Monday, October 26, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Today Middle-Age Cranky takes a hiatus from being cranky and turns to the subject of celebrating, fun, merriment, and other holiday-related activities. Too soon for the holidays, you say? Au contraire -- not in my territory.

I know that most of the rest of the country thinks people in the San Francisco Bay Area are crazy. We're the land of fruits and nuts. If you tip the U.S. on its side, everything loose will roll to the coast. One of my favorite comments came when Glenn Close and Mandy Patinkin made a movie here called Maxie back in the 1980s: “Only in San Francisco would the female lead of a movie be named Glenn and the male lead be named Mandy.”

Personally, I attribute it to jealousy.

The bottom line is, we know how to have fun here, more fun than the rest of the country. Take the concept of the holidays. In the rest of the country, the holidays tend to start around Thanksgiving (though Hallmark keeps trying to push it earlier). I have long harbored a theory that the holiday season in San Francisco actually starts with Halloween and continues through Valentine's Day.

I cite the Halloween kickoff for a couple of reasons. First, the holidays always involve sweets, whether through baking or candy, and Halloween is ground zero for candy. I also tip my hat to those wild and crazy guys in the Castro District. They know how to party-hearty when it comes to costumes, bless them.

Then come the traditional holidays we share with everyone else: Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, New Years. Thanks to a vibrant African-American community, throw Kwanzaa in there too.

Come January 2nd, you might think the party’s over. Not here. Unlike most areas, we have two football teams to choose from. Though they've lapsed considerably in the last few years, between 1970 and 2002 (with the exception of three seasons), either the San Francisco 49ers or the Oakland Raiders competed in the NFL playoffs. That meant every weekend in January was a celebration worthy of tailgating or football-watching parties. (We still do this, but the efforts are little more half-hearted.)

February, of course, signals the beginning of the Chinese New Year. For many years, San Francisco had the largest concentration of people of Chinese descent in the U.S. (though it has recently been superseded by New York City). Hence, that was always a big deal.

Finally, given its official song ("I Left My Heart in San Francisco") and its unofficial motto ("the cool grey city of love"), the holidays really don’t wrap up around here until Valentine's Day.

That's three-and-a-half solid months of celebrations and merry-making. Call us crazy if you must, but don't call us too early because we’ve been out the night before having fun.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Funny How Things Turn Out

When singer Billy Joel was being interviewed by Playboy many years ago, he took the reporter out to the dock behind his Long Island home. It was night and the house glowed with warm light. Joel confessed to the reporter, "I keep waiting for the parents to come home."

The idea that we are living in our parents' home even when we're the ones making the mortgage payments is a powerful one. It was only some months after we bought our current home five years ago that I realized that I had unintentionally but delightfully bought an upgraded version of the house I grew up in. The house I grew up in was built in 1956; our current home was built in 1960. They were admittedly tract homes, but I like the consistency that a tract brings.

There were, of course, numerous apartments and condos and townhouses in the interim; young-adult accommodations that had their own sense of excitement and enjoyment. But I have to admit that there is nothing so comforting as coming home to a home that feels like a home is supposed to feel.

Because California real estate is a strange and unexpected world, the house in which I was raised has already been razed and replaced by a McMansion. But like our current house, it had a family room with a fireplace and a living room with a fireplace. It had an expansive backyard that was, in fact, two lots; another house has already been built on the second lot. We currently have a pie-shaped lot that provides plenty of space for gardening and other pursuits.

But there are totems in our current house that carry fond memories of that long-gone home. A conch shell (above), origins unknown, sits on our hearth, just as it did in the house of my childhood. A Howard Miller Westminster chime clock sits on the mantel, just as one from Seth Thomas did before. The family photograph that was shot in our living room in 1968 hangs on the wall in the upstairs hallway.

How strange to find that the memories and archetypes of childhood are so strong that they would infuse my adult life. On the other hand, growing up in the 50s and 60s in suburban California contributed to more archetypes than my own. I never thought that the tree-lined streets of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best were fake — that was exactly what my neighborhood looked like. It’s what my neighborhood still looks like.

Of course, the ironies here are thick enough to cut with a knife. While my childhood may have been physically comfortable, it was not emotionally comfortable. The unhappy memories outnumber the happy ones considerably. Perhaps that's why I love our current house so much. I'm not waiting for the parents to come home. This time around, I get to be the adult.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Help Save Coco and Cookie From Their Irresponsible Parents

Every so often I get something via e-mail that makes my blood boil. Last Friday I got an e-mail from an acquaintance with whom I’ve occasionally worked in feral cat rescue; we are usually the recipients of anything relating to animals in need.

But there's a difference between animals in need and animals being abandoned. I've seen pleas similar to this one before, and I don't understand them anymore than if they were written in Sanskrit.
"We are moving overseas in just 2 weeks. Unfortunately, I have still not been able to find a good home for Cookie and Coco. We're not able to take our beloved doggies with us and I've been desperately trying to find a home for both of them together . They were raised together and pine without each other. The Lab rescue [groups] have already said that they would probably separate them, so this is my last resort. Recently I tried to take Coco out in my car alone and she TOTALLY refused to even get into the car without Cookie......!!!! She absolutely pulled back on her haunches until Cookie was by her side.”

Hey, lady, how do you think they're going to react without you? Cookie and Coco look to you as the head of their pack. You don't think they’re going to miss you?

Why in the world would someone adopt two dogs if there was even a modicum of a chance you’d have to leave the country three years later? I keep hoping to hear that there are some sort of extenuating circumstances here, but I can't fathom any (and I haven’t heard back from my acquaintance about this person's circumstances [see update below]).

Many years ago, there was a flyer posted on the door of our then-veterinarian's office. It was a similar plea to adopt a cat. Why? Because the woman had had a baby and they wouldn't be able to pay attention to the cat. I wanted to call them and ask if they were going to give the first baby away when a second one arrived because they wouldn't be able to pay as much attention to it.

I just don't get this. Adopting an animal is a commitment for the animal's lifetime. They're not furniture you turn over to Goodwill because suddenly they don't match the d├ęcor. Even in our late Tuxedo's worst days of barfing and spraying, we never considered traipsing him down to the animal shelter and surrendering him. The day we adopted him, we made a commitment to him that he would always be safe and warm and well-fed (we kind of went overboard on that last one). We couldn't have loved him more than we did — and we certainly cherished him more than any piece of furniture or carpeting.

What saddens me most is that animal lovers will read this and understand. And the people who really need to get the message won’t.

Postscript: I learned after posting the real story about Coco and Cookie. They were indeed available for adoption, but back in February. They have been with a new family for quite a while. Their owners were not going overseas -- their house had been foreclosed upon and they were moving into an apartment that didn't accept animals. I can accept these as extenuating circumstances in this case, with regrets. However, my disdain for people who treat animals like furniture remains intact.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Was This Blog Entry Supposed To Be About?

I am happy to report that I have stopped having college-related nightmares. It only took 30-plus years.

The one that I had most frequently throughout the years took place around finals week. I would suddenly realize that I was supposed to have been attending a particular class all quarter. While I may have dropped in on a few classes earlier in the term, months have passed and I have blanked on that particular commitment. It doesn't help that, as I try to conjure an explanation for the professor, I can't find the classroom anywhere.

The other nightmare that seems to have faded into justified obscurity over the years relates to post-graduation call from some administrative office within the university. A less-than-apologetic voice explains that an error has been made, and I really didn't have enough credits to graduate. My diploma is now invalid, and to gain proper standing as an alumnus, I need to take one more class.

If there's a theme here, it's that something’s missing; something's been overlooked and it's my fault. I wish I knew where this fear of forgetfulness comes from, this internal requirement to be sharp, be alert, don't let anything slip by you. Heck, I'm usually extremely organized.

The times I really have screwed up have been few and far between, but they make wonderful cocktail-party fodder. I cited one a few weeks ago in The Fees, The Rule of Three, and Me, when I incurred change fees from United because I'd made online reservations for the wrong day. The more interesting one occurred when I diligently researched flight schedules for a trip from San Francisco to Vancouver in advance of a cruise to Alaska my wife and I were taking. I noted the flight time in my calendar.

But as the day for the cruise approached, I realized I had no paperwork confirming those reservations. No e-mail from the airline either. This gave me the same frisson of fear that the finals week dream did. I called the airline and said hopefully, "I want to confirm my reservations for tomorrow's flight."

The reservations clerk was dutifully apologetic when he said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Baldwin, but you have no reservations on that flight." Further, he said, there were no remaining seats. There were seats available on a flight a few hours later, he added; I could almost hear him gulp as he said this: "The fare is $1,200." I told him I had no choice and booked the seats (it turned out they were $1,200 because they were in first class, and that figure included our return flight as well).

Ever since, when I put a flight schedule in my calendar, I amend it with the notation "reservation not yet made."

With a modicum of dread, I assume there must be a middle-aged equivalent of the forgetting-class dream. Will I show up at some border crossing without my passport? Will I fill out Part B of my Medicare application incorrectly? Will I start being ostracized at reunions? (Although that dream may have already started.)

More likely — I hope — the middle-aged resourcefulness that spawns notations like "reservation not yet made" will detour these dreams deeper into my subconscious, where forgetfulness can legitimately take over.