Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gone Fishin'

After a lot of thought, I'm closing down this blog (though I'm not going to delete everything, and, who knows, I might even come back to it some day). I've really enjoyed you all, and, who knows, maybe we'll meet again. It's been a wild ride--WAY wilder than i could possibly have anticipated when I started this thing--and I thank you all for your company along the way.

Be well.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Light, and Some Sweetness

The good things: getting to the library (the main branch, thanks so much) and finding a bunch of books to read; having a lovely dinner; getting my address changed on my driver's license; getting my voter registration changed at the same time.

The less-good things: realizing that I actually have to design not one but two websites, one for the bakery (which won't be hard) and one for one of my clients (which will be more difficult than I thought, because I thought I was just writing copy and inserting it in places that someone else was figuring out); realizing that I really am going to need new glasses soon, which, thanks to my myopia and astigmatism, is an expensive proposition; and having the woman at the Secretary of State's office inform me that my hair is gray and putting that on my driver's license as my hair color. Yes, there is a substantial amount of gray in it, but it has plenty of its original color--especially in lighting other than basement-of-the-county-building-fluorescent. I suppose I could have dropped trou and proved my point, but that seemed (a) excessive and (b) likely to get me arrested and photographed in lighting that would be even more unflattering.

Exclusions

Until I thought too much, I was feeling all virtuous today--yesterday I (a) walked (b) to a yoga class, which means I walked about six miles and then practiced in a class for the first time in several months. The teacher was her usual gracious self, and was genuinely glad to see me, which was nice. I didn't get any copyediting done, but I fired off the first chapter this morning. Yesterday I also moved some things around in the apartment. I don't know whether it's because I have more stuff, or I'm older, or what, but it has taken me MUCH longer to arrange things than it ever has before. (The interlude of the enmeasled walls and ceiling didn't help, either.) Flip side, though, is that I'm liking where things are ending up; it almost feels like they're finding their own places. Which is too hippy-dippy even for me.

I had dinner Saturday night with Dave and the Kid, which also was nice. It's great to see the Kid, and it's clear he's glad to see me, and not just because I brought him a baguette. It's good to see Dave, too, though of course it's strange in a whole other way that I didn't know existed. We're both on our best behavior, which tends to eliminate the vitriol and recriminations, and that's fine with me; I've had quite enough of that, thanks so much. Thus, what ends up being on display are the things that were good about our relationship. And, let's face it, we know each other, so it's impossible to not lapse into flashes of familiarity. He keeps reiterating that he does not want to be friends with me, in any way, shape, or form, and he's told me multiple times that he's happier now than he's ever been in his life (meaning, to me, that's he's happier without me than he ever was with me), so I don't misinterpret the Best Behavior as anything other than an effort to enable me and the Kid to see each other--but I appreciate it nevertheless.

After dinner, I came home and turned on the television (which I don't usually do), and found the end of "Elf." Which made me cry (because I'm pathetic, or bathetic, at least). Not at the movie itself (though I really liked it a lot when I saw it), but at the memory that Dave and the Kid and I went to see it together and had a great time. Most of the time I trundle along, making the croissants, editing shit, hanging out, doing whatever; I have years of experience doing that stuff, and those habits have kept me from falling apart completely, not to mention that falling apart completely isn't something I tend to do very well. But then stuff grabs me by the neck (or gut) and twists. I don't know what else to do except cry for awhile and then move on, which probably makes me appear more la-di-da than I feel. I don't know what else to do, though; falling apart isn't going to improve my situation, and the croissants still won't make themselves.

This morning, I started to fall apart for what only appears to be a completely different reason. I need health insurance, and I'm having a bitch of a time getting it, which is ridiculous. Pick ten women my age, and I guarantee I'm in better shape, and take better care of myself, than most of them, despite my so-called preexisting conditions. My favorite part is where they say they'll insure me . . . with an exclusion for the conditions. WTF--that's why I need the fucking insurance! Assholes. I'm in the process of trying to get medical records so I can appeal the decision of the first company, but that is, in fact, a process rather than an event.

Meanwhile, though, I freak out about not having insurance, and that makes me rummage around looking for another job, an office job, one that will pay me enough and will provide said benefits. The jobs out there . . . either I can do them, but would want to slit my wrists (provided I could get them, which is unlikely), or I don't have the qualifications (either really don't have them, or don't have them on paper, even if I could do the job), or the job is in an industry or doing something that I really find problematic, or some happy combo of all those things. I have more skills than you can count, and I can't find a fucking job, which mostly makes me feel useless and scared.

Really, though, the scary part is this foray into baking, and I'm beginning to think it was the biggest mistake I made. Now that I've been doing this for nearly a year, my resume is even more checkered than it was before, making me even more undesirable (except to bakers, who don't pay very much), especially to drones who want people who fit into boxes. I know what I'd say if I'd get an interview--that I was changing careers, and that opening my own business depending on personal circumstances, which have changed--but I don't even get phone calls or acknowledgments of applications, much less interviews. Who the fuck would hire me, at this point, to do anything OTHER than baking? At which, as noted, I don't make enough on which to live. I don't mind the combo of baking and editing, really, but neither of those jobs provides the aforementioned health insurance I need so sorely. So I cave, and start looking for another job, and see how unlikely it is that I'll find one, and then I just get plain scared. I'm 48 years old, I have a wide variety of skills and experience but no "career path," I've got yet another student loan to pay off, I'm going to make less this year--by a lot--than in any year since 1994, and I've spent my savings on a wedding for a marriage that lasted less than a year and on the life we had before we got married. (We divvied up household expenses proportionately, based on income, and I made more, except (a) Dave wasn't honest about either his income or his expenses, so I don't have any idea how we should really have divided things up, and (b) more importantly, I kept paying more even when my actual income dropped, because of the missed paychecks.)

You can see how this vicious mental circle ends badly every time, and you can see why I prefer to not fall apart. This falling apart thing, I don't like it so much, and it doesn't solve any of the problems.

It's also worth pointing out that, when push comes to shove, and when I'm not freaking out, I actually feel pretty grateful and content, even if that's not the part that makes it to this space. Hell, if I could just get health insurance, I'd be happy! Seriously--I know I can't keep doing exactly what I'm doing forever, because it's simply too grueling, and I'd definitely like to be able to take some time off once in awhile, but my biggest worry is the health insurance.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Efficiency

So I was going to whine for a few sentences (about shlepping TO the grocery store, and then BACK to the train station, then from my train station TO my apartment, blah, blah, blah), but I had some STFU juice and decided to not do that. I'm also not going to lament, a-fucking-gain!, that i was going to do some yoga when I got home but then I didn't. Whatever.

I AM going to complain about the catalogues, however. I tend to buy my clothing online, not least because I hate shopping. Reason number two is that women's clothes often don't fit me very well, so rummaging around in a space I hate (a mall or department store of some kind) trying to find something that I like and that fits me, well, no, thanks. I've managed to find some online retailers whose sizing I know pretty well (most notably L. L. Bean, except for shoes--I've never had good luck with any of their shoes) and I just stick with them. There were a few others from whom I used to buy clothes, but since I don't wear clothes much any more--other than chef clothes and jeans--I might leaf through the catalogue but that's about it.

My point--and, yes, i do have one--is that the only catalogues to which I gave my new address were Bean and Title 9. But every last catalogue I used to get has managed to find me already, which I suppose is a testament to some kind of efficiency, but which is also kind of annoying. It used to be that you'd get this six- to ten-month grace period until the catalogues (and charitable organizations) found you, and some might never find you unless you ordered from them again, but apparently they've become more efficient. Plus, this city does not really have recycling that actually works. Plus, unlike downtown, the building in which I now live does not have recycling, which means I'm throwing away aluminum, plastic, and glass, much to my dismay. If I had a vehicle (and more motivation), I might recycle on my own, but let's face it--I was going to whine about carrying groceries. At least I no longer read a newspaper, which dramatically reduces the amount of paper trash for which I'm responsible. Except for the catalogues.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Edjamacation

If you're looking for something deep and insightful, well, once again, this blog isn't going to be a good source for that.

This guy Jack who wanders into the bakery on occasion--the one whose accent I identified, a couple of posts ago--has done some deliveries for us lately, presumably filling in around the edges when our regular delivery guy is done for the day, or, even more likely, doing it at a cheaper rate (and for cash) than sending, say, Johnnie to do the delivery, which also means pulling Johnnie away from whatever he's doing to drive a van. Friday he came in, and, after he left, Jefe says, hey, you used to work with these guys (meaning the alcoholics and junkies), Jack says he's going to be outside this weekend (meaning living on the street)--how does that happen? So first I explained about how, often enough, drugs or alcohol were involved somewhere, and then also about how close to the edge a lot of people live. I used the example of my brother--who would have lost his house if my parents hadn't been able to bail him out. (If I haven't mentioned it before, my sister-in-law didn't pay the mortgage for about 18 months, though she made it look as though she were doing so; basically, she had a bunch of credit card debt that she'd never mentioned and that had gotten worse, what with high rates and late fees and the like.) In other words, for people who don't have any kind of safety net, any little mistake, or even any little thing out of their control, and they are just screwed.

Jefe nodded at that, and compared it to the people in the nearby (rich) suburbs, many of whom, he thinks, are going to be losing their homes. It's not the same thing, exactly, because those people probably won't end up living on the streets, and they got to their straits because they bought too much crap, by and large, but hey, whatever helps you understand. A little while later, I also pointed out that the other thing is that it's expensive to be poor. Which kind of took him back a step (and Brad, of course, had some stupid remark, though he then heard me, I think)--I pointed out that, if you don't have a place to store food, then you end up buying a lot of fast food, which is way more expensive than making your own. If you don't have the money for a security deposit, you can't get an apartment, so you end up in an SRO, or a motel, or whatever. I'm not sure how much Jefe understood, and not because he's right-wing, or because he's not smart, but because it's a bakery, and we're all in the middle of doing something, or two or three things, more like; it's not like sitting in a classroom, or sitting in a bar with a beer. But I planted a seed. Now I just have to get my copy of "Nickeled and Dimed" back from my brother and hand it over to Jefe.

I cannot for the life of me figure out why he's a Republican. (He thinks the war in Iraq is a disaster, though.) He's certainly not a big business owner--he owns his own business, sure, but he employs maybe 25 people. He's been able to send his kids to good schools (some of the best public schools in the country) and to college, and get them the help they need with their learning disabilities (dyslexia, mostly, I think), but they live in a small house, apparently, and I think they only have one vehicle. He works nearly every day at the bakery, and believe me, he's not sitting on his ass--he's doing whatever job needs to be done, and he's there more hours than anyone else. (He also doesn't regard it as "work": as he says, he enjoys what he does and doesn't regard it as work; painting the garage is work.) I thought I heard him say once that he's pro-choice. He's not particularly conservative socially--he's not religious at all, and he really doesn't seem to care what people do. He's not racist (or, at least, if he is, he hides it better than anyone I've ever seen). He's compassionate, in his way--hiring Jack to make deliveries, hiring the local alcoholic to hang the holiday lights outside or do some yardwork at his house. He's been basically sponsoring Johnnie to do more stuff with his artistic talents and his baking skills, and he's also helping Johnnie get his CMB (Certified Master Baker--there are maybe 150 or so in the country). But he watches or listens to the right-wing talking heads, and he thinks they're pretty good.

What I suspect has happened is that, first, he was raised conservative--his dad certainly is, too. A nice old guy--in his 80s--and he likes me just fine, but I suspect he has no idea how far left my politics go. So there's that. And the work that Jefe's done, well, up until the past few years, he was a guy who worked in a bakery, played hockey (in a local league), went to pro hockey and baseball games, raised his kids, whatever. He hadn't been very many places, unless his kids' sports took him there. When he started trying to get on the US baking team, I think it started opening his eyes, and the process that eventually led him to the winners' circle opened his eyes even more. He's tasted more, and done more, and traveled more--way more--than someone our age, without a college education, who has always had a basically working-class job, is likely to have done. But his politics haven't caught up with his experience, on some level, I think.

So, hey, I do what I can. I find it completely entertaining that he regards me as a source of knowledge about these things. Hell, he regards me as a source of knowledge about all kinds of things, plus I'm the official writer for the bakery--anything that needs writing, I do it. Now we just have to get him to give me another buck or two an hour, and I'm set.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Babblicious

My new neighborhood is more residential than my last neighborhood. Even though there were more people living in my last neighborhood, they were living in highrises. This neighborhood has no highrises, but it does have trees. And the trees have leaves, which turn colors and fall to the ground in the fall. And, because there aren't building maintenance men with REALLY LOUD LEAFBLOWERS, which are among the most stupid of all inventions, the leaves are sometimes in piles along the sidewalk and in the gutters, which means I can shuffle through them and smell the season and be reminded of jumping in piles of leaves when I was a kid. Which is all good.

Leaf-shuffling notwithstanding, I just don't get enough exercise these days. I do a lot of weightlifting at work, sure, but that's not the same. I keep whining about how I miss the running around and aerobic stuff, and I do miss it: there's nothing like working up a good sweat, and I haven't done that since about February. I've already decided that, if the side work continues at its present pace, and/or I manage to score a raise from Jefe, I'm going to join a Y and start playing handball again. It's going to require some finagling: the only Y at which I'd really be able to play is the one near the bakery, but the joiner's fee is $100 and the monthly fee is $52.50. The other Ys in the city are around $41 to $44/month, with a joiner's fee the same as the monthly amount. Ten dollars/month difference isn't all that much, I suppose, but still; the point is, even an extra $44/month isn't nothing, which is why I'm continuing to hold off--that same amount applied to my student loan each month would go a long way toward eating at the principal, for example.

Orange's tales from the gym reminded me of my lakefront walk last weekend, or, at least, the part of the walk where I saw several women who were nearly all bones, with some skin covering the bones. Leave aside the patriarchal beauty standards stuff (yeah, I know, you can't really do that), and leave aside my own judgments (yes, I know! I know!), it's just strange to see someone at one or another extreme, because you know they had to work at it to get there. I'm not talking about an extra 40 or 50 pounds, I'm talking about an extra 150 pounds--carrying a whole other person around on you. Similarly, I'm not talking about slender people, I'm talking about people who are suffering bone damage because they're so thin.

One of the strange aspects of my schedule, in combination with my already existing early-morning tendencies, is that I rarely sleep past 5:30 am, even when I don't set an alarm. (I've also noticed that I've been sleeping considerably less than I used to do--five or six hours a night, rather than the six or seven I used to get. When I do get my ass in gear and get more exercise, I'll be interested to see whether it affects that.) That means that on days like tomorrow, when I have to be downtown at 9:00 am, meaning I should leave here by, oh, 7:30 or so, I know that I don't really need to set the alarm. The chances of my sleeping until 7:00 am are pretty slim, even if I do crack open a bottle of wine tonight. (I have to tell you, I say I'm going to do that much more frequently than I actually do it.) Even last night: I stayed up until nearly midnight, puttering around, not doing much, and I woke up at around 5:30 this morning.

I've also stopped washing my hair Saturday morning (yeah, like you care about these personal grooming details . . .), on the off chance I do something social Saturday night, i.e., I'd take a shower first, and I try to avoid washing my hair twice a day, especially in the winter. These days, though, I often end up not going out on Saturday, and, if I spend Sunday working and don't go out, like today, then I end up not showering at all on Sunday, which means I am seriously grubby by Sunday night. That shower tomorrow morning is going to feel REAL good, and I should probably hack off some aloe to rub into my scalp tonight.

I've got the Food Network on in the background, and it's reminding me why I loathe it. Too many commercials, for one thing. Too much--WAY too much--faux competition, for another. Entirely too much babble; the babble:actual information ratio is extremely high.

Speaking of a high babble ratio, that is precisely to what I am subjecting you guys, so I'm going to bed. Say goodnight, Dick.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Neither all that

nor a bag of chips. My local library branch, that is. I'd been meaning to get my ass over there, it being walking distance from my apartment, and today I finally got around to it, and it was unsatisfying. It was great to see so many kids there, yeah, but the adult fiction "section" was nearly non-existent. I managed to find an Elmore Leonard, a John LeCarre, and an Ed McBain that I hadn't read, so it wasn't a total waste, but I can see that I'm going to have to make trips to the main library for my reading material. Feh.

Today's ruminations were about Thanksgiving. I've spent many a holiday by myself, and I learned to enjoy it--sitting around moping and wallowing struck me as an unpleasant way to spend a day off. Some years I'd get an invite from someone; some years I went out by myself; some years I'd clean my apartment thoroughly and then go out--whatever. For Christmas, I'd often go to a bunch of movies--four in two days was my record one year. For the last bunch of years, though, I've obviously been with Dave and his family, and it's going to be strange not doing that this year. We even had everyone--his son, mom, sister, brother-in-law, and BIL's sister and her partner--at our house at least once, which was fun, though challenging, not least because four of those people need gluten-free, three of the four need dairy-free as well, and one also needs soy-, corn-, cinnamon-, and sage-free. I always enjoyed coming up with desserts they could eat. I like Dave's family a lot, and it pains and saddens me to think that they probably think I'm a horrible person right about now. And I know I have to disengage from that--one of the rules of this, apparently, is that we all get to tell our own side of the story to our own families, and our families support us. Though my family doesn't really know very much: my brother knows some stuff, but my parents seem completely uninterested in hearing anything at all, and I don't really feel like telling them. (Yeah, given that i can't talk about work, either, conversations aren't all that deep, or, at least, they don't really touch on anything that's actually happening in my life.)

Meanwhile, I have my apartment back! and they did a fine job--actually scraping off the bubbled paint, plastering, priming, and then painting. When they put the furniture back (after they cleaned the floors! though they need another cleaning), they put one or two things in alternate locations, and it turns out i prefer the alternate locations, so they've also done some interior decorating for me. Now I can hang the rest of my crap on the walls and call it a day.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Miss Allaney

I was chock full of good intentions to do the laundry, and I even got so far as to gather it up and take it downstairs, but, of course, one of the four machines is out of order, and the other three are in use. I'll do it tomorrow--I have other sheets and towels, and I don't have to wear chef clothes tomorrow, so it's fine.

I'd been coughing a lot in my living room, and I was thinking it was paint fumes, or paint dust, or whatever, but I've decided it's more likely because it's dry in here, so I dragged out the vaporizer last night. I can tell I'm going to spend the winter with (a) the vaporizer cranking away and (b) the windows open; I might even get a second vaporizer. I have radiators for heat, and, I suppose because it's such an old building, they don't really turn all the way off. Again, not a problem, just an adjustment. The radiators in the last place had similar issues, so it's not even an adjustment so much as a calibration.

The deities of scheduling apparently decided I should work at the bakery on Monday and take off on Tuesday, rather than my usual other way around. The FedEx package with my latest copyediting job didn't show up at the bakery today; some screwup means it'll show up on Monday, when I don't normally work at the bakery. (I had it rerouted . . . because I'm not usually at home when it's delivered. The building manager has been putting the packages in my apartment--for which I am extremely grateful--but it's not her job.) Of course, I can't actually work on the copyediting until after I receive it, which, as noted, won't happen until Monday. In addition, they're apparently going to be working on--perhaps even finishing the work on--my living room on Monday. All things considered, it seems to make more sense to work Monday, get the package, let the workmen do their job without me around, and have my day off on Tuesday instead, when I can get my apartment back into order and do my copyediting. The RFP I need to review for the other client arrived today, so I have something on which to work tomorrow.

I wish I had the energy (and courage) to commit to writing a novel in November. You commit to writing something like a thousand words a day, I think. If I were a Better, More Courageous Person, I'd try it--as they say, it doesn't have to be a good novel. Actually, if I thought I had more time I might even try it. I give my evening hours over to vegetation (or work, if need be), and I don't much want to give them up for what would eventually feel like a fruitless effort (yes, I know, I've talked myself out of it already; two of my friends keep nagging me about that). What I am saying (or writing) out loud for the first time is that I am committing to spending time writing the (non-fiction) manuscript I have in my head--not every day in November, but for parts of November, anyway. I keep saying I'll do it when I finish this or that free-lance job, and then another job shows up, and I am sure as hell not going to say no to work. When I have six months of expenses in the bank (Hah! I say, and Hah! again . . .), sure, I'll say no to the occasional job, but I don't even have next week's expenses in the bank. (I'm waiting for a copyediting check, I get paid at the bakery next week, and I haven't invoiced for some writing work because some of it is still in process, just so you don't think I'm in dire straits.) But work or no, I really want to spend some time writing what I want to write.

Of course, today I committed to getting Jefe's website in order, so there you go. Right now it's a shambles. The guy he originally hired owes him hours of work, but Jefe doesn't know what to tell him to do and doesn't have time (or the ability) to do the writing himself. He probably hired the wrong guy--this guy claims to have algorithms or whatever that increase the likelihood the website will show up in searches. But Jefe's customers already know where to find him, and, really, a bakery is a local business. Jefe doesn't need to come up on a search engine in Arkansas, you know? Anyway, the copy is lousy, the navigation sucks, the pictures aren't actually of Jefe's stuff, and a lot of the information is out of date. Jefe's newer computer guy claims he's going to fix this or that, but doesn't actually do a damned thing. This guy provides internet service for local businesses, I think, and he installed a bunch of security cameras for Jefe, at least a quarter of which aren't working at any given time. He's not going to fix the website any time soon. Jefe said the old guy will do anything you tell him to do, so it's really just a matter of writing copy, getting some photos, doing the navigation, etc. Jefe will pay me for my time, and I think he really needs a functioning website, so WTF, why not.

Today I was contemplating the varied rates of pay at which I work. I realize we're not supposed to talk about what we earn in this society, but I don't give a shit. I personally think that's part of the conspiracy to keep workers divided against each other. At the bakery, I make $9/hour, and $13.50/hour for anything over 40 hours a week. The copyediting varies--it's usually by the page, which means it can be as much as $25 or so an hour if I'm efficient and the text is well-written; it's usually around $15 to $20 an hour, I'd say. The writing for my old boss pays $75/hour. That's more than he was able to pay me before, when he was at other organizations, when the rate was usually about $50/hour. (He knows that I'm fast and that I won't pad my hours, so, in the end, I'm probably cheaper than someone whose rates might be lower.) In other words, in one hour, I can make anywhere from $9 to $75, depending on where I am and what I'm doing. When I'm wiggling my fingers in one way, shaping croissants, say, it's the lowest amount, and when I'm wiggling my fingers in another way, typing, say, it's the highest amount. I don't have any grand conclusions from all of this, mind you, I just thought it was kind of interesting. If I could figure out how to get even 20 hours/week of the higher rate, I could make a bunch of money--$78k a year, for those of you without a calculator handy. Even 10 hours/week--i.e., I'd still get a day off each week--would be substantial, and more than I'll make at the bakery for four times the number of hours.

So, speaking of croissants, today I came in and . . . my plain croissants have disappeared. Not the baked ones--the first thing I do after I punch in is check out the baked croissants on the rack to see how they look and to make sure there are enough of them. (Friday I came in and found a pan of unbaked ham and cheese croissants in the walk-in--I asked Phil to bake them, and he said they'd baked two pans--two dozen--for the store, but I said, well, we're selling a lot of these, so let's bake these 13, too. Damn if we didn't sell them before 1:00 pm.) Anyway, I knew I had put several pans of 36 in the freezer yesterday, but they were nowhere to be found. Turns out, one of the night bakers burned 16 dozen of them. Jefe dug one out of the garbage to show me, and it was a charcoal briquette. Apparently the guy forgot to set a timer (he's a good baker, so this was a complete aberration) and just killed them. Luckily I had enough in the freezer so they could bake enough for the store and for the markets, but I had to rearrange my shaping plans for the day. I also found a piece of dough in the walk-in that I apparently overlooked yesterday (easy enough to do, given the racks of crap in the walk-in by Friday evening), and I suspect tomorrow's croissants will not be pretty.

And, yes, I made pizza today, albeit with Phil's focaccia tapanade rather than sauce (the delivery guy never got me sauce) and with half whole wheat flour in the crust. I liked it better, but it was late coming out of the oven, so there was a lot left at the end of the day--less now, because some is in my refrigerator. I've been using a few Spanish words with the dishwasher--days of the week, temperature (hot or cold), one more--and trying to pick up more from what I hear, but it's not enough. We have a new intern who is truly fluent in both Spanish and English (she's Puerto Rican), and I'm hoping to get her to teach me the verb forms and such. In any case, the dishwasher likes me, despite the language barrier. Apparently, back in the day, he was eating a slice of pound cake every day with his coffee. Brad, in his inimitable way, bitched about the cost of that, so now Leon gets a doughnut out of the freezer to dunk in his coffee (as Jefe said, it's hard to say whether he's warming the doughnut or cooling the coffee). I think he knows that's safe to eat, so he sticks to that. But I give him stuff, too, when I can--the pizza, certainly, and, last week, a croissant that I'd cut to check the lamination, and a day-old pecan roll. So yesterday I grabbed the bowl for the 20-quart mixer so I can mix the pizza dough, and Leon makes it clear that he'll wash it for me in the pan washer, which he then proceeds to do, thus saving me the time of washing the thing. The great thing for me is that he'll teach me the occasional word in Spanish, and, even more interesting, is how much we manage to communicate despite the barrier. I guess he makes me think of the lessons I learned from my father--that there's no shame in any job, that everyone is worthy of respect (at least at first; people like those "serving" in the current administration are a special case)--Golden Rule things, basically.

And that, really, is where I think notions of social justice have to originate. It's why I think we should all have access to the same health insurance to which our Congresspeople have access. Today I asked Brad if he always used the ricotta in five-pound batches--I'd thought to make a three-cheese pizza, with ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella, since I didn't have sauce. Brad said that he did always use five-pound batches, so I said, oh, okay, I won't dip into it then. He said what he has said before--it's too good for these guys. And before I could stop myself I said, "I really hate it when you say that." I didn't elaborate, and I didn't make a scene, but jeez, you think he'd've learned something from getting picked on as a kid. Apparently not the right thing--but I'll work on him over a beer sometime; it's just fear on his part, and that's never a good basis for deciding which action to take.

This made me laugh out loud:
What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Philadelphia
 

Your accent is as Philadelphian as a cheesesteak! If you're not from Philadelphia, then you're from someplace near there like south Jersey, Baltimore, or Wilmington. if you've ever journeyed to some far off place where people don't know that Philly has an accent, someone may have thought you talked a little weird even though they didn't have a clue what accent it was they heard.

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What American accent do you have?
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Because, you know, it's completely accurate. Dave used to say that he could tell when I was talking to family on the phone because my accent used to become much stronger. Of course, I don't think I HAVE an accent . . . but who does? I completely freaked out one of the not-quite-down-and-out guys who occasionally does deliveries and paints our paper signs for us by asking him whether he was from Philadelphia or Baltimore. Thanks to Orange for this one.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lemon Tea

About two weeks ago, the radio was tuned to one of the local rock stations (and thank the deities for that--lately Brad has been putting the country station on, and it makes me want to stab him) and "Let It Be" came on. Phil started singing along, except he was singing "Lemon tea, lemon tea . . ." I'm pretty sure he was just goofing around.

Then, yesterday, Leon the dishwasher was up in the crawl space getting down Christmas decorations, which are stored in big plastic tubs. He must have asked a question about whether to bring down this thing or that, because Jefe called out, "Bring down everything that's not a bunny." Which still cracks me up. He brought down an animatronic Santa, who sings and dances (it's about four feet tall); he has a bakery box in his hand, and all I have to say is, if there were a cake in that box, it would be destroyed. I think it's demented--I also think it's demented that they're putting out the Christmas stuff already--but nobody asked me.

What you have asked me about, however, is croissant shapes. Imagine a long triangle of dough. You start at the wide end and roll it up, which gets you the layers of layers. You can put it on the pan just like that, or you can bring the ends around to meet, or somewhere in between. In our bakery, we don't curve the good ones at all. Rumor has it that in France it's either law or tradition that the ones made with butter aren't curved but the ones made with margerine are. We curve the margerine ones and glue the points together with egg wash because the customer wants to make sandwiches out of them. As noted, I hate handling that shit--it makes me feel nasty, and not in a good way.

Meanwhile, they have done some kind of work on my apartment today--the primer can is turned around, so someone was in here--but (a) it is by no means done, and (b) it smells bad in here; it makes me cough, actually. I suspect it's dust, fumes, or both. And my furniture is still piled in a corner. I think I'm going to drag it out of the corner for the weekend--I doubt they'll be up here tomorrow or Sunday. I know I shouldn't complain about it--it could be worse, etc.--but it's a pain. I basically don't have the use of half of my apartment until they're done. Eh; they'll be done sooner or later, I suppose.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Baby Got (Sore) Back

Yesterday's adventure featured a wrenched muscle in my lower back, which made even the simplest activities painful. I loaded up on ibuprofen and i gently stretched what I could when I could, but I really did a number on myself. I eventually headed home, thinking I'd maybe do a little gentle yoga, take a hot bath and then make some dinner and then vegetate in front of the television, but noooooooo. They started working on my living room yesterday, which means all of my furniture except the desk is piled in one corner of the living room or shoved into the kitchen, and everything's covered in plastic; and it smells like wet plaster in here as well. While I suppose I could have cleared enough crap away from the kitchen table to make dinner, I'm let someone else cook for me instead (though my original choice, a crunchy-granola place a few blocks away, wasn't accepting credit cards, so I had to go elsewhere), and then I took that hot bath, and then I went to bed. I am definitely glad they're cleaning this place up, too; I was getting tired of looking at the stains and having loose paint fall on the floor.

My back/hip feels much better this morning--still tweaked, and serving as a reminder that I really must figure out a way to integrate yoga into my life again, but not as bad as yesterday. The bath/ibuprofen/sleep combo definitely helped. With any luck, they'll be done with my apartment when I get home today, and, with better luck, they will have moved the heavy stuff back to approximately where it belongs.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Plaster Dust

Success! I now have a shelf on the bathroom wall (albeit with three screws instead of four, because the guy at the hardware store recommended screws that were WAY too big, but I had three of the right size sitting around) AND I have my pots hanging on the kitchen wall (screws, anchors, and cup hooks; I'd originally thought a pegboard, but once I got to the hardware store, that seemed like way more trouble than it was worth, and more money, too), which means the mixer and the food processor are under the cabinet rather than on the counter and next to the freezer, respectively. I suppose it's possible that there could be too much counter space, but I doubt I'll ever personally be faced with such a situation. It's also probably the case that it would have been smarter to do all of this stuff and then clean, rather than the other way around, thereby necessitating doing some of it twice.

Saturday was an 11-hour day at the bakery. In addition to the usual 120 pounds of croissant dough (out of which I made approximately 500 croissants), I had an extra 30 pounds of dough, out of which i made 130 curved croissants. (Jefe and I referred to them as "shitty" croissants for awhile, because the roll-in fat is this nasty-ass margarine; we had to change our terminology so we didn't inadvertently call them that in front of the customer. We don't sell them in the store, because they're for a wholesale account, and everything about them offends me.) I also put together 16 dozen mini-pastries. These are basically our various sheet cakes iced with their proper icings and cut into 1.5-inch by 1.5-inch squares; we can also do mini-eclairs and mini-cream puffs and mini-cannoli, but I avoid all of them like the plague because they have a bunch of extra steps. At the end of all of that, I had to do the final assembly for two leaf tortes, or mousse tortes, or whatever we call them: basically, chocolate layers with chocolate mousse between, covered in this very thin Tootsie-Roll type substance and with a fucking endless frilly spiral of the same substance on top. Jefe showed me how to do the TR-substance months ago, so I end up having to do it whenever that cake shows up. As a result, I put in nearly my 40 hours last week--37, I think--which is good. Even with some overtime this week, the next check will be a little light, but not as light as I'd feared.

I got lots of sleep (for me) this weekend, though that didn't mean sleeping late. Sunday I slept until 5:45 . . . except, with the clock change, it was 4:45. Today I slept until 5, I think, though I crashed early last night. I managed a short walk yesterday and today, and I may even manage another one today.

I've been thinking a lot the past few days about being a freak, but I haven't gotten around to writing it down yet, and I have a phone call in 15 minutes (about doing some web copy for one of my clients), so it's going to have to wait.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Daylight

I sit here shuffling the deck of stuff in my head--all the shoulds (go to a yoga class; get some writing done so I don't have to do it all tomorrow; take a shower; rebraid my hair; run the dishwasher; pay some bills; get the writing done), and some of them are even want-tos. But the motivation level is pretty low. I have managed to get most of the clean laundry moved from the couch, and I even cleaned the bathroom this morning, and did about 15 minutes of yoga, plus my mom and a friend called already, as did the friend/ex-boss for whom I'm doing the writing. (Yes, mom is talking to me again, though I assiduously avoid all but the most general discussion of my work as much as possible.) My friend called early--7:00 maybe?--but of course I was up. I slept "late" today--it was nearly 5:45 when I woke up!--but then I realized, once I set the clocks back, that it wasn't so late after all.

I'd really like to hang some things, but, in the case of the living room stuff, there's no point, since they haven't painted yet, and in the case of the bathroom shelf, I need to get screws and anchors and a drill bit (my drill bits disappeared in the move). One of the side effects of living in a crappy/"changing" neighborhood is that a lot of the things I took for granted downtown are simply not here. The hardware store was across the street; the grocery stores were numerous and close. Here, the nearest hardware store (or the nearest Ace, anyway) is nearly two miles away, and closed on Sunday. (On the other hand, if I go tomorrow, I can also go to the public library, which I've been meaning to do.) There's a hardware store right next door to the bakery (and I'm in there about once a week for something for the bakery), but the times when I remember what I need and the times when I have the time to go the hardware store for myself don't always coincide. There's a half-decent grocery store near the el stop, but it's really only half-decent, even if it's a thousand times better and closer than the corner stores in really shitty neighborhoods. So, even though I've fallen back into a lot of the habits of living alone, I haven't changed my routine--the routine in my head--to accommodate the new neighborhood.

Here's a good thing about this apartment that wasn't apparent until recently: I'd thought that it would get a lot of sun because it faced south, even though it faces a courtyard, because I'm on the 7th of 9 floors. It didn't seem to get much direct light, through the summer and even into the fall, but I've discovered that it gets a LOT of light right now, probably because the sun's lower in the sky or something. That's a very good thing; I love sunlight in my living space, especially in the winter. Now I just have to get the materials to start a new needlepoint and I'll be set.

I've decided I need to go outside today, if only for the opportunity to wear something other than (a) chef clothes or (b) at-home lounging clothes, which usually consist of a t-shirt or fleece shirt (depending on the temperature) and loose cotton pants. I was out for a couple of hours Tuesday night, but otherwise those two sets of clothing are all I've worn for close to two weeks. It's sort of interesting to me how much I miss wearing "civilian" clothing. First, though, a shower is in order. And some writing--did I mention that part?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fermentation Boogie

Bread class is officially over--I've been dispensing fermented things all over the damned place, and I still will end up with a freezer full of same (as soon as I buy some foil). The guest chef was a great guy, and, since he's a friend of Jefe's we'd heard about each other. The class didn't make much--in the sense that the students didn't really do much mixing, although we did a fair amount of shaping--but a ton of stuff got made. Baguettes all three days; miche (though he used white rather than wheat flour); roasted garlic bread with some rye flour in it; some decorative breads done with baguette dough, as well as pizza and focaccia done with same; croissants (yeah, I know; a buswoman's holiday for me); brioche, in several different forms; and a bread with a lot of potatoes in it. We also talked a lot about sourdoughs and starters and poolish and fermentation and bulk fermentation and proofers and retarders and so on, which was the valuable part. I can learn a lot of this stuff from Jefe, of course, but when do he and I have 21 hours to sit down and talk?

One student in the class was this guy who used to build aircraft or something, and apparently did a lot of home baking. By the middle of the first day, he was Pouty McFrown--he felt like he was in over his head, and, as he said today, all he saw was all the things he'd been doing wrong. I tried to talk with him a couple of times, encourage him in various ways, but he was determined to be stuck in a Not Happy Place. It was kind of strange. I know that I've been around a lot of this stuff for awhile, but he'd apparently been baking before, and, dude, if you are an aircraft engineer, you're probably not an idiot. But he was basically saying that he wasn't going to bake any more. Which, I don't know, seems kind of extreme and wrong to me.

Meanwhile, I was looking forward to being able to write off some of my educational expenses--the tuition I paid for this course, for example, and the interest on my student loan--but, apparently, one cannot claim either of those things if one files one's income tax forms in the "married, filing separately" category. Which blows; I was counting on those deductions. And why? What's the logic behind that restriction, i want to know?

I should be doing some other writing right now. I finished one proposal, but I have to get the other one done--preferably by tomorrow, but I'm not sure that'll happen. We'll see. I have no motivation tonight; what I really want is to sit in front of the TV with a glass of wine and call it a day, and, hey, I may yet decide to do that, despite the folded and clean laundry that's been on the couch since Monday afternoon. They had a little buffet for us at the end of class (pate, cheese, and some of the wads of bread we'd shaped), which means I don't really need dinner. After the buffet, I got to talk to the chef who'd hooked me up with Jefe (I forget what I called him; let's call him Bill). He's a great guy, and definitely one of my supporters; he suggested I ask Jefe for more money. Which I'll figure out how to get up the nerve to do, eventually. I won't get enough to allow me to live on that alone, but even another couple dollars an hour would help some. It would also allow me to stay there longer--as it is, as I've been writing here, I really have to start looking for something else, probably something not in baking, unless I can make a little more money and get a little more time off. Chef Bill noted that you don't make any money in this business unless you work for yourself, but i've detailed the challenges in that scenario--here and in my head--ad nauseam.

Still, a little more money would mean I can keep doing this for a little longer and see what happens. Right now, I'm running close to full speed just to stay even; it would be nice to be in a position where I can (a) continue running close to full speed, but end up ahead, alternated with (b) occasionally stop running quite so much.

Wait; what's that? Is that the wine calling to me? Why, yes, I believe it is. So I'm going to get my writing ready for tomorrow and answer that call.

Monday, October 23, 2006

. . . Singin' Doo-Wah-Diddy-Diddy-Dum-Diddy-Doo

I had written this long-ass post, but I reread it yesterday morning before putting it up, and I decided it was more of that whining shit, and that I needed to drink a nice big cup of shutthefuckup and be done with it. In short, you're not going to have to wade through another pity party over here at Chez Goldman. I'll say that it was a rough weekend, at times, and be done with it.

I had dinner Saturday with Dave and the Kid, and I had a good time with them. I don't have any idea how to go about this, so I'm just feeling my way around. The Kid and I have been in each other's lives since he was 17 months old--he turned 9 in August--so I'd like to find a way for us to be able to continue doing that. Dave is for it, too, so long as the Kid is for it, and the Kid sure seems to be. It's difficult for Dave, and me, too, and i truly appreciate Dave's efforts, despite those difficulties. And Dave loves his new job, which is also great.

I finally got all of the damned croissants made yesterday and today, which means I get to spend three days making bread. (It also means the freezer is crammed full of croissants.) I kind of like working on Sundays, because i get to pick the radio station, and I turn that fucker up LOUD, and I even sing along (under my breath, though, because I can't carry a tune for shit). Brad was there yesterday, and, though he tends to prefer more head-banging stuff, his head was bobbing, too--Emma and Brad, starring in "Rock 'n Roll Bakery"!

I still have not finished my writing, largely because I still don't have the info I need to do so. I should have a chunk by tomorrow, so I'll get up at 4:30 to get downtown, race home after bread class, work away, go to a concert (yes, I know--remember, sleep is for the weak), and then do most of the same thing on Wednesday (no concert Wednesday). Thursday there's an alumni thing downtown for my college, and I might go, if I get enough done. Friday it's back to the croissant production, and I told Brad that if and only if I get the writing done, I'd help him Friday night for a few hours (because Jefe won't be around and one of the other night guys won't be around). I would kind of prefer not to, but I could use the hours, and what the fuck.

Sooner or later I'm going to need to sleep, or, more to the point, go to sleep with no alarm clock set. Of course, I'll still wake up well before dawn, but it's the principle of the thing. And the being able to stay up late without a sense of dread, and the ability to lay in bed and even have some tea and watch the sun rise over the lake.

I've also decided I need to (a) set up a website so I can (b) advertise my copyediting, proofreading, and editing services--there are multiple universities in this city, and I suspect a couple of flyers and a website to which people could go would get me some bidness. We'll see.

Friday, October 20, 2006

You Oughta Be in Pictures

Yesterday was something of a clusterfuck at the bakery, though in an instructive way. First off, Jefe is giving a "demonstration" on Sunday (yes, day after tomorrow), and the place he's presenting doesn't have any equipment, so he wanted to take a DVD with him. Except he doesn't have a camera, so he borrowed one. Except it isn't digital, it actually uses 8mm tape. Except he had no way to edit it. So I said, "Hey, I have iMovie, maybe that'll work." Except I have an old version of it, and the guy who transferred the file put it into a format that neither iMovie nor Quicktime can read, though the DVD does, in fact, play. I added bookmarks to it (though I suspect they're a function of my Mac, not on the disc itself), and, more important, wrote down what's where. I won't be able to move things around into the desirable order, and I won't be able to edit out the numerous shots of people's butts, but it'll be a nice backdrop, of approximately the correct length, for his demonstration.

While we were taking turns with the camera (Jefe and I did most of the filming and "performing," though a few other people made guest appearances), or, rather, in between times, Jefe was up in the ceiling, installing a hoist so he could hang his new machine (it makes little sourdough rolls that the Brazen Tart's restaurant is using; we're supplying their dinner rolls these days). We now have two machines hanging from the ceiling, as the muffin dropper is up there, too. But really, did we have to hang the machine the same day as we were doing all the filming? Apparently we did.

And, really, if he'd mentioned this a week ago, we could have gotten the video, in the correct format, and I could have purchased Tiger and iLife, which I've been intending to do anyway, and he could have had a first-class production, minus shots of people's butts. We give new meaning to the phrase "just in time."

He made an interesting comment today, though, after he returned from dropping off the tape, to the effect that the video guy wasn't exactly a baker. What he meant by that is that the guy was kind of yammering away, and dicking around, for 45 minutes, without actually doing anything with the tape, i.e., he could have begun a process while Jefe was there, instead of putting it off awhile. As I've said before, if I weren't female I wouldn't get to sit down all day some days--there isn't any time or space to put up your feet, or take a leisurely lunch, or surf Teh Internets. One of the problems into which I run occasionally--and Wednesday was a perfect example of this--is that I often have about an hour to kill while the dough gets cold, before I laminate it. So I volunteer for something, if I don't have almond filling to make, or pans to fill, or raisins to soak, or whatever. Wednesday I was making chocolate curls (with a big bar of chocolate and a potato peeler) to top this dessert thing we had to send to a local hotel. A hundred of them, as a matter of fact. Well, this took more than an hour, and it had to go out the door, and I wasn't going to stop in the middle, so I got behind with my own work. As a result, I've already worked 39 hours this week, and tomorrow's likely to be another long day, plus there was the three hours tonight in front of the computer. As I've said before, overtime, baby.

But I'm tired, and I'm fighting off a cold (with only some success; I've been hacking all day), and I still have to do a bunch of writing, and I'm working Sunday and Monday so I can do the bread class Tuesday through Thursday, for which I'll have to get up a half-hour earlier. I'm not really complaining, mind you, though I'm sure it reads that way (as I said to a friend earlier tonight, sleep is for the weak)--but it is bringing home to me the fact that I cannot do what I'm doing for the long haul, and probably not even for the medium haul, which means I have to figure out what I'm going to do instead. I still prefer the "win the lottery" option, but that's not been very successful.

So, in a display of weakness, I guess, I'm heading off to bed.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Adornment

There's been a big whoop-de-do lately, about makeup, shaving, heels, femme adornment in general, etc. Twisty is always good for stirring up some shit, and, over the weekend, Jonquil and Ron Sullivan (who's my new blog crush) weighed in with their own commentary. The comments to both of those latter posts are interesting, too. What eventually struck me about the whole thing is how gendered the whole discussion is--when is the last time you heard/read men defending their choice of clothing, whether they shave their body hair (or rip it out by the roots with wax), their personal adornments, etc.?

That is, what's important about this whole thing, to me, is that women feel compelled to make and defend their choices, and their feminist (or femnine) cred becomes attached to those choices and defenses. Which, in itself, is a commentary on the totalizing effects of patriarchy. I find it fascinating how often a woman defends not/adopting a particular practice because of how it "looks" on her (certain styles, for example), or never having learned how to do it properly (usually makeup), or some bad physical reaction that ensues if she does try to adopt that practice.

And it's not trivial, either. Random strangers (and family members, often enough) feel like they have the right to deliver their opinion on a woman's appearance, particularly if some aspect of it isn't sufficiently feminine, in their judgment. Other women claim they've never been subject to such sexism, not once, nope, never--which, I'm sorry, you haven't been paying attention. Still others claim that True Feminists wouldn't do x, where x = wear makeup, shave, wax, wear heels, etc. The point is, a lot of people are spending a lot of time enforcing one or another dress code--for women. This, in turn, necessitates women defending the choices they make (with or without some consciousness of patriarchy's influence on the choices available and the selections they've made among those choices). The fact that we can and do defend the practices we adopt means that we are at least aware of some aspects of the expectations, i.e., the patriarchy has wormed its way into our heads.

I get kind of tired of enforcers in either direction, to tell you the truth, but I think it's more interesting to see someone make an argument that a particular commonly accepted (or expected) aspect of feminine grooming or apparel is, indeed, anti-feminist in some way. I'm not a fan of the "shaving is bad, and any woman who shaves is caving in to the patriarchy and isn't a True Feminist" approach, but I think a more reasoned argument, detailing (a) why or how a particular practice is patriarchal and (b) how that practice does actual harm, either to the woman who does it or to other people, is a legitimate argument, even when I don't agree with the particular case.

I have to admit that I also get tired of the many women who want to say, "I just do what I do, and it has no relationship at all to the gendered culture in which we live. And I LIKE wearing thongs and having my pubic hair pulled out by the roots with hot wax." That kinda can't be true. You may not want to think about it much, and you may not have experienced a whole lot of obvious (or subtle) sexism in your life (though I think it's more likely that the patriarchy has trained you particularly well), but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

So, really, I'm joining the chorus that's asking women to think about the choices they make, because we are the sexbot class, whether we believe it or no. And that, of course, is why it's women who have to think so much about their personal grooming, adornment, and hygiene practices.
-----
On a completely unrelated note, Susie's dad died, and her remembrance of him is beautiful.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

In Which I Channel My Mother

who is speaking to me again, by the way. After the congestive heart failure brouhaha--during which I called several times to check in on her well-being--she just up and called me last Sunday, and we both pretended nothing had happened. We also carefully avoided (mostly) the subject of my work and my well-being. Hey, whatever; I've realized that my relationship with my mother is the most unhealthy relationship in my life, in that I wouldn't put up with the kind of crap I get from her from anyone else, but I've also become largely (though not completely) immune to it. I can't change her behavior, I can only change my reaction to it.

But that's not my point here.

I managed to score a ride to Whole Paycheck yesterday, so I could shop for groceries without worrying about how to get them all home. I do this about once a month, which seems to be sufficient. It makes for a whopping bill, not least because there's almost always a couple of higher-ticket items, but I've budgeted for it, so it's not a big surprise, either. So yesterday, Newman Os were on sale, including the ginger ones, which make me swoon. I stocked up: one of the original ones, one with chocolate instead of cream filling, and four (yes, four) of the ginger ones. I figure I'd've bought them anyway, and 70 cents off per pack was sufficient impetus to stock up in a marginally serious way (which is the mother-channeling portion of the program). I bought a bottle of olive oil, without which I probably could have done, despite tonight's pesto-making operation; pine nuts, of which I bought about twice what I needed for the pesto-making; laundry detergent; two bottles of body lotion, because my skin sucks that stuff in all winter; and a lot of frozen veggies (broccoli and spinach, if you want to know). I managed to bypass most of the fresh produce, except for some bagged salad that was on sale: I know, but still have to keep reminding myself, that I can go ahead and BUY that fresh bit of something, but the likelihood that I'll use it before it turns into a science project is pretty low. I might as well take some cash and set it on fire.

Yesterday I got my basil: I deputized (and gave $30 to) one of the guys who works in the bakery and who was working the farmers' market yesterday. He bought the basil--and I'm here to tell you that $30 doesn't buy nearly as much basil as it used to do--and gave it to our delivery guy, who picked it up when he picked up the rest of the stuff left over from our stand at the market and brought it back to the bakery with him. And, yes, I made pizza yesterday.

We have a new crop of help in the bakery, and one of the kids is tall, cute, and Mexican--and if I didn't know better, I'd think he was flirting with me a little. Not in any big-time way, mind you, but the vibe is kinda there. It's amusing, not least because I am old enough to be his mother--or even his grandmother, depending on how old he actually is. I suspect he doesn't know how old I am, either. And, hey, maybe I can get him to teach me Spanish. Between him and the friend who took me shopping last night (who is bilingual and who may be able to get me some teaching tapes), who knows, maybe I'll be able to pick out more than every fifth (or twenty-fifth) word. If I (a) learned the verb forms and (b) picked up some vocabulary, I'd probably be on my way, and I suspect the guys at the bakery would be entertained by my efforts and would be helpful.

Today, despite the nice weather, I chained myself to my computer and hacked away at one of the proposals I'm writing. It's a challenge, not least because I don't know this new agency very well, plus one of my contacts will be on vacation this coming week, which is when I have to do the bulk of the work. I'm a little worried, actually: I have to work next weekend, so I can do that bread class (which could have been more inconveniently timed, but not by much) the following week, and these things all have to be written by the 25th or so. I think some sleep will be lost along the way.

Things about my apartment that kinda suck, now that I've lived here awhile: There's no radiator in the bathroom, which is the only room in which I typically want a radiator. Plus, the window in the shower is going to need shrink-wrapping, because cold air kind of comes through there into the shower, which really won't do. The apartment shares a wall with the stairwell, which can be loud. The walls and ceiling look like they have measles, thanks to water damage--but I expect they'll fix that.

As long as I'm complaining, I have to bitch about my uterus, which, with its fibroid-laden self, is making me extremely peevish; the near-constant spotting is just annoying beyond belief. It seems that there's some kind of estrogen surge right before menopause, and, since estrogen makes fibroids grow (and the lack of estrogen makes them shrink), I think that I'm in the middle of that surge. And, of course, the fibroids are, indeed, one of the conditions that seems to be making me difficult to insure, even though (a) I've been treated for them, and (b) once I hit menopause, they'll shrink pretty dramatically. Insurance companies suck, and not in a good way. I have to solve this insurance problem, but it's going to have to wait a couple of weeks, given the current schedule. Feh. Single-payer system, I want you now!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Dead Dreams

Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight

--Bruce Springsteen, "The River"
I went back and looked at last October's entries yesterday, in part because I've been playing "last year at this time" in my head. Last October, Dave found out he'd be losing his job, and my company had crumbled; I was in pastry school, making chocolate and sugar sculptures, and still thinking I could open my own business. Still thinking I'd be with Dave, for that matter.

I've been telling myself that (a) I can get by on the combination of the side work (proofreading/copyediting/freelance writing) and the bakery, at least for now, so (b) I don't need to make any decisions about what I'm going to do until January. But the panic wells up inside, fighting for emotional space with the sadness. I know I can't do this particular combination forever; the bakery work is physically demanding and low-paying, which means it's also time-consuming. There are no benefits and no paid vacations. I'm 48 years old, and, hey, I'd like a day off once in awhile.

I also wonder if I can or want to start my own business by myself. The failure rate for new businesses is extremely high, especially for food businesses--more than 90% of restaurants fail in the first two years. The whole thing was predicated, in part, on Dave supporting me for awhile (as I supported him before we were married), giving us a cushion while I got the thing going; clearly, that's no longer an option. In addition, I see how many hours a week Jefe works (80, maybe?), and, even allowing for (a) efficiencies I might be able to build in and (b) ambitions for a smaller business than he has, there's not much likelihood of anything but long hours and low pay for the foreseeable future. It also ties me to whatever location I'd choose; you can't move food businesses.

In short, I've started thinking about alternatives. Can I find an office job I don't hate? There's another big question, seeing as how my inability to find a job was part of what prompted this change to begin with. But what kind of job? Can I find one that pays enough and that I don't hate? And does that mean the baking dreams are dead, even though I'm good at this shit?

And so on.

I try to tell myself that I DON'T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS UNTIL JANUARY, DAMNIT, SO STOP ALREADY, but I don't listen for long. None of that is the least bit productive--it (what a surprise) tends to distract me from the writing/editing I should be doing instead, though I can make croissants and obsess about these things well enough. (Hey! I'm a multi-tasker!)

And then there's all the stuff from the dying marriage to contemplate as well; that's a fun subject for my brain, too. Another dream in shambles. Feh; I'm whining again, and that annoys me even more.

I had a long talk last night with one of my best friends, in California, and that helped some, not least because he thinks I'm pretty fabulous and he tells me so. He can commiserate, too, because he has the hardest time finding a job (he's unemployed again); he keeps finding a job, digging himself out of a financial hole . . . and then something happens and he loses the job, either because the company goes out of business or his boss is a nutcase who wants to hire a friend, or something. He's one of the two or three smartest people I've ever met, and he knows how to do all kinds of things, which makes it difficult to get hired, it turns out; most places, especially places run by half-bright HR people, are suspicious of people who don't have lots of obvious straight lines in their lives and work histories.

Anyway, it's time to make the doughnuts, or, rather, the croissants, because they still won't make themselves. Pizza today, too. I have to say that my croissants have completely rocked the house the past two days; we must have a good batch of flour or something (seriously; that makes a difference), and my lamination has been really beautiful.

Added: On my way to work this morning, my iPod served up this song first, in some kind of karmic harmony, I guess.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ooooh, that smell . . .

that smell of wet plaster.

So after that last update, I realized that the walls and ceiling of the kitchen AND living room were oozing wetness, as was the hallway into the apartment (?!). I quickly moved the electronica, especially my computer, which I need to be able to earn enough to pay the rent, into the bedroom. I called the emergency number again, again got noone, so I went upstairs to the building manager's apartment (luckily I knew which one it was) and woke her up. She woke up the engineer, they started dealing with the problem, and I went off to work (sans shower, however, which makes me a little grumpy). Indeed, things had stopped dripping by the time I left, even if everything was still wet.

The building manager left a voice message for me around 9 am and said the problem was fixed, etc., and when I got home, it more or less was. There's still wet plaster, of course, and lumps and bubbles from said wetness, but--as the Polyanna in me noted--it could have been a hell of a lot worse. I need renter's insurance immediately, of course, but not owning a car makes that a little more difficult, evidently. I just kept thinking how lucky I was that it happened (a) at 4 am and not, say, 9 am, and (b) in the fall, meaning I can open my windows tomorrow to air things out. It's humid in this city in the summer, which would probably leave me moldy, but I'm hoping this will work out.

I'm beginning to think I was a really horrible person in a previous lifetime . . .

Crash! Bang! (drip, drip, drip)

This is getting ridiculous.

This morning, I was awakened at 4 am by a loud crash from the kitchen. Figuring I had put something in a precarious position, I got up to investigate. Nope; not that. My kitchen light fixture had filled up with water and exploded, a second one of the glass globes was filling as I watched (it's nearly full now), and the whole fixture--or, at least, two of the three globes--are leaking a steady stream of water. I called the emergency number, but, of course, it's some guy's pager, and he, unlike me, is asleep. I expect the second globe to come crashing down at any moment, so, needless to say, I'm not hanging out in the kitchen. And given the combo of water and electricity, I'm not trying to fix it myself.

I'm also not getting any more sleep this morning; that adrenaline rush from a loud crash pretty much obviates that option. And I think I'll skip the cereal this morning, seeing as how significant portions of the cereal-getting operation would require standing near the about-to-blow second globe, the broken glass I couldn't quite reach, and the steady stream of water from the first fixture.

Update at 4:36: And there went the second globe. Meanwhile, the third globe has started to fill--for symmetry, I suppose.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

And then . . .

And then I was turned down for health insurance today. I'll try another provider--but get this: they might accept me, but exclude coverage on a particular condition, which, of course, would be the goddamned reason I need the insurance. Fuckers.

Water, Water, Everywhere

What I did not mention below is that my mother is still not talking to me. So yesterday my sister-in-law calls me and informs me that my mother has been suffering from congestive heart failure the past couple of weeks. Her kidneys have been failing slowly but steadily for the past five or ten years, and she's on a transplant list, but not quite yet on dialysis; looks like that's about to change. Presumably, that's why she had ten pounds or so of extra fluid. Of course, the diuretic they gave her had some kind of sulphur in it, to which she's allergic, so, after a couple of days, she started throwing up. She stopped taking that medication, but hasn't gotten through to the doctor (Monday was Yom Kippur and the doc hadn't called her back yesterday) since that. I called her on my way elsewhere (and, of course, she was still snotty to me; sickness doesn't deter my mother), but someone apparently came in so I'll have to call her back this morning on my way to work. My brother and SIL remain in the dark about the subject of my mother's pissation with me, though apparently my father mentioned to them that she had hung up on me without giving any details. I've restrained, rather than put my brother in the middle of it. And, really, the real reasons my mother's pissed off at me haven't changed in 48 years.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blather

I've been neglecting you all, and I'm sorry about that. After last week's mini-vacation, my nose is back to the grindstone: in addition to that croissant-making thing, I've got several side things going on now. Believe me, I'm NOT complaining--that's how I'm going to pay the bills, after all--but it does mean a seven days/week schedule, pretty much. The advantage to the side work is that I can do it in bits and pieces, and I can do it in my underwear rather than in an office. I can also take breaks from it, which I do. Yesterday, for example, featured a lovely walk in the woods, complete with the sighting of a 9-point buck; we crept along and eventually got quite close to him--maybe 30 feet away? These woods are large and full of deer, but the deer don't have any predators other than cars, so they're not much spooked by people.

Also, if you didn't see it in the comments: Dave got a job!! He started it on Friday, and it sounds like a great job for him. It doesn't pay enough for him to feel completely comfortable, and the health insurance doesn't kick in for 90 days, but it's a small business, and the owner will, I'm sure, reward Dave appropriately once he sees how valuable Dave will be.

Meanwhile, I've been dealing with a bout of sadness this week. Not depression, just . . . sadness. I don't care how you describe what's gone on this past year--it's just sad. Dave tells me that we're incompatible across a number of spectra (and we probably are), but that's not new. Hell, none of the issues that came up were completely new, for that matter; even his diagnosis had its appearances before, albeit not in quite so dramatic a form. Still, somehow, we thought we could make it all work; I wouldn't have married him otherwise, and I don't think he would have married me, either. And I really don't want to go down the "if only" path--if only he hadn't done/said this; if only I hadn't done/said that. What's the point? We took the paths we took, and we took them in good conscience, in that we never meant to hurt each other and we tried to, I don't know, do right by each other? I failed miserably, of course; it's not just the road to hell that's paved with good intentions. As you can see, I have trouble blaming, though I don't think that's a flaw, exactly; I just don't see the point of pointing fingers. It's just sad. Was it inevitable? Hell, I have no clue. As I said, that seems to be the path of "if only," and I'd rather deal with the path of "is." Here's where we are. Would all roads have led to here, or some other approximation of here? No idea. It'd be easier if I could say that definitively (though I'd still be sad). And if I thought that different paths would have prevented us from getting to Here? We didn't take those paths, and you can't go back. Ahhh, fuck, I'm just babbling.

On a related note, one of the things I'm editing includes a questionnaire that assigns points to stressful events, with the notion that the occurrence of some number of them means you're at greater risk for illness. More than 500 in a year is supposed to be a bad thing; I racked up over 800. What I would really like to do is get more exercise and practice yoga regularly. I could walk home from work a couple days a week, and I could practice yoga at home for free; instead, I do neither of those things and then feel bad about it, which isn't particularly productive. Handball is unlikely for the foreseeable future, if only because adding a $50/month expense for a YMCA membership seems like a bad idea, but walking is free. I'm on my feet all day, so I haven't turned into a total tub of goo, but I miss the endorphins of the exercise (and the game, of course) and the aerobic aspects of it, too. And I miss yoga. I try to do a teensy bit of yoga when I get up, but . . . I don't. Once I get out of work, I just want to get home and vegetate (or do the side work, then vegetate). I know I'd feel better even if I EITHER walked or practiced yoga, but, hey, why not just chastise myself some more? I guess I should move the "no blame" mantra to that area of my life, too.

On a completely unrelated note, what the hell is it with these so-called family values Republicans? They natter on and on, they legitimize and legalize torture, they spout their faith in a deity and castigate others' faiths or lack thereof, they want to control my vagina, they clutch their pearls over consensual sex the last president was having . . . and they turn and look the other way when one of their own solicits sex from teenagers. I've long suspected that the reason they're so insistent on trying to control my sex life is that their own heads are so out of control, they figure (a) everyone else's head must be similarly messy, and (b) since we don't believe in the same deities or believe in the same way, well, golly, nothing is holding us back! Apparently the deity isn't doing much to hold them back, either; guess it's that personal responsibility thing the kids are going on about, eh?

I'd write more about the torture, but others are doing it much better and more thoroughly, and I doubt my six readers really need to be told that (a) it's wrong, and (b) I'm sick to my stomach about the whole thing, because you probably agree with me.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Weekend Roundup

In case you missed it, here's a transcript of the Big Dog smacking down Chris Wallace on Faux News yesterday.
---
A commenter on another blog was driving me crazy a few weeks ago, and it took me awhile to figure out why: It's because she makes ad hominem arguments. Not AGAINST other commenters, mind you, but using himself (yes, I'm being vague about the person's genitalia and I'm not naming the blog); if I knew latin, I'd be able to figure out how to revise the phrase. That is, she says that she has this perspective/holds this position/is making this comment because she is a contrarian, because he is a [insert fierce animal here], because it's her nature to say these things. Okay, that's still not an argument. ("Yes it is." "No it's not." "Yes it is." "That's not an argument, that's merely contradiction.") Every last comment and "argument" is really about the commenter's experience in the world, and it really started to wear thin on one particular thread.
---
The fast cars were extremely fun, and from the position we took for the actual race, we could see turn 5 and turn 14. There was a big-ass crash (which we couldn't see until we got home and watched the tape), but despite the fact that the car pretty much exploded into pieces, the driver was okay. (The cars apparently are designed to break apart, which dissipates the force of the crash.) Crashing is not something this group plays up, and big crashes are an exception rather than the norm. We wandered around a good bit of the four-mile course on Saturday and again on Sunday morning, watching practice sessions and other races, so I had a sense of the course in my head to match up with the map; I also began to be able to tell where the cars were from the sound of them.
---
On the local guide, there was a full-page ad for a nearby inn. It had little pictures inset, along with descriptions of the things they had to offer. My favorite thing was a "glorified continental breakfast." I have a feeling the person who wrote their ad copy thought that "glorified" was the same as, say, "exquisite," or "glorious," or something like that. Sorry, no.
---
I'm feeling virtuous tonight, and not just because I did four loads of laundry today--semi-sequentially, because some bozos broke into the washers last Thursday night, disabling three of the four of them and preventing me from doing the laundry on Friday--and started to actually hang some shit on the walls. (About time, really.) I wanted to go out to dinner tonight, it being the Last Official Day of Vacation, but I restrained myself. It was partly inertia on my part; it felt like too much effort to find clothes, take a shower, etc., but I also decided that this month's expenditures were already too high. I went health insurance shopping today, and applied for some that'll cost $200/month if they approve me, which is less than I had budgeted, but I'm going to need to pay more than the minimum payment for my student loan, or I'll never pay it off. I wish we had a single-payer system that worked; this is just a pain. All in all, I want health insurance that's as good as, say, the health insurance that U.S. Congresspeople get.
---
I'll be entertained to see what's left of the three gazillion croissants I left strewn about in freezers last week. There should be hundreds left (literally--but there's a farmers' market Wednesday), but there's no telling what the overnight bakers did while I was gone. There might be several hundreds more than I planned; there might be very few. (I think the former's more likely).
--
Keep those fingers crossed for Dave . . .

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Arrrr! A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Thanks to Ron, here's my pirate name:



My pirate name is:


Captain Mary Bonney



Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate's life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
part of the fidius.org network


I managed to get Jefe to make pirate cookies for the occasion (yesterday was Talk Like a Pirate Day, for those of you who didn't have that marked on your calendar): we replaced one of the eyes on the smile cookies with an eyepatch. (The cookies are big sugar cookies covered in yellow-colored white chocolate (enough right there to keep me away from it) with a smile face or a frown face on them.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Irritants

First off, what the fuck are my fighting-for-a-wild-card-berth Phillies doing losing to the Cubs, who suck so terribly? The Phillies' pitching was for shit tonight (witness the number of runs the Cubs scored--9? 10?), and, despite a grand salami that put the Phillies back in the game briefly, they just could not pull it out. Against what Steve Goodman used to call the doormat of the National League. Guys, that is NOT the way to do this.

Second, I've got two minor irritations: first, something at the bakery--flour in the air, perhaps?--occasionally gives me eye boogers. Not just the regular stuff, but yellow-green stuff. One day last week it was pretty bad, but it cleared up as soon as I got home and took out my contacts, so I decided it wasn't a genuine infection. The other irritation is some kind of weird rash on my left forearm. I've been halfheartedly following the basic rule of skin crap (if it's wet, dry it; if it's dry, wet it), with tea tree oil, some jojoba and beeswax cream, and/or some vitamin E oil, but it's impossible to keep it covered in such stuff while doing production. This ten-days-in-a-row thing probably isn't helping. It doesn't hurt, it doesn't itch, so I'm not going to worry about it.

Here's an irritation of a different sort: the sign at the public transit station--one of those scrolling neon signs--blathers on about homeland security and keeping track of your shit and so on. It also requests that you "remain alert of" your surroundings. Who the fuck wrote that? You can be AWARE of, or alert TO, but who says "remain alert of"? Every time I see it, it irritates me. (I also made the mistake of complaining to a friend that one should never modify "unique." It means "one of a kind." If it's already singular, if there's already nothing else like it, then it can't be "very" unique." Sportscasters--who are responsible for so very many locutions that drive me crazy--are the biggest sinners in this regard. Of course, my friend takes every opportunity to modify "unique" somehow.)

Just sayin.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Saturday Night Live

Anybody else remember the first season of SNL? I actually watched most of it. I also wrote a grad school paper about SNL's early years.

I wanted to say a few more words about Ann Richards, whom I never met but for whom a friend of mine worked. He didn't work for her directly, but he worked to establish a program in Texas that she started, which was essentially corrections-based substance abuse treatment. She recognized that a lot of people who commit a lot of crimes are drunk, high, or both when they do their deeds, and that their addictions (and lack of skills, etc., which is often a result, in part, of their addictions) mean they're going to keep committing crimes until/unless they can find a recovery program. The programs in Texas were nine to twelve months long, in facilities that were dedicated to treatment: there was no general population to distract from recovery, and there were a lot of people, including guards with guns and other treatment program inmates with more recovery time, to help convince people that recovery was really the way to go. They were good, solid programs (no idea if they still exist or still are), and, as data from California and Oregon (I think) and other places has started to show, treatment is cheaper, over the medium and long term, than no treatment, even taking into account that some people will not stay sober. Helping people fight their addictions means those people won't be committing more crimes and means they're likely to become tax-paying citizens. Everybody wins. And Ann Richards, perhaps because of her own background (she was in recovery), recognized that and implemented it.

So one of the specialty cakes we make is called, euphemistically, a "torso" cake (I think I've told you this before; if so, apologies. I'm too lazy to look). It's just that: a torso, from the neck to the pubes. You can get a female or a male; the male version features an erect penis (and, if you ask for it, ejaculate, in the form of white buttercream icing, dripping from it). Jefe said the females are more difficult to construct, because it's difficult to get the breasts the same size; I told him not to worry, that they often differ in size in real life. The underpinnings of the breasts are two doughnuts topped by cupcakes; the shaping is done with icing. In the nearly nine months I've been there, I've only seen one female, but we probably do two to five males a month. The underpinning of the penis is a churro; we keep a stash in the freezer, and then thaw them in the oven as needed. As Johnnie went to put one in the oven yesterday, the conversation went something like this:

Johnnie: For a white guy, you only need a half of a churro.
Brad: For a Mexican guy, you only need a quarter.
Jefe: You could use a mini cannoli shell [they're about three inches long].

Johnnie did one yesterday and one today, and they were both white guys (you can request white, black, hispanic, whatever); Johnnie went a little heavy on the red, such that both of them looked seriously sunburnt. It was kind of painful to see.

Otherwise, I'm tired. I finished a side project, and I've got another one on the table (literally; the RFP is spread out on the kitchen table), and I'm working Sunday and Monday at the bakery this week so I can take off next Friday and Saturday. Four whole days off in a row! I haven't had more than three days off since last December, and the only time I had three days it was to fly to my parents' anniversary party and back, so this is really the closest thing I'm getting to a vacation this year. But it's a good one: I'm going to see the last race of the Champ Car World Series, at Road America. I've seen two open-wheel races in person this season, one Champ Car race (the Milwaukee Mile) and one IRL race (last week in Joliet), but they were both ovals; this is a road race, and it sounds really interesting. As my friend put it, I'll get to see not just high speeds but braking--and going from one to the other. (Many road race courses are set in cities, which is a whole other thing.)

We're not going up there until early Saturday morning, so I'll have Friday to do errands--including, I hope, getting my hair trimmed. It hasn't been trimmed since February (!), which means it looks like weasels chew on the ends at night while I sleep. I haven't gone this long without a trim in many years; normally I got it done every three months or so. Partly it's timing: the woman who cuts my hair is off on Sundays and Mondays, and, hey, so am I! Partly it's money: the salon at which she works now isn't particularly cheap, and I overtip her wildly (which might explain why she did my hair for free for the wedding). Partly it's that my hair spends most of its time up (I use these, and I love them), and it's not like I have to look all that presentable most of my waking hours, so spending the money has seemed not that urgent. But since I'll actually have an opportunity, I'm going to take it, if she has an opening. If not, I'll do it in October, when I'll have off on a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday so I can attend a bread class with one of the best bakers in the country, Jeff Hamelman. (Did I mention that Jefe offered to split the $825 cost of the class with me? Which I thought was nice of him.)

Meanwhile, Dave had a job interview Friday--cross your fingers for him, light a candle, say a prayer, leave an offering for Ganesh, whatever works for you--or, more to the point, for him.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Backwards and in High Heels

Ann Richards, rest in peace. (She also said, according to the WaPo, "I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone.' "

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sam, Frodo, Compassion, and Subservience

I have a short list of posts I want to write (and have started writing in my head, while I laminate), but we'll settle for one tonight, even though I should be copyediting. I just finished this year's reading of LOTR; I have no idea why my brain decided I needed to read it now. Perhaps because I just finished Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and I wanted another epic? Who knows.

Anyway, this time through, I was thinking a lot about the relationship between Frodo and Sam. In the books, there's a lot of kissing and handholding, but there's no sexual undertone at all (at least not to me). Sam is subservient--he refers to, and calls, Frodo "Mister Frodo" on many occasions--and he basically acts as Frodo's manservant. (Also see the wikipedia discussion of Sam, especially the part about Sam being Frodo's batman.) The wikipedia site notes that Sam is one of the two bearers of the One Ring who gives up the Ring voluntarily (the other being Bilbo); Sam concludes that he doesn't really have the wherewithal to wield the Ring, he being a lowly and none-too-bright gardener and all. That is, it's almost as though Sam's class status helps him resist the Ring's power, even though he is in Mordor when he puts it on. So the class interpretation helps, and that part is pretty clear in the books.

In the movies, though, well, first off, the audience included a whole bunch of people who know nothing about the British class system of the early part of the last century, which means a lot of what occurred in the book would have been read as gay if it had been dropped verbatim into the movies. As it is, many people already read it that way. (There's apparently a bunch of fanfic about Frodo and Sam getting it on, but I REALLY don't want to go there.) And, really, it's pretty anachronistic. I have to admit that it grates on me, too, because of the subservience inherent in the system ("help help I'm being repressed!"), but I can't even imagine how it reads for someone who hasn't read the books and doesn't know anything about British history.

The other thing that occurred to me this time through--and it has occurred to me in most previous readings as well, though not in quite this way--is the notion of compassion. When Gandalf first tells Frodo about the Ring and about Gollum, Frodo says that Bilbo should have killed Gollum when he had the chance. Gandalf says that many who deserve to live are dead, and until Frodo can confer life on those who deserve to live, he shouldn't be so quick to deal out death, even when some being appears to deserve death. This theme resonates through the whole saga, in ways I hadn't considered until this reading, even though Gandalf's words have remained with me since the first time I read them, which would have been in about 1974 (thank you Jeff Innes). In brief, Frodo chooses not to kill Gollum when he has the chance, in part because of Gandalf's words, but also because, upon seeing Gollum, Frodo experiences pity and compassion for the creature. Sam is less convinced, and he maintains his skepticism through nearly a thousand pages; he stays his hand in large part because Frodo insists on it.

But late in the game, Sam, too, experiences the compassion that keeps him from killing Gollum outright. The wikipedia site suggests--correctly, I think--that, in part because Sam has borne the Ring, however briefly, he can see better what Gollum's long, miserable life has been like. That is, however briefly, and under whatever different circumstances, Sam has walked in Gollum's shoes and recognizes the ways that he and Gollum are similar. As soon as you recognize your own humanity, and the humanity (or worth) of another being, I don't believe you can kill that other being easily. I have no direct experience of war, and the closest I have come to being besieged is being female in this society (and that is not trivial), so I don't know firsthand what that experience is like. I suspect it's one of the results of Tolkien's own experiences of war, but that's just a guess on my part.

The notion of compassion continues to resonate, even when the hobbits get back to the Shire. When it becomes clear that they're going to have to fight, Frodo very much wants there to be no killing, especially not of hobbits, it's true, but he'd really prefer that there be no killing at all. An interesting response, I'd say, from a being who was in part responsible for ending the Evil of his time, especially given Tolkien's own experience, and quite a contrast to the screeching of the vengeance-obsessed (but, in general, military-experience-"deprived") right wing in this country.