Archive for November, 2008

so, the FBI called…

November 30, 2008

Several weeks ago, I wrote here about getting fingerprinted (or not) for my immigration background check.  The papers were all carefully sent off to the folks in my home country who look after such things, which would be the FBI.  When I first moved here, I had to have a criminal records check by “local police,” which in that case was the Berkeley Police Department, a group that runs a little differently from–oh say–the Boston Police Department, the Boise Police and other BPD’s. (My son, when he was 12, pointed this out after he dealt with the Mendocino Sheriffs and concluded that, in his words, “They’re just not like the Berkeley police.”) Anyway, that criminal records check cost me $15 and took 11 minutes.

This time, I’ve been promised a four to six week wait, which, frankly, sounds swift given everything else the FBI must have to deal with on a daily basis. So I was not prepared for the message Bob passed along this week:  seems “Susi from the FBI” (as she identified herself) had phoned up to check on some odd bit of identifying data on my application.  Imagine:  Susi from the FBI.  It sounds like a really bad comic book.

For his part, Bob gave the info, was surprised that she didn’t want to pursue it any more formally, and bit his tongue so as not to ask her if she’s seen the nifty scene in Young Triffie where the keener cop tries to fingerprint a sheep.


Nobody expects the…(in this house)

November 29, 2008

This morning we were rousted at a very early hour not by any loud sounds but by a huge flashing light on the street below. It was as though silent fireworks were going on, so bright and striating was it. The actual cause was only slightly less peculiar:  parked immediately in front of our house was an enormous construction crane aboard five interlinked flatbed trailers.  The enormous truck to pull this was parked and police cars, with more flashing lights, filled the intersections that bound the block. The equipment looked too big to be hauled through streets; it would have looked more in keeping aboard a barge on water.

The lights remained and the haul, as well, for almost two hours.  I had the uneasy feeling that I didn’t really want just the wall of the house between me and what seemed to be hundreds of tons of iron and steel. Then the lights ceased and the whole thing was gone, almost silently.

At midmorning, we had some people to brunch.  This was my first experience cooking for company in well over a year.  The company arrived–hauling a poinsettia as enormous–once scale is introduced to the image–as the crane.  I think the last time a poinsettia was in my house was probably around 1964. So my shock, again figuring in scale, was also about that as felt about the crane.

The crane’s gone:  we hunted it down and think it’s the one now installed near the pit on Fenwick Street (where the digging never ceases).  The poinsettia remains.  My mother would be pleased.

Sorta serious mass

November 28, 2008

For many of the years that I lived in the Bay Area, one Friday evening a month included a giant contingent of bike riders moving loudly through the intersection of University and Shattuck, at 5 pm. It being Berkeley, the social/political concern of whatever the day would sometimes be pasted onto this show of Critical Mass. The last time I saw it up close and personal, passage through the intersection, from first to last bike, took three or four traffic signal changes in one direction.

This evening I got to see the Haligonian version:  much smaller–maybe 100 bikes?–and quieter.  And, oddly, much slower, as though part of the idea here is to make up in time for numbers of bikes.  Given the recent weather conditions–rain the past couple days has washed away a lot of the snow but tonight it’s drizzling and the roads are slick–it’s not a time for a race.  And CM wants to make the point of its ride by bringing a lot of other traffic to a halt.

There’s a bike shop on Barrington, where Bob went to buy a cover for his peach-coloured bike, that is every bit as much of there as it is of here.  I was frankly surprised that I didn’t recognize any of the guys working on the floor–tightening screws, sorting through possible solutions to seats–from the schooldays.

About a year before we left MLK, Velo Sport moved from across the street from us to over on University. Back in the day, the number of early Sunday morning bike riders who gathered in the intersection between us was about the same as the gathering this evening. Given the time difference, maybe the West Coast contingent of CM is just thinking about heading over to University in a couple hours, for the evening’s ride.

Warm Thanksgiving

November 27, 2008

After last year’s experience with going off to work on American Thanksgiving, I knew enough to take a vacation day this year.  And after the weekend’s winter weather, today has been a wonder of warm sunshine–sort of like a summer day in San Francisco, but without the fog.

Tomorrow, I hope to remember to take the Story Corps’ suggestion to heart.  They’ve nominated it as a National Day of Listening. I’ll be back at work, but keeping my ears working, too.

Whitening coffee, or, Bob’s grocery store adventure

November 26, 2008

Like Protestants and Catholics, Mac users and PC fans, the universe of coffee drinkers divides into the camps of black coffee and fussed-with coffee preferences/beliefs.  (I have tipped my hand as to which camp is mine by calling the other one “fussed-with”).   For years, Kay tried hard to train me in proper hostessing by shaking her head in disapproval when, every time I offered her coffee during a visit I could not also offer her half-and-half.

In anticipation of brunch guests this weekend, Bob did some grocerying today.  Half-and-half was on his list as coffee is a regular part of brunch and I am now trained, thanks to Kay, to offer the appropriate option for those who don’t drink it black.  But what would Kay do with the available options, none of which is called “half-and half”?

There seems to be a product called “coffee cream,” but upon reading its ingredients, stuff besides cow product is included in this mix.  Then there is cream.  And there is “blend,” which appears to be limited in its ingredient list to milk and cream, but, as Bob pointed out, doesn’t give away any percentages of either. WWKD??


November 25, 2008

I’ve finally got wind of the Rome project Google Earth is putting on offer to surfers.  The tour made me slightly airsick, but also serves as a reminder at how many generations of “world views” I’ve already experienced, from the “bumpy” globe I got for Christmas when I was six through life with a map librarian guy.  There was a brief period last winter when I, in Halifax, would check the street view in Google Earth to see our car parked in the driveway in Berkeley–talk about using technology to weird ends.

I remember distinctly the first time I created a map as a communication tool.  It was my first day of first grade (or grade one, as they say here).  After a half-day of school and lunch out with my mother, I was at my teenaged babysitter’s house and we were ensconced on the top step of the Indian stairs built into the side of a hollow (a landform that doesn’t exist outside the Appalachians).  I was trying to explain which door would be my typical egress at the end of the school day and picked up six sticks to plot a map of the school building.  The message must have been clear because she found me the next day (and, ironically, refound me online about four months ago; we now exchange weekly emails).

So, now I can go way back in the time machine and see what Rome’s buildings looked like as peppered across the terrain.  Yes, the roads were straight, but apparently building placement, not so much. And I wouldn’t have known…..

Sweet teeth

November 24, 2008

When I was a kid, I remember being told–no doubt by my statistics-loving mother–that Canadians eat more candy than folks in the US. (Why this entered the conversation I do not remember).  Certainly the smorgasbord of options is broader here, with every candy counter offering up US, UK and home-grown Canadian brands and options.

There’s a communal candy jar in my work group’s general office area and I contribute to it on a regular basis, which gives me more satisfaction than does an actual and personal binge of eating the stuff. Finding offerings for the jar has allowed me to make some important discoveries:  I now know that I really like lemon sherbets and Fox’s Fruit Glaciers, and I still don’t like licorice.

I’m not sure that this is really useful info, even for me.  It’s not as if I were contemplating a career change that encompasses my appreciation–or lack thereof–of specific flavours. But there is something about this time of year, as we begin a descent toward the end of the calendar, that seems to breed increasing interest on everyone’s part in edibles:  candies, cookies, funny looking crumb cakes. Tim Horton’s has changed their donut flavour of the month (no kidding) from pumpkin spice to chocolate candy cane.

It’s enough to make me think I’d better start hunting up a local dentist.

Snowy day the second: neighbourhood edition

November 23, 2008

The temp has stayed low and so the only snow that’s melted is that in the road, ground to water by tires, and wherever voluminous amounts of salt have been scattered.  this afternoon, more is drifting in the air, but not really making a concerted effort to amount to anything.  From my study window, I see a curious    pattern of fences, now each with its crowning lattice work piled with snow.  img_0844I haven’t quite figured out which fence goes with which house and one area looks almost as though it goes with no building, but is a kind of inner city paddock.

Out the front door, the thoroughbred runners are running again, most having taken off yesterday. The foot traffic then seemed to be composed largely of kids desperate to reinstate their beer supplies.  Today the fixations appear to be around groceries.  Priorities and all that.

The snow has also led to a new development on the stair building project front.  As I passed Friday evening, just before the snow began, I was amazed to see that the direction of the stairs has been wholly altered:  where they had been going from west to east, they now travel north to south.  And this has been made possible by the insertion of what looks rather like a lake diving platform.  Yesterday a fellow came by and carefully removed the snow from the platform, with the aid of what appeared to be a child’s sand shovel. Today, the same household worked a bit at undigging their driveway.  Again, it’s all a matter of priorities.

Premature winter

November 22, 2008

A well-forecasted storm blew in last night, bringing abundant snow.  At 5:30 this morning, I looked out onto the street to see late bar homecomers traipsing along the middle of the road while the wind, which was growing in increasing strength after midnight, pushed at them.  I went out and shovelled–for the first time in 25 years–around seven and the snow quite for a while around eight.  Now it’s not yet noon and the flurries have begun again–as have the snowplows, which have turned the street into a brown swill.

It’s Halifax, so in my late morning walk I saw a couple of runners, as well as snowblowers of every generation of efficiency, a baby in a pink snowsuit on her first toddle in the white, and college boys.  The latter were huddled in a cluster debating whether to “help the old guy” across the street from them who was blithely shovelling.

Last evening, was it the same group walking behind me, en route to the post office, who were carrying on a discussion of euphemisms that was knee slap funny?  If so, a night of drinking has dulled their wits.  Everyone except the runners, the baby, and I seem pissed off at the snow, as though it’s a poorly behaved guest instead of, quite simply, the weather.

A brutish education

November 20, 2008

Today’s SLJ Online has a brief piece in which three school library folk, in different parts of the US, offer glimpses at what local teens are “reading for fun.”  This should have been fun reading for me but one sentence has turned me 50 tones of livid. It seems that in Inglewood, CA (that’s CAlifornia, not CAnada), kids are reading, and may read, some relatively standard titles detailing the glories and horrors of contemporary gang life, including Luis Rodriguez in Spanish as well as English; vampires are acceptable, whether created by Meyer or Rice.  But:  “Manga is not allowed in the school district, nor do students request it.”

Since manga, as a category, encompasses a huge diversity of Japanese comics, this is about as broad as declaring that “Cookbooks are not allowed in the school district” without regard to whether they are cookbooks featuring the preparation of green leafy veg or human cadavers.  But it is meaningful:  it means that kids–who, interestingly, are permitted to read Spanish-language books in a state that prides itself on English-only as the means by which to expunge any nasty foreign traits like home languages–are barred from reading any representation of a body of literature that has specific cultural content, reflects a language and culture that has a presence on the world stage, to say nothing of popularity among these kids’ peers in countless communities outside Inglewood, and offers an aesthetic that could provide an alternative means of channeling emotional expression.

The second part of the sentence in the snippet isn’t so interesting. It simply tells us that, although the Inglewood kids are interested in lives lived on the wild side, they are smart enough not to ask for what they have been told is forbidden. Perhaps they get it from somewhere else? It’s hard to imagine their lives are so insular that they don’t know it exists, but if that’s the case, and the school district forbids them gaining knowledge of it, what kind of education is on offer?  Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t read, don’t know.