Saturday, September 29, 2007

Drive, She Said

I would drive an hour to see Marina Sirtis. Except that it turned into two-and-a-half hours because I couldn't find the damn hotel in Sacramento. I finally took surface streets, and, armed with a woefully inadequate little map from mapquest, finally found the back way into west Sacramento, past the American Indian river, and into the parking lot of the Doubletree.

These are the little conventions. I love the little conventions. Not necessarily for the photo ops, because I was still 'way off to the side and the lighting on the stage is too poor for my Lumix to make decent shots. But the other events -- the autograph lines, the dessert party, the charity breakfast (if there is one) -- are a lot easier to negotiate.

I saw Marina and Jonathan Frakes on stage today -- Counselor Troi and Commander Riker -- and they were just wonderful. Terribly hilarious, of course. Marina is the consummate Convention Queen, and at the end of each appearance, she thanks us for her house, her car, etc., everything we the fans have given her by supporting her show, The Next Generation.

I would never tell her this, even when I had the opportunity tonight, but she was my favorite character in all the Treks. Not the first two years, when the writers didn't know what to do with her, but the last three or four years, when Marina's personality outlined Deanna Troi's. And especially when she got to wear the uniform and go for rank. Marina could play drama, but she was especially deft at comedy. And she is certainly comedic onstage, and often brutally honest.

At the dessert party tonight, there were only 50 of us, scattered throughout several tables in a room a little too large for us. The desserts were placed carefully on the buffet tables by the staff, and before they were done, several Trekkies swarmed over them. Host Richard Arnold called us off until he could explain the rules -- you know, only one pastry per person, but you can have all the ice cream you want. Then he let us go. After a few minutes, the actors came in and stood on the small stage: Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca from Star Wars), Jeremy Bullock (the original Boba Fett from Star Wars), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica), Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris from Star Trek: Voyager), and Tahmoh Penikett (Helo from Battlestar). We took photos and then retreated back to our tables.

I sat at a table with Jennifer and Amy, two young women I recognized from the Burbank Grand Slam event. The three of us are from Oakland, and we found ourselves sitting together at the same table during the Battlestar Galactica charity breakfast back in May. I had emailed Jennifer some photos from the event at her request, and was delighted to see her by chance at the Lakeshore Cafe during lunch one day. She recognized me instantly. We were all looking forward to our visit from the stars. The other two people there were young men who seemed very eager to share the experience. One of them could cite Star Wars and Star Trek trivia like an expert, a true geek.

Marina finally came into the room a bit late. Unfortunately we weren't given an opportunity to take a photo of her. She immediately went over to the dessert table and grabbed a piece of cheesecake, obvious oblivious to the pastry rules. I'm guessing that she never had a chance to get some dinner between the autographing and the dessert party appearance.

A woman appeared around the actors in a rather protective stance, and stood taller than all of them, except for Peter Mayhew. I told the members at our table who she was, and the guy at the next table wanted to know more. That's Julie Caitlin Brown, I answered. She used to appear on several Star Trek series as aliens. And she was a key character on Babylon 5. She now handles talent, among them Katee and Tahmoh.

The actors started circulating. Marina was first at our table. She was exhausted, she said. We offered her a chair, but said she needed to keep moving. I really don't remember what else she said, because it was rapid-fire.

Katee came over, and I immediately asked her what it was like to work two jobs at once (Battlestar and the new Bionic Woman). She replied that she was exhausted, working 15-hour days. She keeps herself awake by stuffing her face with food every minute. She talked a bit about her boyfriend, who is 14 years older; he had seen the classic Bionic Woman series and bought the DVD so she could watch it. He kept making the irritating slow-motion running sound, and Katee didn't know what it was until she finally watched the DVD. Since Katee is playing the villain rather than Jamie Sommers, she doesn't feel she has to model behavior for little kids. (My autographed photo of Katee's character on Bionic Woman, "Sarah Corvis," is shown to the right.) Therefore, her character can smoke. She wouldn't let Starbuck smoke on Battlestar. And she has asked the Bionic Woman producers to put in some public service announcements about smoking.

Jeremy came over and asked us how far we would travel to go to a convention. Peter came over after that, and told us about the Wookiee Christmas special and how bad he thought it was, because we at the table had been wondering about it. I noticed how massive his hands were as he reached across the table to illustrate a Wookiee point.

Robbie McNeill came by wearing a "Chuck" hat, and when I asked him about it, he replied that he is directing (3 of the first 6 episodes) and producing the show. So he's very involved with it, including the casting of a lot of the lesser roles. He loves that he can find extraordinary people for these roles, not just the "beautiful people" you normally see on T.V. While we were talking, he received a call on his cell from his daughter. He promised to call her back. We'll see him early tomorrow on stage, so we said goodnight.

Tahmoh Penikett is a nice young actor who is wondering where his next job is coming from. He's so friendly you feel as if you're a great conversationalist because he never stops talking.

As I watched Peter Mayhew cut out early from the affair, I thought about how tired I was and how bed was going to look really good to me. I watched him duck under the threshold as he walked out the door, limping with very tall cane in hand, and wondered how debilitating it must be for a very tall man to be reaching old age.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I've been going to see Dr. Schweitzer at Lifelong Medical for maybe seven years now. Whenever I see her, she has a wry smile for me. And she seems to love the challenge of solving the latest puzzle of whatever ailment I have at that visit. In fact, I know she takes delight in solving the mystery. Make that mysteries, as my ailments are coming faster, a seeming tidal wave of health issues within the past few years.

Still, it's been hard to get in to see her. She never came to our weight loss classes. Dr. Towner did. Dr. Miller, even Dr. Chinn. And when I'd call, even when it wasn't urgent, I'd be pushed back a few weeks because she only came in twice a week. I began wondering if I shouldn't switch doctors, just because of the availability issue.

But there was one thing in her favor: She had saved my life.

Her sleuth skills were challenged one summer, when she kept getting test results back on me that showed I was low in iron and losing blood. She set me up for several more tests, including a colonoscopy. I was 51 and had never had one.

The gastroenterologist called me on a Friday night, telling me that they got the test results back from the rather large tumor that had attached itself to the colon wall. It was cancer. I had surgery within a week to remove it.

I must admit that I still wonder how, in all of those years the polyp has been growing into a rather sizeable Stage 2 growth, nobody caught it until then. I've had blood tests, all kinds of tests, in the last 10 years, which is probably how long the thing was growing. If it had kept on growing, without that colonoscopy, I wouldn't be typing these words, that's for sure.

So, that's it. I feel guilty that I wanted to leave. That, plus the fact that her bedside manner is terrific, she cuts right through the b.s. that I often throw out, and gets me to go back to diet and exercise, over and over again.

I was just there again yesterday, checking in about my thumb ("trigger finger," they call it) and also this horrible cold. She diagnosed the cold as bronchitis, gave me samples of antibiotics so that I didn't have to go to the pharmacy, and added an inhaler. Also, because of a missed step (I don't know what else to call it) in May, she set me up for three more tests, including the dreaded treadmill. Oooh, I'm not looking forward to that.

On the way out, I set up my fasting blood draw, and the receptionist asked me, "Did she tell you?" I said yes, not knowing what she was talking about. And then I paid attention and said, "What?" "She's leaving. Her last day is October 2nd. Well, actually, she's going back to one day a week -- Saturdays -- but not everyone will be able to get in then," she said with a pitying frown.

She's leaving. She didn't tell me. Scaling back more than leaving, sounds like. The receptionist added one more thing before giving me my appointment slip: "She's not good at saying goodbyes."

Neither am I.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Angel's Camp: Shana Tova

We took a leisurely drive through 4 different highways to get to Angel's Camp on Tuesday. We had originally planned to go on Monday, but we decided to put it off one day due to the heat up there and some remaining things to do locally.

We finally made it up there -- after a lengthy traffic jam above Tracy -- at about dusk. We checked in at our Worldmark resort, and found that the two-bedroom place I had reserved was a virtual palace. It was a corner unit, and immediately offered us a beautiful view of the sunset from two sides of the unit.

The next day we had a casual breakfast at Perko's Cafe, picked up some groceries, and then went back to the WM unit to just relax until 6 pm. I sat out on the patio in the pleasant 70-degree air, and watched the squirrels scamper below, the golfers drive around in their golf carts while I listened to Disney updates on my iPod. It was a very pleasant afternoon.

At 6 pm we drove over to Murphys, which is another little town a few miles away on 49, and drove up the short driveway to the massive home. We met the family there, as well as their 3 dogs, and waited for the rest of the congregation to join us for erev Rosh Hashanah services. In the meantime, as I petted the dogs, I could hear the blast of the shofar. Each kid had to try it, apparently, and every adult male had to blow on it. It punctuated the conversation as we waited for everyone to arrive.

It was a very nice service -- about 25 of the local Jews attended -- and a nice little potluck at the end. Apples dipped in honey. Challah. Grapes. Wine and grape juice.

The next morning we got up early because we knew this journey would be a long one. Sonora was a good 26 miles from Angel's Camp. So we climbed into the car and drove until we got to Sonora, found a Starbucks, and relaxed for an hour, knowing we could find the house from there.

Just a note here: the Starbucks woman helping us commented on Val's hat. She said, gee, it almost looks like a yamulke. At the end of their conversation we discovered that she is a Jew, too, and Val wrote out information for her to find the congregation if she felt the desire later.

We drove on to the house. But it wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. However, we made the correct turn and then went up and up on a small paved road, all the way to the top of the mountain, 11 miles. When we got to the top, we saw the house with the largest windows I've ever seen. And a small, energetic woman and her smaller dog came out to greet us.

Arlene is very proud of her house, and showed it off to us before anyone else arrived. And we took the time to meet the other seven dogs. I only learned the names of four of them, including the adorable Spaniels (Wanda and Olivia), the boxer (Patty), and the Newfoundland (a monstrous black lump named Sherman). I discovered that the dog hair (and drool) stuck to my clothing on a regular basis. Arlene loved the fact that everyone could meet and talk to her dogs. And she loved to entertain. What better entertainment than Rosh Hashanah services?

We had the services in the raised, oval part of the house. This was where the floor to tall ceiling windows were. It was a beautiful area, normally hot as hell, Arlene told us, in the summer. But today was nicely moderate, and it was a perfect temperature during the service, even for me. I was quite amazed that 16 people made it out to the house. Some of them had to drive one to two hours to get there. And most of them did not know each other! They do now.

This is my second Rosh Hashanah at a small community. It's always a different kind of experience. The Temple Sinai Paramount service is big and grand with glorious music. But the small congregation service is...well, it's always different, depending on the need of the congregation. This one was intimate, personal. I wouldn't trade it.

Free Until 2012!

The new driver's license came today. Here is a scan so that you can compare 2002 to 2007. I've aged and my hair is shorter. My chin has disappeared completely....but that might be a good thing.

We went to Angel's Camp over the last 3 days to attend Rosh Hashanah services in the foothills and the mountains in Calaveras County, home of the Mark Twain frog. (And they never let you forget that.) But I drove maybe one block. Sweetie behind the wheel!

Hopefully I'll blog more about that experience later.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The DMV and I Have a Chat

I went to my appointment at the Oakland Coliseum DMV yesterday, hoping to renew my driver's license without a written test.

I got there early and stood in line. This DMV isn't the hoity-toity DMV you would find near Rockridge. This is where everybody goes. They may not want to go, and most don't have appointments, but we all gather nonetheless. We have to have that license.

The receptionist gave me a number, and I had a seat. About 10 minutes later, my number was called, and I went over to the window. The woman looked at my records on the computer, and asked me, "Are you in law enforcement?" She then gave me a long, hard look, as her eyebrows met in the middle of her face.

I told her that I used to be, but now I'm retired. I invoked that privilege about 15 years ago. DMV records are available to anybody, unbelievably, even drug smugglers and criminals. I didn't think it wise for a Customs inspector to have DMV records -- including my address -- easily available.

She then looked up and asked me, "Do you know that postal facility across the street?" She pointed. Yes, I replied. "I worked there." Her face changed, as she brightened toward the subject. She told me all about the way the lot used to look, unkempt with weeds, and how they used to make steel parts there. "And then they turned it into that beautiful facility!" She didn't mention the imposing steel fence that now surrounds it.

After we talked some more about what work was done across the street, she smiled and handed me my form and sent me to the camera spot. "You know where that is?" she said helpfully. Oh, yeah. I had seen it earlier. I hadn't thought I would have to have my picture taken.

So, I went over there and smiled at the guy while he shot the digital picture. I put my thumb on the little cup, and it didn't get dirty. Amazing! This is all nicely mechanized and very fast. He said in three weeks I will get my new license.

I wonder if the photo on the new license will be as bad as it is now? Not possible. I had dark hair with wild streaks of gray, sort of a Texas Big Hair look. And the expression on my face is akin to the deer in the headlights look. So it's bound to be better.

And in the back of my mind is the thought that I really don't know what would happen if I had to take the written test, or -- shudder! -- the driving test. OMG. Remember in the old days when you had to parallel-park the car? I never had to do that (that's how old those old days are). But, still. Scary.

Yay for modern times, modern conveniences like getting a computer appointment and having my thumbprint shot digitally. It's just amazing that such an inconvenience as going to the DMV would not be so damned inconvenient any more. And that sometimes you can make the clerk smile. That's the real payoff.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Put the Watch Down and Back Away from the Table...

I've moved from apartment to apartment, never saving much of anything. The microwave my mother gave me. Some photos. Some collectibles. But I don't think I've ever saved anything for a long time. But this watch I own: I've had it now for 25 years.

I bought it in 1982 with my first overtime money. I planned a tour of Switzerland and Italy, and while I was in Switzerland, I went to Bucherer's and got the royal treatment. I became a member of the Rolex club. There were about four "members" in Customs, and Frank and I used to make jokes about it. We wore our watches every day. Others would laugh at us, joke that the Rolex doesn't keep good time. It's not a timepiece, after all. It's a piece of jewelry.

It's an Oyster Perpetual Lady Datejust. I still remember looking at it for the first time, as its undying crystal gleamed in the light. It's a two-tone band, meaning half stainless steel, half gold. I don't even know if you can buy those any more.

Today I took my Rolex in to the shop in San Francisco. It's up 7 floors behind an unlabeled door on Post Street. The doorman there told me where to find it. It had been, after all, about 7 years since I had been there. I braced myself. Here it comes.

The lady greeted me at the counter, saw the watch, and called for the Watch Repairman. He spoke to me in clipped tones, an elegant trace of a Swiss accent apparent. And then he started to scold me.

It happens every time. I've been here three times since I bought my Rolex. I may not remember exactly where the place is. I may not remember which floor it's on. But I remember the scolding.

I explained to him that the stem was broken, the same thing that was wrong when I brought it in five years ago. I couldn't change the date, and changing the time was difficult. He took it away for several minutes and then returned. He looked at me solemnly, lowered his head, and began. "It's not the stem. It's the mechanism that the stem drives. It's been longer than five years."

I lowered my head in shame. I hadn't been a very good parent.

He continued. "You need to bring the watch in every three or four years for maintenance."

Yeah, yeah. Seven years ago -- or whenever I had brought it in last -- it was $300 for the cleaning. And their cleaning means that they fix anything that's broken inside, except for replacing the crystal. Today it was more than $500. Who could afford to bring it in every three years?

I guess the answer to that question is the obvious: if you have to ask about the price, you can't afford the watch. I love that old watch.

He asked me if I wanted to replace the crystal. It has a few nicks in its once-indestructible surface. No, not yet, I replied. "Next time," he smiled.

Sometime after 2010.