Thursday, July 31, 2008

Canine Cabbies

I feel like we've been running a canine cab service today.

The day started with Walt letting me know it was 7:15. I had overslept, slightly. The new air conditioner/heater people were arriving between 8 and 8:30 and I had planned on getting Lizzie and Sheila to the dog sitter's by 8. We were leaving the house just as the truck was pulling up with our $8,000 new air/heating system. Exciting stuff.

Walt put Lizzie and Sheila in the car, I locked Scooby in the back yard, with access to my office through the dog door, and I went off to the dog sitter's to leave the big dogs. They were ecstatic to see Kathy, whom they seem to genuinely like, and she treats them like part of the family, so I always feel good leaving them with her. It's the next best thing to having Ashley living in your house!

I had an appointment to have my blood checked at Kaiser at 9 a.m., so I drove over there, read my book for awhile and then saw the nurse, who, not surprisingly, recorded a high blood pressure. I assured her that if she went away and came back in 5 minutes it would be lower, and it was. But they prescribed blood pressure medication and I sat at the pharmacy for awhile, holding an Indian mother's baby while she rummaged through products on the shelf. I marveled at how trusting she was because she didn't even look to make sure the baby was still there once she asked me if I'd watch the baby for her.

By the time I returned home, work was in full swing The old a/c unit was in the driveway and there were men running in and out of the house. I locked myself in my office, so Scooby would have somebody to be with and I could work on the article I was writing.

Work was finished around 2 p.m. and the new unit was functioning beautifully and the house was deliciously cool.

It was time for a nap. I sat down with Scooby in my lap and fell asleep. So, apparently, did Walt (without Scooby in his lap). Next thing I knew he was waking me up again, letting me know that it was 5 p.m. and that we were late getting Scooby to the Farmer's Market.

I asked him to come with me to save the time of looking for a parking place when we got there. We packed Scooby in the car and raced to the Farmer's Market and dropped him off with the SPCA. He was being placed in a pen with "Freddie," another foster dog, whose foster mom is going out of town for a few days, and we have volunteered to take Freddie in while she's away. We figured they'd be friends by the time the Farmers Market was over.

It was also an hour later than I'd told the dog sitter that I'd pick up Sheila and Lizzie, so we raced home, got the checkbook and headed out to the sitter's. The dogs were thrilled to see us, and we brought them back home again. One of them threw up on the floor shortly after returning home. I suspect Lizzie, since she seemed a bit out of sorts, but once it had been cleaned up, she seemed none the worse for wear.

No time to worry about that, though. It was time to get Scooby and Freddie from the Farmer's Market. Again, Walt graciously agreed to come with me because parking around the Farmer's Market at that hour is horrendous and he could just double park while I went and got the dogs.

Freddie seems a very nice little guy and he rode well in the car--very happy to sit in my lap and look out the window.

At home, there was the usual chaotic "meet and greet" when a new dog is added into the mix. I tried to capture the flavor of it all with the video of the day. I discovered late in the evening that one thing he likes to do is the paw at water. Maybe it's trying to get to his reflection in the bottom of the water bowl.

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But I had steam cleaned the floor the day before, in preparation for the workmen who would be wandering about in here and I wasn't happy to see the floor flooded with dirty water . If he doesn't stop, I may try a non-metallic bowl that has no reflecting bottom and see if that works.

But now it's 12:30 a.m. and it's time to test out the always questionable BEDTIME. I hope he settles in as nicely as the others have done.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Whole Lotta Shaking Going On

There was an earthquake in Southern California today. You may have heard. It was first reported to be 5.6, and later downgraded to 5.4.

Earthquake reporting is really kind of funny. Especially if you live in earthquake country. 5.4 is no small quake, to be sure, but it's no huge quake either. It's enough to "shake you up," literally and figuratively, but it's not comparable to the 1991 Northridge quake, for example, which was a 6.7.

On the Richter scale a 1 degree separation, like 5.4 and 6.4, for example is a magnitude of 10 times the intensity. A 6.4 quake is ten times stronger than a 5.4 quake. 5.4 is considered "moderate."

There was a 5.3 quake in San Francisco in 1957. I remember clearly that I was in Sister Benedicta's algebra class just before lunch when the quake hit. It was definitely a strong jolt, and it did do some minor damage throughout the city -- some fires and some broken windows, for example.

The nuns dismissed school and told us all to go home. I opted to stay and help out but they eventually insisted that I had to leave the building.

StDominic.jpg (17937 bytes)That night, my mother and I were at St. Dominic's church, attending a novena. It's a big gothic church, cavernous and beautiful inside.

We were in the middle of the novena prayers when an aftershock hit. Imagine being inside a gothic cathedral when the ground the earth moves and those tall brick towers began to crackle. We were all frozen in our seats, as the priest reassured us that we were "in the right place" if the building was going to collapse.

Somehow I was not comforted by the thought! I don't know that I've been back to St. Dominic's since!

When a strong jolt hits, the media goes crazy. During the Loma Prieta quake (magnitude 7.0) for instance, where there really was a lot of damage the media people had a field day. "San Francisco in Ruins" some early headlines blared. "Bay Bridge falls down" others said. Not quite. Most of the damage in the quake, at least in San Francisco, was confined to the Marina, which was originally part of San Francisco Bay , but was filled in for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. At the conclusion of the year-long exposition, the buildings were torn down and housing erected. But because it is fill land, when there is an earthquake, it is not solid and is subject to liquefaction (for a full explanation of liquefaction, check this web site) Basically, the ground turns to jello and that increase the amount of shaking.

The newspapers love to run photos like this

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But in reality very few homes were actually destroyed in the earthquake and the reason they were is easily shown here

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The building is on the corner of the street and there are garage doors on both sides of the building. Thus, it doesn't have a strong, steady support, so when the earthquake hits, the garage doors buckle and there's nothing strong enough to hold up the building and you get major damage.

It amused me this morning watching reporters struggling to find something catastrophic to show, but despite the "breaking news" and the continuous reporting (which I finally turned off), people in Los Angeles were going about their normal day, a little nervously, perhaps, but we're used to earthquakes out here and realize that (a) they last only a matter of seconds, and (b) with rare exceptions damage is minor. It's rarely as awful as it is portrayed in the media and generally all the photography is taken in one spot, while the rest of the city is just fine and all busy putting their cans back on shelves and getting on with life.

Some papers, after Loma Prieta, reported that the Bay Bridge had "collapsed." As you can see, no it didn't--though it was a terrible inconvenience for some time until it was repaired.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


After two months, we are finally "Gizmo-less." Ashley said she had a family interested in her, and would I mind meeting her and the family at Petco on Sunday afternoon. So Giz and I hopped in the car and drove to Petco, where we met a family that had obviously already fallen in love with her from her pictures on

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(Who couldn't fall in love with that face?) I notice that even since that picture was taken, her fur has filled in a lot more. She's really changed a lot since she first came here. This was the photo I took just before she left for Petco:

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She's found herself a great home. A family with two young children and 2 or 3 other dogs at home, Gizmo size. Ashley brought up all of her foibles -- not totally housebroken, high pitched bark, need to be with you at. all. times., etc. At everything, they nodded -- that was their dogs too. Not a problem.

And so they wrote the check and signed the papers and I said goodbye to little Gizmo. No tears. I was happy to see her going with what looks to be a perfect family for her.

Scooby seemed a bit confused when I came home alone. The two had become wonderful friends.

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They played together constantly and both slept on me during the night. But Scooby recovered quickly enough and was out chasing Lizzie and Sheila around the yard before long.

It seems strange without Gizmo around here now, but there are things I don't miss. Mostly I don't miss her scratching at the recliner to be allowed up (see video of the day). She could, if she wanted to, easly jump into the chair. She'd done it with the chair empty, and she'd done it with me in the chair, but mostly she would stand on her hind legs and just paw and paw and paw and paw to be picked up. And when you have sharp claws and it's hot so that I'm in shorts, it gets downright painful. Half the time picking her up meant disrupting Scooby who always sleeps on the footrest. If I lowered the footrest partway, Gizmo would just walk up the incline to the chair. Damn dog. 4icon.gif (1078 bytes)

But the plus about the puppy is how loving she was. Just one big bundle of "love me! love me! love me! I love you too!" She loved to curl up in the crook of my arm and would stay there all night--and all day, too, if I didn't get up out of the chair!

Of course I won't miss her looking out the back door at the dark night and then running into the living room to pee because she didn't want to deal with the black outside.

And this is the goal of the SPCA fostering program -- to give the puppies/dogs good, loving homes so they can move to forever homes with the least possible trauma. Even Russell, who first came to live with us on March 31 and moved to another home when I hurt my back, finally found a home on Sunday.

It makes me feel good knowing that I've had a small part in making a happy future for these little guys.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dispassionate Disinterest

I watched two interesting programs, back to back, tonight. First was 60 Minutes which had a lead story (originally broadcast in January) on John Martorano, the chief executioner of Boston's Winter Hill Gang, a loose confederation of Irish and Italian-American gangsters. Now a government informant, Martorano has admitted to killing over 20 people and says the number may be higher (he never kept track).

Martorano, who has a curiously detached demeanor as he speaks of the people he murdered, excuses the taking of another's life as being a question of honor. The first man he killed was about to implicate Martorano's brother in a murder.

"I saved my brother’s life, somebody got hurt, that had to be," he says.

And so it went. They were all murders of honor. He calls it "conflict resolution."

"I never enjoyed it.," he says. "I don't enjoy risking my life but if the cause was right I would."

The man's a thug. A convicted murderer who was sent to prison for his crimes, but released after twelve years when he agreed to give information to help the government solve other crimes.

After watching 60 Minutes, I played Bill Moyers' Journal, recorded earlier this week (I'm not sure when it was originally aired). The topic was torture and the Congressional hearings related to torture. Moyers starts the program with this statement:

As I watched those Congressional hearings on torture last week, I thought of John McCain and the five and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He was tortured severely, tied and beaten so badly he tried to kill himself. After four days of this brutality, he gave in and agreed to make a false confession, telling lies to end the unbearable pain. Years later, he wrote, "I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine."

Before Vietnam, there was the war in Korea, where the communist Chinese used similar techniques on American prisoners of war, forcing them to confess to things they didn't do, including germ warfare. In 1957, an American sociologist studied the Chinese methods and their effects. He made this chart. It reappeared in 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, where it was used in a course to teach our military interrogators, quote, "coercive management techniques." In other words, we had adopted the inhumane tactics of our enemies, tactics we once were quick to call torture.

There followed a number of clips from the Congressional Hearings, congressmen appalled at our use of torture, and congressmen appalled that we would even consider "helping the enemy" by denying the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques which were said to be applied "humanely."

Deborah Pearlstein, a constitutional scholar and human rights lawyer who has spent time monitoring conditions at Guantanamo said that there are at least 100 "detainees" at Guantanamo have died in captivity, and 34 of those are listed as homicides, and that at least eight of these, by her definition, were "tortured to death."

"A remarkable recent study by the British Parliament found that U.S. detainee treatment practices led the U.K. to withdraw from previously planned covert operations with the CIA because the U.S. failed to offer adequate assurances against inhumane treatment," she said.

It goes on and on. If you haven't seen it, you can read the transcript here.

Moyers' guest is Jane Mayer, author of "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror turned into a War on American Ideals."

If I thought the congressional hearings were bad, Mayer's revelations from her years of following this story were even more appalling. So appalling, the FBI, up the ranks to the top, refused to participate in what it called "borderline torture."

This is an exchange which occurred after Moyers asked Mayer who she considered some of the "heroes" in the fight against torture:

JANE MAYER: A lot of them are lawyers. And they were people inside the Justice Department who, one of whom, and I can't name this one in particular, said when he looked around at some of the White House meetings - he was in where they were authorizing the President, literally, to torture people - if he thought that was necessary, he said, "I can't, I could not believe these lunatics had taken over the country." And I am not talking about someone who is a liberal Democrat. I'm talking about a very conservative member of this Administration. And there was a-

BILL MOYERS: Your source?

JANE MAYER: My source.

BILL MOYERS:And, yet, when these conservatives - as you write in your book - when these conservatives spoke up, Cheney and company retaliated against their own men.

JANE MAYER: People told me, "You can't imagine what it was like inside the White House during this period." There was such an atmosphere of intimidation. And when the lawyers, some of these lawyers tried to stand up to this later, they felt so endangered in some ways that, at one point, two of the top lawyers from the Justice Department developed this system of talking in codes to each other because they thought they might be being wiretapped. And they even felt-

BILL MOYERS: By their own government.

JANE MAYER: By their own government. They felt like they might be kind of weirdly in physical danger. They were actually scared to stand up to Vice President Cheney.

It's a book I want to read. The scary thing is that when you watch the Congressional hearings it all sounds so ... I don't know .... dispassionate. Like John Martorano talking about the murders he has committed.

Somewhere in the interview with Mayer, she says something like the more you give in on something like this, the easier it is to give in a little bit more.

I hate what has happened to this country and how our values have been washed down the toilet by this administration. And for what?

JANE MAYER: ...the reason that people don't torture is not just because it's a moral issue. It's because when we moved to a system of law that was on the principles of the enlightenment, the effort was to get at the truth. And you don't torture because people say anything under torture. And, according to a very top CIA officer I spoke to who was very close with GeorgeTenet, the former director of the CIA, he said 90 percent of what we got was crap. And he said and that was true of every method we used: Torture, non-torture.

The depressing, demoralizing thing for people like you and me, who have no voice is exactly that: we have no voice. Terrible, terrible things are being done in our name and it does us not one bit of good to protest. And most of the things we will never even hear about because of the cloak of secrecy that surrounds everything in this White House.

When a local television station starts running public service announcements, as ours has recently, just reminding citizens that it is our right to know what our government is doing, that tells you how far we have fallen.

I honestly don't know if Obama can run this country but we only have two choices and he's the only person I see who gives lip service for restoring the dignity and the principles that this country has lost over the past eight years. And I want to give him that chance.

He certainly can't do any worse than what we've endured the past eight years.

I don't want us to look bored when someone reveals atrocities conducted in my name because ho-hum, we've heard it all before. I want us to get mad as hell and not take it any more, because we are good people. But our leaders are making bad decisions in our name and I want the world to know that I do not agree and am powerless to stop it.

I did a Google search on "enhanced interrogation." Not torture? You decide.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Weather or Not

Let me start off by saying that I have a wonderful son! When we left Ned's yesterday, I left behind my stainless steel coffee cup. The cup I use every day. The cup which keeps my coffee hot, because I hate lukewarm coffee. I immediately called Ned and asked him to bring it when he came later to help Walt with moving the furniture.

But when he showed up, he said he had put the cup out to bring and then forgot it. This morning I had to use a plastic cup, which wasn't nearly the same. It didn't have the right "mouth feel" and it didn't keep the coffee warm as long.

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We took the puppies up to Petco, which is right near Peet's and I very nearly went to Peet's to get a new cup, because who knew when I'd see Ned again. But it was just too hot to walk all that way to get a coffee cup, so I didn't. I would do it later in the week, I thought.

Mid-afternoon, someone knocked on the door. Lo and behold it was Ned and Marta, who were having dinner in Davis and made sure to bring my coffee cup, because they knew I would be missing it.

I love Ned. I love Marta. I love my coffee cup!

But while I'm complaining about the weather, here's a cool (get it?) weather meme...

1. what is the best memory you have of a day that was absolutely freezing and cold?

Well, when you grow up in San Francisco, you don't exactly have "freezing" weather. So the closest I've ever come to "freezing" was the rare winter trips we took to Lake Tahoe. Watching the kids making snowmen outside Walt's mother's condo was always fun. Most unusual memory, though, was the time we arrived at midnight, unloaded all the kids and headed them to the cabin and bed and then realized that we were missing Tom. A search of the house and no Tom. Walt checked outside and apparently instead of walking into the house, Tom had headed to the first snowbank and fell asleep on it.

2. what is your best memory of a rainy day you have spent in your life?

I don't know how old I was, but either grammar school or high school age, and I really don't have a clue why this is always the memory I think of when I think about rain, but it's a very simple memory of sitting in the window of our flat on a steep hill in San Francisco, and watching the rain pouring down and cascading down the hill. Watching people struggle to walk up the hill against the rain. Watching cars try to drive up and stop at the stop sign at the top of the hill. It was better than television.

3. what is your best memory of a day where it was blistering hot?

Again, it's an oddball memory, but I was about 13 years old and spend two weeks with Peach and her family in Citrus Heights, which is about 30 miles from here. It was 113 degrees out and we had walked to the "little store" where we used to get snacks. We were coming back and the air was very still, mirages of pools of water on the road ahead of us. I had my hair in a pony tail and Peach was standing behind me braiding the pony tail. I remember thinking at the time "I will always remember this moment" -- and I do.

4. what is the weirdest weather phenomenon you can remember experiencing anywhere?

Does an eclipse count? Very weirdest thing I've ever experienced was a full eclipse of the sun. I stood outside when the thing was completely full and marveled at how nothing looked "normal." There was an other-worldly look to everything for those few minutes until the moon started moving away from the sun again. I've never experienced anything like it before or since.

5. what type of weather can you NOT stand?

Second to the top would be hot weather. Top would be hot humid weather. The only thing that makes Sacramento Valley summers palatable (other than air conditioning -- when it works) is that it is a dry heat. I'd rather experience 100 degrees in Davis than 80 in San Francisco, for that reason.

6. the opposite of question 5... what is the best type of weather for you?

I'm a San Francisco girl. I love fog. But once in a while a crystal clear sunny (and cool) days is nice too. I also love being in heavy rain. I love listening to it on the windows or on the roof. I don't even mind being out in it running errands, as long as I don't have too many errands to run.

7. have you visited a place that has the ideal climate for you, and would you move there at any time in your life?

From all I hear of my friends in the Seattle area they can't stand the grey, the rain, the cold. Wikipedia says that there is an average of 37.1 inches per year. I keep saying I don't believe them because every time I've been there, it's been gorgeous. But I suspect that I could tolerate the Seattle area weather very well.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Breakfast with Bri

We had the delightful opportunity to have breakfast with Ms. Bri this morning. Oh and her parents, Ned, and Marta too.

Tom had called me a couple of days ago to say he and Laurel were headed up to Lake Tahoe, Bri's first long trip, and thought they would stop at Ned & Marta's to spend the night and to let Ned finally meet his niece.

So that's what they did. We were invited to join the group at 7 a.m. for breakfast. I was up late watching a movie (Freedom Writers, which is excellent, by the way, if you can get past the fact that the fussbudget principal is played by the same actress who played the fussbudget principal Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which I saw earlier this month. She even has the same hairdo!).

Anyway, I was afraid I wouldn't wake up in time, but set the timer on the stove for 6 a.m. I woke up just an hour later, got up, moved to the recliner, and fell back asleep again, but woke up at a little after 5:30. I got up and made coffee so Walt would have some when he got up and then checked e-mail to find a message from Tom saying that because Bri had been up so late, they were postponing breakfast until 8.

At least we were on time!

And Bri was in a good mood, blowing bubbles and giving (rare) smiles. She also modeled the outfit Ned and Marta had given her:

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(Yeah, it's a bit overexposed,but this was the photo that showed off the "rock star" ensemble the best).

Just as well she has "rock star" gear because this is probably what her life is going to be like for the next 20 years.

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She seemed fascinated by Walt's beard.

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She was less fascinated with me.

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Tom and Laurel hit the road right as Bri was falling asleep for her morning nap, and hoped to have an uneventful rest-of-the-trip to the condo at Tahoe.

As for us, we came home and in a couple of hours, Ned drove over here to help Walt move stuff out of the living room (and take it to the dump) to make room for the air conditioning guys who are coming on Wednesday to put in a new heating/air system. A mere $8,500. But it hasn't been replaced in 35 years, so it's not surprising that it's time for a new one.

Ned also hooked up our VHS/DVD player so that we can finally record off of the television, or the DVR. I can FINALLY get all of those news broadcasts that show Shelly and Ellen's wedding off of my DVR.

Friday, July 25, 2008


We saw an odd play on Friday. It was called The Typographer's Dream by Adam Bock. When it was over, I heard some people asking each other "What in the world was that all about?"

It's that kind of play. But I really liked it and gave it a good review (which hasn't appeared in print yet, so I haven't posted it on my review blog yet).

It's a one-act and the setting is a stage set up for a panel discussion. Three people -- a typographer, a stenographer and a geographer are there to discuss their respective jobs. I won't go into the review itself, but each character is so passionate about his or her job that it leads the audience to ask "am I my job?" and to wonder what sort of effect the job has on your life. (E.g., a geographer is concerned with boundaries. Are boundaries important in her non-work life?)

However, the reason, I think, that I enjoyed it so much is that while I have not been a geographer (though am married to someone who loves maps), I have been both a typographer and a stenographer and I could really relate to the pride and the joy that those two characters took in their work.

The stenographer (or "court reporter," he reminds us several times) carefully handles his court reporting machine, setting it up for display on the table in front of him. He explains its intricacies and says that "Those who can't quite achieve the necessary manual dexterity can always become surgeons." He expresses great pride in his role in court proceedings. (An interesting article about how a stenotype machine operates is here.)

I have never been a court reporter (though there was a time, especially when I worked under a school that taught court reporting when I thought it would be a fun job to do). Today I watch closed captioning on television and marvel at the people who tackle that job, occasionally giggle at the mistakes that they make, but understand the pressure to do simultaneous translation from voice to type.

But I've always enjoyed the tools of my trade. I started out in my first "grown up job" on an IBM in the days before selectrics. I was required to type complicated physics equations and so had a bunch of exchangeable keys and a big board on which they all hung. In many ways, for the kind of work I did, this was actually more efficient than when the Selectrics came along with the interchangeable typeface ball.

fingernails.jpg (59116 bytes)But then came dedicated word processors and I actually got hired to work in the office because I was the only person who could figure out how to do troubleshooting on them. (It always boggled my mind that the women who came around trying to sell us a word processing system all had v-e-r-y long, highly polished nails. How in the world do you type with nails like that?)

I did eventually, of course, graduate to a computer and haven't looked back since. I've always loved knowing how these gadgets work, and even when I'm tearing my hair out because they are causing me such problems, I still take great pride in how much I am able to do before I throw up my hands in frustration and call an expert to help me out of my difficulties.

type.gif (13207 bytes)As closely as I identified with the stenographer, I really related more closely with the typeographer. From my sophomore year in high school, when I was the sophomore editor for the yearbook, I have been "aware" of the mechanism of placing type on a page, of choosing the right typeface (or at least the typeface that appears right to me).

Typographers make great scrapbookers. Your joy in the placement of type and the design of a page can run full tilt.

I don't print a lot of stuff these days, so I don't shop for paper all that much, but I used to love to walk through the paper section of any office supply store, looking for the right weight, the right brightness, the right feel. I always bought the heavier 22 lb weight of paper and was thrilled when they came out with 24 lb paper at roughly the same price. I liked the "heft" of 24 lbs and was willing to pay a liittle more for the feel of it, even if the people for whom I was typing couldn't tell the difference.

I love having more than 600 different fonts installed on my computer and whenever I'm making a title page I scroll through them trying to figure out which one speaks to me for that particular title.

And though I suspect you won't find it in the definition of the word "typographer," I'll bet anybody who loves typography also loves the smell of a freshly printed page, the pages of a newly opened book. It's a heady fragrance.

And so The Typographer's Dream got high marks from me because I closely identified with at least two of the characters, and because the actors were all three excellent. Even if I'm not sure I "got" exactly what message the playwright was trying to impart.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Clammy, and None Too Fresh

"Clammy--and none too fresh" was the title of this week's Two and a Half Men and I thought it would be a great title for a journal entry. But that would mean I would have to figure out something appropriate to write about.

I could have used it for yesterday's entry about a funeral, but that would have been in poor taste.

It seemed ready made for a clever entry about cleaning out the fridge, but that would mean that I'd have to -- you know -- actually clean out the fridge....and was I that dedicated to creating an appropriate journal entry that I would actually stoop to that level?

No. I love you, but there are limits.

I could have worked up a sweat on the treadmill and written about that, but...see previous paragraph.

So here is this wonderful title in search of an entry. Instead of writing about something clammy and none too fresh, I decided to tackle the subject of death, dismemberment, and disembowelment. 'Cause that involves much less work on my part.

I hate to admit it, but this house is littered with dead bodies.

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I remember what fun it was in Australia. Chippa had a whole basket full of stuffed animals and would carry them around lovingly, grinding her teeth in the fabric, but never tearing them up. Then there is that cute Petco commercial with the daschund carrying his beloved chew toy into the store and trading it for a new one.

When we first got Sheila we bought stuffed toys for her and she loved playing with them, mouthing them, chasing them. But then came the day when, accidentally, she realized that there were actually plastic squeakers inside. From then on her life was devoted to one thing only: the disemboweling and de-squeaking of every stuffed animal she encountered. Once she had the plastic squeaker out of the body, and the stuffing strewn everywhere (like the Scarecrow after an attack by the flying monkeys in Wizard of Oz), she could care less about the toy, and just chewed the squaker to her heart's content.

I stopped wasting money on stuffed animals and started letting her have empty water bottles, which she loves to crunch flat. Neither she nor Lizzie eats them, but they just love the noise. And, with as much water as I drink, this is an inexhaustible supply!

But there are lots of pre-chewed stuffed animals around, and the puppies have found all of them. To say nothing of this poor parrot who seems to have had a beakectomy.

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I tread gingerly as I walk around the house through the body parts and guts of toys I haven't seen in a long time. But they're having a great time and it's much better than finding pieces of electrical cords and/or plugs (which I've also found!)

And yes, when you step on a chewed rubber toy in your bare feet in the dark, it does feel clammy and none too fresh! (See? I knew I could bring it full circle!)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


We went to a funeral today. It was a guy I didn't know at all, but his wife had been Walt's secretary many, many, many years ago and had gone on to continue to work in the office in a non-secretarial position. Their son had been in school with David, apparently.

I don't really know about the death of the deceased, but apparently it was cancer and apparently it spread rapidly and he died not too long after his diagnosis.

The funeral was held in St. James Catholic church, which I used to attend when we first moved here, and which Walt still attends. I don't know that I'd been in the church since they significantly remodeled it some time ago, before Paul died. They painted the whole thing white, giving it a very stark, cold feel, as opposed to the warmer wood that I remembered.

Paul was very upset about the money spent on the remodel and went to the church after it was finished, to sit there, waiting for the pastor to walk through so he could ask him why they felt it necessary to spend so much money on building beautification rather than spending the money to help the poor of this area.

StJames.jpg (46213 bytes)

As I sat in the church, waiting for the funeral to begin, I was flooded with emotion. Not a religious emotion, but suddenly the weight of all the people we've lost washed over me. I struggled to keep from crying.

The Mass began and, like the automaton I used to be, I recited all the proper responses at the proper place and marveled at how little I felt, and how mechanical it all felt. So I let my brain wander to another place, while my mouth was reacting automatically to stimuli built up over a lifetime

I thought of a friend who is facing the big 70 birthday and the difficulty grasping the thought of being 70. We aren't almost 70. We are 30 or 40, at the very most. Even if we have kids older than 40. When did we become almost 70?

For myself, the difficulty is not the age numbers (after all, I'm so much younger 4icon.gif (1078 bytes)). For me it's the number of people my age or younger who have died in the past few years. There are times when I feel like I'm sitting here waiting to die. Particularly after Michele's death, a death which was so sudden and unexpected. What did she feel at the last moment? Did she know something was going wrong, or did she just collapse on the bed after her heart stopped beating?

I haven't been a hypochondriac since I was 10 and terrified I was going to get polio and spend the rest of my life in an iron lung (the result of seeing the movie, Queen for a Day). But I do find myself having twinges here and there and wondering if this is going to be the day Walt finds me collapsed somewhere, like Richard found Michele, who was only 3 months older than I am and in better health.

Or Jeannie, who was younger and died in much the same way.

I hate this phase of life. It doesn't matter that my mother is going strong at 88 and that her side of the family, if cigarettes don't kill them early, live into their 80s and 90s. No matter whether I die tomorrow or 20 years from now, I am unquestioningly in the last phase of my life.

When you're young, your social events are the birthday parties of your friends. Then you start going to your friends' bridal showers, attending your friends' weddings. Then babies start coming and you get together for baby showers, then the birthday parties of your friends' children. Then it's the bridal showers of your friends' children and their weddings. Then you go to baby showers for your friends' children.

When you get to "a certain age," you find that you start going to funerals for friends of your parents, your parents, your friends' parents and then come the first funerals of people who were your friends, not your parents' friends.

At some point you start giving up your dreams, one by one, and realize that your time to do that thing has passed. I have wanted to go on a photo safari to Africa all my life, for example, but I had to content myself to live vicariously through Peggy's trip--and her assuring me that "you wouldn't have been able to handle it," referring to the rough conditions of the road and my iffy back. So that's one dream that I have to leave behind.

I'll probably never take that cruise up the inland passage to Alaska either, though I haven't completely given up hope of doing that.

No matter how much longer I live, I am going to start going to more and more funerals of friends and wondering how many more of them I am going to attend before it's friends coming to a funeral for me.

What a depressing thought!

The one thing I know is that there is no way I want the sort of funeral that the man today had. While Paul's and David's deaths were tragedies, at least their memorial services were celebrations. They were ashes in a small box and I am constantly reminded of how much more horrible it would have been if Paul or David had been in coffins. I can't even imagine getting through that type of funeral. We cremated them and we held memorial services with humor and music. We didn't mouth familiar words like automatons, or listen to bibical readings that you've heard all our life that aren't comforting at all.

But everyone has the final service for their loved on that is the most meaningful and comforting for them and I would be the last person to judge how someone decides to bury a loved one.

But as for me, cremate me, have a memorial service, and then everybody have a big party. And, if I'm lucky, I'll be there, sitting quietly at a chair in the back. somewhere near the nachos, until I take one last look at all the people I love and walk away to whatever there is that is waiting for me. I know there is a a large group of friends and family who have paved the way for me and who, maybe, if I'm very lucky and if I lived a good enough life, are waiting for me to join them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Survivor--with Luxury

Here’s an interesting survey.

You have to spend a year in quarantine -- alone -- "they" will provide the following items for you: Food, Water, Toiletries and a Bible. Plus you have the Basics of Couch, Table/Chair, Bed/Bedding & Electricity for: Lights, Heat, Air, Cooking, Cleaning, Listening to Music and Watching Videos ONLY.

You have to pack your survival bag. You can bring...

    2 CDs
    3 Books
    3 videos
    1 project
    1 article of luxury
    1 item of comfort

And can request a year's supply of your favorite "junk" food. (That would have to be ice cream.)

OK--so what do I bring. A year without a computer??? Oh my...already I’m going into withdrawal. But let’s get practical here.

2 CDs...

Well, obviously it would be a Steve Schalchlin CD and a John Denver CD. Those are constants in the car and I probably have listened to them over and over again for a year anyway, so why should my period of quarantine be any different. The trick would be choosing which of their CDs to bring, but probably one of the "Best of John Denver" CDs, since those are longer than others.

3 Books would be a bit trickier. At least "they" (whoever "they" are) would be providing me a Bible, which is a nice long book and will fill in the times when I am bored with the three books I’ve brought. I wouldn’t want to bring a real page-turner because I’d finish it too quickly.

Stephen Peithman, a friend of ours, once published the annotated collected works of Edgar Allen Poe and I think that would definitely be one of the chosen books. "The Ladies of the Club" would also be a good book. It's been recommended to me many times. It's a very, very thick book. I’ve started it several times and never made it through to the end, though my mother loves it and has read it several times, so that seems to be a good recommendation (and during a year, I’m sure I could finally get it finished!). I think the last book would be Steinbeck’s "A Life in Letters," the collection of a lifetime of letters by John Steinbeck, which is a fascinating book. I could easily read that more than once.

As for Videos (or DVDs)...Well, "A Star is Born" would have to be there. Just because it’s a nice comforting movie to have with me. I think the other two would be "An Affair to Remember" and "Dave." Just because they’re all "comfortable" movies that I enjoy watching more than once.

As for a project, I'd hope that I could have a computer, even if I can't have internet access. I have an endless number of digital photos that need to be organized, arranged, made into projects, etc., videos to put together, and music to organize. I could easily take a year doing all the stuff that I keep putting off doing on the computer. Plus watching all those new PhotoShop tutorials I haven't seen yet, of course.

As for an article of luxury, the computer for my project would also be my article of luxury. Writing is both "work" and "luxury" for me and I'd probably go crazy if I couldn't write. If I can't have a computer, I'll take a typewriter. If I can't have an electric typewriter, I'll take a manual. If I can't have any typewriter at all, I'll have an endless supply of really good quality paper and lots and lots of pens.

(If I can't have writing implements, I'll bring a puppy. LOL.)

Speaking of which, I've been playing my version of "Are you Smarter than your Dog." We have four dogs, two big and two small. The big dogs get more food. The little dogs get less food. The bowls go in the same spot--Sheila's by the back door, Lizzie's by the water cooler, Scooby's by the dishwasher, and Gizmo's in front of the stove. Only Lizzie won't start eating until she sees that everyone else is fed and while she's following me around to give Sheila her food, Gizmo starts eating from the bowl I put out for Lizzie. Then Lizzie ends up getting a little bowl of food and Giz finishes the big bowl.

It only took me a week to figure out that I should put the little bowl in front of the water cooler. That worked great. Now Gizmo eats from the right bowl, and I have to figure out where to put the other two. Some nights I guess right, and Lizzie gets the right bowl; some nights I guess wrong and Scooby eats too much.

Oh it's exciting here in Chez Sykes. Just one big laugh riot a day.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Moments Frozen in Time

I don't know if everybody does this, or if I just watch too many movies, but doing the 65x365 project has brought back to me a lot of moments which are frozen in time in my memory. We all have events that we remember, stories that we tell to our children when they are growing up, and I have those, but I'm talking about one specific snapshot moment that somehow imbeds itself into my mind in just that way--as a snapshot. Here are some examples.

It's the front door of the corner grocery. It is Sunday morning and we are driving home from church. On the door is a black wreath and we know that Angelina, the woman who owned the store with her husband Angelo (#1 in my 65x365 list, by the way), had died. I have no more than that one picture, and along with it comes the mental sound of an ominous musical chord.

It is another Sunday morning when I am in grammar school and we are lined up outside of church. We line up by who plans to go to communion and who does not. I am in the communion line when I realize with a start that I had a glass of water before coming to church and in those days you couldn't have anything, including water, if you were going to receive communion. But I'm too embarrassed and make the choice to suffer the loss of my soul rather than admit to Sister that I am in the wrong line.

I am about 10 years old and standing in the pantry of our flat with my mother. My godmother has been hospitalized and I ask my mother how she is. She tells me "You're old enough to know this so I'm going to tell you: she has cancer and she's going to die." I don't remember anything before or after that, but I remember that moment very clearly.

It is sometime during my high school years. I am in Citrus Heights with my mother, visiting my aunt (Peach's mother). Aunt Marge is standing at the ironing board and she tells my mother she has had a miscarriage. I have the same feeling I have at seeing the wreath on the grocery store door. I've never known someone who had a miscarriage before.

It is sometime during my high school. My father is going through a nervous breakdown (I realized later, though not at the time). He is sitting in the living room with all the lights off. We don't dare go near him, but as I glance into the room, all I can see is the red glow of the tip of his cigarette.

I am riding on the #41 Union bus, coming home from somewhere. I am riding in the back of the bus. We are just about a block away from Leavenworth Street, where I will get off the bus and suddenly I am filled with the sense of my Grandma Scott's perfume. She has been dead for several months and I don't know how I knew it was her perfume, but I just had the sense that she was there for a moment.

It is 1958 and I am standing in the supply closet at school, trying not to cry. I have just eavesdropped on a telephone conversation and learned that Sister Anne is being transferred to Phoenix. She finds me and starts to tell me she's leaving. "I know," I say. We don't say anything, but hold hands for a moment, then she leaves.

It is June 12, 1960 and we have just gone through the graduation ceremony inside the big St. Mary's Cathedral on Van Ness Avenue. I can't remember a single thing about the ceremony or the party afterwards, but I clearly remember standing in front of my fellow classmate, Ruth Rose, a large African American woman, and saying we'd probably never see each other again. Except for our 25th class reunion, we never did.

It is November 22, 1963 and we have all been glued to the radio waiting for word of the health of John F. Kennedy. We are in a daze when we learn he has died. I leave my office in Birge Hall, next to the UC Berkeley Campanile. I stand on the top of the steps, in the grey foggy air and I look around me, seeing clumps of people standing everywhere, everything so still. The world has changed.

It is 1964 and I am working in the Physics Department. My boss is also my friend and confidante. We are in his office and I am sitting on the table in the center of the room when I announce to him that Walt and I are getting married. He is the first person I tell.

It is April 25, 1966 and we are getting ready to leave for the hospital. I am standing in the dining room and I stop for a moment and look around. "When we come home, nothing will ever be the same again," I tell Walt. "No," he says, taking the suitcase out of my hands. "It will be better." And it was. Three days later we brought Jeri home from the hospital.

It's about 1972 and we're driving in the car--for some reason this picture is in black and white. I glance in the rear view mirror to see if Ned is OK but it's my sister's face staring back at me. "This one is mine," she had said when he was born and on this day the likeness to her face was so strong it jarred me.

It is sometime in 1973 and I am sitting on the grass outside our house in Oakland. David has been playing with the kids who live down the block and he sees me sitting on the grass. He opens his arms wide, gets a big grin on his face and races up the hill and throws himself into my arms. (Ironically, the last time I ever saw him he was standing in our family room, he opened his arms wide, got a big grin on his face and gave me a hug, telling me he'd see us after we returned from New York. But he died while we were in New York.)

It is my mother's retirement party and I am standing with an old family friend who points to a photo of me that I had taken after one of my successful diets, when I was looking pretty good. "That's a beautiful photo of your mother," he says to me. "It's not my mother, it's me," I say, aware that I am many many pounds heavier than I appear in this photo. He argues with me and insists it's my mother. I feel like shit.

It is sometime in the early 1980s and The Lamplighters have taken my advice and held a party in honor of the retirement of contralto June Wilkins. I made and decorated 3 sheet cakes, each with a picture of her wearing one of her most famous costumes. She is overwhelmed by the attention and is just beaming. She doesn't have a clue who I even am much less my role in this party and I am filled with joy just standing back and watching her finally get the credit due her.

It is an office picnic in Putah Creek on the UC Davis campus. The kids have gone down to the boat dock to look at the ducks. Jeri is kneeling at the edge of the dock and is silhouetted in the setting sun, with ripples on the now black looking water. It is a picture perfect moment and I mentally snap it.

It is Whole Earth day on the UC Davis campus and Lawsuit is playing on the Wellman Stage, back far away from the main stage. They aren't happy about it, but they set up. From my perch on a walkway opposite the stage, I can see people pouring into the area. They are stacked several people deep on all the balconies of the surrounding buildings. They are hanging from the trees, they are packed into the courtyard. I am so proud of the band I can just about burst.

It's June 1996 and the family is all gathered in the stands at Cal Poly to watch Tom get his diploma. As he crosses the stage, we can see David's name taped to his mortarboard; we had buried David just a couple of weeks before.

It's 2000 and it's the Sierras and it's the first snowfall of the year. Peggy and I are coming back from our last trip to Lake Tahoe. She has never seen falling snow before. I stop the car and watch as she gets out opens her arms, looks up, and enjoys the sensation of snowflakes. There is such joy on her face.

It's 2005 and it's the bush and Chippa has found a rabbit and is in hot pursuit. She races towards us, ears flapping behind her, mouth hanging open, tongue hanging out. A picture of pure ecstasy.

There are a lot of "movies" in my mind, scenes which have a beginning, a middle and an end, but the snapshot moments are somehow different, more vivid because, like snapshots, they preserve one moment, happy or sad, and keep it intact forever. The odd thing is that I seem to have no control over which moments become snapshot moments or why they are so vivid when there are other memories that you would think about be at least as vivid.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Close, but No Cigars

We said our goodbyes to Gizmo today before taking the two puppies up to Petco. Ashley said she had a "very good" application for Giz, in a home with two other dogs and she thought it would work out well.

At 3:30, we went back to Petco to pick up Scooby (I was not optimistic about his finding a home today) and discovered that Gizmo had not, in fact, been adopted. The family fell in love with some other puppy and so instead of coming home with only one dog, we brought them both back home again.

Gizmo is ripe for finding a home. Her fur has grown out finally and she's become a real cutie. She loves everybody, is a great cuddler.

We're going to need someone a bit more patient for Scooby, who is still skittish, and slow to warm up. He's OK of you let him come to you, but if you try to approach him, he runs away. He will finally let Walt pet him, if he's in my lap, but if Walt tries to force friendship, he ducks and runs. Heck, even I don't try to lean down and pet him. He's just too scared for that.

So it's one more week without homes for my babies. Maybe we'll have better luck this coming week. In the meantime, the little four-footed family seems happy to be back together again.

Doing this 65x365 project has memories swirling around in my mind like never before. I decided when I started it that I was NOT going to include people who appear in this journal regularly. So you won't see the Cousins day folk, or Char, or Peggy, or Steve or my least not now. I'm up to posting day #22 (which is definitely an interesting entry!), but I've actually written over 60 entries, just waiting to be posted.

Some people doing this project have grouped their entries into grammar school friends, high school friends, work friends, etc., or other arbitrary group labels. I'm trying to do exactly the opposite. I am trying to mix it up a lot so that you may find someone I knew in grammar school sandwiched in between someone I know today and someone I never really knew, but encountered.

The one thing that surprised me is how many well known people I've met in my life. It's really kind of humbling, in fact. This list isn't just of people I know well (I certainly hope not when I added #22!), but of people I have encountered in one way or another, whether intimately or casually, or just barely. The criterion I set was that it had to be someone with whom I had at least a face-to-face encounter and who left an impression on me. I think you'll see that #22 definitely fits that description.

But when you start mentally checking off people who know and other people you know because of those people, it takes your mind in strange directions and can have surprisingly pleasant results.

I had added a performer I met once to the list and then started thinking about performers in whose presence I have been. That led me back to a taping of The Don Sherwood television show back in the 1950s, sometime (but I never officially "met" Sherwood, so he doesn't go on the list).

sherwood.jpg (12470 bytes)That led to checking to see if there was anything on the internet about Don Sherwood and that led to this treasure trove. Those of you who did not live in San Francisco missed out on a lot. Don Sherwood billed himself as "the world's greatest disc jockey." He would not only become the biggest radio star in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, but would also be the highest paid radio personality in America. His popularity was so great (he had a 25 percent share in his time slot--one in four people were tuned to Sherwood!) that when he left the station, they paid him NOT to work for any other radio station.

But as with most creative geniuses, he had his share of problems, in spades. He was a heavy drinker and he died too early of lung cancer, hooked up to an oxygen tank, and still chain smoking.

I was a young impressionable grammar school kid when I first became a fan of Don Sherwood and I attended Catholic School, so I was really into the power of prayer and offering things up for the betterment of the world.

My mother and I attended the aforementioned taping of the short-lived television show that Sherwood did and he was obviously drunk. And getting drunker as the show progressed. He had a bottle hidden under his desk.

I decided I was going to "save Don Sherwood."

I went away to Lake Tahoe for a couple of weeks with a couple for whom I did babysitting. The thing I longed for each day was the arrival of the mail, but when the mail came, no matter how much I was longing to read the letter(s), I put off reading them until night and offered up my pain and suffering of having to wait a few hours to read my mail in honor of Sherwood quitting drinking. Instead of reading the mail, I would pray for Sherwood.

Amazingly, within a couple of weeks after I returned from Tahoe, Sherwood decided to stop drinking. I don't know how I knew that. I don't know if he mentioned it on his show, or if he went into rehab or what, but all I know is that I was convinced my prayers had "saved" him.

(Of course it didn't last and he was drinking again very soon...but it would be nice to think that all of my sacrifice amounted to something after all!)

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I always assumed she would die sitting at an old IBM selectric typwriter, fingers frozen in mid-air, having been stopped while she was frantically typing. There would be a cigarette danging from her mouth and a drink at her side and a stack of completed dictation tapes next to her. It would be 3 a.m. because she hadn't stopped working since she got up in the morning.

But apparently not.

I sent off an e-birthcay card to my old boss, Ann Holke, this month. I'm not sure how old she would have been, but somewhere in her mid-70s. I received a response from her husband Don that she died of respiratory arrest in March and apologizing for not letting me know beforehand.

I met Ann back in 1986. She ran The Typing Company, a little typing service located in the back of Orange Court here in Davis. I had just lost my job at The Secretariat and was looking for work. Eventually I made up with my Secretariat boss, who confessed to a co-worker that firing me was the worst mistake she ever made, but she fired me because she felt I was not charging her biggest client enough money for work I did for him on weekends and was losing her money. I left that job and took the client with me to The Typing Company because he neeed to pay a business for tax purposes, so I couldn't do it privately out of my own home (well I did do it out of my own home, but The Typing Company charged him and took a percentage of the fee).

Ann welcomed me (and the business I was bringing her) with open arms and I joined the 3-person staff in the cramped office. There was myself, Ann, her husband Don, and another woman whose name I can't remember, all crammed into this tiny room about half the size of the office I had left.

Ann was a workaholic. She was the first to arrive, and by the time she got to the office she had already put in a couple of hours typing in an underground room for a pathology lab. When I left at the end of the day, she would still be at her typewriter, fingers flying over the keyboard.

Shortly after I joined the staff, larger quarters opened up in the complex and we moved upstairs over Kentucky Fried Chicken and London Fish and Chips. Your cholesterol could get a boost just from sniffing the air that wafted up from beneath us! We all had lovely complexions from the grease in the air.

One day she handed me a cassette tape and a medical dictionary and told me it was time I learned how to do medical transcription. "You can call yourself a medical transcriptionist when you can spell 'cholecystectomy' without having to look it up," she joked.

In my years at The Secretariat, I had taken on the project of transcribing dozens of veterinary tapes from a conference for a Japanese veterinarian. None of us knew medical dictation but he didn't care how badly we spelled things. Just do the best we could, I was told. It took forever and I worked with a medical dictionary, but I cringe now to think of what an abominable job I must have done.

Under Ann's passive tutelage, I eventually learned how to type the dictation of Dr. D'A, an orthopedic doctor, who dictated very clearly. Orthopedists don't often do cholecystectomies (removal of the gallbladder), so I still wasn't a "medical transcriptionist," by that definition, but I was feeling pretty cocky about my new skills.

Once I had D'A under my belt, she gave me a new doctor to transcribe and, to my chagrin, I discovered that each medical specialty had its own lingo and that if you were perfect on orthopedics, you had to start all over again for cardiology, or pathology, or whatever subspecialty you were working on. To say nothing of the vagaries of various physicians. D'A was clear as a bell, but most physicians are not and deciphering mumbled dictation, dictation from foreign doctors, or doctors whose rapid-fire dictation left you breathless was yet another skill to learn.

Ann never became impatient. She answered all questions, encouraged looking things up and dragged me along to the point where she could send me out to work in doctors' offices to fill in for ailing or vacationing in-house transcriptionist. At one point I think I worked for just about every medical office in Davis, and I took over those early morning basement sessions in the pathology lab that she used to do.

[aside: Pathology can be deadly dull or amazingly entertaining. Ann always liked to talk about her favorite dictation. Anything removed from the body must be sent to the pathology lab for inspection, whether an organ or a foreign body. This one fellow had a doorknob removed from his rectum, which was weird enough, except that in the pathology report, it indicated that the guy wanted to be sure to get the doorknob back after the examination because "it was his favorite one."]

Ann invented the word "driven." She lived hard, loved lots, drank heavily, smoked incessantly. She had the raspy voice of the whorehouse madam of wild west movies, who lived on booze and cigarettes. And how she loved her food -- big slabs of meat and potatoes, covered with rich gravy. Yet the cigarettes kept her thin.

And she worked. My god she worked. She was the only person I knew who could literally work up a sweat typing. She worked harder than any of us and her daily output was astonishing. And it is because of her that I know how to spell "camaraderie" correctly.

She and Don moved to Washington State many years ago. I can't remember exactly, but I think she moved for the cleaner air, and she loved the area around Port Angeles, where they settled. Of course she got a job working in the local hospital and from the spotty reports I received it sounded as if she was working as hard as ever, both in the hospital and typing jobs at home. I had reports of her having a heart attack a couple of years ago which slowed her down, but never completely stopped her from working.

I don't know that Ann could ever have "retired." Working was in her blood and she would always do it as much as she was physically able.

Ann and I were never close friends. We didn't have that kind of relationship, but she left me one gift that I really treasure -- she introduced me to my friend Diane, who flew to California one week to work at The Typing Company during finals week, when we were so busy. (Diane did the medical dictation so the rest of us could concentrate on typing students' term papers--her experience with Dr. D'A is a whole 'nother story!). That introduction has been the gift that keeps on giving, since Diane and I remain close friends to this day.

I don't know if there is any work to be done in Heaven, but if there is, you can be sure that it has been done much more efficiently and in a much faster time since Ann's arrival.

Friday, July 18, 2008


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The Perks

There are days when I absolutely LOVE my job. Tuesday was one of those days.

I had talked with Derrick (my editor) about doing a feature story on the Winters Community Theatre, a very small venue in a very small town, but one of my favorite places to go. Their productions aren't spectacular, but they just love what they're doing so much. They have no pretentions to be anything but what they are, which is a bunch of amateurs doing shows because they love doing shows. Sometimes they are not very good, sometimes they are good, but I never, ever have once left their theatre (well--it's a community center, really, not a theatre) without feeling uplifted by what I saw, and without a smile on my face. (And it's not just because they give me free cheesecake, either!)

I happened to run into one of the founders of the company, which is now the oldest continuously running community theatre in Yolo County, at the supermarket a week or so ago and as we chatted, I suddenly thought that I really should do a feature article about the company.

So I checked with Derrick and he agreed, gave me a deadline and I set up an interview with Harold Hupe and his wife Germaine.

We agreed on meeting at 9 a.m. at their house and I drove out through the bushes that hide the house from the street and found myself in this little oasis kind of separated from the rest of the world.

We settled ourselves in their screened-in porch to enjoy the morning cool air, watch the humming birds, and listen to the other nature noises as we talked.

Now these are people I have been aware of for years. I may see them once a year or sometimes less, and occasionally, like last week, I may run into Howard unexpectedly. I had absolutely NO idea what a fascinating life they'd had before coming to Davis in the early 1970s. They met in Monterey when Howard was studying Arabic in preparation for his Army station in Iran. They lived in Iran for 3 years, in the waning years of the Shah's reign. Germaine taught school, learned Farsi, and began writing a textbook history of Iran because there was no such thing for the children in the school. (Alas, it was destroyed when the Shah was ousted, and never got published)

The two of them talked on and on and at one point apologized because we'd been talking for so long and hadn't talked about theatre at all, but I was positively mesmerized by their reminiscences. It made me realize what makes Morning Stories such a special show...everybody has a story. And most people don't think their stories are particularly interesting because it was "just the life they led." But when you take the time to probe, you just never know what gold mines you might uncover!

My very favorite part of the interview (and I'm trying to figure out how I can work this into a feature article about community theatre) is this charming snippet. Germaine is talking about an experience Howard had with his interpreter in Saudi Arabia.

This interpreter came in one Monday morning just smiling and Howard said "you look very happy" and he said "I am. I have just come back from a second honeymoon." Howard said "Oh, that's a lovely custom...we do that, too, in our country after several years, we take off with our wife" and the interpreter said "No--this is my new wife. She's 14 and my mother just arranged her and she's absolutely wonderful." And he said, "I'd be very happy to have my mother find someone for you." Howard said no, he had a fiancee back in the states. This guy said "do you have a picture of her?" -- this 'old bat' of 22 -- so Howard hauled out a picture of me and he just shook his head and said, "tsk tsk...her father must have many sheep and goats" !!

The interview lasted over 2 hours, much longer than my usual, and I don't regret one moment of it. I left the house on a real high and, in fact, came home to transfer the recording of the interview to my iPod so I could play it for Walt as we drove to Sacramento. He was as mesmerized as I had been.

But that was only the first half of my day. In the evening we went to opening night of Gypsy at Sacramento's Music Circus. I will never attend a performance of Gypsy without thinking about Jim Brochu's grandmother who, as reported in The Big Voice told her grandson that if he saw Gypsy, which had been condemned by the Catholic Church, he would burn in hell.

So I have now condemned my soul to burn in hell (several times), but it was definitely worthwhile. What a great show. Mama Rose was played by Vicki Lewis, whom some may remember as playing Beth on Newsradio for six seasons, as well as guest starring in most of the big names shows from Seinfeld to Gray's Anatomy. She was just excellent.

Interestingly, I was sitting next to a critic from some other small local paper. I had attempted to talk with her at a previous show last year and she made it apparent that she did not fraternize with fellow critics, especially me, because she had "loads" of experience and rolling her eyes with a bored expression, told me she had been doing this "forever" (and obviously at a mere 8 years, I was a Johnny come lately and not worth her attention.)

At intermission, her companion, who obviously did not attend theatre much, asked her what she thought of the show.

"It's tedious," she said. "It takes them too long to get into the story."

Uh. Is that she fault of the production? Or is that the fault of the script? She admitted she had never seen this show before (Ms. Experience had never seen Gypsy?) and that she had seen neither the stage show nor the movie of the next production, coming next week, Sweeney Todd. She knew that it was "about some guy who gets revenge."

We sit in different spots each week, so I probably won't see her at Sweeney Todd, but I'd sure like to eavesdrop on her intermission comments for THAT show!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Finally!! -- Cousins Day!

Our last Cousins Day was May 2 and we were definitely ready for a new one! In between time there had been lots of busy social stuff, out of town visitors, some health problems, some scheduling difficulties. But we were determined that we were going to have our Cousins Day this time if it killed us!

Kath and Peach picked me up around 9 a.m. Walt had left long before that, since he was going to a FEMA meeting in the Bay Area. I got all the dogs "treated," packed up my bag o' booze (it was my time to make drinks) and got in the car.

"We have to stop at Bed, Bath 'n' Beyond," Kathy said first thing. She had left her pillow at home and, with all of her breathing problems, she is very particular about the pillow she sleeps on and she needed to stop and buy a new pillow and a new pillowcase. She found the pillow early (with some assist from a clerk) and as we wandered through the maze of pillow cases, I learned about thread count and color (can't be cream, it has to be white; has to be at least 350 thread count).

I was thinking about what I sleep on. It's a tan pillow that Walt's sister used to prop up something--was it a television?--that Walt was driving from Santa Barbara up here. She said "just throw the pillows away when you get home." But they kind of matched the couch in the living room and were smooth surface rather than a bumpy surface, so I used them as couch pillows and, at night they become my sleeping pillow. Sometimes the dogs sleep on them during the day so they always smell of dog.

But yes, I'm weird. I do have to admit, though, that I have heard Oprah for years wax eloquent about high thread count sheets and, I'll tell ya. I felt 250 thread count, 350 thread count, 750 thread count and some even >1000 thread count and they all felt the same to me. I couldn't believe some pillow cases were selling for more than $50 for two! I did spend $10 for a dog bed that was on sale, though. (Gizmo was asleep in it before I even had a chance to ear off the tag, after I returned home!)

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We arrived at my mother's, with all our stuff, sat around chatting for awhile -- our usual "first hour," when all the angst of the time since our last Cousins Day comes out -- and then sat down to a delicious shrimp salad for lunch.

Then, of course, it was time to break out the cards four our "65" marathon. Peach brought some cards which someone had given her. They are for a game called "Five Crowns" and when you read the rules you realize that they are the rules for what we have been calling (and will continue to call) "65."

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But the cards are different, and include five suits, not four, adding "stars" to the usual hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. Also, the some of the normal suits are in different colors (green for clubs and blue for diamonds).

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However, whether played with a regular deck or the Five Crowns deck, this was definitely NOT my time to win. Everybody won at least one game, I won nothing. I figured my only function this time (other than providing jokes and small talk) was to make the others' pots bigger. Sometimes when I have a bad day like that, the next day is better. Not this time. We also had a bad day with "the boob." I don't think there has ever been as much discarding of trump since we started passing "the boob" to the person who made the bad decision. That boob was flying around the table faster than a stripper's pasty in "whirl" mode!

We played two games, then Kathy decided she needed to take a nap, so Peach, my mother and I played a game of canasta (which I lost), after which it was late enough that we could justify starting the cocktail hour.

It had been a year since I made my "rasptini" (3 parts raspberry vodka, 1 part clear chocolate liqueur, a splash of raspberry syrup, all shaken in a shaker over ice and served with fresh raspberries in the glass). Those suckers go down waaay too easy. Kathy stopped at 1, my my mother stopped at 2, but Peach and I had 3-1/2. Yummy stuff.

It was Kathy's turn to make dinner...

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She made a shrimp cocktail, chicken enchaladas, and salad, which my mother followed with a Sarah Lee cheesecake for Peach's birthday, much belated (it was in early June).

As usual, through cards and dinner, the important stuff (other than yelling "you bitch!" at someone) was the camaraderie, the chit-chat, the problem-solving, the tears, and always, always the laughter. I can't tell you how many times "I love you guys" was said, in one way or another. We grow closer every time we get together.

In the middle of our last game of the night, the phone rang and it was my mother's step-son's wife, calling to say he had collapsed with pneumonia and was in the hospital and that "it didn't look good." His blood pressure was something like 59/35 and they weren't sure he was going to make it.

That put a damper on the rest of the evening. None of us really knows Fred, of course, except my mother, but still it evoked all those similar phone calls that we all have had throughout our lives, when we received the bad new unexpectedly. This led to a discussion of yesterday's journal entry, of course.

We all decided to go to sleep early. I thought I was going to read for awhile, since it was only 10:30, but since I'm not a drinker any more, 3-1/2 drinks can have an affect on my ability to stay awake! I fell asleep almost instantly and, except for one trip to the bathroom around 2 a.m., I slept all night until 6:30. Amazing.

Nobody had anything they needed to rush home for, so we had breakfast and two additional games of "65" (I lost both). One was the weirdest game we'd ever played, since people were winning hands on the first or second round of play--up until about the 9th or 10th round. You hardly had time to sort out your hand before you were counting up your score.

As it did the day before, laughter reigned. And there was no word of my mother's step-son, so we took that to be "good" news. We stayed to have lunch, finishing off the salad from last night, mixed with the shrimp that was left over from the shrimp cocktail. Then we packed up and, reluctantly, said goodbye and headed home.

On the way home, as is our wont, we re-hashed the past day and a half. We once again reaffirmed the importance of Cousins Day in our lives, and agreed that when we start dying off, those who remain will find a way to keep it going. Maybe without 65 (which might be a benefit to MY pocketbook, the way my games usually go!), but in some way or another. It's too special to let die. Ever.