“Most of my buyers are averaging four offers before they have one accepted,” my new real estate agent in the Bay Area said yesterday. “It can be an emotional and stressful time.”
Probably! And especially if you’re moving from a still-depressed housing market, which is roughly the area between the Eastern Seaboard and San Francisco. But, as NPR is reporting as I type these words, the American housing market (in the coastal elite cities) is “fast changing.” From causing the collapse of the Earth’s economy just five years ago to a breezy NPR feature about an insane couple putting in offers at 2 a.m. after driving by a new listing, at night, the simple matter of having a place continues to cause misery, heartbreak and insomnia for those who would like to not deal with landlords and $5,000 monthly rents.
When the radio man says that “historically low interest rates are driving the recovery of the housing market”—a quote I just invented that you can probably hear, word for word, on Bloomberg right now—what he’s really saying is that rents are going crazy because enough people have money again to drive up the rents, but 3.4% annually on a half-million-dollar home means a monthly payment of about $1,800, after the 20% down payment of $100,000 (plus closing costs) you somehow have in the bank. Bring up your monthly house payment to $2,400 to include property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, and it’s still less than a three-bedroom place in a city with an economy. Especially if you need a patch of dirt outside for your dog to poop on.
Wild Nature Institute is the nonprofit creation of wildlife biologist Monica Bond and quantitative ecologist Derek Lee. They live and work for much of the year in Africa, where they study and inventory iconic and threatened wildlife populations such as the Masai Giraffe, which is rapidly declining due to lost habitat, disease and illegal hunting.
Ken Layne: Hello, Derek Lee! Because you are traveling between Nairobi and Zanzibar and I’m on the other side of the planet, maybe we’ll do this in email format? So what is it that you and Monica do in Africa? This past week sounds like it held a lot of safari travel and adventure.
Derek Lee: We are extremely fortunate to live and work in Tanzania, which undeniably has the best wildlife experience on Earth. Nowhere matches the incredible diversity combined with the extremely high density of mammals and birds found in northwest Tanzania. And there’s still the full suite of predators and scavengers indicating a relatively intact food web. The area also holds some of the last remnants of our planet’s pleistocene megafauna—elephant, rhino and giraffe. But it isn’t as glamorous and exciting as the typical romantic stereotypes of safari.
Safari just means “travel” in Swahili, and travel doesn’t always go smoothly, particularly when you are driving remote dirt tracks in Africa in a 20-year-old Land Cruiser and camping rough in the Bush. Our typical workday of surveying starts before dawn so we can eat and break camp to start surveying at first light. Animals are more active early in the day, so we have to be ready by 6:30 a.m. Then we spend the next 12 hours bouncing over what we euphemistically refer to as “roads” but are often just vague tracks across the savanna through washed-out areas, swamps, or places where the road has otherwise disappeared.
We look for ungulates—animals with hooves—and when we find some we count and record their distance from us, using a laser rangefinder; that’s so we can use statistics to correct our counts because as you can imagine animals are less likely to be seen when they are far from the “road.” When we see giraffes, we drive off-road to get close enough for a good picture of their right side. Photos of the giraffes’ unique fur markings go through pattern recognition software to identify individuals and track their births, deaths and movements. This is where we usually get stuck. It can be mud or sand or a huge hole dug by elephants or aardvarks, but eventually while off-loading we get stuck, and then have to spend hours getting unstuck. There are no tow trucks in Tanzania and you can wait days or weeks before any other vehicles or tractors come by, so we have to be prepared to rescue ourselves.
Perhaps the most feminine of all feminine products to have ever existed on Earth is Love’s Baby Soft. Its packaging, all soft curves and pale pink and frost, was basically an homage to the tampon. Its marketing scheme was Cinemaxilly soft-focus pre-teen beauty queen. It was made out of chemicals. It smelled like babies.
From the mid-70s until the mid-90s, this fragrance was an object of intense feminine fetishization for girls who had reached a certain age: the one at which we began to feel, rather definitively, not quite like little girls, not yet like teenagers. At this age, around 11 or 12, we acquire a sense that there’s a next level somewhere out there, just out of view, as if we are characters in a video game. We are consumed with figuring out how to get there. A magic mushroom must be consumed, a brick wall must be smashed through, certain totems must be collected. These, conveniently, are available at CVS: lip gloss, mascara tubes, curling irons, concealer sticks, Tampax—pretty much anything that comes in pink and is shaped like… a wand. After all, the symbolic language of little-girlhood still speaks to us.
The first in a series about our teenage fragrance memories.
In this sense, Baby Soft was pure parfumerie-marketing genius. It is an aroma that touches the comfortable memory place inhabited by scented Cabbage Patch dolls and, um, actual baby powder. It is positioned reachably, at a price-point just around allowance-level. And, in its confusing way, what it says is: WOMANHOOD.