Saturday, December 22, 2007

Imminent Domain

When I got back from San Diego, I discovered that my personal safe wouldn't open. It was obviously the battery. I didn't know it had one.

That was a week ago. I was serenely reading my Travel and Leisure magazine for the month, when I suddenly realized what was in the safe: my passport. I have to rescue my passport! Otherwise I'll be stuck in Hooterville for the rest of my life!

So, I went to my files and actually found the Sentry safe information. After about an hour of perusing the information I received, I discovered that I should have replaced the batteries -- four of 'em -- around two years ago. The hard part of this rescue was that I couldn't figure out where the batteries were.

Nicely enough, they're located in a little secret compartment that you can't see from the front of the safe, right under the key combination. I had to insert a eyeglasses screwdriver to release the mechanism, and then slide the plastic door open. There they were. One of the batteries was even corroded on the bottom.

And, after I replaced them, I had to re-program my code. My code is the original Inspector's badge I was issued in 1979. I figure that, after all this time, only I know the code.

Gosh, once Alzheimer's hits me, that code will be gone. By then, so should this fresh new set of batteries.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Elusive Spring Training

I stayed home past 10 am this morning, even though I knew I had to get to the mailbox to pick up all the packages that had arrived in the week I had been gone. 10 am was the time that the Oakland A's website opened for spring training tickets.

So, exactly at 10 am (as reported by my cell phone), I logged on, and promptly found that the first date I plugged in was sold out. Whaaat? There must be an error. I tried a second date and found that the same was true, no matter what seats I tried.

I was trying to fill in Oakland A's tickets from March 16 through March 19th. I had already bought a few on two different websites, non-A's games.

I did find one game that offered tickets: March 17th, Monday, Kansas City vs. Oakland. I bought the best seats offered, which were actually good seats behind the dugout. I was looking for box seats -- which are just beyond the dugout and which would offer the best autographing opportunities -- but beggars can't be, yeah, you know the ending.

At 10:20, I headed for the mailbox. First, however, I went to breakfast. (There was no meaningful food in the house unless you count shredded wheat without milk.) My waiter happened to be the A's fan with whom I've had many a conversation. He didn't know Dan Haren had been traded. But he did know that today was the day that Oakland A's spring training tickets opened up.

He was going today after work, driving over to the A's Coliseum to see what tickets he could get. I told him that the days I had gone for were mostly sold out. His face changed to a rather unbelieving sour stare. "I don't believe it," he said, and we both wondered why the A's would sell out. My own particular theory has to do with resale. I mean, everybody wants to go to spring training even though most of those people won't attend a single game in Oakland. He told me that the Cubs games in spring training, followed by the Giants, are the first to go. But....the A's???

I wished him luck. I'm tempted to go back there tomorrow morning for breakfast, just to see how he fared. In the rain. At least I'd avoid the shredded wheat.

Biennial is Only 5 Times a Decade

It's good to be home. Whew.

The week started off well. I met Val the first night after driving 7 hours to get to Marina del Rey. We met at the Bowling Alley, of course, and then drove around to the Custom Hotel, which was in the same shopping center. It's a new hotel, ideally located, and we wanted to see if it would be a good fit as the ordination hotel in May 2008.

The little hotel is a bit out of Europe. It's not yet finished -- the restaurant still has to be completed -- and there are halls that go nowhere. It's very unusual. When the valet car guy came to our room to pick up keys, he fairly shouted, "Did you hear the elevator?!" It seems the elevator talks to you, but most of it doesn't make any sense. So don't go rushing down there just to see what it has on its tiny little mind.

And there are sheep in the lobby. No, not kidding.

We think we're happy with it, and so will seek to negotiate several rooms when the event gets closer. I'm wondering if the invitation should contain word about the sheep. Or the elevator.

The next morning I set out for Disneyland. Against my better judgment (read: the old way of doing things), I followed mapquest's suggestion of using five different freeways to get there. Lo and behold, it only took 45 minutes to arrive! And I skipped the deadly traffic of the 10 East and most of the 5 South.

We had a very nice time at DLand. I met Ricky and Joel there. I'm always kind of amazed that these two guys spend a lot of their time in Fantasyland. Peter Pan is de rigeur, for example. I had my own agenda list: I got to see the castle lit up for the holiday season.
And the Haunted Mansion decorated in The Nightmare Before Christmas style, which is always a treat. My only mistake, I think, was making Indiana Jones the last ride of the night. It took me an hour to stop shaking.

Rick and Joel said farewell and I stuck around to watch the parade and do some final shopping. I then walked with my oh-so-tired legs over to the Desert Suites, spent the night there, and then the next morning walked back over to the park to have breakfast at the Carnation Cafe. Then I climbed into the car and drove down to San Diego.

We started out the biennial day by registering at the San Diego Convention Center, and then going across the street to my favorite restaurant of the area, Lou and Mickey's, for lunch with a crowd that included Dawn, Mark and Rabbi Berlin. Then we walked back to the convention center for the first of the workshops. After the workshop, I wondered how I was going to survive four-and-a-half days of a world of which I know very little.

But I had little to fear about that. Val became rather ill, and holed up in our hotel room. I saw very little of the event itself.

Things I Learned at Biennial:

San Diego has the best weather on earth in December.

The convention center is too damn large.

A bunch of Jews come to biennial, which is the largest gathering of Reform Jews in the world. However, we're only talking 5500 here. Comic Con attendance dwarfs those figures.

The new siddur (prayerbook) is much easier to use, for me, than the old one. 5,000 of us used it in Hall A at shabbat services.

It is possible to completely run through the entire room service menu at the Marriott.

Okay, that's about it. I attended two workshops. I'm not counting the one that Dr. Adler gave; I attended 5 minutes of it, to see how she was doing, when I realized I didn't understand a single word she was saying. She did seem very enthusiastic, however. Instead, I went over to the conversion workshop. That one was rather contentious. I enjoyed that part of it very much.

Will I attend the next biennial? I'm not sure. Thankfully it's two years away. But it's in Toronto, a city I've always wanted to see, always been curious about. Maybe I could do what some spouses do, see the city and meet their partner for shabbat. At this point I'm not sure the pull of Toronto could get me there.

But maybe I'll forget everything I learned this time around. There's always hope.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hanukkah or Chanukah

Anyway you spell it, it's kind of new to me, and it's been something I've done alone.

I have a bunch of decorations for the 8-day holiday, but I haven't put them up. It takes two to string a 6-foot banner.

However, thanks to my friend Dawn, I haven't spent it completely alone this year. I've been over to her house with my hanukiah (shaped like a tree) twice to light the first and the third candles. I discovered in our conversations about Hanukkah that my shamash holder is lower than it should be; the shamash should be the highest candle. (You light the other candles with it.) I'm not terribly concerned about the fact that mine is slightly incorrect, but it's good to know.

Last night we went to the Hanukkah potluck and service at Temple Sinai in Oakland. I had forgotten what it was like: a hundred little kids running around. Anybody even within hormone reach of teenage-dom wouldn't be caught dead at this celebration.

We did a short (very short!) service in the Sancutary. Rabbi Chester said that it was the shortest service he had ever done for shabbat. And then we went back to Stern Hall for the blessings and Hanukkah songs. The tables were laden with miniature dreidels, M&Ms, and chocolate gelt. I watched one little boy who was briefly at our table (everything you do with these little ones is brief) search for the M&Ms. I was watching while I searched for the gelt. More chocolate.

So I have made an effort to spend this holiday with friends and community. I will be lighting the fifth candle tonight, the sixth candle on Sunday night, probably after the Out-and-About Hanukkah party, and then I won't be lighting any more this season because of travel. I still have many candles left from when I bought a box at Afikomen two years ago. I may do Hanukkah mostly alone, but I don't do the whole eight days without ducking out of town.

By the way, these photos are actual pictures of Dawn's and my hanukiot, lit for Hanukkah. Or Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Mac Davis in My Head

I woke up at 7 am this morning, a full hour or more earlier than I usually do. In my head was the refrain to, "Baby, Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me."

Remember that song? You might if you are older than 50, but not if you're in your 20's. (Who am I fooling...nobody in their 20's reads my blog!) It's the big hit song for Mac Davis, a folksy, friendly singer who had his own variety show in the mid-'70's. A less-talented version of Glen Campbell.

Well, in my dream Mac and I were talking, and every now and then Mac would start singing a number of his songs. He wrote In the Ghetto, you know, which was a hit for Elvis. Well, during this conversation, I kept telling Mac that he needed another hit. You can't survive on one hit. I challenge you: name another Mac Davis song. You can't. So I guess I was telling him the obvious.

Thankfully I woke up before his career was over and I was feeling really bad about that. I caught myself wondering what he looks like now as I brushed my teeth.

Anyway, it's a good thing I got up early, as Earle the electrician called me. This is a painfully long story, mostly about how he didn't call me back and couldn't get out to the new house until much later than I wanted. But since Martinez Construction never returned my call, I figure I had better jump at Earle's suggestion that he start....tomorrow. Which is good news. I just have to make sure he is doing permits. They weren't mentioned in his estimate or any discussions we've had.

Yesterday was a busy day:

Cleaning crew at Earl @ 0900
Meet plumber and dry wall guy at Circle Hill @ 10:30 where we had discussions on the continuation of the job.
Talk to Nancy about getting the electrician to return phone calls.
Set up dinner with Shawn for Wed so she can give me Marvin's Xmas present.
Talk to BofA in Nashville, and arrange to fax info.
Write the beginning of February's Outtakes newsletter, recalling what happened during yesterday's 'Ol Timers luncheon.
Email several former Customs workers about an old organization pre: NTEU taking over as their union; the purpose is introducing several of their newsletters in future Outtakes editions.
Watch the 1st half an hour of newly-received Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and try to discern a plot.
Go over to Dawn & Mark's house to light the first Hanukkah candle on our hanukiot.
Pick up takeout with Dawn at Chao Thai, but in the middle of that, pick up Jesse at the Paramount Theatre (and wonder why he's not there when I get there).
Go home and watch the last part of Part 1 of Tin Man, and wonder why I'm still watching.

So, this morning I was out by 8:30 am, willing the commuter traffic to disappear into the fog, at the UPS mailbox in Montclair by 8:45 in order to fax Nashville the letter and fax Earle his original estimate with some added on instructions.

All of these things have to be done or on their way before Friday afternoon, when I fly down to Burbank for the beginning of being gone for about 10 days.

I think at some point in the middle of all this I'm going to have to find a photo of Mac and find out what he's been doing lately. I don't know if I was his agent, but if so, I was doing a lousy job. Oh, and I also have to get that damned song out of my head. I never liked it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Forget Seven Come Eleven, Double Down Instead

As we had arranged, Debbie and I found each other in the bustling baggage claim at McCarron Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. We easily found the taxi line, and took our cab to the Trop.

The Tropicana Las Vegas is not the prime piece of real estate it used to be. However, it is actually better than it was a scant few years ago, having done a bit of remodeling and replacement of their slot machines. Our room was nice enough, always decorated with the pinks and blues of the '50's, and rather large as hotel rooms go, but in truth we didn't spend much time there.

We had already done a few of the things we had planned, things we always did when we arrived in Sin City: We had lunch at Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Hotel/Casino. We paid homage to Star Trek: The Experience at the LV Hilton. We had breakfast at the Luxor. And we walked up and down the Strip, ducking into casinos from time to time.

But on our last day there, we decided to do something different. Debbie wanted to play craps, and she just didn't understand my drawings on napkins at our meals when I tried to explain it. Actually, I only tried to explain three games: the pass line, the come line, and placing bets, as the rest is crap. So we agreed to attend a morning lecture on how to play craps.

We wanted to go downtown to do this, but we didn't get out of the room fast enough. But every casino, more or less, has these lessons. I figured the Trop probably did, too. Sure enough, once we got downstairs at a quarter to 10, we found an empty craps table with a little sign on it, advertising the lessons at 10.

About 10 people showed up, crowding around the half-table to listen to Lou explain how to play. The lesson was supposed to last half an hour, but when left, at a good hour and 10 minutes after he started, he was still going on. What impressed me about him is that he actually plays. Not at the Trop, I'm sure, but he plays. And he only plays one game: Place.

He had some great advice, and I came out of the session with probably more than Debbie, as she still found it confusing. Perhaps one reason for the confusion was that he spent a great deal of time explaining why he doesn't play other games, like the Come line, or Field. And that may be confusing for some. And then, after he got through talking about all that, and why he only places bets, he talked about money management. It was all so fascinating.

So, armed with our new knowledge, her $20 and my $100, we went to the Four Queens downtown and, chasing the two men away who were already there (I had no idea why they left, but I can guess...), began to play, all by ourselves at the big, green $5-minimum craps table.

And five minutes later, we walked away. Completely broke. Er, not broke, but having lost the money we had planned to play.

So then we went to the blackjack tables to sit down, get a drink on the house (soft drinks in our case), and lick our gambling wounds.

We played for a few minutes at the single-deck blackjack table, but I was miffed at the 6-5 payoff for blackjack. I remember the Las Vegas Advisor reporting that this was the new rage in Las Vegas. We left, and walked around, looking for a shoe and another $5-minimum table. We sat down and didn't leave for another hour.

I won $300 there. There were times we'd lose, certainly, but I was looking for streaks where I could use the house's money to double up on my bet, and keep it going. I had two such streaks in that hour. So I got the money back that the craps demons had taken so quickly. In fact, I got back all the money the slot demons had taken over the last three days. Gosh, there are a lot of demons in Vegas.

I gave up on craps quite a few years ago because of the quickness of the losses. Because of the wallowing depression that inevitably accompanies such losses, at least for me. And I gave up on blackjack because it's a slow game, and if you're by yourself, not a very exciting one. I took up video slots (like my favorite Reel 'Em In) because it was a slow outgo with an exciting bonus round.

I still like the video slots. But I now have two other games I'll pursue. Again. As long as I set a limit for what I can lose I'll be fine.

So, Debbie and I had a good time, we ate some really nice meals (although no buffets this time), and had a great time gambling together. I hope we get back on the annual habit of meeting here. And, who knows? Maybe we'll try the 'ol craps game again.

The Other Side of the Razor

I haven't posted lately to my blog, because I've been damn busy. However, I feel guilty that I haven't posted anything about my recent Battlestar experiences. So here is the blog.

This convention was in Burbank, and was advertised as the BIG one, an advertisement that actually started a year ago when Adam Malin of Creation announced that they timed the convention so that the producers could give more content, and more actors could attend.

Well, that didn't pan out. The convention was small. Very small. But that sort of worked to our advantage. Even though small, we were pleased with the actors we got: Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Jamie Bamber (Apollo), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), and Kate Vernon (Ellen Tigh, ruthlessly strangled by her own husband because...oh, never mind). And Bear McCreary, who does the music. Actually, it turned out Bear's presentation was one of the best of the convention.

I didn't know it when I bought our tickets, but Creation decided at the last minute to allow the gold ticket conventioneers to "crash" the nearby Stargate convention, and sit in on their stage presentations when nothing was going on in our hall. I made note of that for next year.

Every actor talked about the writer's strike, which affected them immediately. Only part of the season has been filmed, and there was some doubt that the last 9 episodes to the four-year series would ever be completed if the strike went on too long. But each actor found a way of filling the void. Tahmoh was going snowboarding. Jamie was intent on getting other roles in Hollywood, and was working on that with his new agent, Erin Grey. And Katee was actually pleased to be off work. "My first Thanksgiving off in 9 years!" she exclaimed, and added that she thinks they'll all be back to work by January.

It was great to see Erin Grey. She waved to the crowd when Adam introduced her. When I saw her during Jamie's autograph session, I said to her, "Not to be presumptuous, but can we assume you're now an agent?" She nodded, and added that she still works at acting jobs occasionally. As always, she was very friendly and gracious. I've seen her at conventions for maybe 15 years now, having enjoyed her work since Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as "Colonel Wilma Deering" circa 1986. I added to her, "You know, Colonel Deering was my hero," and she replied, "Mine, too."

Debbie and I enjoyed our time at the convention, but it doesn't look like we're meeting up here next November. However, we did agree that November is the perfect month in which to "do" Las Vegas, and I hope we'll meet up there in 2008.

When I got home, I received an email from Jennifer, a local whom I met at the Grand Slam in April and saw again at the Sacramento con a few months later. She invited me to their house to watch Razor, the two-hour show Battlestar produced to keep the fans satisfied until they could get back on-air.

I loved the show, particularly the storyline concerning Admiral Cain, the hardened commander played by Michelle Forbes, who played Ensign Ro in Star Trek: The Next Generation. "Razor" comes from the pocketknife Admiral Cain used to carry around, sort of a signature piece, and passed on to her new lieutenant, apparently, when Cain met her ill fate. I found the story quite compelling.

My hosts found the fact that Cain was disclosed as a lesbian (kind of tossed at the audience in just a few minutes, having a love affair with the Cylon on board, no less), and a murderous one at that, rather off-putting. And that that fact reminded them of the stereotypical Sharon Stone role played so venomously in the '80's. I can certainly see that point, and I wonder why the writers and producers decided to even bother with that add-on. Kind of a stupid decision.

So, at this point, we have no idea when Battlestar will come back on the air. Maybe March. Maybe later. Maybe never.

But in the meantime, there's the Razor DVD coming out in a few days which has about 40 minutes of added screentime. Fascinating.