Sunday, December 27, 2009


Because I never grew out of my infantile fascination with the erogenous zone of the anus, I not only made thirty-six new year's resolutions but also divided this list into Daily, Weekly, Annual, and General goals, and then put it all into a spreadsheet with check boxes so I could track my progress.

A representative sample:

Create something daily.
Visit Grandma once a week.
Learn three new skills or crafts.
Avoid boredom.
Do not let my job age me.
Learn to cook fifteen dishes from Mom.
Err on the side of kindness.
Encourage Dad to relax more.

I am counting the skill that I learned this week toward my 2010 resolutions. I made a shoe rack and a multiple guitar stand out of PVC pipes without cutting any of my fingers off. The new year is looking good.

decade in review

R and I spent equal amounts of time not working and exchanging emails last week. It's just hard to pay attention at the end of the year. One day she sent me a chronological list of 33 actions she had taken before 2 p.m., including: "11:15am: get to work. read my email and gossip news about brittany murphy's 'inner demons.'" and "2pm: wonder if we won any prizes from bowling party."

When we realized that the decade was ending (GOOD LORD), she sent me a list of the highlights of her life in the last decade. It was a fun exercise, so I tried it too.

2000 Think I upset lots of girls this year
2001 Had life transforming experiences
2002 Felt older than I was
2003 Felt even older, graduated from college
2004 Think I was very fit and underemployed this year
2005 Ditto 2004, law school, marriage, divorce
2006 I studied very hard, my heart was a soggy mattress
2007 I was happy where I was
2008 I was happy where I was, then suddenly very unhappy
2009 I started very unhappy, but ended happy

Try it! Feel free to post results.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I spent last Christmas visiting the concentration camp in Dachau. My flight from Chicago arrived in Munich after dawn. I took the train to the Hauptbahnhof; on the way, four brown men and a brown child were harassed by polizei for not having validated tickets. I stowed a backpack and a guitar in a luggage locker, took the train to Dachau, and then a bus to the concentration camp. There were a few tourists and the sky was gray. I was freezing - I had underpacked - so I tried to stay indoors, but that meant spending more time in rooms where thousands of people had lived briefly before they died. I snapped pictures of "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" and the photos of Nazi rallies in which well-meaning vandals had scratched Hitler's face off, then found a small church lit with candles where suddenly a chorus of nuns appeared and sang. There was nobody in the pews besides me and one other person, but I suppose they weren't singing to an earthly audience anyway. I fell asleep. I tried to stay as long as possible in the church because I had to wait until 8 p.m. to meet the person I had flown to Germany to meet - he was spending the day with his sister and father - but the church closed at four, so I left. I walked back to the train instead of taking the bus, and on the way passed the former plaza of the army camp (now a soccer field), a deflated inflatable Santa, and the word "BITCH" spray painted alongside German graffiti on a walking path. Back at the Hauptbahnhof, I pointed at something that looked edible and said, "Ein," and was rewarded with a small wheel of pizza-like substance. I asked for a "Wasser"; the cashier coughed out a stream of Teutonic noises; I said, "What?"; he said, "Mit Gas?"; I said, "Oh, yeah, mit," and then he handed me fizzy Wasser. After this I only ordered tea. I sat in the station for two hours and applied my cold brain to filling pages in a yellow spiralbound notebook, and then I collected my guitar and backpack and waited in front of platform 24 until a tall old man embraced me and told me we would be off to Regensburg soon. I barely spoke a word to this stranger on the train except to ask how to translate some colorful phrases into German. In Regensburg, he walked us around the medieval streets pointing at closed shops and darkened Christmas decorations before leading us to Geibelplatz. In one room was overhead lighting and dishes piled in the sink, in another was flannel shirts hanging off a lamp and an opened futon with a deep, body-shaped depression on one side. The last room was strewn with boxes. This is how I spent last Christmas. I didn't know then what I was doing and I guess if pressed I still couldn't say.

This year, I woke at 2 p.m. in the room I grew up in, tidied for four hours, and then went to Chevy's Fresh Mex with my parents and grandmother. Afterward, we found an open 24-hour CVS and poked around for forty minutes. My blood pressure was 94/64 and my pulse was 59 bpm.

Friday, December 18, 2009


My room is thirty years of junk. So that I can live there without feeling seventeen, and so that S might not be horrified at my unroommateable clutter when she arrives, I must tidy my space.

I started with my drawer of correspondences. Seems like I have saved everything written to me since at least 1993. Very rarely do I look at them. The closest analogy I can find for the feeling they give me is that it is the same one I feel when browsing in rural health food stores, you know, community postings for cleansing retreats and hand-knit custom clothing, fruit flies in the pesticide-free kitchen, haze of sky light through flax dust making it hard to see.

Whatever. Sometimes it's nice to revisit. Here are some of the things I have found:

From O, 1997. She had covered the entire envelope with yellow highlighter ink. "Ain't highlighter pens cool? Love the color!" was written on the flap. The return address was "The Great One."

From M, 1999. General delivery from Block Island. The postcard was of a lighthouse; the caption explained, "The Southeast Lighthouse is a perpetual reminder of the dozens of shipwrecks over the decades." She added a sarcastic note to this: " stoplights remind you of car accidents?"

From R, 2008. A four-page roadmap of the evolution of our friendship during law school. Line drawings of India and China, touching at the borders, representing us.

A flyer from Seals' Cove Bar and Grill. The music calendar from August 1998. On August 13, 1998, my band, Sketch, followed by "Soul Debt." The next day: Mojo Madness, The Heavy Petting Zoo CD release party. The next week: Soul Detour, Drool. The band names of the late nineties.

From KC, 1998. A sad note on a bad day. "Last week as I was driving home from Campanile, actually two nights, I imagined myself crashing . . . I don't know why, I just wanted to see how it felt."

From O, 1997. An envelope upon which she drew the Oasis box logo 59 times.

From OMC, 1998. An abstract oil painting on canvas with the words, "Happy 18th Year of Life."

From A, 2000, writing from a nature reserve in East Madagascar. The stamps celebrated some landmark of Madagsacar's family planning agencies. A related note ("Yay, family planning!") closes the postcard.

One envelope with a strange cancellation stamp. An image of a carousel horse, and "For the ride of a lifetime, collect stamps." The envelope has no return address and the letter inside has no name, only "I would never have remembered to give this to you in person. I hope the postal system is trustworthy." Whatever was enclosed is gone now.

From KF, 1998. A Valentine's day note backgrounded by abstract blue Adobe Illustrator shapes. Right around the time when she was learning graphic design in the late nineties, David Carson style. She wrote a self-conscious, sardonic note about love, and then quoted two paragraphs of e.e. cummings on Krazy Kat.

West coast zines from 1992-1999. Ben is Dead, Fibre, names I can't remember. Publications that shaped my interests for the decade.

From MB, 1999. I had to peel the letter apart to look at it; there was decade-old electrical tape keeping the folded halves together.

From KF, 1997. Letter from the last week of her senior year: "I'm going to ask you a really large favor. Can you live in limbo for two more weeks?" She wanted to finish up the year before turning her attention to the relationship I wanted to have with her. In retrospect, her request was very practical; it shows emotional clarity. In retrospect, I had no idea what was happening, and thought it all very poetic.

From D, 1998. The flap reads, "OPEN IT," then, half an inch below that, "GRUNT."

From Kristen Johnson, 1997. Mysterious correspondence from Deerpath, MN. Apparently I had read something she had written about a music composition machine and wrote to her about it. It started a penpalship. Her letter was filled with easy typos, but she had a lot to say about how she thought we must be alike.

A letter from James Franco's mother inviting me to submit something for publication in an anthology of young womens' writing.

From J, 1996. A note reminding me of what I had said while drawing graphs during precalculus: "Never forget the stinkin' arrows." She had drawn arrows capping every stroke of every letter in that sentence.

A 1999 letter from a Harvard varsity women's water polo player. She wrote only in verse, or, actually, regular sentences with irregular enjambments.

Notes from Truth or Consequences, NM; Amsterdam; Deerpath, MN; Chandler, AZ; "Bionic Freak #6"; Irvine, CA; Edinburgh; Paris; Haifa; Antananarivo; "Ansel Adams Wilderness / Third Lake to the Left / & Over the Mountain"; Oaxaca; Ashland, OR; "A Pathetic Artist"; "Somewhere in Yosemite"; but more frequently from Loma Verde Court, St. Francis Drive, Edgewood Road, Byron Street, Melville Avenue.

From R, 1995. An 18" blue scroll for my birthday.

From SH, 2007. A postcard from Chicago, not so long ago. "A lovely image of our future home." Tiny, neat handwriting, plus two drawings of her face, one embarrassed, one depicting her hair "feminized" for professionalism. "Guess the MLA vibe is joykill in general."

A lesson from the end of 2009. If you write me a letter, I will save it, and I will love you forever.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

dancing pants

You know, S, just as soon as I declare my intention to get rid of my tschotchkes to make myself more desirable to you, I discover that another one has come in the mail for me. Thank you, C, for this awesome pair of wind-up hopping lederhosen. Sorry, S, a thirsty horse can be led away from a trough filled with real estate-consuming crapola, but in the end it will still trot back and grab a few, or however that saying goes. I just remembered that I have a cockroach-shaped pillow. I'm going to dig it out of my boxes and send it to you!

r and o

Here I was, feeling all sorry for myself and my weird new life in the California suburbs -- I drove alone to Walmart tonight, to buy an accordion file to organize the papers in the glove compartment of my Toyota Corolla, then ran on a treadmill while reading closed captioned updates on the 49ers game alone in a gigantic 24-hour gym, near midnight -- rummaging through thirty years of accumulated crap trying to figure out how to clear enough space for set up a life in my parents' house that feels different from the life I had when I was seventeen, accidentally encountering and then crying over trinkets from failed relationships (one moldy Nalgene can do so much), worrying about my wasted potential, fretting over retirement savings, growing annoyed at the mat of black dog hair covering the dirty thirty year-old carpeting;

then! In the pile of ancient artifacts, I find two gifts from two old, old friends, R and O, friends I adore. And let me tell you, readers, it is hard to feel sorry for yourself when you have friends like these.

I met R in 1989. She was walking up my grandmother's street, looking at the sidewalk, and singing a folk song (after a fifth grade lesson on Americana), and my memory is hazy now, but I think we just introduced ourselves and became friends; isn't it nice how nine year-olds can be? I might have first met O in 1992. I think she had a consistent underhand serve and was therefore among the most valuable members on our seventh grade volleyball team. I don't remember much about the first few years of our friendship except that often we called each other on summer afternoons complaining of boredom, and arranging to play one sport or another to pass the time.

Then R was self-described as a "non-conformist" (she taught me this term, and also introduced me to Morrissey), excellent at complex card games (often she would sigh with boredom when I requested a simpleton's game, like Four Blind Mice), and appalled at the people around her (a favorite catchphrase of ours in middle school was "Go pump your sunshine elsewhere"). O was also very intelligent, but more inward-directed and a little obsessive, so that when something captured her curiosity, like a bad joke or Liam Gallagher, it became for her the fixed point around which everything revolved. (For example, O's senior yearbook page was a photo of Liam captioned with a bad Manchester-related joke; this particular obsession went on for years.) I would describe both of them, then as in now, as very bright and deeply weird.

On Saturday, O invited us to a Taboo party that a colleague of hers was hosting in Fremont. We, of course, dominated. R and I were on the same team and the others complained of unfairness because we have twenty years of shared references, and R could simply say "Izzy's" and I would guess the clue, "bagel." But I actually attributed our domination to R's limber mind, not our history. We were playing with linguistically hapless biologists who couldn't think of synonyms for "fruit" and described "tongue" as "like a butt on your face." In contrast, smart, fast R fired off "When we win something, I put my appendage near your appendage to celebrate" for "high five."

We took a break from the game and O sat on a rocking ottoman in the middle of the room and told a nonsensical joke, cracking herself up in the process. She was indifferent about baffling the others. I recalled suddenly that one of O's twelfth birthday gifts was a handmade book compiling terrible jokes, and that after that gift there were many scenes like the one above; jokes about ketchup and Bob Saget come to mind. O texted me out of the blue tonight to say "monotremes=platypus and echidnas." She takes on dares when they are practical; once she sat through a Korean dinner with a bald cap on because I said I would pay for her dinner on that condition; on Friday, we had to stop her from drinking a pint of salsa for $25.

I digress. I wanted to write about the two things I found tonight in my drawer of yellow paper. The first is a birthday gift for me that O must have made around 1996. It is a homemade book entitled "[Bananarchist]: Gone With the Hay," with the epigraph, "A debut novel by aspiring chair-designer and writer now traveling the universe, O the Great [last name]." It is a loosely told tale of me eating hay, having hay stolen from me, and then O eating me, written in promiscuous rhyming couplets. Most illustrations are atrocious line drawings, including one of a formless lump that even O recognized to be unrecognizable (the word "monkey" is written above it, with a line pointing at the drawing), but a glossy photo of Liam Gallagher appears halfway through. The things that O was good at drawing at the time -- a seal, a hyacinth, and the rear end of a hippo -- make appearances in the book, though these illustrations are not related to the action. In the final episode of "Gone With the Hay," O comes to visit me on my island of hay and she suddenly turns into a Sweet Valley High book. Her head is drawn as a square with these words inside: "Sweet Valley High: Wakefields Sniff Glue!"

The second thing is a letter that R wrote me sometime in 1996. Apparently we wrote letters to ourselves to be used in case of friendship emergency; freshman year had been a hard time for us. On the envelope, R wrote, "to [bananarchist], not to be opened until you realize you hate me, or 9/9/99, whichever comes first." She also enclosed a Simpsons trading card depicting Bart Simpson writing "I will not undermine traditional American values" on the blackboard. I'll just copy the letter below:
dear [bananarchist],
while you read this, smoke is probably pouring out of your ears and the last thing you want to do is listen to something i have to say. but hear me out. apparently, i have done something so unconceivably awful that you would just be clicking your heels in excitement if you heard that i was dead. but wait a minute. didn't we say on march 6, 1996 at approximately 11:00 pm that this would never happen again? i think so. so why are we letting this happen again -- wouldn't we like to think that we are in control of ourselves and can keep our word? i am probably a little peeved at you right now, too, because generally that's the way things work when the silent treatment is occurring. but as you are reading this letter, i am probably sitting on my bed crying and reading the letter that you wrote to me on march 6, wishing that we were still on good terms. now i don't know what terribly retarded thing i did this time, but whatever it was that i did to cause you to hold such anger toward me, is it really worth it? i mean it's not as if we have all the time in the world together. in a couple years/months/days/hours we'll be leaving each other for college or whatnot, and the last few times we spend together shouldn't be times of resentment. [bananarchist], we have shared some of the funniest, craziest, and wonderful times, that unless i went and killed your dog or something, we should get over it. how could anyone forget our trips to great america, or walking home from school in fifth grade, or singing "when the saints go marching in," or talking late into the night every friday or saturday, or flipping each other over in the grass, or dancing at sadies with our liked ones, or sitting on the grass in ninth grade drawing the kiosk and having orange feet, or cutting art to get in line for yearbooks, or dancing like a bunch of maniacs at those retarded dances, or simply being in each other's presence? how could we just throw out all of those fond and silly memories for some retarded squabble that we are having? you have been one of the most influential people in my life, ever, and the thought of not growing old and gray with you has never once crossed my mind. so i'd like for us to think about the situation; is it worth hating each other for another six months and going through hell avoiding each other? is what i did bad enough to sacrifice all those nostalgic memories? it is unimaginable to me that you are even reading this letter now, since you aren't supposed to read it until we are hating each other, because i cannot imagine us not being anything but some of the best of friends. please, please please, try to patch things up. i'm always here and won't hang up on you or anything. chances are by the time you finish reading this i'll have called you to apologize because i just read the letter you gave me way back in march. take care and don't be afraid to call me because i do not want this to last for another minute. you are my sunshine and the wind beneath my wings and i love you. dear to my heart you are, r. (just in case) 415 858 XXXX.
Well, aw.

This was back when the area code on the peninsula was still 415, when we had long summer days to craft elaborately silly gifts for each other, before we became self-conscious enough to be embarrassed by big statements. I had forgotten about these treasures until just now, and I think I will put them right back where I found them, so thirteen years later I might be delighted by them again. Thank you, dear R and dear O!

Friday, December 11, 2009

training week diary

day 1

On my notepad: sketch of a panda sitting on a bed, flipping channels on a TV with a remote control, with a thought bubble reading "I forgot my LexisNexis password" over her bespectacled head; "I got a fantastic education"; "Strunk and White"; "what a stupid thing to say"; "widows/orphans." All the notes after the panda indicate that I found the writing workshop tiresome. It was as if nobody had written a document before. Somebody said, "Footers are hard to change because the text is grayed out." I found it hard to suppress my urge to disrobe and defecate on the table.

day 2

On my notepad:
  • My eyes are closing. My eyes are closing.
  • Possibility of death by videoconference.
  • Woman speaks primary in key of E.
  • A little table, two cardstock name tags struggling to stay tented, red suit jacket, a projection screen, two thin microphones, a clear, heavy glass pitcher of water. Four associates visible in the foreground, including one Asian girl with embarrassed body language.
  • Now man in pink tie, Ambien in a suit.
  • I may have to kill myself. Implements available: plastic fork, wrung out Darjeeling tea bag, paper plates, first year associates.
  • Core values: excellence, expertise, collegiality, teamwork, integrity.
  • Pink tie shifting around so much his microphone can't adjust to volume changes, we hear only volume extremes.
  • "We are in the service business."
  • XNOR, XOR, AND, and OR.
  • Prosaic. Cross fertilizing.
  • "I’m a restructuring lawyer, an equities lawyer, a capital markets lawyer, but primarily I do lots of death." I think he said "debt," but the videoconference equipment gave him that fatal lisp.
  • "We're a business. We sell our time and our expertise." Brothel slogans.
  • Surveillance footage of man in Dongbei parking garage getting assaulted by two men, tied up and placed in trunk. Mom said he was found dead. Bland, dull, so unlike fiction. The struggle between the two men and the victim, the stationary angle of the black and white camera: all unglamorous, heavy, slow, terrifying.
  • Man eating chicken. We check BBs.
  • In New York they can see me drawing pandas on this notepad.
  • Misuse of "good for goose, good for gander" idiom.
  • The thrill of a red BB light.
  • [drawings of pandas]

Ways I have thought of to kill myself during training:
  1. Rube Goldberg machine ending with logroll of associates into pool of water where I am bound to a chair with only my nostrils above water; the associates raise the water level and I drown.
  2. Wireless mouse slammed against forehead; forehead slammed against desk.
  3. Plastic cup cut into conic sections; sharp-edged ring pressed into body like a cookie cutter until cookies of flesh pop out.
  4. Blackberry; discover keystroke sequence on Blackberry that kills associates instantly, like cyanide capsule for spies, hara-kiri, peanut allergy.
day 3

Just survived the most boring videoconference in the history of mankind. The man to my left kept his thumbs busy sending emails. The woman to my right achieved level 9 on Brickbreaker. The man across the table from me fell asleep. I couldn't see what the others were doing, but circumstantial evidence (laps stared at, thumbs moving; eyes closed, heads resting on hands, breathing even) suggests they weren't paying much attention either. For my part, I drew 23 panda heads on a pad of paper, then seven panda arms, then played a round of Brickbreaker, using my left hand to increase the challenge.

day 4

Found another reason to kill self: diversity training. The kind of situation where people describe individuals as "diverse," as in, "If you are diverse, you might find yourself at a firm mixer wanting to eat ligaments off pigs' feet while the other associates delicately carve slivers of expensive cheese onto wafers"; "diverse" as an HR concept and a butchery of English; how can one person be "diverse"? It was such that halfway through it, I found myself declaring, "A bunch of white people sitting around laughing about diversity training makes me feel uncomfortable." I said this loudly to make the people making me feel uncomfortable feel uncomfortable. We had discussed nonconfrontational ways of telling other people they had offended us, but sometimes a direct confrontation spoken clearly works better than a peacemaking statement spoken with a mouthful of croissant.

Oh, but it was not all bad. There were some bad apples whose insincere affect cheapened the training -- e.g., those people who breezily concluded, "Yup, offensive!" to speed along discussions of "diversity" scenarios that required higher order thinking -- but there were also the sincere efforts of generally nice people who generally try not to hurt other people. One confessed that he "didn't know how to pursue diversity." I liked this comment, it seemed honest to me. I know that my sort of glowering humorlessness about this subject can drive people away, but I do recognize that it's hard to be a human, in this world, with other humans.

I took notes during one exercise. The presenters directed us to write our names on a sheet of paper, and then write five identities that we associated ourselves with. The answers were illuminating. A mid-20s white male said that he had just done this exercise, since he had recently met a stranger on a plane; the stranger wanted to know him, and he had said: John Doe, Los Angeles, lawyer, one brother no sister, and his birthday ("For women who like to ask about astrological signs and stuff," to general laughter, to my glowering). A mid-20s white woman said that she didn't know whether what she had written ("sarcastic," "blonde") were identities. A mid-20s white man confessed he didn't understand the exercise and described himself in adjectives alone ("hardworking," "fun"). An early-30s South Asian man refused to distill himself or others into five identities, since that encouraged stereotyping. A mid-20s East Asian woman failed to speak. A crone with the lovehandled body of a late-20s East Asian woman complained that this exercise could only be taken too seriously or too lightly; this notwithstanding, she listed her five identities: S's partner; a beautiful and funny unicorn; a good friend/daughter/sister; a considerate and concerned citizen; a phenotype comprising size 8 pants, size 10 shirts, black hair, slanty eyes, small face, abnormally large sinuses, green skin, no taste in clothes.

Later the mid-20s East Asian woman to my right looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "Are you taking notes?!" I wanted to remember what we said about ourselves.

I can offer one concrete action that companies serious about diversity training can take: have someone high up in the organization sit in the room during training. The person need not participate; presence alone can send the message that the company wants employees to pay attention to the presenters, rather than chat about the room temperature. It was cold, but not that cold.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

discovery of the week

Sweaters are business casual!!

sacramento weekend

I took the Capitol Corridor Amtrak from Great America to Sacramento on Saturday night. R was running a marathon from Folsom to Sacramento on Sunday; I was heading up to cheer for her. There was nothing to see out the windows, since it was dark, but I had an ale and a cup of instant noodles in the cafe car, read The Year of Magical Thinking, and chatted with S, and I was happy. S said my liquid intake was "salty and dehydrating," and told me to drink more water.

O was in plaid pink pajama pants at G's house when I got there. We traded back massages as we watched the end of Bewitched and the beginning of The Rock, then ate corn that G exhorted us to condiment with any of seven spice mix bottles he placed on the counter, then made a sign for R ("You're Ruthless!"), then collapsed, O in an airbed, and me on a frameless mattress set underneath a University of Nebraska Cornhuskers throw.

In the apartment also were a University of Nebraska Cornhuskers slipper set, flag, poster, calendar, beaded necklace, hat, t-shirt, and an extensive collection of Oakland A's bobbleheads. Later, I overhead this statement from the bobblehead collecter to the Cornhusker fan: "Man, you should've seen the fucken game. We were up by fucken two points until the last second, then they scored a fucken field goal, I couldn't fucken believe it."

G, O and I intended to ride our bikes along the American River, find C halfway, and then meet R for spiritual uplift at miles 10, 20, and 26.2, but the freezing weather put a snarl in our plans (it was 35 degrees at the starting line). We left the house at 7 a.m. and rode 17 miles through Sacramento and along the American River to meet C. G rode a 1980s era red Specialized Sirrus. Both members of the L family wore $1 gloves from Target. None of us dressed correctly; G was in shorts, O in thin trainers, I in jeans, and C, when we found him, was bleeding from his gloveless hands. C called a few minutes before we got to our meeting point to say he had been in a bike crash, his hands had been too numb to operate the brakes. We found blood on his hands, face, pants, and handlebars. I offered my fingerless bike gloves, Richard's purchase from Bike Nashbar in 1993, to C; for some reason, C and G each wore one of my gloves, and one of G's.

We rode on. It was much better between miles 18 and 30, because we had stopped for coffee and biscuits in a half gallon of gravy, and because we slowed the pace so that I could ride with O as she explained the debate in the anthropological academy about the human ability to run for long distances. Harvard says it is an adaptive trait (not the term she used) resulting from a need to go long distances to track game; Wisconsin argues that long distance running is an ancillary result of bipedality rather than an adaptation in itself; the two schools bicker like girls.

I took some photos while biking. G noted that the bikers on the American River path were insane. If you happened to veer across the dividing line, they would shout, "Get off the trail!" and "Learn how to bike first!"

We met R at the town of Fair Oaks, at the top of a hill around mile 10. She came five minutes after we arrived, and as she sprinted downhill she tried to take something off her hand to give to George, but could not get it off before momentum took her past us and down to mile 11. Later, after her post-marathon bloat had subsided, R pulled a ring off her hand and dropped it into mine. She had made it just for me. It was a wide silver band, dimpled with a ball peen hammer, with [BANANARCHISTA] carved out. R has been calling me [BANANARCHISTA] since 1996; in 2001 she made me a balaclava with the word stitched on the back. I wore the ring on my middle finger and said that R and I were middle finger-married. Since C proposed to me in neck-marriage, only a few of my body parts are left for life partnership. Form a line, ladies.

We wanted to meet R at mile 20, but we missed her, and then we rode along the marathon looking at people's backsides, trying to find her. Our bike posse reminded me of Critical Masses past, in Chicago with R, in New York with L. R finished twenty minutes faster than expected. We searched for her among the throngs of limping people and turned to our combined 50+ years of experience with R's hyperrationality to deduce the most likely place she would be: on the sunny side of the capitol building, probably in the grass, possibly trying to borrow somebody's cell phone to call C. We found her on the grass on the sunny side of the capitol building, borrowing somebody's cell phone to call C.

O, G and I rode back to G's to get the car and drive over to meet C and R at the pick up point. G doubled up on bikes, riding one and steering C's home alongside his own. The ride was fast, sunny, cold, and among California drivers, and at several points I thought G and his tagalong bike were going to spill, including once when a Pontiac was tailing six feet behind him.

We tried to find lunch at three different places in Sacramento, and they were all either closed or overcrowded. A committee chose In-N-Out Burger in Rancho Cordova. I split a chocloate milkshake with G, who said, "I wish I always had somebody to split a chocolate milkshake with!" He meant that the portion was too large for just one peson. It was sweet. R walked as if her legs had been battered by clubs. C finally recovered from the shock of his fall, and had two cheeseburgers.

On the train ride back to Great America, I showed O the menu from the cafe car and asked what she would get if she could get anything from the cafe car. Her order: "Chicken wings, chicken nuggets, a pot roast sandwich, and a Cup o' Noodles to dilute it all." The landscape from Davis to Fairfield looked like my imagination of 1980s Russia. From Fairfield to Richmond, the Capitol Corridor runs ten feet ashore from the dreamy, industrial part of the bay that O called the "Delta." We made plans to tube on the American River with floating coolers of beer, but I said I was scared of the rapids; O heard "rabbits." She read Fahrenheit 451; I finished my time with Joan.

Mom and Dad picked me up. We had family dinner at a salad buffet. Richard explained to Grandma why Second Uncle's teeth were so screwy; we all noted his excellent Mandarin vocabulary; Mom said afterward, in Chinese, "Enamel!" I snapped a photo of a 6" turd of soft serve left dangling from the machine by the last user. Upon arriving home, I shuffled around Palo Alto, walking Boo, whining to my sleepy S. C called to announce: "These are the teams I now hate: the Jazz, the 49ers, the Chargers, the Cubs, and Utah." She proclaimed that men who did not understand sports were unattractive. She predicted Cal's victory over Utah in the Pointsettia Bowl, and declared it "a fitting end." As she explained this all to me, I punched myself in the face over and over with the boxing kangaroo pen that I had bought in Sydney.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

diversity training

The most eventful thing that happened today, besides a conversation with S that left me listing against a post in front of Chevy's Fresh Mex, stricken with lust, was that I nearly fainted from hunger whilst sitting at my desk and paging through competing health insurance plans. Lunch is catered every day at the office, but one must pay $6.50 for the meal; if one waits until 2:30 p.m., the leftovers are free. Obviously, one waits. My parsimony today was rewarded with one piece of sushi, white rice, the onions and scallions from a Mongolian beef dish, and two golfball-sized cream puffs.

Last night, Kathy and I swapped stories about our workplace harassment trainings. Hers included a skit in which a white man says to an Asian man, "Hey, a really great Chinese food place just opened up downtown!" and the Asian man responds, "Man, what makes you think I even like Chinese food? I'm Korean." The best part, according to Kathy: "The actor playing the Korean man was flagrantly Filipino!"

baby caribou

Two hours of training in the morning, how to create and save a file in the complicated document management system. I wrote notes in my pad only because everyone else wrote in theirs, but notes were social scientific rather than functional, more "Procedure appears important to this firm; why?" than how-to. Then there was an entire day of unstructured time. I sat through a two-hour sexual harassment web training comprising video clips of actors reenacting harassment scenarios, including a woman recalling the details of a date to a female colleague ("Oh, his body was just gorgeous, and after dinner, we went back to my apartment, and he started kissing me - oh wait, where are you going? - and then he took my clothes off -- " "No, stop. That's just TMI. God, some people. They don't know when to stop!"') and a man classically harassing his female subordinate ("Hey Sarah! We have to stop bumping into each other like this. Or we could bump into each other some more and go into an empty office"; I was somewhat horrified to discover that this sleaziness kind of turned me on; a sexual harassment video!). Around 2 p.m., the sun came straight through the windows and into my eyes, so I asked my officemate to adjust the Venetian blinds. He broke off the adjuster rod immediately, and then took his shoes off and got on his desk and manually flipped all the Venetian blinds up; the sun came in through the two slats he could not reach and went straight for my retinas. I wrote S to ask why the circus follows me, but she declined to respond. Later in the day there was an ice cream social; I met some nice people, but I also described my bar experience as "me being half-naked in the backyard eating chicken on a trampoline." I think the person I was speaking to thought I was coming on to him, and he said, "I studied for the bar in Chicago to be near my wife." Whoops. After work I drove to Mountain View to buy a third-hand folding bicycle off a nice Silicon Valley professional named Jedd. I texted Olympia that I had bought a bike, and she wrote back: "I just bet Karen that it was a folding!!! She says our new band name should be 'freaks on the same wavelength.'" Richard and Aimee called to ask if I was game for dinner at Chevy's, but I refused secondarily because I had to go to San Francisco to see an apartment, and primarily because I had butter-sauteed butter for lunch, then three chocolate chip cookies, then a bowl of strawberry ice cream with whipped cream, and I am afraid that a few more heavy meals and the witch will be ready to push me into the oven as I peer into it saying, "Wait a minute, I don't see any malomars -- wha...? - NOOOOOOOOO!!!" [cracklings]. At home, they ordered pizza and we ate it at our little kitchen table in our little kitchen. The table is shoved into the corner so there were five of us sitting around two sides of it; we had Round Table and drank lager from tiny, shot-sized Dixie cups. I gobbled a slice, then drove up to the city to see an apartment in the Mission. Later I described to Kathy why I didn't think I would want to live in the apartment; I'd met girls like this before, girls who were perky and tended to work in marketing, girls whose bathrooms had a haze of vanilla-scented candle smoke badly obscuring the cloying sweetness of recent, delicately-delivered shit, and I didn't think I could thrive in such an environment. Also the place was a trainwreck of disorganized crap, poorly lit, and carpeted: yuck. Could not imagine bringing my Brooklyn bride back to this. Kathy's apartment, four blocks away, was infinitely cooler, as it included a spice closet and a fireplace that Davey used for storing two skateboards. Kathy told me that her firm had worked her so hard earlier in the year that she literally thought she would die. She said, "One morning, at 6 a.m. after I had stayed working the entire night, I was washing my hands in the sink and thinking to myself, 'So cold, so cold,' and I had to run my hands under hot water to keep my body warm, and I looked up at the mirror and I looked so bad I thought that I was just going to die." She said this while laughing, of course, and peeling apples with a knife against a thumb. We had Coronitas and talked about death by law firm and what clothes failed as business casual attire. Then it was late, and I had to go home. The volume knob in the car is broken so music can only be played at a low hum, and my howling of "Sweet Child O' Mine" drowned out Axl Rose's in the stretch between Burlingame and Redwood City. I came back to find Dad watching Planet Earth on the new Bluray player that Richard spent lots of time price comparing to find. A wolf was chasing a baby caribou; for a while it looked like the baby caribou might outrun its hunter; but it stumbled, and the wolf caught it by the leg, and then both sat down, and the wolf took a second to catch its breath before biting down in earnest. Dad shook his head, saying, "It's so cruel." Why has nobody told me about Planet Earth before?!?! It is as beautiful as the day is long.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


I spent almost no time in the last three months thinking about my job; last week, my preparations were entirely sartorial. I wore my suit pants and a button down blue shirt today. Each of the five associates starting today wore this uniform. To this I added the $25 canoe shoes that I bought in a frenzy last week - immediately after the purchase I called Sonia and described the shoes as "canoe shapes with jiaozi-like crenellations," and then complained that I knew nothing about buying shoes and that God punishes the weak - but I discovered to my horror that they squeak, so while taking a tour of the offices, I affected a conspicuous limp so that my squeak would go unnoticed. The day was spent in orientation meetings where I gleaned such information as We no longer carry Diet Dr. Pepper in the lunch room soda fountain because we could never get the carbonation right, Follow these forty-five mandatory yet unmemorable steps to save a file to your remote desktop, and Best practice is to put your computer on standby when undocking. Unparseable information causes my contacts to dry, so I spent a lot of time today blinking. I met my officemate and decided I really liked him; the first thing he showed me this morning was his Excel spreadsheet compiling different commute times for different combinations of bike/Caltrain/BART; calculations included ten minutes for changing clothes, 22 minutes for biking downtown (stoplights inclusive), and the proportion of train time to "lost time," defined as time spent walking from bike rack to station when reading or Blackberrying was not possible. There was a lunch with my officemate and two associates. We talked about Malcolm Gladwell and my contribution to the conversation was either to say conversation-deadening grim things ("9/11 was conducted with box cutters, not explosives," yikes, or "Don't you think Malcolm Gladwell is making it all up?" whoops) or to speak too quietly so that even the person immediately to my right had to smile and say, several times, "Excuse me?" I ordered a salad for fear of getting too fat (remember what the witch wanted of Hansel and Gretel) but by mid-afternoon was ravenously hungry, and then weighed the relative merits of eating my office-wide phone directory and preserving my reputation as a person who did not eat office handouts, the latter winning by a nose. I suddenly remembered thoughts I had during my summer associateship - e.g., looking out the window at trees and imagining them broccoli, me giant - and the unicorn clip art I had printed and posted next to my monitor to remind myself that God was mysterious and wonderful, it all came rushing back to me. I stayed late because I wrote my address incorrectly four times, not exaggerating, on one particular form and had to print and recycle, print and recycle, print and recycle, print. I drove home chatting with beloved S, who listened to me whine and then unrelatedly referred to herself as "little retarded S" and "a freak" (speculating about what her colleagues must think of her), and at home I discovered that Richard, Aimee and Mom had bought me a double-double from In-n-Out burger, Dad wanted to take a photograph of my first paycheck, and Boo could not wait to wriggle over to me and push his body against my legs as a demand to be loved. This too I noticed in 2007, how the contrast between a scary professional new work environment and the warmth of friends and family makes me appreciate so much more the love that I have. Reena identified this emotion as the one to exploit to get me to pay for her Quiznos subs. Tomorrow I have to go back to work, but I have run out of clothes.