Friday, June 30, 2006

quite a pickle

"Wherever you go, there you are."

Have you ever had someone say that to you?

People who say this always make the same face when they do it. Head tilts a little. Mouth stretches and thins so that the lips dissappear. Eyebrows raise. They shake their heads. Sometimes they shrug their shoulders. Often this statement is preceded by "Well, you know ..." And then you want to smash their face in, right?

Typically someone provides such sage advice on the heels of some story of yours about how crappy your vacation was or how you keep dating the same person over and over and over again. Or about how you leave one awful job and manage to get a new one that's even worse.

While you're feeling depressed or frustrated or annoyed or all three, this asshole in front of you is acting enlightened and being smug. They're essentially saying that it is your fault. You're the one causing all these problems. I've heard many people put it this way: "You've had all these problems with ______ . What's the common denominator?"

You pause for a second and then answer, "Shit, man, I don't know."

They make that face at you - that punch-worthy, "get with the program," smug-ass face - and say:


Fuck you. Seriously.

That said, I'm in a quite a pickle. I've hated my job for fourteen years - minus the eighteen months I had no job whatsoever and was in a state of pure deee-light. In those 14 years minus 18 months I've had 30 or 40 temp jobs and 12 "real" jobs, mostly as a technical writer. So far, every time I've left one tech writing job for a new tech writing job - really, every time - I've realized very quickly that the old job was ten times better than the new one. Every time. Every time. Every @#$, $%^, ^&* time.

I'm so sick of it that when I think too much about it, it makes me want to wreck my cube. A great(1) gorilla inside me wants to howl and thrash and pound things to pieces. But of course, I really don't want to go from crappy job to mental institution, so instead of destroying things, I'm going to consider the possibility that "wherever you go, there you are" actually means something useful and might really shed some light on my dilemma.


(1) great (Pronunciation: 'grAt, Southern also 'gre(&)tFunction: adjectiveEtymology: Middle English grete, from Old English grEat; akin to Old High German grOz large) a : notably large in size : HUGE b : of a kind characterized by relative largeness -- used in plant and animal names c : ELABORATE, AMPLE

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

needles in the pooh stack

Of course, an imbecile can't come down too hard on tattle tales. Sometimes they do us a world of good. Think about ole' whathisname - Deep Throat.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't know alot about this episode in American history. I don't know what he actually revealed to the other whatstheirnames Burnsomething and that good looking blonde dude. But I do know that by the end of it all sorts of unpleasantness at the White House had been uncovered.

Two things stand out: 1) Nixon kept a list of enemies and 2) he was acting on it. Employees of his re-election campaign were caught attempting to plant wiretaps in the Democrats campaign headquarters. When things went awry, he arranged for the CIA to interfere with the FBI's investigation of the case.

If it weren't for the efforts of these tattle tales the illegal actions of Nixon's administration would never have come to light. Sure nobody's lives were at risk - well except everyone in Vietnam - but American democracy certainly was.

Hopefully that's obvious to you. You can't have free and fair elections if the president is wiretapping his opponent and you can't have a just society when he uses an entire branch of law enforcement to protect himself from investigation.

Lessee ... what other tattle tales have we seen lately? Joe Wilson tattled on the Bush administration for WMD BS. Somebody tattled on his wife . Whoever outed whoever outed Valerie Plame was also a tattle tale.

Andrew Fastow.

The person or persons who told the press and the newspapers who printed the stories about the foreign wiretaps, the domestic call database, and the financial transactions database.

Jack Abramoff

Who ever printed the emails Michael Brown sent during Katrina.

I could do this all day. Hell, I could probably do it all week and barely touch the surface of all the tales that have been tattled lately, much less begin to incorporate all the accusations that get lobbed this way and that during the campaign season.

If you add in the piles and piles (and piles and stinking, steaming PILES) of celebrity tattling that occupies much effort in the press corps today, you might find yourself with a task worthy of Sisyphus if you wanted to sort through it all to figure out what was actually worthwhile and important to know about.

Which brings us back around to ole' Albert.

Whaddya say, Al? Old buddy old pal, whaddya make of all this?

The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd.

Hey! I think you got something there.

But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.

Yeah, yeah. I get it! I'm *conscious* of how much crap there is in this world!

Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.


The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

Aaaah, shaddap!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Johnny said doo doo



Mom. Mom. Mom.

Mom. Mom. Mom mom mom mom mom.

Mom! Dicky! Mom. Mom. Dicky ... Mom! MOM! Dicky let ... MOM! MOM!

Dicky let Al Zarqawi get away twice before he finally kilt him. Mom, he did it on purpose.

Among people with children and people who have been children, 60% agree: tattle tale-ing is bad.

40% of those polled point out that you have to "tell" if someone's well-being is in danger. Others argue that it is OK to tell on someone if that person was behaving in a destructive or unethical way.

GB: Mom. Mom. Billy took a bribe. I saw.

WJ: But! Mommy!!!!!!! Georgie came into MY ROOM! You told me he wasn't ALLOWED and HE DID IT ANYWAYS!!!!!!!! If I get in trouble, he should get in trouble too.

But those who came out against tattle tales had some good points to make. It sets up a power play among the children and between the children and the adults. It is addictive. It prevents the children from working out problems on their own and causes them to pay more attention to the behavior of others than their own.

JK: Mom. Mom! MOM! MAW-AM!!!!!

JK: Mom. Georgie cut veteran's benefits by 15%.

GB: MOM!!!!!! Liar! Mom! He's lying!!! MOM! I swear he's lying! I swear. Cross my heart. I actually increased veteran's benefits more than Willy. By 27%. Swear to God. I mean, swear to ... um ... . I swear!!

It is also extremely irritating.

Party Politics (TM): The Board Game

Donkeys and elephants are kinda lame, don't ya think? Can we get different mascots? Vipers and pythons might be good.

Professional teams get name changes when a team gets a new owner. What about if the old owners just dump and run? Could you imagine that? An entire professional football team sitting in a dumpster behind a convenience store. Or a baseball team in the wastebasket of a high school bathroom after prom.

Ah, you're confused? I've run off somewhere without taking you with me ... I'm talking about dumping the political parties. And not just so we can get new mascots, although that's a fine reason among many.

Have you ever heard of a game where the sole object is to win not by moving forward but just to keep the other guy back? Have you noticed how often someone in Congress levels the charge of "playing party politics" against someone on the opposite side of the aisle?

It's alot.

We should make a count and see who wins that contest. It should be the team who did it least.

Right now, the Blue Elephants are playing most of the silly tricks on the field because they've got control of the ball. But the Red Donkeys have done their fair share when they've had the chance. Now they argue that they have to because they've "played fair" all this time and look where it got 'em.

I'm sorry, I don' t have time to research this in the time alotted (20 more minutes) but the Red team has not been a shining example of good sportsmanship in years past. And, more importantly, just because the Blue team has been particularly rascally over the last eight years is a bad bad bad reason for adopting their tactics in order to "win."

This is not a game, people! Snap out of it!!! Stop watching ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ... ESPN87 or whatever the rest of 'em are called long enough to get the whole competition thing out of your head. This is NOT a game.

This is a country. With serious problems. That need to be fixed.

Our common goal is a three-parter - summed up nicely in the Declaration of Independence - Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Certainly different people have different ideas about how to achieve those things. And certainly it is easier to achieve those things legislatively if you've got more people on your side. But our efforts should be focused on acheiving those things, NOT on getting more people on our side or keeping more people away from the other side.

You're probably shaking your head right now and thinking, "Ah Imbecile, you're so delightfully naive. It is charming but pointless. You must grow up and face the reality of the situation. The _______s are bad dudes and must be stopped at all costs."


What a lame excuse for replacing hardwork, commitment, and integrity with misconduct, manipulation, and finger pointing.

Friday, June 23, 2006


I did it again. My deepest apologies. Content is forthcoming, I promise.

It is just not that easy to write anything sensible in 30 to 45 minutes, especially when you woke up at 3, didn't back to sleep until 5, and then rose for good at 6.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

this is a country, not a competition

Sports, especially those involving balls, have always perplexed me. They typically consist of two groups of people in matching outfits chasing after a ball. Their purpose is not just to obtain the ball but to put it someplace special. Or in the case of baseball, they need to put themselves in some special place before the ball beats them to it. The group of people who achieves this purpose most often wins the game.

If we boil a sport down to this essence, it seems silly, right?

But we know what the true point of sports is ... to shout at people.

Ha ha. I kid.

The purpose of sports is ... well, I'm not up to task of articulating it. Obviously, I'm not much into 'em.

I played alot of soccer as a kid and that was fun because it involved smashing into people who had the ball. I wasn't trying to get the ball, just to get it away from from whoever had it; running at them full force seemed to work pretty well.

A few decades later, as an soccer-playing adult, I started to understand what it meant to be part of a team and how good it felt to clearly see the connections between me and the other people on the field. To work with them toward a common goal (or goals). To be a cog in a goal-scoring machine.

Unlike most teams, however, ours dissolved and reconfigured every Sunday. Our real aims were fun and exercise, not victory.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not putting down victory. Victory is good. Unless ...

Unless ...

Unless the real point of your efforts is something more important than where your balls are and how many you have there.

time out

I wrote something this morning but you can't read it. So solly.

Monday, June 19, 2006

a living room in the sky

So if we stop wondering "why" about global warming and rethink it in terms of effect, what do we get?

For the sake of argument, let's even drop the whole "global warming" part of it and just focus on immediate effect rather than long-term results ...

Nobody disputes the fact that carbon emissions are high nor that they are man-made and on the rise. Nobody disputes that breathing excessive carbon is bad for us.

(... do they?

I mean, would you put your stick your face in front of a car exhaust pipe? Would you build your living room on top of factory smoke stacks?

OK, that's a bit much. Let me put it to you this way ... how far away would a car have to be before you'd put your face on the same plane as its exhaust pipe?)

So what would be the immediate effect of reducing carbon emissions? Cleaner air and cleaner water. Who could complain about that?

If you could breathe cleaner air and drink cleaner water, wouldn't you do it? If you didn't have to sit in traffic or change a tire or be mocked by mechanics, would you be sorry about that? What would it be like if a quick trip to the grocery store was a five minute walk instead of a fifteen minute drive? Or if you didn't have to watch yet another open field get paved over and filled up with yet another Old Navy-Pet Smart-Michael's-World Market strip mall? Or if nobody is talking about bringing down entire mountain ranges in Colorado because they contain 2 trillion barrels of oil in the form of oil shale.

Sometimes I think that people should drop the whole "global warming" argument.

(I put it in quotes as if it were a specious claim but Gore presents pretty convincing information that this is real, including this most powerful tidbit for me - 53% of non-scientific articles about global warming express doubt about it's existence, but guess what percentage of peer-reviewed scientific articles do? Zero)

We've been running a prolonged experiment with humanity already and we know what the results are.

And I wonder ... I wa wa wa wa wonder ... why?

Oh dear! I've fallen victim to my cultural habit and asked the question "why?" in the last post. And I've invited you, dear reader, to get sucked back into the habit yourself, as in:

Why do the oil companies try to disprove global warming?

Why would the environmentalists try to blame it on oil?

Why did Al Gore make An Inconvenient Truth?

"Why" is like broken record. Why oh why oh why??? You can get so focused on "why" that you fail to notice what's actually happening. Think about all the times that you've asked yourself "Why?" and how often that's actually been of use to you.

Take someone who's been cheated on as an example. He'll keep asking "Why does she keep cheating on me???" when in reality, the problem is not WHY? but THAT she is cheating. If he can stop asking "Why?" long enough to say "She's cheating on me" perhaps the solution - get out of the relationship - will become obvious to him.

The biggest argument we can make in favor of "why" is that it helps us understand someone better. In the example above, the typical cheatee who asks "why" responds to his question in two ways:

* She cheats on me because I'm actually a choad and do not deserve her.


* She cheats on me because her father was not around and she has abandonment issues. So she has to keep multiple men on hand just in case one disappears. Or some other variation on the theme of psychic damage.


Who cares!?!

She's CHEATING on you. MULTIPLE TIMES!! Get out, man! Get out before it is too late!!!

Or, as bryan h. puts it in the comments of schmotive: any argument for motive or intent is superceded by effect.

Friday, June 16, 2006

schmotive, part 2

schmotive -

Function: noun

Etymology: prefix schm from the Yiddish, meaning "Who needs it?" (example: "Eat, schmeat! I'm in a hurry!"), from Latin motus, past participle of movEre, meaning to move.

Definition: Dismissive mention of the concept of something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.

In case you couldn't tell from the last post, I'm not exactly a fan of our cultural obsession with scrutinizing motives. I started that whole business as an introduction to a post about An Inconvenient Truth. I'm running out of time so I'm just going to throw some questions out there for you to consider & hopefully respond to:

1. One criticism of this film is that it is an obvious play for the 2008 presidential race. Does that mean the content is invalid? Also, if someone sees a serious problem with the way energy policy is handled in this country and is terrified by the ramifications of it, aren't they obligated to run for public office so that they can change that policy? In other words, would Gore be less susceptible to this criticism if he gave these lectures and made this film and then just stood back and smirked at everybody about it?

2. People also accuse environmentalists and climate scientists of manipulating the facts to prove that global warming is happening. What do they gain from this? What is their motive for it? It seems obvious to me why oil companies and other people & organizations who rely on processes and materials that generate carbon emissions don't recognize this trend - it could mean devastation for their livelihoods. But if environmentalists "invented" global warming from whole cloth, what do they have to gain by it?

I also want to write about human nature in response to Chadwick's comment but alas, the hourglass is empty. Farewell! Until next time!!

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Here's a question for you ... This is not rhetorical. Respond. That's what the comments section is for ...

Why is motive important?

I'm not referring to the TV use of motive, as in, "She doesn't have a _____, but I'm sure she's guilty. You can see it in her eyes." Or "Everybody who knew him had a ________; he was an asshole."

I'm talking about the reason anybody chooses to do anything at all; for example, the reason why ...

... Alisha K. had eight kids

... Candace left town so suddenly

.... Rob spends four hours at the gym seven days a week

We observe behaviors like these and we wonder why. That's natural human curiosity, right? And it's fun too. Well, I don't know about you but I could spend hours inventing explanations for the wide variety of odd behaviors that swirl around us on a daily basis.

Of course, when we scrutinize the motives of people close to us, we could be asking for serious trouble. For example, if you find yourself wondering why your cousin Donnie sent a dozen roses to rich Aunt Lily when her Pekingese died, you could end up hating him for being an ass-kiss and money grubber when, if you'd just take the time to talk to him about it, you'd find out that Lily had done the same for Donnie's dearly departed wife when her pet python croaked.

And when we overanalyze our own motives, it can be hard to get out of bed. As in ...

"Am I getting up early so I can get to work early? Because I want to be seen as a good worker? No. Because I want to get a lot of work done? Yes. But ... uch ... that's so gross. Is that who I am? Is that who I've become? A 'hard worker?' No, I'm going to stay in bed. I can't be that person ... But what if I get fired for being a slacker. I need money. I can't do without money. How could I afford to ... but am I too materialistic? ... " and so on.

I have a friend who, last time we spoke about this, wants to have kids but he doesn't like his reason for wanting kids so he doesn't want to have kids. His reason? To have miniature versions of himself wandering around. Of course, on the face of it, this can be seen as pretty self-absorbed and self-important of him.

But if you look a little deeper, he's expressing something that underlies motive - instinct. What he's expressing with words is something that all the less talkative creatures of this world express with action - the action of making hay and making babies! The action of passing on genetic material from one generation to the next.

Now we could get into it about how human beings are the one species on the planet that has the ability to make choices and act responsibly - in other words, transcend instinct - but that's a discussion for another day.

Or ... maybe not.

Maybe that's where the problem lies? Maybe that's why we consider motive so important.

Ah! Time's up. More tomorrow. bye bye.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

ten things I love about you

1) My best friend is in the cube next door.

2) An open bowl full of dark chocolates sits a few doors over.

3) I have a view of the woods.

4) I have an easy commute.

5) Everybody is likable.

(3 minutes pass ...)

6) My boss is remote!

(5 minutes pass ...)

7) The next major release is still a long way off so I've got plenty of time to screw around, web surf, and work on personal projects.

(5 more minutes pass ...)

8) I'm coordinating a joint project with my team mates and it requires skills I'm quite proud of like consensus-building. (yikes! Did I just write that? I sound like a complete dork)

(this is starting to get difficult)

9) I get a fat paycheck every two weeks. This job pays incredibly well. I mean, it is scary how much money I make. You might hate me if you knew. I'm kind of a thrifty and low maintenance person so I actually save alot. That means I could comfortably take a big pay cut but it is so nice to watch that nest egg become a massive freak of nature in such a short period of time.

(ah, this last one is easy again)

10) Sometimes I get a writing project that I can actually sink my teeth into. Sometimes I write something I know is going to be read and I know it is going to be of use to someone. That's what motivates me - knowing, or at least being able to imagine, that what I write will be read and valued by the person reading it.

Monday, June 12, 2006

ten things I hate about you

Ah Mondays.

Monday Monday.

I said ah money money money. I said ah money money money said I do. I said ah money money money.

That's what Mondays are all about aren't they? Kick starting the money-making machine. If you have a "regular" job, that is.

If you don't have a regular job, then ... well, screw you. I hate you.

That's not very Zen of me, is it?

Let me rephrase that: I hate my job.

Yes, I know, that's still not very Zen of me. But I think they say that you're supposed to feel your feelings before you can get past them so I'm feeling my mutherfuckin' feelings, OK?

Here are some things I hate about my job:

1. Writing about something I couldn't give a flying fuck about

2. Being stuck in a cube all day

3. Doing a lot of busy work instead of writing (that's what this job has been alot of)

4. Listening to programmers and people in the marketing department mangle the English language. Programmers invent words like uniquify(1), while marketing people make verbs into nouns and vice versus. Lately, many people around the office have been using the verb "ask" as a noun thanks to one marketing jackass who said "I realize that this is a wildly new ask" when "request" would have served the purpose nicely.

5. Having to be in the office when I could easily do the work at home (or in a coffee shop). #1 and #5 are separate issues. It would suck being in a cube all day even if I needed to be there to get my work done. It just sucks harder that logistically I don't need to be there and yet my boss insists.

6. Seeing people get excited about "branding" and "reconfiguring" and "positioning" our product. Hearing about all the ways we're going to repackage the same old shit so that people will pay more money for it. The word value add(2) is a popular one during these discussions.

7. Dealing with tech writers who make a fuss about whether a particular word should be bolded or italicized. These people say "This is essential for information retrieval purposes." I say "Who gives a fuck!?"

8. Sitting in staff meetings for an hour and a half to hear all sorts of whiny crap, long-winded explanations, 3rd person narration of unimportant conversations, and poorly timed requests to "take this offline."(3)

9. Hearing complaints about difficult customers. Hearing complaints about almost all our customers. This is where I cease to sound like a disaffected employee. This one drives me nuts. I believe in customer service. I believe that customer service is everything. That's what we're here for: to serve our customers. That's how we make money. At least, that's what I thought before I started working for the software industry. I could write an extended rant on this topic but I'll save that for another day. Suffice it to say that true customer service and the typical approach to making money described in #6 of my list do not blend together cleanly.

10. Writing documentation that nobody reads. Do you read your software manuals? No. Do you read the online help? No. Most of the time, I spend my days writing stuff that nobody reads.When I tell people that I am a technical writer, they're often utterly baffled by what that might mean.

When I explain "I write manuals & online help for software," they have one of two reactions.
Reaction #1: "Oh you must be very smart." No, not really.
Reaction #2: "Oh so you write that stuff that I never read." Yes, exactly. And then they say "Why is it so confusing? I can never find the information I need. And when I do find something, I can't understand a word of it."

I usually say "I write stuff that you'd understand." But of course most of the software I work on is not readily available to the general public so it doesn't really matter. Studies show that the average software user only looks in a book or online help once. If they can't find what they need within a very short window of time, they give up and turn to other resources. And, most importantly, they never look at the documentation again.

Even within the company, I send out copies to be reviewed and edited by subject matter experts and they come back with one red mark - often a correction to a sentence that ends in a preposition because everybody knows that you can't end a sentence with a preposition(4). Weeks later, I'll learn that a major technical error appears on that very page that should've been caught by the person who chose to show off their superior grammar skills instead.

Oh, I thought of another one ...

11) Spending long hours and great effort on something that doesn't mean a hill o'beans in a world plagued by violence, ignorance, disease, and poverty; doing this in a country where the President has chipped away at the foundations of an open society one brick at a time for years now and nobody seemed to notice, but now that he's losing a war, the American public has finally turned against him.

I guess I already covered that in #1 but it's always good to repeat and elaborate the most important point.

1. uniquify - Pronunciation: 'unique-if-I,' Function: verb, Etymology: object oriented programming languages, Meaning: to make unique.

2. value-add - Pronunciation: you figure it out, Function: noun, Etymology: some marketing asshole, Meaning: a feature in a software program or service to the customer that allows you to charge more money for any client project. You can do a project for a client and that has a certain dollar amount associated with it. Or, you can develop a value-add for that project and charge 10% more. What distinguishes value-add from a regular project is the use of special fonts and high pixel graphics. Source: BBC America's the office website.

3. to take something offline - If you don't know what this means, I'm happy for you. It means "to talk about it later."

4. According to the Chicago Manual of Style - the final say for such things in the world of print - it is perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition.

Friday, June 09, 2006

the # of Buddhist monks it takes to screw in a lightbulb

It just dawned on me on the drive to work that maybe I was wrong about why the cloud of misery departed from my meaningless little life.

According to the Zens, understanding that life is suffering is the path to enlightment.

If you buy that, then relief didn't come from the act of looking for it (relief, that is) but from the act of completely giving up hope that it would ever come.

In other words, I've already reached Nirvana.


Enlightment rocks.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

the myth of silly puss

*"Life is meaningless!" said the Existentialists.

"Great!" said the people who were paying attention. "Does that mean we should give it up?"

"Not at all!" replied Albert Camus, "Read my little treatise. It'll explain everything!"

* editor's note: this is not a transcript of an actual conversation.

According to some random jerk I went out with a few times, Camus' essay The Myth of Sisyphus explains why you shouldn't kill yourself even though life is meaningless. About six years ago, I actually needed to understand this.

I didn't want to kill myself. Let me repeat for emphasis: I absolutely, positively did not want to kill myself. But I was completely miserable and convinced that I was going to stay completely miserable for the rest of my life. I did not want to die but I was perplexed about why I didn't. And I hoped that ole' Albert might be able to shed light on that and possibly even provide me with a tiny morsel of hope.

So I picked up his book at Book People.

Here's some of what he has to say on the subject:

The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.



The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less surd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.

No, I heard what you said. I just don't get it.

The workman of today works ...

OK, shut up already.

I couldn't get through it. It was completely incomprehensible.

And yet, not long after trying to read it, the cloud of misery lifted briefly. It resettled but in a less dense form. As the years passed, it shrunk down and then blew away.

Sometimes I think that just looking for relief was the solution to my misery.

But I also think that maybe the Existentialists are right and that Life is meaningless.

Whenever that idea comes up, people inevitably ask "If that's the case, why do anything? Why get a job? Why get out of bed in the morning?"

Shit, man I don't know. Ask Albert.

The workman ...

OK, nevermind.

Because ... because ... because ...

Well, life might be meaningless but it shore is faskinatin'. Stand back for a minute and take a look.

dump the pump

In honor of National Dump the Pump Day, I'm riding my bike to work and "reprinting" something I wrote along time ago about how much I love my bike.

Somebody overheard me singing my "I love my bike" song this afternoon. It goes:

I love my bike
I love my bike
I love my bike
I love my bike

and so on ... to the tune of Three Blind Mice. Try it. It is fun.

Almost as fun as riding your bike.

I was riding my bike and singing my song. Happy as a little bird that can ride a bike. Sailing through the neighborhood that follows along a creek all the way to the Spider House when I heard a rustle of leaves and a jingle of keys floating in the air nearbyabove. And I spied a ladder leaning against the side of a house nearbybeside.

And then legs on that ladder attached to shorts attached to a shirt attached to a neck attached to the biggest damn grin I ever did see. And he was grinning right at me. While I was singing "I love my bike. I love my bike. I love my bike."

I do love my bike. Riding is like being burned and born again. You go up a hill and your thighs feel like they'll snap off and go flying to opposite corners of the earth. Or like you might spontaneously combust. And then the hill crests and suddenly you are in heaven; the fire falls away like a phantasm and you sprout wings. Or maybe it is like a magic carpet. That may very well be it. A magic carpet. With wheels and gears.

I secretly like riding in traffic. It's like running with rhinoceri. I like to sweat. I like to roll around corners, benches, people. I like riding down the streets in downtown that nobody is on after 6 o'clock, after work is over.

I like taking my bike on and off the racks at the front of the bus. It used to scare the hell out of me, but now I feel special and important. The bus is waiting for me to take care of my business. I don't want to make other people wait and I don't dillydally, swear to GOD. But I like the fact that it is part of the bus driver's job to lower the bus so I can get my bike on the rack. I like the fact that no driver is going to get impatient and run me over. This is very important to me.

I am not a biker. I am not a racer. I am not a workout manic or a mountain biker. I am someone who loves to ride my bike.

How sleek and free you feel on the bike. How like a ghost. How faraway from the lost world of cars. How nice it is to greet passersby with a nod. To speak to nearly everyone on the street. How good it feels to be outside and alive and going nowhere in particular, slow and then fast and then slow and then really really fast.

How big the world is. How exhilirating a tiny bit of danger.

A bike ride is like an endorphin pump. A bike ride is a needle pulling thread. A bike ride is a few of my favorite things. A bike ride is like parasailing at two feet off the ground. A bike ride is a great way to see the city. A bike ride is my new best friend. A bike ride is the dream of a new century.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

a pause, a smirk, a quick roll of the eyes

In case it isn't patently obvious, I must state for the record that my thoughts on the topic of ugly Americans are not clear. I'm sorting through them outloud (more or less). I hope you don't mind.

Here are some of things I can't get my head around:

First, every American who travels abroad must hear the same admonition: "Don't be an ugly American." Right? I mean, right??? Am I naive to think that? Because I still find myself spotting ugly Americans and ducking them almost everywhere I go. So here are the real questions: Does each of us have our own idea of what "ugly American" means? Do we also have our unique thresholds for withholding our Americ-inanity? Or maybe we have individual capacities for absorbing another culture before we shake it off and chant "Beer! Beer! Beer!" in the middle of a Gothic cathedral.

Second, it is actually kind of hard to tell Americans from many Europeans. For example, I got lost in Venice once and wandered aimlessly for awhile before finally deciding that I needed to ask directions. I kept approaching men who looked like my dad - tall and fair, that is (actually, to be completely honest, they all looked almost exactly like my dad, including the glasses, beard, and severely receding hairline, which goes to show the sad state of my emotional affairs at the time ... Poppa? Poppa? I want my Poppa. ... but that's a story for another day) - and not a one of them spoke English.

We could generalize about appearances - Americans are often fair, overweight, casually dressed - and behavior - we're loud, disrespectful, demanding - but our accent is the only guaranteed way to distinguish us from the throngs. So when you hear a story about an ugly American, it often involves somebody noticing a familiar voice nearby and skeedaddling before any taint rubs off on them.

Kurt and I did this very thing at Sacre Coeur. This gleaming white collection of spires (upper right of photo) overlook the whole of Paris. They are packed every evening with tourists and Parisians alike enjoying the sunset and the view of the city. Children play frisbee and chase stray cats. Hippies play guitar and chase stray chicks. We passed a pair of girls dancing and it all seemed fine and dandy until we heard one of them say something like "No, I'm leading!" We bolted. Only when they were completely out of earshot did we allow ourselves the luxury of a pause, a smirk, and a quick roll of the eyes. Americans. Yeesh.


What did they do, really? Except speak with an American accent? It was almost instinctual to hightail it out of there but why? Are Americans zigzagging all over Europe in attempts to avoid guilt by association? Are we really so terrible?

Monday, June 05, 2006

the departure of snakes

I celebrated St. Patrick's Day in 2003 on the tiny undeveloped beach of Mazunte in Oaxaca, Mexico in the bar of a place called Einstein's Youth Hostel, named not for the genius of yesteryear, but for a man who modeled himself - or at least his hair - after said genius. This very small, boisterous, perpetually half-naked person called himself Carlos Einstein and he was drunk and festooned with the bleached pelvic bone of a donkey when I arrived at about 7 pm.

Instead of accepting my money and recording my name in his guest book, he handed me a glass of green Mezcal and dragged me down to the bar to celebrate the departure of snakes from Ireland with the rest of his guests who hailed from Argentina, Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, South Africa, Italy, Japan, Hungary, and the good ole U.S. of A.

You just can't beat the beach after dark, especially a remote and secluded one like Mazunte where the tide is the only lullaby and it is almost difficult to make out individual stars amidst the glow of galaxies. Einstein's bar, glowing gold beside the deep blue, was draped with hammocks (you can pass out within feet of the owner and he'll toast to your health!), filled with revelers, and plastered with handwritten anti-George Bush/Tony Blair slogans. He'd left more pens and paper on a table nearby in case anyone else cared to contribute to his impromptu protest of the impending war in Iraq.

In Oaxaca City, earlier in March - when the war still seemed a vague and slightly absurd threat - an Internet cafe I frequented used on their desktops a picture of the American flag with skulls substituted for the stars. Another one included a swastika over the top of the flag.

A few weeks earlier in San Miguel de Allende, Mexican and American residents held a candlelit vigil for peace in the main square. Various speakers addressed the crowd, including a human rights activist who got her start in Nicaragua. She in particular railed against various US actions against small brown people. The next day, a young American man in a cafe asked me, "Did that woman scare you? She really hates us. And they cheered for her."

We tend to define "ugly American" on a small scale - one person, family, or tour group at a time. The ugly American is loud and demanding, refuses to accept or acknowledge customs and traditions of the cultures/countries we're visiting, and wants to carry our way of life into their space.

But, we've committed the above mentioned follies as a nation also. Time and time again.

Most of the policies that have angered these folks have simply been made overt by the Bush administration but the American government has been encouraging and supporting "regime change" covertly - especially in Central America but also in the Middle East - for a long, long, long time. And the citizens of the rest of the world have known about it from the beginning.

In other words, we've been alot uglier than most of us realized long before 9/11 and long before W came into office.