Friday, July 29, 2005

Lead-based paint chips are indeed good for your health.

Realization: I have not yet posted about the glorious oddities of my new apartment. This shall be rectified.

Item 1: I have no idea who could have possibly wired our house. We technically have no real lighting in this place. We have two cute little contemporary/art deco style wall lights in the kitchen, a hall light of the same style, and matching lights in each of the bathrooms, plus vanity lights in the bathroom. But that's it. Seriously. The bedrooms do not have lighting systems at all. Just really large windows, which don't do me a lot of good at night. Now, about the wiring . . . in those rooms that don't have lighting systems, there are curiously still light switches. What exactly are they for? The two light switches in my living room turn on the lights in my kitchen, the light switch in my kitchen doesn't turn on anything, and the other light switch in the living room goes to the hallway light. What? Also, there are three switches in each bathroom: one for the vanity lights, one for the light, and, presumably, one for the fan. One switch does indeed light the vanity, yet the second switch turns on the light AND the fan while the third switch sits on its ass and does nothing. I think my apartment was wired by Sarah Winchester.

Item 2: I just realized today that the wall separating the living room from Jen's room (aka The Den) is not a wall at all. I always found it odd that it was made of plank wood when the other walls weren't, but only today did I knock on it and notice that the boards BENT INWARD as I did so.

Item 3: My bathroom doesn't really get cold water. The hot and cold taps are switched on both sinks, yet the "cold" tap becomes scalding hot after a minute of running.

Item 4: My ceiling is crooked. It is very hard to hang things.

Item 5: Dani's side of the room does not like things to be stuck to its walls.

Item 6: When I first moved in, my garbage disposal would chew up food, and then spit it up the other side of the sink where food is most certainly not supposed to be.

Item 7: Due to the layers and layers of paint that IV landlords heap onto the walls/doors/cabinets of their rental units every time someone moves out, half of the doors in this house either will not shut or will not open without serious application of force.

Item 8: There might be a ghost who really likes to change the channels and volume. Yesterday, I was hanging things in the living room listening to VH1, and suddenly, the TV was turned to a Nascar race.

Maybe its a good thing Mrs. Winchester's people wired this place with confusing light switches.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Dani and I spent the past weekend hangin' in the East Bay with exchange students from Norway, Sweden and Holland. And that shit was gangsta'.

I convinced my mom and dad to get exchange students through Lions Club because having a cool host family is a key part of the exchange experience. Two of my Italian host families were awesome, and that made my time trapped in their small mountain towns awesome. So my parents offered up their house to Sara and Mirjam from Sweden and Holland, respectively. Our friend and fellow Lion Bill had hosted a couple of years ago, so my parents convinced him and his wife Darlene to do it again. They got Rebecca from Norway, who does everything with our girls. I think my dad and my like having the girls around, since I'm not home anymore. My dad really loves schmoozing and being with young people. (I mean, he is a teacher, after all.) So I think they both are really enjoying the company of these young ladies.

Dani and I arrived Thursday afternoon, and Thursday night we took our foriegn girls to their first American baseball game. It was also Dani's first baseball game. So after a lot of explaining of rules and strategies, I think my Dad and I managed to clarify the game and got the girls into it. We took the girls to another game on Sunday, during which Sara told the man sitting in front of her that she was married to Jay Payton, the Rockies' left fielder we got in the Eric Byrnes trade. Everytime Payton made a play or came up to hit, this man would look over at her to see if she was paying attention to her "husband." My family sits in the section right next to the wives and family section, so we know for a fact that when baseball wives come to a game, they are not even paying attention to the game at all. I don't think I've ever seen Alex Chavez even notice her husband (with all his Golden Gloves) make a catch or get a hit. In any case, this dude totally believed Sara. Which was pretty funny to the rest of us. Unfortunately, Sunday's game went into extra innings--5 extra innings. So after 5 extra innings, Bobby Kielty hit a long ball to right field just over the wall to win. Finally! I think the girls all liked baseball, but extra innings was a little much even for someone like me who goes to a lot of games.

On Friday we went to Muir Woods and Stinson Beach--two places to which, in my 18 years of Bay Area residency--I have never been. Naturally, as I never go swimming or to the beach at home in the bay, I did not bring a suit. So I fell asleep in the sun at Stinson and burned the back of my calves very nicely. That night we went disco bowling up at Travis and no one in the bowling alley could figure out why Dad and Bill were hanging out with 5 college girls. The music wasn't loud enough at the bowling alley, but Sara and I were nonetheless trying to dance like Beyonce when "Crazy in Love" came on.

On Saturday, I took the girls shopping on Telegraph. European money is worth so much here, and my money worth so little there, so the girls had a lot of vacation cash to spend as everything seemed cheap to them. They found some cute clothes to wear that night to the Lions Club installation dinner, at which their presence was required. Before dinner that night, Bill had us hunt for District Governor Walter's wedding ring out in the rock garden where he had lost it earlier that day. Walter promised us $300 if we found it, and found it we did--after only 4 minutes of searching. (Word from my Dad is that Walter paid the girls yesterday, so $120 dollars is coming down to SB for Dani and me via mail.) The dinner itself was super-ass long and boring, so Dani started passing notes around the table.

When the Lions dinner was over, we headed into San Francisco to hang out with my best friend, Eric. Eric had planned an evening out dancing for the girls . . . but we wound up at some weird 80s club where only 30-year-olds were dancing to the worst 80s music ever. And this place was rated one of the hot 18 & Over clubs by SF Weekly . . . And we found this out after waiting about 30 minutes for our second cab to arrive at the club! In any case, we all had a really good time. I think Rebecca had the best time out of all of us because she was only 17, so we snuck her into the club with my military ID.

Dani and I had to leave on Monday, but we went with the girls to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory before leaving. They're all such cool girls it was a difficult good-bye. Sara wanted us to stay until Saturday, but, unfortunately, we both have to work. We miss them already, and I hope they had a good time with us!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Stuff I've Been Reading Vol. 4

Books Read:
The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes--Neil Gaiman
Y: The Last Man--Unmanned
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay--Michael Chabon

Books Bought:
The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist Vol. 1--Michael Chabon et al.

This month's theme is comic books. As finals approached rapidly and I spent all my time desperately trying to finish heavy peices of modernist prose at May's end, I decided to start reading graphic novels. And, in reading the aforementioned graphic novels that I had borrowed from my friends in the winter, I decided that the one novel I should pull off my jam-packed bookshelf would be Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

I don't actually know why it took me so damn long to sit down with Sandman. I borrowed it from Corey on my birthday in January, and it sat on my desk unread until June. As to The Last Man, Cassie's boyfriend brought it over when they started dating in April and it sat on our table until every last one of us had read it.

Here's why I adore the graphic novel: the graphic novel is the link between books and movies. Graphic novels employ cinematic cuts and "camera angles" to emphasize the active and emotive qualities of the story, as films do, but relies on a literary format to do so. They're thicker, generally, and more complex than comic books, often dealing with incredible mythologies (like Sandman) and more adult subjects (like The Last Man) than their comic cousins. Comics and graphic novels, alike, though allow their readers easy access to complex themes and provide an introduction to basic literary conventions. They're also much easier to digest on the whole.

Sandman Chronicles I think most readers have heard of. And I can now personally vouch for the merits of Gaiman's characters and his stories. The art in it is beautiful: a nice blend of gothic style with classic comic drawing. It's a great graphic novel for those who like the resonance of Frank Miller's naratives (specifically through repetition of phrase), but with a touch of Baudilere under them. I liked them, but I liked The Last Man much, much more. Let me begin on The Last Man by introducing some topics that recurr throughout the first issue: feminism, gendercide, gender issues as a whole, american politics, Jewish mysticism, and sources of power. Also, there is a monkey. The Last Man is the story of Yorick, the only man to survive a strange and sudden plague that eliminates anything with a Y-chromosome . . . except for Yorick and his male monkey. This turns the world into chaos. Supermodels have no purpose in a society with no male gaze. (They can now only make money by collecting the dead bodies of single men who rotted away in their apartments.) The Secretary of Agriculture is now President. And a brigade of feminist "Amazons" who believe that the man-killing plague is a sign of male inferiority and the female right to rule are taking over the land. When I finished the first issue of The Last Man, I immediately wanted to find the successive issues. It is an incredible character driven, theme-laden narrative that addresses so many crucial social concerns. I was thoroughly impressed. (Also, the cuts leading up to the man-plague are so intense I can barely begin to describe them.)

It's nice to think about the fact that The Last Man's Yorick is introduced to us as an escape artist, because that is also how we are introduced to Josef Kavalier in Chabon's Kavalier & Clay. Escape worked so well as a central motif on which Chabon chose to hang his story. If there's one thing I can say for Chabon it is that he writes a very tight story. Nothing is extraneous. "Escape" certainly isn't thrown about lightly. It is the one word that both Kavalier & Clay understand. For Josef Kavalier, like thousands of other European Jews before WWII, escape was the only means of survival. Josef manages to escape because he is a trained escape artist, schooled after America's most famous immigrant, Harry Houdini. It is Joe's escape from Prague and Nazi rule that inspires the comic book character The Escapist, which ties nicely into his American cousin Sammy Klaymann's world of escape: comic books. Sammy's dreams of escaping his current lifestyle and polio-ridden legs are invested in the masked heroes that he and his cousin create. The Escapist encompasses both men at once. This is exactly what I mean when I say that Chabon writes a tight story. It goes on to be more complex, with more escapes of many other kinds: escapes from traditional family roles, escapes from traditional lifestyles in general, escapes from reality and from life (though this is more of a Houdinian disappearing act than anything else).

Kavalier & Clay is a long read, true, but it is so well written that one is constantly driven forward in the narrative. I find recently that I am increasingly dissatisfied with the ends of novels. I realized reading Kavalier & Clay why that is. So many novels I read tend to stop in the middle of something, with no sense of finality. You can get away with this if you are Zora Neale Hurston and end on a beautiful metaphor as in Their Eyes Were Watching God, and, naturally, if you are Toni Morrison you can get away with this as well by ending on a beautiful sentence. If your point is that there is no finality, I think this is also acceptable. However, when a book doesn't have a great finish and just fizzles out (like Life of Pi), I lose my faith in the entire book. Thank you, Chabon, for writing me a definitive and beautiful ending. Chabon chooses to end on the names of his protagonists written hastily on a calling card, and this is a powerful image to end such a colossal and moving book. So much of Kavalier & Clay relies on faith and dream, and I could not be more pleased that Chabon allowed his readers to keep theirs in his book.

What's also pretty damn cool about the Kavalier & Clay universe is that two subsequent volumes of comic books related to the novel were published. I came across The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist Vol. 1 in Copperfield's up in Calistoga just sitting there on the sale rack. I grabbed it immediately as I had not two days before finished Kavalier & Clay. Escapist Adventures includes Chabon's origin story, plus several other stories written and illustrated by current comic artists that fill in some of the stories to which Chabon alludes, mostly to define the changes in the way the character was drawn over the years. The edition also includes a few Luna Moth stories done in extremely different styles: one in Rose Saxon watercolors, for instance, and another drawn in 1950's pulp fiction style, which was my personal favorite. I'm told that Vol. 2 features the infamous Escapist punching Hitler cover, and I look forward to acquiring it.