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Explain Like I’m Five

The United States’ national healthcare plan that was just upheld almost in its entirety by the Supreme Court, explained like you’re five. Or just not a loophole-minded politician. Have at it.


Captain Therapy

CaptainAmerica.jpgHeading to the car after seeing Captain America:

Me: Did you read Captain America?
R: No.
Me: Why not?
R: He didn’t have any superpowers or gadgets or anything. A shield, I guess…
Me: He does too: he’s almost bionic. And Batman didn’t have any powers.
R: Yeah, but he was dark and twisty.
Me: So his superpower was Most Fucked Up?
R: Yeah.

Stair Living

stair-diagram.jpgThe Stairmaster is beyond me. Climbing stairs endlessly is like Sisyphus and his hill and who needs more of that in their lives when there are taxes to be done every year not to mention having to cut your nails for the rest of your life?

I don’t understand the appeal of climbing endlessly and slowly. At least on a treadmill you’re moving quickly to get nowhere.

Well, if you’re doing it right anyway. Not like that lady who brings her magazine and sets the machine on, like, 1 mph with no slope. She has definitely spent at least $200 on her outfit though. And then there’s the trip to the grocery checkout for that fashion mag. And maybe she had to walk the gym bill from her car to the post box, so that counts for something. There’s a calorie burn in there somewhere. And she gets points for making me feel better about how hard I’m working, which is not nearly as hard as the girl next to me who must be bionic, really, because who goes that fast?

I’ve gotten off my point. My point is that I’ve stopped going to the gym.

Correction: I’ve stopped paying the gym for not going. I put my membership on hold. Why? Because now I live on a Stairmaster.

Yes, my least favorite gym machine has come into my everyday life. We live on the side of a hill at the top of a hill and the bottom of a hill. Well, really, the top and bottom of several hills. Welcome to Potrero Hill. The views are amazing, but holy God, the hills.

Our beloved former apartment was also in Potrero Hill but just on the edge, on the flat bit leading to other flat, reasonable neighborhoods. My calves will be happy to tell you how much we don’t live there anymore.

Our house is on the up side of the street: we’re perched on bed rock above the street rather than our lower across-the-street neighbors who are also on bedrock but whose front doors are at street level. One steep set of stairs up to our basement level then another set of stairs up to the front door. This is a wonderful set-up for carrying a baby, a stroller, groceries, mail and coffee.

(We have no garage for storing things like strollers: cutting one into the hill will cost, depending on who you ask $50K or $200K, which could be better spent on purchasing and staffing a litter for me and A. to get around. Stripey curtains please, if you’re thinking of springing for it.)

Our house is also the very last house on a half block of flat before a steep downhill slope. This means if I drop anything while unloading the car, it is going to roll away. Far away. Even things not generally considered roll-worthy will have a go at our hill. Why not? It might be their only chance at it. Look at the credit the wheel gets for advancing civilization. Why wouldn’t a square block or a flat book want to even up the score?

In the other direction, beyond the flat bit, we’re at the intersection of the bottom of two just-as-steep hills. There is literally nowhere to go but up.

But let’s get back to the stairs. In some previous owner’s wisdom – or significant budgetary constraints – when they added the living room and our giant upstairs bedroom above it onto the house, they thought it’d be brilliant to use the space under the new stairs for a small bathroom. Excellent. Good. Unfortunately, they failed to put a bathroom on the second floor for the now-sleeping-upstairs residents.

You see where I’m going with this. Any trip to the bathroom from the bedroom involves fourteen stairs down and another fourteen (well, the same fourteen really) back up. In the middle of the night. It’s like a mini workout at 2AM. A very, very unwelcome workout at 2AM.

So as far as stairs are concerned, I’m sorted. Really. Don’t get me stairs for Christmas. I don’t really like them and now I have tons. They’re like tube socks. Or Carters underwear. Stop with the stairs already. Someone get me a slide. Or a human-sized version of that suction tube thing from at the bank drive-through. See, now that would be useful. Why didn’t we look for a place with one of those?

Modern Childhood

imaginary-friends_photo.jpgA friend told me this story about her friend’s six-year-old daughter.

A few months ago, the little girl picked her first imaginary friend and named him Charlie Macaroni. Her parents asked about Charlie regularly and got concerned when the little girl said that no matter how many times she rang him, Charlie wouldn’t return her calls. Not so much with the imaginary friend play dates apparently. The parents considered intervening in their daughter’s unsatisfactory friendship but decided her imaginary life was hers and she’d work it out.

A little while later, the little girl reported having a great time with her new imaginary friend Laura. “Excellent,” the parents thought. “A replacement for absent Charlie.”

“Who’s Laura?” they asked their daughter.

“She’s Charlie’s admin,” the little girl replied.

Well, if you can’t lunch with the boss, the secretary might be more fun anyway.

Here and There

moving_truck2.jpgYou know that phrase, “Keeping up with the Jonses”? Like, you’ve got your eye on the neighbors and are trying to, well, keep up? If they get an Audi, you need an Audi. If their kid goes to violin lessons, you’re off to the Stradivarius factory? (At which point you realize that you will also need a time machine or a billion dollars because there isn’t one and they haven’t made a violin since the 1720s and has been hijacked by a company that makes weird tunic-y clothing that you don’t want your kid wearing because how is that keeping up anyway unless you live on in a German suburb or a pricey commune?) You get the idea.

I don’t think my subconscious has really absorbed the metaphorical meaning of the phrase because my version of keeping up with the Jonses is apparently quite literally wanting to keep up with them. Like follow them around.

Here’s what: every time a neighbor moves, I feel like I should move.

It has nothing to do with where they’re moving to: the last examples I can think of were Dallas, Los Angeles and now our current neighbors are off to San Luis Obispo which was nice the one time I drove through there and spent $500 on an Apple Time Machine (because, apparently, a road trip to LA and seeing all that plastic surgery got me super worried about whether I had enough back-ups of my originals…?) but is in the middle of nowhere and just not my bag at all.

But I still feel left out. I feel like your puppy that whimpers at the door when you head to the car even if you’re going out to run a really boring errand. Why would these people want to go places if they aren’t better than here? It must be better than here. Something amazing must be going on where they’re going or they wouldn’t be going, right?

It doesn’t seem to matter that the “something amazing” might only be amazing to them and not me, like getting into a graduate program in a field I only care about only very slightly because I’m a nice person (rainforest monkey evolution) or pursuing a career opportunity I admire but would not want (portrait photographer) or moving to be closer to other people’s grandparents who would probably not be keen to babysit my child so I could go see Transformers 3 on a weeknight.

I don’t want to be left behind. Period. I’m kind of a joiner and I’m pretty competitive. I need to make sure the party I’m not at isn’t better than the party I am at.

I don’t want to get too into the psychology of it, but here’s what I think: when I was kid we moved and I hated where we moved to, so I’ve wanted to keep moving on ever since. Which is weird ’cause really if I’d have just stayed put in the first place and I’d have been happy, but some switch got flipped and I got hooked on, “Change is good!” It probably didn’t help that home life was kind of a wreck, so “elsewhere” was generally pretty attractive.

So travel I did and I moved around a lot for a few years. Turns out “there” is often just a different version of “here” as far as your head is concerned, so eventually I settled in New York, which worked out well, because “there” and “here” converge in New York. It was the perfect location for a here-and-there-r: I never felt bad coming home because New York itself was so great, and I never felt like the people who were leaving were really going anywhere better because where could be better than New York?

Then I got cocky and left myself, assuming I’d be back soon. That was eleven years ago. San Francisco isn’t bad – I definitely think it’s better than Dallas or LA – but I’m back to my puppy at the door behavior whenever anyone goes.

Of course the other part of the move envy is that I’ll miss the people who leave. If they were jerks, I’d probably wave from the porch, secretly snide. But our neighbors are great. Two little kids, helpful, willing to chat a bit on the sidewalk. It’s quiet without them and I’m sad to see them go.

Like a number of parents I’ve known, they’re going to where help is – multiple grandparents and siblings to assist with kid care – and maybe we’ll eventually do the same. I’m going to start working on getting all my grandparents and the siblings to move to Brooklyn so when we get there, we’ll be all set. That’s almost the same thing, right? Then everyone gets to move! Winners all around.


GroupDots.jpgApparently I’m wrong. And I’ve been wrong for a while.

Here’s what: one is “one”. Two is “a couple.” Three is “a few,” and somewhere around six or seven is “several.”

Turns out that’s wrong.

According to Merriam-Webster,

sev·er·al adj ˈsev-rəl, ˈse-və-
2a : more than one
b : more than two but fewer than many

So three is “several.” And seven might be “many.”

I have spent the bulk of my life – I don’t know when I first used “several”… “Don’t touch my several Star Wars figures”? – not only misusing the word but judging others for using it too liberally to describe just a little more than a couple.

Well, “misusing” might be too strong. Six might still be several. “Limiting its lower bound,” let’s say, which is a lesser crime and no one is coming for me in a linguistic squad car. (Which would look like what exactly? A Prius? No – a Volt. With a supercilious air. Like mine when I read “several incidents” and find out the journalist means “three.”)

Isn’t “a few” three or four? Doesn’t “several” imply at least seven, given that they share almost all the same letters? And how is that not infallible logic? I didn’t take Latin, but wasn’t there something in third grade, or second, about root words? I think I’m right about this. Really. Someone back me up here.

And, even if it isn’t technically inaccurate, isn’t referring to three of something as “several” kind of an overstatement? If you can use “several” to describe anything from barely more than a few all the way up to, say, twelve, isn’t that like saying “I told you several times not to eat that crayon,” when really this is only the third time just now and who doesn’t want to suck on colorful wax, so back off already, I’m waterproofing my teeth?

All right: I’m soooo sorry if I have inaccurately judged you in the past for using “several” inaccurately when really I was wrong.

Sort of. We both know I’m kind of right still about that overdoing it thing. Kind of.

OK not. But give me a break: “several” to mean “more than one”? Really? “We owned several cars,” when we had a 1986 Corolla and a ’92 Camry? Really? Really???

High Road

high-altitude.jpgDear Altitude,

Quit it. Just quit it. Really. Enough already.

I got up early this morning, I got us packed, including 75 different snacks for our one year old – since she won’t eat the same thing from one day to the next – and enough hand wipes to clean the plane better than United did. I made pancakes for breakfast before we left, for God’s sake. That’s got to count for something.

Not in your book? Yeah, I figured.

Just so you know, instead of napping, A. ran around the Red Carpet Lounge yelling just at the moment when that quiet guy in the corner on his laptop in the business section seemed like he might be making some progress on whatever he was working on. Then she made me a glass of juice from all the available buttons on the juice machine. Then she poured water down the front of her shirt so she looked like we let her play in the pool before heading to the plane which I think reflects well on my parenting.

I’m just telling you, so you know what kind of morning we had.

Instead of napping on the plane, she was much more interested in talking to the three Japanese businessmen sleeping across the aisle than any of the other passengers who said, “Hi!” and, “Aren’t you cute?” Who needs those guys when there are three people paying no attention to you? All or nothing. Compliments from the willing are for suckers.

I know you don’t care, Altitude. I can tell by your cavalier distribution of headaches and dehydration once we got to where you are. But I thought you should know. Just so you have it in writing. Maybe someday you’ll look back and feel a little bit sorry? No? All right.

The rental car shuttle took forever, by the way. And then it rained. And the car seat the man who tried to get us to upgrade to an RV-sized tank for our three pieces of luggage just handed it to us like we’d know how to install a We-B-Cheap brand car seat. That kid is ours, dude. We like her so we invested in the giant gernade-resistant model that takes the strength of one of those male gorillas to install. The ones with the fangs. We have no idea what to do with this plastic shell that looks like it’s made out of Tupperware covered with ill-fitting velour from the craft store that always confuses me because there are so many, many bins of colorful things I don’t need. Do we need pipe cleaners to attach it to the seat? Safety pins? Whatever, dude. Whatever.

I’m telling you all this so maybe you’d just back on up off us a little. Sinus congestion and a nosebleed aren’t the, “Welcome to Colorado! We serve mixed drinks!” note I was hoping to end my day on.

The restaurant, when we got to our lodge, has a maximum age limit of 12 for their staff, so it took 90 minutes to get seated and I had to leave before dinner because A. was so tired. She fell down in front of me she was so tired. Just fell. No reason. Hard not to take that point. So I ate my now-take-out burger in our bathroom so she could sleep, poor tired thing.

And you know why she’s so tired? Because we’re at 100 billion feet in the air and we live at sea level, Altitude. The views are nice from here, I won’t deny it. But what’s with the thin air? And why suck all the moisture out of it while you’re thinning it out? We needed that humidity. We can’t breathe. God. Who’s mean to a little kid? She’s adorable. Why would you give her a headache? It’s like hating kittens, for cripe’s sake. Be a mensch.


OK. You win. I’ll find the aspirin in the massive pile of stuff unpacked from two suitcases in seven seconds in the near-dark to find A.’s pajamas. And I’ll find some water. And we’ll just pretend you’ll be nicer tomorrow, OK? You can have a word with yourself overnight and see if you can make it out of bed on the right side in the morning. We’ll talk then.

Yours truly,

Oh no!

cornpops.jpgHave you seen this list? I seem to read one every year. It’s about which brands will go under in the coming year.

If you’re in finance, I guess doing the list makes you a smarty pants analyst. I’m not in finance, so a.) since I am not a smarty pants in this particular area, I am irritated by people who are (if I were, I would, naturally, be impressed with myself), and b.) there are always some brands on the list that I can’t believe will go under because I need them, so I choose to not believe the list.

A couple of years ago, the list said Borders would go out of business and I was very upset. Borders is where I go to buy magazines, peruse the travel section for vacation destinations where I can go without getting immunization shots, and look at all the books I will then go onto Amazon to buy at a discount. Which is precisely why Borders is going under. But I still buy all those magazines. And coffee. Apparently not in sufficient quantities though because the list makers were right about that one.

This year, they’re predicting the demise of Saab, which makes me, um, well not, you know, but definitely feel sad. I think they’re going under because they drifted away from that retro Porsche-y almond-shaped sillouhette they used to have in the 1980’s. I wanted one of those cars. Also, I like the Swedes, so that’s sad for them.

With A&W on the list, I thought maybe the one root beer brand I can identify was going south, but no, it’s just their restaurant arm. I thought you had to have a time machine to go to the A&W restaurants, and apparently so did everyone else, because they’re going away.

I am not sorry to hear about Soap Opera Digest, which should’ve just cut over to reality TV a while ago, which is way more soapy than the dying soaps, and American Apparel, because I never liked their ads. Not because the billboards were overtly selling sex (who isn’t?) but because they were selling tacky underage1970’s runner shorts sex, which is not my kind of sex. So I better head to the local shop and get R. a bunch of those waffle Ts he likes and another couple sleeveless turtleneck dresses for me and say goodbye.

The brand loss that’s truly breaking my heart is Kellogg’s Corn Pops. Ah, Pops. I loved Corn Pops. When Fruit Loops and Apples Jacks changed their formulas to be less crispy-sugar-coated and more milk-susceptible, I could always turn to Pops to remind me of the good old days when I escaped the “no sugar cereals” ban at home and got my little box of Pops at camp and college cafeterias. Tasty, tasty Pops.

Pops were a staple of my pregnancy diet, along with fruit, which is probably why A. is so cute and awesome and I only gained 18 lbs. (For which I take no credit by the way: who has control over the foods they want to eat while pregnant? No one, that’s who.)

I just threw out my last box of baby-related Pops last week. They had merged into a single Pop in the humidity of the San Francisco rains. I wasn’t eating them fast enough. And now, soon, I may not be able to get more. I might have to look at the whole second child question from a new angle now if s/he will not have the in utero Pops advantage.

Reading further bad news, it turns out that the smarty pants(s) think Pops are on the way out because they aren’t healthy, containing both saturated fat and something called BHT, which doesn’t sound all-natural and turns out isn’t. It’s a component in embalming fluid.

Adding that little detail is just mean. How can I ever look at a Pops box with the same pure desire I had before knowing it has a little bit of embalming fluid in it? It’s like telling me Hugh Jackman kicks puppies. Why did you have to throw that out there on the mat? You’re ruining it for me. What I didn’t know wasn’t hurting me. Or rather, I didn’t know what was hurting me.

Come to that though, how do you know it’s hurting me? It doesn’t sound good, putting embalming fluid ingredients in food, but the smarty pants guys don’t say if they know it’s bad. It might be giving me nice supple skin. They use corn in ethanol, don’t they? Is anyone going after Orville Redenbacher for using an ingredient in auto fuel? No. They’re not. Maybe BHT is like corn: just another harmless ingredient that’s been vilified unjustly by smarty pants(s) taking it out of context.

Although the acronym isn’t helping its case. Acronyms in food sound sinister. Like CRN Pops. It sounds like something robot overlords use to keep their joints lubricated.

I hear people are hoarding old-school light bulbs in preparation for the cutover to fluorescents next year. Maybe I’ll go that route: go buy that retro Saab I’ve always coveted, load up the trunk with 200 boxes of Pops and cruise on over to A&W to get some milk for my cereal. I’ll just circle until they close or I run out of Pops, whichever comes first. Don’t worry about me: the embalming fluid will keep my stamina up.


lebowitz.jpgI’ve never wanted the kind of fame that gets you bothered on the street.

Good thing because I definitely don’t have it.

What I want is the kind of fame where I can do what I want. Like get good tables at New York restaurants and have a mostly bottomless bank account. (It doesn’t have to be completely bottomless. Making decisions is good for you. Sometimes.)

Fran Lebowitz seems to have that but I don’t understand how. Don’t get me wrong: I like her. She’s an excellent writer. Correction: was. She hasn’t published anything in thirty years. And she’s clever, which goes a very, very long way with me. But that smirk in her Wikipedia photo says it all. She’s getting away with something amazing: despite her lack of production, according to today’s Times, she can afford to maintain and garage a 1979 Checkers in Manhattan. And wear Savile Row-tailored suit jackets. WHAT IS GOING ON?

I saw Public Speaking, but nowhere in there did I see an explanation for her wealth. How much can speaking engagements unassociated with any product besides your own wit generate for Pete’s sake? If they do cover what sound like her considerable expenses, I need to get a piece of that. I’m witty. I am. Really.

She’s like the Paris Hilton for Manhattan. Show up, be you, get paid.


Maybe I’ll take the window table at my local cafe every afternoon and just start saying witty things to myself until a crowd gathers. I’ll know what to do after that, right?

Independence Day

My friend Lucie is British, married to Marc, an American, and mother to Ethan, age one.

Me: What are you doing for the Fourth?
Lucie: I don’t know. Dressing Ethan in the Union Jack and sending him out to have at it with Marc.
Me: Sounds uneven.
Lucie: If someone French comes by to help, that’d be fine.