Wednesday, June 25

Unexpected delights.

Places i never thought i'd go: Legoland, and the exercise/weight room in this building. Turns out they're both pretty fun, at least when you go with a bunch of friends (Penny, Mark, their 15-year-old, Dimitri, and the 6-year-old Solomon).

The weight room came first, the first night our friends were visiting. We'd had a pretty long day already: Nat and i took them out to Crystal Pier, then we lost Solomon for a few minutes on the beachfront. That was scary as hell. He's a wily one. We all headed up to see the seals at the Children's Pool in La Jolla. A low, strange late afternoon fog/mist had rolled right on in, and everything was hazy and bright. We each picked which seal we'd be, then when we could stand the smell no longer, headed down the steps nearby to a small cove for some swimming/wading.
Feet thoroughly exfoliated an hour or so later, we drove home for showers and then decided to eat some Thai food at the place Nat and i frequently visit. The restaurant is definitely decent: not great, and a wee bit expensive, but better than anything else nearby that we've found so far. Not to mention they are the nicest folks you could ask for. It is often empty, which fills me with fear because if that place packs up, we'll never eat out again.
During appetizers, a giant roach suddenly appeared on our table. It fell from the sky. Apparently i was sitting under a sprinkler head, and let's just say that next time i won't be sitting at that particular table. Our hostess handled the situation neatly, and it was all pretty hilarious considering that Mark had told us a rather horrid tale earlier in the day about a giant cockroach somewhere in Mexico. Life has its consistencies, you ever notice?
After dinner, Solomon decided he needed to see the exercise room, so we all swarmed in and took over the stairmasters, weight-lifting machines, and treadmills. I had been fearful of this room, but we had an absolute blast. I never realized before how difficult it was to burn calories; a seven-minute struggle on a stairmaster and all i burned were twelve. Hm! Rather interesting, actually. Perhaps now i'll think twice about all the gods-damn snacks i ingest nightly.

Day two was Legoland. Up early, drive half an hour to Carlsbad (near the lovely Flower Fields), listen to the 15-year-old's awesome CD (made using the Garage Band program for the Mac), meet Mark's "Uncle Paul" at the entrance, pay the $50 to get in, and the rest was basically a joy. Even though we're "adults", there was plenty to do, provided you're not above it all. If you have a childlike sense of wonder remaining anywhere inside of you, you will have fun. Lego Taj Mahal viewed while on a boat ride? Check. Roller coasters? Check. Lego dinosaurs hidden among the greenery? And how. Thrilling water-park area filled with shenanigans to be had? Oh, yes. It was pretty great. And Nat got to have his picture taken while "fighting" Lego Darth Vader with a light saber. I mean, awesomeness!

(Oh, and a bitchin' sunburn on yours truly.)

San Diego is truly emptier now that they are gone. And the wind plays unabashedly in the trees.

Wednesday, June 18

"In a mist of mystery"

Last night we went over to Marilena's (visiting grad student from London, although she herself is Italian) apartment up in student housing to watch David Lynch's Inland Empire. Because Nat forgot the directions inside the apartment (twice) and i left my book behind, and because i hesitated right before we were to run across the busy road in front of traffic, thereby saving us from having to wait at the crosswalk, we missed the bus by just a smidge. Just enough that we even began to run for it at the next stop, 2 blocks away, only to realize that the bus was making all the lights and that we were not.
Already late, this left us fuming. We walked back to our original stop, cooling off a tad along the way. i decided we would pass the time by playing the Alphabet Game, and that if one of us missed a letter, that person would have to do the chicken dance; like, really get up and just bust a move in front of all the idling traffic. Nat chose insects as our category, which i must admit i was not expecting. Fruits, vegetables, band names- almost anything else was easier, as it turned out. i didn't get very far before i had to ask him for a hint (1 per game), suddenly very fearful of having to get up and flap my elbows in front of twenty or thirty cars waiting at the red light across the street. We ran along pretty smoothly until N, (probably the fact that we decided 'insects' would include all bugs, worms, spiders, and anything else remotely creepy-crawly), and then the game sort of went to hell. Unfortunately, we were both too cowardly for the chicken dance, instead letting ourselves off the hook with cop-outs like "North American Something-Or-Other" and "Quick-jumping Spider", to name but two.

Once at our destination, Marilena poured us rum and cokes and we all sat down for the film.

Two absolutely bizarre but riveting hours later, we were all on our second drinks and retired to the porch to discuss all of the madness. As we talked about Lynch's symbolism (red lamps, a particular shade of green, lonely letters of the alphabet, and so on), a thick fog began blowing around the sleepy student quarters, causing fat drops of moisture to fall from the trees, tall eucalyptus that leaned in above us in the moonlight. The stars disappeared.
Inside, after the cigarettes, Marilena casually brought up the Salvia Divinorum she had been smoking recently. Nat raised his eyebrows, for he had heard of the sage, a shamanic vision-quest herb. i watched as they both smoked some out of a miniature purple bong. Nat said he felt like a string was attached to him, pulling and jerking him slowly back into the sofa. It seemed pleasant and mild enough, but i still refused. i'd had enough drugs in high school, thanks. Later he sheepishly told me that it was almost like he became one with an inanimate object (the couch).
Around 4 am Marilena drove us home in her roommate's beat-up Volvo. The fog was menacing. As we approached the freeway on-ramp, it was almost like driving through a glass of water with milk in it... we couldn't see more that 15 or 20 feet ahead of us at times. Luckily we were on the road at an ungodly hour, so not a single car passed near us. It was rather frightening, actually. Suddenly the moon came into view, the full glorious moon, and Marilena pointed it out with a start.

The fog lifted!

Suddenly, the road was there. Our surroundings were there. The world was back! A huge relief for all of us, and very strange indeed. Why such a clear line of demarcation? Were we skirting something dangerous?

I remember a long time ago, when my sister and i still lived in our mom's house; we would buy beer and Wyder's Pear Cider (for me) and drive up to Grizzly Peak in the old VW bus. It all started when one night she asked me: Do you want to see The Nothing?
It was a reference to a favorite childhood movie of ours, The Neverending Story. i was so intrigued, of course. So we hopped in the car, and wound up through the misty eucalyptus trees and UC-affiliated laboratories, until suddenly the car pulled over to the side of the road. Someone opened the van's side door for me, and there we were. At The Nothing.

If you walked out a few feet from the car, there was a tree that sort of hung off of the cliff, reaching out into the void, heavy with leaves. The fog was dense, and a bright light somewhere far below us lit up the massive sea of mist, dimming out somewhere just above our heads. i felt charged, and scared, and like i was on a fantastic movie set somewhere. You couldn't see the drop below you, but knew it was there, and that it was great. Kind of like a movie i once saw where a character who was blind visits the Grand Canyon and describes simply feeling the vast expanse of empty space. It was like that. We could have been anywhere. The edge of the world.

Saturday, June 14

Just call me Heather Teavee.

So there are these ads all over the place on TV now, with dire warnings about how you may lose your signal in February 2009, when the Powers That Be all make the switch to digital. They take the issue very seriously, which is extremely comical to me.

Our TV is pretty big, actually, but it is also really dang old, from the early '90s. Okay, i guess that's not actually all that old. But it is showing some wear and tear: There is a melted ring in the black plastic on the top of the thing, from where an old roommate set something hot down. An inch-wide column on the right-hand side of the screen badly skews everything that passes through it (this could be my fault, from keeping it so near my old stereo speakers years ago), and the power button broke off a long time ago. We of course lost the remote within the first few years of owning it, so when the power button broke off, many years later when it lived with me in my first apartment, my roommate and i actually used to turn it on and off with a stick of incense, the wooden end of which was poked through a tiny hole to achieve this feat. I guess we wanted it badly enough to do that. Finally, a thoughtful visitor informed us of the miracle that is the Universal Remote. Woo-hoo! Now we're cookin' with double AA batteries.
I got the TV from my mom, when i moved out of the house at 18 (19?). It was the only one we had, but my mom was so pissed at my brother for doing nothing all day but cut school to watch it and play video games on it, that she agreed to trade me for it. On my end, i had to sacrifice my orchid pictures. We had recently been to Hawaii, where i had had the privilege of visiting a spectacular orchid-growers' greenhouse. I don't think i've ever taken such beautiful pictures, to this day, and i was still a very new photographer back then... I think the subjects really did all the work for me. They were great photos, at any rate. Wonder what happened to them?

Where was i going with all of this? Ah, yes. My TV has served me well, through mid-afternoon nature shows, Saturday morning cartoons, late-night awful TV movies on the couch with Nat (Money To Burn is a memorable one of these), and more serial shows that sucked me in than i care to mention. Yes, TV is evil. Yes, i used to watch it too much. Sometimes i still do. It is comforting to me, almost like a friend. But is this Digital Switch/Death To Analog dealio something i should just embrace? Is this the "out" i've been waiting for? Is this the end of mind-numbing programming, insulting advertisements, and awful volume equalization (here's looking at you, loud-ass commercials)?

Could i really become free?

Upon viewing one network's upcoming summer line-up, i actually went slack-jawed. Dreck. Pure dreck. Certainly would be empowering never to have to witness one of those, or be able to talk about it in a conversation.
At first i was somewhat miffed that this switch was beyond people's control. But somewhat to my amazement, i only really thought about getting a digital TV in a very ethereal, round-the-edges sort of way. For someone who watches as much TV as i do (yeah, i'm not proud of it), you would think it would be an agonizing concern that i might lose transmission. Instead, i find myself smiling at the thought of getting rid of old Telly out there in the living room, and being able to do other, much more worthwhile things with my time. I was just never motivated enough before. Now i practically have someone making the decision for me. And that means i would never again have to watch another slutty Carl's Jr. commercial, or listen to Huell Howser talking, or watch the commercial where the family can barely stand to go camping (you know, what with the mosquitoes and all- ick!) for more than 5 seconds, and the patriarch has to subdue his angry brood with king-sized beds at a motel for the kids and a fucking spa treatment for his wife. People aren't really like that, right?
Maybe if i didn't regularly get angry and/or insulted while watching TV it would all be worth it. Unfortunately, based on what i know about marketing executives and "focus groups", that will just never happen.

So yeah- here it is: i give. i give in. That's it. I'm not shopping for a new TV, i'm not getting a converter box, and i'm not hanging on to my old TV just in case something makes it through the airwaves. What a relief!

As Nat points out, we'll lose nature shows. This is about the only thing i'm actually sad about, losing PBS. Pretty good programs, there, for the most part. i guess Nova will just have to blow someone else's mind for awhile.

Friday, June 6

V is for... vegetables?

Last night, on our way to Von's (yes, we should have shopped somewhere else, but it was eleven p.m.), i spotted a perfect "V" in the form of a plastic zip-tie, folded back over itself at the halfway point and likely run over. Not sure the letters are spelling anything at this point. Will have to give this more thought.
When we got inside, we each grabbed a basket and then realized that perhaps it was time... for a cart.

Now i don't know about y'all. But i have a thing with shopping carts.

When i was little, my dad used to make me push the cart (sure, no problem) at the grocery store. Then he would walk slowly in front of me down the produce aisle, occasionally stopping on a dime, at which point i would bang the bottom of the cart into the backs of his ankles. He would always yell out and admonish me, probably for walking too closely behind him. This nerve-wracking process has forever ruined cart-pushing for me, but thankfully not shopping for food, which is the only kind of shopping i enjoy other than buying music.
It's just always been a no-brainer for me. Grab a basket, fill it to the brim. That's usually all that will fit in my tote bag anyway, so no big loss. But for 8 or 9 years, i have been shopping for just two people. Last night i realized that this will probably all change when (and if) we have kids. My mom used to take my brother, sister and i to Safeway and we'd freakin' fill up the cart, often resulting in a staggering bill, not to mention produce rotting away in the crisper while boxes of instant mashed potatoes and Pop Tarts were scarfed down in one day (sorry, Mom!). I can't believe parents manage to deal with this. I guess you just do. I still feel awful for not being a better child. I try and make it up to her these days, and i also never ever waste food; the last time was a week ago (a half loaf of moldy bread), and i felt lots of guilt about it afterwards.

My dad was one of those kids in the UK during WWII, where they were lucky to eat food every day, had to walk 18 miles to school, uphill both ways, etc. etc. We were not allowed to leave the table as kids unless we had cleaned our plates. This often resulted in long drawn-out standoffs. My sister used to put cooked carrots (her personal nemesis) in her mouth, go to the bathroom, and flush them down the toilet. This worked until one day my dad found a few of the tell-tale orange coins still floating in the bowl. And apparently, when i was little, i used to take my cooked spinach (which was my personal nemesis) and carefully stash it behind the television. One day my mom was cleaning the house and reached around to dust behind the TV. The story is, she emitted a bloodcurdling cry as her fingers made contact with the large mound of cold, slimy goop.

(have i mentioned how awful i feel about being such a bad kid? Yeah. There're reasons.)

Anyway, Nat pushed the cart last night, bless his heart. We were buying food for 20 people for this weekend, the PhilSci retreat in Idyllwild (god that's such a lovely name), where Nat has been given the task of making lunch for everyone on Sunday. We decided it should be tacos, and everything (avocados, tomatoes, beans, cheese, tortillas, cilantro, sour cream, hot sauce, veggies, fake ground chuck, etc.) ended up being $93.58. That's slightly less than $5 a person! Pretty good, if you ask me. It would have been less had we planned ahead, and shopped at the smaller places. Ah, well. At least i got a little bit of that damned cart phobia off my shoulders... baby steps!

Thursday, June 5

Epicurean bananas.

Last night we went to an informal dinner party. Nat's Epicurus seminar professor invited everyone to his (newly-acquired!) house for an Indian dinner and, of course, lots of philosophy talk.
The tables were set buffet-style, with labels written underneath each dish indicating what was in the bowl and how spicy it was. Quite a nice touch for us spice-conscious folks. His girlfriend had happily made all the food, from the spicy carrots & potatoes with coconut and curried lentils, right down to the raita and mint chutney. They heated the naan and even fried up the papadum right before we ate! Aaahhhh, papadum, my good friend. To top it all off, there was even a plate filled with burfi, one of my favorite desserts, and a couple of bowls of candied and non-candied fennel seeds. Pure delight.
The funniest moment of the evening for me came when another professor talked about a man he knew at Oxford College who ate bananas in a most peculiar manner. First, he would sort of massage the banana.

"That's how i make banana bread, sometimes!" i interjected. (it really is a time-saver.)

Then, he would cut it neatly in half, and grabbing one of the halves, proceed to extrude the mashed banana pulp rather vulgarly into his mouth. A sort of sucking in, toothpaste-squeezy motion. We were all cringing at his description, of course, until he continued:
Apparently the man had been a POW in Japan (during WWII, i presume), and the mortality rate of POWs over there was something awful, like 50 percent. So eventually they began to realize that it had to do with food-borne illness, and other bacteria surrounding the fact that they couldn't wash their hands. So it was paramount not to touch your food with your hands. This is how he learned the banana trick; it was a habit he had never grown out of. Of course, we were all shamed into thoughtful silence with this information.

Conversation eventually turned to how you can actually open a banana more easily from the bottom, or from what we (at least here in the states) think of as the bottom- the part without the convenient tab, or handle. Nat was extremely skeptical of this claim, but a couple of the other guys assured him that it was true. Fortunately, Monte had a bunch of bananas at hand, so the experiment began. i think Nat was somewhat stunned to discover how easy it actually was to open from the other end, as was i.
It reminded me of a cereal ad i saw once, featuring the requisite pitcher of milk and glass of o.j. in the background, and a perfect, opened banana off to one side. Something about the picture nagged at me, and i couldn't figure it out for a good ten minutes or so. Finally i realized- hey, nobody opens bananas like that! What gives? But, i guess now i've learned that some people do.
And that's the end of that.
A bunch of men sitting around, massaging bananas.
High point, for sure.

Wednesday, June 4

The Kitten Committee.

So, Nat saved a kitten yesterday.

He was waiting for the bus home from school, when a small but frantic mewling was suddenly separated out from the litany of sounds surrounding him; cars whooshing by, trees swishing in the wind, other would-be passengers rustling through their bookbags. He heard it before he saw it, and headed across to the median strip, where the small but desperate noises were coming from. A girl followed him over.
"Is there a cat up there?" she asked, having heard the panicked cries as well.

I guess the little guy was mewing all night long, as a third girl stated she had heard it the night before. Aww! The kitten in question was up about 20 feet in the tree. It was a teeny black-and-white mottled number, with a cute little black face and hazel eyes, according to Nat, who managed to hoist one of the girls up into the tree. She wrangled the tiny feline off of the branch, then gingerly handed the furry ball down to Nat, where the mewling cries immediately picked up their pace. He passed it off to the waiting arms of the third girl, who decided she was taking him home for the afternoon, promising she would put up "Found" posters the next day.

Shucks! Glad that disaster was avoided. Fire department? Who needs 'em. We have The Kitten Committee.
(no, really- we do need them. just joshin', guys and gals!)

Speaking of firemen, did anybody else here have one of those decals on their windows when they were little- the silvery, oval-shaped one that had a fireman carrying a child on it? (Wish i could find an image for you, but nothin' doin'.) Now that i look back on it, we had one on the kids' bedroom window in our apartment, but there was also one prominently displayed in the front window of the large house my best friend lived in, which was also a daycare during daylight hours. So they must have been some kind of sign for the firefighters, to know that there were possibly children inside? Yowsers. I remember staring at that thing at night as i fell asleep. It was always backlit from a streetlight on nearby Shattuck Avenue, and for some reason it always made me feel better. How would i have slept without it?

Sunday, June 1

Three things.

Item #1) So on Saturday, we went on a bike ride up to the bullfrogs (a reedy drainpipe terminus up near the bike path's own end, where duelling frog choruses can be heard at dusk). Riding through a neighborhood about halfway there, before we'd hit the actual path, we suddenly smelled smoke. Like burning wood, or toast, almost, but certainly not an innocent type of smoke. The kind where your weird hidden instincts sound an alarm and your whole body pricks up, instantly alert. Pulling our bikes over to the sidewalk, we saw the roof, the roof- the roof was on fucking fire. Okay, well maybe it wasn't really on fire, but there was a ton of smoke curling off of it into the air. We saw a lady nearby on a cellphone, and thought perhaps she was calling it in, but she seemed way too unconcerned. Nat took the initiative and went to the front door of the bungalow in question, where a couple sat on a bench on the front porch, relaxing and drinking beers.
"There's smoke!" Nat pointed.
The man got up and, sort of turning, said, "oh! Thank you!" and hustled inside.
Meanwhile, the woman sat there, flip-flop dangling from her foot, swirling her beer and downing the last sip.
i was sort of goggle-eyed and confused, and when the man reappeared Nat nervously offered up, "we didn't know if we should call the fire department, or...?"
"No, no- we just burned some toast!" he assured us.

Wow. That was just toast? i think the setting sun was making the smoke look more ferocious than it really was, maybe, and apparently the toaster was directly underneath an open skylight, so the smoke was sort of being funneled right out and up. Well, phew!
The guys goes, "thanks, guys! What would we do without you?"
Well, eat severely carbonized foodstuffs, i imagine..

Item #2) Later that evening, on our trip back home after watching a lovely sunset (featuring a persimmon-hued solar body, a shining gunmetal-grey ocean, low-hanging bruised clouds, and a higher strata of gauzy, periwinkle feathery ones), we saw a police car in the alley right near the same Burned-Toast Abode! Nat wondered why the whole scene looked familiar.
Turning the corner, we saw that a whole block of Turquoise St. had been taped off by police, with many cruisers in attendance, not to mention the SWAT van and patiently waiting ambulance. Small clusters of onlooker stood nearby, hypothesizing with what scant information they had. One nice lady approached us and said, "Did they get him out yet?" to which i responded "i don't know- what's going on?!"
The story was that a man had severely beaten his girlfriend with a hammer the night before (she managed to escape and was taken to a hospital; is expected to recover, with a mere 100 stitches!), and was holed up in his house refusing to come out. Reports since have differed on this, one says that when he came out trying to surrender, the police shot him with rubber bullets. So you never know. But basically, they had shot so much tear gas into the place, that they were amazed he was still going strong. Finally, an attack dog was sent in and he surrendered. I have a question. Why didn't they just send the attack dog in before wasting all of the (presumably expensive and definitely horrible) tear gas? Hm.

Item #3) The Scripps National Spelling Bee was great fun to watch on Friday night. I was really excited about it before i turned it on, because i've always been an avid word-lover and i find etymology endlessly fascinating. Plus, have any of you ever seen the movie (documentary) Spellbound? That is some good cinema, right there. We saw it in the theater, and i swear people in the audience were holding their breaths at times. You begins to become quite charmed by the kids involved, and it is almost hard to root for any one particular child- you want them all to win. And in my mind, of course, they do. Making that far is incredible. On Friday night, the first kid i saw that was eliminated was actually twirling a piece of his hair the entire time. Even when he walked off the stage, hunched over in defeat. Too cute! One of the best moments came during a high-tension-filled run in the 11th round, with (i think) 6 contestants remaining. They had all just had a superb run, and no one had been eliminated. This was rare. People are sort of waiting for the next to fall. The judge gives Sameer Mishra his next word: "numnah".

You should probably just watch it for yourself, as i couldn't describe it well.

What a cutie. Sameer ended up winning the whole shebang, and good for him.

(When i first met Nat he had a tiny news caption, presumably from underneath a photograph in the paper, taped to his fridge:

'Vivisepulture' Wins Spelling Bee

Wendy Guey, 12, of West Pal Beach, Fla., was hugged by her sister Lynne and her mother, Susan, after winning the 69th annual National Spelling Bee yesterday in Washington, D.C. The seventh-grader won the $5,000 prize by spelling 'vivisepulture' (to be buried alive).

I knew then, without a doubt, that he was the one for me.
(By the by, the cash award for the winner of the Bee these days? Thirty-five thousand. Yep.)