Monday, July 31, 2006

Critical Mass Incident Legal Fundraiser Race

Yesterday, I did an alleycat race set up to raise funds for the legal defense of the two guys who were arrested during the Seattle Critical Mass “incident” last month. A good race for a great cause, plenty of cool people and beautiful bikes, topped off with a barbecue in Woodland Park: and I even came in 8th out of about 20.

There was cosmic justice, too. One of the checkpoints required you to meet a guy named Henry and obtain from him the typed-up statement he wrote after witnessing the incident. You were then to make a copy of the statement. Trying to bend the rules a bit, I “made” my “copy” by pleading with Henry to give me two copies of his statement, which he did.

I probably saved five minutes by not having to find somewhere to make a legitimate copy. But then, on the way to the next checkpoint, I got stopped by the opening of the Fremont drawbridge—which cost me at least as much time as I had saved.

Once again, I was reminded that the bicycle gods don’t mess around, but it also made me notice something about my anti-fundamentalist attitude towards rules.

I believe that you should engage in dialogue with your foundational documents, be they the Constitution, the Bible, or the race rules. As Jen pointed out to me, this is mainly because I tend to be a self-interested cheater, but it’s also, I think, because I want there to be an ongoing, living interpretation of the principles which govern us. Times change and I think the rules should, too.

This does, though, illustrate the question that seems to be at the heart of deep divisions in the world today: should we abide by the absolute Letter of the Law? Or should we try to interpret its Spirit?

Or, to put it another way: should we follow the rules or try to get away with whatever we can?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Untrained Melody

We were at a potluck on Vashon Island the other night and after dinner, it was all girls sitting around talking except me, so—in part because I wasn’t all that into the gabfest and in part because we eventually had to catch a ferry and I knew it would speed up the process of getting ready to go—I went into the kitchen and did all the dishes.

Afterwards, one of the women remarked to Jen and loud enough so I could hear, that I was “well-trained.” I’m sure she meant it as a compliment but it kind of pissed me off.

I don’t fancy myself “trained” at all. I’m a fuckin’ rebel, man; they’re lucky I didn’t smash all the crockery and pass out in the corner with a liplock on a bottle of bourbon.

I recall an old Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story, I think it was, in which there was a smartmouthed kid whose mantra was “I’ll do it because I want to, not because you told me to.” That’s me through-and-through.

I’m not “trained” to do the dishes; I simply weighed the pros and cons of doing them and made a reasonable decision that it was in my best interest to do so. If my cost/benefit analysis had come out differently, I would have stayed in the garden gossiping with the ladies.

I did dishes long before I was married; nobody got out a whip and chair to compel me to clean up after myself.

Training is what you do to dogs; suggesting that one “trains” a human being is certainly demeaning to the person, and probably, in some cases, to the pet.

Aristotle describes the training involved in developing virtuous character, but there’s a cognitive component to that, as well. To be virtuous is to behave as the virtuous person would at the right time, for the right reasons.

I don’t want to be “well-trained,” I just want to be a good person.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Lucky Me

Went to the Olympic Music Festival today with Mimi, Jen, and my friend, Andy, to hear chamber music played by, among others, one of my oldest—that is, longest known—acquaintances, Carter Enyeart, whose instrument of choice is the cello. Andy and I rode bikes out there—about 37 miles; Jen and Mimi came along in the car with food and drink and our ride home.

The Festival takes place in this idyllic setting out on the Olympic Peninsula, on a farm set in among old growth trees, near the town of Quilcene. The musicians play in a big old barn where you can sit inside and watch them or, as we prefer, set up a picnic on the lawn outside and listen to the music through speakers attached to the building.

As I usually do when listening to live classical music, I dozed throughout the concert, enjoying being carried along by the melodies as I drifted in and out of consciousness. A lovely experience, but one that seems so distant from the trials and tribulations of the world that I feel guilty, or, more to the point, like Nero fiddling while Rome burned—or more appropriately, like a listener to his playing while the conflagration raged.

The ride out was fine, just hilly enough, with some nice long descents, not too hot, and an overcast to cool you on the climbs. I enjoyed a cream cheese and Nutella sandwich for energy and drank cold coffee from my water bottle for that extra pick-me-up.

On the way home, we caught the ferry with just a two-minute wait and managed to avoid the Seafair Torchlight Parade traffic in town.

All in all, a pretty perfect day—and evidence, I would say, against there being a force for karmic justice in the Universe because I’ve certainly done little, in this life anyway—to warrant such good fortune when so many others in so many places are suffering so mightily.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Paying with Cash

Jen and I are trying this thing where we withdraw a wad of greenbacks from the bank at the beginning of the week and then, during the next seven days, pay for everything in cash. The intent is to make us a bit more aware of our spending habits and maybe help us staunch the ongoing hemorrhaging of dollars exacerbated by the studio-building project out back.

While I’m not sure it’s made me more fiscally responsible, I do think it makes me notice more how and when I’m spending money. There’s something far more tangible about peeling off a couple of twenties for groceries than simply sliding your cash card through the reader. There’s also this retro-grouch aspect to it that I like; it seems consistent with my preference for steel bikes and leather saddles, too.

It’s weird how paying with cash has become almost obsolete; the check-out guy at QFC looked at me skeptically when I didn’t use my debit card to settle up for my purchases yesterday. I wonder if he thought I was a drug dealer; somehow, though, I doubt most drug dealers’ grocery sacks include cottage cheese, tofu, and frozen soy beans.

Transactions are incrementally slower when they’re conducted in cash and require a palpable exchange of artifacts that doesn’t take place digitally. There was a time in my life when I would have preferred the latter; now, though, I appreciate those few extra seconds of human interaction and that real physical objects have to be passed between me and another person.

I also appreciate the minor element of danger involved in carrying cash around. I’m not terribly worried about being robbed, but I could see myself dropping my stake from a pocket or out of my bike bag. On the plus side, someone might find it and then they would get to experience the classic moral dilemma of whether to return the money. As a philosophy teacher, I’ve got to love that.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Dope on Drugs

The Governing Board of 327 Words wants to suspend me for using performance-enhancing drugs. Traces of caffeine, marijuana, and alcohol have been found in my urine—as well as my coffee cup, bong, and shot glass respectively. Without admitting using these substances, I categorically deny that they have enhanced my performance—and I think the evidence speaks for itself. So while it blathers on, I’ll just sit here quietly and listen, and try not to bother anyone.

Why shouldn’t athletes be allowed to dope themselves up, anyway? Isn’t the ability to ingest massive amounts of pharmaceutical enhancements a measure of physical prowess, too? I’m definitely impressed by someone racing up the Alpe d’Huez; but being able to shoot oneself up with steroids on a regular basis is pretty amazing, too.

Some would say that it’s not fair to use performance-enhancing drugs in athletic competitions. But if everyone were allowed to use them, then no one would have an unfair advantage. The person who could stomach the most drugs would be no different than the one who could suffer the most training.

Of course, doing drugs is bad for athletes; we want to protect them from hurting themselves. But playing football, or riding bulls, or racing NASCAR cars is dangerous, too; maybe drug-taking should just be considered another occupational hazard.

I don’t find the “purity of the sport” arguments very compelling, either. Any competitive activity is going to be tainted; the kids in Mimi’s 3rd grade class already cheat in kickball and two-square.

Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right; maybe, though, if you add up hundreds of wrongs, you at least get an “acceptable.”

If Floyd Landis turns out to be guilty of using banned substances to win the Tour de France, then I have a two-part reaction.

First, I’ll be sad he was so careless as to get caught.

And second, to alleviate that sadness, I’ll be turning to my own stash of banned substances.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trivia Contest

I took part in the trivia contest last night at Murphy’s Pub. Chris Badgely was the host and MC; a bunch of his friends, including me, showed up to support him by drinking beer and vying for cash prizes in the bar-wide competition to answer factual questions about history, geography, science, movies, current events, and so on.

Our team, which we called the “Falafels” was, if I do say so myself, the Harlem fucking Globetrotters of the trivia world. We crushed our competition in all three rounds of the night, earning, for the seven of us to split, the princely sum of 13 dollars, as well as 10 dollars off one whole pitcher of beer.

It was fun to play and also sort of interesting to see the different kinds of things people knew about. My moment in the sun was knowing what the number four cash crop in the US is—marijuana, of course—although I couldn’t for the life of me recall what Seattle’s watershed is—the Cedar River.

It got me thinking about all the information we carry around in our heads and the extent to which a good deal of that really is trivial. Does it make any difference in the world that I know that Elvis Presley never won a Grammy for rock n’ roll? Or that Prohibition ended in 1933? Or even that hydrogen is the most common element in the universe?

And I started wondering if there is anything I know which isn’t trivial. Maybe anything that’s knowable is necessarily trivial. It it’s not trivial, then perhaps it’s can’t really be known.

For instance, here, I think, is a non-trivial claim: sometimes, just going through the motions is enough. Or as Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is just showing up.”

Or to put it another way, anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

Do I know that, though? Maybe not, but maybe I’ve illustrated it with this piece.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Be Yourself

One of the standard pieces of advice we are given (and/or give) in our lives is to “be yourself.” We are advised (and/or advise) to refrain from pretending to be someone we’re not, to “act naturally,” and to not “put on airs.” The message is that if we express our authentic nature, then everyone will love us and everything will turn out for the best.

While this is certainly good counsel, it raises a difficult question: What does it mean to “be yourself?”

How do I know when I’m being who I am? How can I tell when my behavior is an authentic expression of my true nature and not a pathetic attempt to emulate someone I’m not? What if who I really am is someone who pathetically emulates others? What if my true nature, after all, is to be a copycat?

One clue for me, historically, has been this bad feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I’m drifting away from my essential self. Whenever I’m doing something that represents a major departure from the person I am, I get a bellyache. Like when I worked as a busboy for an afternoon (I lasted 3 hours before quitting); the whole time I felt sick to my stomach (although that could have been from the rancid cream cheese I had to clean up).

The tricky part, though, is that I also get this feeling when I’m doing something that pushes the boundaries of who I am in a good way, like when I teach kids or give a speech to groups of people whose opinions matter to me.

I suppose the real issue here is that there never really is a “yourself” for you to be; we’re always defining the person we are by what we do. So we should do what feels right and in doing so, we’ll be the right person.

Even if it gives us a stomachache when we do it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tip Off the Old Block

I did a nice job of slicing off the topmost tip of my pinky finger cutting up an heirloom tomato for our breakfast yesterday. A good dollp of blood, lots of swearing, and a more effective wake-up than the coffee I was drinking.

When I got myself all band-aided up and to table, Mimi eyed the plate of tomato slices suspiciously and asked, “Which one of these has your fingertip in it?” I assured her that neither body parts nor blood had gotten into the food, but she still gave the slice she picked a thorough once-over before laying it on her bagel.

The kid cracks me up; she takes virtually nothing I tell her on faith. I think she inherited my dad’s skeptical nature; she definitely got his curmudgeon gene.

She also got his penchant for scheming; my dad was famous for always playing the angles looking for an edge. We were in Value Village yesterday; orange tags were half off. Mimi found a toy that cost $1.99 with a green tag. “Hey Dad,” she said, “can you help me find an item with an orange tag that costs $1.99 so I can swap tags?”

My mom used to say that I would make her so mad she would chase me around the house threatening to kill me but then, just when she’d caught me, I’d say something that would make her laugh so hard, the murderous intent would go away. Mimi does that all the time to me.

The other day, I was trying to get her out of the house. She didn’t want to and expressed her resistance verbally and by dragging her feet more and more the more I tried to rush her.

“Listen,” I said, “just come on. I really don’t want to turn this into a contest of wills.”

“It’s not a contest of wills,” she said. “It’s a contest of won’ts.”

Who could be mad after a line like that?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cycling in Flip-Flops

I took the toeclips off my Saluki today, so I could cycle in flip-flops while this stretch of warm weather lasts. I’d been riding the 420 bike clip-free for a while, but this is the first time in years I’ve gone without toeclips on a really nice bike. Frankly, it feels great, and I think I’m gonna leave the clips off for a while.

In the Rivendell catalogue, there’s usually an article called something like “Clipless Rivendell style,” in which Grant Peterson talks about the benefits of riding with your feet free to move around. He points out that the loss of efficiency from not being tied to your pedals is very slight and suggests that there may even be some gain from being able to push with the bottom, not just the ball, of your foot.

On my morning ride today, I didn’t feel any slower than usual; even climbing up Pike street seemed no harder than it does when I’m attached to my pedals.

What I like best about riding without clips is that it emphasizes comfort. I am not in the Tour de France; I eschew suffering on the bike; I rarely ride, as Phil Liggett puts it, “like a man possessed.” In fact, it makes me feel all smug to be pedaling happily down the road in my flip-flops while Spandex-clad race-wannabes huff by grunting and groaning, their feet surgically implanted with metal clips onto their carbon-fiber cranks.

When I did the “Pedaling Philosophy Tour” from Seattle to San Francisco a couple years ago, I hooked up for a few hours on the road this patchouili-scented Swedish kid who was cycling from Prudhomme Bay to Tierra del Fuego. He wore Birkenstocks and had clip-free pedals. At the time, I thought this was just hippie overkill. But now, I think he was on to something and I say, with apologies to Karl Marx:

Cyclists, free your feet! You have nothing to lose but your clips!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Two Years Hence

My mom died exactly two years ago today.

I plan to commemorate her life by eating foods she liked—green beans, broccoli, and dark rye bread—and drinking the Reisling wine she favored. I will probably end the day with a glass of watered-down ice coffee at bedtime as was her wont, too.

Mom—Ruth Thomson Shapiro, born February 22, 1925 in Cincinnati, Ohio—was a formidable woman who spoke her mind on anything she knew anything about, and if she didn’t (which was rare) she would just make it up. A charming conversationalist, brilliant raconteur, and general know-it-all, Mom could hold forth on topics from the mundane and to the esoteric and keep you interested; but if you weren’t, no matter, she could still—and would still—hold forth.

To know her was to admire her: her classy beauty, her encyclopedic memory, her paradoxically calm flair for the dramatic. She pretty much always got her way but that’s because you pretty much always realized that her way was the best way, anyway.

Dad said that every organization Mom joined she eventually rose to become president of. And why not? Eventually you were going to come around to her position; might as well start there.

Opinionated, yes, but close-minded no; she may not have suffered fools gladly, but she did so with amusement. When, as a six year-old, I sharpened my pinky fingers in a pencil sharpener, Mom expressed no horror over my two bleeding digits; rather, she laughed at my relative good sense in comparison to my friend Joey, who managed to bloody all ten of his.

My final memory of Mom is of her standing in her TV room saying goodbye to me as I left for the airport about a month before she died. She was holding a detective novel in one hand, a glass of ice coffee in the other. I’m sure she finished the coffee; I’m not so sure about the book.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Tour de Floyd

Obviously there are more important news items to be excited about—Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, Connor Schierman’s murder of four family members in Kirkland, Bush’s back rub of German Chancellor Angela Merkel—but what’s really got me going is Floyd Landis’ amazing stage win in yesterday’s Tour de France.

You already know the details: having bonked on the last climb in the previous day’s stage, Landis falls from first to 11th in the general classification, some 8 minutes behind the leader, Oscar Pereiro. Written off by experts, and even to some extent, himself, he then proceeds to ride what Tour director Jean-Marie LeBlanc called “the best performance in the modern history of the Tour,” crushing his rivals and vaulting into third place overall, just 30 second behind the yellow jersey.


Landis has really grown on me; he’s like the anti-Lance: humble, sorta goofy, doughy-looking compared to most tour riders; whereas Armstrong seemed exactly like what you would expect from a guy named “Lance,” Landis strikes me as about what you get from someone named “Floyd.”

I love that after his blow-up on stage 16, he said he looked forward to a cold beer; I love even more that he conjectured the reason he did so well on stage 17 was that he had had that beer.

The back-story about his dead hip that’s going to need surgery after the Tour is poignant, but Landis has punctured what could be a mawkish Oprah-special blubberfest by referring to the joint as something like an old car that you may as well run into the ground before you replace it and suggesting that he might sell it on eBay after it’s removed.

In the New York Times magazine about his Mennonite upbringing, he was quoted as wondering about the logic of his religion’s rules against wearing gym shorts: “Does God really care if somebody wears shorts or not?”

Probably not, but maybe He cares whether Floyd wins the Tour.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Egg Salad

My sister, Deb, has a blog, Debslunch, on which she talks about food she cooks, serves, and eats; you even get pictures and recipes of the dishes. I can’t pretend to offer anything like her insight into the culinary arts, but I am inspired by her to extol the virtues of my favorite dish for the last few days, egg salad.

I make it very simply: hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, French’s yellow mustard, and pepper. I’ve been experimenting with cut-up sweet pickles thrown in and while I don’t see them as a permanent addition, I think it’s not bad as a variation from time to time.

My favorite thing about making egg salad is using the egg slicer. I’m not big on kitchen gadgets, but this is one I’d prefer not to live without. I like how the hard-boiled egg sits in the one of the gadget’s two perpendicularly-arranged egg-shaped depressions and gets sliced into strips as you draw the wires into it. The tricky part, then, is lifting up the sliced egg and repositioning in the other depression so that it cuts the slices into squares.

I’m not sure whether it’s best to slice the egg vertically or horizontally first; I’ll bet there’s a “right way;” I go back and forth, though. Starting horizontally makes the sliced egg easier to pick up and turn, but then the vertical cuts tend to get smooshed. Starting vertically avoids that problem but at the cost of making the egg-turning more difficult.

When I was a little kid, my mom would let me use the slicer when she was making egg salad and it always seemed miraculous in transforming a simple egg into multitudes of white and yellow squares. I still find the process remarkable.

I’ve tried making egg salad without a slicer, just cutting the eggs with a knife. It doesn’t work; I ended up with randomly-shaped egg parts and the salad, even with the same ingredients, didn’t taste right

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Construction guys—especially ones who do hardcore stuff like foundations and plumbing—make me feel like an idiot. They talk in a language that, as a guy, I’m expected to understand, about stuff that, as a guy, I’m supposed to know how to do. I just stand there, nodding my head and doing a mental accounting of my bank balance. I wonder if this is how my students feel when I talk philosophy to them.

My dad wasn’t really what you’d call a “handy” guy. I think he knew more than me—I have a sense he knew the rudiments of plumbing and enough electricity to wire a lamp or fix an old toaster—but it’s not at all part of my childhood experience to be working on a major home repair project with the old man.

As a 20th century intellectual, I’m pretty sure he considered the building trades something best left to tradespeople; I would venture to say, as in the old joke, that the primary home improvement tool he wielded was the Yellow Pages.

Nowadays, though, it seems like even teachers, like me, or lawyers, or even doctors like my dad was are expected to by handy. We’re supposed to be able to spend our weekends tearing out a wall or something; at the very least, we’re supposed to be able to talk the construction talk with construction guys. This seems unfair; after all, I don’t expect them to be able to discuss metaphysics and epistemology with me.

Right now, the concrete guy is out in the back yard, installing his “forms.” When he first said that this is what he was going to be doing, I immediately thought of Plato. I had this thrilling image of him out there creating the essence of concrete from which all other concrete draws its identity.

Imagine my embarrassment when it turned out to be just a bunch of wooden boxes into which he will pour cement.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Nevil Shute

My favorite author these days is Nevil Shute. That makes my taste decidedly middle-brow, but so be it. I have read nearly every novel he has written and have liked them all, especially Trustee from the Toolroom, A Town Like Alice, and the one I just finished, Pied Piper.

Shute’s stories typically feature a simple, regular, salt-of-the-earth person thrust into trying circumstances from which, by pluck, determination, and honest hard work he or she emerges alive and carrying on, head up if not exactly held high.

In Pied Piper, an elderly British soliciter, on a fly fishing vacation in France during the spring of 1940 finds himself having to shepherd a group of small children to safety from near Lyon to England as the invading German Army advances.

The story chronicles the challenges he faces and the emotional turmoil he undergoes in taking responsibility for the children’s lives. There’s a subplot involving a young French woman who was romantically involved with the Englishman’s son, a pilot killed during the early stages of World War II and the way the details emerge are extremely touching. The characters, as do most of the people in Shute’s novels, play their emotional cards very close to the vest and so when their feelings do come out, it just breaks you up.

I was reading the book on the plane ride back from San Francisco yesterday and as I got to its climax, tears were streaming down my face. As much as I love crying in movies and at plays, I like it even better when I’m moved to tears by the written word. I first had that experience reading James Collier’s The Teddy Bear Habit when I was about 10 and I’ve savored it ever since.

I was turned on to Shute by Grant Peterson at Rivendell Bike Works. They sell a few of his books and embody, in their bikes, I think, some of the admirable qualities of Shute’s characters.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I Don't Want to Kill Anyone

There must be something wrong with me; I’m failing in one of my prime responsibilities as a human being, especially a male one:

I don’t want to kill anyone.

In spite of my various dissatisfactions with and enmity for lots of people, there’s none of them I wish to murder. I have no interest in bombing, shooting, stabbing, poisoning, strangling, or even enlisting someone else to do any of these things to anyone else.

All over the world, people are expending the greater part of their energies trying to wipe each other off the face of the earth. I’m sure they all believe they have good reasons for wanting to do so, and were I in their shoes, I don’t doubt I would feel the same way. But as I stand here in my own Chuck Taylors, I am not moved to homicide. I could imagine putting a pie in somebody’s face, or heaping verbal abuse on a group of people and their families, but when it comes to wanting to kill them, I’m just not there.

Naturally, this makes me a big sissy, some kind of hippy-dippy loser who doesn’t really understand geopolitics and who has never truly suffered in an appropriately significant way. Granted. But what am I to do? I can barely bring myself to swat a fly; how am I going to find it within me to snuff out another human being?

Of course, if someone across the border had killed my parents or my kid or my parents and my kids, I would likely share the murderous wrath that afflicts so many folks. Still, that seems like way too high a price to pay just for feeling this elemental human emotion.

Maybe I could do something really awful to myself—steal my bike, egg my house, vote Republican—and in that way I’d at least way to kill myself. It’s a start, and perhaps one all those other would-be killers could try.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


One of the things I like about wandering around a big city like San Francisco is hearing (eavesdropping on) snatches of conversations as I walk by people on the street or lean closer to their tables at restaurants. Back when I was doing stand-up comedy, I had an idea for a routine that would piece together these snatches into a hilarious bit. As with many such ideas, it never came to fruition. However, in the spirit of that idea, here are a few snatches I’ve picked up over the last few days and in the coffeeshop where I’m now sitting:

“He doesn’t want to talk about it, he wants to go to philosophy park.”

“Time is passing by in waves.”

“It’s kinda fun if you don’t get any of the leftovers on you.”

“Do you guys always play this hard?”

“Everytime I eat there, I have to get a second opinion.”

“It’s such a great conviction, you have to let it go.”

“The guy who actually did it works with the underground now.”

“That’s going the way of marketing.”

It’s a mystery to me as to what most of these conversations are about, and they certainly sound more compelling in the moments that I hear them.

But this is yet another data point in the evidence I continue to collect showing that most people live more interesting lives than me. On the other hand, I’m not even sure how interesting of a life I want. Most of the time, I’m satisfied when I get to do the same thing pretty much over and over every day.

I’m completely a creature of habit; it even bugs me when I don’t get to practice in the same spot every day in yoga class.

If I was walking down the street talking to about this to someone, here’s the the snatch of conversation you’d hear:

“I only want to be surprised when I’m not going to be surprised about it.”

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Here are some of the ways I’m superstitious. Maybe, though, not all are superstitions; maybe some are reasonable beliefs for which I have acceptable justification. I can’t tell; maybe you can.

If you leave pot in the pocket of something—a coat, a bikebag, a suitcase, whatever—that thing is more likely to get stolen.

On any given day, if you swim more than 20 laps of the pool, the sports team you are rooting for is more likely to win their next game.

When you feel a cold coming on, drink a glass of orange juice with lots of vitamin C powder and Echinacea in it and you won’t get sick.

A piece of writing that is 327 words long is automatically worthwhile in some way.

If you can unlock your bike, you are safe to ride home.

In order to help the Pittsburgh Steelers win, lay out your Terrible Towel in front of the TV set, put your mom and dad’s watches and rings on it, and crack open a Rolling Rock right at kickoff.

The more you talk on a cellphone, the weaker your powers of ESP become.

If you go by yourself, you can get a day-of-show ticket to any sold-out event.

The best seat on the bus is halfway down on the opposite side of the driver.

It’s not bad luck to break a mirror unless you break it over your head.

Wearing a bicycle helmet makes you less likely to get in a crash where you would need it.

Sleeping late makes the hangover worse.

Even though there is no afterlife, your dead loved ones know what you are doing at all times.

If you set the dice with the threes showing, arranged so they make an arrow pointing forward, you are less likely to roll a seven.

A horse that carries low weight in a race has an advantage.

If you write pieces for your blog, people will read them.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Hunan Restaurant

Went to dinner last night at my favorite restaurant in San Francisco, the place the New Yorker magazine, back in 1978 or so famously called “the best Chinese restaurant in the world, Henry Chung’s Hunan Restaurant. I had the same thing to eat as I’ve had every time I’ve been there in the last twenty-five plus years: Hot and Sour Vegetables (preceded by an appetizer of Onion Cakes and washed down with a couple or three Tsingtao beers) and the meal was, as it always is and has been, delicious.

Most of my friends and family humor me about my affection for Hunan; they’ll come along and eat, but nobody, it seems, really shares my great delight in the food--although they do, for the most part, take a measure of delight in my delight, bless their hearts.

Part of my affection is, no doubt, historical. I’ve eaten at Hunan in four decades, at a number of different locations, from the whole-in-the-wall on Kearny (in a building condemned after one of the SF’s earthquakes), to their lunch counter on Sacramento, to the flagship warehouse on Sansome.

I was introduced to Hunan by Larry Livermore in about 1977; I had many a lunch there with my buddy, Looey Sargent back in my Golden Gate theater days; when my sister come to visit me in 1979, I broke the hippy grape fast I was on there with her; Hunan was the first place I treated my parents to dinner at; when Jen and I came to SF back in 1985 or so, Hunan was one of the first places I took her to; I celebrated my 40th birthday there; I even talked about it in my book, Choosing the Right Thing to Do.

Thinking about it is making my mouth water, right at the corner of my jaw where the hot and sour tastes gets you; I wonder if I can persuade anyone to go to Hunan for lunch.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hipper Than Thou

We’ve come down to San Francisco for a few days, so I’m sitting here in a coffeeshop in the Mission District feeling very much like the country mouse among all the city mice hipsters around me. The trio of barristas are like right out of Central Casting for a PBR commercial; each one has a cooler tweed cap than the other, more stylish facial piercings, and only the girl isn’t sporting the regulation lip biscuit jazz patch.

I’m not complaining, honest; I just find it rather remarkable and it makes me wonder whether life is imitating advertising or vice-versa. Do Madison Avenue executives copy the coffeeshop kids or do the scenesters ape what they see in ads and on TV?

Whenenever we come to San Francisco, I’m reminded what a small and relatively homogenous town Seattle is; our aspirations to diversity notwithstanding, the city is really pretty Wonder Bread in comparison to a truly diverse place like this.

But today, I’m really flashing on how square my town is, too. A guy just pulled up in a fuckin’ Dune Buggy! Is that a commitment to coolness or what?

This is also party central for slick single-speed and fixie bikes. As I ride around Seattle, I might see half a dozen or so track frames here and there, mostly at the walk-up espresso stand downtown that the messengers frequent. Strolling down Valencia this morning, I’ve already seen dozens of tricked-out fixies, including a lovely pink Bianchi, a gold Raleigh SuperCourse converted to single-speed; a bunch of Surleys and Somas, and numerous no-names hand-painted or powercoated for city use. And almost all of them have some sort of groovy top-tube protector for style and protection.

When I was a young man here in the late 70s and early 80s, I fancied myself something of a trendsetter; I had spiked-up hair and wore my zip-up jacket inside-out with the flannel and satin showing.

I was something, but nothing like this.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How To Be Happy

For a moment, as I was riding home from yoga this morning, I felt that all was right with the world. Of course, this was before I read the paper and got the day’s news of suicide bombings, kidnappings, unjustified military offensives, and ecological destruction across the globe.

Still, for a short time, I felt happy.

Part of this, to be sure, were the post-yoga endorphins coursing through my veins, but another part, I think, was simply that I felt satisfied with my life and what I’m doing with it

And it occurred to me that, for this brief period, anyway, I had hit upon an effective strategy for consistent, if not necessarily long-term, happiness:

Lowering my standards.

If happiness is (at least in part) a by-product of setting goals and reaching them, then I can be pretty happy just by setting simpler goals.

Instead of being dissatisfied that I can’t do the entire intermediate Ashtanga yoga series, I can be pleased that I got myself out of bed to do the first. Rather than being upset that I’m not a world-famous philosopher, I can rest comfortably with being able to read and understand parts of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. And in lieu of dissing myself for not churning out pages of the great American novel, I can celebrate success in laying down another 327 words on the blog.

For Aristotle, happiness—eudaimonia—is understood as something like rational activity in accordance with virtue. Essentially, it is all about developing a virtuous character and taking pleasure in behaving virtuously. A person is truly happy, then, when he or she exercises the full array of moral and intellectual virtues, including courage, temperance, generosity, and honesty, among others.

Seems like a lot.

I’m happy when I succeed in completing far more simple actions: riding my bike, reading a book, being kind to my family, and getting enough sleep.

It’s simple to be happy if you’re happy to be simple.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Doing Everything Wrong

We’re building (or having built) this new studio out back and I’m trying to coordinate the beginning stages of the project, including having a trench dug for the sewer, water, and power lines and getting the structure’s foundation started.

I’ve already managed to make a series of bad decisions resulting in unnecessary labor, added expense, and marital discord and we haven’t even decided what the building is going to look like yet.

I’m handicapped by two main handicaps: first, I understand only just enough about the process to get myself into trouble, and second, I’m impatient. The upshot of this is that I rush into things based on false impressions of what ought to be done; consequently, I find myself making one set of missteps after another, each one getting me deeper into trouble I could have avoided had I not acted so impetuously.

I had the bulldozer guy come out on Saturday and all we managed to do was wreck the side lawn and cut the phone line. He came back yesterday and since we couldn’t find the sewer, we essentially succeeded in digging trench to nowhere. There was some good news, though: he did earn 300 bucks.

The concrete guy is just collecting interest on the money we paid him up front; I can’t figure out when he should come back because I don’t know if the electrician or the plumber should come first. I feel like a blind traffic cop juggling chainsaws powered by money burning a hole in his wallet.

I realize, of course, that construction projects are inevitably like this; Rome wasn’t built in a day after all. Had I been in charge, though, the gladiators would have had to fight in a torn-up backyard instead of a coliseum.

I’m sure there will come a time when I’ll look back on all these difficulties and laugh… then my nursing home attendant will wipe the oatmeal off my chin and change my Depends.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Yoga, Cycling, and Pot

I was at a 40th birthday party the other night so naturally, conversations about age came up and in a couple of those, a couple people I talked to were surprised that I look as young as I do (it was a dark bar) at age 49. I gave my standard answer to the “what’s your secret?” question: yoga, cycling, and pot.

I’m kidding, sorta, but not entirely. Yoga and bicycling form the foundation of my personal fitness program (such as it is) but I don’t entirely rule out the role weed plays in my particular fountain of youth, either.

What keeps you young, I think, are at least two things: first, a lifestyle that nourishes your mind, body, and spirit. Essentially, I see the yoga as primarily feeding my spirit, the cycling as food for my body, and the dope as munchies for the mind. There’s overlap, of course, but that’s the general focus of each activity. Yoga exercises my soul; bicycling jump-starts my heart; getting stoned zaps my brain.

The other thing that serves to slow the aging process is having a connection to one’s youth. Cycling, yoga, and pot all provide this bridge. When I’m on my bike, I’m the same kid who commuted to high school in his Raleigh Record. Doing yoga, I channel the teenager who did mime and tai chi. Spark up a doobie and there I am firing one up in my bedroom, 16 years old all over again.

Now, I’m not saying that my program would work for everyone—although I’d put up yoga, cycling, and pot against South Beach Diet any day—nor am I even suggesting that other factors in my life—genetics, vegetarianism, caffeine and alcohol—don’t play an equally important role.

My point is simply that if it weren’t for cycling and yoga, my body and soul would be older. And if it weren’t for pot, I wouldn’t think quite so much like a child.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pays To Be A Kid

Is this bad parenting?

Last night, the kid started whining because Jen and I were going out without her to Chris Badgely’s 40th birthday party. She was going to be spending the evening next door with her best friend, same as she’d be doing if we were here.

We’d gone from empathizing with to poo-pooing to being frustrated and annoyed by her complaints, and so, in an effort to move through what seemed to me, anyway, to be an impasse, I offered to pay the kid a small self-babysitting fee for the time we’d be out. Not the full rate we’d pay someone to watch her, but a token to make it worth her while.

This did, at least, initially, have the desired effect; whining stopped, we moved on. Mimi and I drew up a contract that stipulated that the party of the first party (hereafter Mom and Dad) would agree to pay the party of the second party (hereafter Mimi) 2 dollars an hour for each hour that both parents were out and 1 dollar an hour for each hour that one parent was out. (I planned on staying at the party later than Jen.)

Now, while this (again, at least initially) solved the problem, the question arises as to whether or not by paying the kid to do what she ought to do willingly, I was sending the wrong signals and teaching her values that I myself don’t even endorse.

I think the lesson was that it’s not unreasonable to be compensated monetarily for doing something you don’t want to. However, arguably, I was teaching her that if you whine enough, your dad will cave in to your demands for cash.

I was hoping that by paying her, I was mocking the capitalist value system and exposing its fundamental absurdity. On the other hand, what if I were reinforcing the very values I was trying to mock?

You tell me: what’s a parent to do?

Friday, July 07, 2006


I’m not sure I really know how to be on vacation. Maybe it’s because I never am.

It seems to me that, at its core, vacation ought to be about vacating—emptying out, creating space, allowing whatever may happen to happen. Ironically, most of us—and here I mean mostly me—try to fill up the space as soon as it appears.

Instead of vacation, this ought to be called “occupation“ (which is probably where both words come from, isn’t it?)

The image I have of a real vacation is of Huck Finn floating down the Mississippi on his raft. But then again, he was plenty busy there, hiding Jim, avoiding capture, and so on, so maybe he wasn’t really vacating, either.

I’ve pretty much failed at the stoner vacation, thing; it’s been a couple weeks since I managed the full wake n’ bake; again, there’s too much occupying my life to really make that feasible.

It’s not that what is filling up my time is all that vital: errands to run, chores to do, this all-important blog to write; somehow, though, the days get busy and stuff I think I need to do has to get done, or more often, doesn’t because something else gets in the way.

Alas, this is the human condition, I suppose: unmet aspirations, failed projects, but hopefully, some sense of acceptance of all that coulda, woulda, shoulda.

I’m trying to take sense as the essence of my vacationing. So what if the lawn doesn’t get mowed? Too bad if I’ve got no clean clothes. Does it really matter if the chain on my bike squeaks a little? I’ll get around to all that eventually; right now, I’m occupied by other concerns.

For instance, as I type, the kid has just called from upstairs to tell me she’s hungry and would wants some oatmeal for breakfast.

So here’s an opportunity of fill up time, space, and the kid’s belly all in one fell swoop.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Yesterday evening, continuing our streak of “low culture” entertainments, the kid and I, along with her buddy, Ani, went bowling.

As is usually the case with a pastime in which you get to, as the poet says, “get drunk and throw things,” a good time was had by all.

I like bowling and not only because it affords me the aforementioned opportunity to combine getting hammered with hammering things, but also because it’s so straightforward. You’ve got your ball and your pins; the more pins you knock down with your ball, the better you do. Life should be so simple.

It’s possible, in bowling, to bowl a perfect game. That’s cool. In life, perfection is generally unattainable. There’s much to be said for that; no doubt it helps us aspire to greater heights of success and happiness, but there’s something very comforting about a pastime in which perfection is possible. And it’s not even all that rare; Homer Simpson bowled a 300 game; professional bowlers do it with some regularity; and the US Bowling Association even makes pins and plaques you can buy should ever bowl a perfect game yourself.

Social philosopher Robert Putnam uses the phenomenon of people “bowling alone,” (as opposed to in organized leagues) as an illustration of the decreasing levels of social cohesion in society over the last 50 years or so. And while it’s true that Mimi, Ani, and I were there by ourselves, I did feel a certain sense of connection with my fellow bowlers. I cheered the guy to the left of us when he made a “turkey;” I felt warmly towards the double-dating teenagers to our right; I especially appreciated the trio of older women who stopped bowling every few frames for a cigarette break in the parking lot.

My own performance was perfectly adequate; in both cases, I rolled higher than my weight, no small accomplishment, even if our lane did have the bumpers up for the kids.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Demolition Derby

The kid and I celebrated Independence Day by going to the Evergreen Speedway’s Snap-On Tools Demotion/Derby Fireworks Show.

What better way to commemorate our nation’s birthday than by watching cars demolish each other and then seeing shit blow up?

I had a snobby ironic attitude about the whole thing before we got there (it’s in Monroe, fer gawdsakes and bills itself as “the Northwest Center for NASCAR racing), and my suspicions seemed confirmed when, before the festivities began, the announcer led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, but you know what? I found the whole event really sweet, totally unpretentious, and a true expression of some of the best qualities of the American character.

Above all, I admired the DIY nature of the proceedings. It was all folks who get a kick out of working on, racing, and wrecking motorized vehicles. Sure, it was, as the kid put it, “stupid people doing stupid things,” but they were all doing them with such unvarnished affection you couldn’t help but love it.

The show began with a competition among the sixteen demo derby cars for best appearance, winner judged by applause from the crowd. “Battle Wagon, Jr.,” a beat-up and modified station wagon straight outta the Fremont Fair’s art car competition took first prize.

A number of races featuring small speedy cars followed; these were all about driving skills and little smashups.

The rollover competition was hilarious, featuring a gold lame Cadillac that skidded down the track on its roof and won by a guy who flipped his car a Speedway-record five times to thunderous applause.

Another highpoint was the figure-eight bus race; who doesn’t love seeing school busses plowing into each other?

And there was epic beauty to the sixteen-car demolition derby: surrounded by the metal carcasses of vanquished competitors, one beat-up 1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, smoke and steam pouring from its mighty engine still ran; the track lights went down and the fireworks began.

God bless America.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Daze

Every year, on July 4th, Americans gather to barbecue meat, set off incendiary devices, watch internet video of a small Japanese man competitively gorging himself on dozens of hotdogs, and celebrate our nation’s independence from that former evil empire, Great Britain.

While I prefer the eponymous holiday moniker, “the Fourth of July,” the official name for today’s festivities, is, I believe, “Independence Day.” And although it’s lovely to commemorate national autonomy, I wonder if we really are as independent as our celebrations suggest.

It’s obvious right from the get-go that, as a nation, we’re completely dependent on other countries for oil. If Middle Eastern and South American countries decide to turn off our spigot of “Texas tea,” the US economy will collapse faster than a bottle rocket launched from a beer can. With this in mind, celebrating independence seems at best overly optimistic, at worst, deluded.

Second, although US foreign policy during the Bush administration aspires to be unilateral, even the most rabid chicken hawks in Washington admit (surprisingly) that our country has a responsibility to at least appear to act as a responsible global citizen. In that regard, we’re no more independent than your average teenager who—although he’d like to pretend he’s an orphan—still relies on his mom to pick him up after the Green Day show.

And how independent are we really with a national debt in the trillions of dollars? Or more to the point, how independent will our kids be?

As citizens of this great country, we’re not all that independent, either. Why think of all the perfectly harmless things I’m not allowed to do: pharmaceutically derange my consciousness in the privacy of my own home, marry my best friend (or my wife’s best friend, either), sunbathe nude down at the lake, or bring my kid into a bar.

I am, of course, allowed to gorge myself on dozens of hotdogs, but somehow, that doesn’t make me feel all that independent.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Grumpy Old Man

I hurt my neck helping a neighbor carry his baby’s changing table up some steps the other day so now I’m in (what seems to me, anyway) a good (or should that be bad?) deal of pain; the main thing this reveals to me is that I’m likely going to be a very grumpy old man.

As the aches and pains of encroaching age continue to encroach, it’s clear to me that I won’t be one of those stoic types who bears up heroically against the aching pain. I’m going to be a big baby who makes everyone else’s life as miserable as mine.

If Papa ain’t happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy.

I admire a strong silent man who sets his jaw and doesn’t reveal the agony he feels; mainly, though, as this gives me more room to let everyone know how much I’m hurting. If you can’t get some kind of mileage out of an injury, what’s the point?

Mr. Camino was the neighborhood grouch who used to chase us off his property with a rake and a garden hose; I always wondered why. Now, I understand that he must have been in physical pain—bunions, hemorrhoids, a toothache—and that all those eggs we threw at his windows had nothing to do with it.

I can see myself in the future running the little Martian children off my flight deck with a light saber and some bug spray; won’t they be sorry I didn’t opt for the indestructible full-body prosthetic when I had the chance?

We’re told that suffering is ennobling; I guess that’s true…as long as standing on your porch in a wife-beater t-shirt and plaid shorts, screaming at middle-school kids is a noble thing to do.

To me, though, what’s really noble is generosity of spirit and action; and I can’t think of anything more generous than—when I’m old and achy—sharing my pain with as many others as I can.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Went to the Seattle Mariners game last night with the kid and it reminded me why baseball is, to my way of thinking, the best spectator sport out there. Soccer’s fine—every four years or so—but nothing satisfies this old sports fan like the grand old game.

A number of the points baseball has going for it were illustrated last night.

First, no other sport does a better job of highlighting superb individual performances. Raul Ibanez scaled the outfield fence in the first inning to take away a homerun from an opposing batter. Ichiro hit a clutch two-run dinger in the sixth to put the Mariners in the lead. Richie Sexson made a superb over-the-shoulder catch on a foul ball to help preserve the victory. This isn’t to say that other sports don’t showcase individual excellence, but baseball does so uniquely well.

Second, there was a comeback from way back. The Mariners fell behind 7-2 in the second inning. You get down a couple goals in soccer, you can pretty much forget it. Several touchdowns in football, game over. But in baseball, a team can scratch and claw their way back into it; and without a clock ticking away, there’s always time to do so.

Third, baseball’s the best sport for people who like to write things down. Mimi kept score last night, a practice I’ve now passed on to her, having had it passed on to me by my dad. No other sport has such a fine tradition of and language for recording the event’s proceedings. So, for folks who tend to process the world by capturing it in written form, baseball rules.

Naturally, all of baseball’s excesses and failings were on display, too: long boring stretches punctuated by ephemeral excitement, repetitive actions to no apparent end, seemingly random judgments that seriously affected the game’s outcome—but as this is just like life, I take it as another—and indeed decisive—point in baseball’s favor.