Sunday, February 25, 2007


The human female is born with all the ova she will ever have in her lifetime.

Therefore, the ovum which eventually became you was once inside your maternal grandmother.

(Credit for the blowing of my own mind goes to Toni Weschler.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Parking lot rage: The evil fraternal twin of road rage

Pop quiz!

When entering a rather full parking lot, you should
(a) drive slowly around the parking lot until you find an available space.
(b) sit in the middle of the aisle, in the most inconvenient fashion possible, and be a spot vulture until someone parked in your general vicinity exits the store, gets in the car, and vacates the space.
(c) say "the hell with it" and look for street parking.
(d) say "the hell with it" and go to another store.

If you answered (a), (c), or (d), you are a person after my own heart. If you answered (b), you probably shop at the Berkeley Bowl.

In fact, if you answered (b), chances are pretty good that you drove your hybrid to the Berkeley Bowl this past Sunday afternoon--and that you attempted to get in a tiff with me over a parking space.

Mind you, I almost never drive to the Berkeley Bowl--I hardly ever go to the Berkeley Bowl, on account of the teeming obnoxiousness--and this past Sunday I wasn't driving, either. I was, however, in someone else's car.

You might take a moment now to note that the Berkeley Bowl advises its customers to "be patient and always drive carefully." Alas, you weren't thinking about politeness on Sunday, and you were massively ill-prepared for my interpersonal jujitsu...

You were sitting in the middle of the aisle in your hybrid, which while motionless is silent like the (possibly also motionless) ninja. No one was doing anything to the cars around you, and you weren't doing anything to your car either, namely operating its turn signal. You were within a few feet of the entrance to the store, so perhaps you were waiting for your shopping companion. So we passed you. And we went not even fifteen feet before a spot opened up right in front of us. And we took it.

You began yelling at us. At the same moment, another spot opened up, and you took it. You strode over to us and continued yelling. "THAT'S REAL CLASSY," you barked. "YOU DON'T JUST PASS SOMEONE AND THEN TAKE A PARKING SPOT."

My companion attempted to ignore you, but not I. I smiled sweetly up at you. "I'm sorry, sir," I replied calmly, "but we can't read your mind in the parking lot."

You (a good head taller and thirty years older than I) grew red in the face. "YOU CAN READ EVERYONE'S MIND IN THIS PARKING LOT!" you blustered.

"I'm sorry, sir," I said, still sweet as agave nectar, "there isn't a single person in this world whose mind I can read. But I'm glad you found a parking spot. Have a nice day!"

You continued to bluster a little more. "BUT YOU---YOU DON'T JUST DO THAT!" you insisted.

"I really am glad you found a parking spot. Have a nice day!" I repeated, still smiling. Unable to think of a better retort, you stormed off into the store.

Had you stayed outside a little longer, you would have heard a woman about your age say, "Jeez! It's just a parking spot! Give it up!" as she pulled the bags from her cart. You would have seen me shrug my shoulders. And you would have heard her add, "The rest of that guy's life must be really awful, if he's getting that worked up over a parking spot."

I hope, for your sake, that you were just having a bad day. But whether or not this was an isolated incident, I encourage you please to remember two things:
1) It's bad form to try to intimidate a young lady.
2) No one likes a spot vulture.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Half-baked ideas

I like baking. I even wrote a parody about it once.

I'm generally pretty exact about my baking, although occasionally I will experiment with ingredients. Usually this is out of necessity--for example, once I was making a quick bread which called for prune preserves, and I neither had nor wanted to obtain said. Ah, but I had unsweetened applesauce! The same recipe also called for buttermilk, which I didn't have either; and so I stank up the house with vinegar and milk. And everything was really quite fine in the end.

Last night's substitution adventure was also out of necessity. I had everything to make Cheerio cookies... except for the Cheerios. But I had Kashi Mighty Bites. So I thought, hey, Mighty Bites are pretty much the same as Cheerios, except for their shape; why not use those instead?

Well, it worked, although I probably should have decreased the sugar somewhat on account of the lightly sweetened nature of the Mighty Bites. However, extra-sweet or not, the finished product was just a little on the disturbing side.

You see, Mighty Bites are shaped like little people. And my cookies came out looking like the ruins of Pompeii.

But as volcanic disaster cookies go, I have to say these are mighty tasty.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Public Transit Story #16: So what?

Oh boy! A public transit story and a customer service story all in one handy package!

I called to register a complaint today. Usually I do this online, but even though I always check the little box to request an email reply, I've never received so much as a "Thank you for submitting a comment." So I called, thinking it would be less complicated and more conducive to immediate gratification. Of course, I was wrong.

Me: I'd like to register a complaint about a driver.
Representative: Okay, what happened?
Me: This has happened before with the same driver and I've complained before. The driver arrives several minutes late, leaves the bus running and the door open, and goes to buy a snack. Then I have to run for a connection that should have several minutes of overlap.
Representative: But you said the bus is already late.
Me: Yes. I'm not calling because the bus is late. I'm calling because the driver leaves the bus running while buying a snack--when the bus is full of passengers!
Representative: [silence]
Me: The driver leaves a running bus for two or three minutes, while it's full of passengers.
Representative: So it's an unauthorized stop, then.
Me: It's my actual bus stop. We all get on the bus and then the driver gets off. I'm concerned because someone could just drive the bus off.
Representative: Oh. That is a problem, isn't it.

I've been sick for the past few days, but as Mrs. Gerbil says, it's a sure sign that I'm better when I start rectifying things again.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Public Transit Story #15: Bad hair day

Okay, I know it's impolite to stare. I try not to stare, even when I'm people-watching. However, it's really hard to watch people subtly, especially when your job involves watching a whole group of people for 50 minutes at a stretch, so that you can write up little notes later about how they "presented." Whenever I'm in a large group of people--outside work, mind you--I find myself observing like crazy. As with the Therapist Clock, I just can't shut my Observing Self off.

But this is a public transit story.

Yesterday I observed an older gentleman on the bus. He had the longest nose hairs I've ever seen. They were yellowish-white and extended at least half an inch beyond his nostrils. As if this weren't odd enough, he spent much of the bus ride twirling his nose hairs.

It was really, really hard for me not to stare. And I don't think I would have had such difficulty if had he not been playing with them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Heckling the passersby

While I was returning some library books yesterday, a minorly scruffy man said a whole lot of unintelligible things in my general direction. I wasn't sure whether he was talking to me, so I decided to err on the side of shyness and did not respond. He continued to say a whole lot of unintelligible things in my general direction as I headed to the bus stop. Still, I wasn't sure if I was the intended target of his ramblings--until he said, quite lucidly, "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else."

"That's okay," I said. Haven't we all been mistaken for someone else at least once in our lives? I plopped myself down on the bench and busied myself with a book.

The man came wandering toward the bus stop, wanting to know if any of us there had "anything to share." None of us did. But this guy would not, or could not, accept "no" for an answer. He enumerate all of the things we could share with him. Nope. Then another fellow happened by.

"Hey, do you--" began the first guy.

"Go away!" said the second guy, hurrying past.

This obviously pushed some button deep in the first guy's psyche, for he began to spew a whole lot of strange invectives: "Hey! Who's your costume designer? Do you have a casting agent? Who's your casting agent? JAYWALKER! Are you an asshole, or just an arrogant person? HEY!"

And then he wandered off, presumably to engage in ineffective conversation with someone else.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I swear, Officer, it's not mine!

Mrs. Gerbil and I went to Kohl's yesterday, in hot pursuit of random items of clothing and accessories. I find Kohl's to be rather hit-or-miss. It's almost always a miss when I'm in search of pants, as they don't carry small enough sizes. (Go ahead, hate me now.) But yesterday, when I was not in need of pants, it was a hit. For just under $35 we acquired three shirts, two pairs of socks, and three pairs of earrings. Pretty darn good, if you ask me.

The cashier handed me a very familiar-looking pen with which to sign the charge slip.

"Hey," I said, "I thought that looked an awful lot like a Seroquel pen!"

The cashier replied, a little too quickly, "Oh, that's not mine. Someone must have left it here. I don't know where it came from."

I guess the stigma of mental illness extends even to abandoned pharmaceutical swag.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Face validity

I just received a piece of spam from "Deceitfulness C. Upfront."

Oh well, at least they're honest about something.

Monday, February 05, 2007

There oughta be a law

(Dude! This is my 100th post!)

I received a jury summons today, for the end of this month. I was very upset, for I'd received a jury summons last year, and I'm supposed to be off the hook for 12 months.

(I didn't actually serve on a jury last year. I didn't even have to report to the courthouse to find this out, as I'd had to do in Massachusetts about eight years ago. California jurors call after 5pm the day before to find out their status: report the next day as summoned, don't report at all, or call back after 11am for possible afternoon service. One's jury obligation is considered fulfilled regardless of whether one actually has to show up.)

So, yes, I received my jury summons, and I was pissed. But I have a poor concept of time out here. I'm used to gauging the passage of time with the help of seasons--by which I mean spring, summer, fall, and winter, not "wet" and "dry." Obviously, I couldn't figure this one out via memories of crimson foliage, drifting snow, muddy slush, or godawful humidity. I had to do some major detective work as to the date of my previous service:

1) It was during a period of semi-dryness, when it wasn't quite warm enough for short sleeves, but not quite cold enough for a hat and gloves.
Therefore, it must have been in October, November, February, March, or early April.

2) I know where I was working at the time.
Therefore, it must have been sometime between November and July; combining this with #1, it must have been in November, February, March, or early April.

3) I was working more than half-time.
Therefore, it must have been sometime between January and July; combining this with #2, it must have been between February and early April.

I then consulted last year's planner. If my service had been in March or April, I would have to make a most unpleasant call to the Superior Court of California...

...and guess when my service was?

That's right. The beginning of February.

They sure don't waste any time, do they?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A case of severely mistaken identity

Mrs. Gerbil reports that a funny thing happened to her on her way home from work today. While was stopped at a light, a fellow she describes as "a very attractive black man with shoulder-length dreads" pulled up beside her and started honking.

Mrs. Gerbil rolled down the window to see what the fuss was all about.

The man clapped his hands over his mouth. "I thought you were a guy!" he said. "I wanted to know if you saw those girls over there!"

Mrs. Gerbil looked up the street and saw three teenagers in very short skirts.

"I'm so sorry!" said the man. And off he went.

(For the record, Mrs. Gerbil does not look particularly androgynous--and The Big Gay Subaru identifies itself with a rainbow sticker in the back windshield.)

Not-so-phunny pharm

I have terrible allergies.

Often people ask me which is my allergy season. I have no allergy season because in my world it's always allergy season. And so I must take anti-allergy (and anti-asthma) medications every single day. I've been doing this since I was three years old. It's old hat. In fact, I can rattle off the name of almost every prescription and OTC allergy drug I've taken over the past 24 years. Most of these have since gone off the market, been reformulated, or just spontaneously stopped working for me.

Which leaves me, at the moment, with three prescriptions to contend with. My insurance company loves exactly one of these. Another they agreed to love when my doctor assured them that I do, as a matter of fact, have asthma. A third they agreed to tolerate when my doctor assured them that none of the other drugs out there are effective for me. (When I rattled off my prescription history for her, she stopped me after a minute or two and said, "I think maybe we'll just mention a few of those.")

On Friday I went to the pharmacy for some refills. I was quite surprised, and not in a pleasant way, to find that the aforementioned third medication cost $50 instead of my usual $15. My insurance sets co-pays of $15 for generics it likes, $25 for brand-name drugs it likes, and $50 for anything it doesn't like. I freaked out, but knowing I'd be in a world of hurt without this stuff, I paid for it anyway. Once outside the store, I called the insurance company to inquire as to WTF?

The representative offered me three absolutely ridiculous explanations:

1. Your prior authorization expired yesterday.
Okay, so first of all I had no idea that prior authorizations expire. Second of all, I'd gotten preauthorizations for both my refills on the same day last year, but only one of them had a co-pay change this year. For the one which did not change, my doctor merely stated that I had a life-long history of asthma, and amazing! it still costs $25 instead of $50. I was left to conclude that diagnosis-related prior authorizations don't expire, but drug-related ones do. Which is odd, considering how long it would take to demonstrate each year that the rest of the formulary still doesn't work. That wouldn't get points for patient-friendliness, either. So why should my doctor have to remind the insurance company of my history every 12 months?

2. Oh, and that drug changed tiers as of the first of the year, so it's always going to be $50, even though it's generic.
Last year, it was tier 3, which meant $50 per fill unless my doctor and I jumped through hoops to lower the cost to $15. From tier 3, there's nowhere to go but up. Curious about whether they'd quietly implemented the industry's first 4-tier system, I asked the representative which tier it was now. "Three," she said. I pointed out that it was tier 3 in 2006, and it's tier 3 in 2007, so what's the difference? Had they changed the co-pay rules for tier 3? "No," she said. So if I get my prior authorization renewed, I should get my medication for $15 again, right?

3. No, because the prior authorization isn't related to how much you pay. Your doctor has to demonstrate medical necessity for us to cover the drug. You can't get it filled at all without a valid prior authorization.
Obviously I had successfully filled my prescription that day, so what's this about needing a prior authorization to do it? "Um," said the representative. If the drug (sticker price: about $75) will cost me $50 with a prior authorization, and I've just proven that it also costs $50 without a prior authorization, then what, pray tell, is the point of the prior authorization? Isn't the prior authorization supposed to give me my own personal formulary? "The pharmacy that was charging you $15 was making a mistake," she said, changing the subject, "but it was saving you money." It's not saving me money now, I replied, and the pharmacy just charges me what you tell them to. "Um," said the representative.

Unfortunately, before we could get this all settled, I had to go to work. And the insurance company is closed over the weekend--so I've got to wait until tomorrow to get to the bottom of


Tune in next time for another exciting episode of Gerbil vs. the demons of Market-Driven Healthcare!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

In which my good turn daily turns bad.

Around here, there are lots and lots of homeless (or nearly homeless) people. Many of my clients are homeless, have recently been homeless, or are teetering on the edge of homelessness. Many of the people with whom I chat at the bus stop fall into one of those categories as well. Very few of the people I encounter on the street are of the screaming-at-fire-hydrant sort. Those who are (like the gentleman I encountered today, who demanded to know, "Who is going to resurrect Batman? Who is going to resurrect the Penguin? We need the Addams family! You have these dungeons with dead people in them! Those dungeons you have are full of people! Who will resurrect Batman and Robin? Frankenstein knows what you did last night!") just happen often to be louder and more malodorous than the rest.

I am hesitant to give out money. My work has taught me that many people do use this money for alcohol or drugs, although perfectly well-housed people also buy alcohol and drugs. But this is only part of the reason why I don't respond to requests for my spare change... with my spare change. If I give someone a quarter or two, it's not going to do them much good because everything here is just so ridiculously expensive. What I prefer to do, when I'm able (I'm not exactly loaded myself), is to bypass the "could you spare some change" and go straight to the "so I can get something to eat."

I've only had one person really and truly turn me down. He was adamant that I give him a dollar "for something to eat." I didn't have a dollar on me, but I did have a bag lunch with two yogurts, some pretzels, and an apple. I offered him the yogurt, but he said he couldn't eat dairy and did I have a dollar? I offered him the pretzels, but he said he couldn't eat salt and did I have a dollar? I offered him the apple, but he said he didn't want any fruit either and did I have a dollar?

Last night my best friend and I went to see Dar Williams in concert. I got to the venue a little before my friend did, so I scoped out the neighborhood for a little snacky-snack. As luck would have it, the neighborhood consisted almost entirely of bars, a few Indian and Mexican, and fancy townhouses. I don't drink, I don't get along well with Indian or Mexican food, and I certainly don't raid the fridges of total strangers, so I didn't have a whole lot of options.

And then this woman came up to me. She wanted fifty cents for some yogurt. She said she was several months pregnant and very hungry. I said I'd be happy to take her to the deli across the street and buy her a sandwich or something. But she wanted to go to the Mexican place with the juice bar "because it's more nutritious." I couldn't really argue with that, so in we went.

There was a pretty long line, which gave us several minutes to chat. I asked about her pregnancy, her living situation, what kind of social services she was getting, whether she knew about various types of government assistance... Her story seemed quite genuine, all the details hanging together. She asked me for fifty cents to call the doctor in the morning. "The place you're staying doesn't have a phone?" I asked. She said it didn't. I gave her fifty cents (actually, fifty-five) on the condition that she ask her doctor to hook her up with a social worker.

Suddenly, we were at the head of the line. The cashier (who was probably also the manager) took one look at us and started doing something with the register tape. I stared her down, and finally, after several more people came into the restaurant and queued up behind us, she asked for our order. My companion got out half her order before the cashier/manager cut her off and asked me what I wanted.

"Nothing for me, thanks," I said, "I'm paying for her. And I don't think she's done with her order."

The cashier/manager person went back to doing whatever it was with the register tape. With some prompting from me, my companion continued with her order. The cashier/manager continued to ignore her. "I don't think she heard you," I said, loud enough for the cashier/manager to hear. "Say again what you want."

The cashier/manager whispered to me, "We've had problems with her. What can I get for you?"

"Nothing for me. I'm just buying her some dinner," I repeated.

"I want this for here," my companion said.

"You can't have it for here," said the cashier/manager. "You have to have it to go."

"This is discrimination!" said my companion.

"You can wait outside and I will bring it to you," said the cashier/manager. She asked for my name. I told her but then said to put the order under my companion's name, as I had to leave and really, I was buying dinner for this woman. The cashier/manager reluctantly accepted my payment.

To my companion, I said, "I'm really sorry. She says she will bring you your food outside. I can't really do anything else." My companion looked very sad, but then she spotted a newly empty table inside--and happily sat down with her drink and her cookie, awaiting her taco. She gave me a hug, thanked me for helping her out, and declared that I was a godsend.

I looked back over my shoulder as I left to meet up with my friend. As far as I could tell, no one forced this woman outside to wait for her meal. I heard no ranting, raving, yelling, or screaming. I saw no young, well-dressed customer storm out on account of the slightly disheveled, very pregnant woman in their midst.

The whole thing left me with, well, a really bad taste in my mouth. It was clear that this woman had a history with this particular establishment. Perhaps she often begs for food there. Maybe she sits inside and nurses a single can of soda all day when it's cold and rainy, and the owners and the locals think she's an eyesore. Whatever the back story, the cashier/manager was doing her very best to put off a customer. Unless things have changed drastically since my days of food service work in high school, the customer is still the person with the wallet.

As a well-dressed young adult with a wallet, I was no different from the rest of the well-dressed young adults with wallets in the restaurant... except that I wasn't opening my wallet for myself that night. Sure, the staff has the right to refuse service to anyone; but whether I'm buying for myself or for someone in a faded hand-me-down sweater, my seven dollars ought to be as good as anyone else's.

What was that again about the kindess of strangers?

M., take good care of you and your baby.