This is the tenth installment in the “From the Archives – Bits & Bobs” series. Volume I is here, Volume II is here, Volume III is here, Volume IV is here, Volume V is here, Volume VI is here, Volume VII is here, Volume XIII is here, and Volume IX is here. (The different volumes have little or nothing to do with one another.)
As with the last few installments, these are taken from ancient emails, back when I archived them as simple text files in the mistaken belief I’d be able to keep up with the practice. It didn’t last long, but has yielded some fun finds from a bygone era. I wrote all these when I was living in San Francisco, before moving to the burbs and becoming a parent.
December 26, 1994
[Having recently finished a 9-month bike tour] I’m still interviewing for a proper corporate-type job. In the meantime I’ve been working odd shifts at the bike shop in Berkeley, just to feel like I’m not a totally hopeless unemployed person. It’s a pretty ridiculous commute, first biking up and over California Street which has got to be at least a 15% grade, and then all the way under the bay on the Bart, for the typically paltry pay you get at a bike shop. Still, it’s diverting and often fun. For example, on Christmas Eve, a bike builder named Daniel, who has been on suspension without pay until further notice for sloppy work, brought in a 12-pack of Heineken, probably as a brown-nosing move. We threw it in the fridge, and brainstormed ways to get the owner, M—, to let us drink them on the job. M— was in a holiday mood, which was good; earlier, I’d “reminded” him of a policy of always buying lunch for members of the staff who wore staff t-shirts on Christmas Eve, and he went along with it. Well, by mid-afternoon the mad Christmas crowds were getting to me and the boys, and I proposed to M— the idea of discreet alcohol consumption to carry us through. M— said, “What, there’s beers!? Cool, gimme one.” Alas, it appeared we’d have no way to open them, lacking a bottle opener, but I grabbed a Maillard Helicomatic lock-ring tool and it worked great. In fact, it soon dawned on me that one half of the tool does the lock-ring, and the other is in fact nothing else but a bottle opener. You gotta love the French. Well, M— proceeded to walk out on the sales floor, beer in hand, and sell a bike. Needless to say it was a free-for-all after that.
January 1, 1995
I guess I forgot to give you my (kinda) new street address: it’s below. I had some fun moving in here. Our street is fairly flat, but our-cross street, Filbert, is crazy steep. They don’t call our neighborhood Russian Hill for nothing; our hills are as oppressive as Russia herself. Trucks and tour buses are prohibited on Filbert but that didn’t stop me from driving up it in the 14-foot U-Haul I rented. Its diesel engine was taxed to the limit, and I had this breathtaking, terrifying, yet oddly giddy feeling of impending doom. Halfway up—and too late to turn around—my inner ear started giving me (non-verbal) warning messages that the truck was about to pitch over backwards and tumble down the hill, end over end. It was such a fearsome feat that I almost got an erection. I held my breath and reassured myself with the fact that this time, I’d bought the full insurance. Anyhow, I made it over, down the other side on compression (the engine shrieking like it was gonna throw a rod), and then, as a final flourish, proceeded to parallel-park that baby in one of the toughest neighborhoods for parking in the entire city.
March 13, 1995
I am very gratified to get your response. The kind of honesty I indulged in via my letter to you, calling you out as I did, was admittedly dangerous—the recipient of such a letter can either take the painful, self-effacing route (which you did), or delude himself and continue to hide behind the falsity of his social veneer. This latter type, like a blindfolded tyke who has yet to learn object permanence, will assume that because he can’t see the truth, that it can’t see him. Of course such behavior is completely pathological. Right now I’m thinking of J— S—, whose insatiable desire to be cooler than me back in high school took the form of dissing me, like some kind of human sacrifice to the gods of cool. I thought to myself, “J—, can’t you do better than that? It’s not hard to be cooler than me—why don’t you try to be cooler than somebody who actually is cool? Like the Fonz? I mean, seriously … cooler than me? What kind of ambition is that?” I was originally drawn to J— as a friend, back in elementary school, because he was such a bold, unapologetic nerd. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last. Through what he probably thought was a social apotheosis from lowly dork into “happening dude” (his favorite phrase), I witnessed the slow, cancerous death of a personality.
May 2, 1995
Thanks for the warning about the virus! I’ve always wondered whether those anti-virus programs can detect viruses that come over e-mail. Fortunately, almost all my e-mail comes from trusted friends and relatives anyway. I did, however, receive a “junk mail” message at work. I guess business solicitations are frowned upon on the Internet, but on CompuServe [how I get and send e-mail], who knows, maybe anything goes. Anyway, I forwarded your warning message to everybody in my e-mail list (about 20 people).
So, yeah, e-mail sure is cool. It’s been wonderful to be able to write my brother Geoff without waiting for the normal three weeks or so it takes the postal service to carry physical mail to the Netherlands. Maybe I’ll get a sound card for my PC and record my actual voice, and send the recording as a binary file; Geoff could hear a reasonable computer facsimile of my voice on the other end! Of course that would be more of a parlor trick than anything useful. You know, the strangest thing about e-mail is that my dad, who by all means ought to be a master of this technology, has not actually joined up. And yet he has the computer, and the mind, for it. Bizarre.
August 6, 1995
You know what? Every time I make my Mexican rice, I think of the time I made it at your place in NYC, and scorched it. The horror! I am certain that you threw away the leftover rice, because it was, well, inedible. I only hope you didn’t have to throw away the pot since I’d blackened it so badly. I keep thinking about what a disaster that was. I say all this to my shame. I guess what I’m saying is, you should really come out to San Francisco so that I can try again with the rice, and show you that it really is good when the right ingredients and familiar kitchen equipment are on hand. I could send you back with a new pot, even. So if you get the chance, please come. Until then, I suppose you can just curse my name.
October 24, 1995
Using the formula f=mgh, and my stopwatch and altimeter data, I have calculated my power output for the climbs I biked up today: over a period of 16:30, I averaged 0.37 horsepower. But what does that mean? Does it mean I have a third of the strength of a horse? Well, not really; I don’t think horsepower applies to horses in the real world. But we do use horsepower to describe certain things. For example, my output was .0037 times the horsepower of a 1985 Volkswagen Jetta, I happen to know. And it would be more than enough to power a Hoover Mighty Might vacuum cleaner. If that’s not interesting to you, consider that 0.37 horsepower translates into 272 watts. That tells us my output is enough to power one of our chandeliers and a desk lamp.
November 1, 1995
Why yes, I’ve been to House of Nanking many times, and thanks for asking. I guess I can’t really recall what my favorite dishes are there, as I try to mix it up each time. Until recently, my strategy was to spend my time in line asking everybody else what they usually get. But the last time, I was in the mood for chow fun and asked the waiter, who is also the owner, if they had it. (In my experience, you can ask for just about anything, including chili mac, at a Chinese restaurant and they’ll have it, even if it’s not on the menu. Not that I have ever actually asked for chili mac. I’m just sayin’.) Well, the owner looked at me as if I were some kind of uncultured rube (which I may well be). “No, chow fun is white-man food!” he laughed. “This your first time here?” I said, “Uh … no.” He nodded and said, “I’ll set you up.” What then transpired you can well imagine, as you described your own Nanking dining experience so well in your last epistle … I need say nothing more. I love that place. It’s always worth the wait. I like the strange vegetables that they use—yams, for example. Totally unique (plus I normally hate yams). As far as the place being greasy, sure, it’s greasy, as Chinese food tends to be, but compared to most places, it goes down (and stays down) pretty darn well. Man. Now I can’t get that place off my mind.
August 27, 1996
How cool, I just figured out how to hook the CD-ROM in my computer into my boom box. It works great—so it looks like I bought computer speakers for nothing. Oh well. Now I can play CDs, which I never could before. Only problem is, I only own two CDs and they were both freebies that E— got from her work. I guess I could check out CDs from the library and tape them. Or of course I could do like everyone else and just go to the record store and buy music, but E— and I are trying to save up for a house one day, which is no easy feat in this area. We looked at a 2-bedroom condo a few doors down and it’s $250,000! There are 1-bedroom condos on top of Russian Hill for $1 million … as if! Sausalito is probably only slightly cheaper than San Francisco, and we’d have to pay $3 a day to commute in over the Golden Gate Bridge (not to mention fighting the traffic … no thanks). So we have to be pretty frugal while we figure out where, one day, we might be able to afford a place.
December 2, 1996
Just had the stomach flu. As if in some awful parody of the three-squares-a-day rule, I deposited my Thanksgiving dinner, in three installments, into the toilet (out the front end). Damn!
December 23, 1996
In reply to your question:
in Internet EtheReal Estate, hottest property going
>>(the new frontier). But still one question: where do you put
>>the relatives when they come to visit?
Well, it’s really pretty BASIC. First, I should say that my family members aren’t exactly queuing up to visit me. But when one or two of these characters feels the need to offload, I’m happy to let them nest in any free partition in my home. I help download their luggage (we have a little cache to store any valuables they might have). If they stay the night, I have a strange kind of cot I fashioned out of a kind of braided fiber (a web, you might say) that I’ve stretched over a mainframe. I have a nice spreadsheet for the cot, and some other soft wares, to make guests as comfortable as possible. Usually I keep the bedding compressed, but sometimes I set it up just for CIX and floppy down on it myself.
I’d really like to keep my domain open, but I normally limit it to friends and family. I mean, entertaining is a real effort for me—I guess I’m just not a natural-born server. Multi-tasking is hard for me so I just can’t monitor everyone all the time. I struggle to be a good host sometimes, and some guests I don’t like the slightest bit. Most are basically OK, but many just don’t observe the proper protocol. I can handle it if they’re not PC, but I won’t tolerate bad language. In fact, the next time I get a cursor, he’d better be ready to run, because I swear I’ll boot him!