Journal: 2005

Started and Finished

Not gonna overdo this, but I want to start the year with a pic of some Market Street wires:

market st. wires

I finished the best year I have had in a long time by going next door to Jeff&Stephen’s for a New Year’s Eve party that was great fun. Relating to several people on entirely different planes was a hoot – a foodie here, a poet there…that kind of thing. And I got to please many of ’em with the chile con carne that I’d made out of leftover pork roast. I got a second chance with those who weren’t chili fans with my new invention, the mascarpone/gorgonzola tortelet.

No, not torte, not tartlet, but tortelet.  And thanks to my cousin Jania’s years in Italy, she helped me with a name for them: “Tortini Luigi.”  Here’s the recipe.  OK, they’re not real dainty since you need to get enough cheese in there to balance two walnut halves, but it sure does make a nice flavor explosion as you chew. And yes, they’re tedious to make, but they’re so rich, you don’t need all that many of them.

Both dishes were really quite popular, and I didn’t tell anybody that the chili was made three days ago out of leftover Christmas pork roast. Look, you cook any meat for hours with tons of chile powder and nobody knows what animal it came off of, much less when, or whether it might have once graced a Christmas table.

I started this year out right this morning by going to the gym and then coming home and making a batch of kiwi jam, my second pass at kiwi jam. Not too bad although I’m not sure kiwi is ever going to be one of my favorite jams….at least not my kiwi jam.

While making the jam I finished a wonderful series of taped lectures on the English language by a Stanford Professor named Seth Lerer. I had been listening to these tapes (18 of ’em) for a couple of years during mindless tasks like stuffing beans in jars and cutting up stuff for jams and chutneys. Actually, the jam was finished before the last side of the tape and for once I just sat there in the kitchen enjoying the tape without “getting anything accomplished.”

Those tapes brought me great joy, and at one point last summer I was moved to tears by his gorgeous discussion of the Great Vowel Shift, an experience I doubt many folks have shared.

So radiating gratitude to my friend Susan who had lent them to me, I went to package the tapes up for the return journey. Since I couldn’t find a box of the correct size, I was forced to search my shelves for a book to fill in. (See, the filler had to be a book or tape so that the package would qualify for the educational materials rate.)

I settled on Susan Solomon’s The Coldest March not because I knew in my heart that my Susan was just dying to read a meticulously researched study of Antarctic weather patterns over the past few centuries that Ms Solomon uses, in conjunction with a scrupulously detailed inventory and a close examination of the procedures of Scott’s failed expedition, to make a very strong case that Scott was not the infamous bungler who – because of his ignorance, rashness, and obstinacy – cost the lives of himself and all his men while failing to beat Amundsen to the pole, but rather the victim of freak weather conditions never previously experienced and thus not unreasonably unanticipated.

No, it was not chosen for that reason. No, indeed.

Rather, I selected it because Ms. Solomon is one of a group of modern women writers including the incomparable Caroline Alexander who write in fields in which women only very recently endeavored… and they do so divinely. The book is both well written and wonderfully entertaining.

It was also the right size.

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OK, I do occasionally fail guyness tests – being, as some wit recently said, a little light in the loafers – but one thing for sure, when my new Griot’s Garage catalog is delivered, I’m sitting there in a puddle of my own saliva when I’ve finished thumbing through its glossy pages. With the exception of the eight pages of cleaning and waxing and polishing equipment and supplies, I want one each of many of the items.

I mean, is there a male whose heart doesn’t leap in his breast at the heading?


And then there’s the copy:

“Manufacturers are using more and more unique fasteners to keep us out of their stuff.”

Insufficiently goaded? Read on:

“Even if I can’t fix the part, at least I can poke around and identify the problem so some technician doesn’t try to pull the wool over my eyes.”

Do you want the wool pulled over your eyes?

I can’t hear you!

We don’t need the whole paragraph of features including the three bit insertion locations to give us a multitude of grip options for the driver, do we? That’s overkill. We’re already sold.

Reminds me of that wonderful Dave Barry guyness test from ten years ago about how the aliens land and they give you this little machine that is an infinite source of absolutely pollution-free power. What do you do?

A. Take it to the President of the United Nations.
B. Take it to the President of the United States.
C. Take it apart.

Speaking of guys, here’s one of my favorite cuties, Haworthia maughanii x H. mantelli. This dude has got it all – the flattop, the beard, and the translucence:

Haworthia maughanii x H. mantelli

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It started raining today around noon, and I just have a sense that this is going to be one of our multi-day winter sprinkles during which it never rains all that hard but it doesn’t exactly ever stop for more than a few minutes, either.

I’d gone out on the Segway and got caught in it. And then since I was caught, got stubbornly into this not-going-to-let-a-little-rain-stop-me mode, and persisted in my errands.

But then I found myself over on Van Ness along about Eddy or so and getting seriously soaked. So OK, I think, I’ll just go back to the Castro the quickest way for my last couple of errands… well, the quickest way short of running back down Van Ness to Market.

Van Ness is downright Segway-hostile. In the first place, it’s populated by vehicles driven by folks who really don’t want to be on Van Ness and are concerned primarily with making their stay on it quick and dirty. And since there’s no way a stay on Van Ness is going to be quick, dirty is all that’s left. Quarter is alien to them.

To make it worse, much worse, the paving on Van Ness is full of irregularities quite sufficient to down a Segway, a calamity that would guarantee being run over by at least one vehicle….unless I were lucky enough to have the 42 Van Ness in my wake. See, trolley buses and streetcars sense that all of us electric vehicles must stick together against the snarling mob of smog-spewing beasts, and so we treat each other with elaborate courtesy…which is an enormous pleasure to get from a trolley bus. After you, my dear Alphonse.

So anyhow, I cut over to Gough, which sounds kinda counter-intuitive at first, I realize, but actually, the parking lane there is so wide that there is enough space left between the stripe and the parked cars to work very well as a “bicycle lane” even though it is not thus designated. And then as I cross Hayes I realize that this would sure be an excellent time to hook onto little Linden alley and check out the new outlet just opened by Blue Bottle – that splendid, over-the-top coffee stall at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market – perhaps even taking shelter while sipping a warming, aromatic cup.

So I do. And get to be entertained as I sip by some really cold and unloving guy talk between the counterman and the customer who comes up immediately after me, an acquaintance who had dumped his girlfriend the night before … Valentine’s Eve.

I pity the women who fall into these men’s clutches, not that they were monstrously evil or anything but that they were just so utterly devoid of any flicker of kindness, compassion, or generosity because they are both very young, very handsome, very buffed, very articulate, and in general very moth-to-the-flame attractive; so at this point in their lives they can just use one woman after another and discard them like tissues.

And I’m not being soft-headed just because it’s Valentine’s Day. I think the problem is that I spent the past two days in the company of good women, and this has made me more sensitive. Hmmm. Maybe I should stay away from women for a few days to build back some callouses.

Not encouraged to linger over the coffee, I sip it as fast as I can and saddle up, so bummed out that I decide to just go straight home. Besides, it’s raining even harder, and not just in my heart. The inbound lane of Octavia is now open to Linden, so I cut down it for the short block to Fell, dodging the oncoming cars by darting between parked vehicles, and then I get over onto the two-lane outbound part of Octavia all the way to Market. It really is pleasant to ride on because it’s smooth as glass and also has almost no traffic since it runs only four blocks and hasn’t been Discovered as a shortcut.

I get behind the J Church as I’m going up my last block of Market to Noe and am tracked by a man and his little boy in the back seat. I entertain the kid by swinging wide right around the back end of the streetcar so it runs interference for me against a cowering SUV as we turn left. Twenty tons of streetcar performs this role splendidly.

Straight up Noe home.

Oh, and just to brighten things up, here’s a couple of pics taken after the sun came out. Yes, spring has sprung. Here’s R. officinalis:


and A. nobilis:


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About a year ago I went onto some new meds that had the fringe benefit of clearing my head up and making it possible for me to gradually rejoin society. Quite a benefit, actually. Alas, nothing is free and there was a downside, a serious one, to one of the new meds.

Sustiva is known for provoking dreams, at least partly because, unlike the great majority of meds, it goes right through the blood/brain barrier. Most folks taking Sustiva report that their dreams are at very least “brightened up” a bit, not necessarily in a positive way. For many, including me, the dreams are usually nightmares and are incredibly persistent.

Normally, if I’m having a dream that gets so bad that it wakes me up, I can get up and go pee and then crawl back into bed and sleep, if not dreamlessly, at least with a different dream. On Sustiva, what routinely happened is that I remained fixated on that specific dream, and after I awakened and then went back to sleep, it took up where it left off. This occurred almost every night.

And they were horrible dreams. For example, one dream that I still remember clearly featured a creature about the size of a horned toad but a voracious flesh-eater, sort of a land piranha. An infestation of them was spreading over the planet and we survivors were being backed into the corners of our continents by the damn things and devoured alive.

Their mode of operation was to hide under objects, a rock or a shoe or anything on the floor…they could squeeze through thin openings like a cockroach…and then swarm all over their prey, which was any other animal but most particularly humans. You’d think you’d got away from them, and then you’d kick over a shoe or something and there one would be and you knew that others could not be far behind.

You could stomp a few of them, but they would eventually become so numerous that they’d get you when you became exhausted from lack of sleep. We called them “snakes.”

Somewhere along in this dream I woke up shuddering and went to pee and realized, wait, “snake” is already used in English to mean a different creature, so I’ll call them “skakes.”

I kid you not. I was half-asleep but still half in the grips of this dream, enough so that I consciously realized that I needed a different word than “snake” and made up a new word by simply changing one letter.  It was sufficiently logical at the time.

And then I went back to bed and for some hours continued semi-waking dream battles with the damn skakes until the next day, when I dragged myself out of bed still exhausted. After too many nights like that, I gave up and went on different meds.

Flash forward one year, when I discovered that by going back to Sustiva I could save a thousand dollars a month – at Canadian prices, yet. For a cool K a month, I’ll give it another whirl.

And this time, I’m going into it with my eyes open. It has occurred to me that I can use Sustiva’s blurring of the line between dream and reality to my advantage, that it might very well be possible when I awaken from a nightmare, to take conscious control of the dream and steer it in a more pleasant direction.

Take control of your dreams

New! Improved Sustiva with Dreamplanner

Also helps fight pesky AIDS while you dream

Coming soon: DreamplannerII, with greater resolution, brighter colors, more details, larger cast of characters, and more complex plots.

Well, folks, it worked. I am the captain of my fate, and the master of at least my dreams.

Sort of.

Last night I’m lying there and my mind is running while I’m waiting to drift off and suddenly I realize that this is not thinking, I have segued into a dream. And then I actually changed the plot for the better! It wasn’t a total nightmare, and I don’t recall it as well as the nightmares, but it involved my father getting on my case, and I changed it. Didn’t actually extract any praise out of ‘im, this is not a miracle drug, but still…..

And then, at some point before I was clearly thinking this morning, the concept floated that there might be DreamplannerIII with, ahem, adult themes. Oh my, can dream-time come too soon tonight?

Tonight’s proposed feature: In Rod Laver Arena, before a howling crowd of 30,000 Australians, Marat Safin grabs Lleyton Hewitt and spanks some sportsmanship into him. While Lleyton squeals his trademark, “Come on!”

[Background: Hewitt is disliked by many players and fans because of his on-court behavior. Actually, Esquire recently had a feature article about the ten professional athletes most hated by their peers, and Lleyton made the cut.]

Alas, the screen was dark and the planned performance didn’t happen. I picture (although I didn’t dream it) 30,000 gravely disappointed Aussies shuffling out of the stadium in sullen silence. Apparently, DreamweaverIII has some bugs in it.

I suppose I can just leave Lleyton to heaven.  Or hang him up outside the gym window:

Market St. Gym

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I went temporarily insane at the market this morning. The only reason I even went, really, was just to get a few of this really astonishing variety of nectarine that’s ripe now and to have coffee with Sybil.

See, I’m going to an all afternoon party tomorrow after spending all morning watching what I expect to be Andy’s gallant but ultimately futile struggle against that Swiss android tennis machine in the Wimbledon finals. And then on Tuesday I’m doing a little tour-guide-dining-companion thing for some visiting Germans who I’ll be giving a ride up to Saratoga Springs on Thursday morning since they are also going to my summer camp.

Oh, and I have a refrigerator full of stuff that needs to be eaten in order of imminent spoilage.

So what did I do?

Well, I went straight for the nectarines and somehow lost track as I kept shoveling more and more into my bag, and then as I was headed down to where I was meeting Sybil I couldn’t help stopping to say hello to one of my fave vendors, and he proudly pointed out his first greengage plums. They’re the best plum in the universe, many people think, but they’re not grown much because they’re notoriously capricious producers.

So I had no choice but to get a bagful since I’ll miss next week and will have only one other possible day to get them this year. And then the Luceros spotted me and raved about how much they loved my apricot-jalapeño chutney, so common decency forced me to buy a three-pack of their strawberries and a handful of green zebras.

And I’d foolishly planned to meet Sybil at McGinnis, so to make it look natural I had to get a couple of quarts of their strawberries even though I had prudently hidden inside a cloth bag the ones from Lucero.

So I stopped at Safeway on the way home and picked up four cartons of jars, and I’ve just finished the second batch of strawberry jam and packing three jars of sugar snaps to pickle. Now I’m taking a little break before brewing the pickling solution and processing the snaps.

Next I’ll make jam out of the greengages since I made chutney out of them last year and want to try jam.

The apricots I’ll turn into another batch of apricot-jalapeño chutney since that one’s getting good reviews, and the nectarines I’ll mix with some old sour cherries for a jam, but all of that may have to wait until tomorrow.

Oh, and speaking of Andy, a note from Bruce Jenkins in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle: “Andy Roddick, when told that Maria Sharapova and Andrew Murray got marriage proposals from complete strangers during the tournament: ‘I don’t know if my fans think that long term.'”

Ummm, yes. Reminds me of Dan Savage’s response to the query as to how he’d want to spend the time if he learned that he had only 24 hours to live: “Locked in the trunk of a very small car with Andy Roddick.”

Today, how ’bout a pic of my Sansevieria trifasciata perfuming the room:


Sansevieria trifasciata

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Afternoon Heliograph

I’m sitting in my office, too tired to get up and do something productive like sort that growing stack of papers in the kitchen, and I’m idly looking out my narrow window at the beauty of the houses rising up the hill. The top of the hill is obscured by a thin layer of incoming fog, but since the fog’s not thick, one flat side of the cap of a tall smokestack on a roof a few blocks away is periodically catching the sun as the stack flexes in the wind.

It signals me in a code I don’t understand.

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Easy Cheesy Crunchies

A new recipe from the Downstairs kitchen.

Take slices of fresh bread, top them with thin strips of Gouda or other good cheese, and lay them on the bottom rack of your oven. Turn the oven on to the maximum temperature, and set a timer for ten minutes.

When the timer rings, turn the oven off, remove a slice of bread, and close the door. The slice will be lightly toasted on the bottom and the cheese will be perfectly melted. Eat it as a breakfast treat with your coffee.

Do not open the oven door for 24 hours.

The next morning, retrieve the other slice, which will have been transformed into an Easy Cheesy Crunchy. The bread and the cheese will both be a rich, caramelized brown and just wonderfully crunchy. Snap the slices into irregular serving pieces, and nibble at them till they’re gone.

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This is not to suggest that during his thankfully brief lifetime Uday Hussein was not the most evil creature on the planet, but still, after seeing Marat Safin allow Bobby Ginepri to crush him in less than an hour in Cincinnati this morning, I can understand Uday’s mindset when, after the Iraqi national soccer team incurred a humiliating loss that tarnished the national honor, he was waiting for them at the airport upon their return and had the entire team bastinadoed.

Back in San Francisco, it’s Death by Wire:

connected apartments

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In the fifties and sixties, the French answer to the Volkswagen was the Citroen 2CV, the “deux chevaux”, known in the Netherlands as the lelijke eend – the “ugly duckling.” It was a tiny little piece of tin that could not be imported into the US because it presented such a patent danger to its driver and passengers, but yet its occupants enjoyed half the fatality rate of those in the largest, heaviest BMW.

Why? For the same reason that the contemporary American list of safest vehicles begins with a couple of normal sedans and includes near the top several minivans. Not until way down the list do you see a single representative of the SUV, the vehicle that most folks claim they bought for its safety.

You live longer when you’re cautious…and when you’re not King of the Road.

On the other hand, talk about going out in a blaze of glory. Check out this A. americana down the street:

Agave Americana

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It’s Come to This? Department:

This afternoon I purred down to Bell Market on the Segway, and as I was chatting with a couple of folks out front, there lumbered into the lot and parked right in front of us an Armada. A Nissan Armada. Bright black.

Mine was not the only jaw that dropped at seeing this enormous, radiant obscenity here in San Francisco.

I’ve never been one to give my vehicles names like some folks did in the fifties and I figure probably still do, but from now on I’m calling the Prius “Nelson.”

Here’s a Castro Street view for you:

Castro Street wires

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