Friday, June 16, 2017

Van Gogh

That Steve Jobs, of Apple Computer fame, was a huge dickhead is not new news. Hearing that he owned a Van Gogh is new news, however.

My work colleague used to clean Jobs' windows. For the first few years, he'd really only ever dealt with the wife, Mrs. Jobs, and hadn't thought anything of her surname. Apparently, she was pleasant enough.

One year, Steve was home.

'He had a Van Gogh on the wall right by a set windows that we had to clean...'

Knowing that my colleague is not an art connoisseur, I'd asked, 'How'd you know it was a Van Gogh?'

'Well, he came into the room as we were removing the painting from the wall & he began screaming at us not to touch the art as it was a Van Gogh & very valuable. We put the painting back, but still had to protect it, so we covered it with a drop cloth. Jobs came back into the room & screamed some more.'

My colleague gave Jobs three options: remove it, cover it, or not clean that set of windows. I can't now remember what Jobs choose.

The following year Jobs was there at the house again when the window cleaners came & was again being a bit difficult to deal with. My colleague responded by being rude to him. Small wonder, he was never called back to clean windows for Mr. and Mrs. Jobs again. A blessing in disguise, I'd say.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cleaning windows

We had two jobs today, one in Burlingame & one in Millbrae. The Burlingame job went by in a flash. To top it off, the client was nice--never a given. One can seemingly gauge how nice a Burlingame client will be based on how close his or her house is to the super busy boulevard that cuts through town. -the closer, the nicer. Houses around this area, while costing well over a million a pop, aren't super palatial like the digs just up the hill. The last 'up the hill' property we worked on had not only a pool house, a guest house, a small tennis court, but also a detached wine cellar/house. The lady of the compound, in her one interaction with me, said that I had 'forgotten' to clean a window. Actually, I hadn't yet done it, but whatever.

The Millbrae job was at the top of hill near the 280 freeway. The back deck boasted a pretty cool view of SFO, a huge swath of the East Bay, and, of course, the bay itself. The day was unseasonably overcast so the usual view of San Francisco to the north was obscured.

We were met at the door by a very friendly gentleman who, at almost 90 years of age, was not really worse for the wear. His wife, only slightly younger, was on the sofa sleeping. We avoided cleaning the living room until she woke up. At one point both husband and wife were sitting nearby as I cleaned the large, bay windows. I asked the wife how she and her husband met. It was the late 40s & they were set up by a mutual friend. They'd gone to a dance hall. Apparently, she had to teach him how to Foxtrot, Waltz, and Tango. I guess he proved himself to be a decent dancer as they've been together ever since. The husband mostly looked on, smiling, as his wife spoke. He'd occasionally chime in with corrections and additions to the stories. They seemed like a really sweet couple. The subject then switched to travel. She told me she had taken her last plane ride last year. Chronic back trouble makes sitting for long stretches uncomfortable. I asked the wife where she and her husband traveled when she was more mobile. They'd toured Western Europe a couple of times. -Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland. I told her I'd lived in Zurich. That prompted her to mention Munich (as if the two were in the same country). I love Munich, so I asked her how she liked it. They'd taken the train. They'd walked around. -nothing fancy.

But then she told me this: And then a Chinaman sneezed in my face & I was sick for a week.

She then repeated the story to her husband. As in: Do you remember the time when...? I think she said the word 'Chinaman' a total of three times. I was flabbergasted & responded with something lame like: People should really cover their mouths. It was awkward. 

If you have to hear a funky, outdated slur at all, you want that sort of thing to be the punchline to a crap joke told by someone who knows that they are being inappropriate. Then you want to groan, tell the person to STFU and move on.

This woman was serious.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


It was lunchtime and we were sharing a bench. She'd neglected to bring any food, so I gave her my extra bottle of water. It wasn't much, but it was hot out & she was sweaty. 'The light of God shone through Trump.'  I was staring, but trying not to look alarmed. 'He spoke to me through Donald Trump.' Now, I was trying not to laugh.

I really didn't want to get into it with her for many reasons. Chief among them was that if she were to leave because of something I might have said, then I would be washing both windows and frames of a massive house in Palo Alto by myself. It was already four in the afternoon and time was a-ticking.

She went on a bit longer about God and Trump until I felt compelled to say I didn't think Trump was a Christian. (Neither am I, but I didn't tell her that.) She seemed dubious, so I brought up the 'pussy grab' bullshit of last year. 'He didn't say that.' I told her about the film footage capturing the moment. 'Well, he didn't mean it.' I then mentioned his penchant for busting into the change rooms of beauty contestants in various stages of undress when he was in charge of pageants. 'Oh, really?'

Lunch was over and we got back to it. There was no more mention of Trump. She clocked out at 7pm, leaving the bottle of water I'd given to her on the porch. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Exhibit happenings

Pipevine Swallowtails having a drink of water.

At the exhibit yesterday, I was able to practice a bit of German with a family visiting from Switzerland. Knowing that standard German is also a foreign language for them somehow takes the pressure off of speaking correctly, and I find myself doing mostly just that in conversation. The father was native Swiss, the mother was Dutch, but has a facility with languages. She said that her passive understanding of Swiss German came in only a few months' time. Speaking followed soon after. I can see why that would be given that those from Holland are taught foreign languages at an early age and, in my experience, are basically bilingual in English and Dutch from the get go. We chatted a bit longer auf Deutsch, then I gave the family a bit of tourist information regarding Golden Gate Park before wishing them a schöne Reise noch!

The rest of the day went well. Most visitors were not only well behaved, but just really pleasant to have at the exhibit. There must have been something in the air yesterday promoting good will. ;)

One chick, however, claimed that I had 'hurt her soul' because she felt unfairly treated. She'd come into the exhibit with a flower pinched from the main building with the intent of luring butterflies to her hand. I told her that the butterfly room was a self-contained environment, and that nothing was to be either brought in or taken out. At my request, she put the flower in her pocket. Then, she then leaned over an area of shrubbery, sticking her face near the flowers. A butterfly landed on her hand. I told her that butterflies don't do well with the oils in our skin, and that I would remove the butterfly from her (using my trusty tongue depressor). She was not happy, tried to turn her body even farther away from me while saying 'can't you just let me have my moment?' I again explained how butterflies source their food using receptors in their feet and that we would, in essence, be denying them finding sustenance if we were to handle them. And, frankly, although I didn't tell this to her, if I were to let everyone have 'their moment' with the butterflies, the place would quickly become a petting zoo. She didn't seem to fully take in what I had said, but she stopped, sort of, trying to get butterflies to land on her. She instead took to sticking her face really, really close to any and all resting butterflies. At one point, she seemed to be trying to give a butterfly air 'butterfly kisses'. Her behavior was odd, but I let her be.

As it turned out, she'd come to the exhibit with her, I think, grandparents. She was probably in her twenties and they were in their late 60s, if I could guess. The grandparents were completely hands-off with respect to the self-pronounced Butterfly Whisperer. In fact, I didn't cotton onto the fact that they were all together until a White Peacock landed on grandma's head & I mentioned that it looked like a beautiful hair clip & that it would make a lovely photo. The Whisperer came close, murmured something at grandma then turned back to the mesh wall. The grandparents left the exhibit at around the 20 minute mark, 'hurt my soul' stayed even longer, her face up moving along the mesh walls and pressing into the bushes. Once her family left, she approached me to tell me that 'human to human' I had upset her. She had observed my speaking to another visitor, who'd had a butterfly alight on his hand, in a way that she deemed less confrontational, and would have preferred I had treated her in kind. To be fair, this other person did not present himself in a way that indicated he would be a problem. Again, I did not tell her this, but instead apologized as best I could for hurting her feelings while wishing she'd just go away. Eventually, she did.

Monarch and Queen, same genus, having a snack.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Saturday at the exhibit.

At my docent gig today a woman stated repeatedly to no one in particular that we were all standing in 'God's garden'. It was also a place, I noticed, where one of her offspring felt entitled to pull a flower off of a bush in the hopes of enticing a butterfly to come near her. On top of that, said offspring left her detritus all over a bench for the duration, thus blocking it from being used by other visitors. I'd like to that think that God, were s/he to exist, would have frowned on her behavior.

One young visitor was so excited to be at the exhibit that he kept zipping around from one area to the next, pointing and exclaiming things as he went. His father, who mostly very quietly stood by (I suspect he was tuckered out), told me that his son's preschool teacher had recently taught the class about the life cycle of butterflies (and, probably, moths). The boy was all of 3 years of age, but knew enough to tell me very briefly about cocoons and that butterflies obtained their nourishment from flowers. He was such an engaging little kid who kept leading me by the hand to both show me things he'd discovered and ask me about things that made him curious. In my five months of being a docent, he's been the only child to take me by the hand & lead me around. It was sweet.

Noshing Monarch

Non-native bottle brush at the exhibit.

The plants at the exhibit are rotated out frequently in order to keep the butterflies flush with nectar. This week I came in and saw that the gardeners had installed a bottle brush. It hadn't occurred to me that butterflies would dig this plant. I'm not even sure how the butterfly's proboscis could access nectar. To my eye, there's no sort of blossom opening, is there? I guess it's in the green bit from where the 'bristles' extend. Well, anyway, the Monarchs were into it, but I don't have photographic evidence to back up this assertion.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


During a recent docent shift at the Conservatory, I almost clouseau'd a woman in the belly to prevent her from crushing a Spicebush Swallowtail to death. My arm moved just in front of her mid-section as she bent forward to, hand outstretched, touch a Julia resting on a leaf. Her right foot moved toward the Swallowtail, but the, sort of, karate-chop motion I made at her torso forced the woman to pull her foot back. 'Right by your foot is the lovely Spicebush...'

I apologised for nearly gutting her with my arm, but she ignored me and moved off in search of more butterflies to touch/crush. It's usually kids who run around trying to grab at the butterflies, but, sadly, this wasn't my first brush with adults behaving badly. There must be something that switches off in the brain of certain people when they are near beautiful butterflies. I make a point of mentioning to the visitors how delicate the butterflies are and how prolonged contact with our skin adversely affects their ability to detect nectar. (The long and short of it is that the oils in our skin block the taste sensors located in their feet.) Even after being given this information, some folk still seem to feel compelled to touch them/try to pick up butterflies. Alas.

When one enters the butterfly exhibit, I also make mention of the fact that one needs to look down when moving through the enclosure as more than a few butterflies are normally perched along the ground. They don't wear bells around their necks, so it's up to us to look out for them. Some folk become overly cautious, stepping gingerly around the exhibit. Others...well.... During a shift, I normally have to scrape at least two butterflies off the ground and dispose of them in the nearby shrubbery.

The outstanding Question Mark smartly resting above the ground.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Summer of Love fifty years on

The de Young Museum marks the 50th anniversary with a retrospective open through the summer months, naturally.

My parents married in 1968, so I hadn't yet been a thought in anyone's mind until a few years after the hippies descended on the Haight. Both working class kids who needed to support themselves and didn't seem too into 'tuning in and dropping out', neither of my parents participated in any of the counter-cultural events happening under their noses here in San Francisco some 50 years ago.

The retrospective, though engaging, was mostly focused on the art and fashion of the time. I guess that's no great surprise as the de Young is an art institution, that, in recent years, has showcased the fashion design of some of the biggest names in the business. I had hoped for a bit more information on the political and social ideas that came out of San Francisco at that time as well. The last bit of the exhibit before one was funneled into the Summer of Love Gift Shop, dealt a bit with the Black Panther movement, the anti-draft movement, the advent of the pill, and, interestingly, Watergate.

Here are some of the 'groovy' fashions on display--

Quite possibly my favorite piece

Joan Baez and her sisters for the anti-draft movement

Vietnam vet art

Hallelujah, indeed!
Simulated psychedelic space replete with bean bags and trippy music

Bottom left, corner of a poster featuring Pink Floyd

Lenny Bruce, among the music

Crochet art (bed spread) by Birgitta Bjerke

For those of you who were around back in '67 I ask: What were you doing during the Summer of Love?

For those of you weren't: Were your parents hippies?

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