Monday, March 17, 2003

What did a '95 Honda ever do to deserve this?

[An unplanned Doug-ression composed 17 March 2003]

I shouldn't be writing this right now.

I should be sitting in the Olive Garden with my friend Mark. Tomorrow (Tuesday) is his birthday(he'll be doing something with his family then). We have been observing each other's birthday with a trip to O.G. for well over a decade now. Not only do we go to the same restaurant (different locations), we order the same thing every time: chicken parmesan. Some might find the repetition dull, but it's a tradition. More important, it gives us reprieve from what has proved the most difficult part of eating out: figuring out where to go. ("Where do you wanna go?" "I don't know, where do you wanna go?"...) Even if every other time we get together there's the same old problem, at least twice a year we know well in advance not only where we're going but what we're having.

The process works something like this:
1) Enter restaurant.
2) Wait for table.
3) Get shown by hostess to table.
4) Sit down at table.
5) Open menus.
6) Verify that chicken parmesan is still on menu.
7) Close menu.
8) When waiter or waitress arrives, one of us orders.
9) The other says, "I'll have the same."

Except that didn't happen tonight as we'd planned.

I left work the moment my shift was over, rushed to the train station, got home, quickly changed and got on the freeway to meet Mark at the comic shop where he would be closing up. Everything was on schedule. On the freeway I was stuck behind some idiot who seemed content to do the speed limit in the fast lane. Now, I'm not the most aggressive driver on the road, but I'm not sheepish by any means, and I was on my way to the Olive Garden event so I was motoring with slightly more enthusiasm than usual. After a couple minutes the driver accelerated slightly, but that wasn't enough. I said aloud, "Look, no matter how fast you go, I can go faster."

Then there was a loud noise from the passenger side of the car, that I remember thinking sounded like I'd run over a flower pot. From the sound something must have bounced off and careened across the other lanes. I thought, Hmm, that was odd. I should have immediately identified the unmistakable cacophony of hubris being struck down, but I continued driving.

After maybe 10 seconds I started to discern some sluggishness from my car. Nothing dramatic, but noticeable. To be on the safe side I put on my blinker and started over to the slow lane. As I crossed the other lanes, it became obvious that the rear tire was going flat. I got over just in time to exit the freeway and pull on to a side street. I'd only gotten as far as three exits from my apartment. I turned off the ignition, popped the
hatchback latch, and got out. The right rear tire was completely deflated. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed the shop's number. Well, eventually I did; the first two times I misdialed and was getting increasingly frustrated. By the time Mark answered on the third try, the only answer I had when he asked how it was going was to say (and I quote), "Life is shit!" (Sure, I could have put an asterisk over the "i" to retain the G rating, but we're adults here; it's not like you wouldn't have known what it was.)

I won't deny that even after I alerted Mark to the situation (and we decided to try again on Wednesday night) and I proceeded to get out the jack and tools and spare tire that more vulgarity escaped my lips. Some of it was undoubtedly, by some standards, blasphemous. Hey, no one was within earshot. Say what you will about profanity, but there is something innately cathartic about it. Before I even had the lugnuts off, I had already sublimated the urge to flip off the sky and was considering how, all things considered, it could have been much worse. The tire didn't blow out; I was able to get off the freeway and put on the spare on a quiet side street; it didn't happen two days ago when it was raining profusely (it was merely really windy); I was still close to home so having to return going no faster than 30 MPH would not take too long; I didn't have to get a new tire right away since I take the train to and from work during the week; the spare was even inflated. Sure, I just had a flat on the left rear tire a month and a half ago (just before my birthday--hmm... I hope this flat tire thing isn't becoming another birthday tradition...), but in the grand scheme of the universe, I'd still been very lucky.

Besides, if Fate/God/whatever was really trying to mess with me, She/He/it was really only throwing minor inconveniences at me. I ask you: Is this the sort of reaction a pessimist would have? Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, 20 minutes later the spare was on, the flat tire (with a deep gash along the outside--not on the tread, but the round part) and jack and tools were put away, and I was on my way back home. Still, I hadn't eaten, and so instead of chicken parmesan, I had chili dogs from Weinerschnitzel. And by culinary standards, that may not have been much of a step down (depending on whether you consider O.G. to be semi-fine dining or homogenized pseudo-Italian food). If nothing else, Olive Garden distinguishes itself by not having a drive-thru.

So here's the question: If Fate/God/whatever really did hate you, how would you know it? Would She/He/it just smite you and be done with it, or would She/He/it toy with you like a cat with a mouse, dragging it out as long as possible?

As long as She/He/it keeps it interesting and keeps providing me with material, I don't really care if this is tokens of love or of hate or of just random chance... as long as I get have dinner with Mark eventually.


p.s. You were expecting something about St. Patrick's Day. Admit it. Predictability is the death of art.

p.p.s. Hey, this is kind of like art.

p.p.p.s. My friend Kathie is going in for surgery for uterine cancer on Thursday (and I have the nerve to be upset about a lousy flat tire--I know). She wouldn't want me to bring things down with anything sappy, so I'll pass along this plea from her: "Please send out good thoughts for me - to whichever deity you choose, God, Buddha, Ala, Ganesha, Ra, Zeus, [Henry Rollins]; hedging all bets here." You don't have to not buy gas or send this to 10 of your friends, just think positive thoughts for someone who deserves them. Thanks.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Finally--the impromptu poll results... revealed!

[email composed 22 February 2003]

After I sent out a poll to a sampling of my friends asking for their opinions regarding whether I was an optimist or a pessimist, I figured some of you may have been curious about the results. As to not skew the results one way or the other, I offer the actual responses (edited down to the specific answer). They run the gamut. This was not a surprise to me.

The "good":
- Without a doubt, an incurable optimist, with a sunny disposition and a deep spirituality
- optimist when it really comes down to it
- Pessimistly Optimistic
- a sarcastic optimist
- optimist disguised as a pessimist
- optimist
- pessimistically an optimist

The "not so good":
- pessimist
- pessimist with optimistic tendencies
- pessimist
- outwardly a pessimist, but I sense a bit of optimist deep down that tries to escape occasionally
- Pessimist
- Pessimist

The "neither/both":
- pessimist--but not really; I actually don't think you are either
- Neither
- both optimistic and pessimistic
- show[s] the tendencies of both [this one came with a long explanation]
- at times both, which I guess makes him a realist
- realist...if I had to pick either or I would go for optimist

And the best ones:
- As long as your happy with who you are, who cares what other people think?
- hmmmm...who cares?

Everyone is free to reach his or her conclusion from this. I certainly won't offer an argument one way or the other. All I can say is: I cannot help but interpret this as an indication that I am not one who is easily pigeon-holed into convenient categories. That pleases me greatly. Whether or not it should is another story.

Thanks to those of you who participated in the poll, and thanks for your continued tolerance of my obfuscating existence.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

To thine own self be true, if it workest for thou

 [another Doug-ression kinda thing composed 9 February 2003]

I have something of a confession to make: I don't wish for anything when blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Oh sure, I pause momentarily whilst the flames burn to allow something to come to mind, but nothing does. It's not that I have no wishes, it's just that I know better than to actually wish for them; Fate and I don't have that kind of relationship, where She would respond to a direct conscious plea. Besides, we know that my raw desires tend to be impractical, imprudent, and/or impudent, and are best served to me in a refined state.

Whether "Fate" refers to the Western world's sense of God or the Eastern world's sense of destiny or merely my unconscious mind exerting its influence over the universe is something I cannot say definitively (and presumably I never will). Does it matter? Must the exact nature of reality be clarified and quantified and narrowed to one particular paradigm? I figure as long as the arrangement more or less works out for my ultimate benefit it matters little whether the "true" nature of the situation is any, all, or none of the above; the labor pains we can ignore if the baby turns out okay.

Deconstructing the act, I must admit I don't believe there is anything more special about a wish made at that moment when the candles sit lit atop a cake than a wish made at another time. It's somewhat daunting to think that I get only one good wish each year on or around the anniversary of my birth. Such stipulations put a great deal of pressure on the decision of precisely what to wish for, and certainly cause it to warrant more than a moment's consideration. Even ignoring my trepidation regarding Fate's whims, a careful analysis of the magnitude of the act would surely result in me being stymied in trying to narrow the field to just one wish. If I fail to blow out all the candles in a single breath, the whole deal's off--the pressure only builds.

And of course, while this would be going on, everyone gathered around who just sang "Happy Birthday" to me would be waiting impatiently, the candles would be melting wax all over the frosting, and the general festive mood would be dampened. (I grasp that the party guests wish me well only to the extent that I keep my neuroses in check and don't allow them to delay the slicing and distribution of the cake, and I respect that.) This obviously serves to reinforce the notion of feigning the wish, keeping up appearances, giving the people what they want, and just blowing out the candles. This also increases the likelihood that there will be a party the next year.

Besides (if I may be allowed a bit of sentimentality), the fact that anybody cares enough to throw me a party is more wish fulfillment than I need. It's not that I have hideous self-esteem and cannot believe people like me--of course, they do; I'm pretty hot stuff--but I never lose sight of how wonderful that is. And hey, wishes or no wishes, there's cake.

I know wishes come true every day. Usually I don't realize it until much later, and most of the time I didn't even actively wish for them; I've learned to live with that. It's not blind faith. It's acknowledging that there's a time to struggle against the tide and a time to float downstream. It's based on years of analyzing what has and hasn't worked to get me what is best for me, and to that extent it is a logical and pragmatic method of dealing with the chaotic shared experience we call life. Maybe this is a stupid, lazy outlook and completely impossible to justify. Of course, is it any more idiotic than expecting the mere act of extinguishing flames with one's breath to change the course of events in the universe?

Happy birthday to you. Whenever it is.


"Who said that every wish
would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of it,
and someone believed it;
look what it's done so far."
- from "The Rainbow Connection", written by Paul Williams, sung by a frog


Remember: In the context of Hamlet, "To thine own self be true" did not mean one should always adhere to one's principles; rather, Polonius meant one should always look out for numero uno, first and foremost. (Thanks to Michael Macrone's Brush Up Your Shakespeare! for clarifying that for me.)


My friend Mandy's dutiful research has revealed this week, February 10 - 16, 2003, is apparently Random Acts of Kindness Week, as decreed by whomever it is that determines these things. Make up your own joke about the impending war regarding this.


Indicia of sorts, for the uninitiated: The Doug-ression (besides being a hideous play on words) is a rambling diatribe/confession/pseudo-personal essay that Doug inexplicably feels inspired to compose occasionally, and then to inflict upon those with e-mail. (To protect the recipients' e-mail addresses, he sends them out BCC.) The ideas are 100% Doug's (to the extent that any idea can be "original" in this post-post-modern age), for better or for worse. Apologies if you were expecting another forwarded joke about how awful Mondays are.

If you'd rather not receive these things from him in the future, just wait for your next birthday and wish for Doug to lose your e-mail address when everybody finishes singing. Make sure you blow you really hard.

Forwarding this to 10 of your friends won't bring you good luck. Unless you believe it will.