Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Unexpected goodbye

Here’s a post I never, ever expected to make: my dear friend Debi Echlin has died unexpectedly.

I first met Debi in 2000 or 2001. She was doing the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk, and I met with her to interview her for a Montclarion story. I went on a hike with her and her dog Molly—and soon enough we were hopelessly lost. I didn’t mind a bit: the conversation was wonderful, Debi was incredible, and it was a great excuse not to go back to the office. After finally plummaging through the woods, we found a trail that finally led us back to the car, rueful and laughing. We had a meeting of the minds that day and became fast friends.

Debi was the owner of Second Edition at the time, a new and used bookstore. Later, she bought out her two partners and changed the format of the store to stock only new books, changing the name to A Great Good Place for Books. The name apparently harks to a book that provides a model for “great good” meeting places for community—something Debi took seriously with her store. It wasn’t just a bookstore; it was a place for people to come together. It’s no surprise that the store launched and supports dozen of book clubs. 

When my Oakland Hills book came out, Debi staunchly supported me, giving the book prime placement in the store, on the front left corner of the table as you first enter. It was also on the cashier’s counter. What an amazing, supportive friend she was.

I confided in Debi things that many of my friends don’t know. As a mentoring, loving personality, with wisdom and depth from years of being on this planet as a good person, Debi encouraged my confidences and in turn shared with me some of her battles and hopes. I loved her and can’t believe she’s gone, so irreparably taken from us. And when I say us, I mean myself in my own selfish craving for my sweet, fiery-haired friend again, and us: Montclair, Oakland, the community, the booklovers. 

I wish I had the chance to take just one more hike with her. I had been thinking of calling her for just that purpose earlier on the day I got the news. And we had talked of going to Ireland in the new year together: a gift of her time I will never get to enjoy. How great to have one last ramble over the hills with her, with Molly jingling away in her dog collar. I miss you, Debi.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Off to wine country

Ah, Napa. The place where I (hopefully convincingly) detect tobacco or chocolate in my wine, where I swirl the glass and look at the “legs,” and where I stick my schnozz down deep into a glass and pretend that when I inhale with gusto I know what I’m smelling for. The first time I ever went tasting was with my friend Amanda, years ago, who was the bartending instructor at the New England Culinary Institute: she hipped me to all the nuances but I’ve since forgotten.
I can say, however, that this here discriminating palate can instantly tell a Bud Lite from a Sam Adams.
I hit Napa this last Friday with Daron and Edgar who were visiting from Denver (last seen on this blog in their Halloween costumes). I couldn’t believe how pretty Napa is in autumn, because the grape vines turn color just as if they were maple trees in Vermont! The whole landscape was reddish, ochre, golden… I was in love.
Despite a well-meant turn off the beaten path that rendered 2/3 of the carload nauseous, we had a great time hopping from winery to winery. Napa is a lot less crowded this time of year. We hit V. Sattui (one of my favorites for the deli and picnic grounds), St. Francis (didn’t actually taste here; walking off the carsickness), Ravenswood (one of my favorites for its gorgeous logo), Schug (the name intrigued), Sebastiani (can’t come up with another parenthetical that has nothing to do with wine), and tried to hit Christian Brothers, but apparently the brothers lost the faith; there’s a culinary school there now. Alas we didn’t go to Hess, where I love to visit the art gallery with the on-fire typewriter (have you noticed that I choose wineries with focuses other than on wine? I’m like the people who go to Las Vegas and never gamble).
I do like wine; in fact, there have been several choice times in the last few months where a big glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was like the nectar of the gods to me. And what a beautiful loll that produces….
Photo info:
top: view from St. Francis
next: Daron, left, and Edgar tasting at V. Sattui
left: Edgar pores over the wineries map before we leave
below: Statue of St. Francis at his titular winery. Although I'm not Catholic, I like this saint because the animals liked him.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hairdresser malapropisms

I went for a cut and highlights this weekend with a woman who was utterly charming. Many amazing things came out of her mouth, and I silently made a point of memorizing two of them. First, she told me with a straight face that a particularly rough situation she’d been in was a Catch-20/20.
Later, she told me that someone’s child’s autism could possibly be traced to the fact that “she took a fertilizer” while pregnant. While I initially thought a toxic manure pile was to blame, I later figured out she meant “fertility drug.”
And now I have blonde streaks in my hair.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Best Oakland graffiti

Now then!
I am intrigued by this cryptic diagram overseeing a vacant lot near the West Oakland BART station. Who or what are the Butt People?

I was in West Oakland trying to photograph the BART train as it sped by on the elevated trackway. I can't now remember why I was trying to do such a thing. I was pretty intent on doing it, remember climbing on top of my car to get a different angle. But as the BART crashed by (surprisingly often, given how long I have to wait for a train at MacArthur station), the protective side railings of the track prevented a good photo. No matter. The Butt Person rescued the failed mission.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Halloween continued

Several states away from our Halloween party, Daron and Edgar got dressed up for theirs… That’s Daron’s incredible, incisive rendering of Lynndie England, and Edgar as the tortured. (On a light note, he has great gams.) This is a pretty damn cool conflation of two famous photographs: Lindy with lollipop/cigarette (and exactly this pose, albeit flipped 180 degrees) and the man on the stand believing he is hooked up to electrical wires. A great reminder of folly across the waters. As Daron said, “We couldn't think of a scary costume than to portray what our country has become with the current idiots running the show.”

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I gave a lecture last night at the Oakmore Homes Association annual meeting, on the topic of Walter Leimert. This guy was a 1920s real estate man responsible for the settling of Lakeshore Highlands (Trestle Glen) and Oakmore, among other things. He was a very colorful character, playing practical jokes (sometimes not very nice ones) on people, like preventing his brother from watching the last five minutes of a very heated Superbowl game that he had money riding on (he did this in his 90s, in case you’re wondering how 1920s people had televisions.)
I had a great time. The Oakmore folks are really nice. I’m often in Oakmore since it’s a quick walk across the Leimert bridge for me. And now I can call myself a Professional Lecturer since they paid me an honorarium. Thanks, guys!
I’m also a Professional Artist because at a yard sale once a guy paid $1 for something I made. (I always want to be an artist, but somehow it never pans out.) This piece was made out of the cross that your Christmas tree is stapled to, if you should happen to buy one at Long’s Drugs. I took the tree off, discarded it (no, I’m kidding; I decorated it and decked the halls) and painted the cross. Then I attached little milagros to it with tiny carpet tacks. That’s it. That was my famous art piece that a guy paid $1 for, even with the big nails of the crossbar still sticking out the back!
I’m also a Professional Shoe Model. Long ago, a photographer friend was hired to do a shoot for Bitch magazine, and she in turn hired me and another woman to wear the funky, sexy shoes Bitch supplied. The photographer was, I think, not entirely familiar with the Bitch format, and she was staging the photos by doing things like putting rose blossoms by our feet. In one photo, I’m wearing argyle (!) socks and propping my legs up against a tile mosaic that shows men golfing. The other “model” and I kept trying to suggest more lurid, perhaps Bitchy poses—we would pseudo embrace, etc. We wanted to do things like have one of us place our high-heeled boots on the other’s shoulders while sitting facing each other, but instead we got more flowers. In a combined fit of boldness and shyness, I took off my shirt (no bra) –but kept my back turned towards the camera! This was in Lakeside Park, by the McElroy fountain, and I wonder what the joggers thought was happening. Anyway, Bitch magazine didn’t like the “sweet” feel of the photos and paid the photographer a kill fee. Bummer.
My very first job was cutting articles out of the newspaper (to go into subject files for the reporters’ reference), so I guess I’m a Professional Scissors Wielder. Alan was once in a focus group where he had to drink beer, so he’s a Professional Drinker. If anyone out there is possibly reading this blog – my one lead is my cousin’s girlfriend Lynette, although Mike Chorost said he looked at it once—what are you a professional at?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A morbid Martha Stewart

Since everyone is my family is really, really good at painting, quilting, basket-weaving, carving and/or cabinetry, and I am terrible at all those things, I have to make up my own sort of crafts. These fall under the loose category of Halloween Manufacturing.

The first craft to discuss is the Hands of Death that Lead You to the Door. Here's how I cooked it up. I saw that the Oriental Trading Company offered a dozen vinyl hands for like $6. In the photograph, the hands looked perfectly rounded and I assumed that they were full-on rubber hands. But rubber does not vinyl make, my friends. I learned that the bitter way. The hands, when they arrived (hilariously, in a clear plastic bag), were hollow. So, putting that Yankee ingenuity to use, I filled them with water and put them in the freezer. This actually added the nice element of the hands being ice-cold to the touch. I had also purchased a dozen orange glow sticks for the express purpose of inserting one into each hand's, uh, hand, so that when I lined them up, they would lead hapless trick-or-treaters right up our steep staircase and to the candy. And that's what happened!

The next craft is the Tombstones a la Home Depot. I had to buy an eight-foot by five-foot sheet of thick styrofoam. It was huge. I asked the Home Depot staff to cut it down just so I could fit it in my car. Their box cutters only allow 2 centimeters of knife to poke out; they're the equivalent of safety scissors with rounded edges. But we managed. At home I used a regular kitchen knife (I suppose it's dull now) to cut out tombstone shapes. Recommendation: do this outside, as lots of little styrofoam shrapnel is released during the cutting process. Then I spray-painted them gray. One interesting thing to note is that the force of the spray paint actually pushes in the styrofoam a bit, which gives the "stones" a weathered, time-beaten look. Then I used a thick black marker to write 1800s-y epitaphs on the tombstones. Finally, I used a screwdriver to make a hole in the bottom of the tombstone, which I pushed a short dowel into. The other end of the dowel drives down into the ground, so the tombstone can stand up in the yard. Be careful when pushing in the dowel because it wants to rip through the front of the tombstone (thicker styrofoam makes this less likely). I made three tombstones (see the really tall one in the very back, with the circular headpiece?) out of half of this sheet; I will make three more next year. The other two were from last year, when somehow I was able to buy a smaller sheet. Those colorful skeleton figures are from a Day of the Dead celebration several years ago: Alan made the one on the left and I made the one on the right.

We had a Halloween party on the 29th. I rented an 1800s costume from a costume store, and Alan was a cow. We had a costume contest and awarded these very cool trophies. The tall one was for first place, which was won by the woman dressed as Frida Kahlo. (Her name is Tamsen and she is named for Tamsen Donner of the Donner Party! How could she not win?!). The second prize of the Dog Buddha was won by a couple dressed as Shrek and his wife.