Monday, June 30, 2008

Not a Toy

Most people (at least in the U.S.) probably don’t realize how many of their daily errands they could do by bike.

Today, for instance, I used the bicycle to take my daughter to her summer art camp, then to carry about a hundred pounds of books to the Post Office to mail, then to haul a load of used clothing, suitcases, and other odds n’ ends to Goodwill, then to go shopping, returning with, among other things, a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a four-pack of toilet paper.

And it’s only three in the afternoon.

Granted, most people don’t have a tandem, which allowed me to do the first errand, nor a swell trailer, which enabled me to do numbers two and three, nor a solid touring bike with racks and panniers, which provided me with the wherewithal for my shopping trip.

Still, I think the main sticking point isn’t a lack of two-wheeled options (although any excuse to buy another bike is a good one); it’s a lack of imagination—or perhaps just understanding—that leads people—even people who ride bikes a lot—to see them primarily as recreational vehicles rather than as solidly utilitarian conveyances that allow a person to travel fairly significant distances relatively quickly, while simultaneously carrying a reasonable amount of cargo, and even, in some cases, one or more passengers.

To me, the bike isn’t a toy—although it’s certainly my second-favorite plaything. To me, it’s the most important tool I own, and the one thing that will save me and my family should the Zombie War really take place.

In a faculty meeting a few years ago, I said off-handedly that the most important lesson I teach students and Cascadia isn’t philosophy, it’s riding my bike to school. The other day, at Critical Mass, I saw a former student who said I inspired him to ride his BMX bike from Bothell to the event.

He doesn’t know Descartes, but I’d give him an “A.”

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Walking Speed

On a bicycle, you get to see a lot more things happening than you ever have to engage with. You travel though the world a little bit removed, enabling you to avoid being accosted by strangers or spare-changed by panhandlers as you make your way around.

The downside of this is that it tends to eliminate some of human adventures, notably the sort you have as you stroll down the street of a warm summer evening, arm in arm with your sweetheart, after a lovely dinner featuring cocktails and a bottle of wine and capped off by a safety meeting to make the twilight more scintillating and the breeze off the Sound more pleasant.

Jen and I enjoyed that latter model last night and experienced three unusual interchanges with people I probably wouldn’t have talked to were I not so mellowed out and certainly wouldn’t have met were I on my bike.

The first was Vladimir Lestat de St. Augustine from Haiti who wrote a poem for us on the spot using what he called “the poetry of names.” This entailed writing out the letters “j-e-n-a-n-d-d-a-v-e” down the left side of a page and then constructing a free verse piece using those letters to start each line. I thought he did especially well with “v,” “Volatile as well are the thoughts in twilight.”

Next was a (probably) gay, (probably) homeless African-American guy waiting as his partner fiddled with his backpack near Pike Market; we talked of love and romance and how you ought to make a list of things you’ve never done with your lover and do those things—or at least, go bowling together. Then he sang to us, quite beautifully.

Finally, we ran into a drunk guy, “just kicking it,” he said. who remarked how much he liked seeing us walking hand-in-hand. “This is a good town for kicking it,” he said, “if know how to kick it.”

Last night, walking, we did.

Friday, June 27, 2008


According to the OED, the word “adorable” stems from “ador” + “able,” meaning “worthy of worship;” which is exactly what I was thinking as I watched the crew of miscreants pedal down First ahead of me while passing the safety stick among the usual suspects and admiring Brandon’s spinning cranks—and that just for starters.

Because there was plenty more to fall to one’s knees and shout “hosanna” over before the night was out, including, but not limited to:

• Single-filing through the womb bridge on the Longfellow trail to eventually emerge on a different kind of urban path, Marshall's sidewalk in Westood Village, with nary a broken collarbone in sight.

• Corn on the cob slathered in mayonnaise with grated cheese, cayenne pepper, hot sauce and lime—on a stick! “Get that corn into my face!” Nacho Libre!

• Fire in the shelter at Lincoln Park, stoked so mightily with Dane’s Xtracycle-carried store-bought plastic-wrapped wood bundles that marshmallow toasters had to crouch to the side.

• The long, flat way around Alki, which always seems shorter the later you ride it, especially when there’s that fingernail sliver of moon to admire on the way.

• And, shit! I almost forgot: pitchers, I think, at the O&T, and catching up with lazybones Derrick, I think.

• Some sort of clown race through Belltown failing to find open beer merchants but then a regroup outside an apartment building in lower Queen Anne that yielded many cans and a bottle of Malibu coconut rum.

• Feeling like “this must be Portland” (in a good way) as we rode into a deserted South Lake Union park, right on the water and then, chilled by the offshore breeze, busting out a game of tag to get warm which worked so well it enabled the hearty to carry on until dawn began breaking over Lake Union and those fucking birds started singing and riders split up, heading home after another adorable evening on bikes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Good News

One of my all-time favorite jokes: Guy in the doctor’s office, doctor says to him, “Well, the tests came back and I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, you only have two weeks to live.” “Oh my god,” says the guy, “what’s the good news?” Doc answers, “See that nurse over there with the big tits? I’m fucking her!”


I’m looking for the equivalent of the doctor’s reply in today’s news. Stocks are tumbling, but see that company over there that made 40 billion dollars in profit last year? They’re fucking us!

I guess I understand the precedent that the Supreme Court used to reduce the punitive damages again Exxon-Mobil in the Valdez oil spill back in 1989, but insofar as the high court is where law is supposed to not merely be followed blindly but interpreted and critiqued, I’m appalled. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right, and just because maritime law says that punitive damages can’t exceed actual damages, doesn’t mean that the Court ought not to have overruled precedent and made sure that the people affected by the spill weren’t compensated better.

But what am I thinking? This is Oilmerica, right?

And then today, the bad news is that the Justices ruled that municipalities like Washington, DC, can’t ban handgun ownership. The good news, though? See that nurse over there with the big revolver?

I guess this is just a riff on the old bumper sticker: if guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns. I say if only outlaws are guns, then only guns will have outlaws, which strikes me as equally incoherent.

Maybe there’s some good news to be found in the concatenation of these two rulings. Maybe all the folks who are now allowed to keep their Glocks should head over to the headquarters of Exxon Mobil and persuade senior execs to pay for their mess.

Good news is, they’re fucked.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nap on the Couch

Nothing—except perhaps the midweek morning wake n’ bake—says summer vacation quite so clearly as an afternoon nap on the couch.

So, since I had to run out to school this morning and take care of a few remaining odds n’ ends from last quarter, eliminating the AM consciousness-twiddling as an option, I celebrated the season in that alternative way, copping 40 winks after lunch as a cool breeze blew in from the open window.

This is the life, as I need to keep reminding myself when it’s raining sideways and dark by 4:00 PM in February, and I’m only a quarter of the way through the papers I’ve got to grade before the weekend’s out.

Of course, there’s something sad about a life where you look forward to things being different; ideally, we should all celebrate every moment of every day. But I dunno, the prospect of taking pharmaceutical anti-depressants just doesn’t appeal to me.

And honestly, even the “bad” parts of my life and work aren’t so bad; even strategic planning and program review committee meetings don’t require me to have to don protective eyewear or a Tyvek suit.

Still, it sure is nice to have more than two months ahead of me before the possibility of my sleeping in the living room between the hours of two and three in the afternoon isn't wide open; and while naturally, I will be devoting most of my free time in the next couple months to making the world a better, more just and compassionate place for all while simultaneously reducing my carbon footprint and only eating organic, locally-grown native plants, there will be the occasional Wednesday, like today, when the ongoing effort to ensure the safety and security of current and future generations just overwhelms me and by god, I’ll have earned the right to put my head on a cushion and crash out.

How else will I be adequately rested up for the Thursday w&b?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tax Rebate

Got the letter from the Feds today saying our tax rebate is on the way. Fifteen hundred bucks—not an insignificant chunk o’ change, (we get $300 extra for the kid)—and how’s it going to stimulate the economy?

Our plan, if truth be told, is to turn it right into Euros for our trip abroad in two weeks.

I’m sure that this isn’t exactly what the Bush administration had in mind when they dreamed up this deal; we won’t really be lining the coffers of any American companies I can think of—except maybe Visa, to the extent they’ll make a bit of interest if we charge stuff—on the contrary, my hope is to hand crisp bills right into the hands of some patisserie chef on the rue Monge, or perhaps a wine merchant on rue Mouffetard.

Frankly, I can’t say that I really understand the rationale behind the rebate program; I’m cynical enough to see it as an out-and-out bribe, but it’s kind of an ineffective one. If the incumbent politicians were truly serious about buying my vote, they ought to have given me at least twice as much and should have done it closer to the upcoming election.

Part of my distaste for the whole thing is that I’m not a better person; that is, instead of donating my rebate to charity or refusing to cash it out of principle, I’m going ahead and spending it—and pretty much entirely on enjoyment for me and my family. I realize I ought to at least tithe to some worthy cause, but heck, a hundred and fifty bucks is like a hundred Euro—at least enough for a couple cups of coffee and a baguette and some modest Parisian bistro, I’ll bet.

Speaking of betting, I’m really hoping we get out to the Hippodrome de Longchamp; it looks like there’s a racing card on the quattorze juillet; perfect! I can squander my American tax rebate on French independence day!

Monday, June 23, 2008

End of An Era

As of this the end of this week, the Ashtanga Yoga School of Seattle, to which I’ve been going for over 10 years, will close its doors, no longer offering classes and workshops to students of the yoga style pioneered by guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.


And then, George Carlin dies, too.

Times are changing, that’s for sure, and I’m not so sure I like it, no siree, not at all.

And yet, what is a person to do—other than drag your feet, cling on to the past for dear life, and kick and scream, railing against the forces of change that shake up our otherwise comfortable and predictable lives when nobody asked us about it or approved any of this beforehand?

Life goes on, I guess, or at least the Simpsons does; everything else it seems, eventually gets old as passes away—even though, as we’re all aware, the current Presidential administration seems to have been around for-fucking-ever.

An Associated Press article today suggested “Everything is Seemingly Spinning Out of Control;” I going to have to agree, but not just because of the floods, wars, economic instability, and failure of the fucking Giants to hold Tim Lincecom’s five-run lead in the sixth inning yesterday.

It’s also that these time-honored institutions I’ve come to depend upon are no longer dependable. Why they’ve even stopped carrying Old Spice after-shave lotion at the local Walgreen’s.

I’m not entirely sure what my response to all this should be; since there’s nothing to be done about it, I suppose I ought to do nothing. On the other hand, weeping and beating my breast seems to afford me at least some modicum of satisfaction.

Specifically, in regards to the yoga class, I probably can find another place to practice and I’m sure I can buy aftershave at someplace more classy, like Fred Meyer.

And I suppose when in it comes to George Carlin, it’s even easier: that’s what Youtube is here for.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


I’m entirely ready to be home.

Capped the evening by being stupid. Dropped all my credit cards in the taxi. I’m not particularly worried about their fate; it’s the failure to be better that bugs me.

For six nights, I’ve eaten poorly and failed to ride a bike. No wonder I feel so out of sorts.

And I miss Mimi and Jen. I’m nobody without them. They’re both the best thing about me.

A full day, anyway; that’s my excuse.

Up for a walk and breakfast at a bookstore, back to the room for a regroup, then another hike to the Lincoln Memorial, up and down the steps twice before lunch with dear old Poon—a happy one at that—at the Daily Grill, where no gardenburgers are served.

Another hot walk—this one with Sam and Alison—to the Swedish House for Andrew’s wedding. Everyone there is so smart and articulate that you so want to be better than you currently are that the stories you tell become believable enough to believe them yourself.

I cried throughout the ceremony, set up because all five of the couple’s parents were there while none of mine nor Jen’s are, (although all were at our wedding), but then because each person who spoke came from their heart and their history about bride and groom.

Andrew’s cousin read some passages their grandfather had written about his experiences as a West Virginian coal miner in the 1930s; Juliet’s brother read from correspondence between his sister and their grandmother.

The vows were perfect: Juliet’s witty and self-deprecating, Andrew’s heartfelt and honest, a perfect example, as best man Jonathan said in his subsequent toast, of lovers who can think with their hearts and feel with their heads.

I heard someone say that this was the talkiest wedding he’d ever been to; me, too, but I loved every word of it, although by the time I’d been at the after-party a while, I’d heard enough already.

Friday, June 20, 2008


So, it’s my last night in New York City; this band I like pretty well, Sloan, is playing at a cool club in the Bowery; I’ve had a nice dinner with my hosts, Bob and Jay, and I’ve got a bit of a buzz on from a shared bottle of wine and a cocktail or two before our meal.

You’d think I’d be all set to head out and shred it up till the wee hours, dragging myself back to the apartment as dawn breaks over the Manhattan skyline.


I was on the couch by 10:30 and slept all the way through the night except for at about 4:30 when the folks who opted for the alternative evening staggered from the bars to the tune of much shouting and smashing of empty bottles.


I’m an old guy, I guess: the attraction of standing in a sweaty bar being bombarded by loud music paled in comparison to the appeal of lying prone on a soft surface and letting sleep overtake my tired body.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

On the one hand, I’m appalled I’m such a lightweight. Time was when to not squeeze out every ounce of experience from the Big Apple was a shortcoming akin to not finishing a free beer. My younger self would have scoffed mightily at the homebody I’ve become.

On the other hand, I commend myself for such good sense. I mean, I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of concerts in my life; I doubt whether last night would have been anything other than a difference in degree, not kind. And today, I’m relatively bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to conquer my adventure of getting from New York to Washington, DC by “luxury” bus.

The good news is, I still have two days left on my little Eastern excursion; rehearsal dinner tonight and wedding tomorrow. At least one of those should be good for some pre-dawn bottle busting.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I fancy myself a reasonably adept student of yoga.

I’ve been doing Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga style for over ten years now and can get myself into a variety of pretzely-poses. By no means am I an expert, but from time to time, I feel like I can be just a little proud of my flexibility and strength, especially for a 51 year-old guy who never was much of an athlete—except maybe at skiing, but only when I was like 15.

So yesterday, which was the full moon day, on which—along with the new moon day—we don’t do Ashtanga, I decided, upon the recommendation of my friend, Dr. Bob, (with whom I am staying here in NYC), to get my yoga fix by attending the Master Class at the studio of Dharma Mittra, a beloved and longtime guru, famous for, among other things, his Master Chart of 908 yoga poses.

Basically, I got my ass kicked.

Among the twenty or so other students in the class, I was easily one of the two or three least skilled practitioners there, and maybe the only one who couldn’t get both his legs behind his ears in yoganidrasana, the yogi sleep pose.

Plus, in attempting a handstand, I fell over feet first, and crashed into this guy who then knocked over this other guy hard enough that that last guy had to sit there rubbing his noggin for a while, scowling at me as he did so.

I felt sort of like the uninvited guest at the reception who spills his drink all over the carpet, but it was even worse, since, this being a serious and sober yoga class, I was all serious and sober myself.

Nevertheless, it was an excellent class and one that reminded me that I’m far from all that, which strikes me as a good lesson and one pretty consistent with the overall message that yoga may be trying to impart to me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yet Another Cell Phone Rant

The cell phone has done irreparable damage to the street and bar scenes of New York City.

Everywhere I go, people are suffering from what my mom called the “hand to face disease.” They’re all talking to plastic, failing to pay attention to the world around them, connecting only with people they already know, shutting themselves off from the unexpected interaction with a stranger, and annoying the hell out of their fellow citizens on the bus.

This one was the perfect cliché: some broad yakking over the roar of the transit engines, going on about her divorce and how the ex-husband wasn’t going to pay for an entire year of her apartment. Fer fuck’s sake, girl, no wonder he cut you loose; your fellow passengers were about to throw you out the door, too, if you wouldn’t shut up.

And then there’s the guy with his iPod buds in his ears, phone plastered to his cheek, creaming me with his fat backpack on the sidewalk, totally oblivious to everything around him.

Later, I’m in a bar, watching the Dutch team stick it to Romania; back in the day, I’d have struck up a chat with the guy next to me, also rooting Holland on. Instead, he’s narrating the action to his buddy somewhere, interspersed with real estate business; so whereas before the advent of wireless communications, I might have overlooked his occupation and cut him some slack, now I can’t help but notice he’s a slumlord fuckwad.

Thankfully, at the last place I hit this afternoon, my bar mate was an elderly merchant marine sailor, a guy as drunken and Irish as his name—John Ryan—for whom a cell phone would have been as incongruous as a glass of white wine. Instead, he drank Beam and Coke, talked to me about “shipping out,” shook my hand profusely, and stuck my hat on his head as he staggered out the door, not a cell phone in sight.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Airline Travel Fun

I probably deserve this for taking a vacation all by myself; having cashed in my parent points— assuming I’ve managed to acquire a positive balance due to a couple of trips by Jen to see music shows—I’ve planned this couple day trip to New York to see some pals, do some yoga, maybe hit a few clubs before heading off to Washington, DC, for a friend’s wedding, but it’s certainly started in a manner unplanned and unasked for.

The JetBlue flight from Seattle to JFK left an hour and a half late because they needed to replace a plane; next, we were diverted from NYC to Boston as a result of thunderstorms; having sat on the runway at Logan for an hour, and almost about ready to take off back to Kennedy, the storms hit Beantown; now, we’re here, being plyed with stale potato chips and the random package of nuts in the effort to keep us from rioting.

Alas, no booze is served, which I don’t understand at all. Were I in charge of the airlines, that’s the first thing I’d break out.

I’m sure I could get a lot more exercised about the delay, but what’s to be done? Sooner or later we’ll be back in the air and sooner or later, I’ll be strolling the streets of Manhattan.

Worst-case scenario: I’ll be a part of one of those horror stories about people trapped in on the runway for days on end. I’m hoping that’s not the case, though; whatever I deserve for treating myself to this little treat, I hardly think it merits 24 hours cooped up in an aluminum cage.

My hope is that I’m working out whatever bad travel karma I’ve garnered before our trip to France next month. Maybe I can imagine that every hour I sit her on the ground in Boston is another hour we can bank on happy trails in Europe.

I think I deserve that, at least.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

North, South, East, West

This weekend, I’ve been on my bike as far north as Lynnwood, as far south at Renton, as far east as Issaquah, and as far west as Ballard. If you did it as a loop, I bet it would be about 70 miles—not that much, really, but plenty to make it to count as a few real adventures, especially yesterday morning, when I was lost in the wilds of Montlake Terrace or today, when, riding along with Evil Mike, we saw trailer parks and non-ironic coffee shops in rural settings just over the hill from high-tech condominium ghettos.

Mainly, I’m just reminded how, after all these years, the bicycle still says to me “freedom.”

It all started yesterday, about 8:50 in the morning; I took the Saluki downtown to catch the 9:14 bus to the Lynnwood Park n’ Ride in time to be at Cascadia’s graduation ceremony starting at 10:00 for those of us in the ceremony.

Afterwards, mapless, and by more or less dead reckoning, I found my way southeast to Wedgewood for the Chuggers and Sluggers softball game, only getting so lost at one point that I almost headed north thinking it was south, but still showing up in time to earn the 16-8 victory on the mound.

Then, it was west along the Burke, through the throngs of UW graduates to Dutch Bikes of Seattle for some Conference Bike fun and some conjecture about how to make a business out of it, before heading home in full sunlight at 9:00 in the evening.

Today, I arose early to do part of Ripper’s Big Lake Loop: from Montlake to Renton via Lake Washington, then uphill to the Renton Highlands, before a series of fast downhills and a stop at Sammamish State Park.

West along the I-90 route, only getting lost once when I obeyed the signs instead of my instincts, but still back home by 11:30, in plenty of time for Father’s Day breakfast.

Friday, June 13, 2008


I just submitted my grades for spring quarter—all except a few stragglers, who, as usual, I’m being far too accommodating to—so now, at last, I have about 94 days in a row (but who’s counting?) until I have to be a gainfully employed community college teacher once again.

As usual, I have all sorts of plans for the season: I’d like to completely overhaul the Saluki and have it repainted; I’d like to make some progress on the book I’ve been planning to write for years about doing philosophy with kids; I’d like to replace the exterior molding on the windows in the back of the house; I’d like to build raised beds for vegetables, and so forth and so on.

How much of this will actually get done remains to be seen and in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter that much if any of it does.

Entropy is a powerful force; I get exhausted just thinking about keeping it all together, much less making the effort to do so.

But what am I doing worrying—or even thinking about this today of all days—“now is the beautiful time, man,” as philosopher, John Latourell, used to say; rather than tying myself in knots over oughts, better that I crack a noon beer and watch the Netherlands soccer game.

I’m clearly not yet in summer mode—that usually takes a couple of weeks to kick in and given the way the weather’s been around here of late, it’s not surprising. On the other hand, it’s probably a bit premature to fully enter in to the land of “who cares” before I’ve taken care of all the school year’s loose ends.

Meanwhile, while I fret about stuff like this, it looks like the entire state of Wisconsin is being washed away; hardly seems right. I’m wondering whether I should take the initiative to have a beer; folks living in Cedar Rapids would be happy to flush their toilets safely.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Potato Chip Sandwich

What’s the line? “You might be a redneck if you think that potted meat on a saltine is a fancy hors d’oevre?”

Well, I might have a bit of redneck in me (Isn’t that what Cletus’ wife said? Haw-haw!), because of late, I’ve been savoring the delights of the potato chip sandwich, enough that I’ve been able to distinguish what makes an acceptable one different than a delicious one.

The basic ingredients are the same in any case: you’ve got your nice, soft breadstuff—Home Pride Buttertop White, or maybe a hot dog bun, or my favorite: a big, round hamburger bun, especially the fancy ones with sesame seeds on top, like at Big Boy Eat n’ Park restaurant.

Then, you’ve got to have condiments: at the very least, mayonnaise and mustard, but if you’re really going to go first class, some sweet relish and maybe a few drops of hot sauce, too.

And then, of course, potato chips: you crunch them up nice and small, but not so small that they get powdery, and sprinkle them over the condiments, so they stick.

I’ve used regular old Lay’s brand; they’re not bad, but I much prefer Tim’s Cascade Style chips, even though they’re a bit trickier to break up. (I’ve found that setting aside about half the bag and then crunching what’s left in the sack between your palms works great.)

Best of all, though, to my taste, is to use Pik-Nik Original Shoestring Potato sticks. Not only is their flavor unsurpassed (basically salty grease with a crunch), but they lay out so nice and flat on the bread that you don’t really need to break them up at all.

As with many recipes of this sort, the potato chip sandwich tends to taste best when eaten outdoors, preferably at night, preferably as a means to soak up some of the booze you’ve been consuming.

Pair the sandwich with a can of Rolling Rock, v.2008; bon appétit!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Passed Me By

Here’s another example of how the world has passed me by.

I’m sitting in my office yesterday and my phone rings. I answer it and the barely audible cell phone voice on the other ends says something like, “Scracha cracha schaow-schaow-schaow brzzzpt,” which eventually I translate into “This is Simon (not his real name) from your Philosophy class.”

I tell him that the connection is too lousy and to call back later when he has better service. “Zkrptzip,” he replies and hangs up.

A few minutes later, another student from the same class drops by—it is my office hours, after all—and asks if students have a homework due today. “No” I remind him, thinking that if only he spent more time paying attention in class and less time chatting with his friends about videogames, he’d know this, “I cancelled that so you guys could concentrate on your finals.”

“Oh, good,” he replies, “because I just saw Simon in the hallway and he said he was trying to get in touch with you about today’s assignment.”

What the fuck? The kid was in the building when he phoned? He couldn’t walk twenty yards down the hallway to ask me in person?

So, yesterday evening when I see Simon before class—he’s deigned to drop by to tell me he’s not going to make it; he’s got to attend his high school graduation instead—I ask him why he didn’t just come to my office instead of phoning.

His reply: “I didn’t know where it is.”

He knows my office phone number but not its location?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; the cell phone is the baby blanket, snuggle-bunny, pacifier for kids today. I shoulda realized this almost a decade ago when our nephew, Codi, was staying with us and one evening when the front door was locked, instead of knocking on it, he stood outside and called us to come answer it.

*Waves as the world goes by.*

Monday, June 09, 2008

Checked Out

It’s the last week of the quarter and students—the ones who’ve shown up—appear to be here mainly just in body, hardly at all in spirit.

I suppose to some degree, that’s my fault—it’s up to me to make my classes more interesting and engaging—but even today, in the Philosophical Questions class, when I did an exercise to introduce Existentialism, an exercise that usually brings out the best in students, most just sort of went through the motions and couldn’t leave fast enough when I let them go a bit earlier than usual.

Perhaps it’s the weather, which continues to be wetter and colder than normal for this time of year, or maybe they’re all just let down after Big Brown’s loss in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. But if sports and popular culture are the cause, then, by contrast, they all should be thrilled about Holland’s big win over Italy today in the Euro Cup, and delighted by Apple’s announcement of a cheaper, faster iPhone.

In any event, their mood is somewhat infectious; I find myself very ready for the quarter to finish up, too. Of course, with philosophy, there isn’t any endpoint to the course content; we’ve covered pretty much all the topics I had hoped to touch upon; the Meaning of Life got the short shrift, but all things considered, that seems appropriate.

My goal for coming quarters is to figure out more and better ways to make my assignments meaningful and relevant to students’ lives; this strikes me as an extra challenge for philosophy; on the one hand, I do believe that the study and practice of philosophical reasoning is among the most important skills a person can develop; on the other hand, it’s not at all obvious to me—especially today, seeing all those sleepy eyes avert whenever I mentioned some point from our readings—that studying what philosophers have to say is the best way to promote that.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bachelor Parties

I went to two bachelor parties this week; the first was a relatively tame affair—a baseball game with nightcaps afterwards—the second was a bit more raucous—PBR shooters around the barbecue, a stretch Hummer limo to the casino and a strip club; naturally, the one I ran into one of my students at was the latter; good news though: he was working on his final project for the Philosophy of Religion class, Go Find God.

That makes maybe half a dozen or so affairs of this type I’ve been to in my life. In some ways, my favorite was the first I ever attended: we lined up a hotel room above the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, played poker, and tried not to pass out drunk before the dancer showed up. Success was marked by waking up in a trashed room with a broken coffee table that the hotel never charged me for.

My own bachelor party was the most unusual I’ve been to: Jen, best man, Harley, and me rode a limousine around Santa Monica drinking champagne; I’m pretty sure we were all back at the house before midnight.

This morning I arrived home on my bike at around 4:30; the birds were just beginning to sing and the sky was lightening all around the edges, robin’s egg blue in the middle. Pretty good and late for an old guy like me, rock on.

An odd cultural ritual overall—sausagefest and stupid—I enjoyed feeling like one of the apes in Kubrick’s 2001 while the final hot dog burned to a crisp on the grill.

Good times.

The stretch Hummer was embarrassing, of course, but think about it: there were like 10 of us inside; if everyone drove, that would have been way more gas, and if all of us drove Hummers, even more.

Besides, I’ll probably never do something like that again; but, my luck: if I do, I’ll probably run into a student while I’m out.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Big Numbers

Listening to the NBA finals last night, I heard the announcer say that it’s been 21 years since the Celtics were in the championship. Not that I mind; a century could pass without the parquet-floored Beantowners having a winning season and I wouldn’t care; but what struck me so powerfully about that statement was how much more recent that event seemed to me.

I can remember quite distinctly being in Mexico—on my honeymoon—in a rather frighteningly cheesy condo on the beach at San Carlos, listening to transistor radio that faded in and out as the Magic Johnson took control of Game 6 and Lakers won the series 4 wins to 2. While I know intellectually that, as I’ve just celebrated two-decades-plus-one of wedded bliss, that it has to be 21 years ago since the event, it’s still shocking.

Twenty-one years is a long time. A person—my nephew, John, for instance, becomes an adult in that span, but in my life, it’s just a moment, one that I reach back towards and pluck as easily as I can a dandelion from my lawn—perhaps even easier, since today my lower sacroiliac is giving me a bit of nonsense.

Similarly, today is forty years since Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. I recall perfectly sitting in my classroom at the school in Holland I was attending when my teacher came in and told me that Kennedy had been shot. I thought, at first, that he had said “in the hand,” and so I just shrugged, but when he repeated himself and I heard through his accent that he meant “head,” I raced home on my bike to tell my mom and in those days before the internetz, I totally scooped her, but again, that’s a long damn time ago—and yet still well within my scope of memory.

I wonder if forty years from now, I’ll be able to recall today; if so, at least, I’ll have this to help.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

No Whining

I’m sick to death of all these people out there complaining about everything under the sun: politics, traffic, the weather, cars in bike lanes, bikes in car lanes, the price of gasoline, popular entertainment, the marketing practices of big pharmaceutical companies.

All day long, it’s blah-blah-blah about blah-blah-blah; everybody with two lips and tongue or a keyboard and fingers blathering on about their own little betes noirs: “Oh, things were so better when…” or “If only it were like this…” or “How come nobody ever does that…” or “When I’m in charge, it’s all going to be different and better because…”

But it’s all so much hot air; nothing of any substance ever emerges from all this brouhaha—especially on the internetz—and so all we get from all the complaints and complainers is more of the same.

Here, for example, is Rush Limbaugh or some other right-wing toady going on about Clinton or Obama or how attempts to stem human-induced global climate change are cutting into our God-given right to drive wherever we want whenever were want. And there, for example, is Ariana Huffington or some other left-leaning dilettante responding that if it weren’t for all the hot air spewed by windbags like Limbaugh et al., global warming wouldn’t be taking place nearly so quickly.

And then some sanctimonious douchebag with his own little pulpit on public access TV or the worldwide blogosphere goes on about how awful and depraved the current civic discourse has become and isn’t too bad we don’t all get together like we used to at Elks Clubs or in military service back when everyone was conscripted, which just goes to show you how our once-mighty country has slipped behind in the increasingly competitive global marketplace and it’s all because we don’t spend enough money on education, especially in math and science, unlike countries such as China and India.

And what comes of all this? Nada.

Which is why I never complain.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I Accept

I am happy to say right here, right now that if Senator Obama offers me the Vice-President role, I will accept it.

If he decides to offer it instead to Hilary, that’s cool, but let it also be known that I’ll be happy to fill in as Under-Secretary of State (especially if Scarlett Johansson is Over-Secretary) or if need be, a tour guide at the White House, but only during the cooler winter months.

I do think though, I’d make a particularly fine Veep, especially for the honorable Senator from Illinois. In the first place, I clean up pretty good and look nice in a fine bespoke suit, the sort that folks just a heartbeat away from being the most powerful person in the free world generally get given to them by tailors falling all over themselves wanting to be suit maker to the stars.

Second, I can bring to the job that sort of gravitas that Senator Obama has been accused of lacking. I’m a full five years older than he is—when I was graduating high school, he was just a punk in 7th grade and I’ll be I could have taken him, even though I only weighed 127 pounds at the time—and I have a full head of gray hair, which makes me look very distinguished on television, at least when they film me from my good side, the rear.

Third, I have the requisite experience—from my years as a stand-up comedian—to perform the job: I can give toasts at state dinners, I know how to suck up to people in power, and I’m not afraid of jet travel, just so long as I’ve got a good book to read.

Now, I know that Senator O has a whole team of advisors advising him on whom to choose as a running mate; good for them, but my advice is he ought to choose a bicycling mate instead—and here I am.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bad Drivers

It seems like on some days drivers drive worse than on other days. Case in point: yesterday.

On more occasions than usual, I had to stop, slow down, or veer to avoid getting creamed or clipped by somebody in a car who was in too much of a hurry, wasn’t paying attention, or maybe just didn’t care. (It’s not like this never happens nor that it causes me any overwhelming grief, it’s just that the prevalence factor was a higher than is typical.)

So, for instance, as Mimi and I headed to school on the tandem, just as we were about to enter into a crosswalk, some lady in a late model sedan roared up and turned right, right in front of us, without stopping; fortunately, we were able to.

Later, on my way home, just me on the two-seater bike, a guy in a white child-snatcher van jumped the light and busted left across the intersection in front of me as the light turned green, forcing me to pull up short and drop my feet down.

On my way to school, as I crossed a residential intersection in Montlake, some dame in a Volvo station wagon made a slow left turn right almost into me. “Helloooo!” I yelled, loud enough to distract her from her cell phone conversation and save my life.

Maybe the prevalence of bad driving was due to it being the first Monday of June; perhaps with summer coming on, people have their minds elsewhere. Or perhaps it was something astrological. Lots of planets in Gemini; probably folks are of two minds about things; even though they’re in their vehicles, their thoughts are elsewhere.

Or it could just be coincidence: it just turned out that I just happened to be where bad drivers were driving badly.

The one thing, of course, I’m sure of is that it had nothing to do with my cycling skills; no, I never ride poorly, especially on Mondays.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Space Plumbers

I like how one of the things that the space shuttle Discovery is carrying on its current mission to the International Space Station is a bunch of parts to fix the broken toilet on board that orbiting laboratory. It makes me happy that it’s not all glory and scientific prowess in outer space; they’ve also got to figure out a way to take care of the astronauts’ bodily fluids—although it’s not clear to me why they don’t just all wear those Depends diapers like that love-crazed astronaut did last year when she drove across Texas or wherever it was to confront her boyfriend’s girlfriend, or whomever it was.

(Details, you’ll note, are not my strong suit; that’s what the internetz are for; and look: all you have to do is google “astronaut in diapers” and the Fox News story comes right up.)

My friend, Richard Leider, always used to say that every job has some kind of “latrine work,” and this Shuttle mission illustrates that quite nicely. (I’ve been doing my own latrine work this weekend, grading my way through three whole classes of student papers; suffice it to say, doing so has cut way into my beer-drinking and sports-watching time, although I did manage to squeeze in watching the Pens fall hard at the hands of the Red Wings in game four of the Stanley Cup.)

Julie Payette, a Canadian astronaut on the space station is widely reported as saying that the hygiene cabinet—the toilet—is perhaps one of the most important systems on any spacecraft. “We’re humans,” she said. “We generate waste. We need a way to dispose of it.” Now if that’s not a quote to rival “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” I don’t know what is.

Less well known is what she had to say to her fellow cosmonauts whenever they availed themselves of the hygiene cabinet: “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow, if it’s brown, secure the friggin’ airlock!”