Wednesday, December 8, 2010

random question

Does the Bay Area have a disproportionately large (or stupid) skunk population? I smell them on a fairly regular basis when driving around, which leads me to one of two conclusions: either (1) California has more than its fair share of skunks, or (2) California's skunks are slower/dumber/more prone to suicide than skunks who live elsewhere. I am pretty sure I've smelled more skunks here in two years than I had in the previous 30 years.

Monday, October 18, 2010

california hitchcock

One of the great things about living in the suburbs of California is that I can have an entire house with lots of windows, where every room is directly under the roof, with lots of skylights to let in the Californian sun or to let me hear the winter rains.

The downside is that something about this roof seems to attract a flock of birds, whose main traits are that they are loud, unintelligent, and enjoy early mornings.

They gather on the roof of my house at 7 or 8 in the morning, sometimes two or three at a time, but sometimes (like this morning) in a flock of ten or twenty. They thud onto the roof, hop around, squawk loudly at each other, and then proceed to peck viciously at anything and nothing. In this picture, you can see three of them pecking at a rather nondescript piece of wood. Others were frantically tapping on shingles or panes of glass. On another occasion, two of them squabbled loudly over a Bic lighter that they had found and somehow managed to drop onto the roof.

Waving at them in a threatening manner does nothing. Tapping back at them with a pole does nothing. Holding my dog up so that they can see him through the glass (in case he's more frightening than I am) does nothing. They continue scrabbling, jumping, cawing, and tapping until, on some unknown cue about ten or fifteen minutes later, they all take off and go elsewhere.

It's like the Hitchcock flick, except that the birds just try to annoy you to death. I've never seen such dumb birds before, and I don't know if it's because I haven't met many birds, or if it's because Californian birds are just like that.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

jet blues

We flew out to New York for a wedding last weekend, and because it was a short trip with a lot of travel time, we decided to fly JetBlue (which was already more expensive than the other airlines), since they have an option to pay extra for roomier seats, which we thought would help us deal with the red eye on the way there, and the early morning flight to get right back to work on the way back. More money = more space = more sleep, right? I wasn't completely convinced, but my boyfriend was quite firm that it would be worth an extra $200 per person.

It may have been worth it for my boyfriend, but on our flight from JFK back to SFO (which is an hour longer than the flight from SFO to JFK, if I may just point that out), I was seated next to a supremely obese man who took up four inches of my expensive seat, and I spent every minute of those six hours fuming about those four inches and that extra $200.

Mr. Too-Big-to-Fit-in-Seat-5E on the Monday morning JetBlue flight from JFK to SFO, you owe me $200 and six hours of sleep. Also, you owe me a mind wipe to get the feeling of you squishing and rubbing on me for six hours out of my head.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

individual states may vary

In the next two weeks, I'll be taking trips to the two parts of the U.S. that are arguably the most different from the rest of the country: this weekend, I'm going to a bachelorette party in Vegas, and next week, my boyfriend and I will be spending a week in Hawaii. Both of these are slight reprises of trips I've taken within the last year: my boyfriend and I went to Hawaii last October (and stayed at the same hotel and dove with the same dive shop), and we also took a road trip to Vegas in December.

I've only ever attended one bachelorette party (most of my female friends are inclined to more sedate girls' night celebrations), and I've definitely never been to one in Vegas. I am somewhat curious as to what I will come up with in terms of "sassy clubbing gear," since it's been years since I've aspired to any sort of clubbing (much less sassy clubbing in Vegas), and I am somewhat wary of the possibility that there may be male strippers. Although it would probably be hysterically funny, I can't imagine that there would be anything remotely sexy about a beefy man in a "sassy" policeman's costume, waving his nether regions in your face and expecting you to shove dollar bills down his pants. I'm definitely looking forward to catching up with my friend, who is the bride, but if an oiled-up fireman in a thong comes at me, I may have to dive behind a couch so as not to hurt his feelings with uncontrollable laughter.

I can't decide if this weekend will qualify as an "Only in America" experience or an "Only in Vegas" experience.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

fourth of july

Fourth of July, the most American of holidays -- it's so important that we get a long weekend off for it, which I spent...

...going to Switzerland. It just so happened that there was a huge party in Zurich that weekend, so there were carnival rides and fireworks, and the celebration was probably bigger than whatever I would have ended up participating in had I stayed in the States to celebrate.

You know it's a party when they have flags everywhere:

And not only carnival rides...

...and pony rides (who needs a normal carousel when you can make one out of real ponies??)...

...and man-powered tram rides...

...but also camel rides:

And you can't really call it a good party unless there's a scary corn stand:

And just for good measure, to make sure that people don't go too wild, the ticket inspectors were out in full force (there are nine in this picture at one tram stop alone, and there were three more that I couldn't get in the shot):

This is Zurich's way of saying: "Have fun, just make sure you have a valid tram ticket while doing so."

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Just to show that the man in the previous post was not a unique fluke, here is a guy we spotted a few weeks ago at a cafe. Note the white socks, black boots, ponytail, skirt, and sheepdog (which has bows on its head, though they may be hard to see in this picture).

Welcome to my strange little world.

Monday, May 31, 2010

license to kilt

What is it about California that makes men think that wearing skirts is a good fashion choice? Is it the hippie culture? The high concentration of software engineers? The weather?

I'm not against men wearing skirts, if done properly. I admit that there is something appealing about a hunky Scotsman in full regalia, but that is a far cry from the skirt-wearing men of Silicon Valley.

Take, for instance, the man in this picture, taken in the wild today on a trip to Whole Foods:

He is wearing a wrinkly skirt with a sweaty Indiana Jones hat, a Hawaiian shirt, black socks, and brown sandals. He is shopping for oral hygiene products. And that woman is making the same look of awe and trepidation that I was probably making as I snuck the picture.

Why, California? Why?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

cheap and cheerful

America, do you realize how fortunate you are that food here is so cheap?? I went out to a sushi restaurant for dinner last night, and the total tab, including a generous tip, was $308, which might sound like a hefty bill, until I add in the fact that there were fourteen of us there, so that we each paid $22 to gorge ourselves to the point of bursting on rolls of every kind: soft shell crab, salmon, yellowtail, lobster, spicy tuna, you name it, we had it, and all with top-grade fresh fish. In Zurich, that much money would probably get you second-rate sushi for four people.

The night before, my boyfriend and I went and got three live lobsters steamed for take-out, and the total was $37. We ate nothing else for dinner, just lobster and butter, and there was food left over, so really, $30 was probably enough for the two of us to over-stuff ourselves on lobster.

That's just ridiculous. In a good way.

Monday, May 10, 2010

long distance

You know what's kind of weird about living in California? You can fly for hours and hours east or west, and still be in the same country. Or you can drive all day, and still only make it as far as Vegas.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

a different kind of blog

I've decided to try to record random (and not-so-random) acts of kindness that the universe chooses to do to me. Let's see how this works, since I've never been a "glass half full" kind of person, mostly because I don't like water.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

check, please

I was never a big fan of checks. They seemed so random and insecure. I often lost track of my checkbook in my apartment, which was annoying enough, but the thought of losing a checkbook out in the real world is worse. Losing a checkbook is worse than losing a credit card, because it's much harder to cancel the lost checks to make sure that someone doesn't run around using it to pay for things, and it's worse than losing cash, because there is no fixed value of the money you might lose.

Once I moved to Switzerland, I rarely used checks, since everything there is done with online transfers. I had a few checks left for my American account, and used them for random American bills that wouldn't take online bill pay. When I moved back to the States, I used my last two checks to pay my first month's rent and security deposit on my apartment. I didn't bother ordering new ones, because I pay all of my bills online, and I set up a recurring transfer and payment for my rent.

Well, now I'm moving, and the new landlord wanted my first month's rent and security deposit right away. No credit card, no online transfers, no PayPal. And I don't own a checkbook. I had to go to the bank and get a certified check cut there. I actually had to look up the bank online to find out where it was, because I never go to the bank. It all felt so primitive.

Seriously, America? Why are you still using checks??? Get over the check thing, already, and move into the 21st century.

(For the record, when anyone I know needs to pay me money, I actually tell them that I don't accept checks, because who has the time to go to the bank to deposit them? Cash, wire, or PayPal only, please.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

in a california minute

I had a total Bay Area moment yesterday when I went to the grocery store. I was walking out of the store carrying my groceries (in a reusable bag that I had brought myself, obviously), and saw a dad carrying his kid towards the store. The kid was at that age where he's just starting to talk and learn words for things. I always thought that the words you teach kids at that age are practical things like milk, bed, mommy, daddy, yes, and no, and then you might move on to fun things like doggie, kitty, truck, or car.

Nope. As the dad walked walked slowly past my car, he was saying, "Look, it's a Prius. Can you say Prius? Priiii-usss. Prius. Can you say Prius? Prius!"

Friday, March 19, 2010

just in time for tax season

I love my friend Wendy's blog about moron tax. I pay tons of moron tax myself, which unfortunately doesn't count towards the stuff that the IRS wants, and this week, she has posted an account of one of my moron tax payments.

Monday, March 15, 2010


When I was young, I suffered from bad hair, both forced upon me by my mother, who didn't see the point in paying for a haircut when we had many pairs of functional scissors at home, and brought upon myself, when I was going through my years of curly hair envy.

Since then, I've always second-guessed and third-guessed my hair options, and have mistrusted any haircut that was too close to home. In college, I didn't get haircuts in Cambridge, but instead went into downtown Boston to get my hair cut by junior stylists in salons that seemed posh from a student perspective. In law school, I refused to get haircuts near my apartment, and made pilgrimages down to the West Village to get my hair cut by a Japanese man in tight jeans, whose English comprehension skills were questionable, but whose haircutting skills were solid. In both cities, my haircuts were accessible by public transportation.

In Zurich, I tried to stick to that guideline, but after two unpleasant experiences, one in which the salon charged an exorbitant (read: typical Swiss) amount for a so-so haircut, and another in which the stylist gave me a terrible mullet (read: typical Swiss haircut), I declared a moratorium on local haircuts, and spent the rest of my time scheduling my haircuts to coincide with my travel plans. In four years, I rarely went to the same hair stylist, but got random haircuts of varying success in Helsinki (where the stylist asked me how I got my dark hair color to look so natural), Paris (where the stylist did not speak any English, and I realized that my hair-related French was quite limited), San Francisco, and New York, among other places.

You'd think that I would be able to settle down and get a steady stylist again, now that I'm living near a major city that speaks my native language, but my hair-brain thinks otherwise. I'm about two months overdue for a haircut, but am not so excited by the two people I've tried here, both of whom were very reasonably priced and gave perfectly acceptable haircuts (it's not hard to cut long, straight hair in a decent manner) -- I think my hair just has wanderlust.

True to form, or at least the form of recent years, I've booked a hair appointment to coincide with an upcoming trip to New York. We'll see how it turns out, or if my hair will demand another excursion to somewhere newer and more exciting.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

date line

My friends and I took a sixteen day trip to Yap and Palau (with layovers in Honolulu and Guam) that involved a total of seven flights, six hotel rooms, and three time zones (other than my own).

All that schlepping around paid off. We got lots of sun to cure our winter blues. We went diving and saw so many sharks, mantas, and Technicolor fish that it put Animal Planet documentaries to shame. And I don't care how much you go hiking and camping -- you haven't seen stars until you've sat on a dock or a darkened boat in the middle of the ocean off of a private island in a remote corner of Palau (which is already a pretty remote place). Ridiculously fantastic.

The trip back took almost a whole day door to door, spread out over three flights with some layover time, but we crossed the International Date Line, which meant that despite traveling for almost a day (and feeling like we had traveled for about three days), when we landed in San Francisco, it was less than two hours later on the same day as when we took off.


Monday, January 25, 2010

flood warning

I already thought it was odd that people here water their lawns until they are muddy bogs, but I thought that perhaps it was just an extreme overprotective measure taken to defend lawns against the perpetual Californian drought.

Apparently not.

It has been raining on and off almost every day for the past two weeks, sometimes torrentially, and enough so that even the pelicans have had enough, which is more rain than I've seen since moving here. Even so, the lawn watering continues. The other night, I took my dog out for what I thought was a well-timed walk, just as the rain let up. As we went to the back of my building, there was no water coming from above, but the sprinklers turned on, spraying him from below.

Really? Really?? The last two weeks of rain weren't enough for the grass? The big mud slicks (lawns, whatever) need more water?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

been there, done that

We drove to and from Vegas, a total of 1,109 miles.

Being in Vegas was like being on a human safari. Who are these people, these people who bleach their big hair and wear rhinestones and hooker boots, who wheel their strollers full of squalling children through crowds of scantily-clad cocktail waitresses and boozy gamblers at midnight in a smoke-filled casino? Who are these people who budget only 70 minutes to get through a four course (plus amuse-bouches and petits fours) dinner at a Michelin two-star restaurant, including the time it takes to get seated, order, and pay the bill? Who are these people who spend ten minutes poring over their tab at an upscale bar and still do the math wrong? Who, when asked by their dinner companions what truffles are, respond, "They are really expensive, and pigs dig them out of the dirt"? These are the people who go to the Bodies exhibition, an attraction that you would think would have more appeal for a slightly more learned and scientifically-oriented crowd, and yet they fill the guest book with comments from "Annoymis" (we assume they meant "Anonymous") about how the dissected cadavers are proof that man did not create man, but God created man (did anyone ever argue that we were created by humans?), and who fill two pages with non sequiturs about gymnastics (there was nothing in the exhibit about gymnastics).

These are also the people who, according to the billboards and publicity we saw, voted Carrot Top "Entertainer of the Year" and "Comedian of the Year." He plays in the same hotel as "Menopause: The Musical."

As I said, Vegas is a strange, strange place full of strange, strange people. Only in America would you find a place like Vegas, and so much of Vegas makes you think, "Only in Vegas..."

The drive to and from Vegas was long, but punctuated with some notable sights. Although we didn't make it to see the largest can of fruit cocktail, the biggest building shaped like a bulldozer, the Cowboy Museum and Library (which has what may be the world's largest collection of branding irons), we did make it to see:

The world's biggest shoe, which was surrounded by what appeared to be the world's largest concentration of check cashing shops, bail bond operations, and liquor stores. We didn't stay long.

The world's tallest thermometer -- that was a bonus that we spotted on the road. We also saw exits for Zzyzx Road and Twenty Mule Team Road. And there was a town called Boron. Small things become exciting after nine hours on the road.

The world's biggest Swedish coffeepot didn't seem all that Swedish, although there were Swedish-themed bars and gift shops nearby, in a town that is vaguely Swedish-ish, so we think that it just wanted to fit in. We barely made it in time to see the world's largest box of raisins before it got dark. There are no raisins in it anymore. So it's really just the world's biggest raisin box now. It's at the headquarters of Sun-Maid. There was a gift shop. It sold raisins, but it also sold things like penguin decorations and scented candles. I'm not sure if they thought there was some kind of raisin-kitsch synergy that they would be tapping into in their gift shop. It didn't work on us, but maybe there's a big raisins-and-doodads market out there, and if so, it would have to be another case of "Only in America."