Monday, February 27, 2006

On any Sunday

What is the fascination with shopping carts? If you are homeless and have no other luggage, okay, I get it. I see you shuffling down the street, your shopping cart (or carts) holding everything you own. But what of the cart that is, itself, homeless? What of the cart stolen from the Safeway parking lot for a mere joyride, then left, forlorn and alone, at the side of the road?

My average Sunday begins hours after Sandra Bullock and the Jawa have awoken. I usually drag myself out of bed around 9:30, get dressed, pick my way past a house completely undone by home improvement and Legos, then casually stroll down to the corner market for a newspaper, maybe stop for a hot chocolate at Higher Grounds. Sadly, for the past five Sundays (save for last week, when I was in Las Vegas), my morning stroll has been marred by the sight of at least two and sometimes as many as six Safeway shopping carts stacked up on the side of Diamond Street.

They are always in the same place: halfway down the hill, at the edge of the sidewalk, leaning against a street sign on one side and a tree stump on the other. They are lined up as they would be at the Safeway, only instead of being safe at their home, they're sitting out here on Diamond. A very nice woman that I work with buys advertising space on these Safeway carts. Every time we go shopping I feel comforted to know that Suzanne from work is there, smiling up at me from my shopping cart.

Left abandoned on the side of the road, Suzanne's smile becomes a sad mockery of happiness. I can see her advertising budget turning to vapor right there on Diamond. One time I noticed that someone had actually slapped a sticker over Suzanne's face. When I see her at our Wednesday meetings, I feel it is my duty to inform her, using very grave tones, that once again someone has pushed her carts down the hill, leaving them at the side of the road. "Well," she says pleasantly, because Suzanne is a pleasant woman, "people walking down the street buy houses, too!"

This entire situation bothers me. If someone is stealing shopping carts and sending them barreling down Diamond Street, why would they then take the time to carefully stack them up in the same spot each weekend? Furthermore, if someone is running carts down Diamond, shouldn't there be random bloodstains on the road from the inevitable crashes? No way can you control a shopping cart down a steep hill. I can barely manage them in the store.

And why doesn't Safeway slap those "this cart cannot leave the parking lot" gizmos on their property? Everyone else does it.

It remains a mystery. Five weeks and counting.

I used to love my Sunday hot chocolates at Higher Grounds. Having lived in Seattle for ten years as a non-coffee drinker, I started drinking hot chocolate to deflect attention and to give me some reason to go to coffee places, which are nice places to hang out.

I do not hang out at Higher Grounds, but always appreciated their hot chocolate, which was made with powdered chocolate (surprisingly better than syrup for the hot choc) and arrived at the perfect temp. Mike, the guy who worked the front of the house, knew my drink and started it as soon as he saw me get into line. The guy who owns the place is friendly. It was a good deal all around.

But then Mike left. Without fanfare, one Sunday he was gone. Since then, Higher Grounds has lost itself in a swirl of instability. Without Mike's encyclopedic knowledge of everyone's drink, there's no quality control, no way to ensure that you will get the beverage you've come to expect. Gone, too, is Mike's high-pitched, gravelly voice, his t-shirt bearing unusual messages, and his unpredictable facial hair.

In Mike's place has been a long roster of wannabes and rookies. His first replacement was a young girl who made everything too cold. A few weeks later she was gone. I went in there on a Sunday and was met by a smiling, goateed, balding Middle Eastern man. Deferential he was, and overjoyed to be helping out, but inconsistent in his craft. The hot choc came out scalding, with no lid.

This past Sunday I began thinking that I might have to switch from Higher Grounds to Cafe Bello around the corner. The atmosphere sucks, and I'll miss the hard-working, ancient Mercedes station wagon-driving owner, but this instability is driving me nuts. If you're going to drop $3 for a Sunday beverage that you really don't need, you should at least get what you want.

Back in the Seattle days, Sunday coffee was an event. We'd pack the Jawa in his stroller and walk the half-mile down Broadway, the main commercial strip of our neighborhood, to meet Flush Puppy and her towheaded daughter, plus single mom Deena and her daughter, at Vivace. We'd sit there for hours while our kids played. They had toys and couches. It was great, a moment frozen in time, circa 1998, that we'll never be able to reproduce.

So if that's gone, if Sunday hot choc has been drilled down to a quick trip down the street, dodging lost shopping carts, grabbing the paper then trudging back up the hill, I don't want the burden of an inadequate beverage. This week, I found the grinning goatee guy, who was joined by new young girl and the hard-working guy, and gave them a final chance. Absolute chaos reigned behind the counter. Too many bodies. They had customers back there grabbing their own coffee. The hard-working guy was slamming plates full of crepes and eggs on the counter.

I ordered my hot choc. It arrived luke warm, overfull and again with no lid. I know that friends don't let friends go to Starbucks, but I've got to find a new place.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Good pants and desperate women

I am wearing my favorite pants. The Jawa has his particular faves -- a pair of Old Navy corduroy cargos, brown, bought for $9 at the friends and family sale last fall. Mine are Banana Republic (Gap brands cradle to grave, baby, cradle to grave) dark khakis, flat front, and I wish I could remember the actual model name. It's not written on them anywhere; otherwise my entire closet would be full of them. I love them enough to be happy wearing them, even though it's Friday and I have no real reason to not be wearing jeans.

The other day this older single mom at work got angry at me for not thinking she was funny. Alright, I admit, I was baiting her a little bit. I am not entirely innocent in this case, it is true, but what if people who weren't funny were just allowed to run around spouting stuff off, thinking that they were providing a service for anyone standing nearby?

Why don't they just get blogs?

So I thought I would try to quell the flames a little bit. I threw out, "You said something funny to me once. You said you'd never date another man whose mother was alive!" I thought that would bring her around, a reminder of her own occasional funniness, but no. She focused on the "once" part of it, and slammed me back with, "I didn't say that to you." Ouch.

Then she spun away, full of confusion and anger behind her sort of hip and definitely hilarious cat's-eye glasses, asking everyone in the room if I had ANY sense of humor.

Now I found that part ironic. Because she's not very funny, I have no sense of humor. I think I've found myself defaulting to that defensive position before myself, which makes it no less pathetic. If you are not laughing with me, it must be because you cannot recognize humor. I am proud to say that I have not adopted that aggressive pose since high school.

Then she returned. I was still standing at the front desk, sifting through the candy dish, hoping that a Werther's caramel would erase this unpleasant scene. Unfortunately, she was not finished. "Do you have ANY sense of humor?" she demanded.

So, in this case, what do you say? Do you defend your humor honor? Is that possible without explaining that she's just not that funny? Of course not. Sometimes, when someone has already decided that you're a jerk, it's best to just ride it out.

"No. None at all," I said, feeling my body surround itself with the impenetrable armor of the truly obnoxious.

Sadly, I was not able to continue this. A few minutes later, when she appeared at my desk and pleaded, "You seemed offended by me!" I folded and said, politely, "No, I thought you were offended."

This is the great part, because once you take that stand, and you seem apologetic and truly concerned, you are then allowed to assume that you are off the hook, no matter how awful your real thoughts are. She flounced away and I thought, "Insecure much?" And lady, if I'm calling you out for insecurity, you are indeed in a sorry state.

Yesterday she brought her 2-year-old kid into the office. I made all the right noises. Then she gave her kid a can of Coke.

Man, I love these pants.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Walking Man

I need to walk more. Generally, and like most people with jobs, I commute in my car. I walk down our front stairs, get in the car and speed away. Twenty minutes later, I'm at work. No, wait. Twenty minutes later, I'm near work. Twenty minutes after that, I'm parked and walking into work.

During this time, my only input comes from the radio. That usually means sports or music. I may also carry on one-way conversations with other drivers or pedestrians, but lord help me if they actually talk back. I arrive at work in a mild headache fog, usually irritated because I've spent 20 minutes looking for a parking spot. Net impact of city life on mine: zero.

Today, since I had plenty of time and no Jawa pickup resonsibilities, I took BART downtown and then walked the remaining 6 blocks to work. Net impact of city life on mine: infinity.

Prior to adopting my upright citizen facade, I spent a large part of each day walking. It began when I was 22 and visiting Sydney, Australia and flourished during the years I lived in Seattle. Remember, I am an Orange County guy. Nobody walks in Southern California. Even the illegal aliens who gather on the corner of Chapman and Hewes waiting for work are driven to their location.

There are only two rules to walking in the city, and the fact that I followed neither of them while walking today shows that I have gotten too far from my walking roots. They are as follows:

1) Cross with whatever light is green.
2) Always cross to get a closer look at an interesting girl, car or motorcycle.
(Rule #2 once blew up in my face when the interesting girl I crossed the street to see turned out to be Sandra Bullock's best friend. Interesting. I am so sadly emasculated that I went home and immediately told S. Bullock about the incident. She chuckled, then called her friend, who was flattered. A scary and dangerous man am I.)

Though today's walk was not a classic meander, it did remind me of what I've been missing by driving everywhere. The casual pace of walking down the hill, stopping to buy a newspaper and BART ticket, then waiting for the next train. Reading one of the ridiculous free weekly newspapers and realizing that we, as a family, take very little advantage of all of the cultural and gastronomic options offered by our city. The constant sensory input. The woman in the sandwich place telling her friend that she was "going to find (him) a nice Italian girl to marry."

I arrived sweaty and relaxed. My laptop bag was heavy, but if I could have I would have continued walking for the rest of the day.

Of course, once I arrived here about 15 minutes passed before I felt the loss of my car. No way can I go home and put on a sportcoat for my 5 pm client meeting. It would take me 2 hours to get there and back.

Back in the Seattle days, I would leave my house and walk for hours. Besides the two rules of city walking, there were no borders to my walk, save for exhaustion. And since I was 24, exhaustion wasn't an issue. I walked through any neighborhood unafraid, because I was young, strong and dressed in a way to blend in wherever I walked. Nobody cared about me. I just walked through. People seem to be suspicious of a 40-year-old guy walking aimlessly through a city. Unless you're not speaking the native tongue, you're viewed warily or with pity.

I once thought of writing a memoir based on walking. Sadly, it, like every single other great idea I've ever had in my life, died in my head, long before execution.

One night, two days before I met Sandra Bullock, I walked from downtown to Fremont, a distance of approximately 5 miles, in a driving snowstorm. Just for kicks, and to get to a party.

Today I walked six blocks through downtown in my best Banana Republic finery and it completely made my day. I need to walk more.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pottery Barn Nation

I may have talked Sandra Bullock into buying a new car, to replace the Subaru Outback we have had since the Jawa was 3 weeks old. The Outback is a vehicle from another time and place -- the "We live in Seattle and have a baby" -era. For the family we were, it was perfect.

It's finest hour came during Christmas of 1999. Seattle was socked in with snow, but we had to get to S.B.'s mother's house on the Kitsap Pensinsula. After 8 hours stuck inching along the ice of Highway 99, we pulled off onto side streets, unsure if the Outback would persevere or simply slide into a snowbank. It performed like a champ, sticking to even the iciest pavement as if its tires were coated in stickum. We made it to the ferryboat, and then through the snowdrifts on the other side.

But now, we have no snow. We don't ski. There is no stroller to haul around. And the Outback has 102,000 miles, a big dent and gets 18 miles per gallon -- something you might want to point out to the next righteous Subaru driver when they launch into a "no blood for oil" diatribe.

This is all a very long intro pointing to the fact that our next car might be a Volkswagen Jetta, which will complete the takeover of our lives by the Pottery Barn Nation.

John Seabrook, who writes for the New Yorker, published an article and then an entire book a few years ago called "Nobrow," which would have made a very interesting observation about mass-produced good taste if it hadn't been so obsessed with pointing out that its author, though Ivy League-educated and wealthy, was still cool and current and listened to hip-hop on his Walkman (no ipods back then).

This idea is intriguing. Something I was made aware of while living in Seattle and occasionally dropping into a Starbucks -- I'm down with the whole anti-corporate vibe, spending a little extra to support local businesses and, in doing so, finding something wonderful, tasteful and unique as opposed to bland, uniform and dull. But Starbucks provided something tasteful and at first unique. They took the intellectual-seeming, serene coffee house setting and made it available to anyone willing to walk from one corner to the next. Starbucks' coffee (I hear, since I don't actually drink coffee) is good enough for S. Bullock to order it special and keep it in the freeze. These days it seems that Starbucks is a clearing house for all kinds of easy-access good taste. They sell cds often by cool, hip and underappreciated artists, very attractive coffee mugs and the New York Times.

What's not to love?

And if you extrapolate, you can find that good, or at least decent, non-embarassing taste is available to meet your needs in almost every facet of life. We shop at various Gap-brand clothing stores. We buy our furniture at Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel and our kitchenwares at Williams-Sonoma. When we want to splurge, we go to Restoration Hardware. And this stuff is nice -- it's attractive and sometimes even holds up well, and these stores have retail outlets all over the place. Every season there are new designs to choose from. Is there any reason for us to go off the grid and shop the boutiques and secret warehouses in the Bayview?

After all, we have a child, which seriously limits our shopping time. Sandra Bullock rips through several catalogues a week. Her shopping takes place almost entirely on the couch.

And while no one is going to laud us for having good taste, nobody's going to stare at us and say "What in the world are they (wearing, driving, sitting on, eating off of)." It's not notable, but it is acceptable.

Of course, it's very easy to slam us for buying into this type of one-size-fits-all corporate culture. Shouldn't we furnish our house with unique, interesting antiques or one-off custom things? Are we supporting the expolitation of workers in some far-off country? And finally, are we hitching our self-esteem and display of wealth wagon to an easy out, mass-produced Huxley-esque soma to take away all of the challenges of life?

Or maybe we just like having decent stuff and this is all we can afford. That Jetta comes in at less than $20,000 and has leather seats. It's the Swiss Army watch of automobiles.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Leaving Las Vegas

There's nothing I can add to the already-bulging catalog of impressions of Las Vegas by wannabe writers. I went, I spent money, I didn't gamble -- which infuriated the people I was traveling with. I often forgot to eat, but at no time risked dehydration.

I will return.

Naturally, and in my most "I'm so different" cliched way, my favorite part was downtown, not the Strip. And my favorite part (besides drinking 52 oz. of beer out of a football-shaped decanter) was walking away from the Fremond Street Experience (are you experienced?) and down to the forgotten ghetto a few blocks away.

Down there you can find sad little two-story "hotels" with depressing, low-roofed casinos; dealers wearing dirty, open-necked shirts, 50 cent blackjack tables and all the people who feel, for whatever reason, that they would not be welcome at Fitzgeralds, 6 blocks away.

But was that enough for this seeker of the seedy underside of society? No! I continued walking.

Where I drew the line -- and I still regret it -- was at the bar a block away from the dirtiest casino in Las Vegas. I've never before seen a bar where you had to buzz to get in. How could I resist that? Sadly, respectability won out over adventurousness. I kept walking, took a right, and started back to the loud, bright, neon-drenched semi-reality of the Fremont Street Experience. Soon I was drinking my football of beer underneath a dazzling red-white-and-blue-themed light show.

By Sunday I was a convert. Everything had gone great. Kathleen had met my friends and loved them, and vice-versa. I even found a store that sold not just Coke, but Vanilla Coke. Amazing, yes, and worth even the massive dose of attitude dished out by David, the ponytailed, scraped-up looking 7-11 clerk who sold me the Van Coke.

The Luxor still sucked, but who spends time in their hotel room? Judging from the appearance of my fellow tourists, Las Vegas' sales slogan - "What happens here, stays here," is working. Either that, or 65% of the women in the world own only low-cut tank tops.

By 6 pm Sunday I was at the airport, joined at my gate by the tiredest,most burned out-looking group of people ever to populate a series of fixed, uncomfortable chairs. Guys' eyes were rolling back in their heads. Girls in straw cowboy hats passed out with digital cameras on their laps.

Fortunately, flights were arriving all over the airport, disgorging hundreds of bright-eyed, perky reinforcements: our replacements.

I arrived at SFO at 9 pm, to be met by an unenthusiastic Sandra Bullock and a happy Jawa, who leapt from the backseat of the Acura to hug me upon my arrival. He wore a black t-shirt, blue sweatpants, and Vans slip-on with little green skulls all over them.

This morning, tired of dealing with our rapidly failing water pressure, Sandra Bullock emerged from the shower this morning and demanded I do something. "It's just dripping out!" she said. "Just take off the shower head and at least see if it's the shower head or the water itself."

A few minutes and several revolutions with a wrench later, the offending shower head was gone, replaced by a drinking fountain-like stream of water. "I'd take that over the alternative," offered up S. Bullock, as I rinsed the shower head in the sink, revealing a large pile of black rust. I hand-twisted the shower head back on, flipped on the water. A promising stream of water came out. It was better, but still not great.

"Wait!" said S.B. She ran downstairs and emerged with another shower head, one of the many we'd bought while trying to fix the leak that had begun this entire fiasco. I screwed the new shower head on, turned on the water and...amazing. I powerful blast of water exploded out of the new head.

We all but dropped to our knees and thanked the forces from above. I immediately peeled off my clothes and jumped into the now-refreshing, soothing shower. "We just saved $10,000!" I beamed, referring the the bathroom remodel which can now wait until summer at least."

Shower problem solved. Las Vegas over. Article due today completed. The Jawa fully enjoying the red fuzzy dice I bought him at the largest gift shop in the world.

I should have parlayed those hoops games Saturday night. I'd be $200 richer if I had.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Viva Las Vegas

Here I am, in my luxurious, Egyptian-themed room at the Luxor, typing away. Outside, the surprisingly chilly world of The Strip awaits. I have now been in Las Vegas for 20 hours. This is what I've learned:

1. There is a specific way that taxi drivers will try to rip you off on your trip from the airport. Steve Johnson, my cabbie, casually pointed up to some road construction on Wayne Newton Blvd. and said, "Two lanes are closed. There's another way we can go, through the tunnel. It'll cost you about 6 to 8 dollars more, but it'll save time. Probably cost you the same if we have to sit here waiting."

I later learned that "the tunnel" is the standard cabbie rip-off from the airport. What happens in the tunnel, I will never know.

Having been warned in advance, I demurred. We stayed in the traffic because I understand that taxis charge by the mile, not by the minute. For Steve, he of the weathered skin and droopy blonde moustache, it was like I'd passed some test. He became chatty, singing the praises of Huong, the remarkably clean, tiny Vietnamese brake man. When I departed, Steve warned me about "Muslim cabdrivers" who would try to rip me off. "Muslims, huh?" I replied. "But they're usually so ethical."

Steve turned out to be an accurate soothsayer, as our 2 am driver, Bhdqr Bin Abhwtz, did try to rip us off, only to earn an earful of semi-truths about the power of lawyers from R. Hunt, esq. and his sequin-draped girlfriend, Katherine Zeta Jones. Both are lawyers. It was an impressive display. I would've just stiffed the guy.

2. Luxor is embarassing. Don't stay there. It's a big old pyramid, nowhere near as gaudy as New York, New York, nor as Mafia classy as the Venitian. It's at the end of the Strip and, oddly, offers a dated, rudimentary climate control. This place is only, like, ten years old, right? Did they have to go to junkyards and dig these things out? Is this an effort at recreating the ancient climate control systems of Egypt?

Also, the headliner in the big room is Carrot Top.

3. People will talk to you if you're sitting at a bar alone. With three hours to kill before meeting Kathleen and the others, I took a walk (which, I've heard, in itself is unusual) to New York, New York, the thinking being that, since my favorite place is New York, my favorite hotel would be New York, New York. Because, you know, it's just like being in New York.

Or not.

It's got lots of stores, and competing bars, and I guess if you believe that the Jungle Cruise is just like being in the Amazon, then New York, New York, is just like being in New York. Though I'm not sure if there are piano bars in the real New York where they play "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "You Shook Me All Night Long."

Me, I went to the most innocuous-looking bar, planted myself on a stool, and ordered a Sin City Amber. When in Rome. Soon I was talking to the guy from Idaho who'd been divorced twice, the tax guy from New Jersey and his wife, and Tony, from Prescott ("You pronounce it like 'biscuit'"), Arizona, who was 33 and had 3 kids, and had lost so much money playing Texas Hold 'em that he was going home a day early. It was our party, and one, I maintain, we could just as easily have held in a bar in Prescott, Arizona, but there we were. Everyone talking. It was nice.

3) Even if you don't gamble, you will shed money as if it were sweat. I think I spent something like $80 last night, even though I had a slice of pizza for dinner and didn't spend one time on gambling. By the way, my goal is to not gamble at all. Shouldn't be too difficult.

4) "Old" Las Vegas does not exist, at least not on the Strip. However, just during the course of one non-spectacular evening, you can see things like a scary pit boss, really really (really) drunk young guys staggering around -- probably congratulating themselves for not being tied down with some whining wife and kids -- and domestic violence. Kathleen and I saw some guy drive his wife/girlfriend into a wall while waiting for the valet. Security descended immediately. She left her car there. He went back into the casino. Las Vegas is forgiving.

No celebrity sightings. Lots of German tourist sightings. Many strange couple sightings, and the odd group of overdressed (but under-covered) single women.

5) My friend's girlfriend is hot. She must be. All the guys in the casinos were checking her out as they walked by. I said, "Hey! Those guys are checking out your girlfriend!" and R Hunt, esq. said, "That's right. Good for them."

Five observations about Las Vegas, but overall, I kind of still don't get it. Maybe the switch will turn on today.

Check out my brother-in-law's blog. Unless you hate the Phoenix Suns,

Thursday, February 16, 2006

True Love, Pt. 2

To any 30-something (or 40-something, or even 20-something) single woman wondering where all the good men are, I have to deliver some bad news: they are not at 24-hour fitness.

Overheard in the lockerroom today was a conversation between two prototype samples of the most selfish species alive, the single 30-something man. It went something like this:

Guy #1 (who I thought was gay): No way, man. Not while I'm trying to get established at work. You want some whining woman, a couple of whining kids? No.

Guy #2 (hidden Greek letter tattoo? perhaps.): Sure, I hear you. I asked my grand dad how he stayed married for 60 years. He said, "I do what she tells me to do."

#1: Yeah. They order you around. And then they get fat. What is it? They gain 5 lbs. for each year of marriage?

#2: And kids! Who wants a couple of those screaming kids? You gotta pay for them, and your whining wife, telling you what to do. Not me.

#2: I hear some guys say it's okay.

#1: Yeah, but they're the exception, not the rule.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the future hope of the species.

Meanwhile, I continue to age. Yesterday, I happened into Nordstrom's to do some child-free browsing of the men's department. It was laid out in front of me -- every aspect of sartorial manhood, as presented by Nordstrom.

I started in suits. I am going to Las Vegas for a wedding this weekend. The always-evolving Dr. Bando will finally make the plunge, glitz-style. I will trot out the same suit I wore the last wedding, when Greg married his girlfriend of 17 years, Tracy. They now have a child, and I have the same suit. It's not even a suit. It's a sportcoat and pants, circa 2001, bought the last time I had a job that came with an actual salary.

Nordstrom suits are staid, conservative. No way was I at home in that department, and no way do I have enough of a need for nice shirts and ties to browse that section. I moved over the the parallel casual departments, "Men's Sportswear" and "Brass Rail."

It is popular now in advertising circles to refer to children ages 9-12 as "tweens," but what about the not-quite over the hump 40-year-old? Do I sift through "sportswear," and emerge looking as if I am about to go golfing? Are pleated khakis and polo shirts appropriate wear for a guy with no income? Or do I go to the "rail," and risk looking like someone's dad trying to be hip. I could just stand in that department and announce loudly how stupid it is to spend $169 on a pair of jeans. Would that be correct behavior? Or maybe just scoff at how present-day styles reflect those of the 70s and 80s.

I have no idea. My dad once told me that all men choose their style during their senior year of high school, and then carry that style with them for the rest of their lives. If that is true, it's time for me to stock up on argyle sweaters and saddle shoes. Hmm.

Again, this aging thing.

I just finished reading a good biography of original punk pioneers The Clash, and have taken to driving around with "London Calling" playing on my 6-cd changer. "Good for me," I think as I roll into the Jawa's school's parking lot. "No 60s dinosaur music coming from this kid's car."

Well, no. Instead we've got 80s dinosaur music. And my joy when the 3-year-old Jawa began singing along with the Pixies was probably no different than hippie dad's when he crammed Janis Joplin down his own jawa's throat. Nobody wants to feel old, I guess. We all want to think we're somehow "different" than those other middle-aged dads. Again, I blame the hippies. Before they made youth their own personal lifelong entitlemant, it was okay to get old. You were supposed to be a square when you were 40.

Of course, it could be much worse. We could be aging single guys, thinking they've got it made.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Larkspur to San Quentin to San Francisco

Money-making idea:

1) bumper stickers reading: "I Survived Dick Cheney's Last Hunting Trip"
2) t-shirt: "Dick Cheney Hunting Team 2006" with bullet holes all over it.

When you grow up in California, or maybe just in Southern California, your grasp of reality can get a bit skewed. Much as the obsessive consumer of pornography lives in a world where all women are pneumatic, hairless playthings, so does the SoCal kid live in world where Disneyland is real. The world is a continual diorama, rolling by slowly as you wave to all the animatronic beings.

It is a small world, after all.

The Larkspur ferry made me think of this. Today I drove my poor Acura up to Marin Acura for some new rear brakes, and took the Larkspur ferry back into San Francisco. I love ferries and will take one any chance I get. Nothing beats bearing down in one of the ferryboat's faux Denny's dinettes with a stack of "Homes for Sale" magazines.

At Larkspur today I stood outside and breathed. I had a dozen real estate magazines, but there's big air on the back deck of a ferryboat, and today it was sunny and warm. As the ferry backed out of its mooring and eased out of the inlet, we passed houseboats, hills and, finally, near the entrance to the open bay, San Quentin.

Adopting the Alcatraz paradigm of prison locations, San Quentin sits right on the tip of a peninsula, jutting out into San Francisco Bay. Behind it, on a hill, is a small village of gorgeous Victorian houses -- the homes of wardens, guards and others who work at the prison. Still, there is no doubt as to what it is: maximum security prison, home to Charlie Manson and, until recently, Tookie Williams. It's a worn down, ominous-looking old building, with World War II-era observation towers and a bunch of barbed wire. And I swear to God, as we floated by San Quentin, the tourists on the boat stood on the deck and waved.

Sadly, it didn't strike me as odd, at first. It was Disneyland's storybookland canal boats made large (minus the babes in the Alice in Wonderland dresses). A cute little prison scene with animatronic rapists, murderers and thieves. I had to remind myself of what actually goes on inside those buildings, what the guys inside did to wind up there. The tourists waved. An older English guy took pictures. Then the boat turned right, kicked in the engines and drove out toward San Francisco, where a cute, colorful diorama of a city awaited us.

Meanwhile, happy Valentine's Day. Sandra Bullock confessed to me that she didn't get me a card, but somehow, seeing that it bothered her that she didn't get me a card somehow meant more to me than actually getting a card.

This guy is funny. This guy is most certainly not.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Requiem for a Beverage

Baby, I can't tell you what to do or what to say,
I lost my head the day they took my Vanilla Coke away.

Granted, I was not an instant convert. Though I'd anticipated its arrival since the days of ordering vanilla Cokes at the original Ruby's on the Balboa pier, I professed huge disappointment after my first bottle of Coke's own brew, but since they'd combined two of my favorite flavors (or flavours, if you are from Canada or England), I kept at it, repeatedly slamming cans and bottles until the now-legendary Vanilla Coke (or "Van Coke" for short) replaced Cherry Coke as my guilty pleasure of choice.

And then they took it away.

I heard it first from Angela, the amazingly cheerful office manager at work. Given her preternatural ability to feel compassion, it was unsurprising that delivering this bad news brought her almost to tears. After all, she had actually ordered a special 6-pack of Van Coke for the month before. To the other realtors, it sat unnoticed among the stacks of regular Coke in the Zephyr Real Estate lunch room refrigerator. For me, it was a special add to my work day and a sign of Angela's overwhelming worth to the world of Zephyr Real Estate. And how she was giving me the real deal: No more Van Coke as of January 1. Coke was phasing it out.

I savored those last cans of Van Coke, but never went as far as to hoard the stuff. I knew that I would never hear the end of it from S. Bullock if I were to suddenly show up with cases of Van Coke, like some ironically caffeine-addicted Mormon stocking up for Judgement Day. Instead, I planned to cut out Coke entirely, then thought I might just switch back to regular Coke.

As crustaceans know they must evolve or die, so do drinkers of Vanilla Coke. January 1 came and went. The few leftover cans and bottles of liquid gold soon disappeared from convenience and liquor store shelves. By the end of January, there simply was no Van Coke in the city. None.

Enter Black Cherry Vanilla Coke. As a forward-thinking beverage drinker, I eagerly snapped up a refrigerator pack. I've always prided myself on carbonated beverage open-mindedness. Several years ago, I remember buying a Dr. Pepper at a store in Santa Cruz, and the clerk asking me if I was a Pepper. "Not really," I replied. "I drink it sometimes, but not exclusively."

In fact, I've enjoyed Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb, all kinds of Coke, 7-Up, Sprite and Slice, Welch's Grape, Fanta, even Nee-Hi and Cragmont Black Cherry. I've got a sixer of Dr. Brown's cream in the downstairs refrigerator right now. Give me anything but Mtn. Dew or that stuff with the grapefruit in it from teh 1970s -- Fresca? And no diet, please. Give me the sugar. I promise I'll limit myself to 12 oz. a day.

And now, Black Cherry Vanilla Coke. Ungainly name, unimpressive taste. Not all that different from regular old Cherry Coke. Certainly not an adequate replacement for Vanilla Coke. And so I suffer.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Life as an Adult

At some point, you learn that lies are often better than the truth. The truth can hurt people.

This afternoon I rushed out of the house to meet Sandra Bullock and the Jawa at Target. I had the credit card. They needed it. I was busy thinking up words to put to the tune of "Oops! I did it again..." to describe the situation, because the Jawa always gets a kick out of songs:

Oops! I did it again.
I stole your Amex,
To fill up the car.

There, standing no more than 10 feet from the Acura was a neighbor who had recently moved the Hawaii, but not before doing what I felt were some lousy things that made me not want to have anything to do with this neighbor. Honestly, what she and her husband did seemed really sneaky to me, and really hurt my feelings. It made their last month or so here extremely difficult for me. So there's a problem here. My options:

1) Quickly rush past, into my car and drive away. As far as I know, this neighbor does not yet know my true feelings. In fact, S. Bullock recently forwarded me an email from this neighbor, inviting us to a "reunion party" on Sunday.

So, in this case, the truth was not an option. Other choices:

2) Go over and say "hi!" and take my lumps.

I chose option 2, and in doing so, began an extended lie. I wanted nothing more than to get away from this person, and thought it was kind of bizarre that she was standing on my street when she lives across an entire ocean in a place I have thought of as the least hip place in the world since I was 22.

This was lie #1.

Lie #2 came when she asked if I'd gotten the email about the party. "What email?" I said innocently. I did this because I was angry at myself for pretending to be happy to see this person, and though I wanted to end this episode as quickly as possible, I couldn't resist the urge to screw with her a little bit. So not all lies are necessary. Some are just for kicks.

But I'm thinking of lie #3 -- the biggest lie and the most necessary. I needed to get out of there, but I knew that, given that I haven't seen this person who doesn't know how much animosity I have towards her since she and her husband moved last summer, that I should stay and make small talk. I didn't have time or the stomach to do this, so out came Lie #3: "I've got to get going, but we can catch up at the party on Sunday." To rationalize this, I maintain that I conducted the entire conversation in the guarded, cool manner I adopted last summer following our fall-out. Whatever. I have no plans to attend this party.

Sandra Bullock claims that I was "politically correct" in my behavior. Joe Strummer, if he were alive and cared, would say I was a sell-out. No, wait, he'd probably say I was a "wanker."

I used to get in trouble for not lying. I think they call it "tactless." I was so bad that a couple of years ago, at my 20th high school reunion, this guy I barely know or knew came up to me and told me that I'd once made fun of his shoes. Nice. Worst part of that is, when you're the guy who makes fun of people's shoes, anyone else can make fun of your shoes and you can't do anything about it.

So it's better to lie, I guess, though it still doesn't make me feel like a great human being. Just one who hates confrontations. Unless someone steals a parking spot from me.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hometown on Fire

Parents: have you ever spent the entire day counting down the minutes until you can see your child? And have you ever, once you finally see this child, started counting down the minutes until you can be away from your child?

It's awful, I know, but sometimes it happens, especially if said child is lacking sufficient sleep and has a side cramp from P.E.

"Time do you your homework!"
"AaaAAAaaa...I can't get up! Here. I'll try, no NO NO AAAAGH! I can't do it! (slumps dramatically onto the floor)

If, by some strange quirk, they one day remake the old World War II movie where the Sarge calls out to his ethnic rainbow of grunts for some last-minute bonding just before battle, you can be assured that my child will not be the Jewish soldier. Stoic and uncomplaining he is not.

Eventually, though, he fell asleep on the couch, victim of his own exhaustion. The moment his eyes closed, he turned back into my amazing flawless little boy for whom I would step in front of a bullet. Whew.

Some other things I noticed today:

Tougher than me -- guys who bring only a hand towel into the showers at 24-hour fitness.
Not tougher than me -- emasculated dads who speak in high-pitched voices and dance around while holding their kids.

Have I ever been this guy? Perhaps. I hope not. If I have, I'm sure the Flush Puppy will let you all know.

Something I like doing -- walking around wearing a loosened tie. It makes me feel as though I've just completed a tough day of work and am now relaxing.
Something I am tired of -- my cold. Day 4 and it's still hanging tough.
Something that freaks me out -- 75 degrees in February for the third consecutive day.

And you may say, "Why, Lefty? Why must you be a pessimist who prefers gloomy and cold to sunny and warm? Are you damaged beyond repair from living in Seattle for all those years?"


Or maybe it's just that warm weather at weird times reminds me of the Santa Ana winds of my Orange County youth. Every year in Autumn or Winter, the hot winds kick up, bring with them static electricity, chapped lips, weird moods and, inevitably, brush fires. So you wake up one morning and it's 85 degrees in November. Your mouth hurts because you've already lived through 8 hours of wind minus your Blistex. Everything you touch gives you a big shock, and everyone is edgy and irritable.

And then you smell it: fire. It smells like a campfire, which you would think was reassuring, but there's this undercurrent to it, a smell more stucco than marshmallow, that makes it unsettling and not reassuring. You stop and look up, turning in a circle until you see the black cloud rising in the sky. It could be far away or it could be close. If it's close, you'll also notice ashes falling all around. If it's really close, you'll be inside the black cloud and might see the fire line as it advances. It leaves a mark: I once wrote 2/3 of a novel where two brushfires were basically main characters.

I bring this up because for the past couple of days a fire has been threatening my old neighborhood in Orange County. Fortunately, no homes were destroyed this time, which is a total crapshoot because since I left, they've built about 10,000 new homes, plus a freeway, out in the formerly empty canyons between Orange, Tustin and El Toro.

Last time a fire got this close, I was a senior in high school, waiting for a phone call to see if Kris Erickson was going to go to Homecoming with me. It was a Saturday, and I had to drive to school to pick up my friend Mike, who was working on some photography thing there and couldn't go home because they'd been evacuated. It took me about twenty minutes to make the 2-mile drive to school because there were cars parked sideways in the road, fire trucks, smoke and people all over the place. It was, I imagined, what the end of the world would look like.

I admit that, like my child, I was a dramatic youth. He had to get it from somewhere, right? Still, anyone will tell you that it's pretty intense to have a fire get that close. We sat in lawnchairs and watched the flames climb the hills in Villa Park, a couple of miles away across a gully, swallowing up a bunch of expensive houses.

In the end, we were spared. Kris Erickson went to Homecoming with a Swedish exchange student named Ulff and I stole the girl who would be my first true love from her date, Jeff Read. Mike got home okay and is now a Missionary in some country that ends with "-istan."

The big secret about California is that it's not the earthquakes, it's the fires. Everyone who grew up here has a fire story. As of today, a bunch of people in Orange County have a brand new one.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How to Ruin Even the Most Reliable Car

Can anyone name a job more harmful to cars than realtor? Think about it: I drive around San Francisco all day, stopping and starting. If I looked at 18 houses yesterday, that means I started up my car 18 times. I was limited by time, of course, so I ZOOMED away from each stop sign, BLASTED up hills and then JAMMED on my brakes at the bottom.

And now, my poor car is hurting. This morning I put a tank of overpriced gas into it, did the math in my head and realized that my very efficient Acura TSX is getting 17 miles per gallon.

But it would get worse.

A few hours later, while driving around looking at houses, I noticed a strange metallic scraping sound coming from the left side of the car. You got it: brakes.

Lets step back a moment to discuss the devil's compact you must make in order to own a car in San Francisco. Your choice is this: brakes or clutches. If you drive a manual transmission, you will replace your clutch at least twice as often as someone living in a normal place. If you drive an automatic, you can expect to replace your brake pads at least twice as often as people living just about ANYWHERE else in the world except for Juneau, Alaska. And if you live in Juneau, it's really not a problem, because there's only about 15 miles of roads in Juneau.

So here I am, or should I say, here my car is. My poor Acura, the penultimate sensible yet sporty car born of a vehicle-owning career that has included 3 Alfa Romeos, plus Triumph and Ducati motorcycles. At age 40, I have chosen vehicular good sense, having finally realized that my interest in cars runs only skin-deep. Sadly, my occupation is hard enough to drive even the most stellar car into the ground. I apologize, Acura, not only for the brakes and the hard driving, but also for the Legos, the water bottles, the Pokemon cards strewn across the back street. And the "Open House" signs in the trunk. You deserve better.

And Dad, when you call next Sunday, will you please explain to Sandra Bullock the price difference between new brake pads and new brake rotors?

It's the sound of money being crushed under my tires.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I See Dead People's Houses

Today is Tuesday, a gorgeous San Francisco day, and I have three (3) client meetings later this week, so although I am still a germ factory, I did not have the luxury of sitting around the house today. Instead, I hit the road and looked at houses: I toured.

And here's what I saw:

The Richmond: this Northwestern San Francisco district is known for its vast diversity. On the one hand, this means that insane ethnic restaurants can be found on every street corner, or at least the ones not already occupied by Cragan auto parts stores. On the other hand, this also means that homes in this area are not always as they appear.

To the casual observer, San Francisco is a city full of beautifully restored Victorians. Each and every dwelling is polished, restored and full of Tiffany lamps.

Not so.

At least not in the Richmond. Here you will find the legendary "Richmond special," a 2-family dwelling put up in the 1960s without the benefit of permits or laws. Whatever materials happen to be on hand were used -- stone, stucco, wood, play doh, whatever. I was lucky enough to avoid these today.

But I did see a big Edwardian out in 33rd Avenue. "Do Not Disturb Tenants," said the sign outside. Inside were the tenants. At least ten of them. Beds in every room, junk everywhere, and the tenants, looming. Two of them stood on the stairs, hands behind their backs, just looking at all of the realtors as we walked through the obstacle course of their stuff. I went upstairs. The two tenants followed me. I got out of there quick, being careful not to drip over a few mattresses that were strewn about the hallway.

On 6th Avenue was a promising 3 bedroom, 1.25 bath place built in 1916. Beautiful at one time, its owners had died a long time ago. The children were selling the house. They had already sold the kitchen, apparently, and had taken to hitting some of the upstairs bedroom walls with a hammer. This was to be the first dead people house of the day, but far from the last.

This is a common occurance in San Francisco, or anywhere old houses live. People die, their kids sell the family home. Out in West Portal I saw back-to-back dead people houses. The first one was left exactly as the aging Greek couple had left it. Sitting untouched were rooms full of 1960s furniture, Art Deco end tables, a range so old that it had a built-in ashtray. "In case, you know, you want to smoke while you're cooking," said a touring agent, dryly.

At the next house I met the legendary Paul Barbegelata, son of an old-time San Francisco political boss. I'd seen his photo several times, but to actually meet him, well, I've got to say it was a thrill. The house was empty, staged, "The sons are selling it for the family."

It wasn't until I hit my final dead people house, in Westwood Highlands, that I started to feel meloncholy. This one was completely empty, from the tired old kitchen to the odd paneled basement. I was thinking about how this house had held an entire family for a generation, how the dad had used this weird downstairs workshop room they had, and how the teenage sons had brought their girlfriends down to the paneled bonus room, kids riding bikes in the driveway, the whole deal. And now they were gone.

As a realtor, it's obviously not a good idea to dwell on this. Today I also saw a small house in the Richmond owned by an incredibly Christian family. Everywhere I looked were bibles, books, pamphlets and one big Oakland Raiders wall mirror. I saw a home completely overrun by toys and baby clothes. The couple had been married in 2002 and already had two kids. They were moving to Marin, probably because they didn't want to pay for school, even though the husband was a doctor, and a place just across the street, on Teresita, where a man with very small feet had, along with his wife, piled all of their belongings in the garage so the home could be staged, which ALWAYS brings a higher price. Believe it. It's no joke.

The idea is that you bring people into these houses to reinvent them as homes. You take all of the memories of the people who lived there and place new memories on top of them. The great thing about old houses is that sometimes they're already homes before you move into them.

This is never going to make me rich, is it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Germ Factory

Two bad things: first, I woke up this morning with a cold. Second, Saturday's post seems to have disappeared. You would have loved it. It was a celebration of the arcane -- as usual -- about how S. Bullock painted the dining room while I slept in. These are the times of our lives, after all. (apologies to F. Valli)

I jinxed myself this week, inwardly bragging that we, as a family, had made it all the way through cold & flu season minus and colds or flus. Next thing you know, Super Bowl Sunday gives way to Super Phlegm Monday. Real estate is on hold; magazine writing is on hold. All we have is tissues and sports radio. Maybe a library run.

I am subpar. And not my normal subpar. This is a subpar that courses through my veins like bad blood. The roof of my mouth itches. My eyes itch. Sadly, these are perhaps the only parts of the body that you cannot scratch.

This leaves me in a good position to read all of the comments left on this site by well-wishers, wisenheimers and family members hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. The good thing is that I can usually tell who the anonymous commenters are. The other good thing is that some of these comments are coming from people I don't hear from on a regular basis. So far no comments from strangers. Overall, it seems like the only thing commenters can agree on is that they want(ed) the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.

It was not to be.

We had our own Super Bowl gathering, which included 6 former or sometime Seattlites, and we pulled for the home team. I have to say that, given the emails that have been flying around today, I didn't watch the game closely enough to blame the whole thing on the officials. Some day, Seattle, you will have your championship. When it comes, it'll eclipse the memories of the 1979 Sonics. I promise.

Amazing to me was the variety of Seattlites included in the pro-Seahawks comments. From tattooed bar owners Chris & Jeff to cerebral filmmaker Annie Fergerson (one of the original Kathleens, and, thankfully, darn proud of it) to the mysteriously proto-blue collar Dr. Bando to Lake Chelan retirees Dick & Jeannie Cheyne (my in-laws) and sporty gal Betsy Urner, all were united in their love of the, uh, teal and blue? I'm not sure. They keep changing their uniforms.

As for me, I am only a Niners fan, and so entered the contest sporting a Switzerland-like neutrality. And in fact, arrived at my own party late. I had to look at some open houses. It's my job, you know.

Side note: I don't know if you know this, but Super Bowl Sunday is also San Francisco Gay Men Touring Open Houses Day. Strange, because I know for a fact that most, if not all, of the gay men I played volleyball with in Seattle were watching the game.

Come to think of it, I've been to Super Bowl parties hosted by those same Seattle-based gay men.

As the game continued, I found myself taking the Seahawk side. After all, I did live in Seattle for 10 years. I am from Pennsylvania, but not Western PA. I've never been to Pittsburgh, though I hear they make these insane sandwiches there with meat AND french fries, all in the same sandwich.

By the end, we all had joined my commenters in sadness. The Seahawks had lost. Even Helene, who thinks Camper makes athletic shoes, was upset.

More upsetting to me, though, was the appearance of four geriatric English guys as the halftime entertainment. Didn't anyone realize that one of those dudes could have gone down and broken a hip at any time? I expect better treatment of our senior citizens. Really, it's cruel.

Mick Jagger's Grandson: Grandpa, why is my new Grandma younger than Mommy?

Mick: It's only rock and roll, but I like it.

Seahawks in '07? Gotta get through my Niners first.

Friday, February 03, 2006

All the Girls who aren't my Wife

Sandra Bullock, whose brother owns a muzzle loader and shoots Bambi for fun, and whose father built our kitchen with his own hands, is sometimes fond of reminding me that I am a "girlie man." I am CERTAIN that she is not questioning my manhood by saying this. No way. Instead, she is commenting on the unique type of guy I am.


Well, it's true that I've never fired a gun. And I'm not just inept with power tools; I'm terrified of them. I am the least macho big dark guy you'll ever meet. And what's more -- I've hung out with girls all my life.

Sandra Bullock and the Jawa sometimes refer to them as "Kathleens," as in, "Jen is your new Kathleen," in honor of the first of my girlfriends to make the full leap to family friend. Both the Jawa and Sandra Bullock value Kathleen almost as much as I do. And before this Kathleen, there was a Kathleen in college. But if you dig deeper, there have been at least as many Lisas as Kathleens, a few Jens, Mollys. The original template for platonic girlfriend was established by Lisa McHenry, back in junior high school.

They play all sorts of roles in my life, but in the end, it comes down to the fact that I just flat-out like hanging out with girls, and I'm amazed to realize that most of my male friends have very few girl friends. I should qualify that. Most of my straight male friends have very few girl friends. Strange, that.

Occasionally, this fetish for being one of the girls leads to awkward situations. Sometimes I'll notice that, close pal or not, girl friends will occasionally have to leave you out of the inner circle in favor of one of their own. There are just some bridges you cannot cross. And naturally, there is the confusion of the world at seeing a male-female combo that is not a couple. Kudos to Lisa V., who confused a bar batron with this:

Bar Patron (to me): Oh, so you're married. Is this your wife? (indicating Lisa)
Lisa: (dryly) No, I'm his mistress.

There are limits. You can't really share a hotel room with a platonic female friend. Of course, I'm not all that keen of sharing one with a platonic male friend, either. And sometimes you realize that you're with a woman who thinks of you as another woman, which, given my already not-too-macho persona, doesn't exactly send me into fits of masculine confidence. Seriously, I've heard from more than one girl, "You're one of my best girlfriends!" It's like this public service I provide, to show them that the male gender is capable of hanging.

No, they don't generally want to talk about sports. And no, I don't secretly want to date them all.

Ah, who cares. Hanging out with girls is the greatest. And the rest of the room just thinks you're some kind of stud. Or that you're gay, which I've never taken as an insult, anyway. As Frank said to me while we were chatting up the hottest bartender in the world, "Wow, your crap is completely different than my crap."

Chris P. of Seattle, Washington, wants me to write about how crazy it is in Seattle during Super Bowl week. See, I'm not actually in Seattle, so I have no idea how crazy it is there this week. I followed the Seahawks during the Kitna years, but by I've been a card-carrying member of the San Francisco 49ers faithful since 1991. Even though they suck, especially when they suck, I remain a fan. Go Niners! Raah!

There's your macho, right there.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Laundry Blues

When I was 14 years old, my mother, a recent arrival to the career track, stepped into the family room and announced to my sisters and me that she was finished doing our laundry. We nodded, then returned to the Bob Newhart re-run we were watching. From that day forward, we did our laundry. The funny thing is, though, that at no time between that day and now have I for once thought that my mom wasn't going to burst back into the family room and announce that she has returned to do our laundry once more.

Laundry is my job. It has been since Sandra Bullock and I first moved in together in 1992. Prior to that, I guess, it was my job too, since I was washing for one at the time. Since 1992, I have logged many hours in laundromats (1992-2001) and in our own laundry room (2001-present). I realized it was time to get our own washer and dryer the day I was at the laundromat washing the Jawa's colorful bulldozer and dump truck sheets and realized that everyone else was washing sorority sweatshirts. Now I do laundry at home, usually two loads every other day, though my new "job" has played havoc with my formerly airtight schedule. As I write this I am drying the last of three loads done today.

I think I am not alone in saying that, as a guy, I seek order and efficiency. If I were a CEO, I would be admired for these traits. Alas, I am no CEO. I have no factory in Des Moines to submit to my needs for a better widget. Instead, I have to direct the full force of my skills at laundry.

Back in the laundromat days, I had a system in which each load would be placed into the washer at 4 minute intervals. This way, when the loads were dry I would have 4 full minutes to fold before the next load was done. No build-up, no wrinkled clothes, one bemused Sandra Bullock.

Now that I do laundry at home, I've developed a system that eliminates one of the most annoying aspects of folding laundry: the multiple categories problem. We have limited folding space (usually our bed), and the stress of having to create 17 little piles -- one for my t-shirts, one for the Jawa's short-sleeved shirts, one for his long sleeved shirts, a special pile for Sandra Bullock's jeans, my workout shorts, the Jawa's pj get the idea. Eventually, you run out of space to fold. Unlike Sandra Bullock, I cannot produce a perfect fold in mid-air.

My solution is simple and is applied only to colors, not whites, because the white load is never big enough. I do a load of "above the belt" items, and one of "below the belt" items. This way, when I fold, I have only a few categories of clothing to worry about. Folding, and putting away, is made much more simple.

Amazingly, though I've done laundry for 26 years, I still have no idea what most of the buttons on the washer and dryer do. I push the button, and off it goes. That 99th monkey who's writing "War and Peace" could step away from the typewriter for a second and do this job. Not the folding, of course, but the actual washing. I am sure there are complex and rewarding benefits to using all of the buttons, and that I've only skimmed the surface of the joys of laundry. I am fine with that.

As for sheets and towels, now that I'm on board with Sandra Bullock's tri-fold method, I actually enjoy the sheet/towel load: very few categories. The sheets themselves, I find them ungainly and often impossible to fold correctly. The tri-fold works on the top sheets, but the fitted sheets give me fits. Still. I used to try to trick Sandra Bullock into folding them for me. Now I just kind of make little folds and hope that the finished fold at least resembles a nicely folded sheet.

Laundry. It never ends.

Please note that though I named this entry "The Laundry Blues," it is in no way an endorsement of the music genre enjoyed notably by Teva-clad baby booming hippies. The thought of one of them arhythmically stomping his way through some tasty Dr. John boogie sporting little shorts, tie-dye and small round glasses kind of turns my stomach.

Bad Jobs

Scott M., who lives in a yurt in Freeland, Washington, has commented that I have wrecked the curve as far as the average jobs a person holds in their lifetime. I can only agree. As someone who once referred to his series of occupations as "nothing more than a paycheck and pain," I am to employment as Wilt Chamberlain is to women. I probably also hold the record for "most jobs held that never appeared on any subsequent resume."

Since graduating from Santa Clara in 1987, I have compiled the type of job history that normally results in the colorful background of a writer. Or maybe it's just a series of pointless jobs. You decide.

I have to break it down by year, otherwise I'll forget most of them. Some lasted only a few days. I'm not listing the ones I never showed up for.

Camera store clerk
JV baseball coach
Surfwear industry receptionist and merchandiser
Banana field worker

JV baseball coach
Bar doorman

Private club waiter

Comedy club cocktail waiter
Greek restaurant waiter
Restaurant host

Waiter (again!)
Bicycle messenger

Elevator operator

Finally, last job as a waiter
Industrial carpet cleaner
Legal publication proofreader
Publisher of own newspaper
Music writer

Temp. Sad, I know. "Isn't he kind of old for a temp?"
Music writer

Music writer

High school teacher

1998 editor

Managing Editor -- Washington Law & Politics

Some dotcom thing that I came to San Francisco for, where they held meetings that started at 9 pm and ended at 3 am. Then they went back to work. I last two months.
Another dotcom thing that was fun, but eventually imploded. I was on the marketing team and still have no idea what our product was.

See above
AOL -- Editor
Consultant. What I was doing here is God's own secret.

Allie's dad


Add 'em up. That's 38 jobs and something like 4 careers. And don't forget, you've got 3 grad school stints totalling 2 masters degrees in there.

Conversely, Sandra Bullock got her first job 18 days after graduating. She has had a total of 5 in the past 19 years. So you see what I'm up against here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hey, Buddy; Want to Buy a House?

Would you pay $849,000 for a 2 bedroom, 1 bath house on a street where they throw shoes over the telephone lines to indicate that drugs are available for purchase at this location? In order to sell real estate in San Francisco, you have to suspend your disbelief. Every week we see little tiny houses with $100,000 kitchens in sketchy neighborhoods, all available for just south of a million dollars. We must believe that there is a market for these houses. Otherwise, our heads will implode.

Generally, it doesn't bother me. I have adjusted to the point where I understand that $700,000 is entry-level. Probably within the past two weeks I've walked into one of these homes and said, out loud, "Hey, this is a good buy!" Just today we saw a place for $3.125 million and enthused, "Great price for that neighborhood!"

Sometimes, even those of us who have drunk the most Kool-Aid just can't get on board. Today provided an example of this. It wasn't the 1 bedroom, 1 bath place in "Fairmount Heights" (a vague area located between Noe Valley and Glen Park) for $825,000. That was eye-opening and throat-clearing, but the place was in great shape, cute as several very small buttons, and zoned RH-2, meaning that -- as the agent reminded us -- the buyer would be encouraged to expand, or even slap a second living unit. It had a big yard.

We shook our heads and said, "Man, that seems high," but were not actually offended by the price.

Six or seven houses later, we came upon the $849,000 "cottage", located in the deepest, darkest Mission, where the streets are named after states. And it's not the idea of living in a scary neighborhood that bothers me. If I wasn't a family guy, I'd probably live in a scary neighborhood. The other night, on my way to meet the frat boys, I was reminded of how much I love walking down Mission Street, looking into all of the stores, seeing the people.

Would I pay $849,000 to live in the scary neighborhood? Maybe if the house was a mansion. In this case, you get a gigantic, overwhelming Wolf range (with cool red dials), a Bosch dishwasher, nice redone floors, a tiny backyard a garage, and the aforementioned shoes flung over the telephone wires. A bargain!

Three years ago the Jawa and I were visiting my sister, who then lived outside of Dayton, Ohio, a very nice place. NOT SAN FRANCISCO, of course, and a place where people are not 100% certain that the president wears his hair long to cover his horns. We went on a "Street of Dreams" tour there and enjoyed looking at six $1,000,000 houses, all of which looked exactly like what you would imagine a million-dollar house to look like.

It felt so...sane.

Back to the $849,000 house on crack alley. Every so often you'll see a place like that, where the asking price is so offensive that you just feel sick. Fortunately, within an hour we were marveling at the $3.125 million bargain out in Sea Cliff. You've gotta do it to survive.