Monday, August 28, 2006


So the new bossman declares at 4:30 that we have to get over to the local bar to watch his beloved Cincinnati Bengals play the Green Bay Packers on pre-season Monday Night Football. Fair enough. Drinks in the afternoon with the boss likely buying? Sounds good to me.

SO we're sitting there, talking football, and at one point, the boss says to me, "Gil, you have a really good month in September, if you do 14 loans, I will give you my Bengals-Raiders tickets for October and fly you out to Cincinnati for the game." Of course, being a huge Raider fan, I accepted.

If you think about it though, it's kind of weird prize to give an employee. Sports tickets, no, those are frequent corporate incentives.. but tickets to Cincinnati... Ohio?

You never hear on games shows, "Tell them what they've won, Johnny!".... A trip to CINCINNATI, OHIO!! Ooooh Aaaahh...

I do hope I get it though. I will majorly play the part too. Skull mask.. Spikey shoulder pads,.. I'll do the full Raider ensemble, and unlike most Raider fans, I actually Live in Oakland California.

Friday, August 25, 2006


If you look down to the post below, you will see what I look like when I write this stuff. I prefer to use my laptop on its rolling Ikea workstation thingy. When on I'm on the computer, I'm actually on the computers. My left hand screen is running no limit hold em at most of the time, while on the Mac on my right, I write, check my e-mail, do creative Macintosh stuff. On my left, out of the shot, is Jasmine's former computer, a vintage 1999 Gateway PC.

The PC is really outdated now, and although it still works, the hard drive is maxed and I'm sure it won't run the newest software. The other day, when I went to push the power button, SNAP! It broke off. Later on, I figured out I could use a small stick (I'm using little plastic thing that came with our industrial size case of fillable tea bags) to hit the little black botton on the board where the on button used to be. The machine is also having all kinds of start up problems, and I think it's time to replace it.

I want a Laptop PC, and I'm looking for brand names people know and trust. When it comes straight down to price, some what I've seen so far, Dell seems to have the best deals. You can get a mid-grade laptop there for like $750. I'm ready to get it. Anyone out there own a Dell and hate it?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hazard Pay for the Banker Visiting the Projects

Three straight serious, contemplative posts in a row... time for a funny story.

First, a little back story. I had been working on Mrs White's (name changed) loan for a few weeks. Mrs White is an old lady who owns an SFR in San Francisco, free and clear. Her and her daughter decided to put a relatively small mortgage on it to help them out in Mom's sunset years. Perfectly reasonable. I had been dealing exclusively with the daughter as old Mrs White had suffered a stroke and could barely sign her name. For anyone whose signed a stack of loan documents, you will understand that it's quite a challenge even for the able wristed. Daughter had a power of attorney (POA), and we even had made them go and get another power of attorney specific to the transaction and property we were mortgaging. At the last minute, out underwriters in their infinite wisdom (read: fussiness) decided that they wanted to know why we needed the POA for this transaction. Why couldn't Mom sign her own loan documents? They wanted a notarized letter from the borrower explaining the reason why the daughter was signing the loan docs. I know they were doing this to protect Mrs White from a possibly opportunistic child taking advantage of her POA abilities, but there was nothing in our guidelines that required this. We fought it, lost, and I called the daughter to make it happen. Problem is that the daughter just left for a 2 week trip to the Southeast to move her daughter into her freshman college dorm (awww) and visit family. She wasn't around to help us.

I started making phone calls. The notary who had notarized their POA refused to help us. Her doctor, who obviously knew of the stroke, worked at Kaiser Permanente. I called them, and of course, they would need a written request to get any letter from a doctor. The Kaiser bureaucrat at first it would take "about a week". When I pressed further, a week turned into 7 to 10 working days. Ten working days? That's two weeks. If you're not familiar with mortgages, we're very time sensitive. Everything is about getting it done this month. Ten days would push it into next month. No good.

The only choice we had left was to get the letter directly from Mrs White. I know a notary, Pablo, who would come along and notarize something I would write for Mrs White. Problem is that in the house where Mrs White lives, there were other family members who they didn't want knowing that Mom and daughter were pulling a very large chunk of money out of what I'm sure they felt were the family assets. I never once called the house where they lived, and from what I understood, if they knew, it would have been a bad situation. Daughter assured me that if we showed up about 11 AM, Mrs White would be home alone, and I wouldn't have to deal with anyone else. Pablo and I set an appointment, and daughter assured me that only Mrs White would be home. I asked what I should do is someone else was home, and she said don't worry, no one else will be home. For sure.

The evening prior, I told my wonderful wife where I was going the next day. The Sunnydale Projects, about a half mile from where she grew up in The City. I had heard about these projects; they were allegedly some of the worst, scarcity, crime infested public housing places in all the Bay Area. File pic.

"You're not going there," she told me flatly.

"But I'm going to have someone else with me," I replied. She didn't know Pablo was all of 5'7", and stopped protesting. Hey, we gotta do what we gotta do to close these loans!

We were a little late getting out, and then got a little lost finding the place. Getting lost was interesting because I got to see the whole of the Sunnydale Projects district. Frankly, it looked like something out of the Third World. The majority of the units were converted military barracks from WWII. Block after block of long attached homes. No divisions. It was like Gomer Pyle meets college dorms meets Boyz in the Hood.

Finally, we found the place, knocked on the door, and old Mrs White let us in, cane in hand, barely able to speak due to her disability. We had just settled down, pulled out the docs she needed to sign when the front door opened and the son had come home. Very large dude, a bit menacing, and he wanted to know what we were doing in his home with his Mom with these official looking documents laid out in front of her. Oh shit.

"What is this all about?!" he demanded.

On the way over, I had filled Pablo in about not talking to anyone in case someone else was home. "Well, what would we tell them?" Pablo asked quite reasonably.

"I'll handle it," I assured him confidently. Really, I had no idea what I would say.

I was freaking out. As a mortgage banker, I can not reveal aspects of someone's loan to a third party without their authorization. It's a violation of their right to privacy, but somehow I couldn't verbalize that. When the son asked again what the hell we were having his mother sign, I had no answer.

"Hang on," I told him and frantically called the daughter in Georgia. Fortunately, she picked up. "Your brother is here," I told her, "Please talk to him." I handed the phone to the brother who went off into another room. I can't speak for Pablo, but I know I was shitting bricks at that point. If some banker was in my home, possibly taking advantage of my Mom, I would be very defensive. In my head, I said headlines on SF Chronicle the next day, "Countrywide loan officer killed in Sunnydale Projects".

Son came back, apparently satisfied with what big sis had told him. The rest of the transaction went smoothly, except for when Pablo had to physically grab Mrs White's wrist to allow him to take her thumbprint. She wanted to move her hands that way, but her disability prevented it.

I never thought that as a loan officer, I would ever fear for my safety as part of my duties, but today was such a day. Hazard pay!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Stories from my town

This morning when no one showed for my usual Sunday morning basketball game in Berkeley, I headed over to the court at the end of my street. It would be a lot more convenient for me if I could make this my regular court. It is, how shall I this?, a but rough. I don't really connect with the guys who hang there. We come from and live in different worlds. For half an hour, I just warmed up, shooting around with a couple other guys as a rigorous game of 21 was played on the other end of the court. After that time, when enough people have arrived to play full court, one of the guys I had been shootin with starts picking his team. He shoulda picked me up, but suddenly its like I wasn't even there. I asked him to play and he said, "you're gonna have to wait."

Why? I wanted to know why. I asked him.

"Why?" he scoffed to his buddy, "dude wants to know why"

I looked around and of the 15 or so people now there. I happened to be the the only person there who wasn't black. Pissed off that it looked like I wasn't going to be playing basketball, the activity I love more than any other in the world, I said it. I spoke what I thought to be the truth. "It's because I'm white," I said.

"It's not the color of your skin," a different guy said as I walked away from the court. I felt that leaving at that point would be the smartest thing to do. Getting into a conversation about race relations in that situation is the last thing I wanted to do. In all that time we were shooting around, I was ON. Three pointer after three pointer swooshed through the net. Other basketball players can relate when I talk about getting this feeling in your wrist. You've got distance perfect and it feels like there's this straight line connecting your release of the ball and dead center on the basket. I had that feeling. There was no way the guy didn't want to pick me up because he thought I sucked. In pickup basketball, if you lose, you gotta sit. None of us were there to sit. So stacking your team with the best players is the rational thing to do. I don't know.

Thinking back, what I shoulda done is said, "You don't think I'm good enough?", found the guy who was choosing teams for the other side, and demanded that he pick me up so that I could guard this guy and shut him down. I coulda done it too. If I really really concentrate on defense, even at 36 years old, I can shut anyone down. He wouldn't have scored. I may have fouled him constantly, but I could done it. Life is filled with moments where we later realize what we should of said or should have done.

I'm sure they talked about what I had said right after I left. I've been on courts where a guy stormed off pouting because he couldn't get a game. Each court always has a protocol for how teams get picked, even if 90% of the guys there wouldn't know what "protocol"means. Next time I go down there (it's just too damn convenient not to go there) someone there will know me to be the white guy who stormed off because he couldn't get into the first game and then blamed it on racism. That's not who I want to be known as. I accept that whoever's "next" picks the teams. Even if he didn't want to pick me up because he though I wouldn't;t be good enough, if he thought that, it would only be because his judgments of my basketball talents woulda been solely based on the color of my skin. I showed him otherwise, and I still didn't get picked up.

A couple weeks ago, one of Jasmine's co-workers little brothers was shot in East Oakland not because he was in a gang, but instead because he declined to not join a gang. He is going to be paralyzed for the rest of his life.

Tonight, I walked down to the QuikStop and there were several customers waiting outside a door that was locked. They do this whenever the sole clerk needs to go back and restock the fridge, When the door was unlocked, customers walked out, he let us in, and then relocked the door. While I was waiting, other customers came up, stood at the locked door, and only got let in when the clerk let me and the next guy out. Huh? This wasn't about restocking the cooler. The clerk said it was for security. I pressed him for more info and he told me that the night before, several guys had come in, just grabbed as much stuff as they could, and ran out.

The suburbs are sounding better everyday.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Secret Conspiracy Within the US Government

It was June, 2003. I was taking a graduate class in economic sociology at Cal State Hayward. Our guest speaker for the evening was one Don Paul, author of "'9/11' Facing our Fascist State". His lecture was a pivotal moment for me in my attitude towards what will be the seminal day of our generation.

"I'll just come right out and say it," Paul said at the beginning of his talk, "I believe that the events of September 11th were planned and carried out by a secret conspiracy within the United States government." A collective gasp of disbelief escaped from the graduate students gathered that evening. At the time, this was a mind boggling idea.

Paul then began to lay out his evidence. First, an examination of the protocols for the defense of US Capital, something as we might imagine to have been well thought out and prepared for by our military leaders, were not only not followed, but altered in such a way that one has to wonder if it was just for show. Flight 77, the one that hit the Pentagon, impacted 25 minutes after it first deviated from its flight plan. The USAF fighters stationed at Edwards AFB can intercept any plane violating our capitol's airspace within minutes; the fighters launched (20 minutes after a threat was detected) came form Langley AFB, 120 miles south of the capital. Mysteriously, these planes then traveled at 1/5th their top speed on their way to Washington, and as we know, did nothing to stop any attacks.

The next bit of evidence Paul produced had to do with how the WTC ultimately collapsed. Burning jet fuel can produce temperatures a maximum of 700F. The structural steel in the WTC would require temps of close to 1500F to melt and cause the "pancake effect" cited to be the cause of the collapse. We all remember the way the second plane hit WTC2. It hit obliquely, on a corner. If WTC2 were to collapse, it would fall sideways and cause billions of dollars in additional property damage. The controlled straight down collapses were reminiscent of a professional demolition. According to Paul, multiple emergency personnel report hearing explosions just before the collapse. Even Peter Jennings, the anchor of the coverage I watched as I sat at in the breakroom of my workplace, said when the first tower unexpectedly collapsed, "that is a collapse caused by additional explosives." Maybe he heard something in his ear, because he soon afterwards retracted his supposition.

The Bushies and their clan benefited tremendously in the aftermath of 9/11. He got re-elected, his pro-corporate policies passed without question as the congress rubber stamped everything from out first "war time" president in 30 years. His elite family buddies made out like bandits not only from the insurance collected from the events themselves, but more importantly, for the billions of dollars in our tax money being spent in Iraq, Afghanistan and at home as part of our "war on terror."

Back in 2003, the idea that 9/11 was actually orchestrated by elements with the Bush administration seemed akin to the far out Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists. Yeah, right, that's so far out there, how can I possibly believe it? Over the years, as the policies of this administration seemed to continuously be geared towards increasing the animosity between the US and the Middle East, Paul's theory starts to become more and more believable.

DO I believe that Bush,. Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld planned 9/11? No. I don't believe it. Not for sure. Is it possible that they did? Absolutely. It is within the relam of possibity? Absolutely.

Back in 1990, as the Cold War was winding down, I remember vividly the concluding lecture of a course in "American Sociology" I took at UCSD. The professor presented the premise that America needs an "enemy" to focus on in order to survive and thrive. By that point, communism, the thing we had fought as a country for 50 years, was disappearing. We needed a new enemy. At our birth, we fought colonialism. Then our enemy became the land peoples of the frontier. We fought Spain, alcohol, poverty, and in WWII, the Axis powers. Now that communism was disappearing, what would take its place for our national animosity? Some people said drugs. Some people said China. No one thought of Islam, but from s sociological point of view, if Paul is right, that is why the Project for a New American Century has led us down this path. We need an enemy.

Our War on Terror has made a lot of people very very rich (or richer).

In conclusion, I don't know if I really believe that the Bushies actually carried out 9/11. It is certainly possible. Right now, liberals are questioning whether or not the Bush was complicent in the attacks, which is a far cry from actually perpertrating them. I think that the theory Paul lays out in his book (to buy a copy, Googlesearch "Don Paul"), will become like the Kennedy assassination theories of the previous generation. It will be something that a lot of people believe but can't prove, eventually becoming a conventional wisdom that there was a lot more going on than what the official story tells us.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Meaning in Life

Science is meaningless because it gives us no answer to our question, the only question important for us: "What shall we do and how shall we live? - Tolstoy

I'm not writing about science tonight. The importance of that quote is in the question posed. It is the most important question we can ask (okay, so it's two questions), particularly when we're not sure of the answer.

Max Weber used that quote in Science as a Vocation (1919) my favorite sociological essay. A lot of what Weber and 20th century sociology examined was the process of intellectualization, disenchantment and loss of meaning in modern society. For thousands of years, humanity has asked "what is the meaning of life?", and the answers to that question have been as varied as the individuals asking them, only in modernity, however, as the influence of tradition, community and social class have waned have so many individuals have had to answer Tolstoy's terrifying question all by themselves. It certainly isn't an easy question to answer.

Despite the sociologist's claims of the pervasiveness of anomic modernity, everyone still tries to look to society at some point or another to answer to Tolstoy's question. The prevailing cultural, religious and community norms tell you what to do and how to live. In today's world, the prevailing culture is more of a backdrop and not a determiner of what life means, so at often those socially determined answers don't hold up. Those comfortable in what they're doing and how they're living are either that way because they've never questioned the validity of how society tells them to act or they've thought it out, examined their innermost values and beliefs (which some would argue are entirely socially determined too) and come up with an answer on their own. The latter group has it all figured it out.

I used to think I had it all figured out, then life happened. I used to know for sure what I wanted to do and how I wanted to live. I didn't always do those things, and that was okay because deep down, I had it all figured out. I could stray from the path because I knew where the path was and was confidant I could get back to it when the time came. What I've now discovered is that if you spend years and years not following your answer to Tolstoy's question, eventually, you begin to doubt the answer you had in the first place. Spend enough time on a different path, and that path becomes your chosen path and you lose track of the one you had chosen before. Fine, you say, this new path is good enough. It's at least a path at and I'm not wandering aimlessly though the woods. Sometimes, you're following behind someone else down their path. The answer to "what shall we do?" becomes whatever it is we're already doing and we answer "how shall we live?" with an acceptance of the life that often through sheer circumstance, is the life we're living.

Ten years ago, I moved back to the SF Bay Area to pursue a path that I eventually realized was not my path. I couldn't do the things I needed to do simply because I didn't really believe I was going the right direction. I got off with a vague idea of where I wanted to go next and went through some tough times. Since then, I've followed lots of different paths. Some of them were very rewarding and meaningful, like my love for Jasmine and the early days of the Graphites. Some of them have been detrimental and far from what I still know to be my answers to Tolstoy's question.

Last year, someone told me that 36 is the perfect age. At 36, you've lived enough as an adult to have made some mistakes, learned from them and gained some wisdom. You should be at the peak of your abilities at your profession. Physically, the body really hasn't started to break down yet even if you can't do some of the things you did in your 20's. If at some point, one is "over the hill" then at 36, you should be at the top of the hill. I am 36. I'm at the top of the hill. From up here, I can see everything, and I can't help but wonder where I should go next. If I'm going downhill from here, I at least want it to be on the path I choose, but as I've shown throughout my life, I don't always choose the right path. What do I do and how shall I live?

I think part of this pre-midlife-crisis I'm writing about has been instigated by a new circle of friends I've found through work. On Friday nights, we hang out, play poker, talk about our jobs, politics, religion and what life is supposed to be about. Strangely, a couple of these 20-something co-workers or their friends seem to me to have a stronger certainty over the meaning of life. They've got it figured out. I think they've yet to experience how the traumas, trials and tribulations of life can eventually shake what you knew to be true as a younger person. It doesn't have to be bad things happening either. The mundane routine of going to work, coming home and watching TV and having a few drinks can be comfortable while you're doing it, but do it too long, and it's insidious, dull blade can cut into the dreams of the soul deeper than the sharpest scalpel of the more dramatic.

In India, there is an ancient saying that answers the question of what we are to do and how we are to live. They say that the first twenty years of a man's life are for learning, the second twenty years are for building up a household and family and the third twenty years are for seeking spiritual enlightenment. I did the learning bit. I'm married. I want to build and a household. Although I didn't have this Hindu saying in mind when I set out on my latest path, when I left Sears to go into mortgages, I did so out of sheer pursuit of material wealth. For the first time in my life, I was driven by the desire to make a lot of money. Slowly and not so surely, that goal is starting to come to fruition. Getting out of debt looks like a possibility. It's happening; I finally have a good paying job.

I'm writing all this for two reasons: First, it helps me figure out where my head is at, and second, to ask if what I've been through in the last 15 years sounds familiar anyone reading this, and if so, what's the next stage? From the idealism and purpose of the early 20's to the first steps or missteps of adulthood of the mid to late 20's to the settling down and working hard of the 30's to the questioning that comes from getting to the top of the hill and wondering what comes next.

Nothing stops life, so I guess I will find out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Shivi and the Handywoman

Our cat received a phone call this evening from a fan.

Here she is. A Black Cat.

She had a play date today with Hannah, the building handyperson who stops by, usually with some tradesman in tow, whenever our landlord needs to fix something in our apartment. Hannah is very good at her job, and certainly our landlord, Leo, is the perfect landlord, always responding promptly to any of our requests.

Today, Hannah came in for some delayed maintenance our place required. She must have had some spare time today while both my wife and I were at work. The plumber was busy replacing our kitchen faucet.

The new faucet looks great. They also fixed some loose screws and hinges on intereior doors. All in all, that is one of the only good things about renting. No maintenance costs.

Tonight, Hannah called. I immediately thanked her for her efficiency in supervising the repairs. There was a pause, then Hannah asked what our cat's name was. I told her and then she then when on to relate how much fun she had playing with Shivi, our cat today. I almost felt like I should have handed the phone to the cat so she could talk with Hannah.

Some people think there are cat people in this world and then there are dog people. If they're right, Hannah is definitely in the cat camp. Personally, I tink one can be a cat person and a dog person. I love all animals. Although our Shivi cat jumps on our heads at 5:30 in the AM, constantly begs for food and is generally losing her little cat mind as she nears 20 years of age, I love the kitty.

Multicultural Gaffe

Maybe I should change the name of this blog to "The Quik Stop Journal," as I have yet another anecdote to relate about the corner store and my dealings there. Last night, as I wandered into the Quik Stop, the new Eritrean guy who works there nightly was there with a new guy behind the counter. They were chatting away in their native tongue. I didn't recognize the new guy, but as I have related earlier, I tend to get to know each of the successive clerks who man the counter down the street. The current regular guy is a rather dour type. He's not very friendly and like the previous guy (see the post "Nomoska Kid"), makes occasional comments about the nature of what his customers are buying. I could tell from just a few moments observation that the new guy he was chatting with was much more animated, and I decided to show off my multicultural knowledge once again.

"Wassalamu Alaikum!" I spoke the Arabic greeting known in every Moslem land throughout the world. Eritrea is almost entire Moslem. I knew the dour guy was Moslem, and I just assumed his buddy was too. Normally, the phrase I spoke has to be followed by "Amalaikum Salam". It's automatic. That is what they are supposed to say immediately. There is none of the options in response that one would have with English greeting "How are you?". No response came. Instead, there was an eerie silence as they just stood there, saying nothing.

Mind you, there is a certain irony about using a Moslem greeting at a store when the sole thing you have gone there for is to buy a half pint of booze, clearly forbidden by Islam.

As the regular clerk was processing my transaction, I noticed the new guy was actually physically backing away from the counter. Not only was he not responding to my comment, he seemed to be recoiling in horror. It was an extremely awkward moment, but I couldn't, by Allah, figure out what I had done wrong. The I saw what was printed on the new Eritrean guy's T-shirt.

There, in 5 inch high letters, reminisicent of those white message T-shirts made famous by the Wham! video in mid 80's, was emblazon on the guy's shirt, "MARY IS MY GOD". Beneath the words were a picture of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus. Oh. That would explain it. (Never mind that the phrase itself violates the First Commandment, but who am I to judge).

It seemed to me an apology was in order. "I'm sorry, man," I said, "I came in here saying what I said, and now I see your shirt. My mistake."

"Yes," the new guy stepped forward, frantically pointing at the Virgin Mary, "I am not just a Christian, I am a CATH-O-LIC!!" He really did say each syllable distinctly and in allcaps. I slid out of there before I started another East African religious war.

Jasmine suggested a remove the artsy, wire, 3-foot-long cross thing that hangs in our bedroom and carry it down there, exclaiming, "Hail Mary full of grace!" the next time I go down to the QuikStop. At least I could buy alcohol without guilt, although a box of condoms would be suitably ironic. I think I'll just avoid trying to relate to the complicated international situation at the QuikStop for a while.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I now have a

I've heard a lot about this place called Several people I know have pages on this online community. I thought I would join in. Click the link to the right to see the space. Like this blog, it's a lot more convenient to use than the creating of individual web pages with a page designer and then uploading all of the site's files onto an FTP space. Used to take me all day to put photos and text on the web. With MySpace, I can do it in minutes.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Oakland A's

My team is in first place going into the last two months of the season. I just have a feeling they're going to hold on this year and finally get back to the playoffs. Being an A's fan for the last 7 years has been a bittersweet experience. They've been good enough to win most of their games, even getting to the playoffs 4 straight years (2000-2003) and being in the hunt the last two, but being just good enough to keep fans from getting too frustrated for 6 months and then ending the season on a losing note is a gut wrenching experience. Every autumn, a little something in me dies when it comes to pass that this team you've watched every night for half a year is once again, not even going to come close to the World Series. Heck, I'd be happy with making the ALCS this year!

Let's Go Oak - Land! (clap clap clapclapclap)