Monday, September 26, 2011

A perfect squelch

Because Barbara's multi-talented daughter, Laurie Lewis, was appearing (as she does every year) at Not Strictly Bluegrass, we went over to Golden Gate Park a few years ago, and joined the crowds.This is an annual event, free to the public, funded entirely by the generosity of wealthy financier Warren Hellman, who also happens to be an enthusiastic banjo player with a band called The Wronglers. Warren pays the performers generously: Laurie says it is her best- paying gig of the year, and I have heard unconfirmed reports that it costs Warren some $2 million annually.

The Main Stage featured headliners like Emmy Lou Harris and Joan Baez that year, but Laurie was playing at the next level, on a stage about a quarter of a mile away. Barbara & I walked along a quiet path towards Laurie's location, and then I saw Warren and a friend walking toward us.

Laurie had introduced me to Warren elsewhere, though I don't believe he recognized me. I had also met him at an Investment Forum, put on by the San Francisco Foundation, for which he was an important member of its Investment Committee. I hadn't expected to run in to him, and I wanted to add my voice to those who expressed their gratitude to him for his gift to the people of San Francisco.

I blurted out "Warren, I didn't expect to see you here" (meaning, to encounter him along a lonely path). Immediately, he replied "I don't know why not. After all, it is my party". Then they were off, leaving me speechless, embarrassed, and feeling pretty stupid.

A perfect squelch.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Elephant Heels

I had been chatting with a church friend (now deceased) in a distant state, and realized that her husband would soon be there for dinner with their two children. I asked her what they would be eating. She said "Elephant Heela".Huh? What did she mean. She laughed, and explained that this was the family's private name for leftovers.

I am reminded of that, because I am writing this at our house in Colorado. Since we were last here in May, we have lent the place to three different sets of people. We invite them to help themselves to what they find: we don't want them having to shop for (say) pepper and other spices. What happens is that they buy groceries and don't finish them. so they leave them in our refrigerator.

When we arrive, being "frugal" (to put it mildly) we consider it our duty to finished opened containers. Hummus, for instance, would never be my first choice for a lunch item, but when we found three different containers of it, I have cheerfully been eating it with some very tasty crackers. My more usual choice of baguette, Black Forest Ham, and a good cheese, has had to wait.

I do transport small quantities of foodstuffs by air, between Boulder County and Berkeley, and vice versa. This isn't a problem with checked baggage, but on the way to Colorado, my carry-on bag was searched, and a container of cream cheese (with chives and onions) was confiscated. Why? The TSA person said it was "liquid". Huh? A mite viscous, methinks. I didn't argue, but I did wonder whether it would end up spread on someone's bagel. But I digress.

Another place where visitors leave items is the shower. An amazing variety of shampoos, conditioners, skin lotions, and the like are there. Some of these we'll use--but we did throw out some bright red unidentifiable pills. that found their way to my desk.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


The past participle of the verb "to pass" is very useful. Sometimes, it's very positive, such as when one has "passed the Bar" or "passed one's driving test.

Sometimes it's neutral, as in "We passed your house on our way into town",
Sometimes it's ambiguous, depending on one's point of view, as in "The Senate passed the re-authorization bill".

Sometimes it's descriptive, as in "Smith passed the ball to Jones, who promptly scored".

Sometimes it's part of unhappy news, such as "Tom drank two more shots of whiskey, and then passed out"

Sometimes it's sad, as in "my husband passed away last month"

Lately, I have noticed increasing use of the euphemism "passed", unqualified, meaning "died". If it is someone's belief that there is some sort of future life (such as the Christian concept of Heaven), I have no quarrel with their belief that a loved one has "passed" on to another place. However, far too often it is people who have no such faith that say someone has "passed". If they "passed", what was their destination?.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Three small gripes

1. For some months now, our daily newspaper has come with one page wider than the rest. Presumably, the newspaper makes additional advertising revenue by using this extra strip of paper for an ad. I personally doubt that there is much value in this for the advertiser or for the newspaper, and I find it quite annoying that the pages are not cut flush. This makes it harder to fold up the paper neatly.

2. Tiny sticky labels now appear on most pieces of store-bought fruit. Few consumers will base their decision on whether or not to buy the fruit, based on those labels. They are a nuisance to remove, and to dispose of properly. I especially deplore them on soft fruit, as removing them easily causes bruising and tearing of the skin. They are even worse than the larger ads, such as the one stuck to the front page of my morning newspaper, offering a discount on men's underwear. Grrr!

3. When I order refills of my prescription drugs by mail, it saves a trip to the pharmacy, standing in line, and paying with cash or by credit card. (The mailing center has my card on file, and doesn't charge for mailing.) So far, so good. But when the package arrives, the problem begins. The pharmacy use a sealed plastic bag, almost impossible to tear open--I need to use a knife or letter opener to pierce the envelope, which I can then tear open. What do I find inside, in addition to the refill? Four or five pages of paper with cautions and instructions, which go directly into our paper recycling container.

 When I picked up the first batch of the pills at the pharmacy, I had to wait for a qualified pharmacist to take me aside (for confidentiality), and listen to her spiel about the need to take just one pill at the same time each day, with food; if i missed one dose, not to take two the next day, and so on, blah, blah, blah. Now I, of all people, having trained countless architects and engineers about professional liability loss prevention, well understand why drug dispensers have to do this, but do they have to send me the same information in writing every few months? Couldn't they just insert a note along these lines? "Our records show that you received instructions on the use of this medication on May 31, 2003. If you would like to be reminded of these instructions, please call 800--111-9999 during regular business hours (M-F, 8-5)."