Review: Empire State by Jason Shiga

Empire State – A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga (2011)

Jason Shiga’s Empire State is a graphic novel reminiscence of a bus trip from Oakland to New York City, told episodically in a manner best left to the reader’s discovery.  Jimmy aspires to a high-tech career, but he feels trapped in Oakland by familial expectations, a lack of worldliness, and seemingly minimal ambition.

He finds motivation to venture outside the Bay Area when his best friend Sara takes an internship with a New York publishing house.  With romantic notions of seeing the country and romantic notions of confessing his love, he purchases a bus ticket rather than a flight, thinking a bus ride will truly let him experience the country along his way.

Although I find the narrative to be tone-perfect, I’m also a romantic 51-year-old never-married English major who got on a plane in his twenties to propose to a woman.  Others may find the story unsatisfying, the way even great short stories can feel incomplete.

Where Empire State scores best is with an overall slacker, angsty mood.  References to Dreamweaver and Sleepless in Seattle set the era.  Sequences of wordless scenery provide the uncomfortable mundanity of aimless, post-college existence many of us remember as we contemplated stepping into a dreadful world inherited from boomer yuppies.

If you or a friend had a freshly printed college diploma in the mid-to-late 90s and a McJob shelving books in the local library, you’ll recognize Jimmy’s world, and you’ll probably recognize Jimmy, too.

A nice, quick read.


PS: Don’t pass it along right when you’re done.  It rewards a second reading.

Lockdown: Rainbows are visions

I was a little more productive Friday than I thought I’d be, but less productive than I should have been. I’m not trying to use Bloody Wednesday as an excuse for working slowly or half-heartedly, but it’s a factor for sure. The storytelling part of my brain wasn’t working. I’d have welcomed a proposal, something more businesslike. I had a few quick-turnaround things (can you read this terrible sentence and tell me how to fix it? that kind of thing). That second story I’ve almost completed a first draft of remains in this state.

What my brain lacked in enthusiasm my appetite more than made up for. Gluttony and sloth, part 2. I drove down to Rainbows, which is five minutes away, and picked up a shoyu chicken plate, a boneless chicken plate, and a side of chili tater tots. The plan: eat that all day. It’s exactly what I did. Together, these were my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I neither fired up the Instant Pot, nor opened the microwave oven door, nor took a lid off any food storage container.

It was comforting and disgusting, sensory and guilt-inducing. It would have been just about perfect if midway through the day it wasn’t getting a little old. I didn’t even touch the mac salad — I keep forgetting how absolutely terrible Rainbows mac salad is. It’s freaking gross. I don’t know what that stuff is they put in it, but it’s not mayo, and the macaroni is always cooked to within a second of disintegration. Bleah.

Listened to music most of the day, since a lot of the good podcasts took the week off. Friday is new music release day, but there was nothing to get excited about on the metal list. I jotted down a few things to check out later; there just wasn’t something that needed listening to right away. So I returned to the Loudwire power metal list and spun Gamma Ray’s Land of the Free (1988). Number four on the list but number twelve in your heart. Or thereabouts.

I’ve already rhapsodized about Helloween, so a quick thought on Gamma Ray. If you listen to power metal, you already know that Kai Hansen founded Helloween and turned it into the most influential power metal band ever, but he left the group in its early days of glory and founded Gamma Ray. So the two bands are sorta joined, the way Metallica and Megadeth are because of Dave Mustaine.

It’s a good album although occasionally very cheesy, as Gamma Ray is wont to be. Note to up-and-coming metal bands: don’t write songs about metal itself. And don’t write songs with “heavy metal” in the title.

In the evening before bed, I listened to Sonata Arctica’s Winterheart’s Guild (2003), number eleven on the Loudwire list. I’ve actually owned the CD since 2003, but I wasn’t sure where it was so I spun it three times on Spotify. It was exactly as I remembered it, and it has aged well. Happy to know the one Sonata Arctica album I own is the one to own, according to some.

I was so exhausted I went to bed at 9:30. Tried to read for a while but my body wouldn’t let me.

AJ in SD has this new game she enjoys. She guesses whether I’m awake or asleep in the wee hours, then texts me just to see. It’s pretty funny. Friday she texted at 6 a.m. and yes, I was still up. Brushing my teeth to get ready for bed after wasting all that time Thursday night (Friday morning, that is) looking for potato chips.

Sharon and I did some work talk via text. We had a little conversation about the aloha email. You know, the one you send on your last day at the office.

Ali was in one of her chatty text message moods, and it was a blessing. We did all kinds of book talking, plus some stuff about Bloody Wednesday (she used to work with us, remember).

Jennifer texted me a link to an article about sourdough starter. I didn’t read it yet. That might have been Wednesday, now that I think about it.

I didn’t go for a walk. Remember, gluttony and sloth. And crossword puzzles. My post-Bloody-Wednesday survival kit.

Text me if you need to connect. I’m down for it if you can handle long breaks between responses for the next few days. Leave a note her and I’ll send you my contact info.

Lockdown: The boba was a blob and so am I

Thursday was surreal. We all woke up to a different company. You could feel it, even though we’re all working far apart from each other. Texts simply asked, “How are you doing?” And it wasn’t smalltalk. It was how are you doing after Bloody Wednesday?

The answer most of the time: not good. My usual reply was, “About as you’d expect.”

I’m not proud of the way I’ve dealt with it, a combination of gluttony, sloth, and bleary-eyed crossword puzzles.

Thursday I had the laundry all to myself the entire time. It was nice. I stopped at the beach on the way home. There were leaves and seed pods in the water, not enough to freak me out and chase me from the ocean, but noticeably more than you see on a typical day. We’ve had some rain. Leaves at this beach are not a good sign.

I still went a bit harder and a little longer than I planned. It felt good, and I’m not showing any signs of illness, so I think the gamble paid off.

For breakfast, I stopped at Pancakes and Waffles. It’s not even my favorite breakfast spot in town; it’s just really conveniently located on my way home. I had an omelet, the house special, which I won’t describe because it’s pretty indulgent. I got the side of white rice (instead of toast, home fries, or fried rice), and then an extra side of home fries. I did say something about gluttony, right?

I didn’t touch the home fries until lunch, though. So that was lunch. A more than sensible, reasonable lunch.

For dinner, I made the instant ramen thing again, with a whole block of tofu, half a bag of bean sprouts, and a head of baby bok choi. I could tell the tofu didn’t have much time left, so I consumed the whole thing. It was a lot of food, but I’ll take some comfort in knowing the bulk of it was veggie or veggie-like.

There were a small number of peanut butter Oreos for a snack. Three? Four? Around there.

I went to the local stripmall for some boba around 8:30 and it freaked me out. There were as many people there, some apparently just hanging out, as on a typical summer evening. I was super stressed the whole time. To add disapointment to stress, the boba itself was super mushy. My first boba in a month, too. Bleah.

There was almost as much texting and IMing for work as the day before. We’re all processing. I don’t think there was any personal messaging for me — just work stuff. It seemed fitting.

I should have been in bed early, but I wasted hours looking up regional potato chip companies and seeing if anyone would ship to Hawaii for a reasonable price. Don’t ask me why. I stopped myself after couple of hours but before I was satisfied.

I also watched three episodes of Orange is the New Black, season four. Some incredible, intense acting. Also some really good laugh-aloud moments. The despicable main character is broken. She understands (again) how lousy a person she is. I’m still annoyed at her idiotic behavior, but I’m opening up a little for her. There were a few moments of grace.

I don’t have much else to say. It was a crappy day and I think all things considered, I got through it mostly unscathed.

Connect. Reach out. Leave me a note here and we’ll work something out. The end.

Lockdown: Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday

Two weeks ago, I mentioned a hastily called departmental Zoom meeting. Hasty because my supervisor wanted us to get the news from her, and word was already zipping around the organization. They were laying people off. Ten percent of the company.

We all knew it was probably coming, but that’s ten positions. It was going to be painful.

I was certain I would be let go. With some friends at work, I composed a list of my twelve likeliest candidates for being cut loose, and my name was at the top of the list. I’ve been here three and a half years, and I’m the most recent hire in our department.

Plus, I’m replaceable. As my boss pointed out in a conversation later, everyone is replaceable, but I’m the most replaceable. I just write. Nearly everyone in my department can do what I do. One of my colleagues, in fact, held my position for some time before I came aboard. The truth is that you could remove almost anyone from our team of six or seven, and the others could cover the bases. Not as well as the one person, but ably enough.

However. Last in, first out, right?

They told us we’d know by July 15. That was effectively three weeks’ notice. I was stressed, not because I can’t handle unemployment — I’ve been through it a couple of times in recent years and I was okay. I just really like what I do, and I really like the people I do it with.

When I worked at the engineering firm, the mission was the work itself. We existed to get work, and we did work to get paid. There are bigger-picture concepts, sure. Runways have to be engineered so planes can land safely upon them, and planes bring tourists who drive our economy. Safe stream runoff protects property, ecosystems, and lives. These are important, or it wouldn’t be such a lucrative, competitive industry.

I made it work for me because I loved (I mean really, really loved) the people I worked with. It brought me into the office every day and kept me there late at night and on weekends. I also thrilled to the challenge of doing good work in an area previously foreign to me, but I have a feeling that would have translated to almost any job that relied on my thinking and writing skills.

But I don’t really care about runways and runoff. I do care about young men and women. I care about research and education. My work, however indirectly, helps people get educated and research get done. I’ll stay up all night working on the cancer center proposal because something I do today might bring us closer to alleviating the destruction of cancer later. That’s something.

I think I’m underpaid by a lot. Still, I’ve already told my management that it’s not a reason for me to leave. I want to do what I’m doing, and I want to do it with the people I do it with.

I survived Bloody Wednesday, but boy was it a difficult day. Word came through the textline that so-and-so was packing up his stuff and saying bye in the main office, where not that many people work nowadays. Over the next few hours, other names trickled down. No way. Her? She was going to be a lifer. What? How are we supposed to do our work without a such-and-such? Who’s going to replace that person’s experience, smarts, and culture-defining personality?

This person heard someone was saying bye. That person was CCed on an email that made it certain another person was leaving. It was a rough way to get the news.

By the time we had our all-staff meeting, I had half the names. I got the rest later. Nobody on my list of twelve likeliest candidates took the axe. I suck at this, which should really teach me a lesson.

There were tears. There was anger. Actually, I didn’t pick up much anger from the others, but I felt it myself. These are good people who showed up for work every day and did their jobs the best they could. None of them deserved this.

I honestly like everyone who didn’t make it; some of them I consider friends. I texted a few to offer my support, then got on social media to reach out to former coworkers and let them know who was suddenly available, in case they had leads or references.

With tempered relief, none of my closest work friends was on the list. Small consolation, but consolation.

This is going to be a long time recovering from. For me and for this company.

I still managed to get two things turned in, despite most of the day spent working things out with co-workers behind the scenes. One was a monthly report I wasn’t as careful as usual putting together. Another was a revision of one of the two stories I submitted the night before.

Breakfast was overnight oats. Yay. I finally got my act together the night before. I made it this time with macadamia milk. I have a vague memory of it being pricier than organic almond milk, and either it was on sale or I splurged, most likely the latter. I’ve been reading some unpleasant things about almond milk, ‘though I honestly don’t know that macadamia milk is any more socially responsible.

Almond milk has a distinct almond flavor. Cashew milk has a slightly less distinct cashew flavor. Soy milk doesn’t taste like soy (but then, what does soy taste like? Shoyu? Tofu? Kinako? Edamame?), but it tastes like its own thing. The others all kind of taste the same, and I don’t know that I could pick macadamia milk out of a lineup with oat milk, rice milk, or any of the other opetions I’ve tried.

So now I have to investigate the nutritional info. If it’s all pretty much the same, I’ll feel better about macadamia milk than almond milk and I think I can afford it, at least for now.

I had a very late lunch of instant ramen with a mountain of bean sprouts and baby bok choi, plus an egg and several splashes of apple cider vinegar.

My usual all-night McD’s was closed when I went to fill my water jugs! So I stopped at 7-Eleven, and dinner was an egg salad sandwich and a turkey pesto sandwich.

My computer’s running out of juice, so I’m ending this here. I’ll catch up with tomorrow’s entry. I’m at the laundry and don’t want to save posting this for after breakfast this morning.

Reach out. I’m here. Etc.


What am I thinking? I have my wireless mechanical keyboard here and a cool phone. I can continue my silly musings this way, which I’m doing. 24 minutes left on the dryer.

I still have a bag of bean sprouts, one head of baby bok choi, and one block of tofu, but I’m not feeling instant ramen Thursday. Maybe a little stir-fry tonight.

I think I’m going to bake bread, too. Or, make bread. I’m not sure you can call what I do with the bread machine actual baking.

Texted my sister to check on her, since the last time I heard from her was before Mothers Day. She’s okay. Still working. A lot.

Almost all the rest of my texting was frenzied exchanges with co-workers. I sent a couple to the people who were let go, letting them know I’m here for them.

And as I’ve mentioned, lots of IMing to let people know I have ten wonderful former coworkers who are looking for positions.

Crush Girl and I talked about a chain restaurant she tried for the first time. There was more to it than that, actually, and my exchanges with her Wednesday were the highlight of my crappy day.

I caught Ali up on the work situation. She was predictably as miserable as I am about it.

There were some really silly memes in the engineering group text. I mostly kept out of it.

Didn’t go for a walk because it’s laundry day.

Two Helloween albums were very high on that Loudwire list of 25 greatest power metal albums of all time. The first was a no-brainer: Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 1. I own it on CD and although it’s flawed, the band’s second LP is one of the defining albums of the genre, almost setting the tone for all the power metal that followed. Other albums were more influential on developing the genre, but this is one of the earliest that’s recognizable today as straight-up power metal. “Halloween” on this album is possibly the greatest power metal song ever recorded. Ooh, another list I could make.

The other album on the list was the band’s third album, Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II. Haha, laugh all you want. I know how dorky this all sounds.

I’d never listened to it, ‘though of course I always meant to. Between the end of my workday and my (far too late) bedtime, I played it a few times, and holy moly. Its position at the top of Loudwire’s list may be justified.

Top to bottom, it’s definitely a better album. Song-by-song, you can hear the band’s growth into this new-ish form it was pioneering. While nothing on the album is as cool as “Halloween,” that song’s counterpart on this Part II album, “Keeper of the Seven Keys,” might be a better song. I might have to listen to just this song on repeat a dozen times or so, as I have often done with “Halloween.”

Most striking to me is how very much better this album, number one on the Loudwire list, is than that Lost Horizon album I listened to Tuesday, and the Lost Horizon album was number seven. The dropoff is freaking steep.

If I’m babbling it’s because I’m excited. Such a good album, and such a great (long delayed) discovery. I’m going to see what’s out there on CD because I have to own this.

Thirteen minutes left on the dryer and I have thirty-something turns to take in Words with Friends. So go spin that album if you know what’s good for you!

Lockdown: Story of a story

I’m going to try to make this a quick one, so please interrupt me if I take off on a weird tangent about some silly thing I saw on TV or some music I streamed.

It’s 3:20 and if I can get to bed by 4, I’ll be super happy.

I pretty much just worked all day. Not in the grinding-for-eighteen-hours way, as I often do on proposals, but in the work-a-little-take-a-break way I sometimes do more narrative stories.

I try not to let myself fall into formulaic writing, despite the way so much of what I write is similar in nature and theme. I’m kind of desperate not to keep writing the same story with different values for variables, and I’m not just talking about structure like the five-paragraph essay form. I’m talking about deeper level thinking as it translates into storytelling, something I don’t have any formal education in but which I am certain separates good writing from very good writing.

If I’m going to write the five-paragraph essay, for example, I don’t want the five paragraphs always to be intro-body-body-body-conclusion. There are ways of expositing the same material without a thesis statement followed by three points and a why-should-you-care statement to wrap it up.

Because I don’t have the formal schooling, I don’t have the language for dissecting my thinking, and without the language it’s difficult to think about or analyze. I’m keenly aware of this, but I’m determined to force myself through it over time — I’ve been forcing myself through it since I took this job — so I have a better understanding of story and my role in telling it.

I had this amazing professor in an advanced expository, 400-level composition course at UH Hilo. She focused all semester on metaphor, in a way that blew my too-immature mind. I just wasn’t ready for most of it, but I’m so glad I did the reading and took notes and tried to contribute to the discussion. I’ve called on these things as I’ve considered the x-ray type stuff in my analysis. Although I know there’s more to it, I’m grateful to have it as a handhold.

Anyway, these are things I’m sure my supervisor doesn’t want to hear. Because they slow my writing down like one gigantic speedbump, as they did today. My storytelling machinery is a little rusty too, which didn’t help.

I got one story drafted and another aaaaaaaalmost drafted. I need one more transition and then a couple of good paragraphs to close, but my eyes and brain hurt, so I submitted them for a quick review.

Half an hour ago.

I’m grateful also to have a job allowing me to take a whole day sometimes to do this kind of writing and thinking, and a supervisor who lets me do it once in a while.

So the whole day was kind of a work day for me, and it’s okay. I didn’t take a walk or watch any TV besides the news. I went from bed to the desk to the bathroom to the kitchen to the desk to the bed in an endless cycle that got me through the nearly two drafts.

I’m tired.

For breakfast I had instant ramen with half a bag of bean sprouts, half a block of firm tofu, and one head of baby bok choi. It was really more veggies than noodles, but that’s how I like it lately. I needed something simple but not instant, you know? Not something to throw in the microwave. Something to actually put together. Just not anything fancy.

I’m likely to have the same thing either for breakfast or lunch tomorrow. Gotta use the rest of the ingredients.

It reminds me of one of my favorite meals in the year-and-a-quarter when I was underemployed, before I took the job at the foundation. Good topic for tomorrow.

Lunch was a bowl of raisin bran. I didn’t want to mess up my writing flow, so I needed something quick and yummy.

Dinner was just laziness. Three hot dogs with ketchup, mustard, and sauerkraut. Didn’t need that third one, dang it.

I had three peanut butter Oreos for a snack. I don’t remember when but I know I had them.

Loudwire published a list of its 25 best power metal albums of all time. It’s a good list, some of which I’d have predicted and some of which I agree with. That’s going to be a fun list to make, when I have some time to think about it.

I’m going to spend the rest of the week listening to stuff on the list I’m not familiar with. Tonight I spun an album called A Flame to the Ground Beneath by Lost Horizon (2003). It was one of the few bands on the list I’ve never heard or heard of, but its position at number seven seems well considered. Good album.

The 2002-2003 school year is a key year for me in my music fanaticism. It’s when I discovered power metal and symphonic metal, the year I made my first purchases in this area, including the number five album on the list, Symphony X’s The Odyssey (2002), which I might put at number one or two on my own list.

It was my first year teaching at Assets, too, so the music and the beginning of this second leg of my teaching career are kind of woven.

I got an early text from Jenny about an HBA alumni online event, an interview with my classmate Karen, who’s a state judge. I didn’t get to watch the stream since I was working, but if it’s still viewable I’ll watch it later this week for sure.

Crush Girl and I talked a little about the new COVID-19 cases — a nearly unbelievable 41! Seriously, I can’t believe it. I thought it was a typo. Oh, she also looked at the first two episodes of Casual, which made me feel good. I’m evangelizing Jason Reitman.

Sharon and I texted about a local TV reporter we’ve been talking about and a little about this all-staff Zoom meeting we have tomorrow. Ugh. I don’t want to think about it. It’s not until 4:00, too, so I have all day to dread it. It’s not going to be a fun day.

Suzanne sent the engineering group text a request for a photo of Eddie. I had no idea who Eddie was so I sent a photo of Edward Van Halen, the best Eddie I can think of. Turns out Cindy’s cat is named Eddie and that’s who Suzanne was talking about. Then Julie sent a photo of herself breastfeeding one of her kids. Great.

That was it. Uneventful but productive Tuesday, even if the productivity was extremely inefficient. I’m feeling normal for some reason, and I may celebrate Wednesday with takeout lunch from somewhere.

As you can see, I’ve got bandwidth for more texting, IMing, or DMing. Hit me up in this space and I’ll send you my contact info, if you need someone to connect with. I promise not to send you breastfeeding photos, but you may get 80s guitar slinger photos.

Lockdown: Taking steps is easy; standing still is hard

Forget 48 hours. My body violently rejected Sunday’s dinner early Monday evening. Lesson learned. I suppose.

Work was mostly me putting my stories together and not doing a great job of it. I think I’m a little rusty, which of course is no excuse. Especially since I jump writing tracks with some alacrity most of the time. I just couldn’t find my groove, and everything felt forced, which my stories seldom are.

I’m disappointed in myself though certainly not surprised. It happens sometimes and I try not to let it bug me. Since I’m on a bit of a deadline now I’ll feel lousy about it Tuesday if I don’t have two complete drafts. If they’re not complete, I’ll submit them anyway as almost-drafts and get feedback. That sometimes helps.

Breakfast was a couple of pizza dogs again. I keep forgetting to make overnight oats and it’s beginning to bug me. Maybe I should set an alarm. I kind of skipped lunch, then made a pot of kimchi angel hair for dinner. My instinct last time was right: I used a lot more kimchi this time, and it was not an improvement. Distracting. I still think the dish could use another dimension, maybe something fatty, like sausage? What would be a good Korean fatty thing to put in there? Or maybe I should go with something like Portuguese sausage, since kimchi goes so well with it.

I didn’t go for a walk. The knee isn’t killing me but I don’t want to push it. Maybe I’ll try every other night for a while, unless it’s a laundry night.

AJ in SD and I traded a bunch of texts about kitchen implements. It was a nice conversation. I asked her what her favorite kitchen unitasker is, and she said probably her scale. She does a lot of baking. I nominated my ceramic ginger-grater, which is really only good for ginger or garlic, and I have mixed feelings about grating garlic. For dishes needing ginger, though, it’s an amazing thing.

Ali texted me a cartoon that had me laughing aloud. I sent her one back and she had already seen it, a couple of years ago. Seems a lot more appropriate this year, she said. I said darn because I didn’t know I was passing along something so old.

Crush Girl and I talked a little about our weekends. I mentioned Casual, and that got me off on Jason Reitman. I went on a bit of a fanboy rave.

I think I’m permanently going to move laundry to another early morning. Tuesdays were great, but the usual Monday pressures were making it too stressful. I feel a lot better making my big housecleaning evening Sunday night and saving laundry for another very early morning later in the week. I can also enjoy the beach more on those days.

My heart wasn’t in it, so it took a bit longer than last week, but I did attack the Monster in what has become my usual, unpleasant, satisfying chunk of accomplishment. It was unpleasant and miserable. I think I might be nearing halfway through, though, so maybe it’ll start feeling better once it’s all downhill and the end approacheth. Here’s hoping.

I watched another episode of Orange is the New Black. A mixed bag for sure. Piper Chapman, the central character, is super, super, super unlikeable right now. Most of the regulars are pretty unlikeable, actually. I guess it’s inevitable — we are talking about federal prison inmates.

I think about a show like M*A*S*H which I often compare this to, since it has a lot of characters trapped in a small space, but where the the characters in M*A*S*H can be unambiguously noble (they’re physicians, nurses, and a chaplain) against the antagonist of war, the characters in Orange is the New Black are ambiguously flawed: gracious and judgmental, good and bad, fighting their own imperfections as much as a terrible justice system.

I’m not planning to jump ship yet, since I have the Blu-Rays for seasons four and five. However, if I were watching this the normal way, I’d totally get why people might jump off right around now.

Gotta get ready for my day of paid writing (I’m writing this sorta early Tuesday). Which is a good time to remind anyone reading this that if they’re having difficulty connecting in these COVID-19 days, they should feel free to reach out. I’m here for it if you’re down to text, IM, or DM.

Lockdown: My lot in life

Sunday I got up too early, far ahead of my alarm, and knew it would be useless to try and fall right back asleep, so I got up, took my meds without food (they don’t need food but I think they do better with it), and did the Sunday crosswords in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. 25:30, 20:29, and 28:00 respectively. The longer time for the WaPo was because the theme was a bit challenging.

Unlike the LAT and NYT, the WaPo only publishes a Sunday crossword, a puzzle once ruled by the late esteemed Merl Reagle and now more than ably constructed by Evan Birnholz, whose creations are always fun and inventive.

I knew I was in for a long solve when the first long answer’s clue was U(N)D(E)R(T)AKING. I didn’t get what was going on until the last of the long answers, and then only after getting through most of the puzzle around the long answers. The clue (H)INDQ(U)A(RT)ERS gave the answer PAIN IN THE BUTT. See, “hurt” is spelled out in the parentheses, and “hindquarters” is another word for BUTT. The PAIN is literally in the BUTT in the clue. So U(N)D(E)R(T)AKING is CATCH IN THE ACT (net as a verb means to catch; an undertaking is an act). Some of the other clues and their long answers:


It’s brilliant if maddening. And Birnholz sets himself a very high standard for clues and fill, keeping things appropriate for general audiences, and absent most crosswordese, those words or phrases you only know because so many crossword puzzles contain them. A good puzzle if one of my slower Sunday efforts.

It was back to bed for me, for a planned two-hour nap, but I took an hour to get to sleep, so I didn’t get back up until 3:00. Ugh. I’d planned to be the office at 2:00.

They’re scheduling people to be in the office, people who need to be there at least sometimes, and people who prefer working there. I don’t feel safe yet, although I’ve seen the schedule and it’s very few people each day. So I’ve gotten permission to go in Sunday afternoons when I know I’ll be the only person there.

The work laptop needs its software updated frequently, so I save it for the Sundays, and try to do the work I can only do on that computer while I’m in the office. The remote desktop is just so slow, and it doesn’t play nicely with my home wifi.

I haven’t gotten as much done these past two Sundays as planned, since I’ve had urgent proposals to finish. I was there until 1:00 in the morning two weeks ago; I was there until nearly sunrise last Sunday.

But hey. Nothing urgent this week, so I took care of a bunch of housekeeping and packed up a bunch of the stuff a person accumulates over the years working at the same place. Not knowing when I’ll be working regularly in my cube again, I just brought home most of my office stuff: pens, stickies, binder clips, stress balls.

Updated my software and added Adobe Bridge. The proposals I’m working on require a lot of searching through our photo archives, and although I’ve never used it, I know Bridge is so much better for that kind of thing. One nice thing I figured out right away is you can define a batch action, then drop multiple photo files right onto it. Works a lot like the automations you can create right in MacOS. I defined a “resize” command so I could resize multi-megabyte photos to much, much smaller files. Just drag, drop, and click go, and the files are resized and copied to a pre-defined location, leaving the originals intact.

Useful because I plan to send a bunch of photos in email to a development officer to ask which she’d like to use for the proposal. Now they’ll total less than one MB for all seven photos, rather than the 20-something megs it was going to take.

I loaded up the car and went for a walk. I told you I was going to do it for sure Sunday.

It wasn’t long: from Young Street near Keeaumoku, I went down Young Street to University Ave, then came right back. Only encountered a few other pedestrains and sidewalk hangers-out. I avoided them all, of course. It’s only about a 7,000-step walk (I walk it a lot in normal times, so I’m very familiar), but it was just good to get out and moving. My knee didn’t feel it a whole lot during the walk. I’m feeling it now. Anyway, just over 10,000 steps for the day, for the first time in a couple of weeks.

So the walk was from about 9 to 10, and I got in my car and came right home. Much better than one in the morning.

I sorta skipped breakfast, as I mentioned. I went through the Jack in the Box drive-through on my way to the office for a burger and onion rings. I could have done without the Oreo shake, but did I? I did not.

I didn’t have dinner until some time after I got home. Finally finished off the brown rice with chicken, kale, and broccoli, and am I glad. That last serving probably should have gone in the trash anyway. My body hasn’t rebelled yet, thank goodness, but bad bacteria can take 48 hours before they do things to you. A friend of mine works in a blood lab and has done research on the nasties that make your body do unpleasant things after eating bad food.

I ate it with fried eggs and canned corned beef hash. It would have been great if the green stuff in the rice wasn’t suspect.

The only texting was with Crush Girl, a few short messages about a favorite pastry she finally got to try. I was pleased for her. I mentioned late Sunday I have a year of Apple TV+ for free, something I didn’t know until I got a message saying I have to initialize it soon or the offer expires.

So I signed up and watched the first half-hour episode of Central Park, an animated musical sitcom. It was pretty cute. I’ll probably check out a few more episodes before I decide what to do with it. Just before bed, I returned to Orange is the New Black season four. I was on episode six, and yikes. So dark. It ends on something of a cliffhanger for a much-loved character. A dark cliffhanger. A less purposeful me would have gone right to the next episode, but I was responsible and just got ready for bed.

I don’t see any urgent proposals coming up unless the cancer center thing comes back to me with edits. This means I can focus on my long-dormant stories. Looking forward to a productive week where I tick off a lot of stuff that’s been on the list for too long.

Whatever you’re up to this week, if you need someone to connect with, reach out here. It’s a stupid thing to keep offering every day but I do it because I’m serious.

Lockdown: The Reitman for a new (to me) series

Saturday was a bit closer to normal, thank goodness.

I did get up at a ridiculously late hour, as I wrote yesterday. Like 3:00. I had breakfast while I wrote my Friday journal entry. Since it was Independence Day, of course I had hot dogs. I thought I’d fancy them up a little, so I made pizza dogs of a sort. Just put some marinara in the buns with the dogs and sliced some medium cheddar to melt on top.

They were delicious, and an apt way to celebrate the nation’s founding.

I took a little nap, then did a little bit of tidying up. I watched the last half hour of the Silicon Valley series finale. Then I put in a DVD from Netflix: the first five episodes of the first season of a series called Casual, a Hulu original. I was interested because its first two episodes were directed by Jason Reitman, probably my second-favorite director today, after Alexander Payne.

The best thing I can say about it is it looks like a TV series directed by Jason Reitman, which is a very good thing. It’s about a mid-thirties developer of an online dating site who lives with his late-thirties sister and her sixteen-year-old daughter. Or, they live with him, since the sister is recently divorced.

It’s a bit of an exploration of casual dating for all three characters, and I’m only halfway through the first season, but I think it’s a bit like Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm in how it looks at consequences for everyone involved, especially the kid. It’s funny with an undercurrent of deep sadness, which of course I love. Although the central male character is insufferable, I might suffer him because the other characters are so good, and it’s a very character-driven show, at least so far.

I’ve got the second DVD of season one on the way, or I will once I drop this and That Touch of Mink in the box. The rest of the series (three more seasons) are only on Hulu, but thanks to my Spotify subscription, I have Hulu’s basic plan too.

I continued going through my CDs — ripping the ones that aren’t on Spotify and getting them all ready for storage. I went through close to sixty titles and put them in a CD storage bag I ordered four of from Amazon.

I won’t list them all, but some of the CDs I ripped because they’re not on Spotify are Level Heads’ Memento Mori (1988) and the Darling Buds’ Long Day in the Universe (1992), a CD single with three otherwise unreleased tracks, as far as I can tell.

I also started a spreadsheet just to log all my CDs as I put them away. Just title-artist-year plus a column for notes. I don’t want to put them away and then forget I have them, you know? I figure I can skim a list and go, “Oh yeah, let’s listen to that Cocteau Twins album I love but never think of for some reason.”

I had a late dinner — the same thing I had for breakfast! It was really good, but of course I did it just to honor my country. Planned to make a microwaved apple crisp in a mug, but those two meals were all I was hungry for.

There was very little texting. I asked Ali something and didn’t hear back. Then I sent a link to Crush Girl, a news story about something she’s interested in. Charles and I traded a few FB IMs about his new workplace.

Did not go for a walk. I plan to Sunday for sure, though.

Daily reminder: if you’re looking for connectivity, let’s chat. DMs, IMs, and texts work for me — just reach out in this space. The world’s going crazy and we’re going to need to lock back down soon; I just feel it. Also, I only found out recently that sleep apnea patients have greater difficulty with COVID-19 — they’re more likely to need hospitalization. So, great. Now I’m not just being careful for my parents, but for myself. Could be a long rest of 2020!

Lockdown: Hibernation

If montony is an illness, Friday may have been the cure, because I pretty much didn’t do anything all day, a day I took just to withdraw from everything with no consequences since it was a holiday.

I got to bed early, like around 2:00. Then got up kind of early, but then I had breakfast and did a few little things and went back to bed. And most of the rest of my day was alternating between a couple of hours at my desk and a couple of hours in bed, mostly staring at my phone until I dozed off.

It didn’t feel like escapist behavior, at least not in the emotionally numbing way I’ve written about recently. It felt more like convalescing. The nice thing is that the world went on without me but I didn’t miss anything. Slow news day (except for the continually rising numbers, of course, and that misguided speech at Mount Rushmore, which I followed on my phone from my bed between naps). No work day. No sports. No social gatherings to make excuses for missing.

Downside: I didn’t get to sleep Friday night until frighteningly close to eight in the morning Saturday! Holy freaking cow.

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon Saturday now and I mostly feel okay. I’m actually optimistic I’ll be fine to get to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight, too.

One productive thing I did Friday was go through my pantry to assess its status for feeding me now and in case there’s a hurricane. I haven’t thought about it much, but on each of my grocery store trips these past few months, I’ve picked up a few things just in case. Over time, they’ve added up to a decent store of hurricane-ready goods. I can’t believe how much pasta and pasta sauce I’ve accumulated, but also canned pork and beans (which I love), canned black beans, canned kidney beans, canned chili, canned corn, and instant ramen. I definitely have more than the recommended fourteen days’ worth of food, assuming we still have running water.

I also got 30 minutes from the end of my third or fourth viewing of the final season of Silicon Valley, which isn’t quite as good for repeat viewings as the first two seasons. I’ll finish the re-watch today and then put the DVD away for a bit.

I don’t know why, but I also spent a couple of hours going through W3’s HTML tutorial. Just to brush up. The standards change, and I wanted to see if there’s anything I’m using that’s no longer standard. I looked at a little bit of Javascript too. I’ve got a few ideas gestating for that, ‘though I don’t have quite the coding chops to just open up Notepad and whip it out.

Breakfast was hot dogs. With sauerkraut, mustard, and ketchup — almost the last of the Best Foods ketchup I’m so fond of. I took a little taste of the organic ketchup I have lined up to take its place and was pretty impressed, just the way it tasted on the tip of my finger. A lot more vinegary than I’m used to (a good thing), not as brown sugary as Heinz or Best Foods. It kind of tastes like Hunt’s with more vinegar. Promising.

I burned so few calories that I wasn’t hungry again until past 9:00 in the evening, when I had yet another meal of Portuguese sausage Spam, fried eggs, and my chicken-kale-broccoli rice. I’ve been giving the rice a little sesame oil drizzle lately, so even more fat-laden than it sounds.

Somewhere in the middle I did scarf three peanut butter Oreos, not all at once, but single cookies here and there.

The only texts Friday were a few with Crush Girl. We talked a little about the new Hamilton. Very late, I sent F5 girl an IM on FB about her blog, which seems to be misbehaving with comment moderation. That was it. Not by design, but my near radio silence was probably good for me too.

I didn’t go for a walk again, but boy did I make great plans to.

Saturday, which is more than half gone, is a much better day for reaching out if you need a little connectivity. Here I am.

Lockdown: Resting beach face

Thursday was a slow day at work. I had stuff to work on but it wasn’t flowing. I had very few emails. The flow was slow but the day went quickly, and I guess my brain is still recovering a little from the sleep deprivation.

Something someone said on a podcast last night made me realize something I was aware of but not connected to: that most of us are living through incredible monotony. Like, I’ve been hearing this from others and understanding, even sympathizing, but not realizing my own life has been monotonous and I’m feeling a little off about it.

One reason I decided on Day One to journal every day of this lockdown was to keep monotony at bay — since I’m writing about each day, I’d recognize it when I saw it. Weirdly, I’ve noticed a sameness but not felt it. Then Wednesday evening as I got stuff ready to take to the laundry, I realized I wasn’t looking forward to it as I have for these past few months. It felt kind of like drudgery, which laundry is almost the textbook definition of, and of course drudgery is almost a synonym for monotony.

I almost didn’t go. I can skip a week of laundry with no real problems if the surrounding weeks are not normal going-to-work weeks. I’d still be okay, but I’d have to hand-wash some work clothes, which I have done and which I don’t especially mind.

But I really didn’t want to do a double load next week, and I had to get out anyway and get bottled water, and with the long holiday weekend, I didn’t think I’d get to go to the beach until next week if I didn’t go Thursday. So off to the laundry I went, and except for the visceral, extreme pleasure of the McD’s fries (which were heavenly), it just felt like a chore.

Even the accomplishments, such as my progress on this horrible house-related task I’ve named the Monster, are feeling routine. I still feel good about the small dents I’m making in an overwhelming project, but the feel-good doesn’t seem to have much effect on my overall mood or mindset.

I’m thinking I need a new project, and I certainly don’t lack for any. This will be my weekend pondering: to consider ways to get out of this humdrummedness in a non-superficial, meaningful way.

Strangely, I’m not feeling especially down about any of this. Nor am I getting very stir-crazy. I think I’m just a little disappointed in what feels like stasis when stasis doesn’t have to rule the day.

I’m also not ruling out the possibility that the crazy sleep lately has left me in compromised mental health. Maybe my real goal this weekend should be to get my brain and body back to some semblance of healthy.

Toward this end, after the laundry, I went to the beach. It was crowded even at 5:15 in the morning. I had to park on the side of the road away from the beach, something I almost never have to do. There were a lot more people wading near the shore, and maybe a few more people further out where the swimmers usually do their thing, and no more or fewer stand-up paddleboarders than usual, so it was all a little weird.

But I had a good, semi-strenuous swim and it felt great, and I mostly avoided other people the entire time, ‘though I could have done without the old Chinese lady hacking and spitting at the shower after the swim. Ugh.

I picked up breakfast from Pancakes and Waffles — another roast pork loco moco. I need to see if the Subway in my hood is opening up early for breakfast again, because I’d be so much better off with that, not to mention happier.

Lunch was a bowl of raisin bran. Dinner was (again) the Portuguese sausage Spam with fried eggs and the broccoli-kale-chicken brown rice. I have a few more meals’ worth of that rice, so I expect more breakfast meats and eggs in the immediate future.

I snacked on some tortilla chips and fresh salsa, and I had three or four peanut butter Oreos.

I usually save my trip to the grocery store for very late Sunday evening, but I was annoyed about those hot dog buns. Despite my dining habits during the lockdown, I don’t eat hot dogs that often, and I do love them, so I just couldn’t stand the thought of using those terrible buns just to use them. I had to get some decent (if unremarkable) buns before the weekend. I’ll freeze the rest of the lame buns and use them for something else.

The supermarket was pleasantly unbusy, and I got my stuff without having to deal with too many other shoppers. Picked up some bean sprouts, tofu, won bok, and baby bok choi, and Diet Pepsi of course, which was the only other must-get after the hot dog buns.

Didn’t go for a walk but it’s okay because I swam.

I’m watching the final season of Silicon Valley once more before I put it away. Took in the first two episodes before agreeing with myself that this journal entry could wait until Friday breakfast (which I just finished), turning in kind of early, around 2:00 in the morning.

Sharon and I texted on and off all day, mostly about work stuff. Crush Girl and I had a text conversation about a friend of mine, whose father just got home after 33 days in the hospital with COVID-19. The friend’s brother died from it a few weeks ago. Ugh.

That was it for connectivity, but it was enough for such a mellow day. I’ve got bandwidth for more, if you’re having trouble finding someone to connect with. Daily reminder.