turn on the TV; I watched images on the only station I could receive at the house and listened to NPR simultaneously. I continued to listen to the radio during my bucolic drive through county parks to get to work. I specifically remember Bob Edwards saying there had been a plane crash in Pennsylvania that, it was believed, had nothing to do with the World Trade Center planes.

Of course, once at the university, there was not a lot of work going on, for anyone. People hung out in each other's offices, talking, listening to online news broadcasts, trying to check CNN's website, which was crashing all day, for news updates. Everyone made and received "How are you? I'm just checking in" calls. Very few calls came in regarding financial aid, and I couldn't really concentrate on processing loans that day. I spent a lot of time looking out the window and listening to NPR online.

The college, which is Catholic and at that time had a lot of practicing Catholics in the student body, scrambled to put something together for the students to take comfort in. Directors of departments had been instructed to allow staff to attend, if any staff member wished to do so. Mass was held in the chapel, followed by a less-formal gathering in the courtyard in front. I attended part of this second event, which included the recitation of the Kaddish and of the Hail Mary.

After awhile I went back to my office to continue looking out the window. The field across from my office was green even in September - the college's intramural rugby teams played there - and the sky was blue, without any clouds. I felt like the faith of the youth in the courtyard had created a dome over the college, which is in a natural bowl, and that their god was looking over us all - even those of us who didn't believe.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Ultimate Cookie

The summer before my senior year in high school, I worked at a cookie store on Haight Street that was in a former bank (and that is now a clothing store). This was in the '80s when Mrs. Field's were everywhere, the snack food of the times. It was late summer when I started, and I expected to have a pretty light senior year - not to mention that we got out of school around 2:30 anyway, and said so in the interview. I was hired despite the fact that the manager, as she told me, didn't usually hire teenagers because we were unreliable.

I worked a couple days a week as a baker in the back of the shop with two other people. The dough came in tubs and we scooped it out with ice cream dishers onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. After baking and cooling, we wrapped most of the cookies in paper and boxes to be delivered elsewhere. The back room was the "wholesale operation."

There was a "retail operation" in the front of the shop, and the cookies to be sold in-house were slightly larger than those packed for delivery. I worked behind the counter on Sunday evenings, playing the Dr. Demento Show on the radio and goofing around with my coworkers. There were two of them, both of whom I thought were at least ten years older than I (but I was only 16 that summer), and one was older than the other.

Hanging out with them was confusing. Sometimes it felt like they were both "kind of" flirting with me and that they were in competition for my attention. I wasn't used to this sort of attention being paid to me and I didn't really know what to think about it. I was flattered, but I wasn't attracted to either of them - and the fact that both of them were way off limits (since I was 16) did not make them more attractive either. It was exciting, though.

When school started the guys started making plans to be my senior prom date. First one, then the other, both in full hearing of each other, would talk about going out to dinner, renting a limo, and all that prom stuff. Eventually they agreed they would both escort me to the prom, and that the African-American guy would wear a white tuxedo and the white guy would wear a black one. It was totally silly, and yet it was fun to imagine people's reactions to my a) showing up with two dates who b) no one knew.

I quit about a month into the fall semester. I had found myself in three AP classes, and wasn't really interested in working at the cookie store anymore. When I gave my notice, the manager said that she had never really expected anything else, and that she had been planning to fire me anyway. I never even went into that cookie store again after that.

I went to the prom with a friend who had graduated the year before. He wore a black tuxedo.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

From A Meatloaf-Deprived Childhood

Mom didn't make meatloaf very often - thank goodness. I ate pretty much everything when I was a kid, and No did too. But the meatloaf was thick and tough and pretty boring, as far as flavor went, and even though I didn't like ketchup very much when I was a kid, I often poured a lot of the stuff on my slice. I realized later that Mom made meatloaf the way she made hamburgers, which would make sense: Mom makes the best hamburgers of anyone. But take an enormous burger and put it in a casserole dish, and allow it to bake in its own grease, and it's not a very good hamburger anymore.

I thought Mom made the worst meatloaf in the world until I had Denver D's mom's meatloaf. Phil and I were dropping Denver D off in Denver on our way to Colorado Springs, having driven from Tacoma. His folks had already eaten, but we were offered some leftovers to make the last 90 minutes of our two-day drive. Phil had had food poisoning the whole trip, so he got chicken broth, and Denver D and I got meatloaf.

His mom's meatloaf was like a piece of plywood in consistency and color. It was the kind of food that you have to drink some water after very bite to get it to slide down your throat. I remembered the ketchup trick from my childhood, and went to the fridge to get some. They had no ketchup! They did have some barbecue sauce, and I poured it all over my slice of meatloaf. I never remember the brand, but I always recognize the bottle in the grocery store, and am loyal to it because it made that meatloaf edible.

I did not eat anyone's meatloaf for years after that. When I was working at the Women's Daytime Drop-In Center in Berkeley, a place for homeless women with children to hang out during the day when the overnight shelters were closed, it happened that there were clients who were fantastic cooks. Each morning a few clients would volunteer to cook lunch for everyone, and I would hang out in the kitchen sometimes and watch. I told a couple of them that I came from a meatloaf-deprived background; while I knew from books that meatloaf could be good, my mom and my mother-out-law made terrible meatloaf and I hadn't had anyone who could teach me by positive example how to make it.

They laughed and bid me watch while they made a couple big meatloaves with ground beef, oatmeal, eggs, sauteed onions and peppers, grated cheese, ketchup, and seasonings. They formed the meat into loaves and placed them on cookie trays - not casseroles, much to my surprise: You cook bread in loaf pans, so I figured you had to cook meatloaf in loaf pans too. It was explained to me that this way the grease runs off and doesn't poach the meat, so you get a nice crust. At some point one of them pulled the trays out and, using a spoon, painted the loaves with ketchup.

Needless to say, this was the only meatloaf I had ever had that I liked. Eventually I got around to making my own, following their example exactly. I collected meatloaf recipes for awhile, but I've gotten enough practice that I make it different ways depending on what vegetables are in the fridge, if and how much cheese we have, and usually with ground turkey and pork sausage.

The Family Falls Out

I met Zirpu in July of 2001, and the following June we went to Houston for his grandmother's 95th birthday. His grandmother lived with his mother and stepfather, and his dad, stepmother, sister and her boyfriend (now husband), and brother, sister in law, and nephew were all going to be there for the party. I knew that this was THE MEET, but I wasn't particularly nervous about meeting his family. I think he might have been more nervous, in fact.

When Zirpu introduced me to Nana, he spoke very loudly and in his full-on Texas accent, which he doesn't use most of the time, into her hearing aid. He told to me later that with her hearing being what it was, he wanted to use the voice Nana was used to hearing, but by then he'd been back in his accent all afternoon and evening, whoever he was speaking to.

We were all sitting at the table and Nana was having a hard time understanding what was going on. Her hearing aid wasn't working properly, and we could all hear it whistling feedback. Sissy's husband wears hearing aids and he was joking with Nana that the whistles were messages from the aliens that only he and she could receive. Nana continued to complain that she either couldn't hear anything or could only hear the whistles.

Suddenly, she cried, "These batteries are deader than HECK!" The whole family laughed and laughed. Zirpu had tears in his eyes; his mother almost laughed herself out of her chair. People were banging the table with their hands, holding their sides, laughing and laughing. Nana was giggling merrily with everyone else.I thought it was funny too, but I thought the family's reaction was kind of extreme.

Once he caught his breath, Zirpu explained into my ear that his grandmother had been married to a preacher and was a very proper lady. None of them had ever heard her use a such a strong word as "heck" before.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Our First Apartment

Zirpu and I decided to move to Hayward when we moved in together. Hayward was the midpoint of where each of us was working at the time; other than noting its location on my way to his place in Mountain View, I didn't know anything about Hayward.

We found a big yellow apartment complex tucked in on a side street near the Alameda County Courthouse. The two-bedroom apartment was on the third floor, with a tiny dining room and a little balcony, but an enormous master bedroom with a walk-in closet and two-sink bathroom. The complex had a swimming pool and hot tub. It was very close to train tracks, which we didn't realize were quite as "live" as they turned out to be when we moved in: Trains went by four times a day, at two AM, ten AM, two PM and ten PM.

HR and JR came down with Aitch while we were still getting settled. This is one of my favorite pictures of Aitch:
This is not a picture of two boxes. This is a picture of a little boy in a boat on the sea.**

**If you don't understand, read Antoine de Saint Exupéry.

Monday, November 9, 2009

One Reason People Dislike Mimes

In the spring of our freshman year, Spudwhip and I went through a little phase of being mimes. One afternoon after classes, we put on our mime get-up and wandered around campus, goofing with people. Then we decided to go out into the real world - read: off-campus - and goof with people out there. Our plan, actually, was to go to the bank in downtown Tacoma where our friend worked as a teller and mess with him. Denver D must have agreed to drive us, since he had a vehicle and we didn't.

Just before we walked into the bank, we ran into a staff person we knew from the university, who kindly put up with our antics (while Denver D took pictures. Inside the bank, we did not immediately see our friend. His bank had a fiberglass barrier between the tellers and the customers, which I had not seen before.

Needless to say we did not get to fool with him very much, and only partly because of the fiberglass barrier. Of course, since we couldn't speak, there wasn't much we could do in the bank anyway. Because everyone else we knew worked on campus, we didn't realize that he had a "real job" and had to "really work." We also underestimated how busy the bank would be - in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, we didn't think there would be any customers in the bank. We made our exit after only a few minutes.

Over dinner that evening, our friend told us that we had made everyone very nervous. Because we were in whiteface, some of the staff, including the security guard, thought our intention was to hold up the bank. He said he couldn't interact with us very much because he was working, but also because he wanted us to leave so his coworkers could relax. He didn't say so, but we probably also really embarrassed him.

The next time we put on whiteface, a few days later, we'd been asked to act as clowns at an auction to benefit the university's Alumni Fund. After dinner when the auction started and we were free to leave, Spudwhip swept up a bottle of wine from the table and we played at serving wine as we moved toward the back exit.

We drank the wine that night. With all of the things I have forgotten, I still remember that it was a Covey Run Chardonnay, my first Washington State wine.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

First Impression

I first met Motochick through HR, who met her when she was in graduate school in Massachusetts. Motochick was living in LA at the time, but was considering moving to the Bay Area and had come up for HR's birthday.

My first impression, which persisted through several meetings, was that Motochick was very tall and very sophisticated about things about which I could only imagine. I have never been attracted to the "bad boys" but was attracted not only to Motochick herself but what I thought she represented. She rides a motorcycle and I thought she was a total badass. I flirted shyly with her, and she kindly flirted back. HR thought it was funny that I was attracted to Motochick, not because of her, but because of me. I made it obvious that I was kind of crushed out on her, but when I would say things like "She is way out of my league" HR would agree, grinning.

One afternoon I was at Park Place, the nickname for the house HR and her family live in, while Motochick was getting ready to go back to Los Angeles. As it happened, I was going to be in LA in a couple weeks for a meeting, and mentioned that to Motochick. Motochick said, "Maybe we can get together for a drink." In the moment before my eyes darted to HR, I imagined Motochick picking me up on her motorcycle. Motochick saw my brief hesitation and said, laughing, "I won't hurt you!"

HR said, "Yes you will!"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Apple Tree Story

When we purchased this house, there were numerous palm trees and three fruit trees growing in the back yard: a small lime tree, an orange tree, and an apple tree. While the apple tree grew a fair number of small apples, we rarely got any. The top of the tree, where the apples were, was over the roofline, difficult to reach with a ladder, and dangerous to reach from the roof. The branches did not appear able to hold our weight should we try to climb for the apples.

The people who live across the street from us are the original owners of their house, having moved in when the neighborhood was being built in 1952. They tell stories about who lived in which house, about walking up the hill with their children to play in the mud pit that was being built into the local state college campus.

I mentioned the fruit trees to them, and the man said that a furniture store had been giving away apple trees as part of a Washington's Birthday sales promotion. He had gone up there and brought a tree back to the house, but wound up giving it to the youngest son in what is now our house, who was eight or so at the time. I think this son is five or ten years older than Zirpu and I, so doing the math quickly I think this tree is about forty years old.

There was a long branch leaning over the fence and hanging the neighbors' yard next door. A few months ago Zirpu had some arborists come to remove some trees and to trim the apple and orange trees, which were too big to harvest. I have learned it is healthy for fruit trees to get picked, and we really did need it to be shorter for us to pick the apples.

The arborists started to trim the tree and learned that the big branch hanging over next door was almost dead. They did a much more severe trimming than I thought they would, because the rot in that branch went all the way into the trunk. We won't get apples from it this year since the trimming was done too late this spring, but the tree seems happy now. It certainly looks better. Next year we'll be able to reach any apples it produces.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Someone Else's Loma Prieta Story

To follow up on yesterday, here is a story Rye told me when I got home for the winter break.

A few days after the earthquake, Rye was on a bus going downtown. The bus wasn't crowded, but was full, and some teenagers got on the bus, making the usual noise teenagers make. Rye, who wears a hearing aid, turned it down so he could continue to ride the bus in peace. Someone else on the bus told the young people to quiet down. They refused and started arguing with the person who had asked them to be quieter.

Rye said that pretty soon everyone on the back of the bus was yelling at each other, some telling others to be quiet, others complaining that no one had the right to tell these kids what to do. Rye quickly decided that he didn't want to be around all that poisonous yelling, and got off the bus, watching it drive away with people still yelling inside.

A couple blocks later he caught up with the bus. It was pulled over to the curb, not at a stop, with an SFPD car parked behind it. The people inside were still yelling, waving their arms, and pointing at everyone else.

Rye figured that while the original argument may have been over noise, the real issue was that people were still upset by the earthquake.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vegetable Curry

I didn't learn how to cook until after I got out of college. I had few kitchen skills, and still don't know how to chop an onion properly. I remember consulting my Joy of Cooking to learn how long to boil an egg to hardness. Upon graduation, the things I could make were Blackbottom Cupcakes, Aunt Syl's Enchilada Sauce, poached eggs, and potato-and-cauliflower curry, also called aloo gobi.

I never look at it, but this is what it looks like:

I learned how to make aloo gobi from Jindi when I was in tenth or eleventh grade. My mother had asked Jindi to teach her how to make an Indian dish. Jindi is a vegetarian and this vegetable curry is a pretty simple dish. Mom had invited me and a friend to come to the cooking lesson also, and since we really liked Indian food we went along.

Truth be told, I don't remember too much about the lesson itself. I remember cutting up the onions and the potatoes, and that my mom and my friend would both ask "How much was that?" when Jindi would put the seasonings into the pot. Jindi said, "You don't have to write it down" when we asked for the recipe, and I didn't, for about five years. When I did write it down, it was really for other people, or in case I forgot how to make aloo gobi.

Because I never make it exactly the same way each time, any way I make it is fine. Jindi was right: Aloo gobi is home food. You don't have to write those recipes down.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dining Not In Paradise

Years ago, Denver D and I were wandering around the U District in Seattle, killing time before meeting someone somewhere else. After wandering long enough, we decided to have dinner. Denver D lived in Seattle and when he pointed out two Vietnamese restaurants we chose the smaller one. They were only a couple of doors apart and he said he'd heard they were about the same in quality, though he'd only been in the larger one.

The restaurant was really small, and it was not only hot but as muggy inside as it was outside. There were a few fans bolted to the ceiling, pointed at the tables, moving the air around your head but not providing any comfort in particular. We sat at a small table in back, under one of the fans. The table had salt, pepper, and a sticky bottle sriacha chile-garlic sauce sitting on it. We reviewed the menu and ordered.

Denver D had taught English in Taiwan for about a year after we got out of college. While waiting for our meal, he remarked that this restaurant convincingly recreated the experience of eating in Asia: a small, almost-clean setting, with tables close together and muggy air.

When the food came, the grilled whatever-it-was I had ordered (I no longer remember) had been garnished with a sprinkling of peanuts. I can't eat peanuts at all, not even a garnish, and when we finally got the waiter to come back, I explained that I couldn't eat this food with peanuts all over it because it would trigger my very bad allergy. He took the plate away and returned two minutes later - a surprisingly short time to prepare a whole new plate.

In the semi-darkness I looked closely at the plate and saw that there were still little pieces of peanut on the food. It was clear that the waiter had taken the plate back to the kitchen and shaken the peanuts off the food. I told Denver D that the waiter had not responded to the problem, and so we talked about what to do next.

That was resolved for us by Denver D noticing a baby cockroach on the table. He said that the cockroach made the recreation complete, only with smaller cockroaches. I pointed out that we were not eating dinner in Taiwan. We left.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mouse-Fox Doll

My father has one sister who married young, and her children are much older than No and I. In fact, I think the youngest of those cousins is around 14 years older than I am. The family lived outside Chicago, my uncle taking the train into the city to work at the Chicago Stock Exchange.

One of my cousins had a doll that I loved. To me, it seemed to be part mouse, part fox, with a long pointy nose and ears. When we visited my aunt and uncle, I carried the doll around and have it sit with me while watching television or playing games with my brother. It was a strange creature and unlike any other stuffed animal I had or had seen.

Years later I showed this photo to my new, and close, friend Sam-O, and he said that he had had a similar doll when he was little. His mother had made it from a pattern in a magazine. Because of the state our friendship was in, we were both awestruck by the coincidence.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Planning to Commit

In May of 2002, Zirpu and I had been dating for about eight months. He was living in a 400sf apartment that was too small for all of his stuff (namely, big furniture, a Bowflex, and an exercise bike, plus many books and a couple of computers) on the west side of the San Mateo Bridge. I was living in an Oakland house with a 14-bit modem and which was located in an area without much cell phone service.

One afternoon I broached a very scary topic: Our moving in together. Zirpu had concerns about living together that didn't have anything to do with me, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to live with anyone. At the same time, we wanted to be together all the time, and dating involved a lot of driving for both of us, with me spending whole weekends down on the peninsula. Mostly I remember that I worked really hard to just listen to what Zirpu had to say and then think of my response, rather than listen and think at the same time.

At the end of that conversation we agreed that we would talk about it again in January 2003 and see if we both wanted to live together, and perhaps start sharing living space a few months after that. Whew! We were done with that conversation, but we both knew where the other stood: "Yes, right now it seems that living together would be good, but I'm not ready right now."

We all know what happens to plans. In September we were engaged and moving into an apartment halfway between my job and his.

You can't resist it
When it happens to you

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fifteen Seconds

The twentieth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake passed a couple weeks ago. That was the quake that knocked down Watsonville and parts of Santa Cruz, broke part of the Bay Bridge, collapsed a 1.25 mile section of highway, caused a big fire in the Marina district, and postponed the third game of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's.

I was in Tacoma, at college, hanging around the house with some folks, including a friend of mine who had just arrived by from San Francisco for a visit when I received a call from a guy I was seeing. He had been watching TV, waiting for the game to start, when he (and everyone else) lost the video feed and learned that an earthquake had just hit the Bay Area. He didn't have a phone and had jumped in his car to go to a friend's to let me know.

At the time, a friend of ours had (unofficially) moved in to live with his girlfriend, one of my housemates. While none of us "real" residents of the house had a TV, this fellow had one in storage in the basement and we brought it upstairs and propped it on the coffee table. I remember that it was both small and yellow.

I tried to reach Mom and couldn't get through, so I called my aunt in Massachusetts to see if she had heard from Mom (this was our back-up plan for emergencies). While I was on the phone with Aunt Alice, Mom called and said that she was all right and the house was all right. She had just sat down in a meeting with two people at work when the earthquake struck, and after the they ducked under the doorway or the desk, everyone had gone straight home. No was at college in Southern California and she had already spoken to him.

My friend who had just arrived got in touch with his family, who lived outside SF, a few hours later. In the hours while we watched the news, I kept thinking of more people to wonder about how they were doing. A friend of my mother's lived in the Marina (still does), though I didn't know where exactly she lived so any of those apartment buildings that had just fallen on their faces could have been hers. Eventually I learned that this person wasn't allowed back in her apartment for three days, when the SFFD let her in for fifteen minutes to get some things; she stayed with a friend until her home was cleared by the engineers. Most of one family was at their warehouse south of Market Street; the buildings on both sides lost their front walls, but their building was fine, and at home they lost only one teacup when it fell out of the cupboard.

It was bad enough being glued to the television. I'd heard Mom use that expression when she would describe where she and Dad were when JFK was shot. It was really strange to be so far away when the earthquake happened - particularly for my friend, who had left SF the previous day. We felt like we should have been there, participating.

Are you prepared?