Saturday, April 30, 2005

SF Saturday

This morning the 2nd grade at YG's school was working on a mosaic mural for the outside of the building, and all hands were welcomed, so we went down to the Mission to help out. It was enormous fun, and the finished product is going to be great (they need to give it a few days for the cement to dry before they start grouting; the "unveiling" is set for late next month. Beautiful sunny morning, with people honking and calling out compliments as they drove by.

And this afternoon the four of us went to see The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Now, I am one of those who always thought the books were trying a little too hard--of the "so funny I forgot to laugh" variety. Well, for me, at least, this is the way the material should have been presented all along; it moves so fast that you don't have to examine the slightness of the story (when I read the book I kept thinking of the time I got cornered at a convention by a nice guy who wanted to tell me--for four hours--the plot of the blockbuster space opera he was going to write any day now). And any film that has Alan Rickman in it had an edge with me--he does the voice for Marvin, the depressed robot, and he's lovely. I just liked it a lot. Now we are all home again, doing laundry. But as Saturdays in San Francisco go, this wasn't at all a bad one.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Tonight was the last session of the two month Intermediate Fencing class (which I have now taken four times). At the last class we always fence live--which is to say, with electric scoring. It's a complex thing to get ready to fence electric: you have to put the foil-end of the wire down the sword-hand sleeve of your fencing jacket, then wear a lamé--a metallic over jacket--to which you attach another lead from the wire; the last lead plugs into a cord which links you to the scoring mechanism. Finally you plug the first lead into the sword. Then you check to make sure that a hit can be scored: each person pokes their opponent in the chest to make sure that the hit sets off the alarm. Of course, if something's not working (like, if the lamé you're using is too worn out--the usual problem) you have to undo almost everything and redo it.

Anyway, tonight I fenced three bouts. I won two of them: 5-2 and 5-1. Last time we fenced electric I won one bout out of three, 5-4. So, yay.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Testing 1 2 3

Seen on the desk of the principal of YG's school this morning: a bumper sticker which reads "No Child Left Behind? More like No School Left Standing."

The season of testing is upon us. Sarcasm Girl had her last test at the 9th grade level yesterday, and is now free to spend the last six weeks of school doing projects and learning things in depth, since the work up to this point has been, more or less, to shovel gouts of knowledge into the kids so that they can pass the state tests (through which the NCLB standards are satisfied...or not, as the case may be). But the 3rd Graders, among whom Younger Girl numbers, have three more days of testing. Third grade is apparently a watershed year: it's the first year of the full-on state tests (as opposed to the kinder, gentler tests that the kindergarteners, first and second graders have to take. (I cannot believe that I had to write that last sentence. Kindergarteners are tested? Sheesh.) And a good deal of the material these tests include at all levels is, at least according to most of the teachers I talk to, developmentally inappropriate: "you show a third grader some of this stuff for the exposure, sure but mastery?" The kids worry about the tests, although the teachers do their best to alleviate the tension--YG's class has a special snack on testing days, and a "morning stretch" before they start. But the teachers are tense, because their performance is being gauged, and the school's performance (and therefore its viability) is being tested, and that gets communicated to the kids. The notion of sanctions is not a trivial one. If a school fails, money is withdrawn: three schools in San Francisco are being shut down (increasing school crowding) because there's a $22 million shortfall in the budget, and NCLB permits the Federal government to turn its back on the schools that most need support.

I am all for accountability. I don't think bad teachers should get a free ride (and there are always some bad teachers--SG's math teacher in 8th grade was a disaster, and she was pink-slipped). But the matter of who learns and how is so vastly more complex than who can fill in the correct bubble on a standardized test and who can't... And the creators of these tests and this system seem to believe that If We Say They Have to Know It, They Will Know It.

I think about this stuff and remember the announcement in the Woody Allen film Bananas: "All children under sixteen years old... are now sixteen years old."

Monday, April 25, 2005


I have a fainting disorder. Doesn't that sound Victorian and, well, swoony? The technical name for it is "vaso-vagal syncope," which simply means that my system is delicately balanced enough that it misinterprets some minor thing (in my case, gastro-intestinal distress is the usual culprit), decides that Something Is Really Wrong, attempts to preserve blood flow to the core systems, and closes up the vagal artery. No blood=swoon. This happened about once a year when I was in my twenties, and less frequently after that (although there was the spectacular time when I pitched face forward in the bathroom one morning, landed on the tile all unconscious and snapped off a tooth!); these days it happens very rarely, and if I start to feel dizzy I know to get down low so that I don't fall over, and take it easy for a couple of hours afterward. Sarcasm Girl has the same fainting disorder--ain't genetics a wonderful thing? and has known since she was four that if she felt swoony she was to get down on the ground fast.

The defining test for vaso-vagal syncope is called a "tilt table test:" you are strapped to a table which is stood almost upright; then they put an IV into each arm--into one, they pipe adenosine (I think) which slows the heart down. It's metabolized almost immediately, but for the maybe two minutes the stuff is in you, you feel rotten. Just rotten, not in pain or sick, just...well, you get the idea. If that doesn't make you faint (and making you faint is the objective of the test) they pipe something else into the other arm, which speeds your heart way up. If you don't faint within 25 minutes you passed the test, you don't have vaso-vagal syncope, and they then have to do more tests to figure out what other problems you might have. I, fortunately, fainted. However, I didn't faint until 22 minutes into the second IV. It was a little weird, like suddenly finding yourself a prop in an old Frankenstein movie. At the end they said, "Congratulations, you failed!" and sent me home. After all that, the medical advice is: don't stress, stay low, don't worry.

All of which explains why I didn't get any work done this morning. I went out, full of ambition, got swoony, waited to recover enough to drive home, and did so. Not stressing, and I did stay low. I am feeling much better now, and will shortly go fetch YG from school.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


Went to a party tonight. Found myself talking to a guy with a vaguely familiar, and not at all common last name. So I asked if he was any relation to a guy I was briefly involved with in, like, 1983. "Oh yes," chap says happily. "He's my Dad."


'Cause I realize now that I used to hear stories about =this guy= when he was 12, after the weekends his father had had him visit (the parents were divorced). This guy who now has gray hair and looks, I swear, my age. I don't exactly know why I found this unsettling, but I did. So the guy fires off an email to his dad, saying that I'd said Hello.

For what it's worth, I loaned the father my copy of the Collected Short Stories of Dorothy Parker in 1983, and he still has it somewhere. I should have asked his son to inquire after it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Rock Haiku

This morning, taking YG to school, we had the radio on. Paul McCartney is going to be doing some concerts locally (well, in San Jose) and she has been agitating about getting tickets to go...second generation Beatles fan, my baby is. So this morning KFOG had a contest: write the best McCartney-inspired haiku and win front row tickets. Unfortunately, my cell phone does not seem to be able to call KFOG's 800 number, so YG's effusion did not get into the running. But here it is:

Since I love Paul McCartney
He is my idol
Please give me tickets to go.

It's better than some of the entries we heard; the winner used Beatles/Wings song titles rather nicely. But it would have been swell if I'd been able to at least throw YG's haiku in to the mix.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Movie Logic

Okay, I'm a geek, but I'm not in this guy's league. Someone is a big big fan of Steve McQueen's Bullitt, a film shot in San Francisco almost forty years ago. After we'd been living in SF for a year, I caught part of the movie on TV and realized that (as with chase scenes set in New York City) very often cars were making a left on one street and appearing next on a street three miles away. But I didn't make a fetish out of it, just was rather pleased that I knew the local geography well enough to notice.

But this guy has gone nuts. This site includes individual shots from the film, with "how they look now" photos. Since certain parts of San Francisco disappeared in the Loma Prieta quake (like the entire Embarcadero Freeway, which appears in retrospect to have been a good thing, aesthetically speaking) it's kind of fascinating. Warning--going through the entire page can take upwards of an hour. Indulge only if you're in a geeky mood.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Spring Nesting

I am not exactly the domestic sort. Or rather, I pick and choose my domesticities. Knitting, okay; sweeping, not so much; baking, definitely; gardening, hardly at all. But this weekend Spouse and I (occasionally, under compulsion, aided by The Young) suddenly ran through the house doing things. He fixed some stuff, finally tacked up the speaker wire, we cleaned the garage, I cleaned the refrigerator and painted the front door and made a massive pot of chili to be frozen for dinners on some other occasion. We did not tackle the garden (which in the last two weeks has suddenly realized that it's spring and there's been a whole hell of a lot of water, and, well, effulged into verdant chaos). Oh, and larger child stood on smaller child's bed and it broke, so that had to be repaired. In spring, the urge to clean up overwhelms even the least cleaning-minded (and that, of course, would be me).

Sunday, April 17, 2005

No Longer Bi-Polar

They came and removed the old pole today--not quite such a lengthy process as putting in the new one, but they had to attach a great many things, make sure everything was still attached to the houses surrounding, and then they used a chainsaw to hack off manageable chunks of pole.

Afterward, when we were uni-polar again, I checked. The new pole smells like creosote, Dave. YG loved the smell...(she saw me sniff the pole and had to come see what I was doing). I wonder what this tells me about her?

Friday, April 15, 2005

Changing Poles

And now I know how they change telephone poles. Our garage was inaccessible (and our front door nearly so) all day yesterday, while they put up a new telephone pole up next to the old one and swapped over all the cables and lines. It seems to be a pretty clumsy process--you dig a hole next to the old hole; you hoist the new pole using cables, a winch, and a bunch of guys in hard hats yelling things like "Yo! Hold up there!"; then you spend about six hours with guys in a cherry picker, first hanging a "limb" onto the new pole, complete with new resistor caps and insulation, and then carefully transferring all the wires to the new limb.

All this was happening outside YG's window, and they were still at it when she was shoveled into bed--with flashing yellow and red lights and yelling. So of course the child couldn't get to sleep, but knelt on her bed with her nose pressed to the window, as rapt as if she were watching Father Christmas make his rounds. Occasionally one of the hard-hat guys would wave or smile at her, and she was beatified.

I am still unclear as to the advantages of telephone poles, particularly in an area as seismically active as San Francisco. It may be the city girl in me, but they seem so un-urban. Gradually certain parts of the city are being "undergrounded," as PG&E calls it. But if they're investing in a brand new pole, I suspect our neighborhood is not going to be one of them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Where Ideas Come From

When I was seventeen two sentences came into my head: "Beatrice's lover was made of lip. She wouldn't say where she'd found it." Being unusually sensible that day I wrote them down, looked at them and decided I was too young to have any idea what on earth to do with them, and put the paper away for another day. Almost twenty years later I took the paper out, finished the story, and sold it to F&SF. The only source of inspiration I can think of for the line is the Todal, a nasty monster from James Thurber's wonderful The Thirteen Clocks,.

In a similar way, the story I sold yesterday, "Boon," started out with the first line: "No Pampers in Elfland." But when I consider it, it really started with my contrarian response to the Borderlands series. I enjoyed the series a lot; it's an appealing conceit, and some of the stories are wonderful. But after reading several of the books I began to chew on what it would be like to live in this place--to be stuck in this place--if you didn't want to be a teen runaway living among elvish rock n' rollers and artists. What about an elderly pensioner who hasn't the money or drive to move away from the house in which her family grew and her husband died? Or a struggling single parent whose support system is so tenuous that survival is all she can think of? Borderland is a town for the young and the people who want to be that particular kind of young. So of course, I wanted to write a story about someone who wasn't, um, of that demographic. That's not what the Borderlands stories are meant to do, and that's fair. So I had to find some other way to handle the problem, and of course, turned to my home town, which has absorbed any number of immigrant populations. Why not elves and dwarves and brownies and nixies?

There are all sorts of ways to be stuck in a place you don't want to be. The most interesting one, to me, is the kind of inertia that comes from believing, whether correctly or not, that you have no options. Of course, the story went off in its own merry direction once I set it in motion, but that's where the idea came from.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

small Woo Hoo

After (mumble) years, I finished a short story and submitted it to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Today I got a contract and check. Woo hoo!

Vampire Morning

I gave blood this morning, a thing I do whenever they call (which just happens to be every eight weeks). I won't go so far as to say I enjoy it, but, it is a relatively painless way to feel like you're helping the world. Go in, fill out the form, get my iron level tested, answer questions meant to determine whether I'm HIV positive but don't know it, then have the phlebotomists exclaim over my veins, which apparently are droolsome, if you're into veins. They draw a pint of blood, I have a cup of tea, I walk out whistling, and get a not-entirely spurious sense of virtue for an hour. It's not a bad trade off, when you think of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

My Sewing Box

My sewing box is perhaps fifteen inches wide, eight deep and eight high, covered in quilted beige fabric with a kind of Amish flower-work design on it. It's large enough to hold everything I need, including the arcane stuff like my grommet setter and the various mutant needles for the sewing machine, six or seven tape measures (because I keep losing them, then finding them again), interfacing, seam tape, velcro in various sizes, and a rainbow of thread. Aside from its undoubted utility, I love my sewing box because it belonged to my Aunt Eva, and every time I use it I think of her.

My father was one of eight children. My aunt Linda was the youngest--until I was in my teens I didn't realize that her name was not "Baby," which is what her siblings called her. Aunt Eva was one of the middle kids, but she and my father, and she and my aunt Linda, were particularly close. Now: my grandparents came over from Russia in the last decade of the nineteenth century--one of those great American stories that could be anyone's. My grannie Annie came as a teenager, learned to speak English as she worked, met my grandfather Abraham and with him raised this huge family of hardworking, highly successful people--girls as well as boys, at a time when girls weren't expected to be successful outside the house. My grandfather was, I gather, a kind of Traditional Head of Family sort, but my grandmother was cuddly, approachable, and knew how to manage things in the family. So, according to legend, when Eva was finishing high school and said to her parents, "I want to go to college," my grandfather said something along the lines of "Girls don't go to college. Girls get married." My Grannie Annie took Eva aside and said, "We'll work something out," and lo and behold, my aunt went to college. Then, when the end of college loomed, Eva said, "I want to go to law school." My grandfather said, "Girls don't go to law school, they get married." Or something to that effect. And once again something was worked out.

Eva went to law school, and became a successful lawyer, and an arbitrator and mediator. She was assistant director of labor relations for the Borden Co. and deputy chairman of the New York City Office of Collective Bargaining. She was the President of the American Arbitration Association, and the arbitrator of choice for many firms and organizations, including, for many years, the NFL: she had annual seats for the Superbowl, and went, too. She was an indefatigable traveler and had a huge network of friends and colleagues, an extended family in addition to her own substantial one. She never married, but she was loved and admired by a host of people from all walks of life. She loved Wedgewood china and had a huge crystal owl in her living room--Baccarat or Svarovski or something like that--which I always thought was sort of her personal totem. She was wise, and funny, loved a good joke, and could be fierce--she didn't suffer, or forgive, fools easily, but she was deeply generous. She loved to shop and had wonderful clothes--I wound up with a couple of pieces, including her Blackglamma mink!--and knit beautifully.

And on occasion, she sewed.

When she died, my aunt Linda urged me to take something from her apartment as we were cleaning it out. Thus the mink, and a useful kitchen step stool, and a Wedgewood bowl currently holding several apples and a banana, and all her unused wool, and the sewing box. And every time one of the girls rips a seam or needs name tags on her camp clothes, I get to think of my Aunt Eva.

Friday, April 08, 2005

What's Your Name?

And via Patrick Nielsen Hayden's blog, a referal to the Unitarian Jihad Name Generator.

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Sister Shotgun of Desirable Mindfulness.

Get yours.

I know. It's a silly thing, but it's shiny and a toy, and some days a shiny toy is a lovesome thing.

Unitarian Jihad

What more do I need to say? Jon Carroll is on a roll. Or maybe this will only be funny to Unitarian Universalists. But really, isn't it time for religious zealotry a moderate can get behind?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tiny Victory

For a year or more, the town of Salinas has been threatening to close its libraries because of budget shortfalls. Much has been made of this, as Salinas and the surrounding area are where John Steinbeck lived and wrote, and isn't it a shame on account of that. Clearly, libraries closing in regions where famous American writers did not live or write is not a tragedy of the same magnitude. Well, today the Chronicle reports that the libraries will stay open in Salinas, due to a heavy fund-raising campaign that raised $500,000 (Bill Murray donated $12,500--his winnings from a golf tournament in Pebble Beach). Mind you, that's only til the end of the year. After that, I guess Murray's going to have to win another tournament.

Don't get me wrong; I'm glad Salinas gets to keep its libraries open--part-time--for another eight months. It just offends me to to the core that libraries across the country are being threatened, diminished, closed. I want a bumper sticker that says "Andrew Carnegie Was Right."

High vs. Low Church

I've said for years that the disagreements between the users of PCs and Macs were basically religious. We use Macs at home, but I've worked on both platforms, I've even taught software classes using both platforms, and nobody died. Just another instance of my inability to commit, I guess. However, I was delighted to read in Jon Carroll's column this morning that no less authority than Umberto Eco has come to the same conclusion:

"'Insufficient consideration has been given to the underground religious war that is transforming the modern world: the division between users of the Macintosh computer and users of the MS-DOS-compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the methodical path of the Jesuits.

'It tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach -- if not the Kingdom of Heaven -- the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

'DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation."

This left me musing over what role other world religions play in the computer world. Eco considers that machine language is "the stuff of the Old Testament, Talmudic and cabalistic." Okay. But what is the Buddhism of computers? The Islam? The Hindu? Any thoughts?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I am a Geek

Last night, once the girls had been strong-armed into bed, Spouse and I sat down like old married people (I with my knitting in my lap) and did some channel surfing before landing on the last third of the first X-Men movie. I had seen it before, Spouse had not. So I found myself filling him in, not only on the plot points of the film, but the backstory from the comics. I've got some excuse: I worked in the industry for three years, and was a long-time comics reader. Still, being able to explain the underlying tension of civilization versus instinct in Wolverine is not necessarily something I'd put on my resume. Sometime mid-sentence I stopped, put my head on his shoulder and murmured, "I'm such a geek. I'm glad you love me." To which he (properly trained fellow) replied, "I love you because you're such a geek."

Sorry, Wrong Number

Yesterday Sarcasm Girl received an invitation to enter the Miss Young American Coed competition--which is, in the immortal words of Candace Bergen in Miss Congeniality, "not a beauty pageant but a scholarship program." All you need to enter is send in your $20 and be ready to bring a formal gown "that brings out your natural beauty" and a business suit for the interview.

So the girl held the envelope in her hands, mouth open in a perfect demonstration of agog-ness (agogitude?). "WTF? What the hell are they thinking? Do They Know Who I Am?" And then she started giggling.

SG is, of course, beautiful, in that coltish, youthful, goony sort of way (she's going to be killer in a couple of years--spouse is polishing up his howitzer in preparation). But she is not the beauty pageant sort by a long chalk...she'd rather be IMing a friend about Sondheim lyrics than doing her hair. That's okay by me. It's busy enough being a stage mom, a little league mom, a karate mom, a Brownie mom, a guitar mom and a voice lesson mom. I have less than no interest in being a pageant mom. Emphatic Girl, of course, saw the brochure and was immediately intrigued....

Monday, April 04, 2005

Elmo in the Morning

Our local radio station, KFOG, has an amiable group of people running the morning and midday shows, which I hear a good deal of; the guy who does the evening show I like less, but I listen to less radio in the evening, so that works out well. Dave Morey, the head guy on the morning show, has a variety of call-ins, games, interviews, and goofy banter on the show--Gavin Newsome, our mayor (and one of my current political heros) comes on once a month, you get the usual star-here-to-plug-the-new-movie/book/TV show/album. And today they had Elmo.

Okay. I miss Sesame Street. Sarcasm Girl was a serious SS fan from a tiny age; YG not so much (she prefered Big Comfy Couch, which was all right in its way, but was no Sesame Street. When I was working at Tor and Claire Eddy's son Ben was a baby, Claire and I would meet in the mornings to synchronize the Sesame Street earworm of the day: which song we'd heard while getting the kid ready for preschool that would stubbornly refuse to leave our heads. I had been a snob about Sesame Street until I actually found myself watching it, and then I fell in love. I mean, a Billy Idol-blonde capital letter singing "Rebel L?" A Twin Peaks send up with Cookie Monster intoning "Darn fine cookie, darn fine!" "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" can still make me teary (yes, I know. I'm a joke. Never mind.) And I loved Elmo, the perpetual three-year-old monster with the manic laugh, not least for knowing that Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who has animated and voiced the little red muppet for twenty odd years, is a big, former-football-playing African American guy whose normal speaking voice (and laugh) are...well, normal. Since the girls have reached the ages of reason, so called, we have become a Sesame Street-free household, although "Carribbean Amphibean" and "Put Down the Duckie" do come up in conversation from time to time.

So this morning KFOG had a phone interview with Elmo, there to plug a new series of songs and spots on Sesame Street (and perhaps elsewhere) aimed at getting kids to eat healthily. Elmo gets to sing with Alicia Keyes and the GooGoo Dolls, and sings a song with the Cookie Monster (which I can only assume is based on the song from Porgy and Bess) called "A Cookie is a Sometime Food." They played the GooGoo Dolls song, which was just fine, and Elmo sat for a few questions. His favorite food is Wasabi. Who knew? And when asked about the "Tickle Me Elmo" dolls he said, with a touch of asperity, "Elmo doesn't know anything about those dolls." But maybe he's just hoping for a cut of the gross.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Two Child Family

The Wandering YG returned to us last night, bigger, sassier, and goonier than ever. Apparently she made friends everywhere (the flight attendents, and the guy who sat next to her on the flight back, both stopped me to comment on what a peach she is) and had a fabulous time. She has been duly scrinched and cuddled, and we're off to go hiking with the cousins today.