Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Here Comes the Sun(glasses)

I saw the strangest thing today -- a Buick sedan in the school parking lot. Was there an undercover cop visiting campus? He would have been much less conspicuous in a metallic light green Camry. It must have been someone's company car.

The only thing that would have been more unusual is if the Buick in question had been sporting a "Bush/Cheney" bumper sticker. If it had, you can bet that several deeply offended parents would have quickly organized an impromptu protest of some kind.

My problem is sunglasses. If you were to ask Sandra Bullock, she would waste no time before agreeing. She is uniquely attuned to my sunglass problems.

The problem is simple: I lose them. Or if I don't lose them, I break them. And until today, I refused to replace my lost / broken sunglasses with a low-priced model. To hear my wife explain it -- usually with me wincing and defending my case in the background -- I was put on this earth to slowly spend all of her money on sunglasses.

She, on the other hand, owned the same pair of tortoiseshell Ralph Lauren shades for six years before finally relenting and buying a pair whose frame of fashion reference came from the 21st century. It took the combined efforts of Mrs. Rock Star and me, plus the consumer-friendly aura surrounding Santa Monica, California, to convince the smug Bullock to put away the RLs and spring for a new pair.

Meanwhile, I continued to tear through specs as if they were flour tortillas. And to further rub salt in SB's imagined wound, I usually replaced the lost or broken pair with an almost identical pair of black wraparounds by Smith or Arnette. "I can't get cheap sunglasses," I'd explain. "My contacts make my eyes sensitive to light."

I have lost sunglasses in very creative ways. My favorite happened one morning during one of my hapless attempts at a "normal" career. I was running for a waiting MUNI train at the Civic Center station, and the doors were about to close. So I tore across the platform and leaped into the car as the doors closed. Satisfied, I looked around the crowded car and announced, "Whew! Just made it!"

A few feet from me, sitting facing backwards, wearing the most dour expression ever recorded in modern history, a young woman said nothing. Instead, she just pointed to the now-closed doors. On the other side, a sad-looking man held my sunglasses. I shrugged. "Goodbye, sunglasses," I said silently, "I hope you bring as much joy to this man as you brought to me."

One time I took BART downtown to get new contacts. I'm usually pretty good with regular eyeglasses, but this time I got off at Montgomery and my glasses decided to ride all the way to Walnut Creek.

One summer I had two pairs of Smith wraparounds break right at the nose. A few months later the slick-looking matte finish Arnettes I bought as a replacement suddenly lost one of their lenses. They sat, forlorn and useless, in the glovebox of the Subaru until the day we traded it in for the Volvo.

Each time I lose or break a pair, Sandra Bullock insists that I spend exactly $50 for replacements. I try to explain that, much as I learned during our kitchen remodel that there is no such thing as a $1500 range, there is no such thing as $50 sunglasses. There are $30 sunglasses and $75 sunglasses, but no $50 ones. Hers cost $50, but that was in, like, 1988.

Naturally, the few times I've bought cheap sunglasses I've been unable to break or lose them. They're virtually useless as sun protection and only occasionally add anything positive to my overall look, but they are certainly persistent.

And all this time I have Sandra Bullock proudly wearing that pair of stretched out, cockeyed, aged Ralph Lauren tortioise shell sunglasses, bragging about how she's had them for six years while I've burned through hundreds of dollars of eyewear.

A couple of months ago, while visiting Roger A. Hunt, I lost my most recent pair of Arnettes. Actually, I lost them, found them and then lost them again. Sometimes, when I lose a pair, I'll try to replace them on the sly, buying a little time until Bullock sees the bank statement. I gain nothing but a couple of weeks of peace, which, now that I think about it, is hardly nothing. If I break a pair, she can't complain, though she may mention something about taking proper care of sunglasses may prevent breakage, allowing me the opportunity to wear them long after they have lost their pinache. The fact that I often lose them, however, drives her crazy.

Since I was 400 miles from home, I quickly went out and bought another pair. After all, I was in Orange County, the breadbasket of sunglasses. I went to the gigantic Ron Jon surf shop and bought some weird surfer brand, slapped them on and was happy. That is, until today, when I grabbed said pair and put them on, only to discover that one lense had a scratch so large as to render it almost entirely opaque.

What have I done to anger the sunglass god? I am a loyal consumer of sunglasses. I have never spoken badly about them. And yet, in the world of sunglasses, I am cursed.

But this time, Sandra Bullock will be pleased. The glasses I bought at the Sports Authority coast a mere $19.99. And they look it. I got them home and realized that I might have bought women's sunglasses by mistake. But they cost only $19.99, and that's the important part.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Accidental Dog Owner

I'm not sure I like being part of the dog owner nation. Especially in San Francisco, I'm afriad that I've joined something precious and whimsical, whereas before, as a non-dog person -- even as a parent but still a non-dog person, I only had to worry about the nefarious stares of the dog people, which in many ways was preferable to joining them at their peace, love and chocolate labs table.

But here we are -- dog owners -- and not just that but owners of what is (at least for now) seemingly the cutest dog in Glen Park. Witness my quick run down to "the village" for a Sunday paper. In my prior, dogless incarnation, I could finish this task in 15 minutes, unless I was forced to slow down and pet someone's dog, or I'd taken the Jawa with me and had to stop and look at candy for 10 minutes at the corner store. Today it took an hour.

Today also for the second time someone stopped their car, jumped out and ran across the street to see Shack. She had to wait in line, because he was already talking to some other people who said they had two Corgis in their car.

Now I think my dog is pretty cool, and I have to, because he's my dog. But I've still got to wonder, even though I once had an infant child, what all the fuss is about? After all, this is a guy who urinates and defecates outside, wherever he wants, and eats cigarette butts and mosquitos. I've kept my distance from people who had habits barely half as gross.

And he has big ears. If he were human, he'd stare into the mirror and fret, waiting until nostalgia for the 1970s allowed him to grow his hair over his ears. Instead, since he is a six inch tall puppy, grown women -- who, by the way, wouldn't be talking to me were it not for this dog -- gush over his giant ears.

Back to the people with the Corgis. First the woman stopped and pet my dog, and then her husband, who came across the street from the ATM, making him the third person to cross the street for my dog in exactly three weeks. After a minute, he spoke to me in proud, conspirital tones. "We've got a wire-haired dachsund," he beamed.

Here's the part where I'm uncomfortable with this new dog-centric world. I don't give a rip about anyone else's dog, and if we'd gotten a big, slobbering dog I'd probably hate my own dog as well. But since I am a dog guy now, I had to nod and smile, to give this guy the impression that I was interested in his dog as well; that I was a guy who was into dogs, all dogs.

So not true. But I'm trying.

Yesterday, the Jawa nad I took Shack to the park, where we ran across all kinds of other dogs and dog owners. And I still think it's rude to let your dog run all over the place when the sign clearly says "No Dogs on Playing Field." I also don't find that having a huge dog bound up to you and drool on your legs any more charming than I ever have. The difference is that if I were to be truthful about this now, well, I'd be a hypocrite, and I guess I'd rather be a phony than a hyprocrite.

Wait a minute, Isn't that the same thing?

In addition, I have no idea how you're supposed to act to appear a responsible dog owner. Seems to me that whenever Shack runs into another dog, it's always the other dog owner (who is often wearing overalls or small corduroy shorts) who has to eventually rip Shack away from his or her dog. Add an enthusiastic and equally clueless Jawa to the mix and I'm looking like the guy who bought a dog without having any idea how to take care of it.

It's funny. Living in San Francisco, it's much more difficult to just "have a dog." It's political, naturally, and involves getting involved in leash laws and park use laws. You can't just have a dog; you have to advocate for the freaking thing. And you can't visibly cringe when someone refers to the dog as your "other child," no matter how clear that makes the unsettling image of your wife giving birth to a dog.

I think part of it is because, in such a small city, with space at a premium, you can't just buy a dog, toss it in the backyard and play with it when you feel like it. You have to manage the dog to give it a good life.

On the other hand, this is also a place where you can't just own a bike and ride it around when you feel like it. You have to be part of the biking "movement," and all the better if you can ride in the monthly "critical mass" rides, where, confident in your pollutant-free smugness, you take over downtown streets and force people in cars to arrive home late.

Now that I think of it, I wasn't all that thrilled about joining the world of parents, either, and I got over that once I realized that the people who were dorks without kids would remain dorks, while the ones who weren't dorks would stay cool, regardless of their life's station. And we've managed to raise a kid (so far) without becoming part of a "parenting movement," reading "Bay Area Parent," or insisting on bringing my child to places children shouldn't be because my child has the same rights as anyone.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have go buy a few bandanas before the pet store closes.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shake it Up

For the past two weeks, I've been obsessed with the idea of a milkshake. I haven't had one yet, but as I tally up the items I have had instead of a milkshake, I start to wonder about the logic in my milkshake-avoidance policy.

I'm not a habitual milkshake drinker (eater?) by anyone's measuring stick. I can't remember the last time I ordered one. I had some of the Shaman's chocolate Ben & Jerry's milkshake during our first day of summer Fisherman's Wharf outing, but as far as actually walking into a place and ordering a milkshake -- it was long enough ago that I don't remember it.

But I do have a history with them. My first job was at the Baskin-Robbins on Tustin Avenue in Orange, where I often ignored house rules concerning limiting personal ice cream consumption. For awhile, each shift I worked featured a french vanilla shake, frozen for the final two hours of the shift, to be enjoyed following closing. I was eventually fired from that job for defacing a drawing of a smurf, and for juggling the schedule to allow me to work alongside my girlfriend.

During my first two years of college, I enjoyed the largesse of my roommate, The Funniest Guy in the World, who was a milkshake afficionado. He actually had a hand-held mixer, provided by his parents, the King and Queen Bee, who were unusual in that they -- well, actually, it was his dad, the King Bee -- encouraged unusual, actually uniquely state fair-like unusual, behavior like having your own hand-held mixer with which to make milkshakes. Malts, for him. Milkshakes for me.

And who cared back then? We were 18, 19 years old, 185 pounds of low-fat, carefree teenage hedonism. Bring on the milkshakes!

So why, now, after 20+ years of only occasional milkshake consumption, do I find myself thinking of milkshakes? And why is it that, though every day I tell myself that today I will have that milkshake, have I not had one yet?

In the milkshake's place I've substituted all manner of attempted lesser evils, but when I add them up, the aggregate total of their life-shortening potential exceeds that of a single milkshake, and yet the satisfaction I've derived from them falls far short.

Last week I had actual ice cream. They had milkshakes, but I figured a small ice cream cone would damage my body less. Anticipating soft serve, I received instead two small scoops whose flavor, shape and consistency recalled the days of the Thrifty Drugs $0.05 per scoop cones. I was so disappointed that I didn't even finish it. I tossed it into someone's brown trask can on Capp Street.

Yesterday, as I drove to Sacramento to see my grandparents, I stopped at a bakery, figuring that a single cookie might make me forget about milkshakes. But no! Instead I got a too-large, very dry chocolate chip muffin. Not cold, didn't involve a straw, left me thirsty, bloated and unsatisfied. This after passing several fast food places. No way does a McDonald's shake stand in for the real thing.

And there have been small, "fun size" candy bars, grabbed in secret from the admin's desk at my part-time job. I've always wondered what's so "fun" about a smaller candy bar? I find that I have more "fun" with more bar, myself.

I don't want to tack a milkshake onto a meal. I could have done that, also last week, when we went to that nice place in Noe Valley. They had milkshakes, but I was already having a garden burger and fries.

No, I want no distraction when I finally have my milkshake. I don't want to go in full, telling myself that THIS is the milkshake I've been waiting for. I want to be alone, maybe in the middle of the day, sitting down or walking, with my milkshake. Probably vanilla, though maybe something exotic with caramel thrown in.

And once I do that, I will be cured. No more milkshake obsession. Back to good food, like carrots and yogurt.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Friend in Need

This is a sad story, but it has a happy ending. In it, the Hammer goes to bat for her son and the Jawa, previously known mostly for his precocity and a continuing obsession with Pokemon, shines as a good friend.

For our $18,000 a year (this year), BHDS offers us 4th and 5th grade band. It's a fairly new construct, and a successful one. In short, the kids are going nuts.

To be in the band, you must choose an instrument and then commit to Monday and Tuesday practices, unless you are in soccer, in which case you commit to Monday practices and then beg the teacher via email and face-to-face meetings, to let you play soccer on Tuesdays and practice your instrument really, really hard the rest of the week until mid-November, when soccer ends.

For many years, we've been trying to interest the Jawa in musical instruments. His booming voice (inherited from his mother) lends itself well to singing, but he doesn't like choir. He wants to breakdance, but is not enjoying his hip hop dance class. We bought him a guitar for whatever mid-winter holiday you prefer to celebrate, but so far his interest has extended only to strumming it violently while his Gorillaz CD plays in the background.

I recently decided that his musical future would lie somewhere in the murky world of keyboards and computers; this after several car torturous car rides involving a homemade voice recorder and the phrase "okay, have a scone," played in parts, over and over. Perhaps, I thought, we have a mini-Moby on our hands.

So I was surprised when he burst out of his classroom last week holding a sheet of paper, shouting, "Dad! You know what instrument I want to play? The saxaphone!"

Pause here for a digression that will offend many, particularly my friend the ZinGal and, if he's reading it, the Legendary Dr. Bandeau.

But first, explanation of my own musical background: I tried the guitar when I was 8, then the trumpet when I was 10, then nothing until I was 20, except for semi-violent arguments with Noodles' Mom, who was quite an accomplished Jackson Browne-ish guitar player but unfortunately chose to hone her skills in the family room while I was watching TV. Then, suddenly, at 20, the guitar. Noodles' Mom had left one lying around, plus an Eagles songbook that had pictures of the chords.

And that's about as far as I got. Though Roger A. Hunt and I still speak fondly and nostalgically of our late 80s garage band the Stupid Americans, I never quite got past the punk rock / campfire stage, though I love playing.

This is a very long way of saying that my appreciation for actual good music -- i.e. jazz, classical, other things involving saxaphones -- is very limited, and that to me, the saxaphone has always gone hand-in-hand with loud Hawaiian shirts and guys who get really sweaty when they dance. And the big man, of course. So the cool factor of a saxaphone is completely lost on me, but hey, if he's interested in it, that's half the battle.

Yesterday was the first day of band. I went to pick up my Jawa at 4:30 (in my slick and respectable new Volvo, but that's a story for another time) and waited outside the band room. The door opened and out came a slumped over, utterly defeated Shaman, his eyes red-rimmed and full. "What's wrong?" I asked him, and put my hand on his shoulder, as I often treat him as if he were my own son. He was trying to hold it together, I could tell, and he was part of a carpool, so his actual parents, the Hammer and WineGuy, were miles, and several minutes, away.

That was it. "What's wrong?" was exactly the wrong thing to say. The kid lost it. But he still wouldn't spill. What was wrong?

"I...I...I'm okay," he sputtered.

"Is there anything I can do? Is your mom here?"

"No. " He pointed at the MackDaddy, who would be driving him home. Confused, I entered the band room, where the somewhat acerbic band teacher was doling out instrument assignments. Not everyone, it seemed, would be getting their favorite instruments. The Shaman, who'd dreamed long and hard about playing the trumpet, was assigned the comic book-like trombone instead. His trumpet assignment had gone to the tiny, energetic Maetal, who moonlights in the winter as a shut-down point guard on our basketball team.

The Jawa had his saxaphone gig, along with a stern warning to "not fall behind" during soccer. But somewhere out in the hall, the Shaman was crushed, and the Jawa, in a move that fills my parenting heart with great joy, was concerned about his friend.

He told the teacher what had happened, and then went in search of his injured pal. Unfortunately, he'd already slunk off with his carpool. The issue went unresolved.

That night, at the first meeting of the marketing committee (of which I am, surprisingly, part), the Hammer was beside herself. She'd returned from her job busting polluters to find her child melted into a pool of sadness, her husband WineGuy on edge and absolutely no explanation for the deed that started the whole thing.

"That's it!" she said as we stood outside of my bright and shiny blue metallic Volvo following the meeting. "I want some answers!" In true form, she'd already sent emails and voice mails to the head of campus, the head of the music department and the band teacher. None had responded.

Now get this straight: despite her hectic schedule, the Hammer gives her time to the school. Probably more than any other full-time worker, she's there. Not one to usually point this out, on this night the incensed Hammer did just that. "I'd like to see some of these people try out my life for just one week!" she growled, barely visible over the top of my new tough-looking roof rails. The Hammer may be mighty, but she tops out at barely 5'4".

I returned home in great anticipation of the premiere of the new Sorkin dramedy, only to have my revery interrupted by a 10:00 pm phone call. The Hammer.

"I got home to a crying child," she said. "He hadn't stopped." But her mood changed. "I just want to tell you that everything's okay. I talked to the teacher and he can play the trumpet. And it's because of your child."

It was the Jawa, back at school who had, taking a short break from scheming to get money for new Lego sets, alerted the teacher to the Shaman's situation. The teacher had shared this with the Hammer, who was now near tears in appreciation. And I've got to admit, it's a very emotional thing for a parent to find out that his kid is doing good things all on his own without any coaching. Of course, I'm sure it helped the Shaman's cause that he's got a mom who'll go to bat for him, taking on enormous helpings of school administrative power to get justice. I'm not sure I'd go that far.

So all is well. A new generation of bandos is unleashed, their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band uniforms and huge, coconut cake-looking hats are out there somewhere, waiting.

Oh, and did I mention that I got a new car?

Monday, September 18, 2006


To outside observers, I must seem an aging hipster, sitting outside a coffee place in South Park typing what probably has something to do with new technology and / or art on my laptop. It is sunny, 65 degrees and 10:54 in the morning. Why else would I be sitting outside of this place, just a few feet from the tasteful local art that hangs on its walls, writing on my laptop?

Could it be because I just had my "exit interview" at Zephyr Real Estate?

Yes, another odd career choice has run its course. It is official: I am no longer a realtor. The "official" part was necessary, though I have unofficially been un-realtored for the past few weeks. And though I have mentally burned every bridge that connects me to the truly unusual world of San Francisco real estate, I made very sure to check out in a pleasant and rather dorky way. Which is not unusual for me. In fact, it wouldn't be altogether inaccurate to put that on my tombstone some day in the (hopefully, distant) future: "He was pleasant, and rather dorky."

Real estate in San Francisco is a tough business. It is not for anyone who scores in the low range on "emotional resiliance" when they take the battery of tests required to enter the field. How would you feel, for example, if you were to enter your former place of business, a week after hanging it up, to find that not only was your name removed from the wall but that there was already someone sitting in your desk?

There he was, an actual realtor. He couldn't have been at the desk for more than a week, but he looked like he'd been there his entire life. With his glasses, blue oxford button-down shirt, black slacks, glasses and blue tooth thing clamped on his ear, he was everything I was not. For one, he looked like he knew what he was doing. A week in, he was already working the phones, gesturing and leaning over a pile of papers.

To him, I was invisible. To practically the entire office, save for the overwhelmingly nice admins, I was invisible. The leather boy transaction coordinator, who'd been so friendly a few weeks ago when we saw him crossing the street in full cowhide regalia, barely looked up when I passed his desk. The single mom who talked to me at length about the Jawa's school? Not even a glance. I was the office pariah, but knowing that I'd be sitting in the sun typing outside a coffee place a few minutes later, I was unconcerned.

I'll say it again: real estate is a tough business. I don't know if that goes double for San Francisco or not. In the end, as I told my understanding and probably relieved former boss, that's the key element I was lacking. "If someone comes in here and is smart and funny and clever," I said, "that's not enough for them to succeed. In fact, it's unnecessary." I paused dramatically, knowing that this would be my only moment onstage, "You need to hire people who are tough. And I am not tough."

He agreed, perhaps too quickly.

Then, naturally, I babbled on like an idiot about all of the exciting new things I'm doing. Why? So he wouldn't worry? So he'd be impressed at how I'd landed on my feet? It's a mystery. I've gone 41 years trying to solve it and am no closer than I was at age 9, when I was ridiculed by my little league teammates for overusing the word "actually."

So ends another chapter of my misspent professional life. I think it may be time to write a book of short stories entitled, "Bad Jobs."

"Don't be a stranger," said the cheerful admins as I left. I think they might have really meant it, but why? Better it should have been lip service. Real estate is a profession that chews up and spits out more than 50% of its participants. I mentioned the name of another agent to my former boss, adding, "Well, she probably won't be here past December," and he agreed. "Yeah probably not." Which is sad, because I know he truly does like both this woman and I. Which, in the bottom-line world of sales, counts for exactly nothing when his boss goes over our office's numbers at the end of each quarter.

Kinda lonely out here in South Park in the middle of the day. Everyone must be at work or something.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Fight in the Dog

Does anyone remember what the last day of school felt like? Maybe not that big; how about the last day of school before Christmas vacation? Do you remember?

Luckily, even as adults, we are given little snatches of what it felt like to be a kid -- sometimes even that "last day of school before vacation" feeling. I got it today, when the football game I was supposed to cover was cancelled.

Last week, I did my first high school football game for the San Francisco Examiner: Half Moon Bay vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep. And I enjoyed it immensely. It was partly because this new freelancing job offers up a short ride in that elusive time machine I'm always pursuing. When was the last time you walked through the parking lot before a high school football game, for example?

I also enjoyed being on the sidelines. I am a football fan. Ask Sandra Bullock and the Jawa. Each Sunday from September to January they are instructed to leave me alone while I read the paper and watch football. They comply. Having now spent just one game on the sidelines, a high school game at that, I now know that I had no idea what football was like until last Friday.

Football is brutal, and brutally exciting. It's coaches screaming until the veins pop out of their foreheads, and refs sprinting across the field at the end of each play, yelling, "It's over! It's over!" so the kids will know that it's time to stop punishing each other. It's number 25 running high-kneed up and down the sidelines, testing out the ankle he just sprained, and 17-year-old kids shouting obscenities at each other during each play, and the coaches not saying a word about it afterwards. Try that as a sixteen-year-old on a mostly silent baseball field. See how that works out for you.

So I did enjoy covering my first high school football game. Loved it, actually, but that didn't make the last-day-of-school feeling of today any less joyous.

There I was, slogging through another day in the lab, this time "gowned up" (full-on shower cap, goggles and booties), pasting stickers on equipment in the plant, expecting to drive to Oakland, watch a game and then pound out 150 words by dinner time. I expected it all the way up until the minute I called Burton Academic High School and learned that the game had been cancelled.

Burton did themselves a favor by cancelling the game. They might want to apply this strategy to each of their remaining games. A team that finishes the previous season 1-9, with 58 points scored versus 437 should consider any Friday they can get through without injury as a major victory.

Instead of driving across the bridge, I drove home, the day stretching out in front of me to infinity. Would I go to the gym? Go look at cars? Plop myself down on a barstool somewhere and read the paper? Driving up 101, the sun shining off the bay to my right, life seemed limitless. At that moment, I remembered. I got my flash of childhood, and drove imagining the atrium of Santiago Junior High littered with pages of no longer relevant homework and Pee-Chee folders.

So what did I do?

I went home and let Shack in, gave him some food, and then played with him for an hour. What I didn't know at the time is that I was provided Shack with a fun and playful interlude to a day that would eventually turn dangerous.

The Jawa and Sandra Bullock, scheduled to hit Safeway on their way home from school, came straight home instead, interrupting what could have been the best nap of my life. The Jawa and I took Shack out for his daily lap of Glen Park, highlighted by our stop at the pet store, rapidly becoming Cheers for the Jawa and Shack, for everyone there knows their names.

Not this time. This time our way was blocked by some old black dog seven times Shack's size. I'm still not a dog guy, so I can't tell you what kind of dog it was. Some old dog, who at first seemed interested in Shack, and then seemed interested in consuming Shack whole.

It was at this time that Shack emitted a sound we've never heard before, a short, whiny shriek indicating his panic at the situation. Or maybe he just got bit somewhere that hurt, because he didn't seem very panicked. In fact, he seemed pretty much focused on opening a big can of Corgi hurt on this much larger dog.

Unfortunately, intentions don't count as deeds, so after three of us pulled the big dog off of Shack, the Jawa quickly took him to the back of the pet store. I went back there to find one rattled Jawa and one very small, very young dog, obviously miffed at being taken out of the fight before he'd finished the job.

Shack strained against his leash as the Jawa chose a new "beef tendon" for him to pour his aggressions into and a hoof (no kidding. a hoof) to try. "Come on, man!" I imagined our 6-inch tall dog saying, "Is that all you got?"

With the Jawa completely freaked and Shack in full-on Robert Blake mode, I figured it best to buy our beef tendons and complete our walk. The Jawa was certain that Shack was suffering in some way, while the dog seemed energized, ready to throw down with any other dog, regardless of size, who looked at him cross-eyed.

As they say, it's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog.

This is dog ownership, I suppose. Everyone in the neighborhood loves us now. They've forgotten how many of them have been on the wrong side of an argument with me, seeing only a very small dog with very big ears being walked by a little boy with some shady pro-Israel, hippie-bashing capitalist at his side.

Six hours later, the Burton game would be over and my article filed, leaving me right where I am now: sitting on the couch typing with that insane dog chewing madly away on his freeze-dried hoof as if God never made anything more delicious.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Importance of a Haircut

To all who frequent Supercuts, here's what you're missing:

Six years ago, we moved to San Francisco, where we lived in a very small, very expensive apartment in North Beach, which is a neighborhood you move into when you haven't lived in San Francisco for awhile and forget that it's 2000, not 1964, and that instead of cool poets, North Beach is actually populated by very small Chinese women carrying pink plastic shopping bags and German tourists. Except on the weekend, when it is overrun by drunken 20- and 30-somethings from Walnut Creek, who take up all the parking spots and then stumble by your bedroom window at 2:30 a.m., singing.

We forgot all that, but were slapped with a quick dose of reality the weekend that Sandra Bullock and the Jawa arrived (3 months after I had), which also happened to be the weekend of the North Beach Street Fair. The North Beach Street Fair, less now than it was then, is basically a large, open-air beer garden with some awful blues music and very nice sidewalk chalk drawings mixed in. Plus several booths that sell pictures of San Francisco.

All of these elements combined to doom our residence in North Beach. Six months in, we lost our parking spot -- which had been a very urban two blocks from our apartment -- and the bells we began hearing were not the church bells of St. Peter and Paul but rather the death knell for our life as a completely urban family. Four months later we landed in Glen Park.

There are still some great things about North Beach. There is the bakery where you can get a muffin as big as Mark's head, and the foccacia place that stays open until it runs out of bread. There are still some old Italian guys hidden among the tourists, and there is the Parkview hair salon.

Tony cuts hair at the Parkview. Even though Sal left a few years ago, and Joe sold the store to Christine, Tony remains, the only guy left in a place trying desperately to become the salon it calls itself. Christine, who, though a grandmother, still wears tight black dresses and three-inch heels (and wears them well), has renovated the place with Pergo floors and mirrors, and sells high-end hair care products in a glass case by the front door.

Over in Tony's corner, however, little has changed. The sign on the window still boasts "Tony is Here!" and old guys come in speaking Italian several times a day. And in fact, despite Christine's best efforts, the shop is usually populated by elderly Italian women who sit around under hair dryers, wearing big plastic aprons. With Sal and Joe gone, Tony has no one to check out tourist babes with, which is sad, so when we're there, he usually points them out to me.

On Tony's wall is a picture of him, in his own shop, circa 1964. In it Tony is slim and slick, a black-haired sharpie. He wears an ascot, a white shirt and pointy black shoes. Today, Tony has a white beard, glasses and wears white New Balance tennis shoes. He lives in a two-family in the Marina, which we bought with his brother-in-law in the 70s. He also has a place in Lake County, where he goes on weekends to fish and garden.

Tony has been cutting the Jawa's hair since we first moved to San Francisco, when the Jawa was barely 3 years old and had to sit in my lap to get his hair cut. And he will continue to cut the Jawa's hair until he retires, though there were several times, when the child was 4 or 5, that we were certain Tony would request that we go elsewhere to get his hair cut. The Jawa squirmed, made faces, giggled, scrunched down his neck, while Tony sweated it out, trying to get a good line with the clippers.

People still point when they see the Jawa getting his hair cut in the window of the Parkview, but not as many as once did. Now, says Christine, he is "handsome," not cute. On Saturday, when we went to get the Jawa's gigantic mop of hair cut, Tony, for the first time, messed with my child a little bit. He brushed his hair straight back, a la the teenage Henry Hill in "Goodfellas."

"Ladies!" he announced grandly, "What do you think of the boy's hair?" Christine came sweeping over on her 3-inch heels. "Oh, that face. He looks so handsome," she purred. From behind her, the group of old Italian ladies blanched. "He looks like a mafioso!" one shouted. Tony laughed. The Jawa angrily patted down his hair.

As the Jawa's dad, my Parkview job is to talk to Tony and look proud. On Saturday, we talked about dogs, our small new one and his gigantic old one. We talked a little about real estate, and I made sure to blush proudly everytime Christine said the Jawa was "handsome." And when the haircut is complete, I remember to give the money to the Jawa so he can pay Tony himself, like a grown-up. At this point, that's more for Tony than for my son, but it sure was cute when the Jawa was 3.

When we left, Tony said "caio!" and it didn't sound annoying or affected. And then we went to the store where they have barrels full of candy that you buy in bulk. The Jawa always gets chewy, fruity stuff and I get caramels. Then we dodged the European tourists all the way back to the Subaru, set our internal clocks back to 2006, and returned home.

I wonder, in our little progressive city where all cultures are more valid than our own, if taking the Jawa to get his hair cut at the Parkview counts as diversity. After all, by entering this place I am exposing him to a culture very different from his own.

In fact, I'm exposing him to a time different than his own. In the Parkview, despite the tireless efforts of Christine, it is always 1964. Tony is always wearing black pointy shoes, or maybe he's working in his vegetable garden in the country, or bringing a crate of wine from the back for a customer who was in North Beach and stopped by.

That would be a bonus. It's enough to know that we're getting something great from the North Beach that spewed us out toward Glen Park five years ago, that something as simple as getting a haircut has become a father-son tradition for us, and, most importantly, that every haircut ends with candy.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Worst 10 Minutes of the Day

45 minutes after I woke up on Thursday, I stood in the living room, repeating myself. "Brush your teeth," I said, first quietly, then a little louder. Finally, "BRUSH YOUR TEETH."

Umoved. "Okay!"

50 minutes after I awoke, I estimated that, in a perfect world, I'd be waking up an hour from now, at 8:50. I'd lounge around for awhile, read, then head for the gym. In the world of my reality, I gathered the Jawa's lunch and stuffed it into his new backpack, which is pretty cool because it lights up. Somewhere in the back of the house, instead of putting on his shoes, the Jawa rustled papers.

"Put on your shoes. Get your sweatshirt." I've said these words so many times in the past 5 years that they are rote. I sound like a robot or Tiger Woods saying them, and I know that by the time they reach the Jawa's ears, they sound like this: (distant, slightly annoying sound) "Wrrr... mfgblg ... snabrmp."

He walks into his room then emerges, shoeless, a serene expression on his face. I turn sarcastic. "Do you have any idea why you just walked into your room?"

Pause. Hmm. Big smile. "Oh yeah!" A few seconds later, he comes back out wearing his shoes, but no sweatshirt.

55 minutes after I wake up, we're walking down 32 stairs to the street. Shack is safely in the backyard with his bed, his food, his water and his weird little ball that bounces crazily and dispenses treats. We can hear him bark once as we descend the stairs. Some pirouettes follow, and then, finally, we are in the car, freezing.

"Dad, turn on the heater!"

Our sis not a truly urban neighborhood. People live in houses and have backyards, and our postage stamp-sized downtown has only the most basic amenities (though we will soon have 4 new restaurants, including a French bistro). And yet, because there is no left turn signal onto the major street at one end, it can take 10 minutes to drive its one block. Today is one of the bad days.

It starts at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. Five cars are backed up, taking turns being either more polite than the two chipmunks in the Warner Bros. cartoons ("You go!" "No, I insist, you go." "Not before you go!"), or cutthroat like Jeremy Piven's agent in Entourage.

Minutes pass. It is now 8:00. School begins in 20 minutes. We have reached the first stop sign.

If there were no cars, there would be no objections to living in the city. If the fact that the bus cannot make the turn from Bosworth onto Diamond and so has to wait until two cars back out of its way but they can't because there're 10 cars behind them all the way to the stop sign, and then the bus finally makes the turn but not before several cars start honking because they're stuck behind it and can't make their turn before the light turns red, life in the city would be almost without frustration.

But there are cars. And all of them are waiting on the block of Diamond between Chenery and Bosworth. Because there is no left turn signal. So the light changes, the car in front inches out, then finally turns on its blinker, and waits. And a bus stops at the corner just then, disgorging thirty-seven people who are trying to get to the BART station across the street. So they by turns, run, job, walk and basically crawl across the intersection, making it impossible to get through.

The light changes back. One car has cross the intersection. Back on Diamond, three construction guys dart between the cars to get to the coffee place. And we wait.

8:04. I calculate in my head that we are travelling at 0.002 MPH. At this rate, we will arrive at school sometime in February.

Now some guy wants to pull out into traffic. He stopped in the bus zone so he could quickly go to the ATM next to the bar. His blinker is on, but nobody wants to give up their spot in line to let him in, so he just inches out until the guy next to him has the option of either letting him in or ending up with a crumpled fender. Since that guy is me, I let him in, figuring that it's easier than stopping to get his insurance and waiting for the cops to arrive.

The light changes again. This time, some guy has decided, reasonably, that since he's not turning left, he should be allowed to run up the sort-of right lane and through the intersection of Bosworth and Diamond. But he runs into some cars that are parked on the street, so he's stuck, and has to inch back into traffic to pass. It's 8:08.

Finally, we reach the front of the line. The light changes. Another bus arrives to unload 37 more people who want to get to BART. I wait, watch the guys coming toward me turn left. One guy has his blinker on, but then inexplicably goes straight, missing my front bumper by inches.

You have to be aggressive here, with 12 minutes until the first bell, stuck in this intersection, no matter how much being non-aggressive hurt you in your aborted real estate career. So I draw on some hidden, only-available-while-behind-the-wheel toughness and dart through the intersection. Two of the pedestrians have left me an opening of about 15 feet, so I hit it like Barry Sanders in the 2 gap, drawing wild hand gestures and a quick shout.

I only catch the "hole!" part of the shout. Frankly, I don't really care. When I get to school I'll attend some meeting that will result in the greater good for society, but I've got to get there first or society will never be helped. As for the two pedestrians, they made it across the street without injury. And they get to tell a story about the jerk who almost hit them in the crosswalk as they were trying to get to BART.

8:10, we finally reach the freeway, after quickly changing lanes to avoid a parked tour bus, then changing back to get on the on-ramp. The Subaru is so slow that we are passed by two cars as we "accelerate," but soon we are merged and are free. It is 8:11 and school is only a few minutes away.

The Jawa and I silently curse the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who ignore our pleas for a left-turn signal, even though the Jawa once confronted them with it during a summer camp field trip: (Friendly supervisor aid: "Does nayone have any questions?" Jawa: "Yeah, when are we going to get a left-turn signal in Glen Park?") We breathe a sigh of relief, knowing the we won't have to face the nightmare that is Diamond Street between Chenery and Bosworth for another 24 hours.

Five minutes later, we reach school. I drop the Jawa off and he disappears around the corner, his gigantic backpack bouncing crazily as he runs. Now I can start my day.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Power Washers Beware!

All who come into contact with Sandra Bullock, please heed this warning: do NOT put her in proximity to a power washer. Especially if you want to go look at cars, or care about water conservation.

I blame my neighbor, the poet with a 40-inch vertical leap, who bought a power washer to prep his house for exterior painting. Clad in the gear of an Alaskan crabber, he stood on a ladder and pounded his circa 1908 home with hundreds of PSI of water for all of Saturday.

On Sunday, his house was blotchy as the bombed-out French farmhouse in Scott Stroney's World War II army playset. Our 40-inch vertically leaping poet was battered. Still, S. Bullock, who has long been intrigued by the idea of power washing -- she once tried to borrow one from our former neighbor but was rebuffed -- casually asked if she could borrow the item from the poet. "Be careful," he warned, "it's addictive."

Meanwhile, I was pulling refuse -- that our lazy former electrician had left behind when he reworked our service box last year -- out of the area underneath our crumbling front stairs. "The hidden costs of our electrician," I muttered as I removed several feet of conduit, wire and steel pole from the house. The poet, having returned to his usual, non-fisherman gear, was casually applying caulking to his house. In the background, the steady hum of the power washer.
Time passed. I loaded up the Subaru with what would turn out to be 300 lbs. of electrical stuff, carpeting and badly dry-rotted wood. Someday, I swear, those stairs are going to collapse, probably with me carrying my usual massive and massively difficult to carry load of stuff up from the car. Inside, the Jawa played with Legos and wondered what was for lunch.

I decided to check on Bullock. She was on the back porch, drenched, her little Adidas turned dark blue with water. "Look at this!" she shouted cheerily over the power washer din. She demonstrated its effectiveness by drawing little circles on the concrete with water.

"When are we going?" I asked.

"I'll be done in a half an hour," she replied.

An hour later, the Jawa and I were getting restless. We'd eaten lunch, read the paper, played with Legos and wanted to get out of the house. Outside, we heard the hum of the power washer. "Where is she?" I asked.

"She's coming around to the side of the house," answered the Jawa.

"Just a few more minutes," called S. Bullock.

Another hour later, we were beginning to lose patience. I saw my day of car shopping wiped out by the twin terrors of power washing and trips to Target to buy an outdoor dog food bowl. Inside our house, the mood darkened.

"I'll bet if we look out there, we'll see her powerwashing the sidewalk all the way down the streeet," I suggested.

"Turn on the news. I'll bet you'll see a story about someone powerwashing the Transamerica Pyramid," retorted the Jawa. He is at times a very clever Jawa.

Finally, a full 150 minutes after she'd said "a half an hour," Bullock returned to the house, beaming. "That thing's great!"

Her mood hit the Jawa and I like fingernails on a chalkboard. "Come see how great it worked!" she called. I went back there. It worked well, I have to admit, which is little consolation to anyone at the California Department of Water Resources. "No, go out there! Look how white the walls are! Did you go look?"

I was trying to hide my irritation. White walls we had. Five foot white retaining walls backing up to a weed-choked hillside are slightly more attractive than dirty walls backing up to a weed-choked hillside, it is true. But I wanted to look at cars.

When we got Shack, I was worried that I would fall one step lower on the household pecking order. I feared that in the battle for Sandra Bullock's attention, I would come after:

1) The Jawa
2) Her job
3) Shack

Now I know that it is worse than I'd imagined, for right there at #4, after Shack, comes:

4) The power washer

I would curse the poet with the 40-inch vertical leap, but he's pretty cool. And I finally did get to look at cars, which was good, because if we hadn't stopped by Serramonte Ford to look at a hybrid Escape, I never would had the following discussion with a salesman whose cluelessness was poorly hidden by his aggressiveness:

Me: This one says 32 city and that one says 36. They're the same car, right?
Sales: Right.
Me: So how come this one gets 4 miles per gallon less in the city?
Sales: Well, this one has different paint. Two-tone.

That's some heavy paint they've got there, but I'm not worried. We can just have Sandra Bullock give it a blast with the power washer.

Not that I'd buy a Ford Escape hybrid anyway ...

Friday, September 01, 2006

In the Danger Zone

Jobs are dangerous. All jobs. Each has its own unique brand of danger.

Take, for example, the work I've done so far this year. Lets start with my present semi-occupation, as a lowest of low peon at S. Bullock's biotech company. This week, my job has taken me down to the "QC Lab," where you can, if you choose, wear a cool white lab coat that has two patches; one has the name of the company, the other your own name. Unless you are not often in the lab. Then you have to wear one that says "Visitor."

So I'm down there, "Visitor," trying to identify pieces of equipment to log into a database, then jamming little stickers on them to show that they're accounted for. While I'm down there, I compile the following list:


1. Orbital Shaker
2. Mini Vortexer
3. Autosampler
4. Sonicator
5. Spectra Manager
6. Threshold Analyzer
7. Speed Vac
8. Stability Chamber
9. Palltronic Flowstar
10. Cat Mixer

As in, "...dude, I tried to get into see Cat Mixer at the Fillmore last Friday, but it was sold out. Fortunately, I already got my tickets for Autosampler on the 12th."

This passes the time, which is not really necessary, because the absolute terror of knowing that you're walking among all kinds of dangerous chemicals makes time pass very quickly as well.

For example: yesterday, I'm down there looking for serial numbers, which are often hidden under or on the backside of equipment, and there's this one piece of stuff inside a fume hood that I can't see. Since I'm old and my contacts suck, there's no way I can read the numbers, so I ask this lab coated guy to help out. "Sure," he says, as he casually walks over, PUTS ON RUBBER GLOVES, and grabs the same piece of equipment I'd been holding bare-handed a few seconds ago.

"Uh, is this something I don't want to touch without gloves?"

(chuckling) "Oh, yeah. You don't want to touch that blue stuff, or the white film. Nope."

For the next hour, I imagine that the tingling I feel in my hands is only the skin slowly melting away. I am familiar with this feeling, as I also had it last week, when I spilled what was probably water from the centrifuge in room 1024.

So there is danger.

The other day I followed this guy down to the lab. He looked about 50, and walked with this strange, zombie-like gait. He entered the lab silently, which is not surprising since this guy had never spoken in my presence, saw another guy in there and started talking to him. And I swear to you, the language they were speaking was not of this world. Either they were speaking backwards, or the QC lab is secretly populated by Martians.

I don't want to know what Martians + dangerous chemicals equals, so I quickly turned around and left. Again, danger.

Lets move onto one of my other occupations of 2006, real estate. Where, you say, is the danger in that? Driving crazily around San Francisco, I suppose, is dangerous, as is parking illegally several times a day, and sweating profusely while nervously speaking to people at an open house is dangerous for your shirts. But for me, the real danger reared its head once again on Wednesday, in the middle of the presentation I didn't want to do with my mortgage broker friend.

We were in the "boardroom," ("That's the elite conference room," S. Bullock chipped in) here at the Biotech. I was doing double duty -- from blue-collar peon to schmoozing realtor -- throwing out ridiculous statistics about price per square foot, percent change in median home prices -- and I managed to take a look at myself, standing there in my one-and-only sportcoat and my green pants. WhatI saw reminded me once and for all why my attempt to enter society as a productive realtor was doomed from the start. For despite my best efforts at reinventing the realtor, to be the "agent on the next bar stool," when I looked at myself, standing there waving my arms for emphasis as the Powerpoint presentation glowed indecipherable charts on a nearby screen, I saw nothing more than a carnival barker, and a not-very-convincing one at that. Lousy, forced jokes, desperate attempts to seem authoritative, it was pathetic. In the end (for me at least), maybe there is no nice way to be a salesman.

Dangerous, for sure.

And finally, it's no surprise that my primary job, being the Jawa's dad, is also filled with danger. Since kindergarten, we've made it a habit to sometimes stay a little bit after school so he can play with some friends while I talk to my friends, their parents. Yesterday, since it was only the second day of school, the Jawa wanted to play for a little bit. So we stayed.

At one point, the Hammer mentioned the phrase "a penny for your thoughts." She was talking about her own son, the sensitive, someday-to-be-a-good-boyfriend Shaman, who'd suffered a slight emotional breakdown the day before at Krispy Kreme, but as she said it, I was half-listening and half watching the Jawa out there, playing with his friends.

So a penny for my thoughts, at that very moment.

We've all been talking for awhile about how quickly our kids are growing up. At the Jawa's most recent checkup, the little pamphlet the doctor gave me was titled "Your Pre-teen." Which stuck with me. At Krispy Kreme we were talking about whether our kids were old enough to leave at home for just a few minutes say, if we wanted to run down and grab a newspaper or something. We talk about it, naturally, because we're Jews and we like to talk, and we still have plenty of times when our little pre-teens are more little than pre-teen.

But at that moment I glanced over at the Jawa and saw, running across the playground, a big kid.

I'd thought it the night before, when the Jawa and I were arguing so intensely that we spent most of the next day slightly shaken, apologizing to each other repeatedly. I've been seeing more and more glimpses of big kidness, in fact.

You know how something will hit you, and for just a brief moment it'll seem like the most obvious thing in the world? Your friend's new girlfriend is doing cocaine in the bathroom. The pork at the Atomic Cafe is not pork. The Jawa is a big kid. He's shaped like a big kid, moves like a big kid, holds his head like a big kid.

By the time we got home, he was a little kid again, but I guess I'll have to take note of each little kid moment, because soon they'll be pictures and old homework assignments Sandra Bullock neatly placed in a rubber container from Hold Everything and put in downstairs behind the washer and dryer.

Jobs. Each with its own brand of danger.