Thursday, September 24, 2009

on our way home

Leaving school today after getting Lola, I drove slowly by a big group of tiny-looking girls. "Do you think they're in second grade?" I asked.

Six year-old Lola was exasperated. "I'm not a fortuneteller, Momdude!" She sighed.

Iris, whom we claimed later, was more cooperative. After we picked up the Sober Husband, I saw Bruce Brugmann, editor of "The Bay Guardian", pacing on the sidewalk. I got Iris to shout out the window, "DOWN WITH PG&E!" at him, in homage to his decades-long, quixotic attempt to overthrow our local utility.

"Why did you do that, Iris?" asked the Sober Husband.

"Momdude told me to."

"If your mother told you to jump off..." he started, but his voice trailed off.

anonymous notes

The other day a friend of mine confided in me that she'd sent an anonymous note. There's a yoga studio near her, which has a big sign posted saying, "Unattended Children Will Be Given Espresso And Puppies." That sign irks her, and I understand. The same sign was prominently posted at the veterinary opthalmologist down the Peninsula where I took my blind kittens, Helen Keller and Ray Charles, and it always pissed me off. I sometimes had to take Iris and Lola along with me on these appointments, and they were always perfectly behaved, but the sign made me feel like we were deeply unwelcome and perhaps even hated. I never saw a problem with a child at that vet's office, but inadequately restrained dogs were a big problem for me and Helen Keller on several of our visits there.

My friend actually likes yoga and this studio is conveniently located for her, but she won't patronize it due to the sign. After some time of being irked by that sign when she passed by, she left an anonymous note telling the yoga studio that the sign offended her, a parent, and that she wasn't patronizing them as a result. (It occurs to me that I may go by there and send Iris and Lola in to say, "I am unattended. May I have an espresso, please?" Then they can either bring the espressos to me, their perpetually caffeine-seeking mother, or they can take satisfaction in having made a point about the vapidity of the sign).

Anyhow, my friend made the mistake of posting on a parenting board about this note, and she was ripped up one side and down the other by fellow parents who found that sign hilarious and thought my friend was out of line. I was incredulous. "That's a mass produced sign. It's not even original! They think that's witty?"

Sometimes great anonymous notes pay off. In college my roommate had a crush on a tall, skinny guy who was in our Tolstoy seminar. He grew a rather unappealing mustache, and she fired off an anonymous letter. The letter was sort of a mixed bag of cattiness and sweetness; I think it asked him who he was trying to impress with that mustache and made some rather insulting analogies to the mustache, but it did also convey some fascination with him in his shaven state. The next time our class met, the mustache was gone, and the skinny guy looked kind of nervous. My roommate was proud. The yoga studio may be more set in its ways and less open to anonymous criticism than a college undergraduate, however.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

six great books, after a Warcraft rant

I'm still reading a lot. I'm tired of playing my level 80 paladin on Warcraft; I'm not geared well enough to do heroic raids, and it turns out I frigging hate running level 80 dungeons too much to get well-geared as an elite, top-of-the-server player. Too much squabbling and bossiness. "Hassen [a Warcraft nickname], I need you to do this." "Hassen, when I say something, I need you to do it IMMEDIATELY." "One of the pallies doesn't have 'pally power' set on interactive! Hass, you really need to change that." (No matter what snotty random Warcraft players want, if I set anything to allow random other Warcraft users to have any access to my computer whatsoever, my geeky husband will be all over me in a New York minute for Egregious Stupidity On The Internet).

Here's the truth: if I wanted to get micromanaged, I would go get a paying job. If I am going to put up with that much attitude, there had better be something in it for me. And that's the crux of the matter: I never get anything worth my while from these runs. Instead, I end up losing money having to repair my armor (and although my gear isn't good enough for WoW snobs, it is good enough to be very, very expensive to repair). I've been working on a rogue character, but it turns out that the rogue class is harder to play than it looks. Everyone complains, myself included, that rogues are overpowered and it's sickening how they can just murder you so easily, sneaking up on you while they're invisible and stabbing you in the back, but it turns out that it's not as easy to be a master assassin as the other players make it look. To speak in the lingo of the game, I never seem to have enough energy or combo points for finishing moves. It may indeed be that I suck at Warcraft, my chosen game, sad to say. Anyhow, I've been reading, and I've had some great books on my plate lately, and here are some reviews for the few brave readers who struggled through that Warcraft rant:

"Roux Morgue"(2008) by Claire M. Johnson (an occasional commenter here on this blog!): This is the second in a series about a spirited but unlucky hard-drinking pastry chef, following Ms. Johnson's award-winning debut, "Beat Until Stiff." I had put off reading "Roux Morgue" because usually an author writing a series has a sophomore slump. I don't know what causes it, but it's ubiquitous, affecting talented authors as diverse as Patrick O'Brien and Lisa Lutz. However, it certainly didn't happen with Claire M. Johnson. Instead, she got better. "Beat Until Stiff" was very good, but "Roux Morgue" is great. I hated to put it down and actually attempted to read it while baking a chocolate cake. I got a little buttercream on the pages, which I had to wipe off like a slob. Somehow that seemed fitting, though.

"Perfect Life" (2009) by Jessica Shattuck: a driven pharmaceuticals executive with an infertile husband gets her old Harvard boyfriend to donate sperm to her and sign away all his rights. He shows up back in Boston at the baby's christening, though, causing emotional havoc. This is a very clever book capturing the way people think and feel about parenting and careers at this point in time.

"Blame" (2009) by Michelle Huneven: a funny, brilliant, alcoholic history professor wakes up in jail with a terrible hangover, to find out that she's facing murder charges for running over two people. She blacked out and can't remember what happened. Moving and thought-provoking, this is a book that makes you ponder atonement, forgiveness, repentance, and fate.

"Panic Attack" (2009) by Jason Starr: a successful, happy psychologist wakes up in the night to discover two intruders. He shoots one to death, and after the shock subsides, he expects to be hailed as a hero. Instead he becomes infamous as a crazed vigilante... and someone starts leaving him anonymous, scary notes. I hated all of the characters in this book, but I was riveted. A true page-turner; I had trouble sleeping while I was reading it.

"When You Reach Me" (2009) by Rebecca Stead: Iris and I read this for a mother-daughter book club, and we were blown away. Miranda, a sixth grader and latchkey child in 1979 New York, gets a very weird anonymous note: "I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter." Her mother is preoccupied with getting on a game show, and her best friend isn't speaking to her, and how is she supposed to handle these bizarre and unsettling notes which she keeps finding? Brilliantly written, this young adult book is worth reading by grown-ups as well. It's on a number of shortlists for the Newbery Prize, and I expect it to become a classic.

"Breathers" (2008) by S.G. Browne: Andy comes to a few days after a horrible traffic accident as a mutilated zombie, and his mortified parents make him live in their basement, cringing during any interaction with him. Miserable, Andy seeks revenge by drinking his way steadily through his parents' magnificent wine collection, he starts some zombie activism, and he gets a crush on a glamorous goth zombie. A brilliant take on the zombie genre, replete with zombie sex scenes!

Read, people, read! When your beloved hobbies pall upon you, when you're afflicted by micromanagement: there's a world of literature out there ready to sooth and distract you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

extremely lame misadventures

Lately I've been fearing an early onset of Alzheimer's. Every day I have a set of setbacks for which there is no one to blame but myself. Backdrop: I'm recovering from a very thorough head cold and accompanying sinus infection, so I've been eschewing alcohol and instead resorting to the joys of napping, generic Theraflu, and the higher end Kleenex which is kinder to one's nostrils.

I was feeling proud of myself for arousing from my generic Theraflu haze and taking care of business. In the midst of running many errands, I realized, as I returned to my generic Volvo carrying a bag of books and three heavy bags of groceries, that my keys were missing. As I rooted vainly through my purse seeking my keys, endless streams of parking-place seekers pulled up, and one persistent man whose car was labeled "The Dent King" pushed vigorously for me to pay for him to fix my dent on the spot. Stressed over my inability to find my keys and my realization that my celphone battery was dead, I told the Dent King that I didn't want to fix my dent. He would not take no for an answer. Finally I hissed at him, "I like it. I like my dent" and finally he went away.

Keyless, phoneless, and weighed down with bags, I had scant time before I needed to pick Lola up at first grade. I hid my groceries in front of the car, tucked the books (presents for Lola's birthday) in my purse, and trotted over to the restaurant where I'd had lunch. I had three theories about my missing keys: (1) they fell out of my bag when I was rooting around for my lipstick and Kleenex, (2) I dropped them in the trunk when I was getting a receipt out to make a return, or (3) I had no fucking idea whatsoever how I'd managed to lose them. Pursuing theory number two, I darted into the Asqew Grill, but the manager couldn't go check on my keys without taking the order of the woman ahead of me, who had no clue what she wanted... and three other customers came in. I gave up and left crankily, realizing I had no time to spare before meeting Lola. I ran to the nearest bus stop and caught the #1 California out to Lola's school.

There I confided my state of fucked-uppedness to the office manager, who led me to the phone in the supply room. There I called my husband repeatedly, who did not answer his phone. (Folks, he screens calls from his wife. Can you believe it?).

I took Lola to a nearby cafe, filling her in on the sorry state of affairs. She was the picture of equanimity as she ate her Asiago bagel. "At least you have money," she pointed out.

We went back to pick up Iris, to find that one of the school's administrators was looking for me semi-frantically. "Your husband is going crazy trying to find you," she said. I was irked, because I'd left clear messages stating that I would be unreachable (due to the dead celphone) but that he should please just answer his phone and I'd call him when I could. I called him. Busy signal. I waited. I called again, to get a repentant husband who felt terrible about having screened out my calls but who wanted me to wait and let him call me back in nine minutes (yes, he said "nine minutes" of all things). I cut through that, saying we had no need to talk but that he should take a cab to Rigolo's (a restaurant the children adore, located near my poor old dented Volvo) whenever he could; I would wait there with the children for hours if necessary.

We took the bus to Rigolo's, an overcrowded bus driven by a speed maniac. A kind young teenager observed Lola's desperate attempts to stay on her feet and gave Lola her seat. (Such good manners the young can have!). At Rigolo's, I left the children at the table and ran out to the parking lot, just in time to observe a shifty-eyed woman about to appropriate my groceries. I darted up and grasped a bag firmly, which led to a debate between the two of us over who had the greater claim to the groceries. I prevailed and carried my three heavy bags of groceries, which I had honestly not expected to see again, over to Rigolo's, feeling like a winner for once in that awful day. There we sat, children eating grilled cheese sandwiches and fries, until the Sober Husband arrived. My keys were in the trunk. I didn't get a ticket. We drove home, and the Sober Husband made up for leaving work early by working in the garage.

I went downtown to run errands, and I realized that my beloved funky red watch was gone. Somehow it came off my wrist and was gone for good. I felt too depressed to do my last errand (going to MAC to get a replacement lipstick of the color "Sweetie", due to mine being mutilated by an anonymous child). My sinuses were aching and I felt depressed at losing my watch (and possibly my mind: what kind of a moron loses so many things?).

At school I found that Lola had lost her lunchbox (last week, she lost Iris's jacket which she had borrowed). I could have given her a hard time, but as I'd just lost my beloved watch, it was difficult to judge a six year-old for a lack of care and attention to her possessions. I lived the first four decades of my life losing my keys only once, but over the last few years, I've lost them several times. Clearly cognitively speaking, things are not improving.

I had decided to take my abstinence from alcohol while I was sick (I never feel like drinking either coffee or alcohol when ill) and extend it into a healing liver vacation (every year or two, I teetotal for a solid month to let my liver rest. I got this idea from an alcoholic doctor I used to booze with). However, checking my records I realized that I had a liver vacation just this past February. Why give the liver two full vacations in just one year, particularly when abstinence didn't seem to be helping? I picked up a bottle of cava and a bottle of Tommy's margarita mix (made from fresh limes and fresh agave nectar).

the wee hours between Wednesday and Thursday: I dreamed I was losing the little emerald nose screw which I've been sporting for some time, and I woke up but told myself, "Get back to sleep and deal with it in the daytime." When I woke up, my nose had no gem, and stripping my bed carefully led me to no finds. I felt again like a world class idiot. I am now losing things which are actually fastened to my head.

Later, to cheer myself up, I ran over to Haight Street and picked up a pearl nose screw, after admiring a number of diamond nose ornaments. The need for a trained professional to adjust the fit of this nose jewelry led to me being slightly late to pick up Lola, who was a bit judgmental but calmed down by the proffer of an Eloise book and an Asiago bagel.

And what will it be tomorrow? I fear. I was not always an idiot. Once I got a perfect score on the LSATs. Now, however, I'm reduced to being a bumbling foil for the children, losing things and locking myself out and with no one to blame but my poor old self.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the secret from the past

Iris enjoys visiting her old teachers and keeping up with them, and one in particular fascinates her. This teacher lived through the tumultuous sixties right here in San Francisco, "but she was a square," reports Iris incredulously, who herself feels cheated out of the sixties and loves to sport peace sign accessories and tie-dyed clothing.

"You would have never known it was the sixties to look at me," agrees the teacher.

However this teacher has hidden depths and told Iris and me, in a discussion about what the sixties were about, that she lived "briefly on a commune. How brief I won't tell you."

I suspect she regrets greatly having let this slip, because Iris is like a dog with a bone. "Can you believe she was in a commune? Why won't she tell me how long?"

"Maybe she was just there for a few hours before she freaked out and left."

"Maaaaaaybe.... Why won't she tell me?"

This isn't the first person I've met in the Bay Area who did something of a communal nature in the seventies or sixties which she doesn't care to discuss. I used to have a friend and colleague who let slip that she used to live in one of the More House sex communes but declined to discuss the matter any further. I realized my friend was embarrassed and let the matter slide, but Iris is unlikely to do that. She wrote a speech down to try to persuade her teacher to be forthcoming:
"If I wasn't nosy, I wouldn't know half of the things I know now. It's not immoral to want to know something, it's human nature.

It is your duty, especially as a teacher, as a human being, to fulfill my knowledge to the extent possible.

Since I was not there at that commune in the sixties or seventies, it is not possible for me to know this.

Every single person on the planet deserves a right to a fair education. No matter how you approach it, from opening a school in Africa like Oprah to telling a ten year-old a secret from your hidden past, you are still making a change.

Maybe you say it is wrong to take this any further, but I strive to disagree.

I ask you only one last time, how long were you in that commune?"
This speech got Iris nowhere with her teacher, although her mother roared with laughter at the line comparing opening a school in Africa to telling a ten year-old a secret. We'll see how what happens next, as "I lied when I said I would ask 'only one last time,'" Iris said sassily.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"the Iris MOMA"

Ten year-old Iris Uber Alles turned the master bedroom, with the assistance of little sister Lola, into "the Iris MOMA" yesterday after school. What this means is that any time the Sober Husband or I want to get into our own room, we have to pay fifty cents to the outside guard on the landing (Iris herself), get a ticket, and show that ticket to the inside guard (Piggles the parrot). Only then are we able to have access to our possessions or sit on our own bed, and at that point, this access includes watching performance art starring Lola, whose art seems to focus upon the naming of body parts and giggling. (I think many professional artists go through that same stage as well).

Yesterday the artists (the security guard having joined the performance artist in her piece) were breaking the Fourth Wall. The audience grew rather nervous as the principal artist took to brandishing a stick threateningly at audience members, and a marker was placed to serve as a proscenium of sorts and give the audience an illusion of a safe zone.

too cool for me

While leaving a snippy comment over at Arthur Kade's ever-inscrutable blog today to the effect that this supposedly world-class actor doesn't even have an iMDB page yet, I had an interesting thought:

the Sober Husband has both an iMDB page and an Erdos number. How many people have both those arcane and enviable achievements? (He also has a PhD, but most people with an Erdos number have those).

He's pretty effortless at achieving all around. He also achieved more in the art world than I, would-be artist, ever did: despite his never having taken an art class, looking down on art, and his feelings of a lack of creativity, he showed a piece in a curated art exhibit about the Art of Burning Man in San Francisco City Hall and a photograph of a robot he made once hung in a big museum in Chicago. Thank God he hates writing or he'd probably get a book deal without trying. I've got to cling to my cooking and writing abilities as the only areas in which I am clearly superior.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

a new love

"I think I'm falling in love with noses!" six year-old Lola announced cheerily. "Who doesn't love noses??"

Sunday, September 06, 2009

what I read on my vacation

So just before school started, we spent our traditional week at Camp Mather, San Francisco Rec & Parks' rustic cabins in the Sierras, a week with no internet for anyone, plenty of bike riding and swimming in the days, and, for me, lots of reading by the poolside. Here is how I spent much of my vacation, in the order read:

"The Last Detective" by Robert Crais (2003): why if this came out in 2003 was it in the "New Acquisitions" at the Noe Valley public library? I wish it had been shelved with the regular, old collection, because then it wouldn't caught my eye and I wouldn't have wasted my time with it. Dreary detective fiction... I think the characters of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are played out. Even Crais seems tired of Joe Pike; he crippled Pike physically and psychologically in this outing and didn't bother to tell us, the reader, that Pike is a vegan (maybe Pike took up eating meat and that was the beginning of his troubles?);

"All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" by Janelle Brown (2008): a thoroughly satisfying book about a woman whose high tech mogul husband files for divorce on the day of his IPO, running off with her best friend. She's consoled by her fucked-up daughters. This is what chick lit SHOULD be: intelligent and capturing an era. This introduced both of the themes I noticed in my reading: young, bright people running troubled magazines and a pair of siblings, one extremely academically gifted and the other not;

"Bad Things Happen" by Harry Dolan (2009): an intelligent murder story which I loved, loved, loved for the first half, but the book deteriorated towards the end, and I really just wanted it to be done. I notice this often with murder stories in particular: the author has a great concept and really works hard, polishing the prose, but then you get the feeling that the author became tired to death of writing the book and in a hurry to just get it finished. Another book featuring characters who put out a relatively unpopular magazine. I'll read Harry Dolan again and hope he can sustain the quality he reached in the first half of this book for an entire outing.

"The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell (2008): a breezy, bestselling history of the Puritans which irritated me no end. Ms. Vowell professes to be fascinated by the Puritans, and indeed she seems to have learned a lot of interesting things about them (e.g., I never knew Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, was exiled from Massachusetts in the middle of winter and had to do the colonial equivalent of couch-surfing with friendly Indians to survive). However, the book was very short and full of annoying writing, which seemed to be Ms. Vowell's attempt to insert her personality into every page rather than focus on the personalities of her subjects, who seemed much more interesting than Ms. Vowell herself. I particularly hate it when a book has more talking-about-what-it-will-talk-about than actual substance. A huge example of this was the fascinating subject of Anne Hutchinson, an early feminist figure excommunicated from Puritan Boston for holding wildly popular Bible studies at her home. Ms. Vowell kept saying she'd write about Mrs. Hutchinson, she would write about Mrs. Hutchinson, oh the spellbinding foofaraw of Mrs. Hutchinson's alleged apostasy which would come later in the book... but then in the event, there were scant few pages given to that riveting woman. Ms. Vowell gave almost as much space in the book to her nephew, a relatively boring young child whose insights on the Puritans were NOT worth recording for history. A few pages devoted to taking her nephew around a museum were agonizingly boring;

"I'm So Happy For You" by Lucinda Rosenfeld (2009): I had to read this new release after it got a rave review in the New Yorker, and it was a great summer read, breezy and witty. It's an intelligent story of a friendship between an editor at a struggling magazine (again with the magazines...somehow at this point in time, authors seem to feel that editing a magazine is what all intellectual characters must do in a novel) and her "Sex In The City"ish best frenemy. Clever and biting, this book was a fun read. I was a bit taken aback by the author's statement in an afterword that we were meant to love both characters equally, though. One of the characters was completely loathsome to me, absolutely heinously selfish;

"The Shotgun Rule" by Charlie Huston (2007): I'm in love with Charlie Huston's noir vampire series, the "Joe Pitt Casebooks", so I decided to check out his non-vampire works. This is a gritty story about troubled adolescents in a crappy small town in central California, and I didn't like it. I think I would have liked it if I were a guy and wanted to read about the kinds of trouble rural and suburban adolescent boys get into. It featured the second recurring theme in my reading: two siblings, where one is a great and strange genius and the other is ordinary.

"Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" by Charlie Huston (2009): unlike "The Shotgun Rule", I LOVED this book. I never wanted it to end, and I wish I'd bought it, rather than borrowing it from the library. My faith in the non-Joe Pitt work of Mr. Huston was restored by this riveting book about a young Southern Californian fuck-up who ends up working for a crime clean-up team. I loved the way Huston doled out the backstory on the characters; he doesn't pander to the reader or spoonfeed you, and his hand with dialogue is amazing. Dark, witty, and engrossing.

"Waiting for the Apocalypse" by Veronica Chater (2009): a memoir of being raised by a rabidly Catholic father who thought that Vatican II meant the End Times. I do love a gripping tale of a fucked-up childhood, and I'm fascinated by nonfiction about religious extremism (this all plays into my upbringing in a born-again Christian family where faith healing and speaking in tongues were done around the house on a daily basis). I found this book fascinating at first, but towards the end I was skimming and sick of it. Worst part: pages of dialogue between Ms. Chater and her mentally retarded brother... Hint: if you can't sustain the interest of your mentally challenged, loving sibling, you won't sustain my interest, either. I did learn a lot about Vatican II, though, and the story of the family's move to rural Portugal and back was spell-binding.

"The Enthusiast" by Charlie Haas (2009): like "I'm So Happy For You", this was a brilliant new novel which didn't get a hardback deal but instead had to put out a first edition in paperback. Feh, publishers! This deserves a hardback! I loved this charming account of a bright, directionless young man who ends up dropping out of college to work on magazines (again with the magazines), obscure magazines directed at niche markets, like crochet enthusiasts and spelunkers. This book brought together both of the themes I saw running through my reading, working on troubled magazines AND an unbelievably brilliant sibling (not the protagonist) paired with a regular sibling. Very much worth reading, this was a book I didn't want to come to an end. Bonus: Mr. Haas's suggested reading group questions at the end, which included "Who brought this salad?" and "Is someone sitting here?" I wish I were as smart and witty as Charlie Haas.

"The Devil In Dover" by Lauri Lebo (2008): a nonfiction account of the Dover, Pennsylvania's born-again Christian school board's grapples with evolution and intelligent design. Ms. Lebo has a huge brain and a huge heart, and you see both on every page. She is a small-town journalist from small-town Pennsylvania who covered this as it unfolded, arguing incoherently with her editors and railing at the problems with modern journalism as she went. I'm calling this one a must-read for every American (and for every non-American who wonders what the hell is going on with those crazy Americans and their crazy "culture wars"). I want Ms. Lebo to keep writing important books and hope she finds another big subject in Pennsylvania to occupy her formidable mind (it doesn't seem like she's going to be leaving PA). I learned a lot about evolution and the "debate" over it (incidentally evolution was never taught in the public schools I attended. Never. Not for a second).

Read, read, read!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Iris has taken up recreational eavesdropping in a big way. The other day the Sober Husband and I had a long conversation in the shower, which had always been the best place to talk openly, as the children are rather bath-averse, but when I opened the door, Iris said accusatorily, "I heard everything you said."

"What? I didn't even say anything bad! Did you hear the part where I said we should raise your allowance?"

"I heard it all," she said with a baleful glare.

Last night the husband and I were again talking when I suddenly raised my voice and said, "Iris, I hear you eavesdropping."

"How can you hear her eavesdropping?" the husband asked.

"She said, 'hush' to Lola."

Iris said stoutly, "I'd be stupid not to eavesdrop. I learn a lot of things." I asked her what the best thing was that she'd ever heard while eavesdropping, and she pondered. "Most interesting or best? Because most things I hear are not good."