Fifty-Five

Picture of the author on his fifty-fifth birthday

A ‘double-digit birthday’, as a friend of mine called it in his birthday wishes today. Also I guess once upon a time a number often associated with retirement, or at least with being old, as it seemed like AARP memberships once really started being pushed at age 55. (I’ve been received mail from them for several years.) In fact I’m still kickin’ at my job, and planning to stay until at least the modern retirement age of 65. Then we’ll see.

Martin Luther King Jr. day was yesterday, so Debbi took it off and we took the dog to Byxbee Park for a morning hike, and then took down our outdoor Christmas lights. Then we went to Sundance the Steakhouse for dinner, which is where I like to go every year.

Today I slept in, and then spent the morning playing Outer Wilds on our Nintendo Switch. This is very much my sort of game, going around collecting information to solve a mystery, and the story seems very rich. I just scratched the surface in the little time I played. I have a feeling I can look forward to crashing into things quite a bit, though. The game controls on the Switch are pretty awkward, and it would be nice if they had a Mac version, but oh well.

Then I met my friend Chad for lunch at the Park Station Hashery, before making a trip to Recycle Bookstore. (I didn’t find anything today.) I went for a walk to close my exercise goal and almost catch up on this week’s podcasts, and then I watched an author event with John Scalzi sponsored by my local library before we made dinner.

All my birthdays are pretty low key these days. I don’t think we’ve really “done anything” for them since going to Disneyland in 2020. But that’s fine. Once you’ve had enough birthdays you appreciate the quiet ones. We’ll see if I feel similarly in another 20 or 30 years.

Picture of a smiling black doggo
Domino enjoyed his hike!

Goodbye New Yorker, Again

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with The New Yorker, and two years after I resubscribed to it, I’m letting it lapse again. My last issue is the January 1 & 8 one, with this cover by Bianca Bagnarelli:

Cover to the Jan 1 & 8, 2024 edition of The New Yorker.

As always, it gets harder to keep up with a weekly periodical over time, especially one as in-depth as The New Yorker. I feel like the magazine spends more time these days covering celebrities and world events and less time talking about the quirkier, more obscure areas of the nation and the world. I get plenty of exposure to Donald Trump, Taylor Swift and the war in Ukraine from other sources.

But this issue – which I haven’t quite finished – does go out on a high note with an article on Hollywood screenwriter and script doctor Scott Frank.

Of course, I have plenty of other things to read: A large to-read stack of books in the house, my weekly haul of comic books (and a moderate stack of graphic novels I haven’t cracked), and plenty of material on-line. That’s what magazines and newspapers have to compete with in the Internet era.

If the magazine continues, I’ll probably re-up in another 5 or 10 years, and maybe it will have evolved again. Time will tell.

Maintenance Year

This year feels like it’s been a big maintenance year, which isn’t a bad thing, and I feel like we got a lot of stuff done in that space this year.

A maintenance year doesn’t sound very exciting, but the biggest piece of maintenance was in fact quite exciting: Finishing the almost-2-year-long renovation of our vacation home on the east coast. We were fortunate to have a fantastic contractor who worked closely with us from a continent away to get it done, and it turned out amazing. We made 3 trips back there this year. First, in May to get things ready. Second, our big trip in July with friends, which started off with a 2-day delay and then was a lot of fun but was ridiculously busy, especially for me. And then again in September, just the two of us, which started off with a hurricane but ended up being a nice and mostly-relaxing trip.

We’re very glad to have it done, and are looking at spending time there regularly over the next few years. The cross-country fight is a bit of an oof, but we’ll figure it out.

In late summer I wrote that August was all by itself a month of maintenance, replacing our dishwasher, getting a major service on my car, and deep-cleaning the bathrooms and doing a bunch of yard work.

Fall is when the yard work ramps up anyway, as the sycamore tree in front of our house keeps me busy raking for a couple of months. The December storms knocked down almost all of its leaves so I think I finished a little early this year.

Early in the year we had some sections of our fence fall over, and we had them repaired (which mainly involved replacing the rotting posts), and then this fall we had them out again to replace several other posts. I feel like we get this done more often than I’d like, so maybe we should investigate getting treated lumber which won’t rot in the ground at some point.

In November I had another car repair, as my car – a 2015 VW Eos convertible – had been leaking in the rain, and it turns out it needed some drainage holes cleaned out. It was a little cheaper than estimated, and the rains we’ve gotten in the past month have shown that it worked, as it hasn’t leaked again. I am a little concerned that my discontinued-model car will be more expensive and difficult to maintain as time goes on – for more than just its age – so it might not last too many more years. We’ll see. (Long-time readers may recall that my previous car lasted 16 years, and the car before that I had for 9 even though it was 3 years old when I got it.)

We also had people out to clean the gutters and windows, which they really needed. We should probably do the gutters at least every other year, if not more. Once again, the storms this month validated the decision to do this.

In December we had an electrician come in to fix a bunch of lights in the kitchen. We have recessed lights all over the house, but while most of them are screw-in halogen flood lights (which I’ve been replacing with LED floods as they burn out), the six in the kitchen we push-in fluorescent lights, and the last two that died had the bases of the bulbs disintegrate when I tried to replace them. Apparently this is a common problem, so we got the whole fixtures replaced with built-in LED lights which will last 50,000 hours, probably meaning 20 years or more, which seems pretty good. We also got a pendant light over the island fixed, as well as an under-cabinet light. (And we might replace the fluorescent under-cabinet lights with LEDs at some point, as I replace those bulbs more often than any others in the house.)

I spent part of the holiday break cleaning up stuff in our study, tossing quite a few things, and I also have a couple of boxes of books to try to sell to the one remaining used book store in the area. I even made enough space on the shelves to empty one of the two remaining boxes from our move 12 years ago.

This year I struggled with plantar fasciitis and a strained achilles tendon, resulting in my taking most of September off from running. The fasciitis was by far the most annoying of the two, but it seems to have gone away this winter, which suspects that I need to find better summer footwear. The strained achilles has been naggingly annoying but no more than that. It’s gotten better too, but isn’t 100%. All part of being overweight and getting older, I guess.

I read about a book every other week this year, which may not sound like much but I maxed out at a little more than a book a week back in the 90s, and these days I read a lot more stuff than novels and comics. I’m still plugging my way through Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series as my before-bed reading, and will probably be ready to write a second entry about it soon. I decided to find alternate places to record my reading other than GoodReads (an Amazon site), so you can find me at The Storygraph and the SFBA Bookwyrm instance, if you care.

I’ve also continued to listen to lots of podcasts, at the rate of something like an hour and a half a day, mostly driving to and from work or going out walking or running. I keep up-to-date on many podcasts, but I have a large backlog where I am almost up to the end of 2020. Sheesh!

One thing that’s been receding in my life is Magic the Gathering. I mostly play limited Magic – draft and sealed – rather than constructed, and frankly this has been the worst year for limited Magic that I can recall. 4 of the 5 drafts formats were ridiculously fast, and the other was also pretty fast, which I find pretty tedious because it’s so easy to fall behind and so hard to catch up if you do. Moreover, I think fast formats reward people who are good at drafting and deckbuilding, and I think my strength is in playing the games, while my drafting is mediocre and my deckbuilding is weak. I lost games at a 75% clip during Wilds of Eldraine, and was miserable doing so; it’s my least-favorite draft format ever. So I think I’m going to step back from it for a while, and when new sets come out wait to see if the consensus is that the format is fast. If it is, then I’ll probably skip it.

Instead, back in September I picked up Marvel Snap again. It’s a short-game format collectible card game on iOS which didn’t hold my interest for long when I tried it in late 2022, but has been just what I needed as I stepped back from Magic. It’s probably worthy of its own post at some point, but it’s been making me happy. It probably helps that I’ve won at a pretty good rate, and with a few decks I built myself (though I’m certainly not too proud to netdeck).

I’ve basically stepped back entirely from Twitter/X (often styled derogatorily as ‘Xitter’, which I like the pronounce with the ‘X’ as an ‘Sh’) and its legion of fascists and white supremacists, starting with the chief Muskrat. I mostly post on Mastodon, and sometimes on Bluesky, though Bluesky feels like Twitter of 2012 in its technology so it’s hard to get too excited about posting there. Hopefully 2024 will see it ramping up its development efforts significantly.

On the home front, we’ve been continuing to integrate Domino into our lives. Debbi got his DNA tested and he’s primarily a pit bull mix, which I could see once I looked at several styles of pit bulls. He’s particularly got the pit bull torso, but he has his own unique features such as his curly tail and his helicopter ears.

Domino and the cats still don’t get along, especially D and Jackson (who is starting to look like an older cat as he just turned 11). He’s doing better with Simon and Edison, but we still keep them separated. I sometimes joke that the circle in our household is that Debbi wants to hang out with the dog, the dog wants to hang out with me (because he thinks I play harder, I think), I want to hang out with the cats, and the cats want to hang out with not-the-dog (though I think if he were chill around them then they’d be okay with him, especially Simon). This means that Debbi and I spend more time in separate rooms than we used to, which isn’t great, but it’s working so far.

So it’s been a pretty busy year, and I feel like we accomplished a lot, even if it wasn’t the most exciting year ever. But with the 2024 elections coming up, I am definitely feeling like I don’t want to live in interesting times!

Farewell, Hobee’s Mountain View

Hobee’s is a NorCal breakfast institution. There are other good breakfast places around, but Hobee’s has the double threat of also having good lunches, and that’s before you get into their yummy coffee cake.

Hobee’s was founded in Mountain View in 1974 in a former Dairy Belle burger joint. And it turns out the first location is in walking distance of my house! I started going there when I moved to Mountain View in 2001, but before that I’d been to the Palo Alto and the now-defunct Cupertino locations. Hobee’s emphasized meals made from natural and often California-sourced ingredients, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have a deep fryer.

In 2015 the original owners sold the chain to a pair of employees. For some chains this might have been the beginning of the end, but it seemed to breathe new life into the Mountain View location: New lights, new physical menus, and some nice changes to the menu contents, my favorite being the addition of buttermilk pancakes, as I’d never been a fan of the whole wheat ones. Late in the pandemic they set up tents and outdoor seating in the parking lot and they were the first restaurant we started going to regularly once we got vaccinated.

Sadly, all good things come to an end, and we learned a little over a week ago that yesterday would be the end for Hobee’s Mountain View. They wanted to make some upgrades to their space, but the landlords were unwilling to do what they wanted. The mall they’re in is old, decrepit, and half empty, so none of this really surprised me. (I’m more surprised that there’s a new massage parlor in it, as it seems the end is not far off. Then again, the Sunnyvale mall for my comics store used to be seemed to be in that state a decade ago, and it’s still shambling along. I guess there’s just enough demand for these aging and presumably low-rent retail spaces.)

We made two trips to the place last week, for breakfast on Monday (when the coffee cake was especially good), and for lunch on Wednesday. I took some indoor photos, but as they have people in them, I’m not going to share them here. They’ll make for some nice memories, though.

Hopefully they’ll be able to find a new space in Mountain View, though it’s very unlikely it will be as convenient to us as their old one was. Meanwhile, I guess we’ll be driving to the Palo Alto location in the future. And boy has it been a long time since I’ve been there.

The exterior of Hobee's restaurant Mountain View

Halloween 2023

Halloween seemed a little quieter this year. I didn’t write about last year (though I did write about the season in Boston a week earlier), but I thought that things were basically back to pre-pandemic levels for trick-or-treaters. Our street is pretty nuts when it comes to the flocks of kids, and even in 2020 we got about 50 kids, before the COVID vaccines were available.

We set up our usual little Halloween light display earlier in October. Walking around the neighborhood there were a lot fewer houses with lights up than in past years. I’m sure people were more motivated to put the effort in during lockdown, but really there were very few this year.

We usually buy at least 4 big bags of candy from Target or Costco each year, and this year Debbi bought a couple more than that. Then we set up our large folding table in the driveway to hand out candy. This way people aren’t constantly coming to the door, which is important because it would be constant at the peak of the evening, and neither the cats nor the dog get freaked out. (Domino spent the evening in the guest room, where I think he was mostly bored. The cats took turns looking out the front window.)

One of our neighbors came to sit with us to hand out his own candy, and a few other neighbors set up in their driveways, and sometimes we’d wander among each other to say hi.

The first couple of young kids came by between 5 and 6, and the numbers gradually ramped up until about 7:15 when it remained a pretty steady stream until 9 pm. In past years there would usually be one or two waves where there would be a crowd almost as far as the eye could see, but this year I think we maybe ended up with 10 or 12 people at once as its peak. We let people pick their own two pieces of candy off the table, which was funny because some kids would think very seriously about it, and some would pointedly take the not-chocolate ones. And then there was a girl who just said, “Whoppers are awesome!”

In the end we guess we had about 300 people pick up candy, and it turns out we overbought by maybe a third of that, so we have a bunch left over. New neighbors never believe us when we say how many people come through our street, so almost everyone else runs out before the night is over. But by 9:15 everyone’s just about done. We suspect that our street gets a lot of people because it ends at a major road and one of the houses on that corner puts up a huge Halloween display which attracts people from out of the neighborhood. Plus we have two elementary schools and a middle school nearby. But even just the next block over they get maybe half as many kids as we do.

Inflatable costumes seemed popular this year, including someone in an 8-foot-tall Garfield outfit. And while last year Wednesday Addams was the popular character (we saw a couple last night too), this year it was Spider-Man, presumably because of Across the Spider-Verse having been out over the summer.

We wound down with a late dinner and a little playtime for the dog. By bedtime there was no one walking the street that we could see. And this morning decorations were already coming down.

I’ll wrap up with one of the neighborhood houses which does put on a big display. It’s a little freaky to walk past it before 8 in the morning and have a spider jump out at you:

Halloween decorations at a house with two animatronic werewolves, a witch, spiders, and a 12-foot-tall pumpkinhead.

A Month of Maintenance

More like a month and a half of maintenance, to be frank.

Since we got back from Massachusetts in mid-July, I’ve spent sizable chunks of my weekends doing home maintenance and improvement.

The big thing we did was to buy a new dishwasher. Debbi never cared for our old GE dishwasher, and while I thought it was okay, I admit it was loud. And it didn’t always do the best job of cleaning things. Maybe it wasn’t so okay. But the forcing factor was that it started leaking: We’d occasionally find a bunch of water at the bottom of the machine, or worse, on the kitchen floor. And our cat sitter got to clean up a spill while we were away. So it was time. We replaced it with a Bosch SHP865ZP5N from Airport Home Appliance, which is where we bought our refrigerator two years ago. We’re pretty happy with the no-nonsense experience we’ve gotten there, as well as the ease of delivery and installation.

Installation did come with one little hiccup: The valve for the water at the wall was stuck and had to be replaced, which was not cheap. A little annoying since they basically had us as a captive audience for the installation. They said these valves break all the time because they’re all pretty cheap these days. Someone on Facebook suggested we should test them all every year, but it’s not like I want to replace them myself, or hire someone to come out and replace any ones which stick. Still, this valve lasted about 15 years, which doesn’t seem too bad.

Most of my other work has been in the yard. Our yard is pretty nice, but it’s about 15% larger than I have the time and energy to care for, so projects have built up over time. Consequently, I’ve spent a few hours each weekend cutting back the jasmine, trimming the rosemary, and pulling up tree seedlings and blackberry vines. The plum tree has suddenly decided to produce a whole bunch of plums this year, which caused many of its branches to start leaning to one side, so I gave it a good pruning, too. The plums are not great, and there was way more than we could eat even if they were great, so I’ve been raking them up occasionally, but they’re pretty messy. I’m also getting ready to start trimming back the fig tree which has been slowly growing over our fence since we moved in.

I also cleared out a space and bought six cubic feet of dirt to start a dirt pile for Domino to dig in. I probably need to buy another six-to-ten cubic feet to make it really satisfying, but it’s a start.

Then last weekend I give our bathrooms a good deep cleaning, mopped the floors, and scrubbed the floor of the master shower, which it really needed. So they’re just about as clean as they’ve been since we moved in. I also want to mop the kitchen floor.

Then I took my car in for its annual maintenance, where it needed its serpentine belt changed. It also has a leak which is likely around the seals for the convertible top (some might remember that I have a Volkswagen Eos), and is going to be expensive to fix. So I decided to defer that until we get closer to the rainy season.

Car ownership seems like it’s gotten a lot more expensive in the past decade! Or maybe it’s just the difference between Hondas and VWs.

We’re also coming out of a long stretch of warm weather, after a stretch of what seemed like cooler-than-normal weather. Globally, July was the hottest month on record. Here in my hometown:

  • In May, we had highs in the high 60s (°F) in the first third of the month, highs between 70 and 85 in the second third, and in the low 70s in the last third.
  • In June highs were in the 70s almost every day until a spike at the end of the month – which I was back east. These are what I recall were typical summer temperatures when I first moved here.
  • I was gone for the first third of July, but highs were consistently in the 80s for the rest of the month.
  • And August was more of the same, with several spikes in the low 90s, and a few days with highs in the high 70s. And the overnight lows were stubbornly above 60 for about half of the month. It was also unusually humid, with dew points in the low 60s a number of times, which is nothing for places where it gets genuinely yucky, but it’s unusually moist for here.

So July and August were both hot. Yard work on some of those days was no fun, I’ll tell you. And our electric bill was not much fun either, thanks to the air conditioner. (Someday we’ll put in solar panels!)

(My data comes from Weather Underground.)

Out of curiosity I checked June-to-August for my first 2 years here, and my recollections match the data: Highs mostly in the 70s, with a few spikes along the way (though the data for 2000 looks untrustworthy).

Anyway, that’s enough of that; I’ll leave the deeper dives on historical temperatures to J.D. Roth.

We’ve also been having some challenges with Domino, in particular that he hasn’t wanted to sleep in his crate at night, panting and whining when we put him in there. We suspect he had some unpleasant event in there – maybe even just a bad dream – but it’s meant that Debbi has been sleeping with him in our guest room until we can figure it out. They’re going to see the vet soon to see if there’s anything physically wrong, though he’s been about the same in all other ways. Hopefully he’s okay, but it’s been frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating, I’ve also been dealing with both (self-diagnosed) plantar fasciitis and achilles tendinitis in my right foot. It’s been gradually getting better – the new running sneakers I bought have helped a lot – but not as fast as I’d like. I should probably look into some exercises to help with them, too. (Also: For some reason New Balance running sneakers run smaller than their walking sneakers. Shrug.)

So that’s been my summer, not counting work, since I rarely blog about that. I have spent most of the past week at work working on improving some long-neglected but still-useful code I’d been thinking about for a while. It’s been fun.

Hopefully we can continue to dodge COVID until we can get new boosters this fall, and otherwise enjoy some cooler weather this month, starting with this long weekend.

Rainbow over Mountain View, August 13, 2023
Rainbow over Mountain View, August 13, 2023
Rainfall was negligible
This photo doesn’t really do it justice

Tumultuous Trip

We’re back from a week and a half vacation to the east coast. It was… quite a ride, enough that I kinda feel like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

I don’t often talk about it here because it feels like not-so-humble bragging, but we have a vacation house in Massachusetts. It’s in a pretty great location, and we bought it to keep it in the (extended) family. We got a pretty good deal on it, but we learned a couple of years ago that part of the reason for that is that it needed some deferred maintenance. We hired a really excellent contractor, but the project kept getting bigger for various reasons, and ultimately it turned into a major remodel, which is just now finishing up.

Our trip back in May was partly to try to finish preparing the house for this trip. We found that there was more to buy than we’d expected, and so we’d planned to spend the first couple of days on this trip buying and assembling furniture, and unpacking the house.

The plan was to fly out on a 6 am flight on Tuesday, June 27. We were going with friends of ours and their kids, to spend about 2 weeks at the house.

Everything went sideways when Debbi and her friend found out around 11:30 pm that our flight had been cancelled due to extreme weather on the east coast. Worse, we weren’t able to rebook until Thursday. So we spent a couple of days kicking around home before we were able to leave. And even then our flight was over 2 hours delayed. We landed in Boston a bit before 11 pm. On the bright side, the rental car kicks are pretty quiet at that hour, so we were able to get our cars smoothly and get down to the house by 12:30 am. We spent an hour and a half looking around (and figuring out how to turn the lights off) before going to bed.

Unfortunately this meant we’d lost over 2 days of prep time, so we had to shuffle around and compress the work we’d planned to do. We went to IKEA and Target on Sunday, assembled furniture over the next few days as time permitted. Especially on July 3, which is when the area where our house is holds its Independence Day celebrations, presumably because people want to drink and then sleep in on the Fourth. (Because when people are shooting off fireworks, you definitely want those people to have been drinking.)

Among this I also mixed in a number of trips to visit my Dad. His story isn’t mine to tell – I don’t think he’s ever been very comfortable with me writing about him online – but he’s needed assistance from me and my sister Katy recently. So I made several trips up to visit. But I also got to see my sister and nephew, who came down one day to see our house. Seeing them all was nice, but it was a hectic time.

We also spent a lot of time with Debbi’s family, who all came over at various times to visit. I missed seeing a couple of them because I was off taking care of business. Maybe next time.

The weather was a little iffy, always warm but not too warm, but with humidity that came and went, and showers from time to time. We did get a few nice days to spend at the beach, though.

Our friends left us on the second Friday to spend the weekend in Boston, which they wanted to play tourist in. So Debbi and I had a quieter weekend. But it turned out my friend Karen and her beau were also visiting Boston this weekend, so they came down on Saturday to hang out. We hadn’t seen each other since before the pandemic, and it was great to see them.

Speaking of the pandemic, it’s clear that almost everyone has put it behind them at this point. Few people were masking anywhere we went, including in airports, and no one was physically distancing that I could tell. We wore masks a bit for the first few days and then ditched them. I’ll likely write something else about this in the near future. I am looking forward to getting another booster, though, and wish they’d make them available to everyone twice a year.

The trip ended, unfortunately, with another flight delay. We didn’t get back to San Francisco until nearly 11 pm on Monday night, and were totally exhausted by the time we got home and went to bed. The cats were really, really happy to see us, of course, and our friends who care for Domino when we’re away were happy to keep him a couple of extra days so the cats could have some dedicated time with us. But of course he was really happy to see us, too.

Anyway, it was a good, productive trip, but not very restful. Hopefully we can do something lower-key later this year. Once we recover from all this air travel.

It’s COVID!

We recently spent a week in Massachusetts visiting our families, taking care of some tasks around our vacation home back there, and helping my dad out with some stuff. It was my third trip back in the past year, and Debbi’s second. The flights were routine, we had some good meals, and got to experience a nice day of rainfall amidst the cool-but-not-cold temperatures. It was a pretty hectic time, so not exactly a relaxing vacation, and not quite as productive as we’d originally hoped, but I think we got enough done.

Our trip’s gift to us when we returned was COVID. Debbi had been feeling pretty blah for several days, and I started feeling it myself. We both tested – twice – and I tested pretty strongly positive, while Debbi tested negative.

Both of us are as fully vaccinated as we can be, given that the FDA hasn’t yet approved another booster for people our age; we had our latest booster – the bivalent variety – last September before our previous trip.

We’d both describe our symptoms as that of a cold. I’d call mine a moderate cold: It peaked Thursday evening with sneezing and congestion and a mild headache, but otherwise has mostly been some tiredness and coughing. I’d have stayed home from work for a couple of days if I’d had these symptoms before COVID. Debbi’s symptoms have been more severe and longer-lasting, but basically the same kinds.

By the time I tested positive, Debbi’s symptoms had been going on too long for her to qualify to take Paxlovid, but I contacted my doctor and got a prescription for myself. I’ve heard different things about its effects, the most common being that it gives you a bad taste in your mouth while you’re taking it. I’ve had this occasional sensation of something in the back of my mouth, like a bad-tasting chalky antacid coming back up, but it’s been pretty ignorable. Otherwise it seems to be doing its job, although it’s hard to be sure since my symptoms were not severe in the first place. If this had been a normal cold, this is basically the arc I’d have expected.

So we hunkered down for the long weekend. We did a pick-up order from Safeway, which went smoothly. I made Indian food for dinner, coffee chocolate chip ice cream for dessert, and scones for breakfast. I also mowed, and this morning went running for the first time since we got back. Debbi took Domino for morning walks. And we got plenty of sleep.

I spent a lot of the weekend playing Firmament, the new game from Cyan Worlds, the makers of MYST. It’s their first release since the excellent Obduction, and is very much in the same vein. I’m enjoying it, and will probably write it up once I finish it. It took me about 20 hours to finish Obduction so if Firmament is similar then I’m about 40% of the way through it.

I spent most of today sitting on our couch on the back porch, with Domino lying next to me, playing the game. It was pretty much perfect weather for it. Not bad for Memorial Day, all things considered.

We tested again this evening. Debbi tested very, very slightly positive, so faint we had to look closely. My line was still pretty clear, but not nearly as strong as last week. So it’s going to be at least a week of working from home. Hopefully by next weekend we’ll be clear.

As I’ve said before, I expect almost everyone on Earth is going to contract COVID multiple times in their life going forward (barring an unforeseen development), unless they are truly isolating from the rest of humanity. We’ve avoided it longer than most, but this starts our counter. Fingers crossed that neither of us have any long-term symptoms. No one I know who’s contracted it since the advent of the vaccines has any long-term effects that I know of. But check back in 5 or 10 years to see how everyone’s doing.

Dr. Marvin Morillo

This is Teacher Appreciation Week, with National Teacher Day being tomorrow, so I figured it’s time to finish this entry about a teacher of mine who’s been on my mind recently.

I wasn’t a very good fit for Tulane University. But no other college I applied to thought I was a good enough fit to accept me. So in the fall of 1987 off I went from Boston to New Orleans, the land of heat, humidity, booze, a high murder rate, conservative politics, and seafood, none of which agreed with me. (Okay, I came around on the booze, to some extent.)

Very much on-brand for me as a teenager, I had little idea how to get started in college. I took computer programming (they wouldn’t let me skip the intro class, even though I already knew everything in it and did well on the AP test), German (a year off from it in high school did nothing for my already shaky grasp of the language, and it was my last hurrah at trying to learn something other than English), studio art, and English.

Dr. Marvin Morillo was the teacher of that freshman English class. My recollection is that he was an older man of average height (which is to say, several inches shorter than I was), with white hair and a goatee. I now know that he turned 61 at the start of the semester.

My memories of college are at the point where they’re fading and merging together, and so are no longer very trustworthy. I recall the classrooms in the English department building were often small – holding maybe 16 people – arranged around a large table, with soft lighting and a lot of wood decor.I don’t really remember any of the other students in the class, and I don’t clearly remember the books we read anymore either, but I know there were four, of which two were Hiroshima by John Hersey, and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. I thought one was called The Infinite Journey, but I can’t find a book with that title which matches my memory of it. I think the fourth had something to do with space. Only 4 books across 12ish weeks of classes, but that meant we could get into them in depth. I had been generally uninspired by my high school English classes, and I didn’t have the learning skills to know how to get value out of them. This started changing in this class.

In particular Hiroshima is an extremely powerful chronicle of the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on that city, and Dr. Morillo did a fine job of taking us through the events of the book, and reinforcing the book’s point that this must never be allowed to happen again. Honestly he started the class with the best stuff, and the later books felt weak by comparison.

I’d like to say that I have keen memories of lively debates about the books in the class, but I don’t. That’s what I’ve got left, 36 years later. But I felt like I connected strongly with Dr. Morillo, and I started swinging by his office from time to time over the next few years. He had a small office which I remember being lined by books in bookcases, with a desk at one end by the window, and a lounge chair for visitors. I don’t remember what we talked about any longer, but I know I always enjoyed visiting, and he was always open to my visits if he wasn’t busy.

In hindsight, in my late teens and twenties I befriended several older men who I learned from. Three of them were friends I met through Amateur Press Associations, and all of them were generalists, with a variety of interests, often with connections among those interests. The impression in my memory of Dr. Morillo is that he also had a breadth of interests, and that we’d end up talking about nothing in particular whenever I’d visit.

But he was also a Shakespeare professor as his main focus. By senior year I was deep in my major in computer science, and was looking at a year of nothing but programming and related topics. Figuring I should have a little bit of variety, I signed up for Dr. Morillo’s senior Shakespeare class in the fall, and enjoyed it so much that I signed up again in the spring.

In contrast to the freshman class, this was a lot of reading – more than a play a week (and it focused on the plays, with only a little time spent on the poems). This was more than I could get through, especially when we got to the long plays (Hamlet, King Lear and Richard III), so I concentrated on the ones I knew we’d be discussing in class or had to write a short paper on. Nonetheless, I had a great time. I had by this point been heavily involved in criticizing Star Trek: The Next Generation on the USENET newsgroups, which might have helped me hone my critical literary skills that I could deploy in these classes.

I have two enduring memories of these classes. The first was of being cornered by a group of women who asked me who I was having showed up in these senior English classes when they hadn’t seen me before as they’d been going through their major. I told them that I was a CS major and that I was taking these classes for fun, which I think annoyed them somewhat (I guess the classes had a reputation for being hard).

The second was of sitting outside the English department in mid-December (New Orleans, remember? I may have even been in shorts), when Dr. Morillo walked up and asked what I was doing. I said, “I’m trying to get through the plays I wasn’t able to read during the semester, before the final.” He replied, “Well, I’m not sure if I should applaud you for trying to finish all the reading, or upbraid you for not finishing it when it was assigned.” Chuckles all around at that one.

And yes, I got A’s both semesters. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get an A in the freshman class, but I’d learned a lot in three years. Mostly about how to study.

My favorite Shakespeare play is Richard II. “Don’t you mean Richard the Third?” people ask when I say this, but no, I actually think III is pretty tedious to read. I appreciate in Richard II the inevitable downfall of, well, everyone involved: Richard is a bad king, and he’s overthrown because he’s a bad king, but the Divine Right of Kings dictates that England will be in a bad way because of his overthrow, culminating in the detestable Richard III. So it’s a bad situation with no good solution (within the parameters of Shakespeare’s setting), and its events lead to 7 more plays of troubles until things are finally resolved. It appeals to both the structure wonk in me.

I’ve never seen the play performed, and maybe it’s just no good on stage, but it really captured me in class.

I think I went by to say goodbye to Dr. Morillo when I graduated. I have a dim memory of doing so, but at this point maybe it’s more of a memory of intending to do so. I hope that I did.

Recently I was curious to find out what happened to him. He retired just a couple of years after I graduated, in his mid-60s, and moved to Washington state, where he lived until he passed away in 2015. It sounds like he had a good life after Tulane (as, to be honest, have I). I regret not thinking of trying to reconnect when I had the chance, and that my memories of him aren’t clearer but I’m glad to have known him.

Rough Season For Local Coffee

One of my many habitual behaviors is that I drink coffee most weekday afternoons. When at the office we usually walk over to Philz Coffee, though occasionally we go to Starbucks or another independent store. I had a little victory there last fall when I complained through the Philz app that the store’s outside seating was in poor repair (mostly plastic chairs and tables which were falling apart), and within a couple of weeks they had replaced most of them with sturdy metal chairs and tables. I’m taking full credit for that one.

When working at home I’d drive to Philz Coffee on Middlefield Rd. in Palo Alto, which I discovered during the pandemic. One attraction for that location even in the pre-vaccination pandemic days was that they have two nice patios with ample seating, and even over the winter it can be a nice spot to hang for 10 minutes or so as long as it isn’t actively raining.

Sadly, in early February the building which housed that Philz had a major fire, which also destroyed the Bill’s Cafe location two doors over, which Debbi and I had started patronizing for lunch last fall. Reportedly the fire started in the dry cleaners, and also damaged the liquor store which was the fourth tenant. Sadly, I expect the building will be razed and replaced with something else, likely pushing all the tenants elsewhere. There aren’t really any other retail buildings in that area, so if any of them move and re-open, it will probably be at least half a mile in either direction on Middlefield, and probably in not-as-nice a spot.

So I’ve been really missing that Philz the last couple of months. I’ve been driving down to the Philz in Sunnyvale, which also has ample seating, but in a large and usually empty public plaza, which is neither as comfortable nor as interesting for people-watching. Plus it gets cold when the wind blows! I also go to the nearby Starbucks when I don’t feel like driving that distance. (It’s only a few minutes further than the Palo Alto Philz was, but somehow that makes a difference.)

On top of that, in mid-March Philz’ main roasting warehouse had part of a roof collapse in one of the intense wind storms the area experienced in late winter. (We had three sections of fence come down at home, and several extended power outages.) Worse, one person was killed by the falling ceiling. Consequently, all Philz locations have been gradually running out of beanz, until finally last week they only had one or two varieties left. Which made me even less motivated to drive there.

It sounds like the warehouse is ready to re-open, so things should improve. But it’s been a rough winter for my usual caffeination spots.

Now if Bill’s can just find a convenient spot near us to open a new restaurant.