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A lot of you are asking about the quake

A lot of my regulars have expressed concern about the aftermath of the 6.0 earthquake in American Canyon, Napa Valley, Northern California. It is about  34 miles north of my home in Orinda. The quake woke my wife up; I slept through it. My heart goes out to the people whose homes and businesses were damaged.  Most earthquake damage patterns are pretty localized, and this one was no exception. It has been my observation that most natural disasters look worse in the media (social and mainstream) than they do on the ground in the area, and that the size of the area affected is exaggerated. The typhoon last year in the Philliphines struck a large city near my brother, but he was fine. We've had wildfires 20 miles away, but except for the smoke, we've been unaffected. Many's the time I've called friends in areas suffering from what appeared, at a distance, to be a weather disaster, a riot, or a crash, only to find (thankfully) that the are OK and unaffected.

I'm no fool. Anyone who doesn't see "The Big One" in California's future IS a fool. It isn't a question of whether, only of when this area will suffer a major earthquake. Now, geologic time being what it is, we could be talking about 1,000 years. Or we could be talking about tomorrow. If it is a 7.0 quake on one of the major faults, and it lasts 30 seconds or a minute, feel free to worry. But don't call my cellphone; none of those will work. You can try my landline, but not many of those will be working either. I'll try to find a ham radio operator and get word out.

Jack London State Park

So much for retirement. I mean, it didn't REALLY start until this week, which was the first week of school. Until yesterday, it was just the same summer vacation I have had for the last 11 years. But, sure enough, just as people warn you, it is possible to get busier in retirement than you were before. So many projects. So many things to do.

In the meantime, my wife's eye for the unusual has been sharpened. A few months ago, while perusing the legacy media output of the San Francisco Chronicle, she spotted an evening performance of Broadway under the Stars, by the Transcendance Theater Co. at Jack London State Historic Park near Glen Ellen, CA, just outside of Santa Rosa. We went and had a wonderful time, spent the night, and came back the next day to inspect the park, which contains both buildings and memorabilia associated with Jack London, who lived there just before his death. There is his cottage, the big house his widow built, and the amazing mansion they were about to move to when it burned down in 1914. The performance was amazing; the venue, the remains of a winery, reminded me of  the outdoor theater in Ashland, Ore. before they put a roof on it. Which is to say, magical. Downtown Glen Ellen is cute as a button, with several great restaurants (some of which do not serve lunch). Parking is tough; take a shuttle bus. The yellowjackets are numerous and obnoxious, so don't expect much of a pre-show picnic, and don't take any meat or sweet fruit. And even then you might get swarmed. For reasons I cannot understand, they seemed less interested in the output of the food trucks: crepes, grilled cheese sandwiches and various slabs of tri-tip type beef.

This is not the lavishly detailed description of our magical weekend that I had hoped to produce, but I'm already two weeks late with it, and I refuse to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. If this small item gives you the impression that this is an experience you should try, along with some advice on how to improve your experience, it has achieved its goal.

The One I Love

5 stars out of 5
Justin Lader has written the coolest sci-fi rom-com I have ever seen. Actually, it is the only sci-fi rom-com I have ever seen. I am bound by the reviewer's code not to give away the plot twists, so I'll simply say it is a chronicle of two people trying to save a marriage, with a little bizarre and unexplained external intervention. Light on the science fiction, heavy on the relationships, with great acting by
Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. Except for a cameo by Ted Danson, they are basically the only two actors we see.

The Expendables 3

4 stars out of 5
Who knew you could cast an action film in a retirement office?  Sylvester Stallon, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren. Plus some new ones, including Ronda Rousey, a female boxer who reminded me of Julia Stiles. Stallone wrote the story, and let's just say he's come a long way from his authorship of the first Rocky film, and not in a good way. Things blow up, things fall down, people grimace, thousands are killed, there is much gunfire and many explosions. Entertaining if you like that sort of thing and aren't hung up on stuff like plot and characterization.

Just for Fun

My older daughter submitted a writing sample to the website I Write Like, and was told she writes like H.P. Lovecraft; my younger daughter got several different authors, including Lovecraft, James Joyce (!) and David Foster Wallace. Me? Cory Doctorow for two blog entries, Dan Brown for a third. This website was an Internet meme when it opened up in 2010; since then, not so much. I'd love it if it got more sophisticated.

Also, after a years-long absence, I have again begun submitting items to HumorLabs (subscribe today), the successor to the Top5 List, and made it (barely) onto the list of the  The Top 15 Things the CIA Learned About Congress:
  15. Mitch McConnell does the Lambada every morning in the Senate steam room.

I am surely among the last 10 people on the planet to hear that a guy has raised $60,000 on Kickstarter to fund his first bowl of potato salad. That's it. A bowl of potato salad. The Internet, huh?


(With enormous credit to my daughter R, who had the idea and came up with most of the good lines...)
I recently addressed the Kiwanis on a vital health issue:

I am the face of COL. I doubt many of you have heard of it, but it afflicts hundreds of thousands of Americans every day. It's a fairly common genetic disorder, passed down on my mother's side. For 15 years, my mother had a double case of it, and in the past year, I have been experiencing the same symptoms I saw her suffering all those years.

COL is no respecter of age, race or sex. It can strike almost anyone. It affects many activities of daily living. Some of the symptoms are flu-like: after onset, you begin to suffer from excessive warmth. You may have a reduced appetite. Sudden temporary immobility afflicts many sufferers after they sit for even a few minutes; "can you please get me some toast, or a cup of tea," the afflicted may ask. You find yourself distracted from daily tasks. Some people suffer from contusions, although these are usually preventable. Frequently, the condition is accompanied by a loud thrumming sound in your ears. There is a cure, but it is often emotionally difficult for sufferers to apply.

COL can strike at any time, day or night, but usually while you are in a sitting position, often at meal times or while watching television. Incidents can be brief or long. Sometimes there are incidents at night, although they rarely last all night. Sometimes guests in the home are stircken, but COL is a tricky syndrome, and they usually recover upon leaving.

The condition is erratic. Sometimes, sufferes can go an entire day without COL. Some days bring multiple incidents. So many conditions are mostly Third World problems, the result of poor nutrition or bad sanitation. COL is strictly a First World problem, a problem of abundance.

I'm not asking for your money, because, amazingly, the cure is free. I am not really asking for you to increase your vigilance, because nearly anyone over the age of two can diagnose the condition in themselves and others. All I am asking for is your pity.I could shut COL out of my life like shutting a door. But it would make Patrice, my cat, unhappy.  If you, or someone you know, suffers from COL--cat on lap--please help them in any way you can, so that they will not be forced to push their feline companion heedlessly to the floor. Thank you.

The 100 Foot Journey

4 stars out of 5
A little mawkish and sentimental at times, this film takes a sweet fictional pass at the immigrant struggle to bring Indian food to the south of France, combined with the ceaseless effort of French chefs to add a Michelin star to their ratings. Helen Mirren is a wonder to behold, as always, and the largely unknown supporting cast all pitch in to make the time fly by. The "food porn" alone would make this a watchable movie; lots of overhead shots of fresh produce, two-star French cuisine and hearty Indian food. Competitive food chopping as a means of expressing agression also makes an appearance. And, of course, the travelogue shots of the south of France and of Paris, all of which make me want to fly over this weekend.  I did my part to help this film hit No. 4 on the weekend box office list.

Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy was somewhat entertaining and amusing. Nothing to write home about. OK for what it was. Not worth a lot of analysis. It is the TV series Firefly on steroids.

I'm Back, Rested, Ready and Retired

Well, I said I was coming back, irregularly, and this seems about irregular enough. I can't say I'm still recovering from my trip to London, although it is literally true in once sense; I really banged up my knee and it still isn't right. Air travel and train travel aren't all that good for a gammy knee. It is time to bite the bullet (which may distract me from the knee pain) and write. And part of my "new" plan is to "write" in a more "humorous" vein. I am adopting the Mr. Ed rule. For those of a certain age, who can sing along with the theme song, you know what I mean. For the whippersnappers, Mr. Ed was a talking horse, but "Mr. Ed will never talk, unless he has something to say." The humorous essay, by the way, follows this item.  And, credit where credit is due; R, my younger daughter, suggested, "Why don't you try writing humorous essays?"

Did I mention that I retired from teaching on June 13? That's one reason I have more time to write. Of course, it is summer now, and I always had more time in the summer, but now, summer will never end.

A funny thing happened...

(With apologies and kudos to Dave Barry and S.J. Perleman, two of my favorite writers of narrative humor)

Current visitors to Chez Schindler, if they are paying attention, will be treated to a singular sight if they arrive on laundry day. When I return from taking the clothes out the back door to hang on the line, I say, out loud, "back door locked." Same thing when I breeze in through the master bathroom ingress after using the hot tub. "Door locked."

When I have nothing else to do, I now have two migratory destinations; my old chum, the refrigerator, and my new cohort, the back door, which I check carefully to insure that it is cinched tight. My peepers are still good enough to tell from afar whether the lock is horizontal (good!) or vertical (d'oh).

"But why the door locking caution," you may well ask. "After all, no one has ever broken into the house, and if they did you have a burglar alarm." Well, yes, that's indubitable (although how the hell would you know?), there is an alarm, which is itself the underpinning of my new tic.

You see, to borrow the sports metaphor, I have lost a step or two over the years. I am not in reality show buffoon territory, or even, "Oh my God, the old man has lost his marbles" country (at least, I don't remember anyone saying that about me--but if I was, I wouldn't, right?) I feel as though I am comfortably in "Why did I come into this room" land, a destination towards which boomers are headed en masse.

One manifestation of this reduced stepiness has been my intermittent failure to deadbolt  the posterior entryway after a post-laundry ingress. The thing is, the mizzen gateway has never really battened down  properly. We had a factotum do his legerdemain on it last year, but the procedure was only partly efficacious. If it is not dead-bolted, a robust gale will blow it ajar.

So, you can look down the hall at the rear portal, and it seems like the cat's pajamas, and then, a few minutes later it is the cat has taken them off and is dashing through the opening. That's a problem for two reasons. First, we have an indoor-only cat, officially Patrice, unofficially Her Royal Highness (HRH). This is not a good neighborhood for cats, especially not pampered indoor-only cats. She isn't a door-rusher, but if you leave an outside door open long enough, she'll take the plunge. Secondly, if the door blows open while the alarm is set, the alarm will go off, on the assumption that someone has broken into the house. We have had two dozen alarms in the 17 years we have been living here, not one of them real.

We pay Stanley (the company, not the guy) a princely tariff to dispatch the cavalry when our alarm system gives them a jingle, and dispatch the gendarmes if we are not at home to say "false alarm." They also put a call through to my cellphone, which, of course, comes to naught in most areas in or around Chez Schindler (Orinda is hilly, and although its residents are generally prosperous, there aren't enough of them for the cellphone company to actually provide full coverage).

With our rhetorical throat amply cleared, we come to the actual narrative, as it were. I was over at R's nearby townhouse, performing some undertaking or another. I had scrupulously set the alarm when I left the casa.

My wife, V, breezed in some time later and found the alarm was not set, "That's odd," she thought, in the way people think when thoughts are being attributed to them by someone else after the fact. She popped into the house, deposited  her accouterments, then went back to the garage to do the recycling, She re-entered the house. Just as she did, three burly, intimidating members of the  Orinda constabulary entered the back door, guns drawn and pointing at her, and soberly asked her to raise her hands.

Now understand that my town of 18,000 people has a murder every decade or so, and between 60-80 burglaries a year, or between one and two a week. We have a hard-working and professional police force, that, alas, probably spends as much time responding to false alarms as to actual burglaries (they get about 30 false alarms a month). So the officers knew the odds were that she was an actual resident. Still, they professionally asked her for a photo ID to prove that she really resided in the joint.

The thing that dazzled me most is her unruffled demeanor. R washed up at the crib 10 minutes later; V and the gendarmes were in a jocular mood. V was mirthful when she called me moments later on my cellphone to tell me what had transpired. Just at that moment, the message from Stanley popped up on my cellphone: a burglar alarm at your pad. I said to V, "Do you need me to come over right away." She replied, "No, I'm fine."

If it has been me, I would quite possibly screamed, fainted, wet myself, or all three. At the very least, I would have had an attack of the vapors, or even the whim-whams. After my own homecoming, V was still chortling. But when she asked me to guarantee that the aft portal was battened down in the future, she wasn't laughing. So, just as Paul Newman was required to tell the road-gang boss, "Still shaking the bush, boss," while doing his business by the side of the road in Cool Hand Luke, so we will all feel better around here if I gaudily proclaim my coupe de maitre in verrouillage de la porte.

Tammy, Lucy

I am going to be a lot less formal with my movie reviews, ala Willie Brown in the SF Chronicle. I'll tell you whether I liked it or not, and offer a philosophical note, and then move on.

R, my younger daughter, saw Tammy with me. She noted that it both a romcom and a buddy movie, which may be why the marketing for it was so schizophrenic. This is one of those films whose trailer lied like a rug. You'd think from the holdup at the fast food joint scene, replayed endlessly on TV, that this was a madcap farce.  Nope. A girl and her mom driving around, and eventually the girl finds true love. I suspect its mediocre box office showing had to do with being neither fish nor fowl, but I like it. I am sure it has vacated all theaters by now, but catch it in six months when it leaks out into recirculation.

V, my wife, saw Lucy with me, and was put off by the violence. I was attracted by the stars and the the philosophy...  I mean, Scarjo and Morgan Freeman, what could possibly go wrong? It topped Hercules at the box office last weekend, which would  restore my faith in humanity, if I wasn't sure that people came to watch Scarjo kick ass, not to listen to Morgan Freeman, America's narrator, wax philosophic. There is literally a long stretch with him in a lecture hall. If you don't like excessive cartoonish violence (not in the lecture hall), give this movie a pass. But if you like some thinking mixed in with your splatter, this is the film for you