Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Your call cannot be completed as dialed

When I moved apartments in Cleveland, I was very excited that I could keep the same phone number. I liked my phone number. It had been all mine since early July of 2001, and it was all mine through at least last December, when my free informational recording ("This number has been changed. The new number is...") was set to expire. I was very proud of my phone number.

I moved to a new place in June, 2003. Shortly thereafter, I began getting messages on my answering machine:

Hi, Mrs. Johnson, this is Dr. So-and-So's office, just calling to confirm your appointment tomorrow at 1:30.

Sometimes the messages went like this:

Hi, Mrs. Johnson, this is Dr. So-and-So's office, just calling to follow up on your appointment from yesterday. We missed you. Please call us back so we can set up a new appointment for you.

No one named Johnson lived in my house. I got tired of this pretty quickly, and I also felt some sense of obligation to help care for Mrs. Johnson, whoever she was. But the doctor's office never left a phone number, and the doctor had a rather unusual last name. So one afternoon I star-69'd the doctor and played the Good, Vaguely HIPAA-Compliant Samaritan:

Receptionist: Hi, Dr. So-and-So's office?
Me: Yes, I keep getting messages on my answering machine for a Mrs. Johnson, and I wanted to let you know that I have no idea who that is and maybe you should ask her again what her phone number is.
Receptionist: Uh, did you just move in?
Me: No, I've had this number for almost four years now.
Receptionist: We've been trying to reach Mrs. Johnson about her--
Me: Hey, I don't know who she is, and I don't want to intrude on her privacy. Just make sure you have the right number for her, in case you actually have to reach her by phone.

And that was the end of that.

Here in California, I have a different problem: people think my cell is the "pharmacy." One afternoon I got extremely bored and used reverse lookup on similar numbers. Oddly, all conceivable misdials were also cell phones owned by Verizon Wireless. I ask you: what pharmacy operates by cell phone?

I, too, am guilty of misdialing on occasion. Once, I thought I was calling Comcast, and instead I got one of those Chat Now with Hot Live Local Singles! lines. I figured I'd called 1-900-COMCAST, instead of 1-800-COMCAST, so to assuage my mortification, I put a 900/976 block on our line.

The other day I got a call at home which was eerily reminiscent of the tale of Mrs. Johnson:

Hi, Christina, this is Dr. Such-and-Such's office. We haven't seen you in a while and are wondering if everything is okay. Maybe you moved, or you got a new number, but please give us a call and let us know how you are doing.

So I called Dr. Such-and-Such's office. I've owned this number for a year and a half, and as far as I know, I'm the first to have it. I was all set to tell Dr. Such-and-Such's receptionist that I didn't know any Christina and that maybe they should double-check their records...

...but who should pick up but an overly enthusiastic recording, encouraging me to Chat Now with Hot Live Local Singles!

Either every unclaimed phone number in this area redirects the caller to Chat Now with Hot Live Local Singles, or I just have extraordinary luck in stumbling across such opportunities.

Trick or treat, dudes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I'm all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality

The Clash, "Lost in the Supermarket"

The grocery store is one of the eviller places on earth. I don't care which grocery store. Safeway, Tops, Stop & Shop, Genuardi's, Acme (pronounced "Ack-uh-me," of course), Fred Meyer, Piggly Wiggly, Kroger, Albertsons, the Berkeley Bowl... they're all the same. Too many choices, too many fluorescent lights, and too many people, and not enough room for all of it. I get overwhelmed.

But we gotta eat.

Every so often my bargain-hunting genes get the better of me, and I decide to go the Berkeley Grocery Outlet. Their motto is "Bargains Only!" which actually means "You are guaranteed not to find at least one staple on your list!" Sometimes they have yogurt, cream cheese, and canisters of parmesan; other times (like today) they have none of these items. This is highly annoying. But the plus side is that all these overstocks are dirt cheap. For example, today I bought $46 worth of groceries for $21. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The clientele of the Grocery Outlet is, well, fairly bizarre on average. I include myself in this statement, but there are many different types of bizarreness, and I would like to think that mine is a benign sort of bizarreness. Various of today's customers were carrying on cell phone conversations about things which just should not be discussed within earshot of strangers, such as finally getting one's children back from protective custody.

And then there was this woman.

This middle-aged woman was standing in the middle of the aisle, with her cart blocking half the width of the aisle and her body blocking an additional fourth. She was staring rather blankly at the shelves. As I too had a cart, my passage was blocked. So I said, quite politely, "Excuse me." The woman glared at me and spat, "I'm just standing here, about to pass out, and you have a cart too? [mutter mutter mutter mutter]" She moved her cart and let me pass, all the while muttering about who-knows-what.

At the end of the aisle was another cart, this one parallel to the shelves. I wasn't sure whether I could maneuver my cart past it, so I eased my cart up alongside it. I don't like moving other people's carts. Well, I will move a cart if its owner isn't right there. But if its owner is standing there, I will politely say "Excuse me," as above, and I expect the owner to say "Oh, I'm sorry," just as I do when it's my cart in the way. I wasn't sure whether the person near this particular cart was its owner, so I thought I'd try some expert cart maneuvering first.

So there I was, trying to slip my cart past this cart whose owner may or may not have been standing a few feet away, and along came this muttering woman again! She had abandoned whatever she'd been staring at, as well as her own cart, in order to move this other cart out of my way and spit, "Why don't you just move this stupid cart then?"

I smiled sweetly and replied, "I was about to do just that. But thanks for doing it for me! I appreciate the help."

And off she went back toward her own cart, mutter mutter mutter muttering all the way.

We passed each other a few more times before I left the store with my 54% savings. Each time she glared at me, then heaved a disgusted sigh.

I hope she found what she was looking for.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Public transit story #12: Differently abled

Last week I rode the bus next to a gentleman of indeterminate age. His face suggested he was about 35; his hair suggested he was about 50. He had with him a garden-variety cane, the hollow metal kind with the grey rubber handle. We were sitting in one of the supposedly accessible seats at the front of the bus. A lot of people (particularly readers of the Berkeley Daily Planet) are quite pissed about these seats, which are more than a foot off the floor of the bus. Those who are at least 5'7 can slide on and off these seats with little trouble. We shorter folk don't fare so well--even yours truly, who though still young and limber has actually fallen off the seat. Not cool.

But enough of that rant.

This gentleman of indeterminate age spent most of the trip fiddling with his cane, pressing it up against his chin and such. He peered about the bus in a peculiar way. Then, as we neared the Berkeley Bowl (which would be the coolest grocery store ever if it weren't always packed with crazy people who push their carts north while looking south), said gentleman of indeterminate age extended the handle of his cane toward the call button. He pushed at the button with the handle of his cane several times in a most uncoordinated fashion, but the "stop requested" sign did not light up.

As befits one who works with adults with severe mental illness, these days I pretty much automatically observe and mentally catalogue behaviors, especially non-normative ones. I'd watched this guy fidget, look around his environment weirdly, and demonstrate poor hand-eye coordination. He was in a seat reserved for people with disabilities. He had a standard-issue cane. I guessed he had some kind of mobility impairment plus a neurological something-or-other.

"Is your stop next?" I asked. He grunted. That seemed to be a "yes," so I pushed the call button for him and moved out of his way (narrowly missing falling off the accessible seat). Again, he grunted.

And then this gentleman of indeterminate age walked off the bus with perfect grace and danced down the block, twirling and tossing his generic cane as though it were a wooden rifle and he a member of a high-school color guard.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I guess you can't have everything

In my short life, I have resided in the following places:
1. Southeastern PA, 17 years
2. Western Massachusetts, 4 years
3. Northeast Ohio, 4 years
4. Northern California, 17 months and counting

I have spent a lot of time lately musing about the differences between Cleveland and Berkeley (Berkeley wins by a nose); between Western Mass. and Berkeley (Western Mass., dude, no contest!); and between PA and Berkeley (you can take the girl out of the East Coast, but you can't take the East Coast out of the girl).

At this point it should probably go without saying that I'm not a huge fan of California.

One area in which the Bay Area kicks other locales' butts is public transportation. This is a plus for two reasons:
1. Driving around here completely sucks; and
2. Public transit stories! 'Nuff said.

Berkeley also has more noodle houses than you can shake a (chop)stick at, multi-lingual signage, and the interesting yet totally scary Hayward Fault. The Hayward Fault is a "creeping fault," which means it moves constantly but very, very slowly; and after a couple of decades it displaces things like curbs, staircases, and Memorial Stadium. (Seismologists apparently track such movement with a creepmeter, which sounds more like something you'd want to have if you were single.)

But Berkeley lacks a lot of things. Among these:
1. Inclement weather. Forget spring, summer, fall, and winter; the seasons here are Wet and Dry.
2. CVS. Around here, if you say "CVS," people think you are talking about the rape crisis center.
3. Soft (read: completely stale) pretzels delicately scented with car exhaust.
4. Urgent care centers with evening and weekend hours.
5. Stores where you can get your watch batteries replaced.

Let me say a few words about items 4 and 5. People get all het up about the ER being clogged with non-emergent patients. Yes, it is a problem when people have to go to the ER for primary care because they don't have (enough) insurance. But some non-emergent, yet definitely ill, patients wind up in the ER because it's the only place open on evenings and weekends. There are fewer than five urgent care clinics in this general vicinity, but they don't operate on an urgent care schedule. They operate on a primary care schedule. Which means that if you find yourself with a nasty respiratory infection at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon (as my wife did in August), the only thing to do is wait around for two hours in the ER for a prescription for antibiotics (which we did). It's not just the un- or under-insured who go to the ER for primary care. It's also the sufficiently insured whose illnesses don't know from normal business hours.

About those watch batteries. I have two dead watches at the moment. I know of two sorts of places which replace watch batteries: drugstores and jewelry stores. This end of Berkeley has a severe lack of jewelry stores. So I took my watches to Longs--but this happened to be the only Longs which does not deal in watch batteries. The cashier couldn't suggest a single place in Berkeley where I might have better luck. So I went to another drugstore, Elephant Pharmacy, which stocks health foods, yoga paraphernalia, and DVDs, but not watch batteries. The cashier helpfully recommended the Longs I'd just visited. I asked the ladies at two bead stores for suggestions. All of them said, "Try Longs." I went to a convenience store and asked, "Do you replace watch batteries?" The owner pointed to a display of AA, AAA, and 9-volt Duracells. "No," I said, producing one watch, "watch batteries." "Oh, no," said the owner. "We don't do that. Try Longs."

I do not understand Berkeley.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

When animal husbandry attacks

As I scour the classifieds, looking for the perfect job (which, let me tell you, is not to be found in the classifieds of the San Francisco Chronicle), I notice a lot of ads for puppies and kittens. Precision-bred puppies and kittens.

What really gets me about these ads is the number of poodle hybrids they advertise. I wish I could say that poodle hybrids are poodles that don't need to be fed as often as normal poodles, on account of their battery reserves, but no. They are the product of a poodle and some other dog.

This hybridizing thing doesn't just happen with poodles. I once saw a very odd-looking dog around the neighborhood. It had the coloring, snout, and ears of a German shepherd, on the stubby legs and barrel-shaped body of a Welsh corgi. I ask you: who thought this was a good idea? Was this person sober?

(Let me state, for the record, that I know a very sweet dog whose parents were a beagle and a Jack Russell terrier. Perhaps this explains why Chloe is positively brilliant and still eats rocks.)

But dude. Poodle math. Cross a poodle with a Labrador, and you get a Labradoodle. Cross a poodle with a cocker spaniel, and you get a cockapoo. Cross a poodle with a schnauzer, and you get a schnoodle. Cross a poodle with a golden retriever, and you get a goldendoodle. Cross a poodle with a Yorkshire terrier, and you get a Yorkipoo. I am not making these up.

I am, however, making these up:

Poodle + Boxer = Poo-Box!
Poodle + Shih Tzu = Shih-tzu-poo!
Poodle + Airedale = Air Poodle!
Poodle + Newfoundland = Poof!
Poodle + Shar-pei = Poopei!
Poodle + Dalmatian = Poomatian!
Poodle + Mastiff = Poostiff!
Poodle + Basset Hound = Basset Hoodle!
Poodle + Weimeraner = Weimeraneroodle!
Poodle + Chihuahua = Poohuahua!

I'll just take my rescue calico of uncertain parentage, thanks.

Monday, October 09, 2006


My wife reads the most interesting things for class, such as selections from Dale Martin's (1995) book The Corinthian Body. Actually, I have no idea whether Martin's book is all that interesting. But this sentence definitely is--

But Theophrastus considers other notions farfetched, such as the belief that if one digs peony during the day and is seen by a woodpecker, one will become blind (by having one's eyes pecked out by the bird), and one's anus will fall out. (p. 192)

But lo, careless peony-diggers: Just because Theophrastus says you won't suffer from anal prolapse doesn't mean he's right.