The ChuckleHut

[ Tuesday, June 24, 2003 ]

Maybe you've heard about the occasional disruptions in service that have rendered my blog inaccessible or my comments occasionally nugatory. Maybe you heard this because I've been bellowing in a purple rage out my study window about it. Yesterday commenting was down all day long. Before that I had trouble loading my page. Then there was the thing with not being able to adjust my template for weeks. I have had enough.

PLEASE BE ADVISED that the Chucklehut has MOVED. I am now a Lunanina product, hosted thereat and powered by MT. I'm a bit shocked at how quickly it's happened, but far be it from me to complain about a job well done ahead of schedule. (Well, depending on the job, but I'm not here to quibble.) Any of you who wish ever to pollute your eyes with more of my literary compost are welcome to visit me at my new home:
The Chucklehut

I'm not leaving you, I'm just going to a better place. Don't make me sit there all alone. It'd be just like jr high all over again. Oh you wish.
thats just the way it seems to me at [4:50 PM]

[ Monday, June 23, 2003 ]

You’ve got to go pretty far to exceed my capacity for spice in my food. Kel once got me a t-shirt that read “food isn’t properly seasoned unless it’s painful to eat.” I don’t know about painful but I do like my head to sweat a little from prandial piquancy. But I wasn’t always this way. I grew up afraid of the little tub of puny vinegary jalapenos outside of every Tommy’s in L.A. But eventually I learned that there was spiritual cleansing and elevation of one’s astral being to be had in the sinus-searing potency of powerful spices. And in that process lies my little story for today.

As I got through college I was becoming more adventurous, experimental, even provocative in my tastes – for food, at least. I was eating viet food and Lebanese food and questionable quality food and pretty much anything that crossed my path, which ranged wide and far and covered some pretty diverse territory. I knew my crème fraische from my crème anglaise.

One of my special favorite places simultaneously to broaden both my perspective and my waistline was an Ethiopian place about a half mile west of my house called Red Sea. Ethiopian restaurants are overwhelmingly named either Blue Nile or Red Sea. It has made me wonder, if one flows into the other, whether there is a Purple Delta somewhere. But anyway.

Let’s take a moment and disabuse those of you who think that Ethiopian food is a plate of sand to be eaten with chopsticks. It has a lot in common with southern Indian food, a variety of savory stews and baked dishes with many excellent meat and veggie options. It’s served on and eaten with sheets of injera - a tangy flat bread perforated with sponge-like holes. The meals are communal, large, delicious, and a lot of fun to eat.

Red Sea. Man, those guys could cook. I’ve eaten at a bunch of east African places since then but those guys were top rate. They blew me away. Their food was delicious, their place was completely mellow, their injera was fun and tasty and they had great spices. Great like good. And great like huge. Everything they served came with a pretty decent kick. I relished it, I savored it, eventually I felt incomplete without it. What can I say. I craved the burn. It had become like a lover.

Unless – you are dining at the junction of sadism and greed. Because , despite the smiles and superficial hospitality they offered there, there’s one thing the good folks at Red Sea never got used to – free water. They sold, beer, didn’t they? And fruit shakes, $4 for 10 oz. of chuggable smoothness. So why should I be slaking my thirst for free? That was a non-starter. Water was not brought to the table. But this was not a generally advertised fact.

Though I had been there many times, I don’t think I was aware of this policy on the particular night to which I herein refer. I went to Red Sea with a few dear friends and $5 in my pocket. I got kitfo – spiced ground beef tartare, a sensational dish when properly done. Truly, it was tasty. It was plentiful. It was within my budget. And it was studded with green peppers. The serious kind. The kind that the police use to incapacitate treehugging mobs.

I experienced instant oral conflagration. I needed help, and quickly. As my throat started closing up and my head ignited into cheerful flames, I called our server over and asked for water. He offered me beer or a shake, but I stuck with what I could afford: water, please. I was clear and articulate. And I waited.

My sinuses had been pumped full of napalm. A cherrybomb had exploded inside of my tongue. A frenzy of demons perforated my forehead with their blazing pitchforks. I was dying. Two more times I asked for water in my usual polite and unassuming way. The server kept bringing out trays of beer and shakes to other tables, but never any water for me.

I could take no more. I reached into the depths of my strength, inflated my lungs from the diaphragm up, and spoke deeply, firmly, and loudly. I had been formally trained to fill a room with my voice, and used all that training to compel compliance. “MAY I PLEASE HAVE A GLASS OF WATER IMMEDIATELY?” Every conversation stopped. People at other tables stopped eating, glanced over to the crimson-headed fellow with the flames shooting out of his ears. The happy faces on the Ethiopian tourism council posters looked away in shame.

My server stepped forward with a 6 oz. glass of water, no ice, and set it desultorily down the table in front of me. I drained it in one gulp. With the same window-rattling voice I said, “THANKS, MAY I PLEASE HAVE ANOTHER GLASS OF WATER?” He looked at me as if I had asked to defile his grandmother’s remains. When he brought me my refill he wouldn’t even look at me.

I didn’t care. I quenched my thirst, extinguished the private version of hell that had erupted in my mouth, and even enjoyed the rest of my meal. By the time I got my water, I had overcome some natural barrier. Enough searing chemical corrosives had seeped into enough of my mouth while I sat there that I was thereafter able to withstand some outrageously overspiced foods. I do have my limits, but they’re significantly higher now. And I wasn’t in the least embarrassed to make such a fuss at the restaurant. Sometimes a glass of water can be the most important thing in the world.
thats just the way it seems to me at [9:55 PM]


On Saturday, in honor of the beginning of summer, we engaged in waterborne recreation. Charles and Lori picked us up at 7:30 am for an invigorating drive up to the northern tip of the San Andreas fault. The fault can be clearly seen along much of its length, but nowhere, I think, to better advantage the Pt. Reyes peninsula, where the fault takes the form of a long, skinny finger of an ocean inlet, about a mile wide and running several miles inland, ocean water filling the chasm of the faultline itself. It's so long and narrow, and ends in such an inconveniently isolated and marshy area, that this region, Tomales Bay, remains substantially uninhabited and undeveloped. It's good for oysters, elk (a big herd lives on the western peninsula formed by the bay), and kayaking. Saturday, the latter was our choice.

Charles regaled us on our way in with stories of his recent experiences at a computer convention providing private VIP demos of the upcoming update to his computer game to luminaries such as Robin Williams ("he's tiny, and he's really really old") and Christina Aguillera (who apparently had brought someone along just to ignore stuff for her; her publicist he described as an "unsexy Jon Lovitz" who trailed two paces behind her all day long saying alternately, "thank you so much for everything you do" and "i'm sorry"). Charles can make the ingredients in your multivitamins both interesting and actually informative, so these stories were rollicking sagas that had us well entertained as we rolled though the gorgeous countryside.

We got to the kayak place just after 9 am, signed in, signed waivers, put on wetsuits and spray jackets and reef shoes and PDFs (personal flotation devices, which we're told is the name for lifejackets now that they can't call them that anymore because someone drowned while wearing one and the survivors sued the manufacturer). We rented four aesthetically and hydrodynamically challenged sit-on-tops with rudders and put in at a rocky strand of a muddy beach. We paddled out toward the mouth of the bay against both tide and wind. If we stopped paddling we immediately started drifting backwards. It was a perfect day and we all felt good. Too bad the kayaks were so clumsy and slow. Old women and junkies were zipping past us as if we were standing still. I felt like I was on the nautical equivalent of a Big Wheel - or maybe actually a Sit-n-Spin.

Regardless, the air smelled great, the trees and cliffs were deeply calming, the water felt great beneath me and wildlife abounded. We didn't go far enough to see elk and didn't have the oarpower to go into the deepwater central channel where the whitecaps were breaking, but there were plenty of pelicans and cool unidentified seabirds, an osprey, plus several bat rays and leopard sharks churning the shallows where we paddled. It's quite a rush to look into the water next to you and see a dorsal fin, or the wingtips of a ray skimming along a yard apart next to you. You realize you're not alone, and even though there's no sense of threat whatsoever, it's a sense of smallness and participation.

We turned around at noon and were back on the docks at 1, where Kel and Charles were first to get to the marina where we'd put in. In the ensuing hours the area had taken on a lot of water and was now a wide and deep mud flat into which they both instantly sank to their knees. Kel lost her shoes three times and kicked an enmired rock. Lori and I were warned off, paddled around to the other side of the marina and hauled out without incident. Everybody hosed down, cleaned up, toweled off and got dressed; we then had a lovely lunch at the Olema Farmhouse and I napped in the car coming back home. Welcome to summer. Let the games begin.

And on a note related only by county location and occurrance in continguous weeks, two weekends ago in San Rafael when we went to the streetpainting fair we parked next to a building that housed, according to the sign outside, the following businesses: "Cake Art"; "Diet Center"; "VirtuaLogic"; and "Oddfellows". That's the sort of thing that makes life worth living.
thats just the way it seems to me at [8:33 AM]

[ Friday, June 20, 2003 ]

I suppose that chocolate redi-whip might not be the world's least appetizing looking food. I suppose it's possible that somewhere out there someone's working on Chocolate Miracle Whip.
thats just the way it seems to me at [1:13 PM]


Over the past few years I've had a few nicknames thrown at me. Mostly it's "Dan the Man," which (as I think I've said here before) never seemed to fit me very well, but I take it as a compliment. More fitting, or at least more comfortable to me, were Dynamite Dan, Dangerous Dan, and - my personal favorite - Handsome Dan, from a siren beauty who shall HelenJane remain nameless. And, since I'm anything but dangerous or dynamite, I don't put much stock in the accuracy of "handsome" either - but it's nice to hear it anyway.

It's occurred to me that I may be one of those people who doesn't really take on nicknames very well. My own name is probably the most accurate and effective way to call me out. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. In particular, there are a lot of nicknames I don't think I'd like very much - either because they'd make me feel silly or because they are misleading.

As I've been at a very important conference to which I have made innumerable invaluable contributions all day long for two days straight, I now find myself in possession of a notebook with nothing in it but the following LIST OF NICKNAMES I WILL NEVER HAVE FOR BETTER OR WORSE (broken down by general category):

* Creatures: Gato, Monster, Starfish
* Celebrities: Boba, Amazing Mr. Limpet, Tinkerbell
* Plants: Snapdragon, Periwinkle, Lodgepole
* Foods: Pickles, Peaches, Walnuts
* Bodily references: Cheeks, Three-fingers, Dan-the-Tan
* Professions/Descriptives: Invader, Cowboy, Slick
* Tools/Products: Studfinder, Velcro, Ace

I will thank you in advance for avoiding these appellations when referring to me, at least in my presence. If you insist on giving me a nickname, everything else is fair game. I only ask that you be gentle. My walnuts have taken an awful beating already.
thats just the way it seems to me at [1:02 PM]

[ Tuesday, June 17, 2003 ]

NO, I'm not "taking a break." Breaks are for the winners, for those of us who have earned their rest, those who are satisfied with their lives. They're not for us whores who can't stand to go a day without offering another tidbit, another shred, some craven gleaning to convince ourselves that we are important and loved. And since that sounds pretty much like me, I'm definitely NOT on a "break." That means, I guess, two things: 1) I can't sleep around behind Rachael's back, and 2) you can expect to hear from me again upon my return from the Littlest Big City in America: Sacramento, the home of Kings and governors. I have a two-day conference to attend - I get to be an advisor on the redraft of standards for the provision of legal services to the elderly. I know, I'm even cooler than you thought. The mojo is just erupting out of all my pores. Anyway I hope it's mojo. Cuz now it's all over my shirt, and at least mojo washes out with a little pre-treating.

Upshot: I'll be back on Friday. In the meantime I expect no one to post any comments here, or even to visit. But in parting, here's a little insight into me and my thinking: while I was growing up we had a friday night service every week before supper, with blessings over candles, wine, bread, and special blessings whispered over my sister's and my heads. For the kiddush (wine ceremony), dad always seemed to insist that we have special wine from the state capital. It wasn't till I was well into high school that I realized he wasn't asking for Sacramento wine. Yes that's right - I'm so cute you could hurl. You have two days to recover. Starting --- NOW.
thats just the way it seems to me at [7:11 PM]


ACT 1: Divest Now protests at College Hall. In prominent attendance: me and several of my best friends, including Andy. The next day the campus newspaper has a front page photo of the demonstration on the marble steps of the green stone monstrosity we'd occupied. Andy stands out among six or seven of my other friends in the photo, severe and anachronistic in his trenchcoat and tidy moustache.

ACT 2: Doctor Andy is moving to San Francisco to finish his residency. Already, chance encounters have occurred at sleepy coffeehouses on whacked-out avenues. He'll be moving in with his brother at 10th and California. He'll be working at a big hospital at California and Commonwealth, about two miles east. He arrives amidst fanfare and revelry. Andy is a supercharged person. With Andy, life is always lived to the hilt, and then retold at top volume with bellows of laughter.

ACT 3: It is evening, a few days later. I get a call from Dr. Andy. "Was it you?" I begin to smile but try to staunch it - he'll hear the grin in my voice; it'll be over before it starts. "Me what?," I ask. He's good - he can tell. "Dammit, it was you! How many of them are there?" "How many of what?" "These - these - picture things! I don't know what they are! Did you do this?" Andy is not a merely smart guy - I am actually in awe of his mental capacities. Now that he's been rendered inarticulate, I see that I've pushed him as far as he can go. "Yes, it was me." (Howls of laughter.) "I've got seven of them. Three messages. How am I doing?" "Pretty good. You have all the messages." "How many total?" "That would be telling." Dr. Andy erupts in a familiar roar of hilarity and hangs up after inviting us all over for wine and dinner and wine.

ACT 4 (FLASHBACK): I have brought the College Hall demonstration photo from 6 years ago to work. It's 2-1/2 x 2-1/2 inches; individual faces are about 1/3" square. I put the photo on the photocopier and set it to enlarge, to maximum. The picture comes out big. I enlarge the enlargement. The photo no longer fits on the page; details are growing indistinct among the oily blots of pixel. I continue to enlarge and re-center until the entire page is a welter of smears and spots, barely recognizeable from arm's length as a representation of a human - but at a distance of 20 feet or so it is unmistakeably Andy's face, looking like he had just bedded, and then killed, a beautiful double agent who'd tried to thwart whatever plans he was obviously hatching. He looks knowing. Virile. And Sneaky. I make three copies and attach three captions to these - "Nice Warm Hands," "Le Fromage et Sur la Tete," and (I think) "The Doctor Will See You Now." (If any of you reading this remember for sure, Heidi, let me know.) I run off a bunch of each of them. I go out the night before Dr. Andy gets to town and tape 30 of the posters - 10 of each caption - along his way to and from work, fifteen on either side of the street, well spaced apart, in various locations, at various heights, facing different directions. Dr. Andy sees the first one from across the street and thinks he must be seeing it wrong. Then he sees one up close and confirms his own worst fears. I am not the first suspect he calls but I'm high on the list.


Dr. Andy finds posters for about 8 more months. I still have one for a keepsake.
thats just the way it seems to me at [8:29 AM]

[ Monday, June 16, 2003 ]

(sunday night)

It's been a good weekend, a good day. I've lounged, cooked (extraordinary beans and carrots, really quite remarkable, and the cubed zukes and tomatoes in italian herbs went down pretty easy too), talked to dad, repaired the dog run, did the Pt. Bonita ride, went to the gym, bought two pair of pants and two shirts, viewed the eyepopping sidewalk art at the San Rafael Street Painting Festival (including a 1/4 scale representation of the entire sistine chapel roof), and generally had a fine old time. Sure, at this particular moment Kel is plucking my eyebrows and I'm a bit distracted by the regular bursts of searing ocular pain, but it's a small price to pay.

However, there is one impediment to my total nirvanic bliss, my achieving such actualization that I blow myself out of this physical plane into an unexplored dimension. It's me. I'm grinning like a dork, sitting in a big barrel of water, staring at myself. I'll have to get over it eventually, but right now I'm creeping me out.

Here's how it works: Kel has three frames on her dresser. One has displayed, for a long time, a totally cute photo of her at first communion - in keeping with the transubstantive event being memorialized, you could just gobble her up. Then there's a shot of the two of us necking at the MGM lot in 1985 when she came out to visit me during summer break after we met. And now there's a new one, from our recent Mendocino trip.

I took several photos that weekend that turned out rather well, if I do say so myself - mostly landscapes, closeups of details, panoramas... Kel got into a documentary mode and took a stack of pictures of me waving out the back of the car, or walking inexorably toward the photographer. Fun. Not really art. (Note: we both take standard analog photos and we don't have a scanner, so I can't share these shots with you.)

But one photo Kel took is kind of artistic, if only accidentally. She was using a funsaver camera. It's hard to frame your subject with them because you don't view through the lens. By comparison, my old SLR lets me know exactly what I've included in, and excluded from, my photos. Kel didn't have this level of control, so when she shot me at Sweetwater Spa in our private sauna-and-outdoor hot tub suite (on the link, it's the one with the mosaic on the wall), exposed to the unblinking sun in my pink, unprotected altogether, she thought she was photographing my face. And I suppose she was - my face is in the middle of the frame.

There's a lot of wall behind me. And below my face, my arms are stretched out across the top of the wooden tub, the water crystal clear and rising to the top of my chest. My body is plainly visible in the water, from my clavicle down to... well, here's where we got "artistic." At the very bottom of the print, a portion of my body below my navel could be seen through the languid water of the hot tub, in perfect water-distorted focus, an eerie green under the blazing sun overhead. I am depicted exactly to the crease at the proximal insertion of my wang - right down to the edge and no further. Nothing offensive or prurient here - a bit risque, but not giving anything away.

Except: it's all underwater, and something seems to have floated up into the frame just a tiny bit. A smudge. A blur of rosy flesh. An intruder. An inverted dangle. We had just barely perceptibly gone from beefcake to beefstick. Suddenly the broad ecstatic grin on my face took on new meanings, recalled more pungent recollections.

So we had a giggle at the photo and then moved on with life - or so I thought. But when I came into the bedroom this afternoon I found her fitting this lecherous and wangtastic photo into frame #3.

"You're putting that photo in a frame?"
"Yes - I like it. It makes me happy."
"But honey - that's the wang shot."
"That's okay - I cropped it."

Ouch. Just like that. I felt so violated. She had cut off my wang without even offering it a blindfold. I urgently dug among the scraps of photograph on her dresser until I found a long skinny sliver of my center, including the offending, inoffensive, tiny pink smudge. I'll take good care of it - it's been through so much already. And still I grin at myself from that frame. It's as if something good were happening. Even wangless, that was a damn fine hot tub.
thats just the way it seems to me at [1:44 PM]

[ Sunday, June 15, 2003 ]


The new thing in my life is foam - and baby, foam is sweet. We got a mattress topper made out of two inches of that memory foam that they make pillows and mattresses out of. It comes vacuum packed in a big baggie, and needs to unclench for several hours before it's ready to change your life. Then you wrestle it into its flannel case, which in turn straps neatly over the corners of your mattress. The bed now feels a bit taller and softer. But we fall asleep very quickly and very deeply on it, we sleep through the night, and we're comfortable in pretty much any position. Kel's work is physically hard; for a long time she couldn't sleep on her side because of sore joints. Now she sleeps fetally and blissfully. I wake up in the morning and it's a deep ethical struggle to convince myself to get out of bed; I go to our studio for some sun salutations and my back is limber, relaxed and strong. It cracks and pops in about a dozen places, too - for me, that's a very good sign.

It's easy for me to make myself feel bad for spending money on a consumer accessory. One could rightly call it undisciplined, even self-indulgent. Those arguments were persuasive and loud when we first brought the giant box home and dumped the lump - hard, convoluted, more like tempeh than bedding - onto the floor. But we are getting so much out of this product now that it's harder for me to be critical of the decision. It's good up here on the foam.

On an unrelated note, I received this link a few days ago from a close and beloved relative. Her message to me was "This site is beautiful! So just click below, sit back, relax and just enjoy the many wonders of our world. You can call it a little mini retreat." I call it creepy and disturbing. Chiang Kai Shek? Budapest? Who selected these photos? Who took them? Why are they being shown to me? Is George Strait making money on this? Why or why not? Please show your work. So with all this going on in my head I really didn't feel like I was on a "mini-retreat." More like a strategic disengagement under heavy insulin. I guess what I'm getting at is this: I may love you dearly but if you know me at all you'll know that I don't want email that will "make me smile." I want email that contains valuable and exciting information, not cloying recycled pap intended only to make me a happier person. I'm happy now, goddamn it. And enough with the smiling. It's making me uncomfortable.
thats just the way it seems to me at [10:42 AM]

[ Friday, June 13, 2003 ]


He walks with his jaw set, wearing a light jacket, pressed chinos, walking shoes. He carries in one hand a paper shopping bag from a tony department store, bulging with merchandise; in the other he grips the mouth of a big clear plastic garbage bag stuffed with women's shoes. She is three steps behind him, long straight hair hanging limply over her bony shoulders. She wears a black sweater, a black top, and black leggings - exercise chic. She carries two more paper shopping bags and follows him with visible reluctance, her face twisted in disappointment and despair. He leads her to the shop and brusquely pulls the door open, strides in without waiting for her. She hesitates at the threshold, then opens the door again and enters. The door of the used clothing store slowly closes behind her.
thats just the way it seems to me at [7:59 AM]

[ Thursday, June 12, 2003 ]

* I'm sorry.
* Thanks, I guess.
* Well you don't have to be nasty about it.
* What are you talking about?
* I say "I'm sorry." You say "that's okay." We put this behind us and we go on with life.
* Is that so?
* Yes, it is. So where's your "that's okay?"
* I'm not okay. Okay? You screwed up. I'm disappointed and frustrated and mad. But I'm not taking it out on you. I'm just trying to get past the fury I'm feeling. Then you just say "I'm sorry" because you feel bad that I feel bad. Great. You get to feel better that way. But I'm still here, right? I'm still pissed off. I'm still sad and I still have some serious questions. You being sorry doesn't answer those questions. You being sorry doesn't make me feel better. So why should I tell you "it's okay"? Because it's not. It's going pretty lousy.
* Well Jesus you don't have to jump down my throat. I'm just trying to patch things up. This situation may be a wreck but we can treat each other civilly.
* You want me to treat you civilly? What do you mean by that?
* What do I mean? .... With respect. Not needlessly hurtful. With room to appreciate personal tastes and strengths and weaknesses. With an allowance for being human. And all these things - they have to be okay. That's being civil.
* So it can be okay if you space out and blow me off and everything is ruined. That's okay, because it's part of your special unique quality, and I need to be okay with that and not make you feel bad because of it. Am I getting it right?
* Yeah.
* And when this happens, and my plans that I've been pouring myself into, that I've really put a lot of effort into, when all that goes in the crapper because you weren't paying attention, is it okay for me to feel bad?
* I don't know. I guess, as long as you didn't make me feel bad about it too. I would be cool with that.
* So I can feel bad, as long as I don't impose it on you.
* Yeah.
* So when you say 'you're sorry,' I'm over here feeling bad. You get it? You see why I don't want to say "it's okay" right now?
* No - because that makes me feel bad.
* Well I'm sorry about that.
* That's okay.
* Damn right it is.
thats just the way it seems to me at [8:28 AM]

On one hand, I love NPR because this morning their musical "button" (that ties two news segments together) for a story on stem cell research was one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite musicians - Jorma Kaukonen's iconic Embryonic Journey (oh you'd recognize it if I played it for you). I could hear that one whizzing past over the heads of 94% of all americans this morning, but at least a few of us appreciated it.

But then there's their weird promo spots. NPR is non-commercial, so it's a minor quibble, but one of their ads is sounding more threatening to me every day. It's from a recycling organization, and they tell us cheerfully, "today an aluminum can, tomorrow a baseball bat." I flinch every time they say it. It sounds like escalation to me - I'll throw this can at you if you don't recycle, and if you try to ignore me, I'm coming at you with an alumiville slugger. And you'd better bundle that cardboard. I'll mulch your polluting ass.

Then there's the Star Date woman. She's starting to creep me out. I seem to remember the same Majel Barret-like omniscience and cheerfulness coming from her when I was in high school. That was almost five hundred years ago! Well time is relative, I move around a lot, and it may not seem that long to you - but I am really getting tired of them wheeling this same announcer out of the Sandy Woods Outhouse every day or so to tell me what I'd be able to see if 1) the sky here wasn't washed out with a billion points of wasted light and 2) the sky here weren't usually as opaque and fuzzy as a down comforter. And it's really not the advice she gives, useless though it is to me - I've grown tired of her invariable sameness and smoothness, replicating the astral movements on which she reports. That's fine for the heavens, but I like people to have a bit more going on. It comes down to this, Sandy: I'm bored with our relationship. You bring me the stars but you don't make me laugh. And I'm a chuckly guy - ask anybody. "Just look three degrees below uranus and marvel in the glory of betelgeuse." Sure, Sandy. I'll catch right up. Just let me get my baseball bat.
thats just the way it seems to me at [7:45 AM]

[ Wednesday, June 11, 2003 ]

Our stingy quasi-governmental agency does provide one important convenience - a beverage room on every floor with free coffee. Sure, it's not great coffee and I seem to have to brew it a disproportionate share of the time, but what the hell, I get it for free. Most days I never venture farther from my desk than that coffee maker. So I'm glad it's there.

The cool guy who runs purchasing for us, the big NRBQ head around the corner from my cube, set his sights on something more. He put together a tasting this morning for all 200 of us in this building, with eight carafes of regular coffee labled "A" through "H" on conference tables laid out in a "U" shape, and a table full of cookies in the middle. We got taster's scoring sheets, little styro cups, and off we went. Nothing was really good, though some were less bad than others. I had to go back on occasion to realize, for example, that "G" didn't really rate an "8" - it just followed "F", which earned it's ignominous place in the alphabet.

There were several of us milling around conference rooms C-D munching biscotti and petit palmiers, comparing notes on eight regular and four decaf coffee options. I was thinking in terms of body and mouth-feel, piquancy versus tartness, assertiveness versus acerbicness. How the different intermezzo pastries affected my appreciation of different aspects of the java flavor spectra. My whole gustatory vocabulary was wheeled out, polished up, and set in ready running order.

I left it in neutral and limited myself to, "This one is yummy." "Bitter." "This is like water with a brown crayon in it." (A sure crowdpleaser.) "I guess these ones are okay." "I'm getting wired." "Give me that cookie." "She pushed me first." "Put me down."

I don't remember how the rest of the tasting went; I woke up here at my chair with half a biscotti in my fist. I wish I could have stuck around. It looked like it was going to be interesting.
thats just the way it seems to me at [10:41 AM]

[ Tuesday, June 10, 2003 ]

It occurred to me after a particularly heavy and satisfying meal this weekend (yes, we went to Q again, Tanja was in town for dinner, I finally had the ribs, they are superb) that "bloat" is a really effective word. Lying on my back, a glass of seltzer untouched by my side, I just rolled that word around in my head and it carried a lot of power. It's one of those words that seems to have the very characteristics it describes. It sounds distended. As you can imagine, this was a source of endless fascination to me as I slowly digested my enormous meal. And my egg cream from Toy Boat. I mean, it was right there. I had no choice.

Then this morning I start hearing more about Monkey Pox. You know, prariedog Monkey Pox from asia, appearing on this continent for the first time. I'm thinking, now that's a disease name you can get behind. Nothing there sounds even remotely good. That whole SARS thing was not working for me, I'm sorry. Terrible name. Never really cared. But Monkey Pox? You have my attention. And if you tell me that it's a syndrome, associated also with Monkey Bloat, I'm buying saran wrap, duct tape, face masks, rubber gloves, and a water distillation machine. As far as I'm concerned, the terrorists have won.
thats just the way it seems to me at [10:06 AM]

License plate holder seen this weekend on a smaller undistinguished shiny silver coupe: (across the top) I EAT YOUR (across the bottom) HATE LIKE LOVE. I follow at a respectful distance. You just don't know what to expect from some people.
thats just the way it seems to me at [9:42 AM]

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them. Albert Einstein, Good Earth Tea Bag Tag.
thats just the way it seems to me at [9:39 AM]

Last Friday night I took the advice of two of the most sophisticated observers of popular culture I have had the pleasure to meet - my sister, and Mr. G. A'Plenty. Both of them urged me to visit Oakland's Parkway Theater, and I was unable to withstand the onslaught of their combined persuasive powers. As a result I found myself looking up at a traditional theater marquee at nine o'clock at night, paying $5 for a ticket, and negotiating pizza topping preferences with Greg. We would have taken a metal pizza-seeking spindle with a number on top to our seats with our pitcher of Newcastle, but that was my job and therefore it was overlooked. But it was waiting for me when I remembered and went down to look for it, and, once retreived, enabled total pizza delivery convenience.

The scintillating Meredith soon joined us, having ridden over on a mysterious bottle-sprouting bike. She's as lovely as she is witty, which is loads, and it was a pleasure to meet her. The grilled chicken and spinach pizza arrived with the previews, and then we had our BLT - Better Luck Tomorrow, which I really liked. Good writing, good characters, excellent direction and camera work. But after all those years I spent in an asian youth gang, maybe I'm not being objective.

And the Parkway itself is a very cool theater. Low-budget, low-key - professional but self-deprecating, eclectic, and more than anything, comfortable. The rest of the crowd was a very entertaining and mellow mixed bag; the three of us shared a little couch (when I sit next to a man I refuse to call it a 'love seat') with a coffee table at prime footrest height, where our beer and pizza patiently awaited our desire. The screening room was good sized, and though the sound may not have been THX Dolby Invasophonic with tinkle enhancement, I heard just fine.

There's only one thing I found a little weird - the projector was in front of us, at the downstage edge of a long broad raised apron in front of the screen. I always look back at the projector when I go to the movies - all my life except one single time in college. And now at the Parkway. And it looks like I'll be facing that situation more often as I go, because I'm definitely going back to that theater. Maybe it wasn't the single best pizza I've ever had in my life. THEY FREAKING BROUGHT IT TO ME WHERE I SAT ON MY ASS DRINKING BEER WAITING FOR MY MOVIE WITH MY FEET UP. While chatting with Greg, which is always like being a guest on the Today Show or something - you just try to keep up, not make too many mistakes, and let him look good for you both. Once I got my beer I did okay.
thats just the way it seems to me at [9:31 AM]

[ Monday, June 09, 2003 ]

I get to manage the departmental email. I know, I'm an even bigger stud than you thought. Don't get kissdrool on my vestments. I have a point to make. We usually get one or two inquiries a day, about bank accounts or attorney misconduct or electronic forms or other matters remotely connected to my labors. Lately, we've also been getting one email a day from zg88(at)netvigator(dot)com about Zhang Hongbao. Some of these are in chinese but most have been translated. Since May 24 we've gotten the messages with the following "re:" lines on this subject (each one, capitalized and punctuated as in the original email):

* John Kusumi, told about zhang hongbao case
* Zhang Hongbao's ambition
* expert and media's view of zhang hongbao
* Zhang Hongbao was framed by side-person.
* Zhang Hongbao's resume and achievements
* American told about zhang Hongbao
* Nanfang He cheat police, INS and more
* Nanfang He has disease of Manic depression
* Politican's view of Zhang Hongbao
* Nanfang He got ill again this spring
* Nanfang has disease of manic depression
* Image of Zhang Hongbao as a leader
* Comment on the case of zhang Hongbao
* medical expert's opinion on manic depression

As you can see, there's a lot to catch up on in the old Zhang/Nanfang case. I've decided to wait till the video comes to my local outlet. Some reality is best experienced mediated. It comes down to this: I don't care who has manic depression. If you sound like an idiot when you send me unsolicited email, I will treat you like one. Now where's my scepter? I have a religion to found!

thats just the way it seems to me at [3:58 PM]


It's so close now I can almost taste the concrete dust in the air. For me it started close to two years ago when David and Kim's cable service was upgraded with about twenty more channels for the same price. We celebrated with them, wondering to ourselves when our pie would rise, in the idiom of our Commander in Chief. Yet the pie rose not. Our upgrade was held back. I called the cable company occasionally to try to learn more but never got them to tell me anything worth knowing.

But six months ago we got a notice that we'd have to have some work done on the house to prepare it for buried cable access for all the services we currently get through a maze of pendulous wire arcs skeining the sky of our street. Apart from their aesthetic limitations, the really great thing about those wires is their special susceptibility to getting taken out by a random limb torn by one of our occasional storms from any of the increasingly mature trees enforsesting the greenbelt across the street from our place. So everything will be better once we get a buried conduit system. Everything. Now you see where I'm coming from.

Friday I found, coming home from work, my sidewalk scrawled over with a maze of lines blocking out the places to dig trenches, to avoid or insert utility boxes, to find access points - a hopscotch game broken, multipied and scattered all the way down the pavement - the prepwork for the tearout portion of the cable job. I am so psyched. We're gonna have trenches.

But one thing does confuse me - with all the utility poles already in the neighborhood, the first phase of this project has been to sink even more of them. I've seen many installed recently, with one lonely wire on some of them and nothing on most. I asked one of the guys putting them in, "Why?" His answser: 'For the underground cable project." I repeated my question; he, his answer. I could have made something out of it. I have vast, barely-tapped capacities to ask exhaustive questions about construction activities. I just let it go.

My question, though, remains: Why, when we're burying all the wires that are now strung on poles, are we putting in more poles? Can't we use the existing poles? Why leave anything on poles at all? And are you aware that if you say or type 'pole' enough times it loses all meaning?

And, here's my point, really: The fact that this is the sort of thing that occupies so much of my thinking is a matter I have to start treating as a symptom of something that may be much more serious. At the very least, this fascination with poles and trenches has some disturbing undertones.
thats just the way it seems to me at [11:53 AM]

[ Friday, June 06, 2003 ]


I found a new buddy on my way to work today; I picked him up on the street outside the bus terminal and brought him up to my cube. Yeah, I know what it sounds like but it's not what you think. This dude is made out of maroon plastic and he's three inches tall. He's wearing a floor length gown, a pink scarf that covers his lower face, a peaked maroon hat and a big round gold medallion on a gold chain around his neck. His beady yellow eyes glare at me from a black face, and his pointy blue ears stick up through the brim of his hat. His three-fingered hands are blue too, and his right arm is hinged so he can lift a big gold club over his head - the club has a knurled grip and a rounded, flattened distal portion with vague runes on it. A knob protrudes from his left hip, wherewith one (that is, I) can wind him up and make him scurry spasmodically around on my desktop. He's copyright 2003 by Mattel Inc for McDonalds, and was manufactured in China.

I like my new friend. He makes me feel tall, graceful and well-dressed. But here's my question: what the hell IS he?
thats just the way it seems to me at [12:24 PM]


Do you ever get the sense that people are looking at you? On my way home last night, after a tedious and repetitiverich and fulfilling day, I crammed my little cap on my head, put on my good ol' fleecy cord coat and my shoulder bag, and headed out to the bus station. On the way there, I kept thinking I saw people looking at me. Not in angry or aggressive ways - they seemed to be smiling shyly and turning away discretely. Two strangers said "hi" to me as I passed them on my three-block walk to the bus. The bus was crowded; as I sat in my usual seat the vehicle filled up with people and as my eye scanned the crowd and caught theirs, many of them still seemed to be looking at me. I was getting a bit unnerved - I kept checking to see if my hat was on askew, if my shirt was inside out, my fly open, anything that could have explained the attention I felt I was receiving. I almost asked the very pretty woman sitting across from me in the tight jeans and leather coat who was reading the Victoria's Secret catalogue, but the cat, as it were, got my tongue. But several times I looked up from my writing pad to see her eyes trained in my general direction; each time she looked away, occasionally with a faint smile, never with the rancid scowl of a person trying to discourage unwanted attention. I felt very self-conscious. Checking myself in a mirror when I got home, I found no pen marks on my face, no obvious sartorial errors... I am still at a loss.

However, it puts me in mind of an experience I had a few weeks ago....

That evening I found myself at a bus stop at the intersection of Uptown and Scummyville, where innumerable tourists search their maps and guidebooks and gawk at hookers, junkies, aggressive panhandlers and alienated youth of every description. The sky was murky; I wore dark clothes and maybe a little sneer to keep the lost souls at bay. I stood in the gathering darkness, watching traffic and counting the change in my pocket by feel. And I waited for the bus.

The traffic light turned from red to green and back again, and the cars stacked up in front of me and then scurried away like spawning salmon, the traffic cycling monotonously, world without end. And so it came to pass that I found stopped before me, waiting for a greenie, a particular vehicle. A pickup. Dakota, green, tricked and shiny. It had the mag wheels, the pretty pinstripes, the smoked windows and deluxe interior. And the big guy.

I couldn't tell how big he was since he was sitting in the car, but clearly weight was not proportionate to height. His gut bulged enormously, crowded the steering wheel. His neck swallowed his chin and his eyes peered at me over corpulent cheeks like marbles in lard.

Peered at me. The smoked passenger window slid smoothly down. I didn't move. Neither did he. He just watched me, impassive and massive. His big truck rumbled quietly at my feet. Our eyes were locked. My jaw was clamped and my brow was lowered; the messenger bag strap over my shoulder bulged like a bandolier across my chest, cut hard back against my lats on the other side. My posture was erect. My shoulders bunched involuntarily, protectively. I hooked a thumb under the strap. The light changed. The lead cars crept, rolled, accellerated forward. Without shifting his gaze from me he rolled up his passenger window; then he returned his attention to the road and drove off into the night.

I was already on my bus before I realized he'd been trying to pick me up.

Moral: If you want something, ask for it. You may not get satisfaction but at least people will know where you stand. Especially if you're sitting down.
thats just the way it seems to me at [10:51 AM]

[ Thursday, June 05, 2003 ]

I told this story to my friend Anna not long ago, and doing so brought it back to me so vibrantly that I haven't been able to stop thinking of it, and doubt that I'll be able to stop thinking of it until I attend to every detail and re-live it through writing. So today's post is motivated by self-interest, pure and simple. But I think it's a nice story anyway.


We'd rented a van and filled it with coolers of water and fruit juice, sandwiches and bananas, cookies and chips, and of course patio furniture, pillows and sleeping bags. We drove two hours north to Ventura, to the fairgrounds, and parked next to the rock berm that formed the shoreline. Spray from the waves speckled our windshield within minutes after we'd parked, and although we were technically in an illegal space, we were followed by many thousands of others and within a few hours we could only have been extracted by a helicopter with a winch (or "winchacopter"). The guys in the van right behind us gave us free access to the keg of beer they'd brought, and a general party atmosphere ensued as our transient community of 20,000 gathered for two Dead shows. It was 1984 and there was still an air of authenticity about the scene.

The first show was great, phenomenal really. We returned to the van as the summer night fell, thrilled and energized. We cooked on the rocky shore where the waves washing in jostled the stones and rolled them against and into each other, like so many teeth and bones, a hollow clacking that I could feel deep under my skin. I loved that sound; it soothed me, eased the churning rhythms of the concert out of my blood, replacing them with random organic repetitiveness. I dragged out a chaise lounge from the van and set it up on the shore, ten feet from the breaking surf; I put my sleeping bag on it, climbed in, and drifted into sleep.

Early the next morning the cold started seeping in. I became painfully aware of my knees, my sacrum, the back of my neck, the top of my head. I was dreadfully awake with cold. The sea on the rocks sounded like the chattering jaws of a hypothermia victim, and definitely didn't comfort me or warm me up. A wet Pacific wind can cut to your bones, even in the summer; it feels much colder than people might think. I could feel the vital energy draining out of me as the dew formed on my sleeping bag and face and hair.

Giving up on my sleep in the still of the dawn in the shoreline parking lot, I opened my eyes to see a man approaching me with a large bundle. He was deeply tanned, modestly dressed, looked Mexican, itinerant. He pulled a brightly striped cotton blanket from his bag. "$10," he said with a heavy accent. I reached into the jeans I was still wearing in the sleeping bag - there was one bill in my pocket. A $10. I handed it to him and he draped the blanket over me.

I quickly fell back to sleep, comforted and warm until the day itself grew warm and the parking lot campground was alive with song, smoke and breakfasts cooking on open flames. That day's concert was also fabulous and the blanket came home with me afterwards. Then I took it back to college that fall, and I've kept it with me pretty much ever since. It's an extremely handy blanket, big and soft and sturdy and cheerful. I've used it as a bedcover, a wall hanging, a yoga mat, a serape... and it's been put to a few other choice purposes too. We still use it all the time. I've long since amortized that ten dollar bill, but there's still plenty of comfort and warmth left in my mexican blanket. I can't help but think that that's the warmth of the man who sold it to me, of a benevolent universe that sent him to me at the moment I needed him most. I don't think I spoke to him that morning. But I thank him every time I use it.
thats just the way it seems to me at [8:23 AM]

[ Wednesday, June 04, 2003 ]

The Tippling Point: Redi Or Not

Wednesday at noon-thirty is the Tipping Point. From here on, I'm getting inexorably closer to my next weekend, instead of farther away from my last one. In honor of this auspicious moment, I'll share my notes on a product I saw up in the Anderson Valley at Greenwood Cellars winery. It's a hippy-dippy place with tie-dyed banners and reggae music playing in the tasting rooms, up-classed with beautifully manicured grounds and a lovely pond with a picnic island. My favorite part, though, was the little rotating display case of canned wine. Most of it was from Europe, and the 80's - a lot of Hock wine, which is no longer fashionable, and a lot of stuff to be served "over ice."

Generally the cans were very similar and unimaginative, but one bore closer inspection: a can of "Redi-Shot" with a Nebraska state "light wine" liquor tax stamp over the pull-tab. It looked old - maybe from the 60s. It was a 10 ounce can, green with chunky white sans-serif lettering. It was produced and bottled by the Redi-Shot Manufacturing Company, Denver Colorado USA. (To distinguish it from some wannabe Denver south of the border, or a Potemkin Denver in Siberia's icy wastelands, I guess). Down the left side of the can were the directives: "Luck" "Cheers" "Here's to You"; on the right were "Here's How" "Bottoms Up" and "Luck" again, either because 1) someone was drinking on the job and spaced out or 2) anyone drinking from this can needed all the luck he could get.

This product is 6% alcohol by volume and claims to be "A carbonated specialty made with wine, sugar, water, flavoring material, ascorbic acid and less than 1/10th of 1% benzoate of soda as a preservative." We are instructed by the label: "Pour over ice / It's ready to serve."

Maybe it's ready to serve - I may not be ready to drink. I like wine, but this stuff I'm not too sure about. First, it's a "specialty." Not just a beverage. I get suspicious when my canned wine claims to be a "specialty." I have doubts it's even an "ordinary-ity." In fact I suspect it's probably a "sub-standard-ity." Note to Redi-Shot: alcohol is supposed to give ME delusions of grandeur, not to indulge in them itself. When I want "specialties" I know where to find them and it's not a can of wine from Denver. Next, I note that the winemakers have added sugar, water, ascorbic acid and benzoate of soda to reduce alcohol content to about half of what I usually drink. This doesn't bode well for the delicacy of the vintner's craft. I'm confirmed in this suspicion by the inclusion of "flavoring material" among the ingredients. I guess this distinguishes them from "flavoring concepts" or "flavorless material." It seems euphemistic, like something is being left out of the description. "This stuff still tastes like donkey wee. Can't we flavor it up at all?" "Sure, sommelier Chugmeister - I have a cherry lifesaver and some leftover auto coolant, they're both sweet and tasty." "Are these physical objects or theoretical constructs, Herr Corkwhiffer?" "Oh they're material entities all right - in fact, the lifesaver is kind of linty." "Then we'll just call them by their generic name and preserve our trade secret - that wine tastes better when you add crap to it."

Anyway, their wine probably tastes better that way. I have my standards. They may be low, but they're there. Redi-Shot wouldn't have made the mark, even when I was in college. I don't do shots of wine. Some things, we're meant to shoot - mescal, alcohol in jello, everclear flavored with nyquil - drinks the enjoyment of which is impaired by the tasting thereof. These drinks have as their saving grace a high alcohol content. Redi-Shot is watered down and still tastes like Mad Dog's juvenile delinquent second cousin. I may be redi for a lot of things, but I don't need any of that shot.
thats just the way it seems to me at [1:43 PM]

Disclaimer: the events hereinbelow related are true, but took place several years ago. Since then, we've been totally clean. It's dull but it's safe.

Meet the Beetles

It had been going on for months before either of us really brought it up. We knew that speaking of it aloud would validate it, verify its actuality. We opted for denial for a long time, but finally one of us had to say the words, "Do you ever notice these things?," while holding up a grain of brown rice. Or - no, that's not rice, though the right size and shape - but not so regular - those look like legs - oh god it's a beetle, give me strength we've been infested....

We knew it was worse than we saw, which was just a beetle or two each day, sometimes several in the morning after a really warm night, scattered across our stovetop and counter. Always dead or barely moving. We'd wipe them up like so many breadcrumbs. Honestly, there were tiny and seemed much less gross than some other forms of life that might infest our food, but even so, we preferred to live without them and cleaned up very carefully to source them out. This led us to toss a box of instant mashed potatoes that seemed to be about 2/3s beetles, hoping this would fix our problems. But I suspected it wouldn't.

I suspected correctly. We found no beetles for a few months, but eventually a new one showed up. It was back behind the lazy susan in the cabinet, in a very out-of-the-way spot. We pretended again. Again, as the seasons turned and spring ripened, the little buggers came back in force. We'd cleaned everything, checked for holes to the outside, divested ourselves of all instant potato products, but still they showed up, in small numbers but steadily. We went over everything again.

In the midst of this exercise we decided to clear out the old herbs and spices too. We have a capacious spice rack built into a recessed space in a deep cupboard door that used to house an ironing board - now it's got about eight shallow shelves that we fill with spices. Some of these spices we bought long, long ago and are no longer using because all their savory attributes have irretrievably deteriorated. Yet, because we still had half of a huge tub of these various bulk spices, we wouldn't replace them. Old oregano, red pepper flakes gone brown with age, chives that were no longer entitled to use that name... we went through and cleared out a bunch of wizened old seasonings.

As a geek (or geek wannabe, which is even sadder), I alphabetize the spices, so we were nearing the end of the collection when we got to the cool Hungarian paprika in the big metal cannister. We didn't remember where we'd gotten it (we were pretty sure it wasn't Hungary though); it was certainly very good paprika. But we were ona mission to evaluate the quality of every item on those shelves so I pried off the green plastic shaker lid.

Inside was a mass of tiny beetles. They seemed mostly dead. Mostly. They were dusted with fragrant and vibrant paprika. I knew there was plenty of paprika in there; it shook out readily whenever I wanted to use it, which - till then - had been a regular, if occasional, occurrance. But all I could see when I peered into the container was beetles. Hundreds of them. We threw that paprika the hell away. With it went the last of the beetles and the end of the infestations.

It's been years now, beetle-free and proud. I recently was working in the kitchen, opened a new box of sugar, and one of these beetles fell out. I poked at its dead little grain of a body with a wooden skewer. The sugar was glacially white. I was ready to start baking, I didn't want to go out to the store again for more sugar just on account of this one vermin (or is the singular "vermus?"). I decided to dispose of the beetle and forget I'd ever seen it. I knew where it had come from, that there was only one, that it was really someone else's problem down at the C&H plant. And anyway I'd probably inadvertently eaten more than my share of them already back in the gross old days.

Then I began to feel badly for it, dying in a box of sugar. What a way to go. I sometimes imagine myself dying from being buried in a mountain of granulated salt. I'd heard such a story when I was very young and it always struck me as particularly horrible. But to die in a box of sugar, a sweet coffin - the irony could kill you.
thats just the way it seems to me at [8:43 AM]

[ Tuesday, June 03, 2003 ]

Earlier today I checked my blog and the ad banner across the top featured "the asparagus guy" and advice on seducing the man or woman (or both, I suppose) of your dreams. I was wondering if there was some relationship. Now my ad banner features "Fun Office Accessories - fun stuff for your desk; Tons of office toys" AND "seductive(dot)com - how to seduce men/women - tips, techniques and products affiliate." I'm envisioning some sort of oversized vibrating latex spear of edible grass with a page-a-day dilbert calendar built right in. On the net, all things are connected. To my asparagus.
thats just the way it seems to me at [2:10 PM]

A few weeks ago my little training class had a guest lecturer. The notes I took of his presentation go like this: "Tonight: a visit from Leon. [blank space] You can tell he's a leader because he's always asking, 'you follow me?'"

Regardless of the paucity of written notes, his presentation was good. I was reminded of it when I watched the Daily Show last night and the guest was a CNN reporter who kept saying, "Let me tell you:..." I realized that he wanted to tell us stuff because he's a news anchor. That the way we express ourselves is a reflection of our psyche.

This made me wonder what phrases I use and what they say about me. For example, I will say "I'm not in the mood for this crap right now" because I'm emotionally sensitive. And I'll say "see you in hell" because I'm a godfearing man. I suppose the thing I say the most, though, is "It's on my prioritized agenda. Do you need me to reprioritize it?" And this tells me that I'm a well-organized, goal-focused weasel professional.
thats just the way it seems to me at [1:58 PM]

You know you shouldn't be left alone in a grocery store with credit cards when the only thing that looks more delicious than the Super Sour Trolli Gummy Worms in the eye-level display at the checkout line are the Hostess fruit pies in the next aisle. How can sugar take so many forms, each more irresistable than the last? No, don't tell me - let me savor the individually-wrapped mystery.
thats just the way it seems to me at [10:06 AM]