If you’ve been walking along the beach lately enjoying the odd hot weather that El Niño has been causing you’ve probably seen thousands of what look like blue condoms all rolled up on the sands. Apparently I hadn’t realized that people who moved here hadn’t been here long enough to know the story of the Sea Condoms.
No, they are the leftovers from an orgy that Poseidon had out in the ocean, but they’re a hydrozoan with the proper name of Velella velella. Commonly known as sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, or simply Velella. They are from the family of ocean dwelling organisms called Cnidaria which you may have heard of Velella’s famous relative the Portuguese Man-O-War. Velella have stinging cells just like the Man-O-War, but they’re pretty weak and harmless to humans. If you bother to pick one up they might feel a little bit sticky to you, but that’s about it. You won’t have to worry about falling over scream and writhing in pain because of one since they’re harmless and if they’re on the beach they’re pretty much dead as well.
Velella spend their lives pretty much just floating around and hoping something they can eat gets stuck in it’s tentacles. Imagine spending your whole life just sitting around doing nothing and eating when food just happens to be in the neighborhood. Not very interesting and pretty boring which I guess is OK when you don’t have a brain. Usually you see them on the beaches in the Spring coming up with the warm water, but because of El Niño we’re seeing them in late summer and fall now.
The biggest thing you’ll have to worry about will come in a couple of weeks when they really get busy rotting on the beach. The stench will be practically unbearable. It has a smell kind of like rotting seafood mixed with sewage. I suppose that’s in part to the fact that they can’t be too picky about what they eat when they’re just floating around all day and night. When I first started to see them as a kid I had to grab a few and bring them to the aquarium at the Academy of Sciences because in between their research they like nothing better than to look at something dead and smelly and identify it to make a little kid happy.
I brought my bag in and handed it to someone in Invertebrate Zoology [see, I was a smart kid and knew that it wasn’t a fish] and they said, Oh, it’s a Velella and tossed it aside. Apparently these sea condoms as we called them just aren’t that interesting unless you have to deal with the smell of their rotting corpses. They’re actually a colony of a group of animals that over about three weeks time join together into a little sea tribe of hydrozoans to eat and breed together before they end up washing up and rotting on a beach somewhere, so calling them sea condoms wasn’t too far off since sex is at least involved. From their medusa larval stage to sea condom takes about three weeks and then that’s pretty much it for them.
They’re here, they’ll be rotting for awhile and you probably don’t want your dog to eat any because, well, they’re rotting. You can touch them if you like. They feel kind of rubbery, but other than that there isn’t too much to say about them. It’s actually once of the bizarre things about San Francisco that there isn’t much of an interesting story behind, so you should at least refer to them as Sea Condoms.
Someone once said you’re a real San Franciscan when you put on your winter coat to go out and BBQ in July. People who live here understand that because the weather throws a few monkey wrenches into being able to properly BBQ here depending on what part of the city you live in.
When I did my brief stint in the Mission we generally had good weather most of the year so BBQing wasn’t too difficult. When you live near the coast in the Sunset or Richmond districts things get a little more challenging. We get cold and wind here. I skipped the corned beef for St. Patrick’s day and decided to grill some steaks. It was a very windy day so I knew I had to start the grill early. We’ve got a propane grill so it needs some time to warm up. It took about a half hour before the grill got up to 400°. I figured I’d be going a little longer for the steaks and I opened the grill and dropped the steaks on it and the thermometer now said it was 300°. So much for the sear and grill lines.
In warmer weather like we get in our Indian summer later in the year I can usually get the grill up to over 500° in under 15 minutes. That’s when cooking outdoors is fun. Prior to the propane grill I remember that El Niño year late in the 90’s when I grilled on a hot New Year’s Eve when it hit 80°. My little Smokey Joe charcoal grill got so hot that I singed the hair on my arm. The steaks ended up cooking too hot and where blackened on the outside while raw on the inside.
These are things you need to understand when you grill in the outside lands. If it’s windy or cold your grill won’t get as hot and on a hot day it’s better to indirectly grill unless you have a propane grill that lets you control the heat. I’ve been grilling for years and have learned how to take the weather into effect even mildly enjoying grilling in a heavy fog where the water sizzles on the grill [which also cools the top area creating a circular effect which cools your grill.
So take these tips into account if you’re out in the windier areas. We unfortunately have a gorgeous view because we’re up on a hill, but that also puts us into a direct line of attack from the salt air off the beach so it can get very windy. I’ve even had my propane grill blown over with the wheels locked.
I have to say that the past couple of years have been rough. Jobs have been disappearing left and right and it’s hard for me to name a time when I can remember working a 40 hour week. Most of the jobs I’ve had in the last 4 years have been 40 hours a week when I started, but quickly moved down to 20-30 sometimes 15 hours a week.
The bosses at those jobs used to use the trick of telling me I sucked at what I was doing in order to fire me so they wouldn’t have to pay into unemployment, but I won out every time and those companies have all gone out of business.
In the last couple of years I would search for jobs daily and if I was lucky I would find three, maybe four jobs a week. Over the last month though I am beginning to find 30-40 jobs a week and I’m actually getting calls for interviews. I’ve got three interviews scheduled this week plus freelance work that’s come out of nowhere to add more change in my pocket.
I even had an interview today and they actually said that if I was hired they would include health benefits. Now how weird is that for a company in San Francisco? This wasn’t a health insurance plan that was a company of five doctors that you got to choose from, but an actually real big overpriced health insurance company that my prospective employers actually pays part of the premium like they’re supposed to, not tell the government they are, but charge it all to the employee like many have done to me in the past.
Now that fact that I’ve sent out my resume to 120-160 jobs in the last month and I’m still not employed may seem like something wrong with me, but there are lots of people who don’t have jobs and as my wife said to me today, Well, if you don’t get it, that at least means there will be less people in the pool for other jobs you find. I hadn’t thought about that, but I think she’s right.
There are lots of people who have been down and out in San Francisco over the lack of jobs, but now that our new Mayor Ed Lee is extending local tax breaks to businesses [which there are hardly any cities that charge a payroll tax on businesses] it looks like things are turning up for us. San Francisco is a damn expensive place to live in not just with housing, but also with the fact that a trip to the store revealed Oscar Mayer bacon is selling for $8.99 a pound. I don’t want to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I remember 15 years ago when that was $1.99 a pound. Of course back then I was eating rib eye steaks and filet mignon for around $4.99 and I didn’t have to go to Costco to get it.
Good times are ahead for us and don’t let them get you down.