Friday, December 21, 2001

deconstructing this time of year: the winter solstice

[email composed 21 December 2001]

Greetings everyone,

Please pardon the interruption. I'm sending this to everyone in my address book, which includes friends I see regularly, friends I don't see so regularly anymore, friends I'm related to, friends with whom I work or used to work, friends with whom I dragon boat (or used to), friends I've met through our mutual admiration of the Old 97's (although you may be used to a different e-mail address), or anybody else that is for some reason in there.
By now you've probably had one of three reactions:
- Hey, a message from Doug!
- Oh, not another message from Doug!
- Doug? I don't know a Doug.
And if it was second or third one, you've probably stopped reading and deleted the message. I understand.

Okay, I'm only addressing the people who are still reading now. Thanks for sticking with us. On to the real message...

It's the Winter Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere). Well, technically, today's when the Winter Solstice occurs (at 11:21 am, Pacific Standard Time, if you wish to catch the exact moment). This is it: the shortest amount of daylight all year; starting tomorrow we see a little bit more sun each day until June 21. A number of religions and cultures of the world (those that started in this hemisphere at least) seem to think that this return of the light is cause for celebration, and thus, this time of year is (in these politically correct days) identified as "the holidays."

Lacking any specific religious allegiance, and being a white guy (therefore not having much in the way of worthwhile culture), I can't claim to really have a "holiday" but here in the U.S. that's not a problem: we all celebrate Christmas whether we believe Jesus was the son of God or not; we all have the day off work, we may as well get together. I applaud this opportunity to gather with loved ones. However (those of you who know me saw this coming), there is part of me that cannot help but feel a little guilty co-opting the observation of the birthday of the Christian savior without holding avowed devotion to said savior. That's why I'm spotlighting the astronomical event of the Winter Solstice and not dwelling on any particular ritual that springs from it: I certainly don't wish to tread on anyone's beliefs (or lack thereof, for my atheist readers).

No, I'm not going to bore you with details about the solstice itself. If you wish to find out more, there's a number of worthwhile sites on the web that can fill you in (I reviewed to verify the exact timing of the solstice, but feel free to do your own search). I want to seem clever but not out-and-out dorky. (I realize I come across out-and-out dorky, of course, but that's not my specific aim.)

By now you've probably had a number of people give you some holiday-related greeting, in person, in greeting cards, on TV shows, in magazine ads, on billboards, and in e-mails--both people you know and strangers--and of course, from every clerk in every store where you've shopped to purchase those gifts that are the truly integral element of acknowledging that we're happy about the more-daylight thing. I have. This started me thinking (although, to be fair, just about anything will do that): Do these greetings influence reality? Does wishing someone a "happy holiday" actually cause that person to, in fact, have a happy holiday? And does that clerk really care whether we have a happy holiday or not? Should he/she?

It seems to me that it's entirely possible that these ostensibly altruistic messages uttered at the end of transactions, to strangers on the street, and so on, may not have genuine intent behind them: they are social intercourse, they are what one is expected to say, lest one be viewed as a Scrooge, a Grinch (before the Jim Carrey movie). But if we don't really mean it, what good is it doing? If the wish is to have any positive effect on the recipient, it seems to me, that it must be heart-felt, and call me overly cynical but I cannot believe that the clerk can mean it to every customer he sees for the entire month of December. Is a hollow greeting really any better than none at all?

Sure. It keeps people off your back. And promotes spending.

I'm not suggesting that the clerk secretly wishes ill upon the customer, that the actual desire is for the person to have a rotten holiday. Unless the customer was really rude, of course. Nobody wants that jerk to be happy. Admit or not, but you know what I'm talking about.

I don't wish bad on anyone--unless they cut me off in traffic or something, and only then when I'm in a bad mood, and even then I don't really mean it. But to be perfectly honest, I don't think everyone is destined to be happy during this period--at any given point in time, some people are happy, some people are unhappy, and the rest are somewhere in between; where someone falls on that spectrum is largely a factor of their own choosing, I think. (Yes, I'm using "their" instead of "his or her": deal with it.)

There's only so much for which I can be responsible. I don't mean to sound selfish, but, well, come on.

By this point, most of you are probably thinking I'm completely incapable of experiencing innocent joy. That's not the point. Don't try to distract me now. I may or may not. What I don't necessarily like is the way there's an insincerity to some of what transpires between people masquerading as good will that is taken at face value because we're all too afraid to puncture the fragile spirit of the season. But hey, I get over it. Besides, it's a free country: if you have "the holiday spirit," that's fabulous. I certainly hope that it would be sufficient to allow you to ignore the insipid ramblings of some idiot you find in your e-mail.

The only reason I'm sending this to you is I think you have some redeeming quality that justifies investing the hope that you choose to make yourself happy. I certainly think you should try to be happy during this period if for no other reason than the sun's coming back, but more important, I think you should try to be happy even after "the holidays" are over. There's a new year coming (thanks to Pope Gregory 417 years ago), and while I won't pretend to care about the happiness of every single person on the planet--that's just spreading myself too thin, I'm sorry; surely that task can be dispersed among the rest of the people, with each covering his or her (yeah, I'm back to that) territory of sorts--I shall pretend to care about the happiness of each of you then.

As long as you reply to this message, that is.

I don't care if you say anything, but I would appreciate everyone who wishes to remain in my address book to acknowledge that they've read this far. Even if you're not inclined to comment, just send me back a blank message. Really. I'm serious. And I'm not as desperate for e-mail as this plea would make me out to be (almost, but not quite). Apologies to those who received this in multiple addresses. Thanks.

The deity of your choice--or lack thereof--bless us, one and all, my friends. Or not, if you're not into that sort of thing...


p.s. I reserve the right to continue to care about you choosing to be happy even if you fail to reply to this message, just for the record. You're just a lot less likely to receive more messages from me--and many of them will be more entertaining than this one was--in 2002. Perhaps you'd prefer that, now that I consider it further...

Saturday, December 01, 2001

rant du jour: beware of darkness

[email composed 1 December 2001]

On the walk from the downtown office to the train, the first street I cross is actually a ramp leading from Hope St. down to Figueroa. While there is no traffic signal at this ramp, there is a crosswalk running across it. In over two years of making this trek I have seen many vehicles turn right from Hope onto the ramp without looking to see if there are pedestrians trying to cross; I expect them to not see me when walking. Along the street leading this corner are trees and parked cars, so admittedly it is difficult for drivers to spot individuals on the sidewalk much before they are almost at the curve. The corner could be better lit at night, but is not that dark.

I approach the crosswalk from a side exit of the building, hitting the crosswalk second line at a slight angle. After I've already stepped on the asphalt, I notice a car--one of the new BMW's, silver--on Hope St. clearly slowing for the turn. I continue, knowing that since I'm on the far side of the crosswalk from the car, and by the time it makes the turn I'll already be several steps out, well in the middle and clearly in view. I have dealt with this more times than I can remember; I know how to gage the situation (I have no desire to be struck even if I technically had the right-of-way). As absolutely no surprise to me, the car doesn't slow after beginning the turn, so I jog the last two steps to get out of its way, not the least bit panicked; I know I'll be clear either way, but I prefer to show I'm making an effort to get along with dalliance. As I'm doing this, the car's break squeal for a split second as the driver slows--not stops, but slows--suddenly. By this point I'm already out of the car's path, so even without this tiny skid there was no danger of it hitting me. I hop on to the curb at the other side of the ramp and continue walking. After I'm several steps further, from behind me I hear, "Kind of hard to see you, dude." I turn to see the BMW has stopped, and the driver--a Caucasian male ostensibly in his late 30s--has rolled down his window to give me this message.

I have many times in my travels witnessed cars turn right in front of me as I was about to cross this ramp and wished I could point out their dangerous ignorance to them. However, at this moment no clever retort springs immediately to mind. Sizing up the scenario very quickly, I conclude that the driver would be unreceptive to an explication of what transpired, and I have a train to catch, so I simply shake my head with slight exasperation for a second, then turn and continue walking. I may have considered walking back to point out that I was never in any danger, and that I was in the crosswalk well before he made the turn, and, in spite of the darkness, it was only because he clearly wasn't paying attention that when he did finally notice me he felt compelled to kind of brake hard, were it not for one overriding element to the whole moment.

He called me "dude".

Frankly, had he simply proceeded on his way down the ramp without saying anything--like every other car has--I would have dismissed him as just another downtown driver in a car that just screams, I'm a pretentious weenie with money--like I do with every other car. Since he knows on some unconscious level that he did not look before turning and panicked slightly when there was a pedestrian in the road (not one that he was about to hit, of course), he tries to mitigate his own feeling of guilt by dragging me into his little web with this "helpful" observation of his. He is the epitome of upscale American evil; I recognize this instinctively, and know that further interaction would be a waste of time--no one on foot could possibly convince him of anything (that he would ever admit).

And as I said, he used the term "dude". Apparently his vocabulary never progressed past junior high. This has not impeded his ability to scale the corporate ladder, of course.

I'm not envious in the slightest. You couldn't give me a BMW. I'm sure they're fine cars and all, and I know some of you like them, but it's just that I've never seen someone driving one who didn't drive it with this disdainful arrogance for the rest of us, an arrogance that they mistakenly believe financial success affords them. They may as well all come with license plates that just read ASSHOLE.

This driver, the representative of them in so many way, veils his arrogance with this veneer of concern, still ignorant of the fact I was the only one in any level of control of the situation between us, and I see through him like cheap curtains. He is a lost cause, and no matter what ever happens for the rest of my life, I shall sleep well knowing I'm not one of them, not him.

The pithy comeback that comes to me about 5 minutes later is this: "I'm pretty easy to spot if you pay attention." I'm sure next time, should one occur, my mind will be similarly dim witted. But I remain hopeful for myself nonetheless.

These are moments that move me closer to being convinced we need to step back and allow some other species on the planet to become the dominant one before it's absolutely too late. It won't be hard to find one that is more observant than us, and even amoeba are smart enough not to drive BMWs.

Watch out for yourselves, kids. There's not that many worthwhile souls around, and we can't afford to lose you. Especially to BMW drivers. 


"So glad you came here, won't be the same now, I'm telling you"
- "Old Brown Shoe", The Beatles (George Harrison), 1969

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

The amazing but true tale of October 31st (finally)

[email composed 21 November 2001]

Don't you hate it when someone apologizes for not keeping in touch better when they contact you, claiming they have been "meaning to" write (or call or send smoke signals or whatever)? Doesn't it bother you that they have thought of you but apparently you don't inspire them to turn off the TV for a little while one night and fire off a message to you? At least if they were busy or on drugs or abducted by aliens or simply wanted nothing more to do with you, you could understand that you've fallen off their radar, and you could adapt to the new arrangement without the occasional taunting reminders.

You probably find such behavior more offensive than the grammatically incompatible use of the singular "someone" with the plural "they/them" simply to get around the awkward "he or she". You know what is worthy of drawing your ire, and that pathetic attempt to assuage guilt by claiming good intentions surely is; colloquial errors of language deserve only momentary scoff.

Anyway, I'm not the least bit filled with anything approaching remorse about the lapse in the frequency of my messages. Maybe I've meant to write, maybe I haven't. Of course I've spent too many evenings distracted by television. I'm not proud but I refuse to be ashamed; unless you've cured cancer or ended world hunger lately, you're hardly in a position to assume any sort of moral high ground here.

I'm reminded of a line from an old George Carlin skit: "I suck, you suck. Let's change the alphabet." No, you won't get that. That's okay. Everything's okay, except what isn't.

If this is the first general message you've received from Doug, you've already read farther than he expected. You've no doubt noticed that he's switched to referring to himself in the third person. This will stop shortly: he's aware that it's not terribly clever (he's not terribly concerned about that). Welcome aboard.

Well, let's get down to business. Hope you're having a pleasant Samhain. No, I don't really follow ancient Celtic traditions, but I like alluding to them as though I was erudite. Anyway, Samhain is, as some of you probably know (better than I do), from what Halloween is descended. Even though we're on the fringe of Thanksgiving, I must tell you of my Halloween. Well, actually I don't but I will anyway.

I am one of the few people in my office who dresses up for Halloween. Dresses in costume that is. No one came in naked, at least that I saw. Anyway, this year I donned a hooded black cape, adorned myself in black from neck to toe, painted my face white with black around the eyes in an ensemble that I think was best described as "menacing hooded guy". I go more for to the idea of inspiring mild disquiet in people more than adherence to an easily explained look. I startled a few people on my floor, without doing anything more than coming around corners in a black hooded cape; I don't creep around or jump out: I simply go on my way and since people aren't expecting a black clad figure striding through the halls, they are taken aback for a second. However, I can't disguise my identity in the office: most everyone pegs me based on my height. And then I smile wryly and move on.

My girlfriend (at the time) works in the same building as I do, for a different firm. Ever since September 11th, we also must show a passcard to get from the lobby to the elevators, in our building's attempt at security. Both these facts are relevant to the story. When I entered the building, the guards smiled at me as I flashed my passcard, appreciating my spirit (and probably also recognizing me from my height).

In the late morning, having stopped unintentionally-but-sort-of-not-minding inspiring some of that mild disquiet, I received a call from my girlfriend. She had not yet seen my costume, but knew roughly what I might be wearing. She confirmed with me that I was in a black hooded cape, and what time I had arrived. When I asked her why, she explained that a secretary on her floor had told a story of being stalked by someone in such garb as she walked to the elevators. Now, not only was I not stalking anyone when I entered, I don't even remember seeing this woman behind whom I was apparently walking (of course, the hood does obscure one's vision). I wouldn't have even taken the same elevator as her, as the ones to the 23rd floor are in a different bank than those going to the 43rd. However, from my girlfriend I learned that my mere presence caused this woman TO REPORT ME TO SECURITY, where she was politely reminded that it was Halloween. Obviously, they said nothing to me. Still, I felt a perhaps-unwarranted sense of satisfaction at this inadvertent success.

Later, in a series of e-mails with my girlfriend--no, I really didn't get much work done that day--I learned more. The secretary in question apparently has a reputation for having a somewhat tenuous grasp on reality, making my feat--inasmuch as it was one--less impressive. Okay. Then another message revealed that the secretary in question was not merely frightened by me but WAS CONVINCED I WAS GOING TO ATTACK HER. Wait. It gets better. She was so fearful for her life that SHE HAD TAKEN HER KEYS FROM HER PURSE AND WAS ABOUT TO STAB ME WITH THEM IN HER DEFENSE. This was of course abated when I didn't follow her and proceeded oblivious to a different elevator bank. And here's the kicker: what she had actually said security about me was that she thought I was... a terrorist. I wish I was making this up.

There is absolutely no challenge to frightening people these days; it's shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. Any satisfaction I felt earlier dissipated. I was then struck by the profound power of rampant paranoia when I realized how close having holiday (albeit pagan) spirit nearly got a set of keys impaled into my chest. I won't say the terrorists have won, but they did succeed in sucking the joy from a day that should be ruined by our own American creeps who put razor blades in apples and the like (and exhibit a psychosis that seems almost quaint by comparison).

Besides, I'd never attack people in cape that's dry-clean only. Puh-leez. Give me a little credit here.

Have a pleasant Thanksgiving everyone. I for one am thankful to still be alive and boring you with these messages. And to live in a country where I can still make sarcastic self-deprecating jokes.

p.s. Did I miss anything good on TV tonight?

Monday, September 24, 2001

from a good whistler

[email composed 24 September 2001]

Hello everybody,
I've been very busy with work--no, really; I can't believe it either, but, hey, it was bound to happen eventually. Next weekend is the last dragon boating tournament of the season, up in San Francisco. After that I'm going to Reno for a few days, constituting the first real vacation I've taken in the two years I've had my current job. Maybe after that I'll get a more proper message out.

In the meantime, I'll offer the following passage from J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (which I've been reading), as Holden's old English teacher, Mr. Antolini, quotes a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel:
"...'The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he want to live humbly for one.'"

p.s. Yeah, Antolini turns out to be an alcoholic pedophile, but let's not judge the message by the messenger.

Monday, August 20, 2001

another modest proposal

[email rant composed 20 August 2001]


This evening I went down to my car--which, of course, sits idly in a parking lot across the street from my apartment all day while I'm at work (since I take the train)--only to discover that someone had ripped the antenna off my car. Not broken it off: ripped the entire long thin cylinder out. Here's the thing: some production company was filming outside my building all day (filming what I don't know); anybody who's ever seen it going on knows where there's filming, there's a lot of cops standing around.

I think there's only one logical reaction to this violation of my vehicle: All hope for humanity is lost, and the sooner we get the Chinese pissed off enough to launch their nuclear arsenal at us, the sooner the scourge known as mankind will be wiped from the face of the earth (maybe we should support the new "Star Wars" defense system). Or maybe science will simply unleash some airborne virus that will eliminate us (while, with any luck, leaving the rest of the animal kingdom untouched). I'm not that concerned with the specifics: our species has to go.

I realize there's some decent people out there who'll be dragged down with the scum, but, well, as long as there's some of us still around, there's someone left to senselessly do very minor damage to the cars of strangers, and I care too much about my fellow man to allow another to experience the seconds of anguish that I did when I found nothing where my antenna used to be.

I don't believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater; I say we obliterate the bathtub altogether, before the baby even gets wet.

So then I got in my car and could still pick up all the stations I have as presets. And there were idiots sitting in the fast lane barely going the speed limit. Just as I was starting to reconsider the end of mankind, this renewed my enthusiasm for the project. Imagine how wonderful the freeways will be with nobody on them.

But yes, I had a good weekend. Thanks for asking.

Humanitarian of the Millennium

p.s. "Unfortunate Recipients Of Doug's Inane Rambling" (like you hadn't already figured that out on your own)

[Note 26 March 2004: Still have not replaced the antenna.]

Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Be good to yourself

[email composed 14 August 2001 for no particular reason]

If you're not having a particularly good day, pick it up by following the sage advice of the godfather of soul, James Brown:

Make it funky! (Hyeoow!)

And if you are having a pretty good day, make it better by getting down with your bad self. (Do proper stretches first if necessary to avoid injuring yourself.)

And for you intellectuals:
"A great many people think they are thinking when they are rearranging their prejudices."
- William James

Friday, June 22, 2001

Welcome to summer

[email composed 22 June 2001]

Whether you realized it or not, today (or by the time most of you read this, yesterday) was the longest amount of daylight the northern hemisphere would see all year, a.k.a. the Summer Solstice. If you didn't take advantage of it, don't worry: tomorrow will have only slightly less daylight--you probably won't notice.

And if you enjoy the night, remember that this means that the sun will be setting a teeny bit earlier every day from now until December.

Tomorrow (or today as most of you read this) I am off to Vancouver, British Columbia, to compete with my dragon boating team, the Killer Guppies, in a large tournament. This is our first "international" competition, and it should be interesting to see how the team responds to the environment. If we win a medal, great, and if we don't, well, I'll just enjoy being away from the office for a few days. (Dragon boating is a paddling sport, just for the record. Amazingly, I've been doing this for over a year now. Eh, it forces me to exercise regularly, if nothing else. And the people on the team are pretty cool, too.)

I'll let you know how well we did (and how good a time we had at the party after the races) when I return next week. If I can remember.

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

cable tv roulette

[email composed 30 May 2001]

Just now I was flipping through the movie channels and discovered three different Guy Pearce roles playing simultaneously: on Showtime, as a military prosecutor in "Rules of Engagement," on Cinemax as a reluctant cannibal in "Ravenous," and on The Movie Channel, (in the only role where he gets to use his native accent) as a drag queen traveling through the Australian outback in "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

Coincidence? Perhaps.

If only HBO was showing "L.A. Confidential" he could have hit for the cycle...

Thursday, May 10, 2001

You say it's your birthday (da-da-da-da-da-da-da-duh)

[email composed 10 May 2001]

Today is the 30th birthday of my brother-in-law, Justin. He spent the day home recovering from a stomach flu. I'm told that last night he had a temperature of 103 degrees.

Some people will do anything to get out of having to work on their birthday, eh?

For those of you who have yet to reach this milestone, you probably approach this day with dread. For the rest of us who see it in the rear view mirror of the present, we know that it was the last moment of joy we experienced. Or it was just another day.

What can I say about Justin? He's smart, he has perspective on living, he's easy to talk to, he's can cook, he has a fine sense of humor, he has decent taste in music, and he looks okay in a skirt... er, kilt.

He's a good man. Sure, that expression has lost some of its luster by overuse, but it still holds truth when applied to him.

What does it mean to call someone "good"? Is it merely some default declaration to be applied if someone isn't bad? Of course not, although the not-being-bad angle certainly helps. The popular parlance would interpret it to mean he has a good heart. I'm not sure how well his ticker is pumping the blood, but since long ago someone seated the human emotions in that organ, we continue to use that expression to indicate someone cares.

About what one cares is another story. What it really indicates--having a "good heart"--is that the person cares about the same things that we do... and that really translates as he cares about us. (No one who dislikes us can be said to have a good heart. At least not by us.) So such declarations really say as much about the person saying it as the person about whom it is said.

Hey, there are worse things than having your sister's husband like you.

Justin loves my sister very much. It's almost disgusting how much he obviously adores her (still). (Granted, he didn't have to grow up with her...) He is a very lucky man--not just because he snagged my sister, but because he found love: not that desperate love some people settle for, but (for lack of a better term) true love. This is probably due (at least in large part) to the whole good heart thing.

In the end, it boils down this: he is someone worthy of me composing a message in his honor. There is no higher compliment I can possibly give.

However, I'm sure he'd trade these accolades for spending his birthday feeling healthy. Or to get his youth back.

who proudly considers Justin one of his people (a selective group, rest assured)

p.s. If there are any birthday wishes, mocking comments, random thoughts, inappropriate suggestions, etc., you'd like to pass along to Justin, reply to this and I'll forward them--unedited--to him. I'm sure he would appreciate them (remember: I said he had a good sense of humor). (I would give out his e-mail for you to reply directly to him, but I want him to continue to like me.)

[Six people replied with birthday wishes for Justin, only two of which actually knew him.]

Thursday, May 03, 2001

Walking Past the Library

(first draft at explaining my place in life and why I'm not using my degree in creative writing as you all would expect)

[email composed 3 May 2001]

As I walked back from lunch to the office the other day, I passed the downtown L.A. library. Reflecting on all the books inside, and on how few of them I’ve read—and how many I continue to not read—I felt as though I had not spent enough of my past preparing for where, on some level, I wish I was right now. Sometimes I think part of what holds me back from exploring writing more seriously is this disparity between what I know and what I think I should know (or at least with which I should have some experience, have some familiarity).

This, on the surface, sounds like an easily surmountable obstacle: turn off the TV, stroll down to the library, find such a book, and sit down and read it. Repeat as necessary. Then write things, invoking this knowledge when appropriate. Astoundingly simple, at least in theory.

The problem (had to see this coming) involves my level of motivation in doing so at this point in my life: I don’t want to do these this, I want to have done it. I fancy the idea of procuring the information, as it does interest me. Unfortunately, the period of my existence when I had time set aside for this sort of activity—school—has passed. So go back to school, comes a response.

Hell no to that! I know one thing, and that is that I’m way too lazy.

I blew it (on so many levels) back in college: I didn’t apply myself well, I didn’t always take what interested me but what fit into my schedule, much of the time I didn’t do more than necessary to get through. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I must have known I would regret these patterns down the road. (Okay, let’s extrapolate that out to make a general statement that I know I’ll regret everything I don’t do, not merely what happened—or didn’t—at a university.)

Luckily, I have amazing resilience, and can get over these feelings of self-disappointment. I only beat myself up for so long before it gets old—at least for the time being—and then I focus on what I do know, on what I have done, on what books I have read, and realize that, relative to a lot of people, I am very knowledgeable. And what’s the point anyway? It’s not like intelligence is rewarded in our society. (It’s certainly not critical for working in high positions of government.) I switch on the tube and look at whatever is on, then the next day I write some stupid little essay about it justifying my lack of change of behavior, and feel smugly content for a while.

However, eventually I do make some changes in my life to improve this situation: I figure out a different path to take walking back from lunch that avoids the library altogether.

one bachelor's degree, nine years of his life he'll never have back

Saturday, April 21, 2001

the lighthouse beakons yet again

[email composed 21 April 2001]

This afternoon as I walked out the side door of my apartment building and towards my car, I passed a woman asking if I had any change. She was Caucasian with blonde hair, wearing a black parka over her not-quite-overweight frame, and was ostensibly clean (and even seemed reasonably lucid).

I reached in my pocket and handed her a quarter.

She then told me that she had been accosted by a sword-wielding man down the block, who apparently felt this technique would be an effective way to get her to sleep with him. (He also drove a silver, older model BMW, which caused her to jump any time she noticed a shiny car drive by.)

"Hmm. Interesting," I commented, somewhat under my breath, refraining from asking what kind of sword it was (and possibly having to distinguish a sword from a mere dagger if it didn't prove long enough; she didn't seem to be concerned with semantics).

She inquired about my level of familiarity with criminal law regarding such matters, and I replied that I was reasonably sure that there was something in what he did upon which the police would frown.

She wondered if I was with the FBI--apparently she had acquaintances in the Bureau, some of whom flew helicopters, and she felt she needed to get ahold of someone who could do that--but I had to reveal I was not. Continuing her tale without any prompting from me, she told me of moving here from (I believe it was) Florida with an apparently crooked cop with whom she was sleeping (alas, his name has escaped my memory), and who stalked her in San Pedro. This officer, in her opinion, was of the belief that she was an alien. There was another person in law enforcement who was of the belief that both she and her former lover were aliens, but I didn't catch all of that since she related this part as we crossed the street.

I nodded.

When she asked if I thought she should report the man with the sword to the authorities, and I replied that it seemed not a bad idea. I directed her to the police station, one block down and one block over. She exclaimed she was going to do it and started walking determinedly in the direction I had indicated.

I wished her good luck. I didn't ask for my quarter back.


Yesterday as I entered the downtown L.A. train station, I passed a middle-aged Asian woman in a long coat, a pillbox-type hat on her head, and a large bag on her back. She stood very timidly next to a pillar in the walkway, and when she said something as I passed, I had to stop and step back and put my ear near her mouth to understand what she was asking. She wondered if I had a dollar to spare with sweet smile on her face. I reached in and fished a dollar from my wallet without removing it from my pocket, then handed it to her.

"Bless you," she said in appreciation.

"Live long and prosper," I replied, being the first thing that sprang to mind.

emanating the signal in spite of himself

"Our world is merely a practical joke of God."
- Franz Kafka

Sunday, April 15, 2001


[email composed 15 April 2001]

Some people have mentioned some disappointment that I did not send out a quaint little message explaining a little about the origins of recent events like Friday the 13th, Good Friday, or Easter (as I did with daylight savings time, April Fool's Day, and St. Valentine's Day).

It is at times like this that I am reminded why it is generally prudent to simply never do anything, as it only raises the expectations of others.

However, for what it's worth (off the top of my head), the Good Friday and Easter are Christian holidays, of course, with the modern observance of the latter having serious pagan overtones (but let's not get into that): they serve to grant schoolchildren and teachers a week off around this time of year, and are not as well-marketed (and therefore not as well acknowledged) as Christmas, and pretty much ensure that no one outside of the Jewish community even acknowledges Passover. If you do not know more about their significance, then you probably don't care.
Friday the 13th is also religious in nature (according to some), tying in with what inspired Good Friday and how many were present at a famous last meal. Not that any of this holds any significance with the general modern opinion of what it is, of course, but there is perhaps some solace to be found in knowing that even today, humanity still holds the same capacity for superstition and irrational thinking that it did thousands of years ago.

Enjoy, have a pleasant day, and try not to crucify anyone unless absolutely necessary.

monkey boy and occasional dispenser of inconsequential accuracy (or some modicum thereof)

Wednesday, April 04, 2001

I have no clever title at this time

[email composed 4 April 2001]

This morning on the train ride to work, an older Black gentleman got up and began speaking, "spreading the word of the Lord." This has happened perhaps two other times in the year-and-a-half since I started taking the train, which just goes to show how far mass transit in L.A. lags behind New York.

Now, I sat there with my headphones on, as I do every morning, following standard commuter etiquette: don't talk to anyone and don't make eye contact. It's anti-social and it works. However, as the man went on about how we need to be ashamed of our behavior and to abandon our wanton ways so we could avoid spending eternity in Hell. There was probably some allusion to Jesus in there. As he continued, I must admit I couldn't help but wonder why God couldn't find someone a bit more eloquent to speak for him. Or at least someone who didn't keep prompting us to "aks" for forgiveness. Perhaps beggars can't be choosers.

The man explained, showing amazing powers of persuasion, that "there is no playpen in Hell." Apparently, there is common belief that Hell is like the playground outside McDonalds. And frankly, this shows how little the man knows, because anyone who has ever spent time in the Playland has seen a little bit of Hell.

He noted that he had led an unholy life in his earlier days, but apparently he had seen the light, or hit rock bottom--who can tell?--and wanted all of us young people to avoid giving in to the temptations of the desires of the body. He figured it best to steer us clear of the delightfully pleasurable mistakes he had made in his days of naiveté and debauchery, saving us the trouble of having fun and having to repent later.

Eventually he reached his stop and exited, without (as far as I could tell) a single person on the car acknowledging his existence, proclaiming that Jesus loved us, and that he loved us. And the rest of us continued our journey to oblivion, otherwise known as the downtown L.A. station.

The thought occurred to me that I could follow this example and pass along some of my knowledge that could help others avoid some of the pratfalls of my past. Then it occurred to me that no one pays any attention to anything I say, and decided that you crazy hippies were on your own. Mistakes build character, or lead to litigation. Who am I to stand in the way of the natural process of life?

Sorry, friends: Jesus apparently loves you more than I do. See you all in Hell. (Better there than in Heaven with all the Born Agains.)

Sunday, April 01, 2001

happy new year (take that Pope Gregory!)

[email sent 1 April 2001]

All Fool's Day
"In sixteenth-century France, the start of the new year was observed on April first. It was celebrated in much the same way as it is today with parties and dancing into the late hours of the night. Then in 1562, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world, and the new year fell on January first. There were some people, however, who hadn't heard or didn't believe the change in the date, so they continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April first. Others played tricks on them and called them "April fools." They sent them on a "fool's errand" or tried to make them believe that something false was true. In France today, April first is called "Poisson d'Avril." French children fool their friends by taping a paper fish to their friends' backs. When the "young fool" discovers this trick, the prankster yells "Poisson d’Avril!" (April Fish!)"

(source: U.S. Embassy Stockholm website. Honest.)

Friday, March 30, 2001

Stupid facts about daylight savings time

[email composed 30 March 2001]

Sunday we will observe the tweaking of standard time by setting our clocks ahead one hour. What this really means is that we all get to perform the exact same tasks an hour earlier for the next six months. And why do we do that?

It saves energy. No, really.

Apparently the D.O.T. has done studies that moving back the sunset by an hour trims electricity usage by... one percent. We turn the lights on later, blah blah blah. (Your tax dollars at work.)

The idea of turning the clocks ahead during the summer months was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, for economical reasons. The actual moving of time in the spring and fall was not adopted until the early 20th century in Germany and England. The U.S. (along with many European nations) took it up during World War I to lower fuel consumption and help the war effort. However, in 1919 this was overturned in the States due to its unpopularity. It came back during WW II for the same reasons, but afterwards there was no legislation to mandate it and D.S.T. was inconsistently observed until President Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act of 1966 into law. In 1986, the law was amended to state that Daylight Savings Time would begin on the first Sunday of April (instead of the last Sunday) and end on the last Sunday in October. (In most western European countries, it starts a week earlier.)

And in Indiana, where part of the state is in the Eastern time zone and part of the state is in the Central time zone, it gets really complicated. Arizona and Hawaii also think that it's pretty stupid to go pretending it's later than it actually is.

(Source: Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement)

Enjoy the daylight everybody. Turn off the computer and go outside and do something with it.

(who with any luck will be asleep)

Monday, March 19, 2001

Just a moment of your time, please

[email that seemed like a good idea on 19 March 2001]

Greetings everybody,

I have been lead to believe that some people may be a bit... intimidated... by some of these messages I send out. Well, okay: "intimidated" may be too strong a term; perhaps "overwhelmed" is more accurate. Or maybe not. "Baffled"? Yeah, that's pretty certain. "Bored"? Oh, of course. And because of this, some of you may be disinclined to reply, or even to acknowledge that you even know who I am.

I understand.

However, in any case, I wanted to make it clear that I do not want you to feel self-conscious about your what you may want to say back to me. I really do enjoy hearing from you, no matter how short or long the message, no matter how deep or frivolous the content, no matter whether the grammar and/or punctuation is perfect or not, and even if you don't really have a subject or coherent theme. I'm not judging what you write. You should feel free to express yourself in any way that strikes you. And don't worry: I have heard all of your major profanity, and, I suspect, most of the common epithets and slurs and insults.

Take it from me: if you wait around for a great idea before doing something, then you're obviously wiser than apparently I is.

So, as soon as you finish reading this sentence, hit Reply (or if you're daring, or really drunk, Reply All) and take 30 seconds and type the first thing that pops into your head--whatever it is (and I mean, whatever)--and then click that Send button. Do not stop, do not edit, do not revise, do not collect $200: just do it.

Thanks. You're the best.

[Some recipients acted on that Reply All dare. Subsequently I never sent another message where the recipients weren't all bcc'ed, protecting the members of my "audience" from the whims of each other. Editing one's self really is worthwhile.]

Thursday, March 15, 2001

Distractions from your worthless, miserable existence

[email composed 15 March 2001]

Howdy everybody (of course, it's hard to realize you're part of an "everybody" since I've BCCed you all--and why you may ask? so your precious e-mail address doesn't fall into the wrong hands. no need to thank me: just looking out for those I care about. and you as well. ha ha. laugh along with me at that witty remark. okay, don't. fine. see if I care),

I was going to send some attachment that was sent to me where it's a wilderness picture but where there's faces hidden in the structure of the rocks and trees, and there's some sort of scale for judging how observant you are by how many of the faces you can find. But the text accompanying the picture has atrocious grammar, and everybody at work to whom I sent it found all the faces without difficulty, so either we were all amazingly perceptive or the average person is just really stupid. Personally, I think it's both, but I digress. Anyway, rather than waste the valuable time of the people on dial-up modems, I didn't bother including the picture. You would have found all faces anyway, so just go ahead and feel good about yourself.


Okay, here's the lamest e-mail quiz ever (I thought it up myself): Suppose you are a calendar manufacturer--er, printer. Yes, that makes more sense. Anyway, suppose you wish to make up templates for all the possible different configurations of years (not individual months, but the 12 continuous months that make up a year--yeah, I'm having a hard time describing this, but just go with it, okay?). So each template would go from January 1 - December 31. Now, here's the question: how many templates would you need to cover every possibility?

Anybody who made any heads-or-tails of that and wishes to offer a guess should reply to this message. (You're really going to kick yourself if you get it wrong.)


Okay, now here's some upcoming events that I may or may not be attending. I won't waste our time by inviting you, since it is blatantly clear that nothing Doug suggests is in any way, shape, or form of interest to others, and since nothing Doug suggests involves rock bands with Keanu Reeves in them, but as long as you've bothered to read this far, I'll mention them (if for no other reason than to give you proper warning so you can avoid these locations):

This Friday, the day before St. Patrick's Day, if you're in the area of downtown L.A. (and if you're not, just skip ahead to the next one; really, I promise I won't say anything clever for the remainder of this paragraph--yeah, yeah, yeah: like I ever do), there is going to be a FREE lunchtime concert by the Young Dubliners in Pershing Square at 12:30. They're an Irish rock band that lives in L.A., but unlike U2, they still sound Irish (while still rockin').

This Saturday night, I'm considering going to see the Long Beach Symphony perform Dvorak's Symphony no. 9, "From the New World". If I don't go to that, I'll definitely try to catch it when the L.A. Philharmonic does the same piece on April 5. Yes, the observant among you will notice this is the second time I'm going to see classical music in a little under a month. Don't worry: I still have no culture.


Well, I'm not entirely sure what to write here. I could just prattle on, throwing out gibberish: loquacious ubiquity rhapsody off tundra whistle vicar xylophone Euripides. What does it matter? I can't imagine anyone is still reading by this point. Oh, the delightful liberation of social invisibility. Remember, fellows: put the toilet seat down, as the ladies really appreciate it; that's one area where they're never going to be willing to meet us half way, so you might as well accept it. And make a point of washing off soda cans before you drink out of them, because who knows where they've been.

Good night, and have a pleasant valley Sunday. (That one's for you, Mika.)

P.S. No. Stone sober. Why do you ask?

Sunday, February 25, 2001

Rant against the rain

Egad, but how I despise the rain at times. Oh, heck: it’s the driving in it part about which I’m currently upset. (Granted, I’m not crazy about driving period—I don’t actively dislike it, but it’s nothing that spurs me to excitement either.) And I suppose, more accurately, it’s the darkness imposed by the clouds from which the rain falls that draws my ire.

Sunday morning I went down to my car, in the rain, and realized that I left my lights on when I arrived home from dragon boat practice the previous afternoon. And the battery was really dead. And I could not go anywhere, which wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t trying to meet a breakfast invitation.

The only reason I had my lights on in the middle of the day was due to the poor visibility imposed upon drivers by the rain; it seemed like a good idea at the time, I’m sure, but likely it did not increase the likelihood of me arriving home safely by a degree significant enough to warrant the anger and inconvenience I found myself suffering.

Not that we’ll ever know.

Of course, the anger may not seem to be warranted by the fact that it is but an inconvenience I’m suffering, and were the emotion attributable to that, it would be too much. However, it springs from my disgust at my own ineptitude: this is a tragedy of my own devising. I chose to turn on the lights in spite of the fact that I have accidentally left them on under similar circumstances in the past; I did not make some effort to remind myself to turn them off, even though the thought occurred to me that I should do something.

Ah, so there it is: I knew better, but failed to act. That is, on the whole, one of my longest lasting (and most endearing) character traits. But I was too caught up in the moment, as I struggled in the rain to gather up (ahem) my paddle, my wet jacket, my wet shirt, my wet jeans, my wet towel, and a slightly greasy paper bag (holding the garbage from my detour through the Jack In The Box drive-thru on the way home).

And what possessed me to believe that I wouldn’t be too distracted when I pulled into my parking spot to remember I had made this alteration to my ordinary daytime driving routine? Blind, stupid optimism. Oh, it wasn’t conscious optimism—I didn’t think Of course I will turn off the lights—but the implication is clearly there: somewhere in my brain I held faith in myself, and while that is good and admirable and positive and all that crap, it proved unfounded. I failed yet again.

We all make mistakes, and given the circumstances it is quite understandable that this could happen. What defies logic is this tendency to dismiss past missteps in the face of remarkably similar scenarios: with this case, I don’t think this was grand self‑delusion but rather poor follow‑through. Still, if I simply had not thought about the need to remember to turn off the lights, if I had almost absent-mindedly turned them on out of unconscious devotion to the rules of safe driving, then this could be dismissed as just one of those things.

This, however, must be classified as yet another one of those things that with minimal effort could have been avoided. And do I learn from these occurrences? Yes. Do I transform the lessons into a modification in my behavior? Apparently not.

In the middle of the afternoon, I thought about going to the store but decided against it, thinking I should stay in and work on some things. When it became evident that trying to work on said things was not really going anywhere, did I resume the store-going plan (where I would have gone down to my car presumably in time to do something before the lights would drag the battery to null)? No. I watched TV. Fate was practically dragging me in a direction—no, Doug, you won’t be allowed to focus on that task: leave your apartment and discover your error—and I fell back on utter slothfulness. Plopping myself down in front of the opiating cathode ray tube, accomplishing absolutely nothing towards the projects or towards going to the store: yes, this is progress, this is climbing the evolutionary ladder, this is what separates me from “dumb” animals.

It’s almost as though I’m being punished with this dead battery. And clearly, I’m doing nothing to prove I don’t deserve that. So I think what I must do is obvious: the next time I need to drive in the rain, I need to listen to the little voice inside me.

I think it’s telling me to go back to bed and wait for a sunny day.