Friday, December 31, 2010


On the ride from my house to the pre-funk, my fingers froze, but after the appropriate ingestion of various anti-freezes, I wasn’t cold at all even though this last Thursday night of 2010 was as clear and frigid an evening as Seattle has seen all year.

Still, it seemed like a good idea to head for a place with an outdoor firepit as we pedaled away from Westlake Center and, although progress tended to be a bit less aggressive than when someone’s pre-planned a theme or in cases where Angry Hippies or Drunken Derricks are leading the way, the assembled were eventually treated to a ride on the road across the Aurora Bridge where a Subaru station wagon zoomed passed us, honking steadily and inspiring a great deal of conjecture as to whether it was a friendly horn-blowing or, in what would seem contrary to the stereotype of such cars’ drivers, one sounded in anger.

And it was both body and heart warming to still be able, after all these years, to cross a pedestrian bridge I’ve never been over and then, with great alacrity, already be atop Phinney Ridge and alternately standing around the bar’s outdoor flames and sitting inside the joint to admire the sights within.

Pretty soon the call to head west to Ballard and see Goddamn Bob Hall at Snoose Junction arose and so then, there we were consuming pizza and drinking beer as, on TV, the UW Huskies unexpectedly prevailed in their Holiday Bowl matchup against Nebraska much to the boredom and/or delight of those still in attendance.

It seemed like only a handful of the hardiest souls were left to then cycle eastward along the ship canal to the most time-honored of outdoor warm-up spots; I, however, was intent on one more indoor fire and so departed for the venerable CIP where I warmed my gloves on the flames and drank a nightcap before setting off home, warm as toast.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Everyone should find something no one else does; then like I am with the 327-word essay, you can become the undisputed global master of the form.

It’s odd in a way to be world champ, but perhaps odder still when there’s no competition whatsoever. Nevertheless, there’s something vaguely satisfying about being number one at anything, even if it’s entirely trivial.

At the very least, your opinions on the matter get to stand as THE opinions. Thus, my top ten (well, top twelve, actually) list of this year’s postings really means something. It’s like having Ella Fitzgerald in her prime pick the top twelve Ella songs. Or George W. choose the dozen worst moments in his presidency.

So, without further ado:

January gets “Backwards,” my .83 ride account nod to the film “Memento.”

For February, I’ve got to go with “Lived to Tell,” but perhaps some of my affection for it is that tehSchkott didn’t die. Carry on.

March’s winner is “Easy,” a simple tale of how to have a great 53rd birthday.

For April, I present “Hungry,” a surrealistic menu fantasy.

May, I admit, seems a bit sparse; nevertheless, “Trailer Love,” including the picture by Steve Hanson deserves my nod.

I like “Perfect” best in June, but again, it could just be the memory of the occasion that I’m responding to.

July’s best piece is “Agnosognosia,” about a condition which any of us might have although, by definition, none of us would know it.

In August, it’s “Mystery,” who knows why?

Best of September is “Unbelievable;” it may not be the best writing, but it wins for the most amazing story of the year, maybe of all time. I’m not even sure I believe it.

Gravity” is the winning entry for October; I still even think it’s funny.

November? “Democracy.” And because I rule here, I can say so.

I don’t really know what to say about December; it’s too close; I guess I’ll go with “Grrr.”

Monday, December 27, 2010


I’ve never really understood the allure of owning a boat; the most salient feature of my experience on board a water-going vessel has always been a feeling of being trapped: once you’re on deck, there’s nowhere to go and you’re stuck with whomever you’re stuck with until you get back to port.

I imagine, though, folks who are into that sort of thing probably consider being on a boat the ultimate expression of freedom: you can go wherever you want as long as the water’s deep enough, and if you’re sailing, it’s even better since you don’t have to use any power other than the wind.

For me, that experience is best attained on the seat of a bicycle; when you’re out and about on two wheels, you’re absolutely free; as Kent Peterson is wont to say, “Any distance is biking distance,” and it is, as long as you’ve got the time.

Yesterday, I enjoyed the feeling of sailing around Seattle as I took a break from football-watching (if you can call Seahawks broadcast “football”) at Bill’s Off-Broadway to ride from Capitol Hill around and down to Eastlake, South Lake Union, and then back up the hill for one final round; I timed my pedaling perfectly for the blustery day: just as I headed out it was starting to rain and right at the moment I returned, it was finally stopping, but it was a lovely jaunt nonetheless.

As long as I kept heading in a generally northwest direction, the wind and rain were at my back and only made me feel stronger. And then, when it was time to return in a basically southeasterly route, I got to enjoy a sunbreak to my right—which, while not powerful enough keep me dry, nonetheless was so scintillatingly beautiful that I didn’t mind the drizzle at all.

I really did feel like a sailor; tacking into the breeze as I maneuvered home, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


The kid made out pretty well this holiday season; she got everything she wanted on her list other than the “more money” item (in addition to the “money” item) and even though, at this point, we’re all just pretending about Santa, she was still willing to write a note to the Big Fat Man in the Red Suit and put out cookies and bourbon for him before turning in, so all in all, a successful holiday, for everyone, kids and parents alike, Merry Christmas.

What I found particularly charming about her gift requests this time around is that, basically, it turns out she’s essentially recreating my adolescent bedroom, circa 1972 or so.

Here’s what she wanted and got:

• A record-player turntable with built-in speakers, kind of like a fancy Close N’ Play. Then Jen went to the Salvation Army and bought a bunch of old LPs, including a couple I had, including the first Elton John album, Deep Purple’s Machine Head, and the Grateful Dead triple album, Europe 72.

• A film camera, one of those plastic Holga jobs, although I supposed a more authentic choice would have been a Polaroid Swinger.

• A Zippo lighter, complete with a can of fluid and some extra flints.

All she needed to add was a black light and some posters and a rotary dial phone and she’d have had the complete package.

I’m sure none of this was intentional, but it’s charming, and probably not unique. One of my students, for instance, in an exercise we were doing in the Philosophy of Religion class where they were to conceptualize what heaven might be like, described it pretty much like the world of my adolescence: a place of no cellphones or computers, where you could stay up late and didn’t have to check in with your parents every couple of hours; seriously, throw in a couple of seedy joints rolled in American flag papers, and basically, that was life.

Friday, December 24, 2010


I like to think I’m serious about my yoga practice; traditionally, one does the Ashtanga series six days a week and I’m pretty good about doing something at least every day of the week but Sunday, but there’s no doubt that I’m lazier than I could be.

During the school year, I usually manage a kind of modified version of half of the Primary Series; I do all the poses through Navasana, but I usually only do the vinyasa between poses rather than between sides as I was originally taught. I’ve believed this has kept me from completely becoming a slug, and it’s certainly better than nothing, but how much better is the question.

Lately, as I begin to prepare for studying in India, I’ve gotten back into doing the full Primary Series, completely with vinyasa between both sides. And what’s become apparent to me is that I’ve sort of been wasting my time all year long; or, at least, what I’ve taken to be a serious practice, isn’t really very serious at all.

There is a magic to submitting to the entire series that you just don’t get when you do less; maybe what I’ve been doing has kept me slightly more limber than I would have been otherwise, but insofar as yoga is about liberation, I don’t think it’s been doing me much good.

When I used to do Tai Chi in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park back in 1976, my teacher, Bing Leong, used to say that if you miss one day of practice, you fall back two days; I think something similar happens with yoga, although progress isn’t so obvious.

It will be interesting to see whether I re-acquire some of poses I’ve lost over the last few years when I’m in Mysore; Marichysana D is beyond me, as is Garbha Pindasana; I used to be able to do both of them; maybe when I’m really there, they’ll come back to me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


In comments to the article about the clusterfuck that was last week’s Thursday night Point83 ride, lots of people said something like, “I almost got hit by a bike rider x number of times, and so now, forevermore, I don’t trust those fuckers; they should all be run over just like I almost was.”

The operative adverb, of course, is “almost.”

What these commenters don’t seem to grasp is that almost getting hit by a bike is still NOT getting hit.

You can come pretty close to somebody and not clip them; you can weave in and out of pedestrian and/or vehicle traffic without coming nearly as close as it looks to hitting someone or something. Just because you almost crashed doesn’t actually mean that you were in real danger of crashing.

Now, I’m not advocating being stupid (most people I know who ride bikes do so perfectly well without any admonition on my part); but at the same time, most people I know who ride bikes aren’t quite as stupid as they look. Believe it or not, very few of them actually want to get into accidents and most will make every effort to avoid them; that said, “almost” crashing is usually good enough; as long as it’s still “almost,” you still haven’t.

Today, for instance, I probably rode a bit too close to a lady walking on the trail as I rode out to school; I guess you could say I “almost” hit her as I wove around two side-by-side walkers and cut inside her left shoulder as she approached me. Had she not been paying attention, and had I not made eye contact, I’m sure she could have been jolted out of a reverie with the realization that she “almost” got taken out by a cyclist. But there wasn’t really any chance I might have actually hit her.

“Almost only counts in horseshoes and dynamite,” haters take note: cycling's not even almost either one.

Monday, December 20, 2010


It cracks me up when right-wing politicians and their followers accuse Obama of being a socialist, as if (a) the economic policies of the President aren’t the same brand of government-supported corporate capitalism we’ve seen in America for that last six generations or so, (b) our country isn’t pretty socialistic already, and (c) there were anything wrong with being accused of socialism, as if simply calling someone a socialist is to denigrate them.

Socialism, as I understand it, is simply a governmental system whereby people allocate part of their income to the common good; having a police and fire department paid for, at least in part, by payroll, property, or income taxes; I don’t see what’s so bad about that, nor is it clear to me why anyone would be vehemently opposed to such a system.

I guess if you take if further, you’re going to get into advocating some sort of common ownership of the means of production and perhaps a re-allocation of wealth to make sure that nobody starves to death even if it means the richest of the rich don’t get to hold on to every penny they would otherwise. Again, it’s hard for me to see what’s so awful about this.

Sometimes, when I let my own political leanings come out in classroom discussions—usually when we’re talking about Peter Singer’s essay, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality, in which he essentially argues that people in wealthy nations have a moral obligation to donate money to organizations working to prevent people in poorer countries from starving to death in absolute poverty—some wag will accuse me of being a socialist; my standard response is to deny that and claim, rather that I’m a Communist and while it’s not like I’m a fan of Stalinism or repressive dictatorships in general, I don’t think it would be so bad if more was given to people according to their needs and drawn from others according to their abilities.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I’ve been pestering my friend Evil Mike for a couple years now to take me to a concert of metal music; I finally managed to make a show last night, catching the band Agalloch, which features Evil’s friend, Don Anderson on guitar; I don’t know about the genre in general, but I’m totally a fan now of this group in particular.

They were so good they make me want to be a better person.

I’m not sure how you’re supposed to characterize their music; Wikipedia says, “Agalloch performs a progressive and avant-garde style of folk metal that encompasses an eclectic range of tendencies including neofolk, post-rockm black metal and doom metal;” that seems about right. They reminded me of King Crimson more than anything, and I mean that both descriptively and normatively: I’ve rarely seen a band whose musicianship is so excellent and who seem so genuinely committed to exploring what music can really be.

Amazing melodies, sometime buried in a cacophonous sludge; Anderson’s Fripp-like guitar pyrotechnics intertwining with the rhythmic strummings of pint-sized guitarist John Haughm, who reminded me of some kind of half-human half-wolverine elf creature; sometimes there was some Pink Floyd about it, and then, at other times, the whole thing sounded almost like straightforward powerpop; I swear to God I heard a little bit of Fountains of Wayne in there at at least one point.

The crowd warmed my heart, too; haven’t seen so much long hair on dudes since I wore it that way myself; I stood up in the balcony at Neumo’s watching the entire audience banging their heads in unison; it was a little Orwellian, but not in an overly evil way, although I did get a sense that were one wanting to recruit an army of techno-orcs, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

I totally got into it, though; closed my eyes and just let myself be transported to medieval realms and cosmic starscapes; short-hair head-banged, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I blame the bus.

Every time I’ve lost something in the last few weeks—and it’s getting ridiculous now: a helmet, one and a half pairs of arm warmers, my wallet (although happily it was returned intact), a hat, every other page of the readings for philosophy camp, my dignity (no great loss), etc., etc.—there’s been a ride on public transportation involved.

I could chalk it up to hurrying to get on board, or that when I take the bus, I don’t wear all my gear, whereas when I ride, I put it all on my person or immediately realize that I’ve left it behind or dropped something, but I think it’s more than that. I think the Sound Transit and Metro vehicles are out to drive me crazy, by randomly snatching away things I own and dropping them into some bottomless vortex far beyond the reach of their Lost and Found Department.

Why this is so, I’m not sure. Perhaps the busses are jealous of my bike-riding; or maybe the seats are hungry for wool fibers; or it could be that the drivers are running an underground black market in pre-worn clothing and accessories; I’m not sure what’s at the root of the scheme, but I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy nonetheless.

No doubt skeptics will claim that I’m just over-reacting, but like that old chestnut reminds us, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

I’ve had my suspicions about this for some time now. Just this week, for instance, a Sound Transit driver deliberately ran me off the road just because I’d passed him on the right a bit earlier. And when I e-mailed a complaint letter, the person who wrote back was named “Renolda,” obviously an anagram for “Learn Do,” which proves the driver thought he was trying to teach me a lesson.

Plus, the scheduled arrival at the stop he nearly hit me: 3:27PM! Coincidence? I think not.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I’m sure I could never be an intravenous drug user; I’m just not that into syringes and such. And after today, I’m also certain I couldn’t even be an intramuscular drug addict (if such a thing even exists); having had the experience this morning of getting stuck five different times in two different arms by hypodermic needles, I have no doubt I’d never want to do it recreationally, or even in the name of entheogenic research.

In preparation for my trip to India, I visited the travel medicine clinic at the University of Washington and got all sorts of information about the various diseases I could conceivably contract in that part of the world and was provided with a suite of inoculations against said maladies, getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, tetanus, typhoid, and polio, if I remember correctly. I could have also gone for rabies, but at something like nine hundred bucks for the full series, I decided to just opt for not getting bit by dogs or monkeys.

I guess I had no idea what a dangerous and scary place it is out there in the world; the clinic provided me with eleven pages of precautions I should consider, from not eating any food that isn’t steaming hot or dry as sand to making sure I have insurance to pay for having to be medivacced out of country following a catastrophic automobile accident.

Maybe I’ll just stay in my room for the sabbatical and simply read about India.

On the other hand, I’ve got my inoculations, and I suppose it would be a waste to waste them, so why not head east after all?

I wonder how all those British in the 19th century managed; my sense is that they got by with just fizzy gin; I guess the malaria-carrying mosquitoes are all immune to quinine these days, so that won’t work; however, maybe if I just leave out the tonic, I won’t care.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


One thing that became abundantly clear to me last night as I pedaled along with the small group of riders leaving Red Square en route to this year’s Greenlake Race of Champions (as if it hadn’t been obvious already) was just how much slower than most people I usually ride.

Of course, it’s not like I’m unaware of this; I’m routinely passed on my commute home by pre-teen boys riding department store bikes and middle-aged women on 30 year-old ten speeds, but it’s easy enough to pretend that it isn’t really the case when I’m riding all by myself, as I most typically do. However, when I’m in a group of cyclists who are in a hurry to get somewhere, or simply tend to get there faster than I typically do, I can’t keep kidding myself.

It’s not that I mind; I’m building myself for comfort, not speed, but it’s a little disconcerting given my second place finish in the Tour de France a mere nine years ago. But that was before I became a full-time tenured philosophy teacher, so it’s not surprising, I guess. Even Lance Armstrong slowed down once he became all reflective and thoughtful; the more you think, the slower you pedal; at least that’s what I think.

My predilection for sluggishness was further illustrated when I decided not to stick around for the race even after we arrived. At the time, the turnout was pretty slim (although I did hear afterwards that six of the twelve monthly winners eventually showed up), and I had another holiday event I could go to, so I pedaled slowly away without taking in part what I’m sure was a successful event, organized by Little Fred with all the aplomb and vegan snacks he routinely provided all year long.

I couldn’t help but see it as something of a passing of the guard, though; Derrick was there, but wasn’t drinking, and no Daniel Featherhead to smoke the field.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


“Carpet bombing” is what the Allied Forces in World War II did to the city of Dresden (chronicled famously in Kurt Vonnegut’s classic Slaughterhouse Five); the term typically refers to the devastating practice of laying waste to civilian population centers by dropping down a carpet of bombs from airplanes overhead. That military strategists and world leaders could consider such a policy morally acceptable, even in a so-called “just war,” just goes to show how corrupting war is and how any attempted justifications for mass murder inevitably fail.

But on a lighter note, the term might refer to what Jen and I did to the soaked rugs salvaged from our basement following Sunday morning’s minor flooding; today we sliced up the worst of them and slid them out the ground-level window, from where I gathered the pile up and put it on the Haulin’ Colin trailer to carry to the dump—I mean “transfer station”—in Fremont.

According the facility’s scale, I hauled about 120 pounds of sopping wet acrylic fiber from home to trash heap and that’s apt, I guess, since just the other day, the material was part of our home; now, it’s just garbage. Usually, that transition takes a bit longer than 24 hours, except for Christmas morning, when something can go from being Robosapien to plastic detritus in less than half a day.

The trailer, of course, performed beautifully with its relatively heavy load; I was a tiny bit miffed that the guy at the transfer station didn’t go all awestruck at my awesomeness in carrying all that trash by human power and simply wave me through without a fee. As it was, he charged me the flat-fee car rate of thirty dollars. It probably would have been less to pile the stuff in trash bags and have the garbage men collect it on Friday, but then I wouldn’t have earned the moral high ground and more importantly, the right to an afternoon nap.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I was totally looking forward to Sunday afternoon and evening at Smoke Farm for the Philosophy Camp reunion, but I had to bail.


Saturday night’s Pineapple Express roared into town dropping something like two and a half inches of rain, which was about how much standing water we had in our basement Sunday morning at 5:30AM when I went down to check on how things were.

I spent a couple hours in my pajamas scooping water with a pitcher usually reserved for margueritas and then much of the rest of the day vacuuming up pools of wet with our brand-new Shop-Vac that Jen bought after waiting outside for Lowes’ hardware store to open with a bunch of other folks who apparently had similar early-morning needs to ours.

It sucked—the experience figuratively and the vacuum literally—but after seeing pictures in the paper this morning of people’s houses that were flooded above ground by overflowing creeks filled with raw sewage, I’d have to agree it wasn’t so bad.

And all the vacuuming seemed to help the Steelers, who crushed the Cincinnati Bengals 23-7, even though the offense never quite seemed to get in gear.

So, all in all, it wasn’t so awful, just another of the glamorous aspects of home ownership that makes paying a mortgage so worthwhile and which ensures that one will keep doing one’s part to keep the economy thriving—at least at big-box hardware stores.

I had been looking forward to reading and talking a out Nietzsche, Plato, and Emmanuel Levinas with Philosophy Camp alumni, but this was a different sort of lesson in the practical application of ideas. Or perhaps, more appropriately, it was applied Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher for whom everything, essentially, was water, and who famously claimed, “You cannot step twice into the same river.”

With all due respect, I think he might be wrong about that: I stood in pretty much the same river for six hours yesterday.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


“Disaster planning” usually refers to efforts taken to avoid calamity; by contrast, preparations made for last nights .83 Christmas Disaster—the Xmas Xtreme Xlocross Xplosion—were mainly undertaken to ensure that catastrophes ensued, and even if it hadn’t been the rainiest night of the year, there’s no doubt that cataclysms were guaranteed, what with something actually resembling a cyclocross course actually mapped out by the Angry Hippy and all kinds of booze poured forth (much into himself) by Derrick, who thanks to the efforts of tehJobies and others wasn’t even the biggest problem around for all of the night.

I had but one goal for this year’s Xmas party and that was to get rid of the elaborate shot-pouring contraption I “won” last year, and since I succeeded at that during the gift exchange, everything else was gravy, including managing not to fly over my handlebars heading down rocky paths in pitch-dark woods and also winning this year’s .83 people’s Teen choice award for Best Professor, woo-hoo!

When Lee and I arrived at the whisky checkpoint, Derrick claimed that the evening’s deluge had driven all the hobos in the woods under cover of the freeway and so our proposed meet-up beneath I-5 had been cancelled for lack of space; I took this to mean I should head to the bar, but when I got there, the place was deserted so I doubled back, but couldn’t tell, as I approached those blinking lights beneath the highway columns if I was happening upon inebriated cyclists or homeless drunks—and even after joining in the festivities I still wasn’t sure.

In any case, I was glad I found whoever it was because I’d have hated to have missed Joeball’s tractor pull and the associated outdoor shenanigans and the eventual return back to the bar, where I made out much better this year with a Buck knife as my present and sang “We Are Family,” because, at Christmastime, anyway, we sorta are.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I’ve been going through one of my periodic periods of losing things—a pair of arm warmers, my beloved Shaun Deller cap, the one bicycle helmet that really fits me—and while it’s infuriating (mostly because when things get lost, they’re really lost; no manner of backtracking seems to effect their recovery), it may be a good thing after all.

The bike helmet, for instance, was cracked already and probably wasn’t made any more protective by my recent face plant; the cap, even though I really liked it, always left a dent in my forehead that took hours to go away whenever I wore it, and the arm warmers were so tight that when I pulled them on, I was forever losing my grip and slugging myself square in the jaw. So, while I’m sorry to see all that stuff go, maybe it was time they all went, anyway.

I sort of feel that same way about this quarter at school; it’s been reasonably rewarding and filled with a sufficient number of meaningful educational experiences, so on the one hand, I’m sad that it’s over. But at the same time, I also feel it’s pretty played out; my students, I think, have had enough of my schtick and, for what it’s worth, I’m happy to see them move on to the next phase of their lives.

And I guess, in a way, I have a somewhat similar sentiment about President Obama’s policy choices over the last few months. Again and again, I’m sorry to see him giving up on a promise—explicit or implied—that I thought he had made on the campaign trail, whether it was striking down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or refusing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

But maybe all these capitulations are a good thing (or at least, maybe not as bad as they look); because maybe, just maybe, something else, something unexpected, something new and improved will ensue.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


I’m on the cusp of something like 275 days before I return to the daily endeavor of fulltime community college teaching. I’ve got a handful of stragglers’ papers to look at, then half a day or so of preparing final grades for the quarter, a few meetings next week to attend, then, I’m on sabbatical for two quarters followed by summer off (I think.)

I’m humbled and thrilled by the opportunity and can hardly believe it’s actually going to happen. Usually, at this time of year, I’m scrambling to finish out fall quarter so I can begin preparing for winter; now, by contrast, I’m doing my best to stay focused on my final few odds and ends instead of poring over guidebooks to South India to which I’ll be departing for two months in a little more than a month.

I probably shouldn’t crow about my good fortune; in these difficult budget times for higher education, an opportunity like this—to travel abroad (on my own dime, mind you) so as to study yoga and Indian philosophy halfway around the world is just the sort of activity that I’m sure somebody like Glenn Beck or Tim Eyeman could trump up into another example of overpaid college teachers bellying up to the public trough; consequently, it’s going to be incumbent upon me to communicate the seriousness of my educational endeavor and to really have what I learn pay off for students and colleagues upon my return.

But still, it’s hard not to want to climb up on the roof of my house and yell my lungs out about how excited I am; I know I should conduct myself in a professional manner, but I feel like a six year-old on Christmas eve; it’s all I can do not to get the whim-whams and start climbing the walls.

I’ve got plenty of study to do and lots of serious research to conduct.

But first: three weeks of Christmas vacation!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Lots of public hand-wringing over the recent news that China kicks the world’s ass in 10th grade education test scores and that US scores were only mediocre in science and reading and pretty lousy in math.

Well, I guess.

I’ll bet, though, if you measured American 15 year-olds against the rest of the world on how much contemporary culture they’re aware of and how savvy they are when it comes to communicating with each other about each other’s emotional life dramas, this country would come out on top.

And I’m not entirely convinced that’s such an awful state of affairs.

I mean, really, what are the skills and abilities that will make a person successful in the 21st century and beyond?

Much is made about the importance of the so-called “STEM” disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and sure, if these kids today can’t add or subtract or figure out how to turn on their cell phones, then the future of our country is fucked. But is it really such a crisis in education if kids are learning other, so-called “softer” skills? Is it really a catastrophe if Junior and Junior Miss do less well in the language of numbers and better in the language of love?

It’s hard for me to believe that Chinese youngsters are learning more than their counterparts around the globe. Rather, I think they’re just learning different stuff. Granted, it may be stuff that allows for faster technological advancement, but I’m not at all certain this is what humanity needs to carry on into the future.

Which students would score highest when it came to their ability to wrangle about issues of social justice and compassion? Whose average tally would prevail in a test dealing with moral ambiguity?

And maybe all of this is beside the point. Maybe what students today really need to know is how to build a fire, forage for food, and, of course, how to fix their bicycles.

Monday, December 06, 2010


I pulled out all the stops for yesterday’s Steelers-Ravens game.

First, I rose when I was still a bit foggy, so I could do the week’s shopping in a timely manner and before the grocery store got all crowded.

Upon returning home, I completed my least favorite chore, scooping up all the dog shit in the yard, an activity I hardly think of as the most glamorous aspect of pet ownership, but certainly one required of me should I have had any hope whatsoever that the Black and Gold would prevail.

Speaking of chores, I then spent a couple hours grading almost all the leftover papers students had submitted late; I realized I was taking a chance by leaving a few for later, but enough was enough.

Next, I took out all the trash and recycling, even emptying the wastebasket in my downstairs office, an occurrence that only happens a couple times each year.

Naturally, vacuuming was called for; and I didn’t just do the rugs. I also sucked up all the dog hair and dust kitties on the hardwood, making sure I touched upon the molding and other nooks and crannies.

And if that weren’t enough, just to be on the safe side, I scrubbed out the toilets in both bathrooms and sprayed a bit of Windex around to shine things all up.

As game time approached, I made a quick run to the supermarket, stocking up on not just a six, but indeed, a twelve-pack of Rolling Rock.

Near kickoff, I cleared away everything on the coffee table, laid out Terrible Towel and carefully placed both my mom and dad’s watches on top of it, with their wedding rings balanced on each timepiece’s crystal. I got their framed photo and turned it towards the TV so they could watch.

At halftime, with the Steelers losing, I made Primanti Brothers sandwiches for the family; apparently, that was the key: the second half was all Pittsburgh.

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Mom always used to say, when I was trying to “fix” something (usually attempting to wedge open a jelly jar or pry a bottle cap off my favorite condiment), “Science, David, not brute force.”

And, on those rare occasions when I’d listen to her good advice, I’d stop what I was doing, take a breath, and instead of gritting my teeth and grinding against whatever inanimate object I was fumbling with, I’d use my head and look at the problem differently and then, perhaps, do something like tap the side of the jelly jar to release the lid’s pressure so it would spin easily off or run some hot water on the ketchup top so I could remove it.

Of course, I wouldn’t thank her, but I’m pretty sure that the satisfaction she derived from being right was gratitude enough; she’d take a sip of her ice coffee and return to her detective novel looking pleased in spite of herself.

Sometimes, though, brute force is what’s required, or at least some serious elbow grease combined with a big tool made especially for such tasks. I speak, of course, of the effort required to fix the handlebars I bent the other night when I took a little dive off the seat of my bicycle, ass over teakettle.

Thanks to Alex Kostelnik of 2020 Cycle and a tool that looked something like this, I am now, once again, the proud owner of a bike whose cockpit isn’t all cattywhompus; while it might not be exactly back to where it was before I took my dive, it’s plenty good enough to ride and ride safely for years to come.

I pretty sure science was employed in the process, (we puzzled for a bit about the best angle to take and how to get the best leverage, but I’m also pretty sure that the main thing that enabled us to successfully complete the fix is that Alex is an animal.


Friday, December 03, 2010


Accidents are accidents because they’re accidents; that’s why the concept of “preventable accidents” seems to me like an oxymoron: if they were preventable, they wouldn’t be accidents, right?

Consequently, my little accident as I left the Lake Forest Park Bar and Grill after a few post-vocational libations with my fellow instructors couldn’t not have happened. There’s no way I could have failed to accidentally drop my front wheel off the sidewalk into the parking lot and have it get stuck between the curb and the concrete parking space bumper, thus vaulting me over my handlebars and face first into the tarmac where I took a nice bite out of the asphalt (and it an equally swell one out of me) giving me a fat lip and bending the left bullhorn upon which I landed inward at an angle parallel to how the right randonneur bar bends out.

Just as inevitably, though, it was no accident at all that I soon found myself at another outdoor calamity, this one at the Backyard Barbecue firepit that Joeball and I accidentally on purpose came upon the summer before last and at which—almost a year to the day ago—a gaggle of not-so-accidental cyclists previously staged a similar rendezvous.

This time, tehJobies brought along the mobile bicycle dance party machine instead of showing up in a car with Chinese food; still, there was no less festivity and perhaps surprisingly, no more complaints from nearby rich folks. (But as was pointed out to me, there’s no reason to assume that just because somebody lives in a mansion overlooking Lake Washington, he or she doesn’t appreciate overhearing joyful nonsense emanating from a nearby public park.)

You could almost feel the earth spinning (as no doubt many did their rooms later that evening); I wandered about the periphery and talked with Tiddlefitz about whether math can quantify hope.

I’m not sure I ever got an answer, although perhaps, accidentally, it all added up.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Man, the cycling gods don’t fuck around.

No sooner did I bray about not being afraid of crashing, than I almost completely ate it (and my words) this morning on my ride to the bus to school.

Rolling down Jackson, doing about twenty miles an hour in the bike lane, I barely avoid getting door prized—and not just any version of the classic inattentive driver creaming the unsuspecting cyclist; this one would have been one for the ages, which is probably how long I’d have been in the emergency room getting reconstructive surgery on my face had I not escaped unscathed.

My nemesis wasn’t the flung-open exit from some little Toyota Celica or something; rather, it was the huge door of a semi cab affixed to a Gai’s bakery truck.

The driver suddenly swung it open just as I began to pass by; I shouted something like “Gaaah!” and simultaneously ducked low and swerved left beneath the metal panel, narrowly missing contact thanks to its characteristic cutout shape along the bottom.

Visions of my face slamming into the unpadded steel sent my heart rate through the roof and flooded my system with adrenaline; I almost fell anyway as I cut back sharply into the bike lane and braked to a stop to turn back and look at my would-be assassin.

The driver had that sheepish, but sort of amused look that people display after they practically kill you. I glared at him until he at least shrugged and then figured what the hell, we were both glad the accident didn’t happen—at least we had that in common—and so, continued my way on down the hill to my destination.

Was I extra-careful for the next few blocks? Sure thing, and I even stopped at the crosswalk-only stoplight, to get my bearings, at least.

But it never occurred to me to stop for the day; besides, riding’s the only way to appease the vengeful cycling gods.