Monday, January 8, 2024

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume XI


This is the eleventh 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, Volume IX is here, and Volume X is here. (The different volumes have little or nothing to do with one another.)

Before the blogosphere, I didn’t have any audience for my random ramblings except friends and family whom I emailed. Now, I can be largely ignored by five billion people at once instead of just one at a time! O brave new world!

The dispatches below are from ancient emails to my brother G—, when I was newly married and living in San Francisco. He was (and is) living in the Netherlands. Here is a photo of the two of us from around the time I wrote these.

March 4, 1995

I heard from B— about your computer woes. I’m kind of afraid to buy a computer, because the technology gets outdated so quickly. But then again, I only need a simple machine for my needs, except my hard drive is almost full and certain things run slowly. And I really think I’d rather use a different typing tutorial program for learning Dvorak; I mean, the Typing Lobster is cool and all, but the more sophisticated typing software could probably better teach the Dvorak layout. My computer is a 386 running at a scant 16 MHz, with only a single meg of RAM. But it is a 386, darn it, and I could always add RAM. For that matter, I could replace the hard drive. It’s the motherboard that’s a mother to replace. Hence the name, perhaps. Motherboard. What a cool word. I’ll bet every computer nerd gets a little rush when he has the opportunity to use “motherboard” in a sentence. He pauses momentarily for buildup, looks his pal in the eye, and says, “Goddammit, Ralph, we need to slap in a whole new motherboard. Shit.” Then he breaks into a grin, because I’m sure that for a computer geek, replacing the motherboard is like overhauling a nice road bike is for us.

Work is busy, but not too bad and something really cool just happened: our office manager quit, and I got her office! It’s a great office. Fantastic view from 22 floors up. Plus, I have a door I can close when I hold important meetings (which are rare, I admit). More importantly, once I’ve been given an office, I’ll never have to go back to that stupid half-high cubicle, and my colleagues are bound to have more professional respect for a Man with an Office than for a Guy with a Space. Our controller lauded my move, saying, “Big day for the big D … goin’ from the doghouse to the penthouse!”

April 12, 1995

Had a real scare tonight. We went out to Chinese with E— and her niece, S— who is a freshman in high school and spending spring break with us. We found a really good place, the R&G lounge (recommended highly by a Chinese woman we met in a dime store). The place had good food, and a funny fortune (“Be tactful; overlook not your own opportunity,” like who else’s are we gonna overlook?), and pretty good service. The waitress was dumbfounded, though, when S— asked for sugar for her tea. S— has a real sweet tooth: I found an empty frosting tub in our recycling, for example … but I digress. Anyhow, I did a terribly irresponsible thing: you know that beautiful multicolor umbrella that you gave us for Christmas? Well, I accidently left it behind after our meal! I didn’t realize my error until we were already all the way over in North Beach, and it was 10 PM. Needless to say I sprinted back to the R&G Lounge, running for all I was worth, but got there after the place had closed. I hammered on the door; no luck. I ran around back and hammered on the back door; still no response. But I couldn’t face the loss, so I just kept pounding. It was a glass door, so I couldn’t use my foot; just kept rapping with my knuckles, which got sorer all the time. Finally somebody appeared, and let me in. He seemed a bit disappointed that I’d returned for the umbrella, which he did go find for me. He declared, “I thought that umbrella would be my souvenir!” I’m so glad I got it back. I can go on living.

April 26, 1995

I got your e-mail bemoaning the staggering $100 price tag for Levi’s blue jeans over there in Holland, and am excited to help you out. Since you haven’t indicated whether you needed Levi’s blue jeans in particular, I went to the Gap over the weekend to see if they had any sales. No luck on discounted jeans, but I ended up blowing $85 on a few groovy linen shirts. So it wasn’t all for naught.

Well, yesterday on my lunch break I went to Banana Republican and looked around. At first it didn’t look promising, but then I found a section with some discounted jeans. The only problem was, the sizing seemed strange. They had sizes like 34R and 34L; I figured out it meant regular and long, but how regular? how long? I asked the clerk and she said regular was 32” inseam, long was 34”. The weird sizing was in fact why they were on sale: because the sizes didn’t make sense, and nobody understood them, and BR has now gone to a two-number system like everybody else, and have to blow out all the jeans under the old sizing system. So I found some that had little stickers over the “34L” that said “34/34.” I guess that was an unsuccessful solution to the problem.

I couldn’t find any in 36” length but tried on some 34s, and they fit well. I didn’t have E— there to verify that the jeans have that uncanny ability to turn even the most homely guy into a sex symbol, but the length, anyway, was fine. I asked a clerk and she said they always did run long. (Didn’t ask her about the sex symbol thing.) Anyway, I bought three pairs—two for you and one for me. I was tempted to buy more. These aren’t Levi’s, mind you, but they’re called the Ranch Hand cut, which is a relaxed jean.

I should pause here to explain some of the clothing nomenclature to you. If something is cheap and quotidian, it typically has a plural name, e.g. pants, jeans, sunglasses. However, if it is very expensive and chic, it gets a singular name, e.g. “a nice pant,” “a relaxed jean,” “a sophisticated sunglass.” I’ve actually heard sales clerks say that. “These are cheap jeans.” “That’s a nice pant.” Very sophisticated language.

So anyway, these are a relaxed jean. (Staggering grammatical implications here.) Button fly. Made in USA. 100% Cotton Denim. Inspected by #27. Preshrunk. Stonewashed. (Not acid-washed … remember that heinous 80’s teen indoor mall look?) I am told these jean will not shrink more than 1/4” unless you routinely dry them on high heat, in which case they will shrink up to 1/2” over the months. The price? Well . . . $58.00. Ouch. But cheaper than Levi’s in Holland, right? Oh, wait . . . that’s not the sale price. The sale price was a mere $39. Sure, you can get jeans for less—but not a jean! Significant savings. But you know, that apparently wasn’t enough to move these cursed improperly sized jean, for a second sale tag, overlapping the original just slightly, listed the price at an even lower $29.99! Okay, now we’re talking! That’s almost half price! So I’m certain you’ll agree that such a fine jean are well worth $30.

But you know, even with the “34/34” sticker firmly placed over the godforsaken “34L,” the second sale price still wasn’t enough to get these things off the floor and into the wardrobes of San Francisco. Nothing less than a third tag brought the price down even further, all the way down to $19.99! Now, you can’t even get Sears Toughskins for that. For that price, maybe you could do a cheesy pair of off-brand seconds at Ross Dress for Less, stamped “IMPERFECT,” with the crotch sewn in backwards or something like that. But no, we’re talking the Ranch Hand Relaxed Jean. Amazing.

So I’ll send them out. If anybody out there in Holland questions the rich American heritage of Banana Republican, or in any way insinuates that Levi’s are cooler, just say something like, “Well, yeah, sure, Levi’s are great jeans . . . but these are a pant.” (Is your Dutch good enough to communicate such subtleties?)

May 10, 1995

Well, it’s 10:00pm and I still have to ride. The weather’s been crappy so I’ve been riding my Blackburn Mag Turbo trainer. I got a flat tire on it last night. Go figure. Then, when I was hunting for a spare tube in my toolbox, I suffered a freak accident. Remember the trophy from my Burrito Eating World Championship? It had this giant wooden base with an engraved brass plaque, with my name and everything, and then a giant spring-type shock absorber with the shimmering silver burrito atop it. Well, I don’t know if you ever learned what sad fate befell that trophy, so I’ll tell you. Months after the big burrito race, throughout which time the trophy had enjoyed prominent placement on our apartment’s coffee table, I had a fit of pique (unrelated to the trophy, probably over some girl or something) and suddenly grabbed the trophy, jumped up from the sofa, ran out the front door to the railing overlooking our parking lot, and threw the trophy over the edge. The shock absorber exploded on impact, if memory serves (though this is exactly the kind of detail I’d embellish, I confess). My roommate C— cheered wildly because he’d gotten sick of looking at the trophy. Well, I regretted my recklessness immediately, but of course there was nothing to be done for the trophy. I did pry off the engraved plaque, though, and kept it as, well, a trophy I guess you could say. Anyway, last night (as I was starting to tell you before that grand diversion) I was rifling through my toolbox, on a shelf in a closet, and dislodged the trophy plaque, which fell from a height of four feet or so. It hit my bare leg just above the ankle, causing a huge gash which bled profusely. So what do you think … was this karmic retribution?

December 23, 1996

Mom’s down here for Christmas, which is nice. It’s been raining like crazy here, but today it went from cloudy to a clear blue sky in a span of like five minutes. So E—, Mom & I decided to go for a walk, and popped into various shops to poke around. We found this neat bowl at a place just down the street from our apartment, at a little shop called Jade Snow Wong. Jade Snow Wong is the name of the owner; she’s also a creator of ceramics and a writer of nonfiction, and Mom read one of her books when she was in high school! Anyway, this bowl is just the perfect shape. It’s weird, but holding it, cupping it in your palms, brings about a really soothing feeling. So we bought it; it was like $6. We walked all around Chinatown and bought some really weird stuff. Like this really fancy soap, in a colored paper wrapper with a gold seal and everything, the kind of soap that would cost like $5 a bar in our neighborhood; four for a dollar there. We also bought this really strange Ginseng chewing gum. It smells, and tastes, like over-sweetened dirt. I’d thought it might give me a buzz, but no dice. Remember that bean drink we bought once in Chinatown, that was so sickeningly cloyingly sweet, and how the cashier laughed and laughed when we drank it because we couldn’t keep from making faces?

Anyway, we eventually ended up at House of Nanking, and had a typically great meal. The owner, Peter Fang, was there, as usual, working in every capacity you can imagine from host to waiter to cook. You remember meeting him, right? He’s always got this boyish smile on his face, and doesn’t seem in the least bit intimidated by the culture gap, if there still is one, between himself and his customers. He stopped at the bar where we were eating and asked if the scallops were delicious. (Of course they were.) Then he asked, with a slight smirk, if we were going to Macy’s afterwards, and we said no. He said, feigning surprise, “You’ve already bought everything?”

 “We did buy some things,” I laughed. He looked totally interested as I dragged out the bag with the soap in it, and he watched eagerly as I unwrapped it, then laughed his ass off when he saw what we bought. “Let me guess, four for a dollar?” he asked. I said yes. Then I handed him the bowl, but he neglected to cup it properly and thus fully appreciate it. “Uh, four-fifty,” he guessed. “No, six,” I said. He giggled and either said, “You got taken” (which I actually kind of doubt) or simply had the expression that said we got taken. “But we didn’t buy this in Chinatown, we bought it in Russian Hill,” E— explained. “Oh, oh,” he nodded, understanding completely.

We also had their chow mein, which has even ropier noodles than the Gondolier in Boulder, but is great (and cheap, $3.30!). Perhaps the most exciting thing we ate was this Eggplant Szechwan Style, which had the normal green pea pods but also this brilliant, I mean absolutely electric, purple eggplant, of course in a spicy sauce with lots of garlic. It was the loudest looking Chinese dish I’ve ever ordered, and delicious. I asked if it was made from a special eggplant. It was a “young Chinese” eggplant, Mr. Fang said. When they get older they lose some of their quality, he explained, and become less tender. It dawned on me that you can eat the young eggplant without any of the guilt you may feel when eating veal.

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