Category Archives: things i worry about

ghost towns

A friend of mine recently blogged about the self-flagellatory hellhole travelers to third world countries often fall into, the pit of “why the fuck am I here?” and the sorrow of “I want to buy the rock that makes a bell sound when you shake it, but i only want to pay 12 cents, rather than 13, you poor child, you wearer of the butt-less pants.” And I quote her “…you are those kids’ meal ticket, and traveling to their far-flung hamlet is, for you at least, all about “improving” yourself by being witness to a kind of poverty which, if borderline globally abject, is at least presumed to be aesthetically pleasing.”

Hello, Lunch.*

In our many months of travel through China there were several days when one of us felt like it was absolutely impossible to leave the hotel room. It wan’t anything in particular, just a feeling that if we saw one more worker hiking rice up the mountain (because the government designated the use of the telpher for tourists only), rice that would feed us, or one more family tossing a watermelon carcass out the train window, or one more wealthy couple plucking each other’s chin hairs to the theme song from The Titanic, we were simply going to die.

So it’s funny, or maybe not, that on the drive last week from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, I got a similar feeling somewhere around the site of Occupy Tucson which lasted all the way to Las Cruces.

Which brings me to the Turquoise Trail. About 15 miles south of Santa Fe is the ghost town of Cerrillos, where Native Americans mined turquoise and galena since about 600 A.D. They used turquoise for its medicinal power, and extracted lead from the galena to paint their pottery. In 1540 the Spaniards came and found silver and gold in the area and forced the Pueblo Indians to work their mines until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 which sent the Spaniards ass over tit back to Mexico for twelve years. When the Spaniards embarked on their reconquest of New Mexico, they fought over Santa Fe, forgetting completely about the Cerrillos mines, which lay dormant for about 150 years.

When the gold rush started a couple of miners on their way to California found traces of gold in Cerrillos and soon the town was “rediscovered” in 1879 by everyone and their dog, including Louis Tiffany, whose boxes I mistakenly used to call “robin’s egg blue” are actually designed after the “gem-worthy” color of turquoise he extracted from the hills by the truckload. Soon, coal mining began to take over as the state’s economic mainstay, effectively ending the mining boom by the end of the century.

The short version of this history is: where the Spaniards had victory there are tourists,

and where the Spaniards met defeat there are holes in the ground.

Being a tourist in a place like Santa Fe, which really is a theme park, is slightly less emotionally painful than being a tourist in a ghost town. There’s less hate in the air, you don’t get the weird feeling like people are spitting on your car after you walk away, and the cheesiness doesn’t hit where it really hurts.

The fat man from the fancy knife store on the plaza told us he used to bring his dog to church with him and they’d sit in the pew together. All in all, it seems right that if you have to go to church, you might as well be able to bring your dog.

* “Hello Lunch” was a common greeting we received in China, often accompanied by the hand gesture of shoveling food into one’s mouth. After crossing into the south, where dog meat is a speciality, we greeted every dog we met with the same words.

Xmas Weekend

as a child my family never really celebrated Xmas, though we did send cards (ideally without any mention of God or Jesus) and my Mom sewed some velvet stockings with our names on them for our white brick fireplace, and they occasionally grew fat with things like staple removers, pocket calculators, and… Hanukkah chocolate money (i didn’t realize how funny this was until a few years ago—child-appropriate and shiny representations of money—a great hit with the Chinese). i do have memories of a fake tree with a red metal stand and nice glass globe decorations but presents were optional, especially since my dad (starting on the day after Thanksgiving) stormed about the house ranting on how if everyone agreed to buy presents after December 25th then everyone would save a shitload of money.

over the years my Dad has had a lot of ideas of “getting a pact together,” and though they all have good intentions, they somehow don’t resonate well in a world where not everyone (thank God) thinks like him: in Los Alamos where i grew up in there was only one supermarket, and one day he found green plums for sale, his favorite, a total rarity in that town. he bought several bags worth and then came home and called all his friends to go get them, in order to send a message to the manager that there was great demand for these plums. instead what happened was that after a few days the store ran out of green plums. more often than not his call to arms are political, usually to “clobber” the Republicans, teach the Communist pigs a lesson, or elevate the political power of Chinese Americans (the majority of which—to his dismay—tend to be in the Republican camp).

this year my Xmas weekend started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Mid-morning Xmas Eve i got a call from a client and after a few comments about the holiday and the weather, he asked if “we” had an offsite backup of his computer files. i asked if this was a “if someone were to firebomb the office” type of question and he responded, “actually, more like if the Feds come and raid the office.” he was serious, by the way.

the whimper came Xmas day just as the sun was setting and we were lounging on the deck. Something scrambled up a tree which startled both dogs and even Bing-Bing the cat, otherwise known as Bing-Bing the Brave, who had ventured on the deck to view the farolito lighting,

stepping outside for only the second time since her accidental procedure several years ago which turned her into a Manx, despite knowing that one dog is convinced she morphs from “tolerable roommate” to “prey” the second she crosses the threshold. anyway, if you were a small thing, say a baby possum, and you were in a tree, and down below were two dogs with four front paws on the trunk and it was dang close to dinnertime you wouldn’t go DOWN the tree, would you? would you?

a little about our client. i don’t know what happened and apparently it’s an innocent mistake, (not like the two-year sting operation on rawesome, who did have their computers confiscated) and i certainly hope so. these people are the coolest people on the planet. they have their holiday dinners at places with this kind of art on the wall (faces blackened to protect the innocent, but gawd that world map! that flag! those paintings! and the photos aren’t showing the bowl full of non-dairy creamer, the Sutter Home red or white option, or the other carafe filled with what tasted like bong water)

but i wouldn’t miss their holiday party for ANYTHING in the world. and i am dead serious. if you know me, that means a hell of a lot. plus, how can the Feds bust a company where the Office Manager has to remove this from under her desk, in order to stash things, like…

dead body parts?

in-between dealing with the off-site backup system, i went on a good hike, ate a bucket of latkes with lox and homemade applesauce, became addicted to a fudge called Fungus Amongus, converted a Scotch naysayer into an Islay lover, painted bookshelves, talked to both parents, one of which couldn’t believe you could just email some blogger to ask him what Chinese writing software he used (“i DON’T know him personally!”) and the other said “Guess where i am calling from?” before revealing that she was sitting at L’Atelier at the MGM about to eat a soufflé with a scoop of pistachio ice cream dropped in the middle (“It’s falling into the center of the Earth”), pulled weeds (while on the phone), brined a pheasant, took a recipe for butterscotch budino seriously when it said to finish everything within three days, figured out our New Year’s card (late this year – holler, or rather, send us your address, if you want one), and best of all, got to see the Star of Beeflehem.

excessive scandinavians

i’m sorry to lump the Swedes and the Norwegians into the same lump but they share the same chunk of land, have similar languages (if you know one, it’s a snap to learn the other), and are home to cows that produce horribly delicious butter and cream. turns out in Norway this year the unmentionable, the ungodly, the total apocalypse has happened: BUTTER SHORTAGE! apparently a fad diet is the culprit, turning normal citizens away from carbs and onto large wads of fat.

well that’s the way the cookie crumbles. i’ve always thought the Scandinavians to be a one-extreme-to-the-other lot, and i’d always figured it was because they have all-sun part of the year, and no-sun part of the year, but then i met a bunch of really intense-all-the-time Russians from St. Petersberg and that blew my theory out of the water.

many years ago i visited a friend who lived in Stockholm and we decided to have a dinner party (“can you cook Chinese food?”) while i was there. my friend was at work but he gave me directions to get to the wine shop, which, by the way, was government controlled (heavily taxed), and they kept a detailed list on who buys what and have quotas to cut people off. i asked him how many bottles to get and he replied “two each,” meaning two bottles for each of us, which meant four bottles total. in addition to my friend having a really funny Swedish accent he liked to exaggerate it, so what i heard instead of “two each” was “twelve.” so off i went to the store, worrying more about my name being on some list then how i was going to drag a case of wine home by myself.

i managed to get it all back to the apartment, and my friend was plenty surprised to see so many buddies waiting for him when he got home, but he was even more glad when he realized the name on file for all this booze was mine and not his. turns out these Swedes liked vodka before dinner, and dinner involved pork dumplings (skins made from scratch – come on, i’m in Stockholm) and cutting up a whole chicken and so on, so by the time dinner was actually served the crowd was rowdy and drunk as hell. i actually have no memory of whether or not we managed to open even one bottle of wine, but it’s been so many years since that trip i think my quota must be refreshed by now.

all creatures drunk and sober

it’s said you can learn a lot from animals, but you can also learn a lot from animal shows, especially if they’re produced by the BBC.

it’s been a flu and cough ridden season so far at our house, so we’ve been streaming endless episodes of All Creatures Great and Small, full of great animals, lots of practical jokes and “lashings” of scones, tea, bacon and whisky. (and please – Tintin fans: Captain Haddock’s favorite brown drink was Loch Lomond, which is Scotch, which lacks the “e,” as in “whisky,” Steven Spielberg couldn’t even get that right. so sad.)
anyway, ACG&S is set just before WWII and features James Herriot, the veterinarian who wrote the original books (amazing) and his co-vets, Siegfried and Tristan. on this episode, oh, the best out of the lot! we meet Roddy, a hobo with longish Occupy LA hair, who roams the shire with his dog and a pram, does odd jobs and moves as the wind blows. both James and Siegfried romanticize this life, and they ask him how nice it must be to be without a care in the world, and Roddy always answers with an “Aye,” and says that it’s just him and Jake, the dog. Roddy helps James innoculate a bunch of sheep and when James offers to buy Roddy a drink he says he never touches the stuff. James decides then that he’s going to live the life of Roddy and decides to refrain from drinking. Siegfried and Tristan support his decision with a toast.

the next day Siegfried and James are invited to a fellow vet’s house for lunch. the vet is a big drinker and in trying to be polite James takes a drink and he gets full on loaded. blitzed! they try driving to a restaurant for lunch and end up not being able to leave the driveway. oh the expanse of the English countryside! they have gin and tonics, then champagne cocktails, then beers, and James is so drunk he goes home and almost pukes in the dinner Tristan has made, a stew made mistakenly out of dog food, and passes out, while Siegfried has to perform an emergency surgery on Roddy’s dog who has a pebble lodged in his esophagus.

this is crazy. and this would never have been made in the US. basically there’s an overromaticization of the hobo life, and an attempt to equate a free-willed life with a non-alcoholic one, and then they make fun of drinking, and then they make fun of not drinking, then the guy who doesn’t want to drink gets drunk out of his mind, only to miss being able to help out the man without a care in the world as he swallows his hobo pride to accept the services of the man who would never give up drinking to save his actual one care in the world.

it’s just so awesome. it’s all about not allowing something negative to have power over you. this is a weak paraphrasing of something a wise man named Cormel West said, and, skeptical as i am usually of these guys with two first names: Bryan Adams, Bruce Wayne, etc. Cornel West isn’t so much two first names as it’s two geographical points/directions, so he’s well worth listening to. anyway, he says to be careful giving something negative too much power and control over one’s life. like some people who decide not to drink, or some Chinese people’s over-obsession with not buying Japanese cars and cameras. OK, so don’t buy one, but don’t covet a Lexus and then feel ashamed at wanting one and then deny that you’re coveting one and then falsely feel good about denying yourself of something you want but know you shouldn’t have and so on. this negativity will own you, and pretty much eat you alive. you are giving it exactly what it feeds off of: attention, negativity, power.

please don’t get me wrong, i’m not talking about alcoholism and other serious issues of wanting what you can’t have. i’m talking about people who make a private lifestyle decision but make it everybody’s business. they don’t give it a rest. it’s the people who go to restaurants and insist—since you do drink—that you order a drink. oh, but no, not for them. no no no, they don’t drink. but they will pore over the wine list or say specifically that this restaurant has a great bar, and so on. i’m talking mental health here. them basically forcing you to order a drink is pretty much denying you of your choice as to whether you actually want a freaking drink or not. it’s like, they have to see you drink in order to feel satisfied. on top of that it’s annoying as hell.

the same story goes for a friend of ours who thought she would apply for citizenship in Europe and leave the US rather than pay her student loans back. we told her she was letting her student loans determine where she was going to live, which was giving the idea of money an awful lot of power over her life. needless to say she exited the house and has never spoken with us again. (but wait – blog post on dinner parties, narcissus, psychosis and Puer Aeternus (Latin for Eternal Boy) due to be posted any day)

somehow this applies to the Occupy Movement. for example, i feel if they get too focused on the police, or the beatings, or rioting or fight over a tent stake, then they are letting the negative have power. it’s a tight spot they’re in, and endlessly fascinating. since on one hand if they do come up with specific demands, chances are those ideas will be nicely appropriated and pick up some sort of corporate sponsorship, and on the other side is obsessing over concrete, negative things. staying in the abstract is very hard indeed.

post waylaid

on the day after Thanksgiving i wrote a post about our dinner (crispy skin duck, brussels sprouts, sour cream apple pie, bottle of Chinon) and a highly intellectual conversation regarding narcissism, psychosis, and the Peter Pan Complex, or Puer Aeternus in Latin (meaning Eternal Boy). unfortunately our guest asked me to please refrain from posting it until after Friday the 2nd, and now that date has been pushed back further, so in lieu of narcissism, psychosis and Puer Aeternus in Latin, i bring you more Canine Sherman!

Fear

i am thinking, and i know it’s stupid, to close up shop and do something other than computers. not that i can do anything BUT computers, (seriously, what good would i be to anyone?) but there’s a field of sheepdogs out there waiting to be trained, a garden of organic dirt waiting to be planted, other things in the world out there. OUT THERE.

it’s just that everything i have i owe to the world of technology and there’s no one else who can run the world of technology like Steve Jobs. now that he’s gone there isn’t anyone who can hold up the fort, who’s there in the top rung of the business world, who seems to have the same expectations about taste, the same belief in the integrity of ideas, and my style of nitty gritty control-freaking tweaking.

over the years there’s been a lot of things my father has called me that has pissed me off but the one thing i’ve never forgiven him for is calling me an “Apple nut,” and he wasn’t talking breakfast cereal. he was the person who said “someday computers will be huge” and he was the one that made me take a Fortran class in high school, and even he, didn’t get it.

though it was great fun to program and i still love the phrase “to compile,” i wasn’t that interested in computers themselves in high school, and remained neutral through college, where my first interaction with the PC using Word Perfect turned into pure stupidness when i decided to change the font one hour before my paper was due. my moment came when a friend showed me on the Macintosh using new software called Quark how to change the spacing between letters. we were designing a business card for an old retired city planner (who had need of girls to eat lunch with, not business cards) but after i saw the letters jump one pixel at a time i kept telling my friend “Make it do it again. Again. Again.”

now our little business of “programming and designing the things you need a computer to do” is 16 years old and we still give everything we can to our clients. we care about the little things. we care about the big picture. we follow all our original slogans: “we think for you,” “we’re friends with shortbreads,” “rising above, with soft paws,” and “we’re better with butter.” literally and metaphorically, we’ve been up at all hours, changing the spacing between letters. and all this, because we’ve felt that if we could make things better, make things more efficient, make things more elegant, then it was all worth it.
for one of our first Filemaker jobs we cut our client’s job from two weeks of manual cut-and-paste labor down to the time it took to click on a button and get a fresh cup of coffee. when we showed her that we put a picture of Snoopy on the button she started to cry.
for one of our latest Filemaker jobs we set up a system using Filemaker Go on an iTouch so that employees who drive throughout Los Angeles county inspecting properties for sale can upload their notes at any wireless access point, rather then driving back to the office in rush hour traffic every night and then back home. one of the guys told me he now sees his baby at least three hours a day more than before.

always in the back of our minds we knew we were not alone. somewhere in Cupertino of all places was Steve Jobs and he was showing on a much grander scale that if he could make things better, make things more efficient, make things more elegant, then it was all worth it.

we get a look every now and then when we try to explain how we went to art school and how that makes us exceptional problem solvers and how we see things differently, and the potential client is just not getting it. it’s not like several years ago when an administrator was afraid to mention our company’s name to his boss because he thought our name was… er… well… worrisome. (we ended up telling him that his boss should be more concerned with the names of our clients than our name and after getting that list from us decided to recommend us). it’s not like the look you get if you order a steak at a vegetarian restaurant. in the restaurant they simply think you’re crazy, in the technology world there’s a hint of fear: we’re weird, we’re knowledgable, and we’re sitting in their true black Aeron chairs.
now the tables are turned. suddenly, looking out, there’s real fear on our end.

stand back, i’m doing science

i always knew at some point i would end up owning my own WOPR.

our kitchen sink clogged up a few days ago and our plumber came out to send in the snake. no, he didn’t have the rotating camera head with the LED lights, but he did say we had need of some cast iron pipe replacement, and also suggested putting in a water filtration system. because 2011 seems to be the year of the giant house expenses we agreed to install these two fat boys in the back, adding an industrial touch to our recent plantings of a straight Meyer lemon tree (just because it’s a Meyer, don’t be afraid to get rid of it if it’s all wonky—lessons from the lemonless), English lavender, Canna lilies, and white sage.

supposedly the system gets rid of chlorine and other chemicals in the water, and it descales the hard deposits that clog shower heads, ruin copper pipes and make your hair fall out and give you skin rashes. plus the water tastes amazing! yes! softer, rounder, not minerally, and it makes a fabulous espresso. now for our tea tastings, we can heat our fat boy water in a Lin’s ceramic pot, brew in Yixing, and drink out of purion… dreamy!

after the install a field specialist came to test our water. he put some white reagent powder into a little vial and filled it with water. the water stayed clear. if the water had chlorine in it, it would have turned pink. we probably didn’t look convinced so he tested water from the hose, which is not filtered, but that stayed clear too. then we sneaked some water from our neighbors and damnit, still clear.

the guy was pretty frustrated, and couldn’t believe that our street would have no chlorine in the water, so he he opened a new batch of reagent, thinking his current powders had expired, and looky – it turned pink! (that’s the neighbor’s water)

being a good specialist he did a second test, which was sticking a vacuum sealed pipette into the water and then breaking the tip so that the water went up into the glass. i think there must be a gas in the pipette, which turns the water pink in the presence of chlorine.

it all felt a little Chinatown (the movie)-ish, because he was full of useful water information. he said Los Angeles used to get water from 200 miles away, and now we get it from 400 miles away, which means we go through 4 chlorinating plants, not to mention the extra miles of pesticides and poop seeping into the H20. he said that Dasani comes from the Detroit River, and though Fiji Water does come from Fiji it has to travel so far in plastic bottles that’s not a good thing either. he also gave us a run down of how filters actually work. water needs time inside the filter in order for the unwelcome particles to wander into the little avenues and get stuck. if the water pressure is too high, or if the filter is too short, like a fridge filter, or a Brita, the bad stuff doesn’t have time to uncling from the water molecule. also, over time the water creates channels in the carbon so that after awhile when you run water through it just goes through the channels it has made, rather than through the filter. big sigh.

why New Mexico is weird

usually whenever i visit my Mom in Santa Fe i fly into Albuquerque, and she picks me up and we do all the things in Albuquerque that you can’t get done in Santa Fe. That means shopping at the one and only place in the state to buy Chinese vegetables and goods, with maybe a stop for fried okra and cornbread at Furr’s.

it used to be worse when i visited on college break. my parents lived in Los Alamos and that was a two hour drive home from the airport, and if you would rather starve to death then be deprived of Chinese food like my Dad is, you didn’t leave the Chinese grocery store until you were sure that you bought enough long beans and baked tofu and frozen squid to last until the next child comes to visit. after pulling a million all nighters and racing to make the flight i was generally not in the mood to help find the fish sauce from Taiwan or the pompanos with the flattest bodies, but even more so because the first thing anyone should do when they get to New Mexico is look up and see the sky.

this past week i flew directly from LA to Santa Fe, which was a first for me, on a little plane with propellers. they served juices on board—two kinds of tomato, plain and spicy, and no apple—which goes to show you the clientele they’re used to having. the flight was overbooked and the airline upped the offer to $500 credit to give up my seat and take a later flight to Albuquerque. in my head i imagined the “ground transportation to Santa Fe” the airline offered as part of the deal making the inevitable detour to the Chinese grocery store, so i hung on to my seat.

other than help my mom get to her doctor’s appointment and make her take a yoga class, i did some of the things New Mexico is fabulous for, such as eat as much New Mexican food as i can, go swimming afterwards and die from the altitude, look for Indian pawn jewelry, and spend endless hours at the Plaza watching the ladies try on and buy those jackets. yes, you know, those.

funny things tend to happen in New Mexico, and it’s not just because Mom has this on her front door,

or pictures of strangers printed from the internet pinned up next to a picture of her in the kitchen, though those things are weird, it’s my Mom, so i’m used to it.

on this trip i went for a walk around some new construction and found $20 on the side of the road (that kind of money will buy you 4 bags of dried posole), then i bought this from the farmer’s market, which is extremely good luck according to the Chinese,

and then someone dropped their Black and Decker drill in front of my mom’s house. we left it out all day, hoping that whoever lost it would come back, but after it started to rain we brought it inside.

headbanging

a few days ago my mom told me she was planning on leaving Santa Fe and selling the home she’s lived in for the past 20 years or so. it’s not the house i grew up in, but apparently it does have some of my crap, which she of course, suggested that i come and deal with. Mom said that she’s been throwing stuff out for awhile, and this i cannot believe until i see it. when my parents were married my dad wielded the iron fist in terms of preventing crap from accumulating in the house, so after the divorce my mom’s possessions exploded like one of those magic sponges.

spearheading this move is a small surgery that Mom is undergoing, (her uterus, which, come to think of it, is really the old home) and her biggest fear is the Demerol she’s going to have to take. no biggie, i told her, that’s not the part you should be afraid of, but i booked a flight anyway, so i’ll be flying out to NM this week, just in time for more chiles.

not sure what i will find in the closets though. most of my crappy sappy letters and I-suck-you-suck writings i have either tossed or stored in my small current closet, and my paintings that she has hanging on the walls that make me want to die just need to go. what i’m hoping to find is my stash of rock concert t-shirts from the 80′s that somehow disappeared between high school and owning two dogs. back then only hard rock bands came to NM, and they only went to Albuquerque, which was 2 hours drive from where we lived. a lot of my friends were not allowed to go unless a parent did the driving so my mom always volunteered for the job. not only did that make her cool, she didn’t sit in the car during the show, or scream “we’re going to die like at that Who concert” when they unlocked the fence and everyone started pushing. she came to the concerts and head banged with us. Black Sabbath (sigh. R.I.P R.J.D.), Iron Maiden, the Scorpions, Rush, Yes, Van Halen, Rush, 38 Special, Journey, Rush. Rush came a lot. so did (and still does) Ted Nugent but he doesn’t count. i remember one concert being in the second row sitting on top of my friend Tom’s shoulders when my contact lens popped out. i leaned over and said “i just lost a contact.” he said “what?” and let me down. i looked around and found it on the floor and probably gave it a lick and stuck it back in. guess that explains the eye patch i wear these days. rather remarkable considering i lost a shoe for good at a Madness concert in Berkeley, guess that’s the difference between hard rock and ska.

in any case Mom’s probably going to be fine. but here’s to staying healthy. eat your yogurt, keep your head out of the sand, and always look both ways before crossing.