Monday, September 29, 2008

Breaking and Entering: Gary, Ind.

I learned two things this weekend. The first is that Gary, Indiana is, indeed, what is appears to be from the highway - a crumbling shell of a city. The second is that tromping through a falling-down city feels a lot different than tromping through the falling-down country.

Ogling an old barn feels like poking through somebody's trash - point and stare all you want, they're long gone. Ogling Gary, on the other hand, felt like throwing rocks at a cripple.

Gary, Wikipedia tells me, was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation as a home for its new plant. It was named after Elbert H. Gary, the company's chairman. Here's Elbert now, perched smugly in front of City Hall, one of the only kept-up building for blocks. Don't look left, Elbert. It ain't pretty.

Elbert's old digs are still up and running - turn left at the highway off-ramp and you run smack into a wall of border-like U.S. Steel security - but since the '60s, the plant has gotten by with fewer and fewer workers. Folks lost their jobs and left, or lost their jobs and stayed. Most left. Nearly 180,000 people lived in Gary in 1960; it's about half that today. Eighty-four percent are black.

Downtown is a long stretch of once-upon-a-time barbershops and department stores sporting optimistic fonts from decades past.

Off the main drag are block after block of squat brick houses and a few burned-out apartment buildings. There aren't a lot of street signs.

Gary is the hometown of the Jackson family, hence this sad promise on the marquee of the Palace Theatre, which shut down in 1972.

Here are more sights from around town:

Train station, we think

Inside the train station

Gutted motel sign

Gutted motel

Shores of Lake Michigan, with smokestacks

Gas station

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The end of suburbia

"The whole suburban project, I think, can be summarized pretty succinctly as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world."

That's James Howard Kunstler in "The End of Suburbia," a great 2004 documentary about how dwindling oil will inevitably shatter life as we know it in this country. The film points out that all this concrete - laid after World War II, when auto giants ripped up the train tracks that had dotted the country until then - isn't going to do us a damn bit of good when we can't go anywhere.



Kunstler warns us that huge chunks of tract housing will wither and die when people can no longer hop in their cars and drive 10 miles for a gallon of milk. We'll have a nation of ghost towns, followed by reorganization on a massive scale and, eventually, a return to more communal living.

The moral: it might be wise to start growing some veggies. And befriend a bike mechanic.

In the meantime, you can find out just how screwed you are with this nifty little website. It tells you how walkable - and how sustainable - your neighborhood is based on its distance to grocery stores, bars, schools and parks.

My old Chicago apartment rates as a "walker's paradise" with a score of 94, while my mom's house in Bristol, Conn. scores a painful, car-dependent 12. It's a really good thing she gardens.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Home sweet home

Home again, home again

After an unbelievably fast month in Portland, Bailey and I boarded a red eye Friday night to make the cross-country trek to the east coast -- me on the plane, and Bailey in a crate somewhere in its nether regions. I don't care to relive the flying-with-pet experience, especially the bit where I knocked Bailey, crate and all, face-first off a SmartCart in the Portland airport. So let's just say it sucked and move on.

This week I'm back in Connecticut, in the house I grew up in, and life is easy. Dog wants to go out at 6 a.m.? Somehow it's taken care of; I get up at 9 and Bailey's long gone, working off some beefy homemade breakfast with a romp through the garden. Hungry? I take a walk to the kitchen, where my mother's whipped up two panfuls of eggplant parmesan while I dozed and read a chapter of Chicken Soup for the Deadbeat Daughter's Soul.

I'm not complaining, but it's tough to be a grown-up in these conditions -- which is probably why I regress 15 years every time I'm here. I can see why my mom finds it hard to believe that I'm a functional adult; judging from the inane things I say and do here, it's a wonder she trusts me to cross the street.

Take that eggplant parmesan. I was entrusted with one step in its preparation -- to turn off the sauce an hour after my mother left for work. I'm watching Family Guy reruns and downing the last of the Amstel Lights that I found tucked in the back of the fridge when the phone rings two hours later.

Mom: You remembered to turn off the stove, right?
Me: Oh. Shit. OK. Wait, you mean the little knob over the burner?
Mom: Yes. Turn it to off.
Me: OK. Wait. OK. I did it.
Mom: Very good.
Me: Wait. Should I put a cover on it?
Mom: That would be nice.
Me: OK. Hold on. Wait, Mom, this cover doesn't fit.
Mom: Find another cov...
Me: THIS COVER DOESN'T FIT.
Mom: You know, I had two kids when I was your age.
Me: I found a plate. The plate fits. Can I use a plate?

I swear, I'm much less of an idiot in real life. But I might as well enjoy this break from reality while I can, right?

Time for leftovers.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Breaking and Entering: Gas Station

On a search for peaches this afternoon in the farms outside Walla Walla, Wash., my friends and I came across this old gas station, tucked with goats and old trucks next to a disheveled-but-still-functional home.



Inside was nothing too thrilling, I saw through a smashed window: boxes of yarn and old lamps galore.



The cool part was both pumps listed gas at 17 cents a gallon. I don't know if I buy it, because the internet tells me that even in 1950, gas was 26 cents. In any case, I liked it.



Walla Walla is lovely. Still on the lookout for those peaches.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Packing nostalgia



I was going through my computer files at work on Friday and came across a blurb I wrote for my Friendster page (remember Friendster?) almost a year and a half ago.

It reads:

"I'm a reporter for a weekly in the middle of nowhere, California. Long story how I ended up here, but here I am. After six months in the Central Valley, here's my report: this place has enough strip malls, developers, gay-bashers and manly-man pickups to keep me consistently aware that I'm out of my element. But it's nice in its own way - there are still fields full of almond trees, and cows, and people talk to you on the street. Plus I'm writing for a living, and people are reading what I have to say. So that's pretty damn cool."

As I sit here in a skeleton of my bedroom, wondrous that all my worldly belongings may actually fit into one car tomorrow, I can't think of a better way to describe it.

You know what's weird? I'm going to miss this place.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Wal-Mart find: Eat this, not that

Watch out, bikini season, here I come.





(You can burn fat and build the body you want – not by eating less, but by making smart, health food choices. And now, the right choices are simple! ... Whether you’re in the frozen food aisle, the fast-food drive-thru, the local Olive Garden or EVEN IN YOUR OWN KITCHEN, you’re faced with dozens of food choices every single day.)





(Did you know an Egg McMuffin is a healthier breakfast choice than a bagel? (You’ll save 210 calories!))

And we're sold.

Thank you, David Zinczenko, for delaying my stroke.

Friday, June 6, 2008

An open letter to my Buick



I remember the first time I laid eyes on you, Buick. It was August 2006 in E's yard in Portland. You were square and maroon and very unsexy - not at all what I had in mind. "No way," was my reaction. "My grandfather owned that car."

It was a hard sell, I admit. What I really wanted was that cute little Cabrio - a zippy little number with the top down - but in the end I came back to you, Buick. I told myself there was something poignant about cruising you into this next, uncertain, suburban phase of my life. The truer truth was, I liked your $900 price tag.

I didn't think I'd have you very long, anyway, judging from the deep growl you unfurled whenever you were asked to do anything. I crossed my fingers that you would even get me and my two suitcases down the coast and past the feeble fountain at the Tracy offramp.

But you got me there, in a glorious, sun-filled, music-blaring drive - I was on my way to love, after all. To the California border, where the fog split and the sun poured down with such immediacy that I had to laugh aloud, and on, southward, into the state's concrete belly.

You got me there. And then you got me through county flats, time and time again, past farms and smokestacks to a newspaper job that I did not know I could do; you got me through random, winding, developer-named streets on going-nowhere drives in some of the saddest, lostest moments of my life; you got me home on dark, twisting highways after late nights in San Francisco when I should have stayed the night. You got me where I had to be, every time.

If you had any luster to begin with, Buick, I've worn it out of you for sure. Your blinker was the hardest to stomach, seeing it dangling out of its socket like an eye. I gouged you on a dumpster next, with that embarrassed woman looking on - we just laughed and waved. Finally the mean Central Valley sun sizzled your rear view mirror clean off, leaving just a square of old epoxy in its place. Along the way, your grumbling got grumblier. Your rattling got rattlier. You've become quite the sight to behold, but still you go on, and I thank you for it.

The truth is, I think we might not have been friends a few years ago. I can't say exactly how I've changed, but I suspect you were as much the cause as the effect.

I say all this, Buick, because we've got another journey coming up. In a couple weeks I'll pack you full of everything you'll hold. Bailey will ride shotgun, we'll plug my iPod in your tape deck, and we'll drive north this time. I know you're tired, but I hope you'll stick with me through another trip. And I hope, this time, we reach that border and the fog closes up around us like a zipper.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Manteca PD

First, my apologies for this period of boringness on my blog. For a few days there, I was throwing all my creative juices toward writing a 10-minute play, and then I had two 12-hour work days, and now I think I'm getting sick. Exuses, excuses.

So onto the police blotter. Once a week, I go down to the police station and pick up a thick pile of paper with the hundreds of police calls received that week, and pick out the best to print in the paper.

Sometimes there's some really weird stuff in there. Here are a couple:

May 26, 8:16 a.m.: A woman on the 1400 block of Mezenen Place called to report that someone had killed a rat, spread its blood all over her Ford Mustang and left the rat under the windshield wiper.

May 22, 5:15 a.m.: A woman called from the 1200 block of Northgate Drive to report that her ex-boyfriend had stolen her “dildo” and “X-rated movies.” The caller said her boyfriend’s name was Dean. (Printing this one got us several angry phone calls, including one from the woman with the missing dildo.)

May 16, 1:06 p.m.: A woman called from Planet Beach, 1168 E. Yosemite Ave., to report that a white man had been sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the store since 8 a.m.

May 19, 10:46 p.m.: A man called from the Western Mobile Home Park, 1130 W. Yosemite Ave., and said he thought someone was stealing his pain meds and coffee and soup.

May 5: Someone on the 8300 block of East Southland Road said someone had stolen 300 bales of hay.

Monday, June 2, 2008

That's a conversation stopper

Interview faux pas, #76:

Her: Both my parents died when I was 18, so...
Me: Both your parents died when you were 18? How did that happen?
Her: Murder-suicide. My mother tried to leave my father, so he shot her and then he shot himself.

(awkward pause)

Me: So that must've been rough.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Yup, they're still out there

There's this man. He's pretty well known around here because he used to write a column for the daily paper in town. He was asked to stop writing that column, for reasons that will soon become apparent, but he still writes frequent letters to the editor of that paper and ours.

Let's call this man George.

George is a weasely, bearded, wild-eyed man in a wheelchair who hates liberals almost as much as he hates women. George is also a lunatic. For example: Last fall George came into the office and started screaming that working mothers are ruining the world. I made the mistake of giving him lip, so he latched onto my arm and gave me a piece of his mind. (He was stronger than I expected, what with the wheelchair and all.) I stared at him, slack-jawed and horrified, as he spit out, "Day care ... is no substitute ... for mom!!"

This is the kind of stuff I deal with. Anyway.

George wrote a letter to the editor recently about that I.T. director that I blogged about some time ago. His letter was too long, so I shortened it. As a courtesy, my boss (a man) emailed George the edited version for his approval.

George called and congratulated my boss on doing an "excellent" job with the edits. My boss corrected him, explaining that it was actually me who did the edits. George then informed my boss that the edits suck and never to let a woman touch his letters again.

They hang up. Moments later, George sends my boss an email, proclaiming, "You may as well have signed (the letter) "Sarah O-"; the way she trimmed it up and feminized it, there was little of me left!"

So take note, folks. These men still exist.

But this softens the blow a bit. A few months ago I was perusing Stockton CraigsList (yes, there is such a thing - and, while ill-attended, it's an absolutely fascinating read) and came across this M4W post from a 50-year-old Mantecan.

"If you're reading this, you've at least got a sense of humor and that's good. Let's get right down to brass tacks. It goes in this order: sex first then friendship may follow and finally, if we're blest, love. You should have ample tittage and an enjoyable derriere; want to sit on my face, right away; be intelligent enough to carry on a conversation with understanding of history; like movies, old and new; be a decent cook. Not only should feminists not apply, but you should loathe feminism and abhor the travesty of radical feminism! If you want your ass and tits sucked and the possibility of an interesting friendship, please reply."

This is George. A hundred percent. There's not a doubt in my mind.

Having this little nugget tucked away in the back of my mind has made my occasional run-ins with this piece of shit just a little more tolerable. Because if ever again he latches on to my arm and starts spewing his masogynist rant, I'll know it's at least partly because George ain't gettin' any.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Soldier of God

An award-winning painting by a local artist:



I have no words.

(I don't know why it uploaded blue. If you want to see the actual version, click here.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The best mugging ever

Yesterday I went to see the Rox Sox play the A's in Oakland. Shortly after getting off the train, I learned the folks I was meeting would be about half an hour late.

"Oh good, I'll have time to get shot before the game," I joked.

Shot, no. Mugged, maybe.


Regardless, I threw on my ipod and went for a walk through an industrial stretch, where I saw recycling plants, abandoned trucks and this sign:

I'm heading back toward civilization when a young guy on a bike stops and asks me the time. I'm a little suspicious, but we're in a fairly populated area, so I feel safe enough to oblige.

"Sure," I say, pulling my phone out of my back pocket. "It's 5:57."

"No, I want the time," dude says. "On Your ipod." He illustrates by tugging on the cord of my headphones.

(Are you kidding me? You're right, sir, I never can trust the time on these crappy phones, either. Let me just double-check it here on my IPOD. Oh! Do you like that IPOD? Would you like to hold it? It's an 80 GB!)

Now I'm no fool - my ipod, tucked away safely in my inside jacket pocket, is going to pose quite a challenge for our little music lover. Still, the fact that he's got his hands on me is a little unnerving.

"How about you get the fuck off me?" I say in my tough voice.

"I want the time. On your ipod. Your ipod," he keeps repeating. I get the feeling he's a little nervous. Maybe this is his first time.

As Rainman keeps mumbling, I look over his shoulder and see that we're being watched by two cops in a patrol car. Poor kid - isn't that the first thing they teach you in mugging school? Don't try to shake someone down in front of the fuzz?

I'm immensely relieved to see the police there, but I also don't want this dumbass to do something stupid and wind up in jail. You can tell the cops are just waiting for him to make his move.

"I really don't think you want to do this right now," I warn. He doesn't catch my drift - he's still distracted by my headphones - so I add, "Turn around, asshole."

This does the trick, and finally, we part ways. A minute later I hear the whoop-whoop of a police car, and the cops pull up beside me and ask if I "knew that guy." No, I tell them, but it's all right. Let it go.

So, moral is, no more ipods in Oakland. Next time I might not be so lucky - so amazingly, stupidly lucky. And neither might he.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bye bye, birdie

My little tryst with bird-rearing took a bizarre, tragic turn yesterday - a case of mistaken identity turned deadly.

I get home from work around 5 and go out back to feed the bird. She's missing from her little pen, but I'm not concerned; she can't fly very well yet, so whenever she escapes we always find her hopping around the yard soon enough. As long as we find her before the dogs do, all is right in the world.

I no sooner spot her than two squawking birds descend from the sky and divebomb my head. "That's odd," I think, since they've never cared about Birdie before. But maybe now that she's out and about, I reason, they're taking her under their proverbial wings. What good news!

An hour later my roommate comes home and grabs the bird without incident. Now that I have a closer look, though, there's something different about her. She looks awfully big.

"I don't think this is our bird," I tell Roomie.

"She's been growing really fast," Roommate says. "And, what, you think there are TWO lame birds in our yard?"

True. That'd be weird.

Still, Birdie's not acting like herself - she's won't eat. I thrust a fingerful of dog food toward her and she looks at me with daggers in her eyes. Oh well, I figure. Birdie doesn't need me anymore. Birdie's growing up.

So it seems logical enough when, moments later, my roommate declares it's Time to Teach Birdie To Fly. She's been close to airborne time and time again; she's almost there. She just needs a little nudge.

It's kind of a big moment. I take a couple photos with the bird, thinking she might just rise up into the trees and be gone forever. And then my roommate cradles our little bird friend in his hands and tosses her up into the air.

We expect Birdie to spread her little wings and flutter into a tree, or, worst case, lower herself gently back to the ground. We do not expect her to arc up like a football and then drop like a stone, face first, into the ground. Which is exactly what she does.

"Uh," my roommate says.

You don't want to know what happens next. Let's just say it involves me turning in circles with my hands over my eyes; someone saying "He's doing something weird with his tongue"; and my roommate's bad-ass girlfriend busting out of the house with a BB gun, screaming, "Well, do you want it to suffer or not?"

When the dust settles, the bird is ... well, the bird is no more.

I'm gutted. My sweet little bird! To think, all the good times we had, all those feedings, all those... other feedings. To have it all end so tragically, like this!

As I'm spiraling into the depths of despair, I see something out of the corner of my eye. Bailey and Roommate's puppy are sniffing around across the yard, and there's a commotion. What's that they've found?

It's THE BIRDIE! The REAL Birdie! The cute, little, hungry Birdie!

So who, then, is this dead bird lying in a heap at our feet? And the bigger mystery: why the hell is our yard teeming with crippled birds?

I'm feeling just terrible as I head inside to (repeatedly) wash my hands. I take a little consolation in the fact that Dead Stone-Head Bird must have been on her way out anyway, if she was just chilling on the ground, awaiting death by dog.

That doesn't seem to appease Dead Bird's posse, though, who now squawk "Murderer! Murderer!" every time I walk into the back yard.

And with that, my bird-raising days are officially over.

* * * RIP, RANDOM BIRD * * *

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Speaking of little birds...



Bailey found this little bird in the yard Saturday morning. He must have fallen out his mother's nest.

I put him in a box so the dogs couldn't get him and waited, hoping his mother would come - but she never came. I even hung him up in a tree in this little basket, like some internet bird person suggested, but the daredevil just kept diving out - which explains how he got there in the first place.



Next I called Manteca Animal Control, the city office that helps people deal with the few species that, annoyingly, have managed to survive us and continue to inhabit our city. Turns out their method of "controlling" this half-ounce baby bluebird is to "put it to sleep."

Long story short, I am now Birdie's Surrogate Mommy. I read online that Birdie would like canned dog food, and that's very true. Here's a video of him eating.

video

Some people are telling me this birdie's a goner - that because he's missing vital Mama Bird interactions, he's not going to know how to fly or eat or anything. (I must admit, the fact that he was throwing himself out of his nest does suggest that he's already missing a few birdie marbles.)

But my fingers are crossed that he gets nice and strong and flies off into the sunset. Please send good birdie vibes my way.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A suburban street party



In my last post, I complained about missing the revelry that followed Thursday's announcement about gay marriage in some of the state's big cities.

I asked for a party, and I got it. The very next day we had a street party all our own - Manteca style.

And, uh, San Francisco? I bet YOUR party didn't have an army caravan and a mob full of old people in flag apparel!

The excitement had been brewing for weeks. The 118th Maintenance Company, a National Guard unit out of Stockton, was coming home from Iraq. After landing at the Stocktn airport, a motorcade of buses and camouflaged something-or-others would drive the soldiers through the streets of Manteca to a huge church, where they would undergo three days of "debriefing" - that is, therapy.

Manteca was abuzz. Volunteers woke up at 4 a.m. to erect thousands of streetside flags. Police laid out a plan to block off the streets. Somebody acting as spokesman even convinced (most) media outlets that the motorcade was traveling through Manteca, not because it was the logical route to the church that cut them a deal on their debriefing rental, but because Mantecans had sent SO MANY CARE PACKAGES to the 118th that this was their way of saying thanks.

Yes, this is the kind of event Manteca can really sink its teeth into.

ps, if you watch the above video to its dramatic conclusion, you'll hear that soldiers of the 118th received 1200 awards since they were deployed last July. Twelve hundred awards? Are you fucking joking? Clearly our Defenders are working very hard to distract our troops from thinking by giving them awards every time they take a crap. ("Great job, kid! You're on the right side!")

pps, this could be the post that gets me shot.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Yesterday

As I'm sure you've all heard, the California Supreme Court decided yesterday that gay men and lesbians cannot legally be denied the right to marry. It was close, a 4-3 vote, but four's enough.

Their decision overturned a 2000 voter-approved ballot measure, in which 61 percent of Californians agreed that "only marriage between a man and a woman (should be) valid and recognized in California."

In San Francisco, a short 80 miles from here, people took to the streets in celebration. Back home in Manteca, where the streets were silent and swelteringly hot, I was glued to the news.

Have you seen the pictures? Incredible. I'm in love with the screams and the hugging. I'm in love with the kissing on the courthouse steps. I am in love with yesterday - oh, to have been in San Francisco yesterday.

Still, there's this knot in my stomach. It's the knot that warns me about getting too hopeful, about setting myself up for a big fall. I hate this knot. It's a shitty, stupid knot, but it has a point.

As much as I want to bury myself in yesterday and never come out, I know most places aren't San Francisco, and most people aren't kissing at the courthouse. Sixty-one percent of people didn't want this - that's a lot of percent. This could all be undone.

So I thought it was important to see how people in Manteca feel about the fact that gay couples can now marry in their state. I asked 10 of them today, with my poker face on, outside the Manteca Post Office. (Responses are real; names and photos are not.)

Todd Binghamton:
"Personally? I think it sucks. I don't condone homosexuality, so I really don't condone them having legal status."






Slick Jackson:
"(Yelled angrily over his shoulder as he walked away) It was crazy enough for our kids before. Now they're really going to be confused."




Paul Wildeyes:
"I have no problem with that whatsoever. I have no reason why anybody who wants to be married shouldn't be married."






Mary Smith:
"I have no opinion on that. It doesn't really affect my life."






Jerry Sternman:
"I am against gay marriage. They should have some rights, I guess, like Social Security, but marriage doesn't have to be in the picture. (Do you disagree with the gay lifestyle?) It's unnatural. The Bible does say it's a major sin."


Trudy Rougher:
"It doesn't really matter to me because it's up to the individual. But I don't think god sees it very well, let's put it that way."






Jill Wishawasher:
"I don't really mind it. I'm OK about it. (Would you say you are happy about the decision?) It doesn't really bother me. I have gay friends, but they had a ceremony a long time ago."




Penny Pinch:
"(Scoff) I think it's wrong, definitely."







Enrique Jones:
"The bottom line is, marriage is a religious thing. If you want to just do the paperwork or whatever, do unions. Why you want to go into a church and do it? That's what they're trying to do, is change our religion."




Rachel Martinez:
"I'm torn on that issue, because I know morally and ethically, the way I was brought up as a Christian, it is totally wrong. But torn, because I have a gay brother, so how can I not love him? ... It's very hard to explain to your children. (me: What do you tell them?) I try to explain to my children that everybody has their sins and our sins are different. But I tell them that we have to love everybody anyway."

So, as we might have thought, they're not dancing in the streets in Manteca. But honestly, I expected stronger anti-gay sentiment from the people of "The Family City." Well, let's just hope things stays civil. Let's hope it doesn't come to this.

Little Bird

Technology's not really my thing. My brain likes to wander off in the other direction when faced with instruction manuals, more than two cords, or long series of characters and slashes.

I am so inept at these things, in fact, that I have been unable to outfit my blog with a cute-as-a-button audio player, described by numerous websites as "simple!"

For now - in an effort to get some music on here - I'll add a couple downloadable mp3s of my favorite songs. I hope you'll give a listen, and in return tell me about any new (or new to me) musicians I might like.

To start: If you want to hear something a little bit heartbreaking on this sunny Friday, check out "Little Bird" by The Weepies, a lovely-but-queasy little number off their new album.

I've been listening to this track nonstop, which I am wont to do when I hit on a song I really love. It reminds me of a ragged old woman that I sometimes see sitting on the sidewalk of a major thoroughfare in town. She sits in a wheelchair, perfectly still, staring at nothing. No one ever goes near her. She's on the short list of people I'd really like to talk to before I leave here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mornings: The enemy no longer

Has anyone noticed that most of these posts are written at 7 or 8 a.m.? What am I doing awake? What am I doing awake and ALERT?

The answer, of course, is I have a dog now. Some mornings I'm jolted awake around 6:15 when Bailey starts pawing my face (which is actually pretty painful nowadays because she needs her nails clipped). If Bailey's sleeping in, my mental alarm sits me straight up in bed at around 6:30, frantically scanning the room for doggie pee. (She never does anymore, though. Good Bailey.)

Having cause to wake up at 6 a.m. has taught me something rather alarming - I think (swallow) I might be a morning person.

What?! No. I hate mornings. Up until two months ago, I could barely drag my sorry, stumbling ass out of bed before 9 a.m. Of course, most of those mornings I was nursing a mild-to-moderate hangover, so that may have had something to do with it. (That, though, is the subject of another post.)

Suddenly morning is no longer the enemy; in fact, it's my most productive time of the day. I've gotten into the habit of starting my work stories at about 7 a.m., because I can churn out more in 15 morning minutes than I can in three afternoon hours.

Bizarro. Has this happened to anyone else? Wait a minute - am I getting old?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Screw you, Curves



Guess what? I'm taking part in an "Avon fitness study" at Curves!

You know - Curves for Women! No Judgement!

This study is a total gimmick, I know. I'm paying $30 to "participate in the largest fitness study ever undertaken." That's a bunch of bull. But I wanted something commitment-free that would force me to move these pathetic excuses for muscles.

Big mistake. I've been twice now, and here's my verdict: Curves is the creepiest place I have ever been in my entire life. It's up there with Wal-Mart, seriously. I pictured a nice little gym with weights and classes - you know, a normal gym, only without men staring at your jiggly bits.

Nope. Maybe the rest of the world knew this (and to be fair, I think my mom did try to warn me) but Curves only offers the "30-minute workout" for "women's busy schedules."

("Can you squeeze four 30-minute workouts into your busy schedule?" consultation lady asked me, without enthusiasm. Yup, I replied, I'm pretty sure I can squeeze that in.)

Well, here's how THAT'S going.

When you walk into Curves, you see a bunch of machines set up in a circle with flat padded boards between each one. The drill is, you work out on a machine for 30 seconds, then hop onto the "recovery boards," where you must run in place or dance like an asshole for another 30 seconds. Then you jump on the next machine, and so on, like a spastic, sweaty hamster.

How do you know when 30 seconds is up, you ask? Well, there's a voice that tells you over the loudspeaker, in a much-welcome break from the INCESSANT, MIND-FUCKINGLY AWFUL MUSIC. The '50s-inspired soundtrack at Curves is kicked into hyperdrive by a synthesizer and back beat, giving the place the feel of an '80s gay dance club for geriatrics.

Speaking of geriatrics, you'd think everyone there would be old, but they're not. Most I've seen are in their 30s and 40s - and I've seen a couple young'uns like myself - although it's hard to tell their actual age because we try very hard not to make eye contact.

Oh - and did I mention that for the first four visits, you're one-on-one with a trainer? "Trainer" isn't exactly the right word, because they don't know anything, but they do stand silently in front of you the whole time to ensure that you both feel as stupid as possible.

To add insult to injury, I made the mistake of reading the Wikipedia entry on Curves. Not only was the franchise founded by a man, but "Today's Christian" quoted him saying that he donates to pro-life pregnancy care centers.

Son of a bitch, Curves. Give me my $30 back.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gays and hippies!



Do you see that? Look reeeeal close, just to the right of the OPEN sign. That, my friends, may be the only pride rainbow in the Central Valley.

And, as you might imagine, the place it's stuck to is my new favorite store - Natures RX, a tiny little health food store in downtown Ripon (pronounced Rippin').

I went to this place over the weekend to investigate claims that they sell kombucha - and it was true! I nearly fell down. And not only that! Local, pesticide-free pumpkin seeds! Tea tree oil-infused toothpicks! Organic tampons!

(Pause: please, regular tampon users, I beseech you. Think. Would you drink Clorox? No? Then why do you think it's okay to stick the stuff up your cooch?)

While I was there, a lovely young hippie couple wandered in - you know the type, guy with weird hat, long-haired girl with baby on hip. They strolled in, had a quick chat with the owner - who was busy ranting with me about how women don't know their tampons are giving them cancer (!!) - and slipped back out from whence they came.

Now this kind of thing might be normal for all of you Portland or San Francisco or other-cool-place dwellers, but in these parts, I might as well have seen a pair of friggin' leprechauns.

I almost felt high when I walked out of the place. Maybe it was the patchouli. Nature RX, where have you been all my life?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wal-Mart



I'm not proud of it, but it's true. I went to Wal-Mart yesterday.

In fact, yesterday's trip was actually my second in a month - but wait, there was a reason! I had to go Saturday to return a dog crate I bought for Bailey. And, see, I had to buy the crate at Wal-Mart in the first place, because while crates cost $150 everywhere else, Wal-Mart can somehow sell them for $60.

(In my defense, I generally refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, because I hate everything the store stands for, and also because it gives me the creeps. But after coming up empty on both Craigslist and Freecycle, I had to admit that $90 was simply too much for me to pay on principle right now.)

(Oh, and if anyone's thinking I'm a terrible mommy for getting a puppy crate in the first place, it was so I could keep Bailey to work with me. That was before my coworker daintily exclaimed that she "will not work in an office with a dog!" I digress.)

Anyway, I didn't have the receipt, so I had to accept a Wal-Mart gift card instead. As I meandered the insanely crowded store searching for something to buy - besides the doughnuts that were seemingly around every turn - I learned a few things that I wanted to share with you all.

1) There is a type of fish at Wal-Mart that costs 10 cents. Not food-fish, but pet-fish. A dime!

2) The good folks at Wal-Mart know it's a big store. They also understand that, after a lifetime of grocery shopping here, you're most likely obese and malnourished. That's why they created Mart Kart. It's got an extra large seat, goes about 5 mph and pisses off everyone in its path.

3) You can pick up your Mart Kart right outside McDonalds. That's right - they sell Big Macs here, too. It's like heaven!

4) Two giant tubs of cookies, a bag of coin wrappers, a bag of M&Ms and a candy bar cost a grand total of $7 at Wal-Mart. I know because this, apparently, was lunch for the man in line in front of me.

5) Nicole Kidman is desperate to free her kids from TomKat's creepy Scientology grasp. (Okay, that one's actually a fact from The Star, which was the only magazine I could find in the checkout lane. When in Rome.)

I thought it would be a breeze, but spending $60 in Wal-Mart proved surprisingly difficult. After circling the place twice, I'd only come up with toothpaste, sunblock, a razor and a York Peppermint Patty. Looks like there'll be another trip to paradise in my future.

(ps, One more thing - I totally used that crate before I returned it. Suck it, Wal-Mart!)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ants

I'm having a problem with ants near my computer. I think they live in the wall, and they climb up onto the table where i keep my laptop. I'd seen a few before, but didn't realize how bad it was until I picked up my laptop last night and noticed five ants running in freaked out, manic circles on the back of it.

I don't like killing things, not even ants. But the killing has begun.

I cleared all the papers and whatnot off the table and a whole bunch of the suckers started scurrying away from me. I smashed them with a balled up paper towel, feeling like a big vicious giant. I apologized with each squashing, as if it mattered.

Now I keep picturing the survivors all huddled up in the wall somewhere, swapping tales about "the massacre" and drawing straws for who is going to venture out to look for the missing.

When they do brave their way out, the poor things look pitiful. They're poking their little ant heads this way and that, calling for their mothers. I feel terrible. Because guess what, little guy? Your mother's dead.

Then I kill them, too, but this feels like pity killing, because now they can go reunite with their fallen brothers and sisters in ant heaven. If they believe in that kind of thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Next blog

You hit on some real treasures when you hit the "Next Blog" button on Blogger. Like this one, entitled "Lovalicious," which I suspect to be the diary of a Singaporean whore.

"My mornin sucks out......

Its early in e mornin!!!! hav u guys ever been screw up by some ignorant fellow jus bcos u say out their full name bcos tt fellow had been messin wid u e whole damn mornin?????!!!!!

Its so unfair when u gt angry n tt fellow tells u nt to be n u mus listen!!! Cant those nightmare guys out ther pls spare a tot fer poor girls lik us?? Being screwp in e middle of MRT stn...Goshhh... Its in Public!!!! n we cant get upset n even hav to xplain to those morons y we're upset n tone dwn ourselves..... I hav a qns... Imagine a young boy been bitten by an animal, do u quickly help wash up n tk care of e wound or qns e poor boy "Y DO U GO AND PLAY WID TT ANIMAL???" Isnt it a logic??? Haix....Actually am v happy n energetic cos tml is payday.... Now?? Jus wans to be emo n alone...................."

Not sure you get it? Neither was Gin-ny, who comments

"babe, cheer up. thou i dun really know wat are you talking about. lol. =) love you, gin"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Journalistic karma

As a reporter, and now as a "news editor," I've gotten used to people getting mad at me. It's one of the best things this job has done for me, actually.

When I started, I was terrified of pissing people off. I would put off phone calls to CEOs and politicians for days, the butterflies growing in my stomach, because I knew they'd be mean to me. Nowadays, it still sucks when someone talks trash or is rude, but I know it comes with the territory, and it rolls right off my back.

Plus, I do the karmic math in my head. By virtue of my job, I've made quite a few lives better.
But a few, I've made way worse (mostly, I would argue, through no fault of my own, although I've certainly made mistakes). I've reported the one negative out of a mountain of positives, I've written stories about accusations that may or may not have been true. I try to stay balanced, but sometimes things just don't work out.

For the past few months I've followed a story that was leaked to me by some folks at the school district. Last fall, a couple dozen I.T. workers staged a modern-day revolt against their boss, the I.T. Director. That is, they signed a harshly-worded letter on union stationery stating he was a jerk.

BossMan was promptly put on a 5-month paid vacation while the district spent lots of money to investigate. They later let him quit with $75,000 severance, because, if the word on the street is correct, he threatened to sue.

I was only allowed to see the investigation's findings after the saga had closed. Appears BossMan is the spitting image of the boss from The Office (probably more British than American). According to the report, he:
  • told an employee her dress made her look like a Russian dancer, then crossed his arms and asked her to do a little dance for him.
  • Asked a 400-pound employee to tell everyone his favorite ice cream flavor when introducing him to staff.
  • Yelled at his employees for 45 minutes for not completing a task that he had never assigned.
  • Made comments about people's height, including, "You're really short."
(All right, this guy sounds like a doophus. But I'd like to see what came out if someone started cataloging everything I do in the course of a day. Yikes.)

Throughout six months of following this annoying story, there was one problem: I couldn't defend the guy. No one at the school district, legally, can comment on investigations; BossMan had an unlisted number and didn't return my emails.The best I could do was constantly repeat, "BossMan did not reply to requests for comment," and "SchoolDistrictMan said he legally could not comment on an investigation" to feebly point out any inherent one-sidedness to the reader.

A lot of things about this story got people riled - the district's handling of the investigation, the fact that this guy walked away with $75,000, the fact that the union made such a big deal over such arguably silly claims. Our newspaper's website has been flooded with comments for months, mostly from I.T. workers wanting to get in their own dig at BossMan and the administration.

I gave a sigh of relief when I put this story to rest two weeks ago - but it hasn't gone away. People are still flocking to the website - and, in growing numbers, the mob is now coming after ME. Recent comments include:

  • "Ms. O- why don't you start asking some questions, and present both sides, rather than contributing to the ongoing warpath that the union is currently on."
  • "Why don't you dig a little deeper Sarah O-? Isn't the basic premise of 'Journalism' to present the facts and let the readers decide?"
  • "Why is it that the Sunpost has written a story that presents several union employees 'Opinnion's' (sic) as FACT?"
I suspect this is BossMan himself, out to avenge himself, but I don't really know. In any case, fine by me. Let 'em have a go at me for a little while - maybe it'll do a little something for that karma.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Breaking and Entering: Better Days

State Route 120, known as "the bypass" in these parts, is a road that connects giant Interstate 5 with two-lane Highway 99. It starts with a few miles of freeway before it dumps out onto country roads and travels all the way east through the foothills and into Yosemite National Park.

In those first few miles of freeway, you pass through about 20 years of "progress" in about three minutes. First are deep plots of farmland that may or may not be producing anything nowadays; it's possible a developer has gobbled it up and is biding her time to cash in. Then an industrial stretch, where enormous lot of trailers, used to haul fruit, I think, lead off into the distance.

After this the subdivisions start: a sound wall appears to buffer the thousands of beige, near-identical homes from the hum of traffic. And then, of course, those homes need commodities - an Old Navy, Kohl's, sports park and the metal frame of what will later this year become yet another shopping center.

In the lull, just after the farmland ends and before the subdivisions begin, is this barn.



The barn looks completely out of place from the highway, but if you get off the road you find it fits perfectly in a stretch of mostly-modest homes and farmhouses. Down the road a bit, there's a strawberry stand and a taco shop - both advertised by chipping, hand-painted signs out front - a couple low-to-the-ground Jesus billboards, and some nondescript industrial joints.

Over the course of a year and a half commuting on the bypass, this barn and its big, sad, hopeful proclamation came to epitomize "here and now" to me. I wanted to know who wrote it, why, where they've gone. More so, I wanted to know what this farm looked like before it became what we see today. I had it all built up in my mind: Uninsured farm family flees after an illness claims its father. Longtime landowners migrate east after city snatches their land for an ill-fated interchange.

Unfortunately, I don't have any answers. A while back I did go out and talk to some neighbors, but no one had too much to say. It's been that way for ages, a woman with a yardfull of old trailers and boats told me. The landowner lives in San Jose. Dead end.

Yesterday I went back to catch a glimpse of the barn's interior - a perfect Breaking and Entering, I thought. After wading through mounds of silty, hot dirt I found the one door was padlocked, and there were no windows to shimmy through. Big men in pick-up trucks kept driving past and staring.

Conveniently, though, there was a gap in one wall just big enough for my camara-ed hand. Inside I found a gold mine that re-infuses the Better Days barn with the melancholy romance I know it deserves.



Better days indeed. Within a decade all of this will probably be gone; that'll be better days for that developer, who can send her kids to Berkeley and live in one of the $1 million homes that will soon perch over the San Joaquin River down the street. Can't say it'll better days for the strawberry man or the folks with the yard full of boats. I doubt we'll hear much from them, though. History has a way of taking the winner's side, doesn't it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A suburban hobby


You learn something new every day. For instance, before this week, I never knew is was such a popular hobby to fuck up your own face.

The other day I went to a place called Middle Mountain Dermatology (not its real name - these folks advertise in my paper), located in kind of a strip mall full of doctors offices. MMD, I had learned on the internet, is a doctors office and also a "skin care center," where you can get facials and lots of other youth-reclaiming procedures, such as Botox.

But the website was nice and it didn't seem creepy, so I decided to go in for a free consultation about microdermabrasion.
(Microdermabrasion, if you're wondering, is kind of a facial with a mini sandblaster. I've heard it does wonders for your face, and since I still have the skin of a 15-year-old - in a bad way - it piqued my interest.)

Everything was going fine until I opened the front door and saw the receptionist, who had, without a doubt, the biggest lips I have ever seen. And these weren't natural lips - these were collagen lips, or ass-fat lips, or whatever they stick in your lips nowadays to make women look post-coital.

Her skin was also creepily flawless and a little puffy-looking. I connected the dots, remembering that I had talked to a woman on the phone when I scheduled my appointment who tried to sell me on skin laser treatments. (These lasers RAISE UP your skin, she said, so you can't see any imperfections. She gets them all the time.) The weirdest thing was, this woman couldn't have been more than 22.

Anyway, Big Lips told me - in a voice you would expect someone with humongous lips to have - to take a seat in the waiting area. As I'm waiting, I share cordial nods and brief hellos with Unnaturally Large Eye Lady and Dead Face Woman, both of whom worked at MMD (employee discount?), and both in their 30s - that age, I imagine, where you are suddenly jolted and horrified to realize men no longer ogle you.


Meanwhile I couldn't help but eavesdrop on the consultation before mine. I couldn't see either the esthetician or the woman she was talking to, but judging from the esthetician's horrified tone, this woman was in need of some serious intervention. I heard words like "deep Vs" and "serious sun damage" and "we're gonna have to take all that off."


The woman was clearly hesitant to do whatever it was that was being recommended. She kept asking queasily, "But will it be very drastic?" By which I can only assume she meant, "Am I going to end up looking like Lips over there?"
Esthetician wasn't having any of it. "But you WANT a drastic change, don't you? You WANT people to notice you, don't you?"

I don't know how they left things, but when they were done, I did catch a glimpse of Horror Show. The woman was your run-of-the-mill 45-year-old, on the short side, blonde hair. Totally normal.


Finally it was my turn. Esthetician took me into a sterile little room, where I explained what I was looking for. She told me a simple microdermabrasion wouldn't do diddly squat. What I needed, she said, was for her to burn off the top layers of my skin, once a month or so, with some type of (totally harmless, she insisted) acid. And a couple tubes of $48 something-or-other too.


(Call me oversensitive, but I think I might have caught onto another of her tricks, too. Early in the conversation, I very clearly told esthetician lady my age (27). Not two minutes later, she asked me, "What are you, late-20s?" Now 27, I admit, IS late-20's. But so is 28 and 29. I know that's subtle, but my immediate, unconscious, embarrassing reaction was, "Oh no, do I possibly look OLDER than I am?" - and something tells me she knew that would happen.)

We wrapped things up and I politely took her card and left without scheduling anything. Since then, though, I swear, I see these people everywhere - mostly moms in their cars, or grocery shopping - with their permanently raised eyebrows and tight, panic-stricken expressions. You can almost hear them whimpering at their ogling-elsewhere husbands. "Am I beautiful yet?" they're asking, warbled through their frozen, bloated lips.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On the Job

It happens every week. Deadline, Wednesday at 5 p.m., descends upon me like a crapping seagull. At around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, the shit hits the fan. I huff. I grumble. I swivel in my office chair and say, "This is the day I give up."

I know it's coming. And yet, I can't seem to make my week play out any differently.

The moral of this uninspired story is this: I have a ton of writing to do today about boring things like grand jury findings and downtown business assessments. So I will likely not be writing a proper blog entry, as I'd hoped.

Instead, I offer to regale you with a couple of my favorite photos taken On the Job (at least of the ones i have on my home computer). And the winners are:

Were these high school hellions throwing garbage at passing cars on a Wednesday afternoon? Young hippies making a statement about recycling? Think again. This Christian group was making a cross out of trash to display at a busy intersection in downtown Manteca. They couldn't exactly explain the connection between the trash and the savior - and believe me, I pushed - but they did muster something about Christ taking all of your garbage and making it into ... I don't remember, pancakes or something.


This Republican booth was at last fall's pumpkin fair (we grow pumpkins here). Poor Hillary took it again and again. Unfortunately for Hillary, she was a 10-year-old girl; the mommy and daddy Republicans were off eating corn dogs somewhere, quite dry.








Bet the principal didn't
expect to see a pimp in his school's Halloween parade. The school begged me not to run the photo in the paper, but I just couldn't help myself.










This was one hell of a day.











And here's me in the office. Don't I look like I have it together?


And I'm off!