Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hair: In General, it Sucks.

I hate you, hair. Besides the obvious -- that for the past ten years, you have been steadily sliding off my head and down my back -- there are so many reasons to curse you, hair.

Even when I had hair, it wasn't exactly A-list hair. No smooth, straight mop for me. No, that one bypassed me and went straight from Sandra Bullock to her Jawa. Instead, I got the coarse, dense Brillo-esque cap that inspired me to explain recently to my Jawa the concept of the "jewfro."

"So, wait. It's like an afro, but it's for Jewish people? Will I have one?"

No. The Jawa does not have Jewish hair. But I did.

Even with hair, I had few options. I could go short, which I usually did. I could grow it, until it became larger and larger, eventually resembling that of Gregory Corso, according to one friend I had in college. Eventually, in Seattle in the 90s, surrounded by long, flowing hair, I tried, with the help of products purchased in the "ethnic" aisle at Walgreens, to have long hair.

Two incidents hastened the end of that era. First, one of Roger A. Hunt's lawyer friends, a guy I would eventually appreciate as a big, fat jolly guy, saw me entering a bar and nudged Hunt, saying, "Check out Kramer over there." Dude, I thought, I've known Hunt since we were 12, and that entire time we've built a rapport based somewhat on pointing our ridiculous things/people. You don't get to horn in and try not only to take my place on the roster but also use me as fodder. No.

Secondly, and more importantly, I happened to glance at a photo of myself, taken while visiting Noodles' Mom in Alaska. There is the nice, afro-sheened hair hanging down past my ears, and there on top is a very obvious, very pale-looking bald spot.

Away went the long hair, forever. Since then, my strategy has been to make it appear that, rather than getting my hair cut, I am instead slowly drawing it back into my body. By now, my weekly haircuts result in barely any skull cover. And so it shall remain.

It would be enough -- enough pain, enough tragedy -- if that were the sum of my reasons for hurling invectives at hair. There is more, of course.

In a world where even single, stylish and semi-famous actors like Jeremy Piven feel it is necessary to wax their chests, those of us chained to the middle class are left to deal with what once -- in the halcyon, Tom Sellick-drenched days of the 1970s and 80s -- was considered a blessing: abundant chest hair. Since Burt Reynolds last hung up his cowboy hat, this once-admired trait has become the punch line of a very dated joke. Remember the guy with the chest hair, his shirt unbuttoned to his navel, gold chains dangling from his neck? Yeah, thanks. Thanks alot.

I was 18 when I realized I should stop making fun of hairy guys. Hmm, I thought, that will probably be me eventually. The joy of realizing that I could strut my semi-hairy chest through the El Modena High School locker room while others walked around still trapped in the smoothness of pre-adolescence quickly faded when I realized that evolving social mores would demand that I minimize the impact of the follicles as I grew older. What was once a babe-magnet now became just another hassle, another reason to never walk around shirtless.

In some ways, I envy the completely self-unaware guys, like one particularly long-winded member of our school cohort, who can show up at a swimming birthday party, strip on down and dive in, revealing an abundance of body hair unknown outside the stomping grounds of Bigfoot. He didn't care. I would.

This is not even taking into account the random and weird hairs now sprouting up in places they should leave alone, nor the graying of not only what's left on my head but also what is on my chest. I tried pulling them, but found I would need a much greater understanding of mirror images and geometry to be truly effective.

A few years ago I read an Esquire profile of the writer Joseph Heller. Accompanying the article was a very close-up photo of Heller, highlighting the absolute chaos of his eyebrows. I vowed then, should I ever become prominent enough to warrent an Esquire profile, that I would demand some eyebrow shaping prior to the photo shoot. Call me a Nancy Boy if you want, you wouldn't be the first, but who needs to open up a 500,000+ circulation magazine and see that your eyebrows are going off in several directions?

And now, this: my one hair-related upper hand, gone. For years, while others struggled to put some facial hair in place, I walked around clean-shaven, secure in the knowledge that, should I desire, I could pound out a goatee in a matter of days. I bragged that I'd made it through the 90s in Seattle without growing one, but I knew that what made it bragging was the undeniable fact that I could grow one in the time it takes most people to take a shower.

Several weeks ago, I noticed that I have somehow worked up several spots on my face where hair will not grow. It's cruel, it's ironic, it's just wrong. Now that the hair on my head is mostly gone, I have lost even the option of facial hair. "It's stress," said this ancient, Norwegian dermatologist I visited. Stress? Stress from what? Trying to fit a trip to the dog park into my day? Too much working out? That makes about as much sense as a 41-year-old, semi-in shape guy clocking a 110 on his blood glucose level test.

So nothing. So now I can't go several days without shaving, which I love doing, because not only does it make me look tough, it also makes me look like one of those cartoons that is a face whether you turn it right side up or upside down.

Curse you, hair.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Water Worries

When you grow up in a small town in Pennsylvania, you don't think often about the water you drink. When you grow up in Orange County, you obsess over it.

The water in OC in the 1970s was awful. It was gray, and sometimes you had to wait awhile for all of the weird little bubbles to settle down before you could see through it.

We had our weapons. A measure of OC success -- and assimilation -- was the ubiquitious Sparkletts water set up in the corner of the kitchen. Every week, the "local Sparkletts man," made famous as a sort of post-modern milkman for the sun-drenched set, would show up in his truck with the shimmering sign, dropping off a few huge bottles of water. Then your dad -- with much drama, the sound of rushing water, some large bubbles and occasionally a puddle on the floor -- would flip a bottle over and place it on top of your "Office Space"-style water cooler, and you'd have water. You'd also have a place to congregate and gossip to avoid work, but as a kid, that didn't come up so often.

I wanted to Sparkletts rig not only because our water was gross but because of the status afforded those who had one. To lack the Sparkletts was to reveal yourself not only as a greenhorn but also as one who cares very little about health. You'd rather drink cloudy, brown water than fork out a few bucks for your health? Are you kidding me?

Naturally, it was a battle in our house. My mother did not see the logic. As a New Yorker, I'm sure she was used to opaque water. As native Pennsylvanians, we were not.

Arrowhead, with their lilting "Arrowhead ... spring wa-a-ater." motto, came a close second to Sparkletts.

Many years later, as a young adult, long removed from both Orange County and the joy of a home Sparklett's cooler, I was confronted with people drinking water from smaller bottles. As a contrarian, I originally scoffed at them, once raising the ire of a guy by calling his drink "yuppie water." "What, I'm a yuppie because I drink my Poland Springs Water?"

In a word, yes. And no matter how long your hair is, how much you brag about your band, and how much you want to date this girl I'm dating, I will not retract this.

Sorry. I got sidetracked.

My point is that eventually, I came around. Not enough to spend a dollar every time I want a drink, and thanks to the magic of first Brita, and then the glorious filtering system of our Amana refrigerator, I don't have to. I buy a bottle of water, mostly for the design of the bottle, and then refill it several times during the course of a week.

I am no longer a water expert, and can't really tell the difference between bottled and regular water. As long as it's cold. I do miss the Sparklett's cooler, though. It's one of the few things I miss about having a job. A few years ago, when I spent more time at the Jawa's school, I regularly pilfered water from their cooler, figuring if it wasn't included in our massive tuition payments, it should be.

Along the way, I became very opinionated regarding water bottle design. The Jawa loves the square bottles, which, to us, look like shampoo bottles. I like the thicker bottles, but am intrigued by the recent trend toward shapely, 25 ounce bottles with simulated grips on the sides.

This speaks directly to me as a workout guy. I like the grips, I like the shape. The bottle is easy to grab, easy to drain. The 25 ounce size means you only have to refill once during a workout.

Thought Sparkletts seems to have folded up their tent in this very competitive world of water, Arrowhead ("...spring wa-a-ter...") continues to fight it out. Their latest innovation, however, leaves me very cold, and not in a good way.

Arrowhead, perhaps looking for something beyond shape and fake grips to make them stand out, has adopted -- in their eyes, refined? -- the bottle spout. Their new design is a massive pain in the butt.

Everyone knows that simple twist-offs are inadequate. You need to pop-top, or the innovative twist top, especially while at the gym. No one wants to send a water bottle cap flying through the air while they're on the Precor. Nor do they want to have the bottle send water spewing all over the place, should they drop it. The twist and pop-tops solve these problems. They do not need improvement.

Certainly, they don't need replacement by a complicated snap-off lid that then stays connected to the bottle by a small, plastic strap. Arrowhead has introduced this unnecessary feature, which functions something like an attached gas cap. This means that you need to unsnap the cap, which only unsnaps from one spot, confusingly marked by a plastic tab, to drink. If you are winded, and used to pulling open pop-tops with your teeth, the odds are good that you will attack the cap somewhere other than the small plastic tab. The bottle will not open, and you will hurt your teeth, and your lips.

So you will have to stop what you're doing, focus on the bottle, locate the tab, and then open.

Once the bottle is opened, you will then have to avoid the still-affixed lid, which dangles like the aforementioned gas cap, sometimes digging painfully into your lips. It is not an efficient system. I hope they did not pay a group of engineers handsomely to design this. Obviously, they should have ponied up for a focus group instead.

Fie on you, Arrowhead. You were so close. The bottle is wonderful, but the cap is awful. Serious water drinkers will now have to buy Arrowhead, and then a different brand, hoping that the bottles are universal, so that he then may switch the other cap to the Arrowhead bottle, thus avoiding painful lip and teeth injuries.

As if working out isn't painful enough.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Don't Smoke, Don't Ask Me

Yesterday, while running down the list of things I don't do, I mentioned that I do not, nor have I ever, smoked cigarettes. It's not that I'm a major no-smoking advocate, though I have to admit I find it nicer when they're not around. I just was never able to pick up the habit. Not my vice, I tell people who ask. Now that I think of it, there are few, if any, who ask.

My parents both smoked. Mom polished off her last butt on her way to the hospital, where she would learn that those debilitating chest pains she'd been having were, indeed, consistent with the experience of a 50-year-old woman who weighs 97 pounds but is having a heart attack. Dad followed a few years later, in support of Mom, through the mighty efforts of The Patch. Now they live in Arizona, where the air is always free of moisture. They are smoke-free, have been for several years.

Oh, but during the glory days of smoking, did they burn. Not only them, but both my sisters. Even Noodles' Mom, known now for her complete and total commitment to physical fitness, was known to light up on occasion. Marsi and/or Bud, of course, being a disaffected suburban youth, picked up the habit at 13, I think, much like her mother 30 some years before. Lucky Strike straights, if I remember right.

I also remember one night, having dinner with my family at Marie Callendar's, then shoving my chair as far back from the table as possible afterwards when all four of them sparked up for a relaxing after-dinner smoke.

Smoke was a fact of life.

When we were kids, we would drive from Orange County to Sacramento to see my grandparents. Someone was always smoking. "Please," we'd gasp, from the back seat, "open a window!"

"The air in this car changes every 60 seconds," my father would say, and since it was quite obvious to us by now that he knew way more than we did, about everything, we let it go. We sat in silence, choking on cigarette smoke. It wasn't until my freshman year of college that I realized what smoke-free air smelled like.

And still, I hold no grudge against cigarettes. In fact, though I am made dizzy by efforts to figure out EXACTLY WHICH subculture claims smoking as its own -- cool teenagers? trashy middle-aged bowlers? musicians? my father-in-law? - I still find smoking kind of cool.

When I moved to Seattle, in 1988, I found that everyone I knew suddenly smoked. Well, they didn't smoke, like my dad, leaving the cigarette burning up in an ashtray while they focused on a model airplane. Their cigarettes were much more of a prop, a schoolboy affectation. They smoked European brands, available in Canada and at tobacco shops in Seattle. Sometimes they rolled their own, something I'd seen field hands do in Australia.

And they only smoked two or three a day, usually at night when we were in bars. They could smoke away at night, then wake up the next morning and run full-court for hours. No problem. It seemed somehow sophisticated, and I was disappointed to find that my few lame efforts at joining them in no way made me a smoker. I just couldn't do it.

One time, alone in New York at age 23, feeling somewhat short on style, I went up to a bartender at 3:00 in the morning and asked for a pack of Marlboros. That was the only brand I knew. "Sorry, man, but I can lend you one," he said. "Thanks," I mumbled. He gave me one. I lit it and then wondered what to do. But it was cool to have it there while walking alone to the subway at 3:00 in the morning. Nobody messed with me. I know that much.

All the girls I dated back then smoked, too. Not habitually, but in bars. In fact, Sandra Bullock is the only girl I've "dated" who never smokes. My first girlfriend, the ex-Mormon, is now a smoker, and, of course, trying to quit.

Even the Rocket Scientist, until a few years ago, smoked. This guy is so clean-cut he basically bathes in apple pie each morning and still. Must have been a military thing. Sadly, he was perhaps the only person I've ever known who did not look cooler while smoking. He looked like a 10-year-old trying to look cool, which is ironic, because if there's one thing the Rocket Scientist has never done in his life, it's try to look cool.

Time passed, and many of the casual smokers I knew became habitual smokers. The Legendary Dr. Bandeau turned into a guy who lit a cigarette after meals, and in the morning, after shaving. His car, by now a Dodge truck, began to smell like a man's car: smoke, cologne and tools.

Amazingly, we have all but legislated cigarette smoking out of existence. Even more amazingly, high school kids continue to smoke. Smoking was a big deal at Blanchet High School, where I taught from 1996-1998. I didn't get it, but I also felt we had more important ways to spend our time than to police teenage cigarette smokers and besides, we were giving them free promos of Coke's new extra-caffeine cola after school. I mean, why single out one vice and promote the other?

I wonder what's become of those teens. How many of them now smoke like hod carriers? And what of the parallel worlds of smoking -- the downtown hipsters and the rural cowboys? If they found themselves in the same room (a laundromat? the grocery store?), jonesing for a smoke, would one approach the other and ask to bum a cig? Smoking (and being a carbon-based life form) is the only thing they have in common.

And they all want to quit. Except my little sister, who never wanted to quit and did.

My dad always said he was going to start again if he made it to 70. Well, he'll be 69 this year, but he just got out of the hospital after having lung surgery, so I doubt he'll make good on that promise, which is just as well. As good a prop as a cigarette is, and as cool as it looks, I am learning that addictive vices just don't wear that well as you get older.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Life in the No-Tinker Zone

As a contrarian, I have a responsibility to be against whatever everyone else is for. So it is that, instead of jumping onto the "hip moms and alterna-dads" train, I choose instead to embrace my oldness and unhipness. To this end, I am working to slowly develop the habits and nuances of an old guy.

I do not smoke cigarettes, which puts me at a great disadvantage in the world of old guys, or at least the world of old guys as I imagine it. I also do not "tinker," which is perhaps an even greater shortcoming. Old guys have to "tinker." It doesn't matter what they "tinker" with, something I learned several years ago.

My father, during my youth a model planes and war games guy, always a car guy, once a gun guy, decided to become exclusively a camera guy after he shot his knee off while cleaning some mayhem-producing weapon. This being several years ago, he has been all cameras, all the time, for as long as many jawas in our family can remember.

He belongs to several camera mailing lists, message boards, places you can go and discuss cameras. Rare cameras replaced rare guns (and before that, rare cars) in his life, and he seems pretty happy that way. He gets to "tinker," though I suspect that much of his "tinkering" takes place in the form of online research, rather than in actually taking apart cameras and putting them back together. If he does take them apart, etc., I can guarantee you that there will be lots of sweat and exactly one profanity per session. That's the way it was when he was trying to put the stereo I got for my bar mitzvah together, and I have no reason to believe that his methodology has changed over time.

One day, a few years ago, my father and I, plus the Jawa and Count Burpalot, joined the Rocket Scientist on a dry desert lakebed to watch him fly his radio-controlled airplane. There were lots of plane-flying guys there when we arrived. All of them knew the Rocket Scientist. Over half of them were old guys, and after awhile (maybe it was just a few minutes. Time seemed to move pretty slowly for me out there on the dry lakebed), I noticed these guys spent most of their time not flying the airplanes, but tinkering with them instead.

The Rocket Scientist had his off the ground pretty quickly, and then stood there, squinting up at the sky, flying smoothly around, which came as no surprise to me, given that his 9-5 job involves piloting march larger, often experimental airplanes around at great speeds. To say I was impressed with his flying skills was to say that the few seconds I got to watch him fly -- in between chasing the Jawa and Count Burpalot around, trying to keep them from the other guys' planes -- were impressive, indeed.

As I said, the other guys were mostly tinkering. I realized then that it doesn't matter what it is -- cars, radio controlled airplanes, cameras, guns, fishing poles, model trains -- the basic activity is the same. It involves going to a store your son might find singularly boring, talking to the guy there, buying a few small pieces of stuff, going home and patiently putting things together and taking them apart, then joining a bunch of other guys out somewhere that your son also might find singularly boring, patiently putting more things together and taking them apart, and talking to other guys. And in-between, flying something, taking a few pictures, driving something, shooting something.

Weirdly enough, as I write this I realize that, while the tinkering gene may have skipped me, it has landed squarely on my Jawa, who, at age 9, is already frequenting singularly boring stores and talking to the guys who work there, buying overpriced, very small items, then taking them home and tinkering. He lays out cards and small figures on the ground, concentrating mightily, gravely moving one piece or card from one spot to the other.

For my dad, it was war stuff. For the Jawa, it's Japanese stuff, battle stuff, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Bionicle. He hasn't narrowed it down, and thank God yesterday at Metreon he didn't beg me to go into the uber-geek gaming store next to the arcade. "I'm not old enough for that stuff," he said, casually, as we passed.

I can't wait.

But for me, father and son of tinkerers, nothing. The best I can manage is books, and while the library is singularly boring to most, you can't really tinker with a book. I am outcast from the world of men.

I try to make up for it in other ways. My latest old-guy quirk is putting my glasses, when I'm wearing them, on my forehead when I'm reading something. This is an old guy thing, because it is only recently that I discovered I can actually see close-up things better without them. So I figure, if I'm going to have an old guy condition, why not exacerbate it with a time-honored old guy habit. On the forehead go the glasses.

If I smoked cigarettes, I could focus on something, squinting through a haze of smoke, with my glasses on my forehead. Alas, it's not my vice. Which is fine, because the situation I just described goes hand-in hand with tinkering.

I tried model cars. No patience, and I'm sloppy. My cars came out with big blobs of glue all over them, unlike my father's pristine, historically accurate airplanes.

He'd had a special table built when we added a family room to our house. The table came out of the wall, resting on this tiki thing we had. He'd set up all his stuff and build airplanes while we watched TV, read, played games, whatever. That way we could all be in the same room, even though it sometimes backfired, especially on the nights set aside for painting the airplanes, when the paint fumes and rattle of his air compresser usually chased us from the room.

He kept the completed planes in the basement on plexiglas shelves. There was a little tiny, stubby one with a single jet engine in its tail. That was my favorite. Once a month, he took them all down and dusted them, one by one.

He'd had this room made special when we did the basement. How happy he must have been, with a room in which he could display all of his airplanes, but also with enough room to put up a 4 x 8 table in the middle, onto which he dumped a bunch of kitty litter. He'd then use the kitty litter to make hills and trenches, and would stage (again, historically accurate) World War II battles, using little tiny army men and tanks. Not like my bigger, seldom used army men, but tiny, detailed, spray painted with his own tank and paints. He explained to me once that he likes to set up actual battles, ones that happened, and see what would have happened had this or that general chosen a different strategy.

A real hobbyist, my dad. Most of it went away when we moved to California, which is sad, though familiar to me, a non-hobbyist.

I tried cars, when I got old enough to drive. But like many Jewish men, the stuff under the hood may as well have been a Rubik's Cube to me. Same with motorcycles, though the risk of masculinity is much greater for a guy who shows up and doesn't know how to fix his own bike than it is for a guy in a car. With a car, you might be a collector, and everyone can drive a car. To be a motorcycle guy is to be part of a rough-and-tumble fraternity of men. Men who tinker. Men who don't panic if their motorcycle leaves them stranded somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Men who are not me.

The rest of the hobby totems -- guitars, skateboards among them -- poses, all of them. No real interest on my end. No tinkering.

So I am left, hobbyless and tinker-free in middle age, with my glasses on my forehead, tagging along with my child as he patiently navigates the mean shelves of a Japantown hobby store.

Does laundry count as a hobby?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How Much...

How much do I love lying on my stomach? You can have the chair or the couch. I'll take the floor. If you're looking to find me at my happiest -- and I have to admit that some might find the idea of me at my happiest quite elusive -- then take a look when I'm lying on the living room floor, big (yet oddly flat) green or tan pillow under my chest, reading material spread out in front of me. If you look back a few minutes later, you may find me asleep, my head halfway covering this month's Vanity Fair or a book about the Mafia.

I do my crossword puzzles while lying on my stomach on the living room floor. Since I am lately addicted to them, I also do them in coffee shops, sitting in the car while waiting for the Jawa to finish his school day, and occasionally, though not often, at the kitchen table.

At night, when I go to bed, I lie on my stomach. Not counting a short period following my reading of "The Amityville Horror," where it was revealed that each family member shot by Ronald DeFeo was found lying on their stomach, which creeped me out enough to try lying on my back, I have slept on my stomach since I was a little kid.

I love sleeping on my stomach, but as I get older, I find it less comfortable for the long run. I start out there every night, having rationalized many years ago that it feels safer, because if anything fell from the ceiling it would hit my back, not my front. But eventually, my right arm falls asleep, or I just get antsy, so I roll over to my side. But during that time I am on my stomach, until I get antsy, I revel in the knowledge that my whole body is stretched out.

It is my kind of nirvana.

Now that I am in my 40s, my time on the floor is becoming limited. If I stay there too long, my back starts to hurt. I get up and make a noise befitting of a 75-year-old man. Aaarrrhhh! It's worth it, though. I will continue to lie on my stomach until they have to lift me up by a crane.

How much does my blood suck? I mean this not in a vampirical way, though my grandfather, who is 100% Romanian, always claimed to be a vampire. No, I mean it in a "got my latest blood test results back" sort of way.

No shock, there. We knew my blood sucked. We just didn't know how much. We knew that I had high cholesterol. Nothing massive doses of round, beige pills can't handle, though. It's "down" to 209. My "bad" cholesterol, however, continues to soar, proudly waving its flag well over the accepted norm.

And why can't blood pressure be like oil pressure: the higher the better? If my blood is running through my veins at a high pressure, does this mean that every time I cut myself it will come spurting out like a very small, red geyser? Is the pressure high because of all the cholesterol floating around in there, sharing a very small space with it? I wonder, if my pressure got high enough, if my blood would actually boil? No, that's temperature, not pressure.

Nothing that a few small, white, round pills can't take care of. And they're relatively inexpensive.

And now, this: without the benefit of my doctor, who usually scolds me, adding to my perception that all of these health problems are somehow my own fault, karma, whatever, I scanned my latest results to see this one staring back at me under the category "abnormal:" BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVEL: 110.

Apparently, and I really should ask my father about this, because this is one of his pet ailments, your BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVEL is supposed to be between 70 and 100. Anything over that is considered "prediabetic."


I am almost 42 years old. I weigh about 15 pounds more than I should, but not enough so that when I say, "I need to lose weight," at least one person doesn't say, "What are you talking about? You're not fat." I am a vegetarian. Sure, I am weak in the face of chocolate, perhaps far too weak. I stopped drinking one Coke a day, and now have two or three a week. I drink alcohol moderately. At least in my world it's moderate. I have never smoked cigarettes and I go to the gym, to complete an inefficient workout, at least three times a week. AND MY FREAKING CHOLESTEROL, BLOOD PRESSURE AND BLOOD GLUCOSE IS ABNORMALLY HIGH!

Sorry. I lost it there for a moment. I'm back now.

Sandra Bullock is having none of this. Almost 42 herself and built from the sturdiest of white girl genes, her cholesterol is something like 135. The last time she tried to give blood, they wouldn't let her because her blood pressure was too low. And I know she sneaks out to the vending machine at work several times a week for chocolate. Her first response: "Wow, you've got everything."

Then, being S. Bullock, she swung into action. Within minutes, she had emailed me several articles about "Type 2 Diabetes," which, I have learned, results entirely from poor eating habits and being overweight.

So what is left for me? I have to cut out yogurt? I already switched to organic peanut butter, though I would much rather have skippy. After several years of counting fat content, cholesterol and salt, I now add carbohydrates and sugars? What's left for me to eat besides grapes? I can't even eat cottage cheese, and who in their right mind wants to eat cottage cheese?

This morning, I asked Shack where the Jawa keeps his pencils. The dog seems to have a craving for products made of wood -- pencils, window sills, chair legs. He seems to be in pretty good shape. It is noon now. Maybe Shack and I will sit down and gnaw on the table leg together. At least then I will be lying on my stomach, which will take some of the sting -- though not the splinters -- from the exercise.

The cruelest irony is that now I am forced to model my diet after that of my favorite subculture -- hippies. I will join them in eating whole grain pita bread and hummus, washed down with some freaking carrot juice and a dessert of cashews. Sounds awesome.

My friend Kathaleen was explaining the concept of "offsetting,", wherein someone with the available resources, like, say Al Gore, makes up for a bad move, like, say, having a power bill of $30,000 a month, but giving the same amount of money to something good, like, say, some kind of organization devoted to reducing greenhouse gases. For Al, it helped "offset his carbon footprint."

So I'd like to offset my anticipated hippie footprint, the one I will incur by eating whole grains, cutting out Twix bars and Cokes, and any resulting "mellowness" that comes from my new diet. Since I do not have the financial resources of Al Gore, instead I will "offset" by selling my Volvo and buying a 1968 Pontiac GTO, in which I will roar through the streets of San Francisco, honking my horn obnoxiously at anyone in my way. Especially if they are driving a Prius.

I will take my GTO to pick up the Jawa at school, sitting in the parking lot, loudly revving my engine, wearing sunglasses and a sleeveless t-shirt, listening to Metallica on the stereo. How they will abhor my Hurst shifter and glasspak exhaust. That I will be inside, eating bean sprouts from a reusable canvas bag will not matter then.

And I will go home and lie on my stomach, because they can't take that away from me. Yet.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Having a Bad Time Change?

It is already 11 a.m. Where did the morning go? For starters, where did that hour go? You know, the one we lost Saturday night. At the time, I thought, "Big deal. One hour. It'll be barely noticeable. We'll enjoy the extra hour of sunlight. Nothing else will change. We fly to Boston and back and are fine. So shall this be fine."


I should have paid greater attention. At one point Saturday night, as I went around thinking I was setting all of our clocks forward an hour (I missed two), I flashed on the time, in seventh grade, that I was up until 2:35 on the first Sunday of daylight savings time, unable to sleep. But, I figured, even if it's a problem, it will be fixed by Monday.

Wrong again.

The first sign of panic begins Saturday night, when you're lying in bed reading and look over at the clock to realize that it's suddenly 1:30. Which means that, even if you get 8 hours of sleep, you won't wake up until 9:30, which is actually 8:30 and far too early to wake up on a Sunday when you have to get up at 7 from Monday to Friday.

But wait. On Monday, 7 will actually be 6, and it'll be dark outside, and I can't think of a more miserable way to start a day than to wake up when it's still last night.

In Arizona, they don't have daylight savings time, which means that my parents called on Sunday at their usual time, 10 a.m., which was actually 9 a.m. Yes, I am often still in bed when they call, but generally, I've been reading for at least a half hour by then. Not this time. This time it was only 9 a.m., so I was still asleep when they called, having some weird dream about traveling through time with Roger A. Hunt and the Legendary Dr. Bandeau to see Led Zeppelin's first show ever, only a fight breaks out and someone starts firing a gun, sending the Legendary Dr. Bandeau scurrying toward the action in a completely predictable show of bravado while I cower in the corner, rationalizing that it is much smarter to cower in this situation.

So to go from that volatile yet virtual world to answering specific questions about our plans for Spring Break was a little confusing. Give me that extra hour and I would have been golden.

And then, of course, there is the weirdness of eating lunch an hour early, convincing yourself that it is time to for your only twice-weekly now Coke when it is in fact only 11:00 a.m.

Sure, there's the upside, especially when San Francisco decides to bless you with abundant sun and warmth, which, since it is so unexpected, you try not to blame on global warming. You don't have to, actually. Someone will do it for you. The upside is that now you can sit on the front steps and drink a Margarita at 6:30 and it will still be light, and if you're lucky, Shack will be a good dog and sit quietly on the steps next to you, rather than running into the street or barking at everyone who walks by.

Skip forward to 10:30, when everyone in the house who is usually asleep by now is wide awake, wondering why they can't get to sleep. This comes after a difficult and combative weekend, so the angst of the individual who cannot get to sleep is tinged with an edge of hostility. Finally, at 11 o'clock, I summon up what remains of my parenting skills and say enough of the right things to put this individual at ease. Naturally, he falls asleep shortly afterwards.

Not me. I'm up until about 1, reading, not reading, remembering slights from years before, both committed by me and aimed at me. Anything long-buried surfaces, giving me plenty to think about besides the frustration I feel at lying in flannel sheets on so far the warmest night of the year.

And then, the misery that is Monday morning when it occurs on Sunday night. Sandra Bullock, who never met a morning she didn't like, is peppy as always, which makes it worse. The Jawa, who launched himself into my bed at 6:30/5:30, has a mood to match mine. Every thing either of us does annoys the other. He twists our sheets into a ball, making it twice as hard to make the bed. I nag him to get dressed, when he wants to play with Shack.

I look in the mirror. My face is twice its normal size and contains lines I don't remember seeing there before. Which is frightening, because the light in there isn't so good, given that it's still last night pretending to be this morning.

In a few days, I am certain, we will be fine. Adjusted. We will come to appreciate the longer afternoons, and memories of the dark mornings will eventually fade away. Just in time for daylight savings time to end. And then we get our hour back.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Unlikely Kodak Moments

"They" will have you believe that the only the parts of life accompanied by sunsets and beaches can be truly memorable. Nowhere will you find greeting cards festooned with images of haircuts and the Vacaville Premium Outlets.

Which is why, too often, when life's great memories occur at places like the Parkview salon and the Vans Outlet, they disappear into vapor before anyone has a chance to log them. Minus any widely accepted signifier for "great memory," they fade into the stuff that makes up 90% of our lives -- checkbooks, grocery stores, car washes, staff meetings.

This is why I am glad to have been cognizant -- for once -- of the memories we were building on Saturday, as we went about completing the errands of our day.

Not much, really. A haircut in North Beach, followed by a trip to the bulk candy store. Ten minutes in the Walgreen's in Chinatown for passport photos. The Jawa refusing to smile, and then finding it appropriately funny when his photo emerges looking like a mug shot.

The Jawa has secretly developed a sense of the absurd that makes me very proud. While waiting for the photos to develop, he tapped me on the shoulder. "Hey, Dad," he said, "how about some Easter towels?" He pointed at a display of very average-looking hand towels, arranged in a very average way, underneath a sign that screamed, "UP TO OUR EARS IN EASTER!" with colored eggs arranged all over it. "These are Easter towels!" he said gleefully.

My old passport bore a photo of me at age 22, sporting a representative 1987 hairstyle and two hoop earrings, looking very much like a pre-steroids Jose Canseco. As dated as that may look today, I would find it preferable to the one I am now saddled with. Lately, whenever I have my picture taken, this bald, middle-aged guy shoves me out of the way and takes my place.

Driving to see my grandparents in Sacramento, stopping at the Vacaville outlets to see if the Vans store has anything good on sale. Eating Subway sandwiches outside in the sun while Shack sits nearby, his leash hooked underneath one of the table legs. He's waiting for someone, anyone, to drop some food.

I won't claim that the Vacaville outlets are the ideal place for an epiphany, but when you spend as much time down the rabbit hole as I do, you take your moments in the sun where you can. For me, it arrived while sitting outside the 9 West store with my Jawa, waiting for Sandra Bullock to hopefully find a pair of shoes to replace the tired old brown ones she's worn every day since she sprained her ankle playing basketball.

The Jawa, Shack and I were sitting there, fending off the attentions of shoppers who love dogs. I don't know how many more Saturdays I've got to sit in the sun, in no hurry, with my little boy draped over my shoulders. Two weeks ago he was five, so I can only assume that two weeks from now he'll be 15. And I've yet to meet the fifteen-year-old who will absently put his arms around his dad's neck while waiting for his mom to emerge from the 9 West outlet.

At these times, if we're lucky, sunset, beach or no sunset, beach, time can slow down enough that we have time to be conscious of the way life is flowing over us. Like the way weather is sometimes perfect enough to fit like a favorite sweater, sometimes you can actually see memories as you build them. This was one of those times.

From there, to Sacramento, where, after 25 years of driving myself, I can finally find my grandparents' house without getting on the wrong freeway.

My grandparents have reached late December, I think, which makes every visit precious and bittersweet. This time, my grandfather was angry. He is not going gently into that good night. He can't stand being old. "You live long enough and eventually they've taken everything away that you enjoy doing," he said, more than once.

"But we've had a great ride," my grandmother countered.

"I DON'T CARE!' thundered Grandpa.

He's bored, Sandra Bullock told me later. All he wants, he says, is to have a place to go where he can play pool with other old guys.

Every visit, I hope, adds at least a month to their lives. My grandfather turns 90 in two months.

What they have now, mostly, are great old stories about their lives. Some of them I've heard many times. Some they now tell more than once during a single visit. Others I've never heard before. I know they lived on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, in a one-bedroom apartment. I know that my dad, as a very little kid, walked around the army base in St. Augustine, Florida, pointing out all of the officers, making my enlisted grandfather salute each of them over and over.

I know that my grandfather left the dress factory in 1959, a year in which, I now sometimes have to remind them, I was not yet born. I have heard many times that there friends used to climb through their kitchen window on Ocean Parkway and offer to babysit my dad, but Sandra Bullock has not and I don't really care if I have to hear about it 100 more times. I won't get bored.

When Noodle's Mom and I were little kids, my parents would pack us off to my grandparents house in Massapequa, Long Island, for a week each summer. Every year my grandmother would fill our heads with images of the wondrous, amazing things to be found in New York.

The two things I loved above all else were the Empire State Building and the Automat. One of my favorite childhood memories: driving our 1967 Plymouth Barracuda convertible down 5th Avenue, on the way to my grandparents' place. Stopping at a light a 27th and 5th. My dad hitting a button and putting the top down. Looking up and seeing the Empire State Building rising up in front of us.

But we never got to the Automat. I imagined it, this place where you put in money and pulled out food, but we never got to go. Then, one summer, we arrived in Massapequa to find that my grandmother had placed paper towels over the open oven. She'd cut slots into the paper towels, and written the names of food items on them: peanut butter & jelly sandwich, apple, chocolate cake, and my favorite, lemon meringue pie.

Since I was in preschool, sorry, nursery school, then, my grandmother has gone out of her way to make lemon meringue pie every time we visit. She is now 89 years old, has two fake hips and can no longer stand for periods longer than 15-20 minutes, so she will not be making me any more pies. Instead, they get into their Honda Element, drive to the store, use the crane in the back to unload her scooter, and then she rides into the store while my grandfather walks next to her and they pick out a lemon meringue pie for me.

At 7:30 on Saturday, my grandmother handed me 3/4 of a lemon meringue pie, telling me that "the last time, I almost had to run after you to get you to take it!" I told my grandfather to get himself down to the Rancho Cordova senior center and play some pool. To prop my grandmother in the corner on her scooter, with her crossword puzzles and a sign that says "DO NOT DISTURB" around her neck, because she says she doesn't like people all that much.

I seldom feel as comfortable with responsibility as I do driving home from Sacramento at night. The drive is just long enough -- 100 miles -- for one or both of Sandra Bullock and the Jawa to fall asleep. On this night, I can see the Jawa concentrating on his Nintendo DS in the back seat, the glow of the screen lighting up his face. S. Bullock dozes in the front. Both of them, along with Shack, who is sleeping in the back of our station wagon, depending on me to get them home safely.

This must have been what my grandmother was talking about when she told my grandfather they'd had a great ride. So sunsets, no beach, just I-80 and a string of supremely forgettable towns: Dixon, Fairfield, Pinole.

We reach the Bay Bridge and cheer our new FastTrak device, which propels us past toll booth traffic with two small beeps. San Francisco appears on our left. There's your sunset and your beach.

Tomorrow we will work on the house and take our chances with the Blue team that laughed at us a few weeks ago (this time they beat us with -- literally -- both hands behind their backs). I will try to fashion 15 pages of transcribed interview into something resembling a coherent, 2000 word magazine article. And then, tomorrow night, Sandra Bullock will sleep exactly 45 minutes because she is under so much pressure at work.

But tonight we are all fine. And this, we will remember.

Friday, March 02, 2007

New Ways to Waste Time

These are the things that keep me from doing what I'm supposed to do which, right now, is completing a 1500-2000 word profile of San Francisco appellate attorney Dennis Riordan:

1) Purimschpiel (sp?) -- Part of our new commitment to Judiasm (almost entirely generated by our choice of school for the Jawa) is an awareness of Purin, the fun Jewish holiday. As you may or may not know, in general, Jewish holidays are not celebrated, they are observed. There is no Yom Kippur Bunny.

Purim is different. Despite following the classic Jewish holiday script (summarized as "They tried to kill us, we survived, lets eat."), Purim is a celebration. I remember this vaguely from my own childhood, during the few years we actually went to temple. And hated it, by the way. Purim, if I recall, involved weird fruity baked things masquerading as candy, people dressed up as characters from the Purim story, singing, dancing, all of the things I love best.

In our present life, Purim is the best day of the school year. It is the day when you recycle last year's Halloween costume, which no one except your best friends has yet seen, since Halloween is not officially sanctioned in Jewish Day School. There is a carnival, a talent show, and the Purimschpiel.

The invention of our school itself, Purimschpiel, as far as I can tell, is a chance to re-tell the Purim story as filtered through the eyes of Baby Boomers. Queen Esther and Mordecai set their tales to the tunes of Beatles songs, and for every kid dressed as a punk or a rapper (zero, actually), there are 25 dressed as hippies.

Ah, San Francisco. Haman comes out in a Prius instead of a chariot, and at the end of the story, George Bush is burned in effigy.

I made that last part up.

Regardless, all of the children look very cute, and the Jawa's teacher manned rhythm guitar, which was pretty cool. Zelda dressed as a geisha.

2) Chasing Shack all over the world: Yesterday, I returned home from the gym to find a message on our answering machine: "Hi (in cool-sounding Irish accent), my name is Mary. I have your dog, Shack, here. I found him in front of my house."

I called Mary. She lives 6 blocks from us, almost on the border of Noe Valley. Endemic to our status as upward-striving middle class people, he escaped when the cleaning lady left the front door open. She must not have noticed, however, because there was no note. So Shack went on a vision quest, arriving at Mary's house around 10:30.

I ran to Mary's house, still in my workout gear.

I don't blame Shack. Mary's house was much nicer than ours, and her little toddler who was obviously having the time of her life. "Now the girls (pronounced guhrls) are going to want a dog of their own," said Mary as Shack jumped up onto her daughter. "Did you like having Shack here?" I asked her. From behind her pacifier, she nodded: yes.

After thanking Mary profusely, I put Shack on his leash, attempted some kind of weak scolding, and set off for home. Shack, infused with a sense of freedom and all that means, ran the entire way with his leash in his mouth. When we got home, he continued running, this time in circles, from the living room to the bedrooms, pausing to growl at me, around the coffee table, until he collapsed from exhaustion.

What did Shack see during his Glen Park adventure? Who did he see? What did people think upon seeing a Corgi out for a morning stroll, sans owner or leash? It was six blocks before someone finally took some action. What made Shack decide to head North? He went in a direction we never go.

I guess he was just curious. But you know what that did to the cat.

3) Crossword puzzles: At this point in time, you can compare my enthusiasm for crossword puzzles to that of Sonny the bird for Cocoa Puffs. I do two of them a day, sometimes three, even though it means I have to suffer through the San Francisco Chronicle to get my puzzles.

Sandra Bullock is disgusted with this new habit. I gave up drinking Coke, only to find a new compulsion. This one is more time-consuming.

4) Eating breakfast: this morning, already throw off track by the purimschpiel, I decided to go to the post office and then eat a proper breakfast at this place in Noe Valley that I've never been to. It has a U-shaped counter and an old sign. Good enough.

Two seats away was Rob. He wasn't eating, just drinking coffee and drawing. He wasn't eating, I later learned while eavesdropping on his conversation with Lisa, the waitress, because he was committed to a diet that was "like a journey toward natural." I didn't hear the specifics, but whatever they were, the journey had blessed him with an overall "smoothness." Everything was smooth, his breathing, his sleeping. His head, I might add, if mine weren't well on the way toward smoothness itself.

Soon after Rob revealed his smoothness, Lisa dropped off my two scrambled eggs and hash browns. "These eggs," I thought, "are like a journey toward heart disease."

A snowboarding guy walked in and sat on the other side of the U. He was there for one reason: to talk to the other waitress, not Lisa. Both Lisa and the other waitress were young and attractive, which was surprising, given that you would expect most places with U-shaped counters to be staffed by Alice, Vera and Flo. Maybe you would expect that if you watched too much TV instead of working.

Lisa was living with her boyfriend in a studio apartment, which was working out well because they'd bought this big bookshelf / room divider at IKEA. Whether the new guy knew this or not, he was interested in Lisa's co-worker. So they played their little game. Her body language suggested that she was interested. His order of a cheesburger at 10:30 in the morning suggested that he was willing to do whatever he needed to do to advance this relationship.

Eventually, he got up and went to buy a snowboarding magazine, then returned wearing large sunglasses. The waitress went back to his spot on the U and stood there talking to him.

Ignored by both of them were two of the most disheveled, yet not-unclean old men I've ever seen. They sat near the cash register and said things like, "Can you believe there was an earthquake last night? Near Lafayette!" and "120 tons of rocks falling down Telegraph Hill!"

With all of this going on, do you blame me for not working? Who can work when there's so much to see?

It's not going to get better, not today. Even though I have a Monday deadline, I am going to go back to school to watch the Jawa -- actually dressed as a Jawa -- play the Star Wars theme on his saxaphone for the talent show that they don't call a talent show because, I guess, if you suggest that the performers have talent, that must mean that the audience does not, and we're all talented here.

And special.

120 tons of rocks falling down Telegraph Hill. I can't even imagine.