Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Snapshots from Miami

You know you're at a good conference when, after the evening reception, one of your hosts quietly suggests that she'd rather order pizza delivery than find a place to go to dinner; an hour later finds 25 colleagues sitting on the veranda in a row, staring up above the palm trees at the lunar eclipse as it weaves in and out of the cloud cover ("Is it gone?"  "No, it's just behind a cloud.").  We ordered the pizza from a local place at 9:15, chatted joyfully, relaxed, as friendly colleagues and collegial friends.  The pizza arrived at 10:30.  Aside from being really hungry, we didn't even notice the time.

My hotel has a bathroom the size of a postage stamp, but they don't hold back on the towels.  In addition to the towels hanging on the rack, they provide is a stack of three (bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth) on the shelf behind the toilet.   Since I need every surface I can get, when I arrived I took this lovely stack and moved it to the wireframe shelf in the closet.

The next afternoon I returned to my room to find that housekeeping had restocked me -- towel rack, plus a bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth nicely stacked on the shelf behind the toilet.  I took this lovely stack and moved it to the wireframe shelf in the closet next to the first stack.

That evening I returned to my room to find that housekeeping had restocked me again -- I hadn't touched the towel rack, but they gave me a bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth nicely stacked on the shelf behind the toilet.  I took this lovely stack and moved it to the wireframe shelf in the closet, placing it next to the first two stacks.  What did housekeeping think I was doing with all these towels?  I wrote a note and put it on the shelf behind the toilet: "No more towels, please.  (I put them in the closet.)"  I figured that even a Spanish-speaking person would understand "No more towels, please."  

Today I returned to my room at lunchtime to find that housekeeping had restocked me again.  They'd place the stack (not so pretty today) right on top of my note.  So I took this fourth stack and put it in the closet on a new shelf, since the first shelf was full.  I used babelfish to translate my note, and I made it into a little tent so it would be more obvious: "No mas de toalles, por favor. Estan en al armario."  We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Miami Herald headline today: Castro Resigns: WHAT NEXT?"  And the teaser above the masthead: "State board approves teaching of evolution."  A big day for Florida.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Manual typewriter music

Walking through Rockridge, I heard the lovely tap tap of a manual typewriter. A portable manual typewriter. They have a softer sound than a nonportable. It did not strike me immediately that this nondigitized, nonplastic tap tap is not a sound one hears nowadays. It sent me back, viscerally, or manually, to the specific sensation, kinetics, smell, sound, of having my own portable manual. It made me want to buy one just to have it again.

I wondered what the people who have never had to write 30-page papers on a typewriter thought of this sound. I take it for granted, the way they take things like wireless connectivity for granted.

The guy was selling poems outside of Pegasus Books. As I shopped inside I could still hear him typing away. It was like music. When I walked out, I commented on the lovely sound. I had a dollar in my pocket that wasn't mine -- it was found -- and I had decided already to give it away to a stranger. Here was my stranger.

He offered to write me a poem and asked me for a topic. While I mulled over this, he pointed out that many people were walking by with pillows and considered it was perhaps some weird California College for the Arts thing. "Maybe they're having some sort of sleep-in for Valentine's Day," I said. Aha, he shouted. It was for the pillow fight in San Francisco. He packed up his typewriter in an instant. "Do you want one of the poems I already wrote?" he asked, riffling through the scraps of paper he had been writing poems on. Someone shouted for him to hurry, it was almost 6:00, almost time for the pillow fight. "Do you want my best one? It's about this person who had balloons. Here, take it, and just email it to me, it's my best one."

I gave him the dollar, telling him I wanted to make sure he could call himself a professional writer. We exchanged names; his is Zach.

I didn't want to retype his text into an email -- it's so different to see it with the formatting and the dropped a's. So I scanned it and emailed it to him. And here it is.

Losing my mind (well, one-third of it)

I have a lot of ideas, and when I want to express them I create verbal lists, even in everyday conversation. I often say things like, "I have a few thoughts on this. One, I think blah blah.... Two.... Three...." On the way to lunch with a new colleague, I said, "I only know three restaurants in this area: an Indian restaurant, Jupiter, and ..." and it was gone. "... I guess I only know two restaurants in this area." My new colleague cracked up, thinking me a comedian. And it was funny, until later in our lunch I tried to run through another list of three and could only come up with two, which I covered more subtly. And it happened again later.

Sunday I went to the store to get three things. On the way there, I recited them to myself. Except I could only think of two. Thought hard, thought hard ... and remembered the third. And forgot one of the other two. It took me most of the way to the store to get all three to stay in one place in my mind. It was like herding mental cats. Or mentally herding cats.

Where did that third go? Did I learn something that took the brain storage that I needed to remember the third item in a list?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Report from Westminster

On the final night of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show.

I always like the sporting group: retrievers, setters, spaniels. Tonight my dog-dar was off, though: I was sure one of the retrievers or setters would win. The black flat-coated retriever, in fact (pictured here). But that dog didn't make it: It was the (admittedly, gorgeous) Weimaraner. The judge was interesting, not bland. His best line, at the end, when he was lining up the final four in order: "I want the pointer bitch." She came in second.
I've TiVoed the rest of it; don't tell me who won.

(Who wants to bet that Jon Stewart makes a joke comparing the dog show with the Potomac primaries?)

Good morning

Made my peanut butter toast, carefully spreading the peanut butter to cover the entire piece, a bit thickly this morning. As I reached to grab the Skippy jar to put it away, I snagged the plate, and (insert whirlybird noise here) the plate and toast went spinning through the air towards the floor. In slow motion, I swear. Maybe the peanut butter has a lot of air resistance. Broken (but not shattered) plate, and of course the perfect peanut butter toast landed peanut butter down.

Actually, it made it easier to clean up, since the smaller shards of plate stuck to the peanut butter as I started wiping it up. Next time I break something (which could be any second), perhaps I'll throw some peanut butter into the mix. I meant that as humorous, but it is actually really good at getting those little pieces that old brooms might miss.

Popped another piece of toast into the toaster ... and burned it. Third time was the charm.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The new Pilates: use your cat

Cats are good for the abs.  Anyone who has done core strengthening knows that it involves focused movement: holding your core still while moving a leg or lifting your head or torso or something.  When I was rehabbing from something hockey related (SI joint), I had to crouch on my hands and knees with a three-foot PVC pole balanced across my shoulders and then lift my arms and legs one (and then two) at a time without the pole falling.  I never succeeded.

But with a cat....  My cat, Sophie, is curled up next to me, leaning against me.  She's not a jello-cat: if I move, she moves.  And I needed a Kleenex, which was a foot beyond my regular arm reach.  The challenge: grab a Kleenex without disturbing the cat.  Move the upper body and torso a foot closer to the Kleenex box without moving the hips or legs.

She did stir, but I managed to do it.