Thursday, August 28, 2008

Give Up; Go Home

It's about 1:30 by the time I get back -- I've been Not Paragliding since 9:30.  I decide to wander down to the harbor and poke around there; maybe get some lunch.

I poke around.  I note that there's kayak rentals here.  For the nice calm waters of the harbor.  And they have both kinds of kayaks.  I'm too wiped to do this now, but I make a mental note of this for future Santa Barbara trips. 

I find a nice seafood restaurant and get a table outside with a view of the harbor.  I eat a yummy skewer with a chunk of salmon, two shrimp, and a scallop on it.  (I reflect that the last time (and also the first time) I ate a scallop was when I was in Santa Barbara for Peggy's wedding.  Scallops and Santa Barbara are now forever linked.)

It's 3:30.  My train is at 7:00.  I realize there isn't much I want to do for the next 3 hours, so get my bags and haul out to the Amtrak station to see if I can't catch an earlier train.  (And be home in time for dinner.  And not have to wander the creepy Amtrak parking lot at 10:00 p.m.)  Amtrak can, indeed, move me to the 4:30 train.  I ticket it. 

The train is delayed, and doesn't actually come until 5:20.  (I think:  seasick, fell out of kayak, no wind for paragliding -- why does delayed train not surprise me?)  We hit LA around 8; I find my car with a minimal amount of confusion (and only one slightly creepy deserted staircase); and get home. 

Cat is happy to see me.  I am happy to see her.

And now:  dinner and bed.

Not Paragliding

After roasting my jacket by the fireplace, it was ready to go out.  See, the paragliding website explains that while it's warm on the ground, it's cold up in the air, so you'll want to dress in layers.  And wear long pants; jeans are preferable.  So, I'm in jeans and a 3/4-length shirt, with a jacket and fleece vest along for the ride.

Here's what I eventually learned -- that's really the recommendation for the winter.  In winter, it is warm on the ground and cold up high.  In summer, it is warm on the ground and hot as hell up high.  This would explain why everyone around me was in shorts and a T-shirt.  Or even a tank top.

I get picked up by Rob, the Paragliding Guy (who has an annoying habit of calling me "Barbara," even after I corrected him twice).  Rob comes off like a surfer or skateboarder -- he says "dude" a lot and refers to other paragliding pilots as "brother" or "sister."  (He's on his cell giving directions to a woman he's never met who will be joining us.  He loses the call and calls back.  "Little sister?  You still there?")  We meet everyone at the LZ (landing zone) and pile into the van -- everyone leaves their cars at the LZ; then you only need one person to drive the van back down from the launch site, when everyone else flies.  There were four other people who were flying; I was the only one going on a tandem.  Two of the others (including Little Sister) were more-or-less novices, having just recently obtained their rating, so Rob did a lot of teaching and explaining about the upcoming flight.  Which was useful for me as I didn't have a freakin' clue about paragliding.

Paragliding actually sounds like a sport I'd love.  It falls clearly in the "adrenaline sports" category, but doesn't require much physical fitness.  Indeed, you can be pretty out of shape and paraglide.  Rob says it's 20 percent physical and 80 percent mental.  It isn't just "go where the wind carries you" -- there's instruments and steering and stuff.  He mentions that the best paragliders are engineers.  At one point, he's explaining to one of the new pilots how some complicated GPS works, and I find the combination of surfer dude delivery and techno-savvy content to be totally unexpected.

ANYWAY, from the LZ, we all pile in the van and Rob drives us to the "Alternator," our launch site.  It is a long drive.  Up a mountain.  Pretty much to the top of it.  My ears pop.  (I believe the phrase "3600 feet" was mentioned.)  We are above a layer of clouds -- it actually looks like a field of snow.  We leave the van and walk a few yards to the site itself.  Rob explains to the new pilots where they're going to go -- you're gonna clear this mountain here, then aim left over that one there, and so forth.  He points out the alternative LZ in case things don't go according to plan.  He explains that you shouldn't make this flight without bringing at least 3 liters of water, in case things really don't go according to plan, and you end up going down somewhere in the mountains, and he has to call Search and Rescue.  A small detached part of my brain tentatively suggests that I should be scared poopless at this point, but I decide I'm OK with it.  I'm going to watch all these other pilots go off first; then it'll be easy.  (Besides, with a tandem, I'll be strapped in there with Rob, and all I'll have to do is run for a few steps.)

Problem is, we don't have wind.  Well, we have some, but it isn't blowing in the right direction.  (One of the new pilots asks if we can't "take off to the West" since that's the way the wind is blowing.  Rob says he has the "take off to the West" waiver in the van -- which basically says Rob strongly advised you not to take off to the West but you handcuffed him to the van and went anyway.  The new pilot decides against taking off to the West.)  We find some shade and sit and wait to see if the weather changes.  It's hot as hell up here and they're all in T-shirts and shorts.  I'm roasting.

It is here where one of the others asks if I'm thinking of taking up paragliding, or if I'm just planning to do tandems.  I offer that I have no depth perception, and give a concrete example -- those two mountains that define the flight plan?  I couldn't tell you which is further away.  He concludes that, yeah, I probably shouldn't plan on flying solo.

The wind does not improve.  We pile in the van and go down the mountain to a somewhat lower launch point.  This one is actually scarier than the higher one, as it isn't a particularly long field you run down to take off.  In other words, Rob will be directing me to run toward the edge of a cliff in order to get this thing off the ground.  I again tell the nervous part of my brain to shut up.

But again: the wind is bad.  (They test the wind by standing in the launch site and holding their hands chest high, palms forward.  They look like they're reading the wind's aura or something.)  No wind. 

No tandem flight.  They're going to go over to the novice hill and work on their technique.  It's useless to me, though -- at only 220 feet, tandem flights last only a minute there.  Little Sister offers me a ride back to the hotel, and then gives me her email address, so we could drive up together if I want to try again sometime.  (All these people I've met -- so very nice.)

I still have my (unused) 30 day Affiliate Student Membership in the U.S. Hang Gliding Association.

The gory details

My mother called as I was just walking in the door asking if I went paragliding today.  No, I did not.  (More later.)

Wil asks for the gory details.  Okey doke...

(Oh, hey, sorry for all that coding a couple of entries ago.  I wrote those in Word while I was on the train and forgot to convert to text first.)

Wednesday:  The "Heaven on Earth" tour.  (Really.  That's what it's called.)

I am picked up for my tour by Christopher, the guide from Captain Jack's.  There's a family of three (mom and two kids) already in the van.  They're doing the kayaking/hiking thing, whereas I'm doing kayaking/horseback riding.  They're a nice group -- kinda New Agey.  (The mom's a massage therapist and yoga instructor.  Went on a spiritual retreaty thing in South America.)  Anyway, very nice, friendly folks.  On the drive up to Gaviota, we get to know each other (and Christopher -- who just graduated college with a degree in religious studies, particularly Judaism and Islam as practiced today in the Middle East -- kinda nice to meet someone who's actual plan in life is to help bring peace to the planet).

We're kayaking from Refugio Beach.  Ocean.  Those annoying flat, sit-on-top kayaks, rather than the more traditional sit-in-the-little-opening ones.  (I'm certain there's a really good reason for taking sit-on-top ones out; probably they're more stable or something.  In my limited kayaking experience, I just prefer the sit-inside ones.  More manueverable and you don't get nearly as wet.  Or sunburnt.)

Before we go out, Christopher offers us anti-nausea pills.  The family takes them.  I don't, explaining that I don't get seasick.  Even while saying this, I realized that it meant I would be ralphing over the side of my kayak by the end of the day.

After our basic briefing on how to kayak, Christopher takes us out, one-by-one.  We walk into the ocean (cold!) about waist-deep.  Christopher is holding the kayak.  He waits for a break between the waves crashing toward the shore, and then gives you the "go" to jump on the kayak and then paddle like hell till you get out beyond the waves.  Once we were all out there (with no problems at all) we started paddling up the coast a bit -- keeping a big distance between us and the shore.  (And the rocks near the shore.  And the waves that would throw you into them.)

Paddle, paddle, paddle, rest.  Paddle, paddle, paddle, rest. 
(It eventally got warm enough for me to just take my jacket off and throw it in the general vicinity of my knees, where it was getting completely soggy.  The kayak had a single bit of bungee cord, which was holding my water on the kayak, but there wasn't another one within reach where I could attach the jacket.)  At one point, I remember that the tour description said something about Pirate Stories, so I asked Christopher if he was going to tell us some pirate stories.  He gathered us all around and told us about the only pirate on the West Coast.  Interesting story.  Long story.  After, we started to head back.

At this point, it dawned on me that I didn't feel so good.  Asked Christopher if he happened to have any hard candy (which is generally all I need to ward off any signs of seasickness).  He doesn't.  I paddle a bit more, but it isn't helping.  I admit to Christopher that I may, in fact, be seasick.  He says this probably was because of when we stopped for the pirate story, since all we did was sit there and rock around in the water.  He may be right.  I go back to paddling, but I'm too spent to go any great distance without stopping, and stopping brings back the nausea.  I give in and ask Christopher if he has a rope.  He attaches a tow line to my kayak and starts paddling us both to shore.  I feel like a failure and try to paddle along, whether it's helping or not.

We lose the family.  Christopher stops to call after them.  Stopping is making me feel worse.  I tell Christopher to drop the tow rope and he can go back for them and I'll paddle on ahead, but he doesn't want us to get that far apart.  The family eventually catches up.  The daughter had been seasick over the side of her kayak, so the mom was tending to her.  Makes sense.  (The daughter, I note, took the seasickness pills.  I convince myself that this proves it wouldn't have mattered if I had taken them.)

Together we paddle towards the shore.  When we're very nearly there, the inevitable happens and I lose my breakfast over the side of the kayak.  Twice.  We keep going.  Eventually, we're out beyond the waves, but in a direct line to the beach.  We're going to do this one at a time.  Christopher undoes the tow rope, says he's just going to power in, and I should follow along at my usual leisurely pace.  He'll meet me at the waist-deep place were we got in, steady the kayak, and get me out.  (Seasick daughter will follow; then the rest of the family.)

He goes in; I go after.  He's encouraging me in.  He then says, "Left drag!"  I hear it, but I do not process it.  I paddle left uncertainly, but I think that's wrong.  He says "Drag the paddle on the left!"  This is simultaneous to my sudden awareness of (a) the wave that came out of nowhere behind me; (b) Christopher running rather quickly toward my kayak; and (c) totally not making it in time.  Wave hits kayak from behind at an angle, goes right under it, and tosses me, kayak, and everything (except my tied-down water bottle) into the drink.  The water is actually shallow enough for me to stand up in it, but I land on my knees so I'm underwater, watching my jacket in front of me.  Christopher helps me up; and collects my kayak, paddle, and jacket while I walk up the beach, hair all stringy in my face, looking like a drowned rat, and coughing because of all the salt water I inhaled.

Christopher gets everyone else in without incident.  Somewhere along the line, I realize that my glasses are no longer on my face -- but Christopher couldn't really go looking for them while he had three other guests out there to bring in, so they're pretty much lost at sea.

Earlier, Christopher had mentioned showers.  I could really use one, and Christopher gives me a quarter (coin operated) and a towel, and points me in the direction of the shower building.  25 cents for two minutes of hot shower, and I manage to wash the ocean off of myself and come back feeling much more human.  He hands me my backpack (with my dry clothes in it), a plastic bag (for my wet ones) and another quarter, so I can shower and change.  Best value for fifty cents EVER.

Christopher leaves the kayak trailer in the parking lot at the beach and w
e go to lunch, at a little sandwich and salad place that has very nice chocolate chip cookies.  He talks about the hike the family is going to go on -- it's a mile and a half loop, followed by another 1/2-mile to the natural hot spring and back.  I think wistfully that I might like a natural hot spring, but also think that horseback riding is a way better idea right now.

The horseback riding was uneventful, which is to say it was very nice.  It was at a ranch where they have many overnight guests on the property, but I was the only one riding just then, so I got a private trail ride -- which was unexpected.  The guide was nice and friendly, and flirted with me in that way that some people do to pass the time, knowing that nothing will ever come of it.  And my horse was very docile, which I totally needed right then. 

Afterward, I went up to the bar (where, again, I was the only person) and used my Captain Jack's coupon for a glass of wine (screw the calories).  I sat on the couch staring at the wall (wondering who ever came up with the idea of mounting the head and neck of a deer you killed on your wall), nursing my wine and trying (not entirely successfully) not to doze off.

Eventually, Christopher came to pick me up.  As I piled back into the van, I asked how the hot spring was.  They didn't go.  After the mile and a half loop, they were too wiped to continue, so they just gave up and picked me up.

Back to the beach where we picked up the kayaks and asked the lifeguard if anyone found my glasses (no).  He told us to ask the folks in the kiosk at the entry point.  They gave us a form to fill out.  This was a State Beach, so I filled out an Official State of California Lost or Found Property Report.  That done, we headed back.

Now, I was going to this Italian place for my blind date that night.  The family had gone there for dinner the night before and, as it happened, had to go back that night as the daughter had left her retainer there.  So they offered to pick me up and drive me to the restaurant.  Awfully sweet of them, so I gratefully accepted and we swapped cell phone numbers.

Came back to the hotel room; got ready for the date.  (Yes, I chose jacuzzi over shower.)  Nice family picked me up and drove to the restaurant.  We were about five minutes late so she dropped me off while they went to find parking.  My date was just a bit later than I was, so we met up and got a table.  I turned off my cell phone, 'cause I think that's polite when you're on a date.

We ordered, ate, talked.  Standard stuff.  (He got two calls on his cell, but didn't take either one of them.)  He picked up the check. 

Here is what I didn't know was happening:  The family got there and picked up the retainer.  The kids wanted to check out my date, so they pretended to have to use the restroom so they could walk through the restaurant and see if they could spot me.  They found me (and my date) and then pointed us out to the mother, who also sneaked in to take a peek at him.  I found this adorable.

After dinner (tasty, but not exceptional), we leave.  He starts with the "Hey, nice meeting you, have a nice life" speech and I (annoyingly) have to interrupt this and ask if he'd drive me back to my hotel, which is further away than it had looked on the map.  He's a gentleman, so, of course, does this (and then we have a repeat of the "Have a nice life" scene).  As I'm going back in the hotel, I turn on my cell phone and find a voice mail from the family.  They had been checking in to see how the date went and if I needed a ride back.  (So sweet.)  I called back to thank her for the call and that's when I got the lowdown on them checking him out.  The daughter had told her mom, "Worst case scenario, she'll get a free dinner out of it," which turned out to be exactly the case.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Jacket

I've signed up for a tandem paraglide tomorrow.  The dude isn't positive he can do it (he's positive he can take me for a glide; he's positive he can get someone to drop me off at take-off -- he just needs someone to meet us at the bottom and take me home).

The problem -- you're supposed to wear sunglasses.  Mine are at the bottom of the ocean.

The other problem -- you're supposed to wear a jacket (it's cold and windy up there).  My jacket fell in the ocean.  It then spent a couple hours in a plastic bag in the back of the van, and a couple of useless hours on my balcony.

Asked the nice lady at the front desk if they had a clothes dryer I could use.  The laundry here isn't for guest use, and she's not authorized to ok it.  I'd have to ask tomorrow morning.  Desk opens at 7:30; paraglide guy picks me up at 9:20.  Do-able, but tight.  And we're still not sure tomorrow's manager will say yes. 

I asked where a laundromat is.  She showed me on the map.  It was looking good until her arrow went WAY down the road.  I said, "that's far."  She said "It's only a five minute drive."  I pointed out my carlessness.  She agreed the laundromat was out.

OK, where can I buy a cheap jacket?  Negative there, too.  She knows some places, but none will be open after 9 tonight (which this is) or before 9 tomorrow.

I'm screwed.  I go back to my hotel room, and back out on the balcony.  Jacket isn't dry at all.  Looks like no progress.

I think of bringing it inside and attacking it with a hairdryer.  There's a roll of paper towels here, so I try to wipe a bunch of the muddy sand off the jacket -- as I don't want it all over the otherwise pristine hotel room.

I wipe, and I wipe, and I wipe....

... and I come back in for more paper towels, and then it hits me.

My room has a fireplace.  Score.

To sum up

I've only got an hour to get ready for my blind date, so I'll make this quick.

The $5 hat fit, as did the $6 shorts.  The $9 cover up was a waste of money, as was the $3 sports bra (but, really, I didn't have much hope for the latter).

My horse didn't throw me, but my kayak did.  Lost the $5 hat.  And my glasses.  I am only minorly peeved about the latter as I was actually wearing my spare pair at the time.  (It was very close -- I nearly wore my almost brand-new, overpriced, frameless ones, but the guide convinced me that the fog would burn off, so I'd want my sunglasses -- and I haven't yet bought the sunglasses attachment for my new glasses, so was wearing the old ones.)  Am VERY glad about that decision.  Am also glad that I decided to leave my camera -- which is water resistant, but not likely to survive a dumped kayak.

Now, to get ready.  Biggest decision facing me -- Hot shower (where it's easy to wash my hair) or hot bath in jacuzzi tub (and shove head under the tap)?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm Really Here

Yes, I made it to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Santa Barbara.  I walked from the train station to my hotel – which looked like three blocks on the map, but the map didn’t say anything about “oh yeah, there’s a hill.  And that street has no street lights.”  Met some random nice local who was out walking his cat – wondering if I needed directions to the Youth Hostel.  Continued walking uphill in the relative dark, wondering why I’d thought this was a good idea.

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Found my bed and breakfast before the check-in desk closed.  Got given a map and directions to my room (which I repeated back) and info on breakfast (which I also repeated – and promptly forgot).  Found my room and


… holy crap.  I took pictures, but out of everything I brought, I didn’t bring the uploading cable so you’ll have to wait.  Fireplace.  Jacuzzi tub.  Big screen TV.  After I unpack, I’m gonna aim that TV toward the tub, and dive on in.  Gotta do what I can to make my arm feel better for kayaking tomorrow.

I Hope I See My Car Again

So.  Bought all that stuff.  Conveniently, I have a new suitcase to put it in.  In my office.  I ordered it off eBags, and I was hoping it would come in time for this trip.  It did; it just didn’t come in time for me to pack it for this trip.

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Train leaves at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />7:00.  Train station is no more than 5 minutes away.


At about 6:00, I open up my brand new suitcase on my desk.  I shove my $27 worth on crap in it.  I leave the office around 6:10.  (It took forever to get those little metal thingies out of the socks; and I had to use a staple remover to get the tag off the sports bra – it was sewn on and nothing else could get under the thread.)  To my car!


In the parking lot, I open the hatchback of my car.  Put new suitcase in.  Open old suitcase.  Move contents from B to A.  Move contents of backpack as well.  (Yay!  Backpack now much lighter.)  Get in car.  6:20.


Drive to Amtrak station.  The lights are taking forever.  One more light and I’m the station.  6:30!  Yay!  I made it!


I didn’t make it yet.  The parking lot says “No overnight parking.”  I’m looking for long-term parking.  I don’t find it.


I find a guy in a little booth.  “Hey, where do I park?”  He tells me to go back to that lot.  “It says no overnight parking.”  He tells me go down to the light, turn right, turn right again, and then there’s parking.


I leave the land of Amtrak and wait for two more slooooooow lights to change.  I’m circling a very big block.  I finally see a sign pointing me toward parking, which is sorta under a building.


I go in.  I park relatively near an elevator.  I take the elevator.  6:40, now.  I can make this.


The elevator dumps me at… the top of the parking lot.  I look up.  I need to be up there.  At the next level up.  There’s no stairs; no elevator.


I see a janitor guy cleaning up.  Ask the janitor guy how to get in.  He tells me to walk back into the parking structure, make a left, and go through the double doors.  I thank him profusely.


I go in the parking structure.  I make a left.  There are no double doors.  There’s a big metal garage-door type thing and it’s closed.  Behind me there’s an elevator lobby but there’s a wall between me and it and while I can jump the wall, my luggage can’t.  There’s no way around the wall.


I keep trudging through the parking structure and find the left turn and double doors of which the janitor spoke.  I dive in there.  Take the elevator to …


… the Transit Authority office building.  With a security guard at the desk. 


“Um.  How do I get to the Amtrak station?”  (As if my frantic look and luggage behind me does not give that one away.)  He tells me to walk out the door, turn right, go into the next building, down the escalator, and down the tunnel.


I repeat this back to him.  (Teenage Drama Workshop training kicks in.  When the stage manager yells “Five Minutes,” you yell back, “Five Minutes, Thank you!”)  I seem to have it right. 


I also have 15 minutes until my train leaves.


Small bonus here – once I walk out the door and turn right, I actually know where I am.  I’m in the transit plaza where – on those rare days when I take the train to work, I catch the connecting bus to my office.  So I know there’s a very long tunnel with platforms off of it.  I just need to find the right one.  AND I know there’s a ticketing machine at the front of tunnel, where I can pick up my reserved tickets.


At 6:47.


I pad on down the tunnel, looking for the train to Santa Barbara.  It isn’t on any of the signs.  I ask a helpful employee where my train is – he takes a guess at the platform.  I head off toward that tunnel where another helpful employee is setting up the sign for my train.  She scolds me for being here – apparently, they haven’t called the train yet and I’m not supposed to have to left the station yet.  (She has no idea that I’ve never actually set foot in the station.)  Yes.  I’m EARLY.


… but I honestly don’t know how I’ll ever find my car again.  Both the elevator I took inside the parking garage AND the Transit Authority office building will be closed when my train gets back at 9:45 on Thursday night.

Or ... Kayaking

Yeah.  So, here’s what happened.  I emailed the Santa Barbara tour company (Captain Jack’s tours) last night and asked what tours they had going Wednesday that I could join along (since there’s only one of me, and they won’t run a tour with less than 2).  Answer:  (answer actually begain with “Ahoy!”) a local wine tasting tour of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Santa Barbara wineries (pass) and a kayaking/hiking trip in Gaviota.

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I’m not excited by the kayaking/hiking trip.  First, there’s the whole arm/kayaking thing.  Then there’s hiking.  Which their website describes as something like having “moderate semi-strenuous” segments.  Exactly how moderately semi-strenuous are we talking here?  (Hello.  I’m a wuss.)


So I called them today, to see if they had any other tours running.  Spoke with Andrew.  Nope, just those two.  I asked about the strenuousity (?) of the hike, and Andrew said there’s a lot of uphill and you have to be in pretty good shape.  Now, yes, I am a queen of DDR level 1, but let’s not kid ourselves here -- pretty good shape, I ain't.  He asked what I’m interested in, tour-wise.  I mentioned the horseback riding.  Andrew said he could get me horseback riding for $45.  No problemfor just one person.


OK, problem.  I have to get to Gaviota myself.  I cannot get to Gaviota – I’m taking the train up.  Andrew is flummoxed.  He says he’ll put (the actual) Captain Jack (arrrr) on the phone to see what we can work out.  Jack says he can’t pay someone to drive me out and wait for me when there’s only one of me.  I could take a taxi out there and it’ll run me about $65 each way.  I am not pleased with this plan.  He asks what I’m interested in doing and he’ll try to put together some multi-activity thing for me.  He’ll call me back.


He calls me back.  The Gaviota kayaking/hiking thing takes place in the same general vicinity as the horseys.  He can book me to kayak with everyone else, then I ride a horse for an hour and half while they hike for two hours.  He’ll throw in a free drink at the bar when I’m killing the extra half hour.


Sold.  Given the inability to get out to the horseys without paying $130 in taxis, this is pretty much the only way I’m going to do this – so I’ll attempt to kayak after all.  Hopefully this will be fun.  Andrew tells me what I’ll need to wear (and bring) for the two activities.


Problem.  Having decided last night that I wouldn’t gokayaking, I didn’t pack shorts.  Do not want to kayak in jeans.  And I’m leaving for the train station from work, so I really don’t want to go all the way home just to get a pair of shorts.


I work in downtown LA.  In an area where there are many shops selling very many very cheap items.  Without tax.  Cash only.  Some items are of questionable provenance.  (Like that shelf in the back of the electronics store full of all different models of computer printers.  All unboxed.  All used.  All $7.99.)  Most are of questionable quality.  I figure it will be faster if I just run out and get a pair of shorts for $5, than go home.


Except, when I’m out there, I realize everything else I didn’t pack.  No sports bra.  No hat.  No swimsuit cover up.  I’m actually out there shopping for about an hour.  I come back with:  shorts, sports bra, hat, swimsuit cover up, and six pair of socks, all for the low, low price of $27.  None of this is the highest of quality, surely (and I didn’t try any of it on before buying) but hopefully, it’ll work for two days.


(Yes, I bought 6 pair of socks – that’s for more than 2 days.  They had size 6-8 socks!  Nobody has size 6-8 socks.  They’re all 9-11, which is supposed to start at shoe size 6, which means that those of us with shoe size 5 end up with the heels of our socks somewhere around our ankles.  At 50 cents a pair, it would totally be the bargain of the century if I finally found a source for socks that fit.)

Ever So Slightly Annoyed

OK, I have to say, right up front, that this is not something to get annoyed about.

I mean, there are way, way, way, way, way worse things that could happen, and there's no point getting annoyed over something as stupid than this.

And yet.

I'm going to Santa Barbara tomorrow.  This is a short vacation that I'm giving myself because I finished something really difficult at work and I need a break from it all.  Just to get my head back on straight.

And I've wanted to take this trip to Santa Barbara for nearly two years now.  It was what I'd decided to do way back when I set aside a pile of money to buy myself happy.  (Which entry I would totally link to except it's 1:30 a.m. and the search function isn't cooperating.)  ANYWAY, I wanted to do a kayaking/horseback riding thing.  I really wanted to do the kayaking.  To the great surprise of ... well, me, and anyone who knows me ... I like kayaking.  I find it relaxing and centering and all that other nonsense.  So, when my boss said this week would be a good time for me to take a vacation, I booked a room in Santa Barbara and got all set to go up there to go kayaking and horseback riding and not even think about work.

And then, I did something stupid to my arm.  Don't know what it is -- probably a combination of new purse, new seating-position at work, too many computer games and maybe a little slept-on-it-funny.  In any event: arm hurts.  I've been wrapping it in heating pads and getting massages (and, come to think of it, I should take some anti-inflammatories) all to no avail.  Arm hurts when I type; arm hurts when I lift stuff; arm hurts when it's doing anything other than just sitting there limply.  And it didn't hit me until just recently that there's no freakin' way I'm going to be able to paddle a kayak with one arm out of commission.  (Unless I want to go around in circles.)

So... main goal of Santa Barbara trip?  Shot.  Am trying to book other, non-arm-dependent activities with mixed success.  (The tandem paragliding people gave me a solid maybe, schedule depending; and I'm still hoping to get in a horseback ride.)  And I appear to have a blind date, as well. (!)

So, hopefully, the trip will shape up into something fun and relaxing.  Even though it's not at all the fun and relaxing trip I've been wanting to take.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Adventures in Mis-Marketing, Part Three

Remax, however, is in a class by itself.

See, they don't ask if they can talk to you about taking over your listing.  They say they have a client who is interested in your condo -- and ask who they should talk to about scheduling an appointment. 

Sneaky.  Because, y'know, if you don't have an agent to send them to, then they can volunteer their services.

The third time a Remax agent tried this one, I told him I was showing the place myself, and I'm available tonight.  What time would he like to bring the client by?  He said he'd check with the client, but, you know, the client is really interested in Burbank, whereas I'm in Pasadena, so he can't really promise anything. 

Riiiight.  (
Burbank is in the next valley over, and there's a whole other city between the two.  There's no way Burbank and Pasadena are interchangeable.)  He never called back.  What a surprise.

But my absolute favorite is this guy:

Phone rings.  "Hello?"

"Hi.  This is Brad from Remax.  I sent you a marketing plan like your answering machine message said and I was calling to make sure you'd received it."

"No, I haven't received it."  (Skeptical that it was sent, actually, but I admire the fact you actually listened to my message.)

"I'm sorry.  I'll send it right out.  You'll get it tomorrow."

I did not get Brad's marketing plan the next day.

The following morning, however, when I was getting ready for work, I got an overnight mail delivery.  A package.

(A package?  I didn't order anything.)

It's from Brad.  At Remax.  It's large.  Heavy.

I open it up and it's a book.  This book.  A $35 hard-cover book profiling Remax agents across the country (Brad is on page 159!) and sprinkled with motivational messages like, "Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better"; "Four things for success:  work and pray, think and believe"; and "Why not go out on a limb, isn't that where the fruit is?"

Brad also included a folder included ads he's listed and testimonials from happy customers.  Of course, Brad did not, in fact, include an individualized marketing plan, as I'd asked.  And (I found this quite puzzling) Brad doesn't even work in Pasadena -- his office, his listings, and all of his testimonials come from Burbank (which, as previously mentioned, is two cities and a mountain pass away).

(Bless him, though -- when Brad called to follow up and I told him I didn't think I'd be hiring him, he actually took 'no' for an answer, wished me luck, and said goodbye.)

I'm sure that there are actually some people out there who would be really impressed by overnight receipt of a hardcover vanity press book which includes the profile of a real estate agent.  I, on the other hand, just feel bad for the trees that had to die for this.

Adventures in Mis-Marketing, Part Two

... and this is why I'm not hiring anyone from Coldwell Banker.

It dawned on me that these phone calls were a violation of the Do Not Call law.  I mean, I'm on the do not call list.  And these are not people I've done business with before.  They are just random agents soliciting my business. 

I did a little bit of googling to see if there was some Real Estate Agent exception I didn't know about, but, no, there isn't.  These calls violate the federal Do Not Call law.  I thought I'd point this out when the next one called.


"Hi, [my name here].  This is Sunshine [seriously, her name is Sunshine] from Coldwell Banker.  I'd like to talk to you about your listing."

"Hi Sunshine.  Um, you know, I'm on the Do Not Call list, so this call is a violation of that law."

"Oh, I'm sorry.  I must be working from an old list."

Bull poop.  I've been on the Do Not Call list for years, but I figured I'd allow Sunshine her lie.  Sunshine did not, however, hang up.

"Well, as long as I've got you on the phone, I'd like to ask you about marketing your condo."

Ohhh.  This is Sunshine's standard procedure.  I can envision the Coldwell Banker Interoffice Memo.  "If they say they're on the Do Not Call list, tell them you're working off an old list and then ask to talk to them anyway, as long as you've got them on the line."

But Sunshine isn't the reason I'm not marketing with Coldwell Banker.  The reason I'm not marketing with Coldwell Banker is this guy.  (This guy is ALSO the reason why there's now a pen next to my phone.)


"Hello, [my name here.]  This is [guy who's name I couldn't write down 'cause I couldn't find a pen], calling from Coldwell Banker."

"Hi.  Listen, I'm on the Do Not Call list.  This call is a total violation of that."

"Really?  Do you know what the fine is?"

I do.  I came across it in my Does This Apply To Real Estate Agents research.

"Eleven thousand dollars.  So I'd appreciate it if you just--"

"Go ahead and report me."


"I've never heard of any Real Estate Agent ever being fined under the law.  So go ahead and report me."

Dick.  I'd like to.  I can't find a pen to write down his name and number.  Hell, I'd report him AND I'm sue him just for the practice.

He continues with the "as long as I've got you on the phone" business. 

I stop him and say, "I've already told you I think this call is a violation of Do Not Call.  Why are you still talking to me?"

"Because I know I can do such a good job in selling your condo, I'm willing to risk the fine."

What an astonishing load of crap!

I say, "Why on earth would you think I'd want to give my business to you?" and hang up.

I still regret not taking down his name and number to report him.

Adventures in Mis-Marketing, Part One

My condo listing expired recently.  It had been up there for six months without a sale, so it seemed time to get a new agent.

The day after the listing expired, several agents phoned me, seeking my business.

It got so annoying, I started screening calls.  This didn't really work.  As soon as they'd hear the machine click on, they'd hang up.  Then they'd try calling again when they'd be sure I'd be home.  Like at 8:00 in the morning.  This did not endear them to me.

I changed my answering machine message -- in the hope that it might deter some of them.  It said, "If you are a real estate agent seeking my business, please be advised that I do not respond well to cold calls.  Please put together an individualized marketing plan and send it to me.  If I like what I see, I'll call you for an interview."

This may have actually gotten through to a few of them (see Adventures in Mis-Marketing, Part Three, which I am soon to write).  Nonetheless, they kept calling.

Few would take "no" for an answer, so I had to elevate my level of rudeness.


"Hello.  May I speak to [my name here]?"

"This is [my name here]."  Sigh.  It's a real estate agent wanting my listing.

"Hello, [my name here].  This is [his name here] from [real estate company].  I've seen that your listing just expired and I'd like to talk to you about why your condo didn't sell."

"I'm sorry, [his name here].  I'm not interested in you taking over my listing.  Thanks very much."  Starting to hang up now.

"Where are you looking to move when you sell your condo?"

"I said I'm not interested in hiring you.  I'm late for work now.  Goodb--"

"I have a lot of experience in selling units that haven't sold before."

"Listen.  I'm trying to be polite here, but now you're just annoying me.  I said I'm not going to hire you.  I'm hanging up now."

I've also made a mental note to hire anyone from that company either.  Thank you for playing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Yay. They won.

Am so happy Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh won gold in Beach Volleyball.

Not so much because they won (although, y'know, I was rooting for them) but because now NBC can stop airing every damn match they're playing.  Perhaps we can see another sport now.

I don't want to take away from their accomplishments as athletes, but I don't think anyone has gotten more screen time this Olympics than May-Treanor/Walsh.  And while I'd like to think this is because of some latent Beach Volleyball passion of the American public, I suspect it's rather more because their standard uniform consists of underwear.

Skimpy underwear.

White skimpy underwear.

White skimpy underwear with see-through bits.

Which, in the finals, they wore in the rain.

I bet any sport in which athletic women jump around in skimpy underwear in the rain would get a ton of coverage.  (We just need to invent the sport.)

And another thing.  Why am I watching every game they play ... and qualifying rounds in swiming and track ... rather than gold medal rounds in other sports?  The only time they show a "second-tier" sport is when the Americans win.  I believe this is why we saw a few minutes of fencing, and that one rowing final.

I believe this is NBC's plan for Olympics coverage:

1.  Show every time Michael Phelps swims.
2.  Show every time May-Treanor and Walsh play.
Show every time American track athletes run.
4.  Show every time American gymnasts compete, and show some of the other countries' gymnasts too.  (Americans like gymnastics.)
5.  Show nearly every round of diving, but only the dives of the three athletes that win, and the Americans in the competition.
6.  Time permitting, show American athletes winning medals in other sports.  It is OK to join a gold-medal match in progress -- you just need to show the Americans winning and then dancing around holding the flag.

You know what I'd like to see?  I'd like NBC to take one of its other channels and call it "The Gold Medal Channel."  On which, in tape-delay fashion, they show the gold medal round of every sport.  (And since it is tape-delayed, they can cut out all the boring bits, like when they rerun a dive in 4 times from 4different camera angles, while they're waiting for the score.)  Just run through the final six dives for the final 12 competitors.  (Probably can fit the whole damn thing in a half hour.)  This will free you up for things like gold medal wrestling matches, gold medal archery, gold medal judo, gold medal handball, gold medal synchro swimming, and everything else that generally only gets a blip on my screen if an American happens to be winning.

For me, the Olympics should be about seeing the best compete in everything -- not to mention all that international "Go World" business so elegantly captured in them commercials Morgan Freeman narrates.  So show me every winner's moment in the sun.  (Or the rain.  In skimpy underwear.  Sheesh.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A "C"!!!

I got a "C" on the song I'd failed twice the other day!  And a "B" on a couple other level 3 songs.

I am still very glad that the only being watching me do this is the cat.  Apparently, DDR is compatible with some sort of camera so one can play against other people on the internet.  As for why one would wish to do this, I have no idea. 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Workout Progress

I am amusingly bad at Dance Dance Revolution.

I've mentioned earlier that the first time I played this thing, I failed the "beginner" level.  Which does heaps for one's confidence -- seeing that great big red "FAILED" followed by "GAME OVER."

Eventually, I managed to pass a song at "beginner."  At that time, the screen gave me what looked like a stylized "O."  Couldn't figure out what it meant.  Wasn't until a few days later when I actually managed to get a "C" that I realized these were letter grades.  My "O" was actually a "D."

Hey, good enough, right?

(If you ever find yourself taking the Bar Exam, the mantra taught by several Bar Review courses is "Aim for a D.")

After having been at this for a couple of weeks, I've figured out a bit more than the letter grades.  What matters isn't so much whether I pick a song at the "Beginner" or "Basic" level, what matters is how many little "Difficulty" bars the song has in any particular level.  Because there's a RANGE, see.

After I managed my first B, and even my first A (hooray!) in songs with a single difficulty bar, I got all bold, and told the game to just give me any old random song at the Beginner level.  And I did quite well at this, until it randomly gave me a song that happened to have two bars, although at the beginner level.

Scared the crap out of me.  Them little arrows were running up the screen mighty fast.  But, to my great surprise (and joy), I actually passed it.  With a C!

And something else happened too.  My endurance was slowly improving.  Whereas, when I'd started, I could barely make it through two songs at level 1 without stopping for water, I could now do three songs at level 1 without breaking a sweat.

My daily routine is now 3 level 1 songs to warm up, then 3 level 2 songs.

I did this today.

(I love how it asks, "Are You Ready?" at the beginning of each song.  I take a deep breath and raise my arm up in the air like I'm an Olympic gymnast giving the OK before my routine -- as though I'm about to do something substantially more difficult than tromp around like Frankenstein's monster while a machine cheerfully grades every step I take.)

And after 3 level 2 songs, I wasn't sufficiently worked out, so that I'd do 3 more.  Here's the problem:  I've run out of level 2 songs.  So I thought I'd get the ol' heart pumping with a level 3 song.

.... Interesting factoid for them unfamiliar with DDR.  At levels 1 and 2, you can get by with moving your feet back to the center after each step.  There's no time for that at level 3 -- once you step on an arrow, you just leave your foot there until you need it again.  Which will generally be fairly soon.  This is considerably more difficult than the first two levels and a hell of a bigger workout.  Now, I went for the water bottle.

I actually managed a C on a level 3 song, then I hit one that I failed.  I tried a couple others and passed them (more C's!) and went to get a scrunchie so I could put my now sweaty hair up before the last song.

I came back to DDR to find my cat sitting on the mat.

And another song was about to start.  She'd actually put her paw on the square you have to hit to select a song.

She'd selected that song I failed before.

I failed it again.

Clearly, I have a new workout goal.

Gymnastics, meet Mathematics

Anyone else think the obvious problem with the new Gymnastics scoring is the fact that the system adds where it should multiply?  (Hello.  Look at Diving.  They multiply.)

Gymnastics scoring now looks like this:  You get a one score (which, at the Olympics, generally is somewhere between 5.5 and 7.5) based on the difficulty of what you do.  There's a magic code book that awards points for every jump, twist, or connection, and the judges add up the points for the 10 hardest elements of your routine, and that equals your technical score.  Then, you get an execution score, which starts at 10 points and has deductions (also listed in the magic code book) for every bobble, extra step, or foul-up.  Your difficulty score plus your execution score is your total score.

In other words, they ADD what you do to how well you do it.

Any idiot would tell you that they should be multiplying here, to actually have a number that indicates how well you did the stuff you set out to do.

Let me give you a hypothetical situation here.  I stand just outside the floor exercise mat and raise my hand, indicating the start of my routine.  I then step on the mat and raise my hand indicating the end of my routine.

Score:  0 for technical; 10 (no deductions) for execution.  Total:  10.

That's wrong.  I did nothing; I should not have any points.  Under this scenario, I would win over a gymnast who ... hell, let's set aside Olympic start values, and think about some kid in training who has a couple basic tumbling passes but is pretty awkward execution-wise.  They can have a technical score of 3 and an execution score just under 7 and I'd beat them by doing absolutely nothing.

Or take our pal Shawn Johnson.  She had a tumbling pass that, when she added a twist to it, gave her an extra .2 in difficulty.  Now, suppose that, when she adds it in, she takes an extra step in landing that she wouldn't otherwise take.  That's a .3 deduction in execution.  So here, she's done the extra difficult pass, but ends up losing points for it overall.  That's nonsense; she's executed the pass -- she should get some credit for doing it, even though she didn't do it perfectly.  Here, the system encourages her to play it safe.

The clearest example of where things go wrong is the vault, seeing as there's only a single element that the athletes do.  Gymnast A goes out there and does a "5" vault perfectly.  It earns her a 10 in execution and she walks off with a 15.  Gymnast B does a 6.5 vault, and lands directly on her butt, giving her a full point deduction.  She gets a 9 in execution and walks off with a score of 15.5 and a gold medal.  Here, the system encourages a gymnast to try something harder.  Hell, gymnasts should be out there doing impossible vaults.  Try some QUADRUPLE rotating thing with a degree of difficulty up there in the 8's or 9's (compared to everyone else's 6.5) and even if you never land that thing in your life, you'll still score better than everyone else.

The answer here is obviously multiplication.  If you do a 5 vault 10 well, you should get a 50; do a 6 vault 9 well, you should get a 54.  Do anything 0 well, you should get a 0.

The even better answer is to apply multiplication to every element in the routine (which is more or less how figure skating is now judged).  Each tumbling pass is judged, earning partial or full points depending on how well you do that particular pass, and then they're all added up to get your score.  Throw in some mandatory deductions for actually falling off the apparatus, and you've got a working system.

Until then, I'd like to volunteer myself for any gymnastics competition -- I can guarantee a score of 10 points on each apparatus.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Well, THAT was disconcerting

Leaving work tonight, walking to the parking lot, waiting for the light.

Dude walks up to me.  (I am going to go out on a limb and say he's a Mexican-American.)

Says, "We're going to send you all to Europe."

I give him the "yeah, whatever" face.

Says, "I mean it.  We're going to send all the white people back to Europe.  We don't need you no more.  No more white people in L.A.  We gotta make L.A. back the way it was."

I switch to the "your accent is too heavy for me to understand" face.  This is, in fact, untrue -- I can understand him perfectly -- but I'm thinking that lack of comprehension is probably the least offensive response.

He says, slower this time, "We're going to send all you all back to Europe.  You understand?"  (Wow, it really was the "your accent is too heavy for me to understand" face.  Who knew?)

I smile and laugh and say, "OK."  He goes on off down the sidewalk; I cross the street.

Wow.  Racism.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Best Movie I've Seen In a Screening

Last night, I saw the best movie I've ever seen in a screening.

Admittedly, the bar was not set all that high.  I think the previous best movie I've seen in a screening was Bad Santa, which had what you might call a limited charm.  (This wasn't the best known movie I've seen in a screening, though.  That honor goes to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.  Which I'd sorta thought was a giant piece of crap, and I couldn't understand why everyone was laughing.)

So, yeah, my record with screenings isn't the best.  (Mindhunters, anyone?  187Two if by Sea?)  So I was a bit cautious when I picked up the invite for another screening. 

The film in question is called The Soloist.

It said it stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx.  I have to admit this sounds promising.

It's directed by Joe Wright, the dude what directed Atonement.  (I didn't see that film, but the credit carries a certain weight.)

I looked it up on imdb, and they're aiming for a late November release.  That's the sort of release date that says "For your consideration."

I rsvp for the screening and show up.

It's good.  It's really good.  It's a couple scenes shy of downright exceptional.  (Conveniently, we are asked to fill out surveys at the end of the movie, which gives me the opportunity to share with them the bits of the film I think they need to fix.) 

I am not alone in thinking it's good.  At the end of the film, while we're filling out our surveys, this dude starts walking around the theatre asking us whether we liked it.  He's collecting up people to participate in a short discussion about the movie.  Since I liked the movie, and the six people around me liked it too, we weren't asked to join the panel.  A few people sitting nearby didn't like it all that much, and the survey guy cheerfully shouted, "I've got three more!"  Always a good sign, I think, when you're having trouble finding people for your "we hated your movie" discussion.

The only trouble I envision for this thing is marketing it, because any attempt to describe it makes it read insufferably sweet.  Imdb (incorrectly, as it turns out) describes the plot as "
A schizophrenic, homeless musician from Skid Row, Los Angeles dreams of playing at Walt Disney Concert Hall."  (Sort of makes you want to reach for the insulin right now, doesn't it?)  Makes it sound like one of those grandiose, inspirational stories that make audiences all weepy.

The Soloist
isn't that picture.  It aims much smaller.  And I'm not spoiling anything by saying the movie does not end with the homeless guy playing Disney Hall to the cheers of an adoring audience.  It's based on a true story and is rather better described as "A newspaper writer stumbles across a homeless street musician who actually has talent, and tries to help the guy.  A little."  It isn't sweet and sappy and pretty -- it's ugly and nuanced and real.  It's homelessness and mental illness and politics and journalism ... and music.

Did I mention that it was good?  Absolutely engrossing.  Guy next to me leaned forward during the whole thing.  And during one of the aforementioned not-very-good scenes, I actually realized that I was sitting in a theater -- because I had clearly forgotten this during the bulk of the film.

Am still pondering the film because it honestly has the potential to be scary good.

Wow.  A good screening.  I can hardly believe it.

Follow Up on Gymnastics Post

And last night, during the men's all-around competition, the commentators (at their freakin' ridiculous best, btw -- I like how Al Trautwig explained to us that 6 plus 10 is 16; thanks Al, I'd been so confused) ... anyway, the commentators commented that the U.S. Women's team was complaining that the delay between competitors (for scoring issues) really got under Alicia Sacramone's skin and that's why she competed poorly.

Two words:  Grow up.

Ladies, do you have a clue what Olympic competition is about?  It isn't about who can do the best performance in the privacy of their own gym, or in their own national competition, or in Marta Karolyi's secret hidden training camp.  It's about who can put down the best performance under the glare of the spotlights, the relentless TV cameras in your face, the audience cheering for the other guys, and the pressure cooker that says this is your one-and-only chance for Olympic glory so don't screw it up.  It's about accepting that the judging is often subjective and sometimes biased and sometimes plain wrong -- and kicking ass anyway.

Saying that a competitor did poorly because she got rattled by the delay in judging is self-centered twaddle.  As if the judges should have just done a superficial job in scoring the competitor before you (rather than trying to confirm that she was actually given the correct mark) because obviously providing you with the most comfortable pre-performance environment should have been their top concern.

(And scoring delays of all things?  Like they're not a regular part of gymnastics competition that is part of the whole passel of things you just have to learn to deal with.  Come to think of it, maybe it would have been easier for Sacramone to cope with the scoring delay if her teammates had actually rallied to her side, cheering her on during the scoring delay, rather than letting her get all wrapped up in her thoughts and get freaked by it.)

Bottom line, ladies, is that being Olympic champion isn't about being the best -- it's about being the best today.  You simply weren't.  Get over it.

Well, You Just Lost Out on $50

This year is my 20 year college reunion.

I won't be attending.  I consider myself much more an alum from my Law School than my undergrad college.  But they called me to ask for money (well, they said they were also calling to invite me to homecoming.  Right.) and I thought, hey, it's been 20 years, perhaps I can throw 'em a few bucks.

The caller first asked me for a contribution of $2,500 and I pretty much laughed in her face.  (When she called, she asked me if I was doing anything with my degree in Math, and I told her that I was a lawyer.  She probably thought, "Oh good, a LAWYER -- we can ask her for a ton of money."  I should have said "Government lawyer."  Fact is, the only reason I was considering giving my school money was that they're a State school and the State is pretty hard up for cash right now.  Something I'm keenly aware of as I work for the State.)

So, yeah, no $2,500 for you.  Then she said that, really, while she's asking for larger amounts, any amount will do.  She mentioned that one of the factors that goes into those all important U.S. News and World Report college rankings is the percentage of alumni who contribute, so she'd just like some sort of contribution from me.  She asked if she could put me down for a smaller number on the pledge card.

I don't pledge over the phone.  I never do.  I told her to send me the materials and I'd look them over and then contribute.  In the back of my mind, I'm thinking maybe $25 or $50.  But I'll have to look over the paperwork.  (Specifically, I'll have to look at the bit that tells me what percentage of my contribution will be used to fund people calling me to ask me for money.)

And then she says, "For lots of our alumni, we'll just put $100 on the pledge card, and then you can decide how much to give when you get it."

I tell her no way.  In my head, I'm thinking that I'm not going to promise to give $100, especially when I have no intention of giving it.  She asks if she can call me back in a few weeks and see if I won't pledge then.

I tell her no.  My resolve to not pledge $100 is pretty firm.  I ask if she can just send me the stuff.

She says she can't send me the stuff without a pledge.  I don'ttell her to write $25 or $50 on the card.  I realize that this is because, after she asked for $2,500 and then $100, I would feel a bit guilty for pledging such a small amount.  In hindsight, I realize that this is exactly what her plan was.  I also realize that it backfired on me -- the goal was to guilt me into promising a larger amount; the result was me not even pledging the small amount I was willing to give.

So, guys, I hope you actually get somewhere requesting large amounts from people, because you totally lost out on $50 from me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And... a memo to Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin


In my time zone ("live, except on the West Coast"), you're starting the third rotation of the team final.  Quite probably on your way to a team Olympic medal, and (if we are to believe the commentators), very likely a gold one.

And I'm going to make a prediction right now.  And that prediction is:  assuming neither one of you has to do anything Kerri-Strug-like remarkable, you're not going to get the Wheaties box.  Which is to say that neither one of you is really going to capture that whole "America's Sweetheart" thing. 

It's just not good enough to be an Olympic Champion.  Kick-ass gymnastics do not get you endorsements.  We need to like you.  And you haven't given us a reason to.

Look at the U.S. Men's Gymnastics team.  They gave us a story.  What with two alternates on the team, they barely made it past the qualification round.  But they were charming.  Pulling together.  Cheering each other on.  We saw them in their support-huddles before events, sharing the confidence -- and building more and more enthusiasm by sharing it.  And ultimately making us enthusiastic.  And it didn't even matter that they started to waver a bit at the end.  They got the job done -- they got on the podium, and it was a total team effort and we, the audience, dug them.  Did you see the way they cheered Sasha Artemev on the pommel horse?  That was the only event he competed, but he wasn't an "also-ran" in their minds -- he was a necessary part of the team and they totally treated him like that.

Now look at yourselves, Shawn and Nastia.  We watched you hug Bridget Sloan after her vault -- her one and only appearance in these finals -- and it looked like ... well, it actually looked like Marta Karolyi must have told you that you have to hug each other after a performance.  Perfunctory.  I think the camera even caught one of you looking away during the momentary hug.  Then, when Chellsie Memmel was warming up on the next appartus (her one and only appearance), while the rest of the team watched.  It was Bridget who actually applauded for her -- then Nastia joined in as an afterthought.  ("Oh yeah.  We should clap.") 

Don't get me wrong.  I understand the Olympic gymnastics are, y'know, hard.  I cansee that you're focusing on your own upcoming performances.  And if you've gotta be all "inside your head" in order to get the job done, OK, do that.  That's fair.  I'll respect that.  The job comes first, sure.

Just don't be surprised when you don't get the parades and the endorsement deals.

What I'm saying here is:  We'll be happy if you win.  But if you want to be remembered, you've got to win with class.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Memo to Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain

Hi Ladies.

Barring something untoward, one of you will be the next First Lady of the United States.  And you will hold that position during the winter Olympics in Vancouver and the summer Olympics in London -- and perhaps the next set as well.

And you'll be invited to attend the Opening Ceremony, and they'll give you a really good seat, too.

If you go ... and, honestly, this doesn't apply only to the Opening Ceremony, but rather to any public event where you're representing the United States ... please just assume that a TV camera is on you at all times, 'k?

I mention this because (and I'm so sorry I'm not set up to do a screen grab from my TV), when the camera cut to Laura Bush during the Parade of Nations, it caught her not-so-surreptitiously checking her watch.

(Like she had another commitment she had to make?  Had to get back to the hotel to find out who got booted on "So You Think You Can Dance?" this week?)

Look.  There's a lot of nations out there, and a parade thereof can get a bit lengthy -- I won't deny that.  And I'm not saying the First Lady is obligated to stand up and dance around for all the nations (although a bunch of Chinese cheerleaders managed it), nor to even applaud for every one as they go by (although it might be nice).

But as an unelected yet nonetheless official representative of these here United States of America, I think it's important not just that you treat other nations with a level of dignity, but that you be seen doing so at all times.  Y'know, set an example for the rest of us.  I think that's traditionally been the job of the First Lady.  To sit there at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and at least pay attention when the athletes from other nations walk past you. 

So please do me a favor, Michelle or Cindy.  When you're out there in your awesome free seat to the Olympic Opening Ceremony, remember that you're still on the clock.  You won't be getting that awesome seat because you paid for it -- you'll be getting that awesome free seat for no other reason than that you're the First Lady of the United States.  Represent, OK?

Thank you.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Beijing Olympics Thinking Game

I generally get into the Olympics.  Once every two years, I take a coupla weeks and actually pay attention to sports.  Pretty much all sports.  Whatever sport they got.  Especially if I can watch it on TV without the annoying tape-delay.  I've watched biathlon at 2:00 in the morning.  And been excited about it.  And believe me, I'm generally not one to get very wound up over cross-country skiing or target shooting, much less the two together.  But slap some Olympic rings on it, and I am so there.  And I love all the stories they tell you (to make you care about who wins).  Because every athlete out there has a story, and for two weeks every two years, I get all wrapped up in the hopes and dreams of these athletes pushing themselves harder than they'd ever pushed before, for their one shot at success (however they measure it) on the biggest damn international sporting stage there is.

Except I lost my Olympic buzz last night.  In all the years I've paid attention to the Olympics, I've never actually paid much attention to where they were.  This is probably because, in my Olympics-watching history, they haven't actually been anywhere controversial.  And last night (through one of those perfect web-surfing sessions where one thing leads you to another, and another), I stumbled upon a pretty awesome 'blog-type entry from author Dan Simmons.  And said entry makes the point, in a lengthy well-documented manner, why we damn well ought to care where the Olympics are.

And I didn't really know how to deal with my mixed feelings here.  Because, hey, we're not boycotting the Beijing Games (our President is even in attendance) and waging a personal protest by not watching would pretty much affect ... well, NBC, if anyone. 

So I had this idea -- prompted by what is referred to as "Panda Diplomacy."  You know, how China basically says, "Pay no attention to these human rights violations; here, have a giant panda!"  (Apparently, China is no longer actually handing out pandas, but the concept still stands.)

Anyway, here's the idea.  You know how people always come up with "drinking games" for things.  (I imagine a drinking game for the Opening Ceremonies might include things like: drink every time a country is skipped for commercials during the parade of nations; drink every time they reference the air quality (or lack thereof) in Beijing; drink every time there's a touching close-up of a random child's hopeful face; and so forth.)  Well, I want a thinking game.  Every time the Beijing Olympics makes reference to a cute cuddly panda (and I'm betting there will be many), think about the human rights violations going on in China.

Need help?  Amnesty International (whose website was one of the ones blocked for foreign journalists in Beijing) is keeping tabs on how well China is doing on its promise that granting China the Olympics would lead to an improvement in human rights there.  It would be wonderful if bringing the Olympics to China really has this effect.  But it won't happen unless the rest of the world actually takes an interest in human rights -- rather than everyone just ignoring the issue, preferring to focus on what is, when you get right down to it, the biggest giant panda of them all, the Olympic Games.

So when you see a panda, just take a moment to stop and think about what China doesn't want you to see.  Read a little; get educated on what's going on.  If you feel motivated, pass it on, or do a little something to take action.

Go ahead, watch the Olympics.  Enjoy the Olympics.  Get caught up in the human drama being brought to you on a daily basis (most of it tape-delayed).  But don't fall for the pandas.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wrapping Up Vegas Trip

Got a bit distracted with other things there and never finished up Vegas.  The highlight of our family trip to Vegas was seeing a show -- my parents went to see Bette Midler and they sent me, my sister, and my brother-in-law to see "Love."  (Happy Birthday to me!)

Now, what with the movie of "Mamma Mia!" being out, you're probably all familiar with what theatre folks call the "Jukebox musical."  There have been a lot of them lately.  It's what happens when someone decides to take a whole bunch of songs associated with a performer or group and strings them together with a vague semblance of a plot.  Usually plot isn't really its strongest suit (reference "Mamma Mia!" here) -- it's just a lot of fun watching those songs performed live and in a new context.  "Movin' Out," for instance, was a dance musical (choreographed by Twyla Tharp) with everyone dancing to the music of Billy Joel.

And then there's Cirque du Soleil, which is all about awesome circus acts, loosely strung together with some semblance of a plot, which isn't always the easiest thing to follow, and original music.

And then someone -- and when I say someone, I mean George Harrison and Guy Laliberte (one of Cirque's founders) -- got the brilliant idea that Cirque du Soleil ought to do a jukebox musical to Beatles music.  And it truly is a brilliant idea.  I mean, Cirque's shows are generally jukebox musical-y to begin with, but to make one with music of any well-known pop act -- not to mention what is arguably the, y'know, best pop act ever -- is ideal.

(And I imagine someone over at Cirque du Soleil has been dreaming about doing a number to the surrealistic circus song, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" for, like, ever.)

And they did it right.  The show is actually a co-production of Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles' Apple Corps. (which is itself owned by the surviving Beatles and the estates of the others).  Which means everyone signed off on this, and that Cirque got access to the original Abbey Road Studios recording tapes.  So while they were using pre-recorded Beatles vocals, they were able to re-orchestrate and mix to get the perfect recordings for their circus acts.  (Produced by George Martin, no less.)

And in the circus department, the Cirque folks are at their usual levels of awesome here.  Aerialacts, amazing quarter pipe skaters, and high energy trampoline work are all in evidence -- as well as dance, a giant silk parachute, and (yes) mega soap bubbles. 

It's all ... sort of ... in service of a ... sort of ... plot that loosely follows British history during the Beatles years.  (
Yes!  We've finally got a Cirque du Soleil show that isn't based on some oddball mythological journey.)  But, as with most jukebox musicals, the overall plot doesn't really matter.  What we've got going on here is really just a bunch of visual interpretations of each of the Beatles' songs.  Think of it more as a set of live music videos. 

Live music videos with amazing circus acrobatics.

Live music videos of awesomely remixed Beatles tunes with amazing circus acrobatics.

Yeah.  It's Beatles/Theatre Geek Heaven.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

What am I missing?

I'm feeling a bit under the weather, and when I'm feeling a bit under the weather, I go for the method of "peeing the germs out."  Basically I force fluids.  Lots of fluids.  At least 8 ounces an hour.

A friend offered to stop off at the store for me on the way home from work yesterday.  I took a quick look at my supplies.  Good for tea.  Good for fruit.  A little low on soup.

She bought me some soup. 

Nicely supplied with tea, fruit, and soup, I set myself up for the siege, expecting to stay in for the next few days and just flush them germs out of my system.

Excepting I forgot the one other thing I was going to need a lot of.

(Toilet paper.)

Takin' Back the Anthem

Went to a play the other day.  (I'm a theatre critic; I do that.)  Before the play began, somewhere around the usual speech about turning off our cell phones, the representative from the theatre asked us to stand and sing the national anthem.

You could almost feel the annoyance in the room.  The national anthem represents patriotism, and somehow patriotism has been "taken over" by the political right.  It seems to stand for U.S. military might -- patriots, it appears, support the war in Iraq, waterboarding as a necessary evil, and the current administration in general.  Those leftist hippies who don't support the war don't sing the anthem.

And what's really troublesome about this is that the left has sort of bought into this characterization.  It's that whole "liberal elite" business -- like we're somehow above patriotism.  Like flag waving is for those sheep who really don't understand that the war is unjust and this country is committing atrocities in the name of freedom. 

So, the woman on stage asked us to rise and sing the anthem, and the audience -- which seemed generally left-leaning -- shuffled to its feet and rolled its eyes.  And started to sing.

And it felt amazing.  Cathartic.  Transformative.  You could feel the singing getting stronger, as if we were a crowd of liberals saying, "Yeah, we're a crowd of liberals singing the national anthem.  Deal with it."  And I started thinking about all the ways that we liberal-types can still be amazingly proud of this country, despite our dissatisfaction with the policies of the current administration.  Civil Rights.  Equal pay for equal work.  Non-discriminatory workplaces.  Gay marriage (hey, we're in California).  Not to mention things like this being a country where you can go ahead and criticize the administration all you want without fear that the secret police are going to kidnap you in the middle of the night and you'll never be heard from again.  A free press.  The ability to change policies by vote and by protest. 

This is our country too -- just as much as it's the country of those who try to co-opt "patriotic" as meaning "pro-war" -- and it actually felt good to be taking back the anthem.