Sunday, December 26, 2004


On a very, very few occasions, I've had the following conversation:

Them: Hey, nice to meet you. So where you from?
Me: San Fernando valley. Y'know: Southern California.
Them: No, I mean where are you really from? You know, are you Chinese? Japanese?
And usually I just tell them that my parents are originally from China, and I leave it at that. But inside, it kinda bugs me. Really, I know it's just curiosity about family backgrounds, chit chat, getting to know you. It should be more annoying than anything, like if my last name was "O'brien" and the first question out of somebody's mouth was: "So, you Irish?" But that isn't the case, and I know that I've always had something of a neurotic streak in me, and that I've always been hypersensitive about being different, of standing out in the crowd. (I'm tall, it comes with the territory.)

So in my head, sometimes I take it the wrong way. I hear accusations that I'm a foreigner. That I don't belong here. And I just want to say: "No, I'm an American. I was born here. I live here. I'VE NEVER EVEN BEEN THERE! I'VE NEVER EVEN BEEN TO CHINA, FER CRYIN' OUT LOUD!"

And now all that's out the window now.

...because I'm going to China. T-minus 6 hours and counting. W00t!

My mom and I are heading to Shanghai for a week, and then hopping up to Beijing for another few days before heading back to the States. As mentioned, it'll be the first time over there for me, and the first time back for my mom in probably more than 40 years. Should be cool.

Of course, trying to avoid the political commentary here, but I thought I'd mention that it's been an interesting experience reading the travel guides about Shanghai which all give an overview of the city's history. The Paris of the Orient, Shanghai was a city largely partitioned up into concessions by multiple imperial powers (England, the United States and France) for much of the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, each concession wholly administrated by a foreign power. But I'll leave the analogizing and conclusion drawing as an exercise to the reader.

* * *

Anyway, when we get back, the SOOTTAD is going to fly out to L.A. (pretty much day of) and we'll spend a few days hiking in the desert. AND THEN, some Korean BBQ in Vegas, catching another Cirque show and then finally back to Boston. I'm usually better about leaving some breathing room between activities, but there was a lot of cross-coordination that was needed on this one (the SOOTTAD almost immediately gets back on a plane to go to a dance thing in Florida), and we wanted to get it all in, so it couldn't be helped.

And I figure I've got some free time afterward, so I'll just rest up once I'm back home.

Running in LA; observations

Nobody walks in L.A.... unless they have to.

But people do run. And not just crazy out-of-town people who are visiting their folks for the holidays. I've even seen them. (Maybe two or three, but it is the Valley after all.) While I was running, of course.

A nice change, running outside in shorts and a T-shirt again; clear skies every day so far.

My first run was in the late afternoon, the day I flew in. I see nasturtiums (ours frosted over more than a month ago). I smell roses, I smell... wood smoke? I see the smoke from the chimney and smile when I think about what I'm wearing as I pass by outside. It's 60 degrees and the skies are a deep blue as we approach dusk. The same thought hits me as a run by a house bedecked with Christmas lights -- I catch a glimpse of a living room full of holiday spirit: the tree, lights and decorations, a warm cozy picture that seems somewhat out of place amidst the citrus trees and palms. And then it gets dark and the temperature drops about 15 degrees and I'm not quite as amused. I forgot how quickly it cooled off out here. I occasionally hit pockets of warm air and wonder if it's been trapped by the geography or it's just car exhaust.

The next day I run in the late morning. It's gotta be in the 70s, with a moderate wind. Longer run, different roads. More traffic during the day, but I also see more runners than the previous night. The smell of car exhaust ebbs and flows with the traffic and wind, but I catch other scents as I pass their sources: pizza from the take-out place, more flowers, pine trees ... and Christmas flocking (in pastel yellows, pinks and purples, iew) at the tree lot, water as I cross the Los Angeles River in all it's paved glory (although I do notice they added a walking path along one of it's "banks").

A run in L.A. is a run through my childhood.

I run by my old elementary school, maybe a mile and a half from the house. For some reason, it still surprises me how little has changed. The mural mosaic on the main office that went up when I was in 4th grade (made up of drawings by the students, none of them mine), is still there. The buildings. The grassy slope with the semi-circular concrete benches. The playground, now with the addition of a few trailers (temp-to-perm classrooms?) and the basketball courts relocated, but the handball courts (wall) still standing. The separate kindergarten building and playground is the same except for the sandbox which has been replaced with that space-age black rubber stuff. The tree just outside (under which I shat myself while I sat waiting for class to start because I was too shy to ask for permission to be let into the building to use the bathroom) is still there too.

I get to the park where we used to watch fireworks on the fourth, until it's demise after Prop 13. The "Land of Oz," a cool maze-like structure within a giant sandbox area (before the sterile suspended bridges and spiral slides became the norm), great for tag and hide-and-seek games, full of screaming, spastic children, and piss and feces -- gone. (The 3-story giant robot with tube-slides for arms at the other park I used to go to is also no more.) Basketball courts migrated to the other side of the main building, which is currently under construction. (What is it with the basketball courts anyway?) But I recognize the baseball diamonds where I played T-ball, anchoring the corners of the field where I could never get my kite to do anything but cartwheel along the turf. I run the "track" that encircles them, just packed dirt and gravel like it's always been, and pass the soccer fields and the separate little league diamonds. I run by the trees lining the fields, under which we'd eat the tart orange slices brought by somebody's mom (probably from oranges from their own backyards) after games, back before there were "Soccer Moms" or minivans or SUVs, or worries about mortgage payments, unemployment (mine or anybody else's), or "homeland security."

Some things change, some things stay the same.

* * *

A few other observations:

  • The air quality seems much better than it's been on my last couple of visits. I don't know whether it's a seasonal thing, or because it's been cooler, or if the winds have been carrying the smog out of the valley, or it really is just better, but the runs haven't been bad at all. I'm coughing a bit more than when I first got here (I sound just like my Dad sometimes), but at least I haven't felt that constricted and uncomfortable feeling in my lungs that I've experienced in the past. Dad's been taking the train recently; I suppose if other Southern Californians are taking advantage of the mass transit options even a few days a week, maybe the air around here really is getting better.

  • almost everyone I see is wearing sunglasses. Hey, it's sunny. The runners almost uniformly are wearing headphones, too. Running it their own private worlds, to their own soundtracks. Actually, on the one overcast day I've seen since I've been out here, everyone is still wearing sunglasses, even the older folks on their morning constitutionals. Headphones on, but still occasionally reciprocating a wave hello.

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Soundtrack

Running with music really is an entirely different experience. It does have all the drawbacks I've mentioned before, but with the right tunes, it can feel like your life has a soundtrack, like you're in a movie. And everything is focused on you. Because you're the star. And you're hitting your stride, and the music is hitting it with you. And everything's great, and you're connected to the world around you, just like it is on the big screen. And it's simply magical. It's this great, amazing feeling...

...except that it isn't real. It's artificial. Fake.

Sometimes the music is ALL THAT, but sometimes it will work against you and just throw everything out of whack. Yesterday, the tunes and all the rhythmic dissonance they were causing late in the run got me discombobulated enough that I managed to get a cramp.

On the long, gray and lonely days where I'm just dragging, I'll make do -- the tunes are a pretty good way to jump start my body when I'm dragging. (I've liked "Lester Left Town"" by the Bruknahm Project) But I much prefer it when you really are in tune with everything around you and you're making your own music.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Slow run; too much rhythm

I generally don't like running with music. There are actually a couple of reasons for this, most of which could be considered practical, and all of which I think I could convince you were valid.

The first is that when you're listening to music, you lose part of the connection to your environment. In practical terms, this means that you're much less likely to hear that truck that's about to run you over. But perhaps on a more ethereal level, I like running because I like being outside and taking everything in -- what I can see, what I can smell, what I can hear. And I've found that it's much more interconnected than I would have expected -- disrupting one sensory input seems to disrupt the others. The headspace is just different or something.

But I'm doing a lot more miles because of the training for the half-marathon, and those miles tend to be on the road and done on my own because I'm unemployed and starting the runs from the house. And as much as I like running and moving and being outside, given the number of miles I'm doing these days, and the roads, and the running alone thing, I hate to say it, but the runs can get a little tedious (not to mention that it's winter so often enough, it's landscapes of gray and grayer).

So I figured I'd try running with headphones again.

Now, the other problem I have with running with music is that it throws off my rhythm. I tried it once before, a long time ago, and my stride was all over the map. I follow the music. Or rather, my body wants to follow the music, but more often than not, the music doesn't want to be followed. At least on a run. But I've been running for a lot longer now and I have a better sense of pace, so I was hoping that it wouldn't be a problem.

Anyway, I tried to do this on a long run yesterday (7.8 miles), but as luck would have it, the battery in my MP3 player died just as I hit the bottom of the hill. (maybe 300 yards from the house) I should note that for the short time that I had music, it seemed pretty good. I got through maybe half of "1000 dollar car" by the Bottle Rockets before it died, a song with a nice slow tempo, and it didn't seem to throw off my stride at all. And on a cold day (like just about every other day recently), it was good to have a melody and rhythm to get me moving.

So today I figured I'd do a SLOW and EASY run, so I picked a 5-1/2 mile loop, put on the headphones and headed off.

Here's the playlist:

1000 Dollar car - the Bottle Rocks (4:46)
Higher Ground - Red Hot Chili Peppers (3:22)
Plenty - Guru w/ Erykah Badu (4:38)
Conjunction Junction - Schoolhouse Rock (2:59)
Deadweight - Beck (6:13)
Do Your Thing - Basement Jaxx (4:41)
Two Way Action - Andrew Bird (4:43)
That Don't Impress Me Much (Dance mix) - Shania Twain (4:28)
She Don't Use Jelly - Ben Folds Five (4:13)
Rock Lobster - B-52s (4:54)
Love Shack - B-52s (5:22)

I should note that our house is on a hill, so any run I do is, by default, a hill run. And then the area around us is also essentially on a hill, so the geography kinda looks like a stretched out, lopsided bundt cake pan. Anyway, I head out down the hill to "1000 Dollar Car" again, and it's feeling pretty good -- a nice slow song as a warm up for my nice slow run. It's supposed to be an easy day after all. Turning the corner, it's still downhill but the grade is lower, and it's the Chili Peppers' version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." It's got a faster pace, but it's ok, I can kind of manage striding half-time. It's not quite right, but it's manageable, and I'm concentrating on going at my own pace rather being controlled by the music.

The first sign of trouble is on "Plenty." I can feel that I've picked up the tempo, even as I turn the corner and the grade flattens out. But it feels good to run with the music, it's like I've found a slipstream and it's practically carrying me along. During the next mile or so, and the next two songs, I feel like things are somewhat back under control: I bring the tempo down, and am going at more or less my own pace (although probably still a bit quicker than I would have liked, but ok), turning the next corner and starting the first of the long uphill sections of the run.

And then all is lost: "Do your thing," Basement Jaxx. I thought I was strong. I thought I could handle it. I try to hold my pace, but the driving beat proves too much for me. BOOM, BANG, BOOM BANG-BANG. Stride, stride, stride-step-step. I must look like an idiot bounding up this hill like some crazy cartoon character. step - step - tri-ple-step And in my head, I'm following the magic bus, shooting rainbows and cellophane stars. Mile three of my slow easy run, and I'm striding, leaping, bounding UP THIS HILL. I'm feeling good, the musical slip-stream pulling me along, and it's easy, and my legs are... tiring. I notice... my breathing. Funny how quickly these things catch up with you.

Next corner, new song, new hills. The tempo is all wrong. I'm trying to establish a rhythm to get up the next hill, to get some momentum, but the music is now getting in the way. Can you - hey - move over th' - *exhale* - got to ge' - leg, move... It's a struggle to get back. There's an easy downhill towards the end and I recover a bit. It's also a bit warmer here, catching the last of the afternoon sun (what there is of it), and finally with the wind at my back (Did I mention that it was windy? And somehow, it was a headwind for almost the entire way except for this one stretch.) as "She Don't Use Jelly" ends and I pick up "Rock Lobster" for the home stretch. The Lobster has some drive and it helps me get up the beginning of the last hill, but it ends just as I'm in the thick of things and the "Love Shack" followup just takes the wind out of my sails. The last push to the house is a struggle.

5-1/2 miles, planning to run 9-minute miles. I end up with sections where I was running sub-8s. Whoops.

Maybe I should save the headphones for fartleks. We'll see, I'll probably give it another couple of tries.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Futility of Being Good

I had my first job interview today; so leading up to it, I've been trying to be good.

Last week, I turned down an offer to hang out in San Francisco for the weekend, FOR FREE. A friend, who knew that I had some free time, was flying out to the Bay area on business and thought it'd be more fun to have other people to hang out with, so he offered me a free ticket and a place to crash, if I was interested. And I was, but I figured it might be unwise to go into an interview just back from a cross-country flight, possibly hung over, probably jetlagged; and anyway, I thought it would better if I spent the time reviewing my old projects so that I could talk intelligently about them.

And last night I tried to be good because I knew I had to be up early this morning for the interview. We had plans to meet up with friends for dinner in town, but I didn't have any drinks and we didn't stay out late so we could get home and get to bed at a reasonable hour. It was kind of a bummer having to cut things short, but I wanted to be well-rested, and thankfully everyone understood and was supportive and wished me the best of luck.

I was a little stressed when I got to bed and was still running over some things in my head (prepwork for the next day), but it didn't keep me up.

The heartburn did, though.

I've noticed a few twinges over the last few days, but thankfully nothing full blown. I thought it might have been the acidity or sweetness of the juices I've been drinking in the morning (cans of Hansen's fruit smoothies -- leftovers from the summer party), but it's probably just the stress.

Over the last few years, I've observed that there seems to be more of a relationship to what I'm doing rather than what I'm eating when it comes to getting heartburn. I normally can eat things that are pretty spicy or greasy or whatever without any problems, but if I'm overtired and stressed (like trying to force myself to stay awake when I'm doing late night driving and my body really wants to be asleep), I could be eating dry white toast with saltines on the side and still get heartburn. I've also learned that I can sometimes nip things in the bud if I notice the symptoms early and take an antacid and get some rest.

Last night's dinner certainly wasn't out of the ordinary (fried chicken served over mashed potatoes with a white gravy with sweet peas at the Linwood Grill in the Fenway), but I did notice the beginnings of that familiar burning, so I took a Zantac and headed for bed. I figured I'd be fine. Of course, no such luck. You've got an interview tomorrow -- do you really think we'd let you be well-rested? Dude, what were you thinking?

So that sucked -- it wasn't the worst heartburn I've had, but it was enough to make it hard to get to sleep, and what little sleep I got was fitful and uncomfortable. It felt better around 6:30am, almost right on time for me to get up at 7. (That's also common: the whole suddenly it feels fine at way too late AM for no reason thing. I've never quite understood that either.)

So in the morning, feeling better but still tired, we have breakfast at Wilson's diner (blueberry pancakes and bacon -- mmmm, bacon) and I drive up for the interview.

The interview.

Yeah, so, it could have been worse; it could have been better.

It also could have been over.

But it's not.

It turns out that they're right in the thick of crazy schedule crunch to meet a deadline and they don't have time to interview me today. I get to talk to one guy, but after that, I'm told that I'm done for the day and that the hiring manager will give me a call to reschedule things.

So I guess I haven't put this interview cycle behind me yet so I still can't concentrate on all those other things I wanted to get to.


UPDATE 17Dec2004:
The hiring manager never got back to me, so I finally called today and left a message. (Maybe I misunderstood what the office manager said? Was I supposed to call him?) He calls me back and tells me they found someone to fill the position, oh, and sorry about not calling you back and all that.

"Mea culpa," he says.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother. But in Steve Martin's immortal words:

"Sure, I'm pissed; but what difference does it make?"

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Irony. Not.

Comment spam, posted by "Blog Ethics," advertising a "Blog Publishers Association."

Help stop evil word of mouth marketers like by supporting the Blog Publishers Association founded by legendary blogger Jason Calacanis.

Posted by Blog Ethics at December 6, 2004 07:57 PM


UPDATE: It occurs to me that this isn't some group with an ends-justifies-the-means mentality that is trying to get the word out, it's just the same bunch of deceitful, lying bastards that will do anything to promote their own sites. I did google "blog ethics" and ended up at Mr. Calacanis' site where he states that the comment spam isn't from him.

F'ing spammers.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Stupid Cold, Moron.

So I went on a short run today, the first run this season with the temperature below freezing. (WeatherUnderground said it was in the high 20s.) Just an easy run after a day off and the 27+ miles from last week, keeping things loose for some trackwork tomorrow. The run was ok -- I initially felt like I hadn't worn enough layers, but after the first mile (while still being cold) it felt tolerable.

However, for the last hour or so, my right nasal sinus passage has grown increasingly irritated (sorry, I know that's gross but I'm having trouble explaining it with prettier pictures). It's not running like a river or anything and it doesn't feel congested...and yet it does. The near constant nose-blowing accomplishes nothing. It's like you're in an apartment where you've just noticed a damp spot under the water stain in the ceiling, so you mop it up, but really it's just a matter of time before the whole ceiling collapses in a downpour because the upstairs apartment has actually flooded because your moron neighbor left the bathtub running.

Except replace the apartment building with my head, and replace the moron with me because I signed up for a half-marathon in March which forces me to have training runs when it's below freezing outside.

In unrelated news: it's 5pm and no napping has occurred.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


I have to say, I'm really going to miss the afternoon naps when I start working again.

I haven't really napped in years; probably since college. It's funny, I can still remember hating "nap time" in kindergarten, when you had to lie on these thin gray-brown segmented mats on the parqueted linoleum of the classroom with the lights out, when you just wanted to do, I dunno, probably just about anything but lie still on the floor in a darkened classroom. And then sometime in high school, it seemed only natural to take a long nap immediately after getting home from school (probably for 2-3 hours) and then waking up for dinner, TV and bed again. (I think I managed to do most of my homework at school during free periods.)

Napping is a lot harder to do when you're working or when you're out and about or when you have things that need to get done. You're just too busy to nap. I'm sorry, power naps don't count. (Although I have to admit that 10-15 minutes can do a decent job of recharging me.) And I think at some point I also started to worry that it would just make it more difficult to get to sleep at night, especially when I had to be up the next morning.

But now with my more, uh, flexible schedule, none of those things are really a problem -- I've probably napped every single day this past week.

And it's not like I'm even keeping particularly weird hours right now: I don't go to bed particularly late, and I'm not getting up particularly early. But for whatever reason, my body just seems to want to shut down sometime in the mid-afternoon and I need to be horizontal. I occasionally experienced this feeling in the past, but generally speaking, sacking out at your desk tends to be frowned upon by the management-types.

I dunno. Maybe it's the shorter days. Or the mid-day long runs. Or just a by-product of an unstructured schedule.

Regardless, I seem to be getting my nap on, and I'll enjoy it while I can.

And the KTUs (Kitty Thermal Units) are a nice bonus.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

'Burb Development

A friend of mine sent me an article from the local paper about the development going on in our neighborhood.

However, more and more, the homes in Lakeview, especially on Marivista Avenue, are being torn down and replaced by taller and larger homes. Rose's single-story home is now sandwiched by towering houses.

"They're too tall," Rose said yesterday as she sat in her kitchen. "The neighborhood was beautiful, and it was very peaceful until they started the construction."

Two similar-sized homes once sat on either side of Rose's house at 113 Marivista Ave. One of her former neighbors, she said, was a gardener for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When he sold his property to be developed by Walter E. Ohnemus Inc. last year, his beautiful landscaped yard went away as well.

His lot now holds two homes on one side of Rose's house. And on the other side, two more homes replaced a lot that once held one house, Rose said.

"When they razed the homes, they also razed the beautiful trees I enjoyed," she said. "Where the house (to her right) sits now, there used to be a beautiful ash tree that turned a gorgeous gold in the fall. It used to cast a golden light into my kitchen. Now, I can practically reach out and touch the new house."

There has been quite a bit of development going on in Waltham. It's hard to miss when you can hear the construction and the road traffic (trucks and backhoes and the like), and previously, the excavation (can you say...BOOM-BOOM?) from the bedroom, with windows closed. There's also been flyers around town about the proposed development of Lincoln Woods. But I hadn't really noticed all the other pockets of construction until I started running around the neighborhood again. I was kind of surprised how many new constructions were getting squeezed into spots around the neighborhood.

I'm not so thrilled about all of it, but I have to remain a bit circumspect. I was thinking about it on my run this afternoon, and I remembered a conversation I had with one of my neighbors who told me that the land my house was built on had actually been part of the lot next door, and that one of the previous owners had built a second house, my house, and sold it off. And as I walked my cool-down along the street, I think I could tell which houses were from the original neighborhood, and which ones had filled in the cracks, mine amongst them.* It was actually interesting to imagine what the street would have looked like without all the modern colonials that have gone up over the years -- a handful of bungalows on nicely sized lots dotting the road, all with a view of Hardy Pond out the back and with nothing but the tree-filled hillside across the street.

* FWIW, I take at least some consolation that my house isn't wildly out of scale with the rest of the houses in the neighborhood, as opposed to some of the newer McMansions that are going up right now.

My house wouldn't exist if there hadn't been any new development. I can appreciate that. And I can appreciate that I probably wouldn't have been able to afford any other house in the area because of it. But it still bums me out. And I guess I'll just have to deal. And I'll have to be thankful that, at least, they didn't cut down the ash** and oak trees that are now in the backyard of my house.

** The sad thing about the ash tree is that it hasn't been doing so well over the last few years. It seems to be constantly shedding branches (especially in storms) and the foliage has been looking a little thin. I had a tree guy look at it last fall and he told me that something has been happening to the ash trees in the area, and that they weren't sure if it was due to some kind of disease or just the result of recent changes (hopefully temporary) in the local climate or environment.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Red fish; travel churn

So I'm beginning to wonder whether that whole business with the phone call I got last week about a job opportunity was just there to get me all agitated instead of letting me relax a bit. After submitting my resume, I've heard pretty much nothing. Granted, we just got back from a long holiday weekend, but I figured if they really were in such a hurry to fill this position, they would have given me a call first thing back Monday morning to schedule something. Then again, maybe I just have a misguided sense of the process and it takes longer to take care of this kind of thing -- I mean, really, I haven't done this in a while.

And despite the original sense I had from friends that the local job market has been improving, things still seem somewhat tepid. So, now that I've officially started looking into finding new job*, things are looking pretty lame. Figures. Maybe I should get my holiday plans in order, since I'm sure once that's set up, I'll have more calls than I know what to do with. Bah.

* I've actually been convinced by enough friends (including the SOOTTAD, who can be very convincing) that it'll be ok to hold off on the full-on search until next year. So I figure I've got this and one other thing in the pipe, and that'll be it until January.

And on the subject of holiday plans, things are brewing in the background, but like everything else, they're likely to implode like [insert colorful metaphor here] if even the slightest thing goes awry.

I was originally planning on heading back to L.A. for the holidays, and then spending New Year's with the SOOTTAD and some friends hiking around the Mojave again. But with the sudden appearance of available free time (barring a new job magically falling in my lap), I'm reconsidering a trip to China. Or rather, after initially dismissing the idea when my Dad brought it up, I finally realized that this might be the best chance I'm gonna have to make the trip. But now we've got the whole mess of evaluating prepackaged tours, figuring out flight itineraries and trying to coordinate schedules, all against the backdrop of having to balance all the special needs and particulars that the three of us have (related to destinations and trip duration and which I don't even want to start getting into here). Oh, and with a departure date sometime before the end of the month, not to mention the part where I have to get myself to L.A. to make all this happen.

I guess if it happens, it happens. And if it doesn't, it just wasn't meant to be, and we'll go back to plan A where we vaguely plan to take a month off sometime in the not too distance (but not too, uh, closer) future.

[UPDATE: I left a message with the hiring manager this afternoon, and when he called back, he told me that, because he's out of town next week, they'd try to set something up for the week after. So, I guess the ball really is rolling.]