Friday, June 29, 2007

sweet, gentle lullabies

The children have a conceit that Frowsty, Iris's inordinately fluffy and charismatic cat, is an immortal and royal entity. Lola sang softly to him tonight, "You are the king, the king of everything. You are the king of Mommy! You are the king of the BIG OLD BUTT [punctuating this by slapping me repeatedly on the butt as I brushed my teeth], the big old butt, the BIG OLD BUTT, you are the king of the BIG OLD BUTT."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

scenes from a Silicon Valley soap opera

The Set

It may not surprise you to learn that we have a lot of trouble living within our means. A giant mortgage, yuppie swimming lessons for the children, flocks of picky eater cats, a Drunken Housewife constantly buying books and bottles of blanc de noirs, sky-high property taxes... After a hideously expensive and soul-scarringly disgusting plumbing disaster, I tried working at home to bring in some extra money, but that proved to be logistically difficult. The consensus was reached that someone really needs to be without a paying job in order to keep the menage ticking along, but that also means someone else, someone very sober, needs to be bringing in massive amounts of cash to fund it all.

We managed to limp along financially until Lola was diagnosed with severe apraxia and we decided to start her in private, intensive speech therapy, which was not covered by our insurance. To pay for it, the Sober Husband took on a second job, doing some coding as a consultant on nights and weekends. Various people have suggested over the years (with the unspoken preamble invariably being if you just weren't so frigging lazy) that I should take a night job myself, as that would supposedly seem more fair, but in fact I was taking a night and weekend job myself: looking after the children without assistance or a break and doing much more housework than a Drunken Housewife is accustomed to performing. It was indeed more difficult to watch the children when their so intriguing and potentially entertaining father was locked up in his basement lair concentrating on his side job, and three year-old Lola was given to pounding on the door and screaming, "Dada! Dada!"

Scene 1: Hanging On the Telephone

The Sober Husband's first consulting gig was coding for a couple of Indian sysops who had an idea about software management tools for system administrators. This was fine at first, and my running joke was that these fellows were working for Anton, as they used their day job checks to pay him to create their software for their largely hypothetical start-up. But soon it soured, since these guys were not technically savvy and they were far too gabby. They required unbelievable amounts of handholding and telephone explanations for everything, which they felt should be free, and these constant phone calls were driving the Sober Husband insane. Additionally, they got tired of writing checks and kept riding their pet hobbyhorse, that the Sober Husband should work for equity. Not all equity is created equally, and this equity was not so appealing to us, besides the fact that Lola's speech therapist did not accept equity.

Eventually things reached an impasse, where the Sober Husband and the Indian sysops could not define the parameters of what should be done next (this was in large part due to the non-technical sysops inability to understand the complexities of coding), and he couldn't bear to continue the constant, unpaid lengthy phone calls yammering on and on about this. It seemed to him that he could spend that time spent on the phone talking about potential coding actually coding instead. So he decided to take a bold step and work on the software on spec, asking for payment after he'd created it all.

Over quite some time he worked like a fiend, and then he demoed the completed software, which was conceded to be a thing of beauty. What he got in return was a spate of pesky phone calls and annoying haggling with the constant "you should take equity" line, ending with the demand that he hand over his source code before payment was made. The Sober Husband first refused to provide the source code until he'd been paid. Eventually he stopped participating in these lengthy, exasperating phone calls. He never was paid, and he never turned over his code. It's all just a bad memory now (except that several months of speech therapy at $200 per week were funded, and Lola's speech was steadily improving).

Scene Two: Man or Ineffectual Machine?

It took practically no time for the Sober Husband to find another part-time consulting job, this time for a start-up developing computerized glass-front retail refrigerators which would conserve energy. He explained to the children that he was "building an army of robot refrigerators", which the children loved. This start-up seemed well-timed, as venture capitalists were besotted with green tech, and indeed this start-up already had a flow of venture capital.

Our household entered a golden age, with plenty of money and with the happy Sober Husband engaged in his work. The networking was also great, as the Sober Husband was meeting and mingling with venture capitalists. At the peak of this era, the husband was paid to fly to an industry conference to represent the company, along with the CEO and various board members (basically he was a metaphor, representing the mighty software development capacities of the fledgling start-up). As a paid-by-the-hour contractor, being flown somewhere for days is the Holy Grail, and we were very happy (although of course the children were crabby over their father's absence).

Thoreau once advised, "I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes," and we should have thought of that when we were buying the Sober Husband new clothes for the conference. The charismatic, irascible founder was clashing with his venture capital funders. The founder was eccentric and, in the vein of entrepreneurs, spawned many anecdotes. My favorite story was the time he dropped a plastic bag containing a bottle of tequila. The bottle shattered, but the founder carefully preserved the plastic bag full of loose tequila and jagged shards and carried it all the way across the city. I wondered if perhaps it were Patron or another top dollar, carefully aged yuppie tequila, but no, it was just a cheap supermarket tequila.

The venture capitalists, who sensibly enough dominated the board of directors, insisted upon installing a new CEO. The founder was to have a lower title but an ongoing role in the company, but of course he still had a substantial equity stake in the company. The founder did not take kindly to this. At the next board meeting, the founder walked in with his personal lawyer by his side and, citing his shareholder rights, the founder dramatically fired the new CEO and reestablished himself as CEO.

The venture capitalists were disgusted, the funding dried up, and most of the board members resigned. The founder was king again, but his kingdom lay under a mighty drought, and he asked his brave knights to work for equity until again the rains of venture capital might fall. The Sober Husband refused to work for equity (and indeed, his last bill for about $25,000 languished unpaid).

However, he didn't leave without hearing the story of how the coup was accomplished. It turns out that the founder had gone for a consultation with a lawyer, who listened to his tale of woe of the Big, Bad Venture Capital Firm that gave so much money but insisted upon putting in a chosen CEO. When the founder was done talking, the lawyer leaned forward and said, "The only question is: do you have balls or ball bearings?" Of course, there's only one answer a testosterone-ridden, tequila drinking entrepreneur can give to that. Make a potentially disparaging remark about a man's genitals, and the next thing you know, he's committed to a corporate war.

Every now and then the Sober Husband gets a phone call suggesting that he help the refrigerator founder work up a demo, which he declines politely enough. In a few weeks, he'll be starting at a new company where the terms of his employment explicitly forbid outside contracting, and so for now we must draw a curtain over this particular stage.

phone call with a mommy

"I'm going outside right now to play with a piece of chalk, and then I'm going to my car and coming over," said my friend Joyce.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

today's top tattle

"MOOOOOM! Lucy dissed the monkey!"

Monday, June 25, 2007

news from the home

What happens when you mix a geek and too many cats? He sets up "the first cat-to-cat videochat." History must reflect that neither cat, Frowsty nor Ishmael, paid the least bit of attention to the videochat.

In other news, Lola asked big sister Iris plaintively, "Will you play with me when hell freezes over?"

"the best Dads' Night ever"

A long time ago, when Iris was a baby, I was in a playgroup, and occasionally the parents had a Moms' Night Out or a Dads' Night Out (when I organized one Moms' Night Out, I told our one stay-at-home father of the group that it was up to him or his wife which one came, since we considered him an honorary mom. They flipped a coin, and he won and joined us on a night of debauchery. The dads, though, always followed strict gender lines).

On one of our rareish moms' nights out, one of the other mothers got tipsy and wanted to talk about whether her husband was having an affair. "Do you think he's having an affair? He's not having an affair. Could he be having an affair? What do you think?" I had never considered this issue, and indeed I normally spent whole weeks without any thoughts whatsoever about this man entering my mind. But once the thought had been planted in my mind, it popped back up from time to time. For example, the husband had a landmark birthday, and he took the day off from work, got dressed up, and supposedly went barhopping alone to celebrate the day. His wife was not invited (although she had a plethora of babysitting options), and she brought this up wondering why on earth her husband wanted to go to bars alone.

Then there came a Dads' Night Out. (On moms' nights out, we tended to go to niceish restaurants; the dads' nights out tended to revolve around bars). As the Sober Husband was getting ready to go, I joked around with him about getting to the bottom of this Is He Having An Affair question. "After you guys all get loaded, you should say something like, 'Say, have any of you ever thought of having an affair?' Then report back to me on what he says! Wait 'til he's drunk." Usually I have the impression that my words pass right through the husband's cortex without making much of an impact ("Blah blah blah blah dinner blah blah blah blowjob blah blah blah") so I wasn't expecting anything to come of this. But on this night, during a lull in the conversation, the Sober Husband turned to the man in question and with a winning smile, said, "So, I'm supposed to ask you if you're cheating on your wife." The other fellows practically spit out their beer.

"You weren't supposed to ask like that!" I shouted when I heard this. "You were supposed to be subtle! Now I'm going to take the fall for this! What did he say?"

"He said, 'I'm an actor, so why would I tell you the truth? I'm a professional liar.' Then he finished his beer and left."

"He's going to hate me!"

Later I heard another account of the evening from another father who'd been there. It turns out that his wife had also asked him to bring up the same subject and look for a reaction from the same guy, and happily for him, the Sober Husband did his dirty work, plus the spit take reaction to the Sober Husband's blunt query was the most entertaining thing that had ever occurred on such an outing. "Best. Dads. Night. Ever!" he said. This father, unlike the Sober Husband, paid attention to when the man in question left and when he reportedly got home, and those times were several hours off. "He's definitely having an affair," said the observant father. "And we had a vote: you're the least likely to get cheated on. There's no way Anton could pull it off."

I think Gay Pride week had an effect on Lola

Four year-old Lola just said to Iris, "I'm going to marry a princess just so I can be gay!"

Sunday, June 24, 2007

it's been an orgy

On Friday I finally managed to drag myself down to Kayo Books and buy my father a belated combination Father's Day and birthday present. Ever since I discovered the one-of-a-kind Kayo Books, specializing in ancient, lurid paperbacks, I have never had a problem shopping for my father, who cannot get enough old Westerns, the older the better.

I myself have an obsession with out-of-print Richard Stark novels, and normally I have terrible luck at Kayo. Usually I pick up a dozen or so Westerns dating from around WWII for my father, and I ask the owner, "Excuse me, I just don't see any Richard Starks here", and the owner inevitably says, "Oh, we normally have so many, but a big collector came in yesterday and got every single one." But this time, I found FIVE Starks I hadn't read, one a hardback reprint from the U.K., from which I learned that in the '90s a British publisher put out hardback versions of all the out-of-print Starks AND that my favorite, "Slayground", was actually filmed, starring one of my favorite actors, Peter Coyote. How did I not know that? I suspect it may not have been a shining hour for either the author (who never seems to mention that film, while he does bring up that Robert Redford played Dortmunder in the film version of "The Hot Rock" from time to time) or the actor (similarly Peter C. did not mention it in his autobiography, while he certainly did rattle on about being in "E.T.") I'll have to make some inquiries with the Film Noir Society people. I can't let this go, as the combination is so striking of my beloved author with the actor I once had a bit of a fixation upon [In the waning days of my first marriage, I saw "Bitter Moon" and developed an interest in Peter Coyote. I figured that since he lived in Marin, perhaps I would cross his path sooner or later, and then we'd be cavorting about in pigs masks together. In fact, he literally did cross my path once, but it wasn't until I was re-married and in the ninth month of pregnancy with Iris Uber Alles, lumbering through a peace demonstration in Berkeley in the blazing heat. I was huge, sweaty, and having contractions, and the long-suffering Sober Husband was stressing over whether he'd be able to get me to the car before I either had the baby or a psychotic episode, and just then, my once beloved Peter Coyote swept by, giving us a dismissive look as though pregnancy were politically incorrect (and come to think of it, pregnancy is pretty politically incorrect in these parts)].

In any event, over the past few days, I've read four Richard Starks, even going so far as to read one of these priceless antiques while caramelizing onions, at risk of olive oil splattering those rare pages (nothing stays in archival condition in my home, alas). This immersion in the world of the ultimate noir thug, Parker, is having a bit of an effect upon me. Like Parker, a man of few words, I'm not feeling so chatty, and it's becoming more and more clear to me that I should start stashing little funds here and there for rainy days, assemble some fake IDs, and put together a string. Of course, my fingerprints have been on file ever since I took the bar exam, but having his fingerprints on record with the State of California hasn't held Parker back.

what happened in the world?

The other day I was looking idly at my site stats (something I love to do far too much. I spend more time checking that then I do actually writing here, which is truly wrong, but yet I cannot stop myself), and I noticed that there were quite a few people all across Europe who were simultaneously on my site because they'd run a Google search for the word "rat." This has been persisting, and I'm wondering: what the hell happened in the world to cause American and Europeans to suddenly start googling "rat" like fiends?

For example, at one point in time on Friday, people from the following places were all looking at my blog at the same time as a result of desperately seeking information on rats:

Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India
Tranbjerg, Arhus, Denmark
Abingdon, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom
Duluth, Georgia, United States
Beauport, Quebec, Canada
Kent, Washington, United States
Atlanta, Georgia, United State
Great Neck, New York, United States
Littleton, Colorado, United States
Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Meanwhile someone from Cos Cob had googled "rat + cartoons."

Then today simultaneously we have "rat" googlers in the following spots:
Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Slough, Slough, United Kingdom
Slough, Slough, United Kingdom (2 separate IP addresses; we get a lot of readers from Slough, which is extra delightful because I'm a fan of the BBC's original,"The Office." A prize for any reader who sends me a picture of someone holding a sign referring to "" standing by a Slough sign!!)
Basildon, Thurrock, United Kingdom
Granite Bay, California, United States

as well as someone seeking "tattoo of a rat" in Oak Forest, Illinois (by the by, I used to want to get the Ravenswood winery logo tattooed on my stomach, but with rats instead of ravens, and their tails would be entwined around my navel, but then I got pregnant and my stomach just hasn't been the same since, and I don't particularly feel like featuring it prominently).

and, for a change of pace, someone in Reading, U.K. is searching for "singing milk carton I will always love you." Oh, love, isn't it grand? Dear milk carton lover in Reading, I wish you much happiness with the chosen object of your affections.

So anyway, why have so many people's minds turned to gathering information upon rats? Is there a plague of rat zombies or more positively, a news story about the wonders of pet rats? Feel free to ask your rat-related questions here, by the way. The Drunken Housewife lives to serve (but don't expect rapid and courteous service. You'll need to settle for lazy, possibly sarcastic service).

Friday, June 22, 2007

those ladies who lunch

I took seven year-old Iris Uber Alles and four year-old Lola out for lunch, and they were unusually chatty.

"If you were locked in a room with reaaally thin walls and no door and you had a sock, a mirror, and a peach, what would you do?" asked Iris.

Lola refused to get drawn in. "If I were a princess, I'd dance all the way to my dreams," she said wistfully.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

KMAX's Big Night and other wackiness over at the Freewheeling Spirit

Our friend du blog, the Freewheeling Spirit, is running a readers' photo contest at the moment, and it's given me a great deal of amusement. First, the delightful KMAX submitted a photo essay of a recent bacchanal of his. I have two beefs to pick with this: first, that the Freewheeling Spirit, in a lack of foresight, put a 3-photo-per-contestant limit on things, because this meanspirited rule has robbed us of more photos of that sprightly lad, KMAX, and two, that KMAX didn't enter the First, Possibly Annual, Reader Photo Contest Hughman and I held here. Maybe next year, maybe next year... I shared those pictures with the Sober Husband, but all he had to say was, "Those boys like bikes, huh?"

Anyhow, apart from the actual photos, the other source of amusement is to be found in the comments, where we learn that the Freewheeling Spirit is getting a bit of a browbeating. It turns out that his mere casual use of the term "bike porn" risks men's immortal souls. Dear God, how can he live with himself? How many men will be condemned to hell before KMAX is crowned the winner?

ah, the sweet innocence of a preschooler

Previously in a weak moment, Iris confided in me --- within earshot of her little sister, Lola -- that she has a recurring nightmare that Lola is chasing her around the house with a knife. This afternoon, Lola chased Iris about, screaming, "KILL KILL KILL" and feigning stabbing motions. "It's like your dream, Iris! It's like your dream!" she shouted merrily. "It's the KILLING GAME!"

Sometimes I'm afraid to turn my back on them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Camp Mather, Part II

The second of two overly verbose descriptions of a week spent at a rustic resort. Feel the pain of the Drunken Housewife as her children chant, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" Thrill along with her tales of boredom and alcohol amongst the frolicking bourgeoisie:

Day 4

Iris, Lola and I slept through an earthquake and almost slept through breakfast. In line at breakfast, the earthquake was all everyone could speak of. Joyce became fearful for her cat Bobo's safety back in San Francisco, while her husband longed for news to come that it was in fact a neutron bomb. He admitted to a survival strategy for neutron bombs, but a failing in his plan was that he estimated canned food would last him only the first three years or so and he had nothing set up for thereafter.

For the first time since I arrived at Camp Mather, I had some energy. I took Iris for a shower and then organized our cabin, draining the cooler and getting fresh ice. I rinsed out Iris and Lola's tie-dyed shirts, which turned out to be satisfyingly garish, and did a load of laundry. After lunch, my energy was gone, and I was left to beg the children to nap with me.

I perked up, though, later, and we played badminton. My sister and I hated each energetically throughout our whole childhood, but in the summer, we used to play badminton. We were good at the game, and on the rare occasions we played someone outside the family, they were usually surprised at our prowess. Playing badminton with Iris and Lola is very frustrating. Lola just wants to throw the birdie back and forth with her father and brandish her racket threateningly. I taught Iris how to serve, and she could do it quite competently, but she'd take five or six practice swings before each serve, and it was rare that she could return a shot. Finally the children tired of badminton, and Anton and I were able to play. For a while, I was playing quite well, but then at the husband's requests we moved to the other court, where he'd no longer have the sun in his eyes and I occasionally had it in mine. My performance sank as a result.

At night, it was family bingo night! Iris and I had been traumatized the year before when we couldn't find seats (various people were hogging huge swathes of tables and chairs for their imaginary friends and families who were supposed to show up later. Eventually a kind man made his wife yield some space to us, but for a while, we were sitting on the floor). This year, we went very early. Iris was so excited that she kept singing, "B-I-N-G-O" to the point of insanity. I won a round of Bingo, gratifyingly enough, and it was a "good neighbor" game, meaning the people sitting near me, Iris and Joyce, also won certificates for ice cream cones. Iris was beside herself with joy. "I like life! Life is great!"

When I went to perform my evening ablutions, a mother was screaming at her children in the women's bathroom. "Goddamn you!" She was sitting on her generously proportioned rump, screaming at an older child to help a younger one get into pajamas. "She's only eight! She needs help!" I didn't understand that, as nearly-eight Iris has been dressing herself since she was a toddler. I wondered how this woman talks to her children in private, if she's willing to scream "Goddamn you!" in a women's bathroom.

Day 5

I woke up, and Anton was missing. I assumed he'd gone to check his voicemail and email again, but it turned out much later that he went exploring around by bicycle for hours. He told us that he wanted to return to somewhere he'd hiked to with a naturalist's guide in order to to identify a flower he saw. The children found that plan repugnant. Iris complained of boredom. Anton asked her if she'd like to go see his flower, and she retorted, 'I want to reduce my boredom, not add to it!"

At breakfast we ran into Jack, a man I'd had a spirited conversation with on a prior day in the breakfast line. His attention had been caught by the the book I was carrying, "Send In The Idiots" (a book written by an autistic man who sought out his former classmates at a pioneering program for autistic children to see what had become of them in adulthood). Jack told my husband how fascinated he'd been to hear about this book from me, and the husband was embarrassed to have to admit that he had no clue what I was reading. "She reads so many books."

After breakfast, we imposed a hike on the children. It doesn't take long to hike away from Camp Mather to quiet trails near the canyon, with bees, birds, and wildflowers everywhere. The husband and I were enthralled by the nature, but the children whined incessantly about the heat and perked up only when we're back to camp. "I hear Camp Mather!" said Lola ecstatically as we drew within earshot of the dusty little playground by the badminton courts.

Anton cooked up a plan with Joyce for her to babysit Iris and Lola. His plan for us: a very long hike. My plan for us: to go to the bar at the Evergreen Lodge down the road from Camp Mather. But first, horseback riding for me and Iris and a burro ride for Lola. At the stables, the other two children signed up for the same ride wore helmets. Anton and I exchanged a familiar, long look, the look of underprotective parents surrounded by overprotective parents. A girl who looks about 12 was extremely distraught over having to wear her bike helmet on the ride. Her father clearly still thinks of her as a little child, because he tried to cheer her up by offering to blow bubbles on her stomach, going so far as to tug at her shirt and bend over towards her stomach, but she became nearly hysterical with embarrassment.

The ride, billed as an hour-long beginner's horseback lesson, was over a surprisingly rough trail. There are branches so low over the trail I had to repeatedly duck. At a couple of points, the terrain was covered with large rocks and indeed, boulders, over which the horses pick their way carefully and bumpily. On one of these stretches, we went downhill at such a steep angle over the boulders that I became highly alarmed and gripped the horn of the saddle so hard that my hand got cramps. Iris admitted later that she was a little scared at that point, but I suspected it was only because I poisoned her mind by describing it so floridly to Anton afterwards.

When we returned, Lola jumped up and down with excitement at seeing her mommy on a horsie. Anton explains that they led Lola's rented donkey, Jingles, over to Joyce and Phil's cabin, where they had to be very quiet because two year-old Violet had just gone to sleep. Anton and Lola fed Jingles a whole bag of apples, and Jingles slobbered voluminously all over the steps of Joyce's cabin, and Anton had to clean up the donkey spit. (I resolved to hear Joyce's side of this later).

Lola was sad at being babysat, but Anton was thrilled and even shaved in preparation for our date. We drove away from Mather, seeking a particular trail to some highly-touted waterfalls, but we thought we drove too far and end up walking by the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne River. I was paranoid about bears because Claudia the Camp Mather manager told how there used to be a campground at the exact spot we were hiking, but it was relocated due to too many bear run-ins. We didn't see any wildlife, but it was peaceful being away from the bustle of Camp Mather, middle-class San Franciscans everywhere you look.

After our walk, we went to the bar at the Evergreen Lodge, a cute, rustic bar with $10 cocktails. I had a couple of Moose Drool ale and Anton an Arrogant Bastard. Eager to gather news of the outlying world, I asked the bartender my two burning questions: "What was the Richter of that earthquake, and is Paris Hilton still in jail?" [Answers: 4.6 and yes]. We split a couple of appetizers and a single entree. I was tempted to use the internet at the lodge rec room, but I resolved that it was good for me to be on an internet vacation, so I virtuously paid attention to my husband instead.

We got back to Mather early, and Lola was in fine fettle, running around and climbing rocks with Baby Violet (who will be called "Baby Violet" by our family until she's old enough to be offended, at which point HOPEFULLY we will be able to drop the "baby" sobriquet. I hope that unlike the stomach-bubble-blowing father, we're able to treat a 'tween with dignity). But poor Iris was very upset and having a hard time holding back tears: she suffered a trifecta of insults in our absence. First, as Lola described it: "Iris was just holding Joyce's hand when a MEAN, VICIOUS BOY came riding along this fast on his bike [Lola demonstrates by running as fast as she can] and RAN RIGHT INTO HER. And she cried, and I cried." Then at dinnertime Phil and Joyce mistakenly assumed the corn dogs were vegetarian, and Iris accidentally ate some, which was extremely upsetting to this vegetarian-to-the-bone child. (Lola, in contrast, remarked the other day that she wanted to try "chicken and meat", which I did not answer. Iris shouted, "That's gross!", though). While Iris was very upset about having eaten meat, a girl from her school, came by and cross-examined her about her vegetarianism, unable to understand Iris's being upset. "If you were starving to death and there was meat next to you, would you eat it? How do you feel if meat touches you?" and on and on. This made Iris feel freakish and all the more upset. Poor Iris was in a funk all night.

At night, I had some insomnia again, and I decided to execute a previously-thought-of plan of watching for bears. Reportedly bears prowl through Camp Mather every night, and in my wakefulness, I could hear a sound like a bear in the distance trying to open a dumpster. I wrapped up in a wool blanket and left the cabin. However, I soon lost my bear-observing nerve, feeling naked without my wooden exoskeleton, and decided to go back to bed.

Day 6

We nearly slept through breakfast, and I didn't feel like making the kids go to the dining hall and instead authorized them to watch an episode of "the Simpsons" on Anton's laptop while I showered. This made Anton cranky with me, and he made the girls get dressed and go eat a bowl of generic Cocoa Puffs (after giving in on the going-to-breakfast issue, I had them eating scrambled eggs and hash browns, but Mr. Nutrition brought them Cocoa Puffs, which stopped the nutritious eating cold).

After breakfast, Iris and I hiked to a nearby "lake" (they call every body of water greater than a puddle a "lake" here. I would call this particular geological feature a "small pond" myself). Last year, this "lake" was the most vibrantly alive natural spot I had ever seen, with frogs, birds, bugs, fish, and even water snakes teeming about. However we just had a dry winter, and so the pond was only about a third of the size it was last year. We didn't see any snakes, but we heard bull frogs and occasional splashes signifying fish or frogs. It was a hot, dusty walk back to "Birch Lake" (another modestly sized pond) to rendezvous with Anton and Lola. They had achieved the goal of capturing a polliwog, putting it into a bucket to admire it, and then releasing it back into the wild.

At this point, I became overcome with a head cold. I've never had a cold hit me so suddenly. I arrived at the pond feeling hot and dusty but healthy, and within a short period of time, I was severely congested, groggy, and miserable. I spent the afternoon in bed with a box of Kleenex, utterly miserable.

Anton took Lola to the nearby Evergreen Lodge to check his email. Lola found this boring. Anton wanted to discuss the drama going on at his start-up employer, but I was feeling too miserable to hear it (bad spouse!). I had only enough energy to sit around reading, and Iris kept me company with volume eleven in the Lemony Snicket series. My ten year-old acquaintance stopped by and ruined the ending of the entire series for Iris, informing her that "they kill Count Olof in Volume Thirteen." Iris had held an irrational distaste for this child the whole week, and now finally she had a reason to get her hate on.

Some days earlier, Joyce and I had committed to volunteering at the T-shirt table this evening, and Iris was keen to help, wanting to outsell Joyce. "I'm a cute little girl! I can sell more!" I felt so miserable, but I dragged myself down with a box of Kleenex. It turns out that the two oldish men who were representing the Friends Of Camp Mather in the merchandising department had a lot of emotional attachment to how things were done at the table. I set up the t-shirts, but it seems I did it all wrong, and it had to be redone by one of the men. I'm not sure why we were recruited to work at the table, as our superiors pretty much remained there the whole time, surveying us with an eagle eye. We couldn't run our foreseen raffle ticket sales competition, because only one book of raffle tickets could be used to sell under the established system (this was to keep the tickets in numerical order and thereby have a record of which numbers were sold, but it lowered our efficiency hugely and was frustrating, as someone would actually want to buy raffle tickets at the table and we'd have to say, "See that little girl over there? As soon as she's done selling that ticket, you can buy some from her."). Perhaps the gentlemen knew what they were doing in staying about, as surely Joyce and I would have broken out the other, forbidden raffle ticket book in a drive for greater efficiency.

Iris and Lola fought over who could be in charge of holding the money envelope with the raffle ticket proceeds.

The older gentlemen in charge of the table generously bought buttons for the girls and presented Anton and me with Friends of Camp Mather Volunteer buttons. One of them reminisced about what Camp Mather had been like after the end of WWII. It seems that back then, it was all about volleyball, no basketball, and the returned WWII vets loved to play volleyball. It was played on asphalt, as injuries were not considered so important back then. Other than that, apparently it's still much the same.

In the evening, the talent show Iris had signed up for finally happened. Iris knows a good magic trick (I shall conscientiously not reveal how this is done), and I was her assistant. "Ever since Iris was born, she has been a magical child with amazing powers! Iris, how would you like to demonstrate your powers this evening?"

"I would like someone in the audience to hold up fingers for a number from one to ten." Iris then disappeared backstage, and I cautioned the audience not to speak the number out loud. I chose an adorable little girl to pick the number and summoned Iris back, and she easily got it right. This was highly satisfactory for Iris. After the children's talent show, I went back to the cabin, soon joined by Lola, feeling too miserable for more society.

Day 7

I woke up feeling miserable and skipped breakfast. After breakfast, I had an unsolicited, hemorrhagic nosebleed which lasted much of the morning. Mere tissues were meaningless to this nosebleed, and I ended up using a bath towel. Later I managed to drag myself down to the pool to meet the children and husband. I had another gigantically profuse nosebleed in the afternoon, and I felt groggy and miserable.

Later I rallied somewhat and drank some Prosecco and mixed up some margaritas with the strawberry-infused tequila I'd dragged along, plus some simple syrup I'd made the night before leaving and some Cointreau. Joyce and Phil were a bit shocked by the strength of these margaritas, served on the rocks, but I credited their vigor with getting me down to the family dance. Iris had looked forward to this dance all week, but her mood was dampened after an altercation with her father over whether she could get a CD called "Italian Cafe." Iris had somehow gotten an employee of the camp store to let her take this CD on the promise she bring back the money later. Anton lost his temper for awhile over this, but the shared Italophilia of a mother and child who once shared the joys of Rome and Venice cannot be denied.

At the dance, my ten year-old acquaintance kept doing the robot over to Iris and me and making rather suave eye contact, then roboting off. Iris, her spirits still quashed from the CD altercation, asked to leave early because she was tired, and given my cold, I took her up on it.

Day 8

I woke up feeling utterly miserable, with a pounding sinus headache and a runny nose. Thankfully the ever-energetic Sober Husband was more than up to the task of bundling up all our possessions, loading them into our U-haul, and driving us posthaste back to the city. We were on a tight schedule to get Miss Lola back in time for the pirate-themed party of her preschool paramour, the boy whom she intends to marry some day (the nominated groom is himself silent upon that issue). Upon our return, all the pets were living, the house was clean, the poppies had burst into glorious bloom, and I said, "Best. Housesitter. Ever!" to the husband.

And herein ends our tale of Family Fun amongst those famed thrillseekers, the middle class families of San Francisco. Stay tuned for next year's installment!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Camp Mather, Part I

Camp Mather is a rustic mountain retreat owned by the City and County of San Francisco. How it came to be: back in the past, the rich men who ran San Francisco had a mighty plan to take the gorgeous, spectacular, cliff-enclosed valley of Hetch Hetchy (John Muir called it "the Little Yosemite" and mourned its passing) and turn it into a water reservoir. Melting snow from the Sierras would be collected in this reservoir and then carried to the far-off city via aqueducts. In order to do this, first a railroad had to be built to ferry up the building materials for the mighty dam. In order to build that railroad, men had to be brought up, and they needed a place to stay. So a collection of little shacks and a large dining hall were built near Hetch Hetchy, and today those aging shacks are the vacation destination of that elite and elusive demographic, the middle class families of San Francisco.

In order to get a week-long space at Camp Mather, one has to enter a lottery, provide proof of residency, and pay a not-insignificant-but-less-than-a-more-exotic-location fee. Every year there is more demand than spaces, but there are two winning strategies: if you're willing to live in a tent for a week or if you're willing to go up for the first week, before the public schools get out, there's always room. We have gone the first week for two years in a row, and I suspect it's going to become our tradition. The place is insane enough as it is without being full to capacity; I can't imagine what it's like later in the season. We already have to wait in line at mealtimes for long enough and risk our lives walking on the paths beset by children intoxicated by the freedom of bicycles. You take these city children, unable to cross a street without a grown-up's scrutiny, and put them on bicycles, and they become lunatics.

This is an ideal vacation for small children. There are arts and crafts, donkey rides, archery lessons, tadpoles to be caught... Whenever I talk to someone who went to Camp Mather as a child, that person always gets misty-eyed and speaks in a hushed voice full of superlatives. They may as well say there were unicorns frolicking under the rainbows who let the little city children ride on their silky backs.

For me, it's not a real vacation. My idea of a vacation is that I leave the country and go somewhere exotic, where I explore during the days (I always lose weight and come back with fabulous thigh muscles) and consume exotic foods and drinks at night. Bonus points if I see monkeys (the very best vacations include monkeys cavorting on tropical beaches at cocktail hour. Nothing spells relaxation like sipping a drink while watching monkeys). But nonetheless, in the interests of raising my native San Franciscans, I organize and undertake the annual Camp Mather expedition. Herewith my report:

Day 1.

We had a last minute frenzy of cleaning the house, packing, and loading the minute U-haul. Anton was inexplicably pitching an attitude about our housesitter (a friend of a friend I' met once before), and pissily informed me "I intend to write down the man's last name", as though he suspected me of arranging for a felon to stay in our home. When I overheard Anton telling Lola that "he's housesitting for us because he's homeless," I shouted "He is NOT HOMELESS!" down from upstairs. I informed the husband that if he wants to bitch about my choice of housesitter, than he can be in charge of recruiting and screening all housesitters in the future. This squelched the husband, but Lola had picked up the husband's attitude and yelled, "The stranger is here! The stranger is here!" when the housesitter arrived. The housesitter, an artist who reminds me very strongly of someone I dated in college, was too tactful to remark upon this, and indeed managed to charm the husband by volunteering his celphone number and last name to the crabby old husband, as well as committing to moving the husband's car to avoid getting a parking ticket on street cleaning days.

Throughout the entire four-hour ride, the children constantly yammered, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How many hours? Will we be there for dinner?" There was considerable tension in the backseat over whether the Camp Mather dining hall would still be open for dinner when we arrived. I had four bags of groceries and there's a little general store open until late, but one would think the children were on the Donner party fighting over that last femur.

We arrived in time for dinner, and we found our friends Phil, Joyce and the Baby Violet had beaten us to camp. After dinner, we unpacked. Lola took command of the U-haul and insisted that we carry only one thing at a time to the cabin. We obediently trotted back and forth carrying a single flashlight or a single pillow.

Later, we went to the opening night campfire. I brought a glass of wine along that I was nursing, as did Phil. The campfire is always modest and it's still daylight out 8 p.m. Iris toasted marshmallows and made a s'more. Lola arrived later, after the chocolate bar supply was exhausted, which made Iris's whole night. "She didn't get a s'more! She only got a marshmallow and crackers! I had a s'more!"

A boy shouted, "Let's throw that wine in the fire!" referring to my glass. He's not a teetotaler; he's excited about a possible flare-up, he explained. Joyce noted that the wine wouldn't have much impact, and the boy suggests that we get some rum. He runs down a list of alcoholic beverages which are high proof and would theoretically make an exciting addition to any fire. "How about grain alcohol?" I suggested. "Oh, ethyl alcohol would be great!" "Can I ask how old you are?", I said impressed by the breadth of his knowledge of alcohols. "Ten." He says his knowledge of alcohol is from a book he read.

At the cabin, Lola asked me to draw the curtains more tightly "so a bear won't see me."

Day 2

I woke up exhausted, severely sleep-deprived. Lola slept extremely badly, and we ended up sending Anton to her top bunk and sending Lola over to sleep with Mommy in the double bed. She thrashed, woke up panicking over and over again, and generally kept me awake much of the night.

It was mindbogglingly hot, and we went to the tiny, icy pool. A twenty-something rode his bicycle right at me looking weirdly intense, which was alarming. It turned out that he had borrowed a bicycle helmet from a friend, and he wanted me to unbuckle it as he couldn't do it himself. I obliged. As he left, he shouted back, "I'm a lifeguard! It's my first shift!" We shouted back some encouragement.

Later as I was walking back to our cabin with Iris and Lola, who were on bikes, we ran into my 10 year-old friend from the campfire, the one with the age-inappropriate knowledge of alcohol, who called politely, "Excuse me, ma'am, but that situation may be dangerous! " At that moment, Lola was fussing because her ankle-length skirt was uncomfortably hiked up, and the boy kept trying to talk to me. "You may want to move your children; that area may be dangerous!" After all that build-up, a tiny preschooler biked by us. I got my children under control and as we passed our friend, I said, "Doing some dangerous biking?" In grave tones, he said, "Did you see that kid wipe out?" He shook his head to convey the horror of it all, the gore and danger of the Camp Mather paths.

After we passed out of earshot, Iris said bitingly, "I've seen that boy before when you weren't around, and he wasn't impressing."

In the afternoon, we managed a short nap, but my sleep deprivation was too great to be helped much. I drank Red Bulls all afternoon and finally perked up around supper time.

We took an evening hayride past the Camp Mather electrical substation and the maintenance are, where there were abandoned picnic tables and other debris cluttering up the natural beauty. With all the abundant natural beauty and picturesque little cabins, the hayride manages to take in all the Shame of Camp Mather. On the way back, one of the cowboys told another about how a prior summer, some staff member had made an effigy of an annoying child guest.

The Sober Husband is not much for vacationing and found a soulmate in the draft horses. "All those horses want to do is work. They only get to work an hour a day. They were pawing at the ground, wanting to do something, and there was some guy just standing there to calm down. It's just like me. I want to be working. Those poor horses."

Afterwards, we checked out board games night in the dining hall. "There's that boy," hissed Iris, who has formed a disapproving attitude towards my ten year-old friend. As we left, my ten year-old acquaintance furtively watched. I have the impression I'm somehow imprinting on him. I predict that eight years from now, a dark-haired, tattooed, buxom girl will make mincemeat out of him. Lola won at Junior Monopoly; Iris lost. Iris was bitter that she had guarded over the Pictionary set but our friend Joyce never came over (once Joyce partnered Iris at Pictionary, and this was one of the most satisfactory moments of Iris's life to date). It turns out that Joyce fell asleep around eight.

Day 3

The breakfast was pancakes with sausages, and I had some communication problems trying to obtain four plates of pancakes with no sausage. Alas, I am always a bit of cholesterol in the Camp Mather food line, clogging things up along the entree point as I pursue either vegetarian or picky eater needs.

At breakfast, Iris told me that she has a recurring dream that Lola is chasing her around the house with a knife. Lola loved this and brandished a knife, greasy with toast butter, at Iris.

We tied-dyed t-shirts (tie-dying is a time-honored ritual of Camp Mather, probably dating from the sixties).

Iris took her first horseback ride:

There was a cowboy named Tony right in front of me, so it wasn't too scary even it first. My horse was named Modoc, she was light brown. We went on some hills, and rocks. We passed the lake... When we came there I started to look for Joice, I didn't see her.

Later Iris talked about good weirdness versus bad weirdness. She wants to be good in a weird way, but she says I, her mother, am just "weird in a normal way, not really weird." After a lifetime of being considered weird, my own child thinks I am normal. How can this be? "Well, you're not really like other mothers," Iris admitted, "But you're not really weird."

"How am I not like other mothers?" I asked, always happy to talk about myself.

Iris stopped to think. "Well, you let me color my hair." She thought more. "And you're more outgoing! Yeah, that's it. You're more outgoing than most mothers."

Anton, at a loss with nothing to do, strung up the Christmas lights I had forced him to pack (he first refused to pack them, despite their inclusion on the Official Packing List, because of his alleged concerns with "the planet and visual pollution, you know, all the stars." This concern struck me as misfounded given that there are STREET LIGHTS RIGHT BY THE CABIN, so I overruled him). Conveniently enough, there were little nails over the lintel, undoubtedly put there expressly for hanging such lights (which are a bit of a tradition at Mather). Inconveniently enough, he learned that there were hornets living under the shingles, in the very facade of our cabin.

We debated what to do about the hornets. I felt they needed to be reported to the camp management, but Anton contended that "we are a guest in their home." This argument spilled over into a visit to Phil and Joyce's cabin, where Phil made the cogent point "but the hornets are living in a manmade structure", which undercut the guest-in-hornet-home argument. I found it ironic that I, the PETA donor and committed vegetarian, was advocating for the destruction of these insects, while Mr. Carnivore was pleading for tolerance and acceptance. As the very debate raged on, I noticed Claudia the camp manager walking by, and I ran over and narked on the hornets. This fait accompli caused the Great Hornet Debate to peter out.

At night, there was a camp fire, with s'more fixings (Lola ate two). A child burned my leg with his fiery marshmallow stick. There were considerable announcements made, including, most thrillingly, the fact that someone left a cooler containing cherries and hot dogs on their cabin's tiny porch, and a bear was witnessed breaking into said cooler and consuming the food with gusto. This seized the imaginations of the child guests.

Subsequently there was a staff talent show, which was significantly lamer than last year's. Irritatingly enough it appears that many of the skits and shticks are traditional, repeated each year, and this year's staff was considerably less endowed with stage ambitions. (Last year there were two saxophone players and a number of singers). The lifeguard with the borrowed helmet turned out to be "Random Forrest", who had a number of "Random Forrest Moments" in the talent show. For one, he ran on stage with 32 clothespins affixed to his face.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

home is the sailor, home from the seas

We're back, and we're cranky. I have a head cold. The house is filled with dirty laundry, soiled sleeping bags which need to be taken to the dry cleaners, stacks of unread Wall St. Journals, and other charming assemblages. All of this needs to be cleaned up by tomorrow afternoon, when guests will arrive at cocktail hour expecting tapas (oh, and I need to make the tapas, too).

On the other hand, my beautiful poppies bloomed while I was gone, and all the pets survived, thanks to our conscientious housesitter.

Friday, June 08, 2007

do not worry your pretty little heads

I'm probably not going to post for the next week; I'm off with the children and the Sober Husband to spend a week in a rustic cabin sans internet access. Do not fear, my friends; I will take notes, and I will have plenty of stories to tell on my return.


yer Drunken Housewife

Thursday, June 07, 2007

gentlemen, to your grills

So some time ago I read an article in Food & Wine about the amazing dinner parties the owner of famed Tao throws in his perfect backyard, where he achieves heights of wackiness with the grill. To wit, he has created the grilled caiparinha and the grilled Caesar salad. I could not get these ideas completely out of my head, but yet I virtually never grill here in San Francisco. On my block, it's virtually always windy in the afternoons, with gale force winds increasing as the afternoon goes on. (In the mornings it can be quite lovely, but by the afternoon you're back indoors. My neighbor Brad once confessed that he wished he lived in the Mission, where the weather is always perfect, and indeed I myself have been wondering why the rich people choose views for prestige over weather. In ritzy Seacliff, it's usually about 20 degrees colder than in the heart of the Mission. Of course, our whingeing must be kept in perspective, given that we don't live in the fog belt, and also are spared the agonies of blizzards, tornadoes, and locusts people routinely endure elsewhere). So yes, we are spoiled and weak, but we miss the joys of summer grilling outdoors.

The husband, a product of the Midwest, believes firmly that on all major holidays, what one does is make a fire in the backyard and barbecue. It has taken years for him to come to enjoy (or convincingly fake enjoying) having my kind of barbecue, which is an upscale vegetarian feast. (At a family reunion of his, the husband's brother was cooking an actual leg of some animal over an open fire. There it was, an entire leg, poor little hoof and all. I think it was a goat... an animal I particularly admire and love. Worst of all, I couldn't just ignore it, as we all spent most of the day sitting by the slowly cooking leg, and the brother-in-law was so enamored of his cooking abilities that he kept hounding me to admire. "Isn't this the greatest? Have you ever seen a better barbecue? Aren't you amazed?" This unhappy vegetarian-at-a-barbecue feeling only added to the general malaise of being the-only-in-law-at-a-family-party-where-the-family-doesn't-consider-

On major holidays when the husband is determined to grill, I usually make a shallot-port sauce for basting, and we grill corn, potatoes, onions, and other vegetables. Of course, this Memorial Day I had the grilled potential atrocities, salad and caiparinha, in mind, despite the husband's frank admission that he did not think they sounded appetizing.

He was not the first to be unenthused. Previously in the year I had been contemplating going on a group camping trip, and I aired the possibility that I'd make grilled Caesars and caiparinhas from grilled limes, and there was a distinct, unapproving silence following this announcement. I ended up not going on the trip and not inflicting any grilled oddities on anyone, but yet the urge lingered.

And so, I finally scratched this months-old itch, and it turned out to be peculiarly satisfying because, as I am here to tell you, grilled caesars satisfy, to the point where they may be said to kick ass. It was so good that even seven year-old Iris ate heartily (and not many salads are loved by a seven year-old).

The grilled drinks were less of a sell. They were fun, and I sucked down three, but I don't think I'd go to the trouble to make them again (How they were made: cut limes into thin slices, toss with caster sugar, then grill until the sugar caramelizes on each side. Put into highball glasses and muddle the hell out of them after adding a couple of tablespoons of sugar, then build drink in the same glass).

A few weeks later, I read a restaurant review where the critic was marvelling at how one ultra-trendy new spot grills some greens to accompany grilled meat. "If you read 'Food & Wine', critic, you'd have already known about that," I thought. I believe we are on the cusp of a new trend, and what can be more satisfying than to do something before everyone else does it and then move on to the next thing? (Don't answer that; it's rhetorical).

Grilled Caesar Salad

Obtain several heads of Romaine lettuce. Cut each head so that you keep the heart but remove much of the fluffy outer leaves (just lay the intact head on the cutting board and make a horizontal cut about a third of the way down). Preserve the removed leaves for a more conventional salad. Now cut each truncated head in half vertically, through the heart. Brush with good olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and pepper on. Put on a hot grill, and grill each side about 20 seconds (our coals were not very hot, so we left it on several minutes). You're looking for it to have some grill hashmarks, but you don't want this to get overdone. Serve with Caesar dressing (preferably homemade and fresh) and with curls of Parmesan or other hard cheese (like the Tao guy, we used Manchego, which was orgasmic). [To create curls of cheese, instead of grating, use a vegetable peeler]. Que se aproveche!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

cute or stupid

As I was getting the girls out of the car this afternoon, Lola kept uncharacteristically staring at me. "Why do you keep looking at me?" I asked.

"Because you're as stupid as a fruit face pancake."

Not sure I'd heard that correctly, I asked, "What did you just say?"

"I SAID because you're as cute as a fruit face pancake."

"I thought she said stupid," offered Iris critically.

Later, Iris asked Lola, "Why did you say she was as cute as a fruit face pancake?"

"Because she's soooo beautiful," said Lola.

(I still think she said "stupid" the first time).

Monday, June 04, 2007

a man, a plan, a canal - Panama!

Iris and Lola were roughhousing, and every five minutes or so one would whine to me. "Iris hurt my hair!" Then they would jump back into their roughhorsing, giggling, until the other one complained, "Lola shoved me!"

I tried to set them straight. "Are you just going to keep playing rough and complaining about getting hurt WHEN YOU KNOW YOU ARE PLAYING ROUGH ON PURPOSE AND YOU'RE GOING TO GET HURT? Is that your plan?"

Lola listened attentively while I was speaking, and her face lit up. "A plan! THAT IS OUR PLAN!"

ummm, thank you, UPS. I feel much smarter now.

Today I was skimming through the Wall St. Journal, as is my wont, when a rather large ad spanning much of two pages caught my eye. It would seem that UPS "partners with Knowledge@Wharton to bring new and simplified insight to your business." ("Knowledge@Wharton"?? I am just waiting for my own graduate school alma mater to create some asinine, Web 2.0-ish nickname for itself and take up running silly ads. That would truly make my day. If the ad were foolish enough, I might memorize large chunks of it and quote it at parties).

Today's topic of enlightenment is "How VCs Capture Value From Start-up Firms." Now, this is a subject of frequent debate and great interest in my very own home, which is funded solely from income from a series of start-up firms which manage with varying amounts of luck to obtain and frivol away venture capital cash. As one can imagine, I read on with some interest, eager to hear the words of Associate Professor Andrew Metrick of the Wharton School:
When entrepreneurs want to start a firm, what sources of capital can they tap? According to Andrew Metrick . . . there are three. "The easiest is if you have the money yourself," he says. ["Duh", says I]. Second, angel investors -- people who know and trust the entrepreneur -- could provide funds. [I hate the recentish convention of calling investors "angels." That's a perversion of the old usage, where investors in plays or the arts were called "angels." One who invests in a play does so largely out of a love of the art, which is vaguely angelic as plays certainly do bring joy and interest to our lives, at least when we can hire a frigging babysitter. But someone who dumps a hunk of cash into a high tech start-up is just a more well-heeled lottery player, hoping to hit it big. That is self-interested, not angelic].. And third, institutional sources such as banks and venture capitalists (VCs) are professionals at giving out money to start-up companies.
Have you learned anything yet? I didn't think so. Next, Associate Professor Metrick, part of that awesome thinktank, "Knowledge@Wharton", turns his attention to a topic which has peculiar interest in our home, "Valuing Start-ups." He purports to explain the arcane reasoning by which a venture capital firm assigns a value to a company. The Sober Husband and I had a discussion on this very topic over the last week, precipitated by an offer from his CEO to buy out his small stake in the company. When I, a mere drunken housewife, argued with him that he should take the goddam offer before it evaporated, I used such concepts as net present value, the effect of inflation, and the statistical uncertainty of there ever being another event, such as a successful IPO or acquisition, which would yield another chance to turn those paper options into cash. But how would a real professional cover this ground?
Professor Metrick explains that VCs often use a 'quick and dirty method called the venture capital method of valuation. They look at the company and ask themselves -- if everything works out for this company, what will it be worth in five to seven years.
In other words, they guess.

Welcome to Silicon Valley, my darlings, where we all drink the Kool-Aid and talk as though we all knew things which are, in the final analysis, unknowable.