Happy π, Ides, and Patrick’s Day

It’s Pi day (3.14), the Ides of March (3.15) and St. Patrick’s Day (3.17) – lots to celebrate.

I’m also celebrating the vaccine for Covid 19.  I got both doses at Golden Gate Fields, a horse race-track in Berkeley. The horses were still racing on schedule, but spectators were not allowed in, so the huge parking lot was available. Yes, there’s nothing more American than receiving one’s vaccine at a drive in.

Another week and my second dose will have developed its maximal protection. Already, though, I’m feeling relieved. I hadn’t actually realized how much I’d been worrying about it all year.  Now my chances of catching or spreading the virus are low to non-existent.  Still, I’m not really planning on changing my behavior. I’ll still wear a mask when in public, and stay a couple meters away from strangers.   After all, doing so is just not that big of a deal. I hear people complaining that wearing a mask builds up CO2 which could make them faint. And I think, yes, that must be why surgeons wear them, so they can keel over during surgery. Snowflakes!

Since my previous update, my dad’s remains, his ashes, had been scheduled to head out from Arizona towards their final resting place in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.

Dad had arranged to be placed there, in the grave of his parents, long ago. He had prepaid everything. But once he was gone, his ashes got tangled in red tape and business disruptions from Covid19. Phone call after phone call couldn’t unkink these problems, either in Oakland or in Arizona.

My friends told me that I’d have more success if I dealt with the cemetery people in person. Well, luckily I’m not far from Oakland, so I first had the ashes sent from Arizona to my home here, to make sure that they would not be mislaid. It felt odd to have them sitting on my dining room table, but it didn’t seem right to lay them on the floor or in a chair.

With the ashes secure, I drove out to the cemetery, which was not easy to get into, due to the Covid19 restrictions. And when I finally did gain entrance, I found myself confronted by the very same young woman who’d been so hard to deal with on the phone.  But in person, she turned out to be quite charming and helpful.  My friends had been right!  Meeting in person made all the difference!  We were able to untangle every bit of red tape, even circumnavigating some of the normal procedures to get it all done.

As we wrapped things up, I asked when the ashes would be placed in the crypt. Naturally I wanted to take photos which I could then send to relatives and friends. “Oh, did you want to witness that?” I assured her that I did. “Well, there’s a fee involved.”  She put a calculator on the counter between us and began tapping buttons. “$400.”

Hanging onto the counter, I thought it over. Well, how often would I have the chance to witness my father’s final resting? $400 seemed cheap from that perspective. We set a date. Since I already knew where the crypt was, she’d meet me there.  I decided to invite my good friends from Hayward, Karen and Jim, to also witness the internment.

When my sister Abbe heard about these events, she determined to drive down from Portland (a 12 hour drive) to also witness the internment. Then my step-sister Terri decided to drive down from Sacramento, and to collect her daughter from Berkeley to also join in. My sister’s best friend Martha from Alameda came, too, as did my friend Arlene.  I was so so grateful that I’d paid that $400.

In the end, the weather turned rainy, but the cemetery set up a canopy for us. I read the piece that I had emailed to everybody last fall. Abbe read a piece that she’d authored, Arlene snapped some pictures, Martha had brought lots of flowers, Terri led prayers, while Jim and Karen took pictures and contributed some silk flowers to place on my dad’s urn.  It was all improvised and meaningful.

Abbe ended up staying a week with me, which was longer than she’d planned, because the mountain pass between California and Oregon had filled with snow and ice.  It was good having her here. I really found out what a decisive difference it made to have an actual 3-dimensional human living under the same roof, even for just a week. It’s not that we did everything together, as she still has her own friends here, and she enjoys gardening more than I do. But after she drove back to Portland, the house felt not much different than the dry insides of the crypt where I last saw my father.

Now, I’ve lived most of my life alone in various apartments, condominiums, spare rooms, barns and “rabbit hutches” (like the one in Davis pictured here. The second picture even shows the kitchen table that I still have, holding up the very computer on which I’m now typing this message!!).

Years later, I once took in a roommate in my condominium just to see if I was still capable of living with others (I was). So it might seem strange that only now, while dwelling in one of my most luxurious abodes, does a dearth of 3-dimensional humanity cause me suffering.

But I spent my working life in the high-pressure world of teaching. My life was jammed with students and colleagues.  I needed to live alone so that I could recuperate in peace. Besides, my actual home was my classroom, anyway.

All this is to say how much I appreciate those friends that stop by or send me email, especially Jim and Karen, Doug, Carlbob, Audine, Arlene and Eileen, not to mention my psychologist. Even with their steadfast help, these last few years (especially this last year) have been pretty hard. Since returning from China, I’ve had no classroom, that is to say, no home. And I don’t expect to find a new home any time soon.

Recently, my ERRC brethren held a Zoom reunion, and someone asked the group what we missed the most about China. Well, we all missed the people that we knew there, but after that, I missed the market located a block or so from my apartment.  It was so easy to meander through after class to pick up a cheap and tasty meal — jiaozi, fried rice, pot stickers, steamed buns, Beijing duck, chicken-egg pancakes, various fresh fruits and vegetables, ganbian doujiao, etc. etc. Such markets are common throughout China’s cities. Their construction is pretty simple.

It turns out that buildings in the city are rated for a certain number of years. After that time, the building has to be refurbished or removed. The simply-constructed Market’s rating was five years. So in my eight years living next to it, it was refurbished and expanded twice. Both times, the improvement was significant. The picture here shows it just after the second refurbishment.

I previously posted a six-minute video, a tour of the market before the second refurbishment, here. The tour starts just outside my apartment, winds its way through the market, and ends at one of my favorite potsticker vendors.  Most of the street-side vendors are gone nowadays, cleared out in the drive towards a more upscale environment, many of them now relocated to inside the refurbished market. This steady improvement has proceeded since my very first visit to the area twenty years ago, when there had been no market at all, and all the vendors filled the sidewalks, or even the middle of the street.

Not everyone was as lucky as I was to see their market continuously upgraded. My buddy and colleague Rob had been traveling all summer, dreaming of coming back to town to visit his favorite neighborhood market. But the five-year term ran out over the summer. Instead of refurbishing it, they pulled it down. This was the sight that suddenly greeted him. It took him quite a while to get over the shock and the loss.

Recently, I stopped by the legendary 99 Ranch Asian Supermarket in Fremont, an hour’s drive from here. I had determined to buy a Wok. While I was there, I noticed bottles of Chencu (陈醋) vinegar, commonly used as a dipping sauce in Northern China. I had not seen that kind of vinegar in 99 Ranch before. It was not the Shanxi style (山西老陈醋) that I used to look for in Tianjin, but it was close enough.

So I grabbed various forms of frozen dumplings to dip into it. They are not even close to the tasty versions that I once bought fresh at the market by my apartment. However, they are very much like the frozen versions that I sometimes bought at the neighborhood Wu Mart supermarket.  And so, for the first time in a while, I felt nostalgic and compelled to break out some chopsticks to eat them.

Fairmont Ridge by Lake Chabot

Also since my previous update, I took down the “Biden” sign fashioned for me a year ago by my friend Mark.  It was psychologically safe for me to do so, since Biden himself had been safely sworn into office.  I feel that we actually have a president again instead of a source of chaos. What a relief.  I’m sure I’m not the only one whose blood pressure has decreased.

Biden gave a speech about the Corona virus a few days ago. Unlike the previous guy, there were no improvised surprises. Nobody hurled insults at the press, nor towards people who think like me nor others out of favor. Instead, there was a humble call for all of us to work together to defeat this illness. It was almost boring. But how welcome!!

Vargas Plateau Regional Park

Since Biden took office, the federal government is starting to work again. The Center for Disease Control yesterday finished the task of removing all the political influences from its documents that had been instilled over the last four years. Now recentered on science, perhaps it will someday again earn  the nation’s and the world’s trust.

And the white house press secretary now holds daily press briefings, given without insulting the reporters nor denigrating their questions, nor, for that matter, with answers yelled out across the turning blades of a helicopter.

Last week, Biden got a landmark bill passed to support the poor and middle class who’d been injured by the pandemic , and to put the economy back on the right track.  It was supported by about 90% of Democratic voters, and between 50-60% of Republican voters — a majority in both cases – true bipartisanship. The final vote in congress was close to 100% of the Democrats (as one would expect), but 0% of Republicans — not a single one, nothing resembling the actual Republican voters’ support. To me, this demonstrates that the Republicans in Washington mostly do not represent the wishes of their constituents, or at best, just a small subset of them. It makes me wonder how all this will end.

Unfortunately, the help from Washington will arrive too late for some. One of my favorite magazines, Cinefex, folded last week. I’ve subscribed since their fourth issue in 1981, and their final issue was #172.  Taken together, they chronicle a remarkable history of the rise of Special Visual Effects in Hollywood movies and the development of its technologies.

I first came across it, right next to Cinefantastique, at a magazine shop in Hayward that no longer exists. And I was impressed to see copies available at Atari headquarters back when that company was on top of the world and my old college roommate Randy worked there.

Also closed, a couple weeks ago, was Fry’s Electronics, the computer super-store chain. Back in the day, it had been a culture unto itself, each huge store decorated with a unique theme. I happened to stop by their Fremont store a few days before the chain went under.  I didn’t know that the end was so near, but it certainly didn’t look like a functioning business. There was only one cashier where twenty had stood before. And the “door nazi” had gone home.

The decorative theme in Fremont had been electronic special effects. They weren’t running the exhibits that day, but I did get one last picture of the extra-tall Jacob’s ladder, which had been featured in the original Frankenstein, throwing sparks around the room to enliven the monster.

On the other hand, some help will arrive in time — money will flow in to support the retirement fund for my musician friend Carlbob, which was otherwise going bust after he had paid into it for decades.

And my other musician friend Bill Barner came out with his new album, called The Blue Basement!  It’s available through this web site: https://billbarner.hearnow.com

I listened to it a couple weeks ago — it’s really impressive music, and it also reveals Bill’s love of Film noir.

I had hoped to have had some music of my own to present, but I’m afraid it will have to wait until next time while I practice it up!  In the meantime:

Erin go Bragh! Et tu Bruté! and Round it up!