Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Boo Indeed

More rejection, this time from the San Francisco Chronicle. The letter, a quaint throwback to the days when newspaper people communicated by snail mail, was concerning an essay I wrote months ago. I had practically forgotten about it, so the ego smack was almost an out-of-the-blue situation.

Oh, well. It still beats the Black Hole of Editorial Indifference. Happy Halloween, everybody!

Monday, October 30, 2006


A banner day: Not one, but two rejections came in over the weekend. I have to say, though, that Larry Bleiberg at the Dallas Morning News sends out some of the nicest rejection notes around. They’re personalized, encouraging, and he ends by thanking the sender for the manuscript. It’s very classy. I can only imagine how nice he is when he wants what you’ve sent. Here’s hoping I find out someday.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Getting Places with Going Places

I spoke to someone in the Malaysian Airlines Los Angeles office, and she was very nice. She promised to send me a current copy of Going Places magazine, and a back issue with my article, if she could find one lying around.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for the back issue, but I’m not actually too worried about that. I do have a scan of the article that my friend John the photographer sent, so I already have a pretty good clip. I’m more interested in the current issue so I can get an up-to-date masthead with editorial contact information. I’m relieved that they’re generous with their magazines--I was afraid I was going to have to book a flight to Kuala Lumpur to get this information. (Not that that would have been the end of the world.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

That Darn Internet

Did I say Malaysian Airlines had five American offices? That’s outdated information. They actually only have three now, and the nearest one is now in Los Angeles. This is getting to be a bit more challenging.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Going Places to find Going Places

Usually when an article gets published, the editor will eventually send you a copy or two. But I have just given up on waiting for a clip of an article that should have been published this past summer in Going Places, Malaysian Airlines’ in-flight magazine. (They’ve had a change of management, so a delay is understandable.) Tomorrow, I’m setting out on a search for my own copy of the magazine. Malaysian Airlines only has five offices in the United States, but luckily for me, one of them is in San Francisco. I’ll let you know how my quest goes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

2 Brm, Hdwd Flrs, Easy Walk to Freeway

Today I took a walk near the Oakland Estuary and discovered two interesting things. The first is the intersection of 8th Avenue and 8th Street, which some eccentric part of me found appealing. Eight is a very auspicious number in Chinese culture, and not surprisingly, the blocks right around there did seem to be heavily Asian.

I also discovered why late at night or early in the morning, when there is little local noise in my neighborhood, I sometimes think I can hear BART trains. And regular trains. And vehicles that sound like trucks even though 18-wheelers are prohibited on 580, the freeway nearest my apartment. It’s because I really can hear all these things.

In most of San Francisco, and along a lot of its Berkeley and Oakland length, BART runs underground. I knew it popped up between Lake Merritt and the Coliseum, but I didn’t realize it did so so close to where I live. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t realize I lived so close to the place where it comes above ground. But now that I’ve walked there, I understand that it isn’t so far. It just seemed that way because it’s a couple of neighborhoods away. Ditto the freight train tracks, and an elevated section of truck-heavy Highway 880. I knew they were there, of course, I just always thought of these things as being too far away to be audible.

It’s the middle of the day right now, and I can’t hear the freeway at all. All that traffic hiss must be blending into white noise. But I just realized that right now, I can hear a train whistle. That’s pretty cool, and makes me like my neighborhood even more.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Feeling Better, Thanks

I still miss my co-workers, but after a long weekend I am happy to report that as for working, that I don’t miss so much.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ghost of Careers Past

Last night I went out with some people I used to work with at Travelocity. Drinking beer with my former editorial mates, I realized something: I miss having coworkers.

Of course, if all we ever did at the office was drink beer, I would still be there. Socializing with people is a lot different from playing office politics with them. But I realized it’s been long enough that I’m starting to get misty-eyed about 9-to-5 life, and workplace drama, and endless meetings, and all those things I spent a lot of time and energy trying to get away from. It’s an interesting turn of events, and I hope I snap out of it over the weekend.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Like the Orkneys, but Not That Manic

Someone asked me what the least fun airline magazine is. I’m afraid I’m going to have to say Lufthansa’s. They’ve tried admirably for a bilingual publication, with the copy split into two sections on each page, one in German, and the other in English. Unfortunately, the English sounds a little clunky, sort of like ABBA lyrics. (Ironically, SAS magazine is written in very colloquial, fluent English.) And their features are all on places like an island north of Germany called (and I must stress that I’m not making this up) Sylt. I like albatrosses as much as the next travel writer, but I don’t think I’ll be heading to the frozen German north any time soon.

(After that critique, I probably also won’t be writing for Lufthansa Magazin any time soon, either. Sorry! I did like the article about Frieda Kahlo’s Mexico City.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Really, It’s Embarrassing

My camera batteries were out of juice yesterday so I couldn’t show you my magazine pile, but here it is. I don’t know how I let it get so far out of hand. I think they are multiplying. Perhaps I should separate them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Did You Know….

….That Alexander Hamilton grew up on St. Croix? Who knew the guy was so much fun?

This is the best tidbit I’ve gleaned yet from the United Airlines in-flight magazine I picked up this past summer and am only now getting to. I have an embarrassing stack of magazines (and books, but that’s a different story) towering over, and, increasingly, under my bedside table. I really thought that when I no longer had a full-time job, I would have no trouble getting to these things, but somehow it doesn’t work that way. So I’m trying to get through at least one magazine a day to get rid of this fire-hazard pile.

By go through, I don’t mean just reading. Part of what’s taking so long is I’m trying to figure out what the freelance opportunities are for each, and what the guidelines are for each section. This takes longer than I expected. Reading the magazines is fun, but thinking about the tone, length, voice, tense, and reason for inclusion in the magazine is taking a while. So far my favorite in-flight is Delta’s. It’s largely staff-written, which is unusual in the magazine world, but I get the impression they’re assigning themselves articles on whatever strikes their fancy. Few of the pieces have obvious tie-ins to the airline. Usually there is some connection—that little boutique they’re featuring is in a city served by the airline, or the starlet they’ve interviewed is in one of the movies they’re showing onboard that month. But not with Delta. Most of the articles are just general interest pieces. Yesterday I read articles about a strange man who founded the first newspaper in America, and something about attempts through the years to reform American spelling. Fun stuff. The next time I have a random idea I’d like to write about but can’t think what magazine it fits with, I’ll try pitching it to them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Imagine What the Phone Book is Like

Recently Pipi and I watched the U.S. Women’s national soccer team play Iceland. It was an interesting game for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I half expected to see 11 women running around wearing swan costumes like Bjork. That didn’t happen. What was interesting about what the Icelandic women were wearing, though, is that every player had a name on her jersey ending in “dottir.” That’s just the way it’s done in Iceland, where everyone has a last name based on his or her father’s first name. I’d be Nicole Dondottir, and if I had a brother, his last name would be Donson.

Another thing that was interesting is that one of the commentators mentioned during a lull that Iceland has about 300,000 inhabitants--meaning, according to her, that the number of women playing soccer in the entire country is about equal to the number of American women playing soccer in Southern California.

You’re probably thinking the game was a blowout. I know I expected it to be, especially after hearing that statistic about the talent pool. Surprisingly the score wasn’t very lopsided. USA did win, but only by one goal, 2-1. Partly that can be explained by the phenomenal Icelandic goalie. But barely beating such a small country doesn’t bode well for the Women’s World Cup in 2007, which Pipi and I plan to visit China in order to watch in person.

(What, you didn’t think I’d gone off topic, did you?)

Friday, October 13, 2006

More Days in the Life of a Crazy Cat Lady

Many years ago, long before his Daily Show fame, I saw Jon Stewart perform a stand-up comedy routine on TV. I remember that it started out as a funny account of his taking a cranky indoor cat to the vet for the first time. Slightly predictable hilarity ensued. What really raised the routine into the realm of the brilliant, the realm of things you remember 10 years later, was his musing at the end of the routine. He said, “Now here’s the thing. That trip to the vet was the only time my cat has ever left the apartment. But he sees me leave every day. Does he think that’s where I go?”

I thought of Jon Stewart’s homebody cat when I took my guys in earlier this week. My cats are slightly more worldly than Stewart’s, having both been born in San Francisco (we got them both at the SFSPCA), and later relocated across the Bay. Teacake lived with me in Berkeley for about a year, and Tommy went to a kitty B&B in Albany, CA once when we were on vacation. But that’s it. They’ve both only been to a few cities in their lives.

So it was in that spirit that in returning from the vet, I decided to take them on a little road trip. Leaving the vet’s office, you can turn either left or right, and either way, it’s about the same distance home. Usually, I turn left, back the way I came, because that feels like the most direct route. But this time, I went around the loop the other way, because I realized that the right-hand way cuts through a corner of the town of Piedmont, and I wanted to add another place to their life lists.

Because travel is, after all, about broadening your horizons. (The cats may disagree, but they don’t have a blog, so we’ll never know.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No One Goes There Anymore, It’s Too Crowded

No sooner had I declared the kitty beds passé, so 2005, when the little guys proved me wrong. It seems the beds are back on the hot list. The cats were each in one when I woke up this morning, and they’ve been there on and off all day. So much for my kitty fashion sense.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Glamorous Life

Sometimes I take epic journeys across continents. Sometimes I pretend to be famous. Sometimes I get published in well-respected periodicals. And sometimes I deal with vermin infestations. This is my life now.

Because Pipi is gainfully employed, it now usually falls to me to take care of the more humdrum chores around the house, the kinds of things that used to take up valuable weekend time; the kinds of things each of us used to spend more energy getting the other to do than it would have taken to just do it.

One of those things is taking the pets to the vet. So this morning, I took Teacake, our nervous but generally low-maintenance fluffy cat, to see Dr. Wright for a checkup. She said he seemed to be in good health, but that he did have fleas.

I was surprised both because the poor little guy never let on, and also because our cats never go outside. But apparently it’s not unheard of for indoor cats to get fleas in neighborhoods with lots of stray cats or raccoons. I wouldn’t say we have a lot of stray cats, but we do have one, as well as a friendly outdoor cat that I like to pet a lot. And I have seen raccoons around. (I don’t really pet them, though.)

The fleas also could have come from a groomer, and as much as I like him, the nice man we take Tommy to, with the enormous dog named Oso (“bear,” in Spanish) and a pointy-faced beast he swears is a wolf, is a prime suspect. (Alfonso also insists he has a pet bobcat--named Bob--but we’ve never seen it and suspect that something either got lost in translation or, possibly, made up entirely.)

In the end, it doesn’t really matter where the fleas came from. The important thing is that they have to go. And that’s what I did today, instead of starting my Shanghai article, re-pitching my Mongolia article to magazines, or plowing through the pile of travel journals I’ve been meaning to read and take notes on. I de-flead our apartment.

Getting rid of the fleas is very easy--you just have to apply a few drops of flea killer to the back of the cats’ necks. (Both cats, since it’s virtually impossible that Teacake has fleas and Tommy doesn’t.) The medicine gets into the cat’s bloodstream through the skin and somehow makes the cat toxic to fleas without hurting the cat. Petty quickly, all the fleas in the house die.

The harder part is vacuuming your carpets to make sure you’ve got all the unhatched eggs. The really hard part is doing the same to all the places the cats sleep. If you’re a cat owner, you know how hard it is to inventory all their sleeping places. It’s like making a list of all the places Earnest Hemmingway liked to drink. It’s easier to keep track of the spots that don’t qualify.

The couch had to be vacuumed, along with the ottoman and the comfy chair. The cats snooze on our bed a lot, so all the sheets and comforters had to be washed, and even the bed skirt had to go in the laundry because they leave so much fur on it on the way to their under-the-bed bunker. I think I probably even ought to dry clean the curtains next to the kitty condo, because they hang so closely they have fur all over them. Where there’s fur, I have to assume there are probably fleas.

Ironically, their own kitty beds were probably fine, because their little fleecy pads seem to have fallen out of favor lately, but I threw them in the washer just to be safe. Once in a blue moon Tommy does sleep where he’s supposed to.

So that was my life today--a long boring stint in a veterinary waiting room followed by a frenzy of Hoovering and laundering.

It makes me wonder how I ever found time to hold down a job.

Friday, October 06, 2006

More Sidewalk Sightings

Speaking of records, I beat my previous record for sidewalk date stamps: Today in the Haddon Hill neighborhood, I saw one dated 1911.

Oh, and I found a penny. It was a good walk.

(1981. Thanks for asking!)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Faster Than the Speed of Light

We have a new rejection record, folks. Yesterday I emailed a service piece on the Great Wall of China to a number of editors, including one in a large, windy midwestern city. I got a response from this kind, speed-reading editor that same day at 2:32pm.

What kills me is that according to his email reply, he got my original email at 4:27pm—meaning he rejected it before he received it.

I know, I know, it’s just a time zone quirk. But adjusting for the time difference, I can see that my article actually got rejected five minutes after I sent it. That’s efficiency.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Codeshare Overshare

My flight home from JFK to SFO was one of the oddest codeshares I’ve ever been a part of: Delta, Royal Air Maroc, Korean Air, and Czech Airlines.

I didn’t sense a strong Moroccan presence. There were quite a few passengers that I’m assuming were Korean. I had fun guessing which passengers were San Franciscans and which were New Yorkers. (The compulsively chatty couple who shared with me every detail of their trip to Greece and the ensuing lost-luggage saga: probably Californians. And the pushy Woody Allen look-alike who somehow shoved his way in front of me at the ticket counter? I’m blaming him on New York.)

Most interesting were the crowd of women with over-processed hair and their menfolk, all wearing black leather jackets and standing around drinking beer out of plastic cups. I would have guessed they were Russian, but they must have been the Czech contingent. I guess the Russian influence in Eastern Europe shouldn’t be underestimated.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Freudian Slip of the Fingers

In my last post, when I was typing the term “East Coast,” it came out of my fingers as “Eat Coast.” That turns out to be not so far from the truth, actually. Eating always seems to be the main thing I do there.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Foliage Files

A lot of people have been asking me if there was any fall color on the East Coast. As it turns out, there was a little—and it seemed like there was more every day. (There probably was.)

I was way too early for the peak of foliage, which usually takes place around Columbus Day weekend, but there were a few good trees, and a lot of trees with a few good branches. Here’s an aerial photo—it’s actually of southern Connecticut, taken from the air between Hartford and JFK on my way home. But it gives you an idea of the suggestion of color that was going on in Northampton.