Random Rants For A Summer’s Day

When John Roberts says that the ruling for gay marriage has “nothing to do with the Constitution,” does that mean he’s actually never read the 14th Amendment’s discussion of equal protection under the law?


I’m beginning to wonder if Safeway actually doesn’t want me to push a cart down its aisles. Otherwise, why would it fill them with displays that only get in the way?


I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area my whole life, but I still get confused trying to place Fairfax and Fairfield; San Lorenzo and San Leandro; and Pleasant Hill and Pleasanton. I imagine the people in Seattle have the same problem with place names like Duwamish, Snohomish, Swinomish, and Sammamish, while the people in Boston have to deal with Dedham, Needham, Stoneham, Waltham, Bellingham, and Framingham.


It’s too late for me, but I’ve finally realized that one reason to have kids to have someone to get the holiday decorations down from the attic.


Have you ever noticed that if you wait until you all your voice mails before you start returning calls, most of the problems will have already been resolved?


I wish that resilient little hair follicle on the side of my nose would find its way back to the top of my head.


There’s a great line in For The Boys when Bette Midler, playing a woman in her 90s, says something crass to Arye Gross and he replies, “I can’t wait to be old so I can talk to people like that.” I’m getting there. When I hold an unacknowledged door open for people, I’ve started to say, “You’re welcome.”


It makes me sad to realize that I will never write anything as funny as Dave Barry’s “A Journey Into My Colon,” in which he writes that MoviPrep makes you eliminate food that you haven’t even eaten yet: “We must never allow it to fall into the hands of America’s enemies.”


I’m waiting for the day that LinkedIn realizes I don’t want to be connected with everybody.


Everyone says you can’t retire until you know what you’re going to do with all your free time, to which I say, “Oh, I think I can.”


If people can scream at the top of their lungs, does that mean they can whisper at the bottom of their lungs? And if so, why don’t they?


Do I really want to figure out how to get Netflix streaming, or does that way lie madness?


Wouldn’t it be simpler to just announce who isn’t running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016?


Everybody who doesn’t think last week was one of the coolest weeks in the history of America can say whatever they want about it, as long as they do it at the bottom of their lungs.

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Walking Away From The Madness

I don’t cringe much anymore, but I sure did when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S. Car.) announced he was running for president with the pronouncement (as reported by CNN), “I want to be President to defeat the enemies trying to kill us, not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them.”

Really, Senator? Really? How’s that been working out for us so far?

We’ve spent trillions of dollars on wars in the Middle East that, if anything, have made the oil supply chain we crave to protect less stable, not more. What if we’d spent those trillions of dollars upgrading our mass-transit infrastructure here in America? Gee, we’d have created thousands of jobs and made it easier for people to get out of their cars.

I’m not saying get rid of cars (although I suspect that technology may significantly diminish the need for privately owned cars before too long). I’m saying make it easier for people to get to work. If we’re really a capitalistic society, then the goal of the government should be to help people make money. Corporations, too, even though they’re not – and I don’t care if I’m in opposition to the Supreme Court on this – people.

What is it about politicians that they want to keep sending money to the Middle East? Before these wars, we protected our oil by supporting corrupt regimes – the Shah, the Saudi royal family, and probably a few others in emirates and protectorates that I couldn’t even find on the map. And what has been the result? Those people hate us.

Did you know, according to the Center for Global Development that in every year between 2010 and 2013, the United States has given at least a billion dollars in aid to Pakistan? (The number was only $858 million in 2014.) And they didn’t even tell us that Osama bin Laden was hiding out there. It’s like regularly patronizing a restaurant where the host loses your reservation, the sommelier insults your taste in wine, and the waiter spits in your food.

The religious fanatics think we’re wholly corrupt because we allow women and homosexuals – not to mention homosexual women! – to walk our streets. The opposition thinks we’re not doing enough to get rid of their dictators and bring democracy to their land. But almost all of them have lots of money to fight us, because we keep sending it to them. I would love to figure out a way to cut off the flow of oil for money, but I suspect that China would just buy up whatever we didn’t use.

I don’t care how we do it, frankly, but I would love for the United States to stop obsessing on the Middle East and start obsessing on the United States. Let’s stop sending money to people who want to kill us, and start sending money to people who actually like America – like, say, Americans. Let’s upgrade our schools, our medical care, our transit systems, our crumbling bridges, even the highways that trucks use to get food from place to place.

If we did this, the day may come, China notwithstanding, when the people of the Middle East come begging to us for help. Then, and only then, I might consider it okay to dispense some foreign aid. But only if a delegation of lesbians delivers it.

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Sifting Through The Stuff We’re Not Supposed To Say

Why is it, I wonder, that even among our closest friends, we’re more willing to share bad news than good news?

You’re more like to hear low-grade good news, like kids graduating from high school or getting a new car or going on a cruise. But why don’t people share the really, really good news, like the fact that someone had really hot sex the night before (even – or especially – with their spouse). When you walk into the office in the morning, wouldn’t that be the first thing you’d like to share? Friends are more likely to share the bad news that they caught their kid having hot sex in the new car.

You’ll even hear bad news like someone getting fired or started seeing a therapist. But you never hear about someone has becoming so masterful at their work that their salary is going to double this year – and oh, by the way, the amount it’s going to double to. No, that’s just considered gauche. It’s more acceptable to tell someone you’re undergoing cancer treatments than it is to reveal that you’re paying off your mortgage.

Or the fact that someone just won the lottery and will never ever, ever, ever have to work again. Think about that. If you won the lottery, wouldn’t your first inclination be to throw a party … in Tahiti? But no. Again, because gauche.

Of course, there is also the strong possibility that, if you tell your friends you’ve won the lottery, some of them will think they’re entitled to share in your good fortune. The one friend of mine who won the lottery wanted to entitle her memoirs, “I Heard You Won The Lottery – Will You Give Me $80,000?”

Of course, there are gradations of bad news, most of which people keep to themselves. They don’t go around talking about how much they lust after the babysitter or their secretary, or the six ways they’ve figured out to cheat on your taxes. That’s just prudent.

Or is it? Maybe it’s friends that people should share the really bad stuff with, if only to keep them from acting on their feelings toward the babysitter or the Internal Revenue Service. Why is it a joke when someone says, “A friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body.” That should be part of the policies and procedures manual.

Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy. Well, not maybe – I am. Maybe younger generations haven’t slathered themselves with varying amounts of political correctness and politesse. Last week, I thought about telling the joke about the dying Irishman who wanted his friend to pour a bottle of fine Irish whiskey over his grave. The punchline: “Do ya mind if I strain it through my kidneys first?” I refrained because I was in what used to be known as “mixed company.” Having seen Bette Midler in concert last week doing bawdy Sophie Tucker vaudeville jokes, I probably shouldn’t have been so genteel about what the opposite gender’s ears hear.

It seems to come down to this, I guess: we can be gauche about bodily functions but not about money. That’s kind of a strange rule, but I guess it makes sense: after all, not everyone has money … or babysitters … but everyone pees.

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Cat Mysteries

001[with apologies for two cat postings in a row]

There’s an old saying that you never really own a cat. It’s the kind of adage that’s usually attributed to Mark Twain, whether he actually said it or not. Whoever originated it, I’m finding it becoming truer every day. Even after adopting four cats, fostering many others, and feeding a multitude of strays that have come to our front doorstep and gone, cats continue to be a mystery to me. Sometimes happy mysteries, sometimes sad ones.

Louise. Louise is the saddest mystery of all. She belonged to a family on the street behind our house, but her territory was broad and her mien friendly. She would walk right into anyone’s house. Sometimes we would come home and find her in the house, because the housekeepers had assumed her comfort in walking in meant that she actually lived here.

But in truth, Louise yearned to be an only cat. Her original owners (and I hesitate to say original, because they told us they had adopted her from the humane society) had other cats and dogs, and she disdained that. Sometimes, in an attempt to educate her as to her true home, I would pick her up, drive around the corner, and drop her off in front of her house – only to find her waiting in my driveway by the time I’d driven back home. Our next-door neighbors eventually ended up adopting her, and that suited her fine. Us too – we loved her as one of our own.

But there came a day when our neighbors were on vacation and I was feeding her. Louise was sitting on the fence between our houses when Monica went to work, as if to see her off. And that was the last that anyone ever saw of her.

That was almost a year ago. Several other cats disappeared around the same time, as if someone had driven into the neighborhood and scooped them up for some nefarious deed, but in checking with the other owners, Louise seemed to be the only one friendly enough to walk up to a stranger and expect petting and nothing else. One owner postulated that, given the drought, coyotes may have wandered down a nearby creek in search of food, but I couldn’t imagine a coyote in the neighborhood in the harsh light of day. Louise’s disappearance remains a mystery.

Zachary. A couple of years ago, we adopted a litter of three feral kittens. Our previous experience with ferals led us to believe that if you socialized them to humans early enough, they would become loving and affectionate. This hasn’t happened. One of the ferals, Rose, is still petrified of us, although she accepts food and treats (we’ve called in a cat behaviorist, and that seems to be helping). Another one, Max, will accept petting, but only as long as we’re lying down in bed; otherwise, we’re apparently big monsters more likely to torture him. And don’t even try to pick him up.

Zachary is the biggest mystery of the three. Earlier this year, when the weather was nice, we opened the door for them to enjoy the yard. Big mistake. Having been born in a yard, they had no interest in coming back in. Nor were they enticed by traps. I had to concoct Rube Goldberg-like rope contraptions and lie in wait in the dark to lure them back in the house, and then yank the door closed before they could sprint back out. This worked with all three, until the day that I accidentally failed to secure the door to the garage securely, and left the outside garage door slightly raised so that another stray (see below) could go in and out. Zachary discovered my error and hightailed it outside. Since then, all the ruses I’d previously used have been unsuccessful.

We gave up on trying to lure him in in the dead of night, and now leave food for him so he knows that this is his home. I’ve seen him come to the food, take a bite, look around furtively for predators, and eat some more. What mystifies us is that he’s obviously afraid of the outdoors, and yet he prefers it to the terrors of living with us. It’s enough to give you a complex when you give a creature food, water, warmth, and comfort, and he rejects it cavalierly.

Billy. I’ve saved the happy mystery for last. That’s Billy. Billy showed up in the backyard one day last December, curiously strolling through in search of who knows what. Of course we put out food, assuming he was lost and that we would reunite him with his owner.

But Billy was an enigma from day one. For one thing, his ear was tipped. That meant he had been in a feral colony at one time, trapped, neutered, and then released. The eartip indicates for any subsequent colony manager that there’s no need to take the cat in to be fixed again; if it finds its way into a trap, it can be released immediately. But Billy meowed – loudly. Feral cats don’t meow because their mommies train them not to, in order to avoid attracting human attention. Billy was absent from cat school that day.

There’s more. If Billy is indeed a feral, he’s the least accomplished one I’ve ever met. He comes when he’s called, with a loping, excited gait. He loves being cuddled. He will wrap himself around your neck like a soft boa and purr loud enough to drown out the television.

So where did he come from? How did he end up in our yard? I know of no feral colonies nearby. If he had a home, what idiot allowed this affectionate little guy to run off without putting up “lost cat” posters? We took him to the vet and discovered he had a microchip. We called the registry and the woman on the phone sadly revealed that no one had ever registered him. She thought that meant we would take him to a shelter. Little did she know.

He is frankly the kind of kitty we expected when we adopted the litter of three, the kind that appreciates going from being homeless and scrabbling for food to having a mom and dad who love him and always provides treats and a warm place to sleep. As I write this, he’s curled up in a cat bed on my desk (see photograph), sound asleep, his past a mystery but his future assured.

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Take Your Serendipity Where You Find It

Fluffy Tiletuxedo tile

This is a trivial story with a happy ending. It is meant to be no more than that, just a flower poking from the caked ground that the world seems to be today. Sometimes that’s all you get, and it’s important to be grateful.

At an art and wine festival back in the 20th century, I ran across a vendor selling decorative tiles and house numbers. The deal was that if you bought the appropriate numbers for your house and the decorative tiles – showing flowers, animals, more than I can remember now – the vendor would put them together into a wooden frame that you could hang on the front of your house.

Among the tiles the vendor was selling were representations of both an orange tabby cat and a black-and-white cat. Our first cats were an orange tabby named Tuxedo and a black-and-white cat named Fluffy. So of course I paid the money and soon had an indication on the front of our first townhouse that we were proud owners of two rascally felines.

Time passed.

We outgrew the townhouse and its confining backyard, and did something that still seems rather silly: we packed up all of our belongings and moved them less than a mile away, except to a bigger house that had more room for more cats. We moved everything except the house numbers, which I never thought of taking down from the front of the garage. But the woman who bought the townhouse from us didn’t think about taking them down either, and whenever we passed by, we could see the images of our beloved kitties still guarding their first home.

More time passed.

The woman who bought the townhouse moved away. Having been in our “new house” more than ten years, we decided it was time to paint the exterior. But the trim color we chose was dark, and the house numbers we had were almost indistinguishable. In the hopes of finding the equivalent to the cat tiles on our townhouse, I took to the Internet, without success.

The name of that art-and-wine festival vendor was lost to history. I felt thwarted, until I remembered that the original tiles I’d bought were still less than a mile away … assuming the new owner hadn’t thought about them anymore than the two previous owners. I drove back to the old townhouse.

And that’s when serendipity reigned. It was mid-afternoon, but the new owner was there waiting for the phone repairman. He recognized my name because junk mail of ours still arrived in his mailbox. I told him that I’d be happy to buy him new house numbers if I could have the old ones, and he said, “My wife hates cats. Let me get new house numbers, and then you can have the old ones.” It was one of those things that was apparently just meant to be.

So eleven years after we moved away, and even more years after I first found the tiles, I bought new house numbers and asked my far-more-talented-at-woodworking-than-me brother-in-law to fashion a new wooden frame for the tiles on the “new house.” And there they hang today.

Though Tuxedo and Fluffy have long ago gone to the Rainbow Bridge, their images still guard the entrance to our home, just as they did so many years ago.

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In The City That Might Have Been Home

Very few of my friends know this, but my first choice for a college education wasn’t even in California. I don’t remember when or how I first discovered Boston’s Emerson College, but knowing that it had both a theatre and a journalism department made me think it was perfect for me. Another little-known tidbit from the past: I was torn between writing and acting before I realized that I was much better at one than the other.

My plans were thwarted when my mother informed me she had no intention of allowing me go back east for school. It wasn’t a question of money – she did, after all, eventually spring for a Stanford education, an outcome for which I deserve no sympathy. She suspected that, just as she and my father had come out to California and loved it, I would go back to Boston and fall in love with its history, seasons, architecture, and pick a reason.

And she was right.

Monica and I spent last week in Boston, site of this year’s American College of Physicians Conference. Before the conference began, we rode the T, wandered through Harvard Yard, shopped at Lord & Taylor, ate lobster and Boston cream pie – all the usual touristy things. As Californians, we also took long, luxuriant showers – something we can’t do at home. And while Monica was stuck in the convention center, learning, I went out and rode the T again. Yes, I was having lunch with clients, but I was also thinking about how much I loved that town.

Would I have loved it so much this past winter, which apparently only ended just last week? One colleague told me that he still had snow in his backyard. I don’t know. I do know that the biggest problem I have with snow is driving in it, and with a transportation system like the T, who needs a car? I love descending underground, buying a day pass, and flitting from green line to red line to silver line like a subterranean butterfly. I love the old brick buildings with the promenades down the middle of the street. I love the cobblestone streets. I love lobster.

It would have been better, perhaps, for me to be away from my family, to have established myself sooner – to have actually not acquiesced to my mother’s wishes because though they might have been what was right for her, it might not have been right for me. I would have probably ended up in the computer publishing industry, just as I did in the west. That might have turned out the same. But my friends, my memories, my wife, my life – all that would have been different. Perhaps not better, but certainly different.

None of that happened, of course, and I never will know a life of discovering Boston as a college student. But I wonder about the guy who would have lived that life and wish I could sit down with him for a long chat.




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Is It Time To Go?

On one of the most memorable mornings of my teen-age life, I climbed a small hill in eastern Wyoming with a group of friends to watch the sun rise over the plain. On the way back down, traipsing across a golf course, we were accosted by a sheriff’s deputy informing us that we were trespassing. Our explanation that we were from California seemed to mollify him, as if he were quite confident that everyone was California was either very special or very crazy.

Some years after that, when I was still caught up in the fantasy that the only real publishing jobs were in New York City, I was visiting a recruiter there. I gave my resume – my name and California address prominently at the top – to the receptionist, and a few minutes later, the recruiter burst into the lobby to greet me. Her first words were not “hello” but “Why would anyone want to leave Palo Alto?”

And so my life progressed. I eventually did leave Palo Alto, but only because housing was cheaper ten miles away. I’m still back there – for dinner, for shopping, for dentistry – enough that it feels comfortable. And California did eventually develop its own publishing industry, which helped finance that house in Silicon Valley.

Not only that, but California has always remained a special place. The California Dream may have morphed from the days of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath – now the dream is not just a job, but a job with a potential IPO attached. But people still flock here with stars in their eyes – the population has increased by more than 4 percent, from 37.2 million to 38.8 million between 2010 and 2014.

And I have always loved being able to say I was a native Californian. Who wouldn’t want to have grown up in paradise, with Disneyland on one side, Yosemite on the other, and an endless beach on the third?

But as time goes on, I am less confident. Here’s why:

Boomtown. As Silicon Valley keeps reinventing itself, from a mecca of defense to electronics to computers to software to biotech to social media and other apps that only make sense to 25-year-olds, it just keeps getting more popular. That’s fine for housing prices (assuming you already have one), but the resulting traffic, financial impact on service workers, and the diminishing comfort and joy begins to take its toll.

Nature. The worst drought that most of us have lived through was in 1977, the year I graduated from college. (I solved that problem by moving to Seattle, where water fountains on the street gushed constantly.) The snowpack in 1977 was measured at a scarily low 27 inches; when they went back to measure the same place last week, there was no snow. If it doesn’t start raining soon – and it shows no sign of doing so – it’s going to be like that Twilight Zone episode where the earth starts moving closer to the sun.

Government. One of the side effects of the drought is that rain doesn’t wash nasty stuff out of the air as often. Here in the Bay Area, we already have to suffer through what are known as “spare the air” days when we can’t use the fireplace. Unfortunately, they’re usually the days you’d most like to use the fireplace. Now what is derisively referred to as “the nanny state” is talking about going a step further, and banning fireplaces altogether. If this stupid law passes, no one will be able to sell or rent a domicile without removing the fireplace or installing a gas insert. Even as a liberal, I find that wholly intrusive.

And so, after all these years, I’m beginning to wonder … is it time to go? Has California finally played out its wonder? What’s the point of paradise if the result is road rage, aggravation, and the inability to take a shower?

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