Thus quothe the goose, “HONK!”

Sleep came for me as Stephen Colbert quizzed Charlize Theron on the political message in “Snow White and the Huntsman.”    The lights in my mind dimmed as the pillow ushered me down and far away.  My dreams could have been about the Mines of Moria or painting a red door black.  There was nothing.  I was happily drifting in the in-between. Then there was a goose. No.  Wait.  It was a car honking.  You know the sound, the motion alarm that goes off when garbage trucks drive passed too close or you park near the train tracks when the freight cars go by.  My haze thinned, but remained.  Was it my car?  My car goes off all the time.  This didn’t sound like my car, but I didn’t really want to move.  Lambchop and the Monkey jumped into action looking for my keys.  I was as sure as any sleepyhead could be that it wasn’t my car.  Lambchop returned to a backdrop of honks and confirmed my suspicion.  It was in the church parking lot.

My haze was obliterated.  This demonic car was going to honk a while.  Then it stopped.  Lambchop and I shared the dark and the dread.  A few seconds later it was back, urgent in its hopeless need for attention.  It was 11:49pm.  I’m pretty sure the Catholics lock their gates by 11pm.  It wasn’t so loud that it was front and center.  If I turned on the TV, the sound would drown it out.  But in the silence I sought for slumber, it cut an uneven swath through the room like a jagged edge.

After several minutes, the incessant honking stopped.  Slumber approached like a timid doe, seeking refuge.  Honks broke the silence and the doe bolted.  I knew I could outwait the honks of a car that was probably nicknamed Christine by its malevolent owner.  Eventually it stopped.  Was it done?  I dared not hope for such quick resolution.  Silence, as precious as water in the desert.  Silence, short-lived.

My previously fogged mind was now a sunny day in July. I was determined to forcibly move these sounds to the background, compartmentalized them like Lucifer in Sam’s mind.  This was the Chinese water torture of the dreamless kind.  After a few moments, I decided to count the honks like sheep.  I had missed the first 20 or 30.  I wasn’t in my right mind, because when I got to 30, I started over.  When I got to 22 a second time, I realized the honks had stopped.  Was this madness?

I believe there were 3 or 4 more cycles of honks.  In my mind I was stuck in an aural Edvard Munch creation.  My inability to psychically move the discordant sounds to a box in the back of my mental closet troubled me.  Then the goose came back.  The honks were inconsistent and often incomplete.    The sounds moved from predictable patterns to a random walk, seemingly constructed to encourage irrational thought.  The goose became a duck as the honks truncated and played out into the night sky.  There too many birds in my bedroom.  Could their droppings be far behind?

Internally, a switch was flipped and the logical part of my mind realized that the Christine was running out of juice.  I was winning the waiting game, if I could recapture rationality. Perhaps I was losing.   I secretly hoped the battery was dead and owner would have issues with the car, receiving a karmic present of sorts. And I was tired. I couldn’t look, but I’m sure it was around 12:20am. Perhaps it was 2:30am.  Did it really matter? I put up no resistance as the Sandman came to carry me to a better place. 



An Unthinkable Situation

Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am.  The Monkey is basically a great kid with a bright future.  Lambchop loves me unconditionally and constantly.  My family’s dysfunctions are less than most.  I have  a roof over my head, many knives — most of them sharp, an unending supply of good wine, great friends, food trucks to feed me, a garden to be proud of and a pool.  All that’s missing is a baby’s arm holding an apple.  You know what is not on that list?  The ability to think.  I don’t think we should take rational thought and the ability to solve problems for granted.  Most of us do.

I am very fond of the phrase, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and  expecting different results.”  Einstein said that originally, though with different punctuation and one less word.  By that definition, most people are insane.  In truth, they are often not self-aware to my way of thinking.  We often go about our day, doing what we think we need to, without evaluating the results.  Was it good or bad? Did it work? Did I solve a problem or simply hide the symptoms?  Because most of us work, we see the results of others’ efforts and if we choose, we can evaluate those results and those efforts.  But do we?  More often than not, we choose to not make waves and let things go. Its easier.

My line of work requires me to solve problems.  Sometimes they are big problems people see coming and the job is to avoid the issue or prevent the problem.  More often, sadly, someone is asleep at the wheel and I am called into triage the disaster and fix the underlying cause.   The root cause is generally related to  someone thinking at a surface level and ignoring the various implications  of their actions.  Today was one of those occasions.  In its simplest terms, if you put a quart of water in a bucket twice a day, that water is contained and available to you in the bucket.  If you never take any out, one day you’ll try to put some in the bucket and the bucket will overflow; water will puddle and you will slip and fall.  Disaster may ensue.  I don’t  work with buckets.  I work with computers and data.

If you ever watch Rachael Ray, she always throws some salt over her shoulder when she cooks.  It keeps the Kvorka or evil eye or gypsies away.  It’s cute.  It’s her thing.  And you can damn well bet her staff cleans up every day.  Can you imagine if they didn’t?    A mess.  A salt hazard of unimaginable consequence. Danger Will Robinson! Danger!  Yet everyday people we know do things without thinking about what else they need to do.  We are so busy that we can’t see past the immediacy of our current self-made crisis.  Is it too much to ask people to think, just a little more about next steps and implications?

All too often I’m told there is no time to fix past problems.  Put on a band-aid and move on.  I vehemently disagree.  Solve the immediate need and take the care to prevent future episodes.  But no, there is always a new problem that prevents us from remediating the underlying cause.  Until it breaks again.  Then we move into crisis mode one more time.  Its our own version of insanity.

Many people view themselves as good, perhaps even great, thinkers.  More often than not I see people who follow recipes.  They transpose a situation or a problem into one they have lived before and apply the same result.  If nothing substantially new ever enters your  life, you are good.  But what if something new does come at you?  Life is like that.  It really isn’t scripted and it does change.  In college I remember one physics class where the professor taught us concept A, concept B and concept C.  The test didn’t test us on any of those.  It required us to think and synthesize a new concept built on all three concepts.  Most of the class struggled without a recipe and complained the test wasn’t fair – how dare the professor give them Cs.  Life isn’t fair either. I’m lucky that I can see past the bullshit and see underlying issues, actions, inactions and limitations.  I’m glad I know how to think and avoid the insanity so many others unwittingly embrace.

Life’s Rich Pageant

Life’s Rich Pageant isn’t just the break through album by REM.  I recall a coworker always used that phrase long before that record came out to announce her wonder and surprise at the comments, actions and inaction of others.  Oh, let’s just call it like it was – it was a nice way to say “those people are morons!”  I often hear Anna in my head when I have the same reaction.  Of course, I’m not nearly as polite, referring to the idiots with myriad colorful names.

Sometimes there are mouth breathers.  We often see them in Costco.  I’d probably see them in WalMart too, but I’m afraid to go in more often than not.  You know these people, slack-jawed, mouth opened, dressed horribly with a vacant look in their eyes.  I often wonder how their drool doesn’t puddle at their feet, waiting to be spread haphazardly by their knuckles as they drag.  Last week, there was one behind us in line.  It was hard not to look at him and say “what were you thinking?”

Reality television provides many other wonderful candidates for my own personal parade of idiots.  Most people are familiar with Pawn Stars on the History Channel (proudly proclaimed as the most watch show on cable.)  It is a cupcake of a show.  People want to sell interesting things and deals are made (or not) and the viewer gets a history lesson of sorts.  Easy to watch, easy to digest, not filling and sweet.  Fewer people however are familiar with my guilty pleasure Hardcore Pawn on TRUtv.

Hardcore Pawn follows the Gold family and their 50,000 square foot American Jewelry and Loan in Detroit’s “notorious 8 mile.”  Their phrase, not mine.  This show focuses less on what is being sold and more on those selling it.  It constantly highlights the often unseen lowest socioeconomic demographic that uses a pawn shop as their lending institution.  I’m sure 90% of their customers are reasonably bright, responsible citizens choosing their best option.  That’s not what we see on TV.  We see people wanting to sell their used “Prince Albert.” We see people thinking if they flash their 60-year-old breasts they will get more money.  And mostly we see people who think they are entitled to some outrageous amount of money for fake (or overvalued) jewelry and rant and rave when the owners aren’t an overflowing ATM for them.  As with most pawnbrokers, they try to buy stuff cheap and people flip out when they find their jewels are fake.

Last week we saw a first.  A fairly articulate woman wants to sell her necklace for $800 to raise the bail money for her man.  When asked what he was being held for, she replied, “you know –  hood stuff.”   I about died. “hood stuff” is about to my new catchphrase.  I’m just speechless about the reply and her attitude that everyone should understand what that is.  Just the concept that “hood stuff” has entered the lexicon leaves me feeling like the world is worse place.   From now on when ever I”m caught at a loss, I will probably just answer “you know, hood stuff.”  If I do, you’ll know why.

Yesterday, Lambchop and I went on a mission of mercy.  She had a work “thing” that culminated in peas being planted in a pot.  I misunderstood her directions and transplanting didn’t go terribly well.  Luckily Peas are easy to plant so we were off to get seeds.  We ended our journey at Dairy Queen.  The woman in front of us was buying cones for her 4 kids.  Clearly she was enjoying herself.  Every 10 seconds she laughed at some mundane thing and they tried to talk to us about it.  We weren’t interested and stood there stone faced.  Rather than understand the social cues we gave her, she tried harder.  I didn’t care about the cute curls on her kids cones.  I didn’t care about her kids.  I wanted my banana shake and a quick ride home.  But she missed that completely.  We were not about join in  her “fun.”  I just wanted her to take another Valium or Xanax.  I don’t know what her prescription was, but clearly she felt Memorial Day called for skipping a dose.

Today on the train a woman decided we all needed to hear about how wonderful her weekend was.  There were tattoos – done at someones house, but it was “totally sterile, he doesn’ t have shop.”  There were quarters and Faries (the kinds that leave quarters) and other nonsense.  This woman was talking loudly on a very crowded train.  When did it become acceptable to treat my commute time like your party line?  I would hope this woman fall in the pageant, so that all the other members could step on her, illuminating her to the consequences of bad behavior.

Perhaps I’ve given you the impetus to be as snarky as I am.  There is plenty of room in the world for more parades of idiots, which in and of itself is sad.  Next time I think of Life’s Rich Pageant, I’m adding in some hood stuff, to keep the morons moving faster, away from me and  further at bay.

The Musical Box

Sometimes my friends think I’m a sideshow freak or a savant.  I’m not sure which.  Inevitably when we play cards, once sports has ended, the host turns on a nondescript music channel on the TV.  I’m not allowed to look and I have to name the song and artist as quick as possible.  It’s no secret I love music.  Our house is decorated with vintage Fillmore posters – The Grateful Dead, The Who, The Doors — and some not so vintage ones like REM and Liz Phair. (Isn’t it time you listened to Whip-Smart again?) 

Last night the second song was Neil Young’s “This Note’s for You,” straight out of 1988.  No one cared when I said “this one’s for you.”  Most of them didn’t remember the song.  Nor did they know that Neil Young’s trademark sideburns are his disguise.  He hides on stage, not in public.  They tend toward classic rock or older pop.  To them, what I know is deep and mysterious.  Sadly, that stuff is easy.  They’d be shocked if they were adventurous to put on some Motown or Memphis Soul.  We never go  where my memories are broken and sad, like Detroit.

I rarely have to try hard.  They don’t have stations that play copious amounts Steeleye SpamJim Carroll,  Gentle Giant or Can.  Jethro Tull’s “Hymn 43” is not obscure in my world.  Most of the time it is a banal stream of Journey, Bob Seger, Foghat and Aerosmith.  Often some garbage like “We Built This City” comes on.  Songs everyone has heard over and over till our synapses collapse in despair. My friends wouldn’t know Annie Haslam and Renaissance if she walked in with SchererazadeThey don’t understand.  Shouldn’t they know that a Steely Dan was sex toy in William S. Bourough’s Naked Lunch? Or that at the time “Light My Fire” by the Doors was the longest song ever to be number one?  “Stairway to Heaven” was never released as a single?  Before CDs, “Hey Hey What Can I do?” could only be found as the b-side to “The Immigrant Song?”  Was I the only one that watched “Rock and Roll Jeopardy” on VH1?  Hosted by Survivor’s Jeff Probst, of course.

 I have absolutely no musical talent except to hear a few notes and have the disk drive that is my mind pull the title from the catalog with its related trivia.  Today when one barista told another, “you have hair like Tina Turner,”  I corrected her that Tina Tuner wore wigs from all the abuse her hair took earlier in her career.    She stared at me, like I was nuts.  Then gave me props for knowing that.  All in a day’s work for Encyclopedia Greenberg.

I often catalog songs in my head.  Roasting me the other night around the pool, Lambchop referred to “Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth and “So. Central Rain” by REM.  These are near the end of the aisle in the “Title not in the Lyrics” section of My mind.  Of course so is Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot” and “The Wanton Song.”   Tool’s “Aenima.”  Another popular aisle is “the Call Out” where the singer either calls out a band mate or himself.  Robert Cray’s “Right Next Door” and The Blues Brothers’ “Soul Man” are prime examples.  Another section is genealogy.  Of course you knew Michael Schenker was UFO before (and during) his time in The Scorpions, right?  The incestuous nature of musicians, their band hopping and their influences on their band  always interests me.  Why couldn’t Paul Carrack keep a job?  And no, he’s not dead.

After a while Thin Lizzy rumbled through the room, adding darker shades to the poker game.  Jailbreak is a great album.  “The Boys are Back in Town” always gets a ton of airplay and I began to preach the virtues of the rest of the album.  One of the guys said something to the effect how perfect it was in THE movie.  THE movie? Oh shit, I think I’ve been outed.  “What movie”, I asked?  Five sets of eyes glared at me.  As if of one hive mind they said, “48 hours!”  Clearly, I’ve never associated that song with that movie.

I have a dirty secret. Lambchop knows. Most other don’t.  I’m not a movie guy.  I enjoy them.  I don’t commit them to memory.   48 Hours? Eddie Murphy’s ex-con on leave to Nick Nolte’s straight cop.  Hijinks ensue.  Nope, no other details.  What’s my favorite movie?  I don’t know either.  I know notes of songs, texture changes and key shifts, but I don’t remember movie plots.  Sure,  I know” Goodfellas,” “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,”  “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (etc.)  and “The Lord of the Rings.”  I do have my man card.  I know the secret of “The Crying Game”.  But I don’t recall the basic plot.  I know enjoyed the Bourne and Mission Impossible Movies.  Mystery, fighting, chase, secret organizations  and corruption. Kaboom. Hooray for the good guys.  Plot? I dunno.  Look I remember Short Round, do I need to recall more?

I realize I’m wired a bit different from most people — they memorize movies. I study sounds.  When ever anybody asks me “what’s your favorite movie” I panic.  I don’t have a favorite.  I like them. I often love them. But for me they are ephemera, they fade quickly.  Maybe its an undiagnosed type of dementia.  I know it’s a different world now.  Movies on demand, television shows on DVD s and Netflix streaming.  When I was a child (I am resisting quoting Roger Waters) I listened to music and read.  I knew I loved music at about 9 or 10 when i got my first clock radio.  I now know it was Top 40, but I listened every night as the timer clicked of an hour before shutting down the sound.  My kids?  They watched Thomas the Tank Engine and Disney movies over and over and over.  I don’t think I can watch Disney’s “Robin Hood” ever again.  But I’ll always have The Hampster Dance. I get re-watching a movie after the details fade.  I re-watched “The Maltese Falcon” a few months ago and loved it again.  I never wanted it burned into my being.

Music is engrained in my DNA, but I am not a bullshit three-ring sideshow of freaks.  I can’t play a note.  I barely have rhythm; after about 2 minutes, I lose the beat.  Luckily, I have Elvis Costello help me re-find it. If only you’d help me to convince Lambchop to add “The Immigrant Song” to her repertoire, I think she could wail on that opening and convey the final joy of a trip to Valhalla, well-earned.

What Panda Hat? Have Another Burger.

It’s always fun going to see the Giants play.  Especially when my son is taking me for my birthday.  On our way to the game, we planned to finally go to HRD Coffee Shop and check out the modern Korean fusion food (as seen on Triple D, of course.)  I had been lead to believe the place would be packed.  I was thrilled to find out it wasn’t (which I was told was unusual).  The owner, whom I recognized from television) figured out we were new and pointed us to the Mongolian Cheese Steak Sandwich for our first trip.  I must say, the Mongolian Cheese Steaks were delicious.  Restaurants get extra points for setting up patrons for an exceptional experience in my book.

As we ate a long communal bar-cum-table, I noticed the women to my left.  One had a BBQ pork scramble that I must try at some point; the other a kimchi burrito.    A few different guys in line asked what we were eating and the monkey and I both heartily endorsed our meal.  After about 2o minutes, I realized Miss Burrito had never stopped talking.  Somewhere in her monologue, she had , however, paused a few microseconds to take two sparrow like bites and announced, “this doesn’t taste like kimchi.”  I’m sure everyone in the place was thrilled for her pronouncement.  Me, I bonded with the other patrons as we relished in the simple joy of great food.  Oh yes, we are going back.

After our food (I’ve noticed that the monkey rarely finishes his fries — what’s up with that?), we continued our stroll down to AT&T park.  My eldest son had requested a new Giants hat, so we stopped a stand to get him one.  As I evaluated the many non-traditional hats available to consumers, the monkey decided we needed panda hats.  Two issues here.  First, its warm and the hats are furry.  Second, we are both over 10.  I looked at him with a stank eye he missed  and shrugged.  He works now. If this is how he wants to spend his paycheck he will.  To my dismay, he did.  He already had a hat on and it was Giants’ Fedora day, the best $0.99 hats China could send us.  Suddenly, and abundance of hats was in sight.

A while later, and by a while I mean  a beer, batting practice and stroll around the entire park, we were seated and waiting for the game to begin.  As the crowd filled in around us,  I took note of the people around us.  Who was I going to high-five when the Giants scored?  Who would I casually chat with besides the monkey (who inevitably be texting his girlfriend)?   We had empty seats on both our left and right.  As the game started I realized we had two morons sitting behind us.

We weren’t in the season ticket section, so I always expect casual fans. Like the six twenty-somethings directly behind us.  The three girls were dressed to be seen and discussed make up techniques for an hour.  I never heard the men in the group.  But directly to the left were two huge baseball fans who went on for the entire game.  For you baseball fans, I’d like to share some of their wisdom  I never knew I so little about baseball.

At one point, there was an easy bouncer to Crawford at shortstop for an easy pick up and throw to first for the out.  Baseball Scientist #1 announced loudly, “that was a can of corn!”  Let’s just go to Wikipedia shall we?

Can of Corn:  A high, easy-to-catch, fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth-century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf. Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron. One theory for use of corn as the canned good in the phrase is that a can of corn was considered the easiest “catch” as corn was the best selling vegetable in the store and so was heavily stocked on the lowest shelves. Another theory is that the corn refers to the practice in the very early days of baseball of calling the outfield the “corn field,” especially in early amateur baseball where the outfield may have been a farm field. Frequently used by Chicago White Sox broadcaster Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson.

I have worked hard to educate Lambchop on exactly what a can of corn is.  She knows explicitly you don’t run to catch the can and it does not involve grounders!  Morons.  But the best was yet to come.  I don’t know who they were talking about, but he was “the perfect #2 hitter.”  Or, as Baseball Scientist #2 noted, “the perfect #5 hitter — he is both.”  I was floored. Clearly, these guys know something I didn’t. I couldn’t wait to learn how this could be.  To my thinking, the prototypical number 2 hitter, is a contact hitter, patient so the lead off hitter can steal, able to move runners by hitting the right side and fast so that he can score ahead of the big boys at #3 or #4.  The #5 hitter is a big bopper. His job is to drive in runs – doubles, homers and flies when men are on third.  Often slower than the guys in front of him.  Yeah these guys are just the same.  I was disappointed that these baseball scholars didn’t elaborate.  I wanted to revoke their SABR memberships.  To quote Bobby from Supernatural, “Idjits!”

In the second inning and older couple  came to sit on our left.  There were 2 open seats, but I was had misread my ticket and was sitting in her seat.  The monkey and I moved one seat right – there were still 4 empty seats there.  I guess as she sat next to me, I guess she decided I was in the way — she had a to the right like an old tree living too long in a windy pass — and was refused to sit still.  So she climbed over her husband to sit 3 seats over.  He must not have wanted to sit next to her either, so he moved next to me. Luckily he sat up straight and was nice enough, but his orange pants should be burned, Giants game or no.

A little later Miss Lean remarked in surprise, “don’t they usually do him second?”  I had failed to recognize this was a porno.  Where else do you do people? Maybe this was a salon, but it was really large and disorganized waiting area.  Do him second?  I’m surprised  didn’t call the catcher a goal keeper.  More people should say less, don’t you think? Whatever. I had this really cool fedora.  Simple pleasures and all that.

Fast forward a few hours.  Despite the  mouth-breathers we sat near, it was great day and I’m exhausted, glad to relax on BART trip home.  As walked to my car, the monkey announced he wanted to drive and I could relax.  Ok.  As we got near home, he produced the panda hats and told me we should wear them.  It would make Lambchop laugh.  Tired, I acquiesced.  It’s always good to see her smile and I’m sure she’d laugh.  As we approached, there was  crowd near the church.  Maybe the Jesus singers had a performance tonight.  It didn’t look like the snake handlers across the street.  Wait.  That’s past the church. That’s my house.   There were 40 of my closest friends on my lawn and banner that said something about turning 50.  OMG.  Seriously?  And the 510 Burger Truck in my driveway?  Good thing he was driving, I’d have been to shocked to park.  I might have been shaking.  I’m choking up again just writing this.  I cry at Hallmark movies too. That’s why I don’t watch the Hallmark Channel.  And the programming sucks. But it still makes me tear up.

What panda hat? oh yeah, I had this silly orange panda hat on.  It didn’t matter.   I was somewhere else.  My feet didn’t touch the ground when I stepped out of the car. Too many faces. An overload of emotion.  I can’t believe what Lambchop and the monkey did. I still can’t.  There were laughs. Toasts.  A drunk, fully clothed JenJen in the pool.  Cacti and a solution to the basil shortage of 2012. Burgers, with and without Eggs and Bacon. And much love.  And for once, I’m speechless.

Dr. Strangefarmer or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about the Basil Crisis and Love the Farm

Last year’s tomato crop was horrid.  I think we got roughly 6 tomatoes across 9 plants.  There was lots of fruit, but most had blossom-end rot.  Everyone tells  me 2011 was very bad year for growing tomatoes. Me, I take it personally.  It was the first year I planted them in containers.  This house has some great southern exposures which is perfect for tomatoes.  Every inch of those southern exposures is paved.

I like heirlooms.  If I wanted a Beefsteak or Roma or generic tomato on a vine, I’d go to the store.  A lot less work involved in that though a bit more expensive.  Most plants cost about $3.  The containers were $9 each and each holds about $3 worth of potting soil.  And then there is the cage, that’s another $2.  So by my way of thinking, that’s $17 per plant.  While we can pretend water is free, I had to buy tomato food.  (Who doesn’t love a product called MaterMagic?)  I’ll round up and assume I am spending $18 per plant. 

I know many of you turn to my blog just for financial analysis and fun with math.  Heirloom tomatoes tend to run $3.99 -$5.99 a pound in season.  Let’s use $4. It’s a nice number. Round – its 2 squared. (Quick what’s the square root of 2?)  — and it is easy to work with.  I would need to harvest and eat 3.5lbs of tomatoes from each plant to break even.  Or more succinctly, Lambchop and I must consume 31.5 pounds of tomatoes this harvest to break even.  What the hell am I thinking?

I like a Caprese salad as much as anyone, but am I really committing to buying that much Mozzarella this summer?  That’s about 2 pounds each week.  I do have 3 basil plants (the Thai basil doesn’t count for Italian dishes) growing, but clearly that’s not enough to get me through the summer.  There will be a basil shortage. What have I done?  I think I’ve just committed to spending $100+ this year on a Caprese safety net.

I can always make marinara or Bolognese. This will, sadly, contribute to the great basil shortage of 2012. In fact, I see myself being held hostage to cruel gods that demand a tithe of tomato sauce.  Yes, I mean Lambchop.   I can freeze some.  But then I’ll need to buy vessels to hold said liquid in the freezer.   Zip-locks work, but they aren’t perfect. More money to spend.  I guess the boys really don’t need to go to college, especially with the youngest’s burgeoning popcorn career. (Who knew it was so difficult to put popcorn in the small bag?)  I guess I’ll be roasting lots of tomatoes and making gallons of sauce.  Maybe I should make homemade ketchup (no it’s not catsup at our house) as the core ingredient for homemade BBQ sauce.

I’m starting to think I’m nearing break even.  Maybe.   Then I realize all the time I spend watering and tending to these silly plants.  I often value my time highly.  It keeps me from doing silly things like as driving around trying to save $0.15 per gallon on gas.  That’s $2.50 a tank or 4 minutes of my time.  I’m ok with slightly more expensive gas.  I like the convenience.  I’d probably have to add in at least $10 per day in “tending time.”  For expediency (and to validate my mother and my children’s perception) my time is free, otherwise I’d need to grow enough tomatoes for the Tomatina to break even.

I’m not going to worry about how many tomatoes I grow.  Let’s just hope there will plenty for when you invite yourself over to have some.  We both know you will.  It’s ok to  admit it.

The square root of 2 is 1.4142 for those of you that haven’t done the math in Excel yet.

Serendipity Do Dah, Serendipity Yay!

I’m not a slug, but sometimes Lambchop’s need to be industrious makes me feel like one.  Then I pop another diet coke, pour a glass of wine or remember I’m making her dinner and get over it.   She was cleaning the garage a few Saturdays back.  We often disagree about the garage. She believes it should be well manicured, neat and a place guests will inspect to render judgment;   I think a bit of clutter and disorganization isn’t a crime and if people want to judge me based on my garage, they would be better off visiting my mother.  But, if she wants to straighten, I’m going to let her.  The only risk is when she gets “throw away happy.”  But that’s a small risk at this point.

I was watching some very important television (probably the Cooking Channel or the MLB Network) when she summoned me the garage.  Honey-dos, here they come.  She had found some clothes that “got waylaid on their way to Goodwill.”  I looked in the bag and yes indeed, there was the hideous Denim Jacket I bought on ebay in sad case of bad decision making.  I blessed the bag fit for donation, turning to walk away when she said, “and the other box.”  I guess baseball could wait.  To my surprise, that box was not for Goodwill.

My weight has fluctuated a few times.  I’ve never been skinny, but I have been what the surgeon general might call semi-morbidly obese.  You know, when you HAVE TO shop at the big and tall store (the place for fat people.)  I’ve lost some weight this past year.  A bit more exercise, smaller portions and less ice cream and Doritos.  I recently bought a shirt that was an XL instead of XXL; it had been a while since that happened.  Still, my mental image is of being fat.  Or as I once said to Lambchop, “Cuddly and fun.”  I guess I’d made some progress.

I opened the box to find several of my XL shirts that I’d packed when we moved.  It must come as no surprise that I like nice clothes.  It’s hard to part with expensive shirts just because I like food.  In that box were some of my favorites, but out of circulation for more than three years.  Out of my closet for almost two.  On a whim I tried one on.  Damn, it fit. It was like a $2500 wardrobe makeover (or expansion) for free!  It was definitely serendipitous that Lambchop chose to move and open that box.

Serendipity has always been one of my favorite words.  As a young teen I stumbled on a cheesy TV show called “The New Serendipity Singers.”  I recall they had some cute young things singing and dancing and stuff and things.  And some guys I ignored.  Clearly, there had to have been the “old’ Serendipity Singers too.  So yes, I needed to look up the word (and the group – hello library).  I’m really not much for poppy folk music (Puff *cough* the Magic Dragon excepted), but the word always stuck with me.

     ser·en·dip·i·ty  [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] noun

     1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
     2. good fortune; luck

 If I had to make a top 10 word list, serendipity would be on it.  Who doesn’t want good fortune?  Not me. I always want to be lucky.  My father drilled into me that he’d always “rather be lucky than good.”  And my father is forceful and repetitive.  That saying is burned deep into my memory.  I always thought there should a roller coaster called Serendipity.  If you try, you can say it like a climb, pause, steep fall and gentle rise, going fast.  It can sound like a roller coaster. And like  luck, that makes me smile. I think by adding serendipity to my vocabulary, I’ve increased my luck.

The other day I got an email from a wine club I belong to needing an update on my credit card. I had forgotten to update them when a new card was issued.  Then I missed call from the wine country and my cell phone’s voicemail was inaccessible from work (concrete buildings do that) . Damn.  I know I need to call, but their hours are wonky and I was feeling guilty.  A few moments later I got an email from a different winery.  They had called.  They had .. .oh hell, let’s hear it from them:

This year, we began a new program to reward our [edit] most loyal      club members. Twice per year, we will conduct a ‘drawing’ or lottery with prizes awarded to the six club members. We just conducted our first drawing, and I am  happy to inform you that you are one of our winners! You have won Dinner for 4 at Bouchon Bistro!! … We will  also provide you with a bottle of Hartwell wine to take to dinner!

Wow!  Consider this an unsubtle plug for Hartwell Vineyards. Great wine and now great gifts! I was stunned in a good way.  I was almost walking on air as my good luck continued.  Serendipity is my new girl friend.  I haven’t won a Maserati, a Mucholloch Chainsaw or a baby’s arm holding an apple and it’s ok . I’m not complaining; I’m being obscure.  I was flying high, serendipitously.  And like Ron Popeil said, “But wait! There’s more!” 

The next day, my contract was extended.  Ambigously.  Not a month or two.  I was assigned to drive three projects that could go on for 3, 6, 9, months.  Or so I hope.  The new economy, with its disposable workforce mentality, makes me nervous.  Especially now that I can reach out and touch 50. Perhaps, serendipitously I can keep meeting people who value experience and talent over the generic cost savings of younger workers.  The way the week went, it looks like I might.

A Public Service Announcement

Contrary to popular belief and appearances, I do not hate BART.  I love BART.  It is a great public transportation system with fewer hiccups than are expected.  I also love to people watch on BART.  It’s like the menagerie at the airport, but in shorter doses.  Rest assured, my blog will not degenerate into a BART hate space.  But when I have interesting thoughts, I’ll be telling them.  Hopefully, you will enjoy them.

Today’s Commute: a Momento

“Next is a special announcement from BART Operations,” the train operator told eight extremely crowded cars. We had been sitting catty wampus at the station for 15 minutes–the first car extending past the platform and locked so that morons wouldn’t disembark into the air two stories above the Pleasant Hill Station.  Doors on the other 7 cars remained open and commuters streamed in like salmon swimming upstream, needing to get somewhere, anywhere – oblivious to the bears at the top of the falls waiting for lunch.   I was underwhelmed at the announcement.  The train ahead of us had a break lock problem and the operator was going car by car to find and alleviate the issue.  I was overjoyed to hear it was only a 10-12 minute delay.  I had it at 16 minutes on my watch at that point.

Meanwhile, people kept loading on to my car, a disproportionate amount of women that Lambchop might call “Battleaxes” with suitcases, glaring at other passengers to relinquish their seats to their age battered weariness.  Being a row back and next to the window, they weren’t getting through the crowd to intimidate me.  Especially the two with canes.

I got to the platform early to make an 8:30 meeting.  The BART ride to my stop is 31 minutes.  It’s a 4 minute walk from disembarking to my office.  I always ride at the back of the train to maximize my walk.  A little exercise each day adds up and waist trends down. We all know I can use all the exercise I can get. I was 3 minutes early for the 7:29 and I waited for the train.  There was one woman in front of me and another behind.  The line for the front of the car had about 15 people.  BART cars have roughly 88 seats (some newer models are 78-80).  The train pulled up and stopped right in front of us.  I looked through the window to see the car was crowded, but not full. I was confident there were more than 3 seats, but not more than 10.

The woman in front of me stepped forward and I followed suit.  The doors mocked us, closed tight.  We waited till the unthinkable happened.  The train pulled forward, leaving us stranded.  I watched as my two line mates and the herd in the line 25 yards away raced to the back of the train.  Knowing it was already crowded, I stood my ground to wait for the next train.  The 7:35 would still get me to my meeting on time.  I would still have time for the 8 minute detour to Peet’s.  A man’s got to have a code.  Mine includes quality coffee.

The sign above flashed a message that the next train would be 8 cars, so I knew I had to move forward on the platform.  I didn’t stress as the platform was still mostly empty and the train would be empty.  I knew this train started at my station.   I shared this information with the woman walking past me, why let her linger in a line that was dysfunctional.  The train came, I took my seat.  By the time it departed the car was a bit less than half full.

By the time we left the Pleasant Hill Station, we were overcrowded.  As the people in the aisle stood shoulder to shoulder, my seat mate seemed to expand. He traded his Blackberry for office memos and internet printouts, shoulders expanding, invading my space.  My sides hurt as I tried to avoid his inconsequential invasions in my space.  I really don’t like that type of contact on the train.  It seems I have specific spaces issues.

For some reason there were few people on the platform at Walnut Creek.  They pushed on and we continued on our grand adventure.  1 minute later we stopped again.  Both the train operator and BART Operations explained to us the Train ahead of us was stopped and  track switching was about to occur and trains would be routed around the train ahead of us.  What was a surprise to many, but not to me was that the passengers on now disabled train would be getting off.  I was thrilled to my core as I realized all those people were going to try and pack on this train.  Crowded was about to become sardine city.  Of course we were also told that BART was very sorry for this 10-15 minute delay.  We were passed 20 on my watch.  I had already written off my Peet’s run;   being on time was turning into a dream.

Years ago, there used to be these great recordings at the Las Vegas airport.  Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and many others reminded us to stand on the right and walk to the left on the moving walkways.  This is the de facto standard for using escalators on BART.  I’m realizing non commuters have never been to Las Vegas, they don’t know the rules.  Maybe I expect too much from people.

As I approached the escalator this morning, a woman boarded with her suitcase.  She stood to the left and had her medium sized suitcase on the right.  It was still too big for her.  I and the 3 people in front of me decided it wasn’t worth trying to move her, so we stood on the left, grumbling, but deferring to the older woman.   Half way up, younger patrons pushed their way up on the right, knocking her luggage out of the way so they could get past for some imagined crisis.  Perhaps they needed to get to Storm’s End to warn Renly, not knowing they were already too late.  The trains are on a schedule. Rushing doesn’t make them come faster and there was plenty of time until the next one.

When we got to the platform, the woman with the suitcase couldn’t understand the line and blocked the entire escalator for several second, fraught with indecision.  I never understand why people don’t exit to the right and find a line.  There isn’t nearly enough room to go left, especially with luggage. The woman behind me shouldered me aside as I tried not to run down the woman in her 70s.  I knew this would be a bad commute.  I believe in signs and karma.

I was 10 minutes late for my meeting today.

Casinos, Chinatown and Clown Socks

My current office is on the edge of Oakland’s Chinatown.  Being Jewish,  I love Chinese food and have a great admiration of Chinese culture.  That being said, I know it’s dangerous on the sidewalks of Chinatown when thousands of  little old ladies are eyeing the fresh produce and heaven help anyone not smart enough to give them a 10 foot berth.  I’ve been elbowed enough to learn this lesson and its corollary:  if you decide to walk or drive through Chinatown, don’t be in a hurry.

You learn to expect the unexpected in Chinatown.  Yesterday, at lunch in a random Dim Sum cum Chinese BBQ joint (this was NOT a restaurant)  I watched in disbelief at the older man (70ish?) at the table next to us.  Too skinny and poorly dressed, he had his food in take-out containers and was shoveling his rice like the Mayans were off by six months.  None of this surprised me.  It was the bottle of the high octane Chinese liqueur he kept pulling out his bag, filling his tea cup with and shooting that captured my attention.  I’ve seen many things, but not this particular habit.  I’m far more used to seeing men on corners, wearing pants 4 inches to short and 6 inches to big in the waist asking for money while they gulp Olde English 800 from a 40 in bag.  The hidden bottle in a bag was new to me and it was 2/3 gone when I noticed.   I kept thinking, “why not drink at home?”   I’m going to be looking for this more often.

The sidewalk in front of my building is a very popular spot.  Every morning a bus stops there to take people to a popular Indian Casino in the wine country.  An hour before the bus comes, elderly Chinese men and women place their newspaper or bag on the curb as their proxy for the line and then they mill about.  I doubt the bus is ever completely filled, but clearly these people want “their seat.” Or perhaps they want to be the first off the bus.  I can’t imagine it matters; there are plenty of slots at the casino.  Today, roughly 10 minutes before the bus comes, there was an interloper at the point of entrance to the casino adventure.  There was an armored car, probably picking up money from the jewelry shop down the block.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the elderly herd realized they had better odds with the money in the armored car then they did with the slots 2 hours away.  And they’d be home sooner.

Another misadventure in expectations today involved The Today Show.  Ann Curry and Matt Lauer sat down for a hard hitting interview with the New York  man involved in a custody battle with his ex over a cute dog.  As appalled as I am that this story is being aired in the “mostly hard news first hour,” I was further disgusted at how stupid this story really is.  $60,000 has been spent by the man in NY, depleting his life savings.  A dog.  In dispute.  It happens. Let’s move on Matt.  Don’t you want to disect the killings in Mexico City with an drug catrtel expert?  Then we meet the man whosse dog was heartlessly ripped away.  Dark blazer, open collared dress shirt, mustard capris and clown striped socks.   I was aghast at what I saw and made Lambchop interrupt her hair-drying session to see.  I make her see all sorts of disgusting eye candy.  I think the dog is better of in California, far away from this guy.

 My mind started moving too quickly.  I cannot believe this man had $60k in savings.  What is he, a hit man for a criminal sideshow?  Has the mob moved from prostitution to the circus?  Did he win a lawsuit after being hit in a cross walk by a color blind elderly driver, losing control of their Lark?  He takes hipster doofus to a level the Mission has never seen.  But wait, there is more.  Who on the Today show staff booked this segment?  Why wasn’t it pulled when they saw what an idiot this guy was?  Who on the executive staff there is sleeping with guy’s mother?  I’m pretty sure he was Jewish and I want him removed from our rolls.  I feel dirty surmising we had common ancestors 5,000 years ago.  Even the “People of  Walmart” website would reject this clown.  When did NBC become the new home for Maury and Jerry Springer.  Wait. Never mind.  This segment is a prelude to the Manimal and Freaks of Science reboots.

 I guess there is one thing we should always expect.  Deep down, I know this, I say it often.  “Common sense isn’t.”  I guess realizations like this are the downside of a good upbringing.  I blame my parents.  It’s pretty hard to play off the stupidity we see every day.  H.L. Menken once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”  I guess those kids on American Idol, who have no basis in reality and meltdown when they are told they are horrid, are closer to the norm than we’d like to admit.  And if you’ve read this far, I’m giving you a ribbon.  You’ve passively participated in my rant — you must be special too.