html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: March 2006

Friday, March 31, 2006

I feel like a princess.

I am tremendously flattered and a trifle overwhelmed by all the attention from Marginal Revolution. Two weeks ago it was just the ten of us around here. Now there are thousands of strangers thinking about why I don't get any. It's like a dream come true.

I am tempted to respond to the comments, but I want to see where they go without any direction from me. I've heard lots of good insights already. Thanks, all!

(Aren't any of you fellas local? Davis ARE, step up.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

CALFED spent a billion dollars.

This article about a student design contest focused on the Delta came over the water news about a week ago. I thought the winning idea - that the Delta become a national park, with historic towns, biking trails, observation posts and eco-housing – sounded like a nice place to visit. Except that even if the federal government weren’t trying to sell the lands they already hold, and even if the national government could manage the Delta better than the local government an hour’s drive away, why the hell would the state of California want to cede control over the linchpin of its water infrastructure to anyone?

So I was already shaking my head at the annoying graduate students when I got to this quote from one of the prizewinners:

“Nobody in California understands how important the Delta is for California or the United States.”

I would like to reassure her that there are people in California who do understand how important the Delta is. I know of people who have worked professionally on Delta issues for longer than she has been alive! Some of those people have even become important! It would be an exaggeration to say that my very own state agency does nothing but focus on the Bay-Delta, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that about this state agency! My agency has been known to spare a thought for the Delta too. Why, we have an office dedicated to the Delta! And we publish this, which I bet she used in her project! And we talk about it all the fucking time!

Look, I remember being an annoying graduate student and an insufferable undergraduate. I myself have been misquoted in newspaper articles. But I think that what she really meant to say was “I had never heard of the Delta until I did this project.” Which is totally legit. I only know it because it is my field, and I know precious little about landscape architecture. Still, I think I would stop myself before telling a newspaper reporter that nobody in California understands the importance of sprawl.


My 0-2 record

I have had two premonitions in my life. Both of them felt like a sonic boom or standing too close to an air raid siren; it was like having something intangible shake you all the way through. The first time was years ago in LA. I was with my sister and her boyfriend and my friend Teddy. We were walking back from a show and we dropped my sister off at their car. They were leaving for a trip to Italy the next day, so we wished them a good time. As they pulled away, I knew with absolute certainty that they were going to die on that trip and I would never see her again. It was horrible.

I told Teddy right away, who calmly made all of the obvious points. My beautiful sister was healthy and resourceful, in good company, going to a safe, lovely country, and would have a great time before she came home in two weeks. That’s what I thought too, except for knowing that I would never see her again.

The second premonition was almost a year ago. I was reading some guy’s blog when it came to me that I was going to marry him. It wasn’t like ‘he is so totally my husband and he’s going to marry me and we’ll have beautiful babies’. I just knew without a doubt that my life was going to change, because he was going to be my husband. I remember hoping that he was a nice person.

Neither premonition came true. I was disproportionately relieved when my sister came home safe and happy. Months later, I met the guy from the blog. He was certainly nice enough and I enjoyed chatting with him. But the part about our getting married didn’t come up. (My friends say I should have brought it up, in a crazy stalker way. That would have been fun, but he hadn’t done anything to deserve crazy stalker drama.)

I hope I am out of the premonition business. Knowing that they don’t come true doesn’t completely cancel out the certainty they bring. I have to say that I am happy with the outcome -- I would rather they were both wrong than both right. Losing my sister would be unbearable. Splitting the two premonitions is a dangerous game; I would rather not play at all.

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Love is testing me but still I'm losing it

I was lamenting to my friend Sean about my long drought. Before you go clicking away from another boring water entry, I mean a drought of a more personal nature… a bedroom nature. Sean and I agreed that it is ridiculous that I don’t have a boyfriend; I am presentable and pleasant enough. Since I’m a great girlfriend once I am in a relationship, Sean figured there must be something about my approach that I could work on.

“Meggie,” he said, “What do you wear when you are working on a guy?”

“You’re looking at it.” I said. “No,” he said, “Those are your clothes for doing chores and gardening. What do you wear when you are out where boys could see you?” When I gestured at my clothes again, he winced, which I totally didn’t get, ‘cause these are my new jeans. “Meggie,” he said, “When was the last time you dressed up?” “Oh! That was for the fall league party. I wore this tight red dress with four inch red heels and cocksucker red lipstick.” “And was there a boy you liked at the party?” “Yeah.” “What happened when he saw you in the dress?” “He jumped and spilled his drink. Someone must have bumped into him.” Sean patiently explained that no one bumped into him, and that if I want boys to notice me, I am going to have to wear girl clothes.

Girl clothes!” I shouted. “That’s outrageous! They don’t have pockets, and you can’t sprint in them if you need to beat the light, and you can’t just throw them on from the previous day because they get wrinkled! Besides, the colors have to match and you have to wear jewelry, and that takes like twenty minutes!” I can patiently explain things too, so I pointed out all the ways that girl clothing is a repressive tool of the patriarchy to physically restrain women and keep them from full actualization by requiring them to spend their time on stupid shit like earrings. Sean didn’t argue, but he did force me to make an unpleasant choice between fighting blatant injustice and getting some horizontal actualization of my own.

Moving on, Sean asked me how I flirt with the guys I like. “Well, you know how I am usually friendly and smiley and I talk about dorky things? Just like that, only more.” “So if you saw a guy you liked…” “I would probably give him a hug like everyone else, and then tell him about the things I’ve been thinking about recently. Like right now I’m super into Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog, so I would be all ‘hah, hah, hah, and then, he makes fun of John Gower, hah hah’.” “And you still don’t score?” said Sean. “Remarkable.”

Sean told me that I have inadvertently crossed over into one-of-the-guys territory. He listed flirting techniques that might get me out of there. “Do you flip your hair? Giggle? Ask him to get you a drink? Smile demurely? Hit him on the arm?” Now THAT was interesting. “Hit him on the arm? Like a jab, or more of an uppercut? Should I kick him, too?” “Not like that”, said Sean, and he demonstrated with sortof an openhanded swat on the arm.

Gentle reader, I did taekwondo for thirteen years. During college I trained with the team twenty-five hours a week. It would be impossible to count the punches I’ve thrown or the hours I’ve spent with a heavy bag. I have broken boards and a brick with a punch. It has been many years since then, but I imagine I could still return to the gym and learn to box in a matter of months. Those skills aren’t entirely gone, but I am quite sure that I could never learn to swat men on the arm.

Sean persevered. “Meggie, is there anyone you flirt with?” “Oh yeah,” I said. “I flirt with lesbians all the time.” “What do you do?” “Oh, it changes. Sometimes I walk up boldly and look them up and down real slow, then nod, all satisfied. Sometimes I’ll smile shyly, and look down, and look back and blush. I’ll hold eye contact while I tuck my hair. Wearing a shirt that shows downtown Cleveland seems to make me clumsy, ‘cause I just keep dropping things…” “And do they like you?” “Oh man, dykes love me. They’re always hanging on me and asking for sugar. If I only liked the ladylovin’ I would be all set.” “Meggie, that’s it! You just have to do that with men.” “Do that with men… I could never… they would totally get the wrong id- HEY!”

So, dear readers, there is hope for me yet. Perhaps one of you is the dorky gentleman for me. When we meet, there is a good chance that I will revert to my awkward ways. If I am bringing up esoteric shit and asking about your dissertation, please understand that I am flirting with you. If, on the other hand, I am looking at you through lowered lashes and gasping at your wicked lines, please understand that I am imagining you as an especially butch lesbian. Either way, your prospects are good. Go ahead and put the moves on, ‘cause this drought has got to end.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 24, 2006

It is only three blocks away.

I wish that we were better people, with dry, sophisticated senses of humor. Instead, we have to admit that the fact that the new Indian restaurant near our work is named "Gaylord" pretty much guarantees our devoted patronage.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Thanks, guys.

Sometimes, when you work in an engineering girl gang, they send you spiteful little graphs.


Monday, March 20, 2006

I can be easy-to-understand too!

Our engineering group sits right next to the publications group. They help us put reports together and lecture us from time to time on using plain, easy-to-understand language*. They even have a whiteboard up to help with the idea. Every week they post a wordy or obscure phrase (No!) and suggest a replacement (Yes!).

I noticed today that they haven't posted a new phrase for the week. You guys know how I love to help; I was thinking of phrases my whole walk home. I went back and forth between:

I concur.

Oh hell yes.


I concur.

You bet your sweet ass.

'Oh hell yes' is probably a bad idea. Our really cool great-grandboss is planning a second career as a minister when he retires. So maybe not that one. If I had any sense, I would stay stay away from 'You bet your sweet ass.' too. Tracy and Margie can't get enough of me talking about their sweet asses, but perhaps my other co-workers would prefer to be valued for their knowledge and skills. I don't think it will take people very long to guess who changed the board either. Still, there's about a thirty percent chance that Margie will get blamed too, and those odds are good enough for me.

*I am mostly down with that, since I've written the report in every engineering team I have ever been on. I know that engineers aren't always eloquent**. I do sometimes bristle at lectures from the publications department, because in the first place, I would be very surprised if any of them can write better than I do, and in the second place, how come no one ever suggests that they take a hydraulics class so they learn that they can't just substitute "current" for "velocity" whenever they feel like it.

**Although, one of the most moving declarations of love I ever received was from a mechanical engineer who told me I was the leading coefficient in his life's equations, and no one would ever cancel me out, baby. That's pure poetry.

I think one of the masters degrees would have covered it.

While I like to think that I am doing a particularly meticulous, methodical job, with an easy-to-use system and accurate labels and references, I am forced to admit that I do not need all of the skills developed during three graduate degrees to file grant applications for four days straight.

Friday, March 17, 2006

I didn't even know I needed this to exist.

But it makes me so happy that there are furry blond lobsters in the world.


Rest in peace, Grandma Jeanette.

It is a measure of my deep love for Chris that I hauled my recently broken, recently sick self out to help him move for four hours in the rain tonight. It was especially hard to have to box and move his crap, since I just spent four days in Connecticut with my dad and aunt working ten-hour days to clear out my grandmother’s final apartment. Still, if there is anyone who can call on my time and effort, it is Chris. Chris has done some heavy lifting for me this last year.

I call on Chris first when things go wrong, and I’ve had some losses in the past months. When I heard my grandmother died, I had no hesitation about calling him out of his meeting to come over and take care of me. She wasn’t a nice person; honestly, we dreaded seeing her. It was no coincidence that her daughter put an ocean between them to the east and her son moved west until an ocean stopped him. She hadn’t been in her right mind for four or five years now, which took some of the guilt out of avoiding her.

Chris came over right away so we could talk about my grandma’s death. I can’t say that I felt grief. She could be horrible to be around and I hadn’t wanted to know her. Her death certainly didn’t open a wound in my heart. But that night I felt terribly sad for her life. The heartbreaking part of my grandmother’s nastiness is that she never meant to drive anyone away. She liked being around people and she loved her family very much. She never connected her poisonous comments and relentless nagging with her desperate loneliness; it was a mystery and great sadness to her that we didn’t visit or write. As we cleared out her apartment this week, I found hundreds of envelopes and stacks of stationary and cards. She would have loved to have a correspondence with me.

My decision to not be like my grandmother is one of the most powerful choices I have ever made. But the night of her death, I wanted to sort through her characteristics, to see if there was anything I could claim and keep. I found a couple – her strong will and determination has served me well. In an odd gift, she bequeathed to all of her grandchildren an unusually high pain tolerance. Chris sat with me as I cried for her loneliness and looked more closely at her than I had for years.

I wasn’t purely sad, so we were also joking. At one point I wondered aloud what would happen to all her spite. Now that it wasn’t contained in her body, was the world big enough to hold it? Chris corrected me instantly. No, he said. That’s not how it works. When someone dies, all the love they contain is released back to the world. The spite dies with them. “Look at you,” he said. “You haven’t showed this much compassion for your grandma since I’ve known you.”

I thought about that idea for several days and I am sure it is true. It isn’t the love each person generates; that is given away during their lifetimes. But the love people felt for them gets carried in their selves their entire lives. When their selves are gone, that love is freed for the living to feel again.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 10, 2006

Valuable lessons all around.

I went to Ukiah with the rest of engineering girl gang, a nice biologist and an older engineer. Don't remember how it came up, but I started telling the story about my sister and my dad and her teddy bear. My sister's favorite bear was George, and one night while we were all at dinner, my dad mentioned that a quarter a day would go a long way toward making sure that nothing bad happened to George while my sister was at school. Accidents happen, he said, but for a quarter a day he would personally check on George when he came home from lunch. My sister held out at first, but after finding George hanging by his neck from the ceiling, or in the oven, or the freezer, she conceded that George was indeed accident prone and started paying the protection money.

Her allowance didn't always last the entire week, but she could always earn some extra quarters by ironing dad's shirts. He paid her a quarter a shirt, which goes to show that he had a system the entire time and wasn't just extorting money from a ten-year-old girl for the fun of it. We were all laughing as Tracy asked how my dad could be so mean, and I answered that, well, he just wanted to teach her a life lesson in paying protection money on time, and how important a quarter could be.

"Why?" said the older engineer. "Is he a Jew?"

All the laughing stopped and I thought the sunlight seemed a little whiter and bleaker for a flash and none of us had anything to say until I answered "Yes. He is Jewish. As am I." The older engineer faltered, and explained that she didn't mean anything by it, its just that you know how important money is to Jews. Well, we were walking somewhere anyway and I didn't care to walk near her anymore, or really have anything to say to her after that. I still don't.

Two things about that comment shocked me. First, we are stateworkers! Are we not trained to be painfully, exasperatingly sensitive and correct? (Although considering that the girl gang spends its working hours in a nearly non-stop exchange of sexist comments and overt sexual harassment, perhaps the training has not taken hold as well as our bosses might hope.) How did "Jews love money" slip through? If it got back to our big boss, which it won't by me, all hell will break loose for her.

Second, I was surprised by how much the comment hurt. How much is not very much in the big scheme of things, but enough to have some sting a couple days later. I almost never identify with my Jewish heritage, and I have been a privileged part of mainstream culture my entire life. I may have to re-think some of my earlier reasoning (like "the etymology of 'call a spade a spade' is about shovels and not racism, so save your ire for real crap, otherwise impressive Councilwoman Hammond" in favor of "our history is so heavily loaded that it hurts either way, so how about we use words that have no opportunity for misinterpretation."). Thinking hurts my pretty little head, and what a pain in the ass to have to do it twice. But it is worth the effort if it saves me from accidentally making someone else feel like that.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Oh yes it will.

I'm in Ukiah for a three-day class on culverts and I am not being sarcastic when I say that I haven't enjoyed a class like this since a four-hour session on rip-rap in September. Classes like this totally get my butch engineering side revved up, making me yearn for some green engineering paper, drawing in the upper right corner, calculations neatly aligned down the center.

The point of the class is ecologically sound designs for culverts that let fish through. You know, natural rock formations, native plants, stuff like that. I believe in the mission, but for me the best part of this class is the jargon. Oh man I love jargon. I love jargon all day long. My delight mounted as we covered headcuts, nick-points, baffles and perched outlets, but it peaked when we were told to take stream measurements down the thalweg. Oh I will. I'll never take measurements anywhere else.

I love the people too. They are all so sincere. I love the dorky ones who are so far gone they don't realize they are being obscure. I have a fondness for the old-school engineers, who would as happily build a freeway on-ramp as a fish passage project. I like the impatient fish biologists and ecologists, who live in frustration that engineers just don't understand. But my favorite today was the local county construction crews. Straddling their chairs, wearing sleeveless tanks, they made suggestions as we planned a design. When someone wondered how the new streambed would hold in high flows, one of 'em nodded and said "Concrete will be involved." I nearly swooned. So manly, so assertive. None of these fruity natural designs. Take me, big guy. I'm all yours.


Monday, March 06, 2006

A fine quote from today's water news.

FISHING BANS: Salmon Fishing Ban Considered; Dwindling runs on the Klamath prompt a proposal to put 700 miles of coast off limits - Los Angeles Times – 3/4/06 - Eric Bailey, staff writer

[text omitted]

Commercial fishermen heaped blame Friday on the Bush administration for managing the river in a way they contend favors farmers, dam operators and timber companies at the expense of fish.

"The federal government has done absolutely nothing to help, and fishermen are angry," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Assns. "It's almost like they created this Klamath situation to make them look competent on Katrina."

[text omitted]

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bea, Freddy, Charles and Jane

My grandma was the oldest of four. She was my nice grandma and I miss her still. She was smarter than she ever got to fully use, an unusually skilled knitter, kind, observant and optimistic. She told my Mom that she worried I was so generous I would give my whole self away. Most of the time I look like the other side of my family, but I see her sometimes when I am putting on lipstick.

My (great) Uncle Freddy is a charmer. He flirts incessantly. I would like to know him better, but his rake persona is so ingrained that I can't turn the conversation to anything more interesting. The best thing he ever did was marry my Aunt Betty.

The scandal of this weekend is that at age 85, my Uncle Charles has left his third wife. Got on his motorcycle after a fight and stormed off. No one has heard from him for a couple weeks, and they don't expect to until he turns up with his next woman. Wouldn't you hope that there is an age where you can stop worrying about your husband taking off for another woman? Surely, at some age, he doesn't want the freedom and grit of seedy motels in Florida? Well, ladies, perhaps you can be secure sometime after he turns eighty-five. But Charles has done this his whole life, and he's not done yet.*

My grandmother's sister, Aunt Naney, was married to Jack until my grandma and grandpa had them over for family dinner. By all accounts, Jack took one look at my grandfather's sister, and that was the end of Naney and Jack's marriage. Jack and my grandpa's sister were married until he died in her arms decades later. My Mom always called him Uncle Uncle Jack.

Uncle Uncle Jack left Aunt Jane with a little daughter and not much else. During WWII my grandma was raising my Mom, so she and Aunt Naney, with their two little girls, got an apartment together in downtown Bloomington. I have always thought those were good years for them; I know they had enough money left over to go get an ice cream sundae a couple times a week. I don't believe in an afterlife, but I would love to think they are together now, sharing a sundae and shaking their heads over Charles.

*I changed this one.


Family ties

I'm in Tampa for my cousin's wedding and to see my grandparents. My cousin lives in Ohio, so I wasn't surprised that I didn't know anyone. I was chatting with a woman who told me that she was Todd's aunt. I said that I was Todd's cousin, so that would make her my... mother. She just stared. So much for maternal instincts.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'll miss you.

My last minute travel planning style has resurfaced, as I realize tonight that I'll be taking four different trips between now and March 20th (Tampa this weekend, Ukiah next week, Connecticut next weekend and week, SF the following weekend). I'll be home for a few hours in between, but I can't guess whether I'll have much time or Internet access during the trips. I'll post if I can.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

East Coast/West Coast difference?

I read Fresh Pepper about everyday. The format is reliable; no matter the setting, despite his good intentions, Fresh blurts out something amazingly crass. His commenters are a school of sharks, and the frenzy usually includes the following themes: Fresh hasn’t accepted he is gay, Fresh lives in his parents’ basement, Fresh has a small penis, Fresh’s filthy mind dooms him to a life of celibacy. Fine. Sure. It is pretty funny, and it seems like they enjoy the inside jokes. Just this morning I realized that none of that is the truly surprising thing about Fresh Pepper. Fresh casually, easily, regularly writes about behavior that I can honestly say that I have never seen in real life. Fresh Pepper courts women.

Fresh Pepper writes explicitly about wanting a girlfriend and regular sex. Fresh Pepper writes about failed attempts to pick up girls at bars. When Fresh meets a potential ladyfriend, he asks her out, and then plans a date, and then takes her on a date. He debates the pros and cons of date locations, and whether they will lead to (anal) sex. In an effort to persuade the lady to be his girlfriend (with the regular sex), he brings her flowers, cooks food for her, arranges additional dates and buys her gifts. I have an active fantasy life, but I literally cannot imagine a man doing that. I have never been wooed like that, and I can’t think of a girlfriend who has. I have guy friends who pine for someone, but when I advise thinking of an activity she might like, calling her and asking her to do that, with the subtext that he likes her, they just look baffled.

The only way I have ever met boyfriends is that we were both in the same place doing some other activity while we made eyes at each other. As I think about it, I initiated and arranged five of the last six occasions that had any potential for romance. Hell, I arranged the last hook-up I got. As far as I can tell, men passively do things, hoping women will be present. My beautiful neighbor, super cool girl with a gorgeous body, goes to the local Dive Bar Club, where one guy took some interest in her. He might have her over to watch a movie, but won't stay sober enough to pick her up. My freakin’ fabulous, tall, stunning redhead friend is beside herself with happiness because the boy she likes bought himself a ticket to a concert she was already going to. She is a decade younger than me, and that is as much enthusiasm and motivation as she has ever seen (including an ex-boyfriend who was desperately in love with her). My supermodel girlfriend hung out in her now-husband’s dorm room until he finally gave it up. I’ve seen couples hook up at a party and pairs leave the field together to get a beer and couples meet rock climbing, but date? Where the boy asks the girl? It's a myth.

I know friends who gracefully became lovers, and I know husbands and boyfriends who are wonderful to their beloveds. But in my circle of friends, I don’t know a single story of a man winning a strange woman’s affection by putting effort into courting her. Fresh truly is a freak.