A class act

I got e-mail from Joseph Costanzo’s daughter the other day. She and her father happened on my blog post about him and (as she wrote in a comment) were moved. Yesterday I received from Mr. Costanzo a handwritten note and some news clippings about him, plus a copy of DiRONA 2006, a nationwide directory of superb restaurants (including The Primadonna, of course).

Joe Costanzo is a class act. The world needs him to reenter the hospitality business and blaze new trails, and when he does, I’ll be there.

Greatest hits: My four “Two Things” things

I’m on a mailing list where a friend once asked everyone to chime in with what the “Two Things” are in their chosen fields or areas of interest. He referred us to a website that explains the “Two Things” concept:

The Story of the Two Things

A few years ago, I was chatting with a stranger in a bar. When I told him I was an economist, he said, “Ah. So — what are the Two Things about economics?”

“Huh?” I cleverly replied.

“You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, here are the Two Things about economics. One: Incentives matter. Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Ever since that evening, I’ve been playing the Two Things game. Whenever I meet someone who belongs to a different profession (i.e., a profession I haven’t played this game with), or who knows something about a subject I’m unfamiliar with, I pose the Two Things question.

The site also helpfully lists the Two Things about “The Two Things”:

  1. People love to play the Two Things game, but they rarely agree about what the Two Things are.
  2. That goes double for anyone who works with computers.

I replied with these sets of Two Things:

Software engineering (and engineering in general)
  1. Fast, cheap, good: choose two.
  2. Perfect is the enemy of good enough.
  1. It’s better to be down here wishing you were up there than up there wishing you were down here.
  2. There are two kinds of pilots: those who have landed gear up, and those who will. [applies to other dumb mistakes too]
  1. Everything is just a phase.
  2. The sooner you accept that your most beloved possessions will be destroyed, the happier you’ll be.
Dog ownership
  1. If you don’t have the time for a proper walk now, you’d better have the time to clean up a smelly mess later.
  2. You can’t fool your dog.

Vampire lesbian girl scouts

Today my friend Greg had his birthday party. Andrea and I were responsible for decorations, which took the form of helium balloons and a collection of six different cakes painstakingly hand-decorated by us to depict Greg’s life.

One of the cakes commemorated an episode from when Greg and I and a few other friends worked together at a technology startup some years ago. For some reason the subject of lesbian-vampire fiction had come up. We guys all endorsed the genre — what’s not to love? — but none so heartily as Greg, who was promptly branded the resident lesbian-vampire fancier.

On a separate occasion Greg evinced what we playfully regarded as an unwholesome interest in girl scouts. So during one discussion of the technology we were developing — which among other things permitted users to find the overlaps between separate searches of one’s e-mail — we imagined that one such search that Greg might perform would be to find the overlap between “girl scouts” and “lesbians” and “vampires.”

Not long after that some of us found Greg crashed out on the couch after an all-night programming session. He was smiling in his sleep, and the consensus was that he was dreaming about vampire lesbian girl scouts. Hence a cutout of this drawing by yours truly gracing one of his cakes.

Speaking of helium balloons: some time ago it occurred to me that (a) when helium escapes from a balloon or elsewhere, it must float straight up to the top of the atmosphere where it is effectively unretrievable, and (b) being a “noble” gas, new helium cannot be produced via chemical reactions, only nuclear ones, such as during hydrogen fusion, which is prohibitively expensive. Ergo there must be a limited supply of helium on earth and we are using it up. This deduction turned out to be exactly right, and in fact we may have no more than a couple of decades before helium becomes too scarce and costly for whimsical uses like party balloons or talking in a chipmunk voice, alas.

Total paranoia

An unpopular ruling party is widely expected to be routed in an upcoming election. As voters go to the polls, election observers note numerous voting irregularities all favoring the ruling party. After the votes are counted, contrary to a substantial body of reputable (but unofficial) polling data, the unpopular party retains its grip on power yet again. But this time the anomalies are too blatant, the public does not accept the result. Protests flare up around the country. So the leader of the unpopular party imposes martial law to suppress dissent.

It’s an old story. It’s happened countless times in troubled countries all over the world. But it couldn’t happen here, right? Right? So I guess it’s only a coincidence that (a) the makers of most of America’s voting machines are in the Republicans’ pockets, (b) those machines are trivially easy to hack, and (c) just a week and a half ago, the Republicans snuck through in the dead of night a new law that specifically makes it easier for Bush to declare martial law, upending yet another inconvenient centuries-old tradition.

Happy birthday sis!

I spoke to Suzanne this morning to wish her a happy birthday. She had just woken up, even though it was after noon in New York. I told her I hoped that was because she was hung over from a big bacchanal in her honor, and she assured me it was. Partying until 3am — you go, Suze! Keep the dream alive.

As for me, I want to sit in a comfortable chair, and watch television, and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Honestly I don’t think I know anyone who could keep up with my sister. But if you take the average of me and Suzanne you probably end up with someone pretty fun. Also androgynous, and living in Kansas.

Afternoon of the living(room) dead

One afternoon in the 80’s my friend Amy asked if I’d like to accompany her on an errand to the apartment of zombie-film director George Romero.

We were in college in Pittsburgh and Amy was housesitting for the famous filmmaker, auteur of the zombie classic (and disguised social critique) Night of the Living Dead and the other Pittsburgh-based “Dead” movies. Naturally I jumped at the chance to see how he lived.

It was an attractive but not especially distinguished apartment in an inconspicuous apartment building not far from CMU. In almost all respects it could have been the home of anyone who could afford the rent on a modest couple of hundred extra square feet of space. But three things about it were notable:

  • The refrigerator was full of champagne, at least twenty bottles of the stuff.
  • His vast collection of movies on VHS filled two walls of the living room. I drooled with envy as I read the titles. (Over the years, inspired by Romero’s living room, I too amassed a respectable collection of movies on VHS, or “Crapvision” as James Cameron famously called it. Within a decade those tapes grew all but unwatchable as the recordings decayed. Today you couldn’t pay me to store one tenth of Romero’s bulky old movie collection in my house. Funny how things change.)
  • Several walls were cluttered with photos from the sets of his films. Many of those photos featured actors in full zombie makeup relaxing between takes. My favorite was of Romero’s young daughter Tina bouncing happily on the knee of one smiling, hideously decaying ghoul.

The Disneyland drumbeat

Andrea has continued beating the drum for planning a family trip to Disneyland soon, and with the kids in the prolonged grip of a combined Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan frenzy I am similarly inclined. There’s just one problem: Disney is the enemy and I will not give them aid or comfort.

They have an excellent chance to redeem themselves by firing the jerk who said that the mainstream media is too liberal and it’s his job to slant news coverage to the right “so conservatives don’t have to be concerned.” That jerk is Mark Halperin, ABC’s political director. (ABC is owned by Disney.)

The major news organizations in this country have forgotten that it’s their job to be adversarial. To promise one group or another that they “don’t have to be concerned” is to abandon the mantle of journalism.

Mark Halperin must go. With that one gesture I would be willing to let bygones be bygones.

Well Disney? The country seems to be getting ready to return from its wandering in the arch-conservative wilderness. Will you get back in touch with the real Main Street U.S.A. or ride the Republican machine over the impending cliff? One family’s vacation plans, and the health of our republic, hang in the balance.

That was quick

No sooner did I hit a milestone birthday than the inevitable cognitive decline began. First there was me giving Andrea bogus driving directions from the Bay Model to the Bayside Cafe: “Go left. Now left again.” In fact the Bayside Cafe, where we’ve gone for breakfast at least a couple of times every month for years, is a straight shot to the right up Sausalito’s main street from where we were. Andrea was confused by my directions but thought I had something tricky up my sleeve. The trick was on me!

(This reminds me of a story from college days. I had rented a car with my friend David and our girlfriends Michelle and Julie. We drove from Pittsburgh to Julie’s house in Maryland, with me at the wheel, Michelle beside me, and Julie and David in the back. As we neared her house, Julie called out the turns to navigate her tangled residential neighborhood, but she kept mixing up “left” and “right”! After half a dozen U-turns I told her, “Never mind ‘left’ and ‘right.’ Say ‘Bob’ for left [since from Julie’s vantage point I was seated on the left] or ‘Michelle’ for right.” Guess what — Julie then mixed up “Bob” and “Michelle”!)

Later Archer needed a diaper change. By now I’ve changed uncounted thousands of diapers, so as usual I put him on the changing table, took off the old diaper, wiped him up, and threw the diaper away. Then I crossed to the bathroom, washed my hands, and walked into the living room — with Archer still on the changing table half naked, needing a new diaper! Fortunately he was either too mellow or too diplomatic (or both) when I returned to him a moment later to act as if anything was amiss.

Speaking of sex

While we’re on the subject of sex, might as well mention my next-door neighbor. He moved in about a year ago. His license plate read, “I♥BDSM.” Sure enough, we noted an interesting variety of people coming and going from his house, a few wild-seeming parties, and the occasional vividly suggestive sound effect in the middle of the night. I got a glimpse through his window of the first movie he watched after setting up his big-screen TV: Secretary.

But in just the last few days we’ve noticed that his car no longer has the “I♥BDSM” license plate. Now it’s a normal non-vanity alphanumeric sequence. We’ve had fun speculating why this might be. Does he no longer ♥ BDSM? Did something horrible happen when someone forgot the safe word? Maybe he got a stern talking-to from some prudish supervisor at work? Or a new girlfriend or boyfriend laid down the law?

We don’t know the answer and we don’t know him well enough to say anything other than “hi” when we see him. But we do know that if you live in California and you ♥ BDSM, a new license-plate option has just opened up for you.