Tuesday, December 24, 2002

It's beginning to look a lot like... time for another Doug-ression.

[email composed 24 December 2002]

For those of you who've been suffering my rantings and ramblings for a while, you may have been expecting a message in honor of the winter solstice, since in the past I have sent ones about it and the spring equinox, the summer solstice, and autumnal equinox. If you were paying attention, you would have noticed the solstice passed over the weekend. Yes, it's winter, and I didn't tip you off ahead of time.

Eh, I was bound to let you down eventually. Let's move on.

I'm not going to rail against the over-commercialization of Christmas. It is what it is. I bought gifts like everyone else. It keeps the economy going. If you don't think that's important, you obviously don't have a 401k. It is a marketing wet dream when you get down to it, started by three guys following a star, so we can't begrudge capitalism for taking advantage of it. Still, it reminds us that it's pretty neat to give someone something to make him or her happy just because we like him or her.

I'm not going to quibble about the secularization of Christmas. Sure, it has the whole "Christ" thing right there in the name, but we don't pronounce the "t" and we soften the "i" sound when we say it aloud, and if that helps it be something that everybody can celebrate, I'm not sure that's altogether bad. I have friends who are atheists who still exchange gifts with others. I have friends who are Jews and Buddhists who join in on the festivities of December 25th. It's a national holiday, and that opens the door for everybody to join in. Yes, it could be construed as hideously disrespectful of these other religions--because it pretty much is--that their followers must adhere to another's schedule, but it could just as easily be construed as hideously disrespectful of the religion that gave it its name, in that all these others are essentially crashing the party. Somehow we generally seem to overlook this, and at least in my tiny portion of the world, it seems to bring disparate people together when it should divide them further. In the northern hemisphere this is the darkest time of year, and we need something to lift our spirits to see us through to spring. If the Christians are willing to share and the rest of us are willing to go along with it to whatever degree we see fit, and we end up with a celebration that acknowledges our loved ones, that's hardly worthy of derision.

I'm not going to talk about the pagan origins of Christmas again.

I'm not going to recap the past 12 months of my life. First, anyone who knows me grasps that for me to do so would amount to a novel. Second, if I didn't bore you with a message about an event at the time it happened, I'm not going to try to encapsulate it now. (I'm not criticizing those who send out family newsletters in holiday cards. I enjoy reading about what's going on with those whom I don't see regularly. Maybe eventually some holiday in the middle of the year will prompt a similar update from those who are so inclined.) I'm not going to make any promises that I'll be more prolific regarding these messages in 2003; maybe I will, and maybe I won't. I do hope I will be, but I know easy it is for me to lapse back into my lazy, procrastinative ways; I see no reason to set myself up to disappoint you all even more than I undoubtedly will.

I'm not going to wish you "Happy Holidays". No, the phrase appearing in that last sentence was not some clever ironic twist. While I certainly do hope that things go well for you during these last days of the year, I sincerely hope with equal fervor that things go well for you every day. (The people who stopped reading at the end of the first paragraph can have lousy days, however. I ask so little. For cryin' out loud...)

I'm not going to write another paragraph starting with "I'm not...". Don't say I never did anything for you.

You have proven yourself worthy of my respect and admiration and affection (or you are someone whose name made its way into my address book). For that I am genuinely grateful. Please try to not screw that up in 2003.

(e-mail essayist, friend, son/brother/brother-in-law/cousin/nephew, Killer Guppy, Old 97's fan, rider of public transportation, air drummer, and a surprisingly good dancer for white guy)

Thursday, October 24, 2002

There is No Such Thing as Coincidence. Maybe.

[email composed 24 October 2002]

Like a great many people in the U.S. (I presume), I have been unofficially collecting the commemorative state quarters that started coming out a couple years ago. By "collecting" I mean when I see a quarter with the emblem of a state I don't think I have, I don't spend it. I don't display my collection: I merely have a stack of quarters on my dresser, one from each state that has come out so far--as far as I can tell; I'm not investigating whether I have them all or anything. I'm sure years from now, after the U.S. Mint has completed the series, I'll discover holes in my collection. And eventually when I'm desperate for laundry money, the collection will slowly disappear; clean clothes always win out over pseudo-collectibles.

This morning I bought a donut at a bakery next to the station while I waited for the next train. In the change from my purchase I received the quarter commemorating Louisiana. I didn't notice this until some time in the afternoon when I was absent-mindedly fishing around in my pocket and pulled out the coins in there. Not recognizing the image on the back--the silhouette of the country with the land area of the Louisiana Purchase highlighted--I thought to myself, Hey, I need to hold on to that one.

Finding the new quarter was just about the only good thing that happened to me while I was in the office today--the only other high points occurred outside the building: going to lunch, calling my mother to wish her a happy birthday while on a break. In a way, it wasn't merely 25 cents, it was a tiny silver ray of sunshine in a grey day (both figuratively and literally). But mostly, yes, it was 25 cents.

It also held the miniscule joy of a unexpected treasure. Perhaps it's sad that our hunter-gatherer instincts, once imperative for survival (hunting down giraffes, picking berries and nuts, etc.), have been sublimated into identifying unfamiliar images on little metal pieces and drawing the same satisfaction from that act as once befitted several days' effort that provided meat for the entire tribe, but such is our lot in modern post-post-post Industrial Revolution life. I'm sure Darwin would have no opinion about this, not merely because he's dead, but because that's not the kind of evolution he was talking about; the way his theory has been misappropriated aside, we all know that being fit has not proven the reason for our survival.

I digress.

In the evening, after I exited the train, I stopped by a fast food restaurant to procure nourishment, or what passes for that. (It was late, I was tired, and didn't feel like tracking down a giraffe.) Even though the Louisiana quarter could have been used to make exact change for my purchase, I specifically refrained from using it. By using a dollar instead, I got back three other non-Louisiana quarters in change.

I left with my food in a bag and the quarters (along with a few pennies and a nickel) jingling around in my pocket, and headed home so I could see how badly the Angels were losing in the World Series game. On my way to my apartment, I passed a grubby man of non-permanent residence. While I often pass by such individuals without guilt, there was something about having food right there in my hand that made me respond to his plea for spare change. I fished around in my pocket, trying to pick out the nickel and the pennies (stingy bastard that I was, masquerading as a philanthropist). I didn't want to make it seem like that was what I was doing--and I don't know why I cared what the man thought--so I just pulled out a couple coins and placed them in his dirty hand. For a few coins he thanked me with an enthusiasm that dwarfed all the form letters I've received after donating much larger sums to the alumni fund from my university. I continued on my way. After about half a block, I reached back into my pocket, scooped up all the coins there and by the light of a street lamp nonchalantly examined what remained: three quarters and a few pennies.

Three non-Louisiana quarters, of course.

You saw that coming. I knew it would happen when I was fishing around in my pocket in front of the man. We all know that's simply how the universe works: What one doesn't want to give up it takes away. Coincidence? Yeah, right. I don't know who's in charge of the universe, but He/She/It has a wickedly predictable nature in these situations.

Oh well.

I had escaped the office and wasn't in a bad mood any longer. I didn't need my little treasure any more. The karmic benefits alone must have been easily worth a buck, maybe buck-fifty. If only I could get that "return on investment" from my 401k.

Maybe I'll pull all my money out and give it to the homeless until the stock market picks up. Couldn't lose any more money than how the damn portfolio has been performing. Of course, the bottom fell out of the stock market just around the time I actually got a job where I have a retirement account. Of course. Of course.

(Yes, I was fishing around in my pocket in public. We all have our bad habits. I apologize for the imagery. Please don't think about it when you try to sleep tonight.)


The commemorative quarters I do have (in no particular order): Rhode Island, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Massachusetts, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. But not Louisiana.
(I also have a 1976 Bicentennial quarter, two golden dollar coins, and a penny from every year I've been alive. Not an impressive coin collection by any means, but it's what I have.)
[Note:  I did eventually get a Lousiana quarter I didn't give away.  Mostly because I stopped giving spare change to panhandlers.]


Yes, I should have written something in honor of my mother's birthday. But I didn't. If that makes me an awful son, I apologize. Maybe it just means I love my mom enough not to drag her into this drivel of mine.

However, I will take this opportunity to note the last 20 songs that have played on my computer's jukebox software while I have typed this (since that's as many as the software keeps track of). I have had it set to play songs at random, and this is what it selected (as Dave Barry says, I am not making this up):

Mourning Air - Portishead
Worried Blues - Buddy Guy
My Mother - Buddy Guy ***
I Wanna Be Free - The Monkees
Surrender - Elvis
Brothers Under the Bridge - Bruce Springsteen
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
Old England - The Waterboys
Air - The Muppets
Death Comes Ripping - The Misfits
Happy Birthday To Me - Cracker ***
Tough, Tough, Tough - Andy Anderson
(You're the Only One) Can Make Me Cry - Concrete Blonde
Largo, from "Xerxes" - Handel
Skyway - The Replacements
Singin' the Blues - Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra
Rockville - R.E.M.
That's the Way I Like It - K.C. & the Sunshine Band
Hey - Goo Goo Dolls
Carrothead - The Young Fresh Fellows

Notice the two I denoted with asterisks. Coincidence these two played on my mother's birthday? Ha!


Stupid Doug factoid: He could identify all 50 states by their shape and relative geographic position by the third grade, and retains that ability to this day. Not that it seems to impress the chicks like it did back then.


Thanks for reading all the way to the end. I know some of you made it this far.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Doug's Brush with Some Modicum of Semi-Greatishness

[email composed 22 September 2002]

Tuesday morning as I walked up the stairs exiting the train station in Downtown L.A., I encountered a row of director's chairs nearly blocking the stairway completely. Rather than being intrigued and curious, I was slightly irritated; Oh great, another film crew, I thought. I wormed my way around the chairs and the wires on the ground, hoping my path to the office wouldn't be blocked. I turned the corner, relieved I wasn't stopped, and proceeded down the sidewalk. In an alcove, I noticed some people seated in more chairs, presumably actors. I didn't turn to see who they were; I had places to go. A few paces farther down the street I spotted two actors I recognized from the TV show "Alias" (the ones who play Jack Bristow and Arman, the head of SD6), dressed in suits. They were standing around, ostensibly waiting to do a scene. I passed within inches of them as I continued along my usual path to the office. I made no eye contact, I said nothing; I kept walking, just like I do every other day.

As must be evident from my tone I've encountered film crews many times over the past three years I've worked in Downtown--they do shoots there with some frequency. This was one of the few times I'd actually spotted actors--usually I run into the crew during setup--but obviously it didn't phase me. They're just actors, not superheroes. I held no interest in engaging them in a moment's small talk. I didn't give them any obsequious acknowledgement (which they probably crave--you know how actors are). I didn't stop to watch--anyone who has ever witness filming knows how uninteresting it actually is, repetitive as hell. I do watch the show, and when the episode that features that shot airs I will no doubt think to myself, Oh yeah, I remember the day they were doing that, but I am content to wait for the edited version to appear on my television screen. At the corner of the block, a stage hand in Elvis sunglasses made some declaration

that the scene could proceed (I assume). For me, however, the street light turned green and I stepped off the curb without looking back.

Perhaps there's something wrong with me. In America our collective obsession is with fame, or whatever it is that being on television provides. Maybe I'm deluding myself into believing my life isn't so awful that I don't need to bolster my self-esteem by taking pride in coincidental proximity to something that will eventually appear on TV. I'm not so desperate for attention that being close to minor celebrities (notice I couldn't think of the actors' names) becomes the high point of my day. (No, that came later, on the ride home that evening, when a couple of obnoxious teenage girls who were taking up two seats each had to scoot over and shut up because two big guys got on the train and weren't about to stand for the whole trip. It's ever so satisfying when arrogant inconsideration meets its comeuppance.)

This whole incident is only interesting because it involves something that a lot of people have heard of, because my life, as a non-celebrity, bores others, but not because I have some vampiric need to feed off the semi-famous (even though that is what plagues our society).

I don't need to be a celebrity, or near to celebrities, to get a sense of self-worth; that's what writing to you all does for me (or at least my self-delusion affords me the belief that it does).

Besides, if they could not recognize my intrinsic talent as I passed by and see fit to write me into the show, who needs them anyway? (That's Hollywood for you.)


"The desire for fame is the last infirmity cast off even by the wise."
- Cornelius Tacitus, Roman historian, circa 97 CE

Not only is the new TV season here, so is an actual season.

Having noted the astronomical events that mark the passing of our seasons in the past, I have learned that some of you expect me to continue that. So, to appease your the Autumnal Equinox occurs Monday, September 23rd at 4:55 am GMT. However, since most of you aren't in England, in California (if I'm doing my calculations correctly) that's today (Sunday the 22nd) at 8:55 pm--just shortly before I sent this. Fall is here: Enjoy the roughly equal amounts of day and night today, as tomorrow there'll be a little more darkness.

Generally, it's celebrated by those who are/were apt to celebrate it as an end-of-the-harvest festival. In Japan, the 23rd is a national holiday, observing the beginning of autumn. If you get over there and get a job, next year you can get the day off. Maybe you'll see some celebrities.

Here's the word "orifice" for no reason other than someone requested I include it. Give the people what they want, that's what I say.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Where's Your Messiah Now?

 [email composed 13 June 2002]

"Please allow me to introduce my myself / I'm a man of wealth and taste." The wealth is insignificant, however, and the taste is questionable. As you'll see.

There is a line in the Rolling Stones song quoted above that goes: "Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed His fate"--referring to the Roman governor of Judaea who was in power when Jesus was crucified. When I was younger--my early years of university, not childhood--I thought the line was: "Made damn sure the pilot washed his hands and sealed his fate." For some reason I thought it referred to the man who flew the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in World War II. Considering that the line in the song that precedes the misheard one alludes to Jesus by name, my interpretation does seem somewhat disjointed (to say the least). Eventually I figured out the error of my thoughts--or at least, of that one in particular--and realized Mick and Keith and company were talking about the how Prince of Darkness played a part when Pontius Pilate gave into the mob's demands for the death of Jesus, washing his hands both literally and figuratively of responsibility for the act. (Yes, I did have to review texts to remind me not only of the details of the event but also how to spell Pilate's name. Eh, that's an American public school education for you.)

I do find some solace in the fact that the misinterpretation my mind concocted was that was historically accurate and could be construed as something awful that could have been influenced by Lucifer. Some people would undoubtedly analyze the "the pilot" interpretation and be offended that I would equate the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima--what many historians view as the decisive event that ultimately convinced the Japanese to surrender and end the war--with the nefarious acts of the Fallen Angel; was I suggesting that this element of the American war effort was spurred by the Lord of the Underworld?

Not consciously, not at the time I don't think, no. If anything it indicates my studies of World War II were deeper than any investigation of Christian history. Even with the justification that the bombing brought about a resolution to the conflict, unleashing the most devastating weapon in the history of mankind doesn't strike me as something to be proud of. I'm not some ban-the-bomb radical, nor am I some America-can-do-no-wrong pseudo-patriot; I'm not much for fanaticism, one way or the other.

And clearly I'm no Christian. (I hold no religious affiliations whatsoever, for the record.) I have no problem with Christianity, as a faith, as a concept; I do have a problem with arrogant hypocrites, but one need not have any particular belief system to be one of those. Still, the fact remains: I was not raised in any modicum of a Christian household. Sometimes I feel cheated, deprived of a religion against which I could rebel, on which I could turn my back some day. There is, admittedly, a Judeo-Christian slant in much of our society--our money does claim "In God We Trust," for Chrissakes--but it wasn't enough to teach me much of the story of their savior, or of who played a role in His death. (It did pass along enough that I learned to capitalize pronouns that refer to the alleged offspring of God--no other belief system enjoys such perks in English of which I'm aware.) No, to learn about Jesus I had to watch movies made from musicals with the word "Superstar" in the title. (Cinema is the true educator of the masses.)

While I have not accepted anyone who met with a terribly unpleasant demise as a "savior" (I can't quite wrap my mind around the concept that somehow I did something horribly wrong by merely being born, and thus am not convinced of a need for salvation), I do not consider myself bereft of spirituality. I admit I'm not sure from where I would draw such feelings, such a need. It would be logical to adopt atheism, but excluding the possibility of any higher powers or other planes of existence seems so... limiting. From a creative standpoint, the more possibilities, the better; what's the fun in pondering the meaning of life if reality is one way and one way only? This strikes me as a delightful conundrum to muddle over, to pursue but never catch.

On top of all that, I'm not convinced that mankind has enough on the ball, generally speaking, as a species, to warrant me having faith in it, so perhaps there's comfort in believing there might be something else out there protecting us from ourselves.

My spirituality lacks a name, is of my own concoction, is intended to apply only to me, and is subject to change without notice whenever a better idea occurs to me. This may sound terribly convenient, but really it's more work than it's probably worth. Sometimes I wish I could bring myself to accept the tenets of one of the organized religions: not only would I have a pithy term for my faith, I wouldn't have to think about what I believed. I'd have recognized holidays. I could be tax-exempt. And best of all, others could hate me for the mere affiliation with the faith without knowing anything about me as an individual! How efficient is that? As it stands now, others need to become acquainted with me before they can hate me.

My spirituality is tolerant of the beliefs of others--it has to be: otherwise it would be hypocritical and then I'd have a problem with it--so long as their beliefs are genuine. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists, (I suppose in theory even) Scientologists, Satan worshippers, and the rest: as long as their beliefs are profoundly held--not just some crutch when times are bad, not just going along with what's popular, not paying lip service to what they were spoon-fed as children--and as long as they aren't sacrificing animals I know personally, I say live and let live.

By no means do I think my belief system--inasmuch as it's a "system"--is the best and that everyone should believe as I do. Frankly, nothing frightens me more than the thought of that happening. My spirituality may not be much, but it's mine. I'm not looking for converts. Go make up your own.

If you're wondering what would prompt me to compose this and send it to a bunch of people, where I lack any specific knowledge of the religious inclinations of many of them, rife with the potential to offend (touching on the taboo topic of religion as it does, somewhat), I could claim that my spirituality grants me the strength to spread these words without fear. I could tell you that I have faith in my audience and trust them implicitly. However, when we get right down to it, there's only one logical explanation.

The Devil made me do it.

"They told us of a Second Coming / so we look to the sky
It's not a savior that we want / just somebody else to crucify"
- from "Waiting" by New Model Army, 1981

(For those who didn't know, the Rolling Stones song is "Sympathy For the Devil." You really should have known that, however.)


Since I'll be in Vancouver next week on the Summer Solstice (next Friday, the 21st), allow me to send appropriate greetings about that now (just in case I don't get out another general message between now and then). It's the most daylight we'll get in the northern hemisphere this year, folks: enjoy it. Or don't. It's your life. (I don't celebrate it, per se: still, something drives me to acknowledge it, but let's not get into that now.)



This message was sent to and probably ignored by approximately 150 recipients, from as far away as Australia and Great Britain, and as close as three blocks from Doug's apartment in southern California, including relatives, co-workers, and even people he has never met in person. Thanks to the wonder of BCC, none of them would ever realize that if he didn't point it out here.

While recipients are under no obligation to reply, and while Doug is perfectly comfortable with not receiving responses--it won't dissuade him from writing more in the future--he certainly enjoys hearing from his victims--err, audience. Especially those whom he hasn't spoken to in a while, even if it's a very brief note proving nothing more that the recipient is still breathing; recipients who have kicked the oxygen habit are not expected to reply. All responses will be kept confidential, unless they're really funny. Doug does keep copies of all of these essay/rant/rambling messages, in case you're wondering. He has no website at this time, mostly because he's too lazy and unmotivated.

If anyone receiving this message wishes Doug would just leave him/her the hell alone, he/she should make that known, either by writing back and requesting it or by summoning demons and sicking them on the writer.

Yes, Doug considers approximately 1,150 words "brief."

not really copyright 2002, because, let's face it: who would want to steal this?

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

it's that time again

[email sent 20 March 2002]

Hello readers,

Happy Vernal Equinox (or Happy Autumnal Equinox to my relatives in Australia)! I hope this message finds you well and not down a well (unless that's where you enjoy being).

As you may recall, I last sent out a general message on the Winter Solstice. And now I send out one on the first day of spring (from my quick research on the 'net, I believe it officially occurs at 11:19 a.m., Pacific Standard Time), which undoubtedly leads some of you to believe I'm on some quarterly schedule for these messages. However, longtime readers (technically, I've been sending out these ramblings for a few years now--I know, I can't believe it either) know that I'm also motivated to compose when I need to vent about something. (This past weekend, in fact, I saw a former dragonboating buddy, and he said something about how he couldn't wait for something to annoy me so he'd get another e-mail diatribe from me.) Now, I wish to get one thing clear: This cat Shaft is a bad mutha--[shut yo' mouth!] But I'm clarifying about Shaft. [Then we can dig it.] Also, there are other events besides the passing of the seasons and something pissing me off that inspire me. (Believe me: if annoyance and frustration were all it took, with much of what's been going on at work lately, you all would be receiving messages from me almost daily.)

Just to thwart the expectations you may have developed since before the last paragraph, I'm not going to prattle on about the scientific ramifications of the sun crossing the ecliptic, or about the Wiccan Sabbat of Ostara (Eostre) that occurs on (or at least around) the equinox, or the concept of rebirth inherent in the pagan and Christian celebrations that happen around this time, for three main reasons:

- I am neither Wiccan, other pagan, or Christian, and anything I said about that topic would be summarizing what information I gleaned from checking out webpages on the topic, not from my own knowledge or experience, and heck, if you're really that interested you could do a search as easily as I could. (Must I do everything for you?) If you don't understand why bunnies are so prevalent now, I urge you to look into it.

- I don't feel the need to pretend to seem smart. Either you like me already or you don't.

- Nobody reads anything longer than about a paragraph or two. I was recently informed of that, and so I figure, why bother?

I will note that I remember from the astronomy class I took my freshman year of college, all those many years ago, that "equinox" is Latin for "equal night". If that impressed you in the slightest, you are obviously not considering that for as much as I spent putting myself through university, I really should remember a lot more, otherwise that tidbit was extraordinarily costly. Especially in light of the fact that I walked into a book store the other day, flipped through a book on Presidential facts that was in the discount section that I did not purchase (on which I spent no money) and can now tell you the following I do remember: if you thought the first names of Presidents Coolidge and Eisenhower were, respectively, Calvin and Dwight, you would be completely wrong. (Both adopted their middle names; their actual first names: John and David.) From something I saw on the History Channel, I could tell you that the name for the popular font Trebuchet comes from a catapult device from the Middle Ages. I could also tell you that the Ramones had two separate songs whose titles began with "Now I Wanna"--"Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue", from their first album in 1976, and "Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy" from their second album in 1977. And for none of this did college play any part.

Yes, I could go off on what a tragedy it is that a song by those punk pioneers was used in a Nissan commercial--the one where the SUV is cutting through the hedges in the middle of a steeple chase--but we're well past the second paragraph now. Besides, anyone who hasn't figured out that those who formerly considered themselves part of the "counter-culture" are now a target demographic for advertisers need not hear it from me. Far be it for me to burst anyone's bubble. Really. Happiness is nothing more than a matter of proper maintenance of your delusions.

And what has this to do with anything? Nothing whatsoever. However, if you choose to believe it does, then it does. See how easy that was?

The other thing that some people have apparently determined about my messages is I usually have some self-deprecating twist at the end, but predictability is the death of art, and I don't particularly have some twist in mind, so you will have to be appeased by...
Talk to you in July!


p.s. Swahili gumbo plaza nook vehement slithy tothes. (You're not reading this far anyway.)