Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Things Fall Apart, The Centre Cannot Hold

 


Lately, when I plop down on our crappy old sectional sofa (known to our circle of intimates as "the comfort turd"), the phrase "things fall apart, the centre cannot hold" rattles around in my overstuffed head.  Upon googling the phrase I learned (presumably re-learned) that it is a line from the poem "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats.  The phrase was written about the bleak political landscape of post WWI Europe, but I feel it also accurately describes the state of the comfort turd.

My family has been on me for quite some time to acquire alternative seating to the comfort turd, which is now so full of duct tape that it leaves sticky residue on one's clothing.  One day last week, after meeting a friend in Mountain View for an invigorating neighborhood walk, I finally decided to investigate my options.

I felt I would lose momentum if I went home and showered first, so off I went in my capri pants, stretched-out t-shirt, sweaty headband, and arch-supporting athletic shoes.  I decided to first try the Home Consignment Center, which is where we found the comfort turd many years ago, to see if lightning might strike twice.  

The Home Consignment Center is in Campbell, across the street from a diner called The Hash House, where I had an excellent plate of chilaquiles to fortify my search.  Then I sauntered into the Consignment Center, where an excited older gentleman, who probably is an employee, accosted me and showed me a metal patio table with attached stools that fold up under the table.

I allowed him to demonstrate the wonder of the table to me a few times and then scooted off when his attention was diverted.  As I made my way around the store, I saw him repeat the performance with every new person who walked through the door.  It's like, he wants to sell the table, but if he does, what will he do to occupy himself?

Sadly, there were no adequate sectional sofas in the Home Consignment Center, and also no public restroom.  I had to go next door to a Safeway, so as long as I was there I bought some beer.

Is Elysian Space Dust the best IPA I've ever had?  Who knows, but isn't the can cool?  I love the alien hophead blowing glittery dust.

My next stop was La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries.  Once I saw the floor models, I pretty much knew that a La-Z-Boy sectional with electronic recliners and cup holders was my destiny, but I decided that I had to do a little due diligence and check out some other furniture stores.

Next stop was Direct Factory Furniture, or maybe Factory Direct Furniture?  It is a small store down the street from La-Z-Boy run by a friendly Asian man with a great business plan.  He carries two models of everything: two sectional sofas, two reclining armchairs, two dining sets, two bedroom suites; and he knows EVERYTHING about those models.  He doesn't have to refer to a catalog or a computer, he just knows.

So after I sat on one of the sectional sofas, he came over and told me my upholstery options: fabric, leather, or fox leather.  He prattled on but I wasn't really listening after the words "fox leather".  Then I realized that he meant "faux leather", and I wondered how many years he had been saying it wrong, and who was going to be the person who finally told him.  Not me!  La-Z-Boy was still winning.

Years ago we bought a very nice dining set from Ethan Allen, so I headed to their showroom.  I stepped through the doors onto the plush oatmeal-colored carpet and found myself in the sort of extremely tasteful demonstration living room that has large beaten brass bowls full of woven wooden balls.  As a beautiful dark-haired lady in palazzo pants wafted toward me on a cloud of subtly perfumed air, I became intensely aware of my grubby appearance.

"May I help you?" she purred.  "Uh," I stammered, "Do you have any reclining sectional sofas with cup holders?"  She paused a beat and said, very nicely, "Sweetheart, there is nothing for you here."  I beat a hasty retreat and got my confidence back by going into the Goodwill next door and buying a Jesus statue.


Equilibrium restored, I headed to my final stop, Rose Design Fine Furniture, a shop which only sells custom-order sofas.  I was the only customer, so the proprietor, a talkative man of Eastern European extraction, had plenty of time to explain to me that none of his sectional sofas reclined, and furthermore, that I did not want or need to recline, because reclining was bad for my back.

"I still want it though," I said, channeling Dwayne The Rock Johnson from the very funny SNL sketch "Enhancement Drug".


All in all it was a very productive day, and it felt like a normal pre-pandemic day, except that we all had masks on.  A few days later Larry and I went to the La-Z-Boy and ordered ourselves a reclining sectional with cup holders.  And this time we paid extra for real cow leather, so we won't end up trying to duct tape the fox leather back together.  Also, the sofa model we selected is the Aspen, which Larry dubbed the Ass-Pen, so we have the nickname sorted already.

It will be a bittersweet goodbye when the Junk King comes for the comfort turd, but I'll have lots of time to get used to the idea, as it will be six months or so before the La-Z-Boy arrives.  In the meantime, I'll just have to make do with this Lazy Boy.








Saturday, February 20, 2021

Rats All The Way Down


The virus times have been awful for everyone.  I've frankly always hated all those feel-better mantras such as "Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window".  I mean, what the hell, why not just leave the door open.  So I'm not in any way saying there is an upside to the virus times, because there isn't, but, since we can't do anything else, we've been spending a lot of time on the back patio, and we've learned to appreciate just hanging outside.  It's nice to see all the stars.

The virus times have allowed me to do the sort of entertaining that I love - extremely half-ass entertaining.  I can invite people over and not do *anything* but ensure the patio chair cushions are dry.  Sometimes I will also shake you a martini, or bring out my tray of jank candles, or give you an electric blanket, or light the fire table.  But mostly we just sit on my patio chairs and talk.

It's winter now, so a lot of patio time happens when it's dark outside.  Behind our back patio is a lower field, and then Adobe Creek, which is usually free of water, but full of wildlife.  During the day there are lots of animals to see, such as deer, jackrabbits, little bunnies, crows, and squirrels.  During the night there are lots of animals to hear, such as rats, rats, rats, opossums, raccoons, and coyotes.

In the bay area we have many, many Norway Rats.  They can be up to 8 inches long and make nests in trees, in creek beds, under the hood of your car, in your potting shed, in crawl spaces under your house, basically anywhere.  At night, when we sit outside, we can hear the rats foraging for food.  And we tell ourselves that maybe the noises are emanating from some marginally cuter animals, such as opossums or raccoons, but deep down inside, we know it's rats.  It's always rats.  It's rats all the way down.

Lately the nighttime rat noises have been interspersed with the yipping of coyotes.  Coyotes actually yip.  It's kind of cool to be sitting outside and hear the coyotes yipping, and then to hear all the outside dogs in the neighborhood losing their collective minds and howling back.  It's like a free concert!

We have an intercom system built into the house that enables us to play music inside and outside, so sometimes we do that.  I try to remember to turn off the outside speakers when we come back in, but sometimes I forget.  One time I forgot for weeks, which led to this interesting situation.

Our property adjoins the back fences of several houses on Middlebury Lane.  The residents of Middlebury Lane have been kind enough to include us in their gatherings, and over the years we have gotten to know them fairly well.

One year as we were drinking and socializing at one of these events, my neighbor Tim came up to me and said, very politely, all things considered, "Do you think maybe you could stop playing music at 7 am in your back yard?"

And I had one of those moments they show in films where a series of events replays rapidly in your mind.  Weeks before we had used the outside speakers, I never turned them off, and in an effort to get the kids out of bed for school, every morning at 7 am I had been blasting the Fountains of Wayne song "Bright Future in Sales" which features the lyric "I've got to get my shit together, cause I can't live like this forever..."

So, yeah, I was pretty embarrassed.  Ever since then I sort of obsessively check to make sure we aren't blasting the neighbors with my current musical obsession.  Lately I'm really into my curated Pandora station, Cake Radio, featuring, you guessed it, the songs of Cake.  Also a lot of Bowling for Soup, They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, All-American Rejects, Sugar Ray, etc.

I love that dumb plaque people put in their kitchens that says "I Love To Cook With Wine, Sometimes I Even Put It In The Food".  It's funny because it's true.  I find that cooking with wine goes really well with blasting Cake Radio.

I've wandered away from my theme of patio entertaining, but you can blame it on the entire bottle of Liquid Light Sauvignon Blanc I drank on my back patio earlier tonight.  I know I drank the whole bottle because everyone else was drinking red wine and the Liquid Light bottle is empty...



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Some Anecdotes Involving Boats




It's been a real mood booster having outdoor dining open again, and I'm sure the restaurants and their owners and employees appreciate it also.  We had a lovely socially distanced dinner with our friends Steve and Colleen at La Scala in downtown Los Altos last night and somehow the conversation turned to canoeing, which fired some deep-seated neurons and caused me to remember a few light-craft oriented anecdotes from my past.

Winter Canoeing in Kentucky

My dad was career Army and we were stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky when I was in the 6th-8th grade.  My mom had a good friend on base, Mrs. Franks, who, like my mom, had one daughter and two sons.  For reasons that I will have to consult my mom about, she and Mrs. Franks established a Girl Scout Troop, which also involved all four of their sons.

We did a lot of camping and hiking with our two families and whatever Girl Scouts cared to join us.  The trip that I recalled last night was a winter canoeing trip along some creek or river.  As I remember (which isn't saying much, it's been many years and many mixed drinks since then and I may have this completely wrong) I was in a canoe with Julie Franks.

Julie saw something interesting on the banks of the creek (river?) and stood up to look back and point and tell the other canoes.  And this is where it gets cinematic - as she was looking back she got clocked in the back of the head by an overhanging branch and went straight into the water.

I remember this as being highly inconvenient but also undeniably funny.

Summer Rafting in Virginia

In the middle of my 9th grade year, my dad got reassigned to the Pentagon and our family moved from Kentucky to Northern Virginia.  If you are thinking, "Oh, I bet it was fun to change schools in the middle of 9th grade", I can assure you that it was not, but that's a boring and sad story that I am sure you can imagine for yourself.  Let's just say that I read a lot of books and became overly involved with the Catholic Youth Organization at my church.

I think it was with a CYO group that I went rubber rafting on the Shenandoah; I'm not entirely sure but the organization I went with is not germane to my story, so, whatever.

Our group got into our rubber raft with our cooler containing lunches and set off down the river.  It was a pleasant day, and the rapids were not challenging, and we were having a good time, and then we saw two rocks ahead of us.

Our choices, as we saw them, were to go left, go between the rocks, or go right.  We decided to go between the rocks, but as our raft snagged and expelled us and all our belongings into the river, we realized that it was only one rock lightly covered by water and we had just steered directly onto it.

We drifted down river as our raft stayed firmly on the rock and all our lunches, shoes, etc floated away forever.  Our group managed to get over to the bank and reunite, and we stood looking upriver at our water-imprisoned raft.

As we were on the riverbank bemoaning our fate, a helicopter hove into view, trailing a massive hook on a rope.  At this point, many other rubber rafts beached themselves on the banks to have a look, because, what the hell, a helicopter was hovering overhead.

The helicopter made several passes over the raft until it got the hook under the raft, at which point the raft popped up in the air and began floating down the river.  We caught it, and got in, and finished the trip.

Pirates of the Caribbean

We visited Disneyland for the first time when our youngest daughter Amy was about three years old, and we made a terrible error.  We took her on the ride "Snow White's Scary Adventures", which the rest of us did not find to be scary, but Amy absolutely did.

She found it to be so scary that for years, she refused to go on any so-called "dark" rides at Disneyland - any rides which are not completely out-of-doors.  The next time we were all at Disneyland, Amy was maybe five years old, and while Larry and Susan and Ellen did all the fun rides, Amy and I rode the f*&#ing carousel over and over.

After dinner, we went back to our hotel, and then up to our room, where Larry and all three girls fell asleep.  I was eager to get back to the park to ride all the things I had missed, and as any mother of young children will tell you, I was absolutely thrilled to be alone.

I rode the Haunted Mansion, and Indiana Jones, and then I headed to Pirates of the Caribbean.  Since I was alone, I was added to a lively boat of young men.  We set out in high spirits, and had proceeded about one-fourth of the way through the ride when our boat came to a sudden halt.

The lights came up, hitherto unseen doors popped open from behind the pirate tableaus, people in coveralls with wrenches began wandering about.

As we were stalled I began to chat with the men in my boat.  It turned out they were all current or former employees of Disneyland, all gay, and all super willing to dish.  It was the most fun I've ever had at Disneyland.

I asked them "Do you ever get tired of telling guests where the bathrooms are?" and the answers delighted me.  My favorite response: one of guys said "I don't mind telling people where the toilets are.  I mean, we all have to go, right?  But here's what I hate: I'll tell some lady where the toilets are and she'll say 'But is that the closest one?', and that just makes me crazy.  I feel like saying 'No, I just like that one better', or 'No, you just look like you could use some exercise', I mean, what the hell?"

God, I miss Disneyland, and random strangers.





Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Big Excitement in the Lang Household



For the last six weeks, I have succumbed to Virus Times Ennui and Rolling Waves of Dread and haven't posted anything on my blog.  To be fair, not much has happened.  Until today!  Big excitement in the Lang household - Ellen's video about Red Vine Salsa has gone viral on TikTok and is very near one million views!

Ellen's post film-school dream of performing in basement comedy clubs, in off-off-Broadway productions, and PA-ing for TV shows in New York fell apart last March, right after she moved to Brooklyn.  She spent the early pandemic sheltering with Larry's sister's family in rural New Jersey, where she became an honorary Powell and made some very funny videos.  (Check them out on Instagram at ellen_lang.)

She came back to California for the holidays and has continued to make videos.  In the inexplicable way of these things, one of her videos went viral on TikTok over the course of the last twenty-four hours.  Myself, Larry, and Amy are actually in the video as taste-testers of the Red Vine Salsa.  Amy has been getting a lot of love from the TikTok set for her cool androgynous vibes.  I, on the other hand, am wearing a dubious bucket hat and had just come back from a six-mile walk in our neighborhood.  I look like such a Mom, which, I mean, I am, so whatever.

Ellen is now in the kitchen making a Red Vine Pie, and she has inspired me to finally sit down and do a little blogging.

I Saw Something Nasty in the Altima

When Ellen moved out of Austin last January, I flew to Texas and we drove her Altima back to California, which led to more adventure than we had anticipated (see my blog entry "Rescued by Mormons").  Since Ellen moved to New York last March, the Altima has been parked outside next to our garage.  For the first few months, I was diligent about starting it up and driving it occasionally.  Then, as with most good intentions, I just sort of stopped doing that.

So when Ellen came back here in mid-December, it had been *a while* since the Altima had been moved.  I anticipated that her battery might have gone dead, so I wasn't surprised when the car wouldn't start.  I pulled my Cadillac up next to the Altima, popped my hood, popped the Altima hood - and then screamed and dropped the Altima hood.

There was a big, fresh rat's nest right on top of the battery.  And an actual rat.

I beat a hasty retreat to the house and called our local service station to ask if they could service rat-infested engines.  God Bless them, they could, for a price, which I was more than happy to pay if it meant that I did not have to interact with the rat.

I then called AAA who sent over a tow truck.  The driver declined to knock the rat's nest off the engine, even though I helpfully provided him with a broom.  Instead, he took some videos of the rat for his friends and commenced to tow the car to the gas station, assuring me that the rat would fall out en route.

It did not.  In fact, it took the service station guys THREE DAYS to get the rat out of the engine compartment.  I called every day for an update.  The rat managed to get the treats out of several traps before it was successfully trapped and disposed of.  I guess the rat really liked it in there.

I asked the guys if this was their first experience with a live rat.  It was not.  They have had to expunge live rats, mice, birds, and bunnies from engine compartments.  After thoroughly cleaning everything, they sprayed the engine block with peppermint oil, which rats supposedly hate.

I also stopped by our local hardware store to see if Henry had any rat prevention items.  He did!  He lives down the street from us and has also had a rat make a home in his engine compartment.  He carries a nifty device that attaches to the car battery terminals and flashes an LED light every few seconds.  Apparently rats also hate disco.



Thank You, Druids

For years I have been a member of Filoli Historic House and Garden up the road in Woodside.  For the Christmas 2020 holiday season, Filoli decorated the gardens with thousands of lights and offered nighttime tours.  My interest was particularly piqued by the "theme nights" - I love a theme.  

December 21st was advertised as "Winter Solstice Theme Night" and visitors were encouraged to "come in your solstice attire".  I almost fell out of my chair when I read that.  For the Lang Family Christmas Card in 2018, I had actually sewn us all hooded druidic robes with personalized runes.  As I packed them away after the photo shoot, I thought "When are we ever going to wear these again?"

Solstice in the garden, baby! When we got to Filoli on the evening of December 21st, you will perhaps not be shocked to learn that we were the only people who had donned "solstice attire".  The other visitors had no idea what to make of us.  They couldn't decide if we were staff, or paid entertainers, or just weirdos.

We scared quite a few children, and enjoyed listening to their parents trying to make up reasons why we weren't scary.  It was very fun to swish around in our robes.

After a most enjoyable evening, as we made our way to the exit, one of the staff members called out "Thank You, Druids!"  


The Great Migration

During the Virus Times, Larry has continued to keep a regular schedule, as he is still (Thank God) gainfully employed.  I, on the other hand, have been on no schedule at all, and have been keeping very odd hours.  I began sleeping in Ellen's room when she was in New Jersey so that I could listen to my audiobooks in bed without headphones at any hour of the day or night without disturbing Larry's rest.  Also so that he would not wake me at the ungodly hour of 7 am after I had stayed up until 2 am watching rom coms.

I discovered that I quite liked Ellen's room.  It has great windows and a very comfortable bed.  It was kind of like being in a long term AirBNB.  Over the months I moved a lot of my stuff into that room and the adjoining bathroom.

When Ellen returned in mid-December I realized that I would have to give back her room, but I wasn't prepared to give up my privacy and go back to the master bedroom.  Thus began what Larry dubbed The Great Migration.

I moved my toiletries and books and favorite blankets and pillows and sewing supplies and clothes down to the guest bedroom, which was luckily unoccupied.  It was like moving into another long-term AirBNB.  Susan used that room for her tutoring calls, and Amy used it for art projects, so every day when I got up I would make the bed and hide my things in drawers.  It was like my secret bedroom!

Just this week, after Amy left for Wisconsin, I migrated again, up to her bedroom.  Her windows have a great view of our neighbor's spacious and well-manicured lawns and gardens, so that's nice.  And her mattress is way better than the one in the guest room.  So, future guests, I will be getting you a better mattress, now that I know.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Well, That Was Different


This past Thanksgiving weekend was certainly unlike any others from my past. Frankly, I'm not the biggest fan of Thanksgiving during normal years, with all the coming and going and driving to the airport and trying to accommodate a dozen peoples' must-have holiday dishes. Of course, this year the idea of flying a lot of relatives in and out for a weekend and having a dozen people around an indoor table sounded like sheer madness.


Amy did fly home from the University of Wisconsin, but she’s here until mid-January.  Knowing that once they went home the students were told not to come back until the New Year, she thought some might choose to have a Friendsgiving sort of thing and stick around for a while in their off-campus apartments. However, the pull of a home-cooked meal was apparently too strong, and no one stayed, so here she is, translating Latin over Zoom in the guest room and leaving fat Russian novels all over the place.  I have also been finding large numbers of abandoned tea mugs in unlikely spots around the house.

 

My friend Colleen has an excellent idea about Thanksgiving that I really wish we could embrace as a nation.  Here it is – now that Columbus Day has been outed as more of a shameful acknowledgement of the white man’s role in killing off native populations than a celebration of “discovering” a fully populated continent, let’s replace it with Thanksgiving.  Genius!  Then we could have a nice break in October instead of a travel holiday so ridiculously close to Christmas.

 

Susan came down from San Francisco to spend the weekend with us, and I offered up a plate on our patio to any of her friends who didn’t have a local holiday table.  Sydney and Joe took her up on it, and Larry and I were super-excited to spend the day with celebrity guests.

 

I put off going to the Safeway until the day before Thanksgiving, which I have done every year before this, and I have always had a nice selection of turkeys to choose from. Imagine my surprise when I saw what was left this year:  3 enormous turkeys and a smattering of ducks and geese.  I guess everyone had a small gathering at home, so the normal-sized birds went first.

 

I brought one of the huge beasts home for Larry to deal with in whatever way he saw fit.  I have never cooked a turkey and I never will.  The only Thanksgiving dishes I care anything about are cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and those green beans with the fried onions. 

 

On Thanksgiving morning Larry realized that the bird would never roast in the oven in time for dinner, so he took it outside and set up an operating theatre where he whacked it into hunks, rubbed it with something, and put it on the grill.  (This isn’t a cooking blog.)  He called his technique “spatchcocking” but I think that’s just because it amuses him to go around saying “spatchcock” over and over.

 

When Sydney and Joe arrived, we installed them each in a comfy patio chair and gave them each the key item to our outdoor entertaining – an electric lap blanket.  These were Larry’s idea, and they have revolutionized our social lives.  Before The Blankets, as the days began to get dark early and the temperatures dropped, people would drift away by about 6:30.  Now we can sit outside drinking and chatting for hours and hours, probably annoying Tim across the fence.  Sorry, Tim.

 

Also, my friend Keli offered me her fire table that she felt was a little large for her patio, so now we have atmospheric flames as well.  I also rounded up all the candles I’ve ever received as hostess gifts and set them on a tray outside.  When the wind shifts, one gets a confusing whiff of pine, apple, flowers, and ocean breeze all mixed up together, but I think Martha would approve of the visual effect.

 

I’ve spent a lot of quarantine reading Martha Stewart articles online, which might come as a surprise to anyone I’ve entertained in my home.  My normal esthetic is much more Mexican party store than Connecticut estate, but I like her recipes.

 

I hope that Sydney and Joe enjoyed their time on our patio, we certainly enjoyed having them here.  On Friday night we had our friends the Suggs over to the patio, which was lovely.  And then Saturday night we had driveway drinks with our neighbors Derek and Camay on our patio before repairing to their patio (which Martha Stewart could use for a book, it’s that nice) for dinner.

 

All in all, it was a great weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I feel very blessed to have excellent friends and neighbors and it is nice to have Amy home for a while. 

 

In continuing news, I dug through my stash (if you sew, you know what I mean) and unearthed a trove of Christmas fabrics.  I have no idea what I originally thought I would do with these festive fabrics, but now I’m churning out Christmas-themed masks and inflicting them on friends and relatives. I wore one festooned with cardinals, snowflakes, and holly berries to De Martini’s.  Elva (Alva?) really liked it ….

 


Friday, October 30, 2020

Me and Alva, o Tal Vez Elva

 One of the things I like the most about living in Los Altos is being able to shop at DeMartini’s Orchard; a small, locally owned and managed produce stand and food market that has been in business since 1932.  I think it’s still in the same spot where it began, on the main road into town just on the outskirts of our small downtown area.

It has a somewhat tumbledown aspect, as it has grown sort of haphazardly from a small produce stand into what is now a full service, albeit small, grocery store.  DeMartini’s stocks a large variety of produce, but only a limited variety of other groceries. 

 

But the smallness is definitely a huge part of the charm.  The groceries they do carry are high quality and artisanal.  For instance, you can make chocolate chip cookies from ingredients purchased at De Martini’s, but you will be using locally milled flour and breaking up a bar of bulk baking chocolate.  They have cornmeal, but not Jiffy muffin mix.  But you can buy about ten types of olives.  You get the idea.

 

My pre-pandemic approach to grocery shopping in Los Altos was to hit up the Safeway for basic grocery items and just go to DeMartini’s for produce and fun condiments and gourmet items.  However, during the early pandemic months when we were all encouraged to go out shopping less, I started making massive DeMartini’s runs and trying to get everything there.

 

I discovered that DeMartini’s carries gourmet versions of just about everything that I used to get at Safeway.  So that was kind of a fun discovery, courtesy of pandemic shopping.  No Ritz crackers, but look at these Rosemary Panzanella crackers!  No Tostitos, but how about these corn chips handmade in Gilroy?  No Frosted Mini-Wheats, but four kinds of muesli!

 

The staff at DeMartini’s has been consistently kind and helpful during the twenty years I’ve been shopping there, and they have been extra helpful during the virus times.  It’s a small shop, so it’s been challenging for them to accommodate all the health regulations, but they’ve done a great job.

 

Over the years, many of the staff have turned over, but I have always been aware of one Hispanic woman about my age who it seems has always been there.  She’s not a smiler or a talker.  She is brisk and efficient.  I can respect that, and I never tried to pal around with her.

 

But! One day a few months ago, as she rang me up, she said, completely in monotone, “I like your mask.  It is cool.” This was high praise, indeed!  I was too stunned to reply for a moment, and then I gathered myself and said “Thank you!  I made it myself.”  She said, “Will you make one for me?”  Again, I was thrown for a moment by the directness of the question, but then I said, “Of course I will”.

 

I made up a handful of colorful masks and gave them to her the next time I saw her at DeMartini’s.  She said, “Thank you.  Will you make me a, how do you call this?” and held up her pinafore.  I was startled but also pleased by her forthrightness.  “Sure, I’ll try,” I told her.  I found a pattern and made her a sunflower-patterned pinafore and matching mask.

 

Amy modeling my attempt at a pinafore


I gave them to her, and she seemed pleased, within the bounds of her taciturn nature.  The next time I saw her, she said “My sisters like the sunflowers very much.  Will you make them masks?”  Everyone likes to be needed, so I told that of course I would. Then I started my Spanish class and kind of forgot about the masks.

 

Today when I stopped in at De Martini’s to buy sweet potatoes and Lacinato kale, she rang me up.  “Where have you been?” she said, “I haven’t seen you.”  I said, “I’ve been in a few times, but you weren’t here.  And actually, I don’t cook as much now that none of my girls are at home.”

 

She asked how many girls I had, and I said three, and she told me that she had four, and we agreed that girls are the best kind of children.  This was the most conversation we have ever had in twenty years.

 

“I forgot about those masks you wanted – next time!” I said.  And she said “Don’t worry about it.  Gracias, Katherine.”

 

And I thought, how does she know my name?  And then realized that I have handed her my credit card hundreds of times over the years.  But this is the very first time she has used my name.  And then I realized that I had no idea what HER name was.  So, I asked.

 

“Alva,” she said.  Or possibly “Elva”.  Either way, this is huge progress in our relationship.  On my way out I spoke some very bad Spanish to her, but she didn’t seem to mind.  Finally, something interesting has happened, and I can’t wait to see where this leads.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

We Did it Again


We went a couple of places!  Susan and I went back to Filoli Gardens and this time she brought three of her roommates.  I totally morphed into Garden Mom, confidently stating the names of plants that I was only 35% sure about and pointing out garden features that no one had asked about, or cared about, really.  Once I realized I was doing it, I told them I would try to stop, but they assured me that Garden Mom is less annoying than Art Dad.  Also, I had sort of lied at the gate and got them in gratis on my family membership, and also purchased everyone a canned cocktail, so these savvy twenty-somethings were being very polite.


Speaking of Art Dad, Larry and I met Susan in San Francisco last week for lunch at Plow and a visit to the Asian Art Museum.  Plow is an uber-popular brunch place in Portrero Hill.  We’ve made vague plans to go there for two years, but it’s one of those no-reservations places, so we never felt we had the time to wait for a table.  Well, now, thanks to the virus, we have plenty of time, so we waited.  We saw many interestingly dressed young people. 

 

It turns out that people watching is one of the things that I miss the most.  Larry’s sartorial and styling choices just aren’t that interesting; and frankly, neither are those of the middle-aged denizens of Los Altos.  But the young people of San Francisco are fun to watch!  There were also lots and lots of dogs, which meant more to Larry and Susan than to me, since I still don’t like dogs (especially my own, get off my foot and stop licking yourself, Taggart).

 


After lunch we toured the Asian Art Museum, located across from City Hall in the old Library building.  I like Asian art well enough, but what I really like is the cool old building it’s housed in.  Larry went full Art Dad and was enthusing about Buddhism.  I did like a wall hanging that featured three existential poisons – “the cock of attraction, the snake of aversion, and the pig of confusion”.  The pig of confusion, how apt, it’s always rootling around in my subconscious.

 



Larry especially enjoyed the story about the Buddhist adept Virupa, who, by using his meditative powers to stop the sun, convinced a king to pay for his epic drinking spree.  Virupa is usually portrayed in the distinctive “I’ll have another” pose.



 

I haven’t been able to go many places in person for the last six months, and perhaps because of my yearning for distant shores, I have been reading a fair amount of travel essays and historical fiction.

Way back in March, the New York Times published an article entitled “Celeste Ng, Ann Patchett, Min Jin Lee and Others on the Books That Bring Them Comfort”.  It’s a great article and the authors recommended some of my personal favorite books – I Capture the Castle, Pride and Prejudice, A Room With a View, Love in a Cold Climate.  Also, the authors interviewed have written some of my personal favorite books – The Song of Achilles, Circe, Eligible, The Summer Before the War, State of Wonder, Euphoria.  The article also recommended books I hadn’t read, including Cousin Bette by Balzac.

When I saw the name “Balzac” you musical theater nerds will know where my mind went: “Chaucer, Rabelais, BALZAC!”  In The Music Man, these are authors that Marian the Librarian lends from the library and that the mayor’s wife and her ilk despise.

At 500 pages, Cousin Bette was a bit long, but I enjoyed it because it took me to a different time and place – a very specific time and place.  Paris in 1846, to be exact.  There is a LOT of detail about building layouts, room furnishings, styles of dress, salaries, dinner menus, business endeavors, military honors, and such.  There are also extensive descriptions of the machinations of some very, very badly-behaved people, which I enjoyed very much.  And descriptions of the virtues of a couple of saintly women, which were not nearly as diverting.

I’m glad I read one Balzac, but I cannot IMAGINE reading the whole of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, “Honoré de Balzac's 1829–48 multi-volume collection of interlinked novels and stories depicting French society in the period of the Restoration and the July Monarchy. La Comédie humaine consists of 91 finished works.” 

 

I found some forums frequented by lovers of Balzac on the internet, and there are people who have made multi-year commitments and read all 91 works and have cross-referenced all the characters and locations and events in the books.  At this point, they’ve spent more time thinking about the books than Balzac spent writing them.

 

Here are some other excellent escapist works that have enabled me to leave my house without, you know, leaving my house.

 

Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country.  It’s about his travels in Australia and he narrates the audiobook version.  I closed my eyes and imagined being in Australia with him.

 

Kevin Kwan’s latest, Sex and Vanity, an homage to A Room With a View set in Capri, Manhattan and the Hamptons among a bunch of rich Asians, definitely an unfamiliar world to me. 

 

Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Machu Picchu.  The author spends months on a rough trek through Inca country with an irascible old Australian-born guide and some young Peruvian porters.

 

Michael Palin’s Erebus.  You may not know this, but after his Monty Python career, Michael Palin did a series of travel specials for the BBC and went all around the world.  I’ve seen all of these and read the accompanying books.  (Sahara was my favorite.). At some point Palin got interested in a British ship, the Erebus, that was used in two epic journeys of discovery to the Antarctic and the Arctic.  It’s always nice to read about someplace cold when it’s 92 degrees in your un-air-conditioned house.

 

Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight about her early life in Rhodesia.  It made me feel like mother of the year.

 

Abigail Hing Wen’s Love Boat Taipei, marketed to so-called “Young Adults”, but I enjoyed reading about Taiwan.

 

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, described as a “children’s fantasy novel”, but my journey to Middle Earth was most enjoyable.

 

Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, a lovely short book set on a Finnish island.

 

Christina Thompson’s Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, a deep dive into the settlement and peoples of remote Pacific islands.


History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration, a Great Course available from Audible, exactly what it sounds like, a series of lectures about trips across continents, across oceans, under the ocean, to the moon.

 

The Insight Guide to Spain 2019.  I read the whole thing, took copious notes, looked up a bunch of places on the internet.  Estoy tan lista para mi viaje a España.

 

Now I’d better get back to my Spanish homework, since it’s a group project and I don’t want to be That Person who tanks the group grade.  Es la hora de aprender sobre el cine desde de México.