Sunday, October 23, 2005

Cosmic Justice In the Cops and Robbers Alleycat Race.

[This is the one piece, so far, that isn't just 327 Words. It is, as a matter of fact, 1069 words, which is 327 times 3.27].

I was the third rider to finish the “Cops and Robbers” alleycat bike race put on by R.E.Load Bags, but was disqualified because I wrote down the wrong answer to one of the questions on my manifest.

No glory, no custom R.E.Load messenger bag, no grudging admiration from hardcore cyclists half my age. Ouch.

But alas, I deserved my fate—although not for the reason ruled by the organizer of the event, R.E. Load co-owner, Ellie.

No, the reason for my disqualification was independent of Ellie’s decision. She was simply the tool through which the Cycling Gods meted out their cosmic justice.

The race was a scavenger hunt with about 8 different stops, all of which had to do with crimes and/or punishments from Seattle history. It was a wild goose chase meant to be more about the experience than the goal; unfortunately, I failed to remember that when it mattered most.

At the sign-in there must have been 200 cyclists clustered around the entrance to R.E.Load, lots of great bikes and cool looks.

After paying our entrance fee, we were given a spoke card, a costume--masks for robbers, moustaches for cops--and a manifest describing the stops we were to make and the information and items we were to gather.

My good idea was to proceed directly from the start to the tattoo shop. I was the first one there and Ego, the tattoo artist, gave me a “Cops and Robbers” Sharpie tattoo and passed on the location of the “Secret Hideout” at 730 E. 10 Ave.

I was among the first group to arrive there and took it as a good omen that I won the blackjack hand we played.

I hauled up to Volunteer Park for the “shootout” checkpoint, open only from 5:30 to 6:00.

When I arrived, one group of cops and robbers was finishing a water balloon vs. water pistols fight. Another set mingled around waiting for their turn. And here’s where I made the tragic error that ultimately disqualified me.

I got to talking with a fellow robber about the tattoo shop stop. She asked me to show her my tattoo so she could copy it, thereby circumventing that most time-consuming checkpoint. “But that’s cheating,” I said.

“Ah,” she replied, “But we’re robbers; we cheat.”

Thus, the idea was planted in my head that proved to by my downfall. “I’m a robber; robbers cheat,” I thought, stepping out of the waiting robbers group into the line of those getting their manifests “starred” to indicate completion of the shootout. The guy handing out stars accepted my phony explanation for why I wasn’t wet and stuck one on my page.

I let out a laugh as I left behind the group I should have been with. But the joke was on me; I had saved some time but in doing so, I had lost the race.

The guy handing out stars may have not noticed mine was undeserved, but the Cycling Gods didn’t. They were planning all along for my retribution, even as I hit the next series of checkpoints fairly uneventfully.

A trio of firemen gave me precise directions to one the stop I had no idea where to find, an apartment on Yale street. The Freeway Park bathroom where we had to locate the date of a famous murder was creepy but obvious. The checkpoint at Tiffany’s where I got my mardi gras necklace was a snap. I found my “dealer” in the cobblestoned alley under Pike Market with no trouble.

In the International District, I joined a number of racers tearing trying to find the former location of the notorious Wah Mee club; eventually it turned up and I read the stenciled sign that told us the number of dead—13--in the multiple murder that took place there.

Now, I had just one last stop left and I began to imagine I might be among the first finishers. I raced up 4th street to the apartment building that held the final clue. There, overcome by a competitive spirit, I now see as inimical to the spirit of the event, I misread the manifest, and wrote down the name of the hotel--the “Stratford on 4th”--rather than the name of the unfortunate victim whose name, I later noticed as I rode sadly by on my way home, was chalked on the sidewalk.

I pulled up to the Rendevous Bar and was congratulated for being the third finisher. Wow! Did I puff up! I started a tab and drank the first of what I assumed would be a series of celebratory beers as I ogled the beautiful bags and other prizes that would be awarded to the winners--of which I was one!

Ellie arrived and began check the manifests. The first two finishers, both cops, were verified. That meant that not only was I third finisher, I was the first robber! Imagine the prize I would get now!

I sidled over to the table where Ellie was going over my manifest. “Let’s see your tattoo.” Check. “Your beads from Tiffany’s” Check. “Fingerprint from the “headquarters” where I was ‘booked.’” Check. And all my answers of dates and numbers checked out, too.

But then Ellie pointed to my final answer. “This is wrong. You got her name wrong.”

I realized then I hadn’t even read the question. In my haste, and my sudden focus on winning rather than experiencing the event, I had written down the answer I thought was being asked rather than what, had I been present in the moment, I would have realized was really the question.

Ellie moved my manifest to a separate pile from the two she had already verified.

“I’m disqualified then,” I said, clarifying what I now realized but didn’t want to admit.

Ellie nodded her head. I shook her hand and thanked her for organizing the event. I paid my tab--one beer, some celebration--and pedaled home, smacking myself in the head from time to time for being such a stupid idiot.

So, I didn’t get a prize, even though--and don’t you forget it--I finished third, and first among the robbers.

But I did learn an important lesson:

It’s not the race that matters, it’s the ride.

That’s is the real prize for me from the “Cops and Robbers” alleycat, from the divine justice meted out by the Cycling Gods.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Why So Boring?

Why is so much philosophy so boring? Most of us wisdom lovers got into the game because we found ideas exciting, right? So howcome when you go to a philosophy conference, nine times out of ten, it’s some guy with a beard droning on and on about something you (well, at least me) can’t keep your (well, at least my) eyes open to?

Yesterday, I attended a talk that had an interesting title and was given by a fellow of some renown in his field. Ten minutes after he started in, I was doing the head nod: my eyes were heavy and I was drifting in and out of sleep. Soon, I had to leave before I gave myself whiplash.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a guy who’s probably one of the top 5 thinkers in his field; admittedly, his field is esoteric, but still: couldn’t have been half as provocative as he was soporific?

Sure, some it’s me. Perhaps if I were better-versed in the material being explicated and critiqued, I’d be better able to hang with it. And if I weren’t so biased in favor of applied over purely theoretical philosophy, then I’d probably have more patience with material that rarely touches the ground.

But still: don’t philosophers have some responsibility to their audience to connect? Is it enough to put the ideas out for consumption? Shouldn’t they be served up in a slightly more appetizing way?

I know my students make the same complaint about all the greats. They think Descartes, Plato, even Mill, are all as boring as software documentation. While I’m roaming around the classroom singing the praises of Mill’s prose, they’ve got their heads on their desks and are sawing wood. I want to shake them and tell them that this is great stuff, but they just want to sleep.

So there’s tradition here: philosophy puts people to sleep when what it’s really supposed to do is wake us up.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Why Do I Even Care?

So, the Steelers, thanks to inept play of “quarterback” Tommy Fuckenmaddox lose in overtime today to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and I’m pissed! I invest three hours of my life in this stupid game and it comes out all wrong. I’m yelling at the TV and I want to throw the fucken remote across the room.

Why the hell, though, do I even care? The Steelers’ loss is no reflection on my character (other than, perhaps whatever flaw it is in my character that makes me care about them). Whether they win or not has nothing to do with the things I really care about in life. My family will love me even if the Steelers go 0 and 16. The world will not be a safer, more peaceful place even if they win the Superbowl. So what’s up with my fanaticism?

Certainly, it’s wrapped up in my experiences of the Steelers in my childhood. My affection for the team is tied to memories of going to games with my dad and to seeing them play on TV with my mom. I don’t think, though, that I can completely chalk up my feelings for the Steelers to my upbringing. And even if I could, that would only be an explanation, not a justification.

Would I be a better person if I stopped caring about the Steelers at all? No doubt, I could have spent the time I wasted watching today’s game in more elevated pursuits. Even cleaning the bathroom would have been a start.

Would I be a better husband and father if I didn’t ever sit in front of the TV cheering for and screaming at a bunch of overpaid, steroid-infused athlete-entertainers in stretch pajamas bashing each other around? Probably so; at least I would have helped Jen with the breakfast dishes.

So, am I inclined to give up being a Steelers football fan? Probably not, but if they keep playing like today, I may have to.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Navel Gazing

Last night, I spent a while poring through old file folders, reading scripts, jokes, and what (by way of S.J. Perelman) I used to call feuilltons (short, 1-3 pages “stories” that are as much about the writer as the characters in them.) I was both impressed (in some cases by the quality, but in all cases by the quantity) and depressed (in some part by how was all for naught, but in all part by how paltry my current output is by comparison.)

My papers are organized in expanding files, by year. The 1984 file, for example, has half a dozen sitcom scripts (including a “Laverne & Shirley,” a “Too Close for Comfort,” and a “Facts of Life.” There are pages and pages of jokes for comedians like George Wallace, Tom Dreesen, and Byron Allen. My first full-length feature film, “Hot Dogs” in in there too, along with at least 100 feuilltons. How did I do it? Who was this 24 year-old kid and what were his days like?

I recall that I used to spend about two hours every morning with a yellow pad on my lap writing down joke ideas. I would then type up the best of these, turning them into one-liners. For the rest of the day, I worked on scripts and screenplays; for a half-hour sitcom I recall I was able to go from concept to completed (and beautifully typed!) script in about a week. In the evening, I wrote for myself: poems, feuilltons, and letters.

I was supporting myself at the time mostly through a variety of free-lance writing jobs, including what I made from writing jokes. I didn’t really go out that much, except to see stand-up comedy, especially on nights that performers I was trying to write for were performing.

I wish I could go back in time and shadow myself for a day. I miss that busy young many and would like to see him in action again.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bad Day at the Virtual Track

Today was the worst day I’ve had at the online track in a while. Nine races, $119.00 bet, no winners. I came close a lot of times; I kept picking the runner-up when I was betting on the nose or the 2nd and 3rd horses in the exacta. But, “close,” as they say, “only counts in horseshoes,” not horse-racing.

The question I have is how bad I should feel about this. After all, if the money was going to just disappear like that, wouldn’t it have been much better to have donated to Indonesian earthquake relief? (And now that it IS gone, I’m certainly much less likely to dig into my pocket to help out others on the other side of the world.)

But is spending a hundred and twenty bucks for nothing but the excitement of almost winning any worse than spending that money on, say, a sweater? Suppose I had spent it on a sweater that I hardly ever wore? What if I had spent it on a concert or a dinner out. And suppose the concert was boring or the food was lousy?

Once again, I’m disappointed that I’m not as good a person as I could be; does that mean I’m not as good a person as I should be?

I was a skinflint in handing out money to my daughter to spend at the costume shop. What if instead of capping her allotment at $4.00, I had given her most of what I lost at the track today? No doubt she’d have a swell Halloween costume, but would she have learned the lesson of thrift I obviously failed to learn?

Part of what kept driving me to one more bet was the hope that I’d win in the next race. In common parlance, this is what is known as “throwing good money after bad.” But if I shouldn’t have been doing it at all, wasn’t I just throwing bad money after bad?”

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Stupid Design

So God says:

“For Mysakes, I’m NOT a designer! If anything, I’m an artist, but I promise you, if I were a designer, I sure as hell would’ve done a better job on the project than the current model. Vestigial organs? What’s up with that? I’m into a cool, spare look, no extraneous frills, form follows function, that whole thing. You think I would have designed the platypus or the peacock? The flatworm, maybe, but I would’ve at least created some designer colors!

“Folks are always going on about the human eye, how irreducibly complex it is, how it couldn’t have just evolved, but that’s nonsense. Fisher-Price toy designers have put together an iris on their Playschool cameras that focuses more efficiently than the human eye! So, are you telling me that Me, the all-powerful, omnibenevolent, omniscient diety couldn’t do a better job than a couple of kids fresh out of Cal Arts or wherever?

“I suppose I should be flattered that so many of you think I’m responsible for so much, but at the same time, I’m more than a little peeved that so many of you think I would do such shoddy work. Why, for instance, would I have made the human digestive system so disgusting? A truly intelligent designer would have figured out a way to reduce the amount of waste generated in the alimentary process and He or She damn sure would have made that waste a lot more attractive and sweet smelling.

“And speaking of systems, had I designed it, your reproductive system would be way less baroque, too. Sexual intercourse? Nine month gestation period? Labor? Please. I’m thinking the whole process could be done with a microwave and a zipper; you get your kid in an afternoon and it’s already toilet trained.

"A moment’s reflection will reveal the surefire argument against intelligent design. Had I designed you, I definitely would have made you smart enough not to believe in intelligent design!”