Sunday, April 30, 2006

My Lunch at Joe's Place

How often do you go to a local burrito shop and see the greatest person in a particular field of human endeavor? Usually you just see a bunch of guys in old T-shirts and jeans.
So there he was at a small Mexican market and restaurant behind the garage where I take my car for tuneups — ta, da — the greatest quarterback of all time, Joe Montana.
He was wearing an old T-shirt and jeans, and of course the other four people in old T-shirts and jeans in the forlorn restaurant noticed him. My wife the Crankette said she felt an urge to run into the dusty parking lot, throw her hands in the air and yell, "Joe, I'm open!"
But this is the Bay Area, and we try to pretend we're cool. We don't want to disturb our living gods when they're satisfying an urge for a burrito.
We tried to remember where Joe and Jennifer Montana lived. (She showed up a few minutes later, resplendent in her gorgeousity). We seemed to recall that they have a ranch in Wine Country, and it's hard to picture them agreeing to meet for burritos 60 miles south, in Beer Country, behind that garage that does $39 fluid changes and brake checks. But then, Joe always did such great work outside of the pocket.
Flash back to 1996, and a party in honor of the 49ers' 50th anniversary as an NFL team. Montana had retired from football two years earlier, and I overheard Jerry Rice ask him what he was doing.
"Just hanging out," said Montana.
So there we were, Joe and me, just hanging out. Of course, as I mentioned lamely to the Crankette, he has a lot more money to invest in hanging out than I do.
She put her lips together and blew me this line: "But you both have the same amount of nothing to do."
Ah, the democracy of retirement. And burritos.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinero

The Williams-Sonoma catalog arrived and I finally figured it out. Why do rich people build 2,000-square-foot kitchens, yet can't and don't cook? The catalog contains the answers. They need the monster kitchen to store all the shiny gadgets they'll use once, if at all.
Here are some of the items the culinary imagineers at Williams-Sonoma have invented for May, 2006. Quick, build an addition to the house so you can install more cherrywood cabinets.
You must have a $149.95 thermo whipper so you can make food foams like that crazy guy at El Bulli in Catalonia. Choose savory or sweet foam, or better yet, fly to Spain.
And how can you have a simple plate of asparagus without a complete set of "asparagus tools"? For a total of $151.90 you can get the All Clad asparagus pot, asparagus double boiler, asparagus tongs, asparagus peeler and asparagus colander. Hey, I just use a $2.95 pan from the drugstore and my pee doesn't smell any worse than yours.
I could go on about the $40 Calphalon pepper roaster that saves you the inconvenience of roasting peppers over a burner with a fork, or the $36 batter dispenser that squirts perfect circles of pancake batter onto the griddle without messy drips. (Rich people hate mess, another reason they don't cook.) But what I really want to go on about is the $199.95 electric vacuum marinator, pictured above. Knock out a wall, we must make room for one of these.
As the Crankette once pointed out, most electric kitchen appliances either spin (the Cuisinart and all its ilk) or they get hot (like George Foreman's grill or Williams-Sonoma's croque monsieur maker). The electric vacuum marinator does more. It rotates and sucks.
Just toss the meat and marinade in the machine's plastic barrel, hit the button, and the air is expelled while the meat rotates. Not only is it supposed to infuse meat with a "deep, rich flavor," but it looks appealingly like the device that turned Jeff Goldblum into a fly-man.
Nobody who really cooks would use any of this crap. It's just stuff you'd have to wash afterward, and find a place to store. And you wonder why the take-out sections of gourmet supermarkets are crammed with so many rich people. Their designer kitchens are just too cluttered and it's so hard getting a contractor who can keep up.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rattletrap rattlings

Gasoline prices are going through the roof and we're going out of the house every day to shop for a car. We don't really care what kind of mileage a car gets because we only drive a few thousand miles a year. I bicycle more miles than we drive. But here's the thing we care about: Will a car fit the petite Crankette?
By fit, she means can she get an idea of the general location of the front and back of the car. You know, so she can park by sight rather than bumper sonar.
First problem: Almost all cars nowadays are built with their noses sloping to the ground and their butts proudly held high. You might as well be trying to park J. Lo in a marriage.
Second problem: Car salesmen don't understand the problem, or the problems, women have buying a car — small, smart women particularly. They want me, the man, to get orgasmic about the car's speedy lines and its boinky booty.
Today I dragged the Crankette to a Toyota/Scion dealer to look at a couple of new models. First we looked at a Scion Tc, a sporty, inexpensive kid racer that I thought might be to Crankette's scale. The salesman looked at her and said, somewhat condescendingly, "Have you ever driven a sports car?" (As if this car was in the league of an Austin-Healy 3000.)
"I just sold a CRX," said the Crankette, referring to her old pocket-rocket Honda two-seater.
"That's not a sports car," said the salesman.
"It sounded like one," said the Crankette, getting to the guts of what sports cars are supposed to do.
This guy wasn't getting anywhere with her, but he proceeded to throw open the Scion's doors, hatchback and hood as if it were a splayed lobster about to be served under a silver dome. The Crankette said she didn't care what was under the hood, just whether she could see where it ended, and then showed the salesman where to stow the hood-holder rod when he couldn't find the little plastic latch.
The downshot was, the Crankette couldn't see past the windshield wipers and had no idea where the front of the car was. "How will I park this?" she said.
"You'll get used to it," said the salesman, with the same tone shoe salesmen use when they say the shoes will break in.
No sale for that guy.
Well, I could go on, perhaps about the moment when the Crankette said she wanted to do a test sit in a Camry and the salesman looked at me as if for permission.
But I won't go on, for now. Tomorrow we'll go to the Honda/Acura dealer and take some other cars for test sits. And show some salesmen who's boss. The Crankette, that's who.
That's right, I'm no better than that Scion salesman. I couldn't convince the Crankette that it's easy to see where the hood ends on a Mercedes because of that convenient, $40,000 hood ornament. She said she'd rather glue Barbie dolls on top of each headlight.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Coffee, Fair Trade for a Social Life

I just returned from my third trip out of the house to get coffee. Why would anyone spend six bucks a day for coffee when financial experts say to save the money for retirement? Because I am retired, and that's how I choose to spend my retirement money instead of flushing it into a convertible or a yacht.
I'd rather flush it into the toilet, in other words.
What does coffee do for me? It keeps me awake. It counteracts wine. Mainly, it keeps me in the world. Even if I go to Starbucks, I'm in the world, albeit a chirpy corporate corner of the world that always asks if I want a pastry with that.
Make fun of Starbucks and other foamy-Joe emporia all you want, but the main reason people go there isn't for the caffeine but for the warm feeling of loneliness in company. I'll have a grande Alienationocchino, please.
Folks exit their armored SUVs, their mole-whacked cubicles and their neutron-bombed gated communities to drink weak and yet somehow overroasted coffee for the purpose of huddling together, watching each other and listening to halves of cell phone conversations. It beats being totally alone. And sometimes one sees neighbors and friends one doesn't normally see across the toxin-drenched lawns and outside the pasteboard of the cubicles.
It's even possible to make new friends, coffeehouse friends, the kind of people who make good conversation without the obligation of learning names or trading business cards. Even at Starbucks (which best be avoided even though it's unavoidable) it's safe to bitch about George Bush with strangers, because the strange Bushers are working themselves into a red state in the donut shop across the street.
Give me a cup of fair-trade tooth-stain, and instead of the transfat pastry I'll take the casual friendship, the easy people-watching and the total buzzy alertness. It's a bargain at 30 bucks a week.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Market Value

We're well into a three-day drought here in Northern California as the prodigal sun has returned — to steal a couple of phrases from the local media. I found myself sitting at the Marin Civic Center farmers' market Thursday drinking coffee (organic, fair-trade, etc.) that had gone up 25 cents since the last time the sun shone. Everything is going up in price. The egg man said he hadn't raised prices in years, but he will soon. A woman asked why, and he spoke one word: "Fuel."
It just may be that farmers at the market are the canaries in the coal mine (mixed fuel metaphor?) telling us what is about to happen. To get to Marin from Santa Rosa or the Capay Valley they have to shell out so we can shell their beans and eggs. In high school many years ago, my history teacher, Mr. Raphael, said the Great Depression didn't start when brokers started plummeting toward sidewalks, but when the farmers went broke. Thank God, here in luxo-Marin we still have a few farmers who head our way with their bounty and their realism.
This morning the front page of the SF Chronicle said, "War costs approach $10 billion a month." And the band played on.
Worse than all that money soaking into the desert is the blood. Blood for no oil. Is that what Halliburton and Bechtel and the Great Decider have given us?
Well, the sun was out and I spent some time with my friends, my neighbors and the farmers who faithfully visit twice a week, no matter the cost. I can get there on my bicycle, but who else in America can do all their business on 20 pounds of frame, chain and gears with a smidgen of grease?
The sun was out. I was out. I was out $2.25 for the coffee, but it was great.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hello, Planet

Hello, I'm here. Spreading joy, peanut butter and my waistline. Spread it, Bushboy. Up against the wall, muthapucka. Hey, I don't have much else to say today. Took all my energy to find a blog name that wasn't taken.
Tomorrow we get organized, and set a Cunning Trap for the Heffa-W-Lump.