Monday, December 31, 2007

Obligatory End-of-Year Posting

Reflecting on the year that was, I can only say, “Hey! Is that another gray hair on my arm?”

And pausing to consider all that has happened in 2007, I’m struck by random thought. (Watch for those; they could put someone’s eye out.)

It’s been a good year, overall, except for the ongoing horror that is American foreign policy, the collapse of the credit market, floods, tidal waves, mudslides, shootings, stabbings, and explosions; come to think of it, if it weren’t for my darling family and friends, bicycles, yoga, students and colleagues who made me think about things I hadn’t before, the occasional consciousness-altering cannabinoid, some good books, a handful of movies, long summer evenings, bracing winter mornings, and that Youtube video of the Hipster Olympics, we might have wanted to skip the last twelve months altogether.

I turned fifty in 2007, but then again, so did Susan Powter, so that’s certainly nothing to crow about. On the other hand, the Frisbee and The Cat in the Hat also had their semi-centennials this year, so I’m not in completely forgettable company.

At least 2007 will go down in history as the year that Latvia and Russia finally signed a border treaty. Apparently, it’s also going to turn out to be the hottest 12 months ever, since records of that sort have been kept. No worry, though; certainly 2008 will be even hotter yet.

If history is in the business of repeating itself, then 2007’s doppleganger, I’m guessing, is probably 1927; instead of the 1927 Yankees, though, we get the 2007 New England Patriots; and instead of the final year of the Model T and the subsequent introduction of the Model A, we get the iPhone.

If I’m right about this (and there’s a first time for everything) then we’re just 24 months away from the next major economic depression; that wouldn’t surprise me either; instead of selling apples on streetcorners, though, will former businessmen be peddling iPhones?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Top Ten List

Everyone everywhere else is putting together their top ten lists for 2007—movies, books, Youtube videos—and had I an expertise in anything other than myself, I’d offer up my own collection of greatest hits for the year just ending; however, since the only movie I saw this year that’s made any of the collections I’ve seen is Ratatatouille, and since I don’t think I bought a single new record in the past 12 months, and although I did get for Christmas Tom Perotta’s new novel, The Abstinence Teacher, I’ve yet to read it, all I can offer up in the way of a “best of” for 2007 is essays from my collected 327 Words a day. To wit:

Last January 1, I wrote about the Bike Ride of Shame, the occasional phenomenon whereby I ride my bike in the morning to pick up the car I was too inebriated to drive home the previous night.

February’s best was the report of the Fucking Hills Race, but Tofu Sandwich and Waffle Rideweren’t bad, either.

Punk was the best of March, besting the report of my turning Fifty.

For April, it was Filmed by Bike, but maybe because it was so much fun in real life.

My favorite from May was Atomic Power and LSD, although Larry found it too hippy-dippy.

June’s best was Put Your Whole Self In, speaking of hippy-dippy.

For the rest of summer, I’m going with Disneyland.

September’s best were Aged Whine and Slugbug both of which were tossed off rather haphazardly. A lesson there?

Resiliency—which I spelled wrong until corrected—is my favorite from October, I'm an Amateur a close second.

Give me Album Covers, Deathtrap II, and Ammo Day in November.

Finally, this last month, I’m taking Trailer Tree, I Miss the Seventies,and Holiday Chunder, which wins for best title of the year.

Admittedly, this list is more than 10; I count 19, but combined, that’s only a total of 6213 words.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Picks of the Week

It’s the last week of the regular season, so all bets are off, except the several I’ve made that seem certain to extend my winning streak (5 out of the last 6 against the spread) into the post-season where, we shall see, my early on 25-1 shot pick of the Steelers to win the Superbowl will most certainly come to fruition, earning me not only five hundred bucks but bragging rights for the next eight or nine months to come.

But anyway, first of all, (and probably most of all), I like the Giants +13.5 at home against the Patriots. Sure, they’ve got nothing to play for and sure the hated Cheatriots want to continue their unbeaten string, but I dunno: New England is too busy looking past this game; the players were out all night partying in the Big Apple, and the Times today assures me that the Giants are going for victory; moreover, Eli Manning owes me one for coming through in Buffalo last weekend, much to my surprise.

In other games, I’m going against my long-standing admonition not to bet on Steelers’ games, but what the hell, they’re only -3 against the Ravens, who have lost to both the Dolphins and the Seahawks in recent weeks. Granted, Baltimore is playing for pride, but Pittsburgh is in it for playoff seeding and even if they rest Roethlisgberger, I’ll put my money on Charlie Batch over Kyle Boller any day.

In a similar sort of game, I like the Colts +5 at home! against the Titans. Soft as Indianapolis may be, and hungry as Tennessee surely is, we’re still talking the reigning Superbowl champ in the dome against a squad fighting for a wild card spot.

Finally, I’m banking on the Seahawks +1 at Atlanta. Yes, Seattle sucks on the road, and yes, they’ve got their playoff spot locked up, but I think Atlanta just wants this year to be over and will play like it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wrong Bike

For some reason, even though friends have told me otherwise, I thought Orcas Island was flat. I had a picture in my mind of roads along dunes, like something that may or may not exist in New England, Cape Cod, perhaps.

So, I brought the singlespeed Quickbeam to ride which, since as it turns out, this place is all rolling hills and even a famous long climb up a peak called Mt. Constitution, is clearly the wrong bike for the road.

Its standard gearing is 40/18, which gives me about 60 gear inches, not Major Taylor’s sprint set-up, and really less than twice what racers use to climb Mt. Ventoux, but still way more than my preferred low of around 26/34, or in the range of 21 gear inches.

Due to Grant Peterson’s ingenuity, the Quickbeam can be switched, without adjusting the brakes, to its 32 tooth front chainring, which would yield a gearing more like those Tour de France lows, but I’d have to remove my fender to get the proper chain tension; too much trouble, and far from ideal in the rainy island weather.

So, I set off up the hill from the Doe Bay Resort huffing and puffing and thinking that his wouldn’t do at all, but I gave myself the task of just getting to that telephone pole up ahead, even if I had to get off and walk, which I didn’t, as slowly, very slowly, the cranks turned under my weight, and I inched up to the top of the first rise.

Silly to waste that effort, so I breezed own the next roller and used my momentum to start the following ascent, this one a little easier than the preceding.

As so, like this, up and down, I eventually covered half a dozen miles and then back. A lovely ride, which earned me a couple beers, proving that after all, there is no wrong bike, only the right bike you ride.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Chunder

I always used to vomit on Christmas.

There was the time I was so excited by the prospect of Santa having brought me a working model steam engine that I puked in the morning before we went in to open presents. Apparently, I had no food in my stomach because all that came up was a green phlegm. “That’s bile,” explained my mom, giving me a lesson in physiology along with my Christmas gifts.

And then there was the time, a few years later when, having had my first glass ever of cheap bubbly wine with dinner, I spun merrily around the living room for a while, before barfing up Christmas dinner on my bedroom rug, and falling groggily into bed. I remember Mom and Dad conjecturing whether it was the alcohol that caused me to vomit or if I was just overexcited; I’m pretty sure Mom’s point was just that I was just exhausted from the big day; I seem to recall Dad saying it had more to do with the big glass of Cold Duck I had imbibed.

In any case, yesterday, bucking tradition, I suffered no such bouts of projectile dyspepsia, in spite of eating and drinking enough to make Orson Wells himself cry “uncle.”

We had an impromptu dinner party with a dozen or so grownup and a handful of kids, the adults crowding around enchiladas in the dining room, the youngsters glued to Austin Powers in the TV room. Merriment ensued for several hours and a new Xmas tradition was born which surprisingly featured no one upchucking—at least not at our house.

And then somehow, probably still running on the fumes of yesterday’s festivities (or the lingering spirits of yesterday’s spirits), Mimi, Jen, and I managed to pull it together to pack ourselves into the car for a two-day trip to Orcas Island, where at the Doe Bay Resort, we will look at the water, read books, and try to finish leftovers.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I Miss the Seventies

While doing the end of my Christmas present wrapping this evening, I began poking around Youtube for some eye candy to occupy my visual field and pretty soon found myself looking at 30-plus year-old clips of the Jackson Five, among others, and after inundating myself with images of Carol Burnett and the progressive rock group, Curved Air, I began to feel a deep sense of nostalgia for the Me Decade, which—for all its reputation as an era of hedonism and naval gazing—wasn’t such a bad time to grow up during and which probably has more to do with my attitudes towards the environment, social justice, and respect for people’s basic liberties than I’m often aware of.

It struck me that for my daughter, Mimi, born 40 years after me in 1997, the “Seventies” will be the “Twenty-one Teens,” and it will be interesting to see how she recalls those formative years in her life as she moves from childhood, through adolescence, to the first tiptoeing into adulthood. I, of course, can’t separate the social experience of the 1970s from my own personal development; the decade begins for me with a transister on my paper route playing Led Zepplin's "Whole Lotta Love," and ends with me head-banging in the Mudd Club crawling around on the floor looking for my broken glasses. In between, there was high school, King Crimson, Nixon resigning, a variety of altered states of consciousness, and some really bad haircuts.

I don’t want to turn into one of those old guys who’s always talking about “the good old days,” especially since it’s not obvious to me that the Seventies really were; I recall, for instance, lying awake all night New Year’s even 1973, listening to my clock radio play songs like Carly Simon’s “Your So Vain,” and John Lennon doing “How Do You Sleep?” and thinking that the end of the world was clearly nigh.

Thirty-five years later, it suddenly seems to me it still is.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Did I call that Cleveland-Cincinnati game or what? I knew the Brownies were going down; hooray for the Bungles; let’s vote them a partial playoff share, okay?


So, it looks like the Steelers will get either the Browns or the Titans in the first playoff game; I think Pittsburgh stacks up reasonably well against either; all things considered, though, I’d prefer facing Tennessee. Having already beaten Cleveland twice this year, the Black and Gold may be vulnerable to some fluky shit; it’s notoriously difficult for one team to defeat another three times in a season; and given that the Brownies were a missed field goal away from sending the second of the two contests between the division rivals into overtime, I’ll take Jeff Fisher’s squad over the Romeo Crenel’s, although if it were pie eating event, I’d put my money on the big fella in the dirt-colored garb.

But wait; I may have spoken—that is, written—too soon. There’s a reasonably good chance that the Steelers will face Jacksonville again on Wild Card weekend. But, if so, I’m not worried at all. Even though the Jagoffs pretty much dominated Pittsburgh last week, it won’t happen again. It was Polamalu’s first game after several off for an injury; Pittsburgh was feeling cocky having been undefeated at home, and I never vacuumed, although I did do some mopping and cleaning.

The best news about this is that next week’s game against Baltimore doesn’t matter much, especially since Pittsbugh’s home playoff win, whether it comes against the five or six seed is all but in the bag.

And for those who say the three seed (either the Chargers or the Steelers depending on what happens between now and next Sunday) gets to avoid playing New England for an extra week, I say, “Bring on the Pats!” Having crumbled magnificently against New England in week 14, Pittsburgh is poised to crush them next time around.

Brady first, then Manning.

Then, Favre.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Some More Picks

I keep expecting the Cleveland Browns to come crashing back down to earth and this, I think, is their week to do it, against cross-state rivals, Cincinnati. The Bengals are +3 at home, which I take to be a particularly good bet given that they’ll probably win straight out. Cincinnati’s got nothing else to play for; this is their playoff game; and besides, if Cleveland loses, the Steelers clinch the division.

I can’t believe the Colts are only -7 at home against the Texans. Sure, Dungy may be resting his starters to get his lineup set for the playoffs, but if Indianapolis doesn’t win by at least two touchdowns, I’ll be shocked.

I’m taking the Bills +3 at home against the Giants. We’re talking Buffalo in December here; I don’t see the little Manning being able to man it up in the cold and the Bills, still vaguely in the hunt for a wild card spot will be psyched to crush their big city rivals.

I’m tempted to take the Seahawks -11 at home against the Ravens, but Seattle has been awfully inconsistent and the Ravens will be going all out after losing to Miami last weekend, so the game may end up closer than the oddsmakers think.

Same thing with the Chargers -8.5 at home against the Broncos. You never know which Denver team will show up and even though San Diego might be playing as well as anyone in the league right now, all it takes is a couple turnovers and the outcome could go either way. As I type this, though, I’m changing my mind; I think I’m going to add the Chargers to one of my parlays.

With no Steelers game this weekend, I’ve got nothing to really root for except the bets, so I may as well add one more.

I think I’ll go with Carolina +10.5 tonight against the Pokes; maybe Jessica Simpson will show up; if so, it’s a lock.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Greenlake Race of Champions

I came mighty close to breaking my rule that if you can’t unlock your bike you can’t ride it and I failed according to the principle that if you’re unable to fix it, you aren’t allowed to pedal, but thanks to the ministrations of Evil Mike—twice!—I managed to keep my chain on long enough to make it home with just one spill on the black ice, but that was the only hiccup in an otherwise perfect night of cycling-related hijinks centered around the Greenlake Race of Champions, the annual end-of-season challenge bringing together most of the winners of the monthly competition held each Critical Mass Friday at midnight on the path around the big Ravenna pond.

It was a fine turnout of drinking, drunk, and sober cyclists on a clear and chilly December evening for the big race, which was won in stirring fashion by green bike jersey Patrick, whose alleged gastrointestinal difficulties did not prevent him from prevailing in the final sprint, edging out (IIRC) Andrew, resplendent in shiny black skinsuit with pink highlights, rocket scientist Denny Trimble, Captain America Matt, whose whole family, including his Dad showed up to represent, DJ Strokey in there somewhere, and Trevor Trike for fourth despite leading for most of the contest.

And woe be it to naysayers like yours truly, Henry didn’t get totally smoked either, acquitting himself as admirably in the saddle as he is known to on the karaoke stage, take that.

Much mingling and destination planning followed the competition, but no trackstand or ghost bike events as near-freezing temperatures inspired the assembled to head towards warm bars; I played the drunken holiday reveler with a group at the Nickerson, then bombed over to the CIP to finish people’s half empty glasses, before the traditional hangover-busting sprint up Interlaken and then to bed with just the aforementioned knee-skinning spill on the final turn to put the star on top of this Christmas tree of cycling joy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Two Dog Night

We’re babysitting our neighbors’ dog while they’re away until Christmas; sometimes you hear people say that having two kids is easier than having one (and sometimes, like when Mimi and her friend, Ani, are hunkered down together, each in front of a computer screen, it’s true), but the canine reality doesn’t follow from the human, at least not in this case.

Our dog, Becca, is something of an instigator, a troublemaker of sorts; she listens only inconsistently, and is easily distracted from heeling or staying by even the mere whisper of another dog in the vicinity. Add to her a fulltime housemate, in the name of Digger from next door, and you get an animal that requires its owners to arrange a suite of chairs around the Christmas tree to keep her from destroying the lowermost ornaments if not topping the tree altogether.

Both dogs apparently see dead people—or perhaps they smell them; in any case, countless times every day one or another of them will suddenly rear up from a supine position and begin barking wildly for no clear reason. I’ll open the door and look out; there won’t be a person or dog in the vicinity. Is it a ghost? A faun? Santa Claus in his sleigh?

And why didn’t they act this way when the thief crept into our yard last year and stole my bike?

Walking two dogs simultaneously is something of an adventure, so much of one, in fact, that I avoid it at all costs if I can. Several times, however, there has been no way out of it and I have the experience being a cartoon character yanked in several directions at once but with the added feature of two plastic bags full of dog poo.

On the plus side, we don’t ever end up with dried up crunchy pieces of uneaten dog food in Becca’s bowl; two dogs may not be easier than one, but they sure are hungrier.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

High School High

I did some volunteer philosophy in my friend’s 10th and 11th grade classes at Chief Sealth High today. Mostly, I tried to engage students in philosophical questioning; the topic that lurched us into discussion was free will; seemed like the dialectic got off the ground pretty well.

A couple students were sympathetic to the determinist position; one kid did a nice job of articulating—without prompting—the view that if all were are are physical systems, then it’s not clear how choice gets into the equation, and another came up spontaneously with the objection that if we are determined, then it doesn’t make sense to punish people; at those moments, I felt like Socrates in the Meno, where the slave boy does geometry just by answering Socrates’ questions.

A number of students, though, pushed back at the determinist view; one kid was pretty adamant that his ability to choose not to be a crack addict demonstrated his freedom; another pointed out that the same stimuli that causes one person to grow up to be abusive might make another absolutely committed to not behaving abusively; this, she argued, was evidence that people are free.

My favorite part, though, was when one of the students, in context of a question my friend asked about a play the class had been reading, said that it didn’t really matter if the character’s actions were justified or not because she was just a character in a play. It would make a difference, he said, if they were talking about real person, but since this was fiction, it was all the same one way or another.

I never get to hear people say things like that; in my world, the behavior of people who don’t exist is just as important as people who do—sometimes even more so, since thought experiments provide offer much clearer examples than reality.

So, I wanted to start wondering about reality with them, but that’s when the bell rang. For real.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Not My Fault

It’s not on me that the Steelers lost; while I didn’t bring out the vacuum, I did mop the kitchen floor and clean all the water spots on the glass shower door with Windex. And while I did make a few wagers—both of which won, a two-team and a three-team parlay—none of them were on Pittsburgh. So the only explanation for yesterday’s defeat has to be a porous defense, an anemic running game, and lackluster special teams play. It’s time for the Black and Gold to get it together fast unless they want to already be vacationing during the first weekend in January, which would be especially disillusioning since that’s right when my holiday break comes to an end.

So, I’m not going to talk about how the fucking defense gave up like 200 yards rushing to the Jaguars or how the offense puttered around until way too late in the game; instead, I’m going to mention an entertainment I actually found entertaining this weekend, a re-viewing of an old favorite film of mine, My Dinner With Andre.

I have a friend who teaches at an alternative high school in town and his students invited me to come visit their class today on the condition that I watch the movie (as they did last week) and come prepared to talk about it. So, on Friday night, after the kid went to sleep, I got wickedly vaped and settled down to enjoy the conversation of Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn. I had forgotten how funny the movie was, especially the opening especially when Wally recalls how he as gone from being a 10 year-old aristocrat who thought only of art to a 37 year-old proletarian who thinks only of money.

The discussion in class today was mostly about boredom—what it feels like, whether it’s avoidable, what its purpose might be. I found the students’ comments mostly fascinating; certainly more engaging and even thrilling than yesterday’s fucking Steelers game.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I saw about a hundred and fifty Santas scattered across three bars in Georgetown last night. Most of them were packed into Nine Pound Hammer, but there was a smattering at Jules Maes and a couple dozen eating food up the street at a place called Smarty Pants.

Surprisingly, there were only a few drunken bicycling Santas were in attendance; on my way there, I came across a convoy of half a dozen, but that was all I saw the rest of the evening. And, in general, the level of drunkenness was lower than I would have expected, although it was fairly early in the evening. Nevertheless, the crew of red suits did manage to get almost 86th’ed (let’s call it 85th’ed) from one bar, but it wasn’t so much a matter of overall rowdiness as it was of sheer numbers.

Lots of the Santas wore the traditional garb—red suit, white hair and beard, the requisite pointy cap—but there were also plenty in something less typical: one in a prom dress, an Elvis Santa, a handful of naughty Clauses, both boys and girls, some elves, and at least one wearing a bike helmet.

I didn’t commit fully, but I did sport my red plaid smoking jacket and so could, if pressed, claim to be a kind of Hugh Hefner Playboy Santa, albeit without the pipe. Although, I was glad, ultimately, to be somewhat on the outside of the action; later, at the Elysian Pub, a table of Santas was holding forth and they struck me as obnoxious, if not downright creepy.

What I liked best out of the whole experience was riding bikes back from Georgetown with a guy in full Santa regalia; it’s quite impressive how much room cars give to you when you’re dressed like Kris Kringle. Nobody cut us off, and all three times people honked at us it was good-natured. No driver wants cream Santa Claus, especially when he’s on a bike.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

This Week's Picks

This is the week, I’m wagering, that the Dolphins finally get off the schnied; they’re +3.5 at home against the Ravens, which I take to be pretty much of a lock; here are two teams without an offense between them, but I think the Fins will have a more to play for and my sense is that Baltimore has essentially packed it away for the season—as long as they keep playing Kyle Boller at quarterback, it’s hard to argue that there’s any fight left in them dogs.

I’m also banking on the Seahawks having a letdown against the Panthers; Seattle clinched their division last weekend; they never play well away from home, especially on the East coast; and Carolina is clinging to slim playoff hopes. So, even with Testaverde at quarterback, I’m taking the home team, +7.5.

Finally, I like the Saints -3.5 at home against the Cardinals. Arizona is reeling from last week’s trouncing at the hands of Seattle, and New Orleans has the added incentive of being on the wild-card playoff bubble. I think, therefore, that they’re good for victory by at least a touchdown; Drew Brees is due for a monster game and this could be it.

I’m sorely tempted to take the Steelers -3.5 at home against the Jaguars, but my superstitious nature prevents me from doing so. I’d hate to be dissatisfied with a three point victory on a last second field goal; I believe if I don’t just root for a win however it comes, it might undermine Pittsburgh’s chances of prevailing. And this game, perhaps more than any other one so far this season, is THE one. The Steelers need a victory—to clinch a playoff spot, but even more, to prove again to themselves (and their fans, me included), that they really are a good football team. After last week’s debacle against New England, there are some doubts.

But the vacuum cleaner is at ready and I’ll be listening online.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bike Riding

The thing I like best about bike riding is bike riding.

Sure, getting all liquored up and being obnoxious (but charming) is fun, and sitting around some pitchers of beer ragging on people who aren’t there has its charms, and who doesn’t enjoy scarfing down food purchased from the inside of a truck or seeing how loud and annoying you can be in a karaoke bar before they toss you out?

But my favorite part of most bike rides, with .83 or whomever, is the part where I’m on my bike, turning the cranks, leaning into turns, bombing down hills, riding no-handed on straightaways.

Last night, on the way back from the Pacific Rim Brewery in White Center, Joeball Andre led half a dozen of us on a cyclocross jaunt through the grounds of South Seattle Community College, on gravel paths, through closed gates, up and down landscaped berms, around circular sidewalks in a mini-bike Greenlake Race; that’s what I liked best—the whole BMX bike chase scene in the movie E.T. feeling thing. These are the moments this old man is clearly chasing as he rides around on two wheels: the chance to be 12 years old again; that River Phoenix in “Stand By Me” kind of freedom and adventure, no parents around, anything’s possible.

And self-sufficiency: while there was the usual grousing and moaning about one thing or another, it was one of those rides where no one had to be babysat; even verge-of-an-alcoholic-blackout Derek Ito managed to take care of himself, his drivetrain clattering angrily between two gears as his gyroscoping wheels kept him miraculously upright when his own legs might not have been able to.

I got my first .83 ride flat, too, a snakebite in the front, probably caused, in part, by the weight of the vaporizer and 12-volt battery in my handlebar bag; field-testing of the system was a failure, anyway; it’s way too fiddly; nix on whatever detracts from the ride.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bad Santa

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a snarky article today about Congressman Jim McDermott voting against House Resolution 847, a bill sponsored by Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, that “Acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith." John Iwasaki, who wrote the piece, as well as hundreds of blowhards on the paper’s “Sound-Off” feature, subtly or not-so-subtly accuse McDermott of some sort of anti-Christian bias, especially since he voted in favor of House Resolutions acknowledging the start of the Muslim holiday Ramadan, and the Hindu holiday Diwali and, as Representative King points out, will also be taking Christmas Day off, with pay.


Aside from the fact that the resolutions for which McDermott voted were simply acknowledging the holidays, while King’s resolution goes much farther, to “acknowledge(s) and support(s) the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization,” isn’t it time our elected officials stopped trying to whip up some sort of holy war over a holiday that has way more to do with celebrating consumerism than Christianity?

Christmas, in spite of its name, is—at least as its celebrated here in the US—has about as much to do with Jesus as butter-flavored popcorn has to do with butter. To suggest, therefore, that there is some sort of “war” on Christmas means simply you haven’t looked at a newspaper, watched TV, or received any catalogues in the mail for months.

Moreover, it’s hardly the case that Christianity is under any sort of siege in this country; you’ve got politicians and public figures crawling all over themselves to prove that they go to church and worship the God of the New Testament.

I’d like to see a House Resolution acknowledging a holiday for and the contributions of people who aren’t known best for their piety: how about Superbowl Sunday and folks like Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and Johnnie Walker?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


There’s any number of things I could write about today:

An instructor I know had a student this quarter who was a complete flake. He never handed in any assignments and when he would come to class, he’d sit in the back with his arms folded, and fall asleep. The instructor tried on numerous occasions to engage the student, but the kid never really responded. He stopped coming to class a couple weeks before the quarter ended and failed the class. The day before grades were due, though, the instructor gets an email from the student’s mom inquiring how it happened that her son wasn’t given the support he needed to succeed in the class. The instructor does his best to respond to her thoughtfully and with compassion, but inside, he’s thinking, “This is college, isn’t it? Why is Mommy stepping in here? Am I just being played for a pawn in this interfamilial drama? And why should I answer these emails, anyway? I’m on winter break.”

An atheist whose ear I have has had enough of all this talk by Republican presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney about how important religion and belief in a Christian God is to truth, justice, and the American way. Not that this fellow has any interest in a career in politics, anyway, but it sure seems ironic to him that a country founded on the idea of religious freedom is apparently moving towards a requirement to go to church as a condition for elected office.

A couple I couldn’t be closer to spent their day clearing out all sorts of old and broken down stuff in their basement. Two loads of junk were taken to the dump and how the downstairs is eminently more livable and workable-in. The couple is delighted to have reclaimed some space in their house and what feels like some room in their lives. But now, they’re too tired to write anything more about it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Trailer Tree

I’m lucky to have a family that indulges me my quirks, not all of which are all that quirky—like liking to get up early on Sunday mornings to ride bikes—some of which, though, are sorta weird—like preferring to watch football games with the sound off, and some of which are downright squirrelly—like putting jelly and mustard on a cheese sandwich.

But after 20 years of marriage and 10 years of fatherhood, Jen and Mimi, respectively, are relatively sanguine about my oddball desires for this or that, just so long as those desires don’t get in the way of their own, at least not too much.

So today, for instance, they put up with my insistence on picking up this year’s Christmas tree on the bike trailer. Last year, my Haulin’ Colin rig wasn’t ready for the holidays, but I was determined to use it this time around to carry our Noble Fir from the Xmas tree lot to our home.

Since hiking out through snow-covered hills in order to chop down a fir tree with an axe isn’t really a possibility, using human power to bring back the holiday bush seemed to me to be the reasonable alternative. And it felt great, bungie-cording the fine-smelling branches to the trailer and then riding smoothly through the chilly evening with the tree riding safely behind my bike.

I had this fantasy that I would offer my services to the volunteer-run organization—Seattle Aids Alliance—from whom we traditionally buy our tree; if I were a better person, I’d hang out and offer to bike home people’s trees for a small donation to the cause. Instead, I’m satisfied that, at least in our case, we did our little part to offset the carbon debt created by cutting down our tree.

On the other hand, if we bury it when we’re done, then I guess we’ve captured some carbon, so good for us, especially, if I manage to bike it to the dump.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Didn't Really Care

The Steelers got clobbered 31-13 by the Cheatriots up in Beantown yesterday; but I’m not really all that bothered by it. In spite of my bold pronouncement of a Black and Gold victory, I really didn’t expect Pittsburgh to win. What with Polalamu out and the offensive line still a bit banged-up, a victory seemed like a longshot, and so no big deal, anyway; the Steelers still lead their division and you can be sure they’ve learned a few things that will enable them to prevail when they come back to Foxboro for the AFC championship in January.

As evidence of my lackadaisical attitude about the contest, witness that I didn’t even listen to yesterday’s broadcast from Pittsburgh on the internet. Instead, I packed up Mimi and her friend, Ani, and took them downtown to Gameworks, where they could waste money on videogames and skee-ball while I could sit in the attached World Sports Grille and drink Guinness as the NFL Network-only broadcast of the big game spooled overhead on half a dozen flat-screen monitors.

It’s a pretty good set-up, custom made for my situation yesterday: Dad forks over the equivalent cost of a ticket to the live game so the kids can get plastic cards embedded with enough game credits to last at least until halftime, gives them a hug and tells them to go have fun; he then bellies up to the bar for the next ninety minutes or so, assured that the youngsters know where to find him when their game plays run out.

Sure enough, it works pretty much exactly as planned and fortunately, with another small infusion of cash, the videogaming can last all the way through the third quarter, at which time the game is all but out of reach and Dad is ready to call it a day.

So, I gather up my young charges and head home, no big deal; in January, though, the vacuum cleaner comes out.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Lying and Fibbing

I am known to friends, family, and even my students, as someone who plays a bit fast and loose with the facts; that’s fine by me. I’m a philosopher; I’m more interested in the ways things could be than the way they are.

That said, my tradition tells me that I should be a lover of and searcher after the truth. Sure, I say, as long as—in keeping with another tradition, this one passed down to me from my mom—it doesn’t get in the way of a good story.

For this reason, (as well as to justify what others might construe as questionable behavior), I have long maintained a distinction between lying and fibbing. The former is where you intentionally deceive someone for your own self-interest; the latter is where you simply get them to believe something that might not exactly accord with exactly the way the world is (or was) and do so out of affection for them, or because it’s easier, or just to inject a bit of style or humor or light drama into the equation.

So, for instance, if you tell your kid that you’re going to take her skiing tomorrow without any intention whatsoever of doing so, that’s a lie. On the other hand, if you explain to her that in order to go skiing, there’s got to be at least a foot of fresh powder, that’s more of a fib.

Among the main differences between a lie and a fib is that when you lie, you’re ashamed to caught. When you fib, you could hardly care less; in fact, you pretty much expect to be found out, and in fact, you’re sort of amazed that anyone believed you in the first place.

Another example: if I tell my students on Tuesday, I’ll have their papers graded by Thursday, that’s a lie; if I promise them I’ll get them back after I work on them over the weekend, that’s a fib.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

No Steelers Action

The Steelers are plus 10.5 points against the Patriots tomorrow; had I not learned my lesson not to bet on my favorite team, I’d be on that like ugly on the proverbial ape; even though New England is bound to have something to prove after barely squeaking by against Philly and Baltimore, I think the Black and Gold will be even more up for the game and the only reason I’m not going to put money on them is that I don’t want to be secretly mollified if they lose by less than a touchdown and a field goal—which they won’t, by the way: final score, and you heard it here first, Pittsburgh 21, New England 17; Brady and Moss are going down!

My sure bet of the weekend is the Lions +11 at home against the Cowpokes; this is the weekend that Romo gets exposed as the second-rate quarterback he actually is and that Terrell Owens reverts to his crybaby ways.

Another game I like is the Jets +3.5 at home against Cleveland. This is the same New York team that stuck it to the Steelers at the Meadowlands; plus Cleveland stunk it up in Arizona last weekend; I think they’re reverting to form as lousy.

I also like the Packers against the Raiders, even though Favre’s gang is -10.5; but it’s at home and tomorrow's forecast for Green Bay is snow showers.

And I’m pulling for Minnesota -8.5 at San Francisco. Their rookie running back Adrien Peterson is back; the Vikings are on a winning streak and the 49ers never win the day before a new moon. (I just made that up, but it might be true).

Just for the heck of it, I’m going to do a parlay of these four home teams who are underdogs: Lions, Titans, Texans, and Ravens. Five bucks pays almost sixty if I win, more than enough to make up for rooting in favor of a team from Texas.

Friday, December 07, 2007

All Day Backwards

Today is my first day, more or less, of Christmas break (I’ve still got some papers to grade and have to turn in students’ final marks, but it’s mostly all over but the shouting), and so I thought I’d commemorate the occasion by engaging in non-intellectual pursuits: running a load of stuff on the bike trailer down to Goodwill, organizing my sock drawer, and most of all, doing bicycle maintenance, especially on the Deathtap II and on this old Schwinn Hollywood I’m restoring for Jen.

My plan for the tallbike was to replace the cogset I’m using as a so-called “ghetto single-speed” with a single BMX cog, with the hope that doing so would alleviate some of the skipping under load I get, probably, I think, because the teeth on the old freewheel are all worn out. For the Schwinn, I wanted to install the new wheels I ordered, put on the whitewall tires and turn it into a bicycle.

So I pick up my purchases at 2020 and carry them back home, only to first realize that the single-speed cog I bought has teeth that are too fat for the chain I’m using. And then when I come into the basement to work on the Schwinn, I discover that it has 24-inch wheels, not the 26-inchers I’m purchased.

So, it’s back on the bike with the trailer, where I swap out the single-speed cog for one with skinnier teeth and trade the 26-inch front wheel I bought for one that’s two inches in circumference smaller.

Upon returning home, though, and re-installing the wheel (now with the right-sized cog) on the tallbike, I see that it won’t work at all: without the freewheel body to push the cogs wider, the chainline is completely off and pedaling just drops the chain immediately. So, I reinstall the original cogset, back to where I was four hours earlier.

Not a total waste: at least I got to the bikeshop twice.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gaiter Aid

Although from about November to May I sport the world’s coolest custom-made tweed helmet cover (pictured at right in my profile), and even though I am such a fan of spun sheep hair that my family refers to me as Woolman (I am Woolman/Hear me roar!), I nevertheless believe that there is no single item more important to my fall and winter wardrobe than the humble neck gaiter.

This simple cylinder, which covers the area from my clavicle notch in front, scapula in back, up to and including the circular area marked by my chin, and which keeps cold air from pouring in through my collar, does more to keep me warm than anything else I wear, even my much beloved Shaun Deller cycling cap.

I first began wearing neck gaiters in Minneapolis. There, in the chilly season, (when it wasn’t yet cold enough for a full face mask—that would be like early October), I often wore two fleece models: one would protect the area from the top of my jacket zipper to my lips; the other, I would pull up to keep my mouth and the tip of my nose from freezing. The fluffy polyester was good against the chill, but got kind of clammy when wet. Still, I went through probably a dozen, some store bought, some handmade Christmas gifts, rarely if ever, wearing them threadbare; rather, they would typically disappear at a party or night of conviviality with friends, making for a far colder ride home.

A couple years ago, here in Seattle, I graduated to Smartwool models; while they do eventually tend to stretch out a bit and to lose their sizing, the soft merino against your face, especially in the rain, is superior. I’ve occasionally attempted to stock up on a few, but inevitably, I lose all but one, demonstrating once again how difficult it is for me to keep track of things for which I don’t have a pressing need.

Monday, December 03, 2007

World of Wet

We’ve had a day and a half of steady rain and water is rising up all over. My own basement is soaked in one corner, but not nearly so bad as last year’s storm of the century, and not even close to some of the flooding that’s taking place in other parts of town.

I had a super-drenching ride to the bus this morning, down Jackson Street in a heavy downpour; it was fun to race the water cascading down the hill, but a little bit scary not being able to see potholes and other road hazards; I got a pretty good jolt to the crotch when I hit a hole hidden in a puddle, but fortunately, my tires were well pumped-up, so no snakebite flat.

The bus ride out to Cascadia was something of an adventure; great sprays of water launching from the wheelwells of the vehicle; and the fogged-up windows made me all sleepy with weird dreams about leprechauns in boats.

In downtown Bothell, the line of cars was backed up solid for the final mile to campus; I hopped off the bus and rode the rest of way, arriving at school a good twenty-five minutes before passengers who stayed on did.

This afternoon, administration closed down school at 3:30; I took off about an hour before that and enjoyed a somewhat longer and far wetter than usual commute home.

The Burke-Gilman trail offered up some interesting sights: the Bothell slough overflowing right up to the trail, ducks swimming just a few feet from the asphalt. In Lake Forest Park, a stream had backed up, creating a little lake, completely flooding the trail and a couple houses. Farther on, I encountered one, two, three mudslides, the first two passable by walking the bike, the third, requiring me to exit the trail altogether.

But now I’m home, all warm and toasty, socks drying on the radiators. What’s missing? Maybe single malt whiskey, neat.

But not anymore.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Showing Up

Woody Allen famously said that eighty percent of success is showing up; I would put that number even higher. Appearing when and where you said you would seems to me to be, in many cases, all that matters.

As a parent, for instance, simply being available to the kid, for whatever odd and convoluted reason he or she needs you, is basically the whole thing. (That’s why I found myself standing in sub-freezing temperatures at 9:00 yesterday morning watching a 10 and under girls’ soccer game and why I did the same Wednesday night in drenching rain and chilly darkness.)

As a teacher, the main thing my students require of me is a kind of consistency—that I’m there every class period, at least making the attempt to open the doors of learning to them. (That’s why I’m out of bed by 5:11 every morning this quarter and in the classroom writing outcomes on the board at times that, were it summer, I’d still be sipping coffee in my pajamas.)

And that’s why—the showing up thing, that is—I crawled my slightly hungover self from under the warm covers at 7:30 this morning to bike downtown through snow flurries and sideways sleet, just to show up for a planned .83 breakfast ride, one which would feature bloody marys, hash browns, bacon for those who like their sulfites with pig, fake sausages for those who prefer to ingest their daily ration of artificial hickory flavorings on processed soy beans.

Unfortunately, (or maybe in the end, as the weather turned wetter and windier later in the morning, fortunately) the vast preponderance of my fellow hobo cycle gang mates chose not to abide by Woody’s admonition and had the good sense to stay abed rather than face the elements so early in the dismal day.

Ultimately, only four hardy souls (including me) showed up; a quartet may be enough to comprise a group, but hardly seems to qualify as a gang.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tallbike Mass

Here’s another one I can check off on my life’s “to-do” list: riding a tallbike bedecked in Christmas lights in Critical Mass—and living to tell about it.

Yesterday, I wrapped the Deathtrap II in a couple strands of battery-operated Christmas lights that Jen had in her Burning Man box and then rode through rush hour traffic on Capitol Hill to join in November’s Critical Mass ride. About a hundred cyclists showed up at Westlake Center for a leisurely tour through downtown, celebrating bike love and flaunting traffic laws, if not common sense, as well.

I was one of two tall bikes in the parade, which had a especially festive feel to it, due, I think, in part to the season, and in part because—after last months controversial ride which saw Mass take over a piece of Highway 99 usually inaccessible to two-wheelers—people just wanted to have fun and be silly.

That was my motivation, anyway, sitting eight or so feet in the air, commanding a fantastic view of rows of blinky tail lights winking at me from scores of bicycles up ahead.

It was sorta scary maneuvering the Deathtrap II through the Mass of cyclists; oddly enough, it’s relatively easy to not notice a tallbike when it’s next to you; because there are only wheels and no rider on your shoulder as it sneaks by, you’re apt to not register it; this happened a couple of times to me, as riders would suddenly look up and say, “Whoa! Ooops! Yikes!” as I barely avoided crashing down on them.

Surprisingly, I only fell once, and that was as I tried to do a running mount of the bike on an uphill grade; a feat I now take to be essentially impossible, unless you’ve got a telephone pole or SUV to lean on.

Having done the tallbike Mass, I may or may not reprise it; I still haven’t done a trailer with the massive soundsystem; maybe that’s next.