Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tell Me, Doctor, What's Wrong?

I went to the doctor today because I'm getting sicker by the day. And the holidays won't give me much of a chance to go if I wait.

She said, basically, that I wasn't sick enough. But she knew if she gave me advice, a couple of prescriptions, I'd automatically feel better.

Okay, I don't. But I have complete faith I will. And she was nice enough to give me a prescription for an antibiotic, just in case I get worse before the weekend's out. I filled the prescription, and it will sit there until or if I need it.

A lot has been happening. We lit the first candles of Hanukah. We're going to set fire, I mean, fry up some sufganiyot -- donuts -- tomorrow. And play games on the 25th while all the stores are closed.

The new stackable washer and dryer was delivered. I was slightly worried that it wouldn't fit, but the guys were professional and got it in easily. Then they hooked it up to the gas hookups. Thankfully, the SEARS sales lady sold me a hook-up that was delivered along with the unit. It's a thing of beauty.

These last few weeks, and the next few weeks, are when we see the boys a lot. Birthdays are involved, and days off. It should be fun.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How to Feed 120 Kids

A bunch of Temple Sinai volunteers got together last night and fed about 120 kids at the First Methodist Church in Oakland. The event was sponsored by First Place for Youth, which helps kids who have aged out of the foster home system. This is Temple Sinai's 6th year helping; it was my first. Oh -- and by "kids," I mean young adults, 18 or a little older.

Just an aside here: I was truly amazed at how many young women had kids with them. Babies. My gosh. What a challenge.

Dozens of people came by and dropped off food. Ten or so of us stayed to serve. Alex brought three turkeys fully cooked, and spent most of his prep time sawing off pieces with an electric knife. I found myself heating chicken broth for eventual gravy (I actually had to take a match to the industrial stove, which scared me to death), opening cans of cranberry sauce (thanks to Laurie who completed that task for me by cutting up the tubes of red goo), scattering the desserts on trays for later (with Dawn), and finally, serving the salad and desserts.

I was kind of amazed that it all came together. Thanks to maybe 4 people who knew what they were doing, saw the need and filled it. (I was not one of them. I am happy to do what organized people tell me to do, but this was on such a scale that I couldn't even comprehend the job.) Cecille told me to take the salad station, so I did.

Cecille suggested I coat each salad collection with the dressing so that kids weren't standing around squirting the bottles. So, I did that, and had ranch vs. Italian vinaigrette. As it turned out, there was no question: the kids wanted the ranch dressing. Dawn was to my right, serving up slices of her cranberry jelly. Some went, "eek, beets!" and fled the scene, but she was smart enough to tell them what it was before they could leap to conclusions.

While all this was going on, they had Christmas music, pumped up, going on in the background. Dawn wondered why they couldn't play Bing Crosby. It's an Oakland Christmas, I explained, as we listened to Mariah Carey, the Ronnettes, and many more Detroit-style holiday songs.

The kids were very gracious, seemed to have a good time. I know I did. They were so cute, kind of excited over what was being served. And when the desserts came out, it took them a little time to react, but they finally came over and started scooping them up. Laurie and Dawn would prepare plates for them, offering them some of the strawberry and whipped cream holiday cake as well as whatever else they wanted. There were so many cakes and cookies and brownies that, well, it would've sent any diabetic within 100 yards into a coma, just looking at it all.

Pretty cool way of giving to Oakland's kids, especially the ones who will struggle just to survive. I'm glad we could give them a good meal.

Hanukah: So Many Lights, Not Enough Oil

We will soon be celebrating Hanukah! An actually very small holiday on the Jewish calendar. I think we make it big because, well, there's another big holiday in the same month with which many Jews feel we're competing.

I got a Hanukah present!!! Yes, it's a baseball-themed hanukiah! That is so cool, and mucho cute.

Also, Sweetie put some very small Hanukah decorations up on the window. Pretty nice.

Turns out Sweetie did a video just last week. She and her senior rabbi, Rabbi Sanford Aksulrad, both at Ner Tamid synagogue in Henderson, Nevada, put a video together about how to celebrate Hanukah at home. They call it the "virtual rabbi."

I think it looks quite professional.

Of course, we will be lighting one candle for each day of Hanukah. Baseball, all lit up for Hanukah. Very cool.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sin City vs. Religion

There's plenty of religion in Las Vegas. You just have to look for it.

And I don't mean worshipping at the blackjack table, although there are certainly people who do that.

I accompanied Sweetie to Las Vegas, and she worked at Ner Tamid, the synagogue in Henderson, while I played. I attended Friday night services for shabbat -- I really liked the music and Rabbi Adar's sermon -- and also came back the next morning for a rousing session of Torah study. And I met her for an occasional lunch and dinner.

My new "home" is the Sunset Station Casino in Henderson, a mere two blocks from our Hampton Inn motel. I thought the Sunset Station Casino would be something very small and inadequate, much like I was used to when I was stationed in Fallon -- you know, Chinese food, and the owner would quickly jump up to deal blackjack if you sat down. (Then scowl if you won.) No, the Sunset Station is fairly large. I immediately went over to get my player's club card. They offered you free money when you play. I didn't bother to look to see how much. I would've played anyway.

And they have the slot machine games I really like. The video-type ones with bonus rounds. I found three Reel 'Em In games. A bank of four Star Trek games. The Goldfish game. And a new one I just love: Invasion from the Planet Moolah.

There are 5 cows in flying saucers above earth. As you play 20 lines, the next commonplace items (a barn, a person, a truck, things like that) fall into place. Every now and then, a cow (which is WILD) falls into place. And sometimes they stack in 3's. If there are two of anything touching it, it turns into wild. And when you get paid, the flying saucers zap the items that have already been played, and everything drops again. If you get four matches like that, you get 7 free spins, another one and you get three more. That's the bonus round. Very cool.

The Star Trek game disappointingly did not recognize my rank and medals from the last time I played (which was four months ago). So I now have 9 medals and am some sort of recruit. That game doesn't pay off very well although the bonus rounds are well worth the wait.

And I actually sat down to play some blackjack today before we left for home. I played about an hour, and did well. Five dollar minimum, which is really good. It was a shoe, but I don't mind that. And they paid one-and-a-half times for blackjack. Unlike the newer places at the Strip and downtown. I think I've found my new favorite place to play.

They also have a bowling alley and a cineplex at Sunset Station. We went to "Australia" last night. Stadium seating, but the rooms are very small. They fill up quickly.

I really like the idea of going to services, then enjoying myself at the casino and all it has to offer. And I don't think any of it has to do with absolving myself of sin at the end of the day. It's just a wide spectrum, a continuum, of enjoying life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Rat-Man Cometh... and Takes Something with Him this Time

I called David from Capable Pest Control because I saw something in the trap downstairs in the storage room.

He set the trap in July, so I knew I'd be paying extra for the visit. No problem. I couldn't tell what it was, but it was big, and it was dead. And I wasn't tippytoeing up to the furry mess to find out what it truly was. But I had my suspicions.

I thought I had just thrown money away when I brought Capable out. He seemed rather unprofessional. They had just started their business. They didn't yet accept credit cards. But he seemed to think that a Snickers bar would do the trick in terms of bait, and set several traps, both in the storage room and in the crawl space.

I had taken his suggestions and filled the holes leading into the house. Thankfully my handyman saw more than David had, and filled those, too. I really don't see how anything could've gotten into that storage room.

Except that it had.

David came out this morning and using rather ordinary means -- tongs and a plastic bag -- hauled TWO rats away! Wow!! and Yay! Both were in the traps set in the storage room. I saw that the 2nd trap had been turned over, but had kind of assumed it was because I had had workmen in the room (shoring up the holes).

I'll have to keep this quiet. If sweetie and friends find out, I may be a hermit here. Forever.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Too Much Change

"Too much change." That's what one of the retirees I talked to told me. Why he retired. He was a supervisor on the Commercial Operations side (I guess they call it a generic "Trade" now), seemingly irreplaceable. They lost an overstuffed suitcase full of knowledge when they let him go. I know what he meant. Change is frightening.

But, truth be said, he misses the people. He goes back once a month or so, saying hi to everybody, going out to lunch with some. He and his wife are alone -- no dalmatians at home currently -- but his wife's father just died and his own mother is 95 and frail. But stubborn.

The party today at the South San Francisco Elks Club was full of stories like that. And the theme was "change."

And one of the biggest changes in our lives is the death of our family, our friends. MC Mike Freitas announced those from legacy Customs who passed away in 2008:

Emory Anderson, previous WAE inspector, passed away a few days after last year's Old Timers Luncheon.
Fred Del Porto
Al Boragno
Eleanor Antonich
Edward Kwas
Elinor Donnelly
Al Lacy, Jr.
Jonnetter Walker
Paul Lefkow

An announcement on a nicer note: Raul Palomo and Susan Miller are due to retire at the end of this month.

Much to our surprise, the Port of San Francisco sent someone to talk to us retirees, namely the port director himself, John Leonard. No one had met Mr. Leonard yet, as he just assumed his new position, and I have to say, he barely looked to be about 30. He said some nice things: "San Francisco is the one port I wanted to get to." And then he said something perfectly awful: "I'm a Red Sox and Patriots fan."

After the boos subsided, he laughed and added, "I'm going to the Oakland Coliseum to watch the Raiders and the Patriots later. Someone advised me that it would be a good thing if I wore my Patriots gear." That was funny. He won't make it out alive.

He told us that San Francisco is not the same port we remember. The merging of the three agencies -- Customs, Immigration, USDA -- into one under Dept. of Homeland Security has given the port director responsibility for 750 employees rather than the 400 of the past. "Immigration is a big thing, a hot-button issue," he said, and talked about how soon-to-be Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano seems to be well-suited for the role due to her experience with the immigration issue.

He also mentioned a million-dollar trade seizure at the Port of Oakland from a few days ago that involved a shipment of illegally imported t-shirts from Indonesia. Except that the t-shirts were really from China. The importers were using a quota from Indonesia; the quota from China was already full. Oops...

He also mentioned a new initiative called the Model Port Initiative, which, in short, will provide "a more welcoming environment." We all laughed at that. CBP Officers tend to resemble a certain 1940's militaristic force from Western Europe in recent years. Glad to see they have a fancy new title for making nice.

Rich Vigna, whom I knew when he was a GS-7 inspector at LAX but who now is the highest official in San Francisco and John Leonard's boss, also came up to talk with us. He mentioned something that one of the current supervisors had told me moments before: there is now an age cap of 37 on being a CBP officer. Everyone currently in is grandfathered in. Rich gave us a several-page brief on where the Port of San Francisco is these days. Thanks, Rich!

For instance, in 2007, 74,000 commercial aircraft were processed. 370,000 containers processed. 4,381 vessels cleared. 935,000 passengers processed. 537 pounds of narcotics and $2.7 million dollars of undeclared or illicit currency were seized. 348 arrests were made.

Makes me tired just looking at it.