I got a knock on my door last night around 8 p.m.

My adopted dog, Frankie, took his typical I’m from the streets of Yonkers, I will crush you stance. His hair stood up as he growled and exposed his fangs resembling a tiny row of Tic Tacs.

I made my way down the stairs, Frankie at my feet, snarling louder with each step. I scooped up my hood-rat dog to calm him down and peered through the glass on my front door. I recognized the man standing on the other side as a person who I’d seen in the realtor’s office when I signed the paperwork to move in. I flicked on the light switch to illuminate the porch and opened the door.

This was not the man I thought I’d recognized. Oh no … please don’t shank me and steal all of my belongings.

I felt Frankie stiffen in my arms, his ears slicked back tight like he was ready to flash on this stranger trespassing in our territory.

“Uh, hello,” I said with the inflection of a question.

I noticed he had a bottle of wine in his left hand. What the hell is this? Some sort of angelic courier service? Am I dreaming?

“Hi, my name is Stephen. My fiancee and I just moved in next door. I am a wine distributor for Blah Blah Company. Wanted to say hello and drop this by,” he said in a friendly tone … he posed the bottle between his two hands in a very formal, presentation-like manner.

Wine distributor? … I’m thinking. My new neighbor is a wine distributor? SWEET.

Frankie collapsed like dead-weight on my arm … a sign that he relaxed … likely responding to the relief he sensed in me.

“Thank you Stephen, this is so cool,” I said. I took the bottle with my free hand and gave it a once over. “Nice.”

“So, my fiancee and I are going to have a little tasting at our house next week, nothing fancy, if you guys are around … ” he said.

“We’re always available for a tasting,” I replied.

“And don’t worry, I only sell in bulk to businesses, not looking to bank off the neighbors,” he joked.

Hhhhhhmmmmm. I hadn’t thought about that at all, but a good sign that he’s waving the I promise I’m not sheisty flag.

We exchanged pleasantries and said goodbye. I went upstairs, let the vino breathe for a bit, and then enjoyed the neighborly gesture right down to the last sip.

I’m thinking this morning about how a neighborly act, like the one Stephen and his fiancee are doing, just isn’t commonplace anymore. Growing up, my two next-door neighbors were like family to us. We shared wine, food, laughs, and annual camping trips. Now we are all too busy and these days and you just don’t know who you can trust. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself to internally justify why I don’t make the effort.)

Today I’m thinking that’s not a bad idea to test the waters, take the time, and find out who you can trust. Out of the 15 or so doors that Stephen knocked on last night … perhaps 1 or 2 will develop into friendships and that’s pretty cool. And it’ll be really cool the day someone gets locked out of their house, needs a cup of flour, or an extra hand with a bulky piece of furniture.

I want to be more neighborly.

I’m crazy-busy … rarely home, but that’s not an excuse to not reach out to the folks who sleep a stone’s throw away from me. Who’s more busy than president-elect Barak Obama? Fresh off a 2-year plus campaign, working day-in, day-out with his transition team … and yet Obama fought for a brand new inaugural event, one that would include his neighbors.

Have you heard about this?

Our president-elect is throwing a block party in DC because he doesn’t want to exclude the people with whom he and his family will be sharing a community with, on January 20th. No other president has ever done this. I think it’s old school and SO COOL.

So in a nutshell, I am feeling inspired this morning. Stephen, my new wine-distributing neighbor, and our president-elect have reminded me how important it is (no matter how busy I am) to make an effort to be a good neighbor.

I may not be knocking on doors tonight, singing the Mr. Rogers theme song, but I’m officially inspired and will be keeping my eyes open for an opportunity to extend a neighborly gesture.




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I took my nephew and two nieces out shopping to snag some post-holiday steals. Got them up wicked early and cooked breakfast at the house … thought I was being real strategic in planning a morning trip to the mall, mid-week.

We arrived at 10:03 a.m. and the mall was already crackin’.


I shuffled the kids into the nearest cafe. I knew I would be ordering an espresso, there would be no free time — and no free extremities with 3 kids — to be leisurely sipping a latte while hunting for heavily discounted treasures in a mall that feels more like a giant can of tightly packed sardines.

I got in line behind a herd of too-cool teens. They were in no hurry. I struggled to keep a smile, tried desperately to remain in role model mode and not roll my eyes, as they giggled and pondered out loud about whether an XL iced peppermint coffee or an XL mocha-loca-choca-something would be more “DEE-licious.”

Come on tweemos! You’re killin’ me.

I’ve got clearance items to get my paws on! I’ve got bins to dig through and 3 kids whose attention spans will expire before I hit the east wing of this monster shopping center! Let’s go!

Btw … I say tweemos with love. I was once a tween forever-indebted to The Cure and black hair dye. I get it. I’m not poking fun. In fact, both of those things still live in my life, just on a much milder level. All of my Cure favs are all loaded into the iPod and every 10 months or so I lather up in an onyx temp dye. (There’s something hot about the darkest hue in the dead of winter.)

Back to the cafe … my little ones were being so patient. I realized it was because they were fully entertained. They stared up, wide-eyed, at the big high schoolers … studying their every move in awe. Finally it was my turn. I ordered a shot of espresso and slammed it like a junkie at a methadone clinic.

“Thanks!” I called out to the barista with a purple fauxhawk. She gave me a wink. I smiled in return, scooped the kids and we were off.

I decided to aim high, the mall wasn’t going to get any less crowded, might as well hit the flagship department store that is notorious for deep discounts. It was a zoo. Not just any zoo. It was hell. Lines snaking through the racks with no sign of where they began or where they ended, babies screeching, salespeople scrambling, clothing hung sloppily everywhere — some piled on tabletops hiding the neatly folded stacks that were probably buried below … other merchandise just dumped on the floor.

Just as I was wondering … who are these people who drop a shirt on the ground in a store and walk away … I became an eye witness.

He was right in front of me … a man in his late 30s/early 40s … alone, carrying a giant ball of sweaters and trousers. I tuned in just in time to watch a burgundy cable knit, strewn on the tippy-top of his clearance tower, slowly slip and fall beside his feet. He looked down at the pile of chunky yarn on the floor and without an expression, casually walked away. Wow. Did that just happen? Without so much as an attempt, or even a glance around to see if anyone was watching his careless antics? I don’t get it … a quick bend-and-reach and that sweater would have gone home with him. So maybe he didn’t want the thing. Perhaps he grew irritated and changed his mind, but damn, pick it up…

“This is crazy,” my niece said as she maintained a firm grip on the back of my hoodie.

I grabbed an empty hanger and hung the burgundy, now dirty, sweater.

“Yeah, insane,” the nephew retorted.

“Chaos. Let’s go,” I said, switching my baby niece to the other hip and headed for the exit. We re-entered the mall in a different spot … oh no, where are we?

Before I could get my bearings a loud, synchronized, “VANS!!!” blared from my pint-sized crowd.

I followed their bright eyes to a giant shoe store full of neon sale signs. I immediately zoned in on a pair of Nike dunks.

“Ooooooooo,” I admired. We filed into the store like some hypnotized zombies … this happens to me from time to time when exposed to shoes.

14.99, 25.99, 70% off … say what?!

Now, this, is when I really love the holidays.

The kids’ choices were going to set me back about 40 bucks — score! I surrendered to the high dunks I’d spotted from outside.

My nephew called me out at the register, “Hey Auntie, don’t you already have those?”

“No sweetie, I have the Blazer Mids, these are different,” I defended myself, knowing damn well that I have issues far beyond the typical woman who loves shoes.

There were 3 salespeople behind the counter. A 20-something dude who definitely waked-and-baked, a knock-out latina in her late teens and a 20-something cute girl with an evident, ugly, attitude. Stoner dude was ringing me up. He handed my stack of shoe boxes to attitude girl so that she could deactivate the sensors.

She opened my dunks, nudged the latin queen and shoved a sneaker in her face, “These are fresh, but high tops are soooooooooooooooooooooo over. Like out.”

Latin lovely looked at me with an eek face as if to say … yikes I’m so sorry. My co-worker didn’t mean to be rude. .

I smiled, acknowledging her facial apology.

Latin girl tried to rescue her fellow shoe-slinger by adding a professional, “I don’t think we’re getting any more of those in.”

Attitude chick went on and on about how high tops are phasing out and it “totally blows.”

Spicolli noticed none of the conversation. He was out to lunch … hey, he probably was out lunch come to think of it. He was staring into space, probably dreaming about the food court and his 30 minute break.

I started to get really upset and it had nothing to do with the sour puss and her Debbie Downer ‘tude in regards to my high top sneakers.

I drifted away … the sound of the scanner beeping sku bars helped me count the number of years that I’ve been back in high tops … 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 wait … what?

I remembered being in New York and being thrilled when all of the classics returned to the shoe stores … high top Chuck Taylors, Reeboks, and Nikes. And now they’re leaving again? A fit of anger flowed through my body.

Wait … seriously … why am I freaking out about high tops?

What’s the big deal if I have to go to eBay rather than the local mall (that sucks anyway) to find my favorite sneaks? They’re classics. They’ll always be available. Get a hold of yourself.

We were able to make it out of the mall alive … my little crew decided that after-Christmas sales are “totally overrated” after the shoe store. Later on that evening I started thinking about my high top freak out.

I fessed up to myself about what’s really bothering me … I AM TERRIFIED BY TIME AND HOW QUICKLY IT IS SWEEPING AWAY.

I am not worried at all about aging or about the fads that come and go … I’m worried about the lightning-speed at which the years flash by.

The stupid high top trend simply served as a timeline to remind me where I am and where I’ve been. I officially had my “life is short” moment, in the mall of all places.

I realized that my fear of time and its speed, boils down to this:

I didn’t make a new year’s resolution for 2009, but I did assess a fear that I have and that’s pretty cool I guess. Now I need to figure out how to translate that into a productive action. Maybe that’s my goal for ’09?

Or, maybe I just need to BUY MORE HIGH TOPS?





Stiff neck. Aching lower back. Left hamstring shot. Sharp cramps behind both shoulder blades.


An 800 milligram Ibuprofren and a heating pad later … I mentally justified my agony as I stretched this morning.


A little background info …

I’ve played Wii several times before; once at a promo party when it was first released and a few times at various friends’ houses. Threw a few strikes with a virtual bowling ball and raced on a cow’s back for fun between beers. Yeah, I thought it was fun, but never really got into it. Not in the way that I’ve gotten into certain Xbox or online games. Not in a way where I felt like I might die if I couldn’t play.

My Wii emotions changed over this holiday. I met DDR on Christmas Day, fell head-over-heels in love and knew for sure that I might die if I woke up tomorrow and the blue and white mat wasn’t waiting for me in front of the TV.

Santa brought me new Choos, an iPod (to replace the one I left on an airplane), a Wii and Dance Dance Revolution. I’m terrified that the big guy made a mistake and hit the wrong house. What if my stellar gifts were intended for the girl who lives next door … you know … the one who was nice all year????


My stuff hasn’t been repo’d yet, so perhaps I was left off the naughty list for the first time since ’88.


My new favorite toy couldn’t have come at a better time. I smashed 6 tamales and about 8 cocktails on Christmas Eve … a workout was definitely in order. The family gathered ’round and we each created our Miis, which is an inexplicably comical process.

Why is a cartoon-like image of people you know so funny? I have no idea, but it is hilarious.

About 15 of us battled one another in Wii boxing, baseball, tennis, bowling, and golf. It got competitive … REALLY competitive. My parents’ family room sounded like game 7 of the World Series … bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, 2 outs … only difference was my cousin was up to bat, not Babe Ruth. Our series wrapped up around 2:30 a.m. and after everyone turned in, I decided to crack open the DDR box for a looksie. I envisioned the one-legged champion who I’d seen crushing it on YouTube … had a moment of inspiration so I ignored the clock, popped in the disc and plugged in the mat for a quick test run.

Six hours later, I saw my mom’s reflection in the slider. I was mid arrow left+down, double right nunchuk … I turned to look at her just as she stopped dead in her tracks and said, “Oh my god,” in a low, serious voice. With one hand over mouth, no doubt an attempt to hold back laughter at the sight of her adult daughter in a sweatsuit, cutting a DDR rug, in her living room. I stepped off the mat and paused the techno beat. I was instantly overwhelmed with fatigue and nausea.

“What time is it?” I asked. I blinked and it stung like tiny pieces of glass were slicing through my eyes.

“Six in the morning,” she said through a chuckle.

I walked to my old bedroom and crashed out. Six hours later, I was woken up by dishes clanging, people laughing, and music pumping — the standard soundtrack at my rents’ house.

I found the fam and some friends already deep into some Wii sports action. There were empty beer cans, glasses of wine, and finger foods everywhere. I saw a pad of paper revealing a pool that my dad created and my aunt was holding an ice pack to her ankle.

Holy $#%! We’ve all lost our minds.

I was pretty sore from my private DDR party, but got suckered into a cold Chelada and a bowling tourney by 1 p.m.

Day 2 was much like the day 1. Wii sports all day, DDR all night. On day 3 I had to slowly roll out of bed, OUCH! My calves were on fire and my right tricep throbbed. I limped to the bathroom and took advantage of the steam. About 15 minutes into a piping hot shower, I thought about how Wii-crazy I’d gone and how I’d really like to spend some one-on-one time with mom. I figured maybe I’d take her shopping or to a movie. I quickly got ready and headed for the kitchen to put on some coffee. I was pleased to find the smell of fresh grinds lingering in the hallway … someone had beat me to it — nice!

Oh, how I wish I had the next minute on video to show you … I’d kill to have it all on tape!!!!

I turned the corner and found my mom standing in front of the 50 inch flatscreen, one Wii controller in her right hand and THE SECOND CONTROLLER IN HER LEFT HAND.


Mom had to get her Wii on so bad that she was actually playing 2 Miis at once?! Yes, I saw it with my own eyes, she was smashing tennis balls … serving AND playing.


She spun around with a face of embarrassment laced with guilt. I BUSTED OUT laughing.

“No one was awake, so I … I thought I’d, I was bored so I just, I — ” she stammered.

“Who’s winning?” I asked. I could not hold in my laughter.

“Oh, shut up,” she said and handed me one of the controllers.

And like that … day 3 began.

Somewhere into day 4 I had another moment of what are Wii doing … uh, I mean we … but everytime the gaming stopped, it never lasted. The “let’s stop moments” were merely time outs.

Some of our family traditions were skipped this holiday … my mom and I usually do some after-Christmas sale shopping, I didn’t make my famous sugar cookies, and my dad never built the fire he does every year on Dec 25th (we were all sweatin’ from the Wii, it was too damn hot). But, now that I think about it, those traditions were not moments lost, they were moments gained.

Rather than spending more money, eating more fatty sweets, and sitting still like a pile of over-stuffed potatoes on the couch … we played as a family, we laughed as a family and hell, we even burned some calories as a family! There is definitely something to be said about that.

Today is day 5 of my new found Wii love. I’m back at work.


But it’s going to be okay …

’cause in just 9 hours …

I’ll be free …

free to Wii.



Hot Tamales


I am sitting here staring at the monitor trying to decide what to blog about … my weekend in Pismo Beach, last-minute Christmas shopping, NFL playoffs, being the only girl at Hooters yesterday not wearing fluorescent orange daisy duke shorts … I can’t focus.


How can I possibly concentrate knowing that in 50-something hours I will be devouring my family’s homemade tamales that I wait for all year?

I could care less about what’s under the tree, it’s all about unwrapping steamy, flavorful beef from a fresh corn husk.

Eating tamales at midnight on Christmas Eve is, by far, my favorite family tradition. It is what makes this holiday so incredibly special to me. Lets put it this way, if I was going to die tonight and I had to choose between an ice cold Grey Goose straight-up or one tiny nibble of a tamale … I’d have to really think about it.


The time and work that goes into making the masa, the sauce, and folding each husk is no joke … especially when you’ve got over a hundred mouths to feed. On Christmas Eve morning my grandmother’s back patio will morph into a 25-person assembly line, each person dedicated to a very specific part or flavor of each tamale. The individually-wrapped compilations will be piled into two giant pots that will be cooked over an open flame until midnight.

The anticipation is insane. Right around 10:30 PM, everything is turned up a notch. Cheery smiles evolve into loud joyous bouts of laughter, wine from dinner is swapped out for stiff cocktails, music is cranked up and the aunts and cousins start dancing. The countdown to midnight/Christmas Day is more exciting for me than the countdown that comes 6 days later.

Until I smell that magical aroma of my family’s tamales, I think I might remain in a fog. Co-workers are talking to me and I hear Charlie Brown’s teacher, my phone is ringing and it sounds like pieces of masa being plopped into a pot of water (this is the test to see if it’s done, when it floats it’s ready), and only my Cumbia playlist is coming in clearly on the iPod.

Drop me into a pot of water, I promise I’ll float, I AM SO READY FOR TAMALES.

Is it Christmas Eve yet????????????????????



San Francisco Jet


I spent the morning with Jet at KUSF radio and was reminded of the two great loves of my life that I’ve put on the back burner.

Music and San Francisco.

I was feeling a little foggy from last night’s holiday soiree … ouch, did it hurt when the alarm went off. I washed 2 extra strength Tylenols down with some hot coffee, threw on some jeans and was out. It was raining when I left the house … pouring by the time I made it to the dark 101 freeway. I unplugged my iPod to listen to Jet’s show. As soon as the dial landed on 90.3, my ears filled with a slow, funky reggae beat layered with an electronic melody that made me want to be dancing in a smoky house party packed wall to wall.

This is definitely Jet’s show, I thought. It just sounds … cool.

Her music kept me in a euphonic trance through 4 cities. I nearly missed my exit. Not sure if it was the emo track Jet happened to be playing or the fact that I was driving 2 blocks away from where I used to live, but by the time I turned onto Fell Street, I was drowning in a pool of love.


I wanted to hook it on Grove and find my old flat just as I left it. A 10ft x 12ft Lichtenstein on the south wall, turntables in the living room, my roommate on the couch writing songs for her unsuccessful punk band, and my bedroom at the end of the hall; plastered with black and white photos that I had taken, developed, and printed myself. They sucked, but they were mine.

I miss that apartment. I miss the dive bars down the block. I miss the music.


That question rang in my head even louder when I arrived at Jet’s studio.

A tiny blur came flying around the corner just as I was reaching for the door handle next to a KUSF poster with a big skull on it. A petite Jet — dressed head-to-toe in black — opened the door for me. “Come in, come in,” she said motioning down a long corridor. The little blur disappeared as quickly as it arrived. I faintly heard Jet telling her listeners about the artist who’s track she just played. I tried to walk, but I couldn’t.


Cannot remember the last time something shook me so hard on the inside that all I could do is stand still. I was surrounded, ceiling to floor … VINYL RECORDS, as far as I could see. I immediately leaned into the nearest stack and squinted to read the names on the albums … oh sh– … they’re alphabetized! I thought for a split second that I might have gotten in a wreck on the way here, died, and THIS WAS HEAVEN. The angel in black was going to fetch my family and we were going to listen to music and dance on clouds forever and ever. AWESOME.

Back to reality … I didn’t want Jet to wonder if I was trying to gank some of her records, so I started to walk forward down the never-ending hallway. I noticed that the LPs are on slider tracks, there must be at least 10 billion of them.

I got seated inside of the studio and immediately took off my earrings, knowing that headphones would be coming shortly. Part of me hoped that a pair of Technics SLs would be coming with them. I imagined Jet standing in front of her collection with the presenter pose of a Price Is Right girl saying, “Here ya go, Nicole. Have at it!”

Good thing I snapped out of it in time to hear Jet introduce me on-air. I threw on the cans that were brought in and we started our radio chat. Jet is very cool, just like her music. We ranted about holiday madness; the shopping, the traffic and over-lapping party invites. We talked about my show on rileysride.com and how the Internet has changed how we socialize. We also discussed, and agreed, that even in the name of charity, Scarlett Johansson selling her boogers on eBay is just gross.

After I signed off and said goodbye to Jet, I walked to my car that was parked in front of a classic Victorian house with a coffee shop filled with bright colored furniture on the bottom level, beats playing faintly. All of the historical moments that have made San Francisco what it is today, flashed through my mind in a series of glossy photographs. I started to remember all of the pictures that I took here, with my own Pentax K1000. All of my memories that I have as a child flickered like a pre-produced slideshow in my brain … I LOVE it here!

Why did I ever leave?

Why did I pack all of my belongings into my car and run away in the middle of my lease … in the middle of the night … ????

Another story, for another blog.

(Shout out to Jet: KUSF 90.3 FM, Fri 6-9am)


Where’s the Beef?


Is it me, or are fast food burger patties shrinking even more?

Is it the economy? Can’t figure out a way to cut costs, so we’ll just cut a fourth of beef off of every hamburger?

Is this what’s happening?

In an effort to not throw one of my favorite fast food joints under the bus, I’ll be referring to it as Burger Heaven for purposes of this blog. That’s actually a fitting name because my typical experience is nothing short of divine. There truly is something extraordinary about a warm, charbroiled hamburger patty covered with melted cheese, smothered in ketchup, with lettuce and tomato inside a fresh bun. It’s magic.

Unfortunately for me, no sparks were flying last night. No angels singing at Burger Heaven because for the first time ever, my cheeseburger SUCKED.

I had to lift the bun to see if there was even a burger in there, giving me flashbacks of those Wendy’s commercials where the old lady squinted through her glasses, searching for any sign of a patty and then said straight into the camera, “Where’s the beef?” Remember that? And it seemed like only a few hours after that first spot ran, every mullet in America was covered with a “where’s the beef” trucker hat and every girl with big bangs was wearing an oversized T-shirt with the stupid slogan printed on it. Aaaawwww, the eighties. So many fashion fabs and SO MANY trendy trainwrecks. The “where’s the beef” clothing line, hands-down, the most tragic of them all.

Back to Burger Heaven, last night, where I was seriously disturbed that the beef in my burger was noticeably different in size … how can a restaurant change something like that without giving us a heads-up?

I am devastated. This is my favorite burger — you could blind fold me, give me bites of a hundred different cheeseburgers and I would know which one was mine in an instant. You can’t mess with my burger, Burger Heaven!


Like a dork, I went home and got online to do some burger research. I was praying that Burger Heaven did the right thing and posted some of its new changes on its website. Wishful thinking. Why would a restaurant print, “We are excited to announce a transformation in our best selling cheeseburger, it will be half the size from now on, giving us the opportunity to stay afloat in this sh—y economy.” Come on Nicole. Of course BH is not going to publicly announce a burger downsize.

I am very upset about this. I bust my butt at work all week and sinking my teeth into a big, fat, juicy burger is a treat that I look forward to. Even though it happens about twice a week, it always tastes like a reward (especially when I wash it down with a cold beer). What if I get a wicked bad burger craving late night, over the weekend?

I’ve always been so loyal to Burger Heaven, will I cave and cheat?

I had an affair with White Castle when I lived in New York. I justified my indulgence of those tiny, individually-wrapped bundles of joy by telling myself that it was okay because I was across state lines. What was I gonna do, fly to Cali everytime I wanted Burger Heaven?

I’m hoping this sheisty modification is purely temporary and my favorite burger will return to the menu in its normal stature soon.

Meantime, I’m in the market for a new place to call burger home, any suggestions?