Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Mommy loves Lucy more!"

My aunt has a tradition of sending ornaments to her many, many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews. Last year she sent Iris Uber Alles a porcelain oranment of a little girl holding a sign reading, "First Born Mommy's Favorite!" and Lola a similar one, holding a "Youngest Child Mommy's Favorite!" sign.

When we were putting up our tree, Iris gloated and gloated over her ornament, and it took a day for Lola to find hers, a stress-filled day for poor Lola. Then all was basically well until today, three days after Christmas, when the Sober Husband discovered that one of the ornaments was broken. After some more searching, he discovered that both those oranments had been knocked down from the tree, and both little porcelain girls' heads had been broken off. He could only find one porcelain head, though... and it fits Lola's "Youngest Child Mommy's Favorite!" ornament.

Now Iris is sulking about the house, screaming periodically, "Why does Mommy hate me?" and "Why does Mommy love Lucy more?" I told her to leave her mother out of this and that it was undoubtedly Princess Henry, the tabby, who had knocked the ornaments down. Now she's still stomping around, moaning, "Why does Henry hate me?" and "Why is Henry bad?" I pointed out that seeing as how Henry is illiterate, I doubt there was anything personal in it, but Iris thinks Henry must have known how much she loved that ornament and destroyed it out of spite.

Friday, December 26, 2008

the twittering pervert

The Sober Husband has been meaning to Twitter for ages. He started a Twitter account and sent out one and only one Twitter: "I have started to Twitter." Based upon that inauspicious debut, he already has scores of followers, despite months of silence. He feels he should Twitter because "everyone does it", and he shared with us some of the Twitters of his colleagues.

One of the programmers who reports to the Sober Husband Twitters in the voice of his puppy (or perhaps his girlfriend does, the co-owner of the very adorable young dog). The children were spurred into action by this, feeling that their personal cats deserved Twitters of their own (the family cat and Mommy's cats were not deemed Twitter-worthy). Six year-old Lola started a Twitter feed for Al, "Allofalbert", which has so far mostly chronicled his giardia infection and his feelings about taking his medication. Nine year-old Iris Uber Alles started "Frowsty" to share the glories of Frowst, our especially charismatic cat.

We have four laptops which can be found strewn about the home, and Iris Uber Alles is prone to using the nearest one and being casual about what identity is logged in at any given time. Therefore it was all too predictable that she'd use the Sober Husband's regular laptop to compose a Twitter for fluffy Frowst, and that my husband would awaken on Christmas morning to discover that after months of silence, he'd sent out his second Twitter:

"I'm lying on my owner's bed, with my legs in the air, waiting for attention."

I laughed and laughed. "They're all going to think you're into SM." I tried to think of a more embarrassing cat twitter the children could have sent out under his name on this account-- which was intended for professional networking-- with no success. Even the messages about giardia would have been less embarrassing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

why, indeed

Nine year-old Iris Uber Alles is reading that timeless classic, "From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler." She has no problem understanding why two children chose to run away from home to live in a museum; her problem is the framework, where the entire work is contained in a letter from Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler to her lawyer, and indeed she is puzzled by Mrs. Frankwiler's motivations vis-a-vis her lawyer. "Why would anyone want to see their lawyer?" she asked with genuine puzzlement.

Her litigator mother snapped back seriously, "Because lawyers are so smart and funny! They're great to be around!"

"I just don't get why someone would want to spend time with their lawyer."

"Lawyers are cute and adorable, like kittens! Who wouldn't want to spend time with them?"

At this point Iris dropped the discussion, unconvinced, but sure there was no point in further exploring her befuddlement.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

the horrible timings of things

Two weeks ago my cat Princess Henry became deathly ill. She was repeatedly trying to vomit without success and looking distraught. On the day one, I thought this was a pesky hairball and decided to pick up a tube of that tuna-flavored hairball medicine. The next day I realized, "This is no hairball" and got her down to the vet's. At the vet, Henry was sedated and x-rayed on the theory she ate something inappropriate, possibly a small, plastic object belonging to a child. The vet called me on my celphone to tell me that Henry's stomach was fine, but that her intestines were, if I may paraphrase, all fucked-up. The vet wanted my permission to do an ultrasound on Henry's intestines to determine whether surgery was necessary. The ultrasound showed nothing blocking those angry, angry intestines. Eight hundred dollars later, I took Henry home with a prescription for an anti-emetic and for a soothing medication to calm and coat her intestines. Henry recovered without further incident.

I told my husband repeatedly, "Don't get me anything for Christmas." I felt terrible about spending so much at the vet's.

The next week Al, the skeletal orange cat who is allergic to his own teeth, came down with an epic upper respiratory infection and epic diarrhea, which caused him to have many, many disgusting accidents. I had finally cleared Al up of his chronic flea problem (Advantage does NOT work for Al), only to have him burst out into multiple health crises. The Sober Husband helped me give Al a bath, and cradling him in a towel, I took him down to the vet, having first procured a particularly noxious sample of his diarrhea. "How's Henry? Nice to see you again," everyone said. "Can I give this to you now, rather than waiting for the vet?" I asked, handing over gingerly a sealed ziplock bag which was reeking horrendously. The vet tech who accepted it handed it off with alacrity to another vet tech who was presumably lower on the food chain.

Poor Al had lost over a pound and a half, dropping from seven pounds to just five and a half. (We'd taken to calling the poor thing "the Cat of the Damned"). Even though I'd been holding him wrapped in a towel to warm him up, his body temperature was so low that the tech took it twice disbelievingly. "I had to bathe him," I said. "It was an emergency situation." Al's bloodwork showed that he was anemic and had elevated white blood cell counts. About four hundred dollars later, Al was sent home with antibiotics for his respiratory infection and a stern admonishment that he was never going to be healthy until we got his teeth pulled. I set the appointment for the tooth-pulling for the 29th.

The next day, the vet called. The disgusting, reeking sample revealed the presence of giardia (where is he getting giardia from??? He rarely goes outside, and the tapwater hasn't given any of the rest of us parasites). I went back and paid for some Panacur.

Tomorrow Al goes back down to the vet for more bloodwork, to see if he's improved enough to be ready for surgery next week.

Of course the cats chose December to acquire life-threatening illnesses. After the nobility of insisting, "Don't get me a thing for Christmas --- those vet bills are crazy", I'm now childishly depressed that I won't have any presents to open on Christmas. My parents very generously gave me an embroidery machine earlier in the year as a combination birthday-Christmas present, so really I should wrap that up and put it under the tree for myself to remind myself not to be such a whiny loser. I keep telling myself that it was my idea to get those cats in the first place.

Meanwhile the stresses of the season have taken a toll. The children's school had three events on one morning for which I was supposed to cook: a third grade holiday breakfast, a kindergarten "homes" event, and the faculty holiday breakfast. This was complicated by the fact that I wouldn't be able to cook the day before, as I was volunteering at the school right in the middle of the day to assist at the kindergarten holiday party (where I was assigned to do an insanely complicated paper craft with the children. The first group to come to our crafts station did only about a third of the project and left frustrated and disgruntled. I unilaterally decided to simplify the project, which drew coos of praise from the other chaperones. "You're so smart!" "I would never have thought of that!" "You're so smart!" It was the most praise I'd had all year). I decided to blow off the third grade breakfast as it sounded like many of the third grade parents were participating(sorry, Iris Uber Alles), buy a quiche for the faculty party instead of baking one personally (sorry, teachers, I would have baked it but then I would have had to get up to drive it over to the school by six frigging thirty in the morning, whereas by taking the easy way out, I was able to drive to a yuppie market after the kindergarten Christmas party, purchase a $12.99 fresh quiche, drive back to the school, and drop off the quiche at the same time as I picked up Lola after school), and focus on making Lola's beloved broccoli pasta for the kindergarten event. That turned out to be the right decision, as almost no kindergarten parents cooked anything. Almost to a woman they decided to take the easy option and bring a drink, so there was still lemonade, sparkling lemonade, sweet tea, apple cider, and apple juice, but only one savory food, my broccoli pasta.

Now the children are home for winter break, alternately fighting viciously for hours at a time and playing delightfully in the "Lola Club" or pretending to be puppies who attend "Dogwarts." I've got hundreds of loads of laundry to do and I've fallen behind on my novel. I missed the registration deadline to sign Iris up for the after-school jewelry making class she wanted, and I forgot to take Lola to ballet on Friday afternoon (in my defense, it was the same Friday of the three cooking conflicts and a "Holiday Sing" at the girl's school). It was time to move my IRA fund to a better home, and the bank involved didn't send me the form they said I needed in a timely way, although we'd sent all the forms the new IRA bank said were required (a bank representative invited me to drop by and pick up the form in person, which I thought was a swell idea given that the bank is in St. Louis and I am in San Francisco). I myself have had a pounding headache for days which never goes away. I'm on medication for my insomnia which means I feel drowsy and hung-over every morning and have a sleepy spell in the late afternoon (supposedly these side effects will go away by mid-January). Head aching terribly, I'm sleepily lurching through the season, hoping I don't forget anything really important.

Friday, December 12, 2008

the good, the bad... the just plain witless

Bonus: more book reviews in the comments!

I've been doing a lot of reading lately. It's amazing what a good novel can do for a person. I've been attempting to write a novel lately myself, so I'm a bit more on the lookout for an author's structuring, her use of foreshadowing, whether the first person or the third person works...

As always, the ultimate craftsman is Donald Westlake writing at Richard Stark. The first sentence of "Firebreak" is, in my personal opinion, the best first sentence of a novel I've ever read: "When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man." Such a mix of the banal and the horrific, such an economic use of words.... and it sucks you in and has you prepared for the rest of the ride, right there in the first twelve words. I think that's a better first sentence than the famous first sentence of "Anna Karenina": "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Donald Westlake is the master, and I hope he lives forever.

I do not mean to content that "Firebreak" is a more important work than "Anna Karenina." "Firebreak" does not attempt to grapple with the big issues of infidelity, a woman's place in the world, social hypocrisies, etc.. I assert only that Donald Westlake/Richard Stark writes one hell of a sentence.

More along the lines of "Anna Karenina" (and covering much of the same ground regarding a woman's place in the world, marital infidelity, etc..) was "While I was Gone" by Sue Miller, a thought-provoking and serious novel spanning much of a complex and sometimes dislikeable heroine's life. This was a big bestseller back in 1999 but I just got around to reading it. I hated it for the first forty-five pages or so, stopping every now and then out of disgust to wonder, "Is this really the same Sue Miller who wrote 'The Good Mother'? How can this be so bad?" Then gradually the book became good, so very good I could not believe it, so gripping I could not put it down, and with twists and complexities which had me going back to reread various sections over and over again. Like Donald Westlake, Sue Miller is an astounding master of craftsmanship, and she's not afraid to make her characters deeply flawed. She doesn't play to your sentimentality.

Another surprisingly gifted writer, but writing in a comic vein, is Lisa Lutz, whose "The Spellman Files" is so funny and good that it had me laughing out loud on a filled-to-capacity 1 California bus... after I'd boarded the bus in tears after a traumatic marriage counseling appointment. Lisa Lutz seems to like the review which called her heroine, Isabel Spellman ,the love child of Harriet the Spy and Dirty Harry, and that description does fit, but it's not the character I was so crazy about, lovable as Izzy is. It was Ms. Lutz herself, who deploys the word "fuck" better than anyone this side of Elmore Leonard and builds an insane, but highly plausible, world. (Again, this was a bestseller a few years ago which I just got around to. Ms. Lutz has another book featuring the same characters just out in hardback, but I haven't read that yet and can't vouch for it. I hope she hasn't suffered that sophomore slump so unfortunately common in talented authors... e.g., Curtis Sittenfeld and Chelsea Cain).

"The Spellman Files" is set in San Francisco, and it is dead on. The characters eat where they should go to eat, they live where it makes sense for them to live, in neighborhood-appropriate homes at that. They inhabit the real city of San Francisco (and they don't get all gooey about it). I loved it when one character was sent on an crazy errand to Fisherman's Wharf and stopped for that quintessential tourist treat, a bowl of clam chowder where the bowl is actually constructed out of sourdough bread. The character wondered, given how much he loves this meal, why he never goes to Fisherman's Wharf, but then quickly concludes that even the chowder-in-the-bread-bowl isn't worth going there for. (That is us: people who actually live here avoid Fisherman's Wharf like the plague).

Another novel set in San Francisco that I recently read had it all wrong, wrong, wrong to the point of being maddening: the just-out "The Dirty Secrets Club" by Meg Gardiner. Do NOT waste your money or time on this book, not when there are treasures like "The Spellman Files" or "While I Was Gone" or anything by Richard Stark. Ms. Gardiner starts with an interesting concept: a mysterious organization of powerful or wealthy people who are joined together by criminal or scandalous pasts, who dare each other to do more and more dangerous things. However, Ms. Gardiner doesn't fulfill on the promise of that premise, and the book falls apart.

How many things did I hate about this book? Well, for one, she has her heroine, Jo Beckett, burdened by not just one huge, life-altering and made-for-TV trauma but two. As a child, Jo was trapped with her family in a car beneath the rubble of an Oakland freeway after the big 1989 earthquake... with her brave father singing to keep his children calm. If that's not enough for poor old Jo, later she became a doctor, and she failed to save her doctor husband's life in a helicopter crash due to an elementary error in basic triage principles. (If this isn't schmaltzy enough right there, the helicopter crash HAD to be during a medical emergency evacuation of a sick, angelic little girl with a warm, trusting personality who also dies).

So Jo limps through life (symbolically, not physically), scarred and traumatized and unable to try relationships again but making a fabulous living as a forensic psychiatrist. Her job is to investigate suspicious deaths and determine whether they were suicides or not by delving deeply into the suspects' lives. The San Francisco Police Department pays her very well and values her extremely. This basic concept right there would be highly painful to any of the families of murder victims whose deaths were ruled suicides by the SFPD. (The most notable of these is the case of Hugues de la Plaza. Police say that after an enjoyable night of clubbing, he stabbed himself to death. The problem: no bloody knife was found in de la Plaza's tiny apartment and there were traces of blood on the staircase. Answer: the police say Mr. de la Plaza obligingly washed and put away the knife after stabbing himself but before he fatally collapsed. The French authorities, disgusted by this, actually sent investigators over to do the work which should have been done by the SFPD). The SF Weekly did a cover story not long ago rounding up quite a few of these "suicides", an appalling, appalling history which should cause Chief Heather Fong much guilt.

Author Meg Gardiner was completely tone-deaf in her description of San Francisco. Her jacket bio said she now lives in London but used to live in Los Angeles. One wonders if she ever even visited SF. Among other ridiculous things in a book not meant to be a comedy: Ms. Gardiner said that everyone in San Francisco is in a state of nonstop rage due to the consistent parking problems, and therefore there are no anger management classes in our city because the people who teach anger management are so terrified of parking-enraged San Franciscans that they fear for their lives too much to venture into our city. Uh huh. I have noticed that at most events I attend, the people do not show up in rages. Many of us take mass transit or own bicycles, and taxis are also quite fashionable nowadays. It's also quite easy to park in many areas of the city.

Gardiner also had earthquakes occurring on a near-daily basis. You can actually go years without feeling one here. Her description of a little earthquake where everyone in a Mission taqueria hid under their tables was risible. I've lived here over twenty years, gone through many a quake (including the big one of 89), and I've never seen anyone hide under a flimsy table. When there is a quake, people usually hold still and stay silent, and then as soon as it's done, they all say the same things: "Didja feel that?" "How much do you think that was?" "I bet that was at least a four!" Et cetera, et cetera. It takes a lot to actually get us under a table or in a doorway (the only time I ever did that was during that actual 1989 quake. I was chatting with a classmate from New York at the law school when it hit. A few seconds into it, I realized, "This one is different" and got into a doorway, bracing myself against the frame. My classmate ran about nearby, unsure what to do, and I called to her, "Gina, Gina! Get in a doorway!" She came and took my same doorway with me, and we stared at each other until it was done).

On a regular day, poor old traumatized Jo sees the walls of her house bucking to and fro wildly. (I've never seen that in my own house. My life here is so much duller than Jo's). And of course, by the end of the book, old Jo is trapped once again by falling wreckage in a monster quake. How can regular people survive in San Francisco? You'd think they'd have as much sense as an anger management instructor and shun the city.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

want to try out cat ownership with no obligations?

Catless people! Here's your chance to try cat ownership without strings!

From my cat rescue:
We have been asked to foster a 9 month old Maine Coon kitten for 6 weeks. The cat has tested negative for FELV/FIV, but they need to retest in 6 weeks. The reason for this is because of the area where the kitten came from. Some of the cats there tested positive, but not all. The kitten would have to be isolated, so someone who can either keep this kitten separate/not have any other cats/kittens. I know not many fosters don't have cats/kittens.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

elevator malfunctions of my own life

We here at Drunken Housewife Dot Com like to run a topic into the ground. Give us a dead horse and a stick, and we will go to town. Before we change the topic back to The Drunken Housewife's Neuroses and Her Really Weird Children, a bit more on the elevators:

* During the time in my life when I was a sole practitioner of the law, I had a couple of really great clients who paid me by the hour to handle anything that came up, big to little. One of those clients had built a little condo building with a new elevator installed in it. That elevator was a lemon, and one of the condo purchasers was obsessed with that elevator. The elevator never actually risked anyone's health while I was involved (at a safe distance from the actual thing); it was just oh so very, very slow --- well below the speed it was warranted to rise at. Every so often the condo purchaser would make a big stink to the developer (my client), who'd call me on the phone, I'd get out the file again, and I'd fax another demanding letter to the elevator manufacturer, who'd send out someone out to go time the elevator and tinker with it but who'd basically do nothing. The nice part of this was that then I'd collect a few more hundred dollars.

* I did once climb out of an elevator between floors, which is a truly stupid thing to do, but I didn't know that at the time. I was a freshman at Boston University, living in that infamous, massive three-pronged monstrosity of a dorm, Warren Towers. The elevators were an endless source of annoyance, and I lived on the 14th floor. Before I gave up on them and took to using the stairs almost exclusively, I was in one with several other students when it stopped between floors. After some little time, a bright freshman pried open the doors, and we discovered we were between floors. We all climbed up and out. One of the other freshmen asked me for my phone number, and the only lasting trauma from that experience was that I embarked upon a near-epically dysfunctional relationship of sorts.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

our continuing coverage of elevators

Today's Chronicle reported that "San Francisco police have all but concluded that pro-Israel activist Daniel Kliman got stuck in an elevator between floors last week, pried open the doors and accidentally fell nearly seven stories to his death."

So let that be a lesson to all of you: if you're stuck in the elevator, wait it out. Poor Nicholas White, trapped in a Manhattan elevator for 41 hours, tried repeatedly to pry the doors open. He was lucky the elevator didn't open in a way he could have fallen down the shaft.

And here's another piece of elevator lore, which I learned from the New Yorker: elevator experts say the close door button is meaningless. It doesn't actually do anything. The doors shut on a timer. If the door closes during or after you pressed it, it was accidental. (So why is that button there? It works for firefighters who have a key. Also, it gives elevator riders a sense of control they find comforting).

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

elevators and an update

The Chronicle reported about the crime scene I walked through earlier this week. It turns out that the elevator did it. A man who sounds fascinating, Dr. Dan Kliman, a dynamic vegetarian doctor who was an anti-car and pro-Israel activist, stepped into a malfunctioning elevator and fell to his death.

Elevators, I tell you. I'm resisting with all my might becoming phobic of them ever since I read in the New Yorker about poor Nicholas White, who went out for a cigarette and got stuck in an elevator for FORTY-ONE HOURS. Forty one hours. This, without exaggerating, appears to have ruined his life. I cannot imagine that ordeal (although I can compare it to the birth of Iris, which took about that same length of time and was pretty frigging awful, but yet didn't completely come out of the blue).

Ever eager to support my mental health, the Sober Husband hunted up the video of Nicholas White's ordeal after we read the New Yorker article (security cameras were on the WHOLE FORTY ONE HOURS that poor bastard was trapped in that little box, but no one bothered to glance at them) and nagged me to watch it.
Poor Nicholas White.

Now every time I get into an elevator, I think of Nicholas White and worry. But in memory of Dr. Dan Kliman, I will always look down first and make sure that the door didn't open on emptiness.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

the clash of the socioeconomic classes and why it's nice to stay home

Yesterday I went downtown to see my First Ever Shrink. (My marriage counselor referred me to a psychiatrist to treat my chronic insomnia with medication, and I like him. I've seen him twice, and we're trying a course of medication for my sleep problem). I had to pass through a crime scene to get to my appointment. The Medical Examiner's van was out front of the building, which meant there was a corpse inside, and there were four police cars. It turned out that the crime scene was one of the elevators, which had its workings revealed and was surrounded by a swarm of officers, including some interviewing various, shaken-up looking people. The building's extroverted super whisked me into another elevator and up before I could say, "Wait! I want to know what that other elevator did before I commit!"

The other occupant of my elevator was a freaked out hipster with dark, horn-rimmed glasses and trendy hair. He was completely unnerved. I tried to cheer him up. "At least it's not us. We're fine." He was not so sure he -- or I -- was fine. "We're ambulatory, aren't we?" I said.

That made him smile, and he thanked me. By the time I left, the lobby was quieter, with one uniformed officer guarding the crime scene elevator. This morning's paper revealed that a man had indeed died in that elevator's workings in some sort of mysterious way and that he'd been dead for a week before he'd been discovered. I've been working up a bit of an elevator phobia ever since reading in the New Yorker about a man trapped in his office elevator for FORTY-TWO hours in Manhattan, and this didn't help.

In the evening we all went downtown again by subway to a skating party. The parents of one of Iris Uber Alles's classmates had rented out the entire Embarcadero skating rink for a private party, and the girls were beside themselves with excitement. We skated, Iris doggedly working until she could go around the rink without holding the edge. Lola took great pleasure in falling down and started falling down on purpose, giggling and giggling. I took quite a few turns around to loosen up (I used to love to skate as a child in Maine), but it was hard to safely maneuver around all the falling children. After some time, I returned my skates and joined the parents who had chosen to drink in lieu of athletic activity. I chatted with a number of other parents, including a mother I like a lot, who told me that the thing she was most uncomfortable with about our school was the ostentatious display of wealth by some parents (an example she gave was a limo at a child's first grade birthday party). I laughed and told her that she wouldn't have to worry about that from me because I don't have any money. We discussed our unglamorous socioeconomic backgrounds.

Eventually the party drew to a close. Our hospitable host had ordered massive stacks of pizza and encouraged everyone to take some home. I took a cheese pizza, thinking it would be good for the children's school lunches. Then I went back for another, which I thought I could give to a homeless person. The Sober Husband thought that was not such a good idea. "It's hard to give food away." I disagreed, saying that when I worked downtown, homeless people were happy to get leftovers I gave them, and it was a nice, hot, fresh pizza.

We walked towards the subway. The first homeless person the Sober Husband asked about the pizza declined, saying he'd already had a big dinner. He seemed stoned and barely able to understand the concept. The second person we asked accepted the pizza and called over two other street people. As we walked down into the subway, I turned and saw the three of them eating the pizza with abandon. That made us all feel good, and the Sober Husband decided to give away the second pizza as well (although I wanted to keep it). We ran into a different sort of street person at the fare gates, an enterprising one who had been rummaging through the trashcans for November fastpasses. People who bought December ones threw those old ones away, although they were still good for another three days. We accepted all the Fastpasses and thanked him enthusiastically. The Sober Husband offered hm the pizza. The man hesitated and confided that what he really needed was money, perhaps half what we would have paid for taking the subway. I gave him a five dollar bill because he had been helpful and hadn't asked for anything until we brought up the idea of giving something.

On our way down into the bowels of MUNI, the Sober Husband gave another man our pizza.

While we were waiting on the platofrm, our Fastpass friend came up to me, upset. He said that he'd gone over to the man he saw take our pizza and asked him if he could have just one slice of the pizza, telling him he knew us. Instead of sharing the pizza, that man pulled a knife on him. The Fastpass street person came to me and told me what happened, upset. The Sober Husband was off fiddling around with his iPhone, and I asked him to call the police. A MUNI worker nearby refused to get involved. "I didn't see a thing."

While we were on the platform, discussing this, the pizza-having guy came sweeping down, with a knife in one hand and the pizza box in the other. "What you go telling these people for?" he said to the Fastpass man in a hard voice. He chased towards the other street person, who was right by me on the platform. I pulled Iris and Lola in to me, faces to me, so they wouldn't see anything if someone got stabbed. "Stay close to Mommy." The knife-wielder circled us with his knife out in his hand, me holding the children close and the other street person looking very frightened, and then ran up the stairs with the pizza. "You saw that? You saw that?" said the frantic Fastpass street person. "I saw it, I saw it," I said.

After what felt like a long time, a police officer with two MUNI workers arrived on the platform. I told the officer what had happeneed and that I had seen the knife myself. They all took off in pursuit of the man with the pizza and the knife. Our subway arrived. I was reluctant to get on it, thinking that we might need to give a statement, but the Sober Husband insisted. "I guess no one told us we had to wait," I said as I relented.

On the way home, I reflected about the different socioeconomic classes cheek and jowl down at the Embarcadero Center. One minute we'd been skating with hedge fund managers and drinking wine with millionaires; the next minute, we saw a man pull a knife on another over a piece of leftover pizza. I also thought about the crime scene I'd gone through earlier in the day. I leaned over to the Sober Husband. "You know, it's pretty quiet when you stay home with the cats. It's nice there, staying home with the cats."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I shouldn't have asked.

As we sat down to eat dinner on the last evening of the Thanksgiving weekend, I asked the abstracted Sober Husband, "So what are you thinking about?"

"About how I'm looking forward to getting back to the office."

Lola does it so you don't have to

Yesterday Lola wanted to dip the vegetarian corndog her father had microwaved for her into chocolate sauce, rather than the customary catsup. Her father asked me if I had any objections. I found the whole idea repugnant but waved a lazy, permissive hand. "Whatever you want, Lolabelle."

Within minutes six year-old Lola came in to report. Her face screwed up with disgust, she said, "Corndogs in chocolate sauce taste... taste... taste... " She couldn't think of a word bad enough, and she instructed me never, ever to try it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I won!

Every year for the past decade, the indefatigable Chris Baty holds NaNoWriMo: National Write A Novel Month. With pep talks which manage to be actually inspirational and not cheesy and with various deadlines, Baty and his crew get a wide variety of people to actually write a novel in one month (a novel, for purposes of NaNoWriMo, being defined as 50,000+ words of new text written all in the month of November, which is about 150 pages).

I myself had a long abandoned half-written novel and a sense of guilt. I felt like I would never write fiction again. At the last minute, I signed up for NaNoWriMo, skeptical of whether I'd be able to do it, but starting from word one. Around 20,000 words, I came up dry, unable to think of anything else. But I got back into it, kept going, and ended winning NaNoWriMo with a couple of days to spare.

My novel isn't actually done. It needs another 75-150 pages. But it's moving along, it's plowing along. It has a plot, and there is an ending in mind; there will just need to be a lot more writing done before the ending is put in place. (You can read a short excerpt over at NaNoWriMo). I've never felt so creative in all my life. I've been sculpting in my twice-a-week classes as well as writing, and I love my little sculptures. I feel positively glowing with radioactive mutant writer strength. How I love NaNoWriMo. Now if I can just finish this book on my own, without those delightful peptalks and helpful deadlines.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving menus

I've been preoccupied with writing a novel this month, under the auspices of National Write A Novel Month, and I let Thanksgiving largely slide. In past years I've invited people, but this year I was happy to just have a small Thanksgiving. Usually I spend weeks working up a gala menu, test driving new dishes ahead of time, but this year I didn't have the energy for that. Instead, I suggested to the Sober Husband and children that they create a menu. No one had any enthusiasm for that idea. I turned to six year-old Lola. "Lola, what do YOU want for Thanksgiving dinner?"

Lola pondered. "A corn dog!" she shouted.

"That's not exactly the kind of thing I had in mind," I said, but Lola couldn't think of anything better. I suggested to Lola and Iris that they write up a menu, and later they presented me with this (ornamented with many little ears of corn which had husks at the end, resembling swords):

THANKSGIVING MENU
Lola's Memo

corn dogs
ice cream soup with the xtra ice cream
normal ice crem (chocoalte)
mashed chocolate
chocolate turkey
chocolate cake
mashed cherrys
mashed ice creame chocolat
chocolte xbox
milky ways
cocolits and charrys (how many ways can one six year-old spell "chocolate"?)
vanila, chcolit, straberry ice cream
corn with butter and salt
cocolt corn
chocolt caramle corn

In the end, I drew up my own menu, which was

lanttulaatiko
Unturkey with stuffing and roast potatoes
slow cooked buttered carrots
cranberry sauce
green beans cooked in vodka
personal Baked Alaskas with fresh pineapple

Later in the evening Lola complained. "You didn't make one thing from my menu!" Her father convinced her that the Baked Alaskas were an acceptable substitute for the ice cream soup, but Lola still felt cheated.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

it's my birthday

Other people get depressed on Christmas or Valentine's Day. Those are always fine by me; I enjoy them each time they roll around. For me, my birthday is the depressing day, the one where I feel unloved and unwanted.

I tried to explain to Lola yesterday afternoon why I felt sad, and she exploded. "That is crazy! Everyone loves Mommy!"

"Well, actually, not everyone even likes Mommy."

Lola shook her head with impatience at me. "Everyone loves Mommy!"

There are no plans to celebrate, as it's a school night and my complex feelings about my birthday prevent me from planning anything nice for it. The Sober Husband had told me that I should plan something, but that strikes at the heart of the birthday issues: if I plan something for my own birthday, that demonstrates that I'm the only one who cares about it. A plan coming from the outside is the only thing that would be acceptable. (I can see that being married to me can be very tiresome).

On the bright side, the children presented me with gifts this morning already, gifts clearly bought ahead of time by the Sober Husband: a beautiful necklace with dark pearls, white pearls, and an Australian agate, and a copy of "The Gaming Life" by Jim Rossignol, which begins "In May 2000 I was fired from my job as a reporter on a finance newsletter because of an obsession with a video game. It was the best thing that ever happened to me." I feel better already.

Friday, November 14, 2008

the chart continues

This morning at breakfast I noticed Lola's chart on the table. Lola has helpfully added the label "IRIS BAD CHART", which she showed me. I laughed. "That chart is hilarious, Lola."

Iris Uber Alles made an evil, evil face at me, which made me laugh more. "Make that face at your father." I called the Sober Husband in. "Find Lola's chart hilarious," I instructed him.

"Lola's chart IS hilarious," he said earnestly. Iris glared at him, but by now she was having trouble not laughing herself, and the evil eye she shot at her father was nowhere near as threatening as the glare previously directed at her mother.

"Iris, that's not fair! You're not giving him as bad an expression."

In the brightest little voice imaginable, Lola peeped, "Iris, are you hating Mommy? Right now, are you hating Mommy? I'm going to go get a stamp." Nothing could be happier for Lola than an opportunity to record a sin committed by her sister on the Iris Bad Chart.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lola's keeping a chart

Yesterday Lola was in a bouncy mood after kindergarten. She told me that one of her friends has a behavior chart at home, and Lola had decided that she wanted one, too. "I will find out what kind of girl I am! Am I a GOOD girl or a bad one?" She skipped happily. I joked that we could make a chart for both her and her big sister.

Perhaps I shouldn't have made that joke, because as soon as she got home, Lola got to work making a chart to record her sister's sins. "How do you spell 'snatching'? How do you spell 'whining'?" Lola worked hard to draw good lines and found some little stamps which could be used to record the ills. Nine year-old Iris Uber Alles happened by and decided to interfere.

I knew that the chart was incendiary by design, but Lola was working so hard to draw the boxes neatly and was writing carefully, so I didn't want her work destroyed. I told Iris, who was slashing at her sister with a marker (this resulted in the addition of two new categories of sins, "Dreing [drawing] on Lola" and "Dreing On Mommy"), that she was NOT to mark up the chart Lola was making. Of course Iris grabbed a stamp and snatched away the chart, stamping it at random in a box which would be for a few days in the future, in a category which hadn't been named. Lola, who had been genuinely concentrating and working hard, burst into tears.

I was irked that Iris had deliberately disobeyed me, and I told her to go to her room. Earlier she'd disobeyed by refusing to come downstairs to do her homework at the table, where I could supervise it. Iris slammed upstairs, crying noisily and screaming, "I HATE MOMMY! MOMMY IS BAD!"

Lola carefully created a new chart, adding a new category of 'Hating Mommy" in response to the continuing shouts from above (later adding "and Daddy"). I could imagine that this chart was soon going to be wall-sized.

Lola happily recorded Iris's sins du jour as Snatching, Whining and Complaining, Dreing [drawing] On Lola, and Hating Mommy.

"WHEN WILL DADDY BE HOME? I HATE MOMMY! I ONLY LIKE DADDY!" was heard on and on. However, when her father did arrive, he was not the stalwart ally Iris could have wished. He found the chart hilarious.

Friday, November 07, 2008

eight and nine year-old girls are not what they were in my day

At our elementary school, a vague but cautionary email went out to the third grade parents, advising us that Some Girls Had Used The Internet Inappropriately, the school was working through some issues with the families of those girls, and that all third graders would be bringing home another copy of the school's internet safety policy to be reviewed with and signed by a parent. I was puzzled. Obviously something fairly disturbing had occurred if we were all supposed to sit down with our children and go over internet safety yet again, but why the mystery?

I asked Iris Uber Alles if she knew what had happened, and she was clueless. "Nobody knows. I have no idea." The Sober Husband was all agog as well, surmising that it must have been some sort of Myspace infraction. I asked the head of the lower school if she could tell me more without compromising the privacy of the families involved, stressing that I wasn't asking for names, just information.

I've found it frustrating supervising Iris's internet usage. I don't know everything she does online. She recently started a blog I didn't know about, which I found when she accidentally left my laptop logged into her own blogger account. Childless people are fond of saying that parents should keep an eye on their kids and know everything their child does online, but I'm frankly not going to spend every waking moment that Iris is out of school staring at her. Even if I were less lazy, I still have to take a shower or have a bowel movement from time to time, requiring a cessation of vigilance. Additionally, as the Sober Husband is a computer enthusiast, our home is littered with computers (we have, I think, four laptops, at least two "regular computers", two things that the Sober Husband refers to as "servers", plus the iPhone, which can be used to surf the web). I wondered if the internet conduct in question was something I would consider permissible (I do after all let Iris play World of Warcraft, which many would consider wrong). I lied about Iris's age once on line to let her use a website I thought was age-appropriate, so I had abetted Iris in violating the school's policy myself. My best guess was that the girls in question might have lied about their age to make Facebook profiles (as indeed a young person of our acquaintance -- not Iris or Lola -- is known to have done); my fear was that they might have written cruel things about their classmates online.

When the head of lower school called me, I was taken aback by what I learned. The incident had involved some girls looking at explicit porn together online. These are eight and nine year-old girls, third graders. Sigh. They went surfing around by typing in sexually explicit words into Google. I hadn't really thought it necessary to go into a lot of sex education yet, and I guess I should reevaluate that. I thought it was enough to have held the talk about inappropriate touching, but if Iris's classmates are investigating hardcore porn, it seems I should cover a bit more ground. I'm nonplussed.

I shared with the head of lower school my feeling that I can't imagine keeping track of every site Iris visits. How can we supervise our children's internet usage when there are third and fourth-graders running around with iPhones? I was nonplussed to learn of the porn; the head of school was nonplussed to learn that there are telephones now which access the web and which are owned by some lower school students. (Iris keeps me abreast of which third and fourth graders own iPhones as part of her campaign to obtain one for herself). We both hung up on a note of bemusement at this world we stumble around in, trying to stumble faster than the third-graders.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

the state of things

Years ago I went into a huge funk when in one horrible month, John Kerry lost (and we had donated far more than we could afford to his campaign, money that could have been spent on a vacation or on redoing the other half of our roof), I had a terrible flu, and I had a traumatic milestone birthday. I went into a deep depression which took a very long time to come out of.

This week I'm feeling great that Barack Obama won. There's another large milestone, a less depressing one than the milestone birthday one: the tenth wedding anniversary of the Sober Husband and myself. Life is looking up, all right.

In other developments, six year-old Lucy has changed her name back to "Lola." (She had rejected her legal name, "Lucy" for years, calling herself "Baby" until nearly three, when she chose the name "Lola" for herself. At five she returned to "Lucy" after the upsetting discovery that the meaning of the name "Lola" is "sorrows", while "Lucy" means "light"). She announced this at kindergarten. By the end of the day five other girls in her classroom had come forward to announce that they had also changed their names. This trend even spread to a girl in a different classroom, before the kindergarten teachers formed the policy that any name change had to be communicated in a note sent by the child's parents. Only Lola was allowed to remain under her new nomme (the school had some knowledge of this issue, Lola having been admitted under the name "Lola" but having shown up to kindergarten as a "Lucy").

And, in the general trend of positive thinking, nine year-old Iris Uber Alles and I are participating in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month program. We are seeking sponsorship to allow us to attend the Night Of Writing Dangerously, where we might write dangerously and sip vitamin waters in the company of a room of novelists. Please consider donating to sponsor us, as the proceeds go to support youth writing programs in public schools (and we all know how underfunded the schools are, sigh).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

a fake car

One of the problems with my still-youthful Volvo, which I acquired last January after the untimely death of my aged Oldsmobile, is that it is a white, midsized sedan. There are an awful lot of white midsized sedans on the streets and in the parking lots of San Francisco. Once I emerged from Lucy's preschool to see five white, midsized sedans parked in a row across from the school.

The children share my irritation. We often walk up to the wrong white Volvo at the grocery store or on the street.

Lucy in particular feels that our car should definitely be a different color. Seeing a bright yellow Beetle, she pronounced, "That is the car of your dreams, Mommy!" Actually the car of my dreams is a burnt-orange Mini Cooper convertible, but the yellow bug was distinctive. Lucy mused, as we passed endless white and gray cars, about what would be best for a car color.

"Red, I think, because there is only one red car in the world!"

"I think there are lots more red cars than that." I drew Lucy's attention to a red car on our side of 32nd Avenue and to another across the street, further down.

Lucy regarded the red car near us with disdain. "That is NOT a real car. THAT IS A FAKE!!"

Saturday, November 01, 2008

trick-or-treating

This year just-turned-six Lucy chose to be Hannah Montana and, instead of having a painstakingly home sewn costume created by her loving mother, buy a cheesy prefab costume at the store. Nine year-old Iris opted to be the Grim Reaper, a costume about which I was skeptical but which turned out adorable, with a polyester hooded robe, skeletonish gloves and a plastic scythe. I urged Iris when trick-or-treating to play up the death aspect. "Tell them that Death shall pass over them this year."

Death and I were separated from Hannah Montana and her father (not in a Billy Ray Cyrus outfit, thankfully) for much of the evening, as Hannah had strong ideas about where to trick-or-treat. Eventually we all met up again and went home, where the children poured out their candy in an ecstasy of gluttony. Lucy picked through her candy critically, pulling out all the dark chcolates to give to her father (a neighborhood gourmand had given out tiny, organic dark chocolate squares). She picked up a dollar bill and made a face of disgust. "One guy didn't have any candy, so he gave me a dollar and said for me to buy my own candy!" I thought getting a dollar instead of a "fun-sized" candy bar was a good deal, but not Lucy. "And you can have my raisins!" she said with vehemence. The other irritation for Lucy had been a troubling thirst. "I never want to feel like that again!"

This morning, rather than rejoice in her massive pile of candy, Lucy felt traumatized by the thirst of the evening before. Ironically enough the Sober Husband was the only one given a beverage. One neighbor had pressed a plastic cup of red wine onto him. I had been promised a Cosmopolitan by a group of older gay men who were delighted with Death ("Who did your make-up???") and "Death's Mother", but in the event we came away only with a handful of candy.

Iris, even with her own mighty stash of candy, lusts for Lucy's and kept trying to talk her out of various candies. "Lucy, you wouldn't like THIS one. Lucy, I think this kind is poisoned!"

"None of her candy is poisoned, and if it's so poisonous, why do you want to eat it?" Iris just glowered, her eyes still bearing traces of the Grim Reaper's deadly eye make-up.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

a weird and beautiful book

I just finished "Gone-Away World" by Nick Harkaway, a gripping and thoroughly strange and beautiful book I commend to you. It's a long book, 498 pages, and it seems meandering, but the meandering is okay, more than okay, because the writing is so good and entertaining. It wasn't until the last chapter or so that I realized there was no meandering at all; it was all fitting together like clockwork. Bits of beautiful writing seeming like entertaining throwaways were foreshadowing, foreshadowing done more skillfully than one would imagine.

The afterword reveals that Harkaway is a huge Wodehouse fan, and that makes sense. He writes with humor and whimsy, but he wrote a book which is not humorous and not whimsical, really. It's action-filled and serious, but written with a deft, light hand. I just love this book, filled with delights like this description of a crowded strip bar, "From somewhere across the room comes the sound of a mime getting beaten up" and the following throw-away line, "Baptiste Vasille shrugs. It's very much a French shrug. It says Well, what did you expect?' and it says it in a way which suggests the world is essentially English, and hence a bit awkward and silly."

I love this book so much that I want to buy it, having borrowed the copy I used from the wonderful Mechanics' Institute. Bonus: the jacket is hot pink and fuzzy. In bookstores Lucy loves to seek out "The Gone-Away World" and reverently stroke it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

a dissatisfying email exchange with the head of school at KDBS

Previously I wrote to our children's elementary school complaining about the prominent sale of fur-covered toy kittens at the fall festival, as well as the rampant handing-out of live goldfish to small children who hadn't gotten their parents' permission (my children didn't get any fish; they've been brought up to take animals very seriously and would not accept one without conferring with a parent). Today I got a vague and unsatisfactory response from our new head of school:
Dear Carole:

Thank you for getting in touch with your concern regarding the toys sold
and pets distributed at Festival. As I'm sure you can imagine, one of the
challenges of putting on an event of this nature is managing the vendors
who are selling items in the boutique. As a school, we try to monitor
carefully anything that could carry with it an implied endorsement. The
festival boutique presents real challenges to this endeavor.

I appreciate the concerns that you have raised, and we will certainly take
them into consideration in preparing for next year's festival. We are
always working to improve the environment for our girls at Burke's. Thank
you for bringing your concerns straight to us. I am a believer in direct
communication and assure you that we do take your concerns seriously. As
we begin working with next year's festival chairs, we will be certain that
this issues are fully explored.

Best,

Kim Wargo
I wrote back:

Thank you for your response. I would like to point something out, however: the fur toys were not sold by an outside vendor. The fairyland area, like the KDBS spa, the home cooking booth, etc..., is done by parents organized through the festival committee. It's more of an organic part of the event, as opposed to the vendors who come in for that day to sell. I would note that also the school posted fliers for the fairyland zone ahead of time at the school (which got my children fired up to go see it; indeed my daughter had intended to spend her $50 birthday money there). Accordingly I do think it is appropriate to hold this (and the fish, which were given by the school as prizes for playing games) against the school. It's not something done by an outside entity without oversight by the official organizers; it's part of the festival which is planned and created through the official committee.

Due to this issue, our family has decided to break with our tradition of donating to the KDBS annual fund and instead donate that money to PETA. I hope that Burke's will evaluate its lack of policies about fur and laissez faire attitude about the goldfish prizes before the next festival.
I had previously decided that if I didn't get a satisfactory answer, I did not wish to donate to the school's annual fund this year. The Sober Husband agreed to that, and instead we'll be donating to PETA. Oh, how I love donating to PETA when someone pisses me off on an animal issue. I would never make a donation in someone else's name -- that would be rude -- but I am happy to inform people that I'm donating inspired by them (even when I'm angry, I try to split those etiquette hairs properly).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'll leave the conclusions to be drawn to you

Public health experts from the University of Glasgow were able to obtain the childhood mental ability scores of over 8,000 men and women in their 30s, and found -- much to their surprise -- the higher IQ, the higher the likelihood of developing a drinking problem. The correlation existed even after factoring out socioeconomic status, and was stronger in women than it was in men.

The researchers declared the results were "unexpected" and feel the need for "further examination."
(Incidentally I don't have "a drinking problem." I have drinking without problems, happily for me).

an angry, angry god in a signless car

Six year-old Lucy styles herself a god, and she's not above throwing her weight around. The other day in the car, I was flipping through radio stations and passed by the one Lucy wanted. "Go back!"

"No, I like this one," I said, pausing on one playing Nirvana.

"I condemn you to hell! Now will you go back?"

"No, I'm listening to this one. You're condemning your mother to hell because she didn't pick the right radio station?"

The Great God Lucy muttered various imprecations, which ended up with the threat that I was being condemned to hell, where I'd die in a pool of hot lava only to come back to life right there in hell, where I'd live a life of suffering and die in the hot lava, only to be condemned to hell once again.

Iris and I were impressed by the scope of Lucy's wrath. Lucy reiterated, to make sure the gravity of the situation was fully grasped: "You will be condemned to hell and THEN condemned to hell AGAIN!"

It is always a joy, ferrying these children about. Beyond the threats of hellfire, they fight bitterly over the armrest. The Sober Husband put a piece of masking tape as a divider, but that hasn't helped much. They fight over who is taking up too much of the tape. Yesterday Iris's long hair strayed over the line, which was the cause of much offense on the part of the Great God Lucy, who ended up administering a punitive slap on the head to Iris.

"I'm going to get a sign," I said wearily. It is my fantasy to install a sign in the car, like bus drivers have, reading, "Do Not Speak To Driver." Then I will threaten the children: "Don't make me tap my sign."

"Well, you DON"T have a sign," pointed out Iris. "So give up pretending like you do."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

a letter to our elementary school

Today I'm waiting for a call back about whether I can return my dear foster kittens, Helen Keller and Ray Charles, today. Poor Helen and Ray, unaware of their impending eviction from their happy childhood home, are curled up in my lap. I couldn't bear to disturb them and took advantage of their snuggling time to write the following letter to the head of Iris and Lucy's elementary school:
I hate to complain about anything done at the Fall Festival, as I know the parents who organize it work very hard, but there was something which appalled me and upset my daughter Iris this year. It was the fur covered toys for sale at the fairyland area.

We was shocked to see real fur used in toy kittens, and these fur toys were displayed very prominently. They were the dominant item at the fairyland area. Iris and I had gone to the fairy area on our arrival at the fair, and we had actually intended to make at least one purchase there to add to our fairyland at home (we had bought a fairy house the year before). Iris, a sensitive animal loving child, was so disturbed by the fur that she asked to leave. This cast a pall over our afternoon at the fair, as Iris couldn't get her mind off the dead rabbits used to make these toys and asked me such questions as "Why do people hate rabbits?" and "Why can't the bunnies be smart enough to escape? Why do they have to die?"

I was rather disturbed by the hypocrisy that the children were being encouraged to pay to pet and feed live rabbits at the petting zoo, just yards away from where they were being urged to buy the skins of other rabbits, who had met an unkind demise in order to make cheap toys.

There was another level of hypocrisy, which I suspect but can't prove: the fur-covered toys were from China. Not all of the fur appeared to be rabbit fur. It is an established fact that in China, cats --- the same sort of cats we keep as pets -- are commonly raised for the fur trade. [See, e.g., http://www.furisdead.com/feat-dogcatfur.asp]. Some of the kitten toys I saw at Burke's appeared to me to have been covered with cat fur (as a long-time cat fosterer and rescue volunteer, I know cat fur). It's frankly hideous to sell a toy cat to a girl which required the death of a real cat to make.

Fur has become controversial in our society, with an increasing awareness growing that the animals raised for fur are killed in spectacularly inhumane ways (the most common way is anal electrocution so as to preserve the fur). I am glad Iris doesn't yet know about that aspect of the fur trade, but I suspect some of the upper school girls do. Is that something Burke's wants to be affiliated with? Is that something to teach our girls, that although we enjoy petting rabbits, we think it's good to kill them in an agonizing way to make a toy that will be probably discarded when the girl tires of it?

I expect to see fur if I go to Neiman Marcus, and I make my shopping decisions accordingly. I don't expect to see it showcased at a Burke's family festival, though, and I am disappointed in the school. Please consider making a policy that fur won't be sold at future festivals.

While I'm on this uncomfortable subject, I should also state that I've been troubled -- but have hitherto held my tongue -- about the practice of giving out the goldfish at KDBS. It's a common sight to go to a Burke's family home and see a large number of goldfish being kept in a tiny, undersized globe. These fish should have a lifespan of 30 years if cared for properly and require a large, aerated tank for comfort. The way they are given out, as though they were disposable, seems callous and definitely doesn't teach the girls to respect animal pets and care for them accordingly. At the very least, there should be a sheet of instructions for the proper care of goldfish given out with the fish. (I would be happy to draft such a thing). I also witnessed parents being displeased when their child showed up at their side with a fish. It seems inappropriate to give out a living creature to a child without the parents' consent and implicit commitment to keeping the fish.

I hope Burke's can do better than this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

more big city blues (why is it always about the cars?)

Someone broke into my car last night, but weirdly did no damage. The mysterious intruder ransacked the car but seems to have left everything (including a dozen CD's kept in the front armrest) strewn around.

This morning at my ceramics class, an officious man interrupted our labors in the studio to inquire, "Did anyone park a burgundy car, with a handicapped placard, in the handicapped spot near the studio?" It turns out that a man had been seen slashing this car's tires in, as everyone in the class remarked, "broad daylight." "I'm glad it wasn't one of you," said the officious man (which made me wonder: why were we better than the car's owner? Because we were aspiring potters?) Oh, how everyone in the class denounced the state of affairs in the current day and age (I'm the youngest one in the class, which is composed otherwise of retirees).

Our intrepid instructor went out later to investigate and reported back: "He knew the guy. The driver of the car knew the guy who slashed the tires. It had something to do with something." We all sighed a sigh of relief that it wasn't Random Tire Slashage.

But still, the ransacking and the denting of my own dear Volvo: what will happen to it next?

why can't my car do that?

Every day I look at my poor dented Volvo (dented by an anonymous jerk who didn't leave a note), and I seethe with anger. I have not investigated how much it would cost to fix the dent, because I realize that it is asinine to spend money on a dent when I have no plans to sell the car (I do entertain a fantasy from time to time that I will just on the spur of the moment drive down to a dealership and trade my Volvo in for a cheery Mini Cooper convertible, but that's just daydreaming). The damage doesn't affect the drivability or safety of the car. It just makes it a little ugly.

My old car had a similar, but longer dent, but I didn't mind that one because I put it there myself. One day towards the end of my second trimester with the incubating Lucy, I drove myself to a routine prenatal checkup (the Sober Husband went to each and every prenatal appointment the first time around, but the second time, the wonders of life had palled for him, and I had to nag him to get him to go to one or two). I'd been feeling uncomfortable and crabby, but I was a shocked to be told that I was three centimeters dilated, the baby's head was engaged at a point which was supposed to occur only well into labor, and I needed to go to the hospital immediately due to this dangerous premature labor. This news caused my blood pressure to rise and my nerves to fray. I probably shouldn't have driven, but leaving my car as parked was not an option (it would have been towed away at rush hour). So I drove myself across the city slowly, having contractions as I drove. I'd had contractions on the way over to the clinic, but I'd ignored those, whereas these new contractions were causing me a lot of stress. When I got to the tiny, cramped parking garage of my chosen hospital, I was having a painful contraction and feeling very anxious, and I thoroughly gouged the side of the car against a concrete pillar. A nearby fat man laughed at me. "Let's see YOU drive when you're in labor, asshole," I thought to myself.

So that dent always reminded me of the vagaries of life and pregnancy (at the hospital, I was kept for several hours and then sent home with orders of strict bedrest. The Sober Husband didn't show up at the hospital until long after I'd gone home. When I was released from bedrest after nearly a month -- a month in which I had to care for a three year-old while on strict bedrest --- my labor stopped, and I stayed pregnant for two more months. Lucy was born three weeks late to the day, weighing over nine pounds. So much for having a preemie!). I didn't mind that dent. But this dent, it drives me crazy.

Not everyone is paying attention to the dent. Others have more exotic issues with the Volvo. Six year-old Lucy got excited in traffic the other day and pointed out a passing car. "That car transforms!" I couldn't quite figure out from what Lucy said whether the car transforms into a robot or a ladybug or a robot ladybug, but in any event, it was a glamorous car.

Iris got agitated that her parents were discussing this magical car with Lucy. "It does NOT transform, Lucy!" she shouted.

"I saw it on Youtube," Lucy said, settling the argument for once and for all.

"It does not! It does NOT transform!"

"What part of 'Lucy saw it on Youtube' do you not understand, Iris?" asked the Sober Husband mischievously.

Iris seethed all the way home, as Lucy expounded upon the beauties and joys of a car which has transforming capabilities, unlike my poor dented Volvo.

Friday, October 17, 2008

what the heart desires

At marriage counseling the other day, the therapist asked the Sober Husband what it is he wants. He thought about it. "What I want is for Carole to always be a loving and supportive wife while I get to do whatever I want."

We had a good laugh about that, the therapist and I.

big city blues, continued

Today I noticed a sizable dent in the side of my still youthful Volvo. Needless to say, the car did not incur that dent while I was driving it or anywhere near it. For shame, anonymous car denter who did not even leave a note. For shame.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

big city blues

I love cities passionately, despite the fact that I'd never really had much of anything to do with them before going to college in Boston. I don't really ever want to live outside a large city again. But despite of that personal passion, there is no disputing the fact that the urban charms can pall sometimes.

Today I grabbed a quick, cheap lunch between my ceramics class and picking up Lucy (Leper Lucy has been admitted back to kindergarten, so long as she keeps a bandage over her staph lesion). While I was eating, a panhandler sat down at the few outside tables and would NOT shut up, constantly harassing the sole other woman eating outdoors, all passersby, and eventually me, whom he called "a fucking bitch" for not giving him money. I do actually give beggars money more often than the average person, but I'm not going to reward someone for ruining my only quiet, relaxing moment of the day.

Driving the children home, a well-dressed man in a wheelchair who was on the sidewalk and not anywhere near entering the road screamed at me psychotically, "YOU CAN'T GO THROUGH THE CROSSWALK!" He was in such a rage that he seemed at risk of a stroke. Although I do yield for pedestrians, the point remains that cars need to go through crosswalks, or it would not be possible to drive further than the length of one block. An empty crosswalk is fair game, crazy, screaming guy (incidentally nice tie, crazy guy).

In general the roads have been abhorrent lately. I said in frustration to Lucy the other day, "Did someone declare National Idiots Go Driving Week and forget to tell me?" I tried to figure out if the influx of stupidity in the streets had some relationship to Columbus Day or Fleet Week, but I didn't arrive at any persuasive theorem.

More dramatically, some addicts burnt a beautiful pink Victorian down just a block from my house. We saw the fire, so huge and amazing, when we woke up from our windows (watching the firemen gradually put it out was spellbinding), and later in the morning my neighbor and I walked over to rubberneck close up. We saw the firemen carrying charred remains of furniture out of the building, and a tense woman in a green bathrobe erupted as a desk was put down. "Take a picture of that!" It was a partially destroyed desk containing many boxes of syringes.

"Is that person we took to the hospital earlier on insulin?" a fireman asked quickly, grabbing his phone.

"On METH more like," snapped back the green bathrobed one. "This is a drug house! We see people getting high outside all the time!"

I slipped the woman in the bathrobe a note with my address and phone number. "I only live a block away, if you need to borrow anything, like clothes or a phone." She hugged me and reassured me that she'd only needed to temporarily evacuate her apartment, which was next door to the burnt-down building.

The neighbors are all abuzz about news that the Mikes, a delightful gay couple both possessed of the same first name, were burgled. Evidently this occurred some time ago and the news has been slow to disseminate (and evidently also the Mikes are tired of being asked about it). Our next-door-neighbor also had a package stolen from her front stoop as well, and there is vague muttering about how we should start a neighborhood watch program. I wasn't so surprised about the package going missing, as that neighbor's front door is right on the street. An unchaperoned package would, as I remarked to my next-door neighbor from the other side, be a considerable temptation even to someone like me, who loves her neighbors, if it were from an exciting shipper. "What, like Good Vibrations?" quipped my gay male neighbor. I wondered if he felt free to make that sort of crack to all the straight women in his life or just us drunken ones.

I've always felt that my block was one of the safest, most serene blocks of all of San Francisco, but my complacency is feeling a bit shaken.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

my children, the leper and the mutant

Six year-old Lucy had a spot on her leg last week which we all believed to be a bug bite. Lucy herself was quite indignant, accosting me to shout about fleas, which are always considered my responsibility given that I am the one who brought feline Americans into our home (earlier this year we had a stubborn flea issue which was not responding to Advantage -- I was dosing poor old Al weekly, when it's supposed to be once a month. Then I happened to read a column by the always magnificent Bug Guy, who recommended rubbing fleazy pets with food-grade diatomaceous earth. This worked like a charm, and coincidentally saved me considerable amounts of money, as I was dropping cash on Advantage at a scary rate. One afternoon of pure cat hell, as they were all rolled about in diatomaceous earth like biscuits in flour, and no more fleas were seen). Lucy showed me her leg on Wednesday afternoon, and I realized it wasn't a bug bite. Already I'd known it wasn't a flea bite, as the fleas were long gone, but I'd suspected a mosquito. But it was a staph infection.

We're all too familiar with staph infections here. The Sober Husband had a recurring staph infection for much of the year, which was thankfully vanquished with antibiotics. Poor Iris Uber Alles sported a staph lesion herself over the summer, which broke her perfect record of never having needed prescription medication (oh, how I used to posit Iris as the definitive proof of the health of a vegetarian diet. "I never ate meat when I was pregnant with her, and she's never had any except a mouthful by accident. And look at her! She's in the 99th percentile for height, and she's never been on antibiotics in her life!") Iris is quite bitter at the loss of her streak of perfect health and has taken to rather competitively asking sundry adults when they had their first antibiotics.

The Sober Husband, as he likes to do with every bad thing, attributed his staph issues to my fostering kittens. "It stands to reason that since I live in an environment where you're always administering antibiotics, I'd come down with something." I felt it was more likely that he'd picked up the staph at Johns Hopkins, where he spent quite a bit of time earlier at his dying friend's bedside. Hospitals are hotbeds of staph. The Sober Husband scored against me when he got our physician to decree that I should cease fostering kittens for six months. However, I felt I won that round when I discovered that the veterinary opthalmologist treating my poor blind kittens, Helen Keller and Ray Charles, had had actual MRSA. This vet was astonished to hear that any physician would blame this on cats. This entertaining and erudite doctor explained his own treatment in most satisfyingly gory detail (raising his arm, he indicated where some flesh had been actually excised from his armpit), vehemently and articulately denied any link between his MRSA and any cats or cat medicines, and gave me the name of a researcher who has studied the issues of staph in animals.

Thereafter when the Sober Husband bitched about cats, I contended that he should have the more strenuous treatment my dear veterinary opthalmologist had endured, excision of the staph-ridden flesh. After all, my vet had not only recovered from MRSA but restored Helen Keller and Ray Charles's vision, which our regular vet had given up on, so obviously he was a genius. (I did, however, in the interests of marital harmony not take in any more kittens and agreed to take a break after Helen and Ray, whom I felt should be grandfathered in. Helen and Ray are scheduled to be turned in to the shelter for adoption this Tuesday).

In any event, we were fast becoming experts on staph infections. We'd read a lengthy article in the New Yorker about drug-resistant infections; we'd discussed staph with various doctors; the Sober Husband and Iris Uber Alles had lived through staph infections. So recognizing Lucy's spot as a staph infection seemed rather unnewsworthy to me. I arranged for the Sober Husband to take Lucy to the pediatrician the next day, as he would be better able to explain which medications he'd taken.

After the appointment, I was shocked to hear that he'd authorized having a culture taken from poor Lucy's leg, and he described the pediatrician as being very aggressive in draining the wound, (Lucy was unable to bring herself to describe this other than to say that it was the worst pain she'd ever experienced).

"But I was just channeling you," he said defensively. "I was thinking about how you wanted me to have mine excised."

"But that was YOU, not Lucy. Poor Lucy."

The next morning I kept Lucy home from school on the basis that she'd had a slight fever the day before and that I didn't know the school's position on staph. The Sober Husband disagreed with me strongly. "Look at her, she's fine." He wanted to take her to school and go in to inquire about the policy and then bring her home only if she were not allowed. Lucy, who is not yet adjusted to kindergarten, panicked at hearing that. "No, MOMMY'S IDEA!! MOMMY'S IDEA!"

I called the school and told the receptionist that Lucy was home with a staph infection and that I felt the school should be informed. Later that morning I got a rather dramatic call from one of the school's administrators, who told me that she'd spoken to the parent who, as a doctor, advised the school on health issues. "That parent says this could be MRSA and we need to start treating all the kindergarten children immediately." The woman was obviously frazzled. "What is it? Can you prove it isn't MRSA?"

I pointed out that as Lucy's culture had been taken at 4:00 PM the prior day, I couldn't prove a thing. I was left with the distinct feeling that my child had become a leper. Indeed, the school appeared to go through considerable agita before issuing a cautious statement to the parents later in the day. I went through a volte-face, becoming retrospectively grateful that the Sober Husband had consented to the culture.

I called the Sober Husband to vent, but he blamed me. "You shouldn't have called the school. You should have kept your mouth shut. How do we even know it's staph anyway, before we have the culture? No one said it was staph."

"We KNOW it's staph," I said. "And we have a DUTY to the other parents to inform them."

Once again he was a thoroughly unsatisfying conversational partner. A friend who is actually a teacher did better, remarking incredulously, "What a bunch of drama queens!" and reassuringly, "Of course you had to call and tell them."

Then it was time for another volte-face, as the pediatrician took time to phone us on Sunday afternoon to inform us that Lucy has MRSA. Lucy's school had, in retrospect, not been unduly alarmist. But! In the pediatrician's expert opinion, Lucy was ready to go back to school. "So long as she has a bandaid on, it's fine. MRSA responds to the antibiotic she is taking." Lucy's fever had gone away, her lesion had shrunk immensely, and she was extremely energetic. It was hard to think of her as a MRSA victim.

Lucy wanted to see what a staph bug looked like. An internet search on staph yielded hit after hit with scary headlines about "killer infections" and "deadly skin disease." I couldn't stand to read more than a few.

The pediatrician's cheery opinion notwithstanding, I don't have the nerve to take Little Leprous Lucy back to kindergarten before the school gives its consent. Given that there was such alarm before at the mere possibility of MRSA, now that there is an actual MRSA diagnosis, I quail to think of the response.

Of course with any trouble, there is someone with schadenfreude, and that person is nine year-old Iris Uber Alles. Iris is positively giddy over Lucy's troubles (although quite angry that Lucy was allowed to stay home from school and spend a quiet day with Mommy). I had a quiet conversation with the Sober Husband about Lucy's infection while Iris basked in a tub behind closed doors. "And I just KNOW Iris is going to run around saying, 'Lucy has MRSA! Lucy has MRSA!' so happily." I paused. "And I know she's listening. Hass, are you listening?"

"Yes," came a muted voice from behind doors.

It's become clear over the past few days that Iris has bizarrely acute hearing. Once I was whispering to Lucy, herself a child with especially good hearing, in the kitchen, and Iris shouted from across the house, "I CAN HEAR YOU!" I was frankly astonished and incredulous until she repeated the text of my whisper (which had been about the fact that Iris was unusually crabby and Lucy should avoid being in the same room with her for some time). "Iris, you can hear THAT? That's just wrong. It's superhuman."

It had already been established that Iris had freakishly good eyesight. Earlier in her life Iris lusted for glasses, given that a friend of hers and her mother wear them. She complained and complained about needingn glasses until I took her to have her eyes tested, where we learned that her vision was far better than 20-20. "If anyone asks," said the cheery opthalmologist, "You can tell them you have the closest thing to x-ray vision there is!"

Additionally, Iris's birth proved a special point, that the Sober Husband -- and Iris herself-- are mutants. The Sober Husband has one strange ankle, where the little bone bump present on most ankles is doubled, with one above the other. This was always considered to be a mere bone spur, of no particular interest, until Iris was born with the same double ankle on the same side. As Iris's pediatrician admitted, this shows that it's a genetic mutation she inherited from her father. Iris is quite rightfully proud of her mutant nature, to which I've taken to ascribing her freakishly good hearing and vision. "Use your powers for good, not evil!" I exhort her regularly, which only seems to set her to pondering how best one could use super hearing for evil.

My poor little leper and my mischievous mutant, what will become of them? And who will prevail in their mighty battles? And will the valiant Lucy be allowed back to kindergarten?

Monday, October 06, 2008

for shame, Harry's Bar of San Francisco

This weekend I took nine year-old Iris Uber Alles to hear Neil Gaiman read from his latest children's book (she was the only child we saw in the audience, which was composed primarily of obese people with lovely manners, dressed in black, on dates). Afterwards we strolled through Japantown, admiring Japanese kitsch, envying majestic stone Buddhas, and fingering fabrics. Iris was tired and hungry, and rather than setting out for home, wanted to eat first. We were also eager to start reading our signed copies of "The Graveyard Book.

It was the end of a long day for Iris; we'd held a joint birthday party for her and just-turned-six Lucy that day and she'd sat still for two and a half hours of the Gaiman extravaganza (Neil G. read out loud for a solid hour in a mellifluous baritone; we saw scenes from the upcoming "Coraline" film; he took questions -- questions causing him to wonder for the sanity of his San Francisco readers). I thought it wasn't the moment to brave the authentic Japanese restaurants of Japantown, so we turned up Fillmore Street in search of child-friendly comfort food. We stopped at "Harry's Bar of San Francisco", which, although it claims to be affiliated with the Harry's Bar of Venice, is in fact a restaurant which serves low-brow food. I checked the menu, which included macaroni and cheese, veggie burgers, and grilled cheese sandwiches. We went in, following a couple with a toddler, and sat down away from the bar.

We were relaxing, and Iris was reaching for her book, eager to start it, when someone pulled the menus brusquely out of my hand, confiscating them. In a foreign accent which was from a continent far from Italy, the manager said abruptly, "This is a bar. There are no children here" and then bustled off to evict the family with toddlers. I was rather shocked at his rude delivery. I would have left quietly if he'd spoken kindly to us, perhaps said he was sorry. I stood by our table and showed him the menu, saying that as an attorney, I was familiar with the California laws and that it was legal for children to be in here because it was a restaurant, not a bar. The manager said dismissively, "This is a bar, not a restaurant."

I held out the extensive menu, which ran to more than one page, saying "You serve food, you have a long menu, this is a restaurant and he cut me off. "We have a bar menu" he began, ranting on at me and raising his voice. At this point, my hackles were well up, and I demanded an apology. His went up as well. Iris slipped her hand nervously in mine as the man shouted at me. I demanded he apologize to me before we leave, and he threatened to call the police. I pointed out that all he had to do was apologize for us to leave, and he shouted for a while about calling the police. At some point he realized that apologizing would get rid of me, and he managed to say he was sorry while making it abundantly clear, in tone, gesture, and rolled eye that he didn't mean it in the least. We left.

I explained to Iris how angry I was that she was being discriminated against for her age. Iris is a quiet, well-behaved child who had intended only to eat a sandwich and read her new book. The place in question was not an upscale or quiet place where children would have been inappropriate. We walked up the hill to a crepes restaurant, ate, our moods darkened by the Harry's incident, and went home.

Later, after the children had gone to bed and I was doing a special favor for the Sober Husband, the sort of favor wives sometimes do for husbands, my mind clicked through the Harry's event and then seized upon the telling point. When I was free to speak, I said, "I was right! They have outdoor seating at Harry's bar, and that makes me right! Only restaurants have outdoor tables in San Francisco." The Sober Husband, in that sort of daze which precludes one from following reasoning, mumbled, "You were right, honey."

I bounced up and ran a search online. I soon determined that I was RIGHTRIGHTRIGHT and that only restaurants and cafes are allowed permits for sidewalk seating in San Francisco. Bars are not eligible (no one wants a lot of drunks out in the open, sprawling on the sidewalks). "Harry's Bar is legally a restaurant," I said. "The hypocrites, saying they're a restaurant to get outside tables and saying they're a bar to throw Iris out."

"You should write a letter, " said the Sober Husband amiably and drowsily as he settled off to sleep.

The irony is that Iris has been to the real Harry's Bar, in Venice, which is nothing like the restaurant here appropriating its name. The true Harry's Bar is a small, upscale place with starched white tableclothes and highly professional waiters, who doted upon little Iris, bringing her treats and kneeling down to address her on her own level. "Che bella", they murmured as they gave her free snacks from polished trays.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lucy vs. Monty Python

The Sober Husband is the only one of us who is enamored of Monty Python. Today in the car he said, smiling, "On Monty Python there was this skit where there was this guy named 'Mr. Smokestoomuch', and he went to a clinic, and there was all kinds of confusion. He introduced himself, 'Hello, my name is Mr. Smokestoomuch," and the guy there thought that was funny, so he said, 'I guess you should cut back', and Mr. Smokestoomuch didn't get it. He'd never heard that joke before."

Silence followed this.

"You don't think that's funny? Carole, that's not funny?"

More silence.

"That is funny. I am informing you that that is funny!"

Six year-old Lucy snapped back, "That is not funny, and it never will be funny," with an air of great authority. I laughed.

"Lucy is funnier than Monty Python," I observed. The Sober Husband didn't even try to argue.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

a rough transition

Lucy started kindergarten this year. I was expecting this to go smoothly. Lucy was a scarily independent toddler, and she had no separation anxieties going to part-time preschool (although it was a parent-participation school, so I worked a regular shift, and there were always scores of parents about). Also, she was very familiar with her new school, having been there hundreds of times over the three years Iris has been there. Her big sister, Iris, on the contrary had an epic separation anxiety about preschool but skipped all the way to kindergarten her first day, taking to the school like a wild animal finally released into its natural habitat.

The reality is that here we are in October, and Lucy's still miserable. She's crying at school nearly every day, and she's fearful and unhappy.

Mind you, the school is as close to ideal as imaginable. Lucy and Iris are lucky to attend a delightful all-girls private school on a beautiful campus. Lucy's class has fourteen girls and two gentle, kind full-time teachers each day. There is a playground for the kindergarten and first grade girls' use only, a fabulous art program, funny phys ed teachers who get the girls to run around screeching in a most satisfying manner, etc... Everyone makes an effort to put the kindergarteners at ease, from our new head of school, who already knows Lucy's name, to our receptionist, who shook Lucy's hand and asked her to come to her with any questions. But still, Lucy is unhappy in a way which seems deep and unable to be comforted.

I thought things would be fine once Lucy made friends, and despite her unhappiness, she has already made some. However, she pines for me, and she cries often. Once she saw a woman wearing a denim jacket like mine in the library, and that set her off. Another time Iris told me that another girl had seen Lucy crying in the lunchroom (Lucy herself doesn't report her crying; I learn about it from her teacher), and in discussing that with Lucy, I learned that Lucy finds lunch to be noisy and scary (we had noticed that she ate very lightly). Lucy has bonded with her teacher, and that comforts her, but still she is so unhappy.

Lucy's teacher and I have figured out that part of the problem is that Lucy is very sensitive to noise. Lucy has always been upset by loud noises, preferring not to go to the movies. The one time I took her to a parent-child nightclub event, she was miserable and had to leave. It's common for Lucy to tell me to turn down music, complain of getting a headache from noise, or cover her ears in protest. The school, with its hundreds of girls, can be a very noisy place, much noisier than the tiny preschool programs Lucy attended or her home, and there's not a lot that can be done about that.

We had originally intended for Lucy to play after school in the aftercare program until Iris's class was dismissed an hour later, but that hasn't gone well. I now pick up Lucy when her day lets out, and we mill about near the school for an hour until we can retrieve Iris. (We've become regulars at a nearby cafe, which is not good for my healthy eating regimen, as the coffee is abysmal there but the pastries are excellent). We're also leaving early so we can park and walk Lucy to her classroom, as she finds it intimidating to walk through the craziness before classes (the girls are supervised as they play outdoors in the central part of the school before the bell rings at 8:30, and it is a supervised madhouse, with manic girls in green jumpers darting about screeching).

If Lucy were in a crappy school, I'd start thinking about a timeline for pulling her out if she were still unhappy, and I'd be considering alternatives. But it's not; it's an excellent school. Even with her unhappiness, Lucy is already learning. One day she came home and told me that the pupil is a hole in the eye which lets light and air go in and that the iris is a muscle. Another day she informed me that Kandinsky was a Dutch painter who used to paint realistically but "he decided that was boring, so he broke the rules" and started painting first mazes and then just lines. "Horizontal AND vertical lines. Two kinds," she stressed over and over. Later I saw her draw an elaborate frame, which she filled in slowly with a variety of horizontal and vertical lines.

I think Lucy has to work through this problem by herself. I can't fix this for her; I can't soften it or take it away. But she's only just-turned-six, she's still a funny little child, and it's heartbreaking to see her so persistently unhappy. As a parent I try to help my children solve problems, but there's not much I can do to help Lucy with this. She has to do it herself. It's agonizing for me not to be able to make this situation comfortable for her.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

a furry friend

The Sober Husband came in from driving the children to school to have a cup of coffee before work.

"While you were gone, I carried Frowst around and showed him things," I shared. (Frowsty, our most glamorous cat, enjoys being cradled in a person's arms like a baby, and he has plenty of curiosity about the world above his range of sight. Iris and I sometimes lift him up very high to show him the top shelves).

The Sober Husband considered this report. "You need another baby."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Here Goes. Of Hurricanes, and Such.

Today we are pleased to feature a first person account of Hurricane Ike, written by our very own Mrs. Drunken Housewife of two years running, Missy! (Missy has well-earned that title through our Annual Readers' Photo Contest). People often say that they can't imagine living in San Francisco because of earthquakes, but earthquakes are puny lightweights compared to hurricanes in terms of fatalities and sheer destruction. Missy, being made of sterner stuff, faces down hurricanes with aplomb paired with compassion:

I began to write, a month or so ago, about what it was like evacuating for Hurricane Rita, and taking in Hurricane Katrina refugee children at the school where I taught, and I could not finish. I found it too depressing and upsetting to remember in detail and write about the evacuation for Rita, and I could not go on.

Then, Ike appeared on the horizon. It was all over the place on predicted paths, and I thought for certain it would be like most late season hurricanes, and go in around Corpus or Brownsville. (Corpus Christi, that is.) I began buying water early, checking supplies, we gassed up for the generator and the cars, but all along, I kept thinking that surely we would get lucky and it would go south or east.

"Why aren't we leaving?" one of the girls asked when it became obvious that Ike was headed too close. "Do you remember Rita? That was hell," my husband said, and the girls agreed. It was 15 hours for what was normally a five hour trip, but that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was sitting in complete gridlock at the intersection of I-10 and a highway, with cars stuck in all directions, and an overwhelming sense of anarchy ready to erupt. I remember thinking that it was like a bad disaster movie, but it was our lives and it was real, and one bad decision meant we wouldn't survive. I realized afterwards why people from generations ago didn't like to talk about such experiences. You don't want to talk about or remember how badly it felt at the time, to know there was a solid, realistic chance that you might not survive. You knew that one slight wrong decision would mean death, but there was no clear right way. It was the most traumatic and horrific experience of my life, and I knew why the people who didn't evacuate chose to stay. They simply could not take that again.

With Ike filling the Gulf like a giant white crayon swirl, everyone I knew was staying put and hunkering down. A couple of teachers whose husbands were gone or were policemen made plans to bag out as soon as we were released from school Thursday, not wanting to ride out the storm alone with small children. During the day a few children were taken out early by their parents, obviously heading out. Everytime one left, my eyes teared up, me thinking that if I wasn't working, I would be a better parent, we could take our children away as well. Even so, we could have left Thursday or Friday afternoon, but with the storm forecast to be a Cat 2 at worst by the time it reached us (one hour from the coast) it seemed safer to stay put. Rita had left our neighborhood largely untouched, but we well remembered the authorities saying "Don't come back yet." The same people who had shrieked hysterically that we were all Going To Die telling us to not come home? Open roads, enough gas, we left Dallas in the early hours with a complex GPS aided map from my storm chasing brother in law. Afraid of leaving, feeling as well prepared as possible, we decided to stay. We were not in the evacuation zones, we kept telling ourselves. If all of us left, those people would surely die, unable to get out. We would stay, we said.

Friday: 9:00 a.m. We watched in amazed horror as the Gulf water began creeping, brown and opaque, over the feeder streets of I-45 in Galveston. With the storm well over 12 hours from landfall, the streets of Galveston flooding and filling up with water was eerily reminscient of the accounts of the Great Storm of 1900 that took 6,000 lives and forever altered the future of Galveston from a thriving port city to a small island resort. People were calling already for rescue from Bolivar Peninsular. How could they not see this coming, we wondered. The west end of Galveston which had mandatory evacuations a day earlier, seemed a doomed place even then. The Gulf was hungrily eating away the shoreline with the eye of the storm still many hours away.

I did load after load of laundry, cooked chicken and ground turkey so we could heat it up on the gas-powered cooktop when we lost power. We taped up windows just to keep the glass from scattering, finished moving everything from the backyard and front. We made a bunker in the master bathroom where a neighbor's close house would provide a windbreak, packing in food, water, and a thin Ikea mattress over the small bay window.

Friday, 5:00 p.m. The sky had begun to cloud over . The wind blew briskly with an occasional little gust, once in awhile, a more ominous whine. My fifteen year old daughter who had breezily dismissed our preparations as crazy, happened to be walking by me as one of the gusts whined through. Her eyes widened. The sound of an incoming hurricane is no like no other wind sound or storm you will ever hear. As the sun went down and the sky darkened, we watched the radar on tv and it was unbearable waiting. Sunset was both eerie and beautiful; with a red rose sky and bands of deeper purple clouds. Time seemed to crawl unbearably slowly , as we simply waited, wondering and worrying.

As the sky darkened, the wind gusts picked up. The large palm in the neighbor's yard began swaying more furiously, and the 8 foot hedge around our fence began bending over on the north side. The other sides remained motionless while the windward side bent over in an odd dance. I stood outside in the dark while the wind blew my hair straight back from my face. And yet, we were still hours from the actual storm reaching us. By nine, the gusts made it impossible to shut the door easily. The girls came down of their own into the bunker room, and I put the two younger cats into the laundry room. We turned on the tv to watch the yellow and red bands advance on the radar, and waited.

At midnight, we moved into the back of the house. The wind was blowing in continuous gusts, but there was still little if no rain.

Two a.m.: The storm was hitting in full fury. We still had power, and we clung to the words of the weathermen on tv. The gusts were continuous and rain was hitting the glass like a fist. It came in bursts, like a machine gun. I began dozing off from sheer exhaustion, but the girls and my husband were wide awake. We had lined the floor of the master bathroom with cushions and pillows and we all curled up, flashlights in hand, waiting and watching.

As I slept, I dreamed I was awake, so there was never a sense of being free from the storm. Over the top of the mattress, the lightning flashed continuously. The reporters talked about green lightning, but it seemed more like someone flashing a lightnonstop over our house.I foolishly thought it might be the neighbors, and then realized, it was lightning. The constant light was unnerving. The power went out after several flickers, at three a.m., nad the darkness and sudden silence were like a blow. We knew it would happen, but we still dreaded it.

"It's gone!" we all shouted. The battery pack that allowed a small nightlight beeped like a clock alarm every five minutes. Half of us wanted it silent. The other half said they could not bear the complete darkness with only the sound of the storm.

At five a.m, the storm was at its worst for us. We were on the clean side of the storm where the winds were lessened, and we were an hour from the coast and to the west of the direct line, but the gusts of wind were stil much more powerful. The windows shook. The rain beat like a fist. The whine was more like a shriek and yet, I kept falling asleep from exhaustion.

"You need to stay awake! You need to be vigilant!" my husband said, as the girls finally slept in equal exhaustion.

"Why? What can I do to stop anything from happening? I'll wake up if something happens!"

I went to the half-bathroom in our house, and tried to look out the front window from the dining room. It was pitch black, coated with rain, impossible to see anything. I gave up. We would have to be ignorant of whatever demons were at work outside. I realized the foolishness of standing next to the window trying to discern something from the darkness. We were ignorant and helpless. Nothing else.

Dozing off again, I realized with a sudden start I hadn't prayed all night, and I started praying. I thought of angels, outstretched arms, protecting our little room, and I prayed. Meanwhile, the wind shrieked and howled and paused, took breath, and howled again.

"It's moving on. It's going to be better by six thirty, by seven. It's going to be moving on," I said confidently. I had no real idea that it would get better. But it had to, I thought. It had to move on, and it had to get better.

I woke just after six, startling to the unfamiliar view. The small patch of window was purple but clear. No more flashes of light, no more rain. We were past the storm. My daughters were silent and still, sleeping finally. I fell asleep again also.

At seven a.m., we awoke again. The girls were still sleeping soundly. We laid down on our bed, and slept for two hours. We were alive, the house seemed intact, and we were completely exhausted.

We awoke to the sound of large motors running. I had a vague hope it was perhaps some kind of electricity repair crew, but I knew it was the hum of generators from neighboring houses. I began heating up some coffee on the cooktop. We walked outside to find neighbors out cleaning up, walking about, talking. Trees were down, but only a few houses had been hit by trees.

We were almost giddy with the sense of being alive and having survived. We began sweeping, raking, cleaning up. The roof, our biggest concern, was intact. We drove over to my brother's at the front of the subdivision, to find him standing outside with a glass of cabernet at eleven.

"Are you finishing late or starting early?" He had just talked to my parents, who were fine and had power, and were busy assigning rooms and bathrooms for their refugee children, he said. I was surprised he had anything left in his wine cellar after that conversation, and we inspected the ruins of his backyard together. The storm had come down his street like a bowling ball down the lane, and his prized plants and trees were shredded. Still, he was happy, and he cheerfully offered me up a bottle of French cabernet.

By five p.m., we had swept up over eight bags of yard debris with more left. Impossible, that the trees and shrubs could lose so many leaves and still be alive. The hedge was bowed over and the pool full of debris. Amazingly, the front live oak tree had lost its top third of limbs, but none had gone into the house. The remaining canopy of leaves and branches had caught the limbs from going into our house or anywhere else. The ice cream scoop out of the middle of the tree was a sobering visual to what we could have experienced.

We cooked dinner on the gas powered cook top. Sunset, around seven, was beautiful, but odd. The sky was golden yellow with puffs of dusky slate blue, like a Laura Ashley pattern. The last rays of the sun hit one of the clouds in an odd greenish way. I thought to myself, how beautiful the sky was, and how odd that last ray of greenish cloud looked. I have never seen a cloud that color, in my whole life. I didn't want to say anything about it. I was finished with the oddities of the hurricane and done with the twists of nature.

"Look at that green cloud there," said my husband.

Then, everything around me was lit up in the way that only the sunsets near the Gulf Coast can do. It's so flat here, the last golden rays from the sun touch everything. Houses, schools, any building gets covered with a golden radiance. When you are driving on a highway, it's almost blinding in a kind of St. Paul on the way to Damascus way--the last sun light waves touching everything in a brilliant golden glow. In the midst of the most ordinary day, I sometimes find myself in the middle of a medieval painting, with a golden aureole, or a latter day impressionist glow of light. And it was again this way, the day after the storm, that the golden light covered all.

I thought, how beautiful, how lucky we were.

We went to bed, by nine p.m., hot and sticky. Around one or two a.m., my husband got up to fix the generator, which kept cutting off due to an overheated vent. For some brain-fogged reason, he kept setting the house security alarm. Beep beep beep beep---wooden blinds on door rattling--then beep beep beep beep again. In and out, in and out, again and again. By three a.m., he had found the instructions, fixed the problem vent, and started up the fans again. We all slept til nine, and I plugged my coffee maker into the generator. Hot coffee. Cinnamon scented. It was heaven, despite the heat. By two p.m. though, we were all cranky and tired, and frustrated. There was nothing to do but take a nap and long for deep sleep.

Six p.m. Sunday: The power came back at five, to cheers and astonished shouts. I immediately grabbed up an essential load of laundry. One of the older DD's friends from dance along with her sister came over to spend the night, as they were the last of their subdivision to get power back. We got take out Chinese from our favorite restaurant and we were thankful for hot wonton soup and crab puffs. The air conditioners hummed in the background.

The pool vacuum, having run continuously for three hours, miraculously cleaned the pool of most all the debris. The air conditioner hummed in the background, the appliances sang. We saw lines of other people waiting for ice. With electricity, we did not need help. The volunteers and authorities could help the truly needy, because we could continue on our own. We were no longer in need or disconnected from the world, or counting the hours we had til fuel ran out. We talked about how if we stayed here, our next home would be self-sufficient and self sustaining. Whole house natural gas generator, deep porches and hurricane clips on the roof, the ability to be helpers, not helpless.

Eleven PM: The pool was serenely clear and almost blue again. A near-full moon behind a drifting veil of smoke blue clouds shone calmly. Less than a fifty miles away, cafe au lait water lapped at the pilings of shredded houses and over the concrete foundations of others in silence as the stars began their nightly journeys. A cooler wind from the north whispered, chasing away the last dripping remnants of the storm. The local tv stations, exhausted, gave way to national broadcasting, having shown the last photos of devastated homes and beaches and shorelines possible. The girl in the Chanel-style suit has been talking for hours. Time to sleep, where ever that sleep may be.

Twelve thirty p.m. We walk outside. The moon is a distant coin behind the purple smoke of the clouds.

"We were lucky, we made it," I say.

"Other people weren't so lucky," he says.

"Yes, but...."

There is no finishing the sentence. There are plenty of tomorrows for that.