Saturday, July 26, 2008

Comic Con, Day 3: Dance of the Giveaway

Rick got in line for Hall H, our usual dance, by 6:50 this morning. He was about 700 or so down the line. I got our sandwiches -- in a huge line at the corner liquor store -- and joined him at about 8:15. They started to let us in about an hour later. They handed us a freebie Heroes comic book, directly tied to the Comic Con presentation, some 100 yards from the entrance to Hall H.

We didn't have long to wait this time. The Heroes panel started at 10:30.

I have watched three episodes of Heroes. I was lost then and I was lost when I watched the full 3rd Season episode 1. I, we all, thought it was nice of the producers to show it to us. Some really exciting things happen, of course, and while I didn't understand much of it, I think it's important to say that I think they righted the course on this show by entitling the new season, Heroes and Villains. Bring back the edge. And the comedy of George Takei and Masi Oka in what is ordinarily a grim show.

Next came Lost. It's an easy joke to make, but I'll say it again: I don't watch the show, so I was definitely lost. The co-creators took an hour and a half to show a lot of jokes and inside puns to us and yet never reveal a bloody thing. Apparently there are two years to go in this very successful series. Matthew Fox came out, sat at the panel, and said very little. He doesn't know where they're headed, either.

Finally, we came to what I had waited for! Terminator Salvation. They introduced some of the minor cast members (Christian Bale, as John Connor, is in Japan promoting The Dark Knight), and then showed some footage. I wasn't terribly impressed -- it's hard to one-up (or change) James Cameron's images from T1 and T2, and those images weren't matched. But, as one of the cast members said, an Australian (Sam Worthington) with a bad-ass face and language to match, you gotta be on your game to face down Christian Bale. He brings every project to a higher level with his intensity and fine acting. So, the jury is out.

However... right after they started, and a few minutes before I was scheduled to leave the room and look for those Watchmen shirts (they ran out yesterday and said they "may" have some on Saturday), they handed out another card for a freebie: this time a Terminator freebie! Rick handed his automatically to me so that I could pick it up today at 2:30. 2 pm for Watchmen t-shirt, 2:30 for the Terminator whatever-it-was.

And on the way out of Hall H, I found another T-Freebie card on the floor!

I dove in to the exhibit room. It wasn't too bad until I swam into the midsection where all the major studios had their massive sets. Madhouse time. I somehow feed off other people's stupidity, and so I didn't tire easily as I jostled around with the masses. I mean, if someone stands in the middle of one of the intersections, they're kind of asking for jostling, you know what I mean?

I got to the Warner Bros booth, and it had a very long line wrapped around it. Experience told me that that was probably some other signing that was taking place (indeed, it was for the Heroes' cast), so I found a counter and asked. She handed over two Watchmen shirts right then! Whew. Only took 24 hours.

I had to walk around for half an hour, and picked up some more free posters in spite of a little v voice nagging me, No more stupid posters! And came back to Warners at 2:30. Nope, they couldn't give anything out. Come back at 4 pm.

I went back to the room at this point to get rid of bags and posters, and found Rick already in the room. Something was wrong, as his plan was to stay in Hall H until about 7 pm. He had food poisoning, and was having a difficult time. I left him after relaxing a bit, and headed back to the convention center, happy that I had lightened my load.

I arrived back at an even more crowded Warner Bros. booth and was told by the Warners person that they had another signing taking place (the cast of Pushing Daisies), and another one scheduled after that, so they couldn't possibly give anything away. The Fire Marshal had threatened them. Check back later, but she didn't know what "later" might mean. "Fire Marshal" are logical words you don't fight against, so I wandered off, going around the other corner of Warner's when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that they were giving out t-shirts! I stuck out my 3 passes and got 3 t-shirts back. These were neat ones, too -- the endoskeleton on the front, and the name of the movie and some sort of bloody infinity symbol on the back.

Mission accomplished. However, I had another one: I had brought a Silver Surfer book for J. Michael Straczynski to sign if he appeared. He wasn't listed on any of the pre-autograph annoucements before we came, but I had noticed that morning that he was, all of a sudden, listed.

JMS has always been a generous signer, and normally gives great access to the fans. I was thrilled.

So I waited in the Sails Pavilion for about an hour, watching the people and taking photographs of some of the wilder costumed ones, and then got in line. The JMS line wasn't too bad, about 20 people ahead of me at 50 minutes to go. I stood and waited.

When he arrived after his talk, the line moved fairly quickly, at least until the dealers got to him. Each one had no less than 20 comics each for him to sign. But he's a fast signer. There were two more people ahead of me when he whispered something to his con person, and the guy announced that the limit for signing was 10. I walked up with my one piece, and had him sign the graphic novel book. He made it out to "Linda," and I told him that I loved the story of the Silver Surfer that he had written, that there were many surprises. He thanked me.

The last time I asked him to sign something at Comic Con, about 4 years ago, he never said a word. How cool.

I came back, noted that Rick was still feeling lousy, but kept the dinner reservation I had made at Lou and Mickey's. I had a nice leisurely dinner of the filet mignon while watching the crowds go by. I knew I wasn't going back tomorrow, and I knew that next year's experience wouldn't be as leisurely or nice. So I enjoyed my evening. I just wish Rick was feeling better. He's the real reason I had such a wonderful time, after all.

Comic Con, Day 3: Welcome to Hotel California

Ricky got up at 5 am this morning, out the door by 6. I slept in until 7. These mornings give me a chance to blog, but I know I have to be out of the hotel by 8 am or before. I have to go pick up sandwiches for the both of us, and then join him in line. Right now I'm waiting for the call that tells me where he is. We always hope he'll be in a place I can access later, rather than behind ropes or something like that.

On Wednesday afternoon, I had just driven the 2-hour journey from Anaheim to San Diego, and pulled in to the Hilton. I was very happy I made it safely and on time, beating Ricky by at least 30 minutes or more. I was chatting with the bellman who was helping me with my luggage when I learned from the desk clerk that all the two-bed rooms were gone. Impossible, I said.

I booked a year in advance. I'm one of the Hilton Honors faithful. She sympathized but repeated: they were all out. She then said they had a few of the roll-away beds left, and she could order one for me. At an extra $20 a night. I was seething.

But I realized there was nothing I could do. When I got into the room, I checked my original reservation, and, sure enough, there is no reservation for a room type. Just a room. The number of beds, etc., would be "determined at check-in." I then suddenly remembered that conversation that I had had with the reservations clerk about the same subject...a year ago.

The Hilton is a very simple hotel, very few amenities. I don't like their restaurant. But they have one thing I need: location. They're right across the street from the convention center, so it's very convenient at the end of a long day. And I've been staying here three years in a row. That relationship is now over.

I can honestly say, though, that the weather has certainly cooperated. Except for the first day in line, when the sun came out early and beat down on us, it's been cool in the mornings and overcast, and then the sun has come out later and is present when we leave the convention. San Diego consistent.

Well, I'm getting ready for Ricky's phone call. I'll check in later. We're doing Hall H again, but I plan to leave before 2 to see if I can get those elusive Watchmen t-shirts.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Comic Con, Day 2: The Watchmen Cometh

We got in line this morning a bit earlier today, after Thursday's miscue. We didn't get to sit where we wanted to, and...

Okay, change that script to "Ricky got in line..." and "We didn't get to sit where Ricky wanted to..." I don't want to get in line that early because I don't care, really, where we sit. There are huge screens all around, and that's what I watch. I do like to sit on the aisle, however.

First up was what most of the people wanted to see: Watchmen, Zack Snyder's new film based on the graphic novel. We've been waiting to see this film ever since 300. That means I've had two years or so to catch up and prepare. But I haven't. The movie is something about some misfit heroes who have strange powers. And they get depressed a lot.

The most interesting of these characters is called Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley, an actor who was just incredible in Little Children. I don't know what his power is, but Rorschach's face constantly changes, or at least the splotches do. It's like interactive measles. The footage Zack put out there for us was visually stunning. No dialogue, but a brief look at each of the 7 or so characters in this. To my surprise, I recognized some of the actors as they filed out on stage: Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino (again), and Matthew Goode, as well as those I didn't recognize: Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson. Oh, and one other woman who played the same character that Carla plays. Same name, but I think they're mother and daughter.

Anyway, I am really looking forward to seeing this one. It comes out in March 2009. I know it'll be dark, but I'm hoping the bright colors will revive me.

After that, we had Trailer Park, and saw trailers for the following films (with a wanna see or don't wanna see after each name):
Scorpion King 2 - NO
X-Files: I Want to Believe - YES
Quarantine - NO
The Rocker - NO (Rainn Wilson looks awfully funny in this, however...)
The Librarian - NO
Lost Boys: The Tribe - NO
Taken (Liam Neeson) - NO...well, maybe.
Hamlet 2 - Maybe - looks like a funny movie
Body of Lies (Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott directs) - NO
Mirrors (Kiefer Sutherland) - NO
Babylon A.D. (Vin Diesel) - YES
Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller et al.) - NO, but I may see this just for Robert Downey, Jr.
Star Wars: Clone Wars - YES
(Rick said during the screening, "It's so fake." I answered, "Of course it's fake! It's animation!" The girls in front of us laughed.)
Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond film - YES
Pineapple Express - NO
Step Brothers - NO
The Mummy - NO
Twilight (that vampire movie) - Maybe
Terminator Salvation (T3.5) - YES
Watchmen - YES

Next up we had a remake of The Wolfman? Why, you ask? Because Rick Baker was willing to do it. Rick is the award-winning special effects artist who has done wolves, etc., before (American Werewolf in London). And Benicia del Toro was willing to play the old Lon Chaney, Jr. part. Looks promising, although our footage did not include transformational scenes. Rick said about his process: "It's not all that different than what Jack Pierce did in the original. Not CG stuff, but a man in makeup. Stick a nose on him and glue some hair on him. Pretty old school." However, he did admit they'll probably go to CG for the transformation from man to wolf.

The Spirit, the long-awaited rendition of Will Eisner's work from long ago, is in Frank Miller's hands. Frank is a new director, having co-directed Sin City with Robert Rodriguez, but knows visually what he wants. Much of the cast was there with him: Samuel L. Jackson as Octopus, the villain, and Jaime King as Lorelei. In my opinion, after a good look at two long trailers, this one won't come close to the brilliance of Sin City, but does have the same interesting artistic approach (read: blue screen). I may see it.

We had dinner tonight at our same old place, Lou & Mickey's, and plotted the next day as we do every night. It's even earlier for us, a 5 am wake-up call with a 6 am line-up. Oops, change that to: Rick gets up at 5 am, gets in line by 6. Linda brings up the rear, gets the sandwiches, and brings them over to the line. When it suits her.

Comic Con, Day 2: It's Purely Physical

I left Hall H at about 4:30 pm, after sitting there for almost 7 hours. I went directly over to the Warner Bros booth, trying to turn in the ticket voucher for a gift representing the new Watchmen movie, only to find out they had run out. "Try back tomorrow," she said rather nicely. She must get tired of saying that to the 5,000 people who didn't get their t-shirt.

It's dog-eat-dog in that convention hall, or rather Stormtrooper-eat-Pikachu. Thursday night, before we went back to the hotel, we took our usual tour for freebies. I saw dozens of people hanging out at the Sci Fi booth, but really didn't know why. (Three years ago, it would've been for Farscape autographs. No more.) Nothing was happening there at all. I wandered by the Warner Bros. booth -- on one side it had a high-topped shelf where the women helpers would lead over and hand you something .... or not. In this case, they had dozens of posters, from Transformers to G.I. Joe to the new James Bond movie. I couldn't get over to the other side to grab what was sitting there on the shelf, so I had to squeeze and, pardon me, shove the mostly women in front of me who refused to move, waiting instead to see if the helpers were going to hand them something new.

I am sporting a rather large bruise on my right arm that I picked up on preview night. Yeah, the shoving started then. I'm not intimidated by that. Strangely enough, mostly it comes from women who feel (I guess) they're going to be bowled over by the young geeks running over to get that one last collectible. The men don't seem to notice. It does get tiring. I can only take it for so long.

I did wander by the Sci Fi Channel booth on my way out, saw that a feeding frenzy was taking place, and dove in. It was a Ghost Hunter's bobblehead. And I got one.

I'm putting that on eBay tonight. I'm disappointed, though, that I didn't get the Watchmen shirt. I saw what it looks like on eBay because somebody else put it up for auction. We'll try again tomorrow.

Comic Con, 1st Day: Bring in the Aussies!

I was waiting in the Hall H line with Ricky no more than 10 minutes when I became aware that I had to find a bathroom. I left him and went all the way over to "E" in the main convention center, but they wouldn't let me in. No matter of persuasian would convince them that a humane thing to do was to let me temporarily in to use just one of the entire bank of restrooms they had available inside.
So I went across to the Hilton, back to our room, and waited another hour before rejoining Rick. By that time, the line had started to move.

They let us into Hall H at 9:30, still a good two hours before programming started. As we walked in, they handed us each a "Klaatu Borada Nikto" t-shirt, obviously a promo for The Day the Earth Stood Still, the new movie coming out starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly.
Keanu plays Klaatu, Jennifer an astrophysicist, and Gort will definitely be in it. They showed some really nice dramatic trailers, but no sign of what Gort is going to look like. Why TDTESS? Direcctor Scott Erickson had met Robert Wise as a film student, and told him at that time that TDTESS was one of his favorite Wise films.

Next up, we had a promo panel for the movie Max Payne, starring Mark Wahlberg. Mark, Mila Kunis (from That 70's Show), and Ludacris (going by his real name) showed up for the panel. The movie is based on the popular video game, a game I never heard of. However, Ricky tells me that Brandon has been calling him, bugging him for news about Max Payne. So it must be popular. Wahlberg commented that the movie website gets "6,000 hits a day," so buzz is positive. The footage looks spectacular for a shoot-em-up.

After that, a surprise visit: "I just got off Qantas, direct from Australia, because I wanted to come back to Comic Con and show you guys footage from Wolverine!" announced Hugh Jackman. His hair long and his beard scruffy, he boomed his enthusiastic message over to us. He got his start at Comic Con in promoting the X-Men, and he knew where to come for this latest venture. The footage from X-Men Origins: Wolverine looks intense and fantastic. At one moment, Hugh jumped off stage and ran over to the side, saying, "I just have to shake the hand of the guy who jumpstarted my career!" The Wolverine comic creator was who he was talking about.

He was only on stage about 15 minutes, which, due to the fact that the high-strung curtains in back began falling on people, delayed the presentations by about 45 minutes. However, they soon caught up, mostly. Many of the directors or producers seemed to be Australian, which I found kind of interesting. Certainly none of them had San Diego accents.

Next was Summit Entertainment, and it was their first visit to Comic Con. Push was their first movie for us, starring Chris Evans. It's about people walking among us with psychic powers, and the footage was jarring and graphic. Dakota Fanning, who showed up later after being stuck in traffic between San Diego and L.A. for 7 hours, gushed about how much we'd like the film. It doesn't look like an easy film to take, but it expands the mythology in interesting ways, and I think I'll take a look.

Knowing is another movie with psychic interpretation, starring Nicolas Cage. Nic couldn't come this time to promote the film. But the footage. which involves a time capsule from a school unearthing numbers that can predict future disasters, looked interesting if not compelling.

The next film, however, seems to be what everybody that day was standing in line for, a film we've never heard of: Twilight. Apparently there are best-selling novels out about this continuing love story between a vampire man and human woman. The author, Stephenie Meyer, was there, along with the director and most of the main cast. I didn't recognize any of the cast except for the guy who plays "Edward," Robert Pattinson, who played Cedric in the Harry Potter films. A lot of the interest was for him as well as his vampire nemesis, played by Cam Gigandet. Both Gigandet and Pattinson were fairly inarticulate, with gutteral sounds passing for speech. The screaming girls in the audience didn't seem to mind.

Footage for Twilight seems to feature some rather well-filmed fight scenes. Picture really powerful people going at it in mortal settings. This little film looks to be very popular.

After Twilight, we had the stars from Escape to Witch Mountain, Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino, appear with their director to promote the film. This is "not a sequel, but 30 years later." The Rock was terribly funny in anything he said. A very articulate man, I find him really hysterically funny. In spite of the talents of the Rock and Carla Gugino, this movie's trailer didn't show much that was intriguing at all.

Right when we were about to take off to register for next year and cruise the convention center dealer's room, they squeezed in another treat: a trailer for the new TRON movie. Wow! Everybody went wild with applause when the film showed Jeff Bridges. He was in the first movie, so many years ago. As Ricky said later, however, it still looks like the same boring film, people moving in a straight line across a grid. Yeah, but with fast-moving motorcycles this time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Comic Con - 1st Day, Thursday

One has to sacrifice for art. We got up at 5:45 this morning to get ready to get in line for the first day of Comic Con. It may not be our art, but it's gotta be somebody's.

Last night was interesting. Comic Con has completely sold out, meaning that all 125,000 people -- mostly geeks -- are expected over the next 4 days. At least, oh, 90,000 are four-day pass people, which means that we saw them all last night at Preview night.

Registration last night was a breeze. It opened at 3 pm, we showed up around 4 pm, and then got our badges, a process that took less than 30 minutes. We then retreated to Lou and Mickey's, the restaurant across the street, for a leisurely view of our program.

I then asked Ricky, what's the game plan? When are we standing in line tomorrow. We're going to Hall H for all day tomorrow, as that's where the major movie and T.V. programming is. But he couldn't tell me when. He said, ominously, "I'll know when I see the crowds" at Preview Night. Ooooh.

Keanu Reeves will be there, promoting The Day the Earth Stood Still. Klaatu Borada Nicto. Jennifer Connelly is also there, playing the Patricia Neal part. Max Pain movie will be promoted - some video game - Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis will be there. The movie Push will also be promoted - Chris Evans. And Disney's Race to Witch Mountain, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will be there.

Well, we could barely walk along the floor of the convention hall. We went from booth to booth, hitting all the major studios like Warners, Disney, New Line, Sony, Paramount, Fox, NBC, Family, Sci Fi Channel, LucasFilm, ABC, Marvel -- most of which gave out freebies. If you don't know, I take the more lucrative and promising freebies and put them on eBay.

We found giveaway sacks that were larger than our Comic Con ones, and immediately went about stuffing them with toys, pamphlets, books, posters, trading cards, anything that hawkers gave us. And then we all brought it back to the room and sorted it out.

I now have 12 auctions on eBay, two of which have bidders.

Today we hope the major studios will give away neat SWAG....which I will bring back to the room and put on eBay tonight.

I doubt we'll get to the dominoes set I brought along.

This morning we went over to the little liquor store across the alley from the Hilton. We had scoped it out last night to inquire about hours and sandwiches available. We ordered our sandwiches this morning, and I gave her 14 ones. "Thank you," she gushed. "You're the best."

Now we get in line for Hall H. The main convention center opens at 9:30, but that's not for us: we're waiting for programming that starts at 11:30. Whew.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Toy Story Midway Mania

I walked 5 miles today. I’m kind of surprised at that. I’m betting most of it was to get back to Toy Story Midway Mania.

And that’s where I headed once I checked into The Desert Inn & Suites. I finished his sentence when he started into “and your room is way in the back.” I know.

But I was able to get into California Adventure by 3 pm, and start singing to the California songs as I made my way, a long way, to the area of the park that boasted roller coasters. I found the line and got into it. I was pleased that, since it was over 80 degrees in Anaheim today, only about 10 minutes of the line was in the sun. About 20 minutes after that was under umbrellas that had been put up, and then I made it into the line protected by the structure itself. 40 minutes all together.

I took several photos of Mr. Potato Head, as voiced by Don Rickles, as I went by. Mr. Potato Head is constructed so that he can interact with the crowd. Very little of that, however, was going on. He said something pointedly to a boy, but there was no boy in front of him at the moment. And I never saw him remove his ear, which I understand is one amazing trick.

However, the line moves swiftly, and you spend less than 5 minutes in front of the big potato. The line moves right on. Before the final turn, the line goes by the 3D glasses, and invites you to take one. The children in line seemed to wonder why they were there, and the wait was torture for them. The teenagers looked bored, but seemed to believe there was pay dirt at the end.

The carts have two people in front, and two in back. I got in and they put someone in beside me. As it turned out, she has done this once before, she told me in our short chat before it got too loud. She pointed to the two younger boys she was with; whomever got the lowest score, she explained, had to buy dessert tonight.

We faced five different targets. I would guess that the ride is 10 minutes, but I really have no idea. It does seem reasonable that we spent two minutes on each target, but it may very well have been less. The cannon was operated by pulling a string, and I loved that. It didn’t bother my trigger thumb at all. The idea is that you’re supposed to let the string completely retract before you fire again. I found this happened very quickly, though, and learned that I could fire rather quickly. Each time I exited the ride, I was huffing and puffing from exertion.

I could have done without the whirling of the cart, however. I guess it’s necessary to get to the targets. What comes out of the cannon (as Dawn asked me later)? It depends on the game. Sometimes it’s a small pellet. Sometimes a large ball. Once it was rings, three-dimensional rings coming out of a red cannon as I tried to wrestle aliens with them. It was amazing.

Every target has a score on it, and you obviously shoot for the larger-scored targets. Forget 500. Wait for the 1,000 and sometimes even 2,000. And sometimes the items float above. My projectile might graze them but not explode them.

The most fun was hitting the dishes and breaking them. I think that’s the one where the game squirts water at us. It didn’t deter me.

Oh, the young woman who rode in my cart told me there’s a singles line. I found it, and for the next two times, that line cut my wait time in half. And she had the highest score, so she’s feasting on a churro tonight.

I would have held out for a sundae, personally.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Henry Robinson Lunches - One Last Time

This time went a lot better, a lot faster, a lot more stream-lined. Using Ruth's long table really helped a lot, and the issue we thought we had re: loading the lunches into the cars wasn't that much of a problem.

The table took 8 columns of 15 rows of bread quite well. We then loaded the turkey, topped the sandwiches with another slice of bread, then loaded them into plastic bags. Then we started putting the cardboard boxes/trays on the table and putting the paper bags in those. That little aforethought really saved some effort, I think; having the trays there made everything else so easy: loading, counting, loading them into the cars.

And using clementines (tangerines) rather than plums meant I didn't have to wash them. And the bags weren't as fragile. Then, one bag of chips, one bag of fruit snack, topped with a napkin after I checked to see if every bag had everything in it. There were no mistakes (not like last time).

Ruth arrived a good 10 minutes after I did, timing which actually worked well. I took my lunches in and waited for her. I used the loading zone, and she parked 2 cars back from me. We had no one to take the lunches into the center this time, so I took all 14, one by one.

We treated ourselves by having a nice, slow dinner at The Fat Lady a mile over on Washington. The irony wasn't lost on us.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Greg Smith Lays One in There

I had another terrific time at the Oakland A's Booster Luncheon. It really does help when there's someone to talk to, someone who likes baseball as much as you do.

Ellen and her aunt, Joy, joined me again to welcome Shooty Babbitt and Greg Smith. Shooty is a celebrity in his own right, a second baseman who played for the A's, but who also has the gift of gab. Shooty is an intelligent questioner, which helps a lot, especially in interviewing a rookie. Shooty is also smart enough to know that he's not the main event here -- the current player is -- but I would love to hear more from him in some future date. I've seen him occasionally before or after a game on local T.V., talking about the match-ups, and he's much better than the other broadcasters they have in the pre- and post-game, except for Ray Fosse.

Greg Smith is the rookie I'm talking about, a left-handed pitcher whom we acquired in the Dan Haren trade last off-season, and what a gem he is. But who knew he'd be such a dynamic speaker? Everybody at the table was in awe of not only his speaking ability but also his knowledge of the game and his ability to impart that to us.

In fact, prodded by Shooty's questions, Greg gave us a pitch-by-pitch description of what he threw to Beltran in the last game (the day before), and his reasons, and it was so dynamic. I really felt as if we were part of his process. I'd love to have the same experience each time at these luncheons.

I mean, you really have to like the teddy-bear quality of a Jack Cust, but his process is mainly see-the-ball, hit-the-ball. There's nothing he's going to explain to you. We get from him the overall joy of being in the major leagues. And he's not going to worry about his strikeouts. He's just not.

Greg Smith is a thinking man's pitcher. I read this morning where Brian Wilson, who plays for the San Francisco Giants, and who closed out the game yesterday, said something to the effect that he was throwing strikes and they were hitting them, so he threw as hard as he could, saying, in effect, "here, hit this." Smith is not like that at all. He has a game plan, and if he can execute, he's sticking to his game plan with the help of his catcher.

We're heading into what I term the dead area of baseball: The All-Star break. As usual, we have one player in the All-Star game (Duchscherer), and if he pitches one inning, I'll be really pumped.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Henry Robinson Lunches - Assembly & Delivery

Today was the day. I got rid of Ernie and his workmen, watched them get started, and then plunged into assembly by clearing off the table and cleaning it.

The photos below showed me hard at work, but Sweetie was there every step of the way. Believe me, it turned out to be back-breaking work. My leg muscles are especially sore this morning from over-extending when I bent over to put fruit packages or plums into the bags.

First we assembled 120 pieces of bread ...oops, couldn't do that because the table isn't big enough. So we did three-fourths of that, and then continued when they were done. We had to have a place to put the bagged sandwiches, though, so I opened up all the paper bags and placed one sandwich in each bag. Soon the bags were taking over the kitchen, then, as I transferred them, the living room.

After the bread we placed two slices of breast turkey on them. Then we placed a slice of cheese on them. (I'm skipping the cheese the next time -- too much extra work!) Then another slice of bread, then bag them in ziploc bags.

After the sandwiches are placed in the bags, we placed plums in each one. Then we placed the fruit snack bags, followed by the chips bags in each paper bag, each time checking to see if everything was in each one. We found a few that weren't complete, and corrected them. Then we placed a napkin over everything after once more ensuring that everything was in each lunch bag.

We didn't have enough cardboard trays, so we took a break for lunch (this is after working 3 straight hours), and then swung by Costco to pick up more boxes to act as carrier trays.

We loaded the remaining bags in the trays and put them in the car... soon recognizing that they wouldn't all fit in the car. Oy vey. So, Sweetie was kind enough to come again to the rescue and volunteer her car to transport in addition to mine. We counted one last time as we loaded them in the cars: yep, 120.

We loaded them all in and headed for Clay and 16th.

We parked illegally, as there was no parking on that street. I couldn't find anything with an address (but then again, I didn't look across the street). We finally found the place, and the friendly guy at the desk called a guy named Glenn to come down and bring a cart. Glenn never showed up, but he told us to circle around the block and take the two spots (white curb and blue curb) that just became open. We did, and he and another helper came out to carry them in. We got them all in, they thanked us and we took off.

Whew. Six-and-a-half-hours later we finished the job.

Karmacally worth it, but exhausting. And we do it again next week! This time we'll go over to Sweetie's place with the big table and less bending over. Still, there will be issues. But we think we know better ways to do this.

Good luck, you folks at Henry Robinson Multi-Center. I'm glad we could help out for today's lunches.

New Hot Water Heater Arrives

Ernie arrived at about 7:30 am yesterday, ready to go. He called Phil the Plumber, who had just purchased the new 50-gallon hot water heater, and would be here in an hour.

In the meantime, Victor arrived, and Ernie showed him what needed to be done, including straps for the new water heater, working with Phil to vent the new pipes, replacing the insulation in the storage room there, and shoring up the three holes plus pouring mortar in the cement cracks of the storage room.

The huge cracks were missed by Rat Man, and are the most obvious place rats and other vermin were getting into the storage room.

The photos here are of the old hot water heater (left), and the new one (right).

Also there are photos posted of three of the holes fixed, including the big hole where the heating ducts (insulation) went into the house, the broken mesh on the back of the house, and latching the electrical cabinet on the south side of the house.

I am very pleased.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Getting Ready for Lunch

I have always wanted to volunteer in a soup kitchen. But along with that want were many fears, like how do I handle food, how do I deal with the men in the shelter, etc. I finally found a way to help that didn't involve much of that.

Temple Sinai has a program that supplies 120 lunches every Wednesday at the Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center in downtown Oakland. It only has 33 beds, so I wonder where those extra 90 come from. I'm assuming they come off the street, eat lunch, and go back to the street. They offer:

* 28-Day Emergency Shelter for Families
* Transitional Housing
* Food Services
* Day Drop-In Services

The program is well-run by Temple Sinai coordinators. Jennifer sent me several attachments, including a shopping list, directions on how to put the sandwiches and lunch bags together, and how to deliver them. They were very helpful today as I did the first part of this: shopping.

Here's the shopping list today -- and note that the shopping list assumes we'll be shopping at
Costco, and we did. Also note how specific the instructions are.

120 Paper Lunch Bags - Buy these in bulk. Use brown paper ones marked #6. (I already had plenty of these.)

120 Napkins

120 Plastic Sandwich Bags - Use Sandwich sized Ziploc bags (125 per box / 4 boxes per carton).

120 Pieces of Fruit - Usually Apples or oranges are the best buy and transport and pack well. Oranges can be used as is, but Apples should be washed and dried before placing them in the bags. Fruit prices and bag sizes vary throughout the year, so you need to compare to find the best deal. Take a calculator.

240 Pieces of Bread - Buy the Costco Kirkland brand Split Top Wheat Bread. It comes packed two loaves per bag and you need 5 Bags.

120 Small Bags of Chips - These come packed 30 bags to a box so you will need 4 Boxes.

120 Snacks - Look for Nature Valley brand Granola or Trail Mix Bars. These are usually a good buy and come packed 48 bars per box, so you need 3 Boxes.

15 Pounds of Roasted Turkey - Look for Butterball brand roasted Turkey Breast. These are double packs weighing 40 Ounces each. You need 6 double packs.

I bought double of most of the nonperishable goods here, as I'll be doing this next Tuesday as well.

Note in the photos that the whole kitchen has been taken up with bread, fruit, chips, fruit snacks. And in the fridge are the turkey slices and cheese.

Some of the residents had hinted that they wanted some variety. I found that hard to do, as the only two sliced meats, in bulk, that I could get at Costco were turkey and ham. And ham is out. And I didn't want to go anywhere else. So at least I will be adding cheese. And I tried to substitute other things, like plums for apples, a fruited snack for granola bars.

Assembly is tomorrow.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Now Use the Word 'Idiot' in a Sentence..."

I got the call at about 9 am. She was a nurse for the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance program,. She was wondering if I had 20 minutes to complete a survey over the phone. “Uh, actually, no,” I said. “I’m at Disneyland.”

And so I was. I was expected in a few minutes by the other 11 family and friends, I explained. In front of the castle. She sounded a little annoyed that she had to call back when I returned home, but we set up the appointment for three days later.

This phone call came as a result of the application for LTC insurance that I had sent in 3 weeks prior. I had carefully written down (mostly on an attached sheet) an explanation of all my diagnoses, medications, my surgeries, the names of doctors involved, etc. And the last page was a survey of which choices I wanted included in my program. I spent a lot of time figuring it all out, and I chose what I thought was the best possible plan:

The Comprehensive 150 Pre-Packaged Plan, which includes:
Daily Benefit Amount - $150
Benefit Period – 5 years
Waiting Period – 90 days

I included an Automatic Compound Inflation Option.

And I authorized them to take the premiums out of my annuity/pension.

Those are a lot of decisions for a program that hadn’t even accepted me. That was to come after the nurse’s call.

When the nurse called 3 days later, she went over my entire medical history with me, including the names of my current medications. As she was doing that, she gave me a test, if you can believe that, although she didn’t frame it that way. She told me that she was going to give me a list of words, have me repeat the word, and then use it in a sentence. I wrote all 10 words down on a sheet of paper, all nouns.

After our conversation about doctors and medications, she asked me to repeat the words to her. I looked at my list and started repeating the words. After two words, I finally realized, Oh! This is a memory test! She doesn’t want me to repeat something I’ve written down, but to recall each word from memory!

I was shocked. She had never said, “This is a memory test.” I looked quickly at the list, and then away, and figured, I’m never going to pass this. I’d better give her a passing grade but not ace this test. So I gave her seven of the words, right off my written list. And not in order.

I feel guilty about that. My gosh, you should be able to trust a government employee, even one who’s retired. And even one who failed this I.Q. test.

I thought this might be the end of the story, but I got a letter the other day saying that they will not approve my application for federal long-term care insurance. I’m still kind of in shock and slightly depressed about it. I guess I won’t be spending that money. The premiums would have been $163.71/month. I’m surprised they don’t want my money.

I guess the only thing I can do is live a long life, die suddenly at age 92 without any complications, and not need the long-term care insurance program. That’ll show ‘em. Oh, and go back to Disneyland every chance I get.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Rat Man Cometh Revisited

David from Capable Pest Control showed up, looking eager for the job. He had taken great pains over the phone to explain what would be covered in the charge, including two return visits. Also, he said he would try to find places where the rats are coming in, and suggest that we shore up those places.

Here's a photo of David with the traps. He explained that, because we moved everything out of the room, they have probably fled (perhaps to other parts underground, or even into the house, ugh). But he set two traps inside the storage area, and I think more inside the crawl space. He did find droppings inside the crawl space under the house, so they are definitely getting in.

And the surprise of all....I saw him put a sticky-like brown substance onto the trap. I asked, "Is that the bait?" He said yes, and pointed to a large Snickers bar that he keeps with the traps. Unbelievable. He uses Snickers as bait! Hell, I told him, I could be tempted. He laughed.

He showed me 3 places where they could be getting in: (1) there's an electric box on the side of the house and the door doesn't fit any more; that needs to be fixed. (2) There's broken mesh on the little window in the back leading into the crawl space. (3) There is a large hole where the heating duct goes. However, if I can get rid of the rats in the storage space and close the door, they shouldn't be able to access that.

I really appreciate the assessment. I just hope that there's enough time to catch the rats, if they're there, before the plumber shows up on Tuesday and disturbs the traps.

The game begins.

The Rat Man Cometh, and Other Wonderful Stories of Home Ownership

The water heater exploded Tuesday morning. Or was it Monday? Or was it last week?

Water, water everywhere. Along with that: rat feces everywhere.

I headed off to Fairfield to help Shawn with her procedure, as I promised, and left Sweetie here to deal. And deal she did.

The plumber from Honey Do temporarily fixed the problem by re-lighting the pilot light to the water heater and installing new pipe. He recommended that we replace the water heater (it's now 10 years old), and shore up the ventilation and strapping systems to it.

With all the water, our issues became:

1. Call an exterminator for the rats who have obviously taken up residence in the storage room downstairs.
2. Call contractor to fix what's been damaged, involving:
a. replacing heating duct insulation,
b. Paint wood inside unit with mildrew-resistant coat.
3. Prepare framework for new water heater, including venting outside up to current code and bolting frame to foundation.
4. Buy new water heater and install.

Ernie from Dan Martinez Construction came out this morning and will give me an estimate later today. The plumber will come back Tuesday; Phil will supply the water heater and parts and install.

The insulation and mildew prep will take place after the side panel has dried, probably in another week if good weather holds. In the meantime, we have 3 fans blowing in the room; they are now facing the wood.

Ernie restarted the pilot light and declared that we will have hot water in about half an hour. I had only taken one shower off-site, and wasn't looking forward to another one.

Another side project: everything in that room was destroyed, and will have to be sorted into hazmat vs. non-hazmat (that is supposedly happening today). Next week it will be hauled away; we just made an appointment for that. (See photos for sections of the yard where trash has been lain to dry out.)

Nice that Phil the Plumber helped remodel the bathroom a couple of years ago. He remembers the place. I remember his long hair.

I am now waiting for the Rat Guy. Hopefully he'll do his work and that process will be started this morning as he lays the traps.

I feel like I landed into another remodel project. Only without my permission.