Monday, April 30, 2007

Hiring Committee

I’ve spent the last two days at work serving on a hiring committee for a new fulltime faculty member; I think of all the things I do as an employee of my school, this is the one that causes me the most psychological stress—even more than fielding complaints from students about other instructors’ grading policies.

There’s something deeply enervating about being the gatekeeper to a new life for someone; even though I do have informed preferences about which instructors would be the best fit for my institution, it still pains me to have to be part of the process that prevents some people from realizing their ambition of being a college teacher.

Part of this probably is my own feelings of inadequacy; every time I serve on one of these committees, I’m amazed that I got through the process. The fact that I have tenure and that I’m generally appreciated as in instructor is testament to something, but it still seems fairly unlikely to me, given the vast number of unemployed academics out there, that I was lucky enough to be hired in the first place.

It’s particularly difficult trying to get a sense of what the person is going to be like from his or her materials; in many cases, I wonder whether we would do as good a job in finding candidates to interview if we just chose from applications randomly.

That said, our committee ended up with a couple of candidates we all really liked and have our fingers crossed that one of them at least will be our new colleague next fall.

I remember with great fondness the summer after I’d been hired before I started my fulltime position; because I had a real job waiting for me in September, I was able, for the first time in many years, tell people that I wasn’t unemployed, I was on vacation.

My mom, in particular, got a great big kick out of that.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Iggy Pop

My friend Chris Badgley and I went to see Iggy and the Stooges on Friday night and, somewhat to my surprise, I thought the old man was great.

My overriding impression was of watching some strange 21st century Western shaman, a cross between Gollum and the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

James Newell Osterberg, Jr. looks pretty good (from fifty yards away in a darkened hall) for sixty years old, or at least no more freaky than he ever did; his fitness is some sort of testament to sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll; and he moved pretty slinkily for a sexagenarian. I was impressed with how tight his band was and how slick, without being Vegas-y, his show was.

It also seemed to me that he had a healthy sense of irony about the whole thing; more than once, I got the feeling that Iggy was “playing” Iggy, like a performer in a Broadway show. But clearly, no one around does Iggy better than the original.

I’m not hugely familiar with his catalogue, but I recognized most of the hits, including “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and “Real Cool Time;” I also thought there was one Mike Watt song mixed in there near the end, but I’m not sure, it may have just been him taking a bass solo.

The venue sort of sucked; the WaMu Events Center is just a massive indoor box, better for trade shows than concerts. It felt like being at a high school dance, even down to the security, which was ubiquitous if not exactly oppressive.

Drinkers were roped off in corrals on the concourse outside the auditorium, so you couldn’t have a beer while you watched the show; that seemed fairly inimical to me of the Iggy vibe.

We stayed for the whole show except the last part of the final encore; overall, it was a pretty good time, but now that I’ve seen Iggy, I don’t have to see him again.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Five Bucks a Month

So my State Farm agent sends me an email saying that because of “substance” use, I don’t qualify for the “super preferred” rate, only the standard non-tobacco user price for my life insurance policy.

No real surprise there; when I peed in a cup for the nurse last week, it was only two days after 4/20; what was to be expected? (I thought about having Mimi leave me a sample in a jar to use, but then worried that my urine would show, who knows what? An excess of Cocoa Crispie molecules or something.)

It rankles me that I’m being charged five bucks a month for the “privilege” of being an occasional pot smoker, even though that seems a fairly small amount to spend. I certainly get as much pleasure out of the deal as a couple lattes a month. But still…

I think the actuarial tables are wrong; I’m pretty sure that my several times a month “use” of cannabis doesn’t make me more likely to die. In fact, the riskiest behavior I engage in—bike riding at night when I’m too drunk—really only happens on those occasions I run out of joints before the evening is out and have to turn to less refined forms of intoxication.

Frankly, I still think I’m getting lousy odds at either rate. At 62 bucks a month, it comes out at just over a 33 to 1 payoff at the end of 10 years; I could get bigger payday picking a longshot at the track.

Even if we figure the any given day payoff of about 100,000 to 1, that’s still pretty cheap; I’d have to say it’s more like a million to 1 shot that I’ll die on some random day between now and 2017.

My inclination is to lower my coverage rather than spend the extra fin; that’s a saving of 700 bucks over the next ten years, probably just about what I’ll spend on pot.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Blog Dreams

Maybe I should give up my project to go 327 days in a row blogging a 327 word essay; it’s starting to worm its way into my subconscious, as evidenced by the blogger anxiety dreams I’ve been having of late—two out of the last three nights, to be exact.

Tuesday night I had a variation on the common teacher’s nightmare of being utterly unprepared for class. Instead of showing up in front of my students without any notes and/or clothes, in this version I had a number of handwritten (read “illegible”) pages of writing that I suddenly realized I was supposed to have transcribed and posted but had failed to. So, like the scary dream case where I come to see I’ve completely forgotten about my responsibility to educate my students, there I was, failing miserably in my project to illuminate the world through the incandescence of my prose.

Last night, I dreamed that I had written something that was so outlandish, embarrassing, and insulting that I couldn’t believe I had done it. Now, it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d found myself in that position, but what made the dream so creepy was that I had no recollection of having written it in the first place. (Again, not a unique scenario, but the combination of the two was particularly chilling.)

My most common anxiety dream involves missing travel connections. I’m on a bus going the wrong direction from where I want to be with no idea how to get off and headed back on track; or, I’m trying to catch a plane that’s leaving in just a few minutes when I’m hours away from the airport; perhaps the blog equivalent would be something like I’ve got a mere 327 words to spend with pages and pages of stuff to say or maybe the converse: nothing to say and over 300 ahead of me.

But maybe those aren’t MY nightmares, just those who read this.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Another Cellphone Rant

Like your curmudgeonly neighbor who’s always yelling at you to get the hell outta his yard, here I am going off again about cellphones.

Of course, they’re such an easy target; what’s more pathetic than all those people with what my mom used to call “that hand-to-face disease?” In that case, though, they’re only hurting themselves, missing out on self-reflection and solitude.

What really gets me, though, is when the cellphone addiction causes harm to others, and not just the obvious case where the distracted gabber plows his or her SUV into somebody else—who’s also chatting away into their own piece of plastic.

The case I’m thinking of is one I’ve noticed more as the weather improves, and I shed a little tear inwardly every time I see it, which of late, has been almost every day.

And this is where I see parents—usually young mothers, but in several cases dads—walking with their babies—usually in strollers, but in several cases, Baby Bjorn carriers or some other kinds of sling—yakking into their cellphones while Junior sleeps, cries a little, or just stares off into space.

I think something important, maybe even lovely, is being lost: those times when as a parent of an infant when you’re just stuck with him or her, no grownups to talk to, so you’ve got no choice but to be right there, present with the kid.

No doubt this is partly sour grapes on my part; when Mimi was a baby, cellphones were common but not ubiquitous; consequently, there were times when I spent the whole day talking in the voice of her beloved stuffed dog, Bingo; I would have loved to chat with adults, but I couldn’t, so we just stayed in each other’s faces from dawn ‘til dusk.

Maybe that’s not a good thing, but it’s been that way for parents and babies from time immemorial; I’m not sure the current experiment is good for anyone.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tempus Fuckit

I’m trying, as I move deeper into my second half-century, not to turn into an old fogey—right away, anyway. I’m disinclined to give up the enthusiastic and fun-loving attitudes of my youth in favor of a more sober and reserved outlook on life.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be some scary senior citizen pretending to be a teenager, like the cast of Friends in the final few seasons of that show.

So, I’m not too freaked out that many of my opinions on things have changed over the years; in fact, I take it as evidence that I haven’t become totally ossified in my perspective, as incapable of changing as the expression on Joan Rivers’ face.

So, for instance, it’s okay with me that I no longer am as interested in staying up as late as possible as I am in figuring out how to get to bed as early as I can.

Or, I used to get a rush of ego-osterone when someone younger than me zoomed past on his or her bike; now, I only feel that way when someone older than me does.

Back in the day—oh, let’s call it Tuesday—I wanted to make tons and tons of money; now, while I wouldn’t mind winning the lottery, I find it more interesting to be frugal, at least in theory.

For years, I liked nothing better than to hear myself talk; these days, I consider it far superior to hear what others are going on about, and even better if I don’t even have to listen.

I’m not nearly as in to sports as I used to be; of course, that could change if the Mariners get hot or the Steelers repeat their success of 2005.

When I first started doing the blog, I couldn’t believe how constraining it was to only have 327 words to work with; these days, I stretch to use them all up.

At last.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Why I Ride

There’s an uncharacteristically touchy-feely thread on the .83 board today in which folks are weighing in on their reasons for riding bikes; I offered a flip, “No DUI on a bicycle,” and a more serious, “Freedom, generally,” but the topic got me thinking about why I do spend so much time on two wheels.

While answering “because I like it” is true, that begs the question; what we’re wondering about is WHY I like it.

Similarly, even though I could say, “because I hate driving,” that wouldn’t address why I cycle in situations where a car isn’t the only (or even an) option.

The best way for me to think about it is that cycling gives me a way to express a number of my most deeply-held values, like for instance, the aforementioned one of not getting arrested for traveling from one place to another while inebriated.

Self-sufficiency, that’s another. Even though there are some things I need help with—wheel-building, headset cup installation—for the most part, I can fix anything that might go wrong with a bike. It feels good to know that as long as I’ve got the tools and the parts, I can get myself up and running; with a car, by contrast, if it breaks down, I’m fucked.

Simplicity and thrift: I like how bicycles tend to be uncomplicated and cheap; not that I don’t spend lots of dough on fancy do-dads and pretty frames, but it’s not like I’m taking out a loan to acquire the latest German or Japanese technology.

Kindness: sure, I’ve been known to give the finger to some cellphone-gabbing asshole who almost creams me, but far more frequently, and way more than I would in a car, I smile and nod to a fellow cyclist or a considerate driver.

Of course, the environmental smug factor can’t be overlooked, nor the exercise, the experience of nature, a sense of adventure, and feelings of community.

No DUI bears repeating, too.

Monday, April 23, 2007

This Never Happens

About two months ago, I got a fat envelope from the IRS saying, in about twelve pages of specific and boilerplate text, that we owed around $3500.00 in taxes from last year. Yikes!

Apparently, it appeared to them I had failed to report investment income from stocks I inherited when my mom died. I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case, though. One of the sage pieces of advice my dad gave me was never to fudge on the amount of money you make in a year; the implication, though he didn’t say this exactly, was that one can get a bit creative in reporting expenses, especially since, in some cases, it’s a matter of interpretation about what exactly counts as business costs; the IRS, though, is very good at tracking how much a person earns, so not only is it morally suspect to under-report, it’s imprudent, as well.

Amazingly, I was able to find the appropriate records, reconstruct my error in the way I reported the investment income—I had reported it, just not in the same way that my broker did to the feds—and write a letter to the IRS explaining what had happened.

A couple weeks ago, I got a follow-up letter saying that they had received my correspondence and were reviewing it. I had, at that point, visions of bureaucrats in windowless offices taking umbrage at my impertinence in not merely sending off a check; I imagined I’d get a spiteful reply saying I owed twice as much originally.

But lo and behold, today, I got a skinny envelope with one sheet of paper in it that informed me that the Department of the Treasury is pleased to tell me that the difference between my records and my payers’ has been cleared up and that I may disregard any previous notice of deficiency. I am thanked for my cooperation, end of story.

Score one for the common man, at least so far.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Doing Nothing, Saying Nothing

This summer, I may take part in a workshop intended to explore what it means to do nothing. Today, I feel like I could be practicing for it.

I’m having one of those days where the various options before me fail to provoke; even the standby bike ride around the neighborhood is failing to impel me to action.

Part of this, I suspect is due to several days, that is nights, of overindulging. Thursday, I stayed up way too late on the .83 ride; Friday, I had a bit too much fun taking part in the Office Chair Downhill; last night, Jen and I went to a benefit dance party for a local arts organization; we closed down the event and then made last call at a nearby bar; that’s the first time we’ve done that in a while. All told, we had a pretty good time, mostly cracking wise with people, some of whom we know better than others, but I’m paying the price today, emotionally, if not entirely physically (I was driving our car, so restrained my consumption of poisons more than I might have usually.)

But another part of my lack of initiative today can be attributed, I think, to a general sense of malaise precipitated by tragedy at Virginia Tech earlier this week, especially today’s news that Cho fired more than 100 bullets at his victims. It makes me just want to curl up in a fetal position in my bedroom knowing that someone so deeply troubled was able to purchase a 9 millimeter automatic handgun and then buy bullets with no problem off eBay.

And I’m left feeling powerless to do anything about it and while I realize it’s a cop-out in many ways to say that, I nevertheless end up sitting around on a Sunday like this with no incentive to do anything by way of response.

You’d think, at least, I’d have the good taste to not say anything either.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Office Chair Downhill 2007

There I was, at 50 years old, never having won a race in my life—until last night, when I totally smoked the field in the modified class of the Dead Baby-sponsored Office Chair Downhill 2007, taking first place by half a block and winning a brand-new Ultegra rear derailleur in the process.

Mimi and I spent the afternoon modifying a skateboard with an office chair back and seat to create a vehicle we called the “Assburner,” which turned out to be remarkably stable and fast, and most importantly, relatively safe. (Our primary design requirement was that it be low to the ground so that falls off would be short.)

Then, we loaded it up on the tandem (another plus was that it could be carried on the bike) and headed over to Boren and Fairview where a large pile of office chairs indicated the race’s starting line.

We hung around admiring the rides other folks were using; some, notably a comfy recliner bolted to a plywood sheet with casters, showed genuine creativity and attention to detail.

The race competition was broken down into several heats. Ours, the undercard, featured four or five oddball contraptions, the Assburner by far the most aerodynamically efficient. In fact, I finished so far ahead of the field, that I ran halfway back up the course and rode down again in the lead, essentially winning the same race twice.

The main event saw about a dozen or so guys, and perhaps a girl or two, sitting in and falling out of office chairs in a free-for-all demolition derby down the hill. This was run in several heats, each one, as the racers refilled their water bottles from the nearby keg of beer, increasingly raucous.

The overall winner was as fearless as he was crazy, launching his chair with a prodigious run, like a bobsledder starting down the course. But no broken bones, and a handmade wheelset from Mobius Cycles for the win.

Friday, April 20, 2007

420 Day

Apparently it’s news that three players widely regarded as top-10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft have admitted to smoking pot.

Is this a “dog bites man” story or what?

It would be news if they admitted to NOT having gotten high.

On this, the semi-official annual marijuana day (I first heard the term “420” when some students in a high school class I was volunteering in asked me, one April 20th a few years ago, whether I was going to mark the occasion at 4:20 in the afternoon), I want to say a few words about the entirely fucked-up attitudes and policies that society at-large and the world’s governments have about cannabis.

When I was a pot-smoking teenager oh so many years ago, I was convinced that by the time I was a grown-up, marijuana would be entirely legal, that you’d be able to go to your local smoke shop and buy a pack of joints to consume responsibly without fear of arrest or reprisal.

But here we are in the 21st century still institutionalizing this weird taboo about a plant that has the misfortune (or good fortune) of producing in people who smoke it slightly altered sensations of taste, touch, and vision, and occasionally somewhat different ways of looking at and thinking about the world.

I really do wrack my brain to figure out why pot should be illegal when alcohol isn’t. My dad’s position was that the intent is different: people allegedly drink booze because they enjoy the taste, whereas the only reason anyone smokes dope is to get high.

I think that’s false. Last night, for instance, I slammed down, on something of a dare, a shot of Jagermeister and Rumplemintz; no one would do that unless they wanted to get hammered. By contrast, I shared a joint earlier in the evening with some fellow bike riders, fully enjoying the tasty bud whether I got high or not.

Which, however, incidentally, I did.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Sometimes, and probably more frequently than I think, or at least admit, I really do enjoy teaching.

Today was one of those times.

I’m not entirely sure why; it certainly had something to do with the subject matter—we were trying to establish the plausibility of numerological and astrological predictions and character analysis—it also related to how little lecturing I did—hardly any—and probably the weather figured in as well—it’s been pretty sunny and mild today and I could open the windows in the classroom without anyone complaining.

Was it a profound and meaningful learning experience for students? I have my doubts. But did they have an opportunity to engage in some critical thinking and conceptual analysis? I think so, but who can be sure?

Everyday, I write some proposed outcome on the board for the day’s lesson. Today, I said that students would come out of the class better equipped to judge whether astrology is plausible to them. Now, while I believe they took part in an exercise that gave them the opportunity to practice doing that, I’m not sure what I hoped would be accomplished really was.

Often, I think, I just create opportunities for students to simply rehearse the views they already hold in a new way. That might not be such a bad thing, but if my job is to enlighten, then I’m probably falling way short.

It’s clear to me though, that what works best for me as a teacher is trying to create a space where learning can take place; I usually get rather flustered when I have to lecture; even as the words come out of my mouth, I find them hard to believe.

There were some funny moments today; a couple students found the descriptions on the astrological profiles they created for themselves so spot on as to be pretty hilarious.

I guess if I can create a space for people to laugh, that’s good enough.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New Bike

I got a new bike today; only, oddly, it wasn’t for me.

This one’s for Mimi. It’s her first “real” full-size rig, a Marin Muir Woods, 13-inch frame, with 26-inch wheels.

We rode the tandem to two shops, 2020 Cycle, and Velo Bikeshop, on our buying expedition. From the latter, where we purchased the Marin, I rode the tandem home solo and Mimi pedaled her new bike, cruising easily, even up the Jefferson Street hill.

Our deal was that she would pay a percentage of the cost and, allowance-hoarder that she is, that hardly made a dent in her burgeoning nest egg.

The experience reminded me of when I was thirteen and my dad took me to buy my first ten-speed, a blue Schwinn Varsity that, in the classic style, I had saved up my paper route money for. The place we got it wasn’t even a fulltime bicycle shop; as I recall, it was just a collection of bikes in the showroom of the car dealership my dad frequented. Still, I remember being just as excited as Mimi was today, and I’m pretty sure I rode the new bike home. I’m certain I didn’t wear a helmet, but I do have a recollection of my dad saying he was impressed when he caught up to me (I guess I left the store first) and saw me using hand signals when I was turning.

There’s certainly something magical about a brand new bicycle; when I was eight, my parents got me a Schwinn Typhoon; it was too big for me and so I spent the first couple weeks just pushing it around the neighborhood. Eventually, Bruce Harrison dared me to ride it and I did, even though I couldn't reach the pedals from the seat.

Mimi’s new bike fits her a lot better than that and I think it will for a while; next one, in any case, she’s springing for all by herself.

Right Dad?


Tuesday, April 17, 2007


There’s a long article in last week’s New Yorker about people’s commuting experiences and the message is essentially that the longer your trip to and from work, the unhappier you’ll be.

By that gauge, I should be pretty miserable. I spend—honestly—about three hours a day getting from home to Cascadia and back, especially if I include the time it takes me to get geared up on rainy days.

But I’m not really all that unhappy, nor do I feel especially socially isolated, which Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam says is directly correlated to how long a person commutes.

And of course, my explanation will be obvious to anyone who’s ever talked to me or read even a couple of my postings: it’s because most of the time spent on my commute is spent on a bike.

So, while German economist Alois Stutzer observes that people who commute long distances trade off fun and exercise in order to secure monetary gains, I don’t have to do that: I get my fun and exercise right along the way.

Sometimes, I have these streaks where due to bad weather, tight schedules, or laziness, I end up riding the bus a couple days in a row, and when that happens, I do start to feel lousy, like a number, a mere face in the crowd, cog in the machine.

What gets me most is the sense of being trapped in the same routine, over and over.

On the bike, though, I generally have some small feeling of adventure: the light is different; the air feels unique; a squirrel darts across my path; I imagine that I could just keep riding all the way to Canada. Also, I’m out in the world, as opposed to inside a can moving through it.

This isn’t to say I don’t wish school was a few miles closer to home. On the other hand, if it were, I wouldn’t get to ride as much.

Monday, April 16, 2007


I woke up in a pretty good mood, ready to create meaningful learning experiences for my students, participate in the civic and artistic life of my city, and contribute to the cultural richness of the contemporary world with pithy ruminations on matters of genuine importance to anyone fortunate or tasteful enough to peruse my blog.

Then I went online and read about the shootings at Virginia Tech and everything I had in mind to do seemed pointless and absurd. I just sat at my desk reading various accounts of the massacre, utterly defeated by the tragedy of it all.

Surrounded by college students in my building, I couldn’t help but think how awful the scene in Virginia must have been. I tried not to imagine our students as victims or even as the shooter himself; I thought of the hundreds of people whose lives have been irretrievably altered by the insanity of just one person.

And god, to be a parent of a student there; you finally get your child mostly grown up and sent off to some place you expect they’ll be safe to study and learn, and then this. It makes me just want to open a small business and have the kid work for me.

I read the emerging commentaries and got pretty disgusted by the predictable posturing by fans and foes of gun control, and while I can understand people’s anger over how the college’s administration handled things, I don’t think its fair to point fingers at them.

If anything’s to blame, it’s probably testosterone; the one thing all these tragedies have in common is that they’re perpetrated by males; we need men control more than anything.

But now here I am doing the same thing I was disgusted by: using this tragedy to grind my own axe about something else, when what I have to say doesn’t even matter.

I think I’ll just shut up and go be kind to my family.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Filmed by Bike

Jen, Mimi, and I rode the tandem and the XO-1 to Filmed by Bike,, the Portland festival of short films about bicycles and bicycle riders.

I found it especially satisfying to roll out of our hotel on bikes to watch cycling-themed movies.

The films themselves were a decidedly mixed bag: a couple—especially one called Tag, about a chase between a cycle courier and a roller blader through the streets and alleys of London—were quite slick, while others—notably one about bike messengers and zombies in Portland—were almost unwatchable.

All though, had a bicycle-fueled exuberance that, to me, was really delightful.

The last, called Ski Boys,, I found especially charming. It depicted the adventures of a bunch of kids in Canadian farm country who amused themselves by building tall bikes, wheeled skis and toboggans, and ramps from which to propel themselves on two-wheelers into irrigation canals.

Their joy was infectious and as we climbed on our own bikes, heading crosstown to dinner, we couldn’t help but feel like we were flying, too.

Doing this weekend trip without a car made the whole adventure more effervescent. There’s something to me that just screams holiday to hop on two wheels, ride to the train, get back on bikes and ride around.

I also like how cycling as a family flattens the hierarchy; instead of mom and dad in the front of the car, it’s the three of us all in the same boat, that is, two wheels. Plus, there’s no way for the kid to lose herself in a Gameboy on the back of the tandem.

Memories are made of this: tooling around a different town on two wheels; going out to another cool breakfast joint, and then riding through neighborhoods you’ve never seen before.

And if that’s not unforgettable, here’s the bike film I’m replaying in my mind: riding the tandem through the lobby to the elevator, and then down the long hallway to our room.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Midnight Mystery Ride

There are few things I like as much as a party where the adults get to hang around talking and drinking while the kids congregate nearby amusing themselves with a minimum of parental supervision.

But one pastime that’s certainly on a par with that is taking a group bike ride at midnight in a city I’m fairly unfamiliar with and ending up drinking beer and celebrating two-wheelers under a massive freeway cloverleaf, miles from where we started riding en masse.

And last night, I got to experience both of those.

After a fancy dinner with a gang of about twenty neighbors, friends, and new friends from Seattle, I dropped Jen and Mimi off at our hotel in Portland (to which we had traveled via bicycle and train), swapped the tandem for the XO-1 (now Jen’s bike, which warms my heart), and rode across the Willamette River from downtown to the Hawthorne neighborhood, where I met up with a mass of cyclists celebrating the Filmed by Bike festival at a charming local movie theater called the Clinton, which remains essentially unchanged from when I first saw films there as a student at Reed over thirty! years ago.

About a hundred cyclists swarmed the intersection around the theater until Midnight Mystery Ride organizer, Shawn Granton, (who it turned out I knew—at least virtually—as the artist of the Patchkit Alleycat flyer and spoke card last summer) led us out onto the darkened streets, whooping up our bike love together.

His only words of direction: “Don’t pass me or you’re no longer on the ride,” were wise counsel that our own .83 rides could sometimes take to heart.

We rode along the riverfront esplanade for a couple miles until ending up in a perfect post-apocalyptic outdoor cyclefest destination among towering freeway columns.

Perhaps best of all, I liked meandering home by myself, somewhat lost much of the time, but confident that our hotel would eventually pull up, which it did.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Injured Ashtanga

It’s always interesting—and I mean that in the way of the curse, “You should live in interesting times”—practicing the day after I’ve hurt myself. I get to see how much I rely on different parts of my body in getting in various poses, or, as Mom used to say the day after a long day of skiing, I get to “feel muscles I didn’t even know I had,”

So, for instance, I got to realize today how much I rely on my wrist not only in the obvious asanas like chaturanga dandasana and backbends, but also in stepping into Warrior or in setting up most of the twists.

This has happened to me before; the sprained wrist following a bike crash is an injury I’m familiar with. You’d think I’d have learned by now not to throw my hands out in front of me when I’m falling, but I guess it beats a broken clavicle.

I’m willing to be philosophical about it and use the recovery period as a learning experience (what other choice do I have?), but what I can’t seem to do is let go of considering alternative scenarios wherein I didn’t go tits-over-teakettle yesterday.

Right before my wreck, I was riding with my colleague from school, having a nice chat about pedagogy and poetry. But since he’s a faster rider than me and I always feel like I’m slowing him down, I cut off onto the shortcut so he could resume hammering solo. So, if only my ego hadn’t been trying to kill me there, I wouldn’t be in my current (somewhat) sorry state.

On the other hand, if my mom and dad had never met, I wouldn’t even have been born, which—according to Woody Allen quoting Sophocles—my be the “greatest boon of all.”

I disagree; the unborn don’t get to ride bikes, and even with the occasional crash, doing so is easily in my top ten of all boons.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Adrenaline Rush

I had a couple of thrilling moments today when my heart beat really fast and hormones flooded my body, making me all crazy strong and stupid for a few seconds.

The first was this morning when some lady almost ran into me with her car. I was coming slowly across an intersection on my bike, in a crosswalk, with the light; she was turning right and suddenly was inches away from my front tire. I screamed “Raargh!” and amazingly, caught her attention just before she ran into me.

My favorite part was when she mouthed the words from inside her rolled up windows, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.”

As if I were wondering about that. Duh.

The second time was this afternoon when I went way too fast on the turn from the footbridge on the bike path by the UW softball fields to the gravel path that runs behind the tennis courts and—as my .83 pals like to call it, “ate shit,” pouring like water over my handlebars onto the pebbles, giving myself a nice case of road rash on my right hand and my chin and spraining my left wrist badly enough that I know it’s going to be tough doing sun salutations for the next six weeks or so.


In both cases, the incident itself had that extended slow-motion quality and then, it seemed, time didn’t catch up until a little while afterwards.

I wasn’t nearly as scared, for instance, while the car was coming at me, as I was a bit later at the bus stop thinking about it. That’s when my knees went all weak and I almost fell down.

And right after I wrecked, I hopped up and started walking in circles; it took a few moments before I realized I was bleeding and bruised.

Adrenaline is a pretty amazing drug, I guess; it sure seems to work better than the ibuprofen I’ve been pounding this evening, anyway.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Desiring to Desire

For some time, on and off, I’ve had these unfulfilled desires for a number of consumer items—a new yoga mat, an upgrade to my Airport, a color laser printer, Iggy Pop tickets—and I think I’m just going to go ahead and fulfill them all.

I realize that having these things won’t make me a happier or better person, but at least I’ll be able to stop coveting them and can save some time I currently waste surfing online stores and making wish lists.

Having had to spend money on things I’d prefer not to—taxes and insurance—I’m thinking I may as well spend some on things I want, even though my life is essentially fine without them.

In making these purchases, I’m basically exchanging numbers on bank statements for tangible items and while I certainly get a measure of satisfaction in seeing particular numbers on those statements, I’m pretty sure I will be more gratified by having a less slippery surface on which to do sun salutations, a faster, more reliable internet connection, a way to print out all my 327 word essays, and a memory of the world’s scrawniest rock star in concert.

I remember my mom saying that the only reason to have money was to make your life more comfortable, more secure, or more beautiful; she thought my dad sometimes lost sight of that and kept his purse strings tied a bit too tight.

I’m somewhere in the middle; I think I do share my dad’s worries about having the rainy day fund, but I basically agree with my mom: you can’t take it with you, so you may as well enjoy it while you can.

Of course, I want to be secure in my old age (especially given its proximity) and I’d like to leave something for the kid, but frankly, if the estate is down to what I’m planning on spending for these few things, it’s essentially gone, anyway.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Insurance Scam

Occasioned by my turning 50, our State Farm agent called up and said it was time to update my life insurance, so I’m going to poked and prodded, phlebotomized and made to micturate in a cup so as to ensure I’m a good risk for the company that would have to pay off should I keel over and die in the next ten years.

Naturally, the megabazillion dollar conglomerate has to look out for its interests, but the whole arrangement strikes me as cheesy; if they really want to take the bet I’m offering on continuing to live, they ought to accept it at face value without stacking the deck so strongly in their favor.

It’s like they’re playing poker with me but they want to see my hand before they ante up.

Insurance overall is a weird business; it’s only worthwhile if something bad happens to the customer and so you find yourself in the strange position of paying for something you don’t really want.

I think it’s predicated in lots of cases on fallacious reasoning, specifically the so-called post hoc fallacy, wherein you see a causal connection between events that are merely contiguous, like coming to believe that because I won some money in Vegas that time I wore my green shirt that the green shirt is lucky.

Most people (me, anyway) buy insurance because they believe that if they don’t buy it, something awful will ensue. We hear about some guy who died without coverage and think, “Poor schmuck; if only he’d had a universal whole life policy, it never would have happened.” (Or, I do, anway.)

Assuming I qualify for the “super preferred” rate, I’ll be spending around five hundred bucks a year for the next ten years all of which, assuming I don’t die, will be for naught.

So, why not take the five grand and buy a stack of lottery tickets? At least there’s a bet I’d be glad to win.

Monday, April 09, 2007


I wish I had a bullpen for my life.

It would be extremely cool if, when I find myself out of energy or ideas, that the lifestyle equivalent of a flame-throwing youngster could step in and finish things up for me.

So, for instance, on those last few miles of my ride home, when the hills are getting especially steep, some kid with fresh legs would pedal up the slope while I retired early to the showers.

Or, in my teaching, for those times I’ve only an hour’s worth of material for two hour’s worth of class, some bright-eyed enthusiast could fill in while I retired to my office to read and prepare for another day.

I could have the short reliever, the “closer” to fill in during the final few minutes of meetings when I want to get out and on my way home quickly.

And I could have the long reliever, the “mop up” guy to do all the dishes and vacuum the floor after parties. He’d also be ideal for half-day “strategic planning” meetings, too.

Sandy Koufax used to call the Dodgers closer at the time, Phil Regan, “the vulture,” because Regan would pick up all these wins in short relief that Koufax and others had done the heavy lifting for; I wouldn’t begrudge my relievers their glory, though, especially if they were willing to erase the boards and bring my books and materials back to my office after class.

Of course, it would be a drag if I turned things over to them and it all went to hell; I’d be upset if I had ridden all the way from, say, Bothell, to the U, and my reliever bonked on the bike in Montlake, but I guess that’s the occasional price to pay for comfort.

Ultimately, the benefits would likely outweigh the downside; best of all, I could count on a much better finish to a piece like this that just peters out.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Today’s been my all-day tax day. The process isn’t so bad; I gather up the records I’ve throwing a drawer for the year and enter the information into TurboTax hoping that the outcome won’t be too devastating.

This year, it’s not all that ugly; we owe the Feds (what my Mom used to refer to as “Uncle Sugar”) a hefty chunk of change, but less than I feared. At least I won’t have to sell any bikes to pay what we owe.

I’d feel a lot better about things if I felt that my tax dollars were being spent in a way that I more heartily endorsed. I’m especially upset if it’s the case that the largest part of what I pay goes to the Defense Department, and if much of that is allocated to the war in Iraq. I wish there were some way to designate on my return on where I’d like my tax dollars to go. It pains me to be spending my hard-earned (and more easily inherited) cash on bombs and bullets when I’d like to see it buying books and bicycles.

I suppose if I were more politicized, I’d do like Thoreau, who was willing to go to jail so as not to pay taxes in support of a government that permitted slavery. Given that a not entirely unreasonable case could be made that the current administration is essentially permitting (and even supporting) an equally unjust state of affairs in Iraq, I might be expected to follow his lead and engage in civil disobedience, refusing to send any money to the IRS until the troops are brought home.

I guess I’m just not that good of a person, which—given what a moral exemplar Thoreau was—that’s not all that bad. But still, maybe I’m just being to complacent and taking the easy way out.

Maybe, but it certainly would have been easier still to not do the damn things at all.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

New Computer

I’ve been coveting a new MacBook for a while; the old one’s a couple years old and while it meets my needs, it doesn’t fully fulfill my desires, especially for video and audio capture, even if the likelihood of my using those capabilities is limited to sending Apple Photobooth pictures of me to myself.

So, today at the University Bookstore, where I’d gone to buy a copy of Turbotax in order to do the taxes—hey, we’ve got a whole week!—I made an impulse buy on a new last year’s model of the MacBook that they were closing out for a really good price.

I’m beginning to get set up on it and while it seems great so far, I am experiencing a bit of buyer’s remorse, principally because even though I’ve got a fancier, faster computer, it’s obvious that I’m not a fancier, faster thinker or writer.

The promise of technology is that it’s supposed to make us “work smarter, not harder;” but every time I get a new piece of technology, I spend lots of time working pretty hard to get back to the place I was with the old technology several weeks ago.

Copying all my old applications and files to the new machine went relatively smoothly; naturally, the automatic process wasn’t perfect and I had to do some things manually; back in the day, I used to really enjoy noodling around with a new machine to get things just right; now, I want to do as little as possible even to the point of putting up with far-less-than-ideal configurations of things as long as I can do the work I think I need to do.

Also, it’s weird spending a big chunk of change on a computer knowing that it will be obsolete or broken in a few years. If I had made an impulse buy this big on a new bike today, I’d certainly still be riding it decades from now.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Sometimes I think the best thing I ever wrote was this piece about a brand-new computer-aided religion called "Wauism.” (It looks like it’s pronounced “Wow-ism;” however, it’s intended it to be pronounced “Wah-ism;” but in any case.)

Originally, it was a hoax letter I sent to a bunch of my friends, hoping to enlist them in a new cult, or at least to send me money. Back in the zine days, I used to occasionally produce gag pieces like this; onetime I mailed out several dozen fake Christmas letters from a made-up family named the “Waverlys;” the funniest joke in that one, I think, was the Dad writing about how he had broken a leg skiing in France; fortunately, he said, it wasn’t his leg.

Anyway, sometime later, I posted “Wauism” to my student website when I was in graduate school at the UW; now, some ten or so years later, you can find it here and there on the internet. I even recall, I think, seeing a usenet newsgroup devoted to discussions of it some years ago; there weren’t many postings, but a few of them debated it seriously.

I have this occasional fantasy that Wauism will someday be seen as a real religion by people in the future; certainly, its ecumenical spirit might go a long way towards alleviating some of the sectarian violence we see in the world today. Or at least help make people a little less guilty about their little guilty secrets.

If that were the case, though, would I get to be high priest? I sure hope not, although in many ways, I think my background and training has pretty well prepared me to be worshipped…but who’s hasn’t?

Of course, there’s something ironic about an atheist being the founder of a new religion; it’s like someone, say a President, sworn to uphold his nation’s Constitution, engaging in all sort of activities that run counter to that document’s principles.

Oh, yeah. Right

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cheap Thrills

I watched the Woody Allen movie Match Point last night and it annoyed me; the story was too predictable and I wish it had unfolded via honesty rather than deception, but I did like the idea that luck plays a much bigger part in our lives than we think or want to believe it does.

I got lucky tonight and so did the lady who pulled into my lane as I was passing her on the inside coming down Pike Street past Broadway; she bumped the trailer sending me tipping over the top of my bike and getting all tied up in my handlebars. I wasn’t hurt; the trailer was only slightly bent; I got the cheap lesson about trying to go too fast pulling cargo; she got an inexpensive reminder to watch what fuck you’re doing when you’re behind the wheel of a car.

Some good Samaritan helped me extricate myself from my tangle; my wheel was turned almost all the way around catching the fender under the down tube; I didn’t give him the thanks he deserved.

The driver herself stopped and was as apologetic as she was relieved she didn’t hurt me. I was nicer to her than I was to the guy who door-prized me that time, but I could have been nicer. When she asked me what she could do, I said, “What can you do? Just go on and have a happy life.”

I wish I would have said, “You can thank your good fortune that you didn’t really hurt me,” but I guess she already had.

After a few minutes of deep-breathing, I was able to tow the trailer to Westlake Center where I fixed the hitch and Aaron bent the frame back to straight. The cooler I was carrying sustained no damage and the beer inside proved to be no worse for wear when we got up to Greenlake where most of the leftover was consumed.

Cheap thrills, indeed.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Miracle Cure

There’s a flu bug going around that lays people up with a cough, stuffy nose, and fever; I’m trying to fight it off.

Last night I had a restless sweaty-chilly night and woke up all achy, my throat scratchy and sore.

So I instituted my standard cure for the common cold—massive doses of vitamin C mixed with Echinacea and orange juice—and, at the risk of jinxing myself, it seems like it might be working.

In that last sentence, though, are two claims that, were I a student in the Critical Thinking class I’m teaching this quarter, I would be taught to be skeptical about.

The first is that vitamin C or Echinacea are useful at all in combating colds or flu. It’s my understanding that not only have they not been proven to be effective in either preventing or speeding up recovery from illness, they’ve actually been shown to be ineffective. Neither bombing one’s system with vitamin C nor drenching it with Echinacea extract helps at all in clinical trials.

And yet in my own experience, it seems to work. But maybe I’m just committing the fallacy of false cause or post hoc ergo propter hoc.

And then second, the idea that I might jinx my recovery by believing that I am recovering is, by all accounts, pure superstition. It’s the sort of view that arises from our tendency to commit what psychologists call a “confirmation bias,” our tendency to find evidence for what we already believe.

It’s like how I only notice the times I get a flat tire after mentioning that I haven’t gotten a flat tire in a while. (And by the way, I’m not doing that here; I have gotten a flat recently, so back off, cycling gods.)

So is it irrational to have either or both of these beliefs? No doubt, but I’m still going to pound more calcium ascorbate and extract of Echinacea.

I just won’t tell my students.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Too Fast

My bike was trying to kill me this afternoon.

I rode home today faster than I have in years and I don’t know why.

Perhaps it was the vegetarian matzoh ball soup Deb made for dinner last night; or it could have been inspired by the lovely spring afternoon we’re enjoying in Seattle; or there’s a chance those testosterone patches I started wearing on my birthday are really beginning to work.

Whatever, I just couldn’t stop pedaling as furiously as I could; every time I started to slow down, I seemed compelled to keep pushing the pace back up.

Generally, I’m the anti-sufferer on the bike. You read about Eddy Merckx persevering through his misery in one grand tour after another; Lance Armstrong bragging about his tolerance for pain; an agonized Tyler Hamilton gritting his teeth so hard that he had to get all his molars capped; that’s not for me. I usually like a leisurely ride that makes me love my bike.

Not today; as I continued hammering, even up the hills I hate, I was hurting bad, but for some reason, I couldn’t bring my self to stop.

People ask me how I shower at work when I ride in; I explain that since I don’t ride fast enough to sweat, that’s not necessary.

This afternoon, though, my head and back got soaked with perspiration. If I were planning on being around anyone but my family this evening, I’d definitely need to jump in the shower.

At one point, I started seeing spots in front of my eyes and I took a few chances I normally wouldn’t, like racing a police car up a sidestreet. My cycling guardian angel must have been looking out for me since I neither got killed nor arrested.

Sitting here now, my heart rate back to normal, I’m still not sure why it happened. I think the Saluki just wanted to run and it was my job to keep up.

Monday, April 02, 2007

You Must Remember This

I was reading about how Alberto Gonzales has no recollection of discussions about firing those U.S. attorneys, and thinking about how Scooter Libby couldn’t remember outing Valerie Plame, and reflecting on how Jeffrey Skilling didn’t have memories of any number of shady deals he pulled at Enron, and I started to get all outraged by how these guys and others get so forgetful when it comes to alleged misdeeds.

I was feeling pretty huffy and going on about how convenient it is for them to have these lapses and comparing my own steel trap memory for even the most trivial events in my own life.

But then I was talking to a number of people on Saturday night about this or that event we supposedly shared at some time and it became apparent that there are all sorts of holes in my own accounting of my life.

I couldn’t even remember attending the wedding of a mutual friend and it was only after being referred to photographic evidence that I had to assent to being there. Granted, it took place more than twenty years ago and it’s more than likely that I wasn’t all there (at least at the reception), but still. It’s sort of scary to think of all the things I did or didn’t do that are lost to my mind now.

I’ve heard tell that doctors didn’t use to use anesthetics on infants when they performed surgery on them; the rationale was that since the babies would have no recollection whatsoever of any pain they might experience, that, for all extents and purposes, no pain was experienced.

By this reasoning, if events in my past are entirely lost to me, then it makes no difference whether they were positive or negative; consequently, since most of what goes on in my life will eventually be wiped from the hard disk, it doesn’t really matter what happens.

Or maybe I should just write happy thoughts here.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

O Lucky Man

If there is any luckier guy in the world than me, I’d like to know him—and have him buy me a lottery ticket, too.

In the meantime, though, I'll continue to bask in my own good fortune and revel in the spectacularly auspicious life I lead as brought home to me with absolute clarity by the preternaturally fine time I had surrounded by friends and family in celebration of my 50th birthday last night.

Such a grand commemoration of all that is Dave, that were I not me, I’d have gotten totally sick of myself and even being him. I had pretty much all I could take of the guy.

There was drinking, dancing, and general revelry to an almost embarrassing degree (fortunately, the drinking did much to head off any actual embarrassment), and on at least three occasions, I was totally smothered in love bombs from my loved ones.

And how’s this for the full realization of all my megalomaniacal fantasies? Guests were given tickets to spend on 50 seconds of doing anything they wanted with (or to) me; I originally conceived of it as a sexy challenge: Can You Spend Fifty Seconds Alone in the Dark with the Fifty Year-Old? (And spent weeks trying to sell Jen on the idea.)

But in practice, it was sweeter than that; oh, sure, I got my share of sweaty hugs and good-natured party groping, but even better, I got to spend handfuls of minutes connecting as authentically as I could with all these people in my life who I have the great good fortune to have in my life.

It’s a good thing I only turn fifty once; I’m not sure my heart (or for that matter, liver) could take this again.

I’m inspired, though, to keep feeling this feeling of gratitude about my life, and to remember what wonderful friends and family I have.

Of course, I’ll be lucky to hold on to it through Wednesday.