Friday, August 31, 2007

Must Record Deep Thoughts

One of the good things about having a computer in the basement is that, on those rare occasions it seems like a good idea to get vaped at 2:00 in the afternoon on a summer Thursday, I can quickly type down the revelations that occur to me for further review in the cold cruel light of the morrow dawn. Not surprisingly, none of these seem as interesting as they did when I wrote them.

• In the new book, maybe we should tell old people to be as randy as they want. After all, if one agrees not to procreate—well, if two—then what’s the basis for moral admonition? (Plenty of ideas spring to mind: trust, responsibility, care, but if all those are dealt with…)

• I would love to be able to say truthfully, “I’m sitting here having lunch with my dad.” Why can’t I? Shouldn’t I be allowed to pretend?

• When it seems like the song on the record is narrating your own experience, is it? By some secret unexplained mechanism? Or is your own experience spreading itself over the music?

• My subjective conception of myself is endlessly fascinating. I can look at my fingernails and seek to discover meaning forever.

• I’m sure I don’t believe everything I say, so why should anyone else?

• But if I have a nagging suspicion that I should be doing something else, then how reliable is that?

• When the choice that shows the most humanity is beaten by the expedient choice, what are we to think of the chooser’s humanity? (But how can you know what counts as more humane? By a reasonable measure, right? A measure we can agree on.)

• Most conflicts arise when someone’s pride is hurt; and lots of times it is, the person doing the hurting never even meant to—at least at first.

• You don’t really put thought into words; the two sort of meet in the middle.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Seattle Bike-In

If I rode a Harley-Davidson, I’d probably feel that same way about the annual rally in Sturgis as I did about then event that Mimi and I attended last evening, the Second Annual Northwest Film Forum Bike-In , an affair that brought together hundreds of cyclists to hang out, listen to music, cheer on bike polo players, watch bicycle-themed movies, and generally celebrate our love for humanity's most noble invention, the two-wheeler.

We brought along the Bike Blender, which—with the help of Alex from 2020 Cycle—we had mounted on a trainer and so were especially successful in blending up frozen drinks for youngsters and adults, the former fruit smoothies and limeades, the latter, essentially the same but with tequila and Triple Sec added. (The contraption seems to work a lot better on a stationary base then when you blend while riding; in part, because you can tweak the connection between wheel and blender more easily; in part, because being cheered on by people standing around waiting for their smoothies is powerful incentive to pedal fast and blend seriously).

I saw lots of people I know from various cycling worlds—bike shops, .83, alleycat races—and it felt good to be recognized by many fellow bike riders, too. I realize, of course, that mere familiarity does not equal deep and abiding connection, but still, having never really been a part of any “scene,” it gives me a warm feeling to be, at least peripherally, part of this cycling “scene,” if indeed it can be characterized as one.

The XO-1 looked beautiful as blender bike; I was reminded again how versatile it is: one day, showroom quality collector’s item; the next, utilitarian pedal-powered smoothie maker. Most of all, it’s a bike that deserves to be ridden; it spends far too much time pampered indoors; I liked that it had a chance to be out in the world, pulling a trailer, and getting wet and sticky from spilled limeade.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Mimi and I spent eleven hours at Disneyland yesterday and had an immensely good time for pretty much all of them, even the final fifteen minutes when we were wandering around the Mickey level of the vast “Mickey and Friends Parking Structure” trying to find our rental car.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed myself; I’d been the Magic Kingdom several times before, once as a precociously jaded twelve year-old, when I spent most of our stay in the Main Street Arcade playing pinball, and on a couple of occasions as a young adult living in LA when compelled to shepherd out-of-town guests there, so I rather expected to find it a teeth-grinding experience from start to finish.

But this time, I resolved beforehand to try to have fun, and after our first ride, “Space Mountain,” I was hooked. Never have I been on an amusement park ride that so fully transports you to another realm; (and never have I been so close to hurling on one and not.)

For the rest of the day, we basically alternated standing in long lines and riding roller coasters, particularly enjoying “Splash Mountain,” whose subtle admonition, “You May Get Wet” might well qualify as the understatement of the year.

And of course, we braved the eerily creepy (and upon close examination, rather tawdry—time for some touch-ups, Walt) “It’s a Small, Small World” which Mimi dubbed by far the scariest amusement in the park.

At a meta-level, I was fascinated by the Disney Corporation’s sophistication in getting their money from your pocket into theirs; these guys make the forces behind Las Vegas look like pikers. Every square inch of the park is devoted to getting you to turn over more of your hard-earned cash to Uncle Walt and we certainly did our part.

But as the fireworks exploded over the Magic Castle to the strains of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” it all seemed worth it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Body Surfing

Can there be any better way to spend a day in Southern California than body surfing in the ocean? (Well, I suppose you could be working at Cedars-Sinai on a cure for cancer or sitting in a recording studio in West Hollywood composing the next heavy metal hit for Van Halen, but besides those…)

Mimi and I hit the beach yesterday for the third day in a row and I spent most of the time there in the water trying to untangle myself from the seaweed that clogged the sea near the shore and attempting to catch waves by swimming quickly and straightening out like a torpedo. I got lucky on a couple or three and rode them all the way into the sand, hooting and hollering as I did so.

It makes me incredibly happy to be in the ocean like that; I’m reminded of trips to the New Jersey shore we took as a family when I was a kid, when I would spend all day in the surf, only to lie in bed at night, crispy from the sun and the salt, still feeling the wave motion as I tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep. And I’m transported back to the summer of 1981, when along with my girlfriend at the time, Rita, and our two friends, Ken and Tina, I spent nearly every Saturday and Sunday on Will Rogers state beach, riding wave after wave and falling in love all over again with the briny surf.

(It was also at this time that I learned about the healing powers of the Pacific Ocean; nothing cures a hangover better than a full immersion in the deep blue sea—as long as you can avoid getting seasick as you bob up and down in the water.)

The other high point yesterday was seeing the kid ride her boogie board through the churning breakers; in her goggles and swim shirt, she looked hella tubular. Totally.

Hang ten, Moondoggy.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

John Doe

Saw John Doe and his Rockin’ Band last night at a club called Safari Sam’s in Hollywood. The punk icon was in fine form, tearing through a number of hits, including “White Girl” and “New World” along with a bunch of fairly forgettable new songs, a few rockabilly standards, and ending his encore with a classic rock tune that was charming but which now, in my slightly hungover state, I can’t hardly recall.

It was fun being at a club in Los Angeles; I didn’t see any movie stars, but I was impressed by how many older folks were there. This could have been a function of who was performing (all those grayhairs trying, like me, to recapture a bit of their past) but it seemed that for many of the middle-aged in the crowd this wasn’t entirely a special occasion, so maybe it’s not so weird to go out clubbing in your fifties instead of settling down in front of the TV to watch reruns of “Barney Miller.”

I missed Exene on stage with her former bandmate; the group backing him, Dead Rock West, featured a female lead singer who struck me as a cheaper imitation of Exene; she even wore a vintage dress and cowboy boots but the harmonies between the two singers didn’t have that aggressive edge that X’s did. (My sense was that this singer was—understandably—in awe of John Doe in a way that Exene would never be, so that in the competition between their voices, his always won out, making for a much less interesting duet.)

Guitar god Dave Alvin also sat in for a few songs which was pretty cool, although he is really a rock star who, for me, works much better on record than in person, although his look probably gives heart to aging wannabe rocker librarians around the world.

And it left me wondering as I always do when I see him: does John Doe dye his hair?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

MIdnite Ridazz

One word for bike riding in traffic in LA by yourself: scary! Two words for riding in a group of 200, many of whom are dressed in costumes from the film The Big Lebowski: fucking fun!

I joined up last night with a group of Midnite Ridazz, the Lozangeles-based flash mob bike gang; a couple hundred riders showed up for the “Fuck It, Dude,” a ride based on spots featured in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski. So, we hit a coffee shop called Johnnie’s at Wilshire and Fairfax, the location of Sobchak Security on Santa Monica Boulevard, In ‘N Out Burgers on Sunset, and finally, a bolwing alley, Shatto Lanes at 4th and Vermont.

People were friendly to strangers; riders talked to me when I talked to them, nobody sneered at me even though I was riding my friend Beth’s hybrid girls bike. (In general, there were more purely utilitarian and/or department store bikes than one sees on a ride in Seattle; and while there was a fair-sized contingent of fixie kids, most people had freewheels if not gears, too.)

A major draw for the event was a performance by the Vancouver-based bicycle-inspired dance troupe, the B.C.Clettes, who rode along with us and then set up for a show in a playground at the ending point. They had done about three numbers featuring bicycle-themed movement and percussion when a cop car appeared on the hill above the park and, flashing its lights, ordered us to leave the park. “You have five minutes to get on your bikes and leave,” the cops commanded to much jeering and laughter.

Soon, however, another car showed up and threatened us with arrest. The Clettes persevered for one final number, at which point a police helicopter appeared, shining its high-powered searchlight on the crowd and the show.

This was clearly the sign to call it a night; “fuck it dude,” said the guy next to me, “let’s go bowling.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

Los Angeles

We’re here in LA for a few days while Jen prepares to head off to Burning Man; Mimi and I are going to do a bunch of touristy things including, especially for me, going to the beach to swim in the ocean and especially for her, Disneyland.

Less than 24 hours here and I’m already overwhelmed. LA is certainly the fullest expression American culture taken to the extreme (narrowly beating out Las Vegas) and I marvel at the excess and abundance, alternately hungering for it and being entirely repelled.

We drove through Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, and Beverly Hills yesterday; in many ways, it looks just like it did when I lived here in the early 80’s; there are a few more Starbucks and some of the more crumbling buildings have been replaced by strip malls, but other than that, Sunset Boulevard still exudes its timeless tawdry charms. I didn’t see nearly as many hookers, though, as there were before the 1984 Olympics when Peter Uberoth had them cleaned up, but I suppose that’s what the Internet is for.

The sheer mass of humanity is what gets me the most; sometimes I think Seattle is a big city; I’ll bet, though, that there are more people—and certainly more different kinds of people—in the five mile radius around our friend Beth’s house in Silverlake than in all of King County.

Being here is a bit of a trip down memory lane; and I’m experiencing that strange sense of déjà vu that happens when you’re in a place where you spent lots of time: streets and buildings look almost familiar; I keep thinking I’ve been here or there, (and in many cases, I probably have), although the details of the occasion escape me completely.

I hope to get a bike ride in tonight, but the traffic here has me a bit spooked. I do see bike lines and people riding; so if locals can do it, so can I.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Doubling our family’s attendance at rock concerts this year, Jen, Mimi and I, along with a couple friends and their kid, braved the suburban wilds of Redmond, WA, last night, to see the band Wilco play outdoor under the stars at Marymoor Park.

It was a lovely night, the music was excellent, and apart from heinous traffic we had to fight on the way there, (most of which wasn’t even caused by concertgoers), another fine time was had by us all.

It helped that unlike our nightclub experience earlier this week, I didn’t have to scuttle off like a water bug to have a drink. (Surprisingly, Redmond’s alcohol control laws seem to be more liberal than Seattle’s; I could buy a beer and actually carry it to where my child was standing; hopefully, seeing her father consume one and a half beers did not scar her for life.)

I like Wilco pretty well; their songs are well-crafted and the band are all fine musicians; I do find them just a bit, what’s the word, structured? No, it’s more like calculated; they strike me as having done some sort of analysis of what would make them just edgy enough to not be squares while still appealing to a broad, middle-class demographic. They’re like the Restoration Hardware of bands; the stuff is great but it doesn’t ring entirely true. (at least for me).

Maybe they’re more like the iPhone of bands; great design and everything, but somehow a little cold.

Or maybe I was just in a bit of a pissy mood after the drive; I always feel something of a failure when I take the car to a place that could have been ridden to. In fact, it’s a lovely bike ride to Marymoor Park; we could have taken the Burke and then the Sammamish River trail almost the whole way.

The ride home would have been really fun, especially after those one and a half beers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More Adventures in Bureaucracy

For the third time in about two weeks and around the tenth time overall, I made the trek downtown to the Seattle Department of Planning, in the never-ending effort to secure final approval for our backyard studio/workshop/money pit.

I never quite know what to expect when I show up there other than feeling queasy rising up twenty floors in the elevator and the certainty of waiting around a bit (or more).

One day I’ll be welcomed as an old friend, a compatriot in the ongoing development of our fair city, a hard-working homeowner who deserves all the breaks he can get; the next time, I’m made to feel like a sleazy developer who’s trying to get away with cutting corners, gaming the system, and polluting our groundwater.

It all seems to come down to whom you talk to on a given day and what sort of day he or she is having. Today, the overall mood of the place struck me as pretty cheerful; one of the permit specialists was asking people how to spell “courteosity,” a word that apparently combines courtesy and curiosity, which I guess is a trait clients of the Planning Department should exhibit when they’re asking one more dumb question of the people who work there.

I was told when I signed in that the wait would be around an hour and a half, so I settled in with the new Dave Eggers novel, What is the What, which is chronicling the story of a lost boy from the Sudan helped to put my day’s tribulations into perspective.

But lo and behold, my name was called after barely twenty minutes and the planning specialist I spoke to—to whom I exhibited real “courteosity”—was very helpful, extremely efficient, and on my side all the way.

So our permit has been modified as requested by the inspector; all we need is final electrical approval and we’re golden.

That’s way better than I had planned for.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fountains of Wayne

The family went out last night to Neumo’s to see the powerpop (at least that what I’d call them) Fountains of Wayne and a pretty good time was had by all, even though in order for dad to get a beer, he had to step out of the all-ages section and retire by himself to the upstairs bar where a cold one could be quaffed.

I thought the event was pretty sweet, though; we somehow managed to squeeze into an area where there were half a dozen other kids—maybe related to the band somehow because a couple of them were singing along with nearly every tune—and the band itself seems to have charms that extend across both generations and gender.

Mimi likes them because of the tuneful melodies and clever lyrics; Jen, I think, responded favorably to their sincerity and musicianship; I really like how they take these songs that, on record, verge on bubblegum pop, but in concert, turn them into fairly raggedy rockers.

Their big hit, for example, Stacy’s Mom, which was even used in a minivan commercial, came off live as more of a gutsy love song composed by middle-aged rockers than the adolescent fantasy it was sold as; the guitar in it was much harsher and percussive than in the studio version, and the chorus emerged from a fuzzed-up verse that emphasized the song’s driving beat way more than its catchy melody.

I did find their songs about working stiffs—“Hey Julie,” for example, or “Hackensack”—sort of poignant; it struck me that they’ve written these odes to guys who are just putting in the time, making a living while their youthful dreams die and now, in their own careers, the Fountains are essentially in the same place.

It doesn’t look like they’ve ever break it really big, so now, here they are, touring constantly, doing basically the same thing they’ve done for the last decade, with no obvious way out.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lazy Sunday

Today is a lazy Sunday; the sense of lassitude being fostered by the overcast and intermittently rainy weather and a couple of three mimosas at brunch.

It’s harder for me to be a total slug on the weekends during the summer since I don’t quite feel I’ve earned it in the way I do during the school year; but I’m doing a pretty good job of it today. Here it is already late afternoon and I haven’t yet made it through the Times.

Sometimes on Sundays, even the newspaper “homework” seems daunting; the Arts and Leisure and Magazine sections sit there on the table mocking me; how am I ever going to find time to get through the Sunday Styles and still get in my afternoon nap?

Tonight, we’re off as a family to see one of my favorite bands to see live, Fountains of Wayne. I’ve caught them a couple of times in the past and have loved their musicianship and songwriting lots, even though it’s easy to accuse them of being too pat and poppy. (“Pat and Poppy:” sounds like a sixties folk group.)

This morning on my usual Sunday AM bicycle errands, it was raining pretty hard, enough so that I had to gear up in my full winter plastics. I was reminded of what it’s going to be like for the next six months or so starting in about a month or so. One day of it isn’t so bad; it’s when my gloves haven’t dried out for a fortnight that it really starts to wear.

At least it keeps the riff-raff off the bike trails.

I think the dog suffers the most on days like this; she ends up staring out the window with her head resting on the windowsill, looking terribly forlorn. I’m not sure if she’s really sad or if it’s just my a projection of guilt for not walking her.

If I weren’t so lazy, that’s what I do.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I went today to Hempfest, the annual Seattle gathering of pot-smokers and their advocates that two of the speakers I heard yelling into microphones claimed is the largest pro-Cannabis rally in the world; it brought home to me that unless laws against pot are intended to limit sales of hand-dipped ice cream cones and hand-blown glass bongs, then they’re probably not doing much—at least in terms of preventing 16-24 year-old boys from using marijuana.

This is the third year I’ve gone; and each time it has made me sad over the glorification and ghettoization of using cannabis; the legal and moral norms against pot-smoking force (or at least enforce behaviors that lead) people to develop a group mentality that is vaguely (and not so vaguely) criminal. So, you get these groups of red-faced and sneaky-eyed later adolescents and very young adults who huddle together when they could, if those norms did not exist, be valuable and contributing members of society.

Just like me.

To prepare for my trip, I consumed 1 teaspoon of some bud butter I had made earlier this week for Jen to take to Burning Man and me to have on hand.

That was just about the right amount for an afternoon at the fair. It made the bike ride there—through traffic that, had I been in a car, would have made me nuts—increasingly interesting and probably kept me at the event a good deal longer than I would have otherwise stayed.

Some perfect stranger gave me a small unlit joint of what looked and smelled like pot; I didn’t quite know what to do with it, so I rolled it up in a dollar bill that I put in the festival donation bin.

I did my part for the economic case for legalization and purchased a consumer product I have been very curious about: the herbal vaporizer.

First test results are still coming in, and so far, I’m not sure what to say.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Keep On Pedaling Til the Fun Shows Up

I felt like the .83 ride last night got off to a kind of ragged start. Seemed to me that there was just too much negotiating (read pissing and moaning) about where we were gonna go and too many chefs involved in cooking up the route. The tension was alleviated somewhat by the irrepressible Henry stripping down to don the ceremonial Elvis suit and by broken-armed rider Pete showing up on old-school trike bike, but even when we set out from Westlake, I just wasn’t feeling the love.

Things got more interesting when we hiked our bikes down the hobo trail from Beacon Hill towards Georgetown but by the time we got to the Grand Central bread dumpster, I was thinking I might bail early. I even remained unmoved by some classic parking lot shenanigans: bread ball wars, 2x4 jousting, and even Honey Bucket tipping; it looked like it might be an early night for the 50 year-old.

But I decided to tag along across the Duwamish towards Alki and by the time the straggler group I was with arrived to stand around on the west side of the West Seattle Bridge and kibbitz while another rider fixed yet another flat, I was feeling much more into it (of course it coulda been what we smoked while waiting, but still…).

I was grinning and spinning all the way to Alki Beach more beer was drunk (and thrown) and stars were pointed out and argued about. I particularly enjoyed the subsequent ride to Magnolia, especially through Myrtle Edwards Park where the first tents of Hempfest were being constructed and from which the initial clouds of pot smoke were wafting as we rode by.

I didn’t have the heart for karaoke, neither to watch nor to sing, so I missed the most squalid of the evening’s festivities at the Boxcar tavern.

But I did get another nice ride through Myrtle Edwards and some more tasty wafting from the tents.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Found Bikes

Yesterday I happened upon a pile of what looked liked abandoned bikes on the corner of 30th and Cherry. As is my usual wont, I stopped and perused them, half-hoping to see the Rambouillet or parts of in the stack. No such luck, but there were a couple interesting things among the trash: an almost ready-to-ride Haro mountain bike, late 80s or early 90s vintage, with LX components, and also a generic department store mountain bike with, surprisingly, XT thumbshifters and front and rear deraillers.

As I was standing there, a guy happened by and said “free bikes!”

I looked puzzled and he elaborated. “We’re moving out of our apartment,” he said, pointing to the moving van in the background. “Those bikes have been in our basement since we lived here and we’re not taking them with us. You can have whatever you want.”

So I rode home, got the trailer and scooped up the two treasures that interested me. The XT components went into my parts bin; the front derailler may work for the Hampsten when it comes; the Haro, I cleaned and oiled up to have as a backup mountain bike for Mimi or Jen, but what I’d really love to do is find the original owner. It’s not a super-great bike, but it seems like it’s nice enough that somebody thought about it before they bought it and probably missed it pretty much when it was taken (as it almost surely was.)

I’ve poked around about on stolen bike registries but haven’t found any notice about it. I’m going to try listing it on Craigslist and see what happens. It’s likely a while since the bike was taken from its rightful owner, so chances of reuniting them seem pretty slim. It would be lovely, though, if it could happen, so I’ll try.

And if I could get them together, just think what that would do for my chances of getting the Rambouillet back!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't Wanna Do It

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to do things I don’t want to, even relatively simple things like folding the wash, paying bills, or returning an email from my publisher.

And this difficulty is compounded by the fact there isn’t really all that much I do feel like doing, other than riding my bike, tapping out the occasional 327 word piece, and languishing at home in the bosom of my family (so to speak.)

I realize this represents a major character flaw on my part; a superior person would steel himself against his weakness of will and take action to better the world and himself, despite any doubts or misgivings.

Immanual Kant argued that actions only have moral worth if they are done out of a sense of duty; if I volunteer at the soup kitchen because it makes me feel good, for instance, I’m not really doing anything morally commendable; it’s only if I ladle out the potage du jour because I realize I have a responsibility to do so that my actions are to be praised.

If Kant’s right (and there’s a first time for everything), then my behavior of late is undeserving of any positive commendation; I’m not, by and large, behaving badly, but I’m certainly not doing anything to write home about (not that I would, anyway; that’s another thing I don’t feel like doing.)

I appreciate that this is a luxurious position I’m in and I’m aware that it ain’t gonna last; just another few weeks and my days will be almost entirely made of activities that I wouldn’t be doing unless I had to: riding the bus to school, teaching logic, pestering my daughter to get out of bed in the morning.

Consequently, I ought to stop complaining (if that’s what I’m doing) about my inability to get motivated and my failure to behave in a manner that an old dead Prussian would venerate.

But guess what: I don’t feel like it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sick Little Monkey

I don’t feel so good today; apparently, too much drinkee yesterday. But it’s odd, I wasn’t even that inebriated when I went to bed. I guess this is what happens when you start in on the beer at 3:00 in the afternoon and go steadily until about 7:00. Combine that with half a century of minor to not-so-minor abuses to body and soul and this is what you get: a kind of haziness combined with dyspepsia and a general sense of lassitude and malaise.

Too bad I have to teach two classes of high school students philosophy this afternoon; well, at least I’ll feel no worse than they do, probably.

Chances are, none of the students will be hungover; I don’t recall ever going to high school nursing what the French call “guelle de bois,” or “wood head,” although there was at least one time in 9th grade where I dropped half a hit of LSD before going to biology class. And in 11th grade, I’m sure there were at least half a dozen times I showed up for History class after smoking pot in the parking lot of WQED television station next door. (We used to huddle under the wheels of this sixteen-wheeler parked there.)

So, I guess I have practice at today’s experience; but just as certainly, the reason I got myself into this state today was some sort of adolescent rejection of responsibility; I knew I had to be a good boy today so I was a bad one yesterday. Or something like that. Maybe I was just bored.

At least I’ve got today’s curriculum planned; we’ll do some introduction to philosophy stuff, a prisoner’s dilemma game, and an activity to explore the conception of justice as articulated by John Rawls.

Then, I’ll present them with a case study in moral reasoning, give them some tools to approach it, and let them go groups.

Afterwards I can come home and crack a cold one.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Beer and Biking

I met up this afternoon with some guys (and a few gals) from the Uber Tavern who were doing this Beer Bike Tour, visiting 11! pubs by bike; I hung for four stops and got reasonably tipsy and in a peck o’ trouble on the homefront, so a job well done, I guess, but what I was thinking about—and this isn’t a new thought at all—was that bike and beer really do go well together, especially in terms of pace.

That is, beer drinking gets you to the destination towards which it aims (let’s call that inebriation) steadily although not too quickly, just like biking, which gets you to your destination at more or less the same pace. And it’s funny; on a bike the first few miles can seem very long, just as when drinking beer, the first few sips can seem to change your perspective quite quickly; but eventually, on a bike, you just keep pedaling and eventually your destination shows up; similarly, with beer drinking, you just keep sipping and the more you drink the more sober you get.

On today’s ride, when the party of twenty or so showed up at the Collins Pub, where I was sort of waiting for them, they all seemed pretty schnockered; I had one more beer I hadn’t intended on and rode with them to the next stop on their itinerary, Hooverville, and by the time I’d consumed the pint of Rainier Ale that was being offered there, they all seemed perfectly sober and I was ready to race up to Capitol Hill to the Elysian; on the way, I had that typical experience of noticing that the more you drink the harder it is for cars to hit you; at the bar, I drank some Pilsner and headed off to the Stumbling Monk where in a unsuccessful final effort to be a responsible husband and father, I eschewed a pint and drank a can of suds.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Thought A Day

I find satisfaction in life by setting my sights low. If I’m easy to please, I’m pleased easily, so my strategy is to not be terribly picky about the things that please me.

So, for instance, my morning coffee doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be warm, and if it isn’t, that’s okay too, as long as there’s plenty of it. Or, it’s not required that I continually make progress in my asana practice; as long as I’m as flexible as yesterday, that’s enough. Or, I don’t complain if someone cuts me off in traffic, as long as they don’t run me over.

In the intellectual arena, I’m satisfied if I think one new thought a day. As long as a single idea crosses my mind that hadn’t occurred to me before (or that I don’t recall occurring—see how easy I am?), then I can call that day a success in the thinking department. And it’s not as if the thought has to be profound; it just has to be reasonably original (to me.)

For example, yesterday I had the idea to knit knitted covers for bicycles helmets. I’d call them Helmet Cozies and market them under the name “Helmut Kozy.” (Admittedly, this isn’t a great idea, but it’s one I never had before, so that’s enough.)

The day before, it occurred to me that we use lots of words in a high tech (or at least contemporary) context whose original meaning we aren’t at all familiar with. Everyone talks about a “firewall” in the computer world, but how many people know what a real firewall is? (Again, I’m not going to win any prizes for profundity here, but that’s not the point, as long as some new idea occurs to me, that’s sufficient.)

Today my thought for the day is this one: that it’s enough to simply have a thought a day.

And now I can take the rest of the afternoon off!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What You'll Put Up With

Yesterday, in a fit of home improvement mania, I replaced a pane of glass in a basement window that had been broken and held together with packing tape for over a year. Today, as much out of boredom as anything else, I fixed the front fender on the 420 bike, substituting screws for the zip ties that had held it on but failed to prevent it from rubbing whenever I rode the bike in the last six months. And then, undoubtedly setting the gold standard for lifestyle amelioration, I had Jen cut the tag out of one of my favorite shirts so that it would stop tickling and scratching me anytime I moved my arms or neck.

What’s most impressive about these acts—other than they were undertaken during the doggiest dog days of summer, when it’s all I can do to raise my head off my chest where it’s fallen as I “read” another few pages of one more forgettable pop novel—is how long I waited before undertaking them, especially when each of them represented a relatively simple solution to a situation or problem that had really bugged me every time I confronted it.

For someone who doesn’t put up with much, I sure put up with a lot: petty little annoyances that annoy me, pebbles in my tennis shoes, bad feng shui, like our spice cabinet whose shelves are too skinny and from which the spice bottles routinely drop, often breaking dishes sitting on the counter beneath.

And while I tolerate these irritations, they are, no doubt, like the drip-drip of a Chinese water torture on my psyche: while I’m not entirely conscious of how crazy they are making me, they are. Such annoyances are the reason I (figuratively) kick the dog, (occasionally) snap at my loved ones, and (typically) scream obscenities at drivers who almost run me down in traffic.

Clearly, I shouldn’t put up with putting up with what I put up with.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Everything We Know is False

So it comes out that Baby Einstein videos, rather than making toddlers smarter, is actually making them dumber.

No big surprise there, really, but once again, we get another example of something that turns out to do the exact opposite of what we’ve been led to believe it does.

Yesterday I read this story about how walking to the store does more environmental damage than driving, since the food needed to replace the calories burned by going "shanks mare" is more carbon-intensive to produce than those burned by driving. (I think this conclusion is a bit of a stretch, but it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?)

I also came across an article last year pointing out that it’s probably worse for the planet to be a cycle commuter than an automobile driver because, on average, cyclists live longer, and use up way more resources in their extra years than they ever saved while alive.

Penn and Teller, in their Bullshit program, make a petty good case that recycling is environmentally inferior to taking stuff to the landfill; all that plastic and glass you put in the recycling container gets thrown on barges and sits in warehouse parking lots waiting to be processed; the trash at the dump gets compacted, crushed down onto concrete-bottomed storage units, and then covered with compost and planted with trees. Again, this is probably best-case scenario for the trash, worst-case for the recycling, but it makes me question the value of my actions and veracity of my deeply-held beliefs.

It’s the scenario in Woody Allen’s film, Sleeper, all over again. Scientists in the 22nd century have discovered that cigarettes and red meat are the healthiest things for anyone to consume and while it probably won’t come out that this is true, how different is that than the recent revelations that diet soda makes you fatter than the sugary stuff?

But don’t believe anything that I’m saying, at least not for very long.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Makes Me Mad

I used to have a pretty bad temper and even these days, I can go from relatively placid to screaming about how nobody around here appreciates me, knows how hard I work, sees what a great guy I am, blah, blah, blah. But for the most part, I’m fairly even keeled, and even when I do get angry, it tends to dissipate pretty quickly.

But right now, I’m still stewing in my juices about another visit to the Seattle Planning Department in our endless journey to get a little studio built in the back yard for Jen’s work, the occasional party, and if I’m sneaky about it, bicycle repair from time to time.

It seems we didn’t pass our final inspection because the inspector thinks the garage is too much like an Accessory Dwelling Unit, (I knew we shouldn’t have painted it lime green and hung those floral curtains) but it turns out that you can’t even permit such a creature in our neighborhood in Seattle, so it looks like, well, I don’t know what it looks like, and that’s in large part what’s gotten me all pissed off like this.

I think it’s the suspicion that we’re trying to pull a fast one and do something illegal that has me all churned up; I am perfectly willing to be accused (and convicted) of ignorance, but I’m not guilty of playing fast and loose with the rules. In fact, all we’ve done all along is kowtow to the regulations and so, here in the 11th hour, it’s doubly aggravating to be seen as some sort of shyster—would that I were so smart!

Of course, this is precisely the sort of “problem” that only people like us who are privileged enough to be building backyard structures in the first place have, anyway, so I probably shouldn’t even be upset in the grand scheme of things.

But it makes me even madder that I shouldn’t even be mad.


Monday, August 06, 2007


I finally got around today to seeing the latest Brad Bird masterpiece, Ratatouille, and it was worth the wait; I loved it.

It’s amazing how a bunch of zeros and ones mashed together to create animated characters can be so moving; I laughed out loud a lot, and had a nice little cry at the poignant moment where the hard-hearted food critic, Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’ Toole, is rocketed back his childhood by the taste of Remy’s gourmet ratatouille, and, in general, came to share in the high praise I’ve heard heaped on the film like ketchup over French fries in the school cafeteria.

I love this quote: “Not anyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” I don’t know where Brad Bird is from (well, I do, thanks to IMDB, Kalispell, Montana), but I’m strongly of the opinion that he is one. Certainly, he’s the Disney of our time, although I think only Dumbo is in the same league as Bird’s best—(Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and this one, IMHO).

I really appreciated how cartoony this cartoon was; for the first time in any computer-generated animation film I’ve seen, the human characters really seemed to work, and I think that was because the animators gave up on the verisimilitude. So, instead of clunky-looking humanoids who don’t really look human, we got hilarious-looking caricatures who, in their exaggerations, seemed more like the way people look to us emotionally.

There’s probably something to this as a general rule about art: the business of the artist is not to recreate reality; it is to represent it in a way that offers insight and perspective. I don’t go to films to see life exactly as it is; I go to see it in ways that sheds new light on it—or in this case, new seasonings.

Which I why, I suppose, as soon as we go home, Mimi wanted to make soup.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

One O' Them Days

The dog days of summer have arrived in force and so I shouldn’t feel bad about a day like today that’s been totally wasted by napping, reading fiction, and listening to sports on the radio. Moreover, it’s not as if anything else I might be doing would contribute much to the world, so perhaps I should be glad that I haven’t really done anything that has particularly caused problems for the planet and the people on it, other than simply living an American lifestyle—although I’ve done all my shopping by bicycle and haven’t invaded any countries large or small.

I spent a good part of the day reading the novel Boomsday by Christopher Buckley. It’s a pretty funny if somewhat over-the-top parody of politicians and their spin doctors in Washington; the main character is a young blogger who proposes that Baby Boomers “transition” (that is, commit suicide) at age 70 in order to save Social Security and in general, contribute for once to the common good rather than just continue their lifelong practice of selfishly grabbing whatever goods they can from wherever they can.

I liked the book pretty well for an entertaining summer read, but I think the case against the Most Annoying Generation was made better by Dr. Frank’s book, King Dork. That said, there were some funny moments in it, even though I think that Buckley consistently sacrifices the integrity of his characters for a good laugh, and lots of time for laughs that aren’t even all that great.

The idea that Baby Boomers ought to off themselves at age 70 is darkly funny in itself and probably would, as is argued by the main character in the book, go a long way towards solving some of our country’s fiscal problems, but certainly, there are better ways to do that, including reducing our imperialistic tendencies and legalizing and taxing most illegal drugs.

But that's too much to think about on a day like today.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dead Baby Downhill XI

It’s the social event of the bike season and this year, I played it much better than last, when I got lost on the “longboard” alleycat race and didn’t make it to the after-party until way after it was already in swing.

This year, by contrast, I rode in the Downhill (to say “raced” would be an exaggeration) and arrived pretty much en masse with the perverted pelaton that swarmed down Delridge, across the lower span of the West Seattle bridge, and through SODO warehouse parking lots to Georgetown as dusk fell over our fair city.

Lots of very cool bikes, including a fleet of beautifully understated choppers made by a guy whose name I recall (perhaps incorrectly) as Jim Brooks, plenty of tall bikes and mini zoo-bombers, but the most impressive sights of all to me were a gal in a candy-striper dress and high heels totally rocking the route on an old Huffy-like cruiser and then, wildest of all, a guy with his two little kids, aged about 8 and 5, the older one on a Trail-a-Bike, the younger perched on the top tube of his dad’s ride, hands on the bars, feet propped forward and the fork crown, all three of them smiling wide even over the scary train tracks running at weird angles all along the final part of the race.

At the after race party this crew called Cyclecide had a pedal-powered two-person ferris wheel tilt-a-whirl thing that made everyone who tried it look thrilled and terrorized and there was also a bike with a gear on its headset so it steered completely backwards that I saw probably 50 people try and fail to complete even a single pedal revolution on; additionally a rousing bunny-hop competition and the inevitable tall-bike jousting.

I saw dozens of people I know from bike-riding and everyone was having a grand time even the few that weren’t as drunk and/or stoned as me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Complaining About Complaining

So, this guy in what I’ve recently heard called a “child snatcher” van is heading towards me faster than I think he should be; there are cars parked on both sides of the relatively narrow residential street and now I’ve got to pull over against the ones on the right to let him just slide by me. “Yikes! Asshole,” I think and even consider giving him the finger even though he does sort of give me an “I’m sorry” shrug (or maybe it’s a “You’re sorry” one) but now I’m kinda wound up so when, at the next intersection, a cyclist in spandex zooms by me, almost, but not quite cutting me off, my hackles really begin to rise, until at the upcoming light, which is turning yellow, I have to stop so as to let a lady in an SUV turn left in front of me, grrr!

But then I take a deep breath of sorts and remind myself that none of this really matters and that I’m getting myself all worked up on this lovely summer day over not very much and that nearly all of the things that I tend to complain about, from reckless drivers, to less-than-flattering reports on the effects of marijuana, to lazy students and overactive administrations, are hardly worth complaining about, especially given that (knock wood) none of them bear any resemblance to a car bomb, a bridge collapse, or “nuclear options” either on or off the table.

To say I’ve got nothing to complain about (as I am sometimes wont to do) might be something of an overstatement (don’t—or do—get me started on the Executive Branch of the US Government), but for the most part, I’ve got nothing to complain about.

Now, this probably marks me as a terminal Pollyanna, but that’s nothing to complain about either. I’ll keep looking at the glass as half full, especially, during these hot days of summer, if it’s half full of beer.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hacked Off About Pot

I read this story yesterday about how researchers in New Zealand have concluded that smoking one joint is as damaging to your lungs as smoking five cigarettes. No surprise there; now could they determine how many apples you can consume against a single Kiwi fruit?

“We have always suspected that marijuana causes lung damage, but it's nice to have it quantified," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer at the American Lung Association. "Now we can say much more strongly, to people who smoke marijuana, that they are doing bad things to their lungs."

Umm, duh, or as your average pot smoker is likely to put it, “Duh…ummm.”

Is it really newsworthy that inhaling smoke from burning vegetable matter can damage the delicate tissues of one’s internal organs? And are we to take that as an admonition not to smoke dope? Or is it just incentive to all buy vaporizors?

It seems like this sort of story on the dangers of marijuana smoking comes up every few months; of course smoking pot is not the best thing you can do for yourself, but is it significantly worse than standing around a campfire or riding a bike in traffic or removing asbestos insulation from the ceiling of your basement?

The point that struck me is that the group studied was people who smoked at least one marijuana cigarette a day for five years; my question: how in the world did they remember that? After a week or so of such steady use, I think they’d be lucky to recall where they lived, much less how much they smoked, much less, where they left their stash the last time they indulged.

As a far less frequent user, I’m not particularly worried about the long-term effects on my lungs. If it’s a 5 to 1 ratio of cigarettes to joints, that makes me the equivalent of about a pack a month or two smoker.

I’ll take my chances with that.