Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hope for the Holidays

Once upon a time, the comedy show In Living Color featured a skit lampooning Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign. Jackson's campaign slogan "Keep hope alive" morphed into a sketch in which Jim Carey, the show's token white guy, played an ancient, wheelchair-bound Bob Hope. "Hope" was clad in a hospital gown and connected to an IV while the rest of the cast, dressed as doctors, nurses and orderlies, fussed over him and vowed to "Keep Hope alive".

Jackson wasn't the first politician to spin hope into a slogan, and he won't be the last. Bill Clinton's biography is "A Town Called Hope". Barack Obama titled his autobiographic tome "The Audacity of Hope". Artist Shepard Fairey used the word all by its lonesome under his bold, Warholesque portrait of Obama to create what is probably the most famous American political poster since Uncle Sam Wants YOU!

The Obama victory, and the impending departure of Bush and Cheney are a great relief to most of us (67% of the population, according to Bush's latest approval rating) but these days, it's hard not to feel like hope is on life support. The global economy is globally lousy. Unemployment goes up every week. The stock market keeps dropping, like the sea level right before a tsunami, exposing a variety of invertebrates, parasites and bottom feeders. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Healthcare is broken. The polar ice caps are dissolving while Tennessee drowns in toxic sludge. Our kids are ignorant and proud of it and the cost of educating them has never been higher. Iraq may or may not hold together if and when we finally pull out, and Afghanistan ain't looking too good. The environment remains on the global back burner, with the temperature on high. Israel and Hamas are at it again, apparently mutually incapable of learning from experience.

Even as I write this, I have to keep reminding myself that 'tis the season for hope. For Christians, Christmas is a yearly reminder of the hope Jesus gave mankind. For Jews, Chanukah represents the hope of religious freedom. And for anyone who's had a lousy year, this is your time to hope next year will be better - especially encouraging when next year starts tomorrow.

If you're suffering from H.A.D. (Holiday Affective Disorder) try remember that hope isn't just seasonal: it's eternal. A uniquely human expression of the survival instinct, woven into our DNA. And it's contagious. Hope inspires, connects and motivates. It's overthrown dictators, cured diseases, signed peace treaties and cleaned up toxic waste sites. And it starts with you and me. So here's to the hope in our hearts. May it grow, and thrive and spread to everyone around us. May we all look forward to a healthy, healing, peaceful and productive new year. And above all, may we keep hope alive.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Thing about Yoga People.

Here's the thing about Yoga people. Most of them are lovely human beings, mellow, peaceful, honest and kind. They enjoy every little bit of beauty life affords them, be it as simple as a dandelion growing from a crack in the sidewalk. They make you ashamed of your drama and navel-gazing over banal human problems you should regard as just another opportunity for personal growth. Yogis and yoginis have mastered the art of taking life, not just one day, but one moment at a time. Their existential goal is to live completely in the present, free of regret over yesterday or worry about tomorrow.

Living fully in the moment has its drawbacks. It makes it hard to be on time for anything - even yoga class. I hadn't been in Berkeley very long before I heard someone described as being "on Berkeley time", a polite euphemism for chronically late. People who use this term tend to be transplants who feel a certain nostalgia for punctuality, which they quaintly perceive as a form of courtesy.

Existing in the present is also problematic when it comes to making plans. I recently attended a birthday party for a delightful yoga instructor who was turning fifty. A week before the party, I received an email, addressed to the entire guest list, about what, if anything, to get for the profoundly non-materialistic birthday girl, and whether anyone would go in on a group gift. I immediately responded that I had already bought some earrings, but would happily reserve them for a different friend if they needed my contribution. The emailer had to send out two subsequent communications on the same subject. By the third one, she was grumbling about herding cats. The day of the party, the group still couldn't decide whether to go in on a massage or donate to protect an acre of Costa Rican wilderness. And that was only half of the people on the guest list, the rest having not gotten around to checking their email.

Even conversation with the yoga folk can be challenging. Those of us who are not on the path to enlightenment spend a lot less time in the present. We like to speak of the past - anecdotes, memories, regrets - or the future - fears, plans, hopes, aspirations. When we do discuss the present, we often turn to politics and current events. This doesn't get you anywhere with hardcore yogis: most of them will tell you they don't read or watch the news because it affects their world view in a negative way and makes it hard to see the divine in people like Dick Cheney, Robert Mugabe or Bernard Madoff.

So you default to what's going on around you and talk about your trick knee, or the weather, or that cute dog over there. You feel a little frustrated, and lets face it, bored. It's not that you're unaware, or immune to the charms of the here-and-now, the humming bird resting on a power line - how exquisite and magical he is and how his little wings must need a break from all that stroboscopic beating. But that's just the background, an occasional respite from conversation. You're enjoying the walk, or the sunshine, or the vegan nutmilk smoothie with agave syrup, but you still need to shoot the shit. Sometimes, the present isn't so interesting. It just is. And for you, is is not enough. You need conjecture. Theory. Gossip. Sarcasm. Wit. Debate. Heck, you may even occasionally have to get a little bitchy. You can't do this with yoga people. Bitchiness is an unfortunate condition. It's a bit indecent. How sad that you revealed it.

Meanwhile, the yoga person is probably thinking he or she can't talk to you about finding your real self, seeing the light in all beings, or striving for spiritual enlightenment. Which is probably true.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Diversité in the Université

Mt. Ararat, Armenia

"Please describe any aspects of your personal background, accomplishments, or achievements that will allow the department to evaluate your contributions to the University's diversity mission..."

This is THE essay question to apply for a graduate degree at a prestigious California university. Not a degree in teaching, political science, or social work, mind you. ANY graduate degree. In other words, if you're white, middle class and grew up in a homogenous suburb, you're going to have to punt.

Oh, boo hoo, get over it, you bourgeois Caucasian troll. Yes, I know, except for the fact that the applicant in question is my daughter. As I write this, she is in serious brain-racking mode, trying to put some kind of ethnically compelling spin on her lily-whiteness. Having a Jewish grandfather is pretty mainstream nowadays. Nor can she expect any props for her French grandmother: There's gotta be at least one francophobe on the admissions committee. The Mormon grandma? Better keep that quiet in the wake of prop 8's passing. Besides, my mother-in-law converted to Catholicism at a very young age.

A few days ago, my daughter thought she'd found an angle - along with a potential scholarship for young women of Armenian descent. I had to point out that having two great-great-grandfathers from Armenia is not a great-great qualification. I'd hate to see her rob some deserving, doe-eyed young woman named Siranouche Katchaturian of a chance to be honored for her roots and her hard work. And while I've always suspected there was a genetic component to my disproportionate fondness for eggplant, I honestly can't remember anyone in my mother's family pining for the slopes of Mt. Ararat.

Diversity is a beautiful thing. It's what I love about America. Certainly more than the Flag, or the National Anthem, or even apple pie and ice cream. I wept at Obama's acceptance speech. I can't imagine San Francisco without gays and lesbians, or Asians, or people of color. Bo-ring. And for sure, we all have a moral obligation to practice diversity in our lives. To speak out against injustice. To be openminded and colorblind and intellectually curious when it comes to our travels, our cultural experiences, our choice of friends, who we hire, or how we raise our children. But I have to draw the line at diversity as some sort of litmus test in the admissions process at a major university. My daughter wants to make art - serious, thoughtful art with a message. Right now, her paintings are about modern man's alienation from the disappearing natural world - I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist of it. It's a message that paints all humans as passengers on the same sinking ship. It's us vs. the planet, which, unless you want to get on your high horse about the evils of Western civilization and blame the Europeans for the Industrial Revolution, is about unity, not diversity.

In 1996, California passed proposition 209, which states: SEC. 31. (a) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting. You can argue 209's fairness 'til the cows get PHDs. No doubt affirmative action has been a fine thing for many deserving students and workers, and for society as a whole. And from an historical perspective, affirmative action was probably more necessary in 1996 than it is in late 2008, as our nation's first black president is busy putting together a cabinet that is clearly ethnically diverse (if politically pretty darn homogenous). But the fact remains, 209 is the law, and the diversity essay question on my daughter's grad school application is a blatant workaround.

They want diversity? They should weigh her art work against what their current students are doing. Is anybody else working in heavy impasto? Do the performance or installation types outnumber the traditional painters? Do they have a glut of lesbian feminist neo-realists? Frieda Kahlo's work is inseparable from her Mexican ethnicity, but Rothko's is about paint and it doesn't make him a lesser artist. By demanding that a prospective student display his or her diversity credentials, the University appears to be requiring an artistic emphasis on this issue, a history of diversity-related activism, or both. In short, they are acting like the thought police. If you think I'm full of malarkey, look at the question again:

"Please describe any aspects of your personal background, accomplishments, or achievements that will allow the department to evaluate your contributions to the University's diversity mission..."

Now, substitute "American values" for "diversity mission." And let me know when your skin starts to crawl.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Alternate Reality

I come from a family of doubters. Whatever you have to say, they challenge. If you repeat something you've seen on the news, you're being brainwashed by the mass media. When you share a story someone told you, you're reminded that the teller could have been exaggerating or messing with you. Had your feelings hurt? Don't expect solace or sympathy. You're overreacting. Misinterpreting. Being melodramatic. Besides, whatever happened, it's probably your fault. You get no credit for emotional intelligence because you can't possibly have any. Even your personal anecdotes are questionable – your perspective is tainted by your subjectivity.

This phenomenon is partly due to a belief that the majority opinion is the result of group-think, and disagreement makes you look smart. But it turns out that being a contrarian, like everything else, is genetic. I know this because I am the mother of a 15 year old conspiracy theorist.

We got an indication of this when our son was ten and started questioning whether George Washington ever really existed. Just because they put some funny looking guy on the dollar bill and call him George doesn't mean he was ever flesh and blood, right?

As the boy matured, the theories got a little more sophisticated. We never really landed on the moon. How could they have done it with those huge computers and tin can technology? And why is the American flag flapping in the lunar wind when the moon has no atmosphere? Proof positive that those photos of Neal Armstrong were the product of some primitive, pre-photoshop trickery.

Now, we've graduated to the big time. The kind of conspiracy theory paranoid geeks make into "documentaries" for other paranoid geeks to watch on their computers. The "9/11 was carried out by the Pentagon " conspiracy theory. Or the "AIDS is actually a polio vaccine gone wrong" conspiracy theory.

If there's a down side, or a dark side, my son will find it. The police, politicians and basically all forms of authority are evil and corrupt, and the only valid system of governance is anarchy. Last year, an older friend entertained himself by telling the boy Ben and Jerry were members of the KKK. It took me at least fifteen minutes to convince my son that the two ice cream magnates were actually die-hard liberals.

A fifteen year old anarchist is challenging to raise. But that's OK, because, as said anarchist explained to me last week, "Mom, teenage boys like to raise themselves."

Good luck with that, kid. I hope you do a good job.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Today, I tried a new Yoga class, taught by a scarecrow of a guy who looked like Edvard Munch's screamer if he'd only stop screaming and realize he was one with the universe. The teacher's gaunt face was accented by bizarre, C-shaped sideburns so thin and precise, he probably needs a French curve to shave. A black, horn-shaped plug had distended one of his earlobes almost to his chin. He was just the type of guy that makes me nostalgic for the days when all a man had to do to look cool was let his hair and beard grow long like Jesus.

When our class entered the studio, the instructor had been practicing alone for over an hour and the room reeked of stale sweat. Stinky did, however, turn out to be quite good at his job, and as my nose got used to the funk, I started enjoying the workout. He paid me lots of special attention, coming by repeatedly to pull on my arms, push on my thighs, adjust the position of my feet.

I began to wonder why I was getting twice as much hands-on correcting as everybody else. It wasn't that I lack skill - I was actually more advanced than a lot of the people in the room. It could've been my newbie status, but yoga instructors usually leave you alone once they determine you know what you are doing. Nor do I harbor any illusions that he found me attractive. Although I've lost ten pounds and am quite taken with myself at the moment, I'm still an old broad. Maybe ten or twelve years older, alas, than anyone else in the class.

After fifteen minutes or so of sun salutations, I started to smell grilled meat. I looked around in puzzlement. No nearby restaurants as far as I knew. I refocused and got in the next pose as the instructor came around to adjust me yet again. Then, it was time to hit the ground and do some supine poses, which is when I got a whiff of my mat. Having spent the previous night in the kitchen, it had absorbed the smoky, appetizing smell of yesterday's flank steak.

Now I understood all the special attention: Like all yoga instructors, our teacher was undoubtedly a vegan. But once upon a time, before seitan and Himalayan goji berries, dinner was mom's pot roast or dad's cheeseburgers, and my meat-mat must have triggered some kind of Proustian sense memory. No wonder he kept coming back around to adjust the lady whose mat smelled like dinner, long ago.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Welcome to my dark side.

Greetings, Ladies and Germs.

I have a new blog in which I intend to express my most pithy, nasty thoughts. Posts will be short and most definitely not sweet.
You can check it out by clicking below:


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Lilliputian Sculpture Garden

Hello, elves. Greetings, goblins. Welcome faeries, leprechauns and pixies, to the Lilliputian sculpture garden.

High up in the Berkeley Hills, in the front yard of an unassuming ranch house, some Sunday sculptor has planted a knee-high assortment of shrubs and flowers to complement his small clay statues. Heads peek at you from behind bushes. Hands rise out of the mulch. Female nudes hide behind veils of flowers. The effect is mysterious and a bit disorienting. The first time I stumbled upon this garden, I felt like the fifty foot woman.

It's not like you've discovered the visionary oeuvre of some suburban Howard Finster: the sculptures lack the naivete and insular confidence of outsider art. Despite their classical aspirations, the pieces feel a tad amateurish. They're lacking in detail, and the proportions are off. It's the kind of work a talented high school student might bring home to mom.

Displayed on a coffee table or bookcase instead of their landscape setting, these works would lose some of their charm. But the sculptures manage to communicate the artist's love of the process, and of people. The figures may be awkward and anatomically off, but they've got soul. And their artful placement in an otherwise ordinary front yard is an invitation to take a little detour through a small, quiet world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Art Lovers

I'm doing as much yoga as my body will allow, yet inner peace continues to elude me. I get emotionally involved in current events, and the ignoble behavior at the McCain rallies has me tearing up, ranting and obsessively checking my yahoo landing page for news. I am becoming an expert in right wing hate groups and the Alaska secessionist party (whose founder was a right wing hater in his own right). As they say in yoga speak, I need to get centered. I can't spend my days wringing my hands over the fate of our nation and the character of a goodly number of her citizens. The only antidote to this vast, existential big-picture worrying is focusing on something really small and deliciously petty. So I am going to tell you about something I encounter regularly on my hill walks.

The thing in question is a sculpture that recently landed in someone's front yard at a very prominent bend in the road. I think it's made of white sandstone (I'd have to trespass to get close enough to tell) and, counting the pedestal, the statue stands about eight feet tall. A stylized representation of a man and a woman locked in an embrace, it merges the couple into one sihouette, like giant conjoined twins. You can identify the male twin by his broad shoulders. The female half of this unholy fusion has a huge, paleolithic fertility goddess rump. The effect is Henry Moore-wanabe meets Baby-got-back. Tackier yet is the stylization of the two heads, coming together in the unmistakable shape of a heart.

Every time I pass this monstrosity, I cringe. Its size and artistic intentions elevate it beyond the status of your garden variety lawn gnome or pink flamingo. And yet it's every bit as kitsch. So bad, it's good. It's simple. It's corny. It has just enough subtext for the artistically naive - you may need a few seconds to pick up on that giant heart head. If Hallmark saw it, they'd pay off the artist, trademark the piece and mass produce it as a white porcelain music box that plays "I'll stop the world and melt with you" while the mutant paramours slowly revolve in an endless circle of love. Just picture the possibilities. Giant ice sculptures for celebrity weddings. Hand-carved wood copies made in the Philippines, perfectly sized for the mantelpiece. Vanilla-scented soaps - watch the lovers literally dissolve into your bath water - and each other. Hell, you could do a chocolate version - available in white, milk or dark to mirror your ethnicity. What a classy way to say "Will you be my valentine"!

If the world gets wind of this thing, it could be as ubiquitous as Durer's praying hands. I'm starting to think I should never have told you about it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Off By Two Grand

Just a brief Needlefoot update. Our son finally had the needle removed from his heel. The kid was very macho, allowing himself to be I.V.'d and injected without complaining, and entertaining the nurses with his dead pan humor. The surgery took an hour and a half because the needle, weakened from the weight of a 5'10, 170 lb teen, had broken into four pieces. Three stitches later, our son's foot is swaddled in cloth bandages and protected by an orthopedic boot. We were discharged with a $200 pair of crutches which the kid refuses to use as they don't fit his image. He's walking on that foot far more than he's supposed to, and we are hoping his heel doesn't burst open like an overripe fig. The boy has, however, happily heeded the warning about not getting his bandages wet and managed to avoid showering for three days. Last night, he wrapped his foot in two plastic bags and decided to get clean. I think he was starting to smell himself.

I underestimated the cost of the surgery by $2000 - we are now up to $7000, with two follow up visits to go.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Somewhere between neopunk, rockabilly, death metal and folk art, spins the pecular planet of my son's fashion sense. Never mind the T shirts for bands with gross graphics and offensive names - that's not exactly atypical for males this age. His choice of pants can be a little eclectic - there's a bright red pair with "bondage straps" and a pair with one black leg and one white leg - again, these are items you can buy at clothing stores in Haight Ashbury. But you won't find a lot of 15 year old boys painting the toes of their combat boots (one teal, one copper). Or deconstructing a perfectly good jacket by covering the sleeves in clashing animal prints. (I can't even bring myself to describe what he's done to his classic navy sport coat. Suffice to say it's not classic anymore). My son also likes to experiment with his hair, draw on his pants, adorn his baseball cap with safety pins, staple studs on everything but his boxers and accessorize the look with a necklace or two. The essence of his signature style, though, is the patch. He is constantly acquiring patches and sewing them all over his clothing. Sometimes, it all comes together with flair, and sometimes it reminds you of grandma's overly adorned Christmas tree. Like that tree, our son occasionally loses a needle or two, but unlike grandma, he doesn't vacuum.

When the boy came back from boarding school this past June, his foot was hurting. He was convinced he had stepped on a bee, and the school nurse had even taken him to a clinic to have his foot looked at. The area around the sting looked infected. I took the kid to a podiatrist, who suggested there might be some glass in the foot and asked if he could "poke around". My son refused. It had to be an insect bite. He distinctively remembered the burning jab of a stinger. Over my better judgement, we decided to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. I paid my hundred bucks and left.

The foot got better, and then worse. Last month, Mike took our son to a new podiatrist. A smart one: She took an X-ray. There, gleaming white and perfectly parallel to the bottom of the heel, was a sewing needle. Mike made an appointment to get the needle out the following week. We got to keep a copy of the X-ray, a cool visual aid which I am sadly too technologically challenged to upload here.

When time came to operate, the podiatrist rolled up her sleeves and went to work, jabbing the poor kid in the foot every ten minutes or so to keep it anesthetized. The needle had been in my son's body for three months and was tightly encapsulated in a protective sheath of scar tissue. Coming in from the back of the heel, the podiatrist got a grip on the needle several times but was unable to dislodge it. After nearly two hours of trying, she gave up. The surgery would have to take place in a medical facility with access to constant visual imaging so she could see what she was doing. This failed surgery cost $900.

When I told my father the doctor all this over the phone, he was very concerned. If the needle were to move too close to the bone, it could cause a dangerous infection. What we needed was an orthopedic surgeon, not a podiatrist, and sooner rather than later. Doctor Dad suggested taking the boy to the emergency room at Stanford. They'd know what to do, and they probably would remove the needle on the spot. Having been raised with a boundless faith in the medical profession, I took this advice.

We made a family outing out of our two-and-a-half-hour round trip to Stanford, enlisting our daughter to come along and provide her brother with sympathy and comic relief.

As you might expect, the famous university's ER is pristine and state-of-the-art. The candy stripers bring you coffee and snacks and there's even a special waiting room for minors with Winnie the Pooh picture books and colorful sorting toys. It's all very fancy, but Stanford keeps you waiting just as long (seven hours) as everybody else and they don't do needle removal surgery. That's a podiatrist's job. Orthopedic surgeons have bigger limbs to butcher. Of course, they took more X-rays, even though we brought ours, which added up to another $1,800 to confirm the fact that junior has a needle in his foot.

So now we've had a post-op check up, ($200), stitch removal, ($200) plus an unscheduled visit due to foot pain and concern over possible infection ($200). Because Mike and I are self-employed and like to choose our own doctors, we have an insurance policy with a very high deductible. Since we haven't met it yet, we look forward to spending more money on the outpatient surgery and ensuing stitch removal. By the time we're done with needle-related procedures, we'll be out five grand. I guess my son is lucky he's not one of the nation's ten million uninsured children, for whom the only option would be to just live with the needle and hope it doesn't migrate and cause a bone infection.

So how's Needlefoot holding up through all of this? With dignity, grace and (sigh) his usual style. The other day he came upstairs to show us his latest creation: a 10' by 10' square patch that he had sewn onto the rear bottom of his jacket. It hung down like a loin cloth, or like one of those mud flaps they put over the wheels of semis. If tails ever make a comeback, he'll be all set. In the meantime, I'm going to sneak down to the kid's room when he's not home and inspect the floor for needles - that is, if I can see the floor.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dumb Like Me

I have completely lost my sense of humor over the McCain campaign. I can't take another corny joke about lipstick, moose, or barnyard animals. Instead of cracking wise, I'm obsessively trying to comprehend the mindset that wants a leader "just like me".

Looking back on Republicans I have known (not a large inventory, I'm afraid), I flashed on Clark, a former pharmaceutical client. Clark worked on a medication that helps critically ill premature babies. We were calling on Clark to discuss making an educational video using existing footage of doctors, nurses and preemie moms, all speaking from experience. I was arguing for using footage of a young Black mom with a particularly heartbreaking story. Clark didn't want to use the clip: he couldn't get past her accent and colloquialisms. He got so into making his case, he started imitating the young mother in a falsetto voice. "He don't have any letbacks?...Who talks like that?" It never occurred to Clark that he was offending the other people in the room, including an African American woman with an urban lilt of her own.

I thought about my friend Janine, a copywriter I used to work with when I lived in Cleveland. I can still see her bounding into my office to share an idea for a TV spot she was working on. “ There’s three old guys sitting on a park bench,” she began. "A black guy, a jewish guy and an American guy.” “Janine,” I pointed out, before she could go any further, “The black guy and the jewish guy are American too.”

I remembered Otto, a co-worker who had a little boy about the time I had my son. Otto brought his baby into work one day, and I was on the floor handing the kid Little Tykes figures to play with. When the baby showed no interest in the little brown plastic character I was waving at him, Otto jumped in with an explanation: “ He only wants to play with the WHITE dolls”. Otto thought this was hysterical. Almost as funny as the joke he liked to tell about the jew, the pizza and the oven.

We Democrats get excited about diversity precisely because we see and appreciate our common humanity. Sarah Palin Republicans are suspicious of people who are unlike them. This tends to make them a little clueless, like Janine, who got it when I called her on her language, or less empathetic, like Clark who couldn't relate to a young Black mother from the inner city, even though he had a child the same age as the one she lost. And then there are the nazi shits like Otto, who are probably beyond redemption. All of these folks want leaders who are "just like them", a regular guy or gal who can dumb it down to glib sound bites delivered with just a touch of flair and hometown charisma. The irony of this is that politicians of either party are not just like us. They are more driven, ambitious, eloquent, opportunistic and manipulative. That's how they get elected in the first place.

At the heart of this yearning for down home leadership lurks a disturbing tribalism. And in the global village, tribalism is devolution. We have huge economic, energy, security and environmental challenges ahead that we must face collectively and internationally. So what do the Palin drones list as their priority issues? Abortion and gay marriage. Behind all the ranting at "liberal elites" and "the liberal media" is fear and resentment of any thinking that might shake up their world view. The myth of Mr. Smith goes to Washington lives on. But Mr. Smith didn't have to contend with two wars, global warming, world terrorism, an unstable and scary economy, a belligerent Soviet Union, a mortgage crisis, a broken health care system, rising unemployment and, oh hell, I'm sure I'm leaving out something critical but you get the point.

So I keep pondering and trying to understand, and in the interest of equal time, I'd like to give my Republican fellow-citizens a few questions to ask themselves:

• Is putting an underqualified person a heartbeat away from the presidency really putting "country first"?

• Do you think Sarah Palin would EVER have gotten considered, based on her skimpy resume, if she were a man? If not, doesn't that make her a token? What kind of real advancement is that for womankind?

•How would having 5 kids, including a Down's syndrome baby, a six year old, a pregnant teen, a not-yet pregnant teen and a son shipping off to Iraq impact your current job performance?

• How can John McCain still be "a Washington outsider" after 26 years in the House and Senate? If he hasn't learned the ropes by now, what's that say about his learning curve?

• McCain followed the family tradition and went to the naval academy like his 4 star admiral father and grandfather. His wife is worth millions and they own nine homes, thirteen cars and a plane. How is he not part of an elite?

• Is it really more important for your president to fit in at your neighborhood potluck than on the world stage? Have you ever considered that McCain might actually be more comfortable having a beer with Joe Biden than with you?

• If you're okay with your doctor, lawyer or CPA being smarter and better educated than you, why hold your leaders to a lower standard?

• If your child got a scholarship to an Ivy League school, would you hang your head in shame that she's joined an elite? What if she went on to Harvard Law? Would that make her less qualified to be president than before?

• What if you, regular Joe or Jane, woke up in the White House tomorrow morning? Would you know what to do?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's official: Obama loves America more.

One of the things that makes Obama so refreshing is his calling out of political tactics and rhetorical games. When the McCain people try to depict him as somehow foreign, alien or elitist, when the discourse devolves into a game of gotcha', Obama calls attention to the game - just as John Stuart exposes lazy media tropes and Bush administration doublespeak. And true to form, Obama denounced these tactics again in his acceptance speech for the democratic nomination. He asked that the goofy non-issue of who's more patriotic be shelved so the candidates can focus on more important matters like health care, the war or the recession. He proclaimed "I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first."

Would that it were true. But McCain does not put his country first. Mr. Three Melanomas' contingency plan in the event of his croaking is to leave us in the capable hands of Sarah Pallin. Who will try her darnedest, cute little overachiever that she is, but has way too much catching up to do. This is grotesquely irresponsible.

What else have we learned about John McCain as a result of this left field VP pick? That he is one of those densoid old white guys who has NEVER been able to relate to a woman as an equal, or outside the prism of sex. I worked with an office full of them in Cleveland. They can't believe you have a political opinion and their manual states that they must compliment you on some item of your attire every time they want you to work late. Obviously, McCain doesn't intend to work with this woman. He thinks she's going to help him get elected and that's it. And to the degree that this choice may have been a trawl for embittered Hillary supporters, Dude, do you know WHY a lot of these women support Hillary? Because her position on the issues is the antithesis of yours. Do you really think women are going to come together in some sort of girl power epiphany and support Sarah? Would you vote for Dennis Kucinich just because the two of you can go into the same public restroom?

Surely, we come away from this with a better idea of Mr. McCain's judgement, and his evident respect for both the offices of President and Vice President. El Maverick's judgement is so good, he made his pick after a single meeting. Reassuring that we can have such rapid fire decision making in an office that presides over matters of war and peace.

Now lets talk about that Maverick thing, which I suspect is somehow entwined with John McCain's mojo. Apparently, in the Bizzaro World known as Red State America, Sarah Pallen is famous and beloved. It seems this VP selection is a huge pander to the religious right. Not the Maverick choice Lieberman really would have been, but a woman the base considers a heroine for not aborting her Down's Syndrome child. So I would say the Maverick is back in church.

As for Obama, he went on to say that we ALL love America, and we all put America first. Which was rather big of him.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

It's my blog and I'll whine if I want to.

The economy sucks. The job market sucks. Headhunters, online job sites, HR people; they all suck. Like a fifteen year old giving his girlfriend a hicky. Like a remora on a great white. Like medicinal leeches on Henry the VII's hindquarters. If you're getting the idea that my job search is turning into a giant suck-athon, I'd say you're pretty perceptive. In fact, I am about at the point where I'm starting to believe I suck too.

I have been jobless in a new market before. I trolled LA agencies with a spec book and eventually found freelance. I got jobs in Cleveland and Washington DC through old fashioned networking. I've never used a headhunter in my life. Now, I'm in San Francisco, and I can't get arrested. (Then again, it is hard to get arrested in San Francisco. I could run down Market Street starkers yelling "Dick Cheney ate my bubby", in a flawless Australian accent and the cops wouldn't even blink).

So, headhunters. Far's I can tell there are two types: the ones who can't wait to meet you in person, present themselves as your new best friend, promise you the moon and deliver nothing and the ones who communicate over the phone through a flunky, vet you as carefully as a prospective vice presidential candidate, claim they're sending out your resume and disappear without ever giving you feedback. My favorite was the jerk who sent me a whole page of questions before finally submitting me for a job for which I am actually overqualified. This is the question that put me over the edge: "What year did you graduate from college?" Why don't you just come out and ask me how old I am and I'll tell you where to stash your blackberry?

Online job sites make the process a lot more convenient - for the headhunters. Most of the job postings just take you right back to some recruiter. Sometimes, you can't apply on line unless you take a little quiz which determines whether you should even be considered for the position. If you're rejected, you have no way of finding out why, much less applying for the G D job. This is especially perplexing when, based on the job description, it's stuff you can do in your sleep.

I recently met a freelance art director who came to this market 4 years ago and also had a helluva time breaking in. His analysis is that people have become too lazy to do their own vetting. Nobody wants to meet you in person. There is no way to convey how well-spoken, charming, funny and fast on your feet you are. When they determine there's not enough interactive in your portfolio, you're not there to tell them the two extensive, complex websites you wrote are no longer online and provide a link to an archive. When they see that you're low on financial experience, you can't point out that you basically learned pharma overnight and have worked with some of the most uptight regulatory teams on the planet. You're held up against the checklist and found wanting.

Now here's the irony. Based on what I've seen in over 20 years in the workforce, I have become the ideal employee, a middle aged woman. Think about it: we came up right after the first wave of feminism. We don't feel entitled to our jobs - we're grateful for them. We're used to working harder than the men we've been competing with, and resigned to getting paid less for the privilege. Those of us who've raised teenagers know better than anyone how to negotiate, debate, placate or motivate. We're not going to get pregnant, or screw our way up the ladder. We basically invented multitasking. It doesn't make a lot of sense to put the work horse out to pasture.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Memo to an Obama supporter

Re: Your bumper stickers

It's time to do a little editing. Obama '08 cannot coexist on your bumper with "Goddess Bless" and "I love trees".

I'm rather partial to trees myself, and I think the Deity should be whatever gender works for you. But once you drive past the Berkeley city limits, you enter the land of the electorally undecided. Obama needs their votes and your bumper stickers associate him with what they perceive as the loony left. So keep supporting Obama, and keep your other passions private, please. And next time you pray to the Goddess, put in a good word for Barack.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Our new neighbors

Above our rental house is a steep, narrow untended triangle of land covered with tall, dry weeds. It is there, hidden and secure in the overgrowth, that a doe recently gave birth to twin fawns. When we first met them, they were dainty, spotted, awkward little wonders and looked to be just a few days old. They're almost as big as their mom now, and their spots are fading. Whoever owns that neglected strip of land hired someone to come cut down the brush, but the lack of ground cover has not kept the twins and their mother from coming back. Sometimes, they are joined by a young buck with a stubby, two-pronged rack. The whole family sleeps there at night when they're not right outside the house, making an evening meal of our landlord's bushes.

We do our best to be good neighbors to the deer next door. (I tried to feed them once but the carrots I put out remained untouched). We drive slowly up and down the street for fear one of the bamblets should leap out from behind the bushes. If we park in front of their turf, they maintain their serene insouciance as we drive in and out, slam car doors, unload groceries and catch up on the day. I haven't tried honking, which wouldn't be very nice, but I suspect no one in the deer family would flinch. Once in a while, our yorkie Winston remembers he's supposed to bark at deer, which doesn't phase them anymore than we do.

When you live in close proximity to a walking smorgasbord of venison, it's hard not to give an occasional paranoid thought to mountain lions. Just last week, one was sighted in someone's yard ten blocks from us. I flash on that when I'm walking Winston on a moonless night. Sometimes I hear rustling in the bushes or catch a glimpse of a dark silhouette. I keep telling myself it's only our deer friends.

PS I took the deer pix but the mountain lion is from google images. If I ran into this fellow on one of my walks, I wouldn't stop for a photo op and ask him to smile and say "Bambi".

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Welcome to Nut Hill

As everyone on the East Coast knows, Midwesterners are narrow minded, gun-loving, pathologically patriotic, hyper-religious rubes. Of course, any midwesterner can give you the low down on those elitist, Godless, ivy-leaguing, goat cheese eating East Coast snobs. But if there's one thing the midwest and the East coast actually agree about, it's Californians. They're wierdos. A bunch of loopy, spacy, new-ageified, crystal-worshiping, airhead wack jobs. When we moved to Cleveland from California years ago, we'd tell people where we were coming from and they'd visibly recoil. Sometimes they would recover and make a lame joke. But you knew that they would forever suspect you of sacrificing goats in your basement.

Now, I live in the alleged vortex of West Coast wierdness, Berkeley California, where Code Pink is locked in endless combat with the local marine recruiting station and the sign on the bike rental place reads "pedal now or paddle later". I know this flavor of free speech doesn't play well in Columbus Ohio but who would want to live there anyway? To my mind, the people here in Berkeley are remarkably sane, politically and environmentally. They are tolerant of everyone, revel in diversity, and believe that war is obsolete. They brake for pedestrians, fret over their carbon footprints, let their wrinkles show and try their darndest to eat locally grown food. They are also often unapologetically eccentric.

Our little corner of the mountain is called Nut Hill, possibly after the Boyntons, a family of graecophiles who once lived up the street from us in the Temple of the Winds. The childhood best friend of Isadora Duncan, Florence Treadwell Boynton shared her famous friend's passion for dance and ancient Greece. While Isadora eventually packed up her veils and scarves and moved to Europe, Florence married and became a beloved "modern" dance instructor to two generations of Berkeley girls. When Florence and Charles Boynton hired renowned Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck to design their home, they requested plans that "reflected a Hellenic lifestyle".

The Boyntons didn't just love the ancient Greek lifestyle: they lived it. Like every successful San Francisco attorney, Charles Boynton left for work each day in his three piece suit, briefcase in hand. But as soon as he came home, he threw off his flannel shackles and slipped into a toga. The family folie-a-dix required that the Boyntons and their eight kids wear grecian robes year-round. They must have been a hardy lot: the original temple, eventually destroyed by fire and then rebuilt, was completely open, like its ancient Greek counterparts. That's open, as in no doors or windows. Open to whatever the winds blew in - leaves, bugs, fog and wintry weather with temperatures in the thirties.

The house was green when green was just a color - garbage was composted, water came from a natural spring, and the space was heated in winter by a central fire pit and hot water pipes in the floor. The outhouse was discretely tucked away behind the Eucalyptus trees, next to the grape arbor where Florence Treadwell Boynton gave birth to all of her kids. The Temple of the Winds had no kitchen: Raw foodists and vegans before either term was even coined, the Boyntons subsisted on fruits, honey and, yes, nuts. Whether Nut hill was named for the Boynton diet or the Boyntons themselves remains a subject of academic debate in Berkeley to this day.

All that remains of the original Temple of the Winds are its Corinthian columns, long since incorporated into an imposing stucco house whose inhabitants appear distressingly normal. But you don't have to go far to run into some quirky folk. Wandering through the farmer's market, you spot the Tiger Man, his bike upholstered with orange and black synthetic tiger fur, punctuated by a long tiger tail that flaps from his bicycle seat. Or you find yourself waiting for the bus with the Prophet, a Rastafarian in biblical Burlap robes and a straw coolie hat. Perhaps you live down the street from Sir Legs, who wears skirts year-round - in the Winter, something flannel and kiltish, in the summer, a colorful sarong. You hit the local coffee house and line up behind the Pajama Lady, well into her 70s, with her white mohawk and signature pastel flannel pjs. Or you're at the local Whole Foods, shopping next to a stunning young woman. In her long skirt and flowered hat, she's dressed like Mary Poppins, but she's no nanny. The baby she's holding is obviously hers, because she's obviously breast feeding and both her boobs are, well, obviously exposed, right there in the produce section in close, poetic proximity to the tuscan melons.

And then there's my pilates instructor, who is studying to be a Mayan Shaman - never mind that there are not enough Mayans in the Bay Area to provide her with a customer base. So how can we explain all this different drumming ? Could it be a lack of animal protein in the diet? Perhaps a mysterious cellular response to shifting tectonic plates? A secret plot to keep the rest of the country so weirded out that that they won't move to California and spoil it for the rest of us?

Just chalk it up to tolerance. Out here, nobody cares if you wear a toga to the grocery store, grow your own weed or practice the didgeridoo in the nude. The scenery's gorgeous and the weather's fine. Just like the rest of us, the eccentrics get to come out and play. And the rest of us don't mind a bit.

Monday, July 7, 2008

John McCain, Technoturd

I have always been technologically challenged. Never met a xerox machine I could operate on my first try. Faced with an unfamiliar vacuum cleaner, I need at least five minutes to figure out how to turn it on. (My husband, who did not marry me for my housekeeping skills, would say ALL vacuum cleaners are unfamiliar to me). Since we got Tivo, I've given up watching television if Mike isn't home. It's just too confusing to deal with two remotes. As for the i-phone I got for Christmas, it still intimidates the hell out of me, but I've made my peace with the thing. At least it's easier than a Blackberry.

As you might imagine, I don't have a natural affinity for computers. I am a technotard - maybe even, as a friend of mine likes to put it, a technoturd. Being a writer, I use my macintosh all the time. This means I have a working knowledge of word and I can bungle my way through powerpoint. I have never, thank goodness, had to learn Quark, or Photoshop, or Excel or, for that matter, any other programs. But boy, do I spend a lot of time on the Internet. Perusing job sites. Looking up the difference between a turtle and a tortoise. Keeping up with Salon or the Huffington Post. Comparing banana bread recipes. Reading the actual text of Obama's historic speech on race. Researching medical conditions for a pharmaceutical writing assignment. And of course, following the latest developments in our presidential race.

Which brings me to John McCain. A man who, when asked whether he was a Mac or a PC guy, answered as follows:
"Neither, I'm an illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance I can get." Despite the fact that he once flew fighter planes, the Republican presidential nominee may be more of a technoturd than I am.

I find this profoundly disturbing. For one thing, I'd like to believe the President of the United States is smarter than me. When Bush was preparing to invade Iraq, I kept thinking dumb idea, dumb idea. It turned out to be a really dumb idea, and our commander in chief has proven himself to be a really dumb guy.

I understand only too well that it is possible to be creatively, or interpersonally, or cut-through-the-bullshit smart yet somewhat computer-challenged. But in this day and age, not consulting the internet is the mark of a singularly incurious mind. After 8 years of incurious George, we need a leader who asks questions, seeks facts, studies opinions other than his own and knows how to google. John McCain would do well to remember how Obama beat Clinton: with an incredibly sophisticated data base, a killer website and record breaking online fundraising. It's the internet, stupid.

To read about Obama's "super marketing machine", visit the link below.


Saturday, May 10, 2008


I had my Diane Arbus moment. Actually, I had about 75 of them. I went to the Tatoo Expo with my husband and son, and hell yes, I brought my camera. My son is fascinated with tatoos, draws realistic portraits of eskimos on his forearm, and is more than likely trying to find a way around the 18 year legal age requirement for body art. We did not take him to the Tatoo Expo to encourage him, but to show him that identifying yourself visually with the body art scene might limit your prospects. There are some breaks you won't get if you go through life looking like a walking comic book. You may also prefer not to be associated with the gang element of tatoo culture, of which there was enough at this expo to warrant a no guns sign at the gate.

We weren't the only voyeurs on the scene - understated attire and an unmarked epidermis immediately outed you as a bourgeois looky-loo. But the overwhelming majority of the attendees were on a mission to get marked. The exhibit hall had literally been turned into a giant tatoo parlor. Clients winced, clenched their teeth or looked stoically away as the body artists manned their little drills. It was a fast food crowd - not a lot of money there - and most of the bodies being inked were lumpy and untoned. Vendors hawked goth jewelry, leather corsets and t-shirts touting "My first murder," in letters that dripped blood.

On a small stage in the back of the hall, a biker-MC in cat-in-the-hat headgear was attempting to banter with the crowd. Smiling broadly, he straffed us with F-bombs. It was an F-ing great exhibit, with some F-ing great artists, he's seen some F-ing great tatoos and now, for your entertainment, check out these F-ing great belly dancers.

Four plus-sized Sheherazades undulated onto the stage, finger-cymbals tinkling. Their dancing clothes had the makeshift quality of last minute halloween costumes. Ornate tatoos disappeared into their back fat. A handful of bystanders applauded good-naturedly but the real action was on the exhibition floor.

I admit it, I don't like tatoos. When my son asked what I would choose if I absolutely HAD to get one on pain of death, I told him I wanted a black dot so I could pass it off as a birth mark. I think the sight of beautiful Angelina Jolie in an evening gown with her dye-injected arms is just sad. I understand that sometimes life events cause such deep shifts and revelations in people's lives, they feel they must commemorate them. I know that there's something sexy to getting your first tatoo - I've got you under my skin, baby, and all that jazz. But whatever causes you to take the plunge, there is an element of self-destructiveness to tatooing and I think it can be addictive. After a while, some people have so many tats, they reach the dangerous point of WTF and do something irreversible, perhaps inking their faces like a Maori tribesman.

While dermatologists are probably already reaping the benefits of tattoo addiction, popular culture has yet to acknowledge the phenomenon, second cousin to compulsive plastic surgery, body dysmorphia and self-cutting. The body art movement has made big strides into the mainstream, and it would appear judgmental to suggest that there are folks who just don't know when to stop. It's going to take some remorseful people going public, crying to Oprah about the cost of having their markings removed and how the color green is forever. Once the self-proclaimed victims start coming forward, it will be safe from a politically correct standpoint to acknowledge the existence of tatoo addiction. In the meantime, boys and girls, think before you ink.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Arf, Arf! Art, Art!

Remember the elephant seals from our trip to Cambria? My daughter and her boyfriend went down to see them in mid-January. They got the same show we did (See my blog entry entitled Glittering Soirees and Bestial Orgies), with the added attraction of witnessing the actual birth of a pup. (This was followed by a seagull feeding frenzy over the placenta. Unlike Pamela Anderson, seals don't believe in burying theirs.) Anyway, my daughter was so inspired, she chose to do her painting thesis project based on the photographs she took. The thesis committee gave the paintings their "seal of approval"! Arf Arf! I'm so proud, it's making me blubber. So clap your flippers and give her a big round of applause.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And Now, Live Off-Stage...

I'm not too old to rock, but I just may be getting too cranky for concerts.

Let's see. Sting and Natalie Merchant. Chattering yahoos behind us who refuse to shut up. Ever.

Tom Petty. Great show. Surprise appearance by Stevie Nicks. An outdoor venue that sells beer to underage young men who don't give a sample about Tom Petty and are so full of Heineken, the line at the men's room is longer - yes, girls, this is a seismic event in the history of mankind - longer than the line for the ladies' room. Some boys are soooo bursting with beer, they just cut to the chase in the bathroom sink.

And then there was our fourth and probably last Bob Dylan concert. My friend had scored four second row tickets. Having just met each other's spouses for the first time, we were chatting away, waiting for the concert to start, when the pack descended. Five tall, husky guys and one big, loud lady, all in their forties and fifties. Pathological Dylan fans who will go anywhere within a 500 mile radius to see him and spend anything to wangle first row seats. Which they don't need because they stand, the entire bloody time.

The pack blocked our view with astonishing effectiveness. I am a woman of average height and my friend's wife is petite. On the off chance that she might actually catch a glimpse of Dylan in his negative space, the obstructionist in front of her wore a broad brimmed black cowboy hat. If we wanted to see, our only option was to get up, thus passing down the inconvenience to the row behind us. We were all too polite to do so. Our mothers raised us right.

Now, I've gotten up and boogied at a concert from time to time, when the song is iconic and the beat irresistible and the whole crowd is on its feet. But these jerks even stood during the ballads. They simply stopped shaking their great hulks, swaying solemnly instead. At one point, the guy in front of Mike got tired and actually took his seat. Not surprising since he was pushing fifty, built like a refrigerator, and had just downed three or more stadium beers. So he plopped down, threw his arm over the chair and leaned his neck back until his head was practically in Mike's lap. Sensing the discontent behind her, the lady Dylan fanatic turned to me sympathetically and explained that this is what one does in the front row. Maybe, she helpfully suggested, we should sit on the side next time.

My husband was reminding me of our recent concert history as we sat in the IMAX theater, waiting for Shine a Light, Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert film, to begin. The current concert experience costs big bucks and sucks to such an extent, Mike remarked, movies like this are a better option. I was thinking he had a point when The Free Spirit sashayed up the aisle.

She was about forty, with butt-length, raven curls and a well kept figure. The kind of woman who can't outgrow the twenty year old girl's need to flash flesh regardless of the outside temperature, she wore black leather pants, a tall Russian fur hat and a white corset. Her hips swung like a pendulum as she walked, her straight-laced, whitebread boyfriend following right behind. They settled in three seats past me. Between us sat a lone Indian gentleman in a suit and tie.

The lights went down and the movie started. (Let me just say that in this film, the Stones are definitely larger than life. Cavernous closeups of Mick's mouth in IMAX make one feel like Jonah right before the whale gulped him down. The legendary Jagger tongue is the size of a three year old child. The stage lights shine through his front teeth when he sings and you can tell exactly which of his choppers have benefitted from the art of modern dentistry. Somebody please tell me why this is necessary.)

The movie introduces the Stones, pre-concert, photo-opping for Bill and Hillary Clinton and some of their relatives. Meanwhile, Scorsese is running around looking crazed because the song selection is not final and he needs to work out the camera placement (not suspenseful - you know he'll pull it together - he's Scorsese). Soon enough, the concert is on. And The Free Spirit is on too.

Shooting up from her seat like a trick snake from its fake nut tin, she begins to dance. She waves her arms in the air, whooping and yelling "Yeah, Mick!". She claps her palms raw after every song. When the Stones play an obscure cover tune, The Free Spirit bops around enthusiastically. When they tear into the opening riff of Sympathy for the Devil, she doesn't recognize it and stops gyrating to adjust her corset. She ooohs and squeals constantly, like the soundtrack from some lost sex tape of Marilyn doing both Kennedy brothers at the same time. Nobody else in the theater is acting like this.

The Indian gentleman stares in open disbelief. The Free Spirit's date remains silent and impassive, perhaps wondering whether the ensuing lay will be worth the current embarrassment. Mike puts his elbow up by his face and hangs his sweater on it as a blinder to keep The Free Spirit out of his peripheral vision. In desperation, I call out "You don't have to shout. They can't hear you. It's a MOVIE." No reaction. From the first song to the final encore, every number is marred by The Free Spirit's exhibitionistic whooping. I keep wishing she would hold up her lighter and get ushered out by the fire marshall.

So much for being spared the indignities of the live concert experience. I hold my tongue as I walk out past The Free Spirit, still carrying on as the credits roll. I'm dying to ask why she didn't throw her panties at the screen.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Obama Drama

When I was in my early thirties, lo these many moons ago, I had just begun my advertising career. I remember boning up on demographic categories and realizing, to my chagrin, that I was a volvo, white wine and brie - and I was cool enough to know that wasn't cool. I haven't checked, but I'd be willing to bet that I've since graduated to the prius, red wine and goat cheese segment.

Lately, I've recognized myself on the popular blog "Things White People Like". The White People in question are upper middle class types with college degrees. (And if you look at their enthusiasms as depicted in this blog, these "white people" could in most cases just as well be African American or Asian - the real differentiator is income and education). These people like to travel, have gym memberships and know their arugula from their mache. They think of themselves as well-read and well-informed. Die hard, bleeding heart liberals. Environmentalists, secular humanists, internationalists and diversity lovers. Insufferable pompous bastards according to the White People blog. But damned if a lot of it doesn't reflect my tastes and values.

Which brings us to those outraged salt of the earth Pennsylvanians who are so offended, nay, so BITTER about Obama's recent comments. They feel they were glibly categorized as a gun-loving, illegal-hating, church-going herd. Well, folks, here's the deal. Elections nowadays employ sophisticated research and highly targeted messaging. Whether you like it or not, even if you're not Mr. or Ms. Guns, God and Go back to Mexico, many of your neighbors probably fit the bill. Obama was speaking in a strategic and analytical way about you as a group. It's a perspective one needs to occasionally adopt if one is to succeed politically. Remember the soccer moms? The disaffected white males? Even an elitist like yours truly (and believe me, I am not an elitist, I am just saving you the trouble of calling me one) is part of a target group. That's modern capitalism, baby.

Let's segue to your pocket book, the context of the offending remarks. Obama was talking about 20 years of hard times, disappearing jobs and cynicism bred of unfulfilled election promises from both parties. Of you and your neighbors, he says "They feel so betrayed by government that when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it." So if you've given up on voting the economy, what issues can you still "cling to"? Social issues like gun rights, prayer in school, creationism and of course illegal aliens. Guns, God and anti-immigration.

So now you have Hillary and McCain rushing to your defense. You really AREN'T bitter. You're "resilient, positive and optimistic". And Hillary is just like you. Why, her Pa taught her to shoot by the watering hole on her Grandpappy's Pennsylvania farm. (Sorry, Hil, even Dick Cheney would be more credible with that one). She enjoys a little shot with her beer. (I suspect the last time she did shots was when she found out Bill was doing Monica). And of course, God plays an essential part in her life.

If you don't think Hillary Clinton is playing to your demographic, you really are the Pollyanna she's depicting you as.

One way or another, we're all getting sold. I am sure there is pandering of a different sort going on at those tony San Francisco fundraisers. And how do you sell a bunch of upscale, advanced degreed San Franciscans whose funds you are trying to appropriate? You talk to them like they are political insiders. You discuss strategy. The day the bitterness controversy bubbled up, Obama was speaking from a back stage perspective and ended up in the spotlight. So to my friends and fellow democrats in Pennsylvania, I say get over it. You're a demographic and I am too. It's the process. Vote your conscience, not your pride.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Berkeley Bumper Stickers 2

You can bomb the world into pieces but you can't bomb it into peace • Visualize using your turn signal • If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention • Obama '08 • When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross - Sinclair Lewis • These colors don't run the world • As God is my witness, I am an atheist • Question consumption • Uninformed people elect uninformed presidents • How can you be both pro-life and pro-war? • Abstinence makes the church grow fondlers • Obama '08 • Patriotism says your country is superior because you were born in it. George Bernard Shaw • One nation, under Goddess • One nation, undereducated • Telling the truth: a vast left-wing conspiracy • Don't believe everything you think • Obama '08 • The emperor has no brains • George W. Bush: Empty warhead • Pro-marriage, including gays • Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities • Obama '08 • Capitalism: The predatory phase of human development • Support our troops. Bring them home •Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Thomas Jefferson • No child left a dime • Ignorance may be bliss, but it's bad foreign policy • How come my TV keeps lying to me? • We are creating enemies faster than we can kill then • Blessed are the children, for they shall inherit the deficit • No, really. Why DID we invade Iraq? • Obama '08 • If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. Alexis de Tocqueville • Kill your television • What IS the hokey-pokey all about? • The truth hurts but ignorance kills• Good planets are hard to find • Obama '08 • Evil only succeeds when good people do nothing. Martin Luther King

This is a city that has its own foreign policy, subsidizes solar conversions for low income families, keeps condoms in the high school nurse's office and is trying to run the marine recruitment center out of town. Surely you weren't expecting Jesus fish.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Karma's a bitch.

In the improbable event that one of the 5 people who read this thing doesn't actually know me, I'm going to tell you that I write for a living. No, nothing glamorous like novels or screenplays, or sizzling exposes for the New York Times. I write advertising. Ads, brochures, websites, radio and tv spots, all that intrusive (if I've done my job right) crap that muscles its way into your already cluttered brain. As a professional writer, I abhor typos and misspellings. The signs at the supermarket highlighting "avacados" and "chedder" drive me insane. When my daughter sends out cover letters without hitting spellcheck and shows them to me after the fact, I lecture her about the anal-retentive potential employers who will rule her out for forgetting a period. I get a "gotcha" feeling of perverse satisfaction when I find a typo in the middle of a 500 page novel. So when I was online the other day googling flights to Albuquerque and a discount flight site cropped up hawking flights to Albequerque, I practically vaulted onto my high horse.

I clicked on the link, went directly to "contact us" and asked them how I could possibly trust my travel plans to an outfit that can't even proofread a banner ad. Then, I went back to my online job hunting. You see, I left a very good job in my home town at age old-enough-to-know-better and moved to San Francisco. Now, I have to find employment before my freelance runs out and George Bush's recession comes crashing down on us like a cartoon anvil.

So there I was, perusing job postings, hurling my resume into cyberspace, sharing my curriculum vitae with a bunch of strangers probably half my age who have no way to appreciate my dogged work ethic and quirky personal charm, and doing my best to keep the faith. I downloaded the pdf from my website and was about to attach the resume when I saw it.
Like back fat on a starlet. Michael Jackson's nose. Or Lady Macbeth's damned spot. A typo, smack in the middle of the page. Senior copyriter, no W. Yes, I had checked the resume and rechecked it, and lived with it for months, and sent it out to dozens of probably anal-retentive potential employers without ever noticing the error.

Of course, I immediately called my web designer and had her insert the missing W. Now, I am crossing my fingers that all the people who have seen my resume are too busy to notice, or too nice to pick at the small stuff. When my daughter reads this, it will make her day.

PS. I just got a lovely email from the CEO of the online travel company. He thanked me for pointing out the typo which they immediately changed. I proofed my gracious response three times before hitting send.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Can't stop the music

Last week, my husband and I went to a garden show at the Cow Palace, San Francisco's old convention center on the the cold, south side of town. We don't have a yard and we don't have a house but it was something to do. (Besides, I like to store up the home and garden ideas because when housing prices reach their all-time low and we finally buy a place, I plan on going on a decorating and landscaping frenzy).

The main exhibit space featured plantings by various landscape designers. It was hard to take these "gardens" seriously as there was no sky and no sun to shine down on the plants, just the dark, dingy Cow Palace ceiling. Eastern religions were the theme du jour, with many of the mini-landscapes drawing inspiration from spas and yoga studios and featuring Buddhas and Hindu Gods. A peripheral hall was filled with plants for sale, including garish exotics from Hawaii, randy, intense-hued orchids, environmentally-correct succulents and garden variety vegetables. There were also plenty of gardening tools, statuary and crafts with a botanical twist. One booth stopped me in my tracks. Hanging there, like a cluster of salamis in an Italian butcher shop, was a giant wind chime. Wind chime, hell, it was an unassembled pipe organ. It sounded like a concerto of mini gongs outside your window. We had a good laugh. Who in their right mind would impose such a thing on her (or his) neighbors?

Cut to this afternoon. I am taking a tonic walk uphill to teach my butt a lesson (it never learns). I round a bend and what do I see? You guessed it. The Big Ben of wind chimes.

There oughta be a law. After all, here we are in Berkeley where they legislate everything for the good of the people. Surely this is unconstitutional. Or did our forefathers forget the right to peace and quiet? What if your house was next to the Mega Chime? Suppose the homeowner refused to take the damned thing down? Would you sue? Start a neighborhood petition? Slink over under cover of darkness and yank down the chimes? What a gigantic pain in the ass.

Even in our quiet hillside enclave, we are not immune from chime pollution. Our neighbor below has a small tinkly-winkly one. It's annoying but he is blind and if it makes him happy, we can live with it. It's only intrusive when the wind blows the sound in our direction.

Berkeley will probably address the chime issue at some point. Maybe they'll start selling wind chime licenses and put the proceeds to some noble use. Or maybe not. The problem is probably here to stay. Some people, it seems, just have to tinkle.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Glittering Soirees and Bestial Orgies

And what a weekend it was. Our trip to Cambria, California, a quiet seaside town exactly equidistant from LA and SF. Our aim was twofold: to visit Hearst Castle, and to see the elephant seal rookery at Piedras Blancas beach.

The dictionary says a rookery is "a breeding place or colony of gregarious birds or animals, as penguins and seals". This feels like lazy science to me. Small, flightless birds and large floppy marine mammals don't have much in common. Leave rookery to the penguins and find a new name for the elephant seal breeding grounds. When I got to the fourth meaning of rookery, I felt better: "A large, crowded tenement house." There is definitely something Dickensian about the conditions at Piedras Blancas, where in December of every year, 7,000 blubbery bodies take over a quarter mile of beach. (Come to think of it, it's a little like Rehobeth Beach, Maryland on labor day weekend).

At close to 3 tons, the male elephant seals are honking huge, but that's not where the name comes from. All elephant seals are born with cute round faces and big doe eyes, but around 3 years of age, the male's nose start to grow until it become a massive, floppy appendage dangling over the seal's mouth like a truncated trunk. The older, meaner and more dominant the male, the more pronounced the proboscis. While the adult females resemble plus-sized harbor seals, the males look like extras from the Star Wars bar scene.

The reproductive life of the elephant seal is a very odd odyssey. The males and females meet up once a year, at the very same beach. (12 of just 15 known "rookeries" are on the California coast). By the time the females arrive, they have been pregnant for a year. Not surprisingly, the first thing they do is give birth- to skinny black pups weighing between sixty and ninety pounds. The babies start nursing immediately, gaining as much as nine pounds a day.

Meanwhile, the males are in full harem building mode, fighting for dominance by banging their chests together and biting each other. Sometimes this occurs on the beach, and sometimes they take it out to sea. A salty old sea dog of an elephant seal will have a crusty, scarred up chest from years of turf battles. The prize? A harem of 40 cows, all ready to take Big Daddy's DNA into the next generation.

Once her pup is weaned, which takes about four weeks, the female elephant seal goes into estrus and is ready for mating. Within a matter of days, she is pregnant and ready to leave for her yearly migration. The fertilized egg inside her does not develop further for about 3 months. This is logical from an evolutionary standpoint, because the female elephant seal has not eaten in 6 weeks or more, and has lost a lot of her blubber feeding her pups. She needs to fatten up again before she can support a growing fetus. The females migrate West in temperate waters and feed primarily on squid and other swimming prey. Meanwhile, the males head north to the Aleutian islands and scarf down whatever they can find crawling on the sea floor - skates, rays, and other bottom feeders. Everybody gets fat and happy until it's time to meet again.

Observing the elephant seals is like being in your own episode of Animal Planet. Visitors park and walk 5 feet to the top of a fenced bluff, about 10-15 feet above the beach. The seals are right underneath you, barking, keening, grunting, swimming, sleeping, nursing, fighting, mating, giving birth and, in some cases, dying. Pups can literally get crushed by the males, who don't believe in going around any obstacle they can simply roll over. Occasionally, pups get separated from their mothers and starve to death. At birth, each mother imprints her pup with the unique sound of her voice, so the young one can find her in a crowd. Sometimes it works, sometimes, natural selection has its way with a tone-deaf pup. When the female seals give birth, seagulls fight over the placenta. And when a baby seal dies, they swoop down and peck away at their corpses, starting with the eyeballs. While these matters of life and death work themselves out, young males who have not yet acquired the status to have harems of their own slink around the shore. They watch for an alpha male to get distracted so they can sneak up and mate with one of his females. Mothers quetch and poke at each other over who gets to lie on a few square feet of sand. Pups just nurse and look, well, cuter than a baby alligator but considerably less cute than a kitten.

So, from the sublime to the ridiculous, or, depending on your perspective, the ridiculous to the sublime, we move on to San Simeon, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst's folly on top of the world. The Hearst family owned an immense tract of land, which was and still is used for cattle ranching. When William Randolph was a boy, they used to camp at the top of the tallest point on the ranch at a place they referred to as "camp hill". Of course, camp included servants, cots and creature comforts. As an adult, WR longed to crown that mountain with a "modest lodge", but the land was in his mother's name and she refused to let him build on it or fear he'd get, as she put it, "carried away." When she herself was carried away by illness in 1919, William Randolph waited a respectful two weeks after her death before contacting architect Julia Morgan.

Julia Morgan became an architect in a time when women didn't have to worry about glass ceilings –– they couldn't even get into the building. Of course, Julia wanted to DESIGN the building. One of the first co-eds to graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in civil engineering, she became the very first woman to attend the Beaux Arts architectural school in Paris. Despite glowing recommendations from the Berkeley faculty, Beaux Arts rejected her twice. In order to persuade Messieurs les professeurs to let her in, Julia entered every european architectural competition she could, won several of them, and finally wore the grey beards down. Out of a pool of 392 applicants, she came in ranked thirteenth. By then, she was two years shy of the 30-year age limit, and so was unable to complete the four year program. But two years of gilding at a prestigious French school put enough shine on her to launch her career as an architect. By the time WR Hearst hired her to build his palace, she had designed and built public buildings and private homes in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento.

Mr. Hearst's hill has a wide base and gradual incline. Viewed from the beach, it doesn't look so tall. Then, you get on the tour bus and climb up and up and up a perfectly maintained winding road and the panoramic views just keep zooming further and further out. When you finally reach the estate, you realize that there are ten miles of gently sloping prairie with a canyon or two thrown in between you and the silver sea. The location is so stunning, building on it is almost an act of hubris, but build they did.

While Dorothea Lange was photographing starving dust bowl victims and John Steinbeck was writing about exploited sharecroppers, Mr. Hearst kept blithely adding on to his castle, like a kid with a giant tub of legos. Surely he had an inkling that there was a depression going on. Every newspaper in the land was flown in to his private airstrip daily, and he read them all. Perhaps he rationalized that his endless building, demolishing, rebuilding and remodeling was keeping people employed. Poor Julia kept having to revise her blueprints to accomodate a 15th Spanish century ceiling recently ripped from its villa of origin, fit in a half dozen Roman columns bought at auction or add on two incongruous baroque church bell towers to the facade of the main house, aptly named "Casa Grande".

Over time, Hearst built three opulent guest villas, Casa del Sol, Casa del Monte and Casa del Mar. All the homes were furnished with art and antiques of the finest quality - greek and roman statuary, exquisite medieval paintings and sculptures, Persian carpets fit for a pasha, Egyptian deities, islamic tiles, rare books, chinese porcelains. Hearst bought his antiques by the roomful and why not? He had lots of rooms to fill. And he was as extravagant about the grounds as he was about the houses, adding tennis courts, lavish indoor and outdoor pools, a landing strip and even a private zoo. (When we arrived in Cambria, we spotted some descendants of William Randolph's zebras, grazing by the side of the road.)

WR entertained in legendary style, with his long time mistress Marion Davies at his side. (Unless the guest was of the stature of a Winston Churchill or Calvin Coolidge, in which case Mrs. Hearst, who lead a separate life in New York city, flew out to play hostess while Marion Davies kept a low profile back in LA). On any given weekend, the guest list might include legends the likes of Greta Garbo, Charles Lindberg, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Howard Hughes, Irving Thalberg, Harpo Marx or George Bernard Shaw.

All this beau monde was encouraged to have a good time but there were rules. Hollywood types might be pressured for gossip for Mr. Hearst's papers, a subtle way of singing for your supper. There was no room service, and sleeping in was frowned upon. You had to go out and play, while Mr. Hearst stayed indoors and ran his empire. Guests were expected to attend breakfast, lunch and dinner in the main dining room. The food was plentiful and mediocre - Hearst did not know the difference as he covered everything in ketchup. After dinner, every one would retire to the state-of-the-art screening room and watch the latest films from Hearst's and other studios.

Liquor was available even during prohibition, but it was doled out in modest increments. The charming retirees who work as Hearst Castle tour guides depict this relative temperance as though Hearst were some kind of crusader for moderate drinking, but if you do a little digging, you find out that Marion Davies had an affinity for alcohol and Hearst wanted to keep her sober. In any event, at the Hearst table, the wine, as David Niven once quipped, flowed like glue. If you were caught with alcohol in your room, your bags were packed and put out on the front porch. This happened to screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and he was permanently scratched off the guest list. As a result of this humiliation, Mankiewiz nursed a life-long grudge against Hearst and Marion Davies, eventually collaborating with Orson Welles to write Citzen Cane.

So there you have it, the Cambria weekend. Humans and elephant seals, living life as fully and abundantly as their species allows. Glittering soirees on the summit, bestial orgies on the beach.