Friday, October 03, 2008

I give up

I'm just going to have to summarize the rest of my summer to bring this thing back to current. In the meantime, to feign relevancy:

Sunday, August 03, 2008

You are coming to a sad realization; Cancel or Allow?

I'm here. I exist. California hasn't slid into to the sea nor has it yet been completely reduced to cinders. I haven't fallen off the planet. I have merely fallen out of the habit of updating this thing, and I apologize to my four dedicated readers.

But I'm back!
You know, more or less.

The fact is that I've got about 4 months' worth of partially-written entries backlogged in my Edit Posts window. I'm going to do my best to backfill the missing chunk of time, which could make for a confusing read. And will probably just delay any actual current updates by that much more, which is pretty much what got me into this mess to begin with.

One thing I have going for me: I have a new computer at home! It's easy to blame a lot of my many-month absence on my complete lack of working home computer, even if there were several other factors. My old laptop was about 10 years old, was running Windows '98, still had a floppy disk drive and relied on a modem for any sort of connectivity. Which pretty much made it unusable to me for the last several years. I was instead dependent on my work computer for almost all personal applications, which also limited me to either staying in the office after hours, or lugging my work laptop home.

So between my new job (I'll get to that in a backdated entry) taking up so much of my time even after hours, and not really wanting to stretch company policy by keeping music and photos on my work laptop, I had no choice but to make a new purchase.
And it's a MAC!
And I love it.

Of course, the time thing isn't really going to change, but at least when I get home I have my shiny new MacBook Pro calling to me, making me want to pound out even a couple sentences. We'll see.
Also, I'm much more likely to start reading others' blogs again. I've been completely negligent for months.

In any event, for reference, any entries between 3/28/08 and this one are backdated. And probably lame because I doubt I'll bother finishing 'em much or remember what I was trying to say when I began them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Like, O M G

I got in the elevator today and was followed in by two funkily-dressed young women who were already in mid-conversation. One was describing her recent shopping trip (flea market? Second-hand store?) with her boyfriend. Here's the part I overheard:
"So I picked that out along with this dress with Hello Kitty on it, and he was like, 'You look like a coloring book.' And I was all, 'That's awesome!' and he was totally, 'That is not awesome.' Like, way to crap all over my dreams, dude."

Oh. My.

Friday, April 25, 2008

So I said to myself, "Self..."

This body double thing is getting out of control. There are so many versions of me out there that people don't even recognize me when they see me.

Walking down the street on my way to lunch today, I saw my coworkers Nawal and Dara coming up the sidewalk in the opposite direction. They're looking my direction, talking amongst themselves and as they get closer, suddenly burst out laughing. Feeling a little paranoid, I ask what's so funny and it turns out they had seen me from a distance were arguing whether the infamous Zach-alike was heading towards them But finally decided no, it wasn't that guy because it didn't even look like me.

But, it's funny because it was me, see?


Friday, April 18, 2008

Shake Shake Shake, Shake Your Booty

On this, the 102nd anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake, it seems fitting to report that there is no doubt another large quake will strike California. There is a 99.7% chance that a strong earthquake will strike California in the next 30 years, according to the first forecast to look at earthquake probabilities for the entire state.

The next big quake in the Bay Area is likely to be on the Hayward Fault, running directly beneath the East Bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley, among many others. An analysis by the USGS indicates that a magnitude 7 tremblor on the Hayward would affect more than 5 million people, cause losses to homes and businesses of at least $165 billion and total economic losses of more than $1.5 trillion, close 1,100 Bay Area roads, and leave 27,000 homes in Oakland alone completely uninhabitable.

Yup, maybe time to consider moving. Though not to Alaska... below, just for the heck of it, is the list of top 10 states for earthquakes in terms of numbers/frequency.

1) Alaska

Earthquakes Between 1974-2003:
Percent of total in the U.S.:
2) California
Earthquakes Between 1974-2003: 4,895
Percent of total in the U.S.:
3) Hawaii
Earthquakes Between 1974-2003:
Percent of total in the U.S.:
7.3 4) Nevada
5) Washington
6) Idaho
7) Wyoming
Earthquakes Between 1974-2003:
Percent of total in the U.S.:
8) Montana
9) Utah
10) Oregon

Monday, April 14, 2008

And everything there feels just as it should


That was exactly what I needed. I've been to Yosemite a dozen times or so, and it's often a little stressful what with trying to find campsites, organizing food and people, dealing with crowds, or even venturing off alone. This time, however, was most chill. No panicky search for walk-in campgrounds - I'd reserved a tent cabin at Curry Village inside the Valley. No fancy food prep or organization - I took easy sandwich fixins, fruit, oatmeal, cocoa, canned stew. No big agenda - I figured I'd chill out in the Valley and explore parts I haven't before, but mostly just enjoy the setting.
No hordes of tourists - it was early enough in the season that it wasn't overcrowded. And to top it all off, I got my friend Nichole to join me for a little downtime in the mountains.

It was awesome.

Day 1: The Drive. Check in and settle in to the "tent cabin" - an unheated canvas tent with wooden floor, and two single beds equipped with clean sheets and wool blankets. Happy we brought our sleeping bags too. Dinner was a picnic beneath the granite cliffs at the edge of a large meadow. No people to be seen. Alpen glow on Halfdome.

Night 1: Wierd-ass dreams that a mouse was dancing on top of my sleeping bag. Later in the night the it was a ferret. Followed by a racoon. Finally determined it was a dream and not a wildlife invasion when a large cat asked me why I was so freaked out.

Day 2: Hiked to the top of Yosemite Falls - the tallest waterfall in North America
and the 6th tallest in the world. I'd made it nearly to the top years ago, only to give out during the steep switchbacks below the rim... so I was determined to make it this time. The snow was waist deep once above the north rim of the Valley, and the waterfall was not at its peak flow yet, but the view from the top, hugging the granite for dear life on the narrow lip looking down 2,500 feet onto the valley floor - that was totally worth the sore calves.

Day 3: Walked around Mirror Lake at the far end of the valley, up a trail no one else was on, past melting snowbanks and early season flowers. Sat in the middle of the stream relaxing to the roar of water.
Final Evening: Picnic along the banks of the Merced river. Sat under the stars on a footbridge over the stream watching the moonlight light up the falls. Informed the lone other person to cross our paths that the geysers he was looking for are in Yellowstone, not Yosemite.

Day 4: Drove to Hetch Hetchy Valley - once comparable to the Yosemite Valley in beauty, it was flooded behind the O'Shaughnessy Dam in 1923 to provide San Francisco with some of the most pure water in the nation. Dude. Bears! A sow and her two yearling cubs in the road. And a hike to one of the most spectacular waterfalls I've ever had the thrill of eating lunch beneath.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

And listen to the casual reply

I'm leaving for the woods. I've been itching to get out of town and be in the mountains for a while now, and so, what the hell. I'm gonna do it. I reserved a tent cabin (wooden floor, bed with sheets and wool blanket, unheated, canvas roof and walls) in Yosemite Valley and rented a car, convinced my recently-unemployed friend Nichole to accompany me, took the next two days off work, and am headed for a long weekend in one of the most beautiful places in the country. Yay me!

It's a little early in the season, I realize, and I'm expecting chilly evenings. Though I'm hoping that the waterfalls will be approaching their peak flows as the snowpack melts out of the high country. Another advantage to going so early is that there won't be so many people packing the Valley floor.

But what's fueling the timing of this trip more than anything is that Friday is the next company Quarterly Meeting, and I'm determined to miss it. I go to them dutifully every quarter, but this one will be the one where my name gets called out for having been with the company for 10 years, and I don't need that kind of public acknowledgment. Just slip my gift certificate into my slot in the mailroom and let's forget the rest, thank you.

So Yosemite it is! I plan on hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls (the highest falls in N America and the 6th highest in the world), relaxing in the valley along the banks of the Merced, and then venturing to the Hetch Hetchy Valley and Reservoir, source of San Francisco's pure water supply in the northern tract of the park. And not thinking about work for a second.

And now, to pack the cooler.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

So long and thanks for all the fish, again

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm not terribly comfortable around the ocean or large bodies of water, because there were no large bodies of water where I grew up. I can swim - at least well enough to get by, though I won't be winning any medals for speed or elegance - thanks to my parent's insistence on swimming lessons when I was little (I'll never forget standing in the early morning chill by the outdoor town pool, shivering on the rough concrete and dreading getting into the cold chlorinated water... or panicking in the deep end while being tested on the "deadman's float"... ugh).

At any rate, a pool is one thing, but a big river or the ocean is quite another, rife with currents and waves and undertows, and all sorts of creatures unseen, from tickling little fish to water snakes or jellies or sharks. My heart pounds a little just thinking about it.

I've only swum in the ocean a few times in my life; though I live within sight of the Pacific, northern California's shores are known more for their hypothermia-inducing temperatures, rogue waves, and deadly rip currents, so I only go in up to my knees. In Mexico I had the crap beaten out of me and my sinuses filled with sand and seawater as I tried to crawl out of the waves. I had a bandage on my knee and spent my time avoiding jelly fish at Myrtle Beach. And Hawaii was phenomenal, but my one-and-only snorkeling adventure was preceded by a complete lack of lessons, so I spent a great deal of time trying not to inhale water through the tube, and keeping my life vest centered under my hips to keep me from worrying too much about sinking to my doom.

The snorkeling stress was exacerbated by the fact that the water was not terribly shallow - my friend Zoe and I dropped into the swells from a kayak that we had used to paddle into an isolated bay with a sea cave and no other people save our guide, "Blue." Putting my face beneath the waves was, on the one hand, a relief because I could see what has under the surface, and on the other hand, terrifying because I could see what was under the surface. And by "see" I mean "make out vague colorful shapes" of a whole host of creatures that would need to be close enough to nibble on me before I would recognize that they were intent on biting me in half, since I was not wearing glasses or contacts behind my mask.

The underwater realm is fascinating, certainly, but I can't say I'm drawn to experience it first hand. Too scary. I recently finished "The Devil's Teeth" by Susan Casey, a journalist who became obsessed with the the Farallon Islands due west of San Francisco. It was a fascinating and fun read centered around these islands that I, too, have been curious about since I first saw them emerge from the fog on the horizon. I've even been to the islands on a boat, though only biologists are allowed to land there except in emergencies. But believe you me, you would NOT want to have an emergency out there.

On the edge of the continental shelf, these rocky outposts are surrounded by frigid rough currents, hordes of hostile sea birds, thousands of seals and sea lions, and great white sharks. Enormous great white sharks. The book documents sharks in those waters that are 20 ft long and 8 ft wide. The author notes the thrill she felt when she saw a shark the size of a school bus glide beneath her dinghy - I about peed myself just reading about it.

As much as I want to go whale watching out there again, especially after reading about some of the islands' history, I have to say, knowing monsters that size may be lurking beneath the choppy grey surface is enough to make me remain a landlubber for eternity. I love listening to and looking out over the ocean, and appreciate its mystery and bounty, but I am completely comfortable backing away slowly (never turn your back on the ocean!) and keeping my feet planted on solid ground.

Monday, March 31, 2008

So long and thanks for all the fish

I grew up in the landlocked flyover section of country, as y'all know, and I blame that for my unease around (or in) large bodies of water and my spotty relationship with seafood. And while I'll never become an avid scuba diver, I have come to actually quite like most seafood. My exposure to fish was relatively limited during childhood to the occasional fresh-caught trout or frozen fishstick* so my fondness for the stuff has been slow to develop -- the Great Stuffed Shrimp Debacle of 1981 being a notable setback -- and, as I learned this evening, remains tenuous.

I was never a fan of actually handling the fish we caught while camping as a kid, and even in my twenties squeamishly let me dad handle the finer points of catch and release in one of Wyoming's large reservoirs (and will frankly never forget the fishhook through the eyeball horror of the one unfortunate fish that still managed to flop out of the boat and swim ruefully away).

Though a huge fan now, it wasn't until after college that I mustered the fortitude to try my first full-on sushi meal. I had vague fears of parasitic infestations and remember the concentration it required to get past the unfamiliar mouthfeel of raw fish as it seemed to expand in my craw.

I fell in love with scallops somewhat earlier, during my freshman year in college when I visited family friends for Thanksgiving on Nantucket. The scallops were local, freshly shucked and simply divine. Seared scallops remain one of my favorite dishes, when prepared well.

Shrimp, lobster, seared Ahi, Chilean sea bass**, fried clams, and even calamari and octopus are all favorites, though I'll admit that the more I learn about squid and octopus the less inclined I am to want to eat them, given their amazing anatomy and surprising mental capacity. You know, for a mollusk.

Salmon, though, salmon is the wonder fish... Relatively inexpensive, not fishy tasting, totally easy to cook, good for you (depending on what you read about farmed salmon, dyed flesh, environmental cost, and mercury) - I end up having Salmon every couple of weeks at the least. It's usually the less-expensive Atlantic or farmed varieties, but the wild Alaskan sockeye fillets that occasionally appear n the shelves at Trader Joe's always entice me with their lovely color, if not their price. So tonight at the store I gave in and picked some up, excited to enjoy a rare treat of promised delicate flavor and superior quality.

Once home, I set about preparing some asparagus and couscous to accompany the fish. I removed the salmon fillets from their package, rinsed them off in the sink, and patted them dry with a paper towel. It was then that I noticed a curious little knot in the flesh of one of the fillets and, wanting to ensure there was no extra bone or something, dug into it with the tip of a sharp knife. To my utter horror, out popped this gruesome looking roundworm, translucent and slightly blue on one end as it unfolded itself on the paper towel where I dropped it. With growing panic, I poked and prodded the fillet until I had dug out three more worms of varying sizes - all no more than 1/4-inch long, mind you, but still. Aack!

Trying to remain rational, I went immediately to the internet, and though I didn't discover the exact type of parasite, learned at least that there was no harm to me in ingesting any of them that might still be hiding out in the meat as long as the fillets had been frozen for a certain length of time at a certain temperature and/or the salmon was cooked to a certain temperature in the oven. Even knowing that they'd been previously frozen, I proceeded cook the hell out of the fillets, just in case.

Alas, when it came time to eat my dinner, not only was the salmon overdone, dry and chewy, I simply could not get past my squeamishness at the though of parasites in the wild fish on my plate and out it went with the composting.

So that was a waste of $10. And I've pretty much also thrown out the notion of ever coming back from Alaska with a ton of fresh-caught wild salmon for my freezer.

* I'm reading Cod by Mark Kurlansky which is a fascinating and tragic history of the fish that fueled over 1000 years of Western civilization until its population spectacularly crashed in the early 1990s. Once so abundant they filled the northern seas, they were placed on the Endangered Species List by the WWF in 2000. Fish sticks are now made with haddock or sole.

** Don't yell... I know all about the sustainability issues and illegal overfishing of the more properly but less appealingly-named Patagonian Toothfish and, though it pains me, will no longer order it unless it can be proven to have been harvested legally.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Because I've already set the precedent, I feel it's my duty to convey additional doom and gloom information - not to depress (though it likely will), but to inform and motivate.

In another sign of rising global temperatures, a large piece of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in western Antarctica collapsed quite suddenly starting Feb 28th. A chunk of ice roughly seven times the size of Manhattan that had been at the edge of the shelf for maybe 1500 years disintegrated, exposing the rest of the ice shelf and putting at risk of further collapse an area of ice about the size of Connecticut. Scientists with both the British Antarctic Survey and with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, CO said that collapses on this scale are unusual but becoming increasingly common because of global climate change. They say such occurrences are indicative of an approaching "tipping point or trigger in the climate system" beyond which destabilization causes further change in a "runaway situation."

Blame man-made global warming, too, for speeding up Mother Nature's alarm clock that plants and animals are listening to. According to more than 30 scientists, dozens of studies and last year's authoritative report by Nobel Prize-winning international climate scientists, thousands of species are being affected by seasonal timing changes. Butterflies are emerging a month earlier in California than they did 25 years ago, DC's cherry trees burst out several weeks sooner than than they did a quarter century ago, and maple tree pollen was filling the air in early march this year when it once couldn't be measured until late April. Lilacs, dogwoods and wildfires are blooming nationwide earlier than ever before, birds and insects hatching earlier.
Aside from being a very clear and measurable shift in the natural cycles, this could spell disaster for some species since many plants and animals use different cues to signal their spring activities. If a critter uses length of day while its food source relies on temperature, the animal may be in danger of missing its spring feeding if it can't modify its instinctual behavior, for example, something that is already being witnessed in bees and the shift in honey production to different pollen sources. Some biologists are warning that a whole host of species may be seriously impacted as the spring clock continues to speed up.

Meanwhile, this winter was the warmest ever recorded for most of Europe, where icebreakers sat unused in northern ports, insects buzzed year-round, daffodils and snowdrops bloomed early, and robins never even bothered to leave southern Sweden for the season. Across the Baltic region, temps averaged 8-12 degrees above average and Finland had a mere 20 days of snow, compared with 70 days in the normal winter. Normally frozen ground was soft and muddy, and the ferries to Helsinki, which normally cannot operate from December through April, ran without interruption.

Globally, March was officially the warmest March ever on record over land, and second warmest overall. The worldwide land temp was 3.2 degree warmer than the 20th century average.

Sure seems as though, despite local variations, we've got a pretty clear trend here. Reuse, recycle, unplug and conserve!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

One day when I was lost

Not being a religious man, and having no kids in my daily routine, Easter has become one of those holidays that sort of catches me unawares. When I was little, we'd often spend Easter with my Grandma and her husband in Denver, dressing up to go to church after we'd torn apart our Easter baskets filled with goodies and divvied up the candy from inside the plastic eggs we'd found in as fair a way as possible. And when we didn't go to Denver, we'd decorate eggs at home and have our egg hunt on Sunday morning just the same.

It's always been sort of an odd holiday to me what with the candy like Halloween, decorations and tchotchkies akin to Christmas, the pagan fertility symbols of springtime, seemingly random timing tied to the phases of the moon, baskets filled with goodies like Christmas stockings but without the naughty-or-nice overtones, and the utterly unique egg-hunt. But still all tied up in a seriously Christian wrapper. Christmas may be like a big birthday party, but Easter, though... that's when the magic happened. However skeptical I might have been, it was hard not to be impressed at the drama of the tale of crucifixion and resurrection. And being hopped up on jelly beans, malted milk balls, chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps gave it all the more pizazz.

In any case, as an adult heathen cycling only between cublicle and 60-degree perpetual springtime, I've fallen out of touch with the rhythm and thrum of these things. So it caught me off-guard earlier this evening when I called my sister and the kids and they reported that they were decorating Easter eggs. Who knew?* I felt a few pangs of nostalgia and a sudden craving for deviled eggs, so after hanging up the phone I went immediately down to the store to pick up some eggs, vinegar and a PAAS dyeing kit.

I roped my friend Jeff into decorating eggs with me, and inspired my roommate Tranh, who had never dyed eggs before, to try her own hand at it. I also learned that I'm incredibly anal-retentive about proper dyeing technique and should probably never decorate eggs with Jeff again as he nearly pushed me over the edge tainting the dyes by double-dipping before the egg has properly dried and by failing to observe the light-to-dark progression.

Anyway, behold the results of our labors. Note the cherry blossom egg and the globe egg (with Asia facing) in particular.

*Ok, sure, it's in the calendar. And I could calculate it myself if I cared to. Though interestingly it's not just as simple as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. There are complex
tables to calculate when Easter Sunday falls. And for the record, it's not just that it seemed early this year - it was in fact the second earliest Easter possible. Easter can never be earlier than March 22nd (and won't be until the year 2285) nor later than April 25th. And the next time Easter falls on March 23rd won't be until 2160. Weird.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Something worthwhile for the sun to shine on

A number of years ago, my good friend Meredith introduced me to this silly thing at one of the local fine arts museums which became sort of an annual tradition to attend. Called "Bouquets to Art," the entire museum is filled with floral arrangements by local florists, designers, landscapers and old lady civic organizations, and the arrangements mimic or complement the works of art in the museum's collection.

If it sounds a bit cheesy or hoity-toity, it is a little, but at its best it can also be spectacular. There are all sorts of good reasons to buy membership to a fine arts museum, like supporting art education, premium access to special exhibits, tax deductions and such, but I actually got mine so I could get in on the yearly members-only Bouquets to Art evening.

This year, I ended up going alone because I'm the only one who reliably shows up for the things I do, and because Meredith moved to Atlanta. I arrived a little late and was shocked to see several thousand people milling about outside the De Young, until I noticed the flashing lights in the museum and the fire trucks parked out front. Eventually the alarms were reset and they let us flood inside all at once, extending the hours they'd be open. The galleries actually absorbed the crowds well once they dispersed past the entrance, and I was able to peruse the museum at a liesurely pace.

Two things occured to me: I could design floral arrangements if I set my mind to it, and I need to take advantage of my museum membership more often for other exhibits too.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Footoloose and Fancy-Free

During my first year in the City, just out of college and unsuccessfully looking for a real job in the real world, I held down a temporary position at a career center, successfully helping other people find real jobs. It was a pretty good gig, ironies aside, and the fact that it was only 4 days a week was, in retrospect, one of the best things about it. Instead of spending that extra day delving deeper into my own jobsearch or volunteering for some great cause, I often used that Friday to explore my new home.

I was operating under the long-held assumption that I was just a temporary resident of San Francisco, one of the many transients stopping off for a wonderful while before getting on the road for the rest of my journey, so I set out to discover everything I could before moving on. I would pack a lunch, a bottle of water, and my bus map into my backpack and set off, exploring the neighborhoods on foot, climbing up hills to the myriad wind-blown parks, poking my head into obscure public spaces like rooftop gardens and cavernous churches, visiting museums and mausoleums, walking the length of all the public beaches, riding hotel elevators to the tops floors, clambering over dangerous cliffs and eroding bluffs to hidden coves.

Somewhere along the line I stopped doing all that, whether because I began taking my surroundings for granted as I finally came to see myself as a long-term resident, or because steady employment brought about a less-spontaneous routine of working for the weekends, only to have the weekends filled with chores. Anymore, six months or worse can go by without me traveling the 7 miles across town to Ocean Beach or setting foot in Golden Gate Park.

Recalling those adventurous days and feeling the need to combat the aggro knot of asperity that's been twisting tighter lately, I decided this morning that it was high time I throw a sandwich and bottle of water in my backpack and head west to see where I ended up.

Where I ended up was as far west as you can get in San Francisco: the Cliff House, overlooking Ocean Beach and the steel grey Pacific. Once an elegant Victorian masterpiece (before burning down several times) it's now a blocky concrete gift shop and restaurant piled atop the bluffs above the Seal Rocks. Dropping down on the north side, I spent some time poking around the ruins of the Sutro Baths, another feat of Victorian hubris that was once the world's largest indoor swimming facility. Before burning to the ground it contained 7 pools of varying temperatures and salinity, an ice rink, a concert hall and had a capacity for 25,000.

I continued around the perimeter of the City, walking the trails that cut through Land's End, hugging the slumping slopes and precarious windswept bluffs beneath the Legion of Honor and ending in the upscale Sea Cliff neighborhood. I kept walking past Baker Beach and onto new trails (my donations put to excellent use by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy) that now lead down to Marshall's Beach. Once only accessible at low tide from Baker Beach, or via a perilous scramble down slippery serpentine boulders weathering into green clay, this scenic stretch of sand sits in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and, despite its new accessibility and the incessant frigid gale, still seems to be favored by naked people.

I ate my sandwich on a rock facing the surf and lingered for a while, marveling at the fact that some 3/4 million people were buzzing about just beyond the cliffs at my back while I enjoyed near perfect solitude. After a time, I resumed my walk cresting the bluffs and rounding the bend to the Bridge and the whir of transport and tourist activity. I admired the view, as I always do, before following the calla lily and nasturtium-flanked trail dropping down to Chrissy Field with its familiar joggers, tidal lagoon, and exhausted canines.

Eventually I made it back to the apartment, having successfully ignored the naked people and tourists while indulging my nostalgia and regaining a hint of that old wonder and joy at a place that, 11 years on, still hasn't grown old.

My aching feet aside (10-ish miles!), I feel much more relaxed now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Taking it to the streets

People people people. Ugh.

So, the four of you out there who read this thing are all well aware that I have no car and walk all over the place, having lost whatever passion for public transit that may have existed as a wide-eyed virginal urban naïf. Defending my personal space against aggressive little old ladies who feign an ignorance of spoken English; putting up with punks dropping half-eaten fastfood in the inaccessible space between the back of the seat and the heater to spoil instead of you know, using a garbage can; sitting next to someone clipping their fingernails; trying to promptly if not altogether politely evacuate the rear of the bus because the overpowering stench of the homeless guy who just boarded; grabbing hold of the rail to find it sticky; watching people sneeze into their hand and grab hold of the rail; wondering if the person who just sat behind me is wearing a dust mask for their own protection... or for mine; countless such experiences have made taking the bus a dire-necessity-only activity.

So I walk places. Like to and from work every day. An opportunity for fresh air, physical activity, the opportunity to de-stress after a long day or mentally gear up for the next. The problem being now even that is losing its appeal and it's all I can do to maintain my calm with people trying my patience at every turn.

Forget the road rage, folks, I think I may be succumbing to sidewalk rage. One of these days, rather than just kicking the fender of the car that cuts me off or huffily saying "excuse me" but totally meaning "excuse you," I may just start tossing people aside and into the traffic that is failing to signal their careening turns and running the red lights.

-- First you have the wanderers - the pedestrians who are incapable of walking a predictable or straight path and who veer to the left just as you try to pass on the left, or list to the right just as you try to sneek past them to the right.
-- There are the gangs of people who walk 3 or 4 abreast, effectively blocking any attempt at passing short of stepping off the curb or plowing through.
-- Also the crazy arm swingers from whom you must keep a healthy distance lest you get whacked in thigh or somewhere considerably more awkward. These people are related to the umbrella swingers who obliviously dent your innocent shins should you approach from behind.
-- There are the folks who stop short in the middle of the sidewalk to tie a shoe, ponder directions, yap on the phone, or search through their purse, with no warning and without any awareness of the other people sharing the sidewalk about to trip over them or run smack into them with a full cup of steaming coffee and a white shirt.
-- Don't forget the women with the ridiculously loud heels that need reshod because they're clomping down the sidewalk behind you like a clydesdale.
-- Or the expectorating epidemic that seems to be spreading as young and old of all ethnicities hawk up loogies and spit right there on the sidewalk in a big wet splat that only narrowly misses your shoe.

I think it's time to find My Side of the Mountain because I'm clearly not cut out to be around people at all.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I'm a one man guy is me

Back in mid-January it started. The first e-mail arrived from a former co-worker who had fallen out of touch wanting to know if I was doing commercials. Within weeks, people were coming out of the woodwork left and right mentioning they'd seen someone on TV who looked and acted just like me.

I've been through this sort of thing before.

Back when Tom Green was just gaining popularity on MTV by drinking milk directly from the cow, people were stopping me on the street or hooting from the passing school bus, and shouting his name from passing cars. I had no idea what was going on for a month or so, until a friend explained who he was. I didn't quite see it, I'm afraid, but there was nothing I could do to convince the staff of a Chick-fil-A in Leeds, Alabama that I wasn't him. Despite my driver's license and lack of camera crew, I think they were quite sure I was pulling some elaborate prank on them, though I tried to explain the actual Tom Green tended towards the not that subtle.

I've also had several weird look-alike and mistaken identity incidents, that may or may not have been related in more than just timing.

But this time, even people I know really well started saying things. At work, an e-mail has been circulating referring to the "Zach-alike". And then, finally, I saw the commercial myself. And about fell off the couch. The match isn't perfect, but the resemblance was enough to send a cold chill up my spine and give me the wiggins.

They say that everyone has a twin out there somewhere, and I suppose it's not completely unreasonable to imagine among 6.6 billion people. And who hasn't been told at some point that they remind someone of someone else? But seriously? I'd like to continue living under the illusion that I'm completely unique, thank you.

I'd post the video, but I can't find it anywhere online. Nor can I find out the identity of this Zach-alike, though I'm not sure what I'd do with that information if I had it. Shouldn't there be some way I can make money out of this? Anyway, if anyone has any info on the dude from the Febreze Candles "In the Air" spot, by all means pass it along.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Just as far in as I'll ever be out

I'm not sure that weeping is the appropriate response, since I'm the only one to blame if there's finger wagging to be done. Besides, I've had my reasons, oh yes. And they were all perfectly valid reasons at one time or another. Many of them still could be, arguably.

But I still might go have myself a little cry.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

As I was saying...

Back on the 19th at around 5:30 in the morning, a large fireball was seen streaking over the skies from Washington to Montana, visible from as far away as Calgary, with various reports, particularly from Spokane, of a sonic boom or sound of explosions. It was even caught on video by a hospital security camera.

On the 17th, a small unknown asteroid disintegrated in the skies over Thule, Greenland, streaking across the sky in a fiery blaze and leaving a trail twisting in the currents of the upper atmosphere.

Just last night, the skies over Ithaca were lit up by a giant fireball the size of a quarter held at arm's length streaking overhead, causing alarm and numerous calls to 911.

As you can guess, it turns out that these things are a lot more common that you might think. After my recent musings, I dug up a little more information on the frequency of such bombardments...
According to calculations by NASA astronomer Bill Cooke, fireballs as bright as Venus appear somewhere over Earth more than 100 times a day. Fireballs as bright as the quarter Moon streak overhead roughly once every 10 days, and exploding asteroids as bright as a full Moon light up the skies about once every 5 months.

This doesn't get a whole lot of press because the vast majority of the things go unnoticed. Half of them occur during the day time and are nearly invisible in sunny skies. Because 70% of the planet is covered by uninhabited ocean, a corresponding 70% or so of the fireballs streak across empty expanses and go unseen. Cloud cover obscures some of the remaining ones. And most of the rest are missed simply because no one is looking up.

I remember seeing a giant green fireball blazing across the western Nebraska night sky spitting sparks as it went while looking out the car window as a kid, heading home from town.

More recently while sitting on the couch one evening just after sunset, I happened to look up to see something bright streaking across the sky and leaving a vapor trail glowing in the fading light of the upper atmosphere. I had the distinct impression it was getting larger and nearer and then with a faint foomp, it blinked out of existence. Turns out it was a missile launched from Vandenberg AFB as part of the interceptor missile defense program. But still, it got my heart pounding.

In any case, you may want to keep an eye to the heavens -- chances are actually pretty decent that you'll spot something bigger than dust streaking through the atmosphere.

Monday, February 25, 2008

For the record

Regarding my previous post:

They say your odds of getting struck by lightning are better than winning the lottery. So I'm not sure why I went on a lottery ticket buying binge after my little shock. I gave up when I realized that the odds of both getting stuck by lightning AND winning the lottery must be infinitesimal.

I didn't seek medical attention at the time. A few years later, I began having heart rhythm problems and it didn't immediately occur to me that the two could be related. I sheepishly mentioned the lightning to my doctor while being treated and he was all, um, hello? Duh.

As my hair thins, people often ask if I sunburned my scalp if they see the top of my head, when I definitely have not. Apparently my baldspot is pretty red -- right where I was zapped. I have no idea if the two are related.

I don't know the exact date it happened -- it seemed like the sort of thing I would never forget and I never wrote it down. 10 years on, all I know is it was in February.

I'm fairly certain that I did not experience the main lightning strike. Electrical current traveled through me, no doubt, but my guess is that the bolt either bounced off a nearby tree, or that I just got in the way of one of the little feeder bolts.

My former zeal for thunderstorms was somewhat diminished for a while. When visiting my Dad in Cheyenne in late spring and early summer, I'd sit tensely on the couch downstairs, my heart skipping a beat with each flash and clap of thunder, where before I'd have been standing under the eaves watching the show.

I don't tell the story much. The opportunity to talk about it doesn't arise frequently, and when it does, I can recognize that look of skepticism on people's faces.

I still have the umbrella.

I cannot bend spoons with my mind. I tried.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Lightning Incident

I imagine that there are a few moments in everyone's lives when something outrageously absurd or terrifying happens that momentarily cracks the shell of mundane reality enclosing our daily existence and allows us to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Truth flickering through from the vast beyond. For a brief instant, it's as if you suddenly get it, the blazing lightbulb of insight blinks on over your head and the great cosmic joke makes sense.

You are the punchline.

And just as you're grappling with the enormity of it all, the hot bulb burns itself out in a blinding flash, the fissures fuse and answers are again out of reach beyond the protective shell of comprehension's limit. You're left standing alone, unsure of your footing, your confidence that the world is unfolding as it should shattered. And in answer to all the questions now fumbling about in your mind, only the empty dark.


Today was a crazy weather day of scudding clouds, glints of sun, and sporadic downpours. Unsettled weather is not uncommon for February in San Francisco, and in truth, I look forward to these days for their atmospheric drama, which, as I've mentioned before, is usually in short supply here.

Not so ten years ago, as El Nino gripped the California coast and the headlines, unleashing the 2nd wettest rainfall season on record with 230% of the average precipitation, and a record 119 days of measurable rain. Records fell for daily rainfall, monthly rainfall, and even the number of broken records. Drama was played out daily in the sky, on the streets, in the news. Hillsides slid into the sea, dry creekbeds washed away homes, the Bay became muddy brown and was littered with debris and the contents of people's upstream homes.

Thus, on a fateful February day ten years ago, not unlike today, on the first weekend day in ages that sun gleamed between rolling cotton-topped clouds, I resolved to resume my long-dormant outdoor adventures. Knowing that my window of opportunity would be brief , I grabbed my roommate's large umbrella as insurance and set out on foot from my North Beach apartment, determined to walk all the way to Ft. Point at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

By the time I'd crossed through the Marina, puffy black clouds had billowed before the sun and I heard the distant unfamiliar rumble of thunder from beyond the Golden Gate. Crissy Field in those days was still derelict runway and fenced-off landfill with a worn path just up from the surf, lined by a few tall palms. Just as the rain began, I took shelter beneath a small stand of cypress trees on the shore, Bridge in view. The shower was brief, as expected, and I set out again hoping to reach my destination before the next wave of dark clouds swept in. Another warning peal of thunder, closer now, echoed from just outside the Gate, but I paid no heed, lightning and thunder being so infrequent in the Bay Area that I felt only a slight thrill in its improbable presence.

As I passed the last palm tree, about a half mile from Ft. Point, it began spitting icy rain again and I opened the large umbrella swinging by my side, its taut yellow & black nylon vaulting overhead reassuringly substantial and defiant. I set out across the last bleak stretch of exposed weeds and sand, and laughed off the momentary thought that I shouldn't stray too far from where the trees were taller than I.

And at that exact instant, several things happened at once: a bright flash of blue-white light filled my vision, the air cracked and ripped overhead, cinematic blue electricity curled down the umbrella spring behind me reflected in my glasses, and a sharp shock of buzzing pain seared at the back of my head.

I knew immediately what had happened, threw the traitorous umbrella to the ground and reached up to where my scalp tingled. My head was tender but didn't seem burned; my hair, now wet, was all in place. I put my hand over my heart: it was still beating. My pulse was racing but strong. I had feeling in all my limbs. For some reason I checked my hiking boots too: still on my feet, soles intact.

I stood there agape for several moments, rain running into my wide eyes and soaking through my clothes while I tried to comprehend it. Looking around for witnesses, all I saw was an empty expanse of old asphalt and weeds up to the nearest row of buildings, and above that the ceaseless traffic of the Bridge approach. No one else was foolish enough to be out.

Unsure of what else to do, I resumed, trudging the remaining distance to the path leading up the wooded bluff towards the road deck and the tourist viewpoints above the Fort. Thoroughly soaked now, I stood for a time partway up the trail surrounded by lush calla lilies and nasturtiums whose blossoms impatiently awaited the waterlogged sun, staring blankly at the Bridge and moody hills beyond, having reached my destination but still baffled by the bolt from above.

I stood there trying to read meaning into the improbable, wondering why me; wondering how this could happen
here, in San Francisco where lightning is seen only once every few years, instead of my Front-Range home that is one of the most lightning-riddled places in the country; wondering if anyone would believe the absurdity of my story or would simply assume I was making the whole ridiculous thing up; trying to decide if I was incredibly lucky to be unhurt or terribly unlucky to have been singled out at all; going over it again and again in my head.

Finally, as the pelting rain gave way to another patch of sun, the unfazed vermilion Bridge arching gracefully across the steely grey waters into the indifferent purple distance, I picked my way back down the slope and worked my way back the way I had come, stopping to pluck my umbrella out of the puddle in which it lay. My apartment, when I finally returned, was empty and suddenly lonely -- the roommates having gone to Tahoe for the weekend -- and not knowing what else to do, I called home.

"Mom? I just got struck by lightning. No, no, I'm fine, really I think I'm ok..."

Cake and Glory

Last night was San Francisco's Chinese New Year Parade, one of the biggest celebrations of its kind outside of Asia, and an event that has been taking place since just after the Gold Rush. Tens of thousands of people generally crowd Union Sq and Chinatown to watch the floats and dragon dancers wind through the streets, culminating two weeks of firecrackers, carnivals, and other festivities.

Another of the great San Francisco events takes place during this parade: the annual Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt. I'd heard of this for several years but somehow always missed it, until I finally got my act together in 2004 and organized a team to join the Hunt. It's put on by a former P.I. and San Francisco lover who also happens to be a big film noir buff. You're provided with a map of the city, a street index, and a cluesheet with 15-20 clues that, when solved correctly, lead you all over the Financial District, North Beach and Chinatown, seeking random signs, obscure plaques, and interesting architectural details in the backalleys and hidden sidestreets of The City.

It's always a great time and the rules state that your team has to stay together and track down all the answers on foot, returning the answer sheets by 9pm. The clues are never easy, and navigating the streets and alleys can be challenging in the dark, especially if you must cross paths with the parade and accompanying crowds. I've put together a team for each of the past 4 years at the Beginners level, but never came in higher than 12th place (out of more than 100 teams). The prize for winning is merely a cake, some champagne, and the glory of bragging rights -- proceeds go to local charities, and the fun is in the pursuit.

So I rounded up another ragtag team of people this year, but bumped us up to the Regular level of difficulty. The weather forecasts predicted torrential rains and gale force winds. Fortunately, aside from an occasional downpour, the weather wasn't too miserable and everyone braved the elements to huddle over the cluesheets, map out our route, and strike out into the night armed with headlamps and flashlights.

And guess what? We came in 2nd place!! Having answered all of our clues correctly, we arrived a full 20 minutes ahead of the next placed team.

It might not seem like much, but believe me when I tell you it's a big deal (to me). We took our cake and bottle of champagne and shared the sweet wet glory of victory behind the Ferry Building, the glimmering lights of the Bay Bridge arching into the distance.

Hooray Rat Bastards*! You guys** are the best.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

* It's the year of the Rat. Team names are traditionally related to the appropriate lunar zodiac animal.

** Nichole, Dustin, Seth, Josh, Beth & Adam


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