Sunday, December 31, 2006

Remembering 2006

The papers today are filled with post-mortems on the year about to pass, so allow me to engage in the highest form of flattery as I imitate them and reminisce on my own last 365 days.

2006 kicked off (pun intended) happily as my beloved Steelers began the remarkable playoff run that would culminate in their finally winning “one for the thumb” in Superbowl XL. My joy, I must admit, was somewhat alloyed, as poor officiating tainted the victory and while seeing the boys in Black n’ Gold prevail was great, the win didn’t, as I secretly hoped, literally bring my mom and dad back from the dead.

In March, I traveled to Africa to chill with elders from indigenous tribes in Tanzania; the trip was mind-blowing on numerous levels, but above all, for the opportunity to do the hokey-pokey with hunter-gatherers under the vast African sky.

Late spring was marked by the demolition of the tumbledown backyard shed and the beginning of construction on the new studio, a project that still lives on, thanks to an IV drip of funds from our savings account.

Last summer was the first summer in years that I didn’t teach, allowing me to pursue such important tasks as refining my technique and beginning my noble or quixotic (you choose) attempt to blog 327 words a day for 327 days.

September’s high point was the 327 Words Patchkit Alleycat, the bike race I organized that was fun for everyone even though it didn’t, as I secretly had hoped, bring the stolen Rambouillet back to my garage.

The last few months have been remarkable for their unremarkableness—working, riding, sleeping. Perhaps we take this is a retrenchment of sorts as the world prepares for my coming half-century year.

Looking ahead, the “7” years usually bode well for me: birth, marriage, fatherhood, for instance. I have no great plans other than effecting world peace and solving the climate change crisis.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Goodwill Run

I loaded the trailer today with several bags and boxes full of old clothes, retired shoes, well-read (or never read) books, useless kitchen gadgets, and even a few of Mimi’s no-longer-favored stuffed animals (although prying them from her pack-rat hands—figuratively, not literally—was something of a challenge), and took them all down to the Goodwill store to be sorted through and, I hope, eventually resold to someone somewhere down the line.

More likely, a few things will be salvaged and the rest will go into the landfill or shipped on a barge to Africa or who-knows-where.

It’s always something of a relief to get rid of stuff that’s been cluttering up our closets for months; I do, though, feel a touch of ambivalence about the likelihood of it eventually cluttering up somewhere else while for me, it’s all simply out of sight, out of mind.

There was a long line of cars waiting to donate stuff at the drop-off point; the girl who was working the entry point took a look at me on my bike with the trailer in tow and waved me through to the front. I suppose I could have declined to cut the line, but I think it’s fair because I didn’t really slow anyone in the cars up. I was able to slide down beside them—which a car couldn’t do—and unload my stuff without holding up anyone who was waiting.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

As I look around my basement work area now, I see tons of other stuff that I should have taken, as well. We’ll never watch those Disney videos stacked in the corner over there again, that’s for sure.

In the coming years, I’ll bet there will be an entire industry devoted to helping people get rid of junk they’ve been carting around and storing for years.

It’s so easy to accumulate incrementally; seems a bit harder to simplify in one fell swoop.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Cloned Food

I’m cynical enough to see the recent announcement by the FDA that food from cloned animals is safe to eat as a prime example of a “dog bites man” story. It’s no surprise to me that the feds would side with multinational agribusiness cartels in declaring biotechnologically engineered meat and milk to be a-okay for human consumption. The real news would have been if they’d rejected further encroachments by technology into our food production pipeline.

It’s not that I think the FDA’s ruling is mistaken; they’re probably right: a cloned animal is no different genetically than an identical twin, the cloned animals themselves wouldn’t be eaten, just their sexually-reproduced offspring, and as cloning advocates point out, we (well, not me, but non-vegetarians) already eat plenty of meat that comes from the offspring of identical twin animals.

Still, there’s something disturbing about the idea of putting something into one’s own body that has been created—even indirectly—by a laboratory process.

Of course, one could respond that we already do this all the time: prescription drugs and soda pop, for instance, along with myriad other substances we ingest are all created in labs. We’re just being superstitious to reject food that is produced by scientists in white coats rather than farmers in overalls.

I realize I’m being a luddite here, but simply as a matter of taste—aesthetic, not gustatory—I simply prefer to eat things that have been produced essentially the way they’ve been produced since time immemorial; even if meat and milk from clones is safe, I would eschew it—just as I avoid eating Wonder Bread, too.

The promise of cloning, for a non meat-eater, is that one day, scientists might be able to genetically engineer say, a side of veal, without it having to come from a calve that suffers in producing it.

I dunno, though; even if veal could be grown like carrots, I still think I’d opt for the Eggplant Parmesan instead.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


It’s a corny John Lennon quote: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans,” but it’s true: I had in mind to get to the Ashtanga studio every single day this Christmas break and work really seriously on getting back into the second series, but then, in the bud-buttered haze two weeks ago, life happened when I slipped on gale-soaked steps in the woods, bruising the back of my ribs so badly that for a couple of days I couldn’t even bend over, much less try to put my legs behind my neck; consequently, for a fortnight, I’ve been gingerly going through my practice, gradually adding poses and deepening stretches in the ones I’ve been able to do.

Today, for the first time since my accident, I was able to do the jump-through vinyasa in the sitting postures. It still hurts to put weight on my right side, but now it’s down to a dull ache rather than a sharp knife-like twinge.

I still can’t do strong twists to the left and rolling backwards in chakrasana is out of the question, but I am surprised at how much better I’m feeling than in the days immediately following my fall.

The human body is an amazing piece of work in that regard; I wish my bikes could heal themselves so reliably. But whenever I try to fix a squeak or clunk by letting it be for a couple weeks, it just gets worse.

I’m sure I’m still in for some frustration in the coming weeks as the last bit of pain resists improvement. That, though, will be a revolution of rising expectations. Two weeks ago if you told me I’d feel as good as I do already in half a month, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Last time I seriously sprained my wrist, it took six weeks to get back to baseline; that’s what I’m planning on here, as long as life doesn’t happen in the meantime.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bike Trailer

I had Colin Stevens of Haulin’ Colin fame make me a bike trailer for Christmas.

The trailer is beautiful; it’s got a welded steel frame, 20-inch wheels, an ingenious hitch system, and is painted a bright fire-engine red. Colin added a few lovely touches as well: plastic fenders to protect the payload from spray, an exterior-grade plywood carrying platform, a special tube for inserting a trailer flag, rear reflectors, and a handmade drilled aluminum nameplate, reading “HC3,” to indicate that this it Haulin’ Colin trailer number three.

I’ve used it a couple times already, most recently carrying a collection of large boxes to the post office, and so far, I’m absolutely delighted with how it rides. Handling of my bike is hardly affected at all; the one thing I notice most is needed to brake more forcefully going downhill.

When we were originally talking about the design, my requirements were that the trailer could carry a keg and a bike. I’m not entirely sure of the scenario entailed by that—I haul a keg to the park, somebody gets too drunk to ride home; I carry their bike with the empty barrel back to my house—but it’s clear that the trailer is easily capable of including the keg, a bike, AND a passed-out rider, so maybe that’s what I had in mind all along.

It’s fun riding around with the trailer in tow; I’ve gotten lots of smiles and already a couple of interested inquiries about where I got it.

Plus, the cycle commuter smug factor gets to go through the roof and that’s always a plus.

I don’t want to totally turn into the “bike trailer guy;” I’m not going to grow a beard or anything, but I am, at least now, looking for opportunities to use it.

I’m especially looking forward to a trip to the dump in Fremont; then maybe I can pick up a keg of Hales’ Ale on the way back.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hanging Saddam

According to the Associated Press, “Iraq's highest appeals court on Tuesday upheld Saddam Hussein's death sentence and said he must be hanged within 30 days for the killing of 148 Shiites in the central city of Dujail.”

While I have no love for the deposed tyrant and firmly believe that if anyone deserves to be executed he’s top of the list, I still think that the Iraqi courts are making a big mistake to put Saddam to death. I come to this conclusion not only because I am opposed to capital punishment, but also because—from a practical standpoint in both the so-called “war on terror” and in quelling the sectarian violence in Iraq—that what the former dictator knows or might reveal under questioning could be useful and informative.

Presumably, executing Saddam will help, in some way, to balance the scales of justice, but his one death hardly seems to weigh much against the 148 deaths he has been convicted of, not to mention the hundreds of thousands he is allegedly responsible for.

Plus, if we are really serious about the retributive principle of “an eye for an eye,” then shouldn’t Saddam be killed 148 times for justice to be served?

I can’t imagine that his execution won’t inflame Iraq’s political and ethnic divides; I’ll bet that in the wake of his death, suicide bombings and attacks on civilians and US military personnel will increase. Should we hold Saddam responsible for these as well, or can we blame them, at least in part, on those who sentenced him to die?

All this makes me wonder, in my usual Polyanna-ish way, whether killing people has ever really solved any of the world’s social or political problems. Those who maintain it does will typically cite a “good war” like WWII. But can’t a case be made that many of the world’s current controversies are, in part, connected to mass killings that took place in the 1930s and 40s?

Monday, December 25, 2006


The only thing I wanted that I didn’t get for Christmas was a Steelers victory over the hated Ravens yesterday, but at least now I can be a fulltime Seahawks fan for the rest of the season, even though, for Seattle, that’s not likely to be very far into January.

More importantly, Santa brought Mimi all her main requests, including the future landfill resident, Robosapien, who earned a full ten minutes of undivided attention before the girl moved on to a game of pickup sticks with her buddy, Ani.

As a family, we succumbed to the spirit of the season, and bought all sorts of things that are nice to have but are ultimately unnecessary and which will also likely end up at the dump.

Jen got a new cellphone, which we spent a good half hour futzing over in an unsuccessful search for a new ringtone; we did, eventually at least figure out how to make a call, although how to add a new number is still beyond us. Perhaps the Robosapien can do it for us.

My favorite gift was a new pressure cooker; our old one has been held together with bailing wire and paper clips; of late, I’ve refrained from using it for fear of exploding beans all over the ceiling. This new one is Swiss-made and promises to last until the days I’ll be using it to make myself strained spinach at the nursing home. With any luck, it won’t go into landfill until I do.

I’m embarrassed, of course, by the excess of it all; already our garbage can and recycling bin are filled, and collection isn’t for days, but I’m consoling myself to think that this is probably the last year that Santa is even peripherally in the picture. Next Christmas, we can perhaps appeal to environmental considerations that the big fat man in the red suit doesn’t have to worry about.

There’s no landfill at the North Pole, anyway.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Little Food

One of the most enduring—I would say endearing, too—of our family holiday traditions is to eat “little food” on Christmas eve.

The tradition has its roots in Jen’s childhood. When she was a kid, her mom would fix stuff like Vienna sausages and pigs-in-a-blanket on the night before Christmas. We’ve modified that some: our menu tends to be more like baby carrots, mini egg rolls, and kumquats, but the idea is the same.

We usually set out platters of the mini-comestables and huddle around like giants scarfing up trees and tunnels, (with broccoli as trees and pizza rolls as tunnels). The only things that aren't miniature sized are our drinks, although one year, we did pour from airline bottles.

What I like best about this tradition, even more than the cornichons, capers, and kappa maki, is the tradition itself. As “secular humanists,” we don’t have many built-in holiday themes—no midnight mass, no lighting of the menorah, no slaughtering of small animals—so it’s great to have at least one thing we can count on pretty much year after year.

Like all such traditions, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass: we’ve got to make special trips to the store to procure the requisite foodstuffs; there’s tension around making sure we’re all set up; we end up with half-eaten jars of stuff in the refrigerator that hangs around for eight months before it’s eventually tossed out, but ultimately, it’s worth it.

In some ways, I guess, that’s what holiday traditions are all about: setting yourself up to perform somewhat onerous tasks—decorating, gift-buying, party-hosting—that, afterwards, you get to sit back and look upon and say, “Yes! We survived another year. Let’s toast to that.”

Nobody, I think, knows this better than my sister, who starts baking cookies the day after Thanksgiving to send all over the country, including Seattle.

One of our other enduring holiday traditions is eating handfuls of them.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Biking With Kids

Took a good ride today with Mimi and her buddy, Ani—me on the Saluki, they on their little mountain bikes.

We pedaled from our house down Jackson Street to Uwajimaya, the big Asian supermarket. Traffic was relatively heavy, but fairly calm for the day before the day before Christmas.

I was nervous about their street-biking skills, but they both acquitted themselves really well, riding in single file and paying fairly close attention to where they were going and what they were doing. Only once did they practically take each other out while horsing around, but that was when we were almost back home and they were both flying on Bubble Tea.

Mimi said she just about got run over by a van in the International District; I didn’t see it, so I take that as a bit of braggadocio, but good on her for feeling confident enough to claim she escaped death by being aware and skillful on two wheels.

I led the way in our convoy; Ani took middle, and Mimi brought up the rear. At every busy intersection, I’d slow down so we were all together, but at other times, I let us get a bit stretched out, though not so far that I couldn’t keep an eye on them with an easy turn of my head.

Drivers were, for the most part, respectful of the kids; we got a number of smiles and waves, and only one cell phone driver blew through a stop sign ahead of us.

I have long thought a mark of a livable city is one where my daughter could safely ride her bike around; today, Seattle proved itself up to that standard.

When I was Mimi’s age, I occasionally rode from my house to the swimming club we belonged to, about six miles away.

Today’s right wasn’t quite so far, but I think it counts as the same degree of difficulty and accomplishment for these big little kids.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Parking Hell

This is an easy target, but too juicy to pass up.

Somewhat against our better judgment, we drove to University Village Mall for some late-term Christmas shopping.

Our Spidey-Sense was tingling when it took us twenty minutes to circle the lot before settling on the “800-stall” parking tower as a place to leave the vehicle. At this point, we probably should have heeded our intuitions and gotten the hell out of there, but the consumerist mandate prevailed.

We had to climb to the fourth of six floors to find an open spot, but we all rejoiced when finally exiting the car to face the comparatively benign crowds of human beings in the shops.

Jen’s Dad, Bob, and I lasted a store and a half before retiring to the Ram Restaurant for a couple of microbrews.

After Jen and Mimi joined us for lunch, we headed back to the car, where we were met with a seemingly endless and apparently frozen line of automobiles all trying to exit the parking structure simultaneously.

The first ten or fifteen minutes of sitting in line were humorous. We joked about being trapped for the rest of the night and the possibility of driving off the side of the building to escape.

The next twenty minutes began to get ridiculous. We inched along at a snail’s pace, fascinated and appalled by the merging behaviors of cars around us.

During the last fifteen minutes it took us to finally get free, we were alternately giddy and hysterical; Mimi and I were reduced to holding an arm-punching battle in the backseat; Jen grimaced at every slow turn down the ramp; her dad just shook his head and compared it to the madness of casino parking his hometown of Las Vegas.

I just kept thinking how different an experience it would have been on bikes; we would have gotten in and out in mere minutes and still had plenty of time for a third beer.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Clean Floor

To me, the house isn’t clean until the floor is clean. (On the other hand, all you have to do when company is coming is vacuum and you’re ready to entertain.)

I have long been the one who mops and scrubs the hardwood and tile in our house; I don’t mind doing it and often, I take great satisfaction because the results are so apparent. Few things are more satisfying to me than surveying a glistening floor that beforehand, was riddled with footprints and blotches.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different techniques and methods; I’ve invested in a variety of alleged labor-saving devices, including, recently, the renowned “Sh-Mop,” whose inventor claims that it’s the absolute last word in floor cleaning, a claim that’s true only if that word is “sucks.”

Ultimately, it’s been my experience that the only way to truly get the floor clean is the old way: bucket and sponge, on your knees. While this is far from the most efficient method, it’s clearly the most effective. Plus, it has the added benefit of making you feel particularly worthy, like some sort of Scandinavian fraulein in pigtails and a burlap jumper doing the bidding of the evil giant who has imprisoned you far from the fjords and wheat fields of your youth.

But I say too much, far too much.

Having a dog makes it difficult to be truly particular about the cleanliness beneath one’s feet. Our dog, Becca, rejoices in imprinting paw prints all over the kitchen and living room. I’ve learned not to chase her around with a wet sponge in hand; it’s too confusing for her and too disillusioning for me.

Last week, we had two dogs in the house and the yard outside was a virtual mud bog. I ended up pretending I was living in a log cabin with a dirt floor. Not quite as thrilling as a Scandinavian fraulein, but at least it got me through.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bag It

Here’s a totally random thing to complain about, but it just gets me: why do the checkout people at the big grocery stores insist on double-bagging my plastic bags?

Even when my purchase is relatively light—a bag of chips, some crackers, and a pint of ice cream—they routinely lift the bag of items from the metal frame that holds it for loading and place it in a second bag, trained by management, apparently, to do so as a gesture of “customer-focused service” when, ironically, it drives this customer, at least, somewhat batty.

Environmental issues aside, the bag-in-a-bag thing seems like the worst sort of covering-your-assism. Just because once in a long while someone carrying half a dozen pineapples and some scissors in a bag tears it and drops their purchases on the ground, the rest of us have to put up with a completely unnecessary piece of plastic on our everyday shopping trips.

I usually ask the checkout people to refrain from double-bagging my groceries but often as not, they can’t help themselves. And I know they’re doing it to be thoughtful, so I feel like a curmudgeon when I repeat myself; consequently, I tend to just let it go.

Even worse is when they double-bag something that doesn’t even need to be bagged in the first place. Today, at QFC, I ended up with a double-bagged six-pack of beer and a jug of orange juice that comes with a handle inside two-bags, as well.

Because double-bagging is meant to be a sign of “excellence” in the grocery industry, I fear an arms race of sort may be in the offing. Soon, QFC will triple-bag; Safeway will counter with quadruple-bagging, and so on. The razor I use has five blades; why assume bagging won’t escalate to this level, too?

Sometimes I bring my own bags, but this doesn’t seem to help; the checkout people routinely take my mine and put them inside a fresh one, anyway.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Second Chances

I sure am glad that Donald Trump didn’t strip reigning Miss USA, Tara Connor, of her crown for underage drinking, cocaine use, casual sex, and violating the terms of her housing agreement by bringing boys into her apartment at night.

She’s Miss USA, by Jove, and all those actions mark her as the genuine made in the US of A article. Bully for Tara!

In not dismissing her, Trump said that he’s always been a believer in second chances, and you know what? Me, too! In fact, I’ve always been a believer in third and fourth chances, as well.

Life is confusing and we all get confused. I know we’re supposed to learn from our mistakes, but sometimes, all I learn is how to repeat them.

When I was a kid, my parents were relatively easy-going about my many errors. They didn’t, for example, take away my driving privileges even after I ran the side of car into the side of the garage two nights in a row. (Of course, it was only a Ford Maverick, but still…)

As a parent, I’m probably far too forgiving. It never seems worth it to make a point on principle when as a practical matter it’s easier to move on.

Following the standard script in cases like this, Tara has checked into rehab; I just hope she doesn’t run into Ted Haggard or Mark Foley while she’s there, although presumably, a pretty girl like her would be an unlikely target for their advances.

I did bug me that both Trump and Tara implicitly blamed New York City for her peccadilloes. The Donald said that Miss USA just got caught up in the whirlwind of the Big Apple like so many young men and women before her and lost her head.

The old song says that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere; seems to me, though, that Tara had been making it just fine.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cash Crop

A recent report issued by the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws indicates that pot is the number one cash crop produced in the United States, with an estimated value of over $35 billion dollars a year.

That’s cool, but unfortunately, none of the farmers alluded to in the report have been able to find their wallets for the last two weeks, even though they sorta remember having them when the pizza delivery guy came last time.

The main reason the number is so high is that dope costs so much. The report estimates a pound of weed at about 1600 bucks; the last time I purchased a pound of corn, by comparison, it was like a quarter.

This tells me that if the government is really serious about cutting into the cannabis trade, it ought to encourage production so that prices fall. At 10,000 metric tons annually, the cash value of marijuana—if the price was about the same tobacco (around 90 cents a pound)—would be a paltry 18 million bucks per annum, way less, I’m sure, than even the annual cash value of brussel sprouts.

Predictably, I favor legalizing marijuana on the model of cigarettes, making them available for sale to anyone 18 and older, and taxing them heavily to pay for education, treatment programs, and national anti-pot smoking campaigns that—if those against cigarette smoking are any guide—may actually encourage teenagers to try dope rather than dissuading them.

If 18-20 year-olds could legally purchase marijuana, I think incidents of binge-drinking by freshman and sophomore college students would be reduced. When I was that age, I know the main reason I ever got drunk was that I couldn’t score any dope.

Plus, if a kid is old enough to die for his country, he’s certainly old enough to get high for it.

I’m also pretty sure that if more kids 18-20 were getting stoned, there’d be more students taking introductory philosophy classes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

The Steelers clobbered the Carolina Panthers today, keeping their “flickering playoff hopes alive” for another week, at least.

I, of course, could care less at this point, and by the way, I’ve also got some beachfront property in Florida for sale, cheap.

I’m enjoying the late season run by the Black n’ Gold, although it’s a crying shame they didn’t get it together sooner, especially against Oakland last month.

At this point, a whole bunch of other teams have to lose a whole bunch of times for Pittsburgh to make the post-season; in reality, it’s not particularly likely, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to hope for another week.

To some degree, that’s all we ever really ask for as sports fans. Naturally, I want my team to win, but even more, I want them to play. And maybe this is the metaphor for life we’re seeking: I don’t have to succeed every time, but I do want the opportunity to hang around.

At least the announcers haven’t started talking about “playing for pride” yet which is code, of course, for admitting total defeat. I’ve always thought that was a strange way to put it, anyway; “playing for shame” seems somehow more apt.

Next week, against Baltimore, is the real “must-win” game, and having played their worst of the season against the Ravens a few weeks ago, the Steelers have a chance for some minor redemption if they prevail. I’ll take it as a generous Christmas eve gift if they do.

If Pittsburgh goes 9 and 7, even if they don’t earn a Wild Card berth, I’ll consider the season a minor success; if they drop their next two and end up with a losing record, then 2006 has to count as one of the biggest post-Superbowl victory letdowns in history.

Above all, I want them to win next Sunday so I can continue to keep hope alive. That’s all we can really hope for, anyway.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I gave myself a pretty deep bruise when I fell on my back in the woods the other day; try as I might to be all stoic about it, I can’t get over how much it fucking hurts, especially when I twist or cough or try to do upward facing dog. I’m pretty sure nothing’s broken, but I’m sore enough to think that this is what it must be like to be an NFL quarterback the morning after playing against Joey Porter.

I’m unimpressed with the over-the-counter painkillers I’ve tried. Aspirin does little more than take my mind off my back by giving me heartburn. Ibuprofen seems to provide no obvious effect, unless you count ear-ringing if I take eight or so. I’m not even clear what acetaminophen is supposed to do, but it doesn’t work, either.

So far, the most effective treatment has been bourbon. I’m not sure it makes the pain go away, but after a few snorts of Beam, I don’t really seem to care.

It’s been interesting (after a fashion) to be hobbling about as another preview of coming attractions in old age. Moving slowly has given me new appreciation of access options for seniors; walking through downtown crowds yesterday, I wished I had a cane to fend off bustling holiday shoppers.

The good news is, I can still ride my bike, albeit a bit more slowly than usual. Going uphill is what hurts, as it requires me to use my back muscles, pulling on the handlebars to climb. This gives me the chance, though, to pretend I’m Tyler Hamilton in the 2005 Tour, winning a stage with a broken collarbone.

Maybe I need to try blood-doping

Everytime I feel a twinge, I wonder why we feel pain at all. How come evolution selected for individuals who hurt after an accident? I don’t see how the pain is performing any adaptive function, unless maybe feeling like this sent my Neolithic ancestors to bed.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Over Dude It

Yesterday was all too much: too much rain, too much wind, too much bud-buttered toast for breakfast.

Jen and I started ouir semi-annual stoner shopping day around 10:30; by noon, we’d already gotten drenched to the skin, demonstrating a deficiency in good judgment characterized by insufficient sense to come in out of the pouring rain; I’d managed to fall splat on my back while walking through the woods, bruising my ribs very painfully, and we were well into the hour and a half it took us to get it together to get out of one set of wet clothes into a soon-to-be-wet set for a bus trip downtown.

Once in the retail core, I found myself entirely incapable of making even the simplest of monetary transactions, not to mention the most mundane of decisions—like whether to turn right or left a the corner (it all seemed ultra-important)—so Jen and I set out instead on what turned out to be an epic visit to the central library, in which every corridor, shared public space, and staircase was fraught with deep meaning.

The dream machine was turned up to 11, and I had a complete out-of-body experience, in, of all places, the Fairmount Hotel, where we tried unsuccessfully to pull it together long enough to have a beer.

Somehow, following our journey through the stacks, we managed a bus ride to Mimi’s school where we exhibited unusually incompetent parenting skills in extracting her from after-school care.

And then, the most surreal sight of all. As we arrived home in the monsoon, relatively dry thanks to the beneficence of another Giddens School parent, who took mercy on us and gave us a ride in her car, we spied, through the driving rain, Digger, the Black Labroador we are watching for our neighbors, perched on the roof of our house, howling into the gale-force wind.

After that, sopping up the two inches of water in our basement was nothing.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Holiday Spirit

I had bud buttered toast for breakfast yesterday and spent the rest of the day, riding my bike, ostensibly Christmas shopping, but mainly marveling at the hilariously beautiful day Seattle. The colors were particularly vibrant, especially during the few rain-free hours we enjoyed in early afternoon. As I pedaled through the arboretum, it was all I could do not to fall off my bike laughing at how many shades of green lay behind the yellows and pinks positively glowing in the sunshine. Admittedly, some of shimmering was a function of the mental state I was in, but I think a case can be made that it’s always there, I just don’t usually notice it.

The wind was blowing from the southwest; consequently, my ride north was turbocharged; I flew up Stone Way from the water without even breaking a sweat—and this was on the single-speed. Anytime I turned into the wind, though, it was an entirely different story; it really was like two completely worlds.

Reflecting on this, I had the sort of profound revelation of an obvious insight so typical of cannabis consciousness: it struck me once again how so many of the world’s conflicts and disagreements are simply the result of truly different perspectives on the same data. The reason we get holy wars over so many issues is the people are, in actual fact, experiencing the exact same situation in radically, even diametrically-opposed way.

Now, this sort of deep epistemological subjectivism is anathema to the philosophical tradition in which I was trained; I flinch when anyone starts talking about their “truth” in contrast to someone else’s “truth.”

Still, for a few hours, it all became clear: I saw how Republicans and Democrats, Moslems and Christians, PC and Mac users could all get along: just by realizing that their own view of the world is but one among many.

And isn’t this like what that Christmas dude meant when he said “love your enemies?”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Keeping Track

I like having things that I like having—bicycles, bike gear, cooking utensils, books, a few select articles of clothing—but the problem for me with having them is having them.

I spend much too much time in my life trying to track down and keep track of the things I have. Just this morning, for instance, I wandered about the house for a good quarter of an hour trying to locate the top to one of the three thermoses I own, two of which I really only keep for parts.

It’s an old complaint: in many ways, the things we own own us.

While my bikes, for example, provide me with a kind of sustenance—or at least, perform a needed function—it’s me who takes care of them rather than the other way around.

In Plato’s dialogue, the Euthyphro, Socrates points out that the thing that is cared-for is improved by the thing that cares for it rather than the other way around. Consequently, any “care” that humans give to the gods can’t really be improving them; at best, it’s impertinent to suggest that, at worst, simply misguided.

By analogy, while we imagine that all the things we own make our lives better, it’s really on us to take care of them.

I don’t mind when it comes to some things: one of my most consistent satisfactions is tweaking the two-wheelers to make them run better.

On the other hand, I’d happily go the rest of my life without having to sew another button back on.

With the holidays coming up, it’s a given that we’ll soon have a few more things to look after. I myself am counting on being responsible for a couple new pairs of underwear and several recently-released CDs, for example.

Do I expect, therefore, that my life will become that much more complex? Perhaps, unless I winnow out some of the things I currently own.

Goodwill Industries, here I come.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Shopping

Jen and I started our Christmas shopping today, which entailed diffidently scanning a few stores and then going out for a bottle of wine with lunch. Consequently, we weren’t all that successful as consumers—at least of gifts, although we did manage to put away a carafe of Rhone and a plate of cheese.

The only way I can face the holiday shopping rush is after a few drinks, which just goes to show the relative mindlessness of the buying frenzy. That I need to be inebriated in order to successfully navigate the consumerist arena is evidence of its inanity (and perhaps mine, too), but what the hell: ‘tis the season to be jolly, after all.

I am, like any thoughtful person, ambivalent about Christmas. I realize that I ought to be buying heifers for absolutely impoverished people in Africa instead of spending my money on electronic gizmos from Sharper Image that will end up in the landfill by March. Alas, however, I am a product of my culture and find the pressure to pour funds into the coffers of multinational cartels simply too overpowering.

So sue me, and if you win, be sure to spend the settlement on micro loans to indigenous craftspeople in Guatemala.

I am, at least, trying to open my wallet to pretty much anyone who asks me for money on the street for the next few weeks. All year long, I’ve been throwing my small change in a bucket; now, whenever I go out, I fill my pockets with nickels, dimes, and quarters to that I can hand over fistfuls when I get spare-changed.

I’m sure these donations aren’t going a very long way to making the world a better place, either; maybe I’m only assuaging my liberal guilt when I give a panhandler money for food—if not drugs or alcohol—at least, though, I’m making myself feel incrementally better, which—from a utilitarian standpoint—is, at least, not all bad.

Monday, December 11, 2006

War On Christmas

The latest salvo in the war on Christmas is the reaction to the Sea-Tac airport’s decision to remove their “holiday trees” rather than risk being considered “exclusive.” Apparently, a local rabbi asked that a menorah be included in the display and airport officials freaked out at the prospect of having to include who knows what—Hindu, Moslem, Wiccan—icons and so decided to can any holiday ornamentation at all.

And now, of course, the war on Christmas paranoiacs are citing this as another instance in the ongoing effort by left-wing namby-pambies to secularize the Christian holiday.

Sure. Right. Whatever.

Seems to me that the primary war on Christmas—if we want to call it that—was already won a long time ago, by all the major manufacturers and retailers who helped turn the holiday into a celebration of consumerism and consumption.

I don’t mind that much, really; I like getting and giving presents and the birth of Jesus Christ seems as good an excuse for that as anything else.

But what does get me is all the hand-wringing over the loss of the real meaning of Christmas or about the multi-culturalization of the season.

I don’t really see how anyone—at least in the Good Ol’ US of A—gets to claim exclusive rights on the meaning of these last few weeks in December. If ever there were a time that belongs to whomever wants it, this is it.

I think if anyone gets first dibs on the season, it ought to be kids. After all, Halloween has pretty much been co-opted by grownups, so maybe this holiday should be set aside—at least at the outset—for children.

Let’s say that all the decisions about what to display and so forth get to be decided by people under 12 years old.

If we restrict these choices to those who are chronologically—as opposed to mentally or emotionally-pre-teens, I think many of the season’s problems will disappear.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Senior Moment(s)

So, I ride all the way over to West Seattle to get the part I need for the repair I’m trying to do and when I get home to take it out of my bag, it’s not there. I dig around through all the pannier’s pockets, swearing at myself while Mimi and her visiting friends titter at my bad language, but no luck. I call the shop, but they can’t find it, so it’s total mystery where the part’s gotten to. I suppose I set it down on the counter at the store or dropped it on the ground instead of into my bag. Whatever; it’s nowhere to be found.

But here’s the kicker which is, I guess, the happy ending I might have been looking for: haphazardly, I start rooting around in my toolbox and lo and behold, there’s a spare bottom bracket cup, the very piece I went to get and which has gone missing. So, while my trip across town has been completely in vain, I apparently didn’t need to take it in the first place.

This is clearly a metaphor for something.

Perhaps the message is something like: I already have everything I need in life and all my running around to find it is just wasted effort.

Alternately, it may be that the universe provides and I should simply trust fate to come through for me in spite of my lame efforts to the contrary.

Or maybe it’s that I’m obviously losing my mind and even though I thought I bought the part across town and left it there, I somehow managed to bring it home and put it in my toolbox without realizing it.

In any case, this kind of stuff seems to be happening more and more to me with each passing year. The downside is that life seems to be increasingly out of my control.

The good news, though, is that I’m getting more and more used to it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

On the Contrary

I recently wrote about coming not to be annoyed by strange sounds emanating from my bike.

That lasted all of two days.

This afternoon, I spent three hours pulling apart the Saluki first, and then the Quickbeam, trying to get each to stop clicking and creaking as I rode it uphill.

I succeeded with the former, but am still stumped with the latter. My current theory is that it’s the plastic bottom bracket cup; I took it out, lubed it up, but when I re-installed it, it wouldn’t tighten fully; the threads might be stripped. Tomorrow, I’ll go to the shop and get a replacement; if that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll try swapping out the cranks.

I alternate between being fascinated and annoyed by this sort of maintenance. The usual pattern is that I come to what I believe HAS to be the solution to the problem; flush with excitement, I implement it, and then take the rig out for a test ride, only to discover that the sound I set out to eradicate is still there.

At first, I pretend that I’m only imagining the noise. Soon enough, though, I can no longer convince myself it isn’t there. At this point, I go through a few minutes of supposing I can live with it after all. But that doesn’t last, either.

So I head back to the shop, annoyed with the bike, but even more annoyed with myself for not having fixed it.

Eventually, though, the cycle (no pun intended) will repeat itself, and if I’m lucky, there will eventually come the point when I manage to do what a real mechanic could have fixed in a fraction of the time.

It’s an odd way to spend a day: usually, success is measured by bringing something—an essay, a syllabus, a completed gradesheet—into existence; in this case, I count myself successful when something goes away.

Must be what it feels like to be an exterminator.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hot and Cold

I like to fancy myself a relatively easy-going, flexible, and open-minded fellow, and about some things, I am: students turning in papers late, mountains or shore for vacation, whether the toilet paper goes over or under the roll.

But about some things, my inner control freak comes out: piles of magazines on tables, lights left on when nobody’s home, granola in bags rather than containers.

These though, pale in comparison to the area where my Captain Bligh meets Felix Unger self truly emerges: the household thermostat.

All winter long, I enter my home, wait for my glasses to defog, and then, even before I remove my helmet, slide through the kitchen into the living room where I cast a surreptitious glance at our home’s temperature control before—inevitably—turning it down a few degrees.

I’ve tried to stop, but I just can’t help myself. When the house is already warm and the heater continues to pump forced air through the vents, it just makes me nuts.

I realize that I’m usually arriving indoors after a stimulating bike ride, that I’m wearing lots of layers, and that by and large, I run a bit warmer than the people I live with. But even possessed of this understanding, my fingers stray uncontrollably to the raised plastic circle that controls our home’s heater and, without fail, turn it to the left.

This phenomenon marks me as your clichéd dad and husband; even Dave Barry has probably written a piece about this, but so be it. I’m one of those typical middle-aged guys who tells his family to put on more sweaters if they’re cold.

Insufferable as I am, I’ve even been known to appeal to environmental concerns as the basis for my heat-miserliness. “Hey! We’re using up fossil fuels here! Turn down the heat or soon, we won’t ever even have cold weather.”

I may keep the house cold, but I’m sure my family thinks I really burn them up.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Made It

I don’t have the hardest job in the world. The old joke—which is funny because it’s partly true—is that college teachers work 24/7: twenty-four hours a week, seven months a year.

But what IS difficult about teaching is that every day in the classroom you’ve got to create magic—or at least try to—and if you don’t, it’s sort of awful for everyone.

It’s like having to host a party day after day, only it’s a party with a theme; we’re playing charades but the clues and presentations are supposed to get more complex and increasingly challenging.

Plus, all the guests—or at least, their parents—have paid to be there and, consequently, expect to be consistently entertained and edified. It can get exhausting. At many points during the quarter, I wonder if I’m going to make it.

But I did! I have!

Today, I taught my last class of fall quarter 2006.

It went pretty well: students gave “poster presentations” in the Philosophy 101 class. Many of the works demonstrated genuine philosophical sophistication (others demonstrated genuine philosophical lassitude), and the day made me feel like I’d actually succeeded in my primary goals for the course: introducing students to the classic philosophical questions and encouraging them to begin to notice philosophy in everyday life.

I still have a bunch of grading to do. One of the saddest moments in the teacher’s life is when the students dance from the classroom at Christmastime, Easter, and as summer begins. They’re free, while you have stacks of papers to wade through before your vacation starts.

Still, I’m glad that for the next few weeks, I don’t have to host a philosophical party every day: I don’t have to ask questions, encourage answers, and incite inquiry day after day.

I can get up in the morning and do some reading, some thinking, some writing all by myself.

In other words, for a while, I can be a philosopher.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Letting It Slide

I’m generally pretty anal about keeping my bike tuned-up and running just so. Usually, at the first squeak or creak, I get my rig up on the stand and try to figure out where the noise is coming from and how to make it go away.

Because bicycles are about the only things I know how to fix, I’m fairly eager to investigate what’s going wrong and to apply my limited mechanical skills to making it better. I’ll even stop by the side of the trail or road to investigate a strange sound or weird feeling. My tolerance for a less-than-perfectly-smooth-and-quiet is pretty low; I’m always amazed when someone passes me with a loudly squeaking chain or a clattering bottom bracket. I’d go nuts if I had to put up with that for just a couple blocks let alone my daily commute.

This week, though, I’m surprising myself with my willingness to accept a bike in need of service. The rain and snow of recent weeks has done their job on my drive train and I’m currently getting a pronounced “click” every revolution of my cranks when I’m mashing the pedals while standing. I know what causes this, I think; in the past, I’ve been able to make the sound go away by taking off and putting back on the cranks, removing and re-lubing the bottom bracket, and repacking the bearings in the pedals.

Also, my brake pads needs replacing and it’s about time to fix a fraying derailler cable.

But I’ve decided I’m going to live with these imperfections at least until school’s out next week. At this point, they’re only annoying, not dangerous. My cranks won’t fall off—even if the noise they’re making makes me want to tear them apart.

I’m finding it interesting to be a bit of what I’m might usually consider a slob; I’m taking it as an exercise in acceptance, although it might better be understood as one of laziness.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sick, Sick, Sick

I’m fighting a cold right now and it’s like I once heard Ella Fitzgerald say to Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show: “You just can’t give.”

With a sore throat, runny nose, and achy joints, I’m able to go through the motions of my life, but can’t give any extra effort.

At the studio this morning, for instance, I only did half the primary series and even that fairly diffidently. Instead of riding out to school, I took the bus. I phoned in my philosophy class, even though we were doing Sartre, one of my favorites. And in an afternoon meeting I attended, I had to struggle not to be the grouchy old faculty member who put the kibosh on any suggestions involving change.

Naturally, there’s nothing more tedious than hearing someone complain about their illness, so I’ll try to shift gears here and get all philosophical about it.

It seems to me that human beings’ propensity for getting colds is further proof that no supreme being/cosmic designer is behind all things. I take this to be a corollary to the problem of evil: a perfectly good, all-powerful, creator of the universe wouldn’t permit me to feel this lousy—unless He weren’t either all-good or all-powerful.

Now maybe someone could respond that the existence of illness makes possible something wonderful: namely, an eventual cure for the common cold. (And wouldn’t we all like to have stock in the company that invents it?)

But shouldn’t an all-powerful Creator be able to manifest such a cure even in the absence of anyone ever getting sick?

I can hear some people saying that it’s the existence of free will that’s behind my getting sick. If I hadn’t spent all weekend freely choosing to be so hard on my body, then I wouldn’t feel the way I do right now. And that’s not God’s fault, that’s mine.

Maybe so, but who’s the one who made Scotch whiskey go down so easy?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Little Words

It all depends on what you mean by the word “and.”

If the project is to write and post a 327 word essay everyday for 327 days where “and” means simultaneously, then it’s over; but if it means that writing one very day and posting it eventually, then all systems remain go.

Obviously, my interpretation is the latter; I’m not ready to call it quits yet…(well, perhaps I am, but I’m not going to.)

The last couple of days, I’ve been away from the I-web; in Point Arena, we could see a wireless network, but weren’t able to connect. So, I wrote a piece a day, but couldn’t post it.

(I suppose I could have had I been willing to drive into town and pay a connection fee; that seemed like way too much work though; and given the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, play on the beach, and imbibe various mind-altering substances, I took it as more than sufficient to simply generate the words, if not share them with the world.)

This sort of semi self-serving spin on things is typical of how I approach the world. I’m all for following the spirit of the law, but if I need to, then merely keeping with the letter is fine, instead.

Reading the “eight items or less,” sign for the express line at the supermarket, for instance, I’ve been known to take that to mean eight different items, so that if I’ve got two cartons of ice cream and seven other things, I’m still golden.

Likewise, a “Don’t Walk” signal usually allows a person to either ride his bike through the intersection or run if necessary.

I don’t think this makes me a bad person, but then again, it all depends on what you mean by the word “bad.”

If “integrity” is defined as “keeping the small promises you make to yourself,” then can I still maintain mine by crossing my fingers behind my back?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Horseback Riding

We took a family horseback ride on the beach today; it was fine, if not particularly vigorous; I’d have been just as happy, though, staying in bed.

Our guide was a grouchy guy about my age whose family has lived in the area for something like five generations. He regaled us with tales of how the place has gone all to hell in the last forty years as more and more people have moved in.

Our horses were sedate old nags who walked slowly along the beach, stopping regularly to relieve themselves. Mimi looked great in the saddle and Jen seemed like a natural cowgirl. I felt like your typical city slicker and looked, I’m sure, as ridiculous as I felt.

The view from atop the animal was superb and it was amusing enough to poke along; I had in mind, though, an image of galloping through the surf to strains of the William Tell Overture in the background or something.

All things considered, the experience was one of those things that was nice to have done; even while we rode along, I was looking forward to being back in the car, having chalked up the event and added to the list of things I’ve done and given my daughter the opportunity to have done. She’ll be able to go to school and tell her friends that she rode a horse on the beach and they’ll imagine her galloping through the surf, too.

At this point, I’m not suddenly going to run out and buy a horse; in the future, I’ll stick to bicycles seats as my saddle of choice.

Part of my resistance, I think, has to do with the whole cowboy culture thing; I couldn’t help but feel like a Republican senator on a junket at lobbyist’s ranch in Texas. And when our guide started talking about how many guns his 13 year-old son had, I started getting ready to duck should Cheney himself show up.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Kids Love Tidepools

We spent a couple hours as the waves receded in a little cove on Point Arena combing the tidepools for treasures of one sort or another—abalone pieces, hermit crab shells, starfish parts, eroded rocks, sea-shaped driftwood—until all the kids had piles of colorful ocean junk and all the parents’ pockets were filled with souvenirs of the day.

I love seeing kids, especially Mimi, on the beach: it’s great to be in a place where all the little ones can rage about screaming and falling down while the grownups saunter about chatting about nothing in particular.

My kid is an inveterate collector; she piled up an entire museum display of stuff, making sure that everyone was invited to take a look. At the end of our beachcombing session, it took some time to complete the winnowing process for items to bring back home; The kid needed a good deal of persuading not to bring everything she found—including half a broken plastic coffee cup carved smooth by the surf.

Our stay here is turning out to be quite lovely; the weather is perfect—mild, sunny, and not to windy—the food is copious and delicious, and we’ve got plenty of booze to round of the hard edges of parenting and interpersonal relationships.

I even scared up a bike: a fine old Peugeot—lugged steel, cottered cranks, Simplex components. I think it might be a UO-8, but it’s got cantilever brakes and it looks like 650B wheels. The caretaker here said someone left it here and invited us to take it home with us if we want to.

I’d rather leave it here for someone else to enjoy. Like my daughter, I’m an inveterate collector—of bicycles, though, not sea creatures.

And just as she learned today to see the value of leaving some things behind, so do I. Her pile of shells was winnowed to the essentials, my pile of bikes could stand to be, too.

Friday, December 01, 2006

San Francisco

I’m in SF for the morning before we head up to Point Arena for cousin Seth’s 50th birthday bash.

Currently, I’m sitting in a café across from Dolores Park, drinking coffee, and admiring the hipsters, styling lesbians, and groovy parents coming in for their morning caffeine and pastries.

Larry has, of late—and with good cause, I think—pilloried San Franciscans, their holier-than-thou attitudes, and made a good case for the general hypocrisy and provincialism of people living in the town immortalized by the band Journey (appropriately enough) as “the city by the bay.”

Still, every time I come here—two or three times a year—I’m reminded of what a uniquely beautiful and magical place it is—for all its propensity to be a parody of itself, without the sense of humor that would actually require.

I first came to San Francisco in the summer of 1975, the Monday after my Friday graduation from high school. I spent a month house and dog sitting my friend Carter’s house and dog on 48th Avenue in the Sunset district, right across the highway from the ocean. My days were idyllic: I’d get up in the foggy dawn, ride Carter’s bike to the Golden Gate panhandle, where I’d do Tai Chi for an hour, following a cup of coffee on Haight Street, I’d take a mime class; afterwards, I’d ride home, practice my flute for a couple hours and read philosophy until evening, when I’d get stoned and listen to Carter’s Lenny Bruce albums.

Even though, at the time, I thought (rightly, I think) I had missed the golden age of SF’s glory by half a dozen years at least, I still fell in love with the place and ended up moving back twice—once for a year, later for four.

I couldn’t live here now—too crowded, too expensive, too cool for me—but it sure is great to visit—and I haven’t even been to Hunan yet.