Thursday, June 30, 2005

Rite of Childhood

YG got her retainer a week ago. She lost it at camp yesterday.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bad Sharks, No WMDs!

Ever since the President explained away the complexities of 9/11 by saying that it all happened because the Bad People "hate our freedom," the phrase has become sort of a household fixture. Which is why today's Bad Reporter made people here laugh at 6:30 in the morning (an hour at which laughter is not my first, or even my second response). For those who don't live in SF, the Pit Bull War refers to a recent spate of attacks by pit bulls in the area, and subsequent outcry and proposals to regulate ownership, spaying, and other measures.

In other news, Spouse, who did audio post production on a couple of Winnie-the-Pooh related TV shows, was very saddened by the deaths of the voice-over talent mentioned in the last panel, and didn't find it funny at all. That is Asmussen all over: frequently crude and ham-fised, but often on target.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Today is John Cusack's birthday. He's 39. In the "cast the movie of your book" game (which I play, despite being fairly certain that there will never be a movie of one of my books) he has for a long time been my choice to play John Tietjen in The Stone War. Wherever you are, John, pick up a copy of the book, then give me a call.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Much Ado...

Sitting here watching Much Ado About Nothing (the Kenneth Branagh version) with Emphatic Girl, who is full of questions. Why is the Prince African-American? What kind of name is Hero? Why is Don John so upset that he's a bastard? Why would someone want to be a prince? What do you do with power if you don't want to make the world a better place (EG wants to be president so she can make the world a better place, and scorns anyone who wants power just to have power)? Why are all those people naked at the beginning? As she observed, "I'd hate it if my butt was on TV."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Dogs and Dog Ownership

Let me start by noting that I really like dogs. Also cats (but we're allergic) and other living things. On the other hand, I am not one of those who would bankrupt the household to get a kidney transplant for my dog (although, years ago, I did pay for surgery for my cat, who was but a kitten of nine months old--he lived for another dozen years, and I considered it money well spent). And if it came down to a choice between a pet and a kid, well, flesh of my flesh and all that.

I have to interject here and say that while I like dogs, I've also been attacked by a dog, and learned significant caution. Our neighbors, when I was a teenager, had a German Shepherd named Heinrich, who knew me, knew my brother, who came over to our house to hang out with my dog--and who, on one memorable occasion when I had gone next door to return some sugar I'd borrowed, went for my throat. Literally. On his hind legs, Heinrich was as tall as I am, and if I hadn't had the presence of mind to shove my elbow into his mouth so that he couldn't bite me elsewhere, I think I would be dead now. I finally got away and outran him (amazing what panic can do) and got sewn up--and for years afterward, whenever I had to walk past that house (which was every day, since I had to get to the school bus down the street) I called to make sure that Heinrich was tied up. Twice he broke his chain and came after me. And all the while our neighbors, who were very nice people in most ways, said that they couldn't understand what was happening with the dog, he was perfectly fine with them. It was six years before they finally decided that he was incorrigible--I was not his only victim--and Heinrich was sent to his maker.

This likely has a little to do with why I'm glad that the San Francisco D.A. had Maureen Faibush arrested on charges of child endangerment. But only a little.

If you're not from around these parts, you might not have heard (lucky you!). Three weeks ago, 12-year-old Nicholas Faibush was mauled to death by his family's pit bulls. He was alone in the house at the time. As a parent, the thought of what my child's last thoughts might have been would be crushing to me. Mrs. Faibush stated that her two pit bulls (one male, one female) were sweet dogs who had never shown any sign of aggression, and she couldn't understand how such a thing could have happened, which seemed a little off to me--if a dog killed my child, I would not be so understanding. And then...a few days later, she told the San Francisco Chronicle that she had left her son in the basement--the family room--with food, TV, a Game Boy, and a shovel up against the handle of the door, to keep him separated from the pit bulls. Somehow the boy had gotten out of the room, gone up stairs, and was attacked by the dogs. She said something to the effect that "I told him to stay in the basement, but he didn't listen. Typical Nicky."

Apparently Faibush let the dogs have the run of the house despite a sense that the male was acting up a little because the female was in heat. And perhaps, if Nicholas had stayed in the basement as ordered he might still be alive. But it just seems to me that you don't isolate your son in deference to your dogs; that you don't leave your child alone with two dogs who are in a touchy frame of mind. If the kid wants to stay home, you lock the dogs up somewhere. If you can't lock the dogs up, take the child with you--and to hell with whether he doesn't want to go. No, it's likely that Faibush didn't foresee the possibility that her son would be killed by her dogs. But if she felt there was enough hazard to warrant locking him into the family room by dint of a shovel against the door knob, she clearly realized there was a danger. Maybe she thought a bite would be acceptable--that it would teach him to listen (typical Nicky). Or just being scared a little. At the very least, her judgment was appalling, and as often happens, someone else paid for it.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Public Access Fantasy

No, I don't mean a kind of made-in-your-basement fan-fic video. Although this might be considered its kin. A few local women are doing a public access show in San Francisco in which two apparently naked women lie in bed, reading aloud from works of fantasy such as Lord Foul's Bane. They discuss the book being read--or at least make a stab and understanding it (I cannot read Donaldson, having tried when the books first came out, so if Julie and Heatherly can make head or tales of his work, they're one up on me). Apparently they occasionally invite others to share the bed and discussion.

The article describes Bane as "a kind of Everest of the fantasy genre." I think that's giving the book too much credit. It's not as laughably terrible as H.C. Turk's Black Body, which constitutes an entire mountain range of impenetrable language and plot, but I can't imagine reading it just because it's there, either.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

YG Retained

Younger Girl has been pining for glasses (since everyone else in the family wears them) and braces (since her idol, Sarcasm Girl, has braces). Well, last week she got part one of her wish: glasses for distance stuff like TV or (as tonight) going to a baseball game. And today she got retainers, top and bottom, to open up her mouth so that the teeth that have been coming in every which way will have a place to move into. The technology has improved vastly since I had my braces, and she got to choose the color of the plastic mouthpieces (bright pink, with silver sparkles...and it glows in the dark!). Still, the poor kid came home with an unbelievable lisp which will calm down in a few days as she gets used to it. She's mostly more amused than upset by her sudden-onset speech impediment, but doesn't want anyone else making a joke about it.

Monday, June 20, 2005


Talking with Sarcasm Girl yesterday, we learn that she is the occasional target of a sort of profiling: the casual assumption by a few of the kids at her school that because she's white (and middle class, and smart) that she gets As without effort, and has never had a bad moment in her life. There is no escaping the fact that she's white; it's not something she can help, and she is at least intellectually aware that this eases her way in this society in a lot of ways. And we are middle class, although that doesn't exempt her from problems, nor guarantee a stream of strings-free cash. As for the As, well, she gets them in the classes that interest her, and struggles sometimes in the classes that don't. And yes, her life is easy, compared to the lives of some of her school-mates, but I honestly don't think the child believes that that makes her the poster child for How the World Works or that she thinks everyone else's life is as swell as her own. So it upsets her when she and a classmate are talking about something, and the other kid puts paid to the discussion by saying "Stupid white girl!" and walking away. I think what she hates most is the idea that someone thinks she is willfully stupid or unaware. She's had a few friends I would put into that class, but I don't think SG is; she may get wrapped up in her own life (what teenager doesn't?) but she is genuinely interested in the lives of people around her, knows there is much she doesn't know, but hates injustice with the fierce outrage of a fifteen year old.

So maybe the thing to try, next time someone calls her "Stupid white girl," is to answer, "I'm not stupid, I'm uninformed. Tell me what I'm not understanding." This lead us to a further discussion of people who are stupid white people, and she wound up making a list for her own reference. This chore seemed to cheer her immensely.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Home is the Laptop

Yesterday we drove down to Burlingame to reclaim my laptop, and I am once more electric. Only took them four days, but they had to replace the hard drive, the logic board, the keyboard, and the optical drive. What's left? Only the motherboard (already replaced twice, iirc) and the battery (also replaced earlier). John, my buddy at the Apple Store, says that if I show up one more time with a sick laptop he's going to personally "foment revolution" and demand that they replace the thing wholesale. As it is, for my $250 Apple Care coverage, I have by this time gotten well over $2000 worth of repair work done. The happiest thing, of course, would be for my iBook never to have broken at all, but still, having it home again makes me happy.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Entropy Increases

My father's house, a beautiful place which is now happily rented to a couple of very nice tenants, is a barn. No, honestly, a barn. When we bought it in 1956 it still had hay and animal droppings of various sorts. It is now House Beautiful, with 45 foot ceilings and a trapeze in the front hallway. Since my father transferred ownership to me, we've put on a new roof and redone the front window (a huge, formerly sliding door, 20 feet wide by 30 feet tall, with a clear pine frame). And this week we learned, oh joy, that we need to replace the furnace, water heater, and oil tanks. Total cost: $13,000.

Well, it needs to be done. And I've been able to establish a sinking fund for just this sort of emergent repair, which should pay for most of it. And it will all be fine. But still: Yikes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mild Technological Breakdown

Two weeks before we moved out to California (that would be December of 2002) my laptop and my Palm Pilot died on the same day. I immediately got a new laptop--replacing my old Powerbook 1400 with a sleek white Mac laptop. Unfortunately, pretty much since the day I brought it home this laptop has had motherboard "issues" which have required replacing the logic board, the motherboard, the video card, and on one memorable occasion, the hard disk as well. Fortunately, I have Apple Care, which means that none of this has cost me beyond the initial purchase of the policy. So last night, as I was playing Sims, my screen started flickering and rolling through what I have come to call the Corruscating Colors of Doom. So this morning I packed the poor thing up and brought it down to Apple. The nice man there, with whom I have a friendly relationship based on techno-despair (we both wish we could understand why this keeps happening) has sent it back to be repaired, with a strongly worded note to the effect that they must repair it, and if it doesn't take, they must replace it. I think that's a fine notion.

In the meantime, I'm going to use my few productive hours/day to do some reading. I've had an idea about the book, you see...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Shakespeare Girl

Sarcasm Girl is taking three courses--Acting Technique, Voice and Speech, and Acting Shakespeare--at A.C.T. (that's American Conservatory Theatre) this summer: three days a week, 9am to 5pm. On the basis of one day, she likes the Voice and Speech, is not certain about the Acting Technique, and really loves the Shakespeare class. The teacher apparently started things out with a lecture about Shakespeare's life and work, particularly talking about the effect of his relationships with his children on his work. And of course, the child was the most talkative kid in the class, contributing much to the discourse. I don't doubt that half the reason she liked the class was that she's doing well in it. I think this summer is going to be fun for her...

Monday, June 13, 2005

It's Summer Time

Despite the fact that in San Francisco summer is a time of fog and chill (at least in our neighborhood) summer is upon us. I know this because Sarcasm Girl went off to A.C.T. to begin her six-week intensive theatre program, and Emphatic Girl is still asleep at 9:27 (Pacific Time). EG's day camp starts in two weeks, so it's just me and her for the next coupla weeks. I will doubtless not get as much writing done as I should/want to. Perhaps the fallow time will prove useful. In the meantime, maybe I'll make ginger peach preserves again.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Summer Reading Lists 2005

Yikes. Doing the odd Google Vanity Search (yes, your hostess is not beyond such things) I was stunned to find that my after word for Jane Eyre is cited in a Summer Reading assignment for the sophomore AP English class at Mt. Mercy High School.

There are other things in the essay that I like better; that was a sort of sum-up line not meant to bear the weight of academic scrutiny. But there you go. Somewhere, a rising 10th grader is cursing my name.

Weird Redemption

So, imagine you're Michael Finkel. You were a journalist, writing for the New York Times Magazine, but you fudged some details for that Times article--creating a composite character for dramatic effect--and were found out, and your life--at least your professional life--was pretty much in the crapper. And then..

...and then you get a call from the police, saying that a man who had killed his wife and family in Oregon and fled to Mexico had been passing himself off as...Michael Finkel, writer for the New York Times. This is of course like catnip: Finkel had to find out more, and write about it. He now has a book out (True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa and has sold movie rights to Brad Pitt. To say his life has turned around is only to say sooth. The Times has probably not come calling to say "all is forgiven," but he's been featured on NPR and 60 Minutes. In addition, he appears to have developed a very close, slightly weird relationship with Christian Longo, the man who adopted his persona, who he interviewed exhaustively in prison: Longo was the first person Finkel told, when he got engaged.

The story, after that phone call from the Oregon police, is interesting. But the writer in me is just fascinated by what that initial phone call from the cops must have felt like. "Hello, is this Michael Finkel? Mr. Finkel, do you know a man named Christian Longo? Because he seems to know you..."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Fall River Hoedown

I have, for years, sung a version of this song with no idea what the correct lyrics are, but now I know them complete, and you can too.

What a snob. I've heard it said she met her Pa and cut him dead...

Lunch. Check. Bloody Chainsaw. Check.

Hidden on page 17 of today's Chronicle was this little tidbit. Explaining it almost sounds like the setup for a joke: A guy walks into U.S. Customs with a bloody chainsaw (and other weapons!), claiming to work for the president, and acting just a little weird...

He was a U.S. citizen, and after they took away the chainsaw, he was allowed to enter the country. "He certainly did demonstrate bizarre behavior, but that's not illegal," said Jayson Ahern, of the Bureau of Customs and Border Immigration. It was only some hours later that the bodies of his neighbors (and the source of all that blood on the chainsaw) in Canada were discovered, and this guy, Gregory Despres, was wanted by the Canadian authorities. Immediately an alert went out, and Despres was picked up Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, where he was wandering around and, again, acting weird.

There is the predictable hue and cry about how Customs did their job in this instance. A guy shows up at the border with a chainsaw and you wave him through, calling "Have a nice time!" and "The forest is over this way!" Well, perhaps not, especially at a time when border security is such a hot button topic (don't forget, I live in a state where the Governator wants to shut down the California-Mexico border entirely). But from the news story it appears that while the border guards were disquieted enough to hold Despres for several hours while they ran his name and fingerprints through every database known to man and law enforcement. What they came up with was that Despres was due in court that day to be sentenced for threatening the nephew of his neighbors in Canada.

Sounds like enough to hold him on, right? Because while he wasn't a career criminal, nor a suspected terrorist, he was loony with "the chainsaw, a homemade sword, a hatchet, brass knuckles and pepper spray." But the Canadian police said that they couldn't take action against Despres because he wasn't yet guilty of failure to appear, and therefore they couldn't ask U.S. Customs to hold him, and therefore and so on.

Customs had to let him go. This is, I suppose, where common sense and law run up against each other. Legally, there was no way to hold the man. Common sense would suggest that a guy who clearly had psychological problems, with an armload of weapons, might pose a threat to himself or others. For what it's worth, I think the Customs people did the right thing. And yet...

It's fortunate that when Despres was picked up in Massachusetts he was acting weird but had not acted out in any violent fashion. This whole thing has me humming "Lizzie Borden" as I go about my day: 'Cause you can't chop your mother up in Massachusetts...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Walking the Walk

I hate fundraising. I say this as a woman who had to write a Letter of Intent to apply for a grant in support of the dance/art program at YG's school, and as the Coordinator of Boxtops4Education program at the same school, and... Which is why the idea of raising money by putting on my sneakers and walking is so appealing.

This year the whole family is doing the AIDS Walk in July. This makes it harder--the kids, being cute and lovable in the way that I am not, really, tend to get all the family money. So that means that I have to rely on the kindness of friends... So if anyone out there has any spare change caught between the sofa cushions and wants to support me (or at least keep me from looking like a complete dope next to my kids) you can check out my AIDS Walk webpage.

Thanks. We return you to a life, already in progress. Perhaps it's yours.

Monday, June 06, 2005

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Well, we might have known it. Doctors now believe that--particularly if you're a woman and elderly--it is possible to die of a broken heart. For all my friends whose mother's yelled "Stop, you're breaking my heart!" when their daughters walked out of the house wearing really short skirt and multiple piercings...hey, maybe it wasn't all hyperbole. According to the article, stress or trauma may cause a sudden, debilitating spike in adrenaline which can "stun" the heart. High voltage not required, and if it doesn't kill you, you can recover within a few days with no damage done. But even so, as the doctor notes, a surprise party for Grandma might not be a great idea. Anyone planning a surprise party for me, in other words, probably ought to get it done within the next ten to fifteen years, before I start decompensating.

I should note that I'm a medical factoid junkie, and this stuff is like catnip to me. It's why I'm still watching ER, after 100 years, and while (aside from my fondness for Hugh Laurie) I watch shows like House. It's why I keep reading books on plagues and diseases, and why I was disappointed when they wouldn't let me watch when I had a C-section.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Grammar Query

Okay, my hand-selected panel of experts...

I was taught "the New Grammar" (to go along with the New Math) at my elementary school. We didn't have verbs or nouns or adjectives, we had "Class I" or "Class II" or Class III" words. The effect of this is that while I have a pretty fair seat-of-my-pants grasp of grammatical rules, I often cannot explain in terms comprehensible to people who are not Me, why I believe something is right.

Which leads me to my current project, preparing a Letter of Intent to pply for a grant for YG's elementary school. This is a fabulous school--everyone should immediately send it money. They educate some of the poorest kids in the city, 80% of them from immigrant families, and over half of whom arrive there speaking little or no English, and they do a superlative job. Honest. And because, of course, if you do things right with barely enough money, the Authorities figure you can keep on doing things right with even less money (!!) we are forced to support the arts program with foundation money and whatever sorts of fundraising we can do. (This is why I am the Boxtops4Education Goddess at the school....)

So, I wrote a sentence that went, "Despite the fact that our population is an historically low-achieving group, Moscone students continue to excel academically." Two teachers at the school, offering comments and changes on the Letter, said I should remove the N and make it "a historically low-achieving." Is this correct? It looks bad to my eye, and sounds worse, but in the end it's their proposal, I am merely a humble instrument. I'd just like to be able to explain why I think it's wrong using something other than "Class I" words.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

All Alive

Sometimes I think I'm just not cut out for this job. I didn't hear anything from the Spouse after our conversation at 4:30 yesterday. Knowing that he could not do anything about his lack of passport until at least 7am (which would be 11pm my time) and assuming that if things got done it might be at a breakneck pace, since his flight was at 1 pm Spanish time, I assumed that no news was good news, and only bit my fingernails a bit, waiting to hear.

At 2:08 SF time (which would be 5:08 in Atlanta, where he landed) he called to say he's in the US again. I sigh a huge sigh of relief; I have far too much imagination to be happy about a situation like this, even when I'm being soothing and reasonable to everyone else. Since I was just in the middle of driving YG home from school, I hang up the cel phone with a great sense of weights being off my back, and we proceed home. On Wednesdays, Sarcasm Girl gets out at 1:26, so she's usually home by the time her sister and I get in. We get in. No older child. I text her, in case a class ran long. No answer. So finally, feeling like I have just exchanged one Large Weight for another one, I call her. She's fine, at a meeting with friends in a political organization at school, forgot to call, so sorry. I hang up the phone. From the other room YG calls me: she's got a rash on her torso that looks like she's having an allergic reaction to something. I give her Benadryl. All is well.

Is this a test? And if so, have I passed? Jeez.

The guy's plane was two hours and forty five minutes late in leaving; he got in to SF around midnight. I went and picked him up (an easy 20 minute drive including airport congestion time) and he is home, home, home.