Journal: 2002

Ferry Plaza Haul

I’m plotting…lunch. I made such a haul on Saturday at the Ferry Plaza even though I confined myself to soft foods owing to a recent dental nightmare.
Yesterday, I breakfasted on fresh anchovies, which I’d never cooked and only rarely even seen. The night before, I consulted Peterson’sFish and ShellfishJoy of Cooking of seafood cookbooks) and Cronin, Harlow, and Johnson’s California Seafood Cookbook, both of which said first choice was to grill them. Oh puhleez. Both grudgingly admitted that they could be floured and sautéed.

Unfortunately, they were “round,” which may be my favorite euphemism. So the pleasure of eating them was preceded by the tedium of cleaning many small disgusting things. However, with practice, I found that if I just ripped the head off, most of the innards were pulled out with it, especially if I pre-slit the belly. I got a skillet hot with a little oil in it, shook the anchovies with flour and salt and pepper, and dumped ’em in. Then just turned them over a couple of times, pitched them out onto a plate, and ate. They were very good. Then I was stuck with this skillet with a little anchovy flavored oil in it, so I sliced up this real tired potato and sautéed it, a treat I haven’t had in ages.

For a breakfast dessert I had strawberries. On Saturday I had happened to glance at some strawberries at a vendor I don’t normally use whose name I can’t remember and thought, “Migod! Those look like they might be Chandlers.” So I asked. They were. And even though I’d already bought a basket of the currently popular mutants from Sr. Yerena, I also bought a basket of the Chandlers. After I had eaten the potatoes, I sampled one. Then I ate the entire box without stopping. I had forgot how good they are. If you don’t know Chandlers, they look more “pointy” because the ratio of length to diameter is greater than the ones more commonly grown now. More importantly, they’re a lot smaller. Watch for them.

For lunch/dinner I had a chowder made with fresh scallops that was mostly scallops, potatoes (the rest of the tired ones), and cream sauce. Oh, that’s such a fine dish.

Tomorrow, continuing to eat in order of imminent spoilage, I will have for brunch a medley of pheasant sausage, avocado, and hothouse Early Girls that are so close to real summer tomatoes that you can hardly tell the difference…especially if you haven’t had a real summer tomato since last fall.
For supper, there will be a dish I concocted last week in the full throes of dental pain: “Petits Pois ®Frito.” Take a bag of what we used to call “English peas” that the Mouas have shelled out for you, cook with onion to the overdone and mushy stage, pour a piping hot cup or two into a bowl containing a handful of Original Fritos. Let set for a moment, and gum it all down. You need none of your dental prostheses for this dish, and yet it’s a rich combination of deliciousness and balanced proteins.

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Another Sign

Last night after dinner at The Anchor, my visiting German friend Chris and I took a slow stroll on Castro up to 17th Street and back to my parking place near The Anchor.

During the trip we encountered four San Francisco police officers, and I couldn’t at first put my finger on what it was, but somehow something was different. It was only when we passed the last of them as he stood talking to a couple of locals that I realized what was so striking. He looked like a high school student to me, and what had struck me earlier was that they all had looked like students.

Then I realized that here was another sign of aging: the cops start looking young.
And it was only after I made this observation to some friends that it struck me that yet another sign of aging is describing a walk up one side of a block and down the other as a “trip.”

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Ferry Plaza Raid

I made a spectacular raid on the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this morning with Chris. Last Tuesday Lou Iacopi had the good taste to thank me again for the blackberry jelly I’d given him a couple of months ago. He did so very elaborately as a joke since I was carrying at that time a flat of berries. So I took him a jar today of the jelly I’d made from that flat: tayberry.

Then I introduced myself to John Lagier at the Lagier booth. I had been buying stuff, mostly berries and their excellent almond butter from him and his nephew for years without knowing who they were. Today, I was trying to pin him down on exactly when he’d have his sour cherries. I want to get a lot of them and pit and freeze them to use in making crisps since one of the best crisps I ever made was with the one batch of sour cherries I got last year. Very few vendors in this area grow them (there was only one other vendor last year) and you have to be alert for them because, like all cherries, every damn cherry on the tree ripens almost simultaneously, so the “season” lasts for only two market appearances. He’s expecting to have them the 15th and the Tuesday following. But he did have his first “Sylvan” blackberries, of which I bought a flat and from which I have just finished making jelly.
Next I stopped at Ella Bella and schmoozed and picked up a flat of their first olallieberries.

Then to Yerena to give him back the containers and box for last Tuesday’s tayberries and to give him the dozen tayberry signs I’d printed up for him on stiff paper. He had put back for me a flat of under-ripe tayberries, which should make just spectacular jelly. Before I left, he gave me a taste of the very first of some mystery berries. Somebody gave him six canes last year but didn’t know what variety/hybrid they were. He planted them, and they are now bearing, but he doesn’t know what they are. He took them to UC Davis and they didn’t know either. All they could say was the obvious, that the berries clearly had both blackberries and raspberries in their family tree. I told him he ought to call them Yerenaberries, but he demurred. He did tell me that he thinks enough will be ripe next week to bring me a flat. Since they’re delicious, I’m just dying to make Yerenaberry jelly. Rich and famous gourmets will queue at my door, begging for a jar. I’ll tell ’em I donated them all to Glide Memorial Church to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless…on Wonder bread.

The sign I made for Yerena reads: “The tayberry is a hybrid developed by the Scottish Crop Research Institute in 1978 by crossing the Oregon ‘Aurora’ blackberry and an unnamed, “improved tetraploid raspberry hybrid” developed by the Scottish Horticultural Research Institute. It is named after the River Tay and in addition to its superb taste, has the desirable quality of making really excellent jelly. At least one amateur jelly maker has had repeated success using the recipe titled ‘Waterless Grape or Berry Jelly’ in Joy of Cooking which, especially if slightly under-ripe fruit is available, somehow miraculously jells without the addition of pectin. This results in an especially flavorful jelly because it contains nothing but berries and sugar.”

Next, around to Michael Recchiuti to compliment him on his spectacular new website. God, is it ever beautiful…and slick…and well written…and witty. Things are even spelled right and every accent is there and aimed the right direction. Impressive. Just like his chocolates and spectacular ice creams, especially the burnt caramel. Check it out:

And then back to the car so that my bearer (Chris) could drop off the three flats of berries and bag of Brandywines he was carrying for me (so I’d have both hands free to take notes:-)

And then a second round, stopping to say hello to Jeff, the succulent vendor from whom I’ve got almost all my Haworthias. During the visit with Jeff, Chris spots Sybil before I do. I’d apparently described her fairly well, as he’d never seen her. I give her a copy of the sign I made for Yerena’s tayberries, as she wants to put it on her excellent market update site. [Note: Alas, CUESA has decided that it no longer wanted to provide this excellent service. Pity.]
Then we all head for Fitzgerald’s for peaches (Sybil) and nectarines (me). In all my praise of Fitzgerald’s wit and charm, I have neglected his able assistant, Liz Crane’s. He may be more verbal, but she is certainly just as charming, and I don’t say this just because she took my side against Sybil and agreed that in breeding all those white peaches and nectarines for sweetness, somebody forgot to keep the flavor. So she and I agree that if you want your wonderfully flavorful yellow peaches and nectarines a little sweeter, you can just add a little sugar. Actually, at three cents per ounce, you could go ahead and add alot of sugar.  Nice to take care of that question for good.

Next stop, Frog Hollow for a little snack after all that socializing: frangipane/cherry galettes, just obscenely good. While still eating the galette, I spot a vendor with the first Queen Anne cherries, so I gradually edge closer and play After You, My Dear Alphonse with a lady also going for a bag. Turns out we’re both after the Queen Annes and had an excellent cherry rap as we worked the bin from both sides. I am continually getting into spontaneous discussions with folks at the market, and people are constantly asking me questions. Apparently I radiate some sort of brazen fruit confidence.
Then around to the other row of the market to see if I can find whoever it was besides Lagier that had those sour cherries last year. No luck, but in the progress, I get to know Lee James at Tierra. I’d bought her amazing Chipotle Chile Jam and given it as gifts, and I’d had her fresh chiles, but I’d not bought any of her dried chiles. So I got some jalapeño chipotles with the idea of using one of those recipes for chipotle chile oil that I found on the Internet while I was looking for sources from which to buy the stuff.

Then across the aisle to Hidden Star, where I bought some of Mijnheer Smit’s Bings while he dished the Frisians. To the obstinacy he has added a charge of stinginess. Chris just loved this, as the Frisians have been the butt of German jokes at least since I was there in the sixties. Actually, knowing how those Europeans squabble with each other, this has probably been going on for at least 500 years.

End of the line, the Hamadas, for some of their Brooks cherries. And then, back here to make jelly while taking breaks to watch the French Open. At this point, the second batch, with the Ella Bella olallieberries, is about ready to jar, and I’m so tired I can barely sit here to type. Clearly those spectacular tayberries from Yerena are going to have to just rest in the refrigerator overnight.

A comment on my jellies: Friends have asked why I don’t strain them through cheesecloth to get out those few immature seeds that get through my sieve. I like to leave a few seeds so folks will know I didn’t use a mix.

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The Lab Rat

After a ten-year lapse, the San Francisco Public Health Department called me at the beginning of the month. It seems they had again gotten funding to continue studying the Hepatitis-B Cohort, of which I am a member, and they wanted me to drop by for a visit. I of course agreed, as I have a long history as a lab rat.

It all started one day in the spring of 1978 when I was at the VD clinic checking into a public health issue. While waiting, I noticed a poster soliciting volunteers for a study testing a vaccine being developed for Hepatitis-B, which was then rampant in the kind of person who tended to visit the VD clinic. So I volunteered, and they took my blood and a sexual history and said they’d be contacting me. Some weeks later, they got back to me and told me that I had had Hepatitis-B at some point in my life without knowing about it. (Apparently this is not all that unusual.) They also said that I was now immune to the disease but not a carrier, so they needed no further participation from me. Then they went ahead and developed the vaccine without me.

By 1984 the AIDS epidemic was nearing full blast in San Francisco, and my friends and acquaintances were being picked off by an invisible sniper. You wouldn’t see them for a while and then you’d be at the grocery store and there would be this gaunt creature covered with Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions who knew you. Or maybe worse yet, you wouldn’t see them for a while and you’d call up and get this unfamiliar voice saying, “Oh, he died in July. You didn’t know?”

But in 1984 a brilliant man at the Public Health clinic made a quantum leap and realized that they still had frozen blood samples from those 6000 members of the Hepatitis-B cohort, and we were the kind of guys who would make an ideal study group in the attempt to understand AIDS. They were able to find living over a thousand of us. So they took our blood and told us we’d have the opportunity to learn whether we were seropositive for the HIV virus. Like many of the cohort, I decided that I’d prefer to continue to act as if I were positive while still clinging to hope that I was negative. After all, in 1984 the medical treatment of AIDS was entirely palliative.

The situation changed, though, in February of 1987 when Allen woke up one morning terribly ill and a bit crazy.  When i got him to the hospital, the diagnosis was Pneumocystis pneumonia plus toxoplasmosis affecting the brain. I checked immediately to determine my HIV status and when I discovered that my blood from 1984 had been positive, I rushed out and bought a pack of cigarettes, since it was clear that I’d be dead of AIDS in a couple of years or so. Allen died six months later, and for the next year I went into a frenzy of activity to keep myself sane (OK, from getting crazier). One of these activities was responding to Dr. Marcus Conant’s call for study group volunteers.

I landed in the thymopentin study. Thymopentin is a naturally occurring hormone that functions as an immunomodulator. Dr. Conant hoped that by injecting themselves with an artificially produced version of this hormone, HIV+ persons could slow the progression of the disease. But how much of the drug and how often? I was initially in the 1cc. per week group on, as it turned out, the placebo, but after a time there was some weak statistical evidence that three times a week on the actual drug might be doing some good. So for several years there I gave myself a subcutaneous injection of thymopentin three times a week. (You try giving yourself a subcue when your body fat percentage is approaching zero! Real narrow target.) In about 1992, they determined that these injections were totally harmless, but also totally useless, and the study was ended.

They transferred me into Dr. Conant’s plasma study. The idea behind this study was that HIV+ persons with good numbers (in those days before viral load could be measured, this meant mainly high T-cell counts) could spare some plasma periodically and that this plasma, just loaded with anti-HIV factors known and unknown, could be of great benefit to persons with outright AIDS, perhaps prolonging their lives.

What they didn’t tell me before I agreed to join the study was how the plasma was collected. The best thing I can say about this is that the machine was fascinating in its operation and that the built-in couch was fairly comfortable.

On the downside was the Needle, down the barrel of which you could look as you wondered whether there was a vein in your entire body that the damn thing could fit into. The tekkie managed to get it into a vein on the second try, and then I discovered the other downside. This was not like a quick blood draw. Rather, the machine first let the blood flow out of your arm through an elaborate tangle of clear plastic tubing into a holding vessel. When the vessel was full, the plasma was centrifuged out into a plastic bag rather like a typical IV bag. Then the leftover red blood cells in the holding vessel were pumped back into your body, and the cycle was repeated until the plasma bag was full. This took what seemed like hours but was usually something like forty-five minutes…at best a very uncomfortable forty-five minutes. I quickly grew to dread my scheduled visits, and several times my dread was reinforced by their missing the vein or by the needle requiring adjustments at points during the process.

But I persevered, partly out of just not wanting to be a quitter, but also because before he died Allen had turned to me one day and said, “If they ever offer you a blood transfusion, take it!” He said that it made him feel so good that he almost felt normal…for a while, anyhow. So I knew that my plasma at the very least would make the recipient temporarily feel good. It was also clear that receiving a bag full of plasma would be much less traumatic than giving one.
Then one day while I was squirming there on the extraction couch feeling sorry for myself, an Emaciated Wretch, obviously one of the recipients, walked in to talk with the tekkie. He stood there, right beside me, chatting away while taking little quick glances at my blood running through the clear tubing, splashing into the extraction chamber for centrifuging, and the clear plasma pouring into the holding bag. A sense swept me that something was different. Something was somehow wrong with his body language.

And then I realized that although for several years a lot of people, men and women, had been drawing my blood for various AIDS tests in the most professional manner, courteous and steady of hand and using the latest safety measures against accidental sticks, here for once was someone who wasn’t the least bit afraid of it.

On the contrary. He wasn’t exactly licking his lips, but it was clear that he would have been quite happy for the plasma to have been run right straight into his arm, while it was still hot and fresh.

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This has been an eventful day: a raid on the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where in addition to spectacular nectarines, cherries, dead-ripe Brandywines, some fine chèvre, and other delicious items, I picked up a really lovely arrangement of five different species of Lithopsmooning me from an oval pot, one of which is thrusting forth something I’m hoping will be a blossom; the posting of improved text and new pics taken by Al for the “Italian Butter Beans” and “The Pie” recipes; and the acquisition of a bluish-gray Toyota Prius. It was either that or that new Cadillac pickup truck, which I just noticed that they’re marketing as an SUT (sic). That thing sure does fire my imagination, but I couldn’t write a check for it like I could the Prius and would have been too embarrassed to go crawling to USAA for money so soon.

Note: I’m afraid to assume that everyone understands that I’m being ironic in that last sentence. Yes, I did put almost everything into a trust for Becky; but no, I find that SUT disgusting on several levels simultaneously.

And now, some vehicular observations:

After an evening curled up with the owner’s manual, it occurred to me that this fourth vehicle I’ve ever bought is the first vehicle I’ve had that would just as soon electrocute me on the spot were I so foolish as to 1) open the hood and 2) actually touch anything inside there. I am hoping, though, to risk number 1 above to see whether I’ll be able to distinguish the engine from the motor. I mean, the last time I looked under a hood, cars had carburetors.

And speaking of electricity, it is so much fun to roll downhill and watch the little readout to see how much electricity I’m generating although I can easily see that since this is far more entertaining than television, it presents an obvious hazard to persons and objects in my path.

I also found myself sitting there at a red light and so enraptured, marveling at the engine’s cleverness in turning itself off since it was not being used, that I failed to press the accelerator when the light turned green, presenting an obvious hazard to myself from the vehicles in whose path I sat.

This morning, I took a quick look to see whether my new car was still sitting at the curb, since I did not know whether I had accidentally set the theft-prevention system when I parked the car yesterday afternoon. Of course, I’m being an alarmist, but I’m also concerned whether the vehicle will start today, as, according to the owner’s manual there are abundant opportunities to run down the BATTERY (as opposed to that wimpy little 12 volt lowercase battery still found in so many vehicles) by leaving various switches and stuff in the wrong position.

Finally, seeking guilt, I just realized that I can rightly be accused of conspicuous non-consumption. And that if I wish to remain alive very long at all, I must make absolutely certain that when, generating electricity with my motor, I glide smoothly to a stop at a red light beside a gigantic, throbbing Escalade and my cute little engine primly shuts itself off for the duration of the stop, I must make every effort to arrange my features into an expression of admiration tinged with envy if I even glance at the obscenity at my side. And most particularly, I must never ever allow my gaze to linger, however briefly, on its enormous exhaust pipe.

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Under the Hood

Well, I did it.

I finally got to the part in the owner’s manual about opening the hood, so I followed the simple instructions and immediately found myself standing there holding the hood up by hand while searching for the little prop.

Actually, the first thing I noticed during this search was that this was certainly by far the fullest engine compartment I’ve ever seen. Not a cubic inch wasted. The second thing I noticed was that at least half of the objects in there had Don’t Touch Me Here signs ranging from the mildly alarming to the seriously frightening.

This will perhaps explain my reluctance to go tugging around on likely-looking things in hopes of finding something that I could use to prop the hood open. It was only when I was about to give up that I finally saw that instead of positioning the hood prop at the edge of the engine compartment where God and Soichiro Honda intended, Toyota had cleverly hidden it on underside of the hood itself.

With the hood finally propped open, I was free to perform a leisurely examination. In the left part of the compartment is a large object that I would guess to be the engine, basing this supposition upon seeing what looks very much like a dipstick ring at one edge of it, not that I wasabout to stick my finger in it until I have got some industrial-thickness rubber gloves to guard against electrocution.

I had expected the motor to look something like a giant alternator or like the generators that were found in cars back when the hoods were held open by springs on the hinges. Nothing there looks at all like this, but since I could see only the top layer of stuff, there was still plenty of room underneath for the motor. At any rate, I apparently don’t have to worry my little head about the motor and can close the hood on this chapter for now.

But since the manual has made it clear that I am expected to check the oil level at every fill-up, I’ll need to buy the rubber gloves and confirm that that thing really is the dipstick before I need gas in a few weeks.

Actually, that event may occur sooner, as I’ll be driving a couple hundred miles north weekend after next and will probably not be able to resist going ahead and topping the tank off while I’m out of town since gas is so much cheaper elsewhere.

And finally, on a somewhat related issue, I drove the car this afternoon for the first time since parking it Saturday afternoon, and I can share with you two observations. First, while I was test driving the car on Saturday I noticed that the acceleration was a little wimpy but realized that at this point in my life I am probably better off without quite so much acceleration. What struck me today was that the Prius is so quiet that you don’t realize how fast you’re being moved. The engine is quite small and has excellent sonic isolation…and motors are nearly soundless to begin with. This is especially striking if you’ve been driving a Saturn, which are notoriously noisy.

My second observation this afternoon was that driving habits in The City have deteriorated enormously in the past couple of days. The streets are now full of folks zooming around in the most reckless and aggressive manner, endangering the vehicles of others. I shall have to write a strong letter to the Chronicle.

Of course, while I’m writing letters, I’ll have to dash one off to Toyota pointing out that since they do not make this vehicle with manual windows, the very least they could do to compensate for this egregious waste of power is to provide a bicycle pedal arrangement in the floor in front of the passengers’ seats so they could make themselves useful by generating some electricity.

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Mea culpa

Oh, the shame, the shame of it all. Mea culpa and all that.

I used the air conditioner.

Look. I was getting all sweaty and sticky with fruit juices at the Justin Herman Plaza Farmers Market and tried to get some sympathy about the scorching weather from the folks at the Frog Hollow booth since it was 84 degrees out there today. Alas, they came right back at me that they were real happy to be in San Francisco because it was supposed to be hitting 110 in Brentwood today.

Rebuffed, I slunk back toward the car, noticing en route that the sidewalks were covered with the fallen from heat exhaustion, either that or the hot weather had caused a new spate of evictions and it was just more basking homeless.

Having been closed up in the sun, the car was just roasting. So yes, I turned the AC on for the first part of the return home. Not the MAX-AC, which the manual warns is an awful energy gobbler, but just to the Regular. I must say, it was quite nice in there almost immediately. So nice, in fact, that even though the most casual glance at the readouts revealed that I was sure not generating much energy, I left it on for the entire trip home.

Oh, and I can now report the first mechanical problem: I have been driving for three days now and the fuel gauge has not budged. Then again, I may be misinterpreting this since the window sticker did list as one of the features, “Full tank of gas.”

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The Hummingbird

One of my most well-behaved plants enjoys a place of honor on the balconette. It’s a Gasteria acinacifolia with a six foot inflorescence that has two to three-foot branches growing off the central stalk. Hanging straight down off the branches are dozens of tubular one-inch blossoms in red shading to cream shading to green at the open tip. Sort of like Italian flags hung vertically with the red on top.

This afternoon I was standing innocently in the doorway to the balconette admiring the garden view when a pair of hummingbirds were simultaneously attracted by the Gasteria blossoms and swooped down upon it. The larger bird immediately assessed the situation and, determining that there was clearly not enough to share, chased the other away.

Then, at his leisure, he commenced to dine while I stood there three feet away, transfixed. He was brown, with a bit of greenish iridescence at the throat, and as the branches swayed in the breeze, he hovered beneath the open blossoms, thrusting his bill vigorously up into them as he simultaneously compensated for the movement of the branch. I wish I could do that.

Having finished dining, he alit on one of the branches two feet from my face and daintily cleaned his bill by rubbing all sides of it on the branch. That done, he rather less daintily used his bill to root away in his nether portions. And finally, he held onto the branch with one foot, fluffed himself up, and, with no daintiness at all, used the other foot to scratch himself enthusiastically everywhere he hadn’t reached with his bill.

Toilette complete, he shot a dirty look at me for having ogled him so during what should have been a more private moment and was about to leave when he noticed that he had not fed at the branch closest to my face, literally a foot from my eyes. So one by one, he visited every blossom while I stood there holding my breath lest he find it offensive.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so in tune with one of Nature’s creatures, and I considered inviting him in for dinner, but realized, just before he flew away, that there wouldn’t be any white meat on him.

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I had a delightful afternoon yesterday. About three I got a call from a former colleague with whom I’ve got closer and closer. Sue had taken a medical leave from work (carpal tunnel) and is now facing her return even though her recovery has been only marginal. She lives only three blocks from me, but we somehow never got around to getting together during her leave until its approaching end spurred her call.

Her timing was excellent, as I was feeling OK and had nothing planned. So she walked over and we drove down to the Zuni, catching it at its ebb, which is the only time you can get in nowadays without a reservation. It was just as wonderful as ever. We got a tiny table in the little nibbling corner by the main door. Had bloody marys and split orders of their wonderful shoestring potatoes and Caesar salad and talked until the place got jammed with pre-opera/symphony/ballet diners.

In addition to careers as software whores, what we share is long-term chronic illness, in her case diabetes, in both cases complicated now with increasing age although mine is much greater than hers. The other difference is that I’m worn down from fighting only fifteen years, whileshe has been dealing with it since she was a child. I’m such a wimp.

We also share a great love of The City and its food scene. We moved here only two years apart in the mid-seventies, so we were able to sit there recalling the opening of the Zuni, now a national landmark, twenty-two years ago in a tiny sliver of its current space. We also compared notes on a host of other places, now mostly long departed.

Enormous fun.

Now I’m about to make a New World version of the Gorgonzola-Marscapone Torte to take as a dessert over to Marin County for dinner with Bob, my Great Failed Love and now dear friend. When he called me this morning, he let me know that his lover would also be present, a point which had not come up in previous discussions of the dinner.

When I asked what I could bring, he waffled and then admitted that he had not planned a dessert and that while one would not be at all necessary, it would be the thing to bring. I am trying not to admit to myself that my choice of dessert is perhaps ever so slightly influenced by the fact that, unlike Bob, the lover is, besides a number of other undesirable characteristics, a finicky eater.

Surely, I say to myself, he’ll like a torte made of Roquefort, Marscapone, and Pecans. And if not, well……….

could stop by Just Desserts on the way, but I’m enjoying too much the idea of taking a dish I’ve painstakingly crafted myself.

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In my spare time recently, I’ve been hosting Jane, one of my favorite first cousins once removed, who was here from Texas on her first visit and whose culinary horizons I pushed well beyond chicken fried steak in establishments like Ton Kiang. The only downside of her visit was our discovery that two of my houseplants are older than she is. Sigh.

During a break from eating with Jane last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to test-drive a Segway. It was an exhilarating experience. So much so that when I got home the Muse did not come fluttering down, alight on my shoulder, and start whispering gentle suggestions in my ear as she typically does during her infrequent visits.

Rather, she swooped down, sank her talons into my chest, looked me in the eye, barked, “Take a letter!” and started dictating.

But why, you wonder, was I given the chance to ride a Segway?

Because the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was holding a public hearing on the question of whether Segways should be banned from San Francisco sidewalks. And because, living in a flat not wheelchair accessible and on a hill too steep for a wheelchair, I had some time back realized that a Segway would be the perfect mobility device for me as my ability to walk declines, so I had registered on the Segway website.

Last week Segway sent an email to registrants in the Bay Area telling us about the hearing and soliciting our support. I emailed them back and said I’d try to make it, mentioning that my interest in a Segway was sparked by disability.

I was immediately contacted by a San Francisco representative because of course they really wanted disabled seniors to limp up to the podium and testify, thawing the cold hearts of the supervisors. The representative casually mentioned that there would be an opportunity for me to test a Segway before the hearing if I were interested. Well of course I was.

It was a glorious experience. I lifted the Segway out of the rep’s trunk (they weigh only 80 pounds), untelescoped the handle, put in the key, and stepped onto it while she held it steady. It took me about ten seconds to give up control to the thing and let it take care of balancing me. Actually, since it’s making hundreds of balancing corrections per second, you don’t really have much choice other than to let it have its way. And after that weird little introductory moment, it’s totally intuitive and easy to use.

My test ride consisted of following the rep up the ramp, along the porch, into the building, over to the elevator, into the elevator, out at the second floor, down the hall, and into her office…all without dismounting.

So I was really sold, which of course was the point in letting me try one, to enhance my eloquence at the hearing, which was Thursday afternoon at City Hall and was just astonishing, in a horrifying kind of way.  As i listened to Supervisor Chris Daly spew his nonsense about “that contraption”, I understood more fully how Billy Budd felt during Claggart’s testimony. Fortunately, I regained my ability to speak in time to testify although I admit that I did want to throttle Daly.

Alas, the supervisors voted to ban the Segway from the sidewalks anyhow, so my testimony was all for naught. Even so, I have one on order, but delivery is some months out, postponing for now the horrendous cost of the thing.

I never dreamed that frittering away Becky’s inheritance would be so much fun.

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