Archive for the 'Bricolage' Category

January 9th, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my 38th birthday. My father’s birthday was yesterday, January 8—the same day as Elvis (who would have been 70 this year). I, on the other hand, have the dubious honor of sharing a birthday with Richard Nixon.

This is, intentionally, one of those low-key birthdays. No party, cake, cards, or presents; maybe we’ll go out to see a movie or something, but that’s about it. Morgen and I put all our holiday/birthday efforts into the Patagonia trip instead, which is perfectly fine with me. I had a big celebration when I turned 30, and another when I turned 33 1/3—a third of a century! But these years between significant milestones don’t seem to require much fanfare.

This is a milestone of sorts, however: my official transition into my mid-late thirties. Morgen, having just turned 30, doesn’t need to say she’s in her early thirties; it’s just plain 30. In our family, we say that the “early” years of a decade are the ones ending in 1, 2, and 3; the “mid” years are 4, 5, and 6; and the “late” years are 7, 8, and 9. But then we subdivide further for clarity: the earliest year of any triplet is “early,” the middle year “mid-,” and the last year “late.” Thus a 21-year-old man would be said to be in his early early twenties; a 46-year-old woman would be in her late mid-forties, I’m in my mid-late thirties, and so on. It’s the late late years I think none of us looks forward to, but the reward just ahead is getting to use “early early” again.

December 7th, 2004

Driving Miss Loretta

As if rescuing chickens were not enough, I’ve just had yet another of those surreal experiences that seem to make my world go around.

Morgen is the Development Director for a nonprofit organization called Death Penalty Focus, and for months she’s been planning a major fundraiser that will take place this evening: a comedy event called “Stand-Up for Justice.” Several big-name comedians are participating. Actor Mike Farrell (Providence, M*A*S*H), who’s the president of the organization, will be acting as emcee, and will be joined by a number of other V.I.P. guests—including M*A*S*H costar Loretta Swit.

So yesterday Morgen called me from work in a panic to ask me if I could do her a favor. Would I be willing to be a chauffeur? I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, so she said, “We need someone to pick up Loretta Swit from the airport and drive her to her hotel.” The whole notion that a mere mortal should perform such a task was difficult for me to accept, but I agreed.

And so I did. The trip was completely uneventful; Loretta was perfectly nice, and that was pretty much that. I have had only a few close encounters with celebrities in my life, and I don’t really grasp the protocol and etiquette appropriate for interacting with the rich and famous. I’m not one to be star-struck, and I have no interest in autographs, pictures, and the like. I just want to be sure I don’t make a fool of myself or cause offense, and I think I succeeded in that.

Plus, now Loretta Swit can tell all her friends that she met that famous author Joe Kissell. “He was very down-to-earth,” she’ll say. “If I hadn’t known he was famous, I would have thought he was just an ordinary guy.”

November 15th, 2004

Chicken Rescuer

I have no words for how weird this is, but the following actually happened today.

At about 4:00, I decided to go out for a walk and do a few errands—you know, check the post office box, pick up a light bulb at the hardware store, buy some cat litter, that sort of thing. It was a lovely afternoon and this was going to be a very ordinary, refreshing walk. So I walked out the door, down to the end of the block and around the corner, and there on the sidewalk, scratching around in the dirt next to a small tree, were two chickens. They seemed perfectly happy and quite at home on the sidewalk in what is normally a pretty quiet residential neighborhood of San Francisco. They weren’t causing any particular trouble as far as I could tell, and they were friendly enough. But they were, I mean, chickens.

I have been to many places where it would not seem at all unusual to see a chicken on the sidewalk. A farming town in the midwest, say, or a small village in Costa Rica. But in San Francisco, where you can find anything—anything—on the street, I have never, ever seen a live chicken, to say nothing of two live chickens. And I simply had no idea what one was supposed to do upon encountering such animals that clearly did not belong there.

Perhaps, I thought, these chickens, which were not yet fully grown, belonged to the elementary school across the street. I saw two young children in front of the school with their father, and I asked them if they had any idea who the chickens belonged to. They did not. And none of us knew what the protocol was for dealing with an unexpected chicken discovery in San Francisco.

One option, of course, would have been to carry on with my walk; this is, I’m quite certain, what the majority of San Franciscans would do. I had an ethical problem with that course of action, however: nearby dogs were expressing a profound interest in the chickens, and had the birds chosen to escape by crossing the proverbial road, they would undoubtedly have been run over by an SUV. But what am I going to do, take the chickens home, keep them in my bathtub, and put up “Found: Chickens” posters all over town? Read the rest of this post »

November 9th, 2004

T'ai Chi Redux

Morgen and I just got back from a t’ai chi class. As I’ve been studying t’ai chi off and on for about eight years, this is not in itself a remarkable fact. But the circumstances under which we’re now studying are kind of interesting.

We had been studying at the Inner Research Institute for about a year, and though we liked it at first, we had reached a point of frustration for multiple reasons. Our teacher, Dmitri, was great, but there were other things about the school’s approach and methodology that caused us some consternation. Plus, ever since we moved to our current home nearly two years ago, the school was much harder to get to, and the thrice-weekly classes, especially given the commute, were putting a real strain on our schedules. Apart from our pedagogical, stylistic, and logistical issues with the school, our income had dipped to a dangerously low level, and we couldn’t justify the expense anymore. So around September of 2003, we reluctantly decided to drop out.

At that time, we said to ourselves that Dmitri should really start his own school, in which case we’d be very happy to study with him.

So a couple of months ago, Dmitri called me and said that he had just been thinking to himself that maybe the time was right to strike out on his own, when he unexpectedly ran into a former student at the BART station. This woman runs a Montessori preschool a few blocks from our home, and she said Dmitri was welcome to use the space in the evenings to teach t’ai chi if he were so inclined. He took that as a sign, made up some posters, and started classes a few weeks later.

Since about the beginning of October, we’ve been back in class, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. We’re having a great time, and you can’t beat the five-minute walk to get there. We invariably leave with very sore legs, but I couldn’t be happier. It’s been too long since I felt that kind of pain on a regular basis. I don’t exactly look forward to the classes, and the actual repetitions of some of these moves can be grueling, but as I limp out of there, I always think to myself, Wow, this feels good. Maybe it’s just the endorphins, or maybe it’s the ch’i, but in any case the sensation is one of meaningful, useful, body- and character-building pain, coupled with a kind of relaxation I can’t seem to achieve any other way.

If you happen to live in San Francisco, you’re welcome to join us: 6–7 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, 647 Chenery St. in Glen Park (about a block from the Glen Park BART station). Cost is $60 per month (two classes per week). Everyone is welcome, from absolute beginners to advanced students. We do the Yang style short form (Cheng Man-Ch’ing tradition), and will also be doing push-hands probably after the beginning of the year. More info: call Dmitri at (415) 285-1453.