Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Night at the Symphony

I'm not a big fan of symphony music. I'm like your average Joe in that I enjoy Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Pachelbel's canon (in D!), and a few other popular pieces. I'm certainly no classical music aficionado. As I've mentioned before, I was exposed to Schubert, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and the like when I took piano lessons, but none of it moved me. In my adult years, I've tried getting into classical music by buying one of those 4-CD Greatest Classical Hits collections. I knew it was corny when I bought it, but I thought I should be able to distinguish Handel from Wagner. It didn't work.

The only classical piece I listen to with any frequency is Beethoven's Ninth. I don't know how many of you remember the short-lived CD era back in the mid '90s. After CD drives were introduced and before the internet took off, we could buy encyclopedic CDs like Bookshelf and Encarta that had loads of information. During that time, I bought a CD that explicated Beethoven's Ninth. I spent hours watching this CD.

Why am I saying this? Because last night, I we had a night at the symphony. I made dinner arrangements at a fancy downtown restaurant, bought four tickets to Beethoven's Ninth, and got a babysitter. Minette and Andy ruined my Christmas gift by sneakily nabbing the dinner check, but I managed to recover as we made our way to Benaroyal Hall. Our seats were terrible. As we watched some random Bach symphony from the 3rd tier, I was regretting not having sprung for better seats. During the intermission, Andy and Minette mentioned that they saw a row of empty seats in the middle of the tenth row, so we changed seats. We went from the worst seats in the house to the best seats in the house.

Then the Ninth started.

I experienced rapture. I experienced joy. In fact, part of the symphony was like an ode to joy. The music had me thinking only in flashing colors and whirling strokes. During those soaring moments, I was in the best place in the whole world, the envy of human kind. Experiencing the concert live is magical, especially in our perfect seats, but it's still invigorating to hear a recording. Here's my favorite part:

Friday, December 28, 2007

How Are Democrats and Republicans Different?

Before the Bush-Gore elections of 98, I never went out of my way to read about or discuss politics. Bush scared the shit out of me during the primaries, so I jumped in. When I was telecommuting in Indiana, we hired a nanny to help out with the twins. She was a new agey musician who was an avid Bush convert. I spent hours talking in circles with this bizarre woman, trying to find a common ground. There was none to be found. I thought Bush was corrupt and incompetent and the Iraq war was a disaster, but I felt like I was open to softening my views, especially if someone came up with reasonable arguments. She thought Bush could do no wrong and was one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- leader in the history of politics. I am not exaggerating. There was some serious hero-worshipping going on. As I've been delving into politics, I keep trying to find a common ground with those on the right. And I keep trying to figure out how right-wingers tick, asking myself what fundamental differences are between Democrats and Republicans?

Because I grew up Mormon, I started my life as a Republican. I voted for Reagan and the first Bush, but then something switched in me. I voted for Clinton twice (although I really liked Bob Dole), and now I refuse to vote for anyone aligned with the Republican party. I don't know if my way of thinking is scalable -- probably not -- but here are the fundamental differences between the two me's:

Republican Bob:

* I believed in objective reality on some level. There was always a truth to be found. God existed (or at least should have).

* I was certain of my convictions. In most instances, the convictions preceded the support of those convictions.

* I believed that an individual thrives best when society is set up with healthy moral restrictions. Too much individual freedom tears down the moral fiber of society.

* Life was good before the 60s, and then the dirty hippies came along.

Democratic Bob:

* I believe in a more subjective reality. I'm closer to a moral relativist.

* I distrust any conviction. I get more enjoyment out of looking at an issue from a different perspective than in defending something I believe in.

* I can change my opinion on some subjects from day to day. If you accuse me if lacking conviction, I may or may not disagree, depending on the circumstances.

* I still don't like the dirty hippies.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Great Movie Scenes: Paris Je T'aime

Wendy and I just watched Paris Je T'Aime, a movie first recommended to me by Dug, who has a way of recommending movies that makes you feel like a philistine if you don't see the movie. To keep my liberal arts college degree valid, I saw the movie soon afterwards, and then I just saw it again on video. Dug was right. It's worth seeing. The movie consists of 18 vignettes set in Paris. Each short movie is about five minutes long and directed by a different person.

My favorite was the last segment about an American tourist who visits Paris by herself. I love the way the short movie plays with -- and against -- the Ugly American stereotype. Her accent is hilariously bad, and she seems to lack the sensibilities to appreciate French culture, as evidenced by her frumpy tourist outfit and her claim that she doesn't enjoy French food as the camera zooms in on a plate of half-eaten hamburger and french fries. Near the end of the segment, her narration becomes more lyrical as she describes a simple experience that makes Paris come alive for her. It's beautiful.

What I like most about the short movie is its approach to loneliness, which is surprisingly difficult for directors to capture without falling into cliché or pathos. This segment captures the melancholy resilience of someone living her life alone.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Musings

I know you're supposed to have an angle when you write something. I should write about why Christmas stresses me out or why I love Christmas, but I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to let it flow. So here goes.

I love Christmas, but it stresses me out. For one thing, Christmas makes it so much easier to deal with Luke and Max. They get to open a Lego advent calender every morning, so instead of doing battle to get them dressed, I can say, "Go get your clothes on so that we can open the calendar." They run, and I get to stay in bed. Plus, whenever they don't want to do something they're supposed to do, I can bring out the Letter to Santa Claus threat. As in, "If you don't eat the rest of your noodles, I'll write Santa Claus a letter and tell him to give the bikes to someone else and bring the boys a little bag of trash." It works every single time. You may wonder why I refer to a "bag of trash" instead of a "lump of coal." Foresight. Here's how the lump of coal conversation would go:

Me: "If you don't eat your noodles, I'll tell Santa to bring you a lump of coal."

Boy: "What's coal?"

Me: "It's a bunch of little black rocks that you light on fire to stay warm."

Boy: "I want to big bag of coal for Christmas. And matches!"

This is also the first year that Luke and Max have a genuine sense of Christmas. Two years ago, their two favorite presents were the chewable box and the tearable paper. Last year, we had to remind them on Christmas morning that it was Christmas morning. This year, they're already having trouble going to sleep because they're so excited about the possibility of getting a red lightning bike (Luke) and a blue bike with a black seat (Max). There's an old Mormon saying that goes like this: The only thing more infectious than enthusiasm is chlamydia.

Christmas stresses me out for all the familiar reasons, and more. First, I've been buying my family members books since the early 90s, and I ran out of book ideas five years ago. So I buy books that are most likely either unwanted or duplicates of books from previous years. Then there are all the shopping hassles, wasted energy, and wasted money (express shipping, unwanted gifts, bad mall food). And then there's the odd sense that everyone is buying gifts out of obligation, but everyone keeps doing it anyway to be unGrinchlike.

And then there are the things that just didn't work out. Last year, I created a funny Christmas card that showed Luke and Max bawling their eyes out on Christmas morning. It was empirically hilarious. This year, I tried to be tricky by photoshopping my image into a family photo that I took, but it looked more creepy than funny. (By the way, one of you may have gotten two-thirds of a Christmas card. The post office sent me an apology notice with a sliced photo of Luke. If you didn't get a Christmas card, it may have gotten eaten.)

I suppose I feel about Christmas what Woody Allen feels about life: it's full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness — and it's all over much too quickly.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The True Meaning of Christmas

Whenever we read Christmas books to the kids, the boys wonder aloud who baby Jesus is. I'm not sure how to respond to this because we're not trying to indoctrinate the kids with any religious beliefs. We try to keep Christmas on a strictly commercial level, but baby Jesus keeps crawling into the picture. I suppose this is all right, but I feel like Max and Luke are little Christians at heart. Max in particular. Here's a conversation we had:

Me: "That's it, Max! I asked you not to throw the wash cloth, and you kept throwing it, so now I'm taking it away!"

Max: "I didn't throw the wash cloth. My body did!"

Me: "Well you need to learn to control your body better."

Max [angrily]: "I don't want you to take the wash cloth! Give it to me!"

Me: "I didn't take the wash cloth. My body did."

Max [without missing a beat]: "You need to control your body."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Downside of Biking to Work

Wendy has been away all week on business. Weather problems caused her to arrive home at 5:00 am, and the boys promptly woke her up at 6:30. As we scrambled to eat breakfast, I was feeling anxious about making it on time to an important meeting at work. Wendy, bless her heart, decided that we had to make conditional plan right then in case something goes wrong with our original plan the following week. The details aren't important. Our discussion was interrupted dozens of times by the boys, who were excited by Wendy's being home, their upcoming birthday, Christmas, and everything else. It takes me an hour to ride to work, but the meeting was in 45 minutes. That's OK, I told myself. I'll ride fast. And I'll listen to music instead of Adam Bede, so I'll get that extra adrenaline rush.

I rode out of my garage/bat cave feeling angry at the unnecessary conversation and guilty for not finishing it. As I was flying down the hill, I noticed a car about to cross the intersection without stopping at the stop sign. My heart raced. The driver saw me and slammed on his brakes halfway into the intersection. We glared at each other. My look said, "You almost killed me!" His look said, "I stopped, so what's the problem?"

About five minutes later, something happened that feels worse than crashing into a car going 40 mph hour. A flat tire. When you crash into a car, it's exciting. It's momentous. Sirens! Flashing lights! When you get a flat tire, your heart sinks, and that's about it. You're left with a sunken heart. It starts when you feel the pebbles in the road a little too much, and you wonder if you have a flat. When you turn, the tire slides out, and you're sure you have a flat. You think, How bad is it? Can I inflate the tire and keep riding? 

That's what I tried doing, since I couldn't be late for the meeting. I pumped up the tire and kept riding. The tire was fine for five minutes, and then it lost too much air, so I stopped and pumped it up again. The next time it was noticeably flat a minute later and entirely flat three minutes later. Should I ride on rims? No, I needed to change the tire. 

At this point, I was angry at everyone. I shouted the shit word and pulled over. First and foremost, I was pissed at Wendy, who thought it was more important to make conditional plans than to let me leave on time. I was mad at myself for not just leaving when I needed to leave. I was mad at the person who called the meeting at 9 am. Who calls a meeting that early? An asshole, that's who. I was mad at the people who were walking by me and possibly thinking that I was inconveniencing them by changing the tire on the sidewalk. Inwardly, I dared someone to say something. Maybe this flat tire could turn out being momentous after all as I hurl someone onto the hood of a parked car. Sirens! Flashing lights!

I found the leak in the tube but couldn't find the corresponding foreign object in the tire. I did notice a couple of large tears, so I wanted to use the trick of inserting a one-dollar bill. I opened my wallet and found all twenties. I shouted the shit word again. I found a packet of cigarettes on the ground (have I mentioned how depressing cities are?), lined the inside of the tube with aluminum packaging, and and inserted the tube. Of course, I'm making it sound like it all went smoothly, but anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I had a difficult time keeping the aluminum in place. I struggled to get the tire back on the rim. I struggled getting the wheel in place. In fact, I rode the last six miles to work with my tire rubbing, with each scrape adding to my feelings of hatred for the world.

I called into the meeting fifteen minutes late. No big deal. Relax, dude.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Great Golf Swing Has Gotten Even Greater

Yesterday, while I was outside a department store in a mall waiting for my parents to buy Christmas gifts, I picked up a long roll of wrapping paper and started working on my swing. One of the problems with practicing your golf swing with wrapping paper is that the club weight is off. A real golf club carries most of its weight in the club head, whereas the weight of wrapping paper is evenly distributed. Wrapping paper is also lighter and the grip has a greater circumference. These differences notwithstanding, I was able to make a couple of key adjustments to my swing.

First, I closed my grip, forcing me to snap my wrists at the point of contact, thus generating more power. What I may lose in accuracy I gain in distance. Second, I now begin the swing with my feet together, and I step towards the target, much as a baseball player would do. Again, I'm leaning towards power in the power-to-accuracy continuum, but I have nearly complete confidence in my accuracy. In my mind's eye, I was hitting 320-yard drives right down the middle of the mall, landing the shots next to the Santa Claus display outside Macy's.

I'll work on my chipping in Barnes & Noble.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Would Freud Think?

Luke and Max have a new game they like to play. It's called The Penis Game. Here's how it works. One of the boys announces that his penis is gone, and his brother, who somehow represents the lost organ, jumps up and runs away. The fledgling castrato chases the brother/penis around the house and shouts, "Come back, penis!" To become whole, he must catch the brother and drag him upstairs to the changing table.

Got a punch line?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bubble Burst Blues

I have three different intros to this whine-fest. Instead of acting like a decent self-editor and narrowing it down, I'll give you two and let you pick:

Intro 1: The Patriots are playing the Steelers this week. Since we're guaranteed that both teams -- winner and loser -- will complain about bad officiating, I thought it would be appropriate that I do some whining of my own.

Intro 2: One of the reasons I abandoned a somewhat popular blog to write this, ahem, less popular blog is because I didn't want to cater to an audience. I want the freedom of mind to pick subjects that no one likely cares about but me. And not only is the subject boring, but I'm going to complain bitterly.

So here we go. The housing market is crashing here in Seattle. Prices have already dropped 10% since July, pushing us back to 2006 prices, and the huge inventory of houses means that prices are going to continue to drop for some time, probably bottoming out at 2004 prices. We bought a house in 2005. Unless we're willing to take a loss, we're not going to be able to sell our house without losing money for years and years. That makes me feel trapped.

Here's the main reason this upsets me: Other people's financial irresponsibility is hurting my pocketbook.

The housing market has become too much like the stock market for my taste. If I want to invest in Wal-mart, that's my choice. If the market drops, I can deal with a loss of value, but I have a difficult time handling a decline in the housing market. I move around a lot, and when I move to a new city, I do not want to deal with a landlord. I want to feel relatively safe in buying a house. If I hang on to any house for five years or so, I think I have an inalienable right to be able to sell that house for at least the price I paid for it. Right or wrong (and pretty obviously the latter), that's my mindset. In the current housing situation, buying a house is no longer safe.

As is being testified before Congress, lenders have made it far too easy for people to buy homes. Unfortunately, in 2005, I had no idea how easy lenders were making it. I had heard of the multiple-loan situation in which buyers can't save enough money to make a down payment, so they take out multiple loans. This started as a workaround, but it became standard practice. The technique works well for people who have a good, steady income but aren't good savers. I also knew about ARM loans in which the buyer gets a low interest rate for a certain period of time -- usually three to five years -- and then the interest rate is reset when the term ends. This kind of loan makes sense for new buyers who know they're going to be earning more money in a few years or who know they'll be moving, refinancing, or paying off the loan. Then there are interest-only loans, which is another reasonable short-term option that's fine in a stable housing market. But I had no idea that people (many of whom had bad credit or unstable incomes to begin with) were combining these workarounds, putting hardly any money down AND getting interest-only ARM loans. And not just a few people. Lots and lots of people were doled out (or coaxed into) these crazy no-risk loans. And some people were getting these no-risk loans to purchase rental properties. Bleck.

The short-term effect on the market was predictable. Housing prices skyrocketed. A lot of people thought, Hey, I bought a house for $350,000, and a year later it's worth $400,000, so I can take out a loan on the appreciation -- free money! And if I buy a rental house, I'll have twice as much free money! People took out loans on their houses to remodel or buy other houses, which stimulated the economy and made people want to invest in the hot housing market by flipping houses. New constructions popped up everywhere. Apartment buildings were converted into condominiums.

The long-term effect on the market was equally predictable. Several things happened at once. In many markets, housing became unaffordable to most buyers, making it significantly less expensive to rent. The first phase of the ARM loans ended for a bunch of people, and they couldn't make payments at the higher interest rate. Since many people had hardly anything invested in the property, they could just walk away. And they did. A lot of them trash their houses before skulking back to someone's basement. Foreclosures joined the already crowded housing inventory. Flippers and renters saw where the market was going, stopped buying houses, and put their rentals up for sale. (The owner of the house next to us fits this profile perfectly -- she kicked out her renters when she could no longer borrow against her house, put the rental up for sale, and the dark house just sits there.) Buyers fear entering the housing market in the same way that investors don't want to buy an overvalued stock. And the mortgage industry came to its senses and tightened their lending practices, thereby removing potential buyers from the market. Pop.

The government had a hand in this too. I'm not sure who was involved or what the relationship was between legislators and the mortgage industry, but I do know that Alan Greenspan actually encouraged people to get ARM loans when interest rates were near an all-time low. Why would he say that? Someone had to be pressuring him, right? After 9/11, the recession deepened and the stock market was reeling, so politicians likely thought stimulating the housing market would jump-start the economy. If that was their intent, it worked. But the housing market got out of control, and the bursting bubble is probably going to plunge us into another recession that'll probably be worse than the one it pulled us out of.

If I had bought a house in the mid-90s, I wouldn't be bothered by this whole bubble burst. But the overinflated market put us in the position that the only way to buy a house to was to pay an insane amount of money for it. Even though we had 20% to put down on the house we wanted to live in, we were buying into a market artificially inflated by all the flippers, speculators, and creative-loan flibberdigibbets.

Of course, we're not planning on selling our house any time soon. And since the housing market is now frighteningly similar to the stock market, another crazy swing back up is inevitable. But I don't like it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Wire Prequels

I happen to think that The Wire is the greatest television show ever. I wouldn't argue with you if you said something like Seinfeld or Six Feet Under or The Sopranos or The Mary Tyler Moore Show is better, but if you try to argue that The Wire doesn't deserve consideration, I'll stab you in the throat with a shiv. If any of you haven't seen the show, I strongly suggest you give it a try. It's the only slam dunk television guarantee I can make to any friend. That's my spiel for anyone who hasn't seen The Wire.

If you have seen The Wire, check out these prequel clips on Amazon:

Young Prop Joe (beware of bad acting)

When Season 5 comes out, I'll subscribe again to HBO.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Doggone Seattle

There are two kinds of people in Seattle. No, I'm not talking about the cold/warm classification that pits chilly people who are friendly on the surface against area transplants. That dichotomy is simplistic, because it fails to account for slow drivers. What I'm talking about is kid people and dog people.

As is the case with most realizations, you undergo a series of experiences that leads to an epiphany. My first experience with Seattle dog people occurred a few months after we moved in. Only one person from the neighborhood came over to welcome us (well, two if you count the woman who wanted to see inside the house), and that person sold his house to "a nice young couple." When the new couple moved in, Wendy and I took the boys over to greet the new people, even though such visits apparently violate Seattle neighborhood by-laws. The man and the woman stood behind the screen door holding back their braying hounds while the four of us stood on the other side. As Wendy exchanged one-sided pleasantries, something else bothered me about the scene. At first, I chalked it up to the people being assholes, and the fact that I saw a big Notre Dame flag go up in the window a few weeks later confirmed by suspicions. Now, it's all so clear to me. They're dog people.

I know what you're thinking: What about people who own both kids and pets? Breeders with dogs. Simple. In Seattle, they still pick a side. Here's an example. Earlier this year, a pre-school Mom convinced her husband to host a Seahawks football party. The idea was to get the pre-school Dads together. Wendy RSVP'd me and committed to 7-layer dip, so I woke up early, made the dip, and went to this fabricated male bonding experience even though my beloved Colts were playing at the same time. This couple has twin girls the same age as ours, and they have a one-year-old boy and another on the way. Kid people, right? Not so fast. They have a dog that's one-quarter lab, one-quarter pitbull, and one-half mongrel. This dog spent the whole football game trying to coax guests into playing catch with a slimy tennis ball. The dog let out a couple of farts that were nasty enough to force a couple guys to leave the room and clear their eyes. Here's the clincher: When I saw that the Colts had won a nail-biter, I pumped my fist.

"What happened?" said the host.

"The Colts won," I said.

He turned to his brother and friend and said, "Funny how I keep seeing a lot of Colts fans this year for some reason..."

Dog person.

Friday, November 30, 2007

2008 Presidential Election Q&A

As you can tell, I've been too busy this week to post anything that takes more than five minutes to write. Well, today, I set the timer to twenty minutes, because I think the 2008 elections are that important.

What's the worst-case scenario?

Rudy Guiliani will be voted our next President. He's just awful. Rudy isn't as bumblingly stupid as George is, but he's just as power-crazed, corrupt, and hawkish. McCain is a hawk too, but I don't think he would continue Bush's drive to make the legislative and judicial branches subordinate to the executive branch. And don't give me any nonsense about Guiliani being liberal on social issues. Just because he's fond of dressing up like a woman and living with gay men doesn't mean he won't nominate socially conservative supreme court justices.

Guiliani scares me just as much in 2007 as George W. Bush scared me in 1999. Maybe even more so, because back then I thought he might hire smart people around him and be a figurehead in the mold of Reagan.

What can the Republicans do to win?

The Republican nominee can't throw George under the train, but he'll have to separate himself in some way. He'll probably do this by hinting at the fact that the problem with George wasn't his ideology, but his competence. And then smear, smear, smear...

What can the Democrats do to win?

Nominate a generate candidate who can run against George Bush's disastrous legacy without being a lightning rod to the right-wing smear machine. Unfortunately, John Edwards appears to be slipping, so that leaves Hillary (aka The Ice Queen) and Barack (aka Obama bin Laden). Obama is actually my favorite candidate, but I don't think he's electable.

The other thing the Democrats need to do is make the election about George W. Bush. The Republican nominee represents More Of The Same.

Why would you be upset if a Republican won?

I want a landslide election to force the Republican away from the extremist fringe and back to traditional conservative values like small government, fiscal responsibility, and hazy corruption. If a Republican wins, they'll continue to cater to the neocons and religious right.

P.S. Any George W. Bush fans out there? If so, please leave a comment. You don't know how much this would delight me. I miss the old days when Bush fanatics would turn on ALL CAPS and cut loose with rants against the mainstream media and leftist know-it-alls who thought Operation Iraqi Freedom might last longer than six months. Where did all those clowns go?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Have a Great Golf Swing

Here's something you don't know about me. I have a fantastic golf swing. There are subtle differences between a pro golfer's swing and my swing. Specifically, a pro golfer's swing has a smooth arc in which the club head reaches it's greatest speed at the point of contact, whereas my swing is more v-shaped as I like to swing hard down on the ball. For me, it feels best to generate the most club-head speed at the very beginning of the swing, thereby demonstrating commitment, and I like to yell "Aack!" as the ball is struck. A pro golfer typically hits his drives between 280 and 320 yards, whereas I hit my drives between 180 and 220 yards. Drive for show; putt for dough.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My New Favorite Band

A couple weeks ago while flipping channels, I stumbled across Ryan Adams in concert. I liked what I heard, but my high-def channel was wigging out, so the sound came and went. This frustrated me, naturally, and it made me desperate to hear the song. So I checked out a Ryan Adams & The Cardinals album from the library. The very first song blew me away with its soulfulness. "Magnolia Mountain" has a timeless quality that made me feel like I'd been hearing some variation of the song my whole life. It wouldn't surprise me if it was written by Roy Orbison, Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, or Ryan Adams himself. I did a search on YouTube hoping against hope that someone had posted this song. It turns out that there are about a dozen different versions. I guess Ryan Adams is not exactly unknown.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Rambling Thoughts on Assembling Movies

Malcolm Gladwell discusses the idea of using a formula to predict hit movies. He interviews a smart lawyer who reviewed movies and screenplays and came up with a system that assigns dollar values to scripted movie scenes. For example, a hero's moral crisis in an early scene may be worth $7 million, a gorgeous red-headed eighteen-year-old female lead who scores well on her likeability ratings may be worth $3 million, and a bonding moment between the male lead and a four-year-old boy may be worth $2 million. I'd really like to learn more about their ratings, but they're tight-lipped about the whole thing because they're trying to sell their process to powerful, insecure movie executives.

[Digression] Edgar Allen Poe came up with a similarly reductive argument about assigning values to art, deriving a twisted sorite to determine the best subject of a poem. Basically, his line of reasoning went like this: a poem should elevate the soul; the poem that most elevates the soul deals with tragedy; the greatest of tragedies is death; the most tragic deaths are those of women; the most tragic death is that of a young woman -- a beautiful young woman. Ergo, if you want to write a great poem, don't pick a middle-aged man or an ugly young woman as your subject, and for damn sure don't let them live when the poem ends. Write about the death of a PYT, make sure it rhymes, and you're golden. Either that, or write about black birds with one-word vocabularies. [/Digression]

I suppose one approach to this formula is to write a sarcastic blog entry, but I'm in a more somber mood since I live in Seattle and all. So I'm going to discuss my favorite storytelling conceits. Of course, I should skip the obvious ones, because they're obvious: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Society, and Man vs. iPod cords. I'll also skip Revenge, which is too easy, and Falling in Love, which is the same as Man vs. Nature.

Moral Dilemma That Involves Revenge - I know I said I wouldn't mention Revenge, but that got me thinking about good types of Revenge. First, here's the kind of revenge plot that bugs me the most: (1) bad guy does something very bad, (2) good guy chases bad guy and catches him near the end of the movie, (3) good guy doesn't kill bad guy outright because he's good, (4) bad guy tries to kill good guy anyway, (5) good guy gleefully kils bad guy, restoring the moral order. I prefer Hamlet's perverted revenge, or the great revenge scene in Minority Report in which the Tom Cruise character confronts the guy who seems to have kidnapped his child.

Low Person Faces High Person - A lowly peasant confronts the king. Aron meets Cathy in East of Eden. Dorothy meets Oz. Jane Eyre meets Rochester. Gandalf confronts Saruman. Elizabeth chats with Lady Catherine.

Escape - If this were a top 5 list, Escape would go at the very top. Whether it's physical escape (Papillon, Cool Hand Luke), psychological escape (Five Easy Pieces, Office Space, The 40 Year Old Virgin), or some other kind of escape, I'm hooked.

Full Frontal Nudity - I like any plot twist that causes one or more attractive women to remove their clothing. Peepholes are especially effective.

Mystery Solving - I can imagine a story with someone solving a mystery while escaping capture. As the mystery unfolds, the protagonist realizes he must seek revenge, and only a new love interest can dissuade him.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fall Moab 2007 Awards

Fall Moab is all about rituals. It starts with the insulting email exchanges we send each other to plan for the event. When Dug gives the final word, the date is set, and Rick gives Kenny an action item to create a poster. (This year's poster is a takeoff on a Mormon movie called Passage to Zarahemla. I guess you have to live in Utah.) The whole thing is very organized. When we return from Fall Moab, Fatty writes a summary for his blog, and I give out awards based on movie quotes. The Fall Moab 2007 movie quotes come from The 40 Year Old Virgin, which is appropriate for three reasons: (1) we quoted from the movie several times during the trip, (2) the movie has an interesting clash between innocence and experience, which is appropriate for our group, and (3) I've never seen Passage to Zarahemla.

Cal: "Oh, man, I had a weekend."

The first award goes to the whole group. In the movie, Cal goes down to Mexico to see a horse show that, um, fails to be uplifting. We fared better. Eleven of us drove down to St. George on Friday morning, set up camp near the Gooseberry Mesa trailhead, and did three rides: Gooseberry on Friday afternoon, Little Creek on Saturday, and a different part of Gooseberry on Sunday morning. Here's how good the weekend was -- the bike riding in that part of Utah is spectacular, and I’m not sure whether biking was more fun than camping.

By the way, we went on three long rides in three days, and didn't take a shower. By day 3, I couldn't even run my fingers through my hair. Amazingly, none of us smelled bad. Isn't that interesting!

David: "Did you just flick me in the balls?"
Cal: "No. I flicked you in the fleshy patch where your balls used to be."

This award goes to . . . Kenny, who rode tentatively most of the weekend. I suppose he could use the excuse that he was still recovering from the hip he broke a couple of months ago, and that he flashed all the crux moves anyway, but I expected a little more aggression from him. Kenny, here’s a flick in your fleshy patch. Flick.

Did you happen to notice that Kenny was wearing a sissy helmet? Flick.

Andy Stitzer: "I think I've got all the advice I can handle, thank you."

For this one, we're giving out a special Lifetime Achievement Award to ... Rick. The five greatest mountain bike rides in Southern Utah – Gold Bar Rim, Gooseberry Mesa, Reverse Porcupine, Slickrock, and Little Creek – all have one thing in common: at least one crux move where most riders take turns trying to make it up and over. The guys who flash it set their bikes down at the top, take their place in the victor's circle, and shout encouragement to the other cyclists. Except Rick. He shouts advice. And it's not even useful advice. If he said something like "You're shifting your weight too soon" or "Think 'cold fury'," that would be one thing. But his advice is "Begin with the end in mind" or "Try not to fall down, Chico." I've got all the advice I can handle, Ricky, thank you.

In an odd reversal, here's a video of Rick asking me for advice while trying to ride over a string of boulders. I was stunned.

David: "You know how I know you're gay?"
Cal: "How? How do you know I'm gay?"
David: "Because you macramed yourself a pair of jean shorts."

This goes to all the riders who took Ambien because they have a difficult time sleeping when camping. Pfff. Real men take melatonin.

Andy Stitzer: "Einstein rode a bike!"
Trish: "He had a wife."

This award goes to ... our wives who graciously watched the kids while we were out of town. Hang in there, Susan.

Waxing Lady: "So this is your first time getting body wax?"

This award goes to ... Brad.

As I mentioned, the trip was a little different this time because we camped. We built a huge bonfire, circled our chairs around it, and told stories while eating beer-soaked brats. After chopping wood, spitting, and peeing on juniper bushes, we weren’t in the mood for chatting about mutual funds or elementary schools. We wanted raunchy stories.

By the time Brad had drunk enough alcohol to declare that he wasn’t drunk, he claimed his new favorite activity was having his balls waxed, and he went into horrifying detail that is not only inappropriate for this blog, but inappropriate for eleven grown men scratching themselves around a campfire. (The next morning he claimed that he was making the whole thing up. Whatever.)

While eating dinner in a Mexican restaurant the following day, something odd happened. The restaurant was crowded, and there was a group of men and women sitting at the table next to us. At our table, several conversations were going on simultaneously. Just as we all stopped talking at the same time, someone at the next table said in a loud voice, “This is going to sound crazy, but one time a girlfriend waxed my balls!” Half of us stared in disbelief while the other half burst out laughing.

Is ball waxing really that popular? Never mind, don't answer that.

David: "You're a whore."
Amy: "I am not a whore! I just didn't like you!"
David: "Hah, this is so us."

The award for best gag in the movie goes to … Rick, who pulled off the best gag of the weekend. When the server in the aforementioned Mexican restaurant brought our food, she asked Rick to pass the plate down. Rick asked her if the plate was hot, which is a good question in a Mexican restaurant, and she said no. As soon as he took the plate, he yelled "OUCH!!" The look on her face just before she burst out laughing was priceless. She was a good sport.

David: "I'm gonna kick you in the nuts, asshole."
Haziz: "Hey, hey, hey hey hey, watch the language, ok? I have a family."

This goes to ... Steve, a first-timer to Fall Moab. Steve is Paul's brother, he was my roommate in college, and he lives in Dug's neighborhood. Steve is a straight-laced conservative guy with a good sense of humor, but I'm afraid he heard some thing he'd like to un-hear.

Andy: "I think my first time might be your best time too."

I love this line. This award goes to ... my new singlespeed bike. Fatty currently owns my singlespeed on paper, but I can tell he wasn't treating it right, so it'll be mine soon.

When people were telling me about singlespeeds, I never understood the attraction. I get it now. As much as I love my full-suspension Mountain Bicycling System™, it's dead to me. I probably shouldn't be saying this because I still need to negotiate the price with Fatty.

Paul had a similar experience with a singlespeed. Over the last several years, the only time he rides his mountain bike is with us during Fall Moab. For this year's event, he bought a singlespeed and loved it so much that he's actually going to start riding again.

Here's the thing. Riding a singlespeed isn't about being more macho: "Hey, look at me! I'm only riding one gear! And I have broken glass in my shoes!" It's about simplicity. It's about power. It's about stealth. That's right. A singlespeed lets you ride sneakily. That's the best I can do to explain it. If you doubt me, you'll just have to try it.

David: "You know how I know you're gay?"
Cal: "How?"
David: "You like Coldplay."

The best line of the movie goes to the best crux move of the weekend… the Little Creek gulley. There are two ways up the ledge. There’s a rock pile up the middle or a narrow, rocky trail around the right side in which you have to make the turn by climbing over a root while dodging an overhang. Once you get up on the ledge, you have to climb a deceptively long pile of rocks through a narrow opening up the left side. So far, no one has come close to riding a singlespeed up the middle rock pile (Dan tries it in the video below), and you have to hit it perfectly to make it up on a geared bike. While we were trying to ride up the crux move, Gary and Paul tried to rock climb up an inverted wall. Everyone else sat around cheering and cajoling. Good times.

David: "I gotta tell you something. I'm really excited about it. Uh, for the first time, today, I woke up, I came to the store, and I feel confident to say to you that if you don't take this Michael McDonald DVD -- that you've been playing for two years straight -- off, I'm going to kill everyone in the store and put a bullet in my brain!"

This goes to Fatty, who took my iPod and cranked an obscure playlist I have called “Cheese Rock,” which includes music that I listened to as a teenager. He could have picked one of the more contemporary bands I have, like My Morning Jacket or The White Stripes or Arcade Fire, but no. He announced to everyone that we’d be getting a sampling of my music, and cranked it up. Boston, Journey, Kansas, and 38 Special could be heard all over Gooseberry Mesa. You know you're humiliated when people are asking why Styx isn't on your playlist. I suppose I should hold on loosely to this grand illusion, because all we are is dust in the wind. Thanks Fatty. You're a man I'll never be.

Cal: "Is that the Six Million Dollar Man's boss?"
Andy Stitzer: "That's Oscar Goldman."

This line goes to ... Dug. I don't need a reason. Enjoy!

Andy Stitzer: "You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!"

This award goes to the group of storytellers -- especially Gary, Cori, Rick, and Kenny -- who all managed to tell hilarious stories with an undercurrent of sad truthfulness. Of course, anything I write here can't match the time-honored tradition of campfire storytelling. I can only offer a glimpse.

One of the interesting things about this group is that all eleven of us were Mormon missionaries. Some guys are no longer involved in the church and were passing around a bottle of whiskey or tequila. Some guys were chatting about their church callings. A couple guys were doing a little bit of both, or neither. We told stories for hours on both nights, but there was one stretch that was particularly memorable. We got on the subject of how common it is for people to claim that God wanted them to marry someone. I better not name names.

Story 1 - One guy told a story about a friend of his. When the friend was near the end of his mission, a woman claimed that God revealed to her that he would marry her daughter. The daughter was not attractive by anyone's standards. The fact that the mother died the following day of a heart attack shook up the missionary. When he got home, his dreams haunted him for a few weeks, so he went back to the mission area and married the girl. The storyteller then did an impersonation of how his married friend acted when he visited him: "Yeah, work is okay [turning and shouting] -- Martha! -- [turning back] work is good, you know, I'm just livin' the dream [turning again] -- MARTHA!! KEEP THEM QUIET IN THERE! [turning back] How about you?"

Story 2 - A Sicilian woman was married to a mob guy, which isn't as crazy as it sounds in Palermo. When the storyteller was teaching her about the Mormon church, she wanted to break up with her sinning husband and get baptized. She also happened to fall in love with the missionary and tried to seduce him. [Several juicy details omitted.] The mafioso wasn't too happy about the situation. Church officials intervened and sent the storyteller to a different area and warned several people to be extra careful, including the missionary's girlfriend back in the states. The storyteller still gets letters from the woman more than 20 years later.

Story 3 - Someone's overbearing father was a religious extremist. Surprise! He turned out to have an ugly secret.

Story 4 - A 30-ish woman fell in love with one of the guys when he was only 15. She kept inviting him over to her house and confided in him that she had a revelation -- her husband would die in a plane crash. Her family moved away, and a couple years later, her husband ... died in a plane crash. She used part of her lucrative settlement money to move back to the area and buy a home near the storyteller's. The woman stepped up her advances and bought the kind of car that he really liked. They started dating. One night, the woman snuck into the boy's basement bedroom and climbed in bed with him. Later that night, the phone rang. Her five-year-old daughter was calling the house in a panic, telling the storyteller's parents that her mother was gone. The story kept going...

Andy Stitzer: "Do you ever notice how... like, in a relationship... one person's always like "blal blah blal blah" and the other person's like "What are you talkin about?" and one person's like "blah blah blalablah...?"
Cal: "How much have you had to drink, man?"

This award goes to two guys who couldn't make the trip . . . Tom and Rich. They're lifelong buddies who constantly bicker with each other, kind of like Artoo and C3PO, only meaner.

Jay: "Nastiest shit you've ever done? I'm talkin' about nasty!"
Andy Stitzer: "Ah... wow! Soooo many stories are running through my head right now. I dated this girl for a while... she was really a... nasty freak. She just loved to... get down with... sex all the time. It was like... anytime of day... she was like, 'Yeah, let's go! I'm so nasty!'"

This solid quote goes to the most solid move on Gooseberry ... Sidewinder. You have to scramble up a couple of switchbacks. After the last turn, there's a steep 15-foot rock that you have to climb to make it to the top. In granny gear, this isn't much of a problem (even though you look totally ridiculous spinning your pedals that fast), but on a singlespeed, it's devilishly tricky, as a British announcer would say.

[There is no video of Sidewinder because Fatty is holding out and refuses to answer my emails.]

Mooj: "Life is about people. It's about connections."
Andy Stitzer: "It's all about connections."
Mooj: "It's not about c----, and a--, and t---."
Andy Stitzer: "Yeah."
Mooj: "And butt---- pleasures."
Andy Stitzer: "It's not about butt--- pleasures at all."
Mooj: "It's not about these rusty trombones, and these dirty Sanchez."
Andy Stitzer: "Please stop."

The most otherworldly dialogue goes to the most otherworldly section of trail ... Hidden Canyon on Gooseberry Mesa. The overhanging rocks makes it seem like you're riding through a cave. I wouldn't be surprised if bats flew out.

In conclusion, we had fun.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Youtube Loser

I finished writing a long summary of Fall Moab 2007. While trying to upload movies to YouTube, I've run across a couple of technical glitches. I'll try to get everything worked out by tomorrow so that I can post the long-awaited summary of Fall Moab (St. George edition), complete with video footage. Promise. For some reason, playing around in YouTube lowered my self-esteem a few notches. Maybe it's the fact that movies seemed to upload just fine but never showed up. And that one video that did show up had the audio out of sync. Or maybe it's something else.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Singlespeed Bikes

For this year's Fall Moab, I left my expensive full-suspension mountain bike at the bike shop and committed to riding a singlespeed bike the whole weekend. I was nervous about this because I love the Fall Moab trips and I didn't want to ruin the experience by riding a new bike that didn't work out. There are four main differences between my bike and Elden's bike:

1. Multiple gears vs. one gear - While the full suspension bike has three rings in front and eight cogs in back, a singlespeed has -- you guessed it -- only one gear.

2. Bigger wheels - Standard mountain bikes have 26" wheels; the new wave of singlespeed bikes have 29" wheels, like hybrid/touring bikes.

3. Rigid fork - My bike is very bouncy with front and rear suspension. Elden's bike has no suspension.

4. Different pedals - Elden's Time pedals are a little more difficult to clip into and out of than my Speedplays. Within fifteen minutes of the first ride, I stalled while going up a ledge, couldn't clip out, and fell 8 feet onto my back. I had a headache the rest of the weekend, but it's always fun to claim you're "concussed."

Advantages of the Singlespeed

One of the reasons I didn't want to ride a singlespeed bike was because of an experiment I did a few years ago. While on my geared bike, I rode side-by-side with Dug and shifted until we pedaled the same revolutions and speed. I ended up in the middle ring and fifth or sixth gear, and there's no way I wanted to push that gear all day. What I didn't realize is that I was comparing apples and oranges. Having multiple gears comes with a price -- the drivetrain absorbs some of your energy and the bike is heavier. When you're riding a singlespeed, the gear you're pushing is much easier than its standard mountain bike equivalent. This means you have more pop.

When you ride a singlespeed, you have to get used to going fast over obstacles and going easy on the brakes. The bigger wheels and higher speeds allow you to roll over obstacles that snag bikes with smaller wheels. This is perfect for riding in Southern Utah. There are some moves -- especially drops -- that I can do on a singlespeed but not on a standard mountain bike.

There's also something to the feel of riding a singlespeed bike, but I don't know how to describe it. It just feels good.

Disadvantages of Singlespeeds

When you want to ride fast down a long hill, you spin out. Also, certain moves can't be done on a singlespeed, and that's frustrating. Any difficult move in which you lose all your speed and have to pedal up a steep incline has to go unconquered (this can also be a benefit in that certain moves that we've mastered on a geared bike have now come back into play on a singlespeed). Also, the larger wheels make tight turns more difficult -- a definite negative for riding in the Northwest.

Another drawback is that you get more beat up on a singlespeed. By the third day, I no longer enjoyed just riding along the trail because my hands and forearms were so sore.


I am going to purchase Elden's extra singlespeed bike for all Southern Utah riding, and I'm going to convert my old backup Stumpjumper into a singlespeed for riding in Seattle. It'll have the same small wheels, but I'll replace the old suspension fork with a rigid fork.
I'll have more details on the bike trip later.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Fall Moab 07 Preview

My favorite weekend of the year is coming up: Fall Moab. This year's version, Fall Moab Aught Seven, should be spectacular. Here are my five favorite things about the Fall Moab tradition:

5. Road Trip

I usually don't like being in a car, but the road trip is one exception. There's the usual amount of ball-busting, movie reviews, book reviews, and sports chatter, and we usually find time to discuss work and families. On the return trip, the discussions inevitably turn to analysis of human sexual habits.

4. Parking Lots

Before the ride, there's the bike assembly and nervous chatter. Rick does his impersonation of Richard Gere or Bono. After the ride, there's the drinking of beer and the tossing of footballs. Paul breaks out his impression of Robbie Bosco.

The Slickrock parking lot has a special significance. We've been riding Slickrock for almost 20 years, and I get a stomach tingle every single time.

3. Food

Food tastes great after a long ride. Especially Hostess SnoBalls.

2. The Open Country

I love the wide open sky and sunshine in Southern Utah, especially coming from Seattle, where there isn't much sunlight even when the sun is out.

1. The Moves

I love trying the same move over and over. I love watching the other guys trying the same moves over and over.

Wrinkles: This year, we're actually doing Fall Moab in St. George, I'll be riding a singlespeed mountain bike instead of The System, and we're camping. More details soon. Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Turtle Diary

I let Wendy talk me into getting turtle pets for Luke and Max. I know this is a mistake. I have a theory that pets teach children that their parents will neglect living creatures and let them die, and I want to at least pretend to be a nurturing father to my children. Wendy got the turtles from the father* of a 12-year-old girl who no longer cared about the turtles and even forgot their names. Bob and Bob 1 or Paul and Paul 1, or something like that.

The boys decided on new names right away. Taking the George Foreman approach, Luke and Max named the turtles Luke and Max, respectively. Wendy shot that idea down, so the boys named them something like Poony and Gartran. We had no problem with this, but the names were quickly forgotten, and the turtles had to be renamed yet again. Luke called his turtle Speedy (pronounced "peedy") and Max called his turtle Gumby (pronounced "dummy"). I thought those were perfectly good names, but this morning I found out they were being called Mr. Turtle and Mr. No No. What the hell? I'm giving them one more day to come up with solid names, or I'm going to intervene. Here are some possibilities (one is a male; the other is either female or a eunuch):

Brady and Belichek
Darcy and Elizabeth
Gawain and Green Knight
Nicholas and Rasputin
Huckleberry and Jim
Dick and George
Lenny and George
Porgy and Bess
Guildenstern and Rosencrantz

Got any suggestions?

* For ye olde WordPerfect folks, the former turtle owner is the one and only Mike Grayson.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Election Day

After work, Wendy and I are going to walk the boys down the street to the Lutheran church so that we can vote. Today's election will be a little bit odd for me because I'm not paying attention to local issues and I'm going to vote anyway. I suppose there are a couple of important propositions,* but I have no idea who's running for office. That won't deter me because my line of reasoning is simple and right on this one: I shall vote against every Republican on the ballot. Wendy forwarded a message to me from a Democratic friend who thought the Republican candidate was an excellent, fair-minded man and would do a better job as County Prosecutor than his Democratic opponent. I don't care. The extremist faction has taken over the Republican party and is doing terrible damage to our country. The Democrats are the lesser evil. Let's do a test. How would you vote in the following case?

O Abraham Lincoln (R)
O William Jefferson (D)

I don't care that Abraham Lincoln was a great orator and fine all-around man and that William Jefferson was busted for having $100k in his freezer -- I'm putting my check mark next to Jefferson. Lincoln is a Republican (plus, he's stone cold dead). When the fiscal conservative, small-government Republicans regain control of their party, I'll change how I vote. Until then, anyone with an (R) next to its name gets voted against. How do you like that, Dick? Not feeling so smug now, are you George?

* There's a big transportation issue that no one seems to care about because the proposition tries to appeal to both right-wing SUV nuts and left-wing public transportation nuts. Wendy is going to vote Yes to it, and I suppose I should too since I drive an SUV and ride my bike to work. I'm going to vote No for two small-minded reasons: (1) the proposition doesn't include money (excuse me -- monies) for fixing the viaduct, which will have to be torn down soon due to earthquake damage, and (2) Seattle was well on its way to having a monorail that went from West Seattle to Ballard through downtown. They pulled the plug on that project allegedly because it was going to be too expensive. So this new transportation initiative is way more expensive, but it doesn't do jack shit for West Seattle, which is going to have horrible congestion when the viaduct is torn down. Full disclosure: I live in West Seattle. More full disclosure: I torture baby seals in my basement. Anyway, the proposition is all about the East side bridges and reducing congestion on I-5. That work needs to be done, and the measure does throw a bone or two to bicycle commuters. Still, vote No to Proposition 1! This public service announcement was paid for by the Committee to Being Nice to Babies, Puppies, and Kitty Cats.

Monday, November 5, 2007

I'm OK

When the Colts went up 20-10 yesterday, I high-fived the kids, who were playing with the girl next door, and gave out unwanted hugs. When the game ended, a 24-20 loss to the hated Patriots, I went into a little funk. First, I no longer cared about professional football. It's a ridiculous game played by people wholly unrelated to me. Second, I wandered around the house looking for a book to read -- there were none -- or for little things to do. I did the dishes. I removed the babyproofing locks from the kitchen. I listened to my gabby neighbor gab. I payed just enough to say "um hum" at the appropriate times, but deep down I was wondering what happened to Manning's protection. When I was getting the boys ready for bed, they did their normal delay tactics, and I came close to smacking one of them. I really wanted to hit one of my kids. Finally, I couldn't sleep at night without thinking about the defensive collapse in the fourth quarter.

In time, I'll be OK. I'll miss football.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Colts vs. Patriots, What else?

No one else seems willing to talk about the upcoming game between the Colts and Patriots, so I guess I'll have to take up the slack. I have a new theory that accounts for the Patriots running up the score in all their games this year. The consensus opinion is that the Patriots are upset about (1) getting busted for cheating and (2) having their championship seasons called into question because they'd been cheating all along. The more extreme opinion, and one that I cannot in good conscience deny, is that Bill Belichek is the devil, and the devil does things like run up the scores of opponents and steal all the deposit envelopes from ATM machines. But I have a new theory, which I developed after watching the replay of last year's Colts-Patriots AFC championship game. (Yes, I watched the entire replay of a game that took place last year. Isn't that cool?) In that game, the Patriots went ahead 21-3, the Colts came roaring back to tie it at 28-28, and then the Colts finally won it 38-34. From what I saw, four things cost the Patriots that game:

1. One slow linebacker too many 

There was some guy named Alexander whose name was constantly being called, but in negative ways like "Alexander pushes Fletcher out of bounds after a 22-yard gain." The Colts were busting up the Patriots with routes up the middle between the linebackers and safeties. And Alexander was often seen running after them.

2. The inability to shut down the running game 

The Colts offensive line pounded the Patriots, especially in the second half. On their final touchdown, the center drove the Patriots' 340-pound noseguard five yards down field and then pancaked him. Several other Patriots found themselves on their back during that play. If the Patriots blow out the Colts this Sunday, Colts fans may want to put that play on a continuous loop for a few hours.

3. Mediocre receivers 

The leading Patriots receiver dropped two passes in the second half that him him right in the stomach. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots up by three and with a chance to put the game away, a receiver ran the wrong route, and Tom Brady had nowhere to throw. Punt. Touchdown. Interception. Game over.

4. A lack of killer instinct 

After the Patriots went up 21-3, they seemed to go soft. I think you see where I'm heading. If you watch that game again, you have to think the Patriots had them down and let them up. There may be something to the notion of playing intensely for all four quarters. Forget sportsmanship. The Patriots have retooled for one reason -- to beat the Colts. To win, they have to get a lead early, build the lead, and keep building the lead. They have to suppress any urge to let up at any point.

I know what you're thinking: The Colts barely beat the Patriots last year, and the Patriots have gotten way better with their new receivers; therefore, the Patriots are better than the Colts and should crush them. But you forget, sports fan, that the AFC championship had gone against recent form. The Colts had learned to beat the Patriots. During last year's regular season game against the Colts, the Patriots were overmatched in a home game. They looked desperate as they went for it on fourth down and tried onsides kicks early in the game, and they still took a 40-21 beating, their second in a row to the Colts. 

I know what else you're thinking: Who do I, Bob, think is going to win? I think the Patriots are going to take a lead, and build that lead, and keep building that lead. They know how. The bastards.

Picturesque Pictures

One of the reasons I allow Minette to continue to be my friend is because she's an excellent photographer. Every now and then, she resorts to gimmickry and goes nuts with an infrared lens, but check out her more honest photos. She shows a keen eye for depth of field patterns et cetera, and her many Flickr friends are continually flagging her photos for e-awards. Even printed magazines are getting into the act, purchasing her photos (but failing to give her credit). I myself have lifted several photos from Minette's site without properly attributing them, but I do not apologize for this, because I see Minette as a chippy understudy.

Check out Minette's Flickr page. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

0% Trans Fat

You'll be happy to note that this web log now has 0% trans fat.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bawston Spawts

Yesterday was a good day for Boston sports fans. The Red Sox won the World Series and the Patriots crushed a pretty good Washington Redskins team. I find myself in the odd position of loving the Red Sox and hating the Patriots. You see, I grew up over the western United States, so location never meant much to me when I picked teams to root for. But more on that in some other post.

The Boston Red Sox

It's not that Mike Lowell didn't deserve to win the MVP. He did. Still, I kind of hoped Jonathan Papelbon had won the award. Forget about the fact that he made three saves; what's more important is the sense of relief he gives to his teammates and fans. If the Red Sox have the lead in the late innings, they're going to win. (Personal digression: I was with a woman once, and, um, let's just continue with the sports lingo and say that I shut her out, 1-0. "No problem," she said. "I'll just bring Eck out of the bullpen." So she reached into the bag of goodies she had stashed under the bed and pulled out her silver friend who looked nothing like Dennis Eckersley. There went my shutout.)

There was once of those online polls asking which team was better, the 2004 Red Sox or the 2007 Red Sox. Despite the ridiculous nature of those polls, it's a good question. The 2004 team had to deal with all the Babe Ruth curses, disbelievers, and back monkeys, so for them to overcome all that and win was remarkable. Still, they were the underdog wildcard team that year, and they seemed overmatched against a better Yankees team. This year's Red Sox had a handful of the same players -- Ortiz, Schilling, Manny, and a few others -- but they had the best record in baseball from April through October. The Yankees made a furious comeback, but the Red Sox held them off and never panicked. If an alien world or Cuba challenged us to pick one of those Red Sox teams to a best-of-seven series against its finest players, I'd take the 2007 Red Sox.

The New England Patriots

Wow, is this team bitter! Leading 38-0 in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had the ball on the Redskins 2-yard-line when a lineman jumped offsides. Tom Brady barked at him as if the outcome of the game were still in question. A couple plays later, Brady hit an open receiver in the end zone, and both players celebrated like they'd just taken the lead. In this situation, most teams resort to their running games to run out the clock, but the Pats insist on playing hard and running up the score. I think part of it is the mentality that when you're on the field, you give it your all. But it seems like there's something else going on, like maybe the Patriots are getting revenge everyone for calling them cheaters. Nevermind the fact that they were caught cheating. Maybe if they win this year without cheating, people will forget that they used to make a habit of cheating, and the fact that their cheating cost the good-hearted Colts a couple of Super Bowl titles. I hate the Patriots.

Next Sunday, the Patriots are going to play the Colts. Neither team has lost. The Patriots look invincible, winning their games by an average of about 25 points. The Colts look shaky by comparison, often struggling in the early stages of the game. The Colts have beaten the Patriots three times in a row, but this Patriots team has three of the best receivers in the league. More on that game later, sports fans.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Pointless Lego Story

You want to know an empty feeling? Come home from work and have your 3-year-old kids ignore you because they're busy drawing. I fully expect my boys to ignore me when they're 14, but when they're 3? Here's how I fixed the problem. Whenever I come home, I bring them either a treat or a prize. The treats are something like a piece of Jolly Rancher candy that I grab from the candy jars at work. The prizes are crappy things that can be found lying around at companies, like Ion+ decals or anti-stress balls. Now when I come home, I hear shouts and demands. My children love me, they really, really love me. They chase me around the house, pry the treat/prize out of my hands, and then make me tell them the story of how I got it. The stories usually involve tricking the troll that lives under the bridge or defeating the pirates that menace Lake Union.

So yesterday, I forgot to grab something from the candy jar and went home without a treat. When the boys asked me if I had a treat, I told them what I usually tell them: No. Unfortunately, I always say no to tease them. So they started to chase me, and I told them that no, really, I don't have a treat, and no means no. They're smart kids, so they know that despite what feminists claim, no doesn't really mean no during negotiations. Thinking quickly, I saw two Lego catalogs sitting in the junk mail pile, so I grabbed them and started running around the house. It worked! They chased me down, grabbed the catalogs, and stared at them for the rest of the evening.

Luke enjoyed the catalog a little too much. He read the catalog for an hour before dinner. He read the catalog all through dinner. He read the catalog while standing in the bathtub. When I took the catalog away from him so that I could clean him, he cried for the next 15 minutes while I watched the baseball game and kept shouting, "No, you can't have the Lego catalog! You're wet!" He slept with the catalog under his bed. This morning, he insisted that his mother repair the catalog with tape and staples. Luke is addicted to Lego porn.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Most Influential Short Stories

Robert recently wrote a web log entry on the movies and books that most influenced him, so I decided to take a break from my Justin Timberlake research to discuss this subject. Unfortunately, I've already deleted nearly this entire post on account of its being boring. Can you believe that? OK, the movies part wasn't so bad, but The Lord of the Rings, Revenge, and Walden for books? The Lord of the Rings proves I'm a nerd, Revenge proves I enjoyed pulp fiction in high school, and Walden proves I was sophomoric as a college sophomore (thank god I was never exposed to Ayn Rand). I suppose the stuff about The Brothers Karamazov and The Power and the Glory were decent, but not enough to maintain reader interest in a web log in which readers come to expect the highest quality of script. So I deleted all that nonsense, changed the title, and rewrote this intro, wiping out the previous mess so thoroughly that it's as if it never happened. So let's talk about influential short stories.

The Most Dangerous Game

An 8th grade English teacher was tuned in to what adolescents care to read. She sat us down in a circle as if we were 3rd graders and read stories that she thought we'd actually like. We didn't have to write about them or point out symbolism; we were just supposed to enjoy them. I remember Jack London's "To Build a Fire" and a Sherlock Holmes story, but the one that got me fired up was "The Most Dangerous Game." The teacher started reading the story, but the period ended before she could finish (now that I think about it, she probably did it on purpose). I actually went to the library, used the Dewey Decimal system to hunt down the short story collection, and read the story all the way through. I remember being so dizzy with my flight of fancy that I didn't even know what happened at the end. By the way, that's when you know a story works -- when you're so excited about it that you can no longer pay attention.
Neighbor Rosicky
Minette just asked me which Willa Cather novel to read, and I had to confess that I think they're all as boring as cornfields. After reading "Neighbor Rosicky" by Cather, I proclaimed her to be my favorite writer. When I tried to read the novels of my favorite author, I was disappointed that she couldn't duplicate the sentimental magic that made this story feel like something Norman Rockwell would have written. Back then, that was a good thing. Maybe it still is. Maybe I like Norman Rockwell and pizza with ham and pineapple.
Water Liars
I loved this Barry Hannah story when I read it in a book called American Short Story Masterpieces, which is an anthology that includes masterpieces of short stories by Americans. "Water Liars" actually made its way into a book called Yonder Stands Your Orphan. Wendy and Minette read it for their book club. They HATED it, so they asked me to explain to them why I liked it so much. I told them it was funny and poignant, but they glared at me as if I'd just tried to explain why Carrot Top is a hilarious comedian. Maybe it's a guy thing. Water Liars, I mean, not Carrot Top. I don't think he's all that funny. Carrot Top, that is.
I still think "Gooseberries" is the most beautiful short story I've ever read.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Justin Time

When I referred to an SNL clip in a previous post, I mentioned that Justin Timberlake is considered one of the great all-time guest hosts in the same league as Alex Baldwin and Tom Hanks. This revelation shocked me. I had Justin Timberlake categorized in the same league as Nick Lachey, Kevin Federline, and Kato Kaetlin. A commenter even mentioned that he had a "man crush" on Justin Timberlake. That sounds admirable, so I promised I'd look into it to see if I too could develop a man crush. In my research, I discovered that Mr. Timberlake has rare talent. Take a look at this sketch, and see if you can think of someone else who could have pulled this off (NBC frequently removes full clips from YouTube, so if you're reading this in the future, click here for Timberlake highlights):

I wouldn't go so far as to say I have a man crush on Justin Timberlake, but I'm certainly manfatuated.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Brian's Song, Part I

My father belonged to the Air Force, so we packed up and moved every three or four years, from Idaho to Sacramento to Riverside to Omaha to Colorado Springs to Upper Michigan, and then back to Riverside, where my family finally settled. The move from Colorado Springs to Michigan was my favorite, not just because I was able to escape from Colorado Springs, but because Michigan was a departure from suburbia. We lived on an Air Force base carved out of a forest in the middle of nowhere, about 45 miles away from Marquette, population 45,000. I picked blueberries with my sisters and trudged a couple miles down to the lake every day to "fish" with my brother, systematically proving that no fish lived in the lake. My brother left to go on his mission, so I braced myself for another miserable first day in a new school.

When I got on the bus, I hid my nervousness by making a beeline for an empty seat and then staring out the window. Before I knew it, a tall kid with blond hair and blues eyes moved over from a different seat, plopped himself next to me, and started yammering in a thick Southern accent.

"You the new guy, ain't ya? Mah daddy says your daddy say you a backstroka. What's your time?"

"One oh seven," I lied. It was really a couple seconds slower at the time.

"Aw, I got dat beat. I go a one oh six. You better find another stroke, hear? Say, what's your name?"


"Bob? That ain't no kinda name. We'll git you a real name. Don't worry."

That was Brian. From Shreveport, Louisiana. In either this blog or the other one, I've written about a guy who shot sitting ducks, talked me into scuba diving for the first time at night in the ocean, and broke out of a mental ward. Brian. I thought it would be a good idea to string together my favorite Brian anecdotes:

The South Done Run Outta Amnition

Until I met Brian, I had no idea that anyone who wasn't a history buff still cared about the Civil War. Brian was still furious with the North, so he refused to call Michigan home. I got the sense that he was hoping for another Civil War to break out so that he could enlist and charge across the fields with drawn sword. He had a bunch of Civil War memorabilia, including a sword that his great great grandfather allegedly fought with. Brian explained to me that the notches in the sword were a sign of the fact that his ancestor was a great fighter, so he added to his family's reputation by smacking the sword against his cast iron bed frame. Brian taught me that the South had much better fighters than the North, but the South lost only because they ran out of ammunition. When I asked him what he thought of freeing the slaves, he said I read too many books. The war wasn't about freeing the slaves. That was a just an excuse. No, it was about independence. The North stole their independence with lies and carpetbags.

Family Matters

Brian's father was a workaholic, his mother was an alcoholic, and his younger brother was a 6'5" weed. I went over to Brian's house dozens of times, and I saw his father there only once or twice. In fairness, he was the Base Commander, so he had a lot of responsibilities, but Brian said his father couldn't stand seeing his wife drinking herself to death and was probably carrying on with another woman. His family lived in one of the fancier houses on the base, or at least it had been fancy before they moved in. There were cracks and dents in walls where Brian and his younger brother Scott had thrown each other, and there was a gaping hole where Brian had fired his shotgun in anger. My head caused one of the dents. When I laughed at something mean Brian had said to his brother, Scott shoved my head into the wall. I stepped out of the fight because it was two against one.

Brian's mother was polite unless she was binge drinking, in which case she'd hear Brian and me walk in through the door and say something like, "Who on earth is that? Is that that Bob boy? What does he want? Get him out!" Then Brian and his mother would shout and curse at each other. When I tried to leave, Brian would grab me and yell at me to ignore his crazy bitch mother and go down in the basement. So I'd go down in the stark basement where the television sat on a crate in front of an unpadded throw rug and wait for Brian to finish yelling at his mother. This happened more than once.

Trouble with the Law

Brian wasn't a big fan of the law, and the law wasn't a big fan of Brian. The military police on the Air Force base knew Brian by sight and name. You'd like to think there was a camaraderie between Brian and the cops who tried to catch him, like between Boss Hogg and the Duke boys, but no, the MPs simply hated Brian. Whenever we'd try to get back on base after curfew, we knew we'd get hassled if Brian was with us. In fact, we had our rights read to us several times just for breaking curfew. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one . . . Of course, Brian couldn't just shut up. He had to insult the military police, there would be a flare-up, and Brian's father would have to intervene.

I don't know why the MPs disliked Brian so much. It's not like he stole things or beat people up. He just drove fast and crazy. Once he drove past the front gate without stopping and showing his military ID, which is a no-no on a military base, and there were a couple of domestic disputes at home that required police intervention, including the shotgun incident. Whenever I was doing seriously illegal stuff with Brian, like shooting ducks on the military base, we never got caught. The only time we were thrown in jail was fairly innocent. Brian's father was an Air Force pilot, so he had a couple of those fighter pilot helmets with the oxygen mask proboscis. Brian and I thought it would be a swell idea to drive around the base wearing those helmets, and of course a humorless MP pulled us over. I immediately took off my helmet, but Brian left his helmet on. When the cop asked him for his license and registration, Brian spoke to him through the mask as if he were a pilot speaking to a ground control operator. "Delta gamma, we have a request for a license and registration check. Permission to override. Out." While I was still laughing, another car pulled up, and some MPs read our rights yet again and led us to the police station in handcuffs. The crime -- impersonating a commissioned officer. We knew Brian's father would get us off the hook because he was the base commander, and they knew we knew it, but they still made us sit there behind bars for a couple of hours, getting scared straight by boredom.

Of course, I enjoyed Brian's crazy behavior more than I should have. I was an obedient Mormon boy, so being along for the ride gave me plenty of vicarious thrills.

Sitting Ducks

I know I've written about this before, but I need to include it again for continuity. One day, Brian was overly excited about ducks. When I think back on it now, he was showing signs of manic-depressive behavior, and this was part of the mania. He called me by my nickname, Z, which was short for Zero. (The football players in my science class called me a zero because I swam instead of played football. Go Colts!)

"I seen 'em, Z. Ducks! They're just sitting in the pond. All we need to do is git em."

"What are you talking about? Why do we need ducks?"

He looked at me like I was crazy. "So that we can make duck l'orange!"

Ah, of course. What was I thinking? We walked into Brian's house, past his drunk mother sprawled on the expensive couch, and into Brian's bedroom, where he pulled out his gun supply. He called it his "ordnance."

"I git the shotgun, because I'm the only one who's going to be doing any real killin'. But you can't just walk through the woods without a rifle, so you take this here. It's a 30 aught 6, so be careful. If you hit a duck with this here rifle, they ain't gonna be nothin' left, and then we'll just be left with a can of orange juice for dinner. And here, take these. You need you some waders."

K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base was divided into two sections: a large residential area and the military complex. Between those two areas was a huge forest, including a lake where I lifeguarded during the summer. There was a small pond at the bottom of the ravine near the main road. As we were making our way through the forest, I had in the back of my mind that this was nothing but ridiculous play-acting. After all, I'd been out with Brian before to hunt bear, and we never came close to seeing a bear. All of a sudden, Brian shushed me and got a serious look on his face. He pointed at the pond through the trees, where a mother duck was leading her ducklings. Brian stalked his prey. That cracked me up for some reason, so I followed along trying desperately not to laugh out loud. Brian got within 20 yards or so and BOOM! There was a big splash in the water. The mother duck was swimming in circles while Brian reloaded.

"Shoot, Z, shoot!"

I tried to shoot but the safety was on. I flipped the switch and fired from my hip. There was a little splash about three feet in front of the duck, and the duck stopped moving. One of the three ducklings had swum away, one was dead, and the other was up-side-down and kicking its feet. Brian scooped up the duck and said we need to clear out.

"But what about the little duck?" I said.

"Aw, it'll just die like a bug. We need to go!"

I grabbed the little duck and started to run. We heard sirens, which may or may not have been related to us. After running for a few minutes, we stopped so that Brian could listen.

"Here, Brian. Kill this."

Brian glared at me.

"Naw, you kill it. Just snap its neck. Ain't no different than a chicken."

"I've never killed a chicken. You do it, and let's go."

Brian held up his hands. I think he got tired of the fact that I wanted to experience the tag-along thrills without getting my hands dirty, so he was taking a stand. I looked down at the duckling, which was still moving. I knew I had to kill it, but I couldn't bring myself to wringing its neck. So I decided to throw it against a tree. I missed.

"What . . . the . . . hell was that?" Brian said.

"I missed the tree. I'll be right back." I started to go look for the duckling, but Brian said he heard a noise again. Someone might be after us. I didn't hear anything, but I started to run anyway. Brian saw some ducks flying in the air, so he stopped and shot. He missed.

"Run!" he yelled. We ran a few miles back to Brian's house, where he went to work on the cutting board. While skinning the duck, he found a slug that he claimed was from my rifle.

"You killed it!" he exulted.

He skinned the duck, took some orange juice concentrate from the freezer, and fried the duck meat. We ate duck l'orange.

[To be continued...]

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Patriots Act

I know it's not quite Super Bowl week, but there's something exciting going on in football right now -- the New England Patriots are playing at a higher level than any team I've ever seen in my whole entire middle-aged life. After watching them tear apart the Cowboys on Dallas' home field, I would be surprised if any team beats New England this year. They're 6-0, they've won five of their games by more than 20 points, and the other game they won by 17 -- not exactly a nailbiter.

Don't think I'm happy about this. At one point, I actually liked the Patriots. I rooted for them in their first two Super Bowl wins, especially when they all ran out on the field as a team and refused to have individual names announced during the pre-game hype. And how can you root against hardnosed old school guys like Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Teddy Bruschi, and Mike Vrabel? Then something happened to them. I'm pretty sure I know what it is, but I'm reluctant to come out and say it. But here it goes. I have a theory that the Patriots became evil.

It all started when the Patriots beat my beloved Colts yet again. I like Peyton Manning, and I rooted for him to overcome his nervousness problem in big games. Like Steve Young, he looked best against middling competition, but when he went up against a tough defense during the playoffs, he got happy feet and lost his confidence and timing. In the same way that it's much more interesting for me to see a cowering soldier overcome his fear than it is to watch a John Wayne guy lead a charge, I prefer the Steve Youngs and Peyton Mannings to the Joe Montanas and Tom Bradys. During the playoffs a few years ago, Manning played well, but the Patriots took advantage of loose officiating and practically tackled the Colts receivers on every play. Insult to injury, at the end of the game, once they knew it was in the bag, the Patriots openly mocked the Colts and their fans. Yeah, that's right. The Patriots hurt my feelings. When the Patriots went on to win their third Super Bowl title, I hated them as much as I hated the Cowboys and Steelers back in the 70s. The Patriots are the kind of team that keeps a low profile and doesn't talk trash until they have the game in hand, and then wham! They let it all out, and start dancing on the opponent's helmet logo at midfield. I hate guys like that. And now they're running up the score.

The Colts are the only team that appears to be in the same league as the Patriots (in the same way that the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are in the same league). The Patriots haven't beaten the Colts since that awful game -- the Colts have won three straight, including an enormously fulfilling come-from-behind victory in last year's AFC championship game -- but both teams are different now. The Patriots added three talented receivers, including one of the best receivers of all-time, and an all-pro linebacker to their team, while the Colts lost a bunch of players from last year's championship team. The Indy reserves have stepped up and the Colts are playing well, but at this point, if both teams play their best, the Colts will get beaten -- badly.

That said, there are two things in the Colts favor. First, they're the defending champions, but everyone is overlooking them since the Pats have been steamrolling everyone. It's no surprise that Manning plays much better when he's an underdog. Second, they've reversed roles with the Patriots. The Colts used to be a pass-first offense that ran the ball only to keep defenses honest. Now, they run more than they pass. The Patriots were a run-first team when they won their Super Bowls, but now they're pass happy. Great defenses can take away the pass, and the Patriots may no longer have the mindset to grind out a victory by running the ball.
We'll get a preview November 4, when the two teams play. If the Colts don't win that one, the Patriots are probably going to go undefeated. I'm getting nauseous just thinking about it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Doris' Day

Forget about Al Gore and his little Nobel Peace Prize. Any wimp can win that. The Nobel Prize for Literature, on the other hand, is a genuinely difficult accomplishment. The closest I came to winning this prestigious award was in 1993, when I finished in fifth place behind the wildly overrated Toni Morrison and a few other hacks. So three cheers for Doris Lessing: Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! If you've never read anything by Doris Lessing, give this short story a shot. It's called Through the Tunnel. She's a commie pinko, but she writes real purdy-like.