Free-Floating Hostility

Friday, March 31, 2006

If You Don't have Anything Nice To Say Come Sit Next to Me

It's minor league baseball season again, which means that pretty soon you'll be subjected to another vocabulary post. There's a lot of talking that gets done around a ballpark, given that you spend more time waiting around and bullshitting than you do actually watching baseball or writing. And once you tell a story, mostly you spend time thinking of ways to tell it better.

Thursday's game didn't count for anything, but it was the first of the year, which gave everyone a chance to catch up. And it was so cold that by the fifth inning that I was tempted to put my hands in the chafing dish of mashed potatoes sitting at the back of the press box. I actually seriously considered this for multiple seconds. When I confided this story to Anna upon my return home, she asked, "You couldn't have just sat on them?," referring to my hands not the mashed potatoes. That was a very good question.

There was also this story, which is a little long, but bear with me. Our paper had an intern, Homeboy, who was a talented writer but not a particularly accomplished human being. Mostly, he created source relation problems as he managed to chap everyone he came into contact with. At the minor-league park, that went from the on-field manager to the other reporters to two different PR guys to pitching great Rollie Fingers. Homeboy left our paper last fall for the big paper across the river where he worked as an agate clerk/prep writer. That didn't work out and he landed back with us for a couple of months. Then, halfway through a softball doubleheader, Homeboy washed out, saying he just couldn't write for our paper anymore. He said his life was in Barry Bonds-style shambles and that it had something to do with the cops and a town in the South Bay.

Midway through the game, the big paper's sports editor showed up and the big paper's beat writer, not knowing the Homeboy was gone, suggested I try to get him to rehire Homeboy at the big paper. I explained the story and the big paper's beat writer began to look more and more incredulous. Since we don't actually know what happened, we speculated. My assumption is that it had something to do with subtances or maybe a hit-and-run type thing.

"It couldn't be hit-and-run," the big paper's writer said. "He would hit someone and then get out of his car to talk to them."

So it seems that everyone is as sarcastic and cynical as ever, which means I'm looking forward to the upcoming season.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sanguinity at the Blood Bank

The following post concerns blood. If you are one of our readers who faints when such topics are discussed, skip it and catch up with us tomorrow.

Today I had an interview a few floors up from a blood bank, so when I was done I hung around to donate--spring breaks are made for this kind of thing. For me, blood donation is an exercise in vanity. It's nonstop compliments from the time I'm done with my paperwork until it's time to have my snacks. It starts with my history. The gentleman (nurse?) who took my history actually thanked me for not having traveled anywhere exotic. Then came the compliments on my blood pressure. Next he stuck my finger and complimented me on how quickly I clot and tried to win me over to apheresis, talking up the comfy chairs, the smaller needles and the selection of dvds I could watch while I donated. As we emerged from the private interview room the nurse who would be taking my blood overheard and shouted, "Hey, Justin, what's with the recruitment speech? Quit poaching my whole blood donors!" "What?" said Justin defensively, "She's got great veins." It's nice to be fought over.

This nurse's name was Chuck, and he sported a snow white ponytail down to his tush (it's not New York, but you've gotta love San Francisco). He asked to see the crook of my arm and initiated the flattery of my blood vessels. "Whaaugh," he all but slavered, "That's a nice big garden hose you got there. Thanks for bringing that with you." He led me to a really very comfy leather chair, kind of like a superhot lazy boy with the feet up. He disinfected my inner elbow while we chatted. Chuck turns out to have a background in the navy and in emergency nursing, reinforcing that I shouldn't judge a book by its pony tail. I like to watch the needle, and that's how I saw two cartoonish drops of blood shoot out of me. "Oops," said Chuck, "I'd say this was just an excuse to touch the hem of your garment but I think we got a drop on your shirt." One of the upsides to being incorrigibly scruffy is that this kind of event doesn't bend me out of shape, so I told Chuck not to worry about it. He examined my output.

"It's going really fast," he said. I asked what that meant about my physiology, and Chuck explained that it meant I was well hydrated. "I can't stand those folks who say they've had enough to drink, only when it comes time to find their vein it comes out that they really meant a coffee at 6 am. Then there's the folks who say they've had enough to eat and it's not till they pass out in the chair that it turns out it was really just a yogurt." The whole thing was over in less time than it takes to read a chapter of my trashy book. "Showoff," said Chuck. I stuck my tongue out at him, but he did not take the opportunity to compliment its unusual properties. "Ever wanna hold a bag of blood?" he asked. I humored him and took it. "It's warm," I said. "Durr, it just came out of you. Oh well, it goes over better with the high school kids," he said.

By the way, when I showed up for the interview, the jovial research assistant who escorted me through security made sure to mention that he read the blog and found it interesting. See, you all think this is just a hobby, but I'm making my career here.

2 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at March 31, 2006 6:25 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I hope this is the kind of fun I can expect when I give my oral argument. I expect it will be like giving blood or going to the dentist.

  •   Posted by Blogger Alice at April 03, 2006 6:07 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I dressed up as a drop of blood for the Barnard blood drive once. It wasn't a very flattering costume, but I'll do anything for the cause.

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Accountability in Punning

It has come to my attention that some of you are still confused about the term "Hostylefax" and that others of you are already aware of what it means, but are putzes. So, to clarify: "Stylefax" is the quondam title of André Leon Talley's column in Vogue, in which he writes in about his travels throughout the world of the glitterati. When my last subscription lapsed, "Stylefax" had been retitled "Life with André," presumably because faxes were no longer hip (and I say so advisedly, putz). Hostylefax is a pun on Stylefax and on Free-Floating Hostility. Capiche?

Good thing Nabokov never had to put up with this shit every time he referred to something obscure.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Feeling White

Our dance class today was East Coast Swing, which is basically a tricked out versions of the Lindy Hop. Our teacher told it involved bouncing more than swinging, but I can't seem to get the bounce and the step to work together. And our turns aren't so crisp yet. The biggest new concept was me having to turn, because up until the now the turns have consisted mostly of me spinning Anna. Swing is the one I've been looking forward to most, so I'm determined to get it right. Eventually. We're now five weeks through the six-week Level One, having learned all the steps but the Waltz. We're best at the Rumba, although the version we know has the fewest bells and whistles. Anna also Mambo-ed (that's Level Two) with the instructor, impressing me but not herself.

The plan, if you must know, is to be ready for Clafoutis' bar mitzvah or the next of our friend's weddings, whichever comes first.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Come for the Zelňačka, Stay for the Sycophancy

This afternoon I called Mike at work. "I'm at the Co-op," I said. "Do you need sandwich bread?"
"Schwarzenegger's eating lunch at Little Prague!" he answered, sounding as though he would never need sandwich bread again. "Right this minute!"

Ah, Little Prague. I ate at our local Czech restaurant the night I first came to Davis to find us an apartment. I enjoyed my cheese-stuffed cheese with titular zucchini, but my corner of the outdoor seating seemed to be infested with these cute green insects no bigger or heavier than snowflakes. Toward the end of the meal I was offering the bugs cash bribes if they would just leave me alone. I complained (which should tell you something about my distress as I'm chronically intimidated by waiters), but to no avail. I ate there twice more, always at the urging of the in-laws, and we were always served dishes that would have been appropriate for sumo wrestlers had they been served raw, but which were further breaded and covered in cream sauce and sauerkraut. A review in Sacramento Magazine, which is actually less rinky-dink than it sounds, said "If you like potato pancakes, you might give Little Prague’s rendition a try. Slightly gummy, heavy and dense, with an assertive kick of black pepper...If you can wade through a plate of these pancakes, you’ll be prepared for just about anything the weather (or life) throws at you."

I was wondering what the governor was doing in our quiet little hamlet; is this one of those visits that presages cuts to the UC budget? Mike's theory is that he simply got a craving for Czech food, and actually the governor may be the one person for whom such a notion does not require too taut a stretch of the imagination. After all, a former heart patient who circumvents the ban on smoking in government buildings by building a special cigar tent at state expense can probably put away a few bread dumplings in sour cream.

As I was driving home (boo yeah) from the Co-op I passed the newspaper office which, coincidentally, is located across the street from Little Prague. Sure enough, there was my life partner out on the sidewalk with a handful of his hardboiled journalist colleagues, craning their necks and trying to look casual. I pulled over to offer Mike a ride home, and while he went inside to fetch his jacket I chatted with F, who was sporting a Czech Republic soccer sweatshirt for the occasion. A little crowd was forming as students with cameraphones and delivery men pausing in their quest to provide potable water stopped to gawk. I stayed in the car because I hadn't washed my hair yet and therefore didn't want to end up in the paper. "He's in there, Arnold," I overheard someone say. "Yep, the governator," someone else replied, "Did you come to see how short he is?"

Schwarzenegger was ready to go at the same time as Mike, so we all watched as the motorcade materialized from the restaurant parking lot and the governer himself emerged from the front entrance, surrounded by guys in lousy suits who we surmised were state police. The governor waved and smiled cordially to the throng as he walked to his big tinted Ford truck; he wasn't noticeably short, but his head is much bigger than it looks in the movies. The newshounds across the street at this point started snapping pictures for the afternoon addition and shouting "We love you governor!" Mike sighed. "My newspaper really is small time," he said despondently. But just then the governor's truck hung a left and it took him within a foot of us, with his window still open as he smiled and waved, and that cheered us up considerably.

Then we got home and read about the walkouts and lockdowns in the LA public schools, and we were forced to conclude that it was weird that the governor was lunching in Davis. Oh well, let them eat pancake.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Unknown at March 29, 2006 9:09 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Actually, it should be noted that while the graphics guy claimed to be the only one clapping, it was a woman in ad sales who yelled about loving the governor. So it wasn't actually newsroom employees cheering, but it was still a little strange.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Failing the Crazy Test--Again

Today I took my second road test. Only two forces motivated me to make this happen: 1) I interviewed for a summer job that would involve investigating outbreaks all around Northern California, for which driving is required. 2) About a year ago, this guy at the DMV read me the riot act about not getting my license. I was going in for a Non-Driver ID, because I wanted to get on a plane without using my passport, when the guy behind the counter asked, "If you already have a permit why are you getting a non-driver ID?" "Because I'm scared of cars," I explained. "What?" "I'm from New York," I further explained. "Oh? What part?" It turned out that the DMV guy had been born in Queens, and once we had established that bond he felt free to lecture me. "Why are we not taking care of this?" he admonished. "It would be a beautiful thing, a beautiful thing."

Well, when I showed up for my first road test last August, two men were handling them. One was the Queens ex-pat, and I got the other guy. He was perfectly nice, but I felt from the start that this was a bad omen. "When I get the guy from New York," I told everyone later, "Then I'll pass." Today, I got the guy from New York and was therefore out of excuses. His name turned out to be John. He introduced himself and asked how I was doing today, and I answered truthfully, "I'm terrified out of my mind."
"Try to relax," he said, "Just do what you've been doing over the past weeks or months."
"Years," I corrected.
"I got my first permit when I was seventeen," I said, "But I never scheduled a road test till last August."
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Twenty-five." I am pathetic, but have not yet been reduced to lying about my age.
John cracked up. In fact, my palpable anxiety was a source of grand amusement to him. As we started out onto the road, he counseled me repeatedly to breathe. Soon he had me pull over so we could practice backing up.
"Were you under the impression that you couldn't stop at that red?" he asked.
"I ran a red light? You mean I failed already?"
John was nonplussed. "You didn't fail. Were you under the impression you couldn't pull up by that red curb there?"
"Oh. "
"Didn't I tell you to relax?" He was laughing again.
"Yeah, but don't take it personally if I don't."

For the next twenty minutes we drove around downtown Davis. When I made left turns, John would typically give a sensei-esque grunt and ask what I was doing with my hands; apparently my hand-over-hand technique is unacceptable. He asked a few times whom I had been driving with; I quickly blamed Mike and April, and told him about the $70 I wasted on a driving lesson from the professional who yelled at me and charged me for the time it took to go to McDonald's.

The last time he objected to my hands I asked, "Is that the kind of thing that can get me failed?"
"We'll talk about that when we get back to the DMV," he evaded.
"Are we going there now?" I asked miserably.
"Soon," he said.
We had not yet gone onto the freeway, so I knew this meant I had failed, but try as I might I couldn't figure out what major error I had committed. I hate crying in front of other people, but I was tearing up as we pulled into the DMV parking lot.
"What's the most times you've ever known someone to have to take one of these before they passed?" I asked John.
"Are you comparing yourself to other people?" he asked, "Cause the only comparison we want to be making is Anna to Anna."
"I just want to know I'm not alone," I whinged. "Take pity on me."
"I do," he said pointedly. I stopped the car and he started going over my errors on his checklist.
"I can't even tell what I did," I told him.
He was again nonplussed. "You can't remember anything about the drive we just took?"
"I mean, was it one big mistake or an accumulation of errors?"
"It was a couple of things." He pointed to my scores. "Do you remember the pedestrian in the walkway when you were turning left?"
"Yes," I sniffed. John seemed concerned that I was openly sobbing now, and as I reached for the tissues in the back seat I said, "Don't worry, this has nothing to do with you, the crying. In fact I want to get you again next time. You helped me relax more than anybody has yet."
"Oh nevermind."
We reviewed the case of the pedestrian in the crosswalk. "Was she in the zone of your car?"
"I didn't think so, but I guess I was wrong."
"No, actually she wasn't in your zone, but just be aware of that kind of thing. Pedestrians are always a wild card and if she'd suddenly decided to turn around we'd have been in big trouble."
"But that wasn't the major thing." Good grief. My automatic fail wasn't the big thing? "Show me how to steer a left turn." We went over hand over hand again, and for the first time I understood the point of it. After that we reviewed some other details of my drive. Finally John asked me, "Is there anything you did today that makes you think you can't handle this?"
"Well I didn't know I did anything wrong with the pedestrian."
"Okay, and now you know."
"Okay," thinking well bloody fantastic.
"I'm telling you all this because I don't want you to rely on your husband or your friend for your safety. Only you can take charge of your safety."
"Okay," I said again, still sobbing.
"Anna!" John exclaimed, finally giving in to his exasperation. "What we have here are eight minor errors."
"Which means you can go in there and get a license."
"You mean I passed?"
"I mean, we're going to get a driving license today."
"But we didn't go on the freeway," I protested.
"That's not part of the road test!" He was really laughing at me now. "We don't go on the freeway." Without stopping to ask, I gave John the biggest hug I've ever given a stranger, though actually I was sobbing harder now. "So you thought that was all just terrible?" he asked. "The drive was actually pretty smooth."
"Wow, I'm really a big pile of crazy," I observed. "Have you ever had someone cry because they passed before?"
"I've seen it all," said John. "Emotions run high. It's okay to cry. There's no crying in baseball, but there's crying in drive test."

So today I bring to a close the nearly nine-year-long odyssey called Learning to Drive. I am a licensed California driver. Pedestrians, and fellow drivers: Vaya con dios.

4 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Alice at March 28, 2006 5:03 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I still don't have my driver's license, and my excuse isn't as valid as, "I grew up in New York." I wept at every driving lesson I ever took. Congratulations, Anna! You give me hope I'll be able to do it someday.

  •   Posted by Blogger SPG at March 28, 2006 6:39 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Aw, well done! I also cried at my driving test when I passed. For about a minute I had the car in neutral and was pressing on the gas, trying to back up. Then, I didn't signal or something when turning into a parking spot. Bawling. He looked at me like I was batshit insane.

    Stay off the highways!

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at March 28, 2006 7:32 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Congratulations! Hey, at least you don't have to drive around Boston and environs. As I have learned in the last year and a half, it's enough to make anyone question their sanity ("Shit! Why am I in the snowplow lane? Did I just run over a BU student?").

    I have vivid memories of the road test and actually wrote a column about it for Spec (OK, it was summer Spec, whatever) a few years ago, based on a longer essay I'd written for AP English. The longer one was much better, mostly because it included the part where I begged my dad to take me to some part of Nassau County where we didn't know anyone to practice parallel parking. He wouldn't, and instead we drove around greater Smithtown, with my sister in the back seat, looking for cars parked on the street. I was terrified that we'd end up in front of the home of someone I knew from school, which didn't happen--but I still think it would have been embarassing beyond belief.

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at March 28, 2006 4:06 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I feel like I heard this story somewhere else today...or an analogous story... Congrats!

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Shelve your Crack Vial in the Reference Section

Last night while flipping channels we stumbled upon a Food Network piece on the history of the Fortune Cookie. I was all for it until the host, or more likely a ventriloquizing intern, came to a passage where clearly he had said "fortune cookie" too many times. So he referred to them as "the clairvoyant treat." Thesaurus abuse at its worst.

Speaking of thesaurus abuse, I am eager to rent Everything is Illuminated. I take it as a bad sign that I failed to notice its release in theaters, but I loved the book. Even the credits are promising:

Eugene Hutz .... Alex
Elijah Wood .... Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer .... Leaf Blower

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

By the way, I Don't Like Ann Coulter

I'm generally against comparing anyone to Hitler, but this was sort of funny.

I got 10 of our 14 correct.

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How Sick are you of this Story?

Breaking news: Someone at a newspaper (or to be specific a newspaper's website) has committed plagarism and has been fired. The funny twist on this story is that the material thief in question is a, gasp, conservative. In the spirit of feeding people who are wrong (figurative) shit, my first plan was link to a bunch of right-wing denunciations of the New York Times and such. But I don't believe comparative morality is a reasonable standard -- U.S. torture of Iraqi prisoners was tiddlywinks compared to what Saddam did to people, which would make snapping pictures of naked prisoners stacked on top of each or letting dogs bite prisoners acceptable.

I'm just going to take this opportunity to point out this particular pathology knows no political agenda (although I haven't actually heard of any left-wing bloggers getting popped for this) or racial preference (ahem, all of those who crushed the Times or The New Republic). It's a case of people -- who are often very young -- getting in over their head and screwing up in a public way. It's people who understand where the weaknesses are in certain systems and using that knowledge to get over on people. It's always wrong.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

If we had Puppy Pictures, we'd Post Them

Okay, so we don't have a dog. But we have some cuteness reserves with which to distract you when we have no posting in us. Check out this vintage (from December) photo of Mike and Lola. Still sleepy. Posted by Picasa

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A mother duck and her late-season duckling
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And there's always other people's dogs.
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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Adventures in Journalism

Every year, our newspaper does a "Reader's Choice" issue. The concept is simple. We ask readers to vote on their favorite everything: from Chinese food restaurant to bike path. And then we write about the results and sell a bunch of ads. One of our topics is best optometrist. So our people get a list, write a story about the winner and print a blurb naming the honorable mentions. Yesterday, someone who works at the state licensing board contacted us and said, "We were looking though your best of issue and we have no record of anyone by (whatever name) working in your county. The most recent person we've had by (whatever name) died in 2001."


I heard this story and immediately distilled that there were two options.

A) Someone is practicing optometry without a license right here in our little town. Or
B) We really did recommend a dead optometrist.

For 24 hours, I was hoping that our little "Best of" issue had netted a major scandal.

But sometimes a little reporting is all you need to get to the bottom of a story. The answer, it turns out, was option C), That Dr. (whatever name) was actually an opthamologist, and therefore licensed by some other board.

Oh well, maybe one scandal a month is enough.

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Solipsism in the Halls of Justice

More from the annals of other people's more interesting lives. Debbi emailed me the following story from her job in criminal court:
Yesterday the court was in the middle of a hearing for a long and
contentious case involving a local politician and possession of child
pornography (ugh). The phone in the courtroom rang, which is a normal
occurance. The defense attorney stopped mid-sentence and said to the Judge,
"Hold my calls."

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Electra Complex and the Feminist Bouncer

As I have been both busy and depressed for the past few days I haven't had a lot of my own stories to tell. So I will tell my classmates' stories instead. This one was supplied (with permission) by Paola. Let me preface the story by saying that Paola is a very sexy girl. If I were going to step out on Mike with anyone in the Epi/Bio program, it would probably be her. What?

Anyway, on Saturday night Paola was out drinking with a girl who works for her father, a doctor. When they had arrived at the bar, Paola's companion had been too shy to ask the bouncer what he was wearing that made him smell so good, so Paola took matters into her own hands and found out that it was some kind of essential oil. But as the evening progressed the other girl had imbibed more and more courage juice until she had reached Stage IV: Personal Revelations (Stages I-III for those of you who don't know are Musicality, Foreign Languages and Flirting).

"Paola," she said, "I'm really not supposed to tell you this. But I'm drunk, so I'm going to tell you anyway." Well, who can resist that kind of intelligence? No one, so Paola encouraged her to continue, assuring her all was well.

"Paola," the girl repeated gravely, "Your father...thinks your face...looks like a loaf."

After this Paola was laughing so hard that the nice-smelling bouncer came over to make sure everything was okay and she was forced to protest that she wasn't the one who was shitfaced. He accepted her defense, but called her Ms. Giggles for the rest of the night. Characteristic bouncer wit, but I think it's sweet that he had the manners to call her Ms.

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From the Sports Desk: Regular Season NBA

I watched the Pistons beat Miami tonight, in what will almost certainly be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals. Two things struck me, the first being just how little Bill Walton seems to pay attention to anything that's not happening right in front of his face. Shaquille O'Neal played a great game, and the whole time Walton kept saying, "They'll have to double Shaq, which will open up the shooters. The thing is, Detroit never doubles Shaq. It will rotate help when he spins and dribbles, but the Pistons play him honest. It eliminates a lot of the open shots Miami should get out of its offense.

And the second is, these regular season games really have nothing to do with what's going to happen in the postseason. Because here's the thing, Detroit was terrible for about 30 minutes on Wednesday. Then it finally pulled its collective head out its collective ass and played some really inspired basketball. And for it's part, Miami looked like a team that was playing its fourth game in five nights and without its No. 2 center. In the game last month in Miami, Dwayne Wade went absolutely crazy in the fourth quarter and scored the final 17 points. Or there was the game just after Christmas, when Detroit just absorbed what was then the Heat's best shot. And really, Miami's a completely different team. Detroit will likely have turned to resting its starters by the time these teams in meet again in April. So the answer is, the regular season offers absolutely no clue to what kind of series these two teams will play in two months.

I still think Detroit is better (winning it in 6 games better. The Heat's biggest strength relative to the Pistons is their bench, but that doesn't matter so much in postseason. There are no back-to-back games, so the physical wear-and-tear is actually less on the players. Miami will probably have the two best players in the series, but Detroit will counter with No. 3-7. And over the long haul, I think that should be enough. I am, to be sure, nervous about that series.

Unlike last year, when it was pretty obvious where the season was heading, I can't really make a finals prediction.

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In Memoriam: Nicholas Gervas Blakely

Over the weekend my mother's old friend Gervas died after a long illness--leukemia and all its attendant heroic treatments. It was no surprise, but it's made us all very sad. The two of them met when my mom was about the age that I am now, when they were reluctantly teaching Spanish (him) and English (her) at Duchess Community College in Poughkeepsie. Gervas' nasty sense of humor was a lasting influence on my mom and therefore on me; he's the reason I think it's okay to make fun of people if they're mean--the glass houses irony of which is not lost on me. In fact, the Quintessential Gervas Story is by far too offensive to appear on this blog, but I'll tell you sometime if you really want to know. Gervas was my brother's godfather, too; my parents loaded us up with extra godparents, which was a good strategy as about 50% of them were out of our lives before we were 10. Gervas, however, stuck, and was in the deepest sense family to us. Except the dogs, whom he detested. He and my mom would have to be separated at dinner parties to prevent their giggling together all night. Over the years Typhoid Yente would try to fix him up with her various girlfriends, resulting in some of the goriest breakups of her career. But he prized independence and was often solitary (when not womanizing), so it is in some ways appropriate that in the end Gervas died alone. In 2001 he was given two years, so in fact he lived twice as long as expected. But I'm going to miss him a lot and I'm blue.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at April 01, 2006 4:03 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Anna

    I read your Blog relative to Gervas Blakely with a great deal of interest. Gerv and I went to high school together in Canton Illinois and graduated in 1954. He was one of our very close groups of friends and we were saddened to hear of his passing. I could tell you many interesting stories involving Gerv and our gang (a gang in those days was simply a group of friends). Gerv had the greatest sense of humor and always the life of the party. I have posted his passing on the class of 54 web site and have received many responses of sorrow. Thanks for your Blog.


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Sunday, March 19, 2006

What Passes for Settling an Argument Around Here

Tonight, I pointed out that something Michael had said was a tautology, and in response he mooned me. That Bachelor's Degree was sure worth it.

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Hostylefax: Portland, Ore.

Two colleagues and I went to Portland for a long weekend, comprising two days of decompression and two days of intense intellectual activity at a writers conference. When were weren't learning, we were out exploring this city, which manages to be quirky without falling into pretension. There's so much color in the city, probably because the skies are usually so gray. I love the weather (rainy and cool!!) and how close you are to the water and how easy the place is to navigate.

The biggest surprise of the trip was running into Isolde, the former Spec managing editor who is now an education reporter at a small paper in Northwestern Washington state. We talked for about 45 minutes at the Saturday evening cocktail party. I also had the chance to have lunch with Rachel, who picked out a delicious Lebanese restaurant. Rachel's selections from my previous visits were popular among my colleagues as well.

The writer's conference was a very interesting experience. I took one brilliant workshop in which a guy who won a Pulitzer from a tiny alt-weekly in Portland (when he discovered that Oregon's governor sexually abused a 14-year old three decades earlier) discussed good tactics for uncovering documents and using those for detail-driven investigative stories. Two other workshops (one on memoir and one on sportswriting) degenerated "Chris Farley Show" type segments in which people asked very specific questions about specific works. Those led to interesting answers, because listening to articulate people talk about things that viscerally appeal to them usually is, but offered only a very limited instructive value. Just sitting in a room and speaking with other people who are passionate about our craft is an envigorating experience. Although exhausted, I've returned feeling recharged professionally. I have a ton of ideas for things to do in the future, which is good.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Is Harry Potter Jewish?

That would be a big yeppers, according to Davis' local rabbi. I forgot about Purim this year, which is a pity as it's one of my favorites. Belatedly, allow me to link you to Rabbi Wolfe's Harry Potter Unmasked: The Inside Purim Scoop (actually you'll have to follow about two more links; just be sensible). It's very cute. Arguments include "He who Must not be Named"="HMN."

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

Do forgive our laxity in posting this week. Michael is off at a writers' conference refining his mastery of the English language. I am crashing near campus with a classmate named Dara, whose secret service agent boyfriend off at a training session refining his mastery of handguns. Michael feels that means Dara's boyfriend wins. I agreed to let him hang around some male biostatisticians until he felt manly again.

The lovely Dara has deranged her life so that I can stay on campus late and work a few nights this week. In addition to feeding me and giving me shelter and putting up with my company, when she was beaten to the wait list of our cardio kickbox class by a horde of semi-violent undergrads she actually hung around the gym, not working out, till I was done. The least I can do in return is get off her computer and do my homework.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Noncommittal Blogging

This is one of my favorite websites. Those of you who watched ESPN's Pardon The Interruption late last week, might recognize the lines that Tony Kornheiser stole from this website. I'm on to you Mr. Tony.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Crunch, yes. Munch, no

The professor of my class on Statistical Analysis of Categorical Data recently alerted us to an article listing professions in which women earn more than men. This is the same professor who urged us to gain a rich understanding of last week's material so that in our own research we "won't be at the mercy of some little number-cruncher." Little number crunchers (that is, statisticians) are second on the article's list, which also includes aerospace engineers, tool and die makers and funeral service workers. Although epidemiology is reputed to be female-dominated, Epidemiologists are not mentioned, bearing out my own limited observations. If any of you are thinking of switching fields based on this information, consider also the nationwide shortage of biostatisticians with PhDs. You can write your own ticket and be the suavest person in any room.

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A Small Town is Out for Blood

In the past 10 days our town has been rocked by a cheating scandal in its Little League program. A coach and parent decided to bring an over-age kid to play in a tournament over Thanksgiving. The team won the event and had to forfeit for obvious reasons. This would be bad enough. But adding to the scandal is that one of the team parents submitted a tournament report for our newspaper's youth page, unsurprisingly forgetting to mention (because he says he didn't know) that the team used an illegal player. The parent in question is a very visible writer at another newspaper in the region, which has some people in town attacking his credibility as a reporter and even approaching his bosses about this. All of which is to say that this has spun a little bit out of control.

The coaches and parents who cheated are the ones who committed the crime here, not necessarily this parent. Yet people are saying that this particular parent should have a higher calling, as though journalism somehow attracts people who are morally pure. This proves that despite a pervasive belief that "demystifying" newsrooms (talking more about how we do our jobs so people will understand that we're not actually Democrats) people have still ended up with the wrong idea. Why should anyone ever expect a parent to publicly implicate his or her kid's team in anything? Actively covering it up is one thing, but this is something else entirely.

This is a town where everything tends to grow overheated. A series of city meetings have ended with people being shouted down or honest-to-goodness shoving matches. I hope that in the coming week this will calm down. Lies by omission are still lies, but I don't happen to believe this comes anywhere close to a fireable offense.

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  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at March 12, 2006 7:14 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • An overage kid playing in a lower age bracket is like someone feigning disability to get into the Special Olympics.

    On the other hand, what about Brown University cheating to win the Ivy football title.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Navel Gazing Goes Graphic

On a whim I decided to have a map made of states I've visited (see link below). It's kind of like a reverse election map. Ish. West Virginia is really very lovely in parts, though. Underrated.

create your own visited states map or check out these Google Hacks.

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Watching the Market Decide my Future

One of the things affecting the newspaper industry right now is the current sale of Knight-Ridder, which owns 32 newspapers including two huge ones in the Bay. The sale will inexorably change the perception of the newspaper business. If K-R commands a good price everyone will say that, despite doomsday predictions, old media is still thriving because compaies have proven willing to throw tons of money at it. If the bids are low, it will prove that newspapers are in a death spiral. It's probably a good sign that at least two of the bids come from newspaper companies. They'll have plenty of motive to pump up the stock price.

A lot has been written about this sale, including this:
But cuts carry risks. Knight Ridder, which owns 32 daily newspapers, has ''cut the quality of the newspapers to help prop up margins, which we think is not a good long-term solution," Lehman Bros. wrote.

I'm glad someone connected with Wall Street has finally said that, although I'm not particularly optimistic that sentiment will catch on. It's intuitive though, that newspapers that produce quality content will grow and be profitable. No one has ever explained to me why that doesn't work. Recovery will be process though. Newspapers need to figure out a way to make delivering the news through the Internet profitable. And if I had an idea how, I certainly wouldn't post it here, but rather work with Jeff'y to invent and patent it. One more thing to remember, the newspaper industry as a whole reported an average profit margin of 19 percent last year. That's huge. Plus we have a pretty attractive readership profile. At least for now.

As for the effect on Northern California. Of the three media companies involved, McClatchy has the best reputation, and therefore the most likely to start hiring. The other two, Media News and Gannett (who submitting a joint proposal) are known for "trimming the fat" and playing hardball with unions. All of them already have a presence in this region, so it's difficult to know if they would shutter papers or just consolidate certain parts of their operations. Last year, KR's two Bay Area papers consolidated their coverage of the area's pro and major college sports teams. My sense is that this won't create writing jobs in the area. But who knows. Everything could change.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Mazel(s) Tov

We have been a clearinghouse for good news today.

First, Josh and Maureen have decided to get engaged. This is happy news, though not entirely unexpected. He told me a couple weeks ago that he was considering popping the question, but didn't quite know how to do it. I offered some fairly lame suggestions. Anna suggested taking Maureen (who teaches art history) to her favorite museum, turning out the lights and writing in luminescent pen, "So Dark the Con of Maureen." I never quite saw how this was a marriage proposal, but it was funny. The actual proposal sounded romantic and wonderful. We offer them a hearty mazel tov.

Also my former boss in Hobbs won a national writing award for a game story in a contest that my current boss forgot to enter. And then we received the save the date magnet for the coming wedding of the baseball PR guy and his fiancee. Given the date and location of the ceremony, we probably won't be able to attend that wedding. But hey, free magnet.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

An Imaginary Person Runs for Senate, Sun Tzu Stirs

I read ABC's Note most mornings, so today I learned of the existence of someone named KT McFarland, who is running for the Republican nomination to take on Hillary Clinton for Senate this year. She claims to be a committed Reagan-ite who left Washington to take care of her kids. Now she's decided come out of retirement to run for Senate.

As an Art of War guy, I'm trying to figure out what's going on here. Six years ago, Hillary was surprisingly strong upstate, and maybe the thought is that by running a more traditional values-type woman they can weaken her there. The GOP probably can't knock her off on the strength of the rural vote alone. But they can shave down her margin and allow the Anybody-but-Hillary faction in the Democratic Party to make a case that she doesn't have enough universal appeal to win the general election. Maybe they've brought in someone who is not particularly concerned about maintaining a reputation so she can attack Clinton without worrying about destroying her career. Or maybe the GOP wants Clinton to skate easily through this cycle because it believes she can't win a presidential election.

ABC News released this poll, finding that in a match-up with the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, Hillary would be a pretty strong option.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

And the Band Played an Encore

Today, the WHO announced that Avian Flu was its highest priority, explicitly promoting it over AIDS. Read the AP story if you like. I hope your first question was "what does it mean to prioritize one disease over another?" It doesn't make a whole lot of sense from the point of view of the sick. Would I rather dies of bird flu or AIDS? Well, bird flu will kill me faster but in the company of my dying friends and family. Neither scenario represents a peaceful end, and both would kill me prematurely.

Prioritizing from the point of view of the well, which disease am I most likely to contract? Well, it all depends on where I live and what my socioeconomic status. On the one hand, avian flu is potentially highly infectious. 173 people have contracted it worldwide. HIV is, as contagious diseases go, pretty hard to contract. I really have to be intimate with someone infected to get HIV, unlike hypothetical pandemic flu. On the other hand, if I live in Botswana, then an estimated 39% of my countrymen are already HIV positive. How sure am I that I'm sleeping with the right 61%? How sure am I that my husband is? Do I have a condom budget in my average annual income of $4,300--which by the way makes Botswana a middling prosperous country--assuming I'm not one of the many earning less yearly money? And will my husband beat the shit out of me for asking him to wear a condom? Oh, wait, were you talking about birds?

Epidemiologists are not fools (well, mostly not). They know that they're comparing apples and oranges when they try to characterize one disease as more dangerous than another. They also know that AIDS is only going to get worse until a good, really good vaccine is produced, because drug regimens are tough enough to follow for rich patients and hardly plentiful among poor ones. Prevention as it currently exists is not working well enough to control the spread of the disease worldwide. If I may borrow from E.M. Forster, I say two cheers for prevention. And when will there be a vaccine? We'll get back to you on that one.

To say that Avian Flu is now the WHO's highest priority means nothing about the diseases themselves. It means that's where the money's going to go. And the labor. That is the policy makers' job, poor bastards. They know they can't get what they need to save everyone, and they have to decide which people to save. You all know from my many long posts how seriously I take flu preparation. But you'll pardon me if I'm less than surprised that AIDS has been explicitly demoted. Where is Avian Flu spreading today? Europe. Where is AIDS spreading? Africa. How exactly do you wind up with a 39% prevalence of a preventable, treatable (though not curable!) disease? Two guesses. Now what do you need to fix it? One guess. I have a feeling the resources that will now be devoted to Avian Flu will not be diverted from the WHO's Acupuncture program. We'll see. But a lot of other people won't.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Alone on Oscar Night

Anna's Kaplan training meant she had to miss her favorite night of the year, Oscar night. So I hung out on my own, tip-tapping a freelance piece and preparing a blog posting, not getting all that much done on either front. Here are my initial thoughts on tonight's proceedings.

--I've already made my opinion clear on Crash, which is a perfectly nice movie, but a surprise for best picture. I preferred (slightly) Brokeback Mountain and never saw the other ones.

--George Clooney's acceptance speech was probably my favorite moment of the night, especially his attack on the idea that being "out of the mainstream" is something that really exists. What could be more mainstream than movies? Granted, Syriana is no Garfield. But it's important to take a metaphorical sledgehammer to the notion that mainstream is an ideal to be upheld and catered to at all times. I'm in favor of edgy.

--And that brings me to Jon Stewart, who was most certainly not edgy. Given what he said in some of his pre-award interviews, I was expecting that. He seemed to settle in as the night progressed. The funniest parts were the video montages, especially the retrospective of swishy things from old cowboy movies. But after a disappointing start, he really picked things up. His one-liners were tremendous, and I loved the fake attack ads. In the end, he was very good. Not Steve-Martin-in-2003 good, but very good.

--On the production: I liked the clips. I hated the muzak playing under the acceptance speeches. The prompter really sucked at times, especially when Lauren Bacall was talking. Was also annoyed that during the performance of "It's Hard out There for a Pimp," the word "bitches" in the chorus was changed to "witches." That sort of thing always annoys me.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Naming Rights

My second column for Spec, way back in 1999, decried the incessant corporate naming of stadia and bowl games. This is no longer an issue that rankles me, as I believe pro sports should sell everything not nailed down in the vain hope that it would drag the inflation of ticket prices. I realize that is not a reasonable hope, but that's me.

Anyway, according to USA Today, naming opportunities for people have run amok across the countries. Politicians are treating bridges like political candy, naming things after random people just because they can. This more than Republican pols trying to slap Ronald Reagan's name on everything just because it infuriates left-wingers. I'm shocked more air traffic control towers haven't been named for him, just to rub it in. In Davis, the name of a new junior high was a hot political topic. One of the rules was that it had to be named after someone already dead. They ended up naming it after Frances Harper, someone who was completely ignored in my 12 years of Detroit's Black History Month celebrations.

The corporate names can sometime get ridiculous. There is the proliferation of Fifth-Third Parks around the Midwest, a poorly conceived name for a stadium that comes from the poorly conceived name for a bank. My favorite has always been the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl.

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Am I Missing Something? Or is SJ Parker?

You know how in memoirs and fiction of the Second World War there's always one guy that can get anything for you on the black market? Well that's Michael with websites. I don't know where he gets them. Today he showed me, a site devoted to criticism of the UN millenium goals, with helpful links to exegeses of Walter Benjamin's later work. Made you look.

The site runs photos like these of Sarah Jessica Parker in 1994 and 2001, looking exactly the same save for a net flattening of hair, and says "See, see! The bridge of her nose is narrower!" No, it isn't. At all.

Then there's Jennifer Lopez. I don't know Lopez personally, but I'd say it's pretty obvious that various parts of her anatomy have been sucked out and turned into soap since she made Selena, and that while I wouldn't presume to tell a stranger what to do with her tuchus, I think it's kind of sad. The surgery, I mean. Though also the tuchus now. But anyway, Mssrs. Awful Plastic Surgery are running then and now headshots of Lopez, because they are convinced that she has had 1) a nose job and 2) a lip reduction. Then they congratulate themselves on their detective work and Lopez on her subtlety.

Sometimes I wonder if capitalism is worth it.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Good for Newspapers or Bad for Newspapers?

I'm not usually one for letting the repressed and the boring dictate what appears in newspapers. But I think when this photo (potentially NSFW, depending on your point of view, I guess) comes across your desk, maybe's you've got to pass. The College Station (Texas) newspaper claims that what appears to be a schlong is actually an optical illusion, and if you think otherwise, you have a dirty mind.

Well, I have a dirty mind.

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  •   Posted by Blogger Alice at March 04, 2006 10:30 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • The Bryan-College Station Eagle is as family-friendly as you can imagine. There's a regular front-page feature called, "Why are you smiling?" with responses such as, "Because I'm going to church!" or "Because I'm going to Wal-Mart!" or "Because I'm happy!" So why not give everyone one more reason to smile?

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Aristocrats Mirers

Inside jokes are one of the pleasures of frienship, and we all know how most of them arise. Someone starts riffing and someone else picks it up, and the next thing you know it's funny. This is life. This is also a feature of my marriage, and a good one. But recently I woke Michael up from a shallow sleep because I had the terrifying thought that if one of us died in the night, his last words to me would have been, "No, it's not Jamie Foxx, it's a banana hammock." Needless to say, I no longer remember the context.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rail Time II

I missed my train today and therefore spent nearly an hour in the Richmond train station chatting with other disorganized people. When I sat down the blind guy on the other side of my bench bellowed "Who's there!?" in evident alarm. I revealed myself and we began to chat. His name was Tony, and he was on a day trip to Oakland with his brother. It was his first train trip, though he might have been thirty or forty. He asked me where the train went, so I described it for him, and as I was thinking about the sun setting over the Bay I was sorry that Tony was missing it. He asked me if he was allowed to smoke on the platform and I didn't have the chutzpah to lie and say there was a No Smoking sign. I did ask him when the last time he tried to quit was, and he explained that he thinks about it all the time, but that as soon as he tries to quit somebody pisses him off.

As we were kibbitzing another guy came and sat next to me, promptly whipping out a cigarette of his own. We three got to talking about the earthquake this morning, and it came out that this was my first, being an east coaster. The new guy, whose name was later revealed to be Walter, had once lived in New York and worked in an Italian restaurant on Mulberry St. When I explained where I grew up he wanted to know if that was Harlem. We discussed the gentrification of Harlem and he said, "Yeah, it's a happening place now. I guess they just move all the drug dealers out."

"Do they ever really go away?" I asked.

"I guess not. I've got a drug dealer on my block and I live in East Sac." The significance of this last was lost on me but I nodded sympathetically. "I've got an old lady in a wheelchair dealing crack in my neighborhood," he continued. "She offered me some the other day. I told her, 'Everybody else thinks I look like a cop. What makes you think I look like a crackhead?' She said, 'That Vicodin I just took's making you a little blurry.' Shit."

I assumed incorrectly that Walter was in Richmond to collect some type of drug, but it turned out he was on his way home from court in San Francisco. He had appeared before a judge to plead for his license back and explain why he had an outstanding ticket from the '70s. Walter had an open beer in his non-smoking hand and was, if not three sheets, at least one. "I don't drink and drive," he said, reading my mind, "I only drink and ride." He was much less genial than Tony when I asked him when he had last tried to quit smoking.

Walter now works at a Spaghetti restaurant that I was evidently supposed to have heard of, but he complains that the quality of their pasta is inferior. He himself is not Italian, which was apparently a problem for his mafioso ex-boss in the Village, but I was treated to a Forrest Gump-style catalogue of Walter's chefery --"I crimp my own tortellini by hand, I...". He eventually got around to asking what I did for a living, and was not at all pleased with my answer. "Berkeley, huh?" he said dubiously. "My brother went there. Now he can say he went to Berkeley but he's working the same job he had before he went." I gave him my standard schpiel about the value of education. "I should have taken classes in restaurant management," he said. "Then I wouldn't have lost my bar. Or done a year in Federal Prison. You've really gotta pay taxes."

"Do you think that's the kind of thing they teach in restaurant management?" I asked.

"Probably not," he conceded. "Some of this stuff you're either born with or you're not."

When the train came Walter and I got separated. Tony's brother came back and assisted him to the train, helpfully explaining "That's a train whistle Tony, not a boat." When I got on board I sat next to a dainty blonde who looked really pissed off when I asked to sit next to her, seeming to say, "How dare you put your ass on my footrest?" I'd have probably had a better time riding with Walter and Tony, but I already smelled like an ashtray.

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Mad Hot Dance Lessons

Trixie gave us dance lessons for the December holidays and tonight we took the first one, in an unintimidating place in North Davis. I have been a little nervous about the whole prospect, confiding to Anna last night that I'm completely without rhythm and profoundly awkward. "If it were breakdancing, I'd have two left arms," I told her.

Our first class covered three different Rumba steps. Here's what we learned:
  • A polite way of saying "ass shaking" is actually Cuban Motion and Anna turns out to be good at it.
  • Anna and I will engage in a struggle over who will lead until I get better, which means more forceful at steering her around the dance floor.
  • Our instructor appears to be about 14, although very professional and encouraging.

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  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at March 04, 2006 1:58 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Rumba is like a museum piece. Assuming for the moment that "ballroom dancing" is what happens at a wedding or bar-bat mitzvah [are there confimation parties like bar mitzvim?]the key dances you have to learn are the lindy [swing], cha-cha, and the line dance [the hustle is a line dance to a non-country song]. The fox-trot would appear to be the real step to the generic slow dance, which when speeded up is an aspect of the lindy.


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Shaken, not Stirred

Today I experienced my first California earthquake. Berkeley, of course, is located directly on top of the Hayward fault, which is why the stadium was built in two pieces with a crack down the middle so it doesn't collapse as the two halves move apart. There's a campus warning system which sends out test alerts, as luck would have it, the first Wednesday of each month at noon. The earthquake happened at 11:34 (truly!), and the test alarm went off 26 minutes later as scheduled. Brilliant.

I was in my boss's office whipping up a cover letter to NIOSH when I heard, rather than felt, the quake. The door was ajar and it sounded like someone was rocking it back and forth to get my attention, or knocking on it wierdly. It lasted maybe two seconds, and I later read it was a 3.4 (truly!) on the Richter scale. There was a 2.8 aftershock later but I didn't notice it at all. The thought of an earthquake crossed my mind, but I just figured someone would have told me if we'd had one. On my way to class I overheard someone mentioning two earthquakes on her cell phone and I called Mike to see if he could find any news on it. He said there was nothing on the wire, and that ergo I had not experienced an earthquake. Apparently 3.4s don't make the news in this part of the world.

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