New York Times: Keys to Success in French Open (Note to Self: Explore Applicability to “Life”)

Open my New York Times of last Saturday (I know, I know, I’m sooo behind — almost a week behind — on my NYT reading, what’s up with that? Last weekend it was Saturday, and suddenly today is Thursday, and self honestly does not know what happened to the rest of the week)

Read in the Times that French Open began on Sunday (which means that game self watched Tuesday, Andy Roddick vs. unknown Russian, was an early round: pity for Roddick flares suddenly), and NY Times has thoughtfully identified the list of skills which player needs to win title.

First, you need a big forehand like Federer’s or Nadal’s.

Second, a great one-handed backhand is a plus. In this category, Amelie Mauresmo, Roger Federer.

If you only have a two-handed backhand, then it must be great. In this category, Sharapova, Marat Safin.

You could also use a good return of serve. Something like Serena Williams’ or Lleyton Hewitt’s.

You must be able to get that killer first serve in, Exhibit A being Serena again, Sharapova again, and Roddick.

Your second serve must be forceful, like Serena’s (wow, this is getting boring, but must soldier on) or Roddick’s.

You must have a certain “touch”, like Mauresmo and Federer.

You must be able to volley, like Mauresmo (again), Federer (again and again and again, ad infinitum)

You must be able to move — which, excuse me Dear Times Editor, but isn’t that self-evident? I mean, one cannot play tennis rooted to one spot! Not, that is, unless one wants to play human target for cannonball serves. But, I digress. In this category, Times favors Venus Williams (“Huge wingspan with foot speed to match”), Nadal (“the best mover on clay ever”), and Federer (“Virtuosity is the mother of invention”)

Finally, the slipperiest category of all, mental toughness, which Times feels the following players have in abundance: Serena Williams (“self-belief personified”), Maria Sharapova (“Despite the occasional meltdown, generally hard to crack”), Lleyton Hewitt (“Perhaps there is still time for Stallone to watch a Hewitt movie”), Nadal (“positive energy is the rule”) and Roger Federer (“Why not believe after winning six of the last seven majors?”)

Self, as usual, applies such lessons to herself. Self does have all manner of tricks up her sleeve, perhaps she would not call them forehands or backhands, but does have killer tenacity (as witness persistence in calling herself a writer, even though she has not sold a story to a magazine in — in — never mind how long), “touch” (subtlety?) and aggressive volleying tactics (well, all right, passive aggressive volleying tactics). But, self needs to improve in “movement” category, must be able to, as Times puts it, “shift direction like a W.N.B.A. point guard” (If this is not working, if self keeps butting her head against bugaboo of elusive exclusive magazines who persist in rejecting her work, then must quickly be able to switch focus: yo, vanity press, prepare to greet self!), and must develop that elusive “mental toughness”, which means self must stop feeling brittle, must turn hard! Hard like steel! Hard like iron! Go, self, go!

Self will kindly excuse herself from blog now, in order to begin her training :-)

Strange But True V

OK, self was bored. While visiting son last weekend, learned that son’s laptop was not actually * in his possession *, was in fact in possession of friend living in a place called Mustang Village (Cal Poly just loves horses, as teams are named mustang, bookstore is named El Corral, etc. etc.) So, this evening, upon prodding from dear hubby, sent e-mail to son demanding he retrieve laptop from friend in Mustang Village, FORTHWITH. Was not actually expecting immediate reply, but did check after half an hour: nope, nada (Sincerely hope son is studying — ??? Self also sincerely hopes son has not * yet * lent anyone his $169 Ray-Bans?).

While trapped in this state of uncertainty and anxiety over son’s rather lackadaisical attitude to expensive possessions, decided to amuse self by looking up ranking of latest book on Amazon.com (Self should have consulted horoscope first. But, why? Self would only have been told: “Today you will gain someone’s respect.” Which would not have stopped self from looking up ranking on Amazon. Horoscope should have said: Today is a day for careful evaluation, not hasty decisions. That sort of horoscope would certainly have gotten her attention. But, I digress)

Well, this evening, self has discovered that there is actually something worse than ranking of 1, 675,321, which was self’s ranking six months ago. Yes, if only self had not looked a gift horse in the mouth. Because today, self has made the rather disconcerting discovery that there is no end to the bottomless pit that is the Amazon rankings. For today, Wednesday, 30 May, ranking of beloved Mayor of the Roses is: #4,072,854

Dismay! Anguish! Bewilderment!

But, must desist from downing recently purchased quart of Coconut Sorbet. Must remember that this is still better than ranking of 8,075,621, which undoubtedly exists (Only where? Self has never seen any ranking even approach 2,000,000 — not, that is, until looking at self’s ranking this evening.)

Self, stop being so pathetic! This is only what you deserve! You write depressing stories and expect people to read them? Did not that learned professor write in The Multicultural Review that your stories were “depressing” and “sardonic”? (“Sardonic” is not so bad. And self cannot argue with the “depressing”) Looked him up on google and he was a rather aged gent, so perhaps this was a generational misunderstanding?

Self, stop it right this minute! As if gnashing of teeth can do anything to elevate self’s ranking on Amazon.com! Better to do as Sage Master Shih Cheng-Yen states, in Still Thought # 89:

Our hearts have three poisons: greed, anger, and ignorance. In giving we heal greed, with compassion we appease anger, and with wisdom we overcome ignorance.

Stay tuned, dear blog reader, stay tuned.

Quotes of the Day: VANITY FAIR on Bruce, Alex Koppelman on “Fox News Democrats”

Just back from xxxx community college, where self was informed by Dean that two classes self had thought she was teaching in the fall (one of them Creative Writing) were being re-assigned. Self knows that, as a part-timer, she has no rights. So, took it on the chin, drove home still in calm mood, turned on flat-screen HDTV and watched Andy Roddick receive trouncing at hands of unknown Russian stripling. Really, self felt extremely empathetic with Roddick’s coach, Jimmy Connors. Honestly, at times had to look away from screen, as Roddick’s inability to reach final time and time again becoming increasingly painful (He is cute, though)

Then, made a batch of popcorn. Which self is now digging into (bowl balanced on her lap while left hand types). Had been reading a Vanity Fair article on Bruce Willis (If hubby hadn’t asked self to get some popcorn and a drink before the Pirates 3 screening, would not have missed trailer of newest Die Hard: Live Free or Die Hard. Hubby also informed self that she missed the Transformers movie trailer, but who cares about that — !)

Anyhoo, am supine on couch, trying to decide whether having salary cut in half in the fall is a good thing (self can write more) or a bad thing (self cannot afford any more facials! Or splurge on son!). Decide to indulge by reading latest issue of Vanity Fair. Naturally, skip all the boring articles on politicos, like Michael Wolff’s “Crazy for Rudy” and piece by winner of Vanity Fair essay contest, “Mrs. Trollope’s America.” Head straight for profile of dear Bruce, which features him strolling on a deserted beach decked out in panama hat (cocked rakishly over one eye) and sarong.

Have gotten only a few paragraphs in when self finds herself sitting up straighter on the couch. Whoever this person is (self rarely looks at who writes these profiles), he/she is funny, can write. Finally, reach a paragraph so delicious that self simply must stop and share it with loyal blog readers. Have reproduced hysterically funny paragraph below. Oh, and by the way, author of the piece is Peter Biskind. Thank you, Peter, for lighting up my afternoon with such incandescent prose about one of self’s favorite screen icons:

Biskind on the first three Die Hard pictures:

. . . the peekaboo politics of these pictures were really just window dressing, a veneer of topicality. It’s best just to appreciate them for what they are, action paintings in motion, odes to sound and fury. They are visual feasts, serving up muzzle flashes against inky darkness, exfoliating fireballs of every hue and shade, from white-hot white to fiery red, to oily black, as well as lush symphonies filled with the deafening staccato of high-velocity weapons discharging blizzards of bullets in counterpoint to the fortissimo of falling beams and shattered glass.

Whew! Self is so exhausted after typing such intense prose.

Now, on to further quotes of the day, which are from an article by Alex Koppelman which appeared on Salon several months ago, “The Real Fox News Democrats.” Self must confess that she watches Fox News regularly, even watches Bill O’Reilly, not for any news — oh no! — but simply to be entertained. There is also the opportunity to watch Michelle Malkin foaming at the mouth when she pinch-hits for O’Reilly.

Now, back to the article.

This is a really fascinating look at the Democrat pundits who are invited to appear on the Fox network. Self thinks any Democrat or liberal who agrees to face off against Hannity or O’Reilly or Malkin or Coulter is exceedingly brave. But Koppelman’s take is this:

Fox also has a stable of regular commentators, some under contract to the network, who pop up frequently as representatives of the Democratic or progressive viewpoint. They do not appear to know what they have gotten into.

Koppelman classifies the Democrats who appear on Fox as:

one of three types. They are either scary liberals, losers or enablers.

Ouch!

As examples of “scary Democrats”, Koppelman produces Al Sharpton and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who he describes as “big-city liberals”; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (who to me looks almost Filipino), who is “D-Vegan Peacenik.”

Koppelman then goes on to describe Fox’s audience:

Besides being rather elderly — the median age of a Fox viewer tops 60 — it is disproportionately conservative and Republican. In the 2004 election, according to Mark Mellman, Fox viewers preferred President Bush over John Kerry by an astonishing 88 percent to 7 percent. Bush’s backing among Fox viewers was more solid than his support among white evangelicals, gun owners or supporters of the Iraq war.

With figures like the above, self submits that it is not Democrats who are “crazy”, but Fox viewers.

When Minister Hashim Nzinga, chief of staff of the New Black Panther Party, appeared on Hannity & Colmes, Hannity, according to Koppelman, “told Nzinga that he needed to seek mental help.” (Does Koppleman realize how hysterically funny this is ??? )

As examples of “loser Democrats”, Koppelman cites Geraldine Ferraro (former VP candidate, undone by iff-y tax returns filed by her spousal unit), and Susan Estrich, who managed Michael Dukakis’ star-crossed 1988 presidential campaign (Who, I implore you, can forget the sight of diminutive Dukakis riding around in a tank? Who was responsible for thinking up such a brilliant photo op? Could that have been Estrich ???)

Anyhoo, in the final category we have what Koppelman calls “the enablers” (such a funny word!), and maybe the Salon article has been booby-trapped or something, because every time self tries to copy a quote from the Koppleman article to insert here, Safari bombs. So, since this has happened six times already, and self really must get a move on with grading papers, self will just have to say that there are names named as “enablers”, but no one that self recognized.

Believe self has provided loyal blog readers with enough reading pleasure for one day. Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Reading for the Day: The Lunar Society of Birmingham Tackles Children’s Books!

Have just stumbled across this passage on p. 321 of the book self is currently reading: The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World. Self has already shared with loyal blog readers how much she is enjoying this story, of friends who met every month during the full moon (hence the name The Lunar Society), who were all from humble families, who were all living far from the center of things, but whose curiosity was so unbounded that they:

    invented the steam engine (James Watt)
    put digitalis on the medical map (William Withering)
    began the famous Wedgwood pottery business (Josiah Wedgwood)
    propounded early theories of evolution (Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles)

Not content with having done all of the above, these men now turn their attention to the void in literature aimed specifically at children:

There were no real children’s books in the 1770s, although in this new age of sensibility a few were just beginning to be written. Around 1780, (Thomas) Day took up the challenge. To begin with, he planned a book of extracts from famous lives, classics, and history or novels, but to leaven the extracts he added a framing narrative, the story of young Harry Sandford and Tommey Merton, and their teacher, Mr. Barlow. . . . The first problem that faces his Mr. Barlow . . . is one that also bothered Day: even if you educate children perfectly, how will they cope with the corrupt world they meet? And how can you reconcile Spartan ‘hardiness’ with the virtues of sensibility and sympathy?

. . . Days’ boys live in the ‘world’ from the start. Six-year-old Tommy Merton, the spoiled son of a Jamaica sugar baron, meets his match in the person of the farmer’s son, Harry Sandford (kind to animals, especially toads and nasty insects, always in a good temper; never tells a lie). Harry becomes an ally and teaches him to read, but poor Tommy still seems to undergo a form of moral torture: not allowed to eat unless he tends the vegetables, forced to listen to improving stories. Yet for children of the 1780s the stories were fun: the boys build a house of branches and brushwood; Mr. Barlow coolly subdues a bear who breaks loose from some travelling entertainers; Tommy becomes the hero of the village by saving a poor family from the bailiffs. The book also contains a mass of tales, from Androcles and the Lion to the conquest of Mexico and the Arabian Nights, but the moral is practical, in tune with the Lunar Society’s views: a sensible man will behave well to everything around him

because it is his duty to do it, because every benevolent person feels the greatest pleasure in doing good, and even because it is in his own interest to make as many friends as possible. No one can tell, however secure his present position may appear, how soon it may alter, and he may have occasion for the compassion of those who are now infinitely below him.

Brain Cloud, Memorial Day: Dimsum, Polvoron, PIRATES 3, Vanessa Minnillo

Self decided to delete a rather whine-y post which she wrote earlier today (before dinner, before errands to Safeway and Long’s, before watering). Instead, will concentrate on the positive: such as, Pirates 3 not really all that bad, as Johnny Depp is still amusing, Orlando Bloom is still ravishingly handsome, and Keira Knightley is still flat-chested (testimony, self feels, to her independence of spirit). Moreover, one of the pirates who made up “Council of Nine” (don’t ask me to explain what that is, dear blog reader) turned out to have same last name as yours truly (of course, self cannot be expected to tell you what that is. Dear blog reader will just have to watch the Pirates 3 movie, stay until 3/4 of the way through, and then listen).

Thought it might be interesting to determine what food self imbibed today, as have the feeling that, since yesterday in San Luis Obispo, weekend has evolved into veritable food-fest.

Let’s begin at 11 AM, when hubby drove self to fave dimsum place, China Village on Ralston Ave. in Belmont. There, had the usual: pot of tea (jasmine), pork siomai, har gow, shark’s fin, steamed tripe and liver, and rice wrapped in banana leaves. Actually, that does not sound like that much of a pig-out, perhaps self deserves pat on the back for exercising control at China Village.

Unfortunately, afterwards proceeded to visit Fave Tita (who had something for self to sign: a card wishing cousin in NY all the best on his upcoming wedding), and there met yet another Tita who was visiting from Manila, and who kindly provided self with a pack of polvoron, which self finished in its entirety a scant few hours later (My bad, my bad!)

1:30 PM found self and hubby seated in Auditorium 9 of Century 12 on Bayshore, snacking on medium bag of popcorn while watching Pirates 3. Didn’t take more than an hour for us to finish entire bag, down to the last kernel. Then, even though much was being said between Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom’s father who was barnacled to Davey Jones’ ship, self fell fast asleep. May even have snored. When next awoke, started peppering hubby with questions, in reply to which he merely grunted unintelligibly. Have no idea why it took so long for Orlando Bloom to profess undying love to Ms. Knightley, and why of all times they had to do it during climactic battle.

Skip to dinner (7 PM): Fried up some “Smoked Chicken and Turkey Sausage w/ Garlic and Herbs” which self purchased from Trader Joe’s last week. Heaped on the sauteed onions and the Dijon mustard. Dessert was leftover coffee cake from Corner View Restaurant & Bar in SLO.

Now, the aftermath: Hubby is lying on couch, watching what appears to be a beauty contest. Recognize as host that Vanessa Minnillo girl, the one who self keeps reading (from she forgets where) is Pinay or maybe just half. Did a little research on abovementioned celebrity and found this:

Vanessa Minnillo, “Entertainment Tonight” correspondent and former Miss Teen USA (1999), will join “Dancing With the Stars” semi-finalist and “Extra” weekend correspondent Mario Lopez, to co-host NBC’S broadcast of MISS UNIVERSE 2007 live from the National Auditorium (Auditorio Nacional) in Mexico City, Mexico, on Monday, May 28 at 9:00p.m. ET/delayed PT.

Very proud that there is now another Filipina — aside from Imelda, that is — who has achieved bona fide celebrity status.

Stay tuned, dear blog reader, stay tuned.

Self Goes Shopping in San Luis Obispo!

First of all, self finds the town absolutely charming, could walk around all day there without getting in the least bit bored.

Took son out for brunch at the Corner View Restaurant and Bar on the corner of Chorro and Marsh: hubby and self had been there once before, when we visited son during Thanksgiving. Then, had something called “chocolate cosmopolitan” (delish!) and hubby had his usual margarita.

This time, son had a burger, hubby had chorizo omelet, and self had quiche of the day (ham and spinach, which turned out to be enormous: really, the most enormous, thick quiche self had ever seen) which came with moist coffee cake.

Afterwards, it was off to the Arroyo Grande Strawberry Festival, which the three of us had been discussing for weeks. Parked at a lot where members of a high school water polo team were charging $5 for fundraising. Fair was just as “fun” as we remembered it being last year. Self was determined this time to purchase something strawberry, as saw many many people walking around with plastic bowls of strawberry topped with whipped cream. Stopped at a booth with handmade wooden signs, bought one for our backyard that said: JUST ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE ($24.95). Then, while hubby and son were at a booth looking at binoculars, went to a nearby stall and saw silk bags like the one sister-in-law sent self from Hong Kong a couple of years ago, and which self used so much that the threads came loose and bag eventually fell apart. Here, there was a sale: 2 bags for $10. There was a cute light green bag with a panda motif which self definitely fell for. And a slightly larger bag which self can use to tote around student papers.

Afterwards, walking down Arroyo Grande’s main street, saw quite a line of people outside the ice cream place, Doc Bernstein’s, and found they were all there for the strawberry shortcake. Which self just had to have, because self loves ice cream, and besides it was the Strawberry Festival. So, got a serving of shortcake ($6.50) and self is happy to report that it was the most delicious combination of fresh strawberries, shortcake, and whipped cream that self had ever tasted.

After that, son requested we watch Pirates 3, and even though it was a three-hour-long movie, hubby and self did try to accommodate him, going to three different theatres (Festival Cinema, in the “Five Cities” mall, and two other theatres in downtown SLO), but we had just missed the 4:30 shows in all of them, and couldn’t hang around to wait for the 7:20 (as poor little Bella and Gracie, waiting back home, would probably expire from hunger). Decided to just walk around downtown, and saw a Sunglass Hut. Urged son inside, as he must be the only Californian in the world who does not own a pair of sunglasses. Son kept insisting he didn’t need shades, but self was adamant, made him try on Ray Bans and Maui Jim’s (!!@@). Self wished she had a copy of People Magazine so that she could investigate what style of shades celebrities had recently taken to sporting. But even though there was a Barnes & Noble nearby and self left son in store while she went to look for an issue of abovementioned magazine, there were none that self could discern in the B & N. So, returned to Sunglass Hut, and lo and behold, son had picked out a pair that he liked, and it was $169. But, hey, son is so modest, and he almost never asks for anything, and besides self thought he looked good, shades vaguely reminiscent of the ones Neo wore in The Matrix. In fact, self and son started saying the “You are the One” lines from the movie, and salesgirl stared at us both as if we were crazy. In spite of salesgirl’s appalling lack of a sense of humor, forked over the credit card, informing son that shades were to be his birthday present. There goes money self was saving to watch Cal Shakes Richard III. But, it really was touching to see the way son carefully polished lenses and the slow and careful way he tucked shades into their case. Self only hopes that son does not share the shades with friend (There, son, I changed it!) Nick.

By now, self was in danger of using up every last bill in her wallet (not to mention her checking account). Thankfully, prudence took over and self was saved from further shopping impulses.

Oh, and Dearest Mum’s cousins, who’d driven down to see their daughter who also goes to Cal Poly, called twice on self’s cell phone. Self never expected to hear from them, but surmised perhaps they were grateful for self having found place for their daughter in Menlo Park, monthly rent only $400. Dearest Mum’s cousins suggested meeting for lunch at 1, but self told them we had planned to go to Strawberry Festival. At which point, sounding distinctyly relieved, Dearest Mum’s cousins declared we would take a raincheck and meet up next time we were both in San Luis Obispo (probably never).

Now self is home, tired. Hubby already snoring on living room couch. Stay tuned, dear blog reader, stay tuned.

Sunday, 27 May: San Luis Obispo

Oh loyal blog readers, self made it safely to San Luis Obispo this morning, in spite of having gotten only a few hours of sleep and woken up with tremendous eyebags (perhaps this is a sign of age, and not a sign of lack of sleep — !!)

Self drove most of the way, until almost to Paso Robles, when told hubby self’s eyes were clooosing and there was distinct possibility we might crash. After much grumbling, hubby took over.

Hubby and self puzzled that, after arriving at son’s dorm, he kept us waiting for half an hour, though we’d been calling him all morning to give him regular reports on our progress. Only a scant hour or so ago (after spending almost the whole day together), son confessed that he had actually not slept a wink the whole night before, having been in a poker tournament in Solvang (!!@@) He said he had not meant to stay there all night, but friend had kept winning and winning and winning, and son, being most considerate, was reluctant to deprive friend of opportunity to win more and more. Then, friend began to lose, at which point it became impossible to extricate him from table, son ended up sleeping 30 minutes in car at 6:30 AM.

Now, we must really RUSH BACK to the Bay Area to feed little crits, Gracie probably consuming all the ka-ka in sight.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Memorial Day Weekend Status Report

Today was incredible, dear blog readers.

Did the following in-CRE-dible things:

(1) Found apartment for rent for $400/ month, in MENLO PARK, for daughter of Dearest Mum’s cousin from LA, who has summer internship in Lockheed.

(2) Found out that self is actually related to hubby– like, he’s from the illegitimate branch of the Hontiveros clan (Which interesting information he learned only this evening, after placing long-distance phone call to HIS mum, who told him with air of great authority that his great-great-great-grandpa was a priest. At least, self thinks this is what she heard mother-in-law yelling to hubby over the phone) and self’s Dearest Mum is first cousins to the Hontiveros. So — you see? — with the incredible intuition of a homing pigeon, self somehow engineered it so that she bumped into third cousin at Stanford and married him. Imagine that! And our progeny, the result of semi-incestuous (or are third cousins exempt?) union is smart son, who started with Chemisty and then moved to Biochemistry and then moved to Psychology and finally is now into Veterinary Science, all in the space of two years.

Oh, and did self also mention that she and hubby are going to San Luis Obispo tomorrow? Just for the day because hubby, in spite of earning now more than he ever has, thinks we cannot afford the SLO Motel 8? So, at 10:45 PM this evening, self found herself driving from SFO in huge Grand Prix (only car left in Alamo that was not an SUV). Head barely made it over steering wheel, and since self is as cheap as hubby and opted not to pay the $14/day insurance, was panicky, had second thoughts, but was already on 101 so, too late! Had to keep going, and suddenly landed in pockets of traffic, pockets of traffic, pockets of traffic, which — it’s just amazing, since it was 10:45 PM on a Saturday night in the middle of Memorial Day weekend, and self thought everyone else had gone out of town, to Vegas or Tahoe or wherever? — OK, where was I?

Oh, and self also attended funeral service for dear Mr. King, who hosted her when she was green green foreign student at Stanford, and there she found out that Mr. King was 87 years old, that he and his wife (married over 60 years), had known each other since they were five. And all his children said he was the kindest man on earth.

And then self came home and watered 8 buckets, and pounded some more nails into fence to support clematis henryii (and scampered away each time self heard neighbor — not Claudio, the neighbor on the other side — come out to the backyard, as would hate to explain that self was pounding very long nails into the fence because those were the only nails she found in the garage, and self knows the nails are probably sticking out the other side, the side facing the neighbor’s yard, and maybe one of their kids will accidentally bump into the fence and get punctured on a nail and get tetanus and then, and then — But, once again, I digress. Good heavens, does self have ADD or what???)

Now, self really must get some shut-eye. But not before she has clicked on a “referrer” from her blog stats and found this post (“The Ninth Most Gorgeous Day”) beginning like this: Brrr, brrr, brrr. Viento tieso. Cuello de Gimpy.

Ha, ha, ha, ha! Cuello de Gimpy, Cuello de Gimpy, Cuello de Gimpy. Priceless.

Brain Cloud, Friday, 25 May: Stanford Impostor, California Pizza Kitchen, Hogs, Ozu

Last night, met up with Sandy P for dinner and a movie. Film we were to watch, Late Autumn, was one of the last by the late, great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. Film was showing in Cubberley on the Stanford campus, part of a months-long festival sponsored by the Stanford Society of Fellows in Japanese Studies. Had not seen Sandy since December, when she, I, and her two boys saw The Good Shepherd in Redwood City. Every time I visit her, I see she’s done something new to her house (which she bought over 10 years ago, when she was a new divorcĂ©e, her ex-husband living just one street over).

Her house is painted blue. Yesterday, saw she had installed a new picket fence, a new front door (with an oval, cut glass pane in the center), a new trellis, and a sign over the kitchen entrance saying “Welcome.”

Almost the first thing she said when we were on our way to the restaurant was: Did you hear about the Stanford thing-ie?

And I said, oh yeah, the 11 who took over the President’s Office?

No, she wasn’t talking about that. She was referring to an article in the papers this morning about a girl who’d been posing as a Stanford student, attending classes, living in a dorm — when, after all, she hadn’t even been accepted.

Had not heard of that one. We kept coming back to the story over the course of our meal. What Sandy told me in the car was: I wonder how she hid it from her parents? They must have been sending her money for the tuition? (Must have amounted to tens of thousands: Stanford tuition alone is $40,000/year). Stanford authorities apparently showed up in her dorm at 2 AM, unceremoniously bundled her off in a taxi. In less than 30 minutes, they came and sent her packing. Which story, frankly, self found appalling, yet another example of Stanford authorities’ bad taste.

At the restaurant (California Pizza Kitchen), while we munched our way through salad (Sandy) and BLT pizza on honey wheat dough (me; dear blog readers, do not advise you order same: imagine, if you can, a BLT sandwich with mayonnaise over flat bread: that is what my order amounted to), we talked about Sandy’s co-worker, a receptionist, who couldn’t remember the simplest things (such as the names of regular customers), who seemed generally to be falling apart because of a verbally abusive husband.

Then it was back to the Stanford impostor again, courtesy of Blacksburg, Virginia. Sandy’s younger son’s girlfriend is from Blacksburg (probably it’s his ex-girlfriend because Sandy says that for some reason the girl has stopped returning her son’s calls), though claims she knew no one who died in the Virginia Tech massacre. So, we’re back to the Stanford impostor because Sandy chooses this moment to tell me that the girl was Chinese.

Oh, suddenly it all fits: Chinese, the pressure to get into a top school. Though the Stanford case is an extreme example, I think I know students like that.

We talked about how sad and awful the Virginia Tech massacre was, and Sandy opined many more would have died if not for the brave professor who tried to block gunman’s entrance into his classroom with his body (and professor was in his 70s!), or the two students who barricaded the door to their classroom so that gunman, who had already killed several in classroom earlier, could not return to finish the job.

Quite delightful conversation to have over dinner.

Then, on to the Stanford campus. It had turned out to be a beautiful spring day. Isn’t the weather crazy, Sandy said. This morning she thought it was going to be cold. All year, the weather’s been nuts: first we had the freezing weather which lasted for three weeks, and now we have days when it’s blustery, followed by days that are scorching, then back to the blustery.

Auditorium only half full. A grad student (gray-haired already!) stood up to deliver brief introduction. We saw a trailer of the movie next week: Shohei Imamura’s Hogs and Battleships. In black and white, it purports to be a searing picture of post-war Japan. Movie had a lot of yakuza, bar girls, and randy U.S. sailors. Climax of the film appeared to be a horde of pigs running wild through the streets of Tokyo, calligraphic letters over the scene are subtitled: We want freedom! We want freedom! Naturally, self knows pigs cannot talk, but was unaccountably reminded of Babe. Last shot of the trailer is pigs shown overwhelming yakuza. Ye-hey!!

Then, Late Autumn. Was surprised (and pleased) that it was in color. Opening scene (in what I supposed was the Japanese equivalent of a coffee house?): three men discussing a departed friend, his lovely wife, his lovely daughter, and how they must “do something for the daughter” : that is, find her a suitable husband. Talk goes on and on about how beautiful their friend’s widow is, how beautiful the daughter, how they all had a crush on the widow before she got married, how even today she is more beautiful than her daughter, etc.

Film went on for three hours, and these are the things I noticed:

    The Japanese women in the film were nothing like the ones I saw on the streets of Tokyo, when I was an exchange student. These women were thin and tall and gamine. They reminded me a lot of Audrey Hepburn.
    Their clothes (sheer knit sweaters, balloon skirts, high-heeled pumps) were fantastic: would not have been out-of-place in latest Coldwater Creek catalogue
    When the mother and daughter were speaking to each other, they could not refrain from smiling, even when no one else was in the room.
    The actress who played the mother (picture of simplicity, supposedly), had evil-looking talons for nails.
    In Japanese offices, the hallways are apparently always empty.
    If you are a Japanese man, you come home from a night drinking with buddies, start removing your clothes as soon as you step in the door, and your wife will immediately materialize to pick up your clothing for you.

Must confess, copped a few zzzzs (Is this a sign of advancing age, dear blog reader? Simply cannot keep eyes open past 9 PM — !) towards the end, but woke each time I heard Sandy chuckling.

Anyway, was a highly enjoyable evening. Wonder what today has in store . . .

Reading for the Day: Poem, from OAKLAND OUT LOUD

Excuse me for a moment, loyal blog readers: Johnny Depp has just popped up on The Early Show. Okey-dokey, clip over, can now concentrate on matter at hand. (Oh gosh, self has just learned that first two Pirates movies have scored 1.7 billion worldwide. Isn’t that, like, bigger than the total product of Singapore, Malaysia, or the Philippines ??? But, I digress)

Following is a poem from Oakland Out Loud: Poetry and Prose in Celebration of ‘There’ (Jukebox Press, Oakland, 2007)

“In the Margins”

I am listening to dust: your letters
don’t speak anymore. Faith has slammed shut.
The dead go in and out so skilfully,
while the bed grows wider and emptier
under a gray heaven. A sunflower tells me
everything as it blooms, as you turn
to kiss me at the edge of the forest.
Forget me. It’s a small request.

Elizabeth Rosner is an award-winning novelist, poet, and essayist living in Berkeley, California. Her bestselling first novel, The Speed of Light (Ballantine 2001) won several literary prizes in both the US and Europe, and was translated into nine foreign languages. It was optioned by actress Gillian Anderson, who plans to make the film her directorial debut. Her poetry collection, Gravity (Small Poetry Press 1998) is currently in its 14th printing.

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