A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
Knock, knock...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


The Huzby and I recently went by the house where I spent the first years of my life—from birth through the summer between my second and third grades. Needing more than a mere drive-by, I asked that we park, and have a walk around. Based on an outside examination alone, the house had been upgraded with a brick sitting porch and bay windows all around. It had been downgraded by slipshod gardening and a past due paint job. The overall look was quite a bit different from what memory provided. Regardless, those memories rushed me. The Huzby indulged me as I internalized the exterior of my first home.

I pointed out where the big walnut tree used to be between our house and the Lecce's. Their Pomeranian  “Faw-Faw” seemed to be allergic to walking and children. My strongest recollections of him were that he was generally carried and I could look at, but not touch him. The mom, Joyce, bleached-blonde and extremely fit, used to teach tap dance and gymnastics to the extended neighborhood which included my sister and me. (Somewhere there’s a picture of me in a pink bunny suit tap-dancing my little cotton-tail off with a line of other bunnies at the Los Gatos Elks Club.) Apparently after Joyce’s divorce, she decided mowing her grass while wearing a mini skirt was the right thing to do. I clearly recall my mom making a declaration after her own divorce about how she was going to mow our lawn in a mini-dress since Joyce was doing it. Desperate divorcees in the mid-sixties? Call it what you will. I think I see a flash-back reality show opportunity.

The bushes where Mom hid during “Where’s Mommy night” were gone. (If you need clarification on” Where’s Mommy night” please see this blog entry http://evelynnave.blogspot.com/2011/05/in-advance-of-mothers-day.html)  It was a relief not to have to picture here there, cowering like a mischievous child in the bushes, waiting for my Dad, my sister, and me to go searching for her. With her in her nightgown and my sister and I in ours, in the smack-damn middle of the night, it has the feel of a surreal, Victorian nightmare. It’s still hard for me to fathom her thought process during that ridiculous drama. 

Some of the same rose bushes remained. I recognized the Queen Elizabeth rose my mom planted in honor of my sister—also an Elizabeth. Back in those days I was pretty sure that plant was responsible for the uppity attitude of self-importance my sister seemed to exude. In truth, it was probably just her older-sisterliness I found offensive. Imparting so much power to a thorny but beautiful shrubbery seems to my adult mind as being overly Naturalistic and unreasonably superstitious. What was probably really bothering me was that we grew no foliage named for me. No doubt I suffered from a vegetation-induced inferiority complex. In case you doubt how profoundly this affected me, I am painfully aware that there is an Evelyn rose which was never cultivated in our garden. :::Sniff.::: You'd think I'd be over it by now...

The peach tree that used to be on the parking trip was replaced by a liquid amber. When I was around four, my dad, armed with a pruning saw, attacked the tree which was suffering from peach leaf curl, and ended up slashing his forearm. There was a lot of anger and blood involved in my hazy recollection. I believe that was the precipitating event for the replacement tree. I am quite sure that was the first and only time I’d ever had peach leaf curl explained to me but the resulting misshapen leaves were extremely impressive. How else can you explain that I still remember what ailed that tree?

The biggest, most memorable thing that happened outside our house (There was plenty more action going on inside the house which I won’t be addressing in this missive.) was the night a drunk teenager came rounding our corner, not quite making the turn. The result was the front half of his car landing in our den and the back half of his car becoming a temporary lawn ornament. My sister and I—young enough to enjoy the deep sleep of innocence we were due—found out what had happened the next morning. By then, the totaled car and surviving driver had been taken away. Plywood sufficed where pulverized stucco had given way. Our kitchen play-set which, the night before, had occupied a large portion of the room, was twisted and mashed beyond salvage. I remember finding a lone headlight in the rubble of toys, plaster, and architectural shrapnel that covered the carpet. Luckily we were not a house of night-owls and no one had been reading, sewing or playing house past bedtime.

My dad supplied this tidbit about that night: He had just started (or finished) his honeymoon and was with his new bride at his mother’s house in San Francisco. My mom called in the middle of the night insisting he come down and board up the gaping hole in the house. Instead, he called his old high school buddy who lived in San Jose (Mr. Frank—I’ll never forget you!) and he came to deal with the wreckage. Mr. Frank had four kids and a wife of his own, yet he drove over in the tip-top of darkness and boarded up his old high school pal’s ex-wife’s home. That’s a really good friend.

Less outstanding but still present were memories of the grass hill we played slip-and-slide on, the sour grass and pomegranates we were allowed to eat only outside, the roof where I witnessed what I believed was our cat being killed by another cat (Mom told me they were mating—an explanation if found impossible to believe given the violence involved.) and the steeply sloped driveway our car (in which I was sitting) once inched backwards down,while Mom got out to open the garage door—a far too exciting event that I still encounter on the occasional stressful night's sleep.

Having taken in enough of the outside of my original abode, the Huzby and I got in our car and drove to meet my brother and sister-in-law for a walking tour of downtown Los Gatos. On the way from the house to the main artery, I began to recall another exterior theme. As we drove, a the list of places I'd scouted and cataloged as nests, nooks or crannies—possible places I would run away from home to—blinked into my murky repressed consciousness.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


It’s a well known fact.  Indeed, it’s so well known, it’s been knocking around the world since the olden days in the form of the Latin phrase “De gustibus non est disputandum” : In matters of taste, there can be no dispute. I’m OK sitting with that.  Still, I think it’s fascinating how tastes develop.
Some foods most of us love (rice, potatoes, bread, pasta) while other foods require early indoctrination /inculcation in order for acceptance to occur. They are so–shall we say “distinctive”?–that unless you have early exposure, you’re not likely to develop a taste for it in future. At our house we have a taste rift that I believe is a direct result of exposure or lack thereof.
The Huzby spent his early formative years in New Zealand, while I have never moved beyond my comfort zone of Northern California—specifically, the Bay Area. In general we agree about food. However, on a few key comestibles we diverge.
The Huzby cannot abide:
1)      Peanut butter
2)      Popcorn—neither the regular nor the kettle corn version
I cannot abide:
1)      Marmite/Vegemite/Cenovis/Vitam-R
(What’s in a name? That which we call yeast extract by any other name would still smell as retch-inducing.) Note: These are different names for the same thing from different countries. For the rest of this essay I will refer to this agent-of-emesis as Marmite—not overlooking the fact that fanciers of a specific brand all claim the others are inferior.  ::Ahem::  No comment.
I know you know what peanut butter and popcorn are and you may also know on a gross level (and I do mean gross)—what  constitutes Marmite. (If you’re interested in the history of Marmite please follow the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmite. Everything you never wanted to know about it is there.) A quick tutorial on the making of Marmite:  You take brewer’s yeast, put it into a salty solution that causes the cells to disgorge their innards, heat the mixture, spin it down to remove the cell walls, and subsequently mix it with more salt, (Too bad the Star Trek dudes didn’t have this stuff with them when they encountered the morphing salt creature!) various vegetable extracts, (God forbid you eat the entire vegetable.) spice extracts, (ibidum) and various other vitamins.  And voila!
I know what you're thinking: YUM! Right? Let me lick that black stuff right off the knife!
If you’ve never seen Marmite nor smelled it, my most compassionate recommendation is that you never do.  At best, the stuff looks like dark brown tar—the same stuff that killed so many dinosaurs. Coincidence? NOT AT ALL. At worst, well, it staggers the imagination. Its consistency is more like peanut butter but the dark color makes it look positively sinister. A bit of free association yields:  Black Plague effusions. Squid ink pudding.  Voodoo glue.  Demon diarrhea.  Succubus sludge.  Incubus entrails. Enraged Ebola.  A pandemic in a Kraft jar. The stuff’s so scary looking you could imagine it killing the alien in “Alien”.  And the smell! ::Gasp! Choke! Wheeze!:: Salty, yeasty, rancid…I can only sum it up as noxious, lung-withering and gut-clutching. The stuff has the potential to cause your nasal lining to slough right out your nostrils and back into the jar where it would go unnoticed until some unsuspecting extract-eater took a swipe and spread it on his morning toast. Ugh.
Oh, and here’s some inspiration: They feed this nasty, toxic paste to babies! A non-exaggerated fact:  Marmite  is chock full of glutamic acid—that’s right, monosodium glutamate, a known excitotoxin. If I get nothing else across to anyone reading this, it would be: Do not feed this to your babies. Just don’t.
Because you can take the boy out of New Zealand but you can’t take the Marmite out of his olfactory memory, we have a jar of the stuff (actually it’s Vegemite) in our refrigerator. It expired in 2003. I haven’t seen him use it on food in probably 5 years but when the topic of the Marmite shortage in NZ came up a week ago, he quickly ran to the fridge, opened the jar and took a hit. “You can never throw this out!” I was told as he looked into the black pit lovingly and gently twisted the lid.
Does he actually think I’m going to get that close to it? Au contraire, mon frère. As far as I’m concerned that jar orbits its own sun in an alternate universe. I want nothing to do with that flask of fulminating malfeasance. I do my best to pretend it doesn’t actually hold a space on the door shelf. Although I’m sure when the door is closed and the light is out, it’s issuing orders to the other refrigerator inhabitants—trying to inspire the mustards, jams, and relishes to a pestilent mutiny. “We gotta kill that bloody Yank. C’mon then. Let’s show that Sheila what expired really is. Botulinum, Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas. Let’s grow some toxins mates, and get that bitch!”  Fortunately, the Vegemite says this with such a thick Kiwi accent, none of the other condiments have any idea what it’s talking about. So I’m safe. I believe the Huzby said it best when he declared that after the apocalypse, two things will survive: Keith Richards and Vegemite. There are no expiration dates on fine wine so why shouldn't it be that Vegemite too gets better with age?

Do not be fooled by this innocent looking bottle. Excitotoxins? Yes! Refrigerator mutiny? You betcha! Expired almost a decade ago? Indeed.

 As far as peanut butter and popcorn go, I confess:  We do keep a jar of peanut butter in the house. It’s there mainly to give the dogs pills should the need arise. I was fed far too much peanut butter growing up and have no desire for it other than an occasional yen for a peanut butter cookie. And I will rarely enjoy some popcorn at a movie, but it’s less enjoyable these days because the Huzby is so disgusted by the smell, he leans as far as possible on the outside armrest of his seat, as far away from me as can get.  As you may imagine, this does take some of the pleasure out of eating popcorn.
Anyway, as stated at the beginning, there’s no accounting for taste. If the Huzby had grown up in the States he'd probably be down with popcorn and peanut butter. If I'd grown up in New Zealand (or the UK or Australia, or Canada) I'd maybe be slurping down yeast extract like it was cheese spread. (That's a big maybe...) But I know one thing for sure: I'd have thrown out that disgusting jar of Vegemite by 2010 --without a doubt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Behold the way my ill-tempered friend
His anger doth parade.
Thou knowest not my furious friend
The picture thou hast made.

Thy furrowed brow and thy bulging veins
Conceal thy good intent.
Thou outraged, huffy, chafing, inflamed
And rather stormy gent.

You’re my grumpy Valentine.
Pissed off and saturnine.
You make me sigh with my heart.
You look irascible.
Still you’re my favorite work of art.

Are your eyes a little tweaked?
Is your temper somewhat piqued?
And you grumble and you shriek
and you harp.

Don’t  grizzly bear for me.
Not if you care for me.
Hey, grumpy Valentine, hey…
Chill out it’s Valentine’s Day.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


And it's your turn to open the door.

"Knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
(You gulp. This sounds ominous.) "Karma who?"
"Karma. You know who. I have you on my list as 'unfinished business'. We need to talk."

Although you have no idea what's heading your way, you're sure it's not good and that you deserve it. You don't question Karma. You take a deep breath, meekly open the door and peer out with ample caution.

Karma is dressed smartly in the unmistakable Cake fashion--short skirt, long jacket and all the other accoutrements that go with it. If you need a refresher on the Cake look please have a listen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1gShXIO6pk&feature=related or scroll down to see the lyrics.*

Not only that, Karma looks extremely smug. She's going to tell you a story and she's changing the names to protect the innocent.

(Cue dreamy flashback music as Karma's narrative unfolds...)

You are a biologist and you have for an idea for a new drug-- it may have crystallized 7 or so years ago--something like that. You hold on to the idea because it seems like a good one. You worry if it's such a good idea someone is probably working on it already but you haven't heard or seen anything that would indicate that. Although you work for a large pharmaceutical company, you are not in a position to discuss it there because you work in an oncology research environment. No one is paying you for ideas about anything other than cancer-related therapies. So you sit on it.

Years go by. You finally get fed up with being invisible and inaudible at your pharma-global-opoly. Your husband is making daily declarations that you must quit, and because it does finally seem to be the right thing to do--you resign. A bit more than a year later you finally find yourself working at a small pharmaceutical company that cares less about large profits and more about small unmet needs (orphan diseases). This means that among other things, your new company specializes in enzyme replacement therapies.

It just so happens that your drug idea is one involving enzyme replacement. So you go and talk to the guy in charge of "discovery" about it. He's intrigued. You send a few emails back and forth. You talk about your idea with others at your new company until someone mentions that your idea is in fact so good, it's already in clinical trials in Asia. "Check out the pipeline at Torpedo Pharmaceuticals," you're told.

Sure enough, there it is. Your brainchild is on its way to fruition with no help from you. Mostly, you're glad. How great is it that someone else identified the same problem and had the same idea? Pretty great! Still, you've been scooped. So you continue to talk about it with others in your company.

A few weeks later you're in a conversation with a colleague who mentions he not only knows about the nascent drug, he knows the guy who hatched the idea and brought it along. The guy's name is Todd Cooper. That's weird, you think. You went to junior high, high school and college with a Todd Cooper. So you start asking questions. How old is this guy? Where did he go to college? Where is he from? What does he look like? Everything you hear makes you think this might be the same Todd Cooper you went to school with, but let's face it, there has got to be more than a few Todd Coopers out there. Not only that, what are the chances that someone from your own high school would think of the same idea for a drug? Certainly not bloody likely.

So you go to the next level and check out the Torpedo Pharmaceuticals website to see his picture--he is president of the company. It's been ages since you've seen Todd so you can't be sure that's him--although it certainly could be. So next you check Linked In. The picture there is not of great quality but you think it really does look like your Todd Cooper so you move on to see if FaceBook has anything on him. At this point you realize a few of your high school connections are also attached to Todd, so you message them to see what they know. The answers come back leaving no doubt. The Todd Cooper who had your same idea for a drug is also the same Todd Cooper you went to school with.

Crazy! Unreal!--you think. That's just too weirdly coincidental.

In trying to process this, you continue to talk about it with your colleagues until one of them mentions she knows him fairly well and would you like her to set up lunch for the three of you?

Now you're in the soup.

The truth is, you are generally not shy about reconnecting with folks. You would have already sent an email to Todd to hear about his discovery and give your congratulations if it weren't for one very embarrassing story that happened when you were in 8th grade and Todd was in 6th grade. But here's the problem: You did something not very nice to Todd Cooper back in junior high. Not only that, two years later when he showed up at high school you decided the best way to handle it was to just pretend you didn't know him. That worked for two years until you left for college. Two years later--to your mild horror--Todd showed up at your university. So what did you do? That's correct. You continued to treat him as a persona non grata. Nice. Very nice.

You haven't lost sleep over it but you've owed this guy an apology for literal decades.

Karma continues: You look puzzled. Must I rehash that mortifying tale from when you were fourteen and he was twelve? Oh, all right. You are a glutton for punishment.

You were in 8th grade. You were tall, gangly, and yes, let's face it, your looks ran to the homely side. (Hey babe, the truth hurts sometimes. What were you thinking hanging out with 6th grade boys when you were in 8th? What self-respecting 8th grade girl does that?) Anyway, it was towards the end of the year and some dance was on the horizon so you arranged to meet not only Todd Cooper at the dance but also one of his classmates, Miles Jefferson. You thought you had it all wired until a savvy girlfriend said, "How's that going work? You can't meet up with two guys." You hadn't really worked out the logistics. All you knew was that if one meet-up was good, two had to be better.

When the night of the dance came you suddenly felt awkward and uncomfortable. You feared someone's feelings might get hurt. So you did what any average eight-grader would do in a similar situation.You spent the rest of the night ditching both 6th-grade boys.

Youth, as they say, and you so aptly demonstrated, is wasted on the young.

And indeed, after that you pretended not to know either Todd or Miles when two years later they rejoined you in high school. And if that weren't bad enough, two years after you started college, Todd showed up there as well. At that point it didn't make sense to admit your error and apologize. There was just too much time gone by.

So now you have the opportunity to not only meet and congratulate the inventor of what might have been your drug, you also have the chance to apologize for your bad behavior from too many decades back.

You give your colleague the go-ahead to set up lunch. What have you got to lose? Maybe Todd will give a resounding, "NO!" when he sees your name pop up in his email and then you'll know where you stand. However, he accepts your co-worker's invitation and on a sunny Friday the three of you meet for lunch.

You've been advised by those in the know (read: another guy who has keen memory of being a 12-year-old boy back in the day) that you shouldn't dredge up history--he's probably forgotten all about it. So when you see Todd you again pretend like nothing untoward ever happened. You say hello, shake hands, go inside, order lunch and proceed to talk about the drug idea as well as do a shallow 30-year briefing. Todd agrees that it's an amazing coincidence that two people from the same high school and college would have the same idea for a pharmaceutical.

In the last five minutes of lunch you can't stand it any longer. You mention the momentous dance and your idiotic, disgraceful behavior.

Todd is a very nice guy. Thankfully, he's also a guy's guy. This means that he doesn't remember any of it. Not only that, he doesn't remember you either. FaceBook has pimped your name to him from time to time but if not for that, you'd be just another nobody who wants to claim title to his great idea for a medication. Phew!

You're reminded of Miles Jefferson's name during the conversation with Todd. And on the subsequent email to Todd where you actually submit your belated but very heartfelt apology, he suggests tracking him down. You think that's a good idea and (for a change!) you beat him to the punch. With very little trouble, you find Miles on FaceBook and send him an investigatory email telling him his name came up when you were having lunch with Todd Cooper. His interest is piqued and in the next email you retell the tale of your shabby behavior, you apologize and wait for his answer.

Like Todd, Miles is a very nice guy and has no memory of the event. Also like Todd, Miles is a guy's guy and is quite sure he doesn't remember you either.

Karma is finished telling her story. And there you are taking it all in. While you stand at the door looking like the idiot she's just illustrated you are, she's turns to leave. Somewhat stunned, you can't even muster a wave.

She clicks her exit down your walkway in her red-suede, kitten heels. (How Cake left  the details of her footwear out of their song goes beyond your understanding.) Just when you think she's done with you, she turns back around, waves her finger at you and says with a smirk, "Don't get too comfortable, honey. You know I'll be back."

Sheepishly, you close the door and close your eyes. You really hope you've learned something.

*"Short Skirt / Long Jacket" by Cake (known by myself as Karma's song)

I want a girl with a mind like a diamond
I want a girl who knows what's best
I want a girl with shoes that cut
And eyes that burn like cigarettes

I want a girl with the right allocations
Who's fast and thorough
And sharp as a tack
She's playing with her jewelry
She's putting up her hair
She's touring the facility
And picking up slack

I want a girl with a short skirt and a lonnnng jacket......

I want a girl who gets up early
I want a girl who stays up late
I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity
Who uses a machete to cut through red tape
With fingernails that shine like justice
And a voice that is dark like tinted glass

She is fast and thorough
And sharp as a tack
She's touring the facility
And picking up slack

I want a girl with a short skirt and a lonnnnng.... lonnng jacket

I want a girl with a smooth liquidation
I want a girl with good dividends
At Citibank we will meet accidentally
We'll start to talk when she borrows my pen

She wants a car with a cupholder arm rest
She wants a car that will get her there
She's changing her name from Kitty to Karen
She's trading her MG for a white Chrysler La Baron

I want a girl with a short skirt and a lonnnnggggggggg jacket