The trials of homeownership (selected highlights)

So we got our property tax assessment, and it sort of encapsulates what’s happened to Bay Area real estate over my lifetime. When the previous owners bought this house twenty-odd years ago, the assessed value of the house was divided more or less evenly between the value of the land and the value of the improvements to the land, weighted slightly toward the land side. (It’s a big lot.) Since then, the improvements have increased about 60% in value, which is actually somewhat less than keeping place with inflation. (Makes sense, I guess; stuff gets old.) The value of the land, meanwhile, went up 425%.

I came home the other night to a pronounced smell of gas in the house. All our pilot lights were on, and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, but I had run into a PG&E guy that morning who asked if I had smelled gas. So I called PG&E, but it turns out that their customer service is terrible after hours. Then I tried the non-emergency services number for Mountain View, and they advised me to get out of the house and sent out the fire department. So after a few minutes three fire trucks roll up, and a half dozen firefighters are looking around for where the gas smell is coming from. (Apparently it was a slow night.) Eventually they conclude that the smell ebbs and flows depending on where you’re standing, and does not appear to be coming from the house, and smells more like sewer gas anyway. So that’s that. Poor Finn was traumatized; he fears trucks and strangers, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quivering with anxiety like that before.

Over the last couple of days, our floor furnace has been misbehaving; the pilot has gone out a couple of times, but Jen has been able to relight it. Then this morning there was a faint gas smell, but the pilot was on, so I figured we were probably OK. Then a few minutes ago there was a loud THUD noise, like someone dropping something heavy. Jen and I both went to see what the other one had done to cause it, and we found a burnt-hair smell over the floor furnace, and the furnace was actually fully on now. “I told you I smelled gas”, says Jen. I think if this keeps up we should probably call someone.

This actually makes an old memory of mine make sense; I was sitting at my childhood kitchen counter when a gas leak blew out* the back wall of our kitchen, but the memory is much less violent than I would have assumed a gas explosion would be. I remember my mom jumping back in startlement (she was cooking at the time), but my actual memory of the event itself is…pretty much a loud THUMP. So there you go.

*”Blew out” maybe overstates the case. But there was a hole in the wall afterward.

Originally published on LiveJournal

That was creepy

Last night, someone knocked on our door. I’d been sort of expecting this, because there’s a vacant unit in the complex, and the management always puts their “RENT” sign on our shutters, so people decide to come talk to us, and then Finn has a conniption and we have to calm him down. However, I did not expect people to come knocking at ten at night.

So I open the door, and there stands a sort of portly middle-aged guy with a mustache and a just slightly lazy eye. He says “What room is Elizabeth in? ‘Cause I think she’s in a situation that she doesn’t want to be in.”

“I…don’t know.”

“Yeah you do.”

“No, I really don’t.”

“Don’t play games. You know. She lives in the complex back there.”

Now, I think maybe I’ve met Elizabeth in the parking lot, but I’m not sure which of the other tenants she is, and I certainly don’t know which unit she’s in, and I’m not really comfortable unleashing this guy on her.

“Look, I just live here. I don’t know the other tenants.”

“Oh.” He seems slightly taken aback. “You’re not the owner?”

“No, I just rent this unit. I don’t know where Elizabeth lives.”

“Well, she’s drunk, and this guy drove her home, and I … followed them back here, and I waited five minutes, and he hasn’t come out yet, and I just want to go check on her, and if she’s OK, then I’m out of here.” He pauses. “She’s a friend. We work together.”

…OK, so now we’re out of mysterious hostile creepy and into stalker creepy.

“Sorry, I don’t know which unit she’s in.”

This is a little bit of a lie. I suspect it was Elizabeth who came home about an hour ago and felt bad because we disciplined Finn for barking at her. She parked next to our car, and that spot belongs to unit 3. However, I have no reason to help this guy, and a general “don’t be complicit in the creepy” reason not to.

“Do you mind if I go around back?”

I kinda do, but it’s not really my business, and I’m not sure what I could say.

“Go ahead, if it’s open.”

I guess it was, because I didn’t hear from him again. I feel sorry for Elizabeth, though, and complicit in the ew.

Originally published at LiveJournal

Close Calls

I haven’t been posting a lot lately because my days all pretty much run like, “I got up, took the train to school, went to class, read a bunch, came home after sundown, watched some TV, and went to bed.” Yesterday, however, I nearly killed someone, which is a bit more interesting.

My wife and I decided to go to dinner last night at a bistro in Menlo Park we’ve been meaning to try. So we get in the car and get on El Camino heading south. On this particular stretch of El Camino, there is pretty much always some guy tooling around on a bicycle, casually moving down the side of the road towards wherever. Last night was no exception. As we head down El Camino, however, this guy abruptly starts drifting across all four lanes. It took me a fraction of a second to register that he was drifting. It took me another fraction of a second to accept that yes, he was actually changing lanes. One more fraction of a second to recognize that he was going really, really slow. Then I was standing on the brake.

There are few moments with the clarity and focus of the half-second before an auto accident. I couldn’t swerve; we were in the middle lane, and there were people in the other lanes. I suppose I could have pulled the emergency brake, but I think I need at least a full second to think of that. So our brakes screamed and I watched him getting closer. With a couple yards to spare, I resigned myself to the collision.

Miraculously, with maybe a foot or two until contact, our speed dropped to less than his, and he started to gain ground. Then, finally, he looked behind him as we screeched to a halt. Perhaps I should mention he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Fortunately, there was no one else in our lane, so we didn’t get rear-ended. Instead, I just sat there for a moment as the smoke from our wheels drifted up and blew away. After a few seconds I had the composure to honk as our bicyclist friend wobbled back to the side of the road from whence he came.

If I’d been looking somewhere else — hell, if my reactions had been fractionally slower — we would have hit him. If we didn’t run him over, we would have knocked him into the next lane where the truck passing us would have hit him at speed. Best case scenario, we knock him flying forward and succeed in stopping before running him over. And remember, no helmet. He’d be toast.

Having reflected on all this, however, I realized that I was still stopped in the middle of a busy road, and should probably move on. By now, I had that sort of shaky fidgety feeling that you get when your body has dumped a big shot of adrenaline into your system that you don’t really need anymore. So when we noticed the guy still cruising along the sidewalk about half a block down, Jen rolled down the window and I screamed at him a bit.

“Sorry,” he called back.

On the other hand, dinner was nice.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Good luck, Corinne

You know, I was feeling pretty crap earlier this evening, what with missed trains and heavy workloads and low energy. But I went to the 7-11 just now to get some soda, and I passed a woman who was saying into her cellphone, “Yo, Corinne? Emergency. No chitchat, all right, emergency. There are cops heading to the trailer right now. Cops.”

So yeah. Legal Writing running long? Not such a big deal, really.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Our house is a tar pit

I am boggled by the ability of small mammals to get into trouble around our apartment.

Some of you may remember the Squirrel Incident of some months back. Well, last night, as my friend Julian and I sat around after a fine dinner and yarned about the usual sundries (plus, since Jen was not back from China yet, we could be even more self-congratulatory than usual), we heard a high-pitched squealing. Now, I know that there’s a rather bold family of raccoons in the vicinity; we’ve had guests trapped in our yard for a few minutes because there was a raccoon perched on the gate. So I figured a couple of raccoons were tussling in the back. Thus, we went to go peek.

In the darkness, we could see furry things moving at the base of one of our trees. Feeling puckish, I flipped on the back light to give the raccoons a startle. It was not a raccoon. It was a seething mass of raccoons. Nor did they startle. Instead, the enormous raccoon that must have been the mother of the bunch (I say enormous, which isn’t entirely fair. I’ve seen larger. Still, bigger than you figure raccoons generally are; somewhere between a beagle and a basset hound.) turned and looked at us. It’s a little unnerving when a wild animal gives you a “You lookin’ at me?” look.

So this large raccoon and her half dozen pups are all roiling around the base of this tree, and there’s a near-constant squealing, and it becomes clear after a bit that one of the pups has fallen into the crook of the tree and gotten stuck, and despite their legendary dexterity, the raccoons are unable to figure out what to do.

We are at a loss. We, being fully equipped with spatial intelligence and opposable thumbs, could resolve the issue easily, but wading into a mass of wild animals including the mother of a trapped baby is a quick way to the end that fate has reserved for Jen. So we watch for a while, until it begins to appear that the mother raccoon may be considering resorting to extreme measures that I, for one, do not want to see in my backyard, at which point we decided that now was the time to call Animal Control. Alas, they were closed, but the voice mail forwarded us to Emergency Services, who said they would send a unit over.

Naturally, of course, the act of calling Emergency Services inspired the raccoons into figuring out what to do, and they promptly dislodged the troubled raccoonling and disappeared into the night.

Raccoons are unsettling, I think because they’re the most pet-like of the wild animals. It seems like you ought to be able to go out and pet them, like you might a visiting cat, but at the same time you get that weird wild-animal sense that they’d totally be up for eating you if the opportunity arose.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Aah! Hideous, hideous nature!

OK, I’m a little freaked right now.

About an hour ago, I’m going about my usual business, when I hear a loud clattering and thumping. It takes me a while to identify it — the closet where our water heater lives. I open it to take a peek — aah! A squirrel!

I close the door, so that I can open doors to the outside, close doors to other rooms, and get a broom. I open the closet again. No squirrel.

It looks like the grating on a vent to the outside has fallen in, bringing a squirrel with it. And it looks like the squirrel has managed to fall down into the little space between the corner of the closet and the curve of the water heater, and it’s scrabbling around in there with no success.

I try to throw it a rope, but that just earns me some agitated chittering and growling. I didn’t know squirrels could growl.

I call Animal Control, because I don’t really know what to do about a trapped squirrel behind my water heater, other than that I can’t just leave it there. The nice lady at Animal Control tells me that the thing to do is not to poke at it, because squirrels freak out easily. Instead, I should just leave it be, and call them back in a couple hours if it can’t find its own way out. Meanwhile, the squirrel starts howling. I didn’t know squirrels could howl.

So now I’m holed up in my office, trying to give the squirrel some space to get its head together, which basically traps me in here because the closet is in the main thoroughfare of our house and I can’t go anywhere without walking by it. I’m a little freaked out. I hope it deals with this before I have to go to work, because I don’t know what to do in that case.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Another week in the book mines

Yesterday at work I had an experience that I simultaneously hope is my future and hope is never my future.

An author came by to sign his book. This is a part of the book-tour thing I didn’t know about; authors go to bookstores not to read or meet people, but just to sit down, sign the store’s stock of their book, and then leave.

I also didn’t know that the publishers have relationships with freelance professional minders in every metropolitan area: folks who know the area, know its bookstores, and shepherd authors between all the bookstores they’re supposed to visit. That sounds like a really neat job.

Anyway, this author comes in to sign his book. I have heard nothing of this. Neither has my assistant manager. But hey, signed books; it’s all good. I go to find his latest book on the shelves.

We have two copies.

They try to play it off as a good thing, because it means it’s selling, right? I don’t tell them that according to the database, we only ever had three. Fortunately, his previous book just came out in paperback, which is really where the money is in mysteries, and I manage to dig up a dozen copies of that. Still, it was a little awkward.

Later in the shift, I reached a watershed moment in my retail career. I am now a purveyor of filth; a smutmonger; a corruptor of the public virtue. I sold my first porno magazine yesterday. Playgirl, to be precise. The customer was very particular about the magazine being in the plastic (which makes a certain amount of sense, I guess), and was very eager to get any back issues we had. Unfortunately, our adult backstock is meager.

It delighted me that I got to put it in a brown paper bag.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Saturday night in the barrio

It’s been observed by folks who know the area that Jen and I basically live in the barrio. I think all our neighbors aside from the family in the other half of the duplex are Mexican or Central American, which is pretty typical of large swathes of Redwood City. As I’ve noted before, I think it’s kind of cool living in a town with ample opportunities to eat a taco with brains or tongue. (Not that I do, but I like having the option. As I think about it, I think that’s part of why I wanted to come back to the Bay Area; it’s an excellent part of the world to be in if you like having options that you have no particular desire to pursue.)

I think we’re the edge of something; on our side of the street and to the west, it’s mostly single-family homes. On the other side of our street, it’s mostly mid-grade apartment complexes (I was about to say low-grade, but then I realized they’re not really any more decrepit than the place I managed when we first moved to California. My standards have drifted upwards).

Ordinarily, there’s no special flavor to the neighborhood other than the flock of pushcart ice cream vendors and the guy who sells things resembling the love children of a Cheeto, a pork rind, and a pretzel off the front end of a bicycle. As the weather warms, however, a certain community feel emerges.

Tonight, while I was walking to the local 7-11 for some milk, I discovered that one of the local youngsters (I say this because I’m pretty sure he was younger than me; anywhere from 15 to 25 would have been possible) has converted his garage into a streetside pimp lounge. Mood lighting, frathouse-grade couch, warm colorful fabrics draped over everything — the whole nine yards. And it’s a garage that opens to the street. He and his friends were just lounging around, one of them freestyling to a beat they had running.

Across the street, some kids were doing doughnuts on a motorized Big Wheel; meanwhile, some of the grownups in the same complex were doing the same thing.

I like this neighborhood.

Originally published on LiveJournal

My Life Among the Bourgeoisie

Palo Alto seduces with fragrance. Wherever you go, there’s some sort of comfortably affluent smell, insinuating itself into your brainstem to reassure you that the world is fine and clean and good.

It makes one want to shop. Not so much as an orgy of acquisition, but as a way to suck in the reassuring aura of prosperity.

I was in Palo Alto yesterday to run an assortment of errands, and the day was filled with moments that ought to be shared.

To begin with, I found a barber shop that does beard trims. You can’t get anyone to actually shave you anymore, but a few places will do trims. I needed one; my facial hair is vagrant and tends to curl weirdly and give the impression of normal behavior until I touch it, at which point it becomes horribly lopsided. I recommend the trim highly; I didn’t realize such virtuosity with a trimmer was possible.

After the trim, I stopped at the 7-Eleven to get a drink. As I was pondering the coolers, I noticed a pair of administrative-looking women (business clothes, but not too high-powered-looking) standing next to me, with Slurpees in their hands, getting forties out of the beer case. I thought, beer? At ten-thirty in the morning? Then I thought, beer and Slurpees? That’s a weird combo.

They left, I got my soda, I left, and all was revealed. Outside the 7-Eleven, I discovered that in fact, they had not had Slurpees, but empty Slurpee cups. They were opening their malt liquor, putting the can into the Slurpee cup, and putting on a lid and straw. I can only assume they were headed back to work, where they could cheerfully sip their Colt .45 with no one the wiser. I wish I’d thought of that when I still wanted to conceal alcohol in public once in a while. Me and Jamba Juice could have had a whole different kind of relationship.

So then I went to the Stanford shopping center, where I kicked a pigeon. You know how pigeons tend to run away from you in a sort of sassy and insulting manner, like you’re barely worth concerning themselves with? Well, whenever pigeons are particularly lackadaisical about scuttling away from me, I usually take a half-hearted kick at one, just to put the fear of man into ’em. Apparently the Stanford pigeons, lulled by the fumes of bourgeois living, are so lazy that I was able to tag one with the tip of my shoe. It fluttered away, unhurt but offended. You’re edible, buddy; get with the program!

While I was there, I flipped through the Williams-Sonoma book on risotto and reflected that risotto is sort of comfort food for the upwardly mobile. It’s fatty, starchy, and salty, but it’s also a little pricey, it benefits from quality ingredients, it’s sort of labor-intensive, it’s mildly ethnic, and it’s slightly challenging to get right. All the sorts of qualities that Williams-Sonoma customers just aren’t getting from their Kraft macaroni and cheese. (Don’t mind me; I just reread Bobos in Paradise, and the consumption habits of the educated elite are on my mind.)

Then I drove home, and there was a teenager on a skateboard in Atherton wearing a full-length fur coat.

I have no clever analysis for that one.

Originally published on LiveJournal