Sunday, October 28, 2007

Public transit story #22: Out of the mouths of babes

BART was full of cuteness this evening. Or perhaps I am merely noticing cuteness more often now that I am growing some cuteness in my midsection.

Well, whatever. I was sitting across the aisle from a spunky five-year-old and her mother. They were evidently returning from a rather eclectic shopping trip. The little girl's loot included a couple of lollipops and a yellow plastic recorder. The mother's loot included some perfume, a sweatshirt, and a hookah. She removed the hookah from its box to check it out.

"Oooh, mama, what's that?" asked her daughter.

"Never you mind," said mama.

"Oh, I know what that is! It's a guitar!" crowed the little girl.

At this point, mother and daughter were joined by a random new seatmate, a middle-aged man. "Look, this is my mom's new guitar!" the little girl announced. The man found this all very amusing.

The little girl conversed a little while with her new friend. Then he asked (as one is wont to do with small children) how old she was. The little girl cycled through several attempts at holding up five fingers, then asked her mother for help. Her mother held up one hand.

"I can do that!" said the little girl. And she proceeded to position her fingers in an instantly recognizable gesture that had nothing to do with her age:


Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Spam Files 3: Size matters

[warning: may be NSFW]

Why, all of a sudden, has my spam folder been deluged with penis spam?

Some of my favorite recent subject lines:

Is your small penis your only problem?
no, actually, that's not one of my problems at all

Your new penis is waiting for you!
I don't remember ordering one of those...

No doubt! Your bigger penis will make them jealous!
I'm speechless

Bigger penis won't be on TV but in your shorts!
God, I certainly hope not!

Well, I suppose I should be grateful that I'm no longer receiving spam with subjects along the lines of "My new boyfriend's [random synonym for penis] keeps slipping out."

ps to anyone who found this entry by Googling something about phallus size: Sorry, no penises here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'm only happy when it snows

There is a variety of mood disorder known colloquially as Seasonal Affective Disorder. In the DSM-IV it is actually not a separate disorder, but rather a specifier which can be tacked onto a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder or a major depressive episode in Bipolar Disorder. Basically this specifier is a fancy way of saying "the person becomes depressed when a particular season (usually fall or winter) begins."

I think I have reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For the first twenty-five years of my life, I lived in places that had four seasons--one of these being cold, snowy winter. To be fair, I used to feel down fairly predictably from just before Thanksgiving through my birthday, which is a week and a half after Christmas. However, the most wintry weather tended not to arrive until a few weeks after my birthday, by which time I was already feeling much better.

I was a little nervous about moving to Northern California on account of the lack of seasons. "But we do have seasons here," Mrs. Gerbil pointed out. "We just only have two: wet and dry."

frowning sunAt first, the prospect of six straight months of sunshine seemed like a neat little novelty. I snickered when our neighbors complained about the "heat wave" that first summer; it was in the low 80's and about 10% humidity. (My definition of a heat wave is that it's got to be hot and humid.) But then I got tired of the sunshine. I got cranky, and I longed for a thunderstorm to improve my mood. None arrived.

When the rains started, I was pleased. Grey skies mean fall; and fall means winter's coming. But, of course, the rain never turned to freezing rain or snow, and I got cranky. I wanted some snow to cheer me up. Instead, the daffodils came up and the skies began to clear. I felt cheated. Spring had arrived, and I'd never gotten my winter! And the next twelve months were much the same.

Singing in the RainPerhaps it says something about my personality that I love inclement weather. I'm a sucker for the pouring rain, thunderstorms, snow, and grey skies of all shades. I'm not keen on freezing rain or tornadoes; but otherwise, anything but constant sunshine floats my proverbial boat. Indeed, when I was two I drew a sun wearing a big ol' frowny face.

Last week the rains began. Mrs. Gerbil is a little cranky. She misses the sun. Me, I'll take what I can get.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Public transit story # 21: Punky's Dilemma

The City of Berkeley has an ordinance which prohibits smoking in various public locations, including bus stops. Being the comprehensive city that Berkeley is, there is another chapter of the same ordinance detailing exactly how this information is to be posted. The penalty, supposedly, is fine and/or imprisonment.

Unfortunately, the Berkeley police have their hands full with such weightier issues as drug dealing, vandalism, the occasional assault or homicide, speeding, expired parking meters, and kids who ride their bikes on the sidewalk; and so I have yet to see a single officer of the peace confront any of the hardened criminals known as bus-stop smokers. Thus, enforcement is left to such health-conscious and/or respiratorally challenged citizens such as myself. And, except for one memorable incident, I have found bus-stop smokers to be quite willing to light up elsewhere if asked politely.

Several days ago, while waiting for the bus in downtown Berkeley, I was suddenly accosted by the smell of cigarette smoke. I turned around and realized, with horror, that I knew the offender. He had once been a client of mine--one toward whom I'd had some pretty intense, negative countertransferential feelings. He did not appear to recognize me. It had been well over a year since I'd encountered him in a clinical setting; we weren't acquainted for very long; and plus I'd since chopped off my (formerly ridiculously long) hair.

I really wanted to remind him, for the sake of my lungs and the gerb, that smoking is prohibited at the bus stop. But I did not want to risk him recognizing me--and possibly striking up a conversation with me (see countertransferential feelings above). In addition, I didn't think I'd be able to be perfectly polite in my request (again, see countertransferential feelings above), and I feared I might accidentally address him by name and find myself in awkward conversation. On the other hand, my bus was already late, and if I didn't say anything, I would continue to breathe his secondhand smoke until my bus finally showed up.

Finally, I decided just to get up and move to another bench. This was a fine solution until his bus pulled up near me, whereupon he ambled over, continued to puff away until it was his turn to board, and tossed his still-lit cigarette by the curb. He still showed no sign of having any idea who I was.

I briefly debated stomping on the discarded butt, but then my bus arrived.

Was avoiding interaction altogether the right thing to do? I don't know. My rule of thumb on greeting present or former clients in public is to let them greet me first. On rare occasions will I be the first to say hi; but I only do this when I'm out alone. But this situation was not about saying hi--and therein lies the rub.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Passing the buck

Last month I was chosen to attend a "town hall" meeting at work. It was a chance to meet our new CEO, to find out the company's official corporate goals (executive summary: global domination), and to voice our questions and concerns.

Several employees voiced concerns about our terrible benefits package. We work for a ginormous health insurance conglomerate, and yet we get shafted by the insurance policies written by our own employer. It makes me sad when I have to quote benefits to a member whose plan is more reasonable than my own.

Our new CEO said that they are aware of employees' dissatisfaction with the benefits and that they were diligently working on something better in preparation for open enrollment season.

Well, open enrollment season is upon us, and guess what? Our benefit package is even worse. Mrs. Gerbil and I will see up to a 10% increase in our premiums, our already stratospheric deductible, some prescription co-pays, and our out-of-pocket maximum. The official reason for the increase is that it reflects "rising healthcare costs."

Now, I may be a cynic, but I happen to believe that a major factor in rising healthcare costs is insurance companies. Yes, they want to protect their profit margins. But think about it: advances in healthcare technology (including medicines, laboratory tests, and procedures) don't come without a price tag. Yet providers must accept very low reimbursement rates in order to participate in managed care networks. For example, I recently had standard prenatal bloodwork and (on account of my Ashkenazic heritage) some genetic testing. The lab charged my insurance company over $1000, but because they are a network provider, they'll be paid only about $300. Sucks to be them. But it also sucks to be the rest of us, because if the lab pressures the insurance company for a higher reimbursement rate, the insurance company will pass the increased cost along to the employers who buy their packages... who will then pass it along to employees in the form of higher premiums and/or crappier coverage.

There are, of course, other explanations for rising healthcare costs. This article from the Annals of Internal Medicine does a good job of outlining them. But in the end, I still think that the industry which currently pays our bills has created a fantastically self-perpetuating cycle of cost increases. So I'm all for socialized medicine--even if it means I'd have to find another job.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering: all that expensive labwork came back normal. Go little developing gerb!)

Friday, October 05, 2007


Yesterday Mrs. Gerbil and I finally bid farewell to the Big Gay Subaru.

My parents bought it new in the spring of 1995, toward the end of Mrs. Gerbil's and my sophomore year of high school (the year we met). It became mine a few years later, and two and a half years ago it became Mrs. Gerbil's also.

It was a good car, but alas, it was growing progressively more senile. And so we traded it in for a piddling amount toward a shiny new 2007 Outback (possibly to be known as the Bigger, Gayer Subaru).

We didn't remove the rear windshield decals from the Big Gay Subaru. They were pretty old and included one from my alma mater, one from my doctoral stomping grounds, and a rainbow flag. We'll be up near my alma mater in a few weeks, making procurement of a new Fairest College decal quite simple.

But here is the ironic part: Though Mrs. Gerbil and I live in possibly the gayest city on the planet, I have absolutely no idea where to get a new rainbow flag sticker.

(Irony part 2: My doctoral stomping grounds of Cleveland were not exactly the most gay-friendly. Even so, I knew exactly where to buy all manner of gay stickers, including the one affixed to our now former vehicle.)

I'm sure I could get thousands of new rainbow flag stickers in the Castro. But I think I'll just wait a few weeks and buy one in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

First class

Last week I went back to my old stomping grounds for a little visit. I had racked up enough frequent flyer miles on Continental that my flight was free... plus $10 "tax," of course. (How do you assess sales tax on something that is free? Ask an airline executive; I sure don't know the answer.) To my delight, I even had enough miles to fly first class--but only on the way there.

I had never flown first class before. I'm intimately acquainted with the uncomfortable nature of the seats in the main cabin, and I figured that the big cushy seats in first class would be thousands of times better, especially for my preggo self. Plus, I was flying overnight; and so I thought I'd get a decent night's sleep (something I've never accomplished in coach).

Oh, I was so very wrong on both counts.

The first-class seats were indeed big and cushy. However, after about an hour I realized that they were actually less comfortable than coach seats. A former physical therapist of mine once explained to me that airplane seats are designed for passengers who are 5'10"--i.e., six and a half inches taller than I am. (Given that I once had to explain to her what a treatment goal was, I am not sure I should have believed her about seat proportions. But it sounded right.) The first-class seats also appeared to be designed for people considerably taller than I--and considerably wider to boot. In the ultimate irony, I found myself with too much leg room. I like to rest my feet on a carry-on tucked under the seat in front of me, as this prevents my feet and my butt from going numb. In first class, my carry-on was too far away from my little tootsies.

As for my disappointment with not sleeping, well, it's really my own damn fault. The magic of pregnancy also brought me the magic of getting up to pee several times a night, not to mention the magic of generally decreased quality of sleep. I'm not sure why I thought I would get nice, uninterrupted sleep on an airplane when I can't even get this in my own bed; but I suppose I really did set myself up for a letdown on this one.

There is, however, at least one distinct advantage to first class, and that is the food. The food is better and more plentiful than in coach. We even got little tablecloths for our tray tables. There was apparently also free alcohol, of which I obviously did not partake. (I wonder if the flight attendants put two and two together after observing my vehement refusal of wine and my multitudinous trips to the bathroom.)

Oh, and there were warm salty nuts. Lots and lots of warm salty nuts. They kept appearing in little ceramic bowls.

I was happy to be back in my rightful place in coach on the way back to California. I put my feet up on my carry-on bag, got a bit of sleep, and noshed gladly on little pretzels from a foil bag.

I will admit, though, I did kind of miss the warm salty nuts.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Public transit story #20: In vino veritas

Yesterday was San Francisco's annual Folsom Street Fair, a celebration of all that is leather, fetish, or otherwise kinky. (NB: the aforementioned link is probably not suitable for work.)

I have never been to the Folsom Street Fair. It's really not my scene. However, there were some really hot fairgoers on the BART with me in the late afternoon, which I found pretty interesting.

Many of these fairgoers were also inebriated. One guy took the opportunity to squat down (presumably out of range of the security cameras), remove a bottle of wine from his backpack, wave it around victoriously, and take a long swig. Thus emboldened, he stood up and reached for the overhead handrail.

(For some reason, guys like to show off by doing pull-ups, flips, and other vaguely gymnastic feats from these handrails--especially when the train is zooming through the Transbay Tunnel at speeds upwards of 70 mph, and even more especially when they are under the influence of at least one substance.)

Alas for this sloshed fairgoer, he miscalculated his upward trajectory. Instead of executing a flawless pull-up, he whomped his head on the handrail and set his equally inebriated friends to laughing.