So often he does it better

My blog posts on the heat are topped by a Jon Carroll column. I don’t mind when he does it better; I’m just glad I get to read him. He’s right on, once again.

Another “he” who done good: my boss wrote a song that’s worth checking out. You may recall from earlier posts that I work for some big ol’ software company, so this is a fellow software geek we’re talking about, but his song has something to say and says it well.

If you’re from my generation, you might be as clueless as I was, so here’s a tip on the background: the original Superman was George Reeves, father of Christopher Reeves, the guy who was famous as a movie hunk and then more famous as a spinal cord injury activist. George Reeves died under mysterious circumstances (murder? suicide? see the movie!). If anyone knows the truth and can prove it, they’re not talking, but for at least one little boy in Iowa who needed his hero, the alleged suicide came as a real blow.

It’s so amazing when people step way outside their usual comfort zones to do something that matters to them.

In other news, Ayse thinks my blog needs a new title. Obviously she’s right, but what would it be? Use that comment link, people!

I’ve just learned that if you read this blog with Windows Internet Explorer, you’ve never seen all the stuff in the right column.

Let’s take stock. Do you see nothing besides the title and recent posts? If so, you’re using a crappy, lousy, horrible, inferior browser, and you should move on. Over there—>> on the right, you should see a little picture of me, a list of photo collections found within, a link to archives of old posts, a wee sudoku, and some links to other blogs I read. If you don’t see that, your browser sucks.

Internet Explorer is about the lamest and most pathetic web browser I’ve ever attempted to use. I’ll restrain myself from the urge to level a blast at all of Windows and focus my wrath on IE: it’s lousy, and if it’s the only web browser you’ve ever used, you’re in for a huge surprise. Almost all the alternatives out there are better. I myself like OmniWeb, and Safari and Firefox are my backup browsers. None of them are perfect, but all of them are better. The first two are the exclusive privilege of Mac users, but those of you who haven’t yet seen the light on the whole Mac vs. Whatever question could at least do yourselves the favor of trying Firefox. (“Firewho?” I hear you ask. Use Google, it’s not hard to find it.) Download it and use it for two days. You might move on to something else, but you’ll never go back to IE.

For those of you who do have Macs, give OmniWeb a try. It has its little problems, but I have yet to find a browser that doesn’t. What OmniWeb does well, it does so well that you’ll want to use it all the time, and you won’t mind having to keep Safari and Firefox around for the bits and pieces it doesn’t handle as well.

You know it’s hot when…

…two cats and a dog all do their dead-horse impressions within feet of each other in what they’ve decided is the coolest room in the house.

…your black lab is too tired to get up and ask for a bite of your hot dog. 

…your cat decides that the granite countertop is a good place to lounge. 

…you work in the dark because you don’t want your 100 watt light bulb heating up the room. 

Wicked hot

It’s been wicked hot here since Friday. Usually on the few days a year that this area gets hot, we get coastal fog by nightfall to cool it all back down again, and those days are usually at least in August if not September or October. July in SF is famously the coldest winter Mark Twain ever spent. Usually we joke about July coming, better get out the wool sweaters. Not this month! It got up to 94 inside, 99 outside, and cooled only to 89 at night, three nights in a row and counting. I know that doesn’t sound so bad to people in many areas, but what you have to realize is that we don’t have air conditioners around here, so when it does get this hot, there’s very little we can do about it. I was glad the July opera was over, because it was 105-115 in the tunnel suburbs.

Actually, office buildings and the wealthy people in their McMansions have air conditioning, and the power draw usually causes brownouts or rolling blackouts when we get heat waves. The utilities then beg us all to “Flex our power” and only run appliances after sunset and before sunup. They rarely mention that the wealthy should turn down their air conditioners. We sweltering hoi polloi are supposed to wash our dishes by hand and do laundry after bedtime so that the McMansions can stay cool. Right. I think instead of having rolling blackouts, they should just throttle the amount of electricity available to each home as needed, and each home can allocate its share as desired. Maybe if the McMansioners realized that their air conditioning and refrigerators were mutually exclusive choices, they’d set the AC higher than 65. And just think, the general population might finally figure out the relationships between volts, watts, and amps!

While I’m ranting, why is it that the people who think AC needs to be set at 65 are also the people who think furnaces need to be set at 75? And how come the people with the flags on their SUVs are also the people who can’t be bothered to vote?)

Heat waves make me cranky.

Anyway, Saturday we woke up hot and miserable, and it didn’t take me long to declare it a desperate time calling for desperate measures and mix up a batch of Danish Marys, which helped. At 3pm it was all I could do to force myself outside and light the grill to roast a chicken. Fortunately, it tasted pretty good. We were dousing ourselves in cold water several times an hour, and by the end of the day we’d gone through a gallon of iced tea and all the ice in our freezer, which is saying something when you have an ice machine.

We tried to take Candy for an afternoon walk but only got about two houses away before we had to give up–it was just too hot to move, and since she’d pooped, we just turned around and promised her a proper walk after dark. After dark it was still too hot, though, so none of us got any significant exercise Saturday.

Yesterday we woke up hot and miserable for the third day in a row and went out to buy fans. I’ve lived here since 1994 and never needed anything more than a wimpy little oscillating tabletop fan that I’d brought from Chicago. I don’t remember even using that fan since moving to Montclair for anything but ventilating rooms with fresh paint or tile lacquer, and after the kitchen project, it was so gunky and bedraggled, I finally threw it away. However, all three critters had been doing their dead horse impressions since Friday and it was starting to worry me, so we went and bought two high-power fans for them. They’ve been roaring on high ever since.

We also got a sprinkler for Candy, and when we got home we stripped down a layer and took her out to play in it. V and I loved it, but Candy had to be dragged and stood there with this look of despair or at least resignation. I swear, though, she appreciated when she went back inside to flop on her pillow all wet with the fan blowing on her. She looked perky and alert for the first time in days. We also felt much better and went out with the newspaper and our wet clothes to the back deck. We decided a bucket of icy water was a nice place to keep our feet. Norton begged to come out, so I dunked his paws in the icy water several times, too. He didn’t appreciate that at all, but I swear it did him some good. Gjetost, meanwhile, had retreated to the coolest, darkest corner of the house: my office, behind the milkcrates under my desk. Once we realized she was missing, it took us quite a panicky ten minutes or so to find her!

We made a cold dinner and sat down to watch a movie at 8. By the end of the movie, V pointed out that cool air was coming in, so we took Candy on her walk and felt gleeful. You know it’s hot out when 85 feels like a cool breeze. She had fun growling at a couple raccoons.

Now’s about the time I realized our refrigerator/freezer needed to be turned down–it was 50 in the fridge and 25 in the freezer, so that helped explain why we’d emptied the ice supply two days in a row. Poor thing just wasn’t keeping up.

Here we are, day four, and it’s 83 inside and 87 outside already at 10:30am. Not good.

Over the winter, we had 100-year-record rainfall, and now our supposedly coldest month is the hottest I’ve been through since moving to California. It’s beyond me how anyone can deny that global warming is happening.

In better news, that record rainfall seems to be promising a bumper crop of Montclairberries. Before it got quite so blisteringly hot, I harvested the first big load, and we started macerating three bucketsful of the family product–one rum, two vodka. Montclairberry Slurpees are in our future.


Sorry about that broken link to the Deck: Before and After, Jr. photo collection. It’s fixed now.

It’s bloody hot here–too hot to think clearly or accomplish anything. I need to cobble together some kind of swamp-cooler for the baking kitties.

Scope-creep happens

After Jon and George and Russ and the guys finished my kitchen, way back in the fall of 2004, George tore out the rotten, ugly, hideous, cheap-ass deck-facsimile that had been his route for supply-hauling and so on for the five months he’d been slaving on my kitchen, and he built me a beautiful redwood and copper deck.

This would be the ultimate scope creep. We’d gone from redoing a kitchen, widening an opening, and redoing dining room, music studio, and entry floors, to doing all that plus tearing out, upgrading, and lighting a deck and major outdoor staircase.

The deck was awful. It was beyond awful; it was scary and hateful. When I bought the house, it was one of the declared “preexisting conditions.” There was already a bounty on its everhating head: $6K. Yeah, right, $6K. I started talking to contractors and heard numbers more like $30K, and I decided I could ignore the rotting, hideous deck for a while. But five years had gone by, and Jon and George and Russ and the guys had been tromping up and down on my deck and cursing at my deck and cutting tiles on my deck and stacking old appliances on my deck and heaping debris on my deck for five months more, and it had become apparent that this deck was not only ugly and hideous but a potential liability.

George and I had shared morning coffee nearly every morning for five years, and afternoon beers and whatnot for many of those days, so by now we were family. Since the kitchen was finished and he was ready for a new project, George offered to redo my deck, showed me some sketches, and offered a reasonable estimate of materials, times, rates, and so on. We reached agreement over martinis one night (or rather, I was drinking a martini, and he was having a vodka-vermouth-olive concoction). I took care of the boring legal details, he took my deck books and sketches home to think about, and we were off.

George decided to view this holistically as a project not only of construction but of art, of mind and body, and of moral struggle, so he decided not to involve any cut-rate (not to mention illegal) day laborers. He decided to do all the work himself, including digging out the hillside as needed to have a single door-level deck and remove the steps and level change; including digging holes for piers and mixing and hauling concrete for piers; including constructing a whole new, higher, stronger retaining wall running a larger portion of the perimeter. We decided to take Before and After George pictures to go with the Before and After deck pictures, since he planned to improve his own physique along with my deck. The Before pictures are in the photo collection, but we forgot to take the Afters, unfortunately.

I helped with a bit of the shovelwork, but nothing significant, and the design process was collaborative, involving many sessions of us staring at what was done so far and discussing how next to proceed, but on the whole, this deck was a work of George Lawson art.

Did I mention that George is an artist?

Google him, and you will find a long (electronic) paper trail of his ongoing career as an artist. Eventually you’ll land at his site and see his newest paintings, which were inspired by the enthusiastic reception that a painting of his received at my kitchen-warming (Smørgåsbord V: Norway and Sweden) in January 2005. I’ve hung two of his works, tangram dancers and turtles, in my music studio, and you’ll see these in my Before:After, Jr: The Deck photo collection.

His new work is exciting. I want the Japanese firemen.

It was also a remarkable act of friendship. We grew closer, as his work grew depressing as the weather grew colder, and my software job grew depressing (because we were going through a rough spell at work). Many is the time we slurped nasty protein shakes for lunch together, dug holes together, and commiserated over our miserables states of employ. Our conversational arch over the four months (or so) that it took to redo the deck covered the nature and purpose of art, daily politics, the disastrous 2004 elections, food, life, love, and everything else that mattered then and still matters now.

We watched the series of presidential and vice-presidential debates together, always over the requisite food and drink. One dark night, George W. Bush the Despicable won reelection. As Ohio’s electoral votes stood between us and doomsday, George even persuaded me to give him a haircut, and I can at least say for myself that his head looked better for the next six weeks or so than my nation did.

Back to art, my house has a George Lawson original on the west side. It’s still waiting for its crowning glory, a promised redwood sculpture, perhaps of a napping cat, to be perched on the curiously unfinished-looking post at the bottom of the staircase. It’s also waiting for a signature. When these are installed, we’ll mix martinis and vodka concoctions and dedicate not just a beautiful work of construction and art but another wonderful branch of my family. I’ll always have an extra chop on the grill for George.

You found me!

I moved my blog to blogspot, because I was fed up with all the glitches and gotchas of trying to keep this thing together on my comcast homepage. A URL that’s easier to remember is a nice bonus for the switch: (Don’t click that; you’re already here.)

Here are feed options, for those who know how to use them:

Please let me know if you notice links not working, etc., particularly with the photo albums, which are still on the dreaded

Cheese kitty likes olives

Victoria and I were having martinis (Beefeater, of course), and fortunately I happened to have my camera within arm’s reach when Gjetost the Cheese Kitty started trying to finish my martini. I think she was after the olive more than the remaining gin vapors, but you never know.

And because I can, here’s a video of her exploits.

Why are you reading this? 

My site-traffic widget reports that my readership is smallish but much larger than I’d expect, which is to say greater than the six readers or so that could be accounted for by my family, and there’s even a fair amount of return traffic from people who live places where I don’t know people, so some people must be finding something interesting here. What is it? Use that comment link, please. 

Airline kharma

My airline kharma has been interesting lately. I passed the 50K butt miles mark sometime in May, meaning I’ve already passed my usual annual mileage, so my upgrade status is coming along nicely. For many of my recent segments endured during nine consecutive weeks of business travel, I’ve been getting upgraded to business a lot. On Monday it all came crashing down: not only did I not get upgraded, but I got stuck in a window seat trapped in by two middle-aged mainland Chinese tourists who insisted on sleeping nearly all the way across the continent. My impression is that they’d arrived in SFO from China and were continuing to the east coast in what would have to be the marathon journey from hell, poor folks, so I couldn’t bring myself to wake them. Finally I climbed over them, traveling by armrest (they’re stronger than you’d expect!) to escape for a pee and to get another bottlet of wine.

Later, when I was nibbling on my leftover wildly-hot barbecue rib shreds (I’d deboned before leaving home and was basically extruding the gloppy meat out of a ziploc snack baggie into my mouth, like so much incendiary space food), then unwinding and nibbling through a sweaty braid of traditional string cheese, and washing all this down with my bottlet of airplane cabernet while working on the NYTimes Sunday crossword, I reflected on how I’d observed with some curiosity the unfamiliar and often strange-looking picnics I’d seen people eating on my flights around China last fall and wondered how these folks could possibly be any less puzzled by my meal. Even to me it was a strange one.

Anyway, back to that airline kharma, I’d had a three-hour nap before the plane even got off the ground in SF, because Washington, DC had all those rain storms, and everything in and out of Dulles was all out of whack. I finally landed around 9pm. My 10pm shuttle to RDU was delayed to 10:38, boarded at 10:30, and actually left around midnight, so it was 1:30am by the time I got to my hotel. What’s really weird is that I’d hoped to catch the 7:15 shuttle on standby if my long haul had arrived on time (I booked the later one because it brought the fare down $400 and made it possible for me to book United instead of one of the icky airlines), and THAT flight was delayed to 11:45 and who knows when it finally left. Very weird!

Summer afternoon/evening flights from down here are always dodgy, so when my meeting schedule changed on me for the umpteenth time and I had to rebook to the last RDU-IAD shuttle, which has a 45 min connection to the SFO flight and often a terminal change to make that extra aerobic, I warned Victoria that we should probably get used to the idea that I wouldn’t make it home until Saturday or Sunday. (I have a 7pm opera rehearsal Sunday, but nothing else scheduled.) Sure enough, when my meetings finished up around 4:30 (wildly successful! yay!), I had text messages waiting on my phone that my 7:35 flight was departing “on time” at 8:40. Huh? How is that on-time? I then spent about 10 minutes trying to get updated flight stati over the web to no avail, gave up and phoned, learned that I’d have a -20 minute connection, checked out my options for Sat-Sun returns, called Bruce and Kathy to arrange a visit (“sure!”), called back to book a Sunday morning departure, called Avis to reserve a car, and spent the extra time typing up my meeting notes so I didn’t have to take pictures and transcribe them later.

I got to the airport about 90 min early, planning to find something to eat, only to discover that every last food outlet in that airport closes at 7pm. What’s THAT about? Finally I found a plastic chicken caesar and a lousy margarita and settled in with my novel. At 8:40 there was still no sign of our plane, but the unattended gate still had the “ON TIME” sign and the “DEPARTS 8:40” as if that could possibly be true about a 7:35 flight that was over an hour late and still planeless. In a fit of self-amused pique, I pulled out the ONTIME sign and put it back in upside-down. The dozen or so people sitting at the gate giggled and thanked me. I asked the assembled if anyone had some Post-It so we could add a “NOT SO MUCH” sign to their “ON TIME” sign. A remarkably large portion of the group started digging through their bags looking for some. I finally was the one who found some (guess who leads a lot of meetings?), so I made and posted the sign, and by now the little gang of us were all chatting and laughing together.

We were all amused when the gate agent arrived and started doing her thing without touching or even appearing to notice our alterations to signage.

About this time, some salesman-looking guy walked up to some people sitting near us and practically shouted a greeting and introduction of himself, so several of us sort of shouted back to him, “Hi, Shannon, we’re everybody else!” He happily greeted “everybody else” back, and by this time we’d all figured out that his volume level had two causes: iPod earphones and rum and cokes. After we all joked around a bit about our plane not even being here yet, he asked if we would mind bellowing, “Hey, Shannon!” toward the bar when it did finally arrive. We practiced, and he was so amused he offered everybody traveling to Dulles a drink on his company. About five of us took him up on it. I offered my little tub of greek olives to the party. About fifteen minutes, the plane was finally boarding, and sure enough, as the check-in line dwindled, about four people yelled “Hey, Shannon” together, and we joined the queue. (We’d been keeping an eye on it, actually, but still!)

It was a happy flight. Late, and I think one passenger of the thirty of us actually made a connection, but fun.

Just before we landed, the flight attendant told us why we’d been late: Dubya was in Memphis with Koizumi, and the whole time Air Force One sat around in Memphis, nobody else was allowed to do anything in the airspace for a 30 mile radius. I hoofed it out Dulles with our pilot, who said it was just standard security practice and mentioned that he’d been involved in “the Clinton haircut” debacle, too: “same deal, both parties–it’s just stupid.”

And now here I am visiting college friends for a weekend, and the company gets to pay half, since it wasn’t my fault.

As for Shannon, I was right–he IS a salesman. I won’t name his company, but it’s a luxury goods maker I’ve yet to patronize, because their stores never, ever stock extra fine nibs. Therefore I carry around products from half a dozen of their competitors (because of course I’m one of those high-tech geeks who loves-low tech fountain pens that make big, ungracious, unmodern messes of ink all over my latest, greatest gadgets). I told him as much, and it put him on an absolute tear about how frustrated he is with the stores thinking medium is all they’ll ever need. We exchanged business cards and he promised to fix the problem, because he doesn’t want me traveling all around the world with those other brands. I suspect what this means is that either I’ll never hear from him or he’ll arrange an opportunity for me spend a gazillion dollars on an XF in his brand, but you never know!

Like I said, my airline kharma is changing. Didn’t say it’s getting worse.