Life is full of odd little choices with unexpected results. You decide to stop by the grocery store for a quick snack and run into an old friend. You decide to take a walk and pass a garden of brilliant, beautiful flowers. You decide to mow the lawn and the mower kicks up a rock, which impacts a car's windshield, causing it to veer out of control into an oncoming Ford pickup truck full of gravel, and the gravel is tossed high into the air and crashes through your front window. You know what I mean - these kind of things happen all the time. Is it fate, or coincidence? There is only one thing we can be sure of. The answer to that question is not addressed in the slightest in ...

aka the Dave and Katie Show

You may recall our last letter, so full of good cheer, in that it primarily concerned our week long party in Cancun, Mexico. Well, needless to say, nothing can last forever, and we were eventually forced to return to the States. At gunpoint.

On the other hand, the holiday seasons approached, beckoning with the simple message that has made people hold sweet memories to their hearts for hundreds of years, a message that can be summed up in a single, enchanting statement... "CHRISTMAS SALE AT THE BROADWAY." Or Buffums, or Bullocks, or wherever. We joined the throngs rushing to get that light, airy, giddy feeling that comes from shedding the weight of hundreds of dollars in small, unmarked bills.

But a few other opportunities knocked before Christmas. We signed up for a tour of Hearst Castle in San Simeon offered by the JPL Employee Recreation Club. It included a private bus, hotel rooms, and tickets to the Castle. We boarded the bus Saturday, the 4th of November, in the JPL parking lot. The number of people waiting with us was alarmingly small; it was clear that this was not a favorite activity for the standard plasticpocket- protector crowd. It seemed likely that they might cancel the entire thing with the small showing. As we boarded the bus, however, the ugly truth became clear. About forty of the sixty seats contained seventy or eighty year old ladies. It was not a JPL tour at all, just a random tour the ERC had purchased a few tickets for. Katie and I tentatively wormed our way past a few old, bony knees and found a pair of seats. It was looking a little grim.

The trip itself was ... educational. If you have ever heard the expression "old women cackling like hens," and wonder what it meant, I can tell you. They really do. Cackle like hens. You have to hear it to believe it. And I used to think that "Mr. Ed" was pretty amazing.

We stayed Saturday night at a place called the Silver Surf Inn, located on the beach in San Simeon. The air was a little chilly, but the fresh, salty smell of the ocean air, the crash of breakers on the beach, and the general quiet and openness made it a nice night for walking. We took a short stroll over to a restaurant overlooking the beach, only to find a long line of people waiting for tables. I looked at the Maitre D. "How long a wait are we talking?" I asked. "Oh, about an hour and a half I'm afraid," he replied. I looked at Katie, who shook her head from side to side. I agreed; an hour and half was too long to wait. A sudden thought struck me, however, and I turned back to the man. "Do you take reservations?" I asked. I was thinking that the two of us might be able to grab a drink and appetizers in a nice bar just across the road and return later for dinner. "Oh, yes" the Maitre D replied. "Great, when is the next reservation open?" I said hopefully. "Hmmmm.... In forty five minutes, sir." I looked at him a second. "Forty five minutes?" I repeated.

"Yes." "Ahhhh.... we'll take it" I said quietly, glancing back at the dozen or so people waiting for seats. We left quickly for the bar.

The bar was nice, with a roaring fireplace and large glass windows. Katie ordered a Johnny Walker Black Label on the rocks, and I followed suit. When the drinks came, the glasses were the size of coffee tins. By the time we were supposed to return for dinner, neither of us was feeling any pain. Which is to say that there was nothing really abnormal about my grabbing Katie around the waist as we walked across the middle of the Pacific Coast Highway, whipping of my jacket, and waving it at oncoming traffic while screaming "Toro! Toro!" at the top of my lungs. Nor was it abnormal that Katie thought this was hysterically, tears in your eyes, falling down funny.

But dinner called, and my jacket looked a little trashed with the tire treads running across it, so we moved on. We walked into the restaurant, past the half dozen or so people who had been patiently waiting there when we had first arrived three quarters of an hour before, and took our seats. Dinner was excellent.

Hearst Castle the next day was excellent as well. The place is large enough that there are three separate, two hour tours through the place. You are only allowed to do one a day, California's way of saying "fork over the bucks, friend." We won't spoil the fun by describing the castle. Actually, it's pretty indescribable. You have to see it to believe it.


We also stopped at the Madonna Inn, a hotel with one hundred and twenty or so rooms, all decorated differently (some would say "insanely"). But only if the judge had the aesthetic sense of a two year old. This place is to "tacky" the way a cigarette lighter is to a "atom bomb." The Inn's main claim to fame, as far was we could determine, was the men's urinal that was an honest-to-God simulated waterfall. Based on the high cackle-persecond count we recorded on the cackle meter, the men's urinal was apparently the high point of the tour for the older women on the bus. Whether this excitement was due to the waterfall or being in the men's room was not clear. Thank God. I really do want to go back some time, however, and stay in the "Cave Man" room.

Then, suddenly, we were into December, and the holidays. We boughta Christmas tree, avoided malls, made plans for family visits. My brother, Bill, came out with his brand new son, Andrew. Andrew, at two months, had enough personality that I quickly nicknamed him the "little blob of flesh." Bill quickly punched my lights out

We spent a few days before Christmas and Christmas Eve at my parents. They also had a small party for both Katie's and my family, which was a pleasant time. We drank, we ate, we teased the cats. We opened presents Christmas Eve. Christmas Day we headed off to Katie's parents for the annual present opening marathon and Christmas Dinner.

Dinner at Katie's Mom's place was a quiet little affair, with the dignified formality expected of a group of adults gathering for a holiday celebration. Well, that was the plan, at least. Only one minor problem kept it from working as expected; it was based on the ridiculous assumption that we were going to act in a mature and sensible fashion.

It started innocently enough, kind of like those B-grade horror movies where a bunch of fun loving teenagers decide to play a little joke on old janitor Brown, only he dies by accident and then returns from the dead to rip the teenager's heads off with his bare hands. Well, maybe not exactly like that. In this case, it was a simple Christmas gift from Katie's sister, Anne, to her boyfriend, Tom, puzzling in its stark, utilitarian ordinariness; a box of rubber bands. Odd, but not particularly noteworthy. If it had been a movie, however, the camera would have zoomed in on the box of rubber bands with the kind of background music that implied it was a little more than it appeared on the surface, like perhaps the current home of the chest-burster from the movie "Alien." Katie and I turned to more interesting presents as Tom opened his package. Then, it happened.

There was a strange, humming, vibration of a sound that carried faint childhood memories with it. Our hackles began to rise as intellect tried to catch up with the unconscious associations rising in the back of our heads. It was too late. There was the sudden snap of released tension, and Katie squealed as a rubber band smacked into ... ahhhh... her left leg.

Tom's face was lit up by a little smirk that demanded instant retaliation, and Katie gleefully responded. Within seconds, things were completely out of control. Hundreds of rubber bands littered the floor, the Christmas tree, the chairs, and several of the people. Katie's mother foolishly attempted to stop the all-out assault by appealing to everyone's reason, only to be caught in a vicious crossfire as Tom attempted to smack a present out of our hands with a well aimed shot. It was a scene of total chaos, calling forth the unspoken fear of every civilized person; total, unrestrained warfare.

It couldn't last for long. Things quieted down just prior to dinner, and we all took our seats around the table. Anne leaned back in her chair with a glass of wine and said "Well, that was WOOOFFFFF!" The rubber band bouncing up from under the table where it had impacted her mid-section was not necessary to reveal the cause of her odd declaration. The tiny snap-WHAP of the rubber bands filled the room quickly. The conversation grew strained as people attempted to act nonchalant while aiming and firing the little covert missiles under the table.

The name of the game changed, however, when Katie began the "Strategic Nuke" phase. Firing from under the table, she launched her attack upward in a slow, deliberate arc over the table. The immediate implications were obvious; with a little luck and dedication, you could sink a rubber band in someone's glass of wine. Soon, the air was full of rubber band induced parabolas. This lasted long enough for Katie to fire one lovely shot that draped a rubber band over her step-father's glasses. Bill looked around in obvious confusion, trying to determine why his eyesight was suddenly blurry. It was funny enough to make tears of laughter come to everyone's eyes.

It may not have been traditional, but it was loads of fun. Katie and I learned a valuable lesson as well. Next year, we are bringing Star Trek tracer guns with their twenty round clips of hard plastic disc ammunition to the party.

January included our first ski trip of the year. We headed for Mammoth along with Jeff and Alison, meeting Jeffs brother Ben and his fiance, Teresa, at a two bedroom condo we rented. Of course, we selected the weekend a huge storm swept through the Mammoth Lakes region, dropping several feet of snow in the course of a few days. It also resulted in phenomenal skiing. Most of the skiers up that weekend were wimps, afraid to barrel down the mountain because visibility had been reduced to a few feet. Ha! We laughed in the face of danger, spit in the eye of common sense, trampled the last vestiges of survival instinct that still tainted our thoughts. Went for it, in other words.

Alison, "Miz Powerskier of the Universe," felt that limited visibility and the potential of getting buried in an avalanche were simply not enough to get that adrenaline high we were all looking for. She decided to use her new 170 cm skis. Ben went for his 207s, I grabbed my 203s, Katie popped into her 175s, and Jeff slipped on his 165s. Alison hit the slopes hard, daring the elements, screaming defiance into the wind, suddenly realizing that the 170s, unlike the short beginner skis she had used to that point, required the capability to turn if you wanted to avoid crashing into trees and things. She wailed in terror, then performed a triple somersault into the powder. Oh, it was a glorious sight indeed!

The evenings were full of the warmth of close friends going into a feeding frenzy, blowing up over games of Pictionary, and occasionally getting into massive snowball fights. The standard kind of activities you associate with skiing, in other words. We also enjoyed the Jacuzzi, along with the prerequisite amounts of alcoholic beverages (generally shooting for one part Cognac, one part water, where the water part was supplied by the Jacuzz). We also celebrated my 30th birthday, but fortunately, everyone was too mature to make the kind of silly jokes that mark the end of another decade of aging. Unless you count the stewed prunes I received as a present. Ha! What a thigh slapper! Or the ... well, perhaps we shouldn't get into it, right?

In February, we had the opportunity to participate in the gala event of the century, Katie's cousin's wedding. Liz added new dimension to the term "extravaganza." We flew into New York City Thursday evening, drove out to Darien, Connecticut that evening, and were ready to go by Friday. We made the Friday brunch, which lasted just long enough for it to be difficult to get back to the hotel, change into formal attire, and get back for the rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal dinner had about as many guests as the population of a medium sized mid-western town. Then there was Saturday morning brunch, a several hour long affair of the heart (and stomach). It could only be capped by one thing; the wedding. Eight bridesmaids, eight groomsmen, readings by the majority of English speaking individuals east of the Mississippi, and the London Symphony Orchestra; a rather large affair. The reception that followed was vaguely reminiscent of the Inaugural ball, only bigger and with better food. Sunday brunch followed the next day, and we had to head back for the airport and miss Sunday dinner. Disappointing, but we had already gained enough mass to create a very real danger of the earth breaking out of orbit and death spiralling into the sun.


In February, we also had a chance to go skiing again. We were intending to head for Utah, but we were beginning the mass destruction on the house (more on this in a bit) and decided to stay a little more local. This time we stayed in our condo at Mammoth, along with Katie's sister, Anne, and her boyfriend, Tom. This time, Katie went for the gusto, and we headed for the top of Mammoth, the pinnacle, the peak, the totally awesome, the WILDLY HIGH, perhaps the MOST INSANELY DIFFICULT SKIING AREA IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE!!!! Although some might think that an exaggeration. But the top of Mammoth is indeed very steep, and it is quite possible to loose more than a thousand vertical feet before you come tumbling to a halt after a fall. The spot was called CORNICE. Why, I have no idea, other than maybe the three foot overhang you have to drop off of in order to hit the face of vertical incline city. Tough? Dangerous? Not recommended for women who are pregnant? You better believe it. But Katie took it like a pro, like someone who has been playing tennis most of her adult life. Which is to say someone who is terrified of the stupid things they will do when egged on by clearly suicidal maniacs like myself. It was fun.


We also celebrated Tom's birthday, giving him a mutual present Anne had picked out; a radio controlled "four wheeler" toy truck. He was surprised, and clearly pleased, by the gift. Katie looked at him curiously. "Tom, I still don't understand what you want something like that for" she said. Tom grinned back with narrowed eyes and a mischievous smile. "Its quite simple," he replied, "I have three cats at home, and I think they'll get a bit of a kick out of it."

All in all, the ski trip was a pleasant and much needed break from work. As previously indicated, we also began destroying our house about this time. The original plan was a little different from this, namely:

For under $100, of course. Well, $1000 then. Well, OK, $10,000. Not enough you say? By several orders of magnitude? Obviously, you have had the pleasure of performing minor "house surgery" before. We approached it rather naively. The kitchen area's original design had obviously been planned by a psychologist who held a job testing rats in a maze for a little too long. It consisting of three tiny, claustrophobic rooms, each of which had been further filled with built-in cabinets and closets that left about enough room to squeeze through the area sideways, if you were borderline anorexic. We wanted to make it one larger room, taking out two walls that were purely decorative, and the built-in cabinets. We called in a general contractor to discuss our idea with him.

He shook his head slowly from side to side. "No, sorry, it isn't that simple" he said with a sad little smile, the kind that immediately told you that he was dealing with what he clearly regarded as mentally retarded children. "You see, the joist struts on the cross beams are perpendicularly reinforced by the sidewall substrate." He looked at us expectantly, as if we spoke his native language or something. "Are you talking English?"I asked, a little peevishly. He sighed in exasperation. "Look, you see, the first step here is to rip out the ceiling." Katie looked confused, and asked "The ceiling? The ceiling? We don't want to take out the ceiling, we want to take out the walls." "Yes, yes," the contractor answered, "that's what I'm saying. After we shred the ceiling we can gut the inside walls of the kitchen." I began to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. He continued "Then, we reinforce the roof joists with 4 by 10 headers across the main kitchen stays. After that, the water heater vent, which I hate to tell you is out of spec and you could go to jail for the rest of you natural life because of it, well, we'll just have to rip that sucker out too...." He paused for a breath. I jumped in. "But then you can remove the wall frames, right?" He shook his head vigorously from side to side. "No, no, no ... you're missing the whole point. After we get the floor ripped out and begin replacing the plumbing...." It was a long and interesting conversation, but it can be summarized by the following statement; "modifications to the kitchen area, regardless of size or complexity, will require about as much money as Reagan would receive for non-stop daily lectures in Japan for a year, and you should count on at least some loss of life and limb."

We should also add that coming home to find a HUGE GAPING HOLE where your KITCHEN USE TO BE is kind of... hee hee ... kind of... heh heh heh ... well, kind of disturbing. But we ... hee hee hee ha ha... feel much better now. You can let us out, we promise not break the kneecaps of any more cigar smoking, cleat wearing laborers who toss cigarette butts in our toilet.

In the meantime, we were also negotiating with a plasterer directly about re- stuccoing the outside of the house, since the previous owners had gone for the craggy, straw colored look that is frequently seen on the exteriors of coffins for Nazi war criminals. Why we decided to do the inside and outside of the house simultaneously is based on the old adage, "if your life has been shattered into a million little pieces, you might as well crush the shards with a steam roller and avoid the risk of being sued for cutting someone's foot." This is a principle we certainly have tried to live by for as long as we can remember. Ha ha! Just goes to show you that those old adages should have been buried with the pinheads who originally thought them up.

We had reached that point in the negotiations where we were ready to sign papers and set up a schedule for sand blasting the house, replacing windows, and re-stuccoing, otherwise known as the time when we and the contractor could only speak in cracked whispers because of the frequent and loud threats of bodily harm screamed over the telephone. The contractor told us he would stop by next week with the paper work and instructions as to what we would have to do in order to prepare to sand blast, which is rivaled in its destructive power and ability to make a mess only by nuclear weapons.

That Monday, I drove home and pulled into the driveway. Looking up, I stepped on the brakes. Stupid me; somehow I had pulled into the wrong house. I started to back out, glanced sideways, and jammed on the brakes again. Off to the side was our neighbor's house, which would lead one to believe that the driveway I was in ... was my own. I looked again in disbelief. Our house looked like it had been painted in camouflage colors, the result of having had the last fifty years worth of paint and stucco blown off in a slightly uneven pattern. Needless to say, the amount of damage and mess caused by the sand particles and the water made our house a candidate for those photos they took after Hurricane Hugo shredded those homes along the beach in Virginia. We are still sorting out the mess.

Anyway, onto more pleasant topics. Katie and I went to a few events, which are discussed here in a completely arbitrary order.

One of our favorites was a ballet we attended at the Japanese American Theater. "Dimitri" was authored by none other than Woody Allen. "What", you might cry, "the guy who wrote and directed 'Everything you ever wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask?' With that classic scene where they corral this ... ." You might cry that, but probably not in a public place. At least, we don't suggest it. And the answer is yes.

As you might expect, Dimitri was the kind of heart touching drama normally produced by the insightful author, full of the very essence of the human spirit. The following paragraph describing the opening scene is a perfect example:

"The Ballet opens at a carnival. There are refreshments and rides. Many people in gaily colored costumes dance and laugh, to the accompaniment of flutes and woodwinds, while the trombones play in a minor key to suggest that soon the refreshments will run out and everyone will be dead."

We particularly enjoyed the part when a large mixed green salad suddenly disgorged three plump little heads of lettuce that scampered and danced around the stage.

We also managed to catch the Joffrey Ballet, a slightly more serious group, three times, the Nutcracker at Christmas and two standard Jeffrey shows in May. They were fun, but not as outstanding as last years, primarily because of a rift between the Joffrey and their artistic director, Gerald Arpino.

We caught a few plays ("The Downside," written by Richard Dresser, is highly recommended), hiked to an abandon colony in the middle of the San Gabriel Mountains, celebrated Valentine's day at the Raymond Restaurant, went to a exhibition on oriental furniture, took dancing lessons, and attended the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, among a host of other things. We also had an opportunity to try a little exercise in good taste among alcoholic beverages.

The first exercise was the Cognac taste test Katie and I had been taken out to dinner by my parents for my birthday, and with my typical reluctance to pass up opportunities to put my father in the poor house, we ordered a glass of Henessy XO, a very fine cognac. After the Remy VSOP that Katie and I normally drink, the Henessy went down like liquid gold. In fact, we were so impressed we went out and bought a bottle of the stuff, putting ourselves in financial hock for the rest of this century. Back home, a sudden thought struck me. While Katie was in the back room, I took two small glasses, filling one with Henessy and the other with the Remy. I then presented them to her in a "blind taste test." Katie swirled, she sniffed, took a taste of each, frowned, swirled and sniffed again. On the second taste she grinned. "This is it. This is the XO" she said. I grinned back. "Dead wrong, babe!" I chortled with glee. She looked back at me with narrowed eyes. "Funny, is it? Well, I'd say it was your turn, buddy" she cried back, heading for the liquor cabinet.

I waited until she brought back the two glasses, sniffed, swirled, sniffed, drank, sniffed, swirled, drank again. The good stuff was obvious, with the weaker, watery taste of the cheaper Remy giving it away. "This is clearly the XO" I smirked. "Dead wrong, babe!" Katie laughed back.

This set the stage for a more formal test. Jeff Stern, a man who self admittedly recognizes the finer things in life and enjoys them, had a bottle of Couvoisier XO and a bottle of Couvoisier VS. The VS was pure swill, cheaper than a medium priced bottle of wine. Jeff had exclaimed time and time again about the virtues of the XO, the fine taste, the indescribable warmth as it hit your stomach. We suggested a blind taste test with the two XOs, the VSOP, and the VS. He scoffed, but accepted.

The next half hour was full of sloshing, sniffing, sipping, swirling, holding glasses up the the light, and furious scribbling of notes on note pads. Finally, everyone had their guesses ready. Alison, a non-participant who had poured the glasses in the first place, revealed the true identity of the four Cognacs. Results; Katie and Jeff had both picked the VS, the absolute swill, as one of the XOs. I had avoided that, but had selected one of the XOs as the VS. We had a simple point system worked out The best guesser had about a 50% success rate in picking the cognacs. It was a humbling, but useful, lesson. We drink the VSOP now, and save the XO for guests who might be impressed by the label.

In the meantime, another question had surfaced concerning alcohol. We had to pick a champagne for the wedding. Jeff, and Jeffs brother, Ben, were closing on their wedding dates even faster and had the same problem. The cognac taste testing gave Katie an idea; why not have a champagne test testing party? Everyone agreed that this was indeed a fine idea, and we planned it for a Saturday night at Jeff and Alison's apartment. We did eight Champagnes, most mid-priced contenders for the weddings, and one "ringer" bottle of $2.99 La Cresta Brut. We had learned from the cognac taste testing experience, and made few comments about the quality of the various bottles. Jeff Stern, however, demonstrated that working on a PhD at Caltech, perhaps the foremost technical university in the USA, does not necessarily provide one with that elusive characteristic known as "common sense." "Heck, take that swill and poor it down the drain, there isn't a chance anyone could mistake that for real champagne" he cried. "As for me, I'll head for the Gloria Ferrar like a bee for honey," he continued, "because it's my favorite champagne."

Any guesses as to the outcome? You guessed? Shucks, it was supposed to be a surprise. Jeff did indeed pick the La Cresta as the absolute best, and the Gloria Ferrar as the complete dishwater lowest-of-the-low. The statistics from averaging everyone's results were interesting. There were several "high end" and "low end" champagnes that everyone liked or disliked. With one exception. Me. My ranking of the champagnes was the exact opposite of the group average ranking. Luck? Coincidence? Ha! Don't make me laugh. Clearly, it was a case of a truly perceptive tongue and really bad taste in champagne at work.


As an exercise in selecting champagnes the taste test was a failure, but as a party it was a huge success, particularly when we had eight full bottles of champagne and six people. I did my share, drinking the entire bottle of Mirasu and frequently mispronouncing three letter words in the Pictionary game that followed.

But we did still need to select a champagne for the wedding. What to do, what to do? The obvious answer crashed in like an AeroMexico 747; have another champagne tasting party! This time, we did it at Anne's, Katie's sister's, place, with a much larger group of people and ten bottles of champagne. There were a couple of new twists, however; in addition to the low end ringer, we added a high end ringer of expensive champagne, and we added one "duplicate" ringer. In other words, we made two of the ten bottles the exact same champagne. Results; an almost completely random distribution. The same champagne rated second out of ten and seventh out of ten. Our choices at this taste test had only the smallest resemblance to the choices we made at the previous one.

The final conclusion; if the occasion calls for Champagne, use seltzer water, but put it in an expensive looking bottle first.

Well, that raps up another chapter in the saga. Hope life is treating you well!