Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Residual Olympic Post

The upcoming Dancing with the Stars has announced their newest line up and it includes Misty May Treanor, the beach volleyball gold medalist. The same Misty May that took up 5,000 hours of Olympic coverage. I can't shake this girl.

Last week, I suggested to Maya and Mina that they have a sports marathon at a local park. It's how I spent a lot of my summer vacations as a kid. Either by myself or with my junior high best friend Yuko, epic sports fantasies were played out. I'd play tennis against a wall with a red, white and blue wood racket for hours and scheme a Wimbledon appearance in ten years. Or Yuko and I would play two-person dodgeball or granny-shot free throw contests or luge down hills while lying back on our skateboards, hugging close to parked cars. I believed for sure I'd find a sport at which I was accidentally spectacular.

For Maya and Mina's sports bonanza, I didn't have to give them many details. They loaded their bike baskets with various balls and I didn't see them until two and a half hours later when they staggered through the door sweaty and smeared with dirt.

"Ok, give me the run down of the games played," I said placing my elbows on my knees.

Maya said, winded, "First in our mini Olympics, we played Around the World at the basketball courts."

"MmHmm," I nodded. "How'd that go?"

"We didn't make it."

"Around the world?" I said.

Mina chimed in, "We were stuck in the same spots!"

"What was next?" I said.

"Then we played volleyball," Mina said.

"One on one?" I asked.

"Yea, but because we were using that plastic ball the wind blew it off the court."

"High winds," Maya said. "Then we played handball."

"Then we did gymnastics," Mina said.

"Oh?" I laughed. "How'd that go?"

"Ok," Maya said, "But then we wrestled. That was better."

"Then we raced our bikes around the track," Mina said.

I laughed after every answer at this point.

"Then we raced, running," Maya said.

"Then we found some orange cones and put them on the track and did hurdles," Mina said.

"Then we finished with an obstacle course," Maya said.

"That was the funnest because we cheated a lot," Mina said.

That sounds like the greatest mini Olympics ever.

In my own Olympic closing ceremony, I'd like to report that I did get to see some coverage of Taekwondo. First I learned that TKD is actually on the brink of being eliminated from the Olympics. I'll argue that if the steeplechase is still in the Olympics, then let us keep TKD for god's sake. The next bit of news was regarding a controversial call against our golden poster boy Steven Lopez. He lost the gold medal because of it and if that wasn't bad enough some of the sport's dirty laundry was aired when the Lopez Camp protested the call and then told the media that they were instructed by the World Taekwondo Federation NOT to protest any call during the Olympics. All coaches were strong-armed into signing an agreement of non-protest before the games began. What kind of mafioso stuff is that? Then the best coverage of TKD came when Cuban fighter Angel Matos took too long with an injury time out and the ref disqualified him. Matos was winning the match 3-2 before being disqualified. The second the match was called, the Cuban fighter ax kicked the ref in the face with laser speed. Kicked the ref in the head, I said!! As refs rushed to the ring, the Cuban cat punch them away. It was sick. We all yelled at the screen when we saw this go down. Then we spent about a half hour saying things like, "Suurrreee, that guy was hurt" and "Why didn't he just do that during the match?" "The refs should've fought back, like a 5 on 1 rumble!" "Now you can really kiss Olympic TKD good bye" to which Maya said, "No, now people will really want to watch it."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ladybug Prophecies

It's August 24, 1967
My mother's in labor
And it ain't no heaven.

Those were the first lines of a poem I wrote for my mother on my 11th birthday. On almost every birthday, I get the rhyme stuck in my head. But I've come so far. My birth was heavenly! Yes! At least now I think so.

I woke up this morning and when I went to the bathroom, a ladybug was sitting on the sink. How can I not believe that it was a good luck charm to pop off the year? I was thrilled to see it.

41's cool. It ain't giving me grief. What am I gonna do? I feel good, hopeful. We're having a lil vegan potluck later in our courtyard, and Husband took me on a date last night. We rode our bikes. My favorite kind of date. It's always my favorite part, the ride. Cruising my town, the sunset light spilling onto the roads and trees, a breeze lifting the conversation between us. Man, it's the breeze! The breeze of a casual ride soaks right into me.

Mr. Handsome. Off to a yummy dinner.Rolling along Ocean Avenue.My favorite view, on my fav form of transportation with Husband, my favorite adult.I think 41 is going to be more than cool. It's going to be great. The ladybug told me so.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic Fever, Taekwondo Update

Of the 12 hours a day that I've been watching Olympic coverage, none of them have been of Taekwondo. This is not my choosing but some apparent programming glitch meant to piss me off. It's a gross overlook as far as our house is concerned especially since there has been a lot of gas about the sport's royal family,The Fighting Lopezes. I mean, all four siblings are in the Olympics! Three fighters, two brothers and a sister, and the oldest brother is their coach. You'd think NBC would be all over that feel-goodness, but no, I'm reduce to watching fractions of matches on the interweb. We wanted to see Diana Lopez fight so badly! And I'm not sure who Beach Volleyball had to sleep with to get 8 of those 12 hours of coverage, but I'm over it already. God. Is that just for the west coast, the beach volleyball virus on my TV? Or is the east coast bombarded with different more relevant overkill like field hockey and lacrosse?

Nonetheless, I'm bananas over the Olympics. Straight nuts. I sop it all up -- the stories, the metaphors, the sensational highs and lows. I cry at all the key moments. I love every single athlete when they are up or when they are down, when they are shy and soft-spoken or when they're cocky and shit-talky. I love every family member that sits and watches and frets. I'll cry for way too long when the parents cry, especially. Or when illness plays a part of a story; or poverty, or any hard-won triumph for that matter. When an athlete says that no one believed they could make it except them, I feel punched. I understand that struggle, I just never did make it as a successful athlete. I see the other sports-related struggles coming up for my own daughters. The type that are personal hurdles for every athlete: Is it all worth it to get to the point of greatness? The hours and the grief and the set backs, the pain? In the void of training, that answer always teeters on a big fat No, but in the up-sweep of an international warm-and-fuzzy forum like the Olympics I can't imagine the answer being anything other than the resounding Yes. Hell yes.

A couple times I've found myself just a few degrees separated from the Olympics. When I was 16, I swam for the Santa Monica city team. We often would train with another group at the Culver City pool and once we found ourselves training at the same time with Dara Torres and her crew. That was the year before she went to her first Olympics, and we were star struck. In high school, I only dated one boy. We were so shy and awkward about it all, but holding hands was nice. He really was a great guy, and he was best known as the star of the volleyball team. Soon after high school he became a shining and popular player on the U.S team that won gold at the '88 Olympics and bronze at the '92 Olympics. And most proudly, there's my BFF Betsy. I often talk about her. She went to the '92 Barcelona Olympics as a member of the women's crew team. How hot is that? Her most shining crew moment though was when her national team won gold at the Pan Am Games held in Cuba. Fidel Castro himself put the gold medal around Betsy's neck. She said, "Buenos juegos" to him and I said, "Good thing you didn't say, 'Buenos huevos.'"

Speaking of Taekwondo, we went by the studio yesterday to get a schedule for Mina. Husband and I decided that Mina should keep on with Taekwondo at least until she earns her black belt, only two belts away. We prepared a big pitch for her, bracing ourselves for the resistance, telling her she's so close and that no one can take a black belt away; it's a huge accomplishment, and on. She said, "Ok, cool." No resistance at all, and she meant it. Then she said, "I want to fight." And Husband and I looked at each other, thrilled. This is something we've always known about Mina: Sparring was always her favorite part. Maya likes the structure and camaraderie of class and the forms, but Mina enjoys mixing it up in the ring. She's a very good fighter in fact, considering her size and age, even if her focus is out the window at any given moment during class. Good ol' Mina!

We entered the doors of the studio and when Maya's coach, Master N, saw us he broke out in his full-face chronic grin and yelled out in English heavily slathered with Portuguese, "OOhh, I'm so glad to see you!" We were glad too. We had missed the studio, and we all glowed a bit, our hearts skipping. Maya most certainly does not want to go back to train, but her affection for the sport and Master N is still undeniable. Her departure from Taekwondo wasn't dramatic or resentful. The nail in the coffin for her however was summer basketball camp. She's a baller now no doubt, no longer a fighter. This doesn't mean a hyped-up, persistent coach can't try, right? After the greetings, Master N immediately sang out, "Maya! U.S Open is in February! We can get you ready!" Maya back pedaled, nearly hiding behind Carlinhos, Master N's protege here on a visa from Brazil to train. Carlinhos said in his improved English, "Yea, how much do you weigh?" Both of them were calculating which weight class she could enter. Maya flushed from the attention that still didn't interrupt her glow and said, "Naw, I'm not going to the U.S. Open." Master N said, "Sar-ee-us?" which is how he says "serious". We love this about him, so much so that we've incorporated it into our own vocabulary. I'll say, "The bus is running late." And Maya will say, "Sareeus?" There are many more Master N-isms that have squeezed their way into our hearts and vernacular. "How 'bout teaching, Maya?! I still need help with the small kids' classes." And the thought of getting her teaching job back instructing the little white belts perked her up. She is a fantastic lil-kids coach. She said, "Yea, I'd like that." I said, "Actually we're here for Mina. She's coming back." He yelled, "Sareeus?" His eyes were closed from smiling so broadly. "Oh Mina! Are you ready to fight?" "Yes sir," she said. Then he figured out aloud by when she'd earn her black belt, and then I'm sure he wondered how long it would take to get Mina ready for national competitions.

I leave you with this picture. It's of Mina's first tournament. She competed only in forms, no fighting yet. I think she was six. My little pistol is standing up to a row of old judges.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Friends Ask Me What I Do For a Living

During the heyday of my cubicle career, I was a dynamic semiconductor broker. Oh, I was a superstar. We BOUGHT, SOLD, BOUGHT, SOLD with wild abandoned. We squeezed every last drop of profit out of a deal until it looked vacuum-sealed. We begged for business, told customers we'd show up the last schlocky broker/cheat, then acted like all schlocky brokers by charging as much as we could and expected them to kiss our feet for doing so. We did get the customer chips when no one else could. Usually on time. When their trusty factories failed them, we brokers, no matter how slithering or beady-eyed, delivered product insuring that their manufacturing wouldn't screech to a halt. Most of the time we delivered, at least. Ok, sometimes we delivered unapproved replacements and counterfeits, but can't you use that Mr. Customer? Don't those work still? We strutted around like the best of the fat-cat brokers because we preached that semiconductors were golden. We were convinced that the progressive world was built with electronic chips, and we believed brokers would always be in high demand because of it.

That was eight years ago. We don't strut around so much any more. We slither still, but more humbly; those of us that are still around that is, those who didn't self destructed in a rock-star's pile of drugs or drink, or who didn't blow every cent of the lion's share made years ago. Well, we ALL squandered our money away. That's a broker's MO. We earn it with a fast, good hustle, and then spend it furiously like we'll win more prizes for the speed with which we spend. Most brokers don't lament all the material wealth lost -- boats and houses and bullshit -- because we always believe the next up-swing is just around the corner. In reality, my industry's success graph, during the 15 years I've been in it, looks like this: peak, down, peak, down, PEAK OF ALL MOTHERFUCKING PEAKS, down . . .and freeeeeeeeee ffaaaallllllll. The semiconductor market has been relatively dead since 2000.

I'm still a broker -- I think -- though I haven't slung a chip in a good two years. Need chips in this day and age? Even the sleaziest brokers now tip their hats to the humming counterfeiting operation going on in China. Some old-time brokers whine and complain about having our lucrative niche taken from us. But most of us are impressed by the ambitious and frankly better hustle achieved by counterfeiters. We're just mad we didn't think to invest our money into actual factories that produce near-exact replicas of chips. (DAMNIT!) Well played, China. Bravo.

So what do I broker then? I say that I sell computer equipment now. But that's so broad it's like saying I sell shells from the ocean. To be honest, I don't know what I'm selling. When the semiconductor market plummeted, the company I work for was smart enough to roll with the punches and shift to other types of product: Cables, screws, display screens, software licenses -- whatever a customer was willing to buy. In the beginning of the shift, I'd say things indignantly like, "You want me to find a thousand fasteners and washers?" I would try to tell the story of how I bought a couple million tantalum capacitors below market off a truck in Belgium just a few short years ago, but nobody wants to hear it anymore. No time to reminisce. We still have to turn a trick.

Now -- my last semiconductor buy a distant memory -- I'm not surprised by anything I'm asked to buy and sell anymore. We simply cater to what our big customers ask for and we humbly accept. We are so far removed from the fat-cat, big-shot days. We tap dance and say, "Yes, ma'am. I'd love to find you a cabinet to hold your server." "Oh? Mouse pads with scenic ocean scenes on them? You only want five units? Sure, sir."

I was pretty good at sourcing projector lamp bulbs a few months back. I've become known as a little bit of a scanner expert. I've sold a few Samsonite cases and quoted many lap top bags. Need 500 touchscreen styluses? I might have a good place. Batteries? Sure. Left-handed keyboards? Oh yea.

I bought a couple of these the other day. Cube doors. Is this really useful to somebody? I told a coworker that I was selling a cube door and he said, "What, so it can be enclosed like a rubik's cube?" I said, "Not a cube lid, just a door." He said, "That's stupid. Ok, gotta go sell a case of Magic Bullets right now." "The hand blender? You gotta be kidding?" He said, "Naw, I think I can make five points on the deal." Well, go get them then, Partner.

One of the guys at work brought in ten refurbished motorized scooters to sell. We were driving them around the halls of the office. Accounting bought a couple, the shipping department one. Three of his regular customers bought the rest. The salesguy changed the price to whatever he felt he could get from whomever was asking. We just can't help ourselves.

This product to the left, the steering wheel computer mount, I felt was morally irresponsible to quote. But then I found some that cost fifteen percent lower than what the customer wanted to pay. They would be sold into Wisconsin so I made a note to never drive there, and took the order. I suck.

The biggest irony of my broker prowess is that if you asked me to quote you the price of a homemade vegan cake, I'd stutter and fumble. Ask me how many of my completed stories I've submitted to literary magazines for publication and I'd blank out, intimidated by the business side of writing. A famous friend of Husband's asked me if I'd paint him a painting for his house -- for money -- and I shut down and avoided the request. I treat artistic endeavors so preciously that an exchange of money for them seems demeaning to the art. I want my creative things to sell themselves without me noticing; funds magically appearing in my account, rent paid. I know how to callously whore computer chips and equipment all day long, but that's the last thing I want to feel with the endeavors that mean the most. I suppose with that kind of thinking I'll be brokering any and all kinds of shit for the next 100 years. Magic Bullet anyone?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

41 at 41

As you all know from the big red circles on your calendars, my birthday is coming in less than two weeks.

Last year, year 40, was a big to-do, a huge she-bang. I was very dramatic about it all. It was a 10 meter dive (for all you Olympics enthusiasts) into all the things I hadn't done and all the time I'd wasted. I beat myself to a pulp for not having made more of a mark when half my life had whooshed by already; when I held so much promise as a Golden Child. But this year I hardly feel a thing, a virtual flat line compared to last birthday. What Am I Gonna Do seems to be this year's theme. As in, what am I gonna do about aging? (Can't do a god-damn thing.) More importantly, what am I gonna do as in next? What am I gonna do but just get to getting.

I wrote a list last year (actually not until January) of 40 Things To Do at 40, and proudly I really did do a lot of the list from participating in the LA Marathon to actually reading some books (Yup!), to giving my time (and my food) to causes and Mina's classroom, to getting the back tattoo finished. I have to say that the momentum of action squashed a significant amount of the It's-All-Slipping-Through-My Fingers panic. This momentum has made the pressing click of time more than bearable, but nearly adventurous. Or better yet, not such a big deal.

I didn't do all the things on the list. I didn't bake for a wedding though I did turn down a request to bake for a wedding. Turning down this job was actually a big part of my decision not to bake as a business. Because of this turning point, having this on my list, though unfulfilled, is still significant to me. I didn't sew aprons, or buy a sewing machine, but I did get a simple sewing lesson and I sewed a couple cloth napkins, which filled an eco-sewing hole. It proved to be enough on the sewing tip.

Most glaringly not checked off last year's list was the promise to write fiction 4-5 hours a week. And although I've let another big chunk of time go by without sticking to this commitment -- my most fantasized priority -- it's ok. It's ok because a good portion of this year's list revolves around just that, writing. In fact, it seems that this year's priorities circle around such a narrow scope of interests that I almost didn't write a list. But, please, you know I couldn't help myself. What am I gonna do?

1. Write fiction 4-5 hours a week.*
2. Join a fiction workshop.
3. Not drinking coffee works just fine for me.
4. So does eating a mainly raw diet. I'm sticking to that.
5. Catch a So You Think You Can Dance tour show. (Jea-lous?)
7. Don't make lists in everyday life; just do the damn thing.
8. Go back to Squaw.
9. Work towards getting Prop 2 passed.
10. Go skinny dipping.
11. Work on strength still (physical.)
12. Work on flexibility still.
13. Purge garage.
14. Make own pet food, vegan, maybe raw?
15. Take tennis lessons.
16. Get an ice cream maker.
17. Sew more cloth napkins for holiday presents!
18. Become a more proficient raw food chef.
19. Have the whole family take the train to visit Grandma Carmen.*
20. Complete a long-distance bike ride, a 50 miler.
21. Go camping!
22. Take girls to Griffith Observatory.*
23. Give the bedroom a makeover.
24. Submit two stories for publication.*
25. Give up patience this year.**
26. Win the lottery.
27. Make some raw dishes for people at my birthday party aka guinea pigs.
28. Don't give up on composting though it's scaring me to death. Dudes, I don't even know what's going on in that canister right now . . .
29. Ok, maybe one more tattoo . . .for my grandmother.
30. Don't clean up after family as much. Jeez.
31. Stay at the Standfor Inn.
32. Stay thankful for my job.
33. Successfully predict next year's college hoops champion for my own March Madness pool.*
34. Teach Maya how to bake and cook.
35. Teach Mina how to clean!
36. Teach pugs how to pick up their own poop.
37. Go apple picking this fall.
38. Try to grow a potted Meyer lemon tree and Kaffir lime tree on the patio.
39. Meet a blogger friend or three in person.
40. Drive my car less than four thousand miles this year. Bike power!
41. Finish what I start still.

* From last year's list
** Opposite of last year's list

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hopefully the Last of the Ear Drum Stories

Mina got tubes in her ears, again.

The hospital staff put us in this small be-curtained room for over an hour. This gave Mina just enough time to turn the hospital gown into 50 new looks for fall. But it wasn't quite enough time for us to start pushing buttons, taking each other blood pressure or putting rubber gloves over our heads like chicken combs. Close though.

The tubes are meant to drain the collected fluid from behind the eardrum. This procedure helps prevent infections. It will hopefully improve Mina's hearing. The only thing is that she still had to go under general anesthesia -- not for very long -- but any amount of time didn't settle well with me. Just seeing her in a hospital gown caused me to force the pep-talk a little too much. I hid being nervous, which is why we goofed around so much as we waited. If she's supposed to be brave, then I'm supposed to be the bravest.

Feh, she wasn't even worried.

They let me come into the room where they performed surgery. A huddle of nurses and doctors dressed in flat-turquoise scrubs were welcoming and reassuring. They let me rub her leg as they gassed her up, until she fell asleep to the anesthesiologist's story of the mouse who baked chocolate chip cookies. "Do I stay?" I asked, half joking. "Nope," a nurse said guiding me out. I peeped at the instrument table on the way out and saw the minuscule tubes illuminated by a spot light. They were tiny crystal tube tips, like cut-off ends of a fly's straw.

It wasn't twenty minutes before I was called back to the recovery room. Mina was on her stomach and having a coughing fit when I walked in. Her hair was wildly strewn and nurses stood around her wondering why she was coughing. I threw down my purse and pushed them aside. I got her hair out of her face and rubbed her back; whispered in her ear. The nurses dispersed. As Mina came to, she felt badly. She said she "felt weird." Her head hurt, she was nauseous, she didn't want to go home or move even. She's not one to complain usually. All I thought to do was rub her head and chest and whisper I love you's.

I snapped this picture as she was resting, her eyes opened just as the shutter closed. She told me she didn't want any more pictures taken. That face is difficult to bear. You search your arsenal to make her smile or feel better. Tiny things worked for a second. Then it was back to the pained brow and red finger glow. That's all I see in that photo, and it sinks me.

After about an hour and after suggestions from the nurses for suppositories and IV's to quell the nausea, I made Mina walk to the bathroom. Then I dressed her, and got her out of the hospital. I just felt it would be better to get her away from more medicine and everyone else around us in rooms waking up out of their own fog. One little girl down the hall from us was freaking out; sobbing and yelling, tripping under chemical influence.

Once Mina was outside, in the sunshine and fresh air, she felt tremendously better. Instantaneously. She said, "Mami, can we look at the ocean? Once I see the ocean, I'll be almost all better." And she was right. By the time we got home, she was nearly 100% back to herself.

We're hoping for closure on the ear thing with this latest procedure. Oozy, bloody trails have crept out of Mina's ears during the last few days. To a normal person that's gross, but to us, we're like let it roll. "Better out than in, I always say," I tell Mina in my best Shrek. And she nods and wipes her ears out with tissue.