Cat variations

Coming home from the north I enter the courtyard along with the first shadows. Heading west, the sun has dropped beneath the roofline, our building’s three stories enough to provide shade. In this light, still bright but indirect, the courtyard is a peaceful place, ferns in the corners and small trees along the sides providing some measure of growing things against the concrete. Finally out of the car I can relax on entering, safe again in my own space.

From beneath the leaves of one potted plant she watches me, sitting delicately in her hunter’s pose. As I approach she says nothing, waiting patiently. As I pass she does not strike, letting out the faintest meow, saying hello and look at me, hiding in the shade of these leaves. I reach through, scratching behind the ears, shifting my bag to my other shoulder. Crouched down now, close enough to hear her purr, I coax her from behind the leaves. The sun is quickly leaving the courtyard, shifting towards the ocean though there is an hour of daylight left. Knowing her true goal I rise, keys jingling, and head up the back stairs three flights.

Chelsie lives down on the ground floor, her owner lets her roam in the afternoons, after work and before dinner. At first she lies in the sun, relishing the heated concrete. As it withdraws so too does she, to her spot beneath the leaves, to play at being a tiger in a jungle small but all her own.

Until I come home, and then she’s out again, following me up the stairs in swift strides, her body almost coasting upwards. I unlock the door and she brushes by me, purring, heading for the desk, the chairs, the window’s sun. For when her apartment and the courtyard are wrapped in shadows mine, high above on the north west corner, is filled with sun. At the top of the building, windows facing west to the Pacific, it gets warmth longer, holds the sun’s gaze later, than any other in our building. Chelsie knows this, used to visit the previous tenant, and staked out her claim to our floor, to the desk once it arrived, to a chair if there’s a cushion on it, as soon as we’d moved in. Her owner Peter knows exactly where she’s gone and comes knocking, the courtyard dark and dinner ready.

“Is Chelsie here?” he asks, knowing full well she is curled in the last rays of warmth, purring loudly, clouds of fur everywhere around her.

“Of course,” I say, and then “Ok Chels, let’s go.”

She perks up, hopping off of the chair and prancing towards the door.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Not at all,” I answer, “she’s welcome any time.”

In an apartment too small for animals, where the lease prohibits them anyway, Chelsie’s visits are like the sun itself, a gift in this land of fog and wind. The sneezing and the sweeping up of fur are an easy price to pay for this time cohabiting with an animal we do not need to feed or clean.

And, like the sun, when the fog is thick and heavy, Chelsie does not see the light of day, Peter’s door closed for weeks on end. So now, on days when I round the hills of Marin, head down to the Golden Gate, and see the city spread out before me with not a cloud around, I open the gate to our courtyard with a little grin, looking for the eyes beneath the bushes. Pink and grey in the strangest of shades, Chelsie waits for our apartment to be opened for her so she can lounge as she likes, cat not of one apartment but of them all in turn.

Boxes just the same

In Shaoxing it rains, and I stay in my little box, waiting for a phone call. From inside I could be anywhere in China, anywhere in the world. Hotels are designed to be interchangeable, and I forget my location.

In San Antonio a year later the room on the thirty fourth floor looks out over a pool. Lit and empty in the Texas January, the water shines green into the night. From this box the weather is impossible to discern, the pool’s lack of use a solitary clue. Through the glass of this Hyatt’s windows it is a hovering square of aquamarine composited with the reflections of lights beside the bed and over the desk. Above the rooftop the evening is still, save for planes landing far off in the suburbs.

In Japan, years ago, the room was tatami-floored, and the sliding glass of one wall opened on to a balcony. Through the laundry swaying from the rafters came the evening sun, and with it a view of the Saikyo line to the left and Mt. Fuji to the right. Shared with a dozen others, the balconies were sectioned off with partitions flimsier than the wind, so those on either side pretended for their privacy as they hung laundry in the mornings. Tiny on the inside, this glass wall gave the box a sense of the world, an ability to feel the breeze.

Two weeks later the hotel room in Washington D.C. could again face any city in the world, with the train tracks elevated beside it, clattering away as the light fades. With the shades wide the bed has a view of the sky, contrails and wisps of clouds in March, a blue that gives no sense of location. The furniture has the same sharp edges as everywhere, the same reddish brown wood.

In Shaoxing I check into my hotel in the evening, having found it via taxi from the train station. The air is gray, up above the street lights, and I am tired. There will come a time for exploring this city, for business and the lonely hours of solitary travel to foreign countries. For now, though, a little box of my own is all I desire, shelter from the weather and space to breathe.

Letters to the FCC part 1, AT&T and T-Mobile

The purchase of T-Mobile by AT&T would be bad for consumers in the US for the following reasons.

Currently, T-Mobile is the only carrier that sells and supports unlocked phones.  This means that any GSM phone, which is most of the phones world-wide, will work on T-Mobile’s network. AT&T uses a software lock in their phones, like the iPhone, so that they can not be used on another network despite being GSM phones. This choice can be seen in only one light: an attempt to restrict consumer choice, and is an example of the kind of anti-consumer, anti-competitive behavior AT&T already exhibits, and a reason why they should not be allowed greater power in the US wireless market.

Also, T-Mobile is the only US cell provider that charges a lower fee for a contract that does not come with a phone. AT&T has incredibly high pricing (in line with Verizon, but higher than any other country in the world) which suggests collusion among the 2 largest US carriers and another reason to maintain several consumer options. In addition, AT&T’s high pricing is defended by the company as hardware subsidies for consumers, allowing them to purchase new phones at a fraction of the true cost through a subsidy repaid during the life of the contract.  However, AT&T’s contracts that do not include hardware cost, on a minute by minute and text message by text message, the same as their subsidy containing counterparts.  T-Mobile, as of this writing, offers a package for $70/month that includes a phone and the same package, sans phone, for $50/month, leaving the consumer with a clear idea of the cost of the hardware subsidy ($20/month).

The fact that AT&T offers no plan including data at under $75/month indicates that they are not only colluding with Verizon to maintain pricing but that giving AT&T more leverage by removing T-Mobile, one of their few true competitors, would be horrible for the US consumer. Note that, because the phones are not interoperable, Sprint and Verizon are not true competitors with AT&T, as the consumer must buy new hardware. In other countries around the world, where all wireless providers are based on the GSM standard, switching providers is a very low cost proposition, requiring only a new SIM card and agreement, not new hardware.  This drives prices down and improves service.  In the US the differing wireless standards act as a brake on competition, hindering subscriber movement, and ultimately leading to higher prices because companies like AT&T and Verizon do not have adequate competition.  The purchase of T-Mobile by AT&T would only worsen the situation, and I urge you, even in the event that it recieves your approval, to constrain AT&T with the following requirements.

1. All phones must be sold unlocked. With no remaining GSM competitor in the US, there is no need for AT&T to lock the phones to their wireless network.  The only reason they do this is to enable them to charge exorbitant overseas roaming fees, because the user can not simply install a local SIM card in their AT&T-provided phone.

2. AT&T must offer “bring your own phone” plans that are cheaper for daily use than the “subsidy including” plans. The fact that they do not do this now is simply disgusting, because it means they believe their customers are too stupid to notice the dishonest pricing of non-subsidy plans.

3. AT&T must remove the false charges they currently apply for incoming text messaging.  Currently AT&T charges both the sender and the reciever of a text message, a practice that has been found illegal in other countries and does not apply to any other of their services, such as phone calls or email. Text messaging has a near-zero delivery cost, and their current policies represent nothing more than rampant profiteering.

4. AT&T should institute pay-per-use options for voice minutes, rather than requiring the user to pre-pay for a block that may or may not be used and will expire if unused. This billing practice helps no one outside of AT&T, and the fact that it is the default US (but not global) standard speaks only to how poorly our wireless carriers are regulated and how poor a job competition has done to improve pricing options.

In their current position as one of the two largest US wireless carriers, AT&T has done a horrible job supporting their customers, with high pricing and mediocre service. The acquisition of T-Mobile does not indicate a change of heart on their parts, and simply improves their pricing leverage over the US consumer.  As their chief regulator, their behavior is a reflection on your willingness to defend the US consumer.  Please, do not give them the power they seek and instead fight for broader choice and lower prices, two things that US consumers are currently at the bottom of global rankings on in the wireless provider category.

Thank you.