Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Um, Okay...

Snippet of conversation I had with one of my officemates the other day. Key fact to keep in mind, for some reason people find me eminently approachable and get too comfortable with me, too quickly. Which, if you saw me walking down the street, would strike you as surprising or ironic.

Office Guy (comes into Joseph K's office): What's up?

Joseph K: Man. You notice how many women in the office are wearing flip-flops these days?

Office Guy: Not really.

Joseph K: Really? All that clip-clapping from their shoes? It's driving me nuts. Its like I work in a barn filled a bunch of Clydesdale horses or something. Flip-flops should be banned. Along with double-breasted suits, which are only appropriate when worn by flim-flam artists and mafiosos.

Office Guy: Crazy, man. Speaking of weird, you remember how we were talking about the Michael Jackson trial? How twisted it was that parents let their kids sleep in the same bed as him.

Joseph K: Yeah.

Office Guy: Well, get this, it all came home last night. You know, when kids are really young, they can't do things for themselves. I mean take my four year old, she really can't take a shower by herself, so, as my parents did up to a certain age, I'll let her shower with me.

Joseph K:

Office Guy: As long as they are clueless, it's fine. But, the same day the Jackson verdict came down, it stopped being fine. I had just come out of the shower, she hadn't joined me. But, you know, daddy had just got out of the shower.

Joseph K:

Office Guy: So, I was toweling off, and my daughter points at me and says, "Look Daddy is naked, handsome man." On one level, it was cute, but that was it, you know. Clearly, we'd reached a point where her showering with Daddy or seeing Daddy naked was no longer ok.

Joseph K:

Office Guy: Same day as the Jackson verdict. Really weird, huh? Anyway, you look like you're busy.

Jospeh K:

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Unbreaking News

I don't know if anyone cares, given the yeoman's job Joseph K does in my absence, but I feel like I ought to post something, since I haven't put up a word in weeks. I guess it's easy to be lazy when you have a blogger-in-crime who is more dedicated to the task at hand and will ensure that the blog doesn't stagnate. And, let me tell you, when I have the opportunity to be lazy, I embrace it enthusiastically. Have couch, will sit.

Words are like water for me. Once the faucet is open, they will continue to flow. But once I've twisted the knob and turned the faucet off, it takes effort -- unlaziness -- to get them to flow again. So here's my effort to open the faucet a little, by offering up a few words.

I wish I had something really exciting to report about my life in the last few weeks. But I don't. In fact, what seems to be happening, slowly but surely, is that I am turning into an old fart. I find myself doing things that, ten years ago, would have provoked spittle and derision from me. Like playing golf. I own golf shoes and everything. At least I play only on ratty, egalitarian public courses. And at least Joseph K is almost always at my side, mitigating the guilt I have about playing one of the most classist and utterly excessive games invented by humankind.

Other than paying money to whack a small white ball around on a large amount of wasted green space, I'm watching baseball and sitting on my ass.

Carry on. Hopefully I'll share something more interesting than the foregoing sometime soon.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Psychiatry Versus Scientology

A heavy irony has descended upon Tom Cruise. He has recently carried flag for his scientologist brethren and sistren in their fight against psychiatry. Meanwhile, he has clearly descended into madness. He was recently seen jumping around like a monkey on Oprah's show while babbling on about his young love Katie Holmes and biting Matt Lauer's head off on a Today interview. I don't think I've ever seen anyone who needs a strong dose of Lithium more than Cruise.

Then again, I am not a huge supporter of psychiatry. An indomitable spirit and a healthy sense of repression and denial are far more effective balm for the troubled soul than drugs in my opinion. That and booze. You may be asking yourself, "Why should I care what Joseph K thinks about psychiatry?" And, I would say that you are serving your overlords at Merck very well.

Of course being allied with scientologists has its drawbacks. There is their belief that through the proper steps, they become "thetans" who can control matter, energy, space, time and thought. Oh, and there is their belief that a galactic overlord named Xenu dumped trillions of alien carcasses (killed to control galactic overpopulation) on Earth (aka Teegeeack) whose spirits are kept here by electronic traps in the atmosphere. Xenu brainwashed the spirits (and us since they attached themselves to us) into believing a whole bunch of crap (e.g., other religions) and was about to do worse until he was captured by the officers of the Macarb Confederation.

Who better to be at the forefront of the fight against the "pseudoscience" (as Cruise put it) of psychiatry? Hey, at least my scientologist allies are keeping it real. Or drug free anyway.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Roots Of Thought

I recently read Freakanomics (see related blog link to the right), and one of the issues the authors explored was extent to which parenting can affect child development. After analyzing a large amount of data, they concluded that playing classical music, reading to your kids, etc. probably has a negligible effect on their development. Rather -- according to their analysis -- the key determinent is genetics. Smart parents breed smart kids. Dumb parents breed dumb kids. Smart people who adopt kids birthed of dumb parents...well, at least someone loves these kids. If this is all true, my kids will be fucked.

But, is that really true? Leaving aside the racial/eugenics undertones of some of their analysis, the authors certainly analyze a vast amount of data, but there is a certain conceit to their virtually religious adherence to the notion that data can answer the question of what makes a child apt to be smart. Data is infinitely manipulateable depending on how creative you want to be. Moreover, this conceit rests on a fallacy (which in turn rests on a bed of lettuce): that intellectual development is static and immutable. Does 2 coming together with 2 make 4? Or is 4 the coming together of 2 and 2? Does 2 have to come before 2 in becoming 4? If you think so, what to make of the coming together of 3 and 1? Or 1 and 3? It probably depends on who Sesame Street is sponsoring on a given week.

So, the question is whether we are hardwired at birth to process information in complex ways or whether we can train our brains to process information in complex ways, at least more deductively (which is probably more productive).

IQ, in my opinion, is derivative of the way we think as much as the amount of brain mass at our disposal. Most problems are knots. Untieing the most complex knots are not the providence of special breed or special stock.

More often than not, we don't think far enough. I do not agree with Noam Chomsky on much -- which I am sure troubles him greatly -- but I do agree with him on one key notion: intentions are irrelevant to judging the morality or rightness of actions, only consequences matter.

But, I find that mostly intentions, not consequences, drive many people's decision-making/thought processes. It is kind of a narcissistic, two-deminsional way of thinking at some level: what you do is based on how you think you'll be perceived for doing it. Many people do things because they feel they are doing the right thing -- mostly right for themselves -- without contemplating the consequences. A lot of things that we do that are "dumb," could probably be avoidable if we spent a few seconds mapping out the consequences.

But, then again, can you blame an inductive, intention-based actor if they are acting in service of an honorable principle? What of religion, then. Nevertheless, I believe that intellect can be shaped effectively by changing reactive thought to proactive thought. Call me naive. But, rest assured I have considered the possibility.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

AFI Top 100 Movie Quotes

The American Film Institute released its list of the top 100 movie quotes of all time. My favorites from the list in no particular order:

1. “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small,” “Sunset Blvd.,” 1950. (In retrospect, a really creepy movie).

2. "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know,” “Animal Crackers,” 1930.

3. “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”, “Dr. Strangelove,” 1964.

4. “No wire hangers, ever!”, “Mommie Dearest,” 1981. (You kind of have to watch it to grasp the menace).

5. “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown,” “Chinatown,” 1974. (In my opinion, second greatest film of all time).

6. “Soylent Green is people!”, “Soylent Green,” 1973. (And sinfully tasty).

7. “Attica! Attica!”, “Dog Day Afternoon,” 1975. (No. 8 on Joseph K's list of all-time best films).

My favorite movie quote doesn't appear on the AFI list. It comes from what I consider to be the best film ever made:

"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock," "The Third Man," 1949.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Mostly True Tale For Father's Day

"I want you to mow the grass this weekend. No excuses." My father had his back to me, engrossed in something on his computer. When he wanted something, he tended to talk in short, declarative sentences through the back of his head. It worked.

Normally. "You know what, I am tired of you riding me. I’ll get to it when I’ll get to it. Ok?"

My naked insolence seemed to paralyze him at first. Eventually, the swivel chair slowly spun 180 degrees around until he was facing me. Like his parents and peers, my father had used corporal punishment when we were growing up. He stopped when I was 10 or so, but you knew it might resurface under the right circumstances. Even though I was 19 at the time, this kind of insolence probably qualified as the right circumstance.

Of course, being 19 gave me advantages if he suddenly went down that path. First, he was almost three times my age. Second, my father and I are the same height, but when it comes to builds, I had more muscle mass and outweighed him by about 15 pounds. I had no doubt that I was significantly stronger than him. Third, I was faster than him. Fourth, I knew Uechi Ryn karate, a non-competition form of karate that involves a lot of debilitating kidney punching and kneecap kicking. All facts pointed to me destroying him in a normal fight. Yet, he possessed one key advantage: I utterly incapable of actually striking my father. This tended to make any potential fight between us decidedly one-sided.

"Look, wait," I said holding up my hand. "I can explain. Things have been really stressful."

"Did you say ‘shit?’" my father finally asked. When he got really mad at me, he had this habit of imagining me doing or saying something even worse. I once pushed my sister when I was eight. He saw it and spent the next hour chasing me around the house yelling, "Stop running and take your punishment for calling your sister a bitch!" Surprisingly, my sister – my arch-nemesis at the time – actually chased him as he chased me saying, "Daddy, he didn’t call me a bitch!" It didn’t stop him.

"What? No. Wait. Let me explain."


The weight came down on me one day earlier. I was back from college for the summer in between my sophomore and junior years. My days consisted of screwing around for a month after the spring semester ended before heading to Europe and Africa for a couple of months. It was a hard life I led back then.

Spent most of my time with my girlfriend at the time, Moona. Despite her better judgment, she loved me. Loved me so much that she used to write me a letter or call every day. Loved me so much she wrote poetry about me. Loved me so much that she got a tattoo on her ankle of some sort of Chinese letter that approximated my name. Loved me so much that she was clearly mad.

I met her the previous semester at a party, and we spent that first night together. The next morning, she told me it had been a magical evening. I thought it might have been more magical if she had actually slept with me that first night. Call me a sentimentalist. She was going to college in Baltimore, I was at a school in the South; we began a long distance relationship.

After that night, the letters came. They were heartfelt, rambling missives about how she was doing, how she felt about me, how she dreamt about a future together with me. It was sweet. I used to think about those letters sometimes as I laid in my bed at night. They made for lovely thoughts. Except when those thoughts would be ruined by the loud snoring of Sarah, a woman I slept with from time to time that semester.

Moona and I had two radically different understandings of what a long distance relationship was. She thought that we were soulmates drawn together by kismet, tragically separated by space. That’s what one card she sent me said anyway. The card had puppies on it, so I thought that surely she wasn’t being serious. On the other hand, I thought a long distance relationship meant I talked to her on the phone every so often and slept with when she was in town.

Despite this wide gulf between our perceptions of what we had, it all worked because of the distance. She spent her evenings writing me long missives about how she felt about me. I spent most evenings reading, writing, drinking, talking rubbish with my friends and occasionally sleeping with other women. We had our separate, yet together lives. There was a nice symmetry to it so long as it stayed the same.

But, it didn’t stay the same. The semester ended, and I moved back to D.C. for at least part of the summer. Baltimore is only an hour drive from D.C., and suddenly she was everywhere. She expected me to spend all my free time with her. And so she did. She asked me to love her, and then it was no longer a voice on the phone or a fleeting presence on a spring weekend.

The night before the incident with my father, Moona and I had been kissing on the Georgetown waterfront. Kissing wasn’t quite what it was. We were mashing out lips together in a slow burn. I never told women how I wanted them to kiss me. It was better to be easy and go along with it. The only bad kisses you had were the ones you had with your fist as your daydream away your loneliness.

"You know why I love you so much," she said caressing the back of my head.

"Its gotta be the shoes." I was wearing some kickass Pumas.

She shook her head.

"Is it the fact that I was the class grammarian in 9th grade?"

She punched me lightly on the arm. "No, silly. It’s because you remind me so much of my father."

I don’t think I have ever met anyone who loved her father as much as Moona did. She had told me about the tender, close relationship they had many times before, and it made you feel like you were basking in the sunny side of the human condition. I always admired men as wonderful as her father, in the same way that I – who can’t draw stick figures consistently – admire Dali.

Her father died two years before. I don’t even know how, but it didn’t matter. The loss of him had ravaged her. She had only a year before begun to piece herself together. Building around the void left by his death. She spoke to me late into many an evening about her longing to feel whole again. Not wanting just to build around the void, but to fill it in.

She thought I could fill the void.

It was tragic really. I was shallow, fickle, two-dimensional existentialist. I knew it. I actually reveled in it. Why? Not enough time in the world to ponder that. I was just not ready for expectations.

And here she was thinking she saw echoes of a great man in me.

I kissed her on the forehead and held her close to me. I owed her the truth. Free on the riddles and nuances of life. Just say it. Whatever "it" was. That it was all overwhelming to me? That I wasn’t ready or probably capable of giving her what she was looking for? What do people say when they want to tell people the truth of how they feel? Do people really do that?

We started walking back to my car. We passed a homeless person who has a sign that read "Homeless. Hungry. God Bless. Diabetic!!!"

I scratched my chin with my free hand and said, "I wonder why or how he decided in what order to list the things on his sign. Or that three exclamation points made more sense than one."

"Let’s go to your brother’s apartment and fuck," she said, her huge eyes shining, blinding.

Brother was out touring with his band, and we had his place to ourselves. She implored me to touch her in the car on the way over to his place. I touched her face; she pressed her face against my hand.

A couple of hours later. "Why are you stopping? You can’t stop. No, you can’t now." We were both sweating profusely from every pore, all exposed in the heavy air of the air-cooled bedroom.
If she was right, in some way, to her, I was her father. Who is doing, well, this. "I’m just taking a break. Want to slow it down, you know."

"You can’t stop right now. It’s ok. We’ll both get there. That’s it," she cooed, pressing her hips forward.

I laid on my back a few hours later, awake and staring at the ceiling. Her arm was draped over my chest, and clearly everything was fucked.

Over time, my annoyed ambivalence would seep out, and the pain and disappointment would end us. The question was whether I should let it bleed or cut it out. Someone else’s heavy heart.


So I explained the weight, my father problems, to my father. Actually, the story I told my father left out a lot of the details.

"Look, there’s been a lot weighing on my mind. I’ve been having some issues with my girlfriend. And I am going to have to break up with her. But, it’s going to hurt her psychologically. I don’t know what to do."

My father stared at me as if I had taking a shit on the living room rug. Then, he stroked his chin and got up. I thought, ok, I can’t punch back, but I can block. If I remember correctly, he’s got a good left cross.

Then he smiled. He thought I was asking for help.

My father hadn’t exactly given me stellar advice about women. I remember once, when I was 12, asking him when he’d tell me about sex. He said he’d tell me when I was 18. I lost my virginity before then. When someone told me I sucked in bed, I’d just shrug my shoulders and say that I’m still waiting to get the word on sex from my father. When I finally turned 18, I jokingly said to my father, "So, now I’m 18. You said you were going to tell me about sex." "Get your mind out of the gutter and pick up some mulch for the garden."

He walked behind me and over to his bookshelf. He perused the shelves. He finally pulled out a volume.

"This may help your friend," he said, handing the book to me and sitting down.

I looked down at it. "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?"

"Yes, perhaps if she changed her habits, she might be happier."

"And more effective," I added.

"Yes, and more effective."

"Thanks, Dad."


Thursday, June 16, 2005


Crabbers working the Chesapeake Bay recently caught a crustacean bilateral gynandromorph, i.e., a hermaphrodite crab. Apparently, the right side of the crab is female and the left side of the crab is male. Kind of like those hermaphrodite carnival freaks, with some of the features from the Lobster Woman thrown in. Let's call him/her Hermie.

Scientists studying Hermie were curious to know his/her mating habits, e.g., will s/he mate with himself/herself or with others? It got me wondering about human hermaphrodites. Apparently, hermaphrodism happens far more frequently than I thought, apparently once every 250,000 pregnancies (which may provide a biological explanation some things I noticed about the mail "guy" on my floor). Some further research taught me that hermaphrodites tend to have fertility problems.

The latter fact is too bad. I would think that as organisms evolve, they would trend towards self-replication. If humans could mate with themselves (I guess you wouldn't call it "mate") you would think that the chance of species self-perpetuation would be much higher.

Conception would surely be aided by the fact that you could "mate" with yourself 10, maybe 15 times a day. Maybe even sitting right at your desk at work. Human relationships would be really about emotional, spiritual interaction, and an occasional chance to cheat on yourself.

Of course, I have to be careful here, because if self-reproduction was considered the height of evolution, it'd mean that amoeba are supreme organisms. Seeing as I might have just swallowed one in my last breath, that is a scary thought.

Anyway, scientists studying Hermie did some experiments to see his/her mating habits. They theorized at first that Hermie may have mated with himself/herself. Nonethless, they dropped a female heat?...into Hermie's tank. First, Hermie seemed like the male in him was ready to get down with her. Then, he lost interest. A day later, Hermie ate half of the female crab.

Hermie, you go girl! Let me explain: Hermie's feminine side emerged. Female crabs will eat rival female crabs, particularly after the rival female has shed its shell.

Hermie taught me that being a hermaphrodite crab is not as much fun as it sounds. Getting laid is apparently a tough, confusing experience for Hermie. But, on the bright side, it can result in a delicious meal.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Quotes Of The Week

1. "I could kill drug dealers and steal their money to make a living, but I am trying to take my life in a new direction." Mike Tyson after losing Saturday's bout with Kevin McBride, pondering his career after boxing.

2. "Another article on Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. Didn't they do some shit on them last year? That shit is not crunk." A friend of mine, commenting on yet another Stein-Toklas piece in this week's New Yorker.

3. "It's like Earth's bigger cousin." Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington about a newly discovered extrasolar planet. The new planet 7.5 times Earth's size with a surface temperature of about 400 to 750 degrees Farenheit. It is just like Earth the way broccoli is like mutton.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Golfing With Celebs

Sort of. Spiral Stairs, our friend P and I went golfing this morning at Langston Golf Course in Northeast D.C. We were matched up with this guy who introduced himself as "Bob." Turns out "Bob" was Bobby Dandridge, one of the key players on the fantastic Washington Bullets teams of the late 1970s (won the title in 1977-78). I had never heard of him before today (not a huge basketball fan or basketball history buff), but apparently he was a really good player, known for his scoring and sweet jump shot. He averaged 18.5 points per game in a 13 year career and was a 4 time all-star. To give you some idea how good that is, I averaged 0.0 points per game and have no all star appearances in my NBA non-career.

Had it not been for the starter telling us who he was, we would have had no idea. He was incredibly nice, humble and unpretentious. He also had this ability to talk just about anything with us, complete strangers. It is a skill I totally lack. I always think people will have zero interest in any topic I might bring up other than the weather. So I talk about the weather a lot.

But, everything he brought up seemed interesting, or at least he made it sound interesting. Whether he was talking about his wife and kids, or his job, or women. At one point, he mentioned that he was going to the Tyson fight tonight and how he was more interested in a the undercard which features a Laila Ali bout. He said, "Man, I am looking to that fight. She's tough and fine. So fine that I hope whoever she's boxing doesn't get her in the face. In fact, if it looks like the other boxer is about to bruise up her face, I might have to jump in and stop the fight." I asked him,"You got close enough seats?" He said,"Close enough. I've still got some quickness."

On the par 3 4th hole, I stuck the green off the tee. Bobby said,"Nice shot." This guy has probably heard the same two words a thousand times. This may be the fourth time in my short golf career that I'd actually earned the accolade. Of course, we were constantly saying that to him because he was a pretty good golfer.

He only played 9 holes with us, then headed to the club house to have some breakfast and go hang with some old friends. All in all, a nice time. Almost as fun as when I played cribbage with Michael J. Fox (I let him win).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Into Reagan

One of the two Washington D.C. airports is named Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. It used to be named simply Washington National Airport. That was until the Reagamaniacs at the Ronald Reagan Heritage Project pulled some Congressional strings and got the airport renamed as part of their "Everything Reagan" project. I refuse to call it that, continuing to refer to it as "National Airport."

If you are a liberal, or even a moderate, the flight from that airport to Houston is your ideological nightmare. You take off at "Ronald Reagan National Airport" and land at "George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport." Which is what I had to do today for an afternoon meeting in downtown Houston.

What's interesting is that I got a flavor of the politics of the flight crews based on how they referred to the airports. On the way into Houston this morning, the pilot called the airport "Houston Intercontinental Airport." He referred to the airport numerous times, and never once mentioned Bush senior's name.

Conversely, on the way back to D.C. tonight, the pilot kept calling it "Reagan Airport" or various other Reaganish iterations. My favorite moment was when he said, "Our flight time into Reagan will be two hours and forty-two minutes." I was wondering of this was some sort of "Being John Malkovich" moment, where we take off in Houston and become Reagan for a short while. I doubt that being Ronald Reagan would be as interesting as being John Malkovich. Probably a lot of riding horses and forgetting shit.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Aid For Africa

Today, Tony Blair met with Bush to press the United States to buy into a British debt-relief plan for struggling African economies. The British plan basically involves (1) the relief of existing debt and (2) additional aid via a new international organization that would raise money by borrowing against pledges from developed countries. Overall, it would reduce debt and increase African aid spending from $25 billion a year to $50 billion a year by 2015.

When first presented the British plan, the Bush administration rejected it, claiming some nonsense about it being incongruent with the Congressional appropriations process. Today, however, the Brits and Americans signaled that they appear to be close to reaching some sort of African aid plan (an additional $670 million in U.S. spending on famine relief and some sort of debt relief).

Last year, the United States about $1 billion on aid to Africa, an amount that included both funds to fight AIDs and development funds (set to go up though even without the Blair pressure). In 2004, the total amount of U.S. discretionary spending was $787 billion. Overall U.S. foreign aid totaled about $20 billion. In other words, U.S. aid to Africa in 2004 was about 0.1% of total U.S. discretionary spending and 5% of overall American foreign aid spending. Overall, Africans make up about 13% (800 million) of the world's population. In 36 African nations, anywhere from 22% to 86% of the population lives below the poverty line. There are 54 countries in Africa. This widescale poverty is the principal reason why the child mortality rate in Africa is 160 per 1000 births, while the child mortality rate is about 20 per 1000 births in Europe.

In 2004, the US spent $70 billion on the war in Iraq (that is for one year, total spending is significantly higher); a recent Washington Post poll showed that 6 in 10 Americans think it was not worth fighting the Iraq War. Bush has been pushing for a $12 billion increase in NASA funding over the next five years to begin a program to go back to the moon, and eventually Mars.

In 2005, budget bills sought $100,000 in funding for the Tiger Woods foundation (he clearly needed the government help having only made $286,000 when he came in third at this past weekend's "The Memorial" golf tournament); $1 million for the B.B. King Museum foundation; $150,000 for the Coca Cola Science Center; and $1.7 million for the University of Missouri to research shiitake mushroom cultivation.

The problem with budgeting for more, meaningful African aid is that (1) it may help people who would directly benefit from and appreciate the expenditure, and (2) it is for an insufficiently absurd purpose. Perhaps, Zambia (with an estimated 86% of its population living below the poverty line) can wriggle some of that space money for development projects if it agrees to have some of its citizens man the mission to Mars?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Solitary Path

I have been feeling some kind of spiritual these days and was thinking about how I think churches are a fine, but unnecessary and dangerous way to worship. Giving man dominion over the gateway to the divine seems corrupting and ultimately perverse. Some priest/ministers/reverands are nothing more than carnival barkers.

I think we take separate paths to get to the same place, hopefully. I read this quote which puts it perfectly:

"I have felt myself to be heterogenous. This pain, my heterogeneity, I have understood as my relation to God."

-- Soren Kierkegaard

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Mascots And Me

Last night, Spiral Stairs, my friend M* and I went to the Washington Nationals game, and I almost came to blows with the Nationals mascot Screech, a fat six foot tall eagle. Or to be more precise, I almost lept over the railing and choked that sonofabitch.

Some background is probably in order. I have been told that I have a pathological dislike of team mascots. At least the guys in suits who dance around trying to fire up fans at a sporting event. I find them annoying, provocative, unfunny and distracting. Their gestures and dances are more taunting than inspiring. I especially hate G-Wiz, the Washington Wizards mascot. Aside from stumbling around the arena like a drunk flailing his undersized arms, this pervert spends most of his time feeling up the Washington Wizards dance team.

So last night, we were enjoying the game, minding our business when Screech came by and started flirting with this woman in front of us, kissing her, cupping her breasts, who knows. For some reason, the geeks who put on these absurd outfits think that they are somehow entitled to fondle women. Even more troubling is that these women seem to agree.

Anyway, I was getting more and more annoyed, and for some reason, Screech started shaking and convulsing. I said out loud,"I think Screech is jonsing for some shit. What is it you are on, Screech? The horse, smack? Or maybe meth? Yeah, its meth isn't it." There were many kids around, but its better they learn now the truth about this fat bird trying to win their affection.

Suddenly, Screech looked at me and point his finger at me. This was clearly an act of provocation. If they were selling beer in glass bottles, this is where I would have broken off the end of it, and gone at Screech. But the beer bottles we had were plastic. Oh yeah, did I mention I'd had a fair amount of beer at this point?

Then I realized what Screech was up to. He wanted me to leap that fence. He'd be fine, in that padded stupid suit. I on the other hand would be quickly apprehended by the security staff and thrown in jail. It was some sort of rope-a-dope shit. I was about to tell him to meet me in the parking lot, but as I turned to throw down that gauntlet, he'd already moved on to some other section at the ballpark. "Coward," I mutter under my breath.

* M posed a question last night that perhaps you, our readers, can answer: can you get hepatitis from eating bad mussels?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Terrible Night

I'm not much of a God-fearer, mostly because I'm not much of a God-believer. I generally call myself an agnostic with a proviso: My agnosticism is not based on "uncertainty" about whether there is a God. My agnosticism is based on the belief that, if there is something to which the label "God" could be applied, it is something that absolutely cannot be anthropomorphized or otherwise made comprehensible in any way to our feeble brains. A person talking about God is like a dog talking about calculus. And the idea that there exists a God that micromanages the lives of people is just absurd to me. If God is carrying out any plans, they are blueprints so grand in scale that all of humanity is an immeasurably tiny speck.

Last night confirmed for me that, if I'm not right, then God is a terrible, terrible monster.

At about midnight, my wife received news that her friend and former co-worker, whom I'll call Leslie, had gone into labor. My wife has been waiting for that moment for months. In our childless, aging household, the absence of a baby grows more and more conspicuous each day, especially for my wife. When she encounters baby-hood in the lives of friends and families, she embraces it enthusiastically. For months, my wife has been talking about how great it will be to babysit Leslie's baby. There has been, no doubt, some vicarious family-building going on in the fantastical mental world my wife and I share. Two weeks ago, my wife hosted Leslie's baby shower at our house. I even helped with the decorations, coating every household surface in pink and green balloons and ribbons. I made myself scarce for the actual shower, but when I came back, my wife gave me an exuberant report. One of the primary activities was making personalized "onesies" for the baby. The shower attendees created about 10 of them, colorful and bearing cheerful greetings for the baby. They drank wine and played bawdy games. It was all hope, no fear.

I was asleep when my wife got the news that Leslie had gone into labor. She said she and another friend were going to go to the hospital so they could see the baby after it was delivered. Through my sleep-drool, I told her to drive safely and hoped that labor wouldn't turn into a 20-hour ordeal. She dashed off and I fell back asleep.

About an hour-and-a-half later, she came back. I was vaguely aware that not much time had passed; certainly not enough time for a complete labor cycle and celebration with the mom and baby. My wife's face was stricken, not glowing. "What happened?" I asked.

"The baby died."

I couldn't speak. I just stared. My sleepy brain spooled into action, but not quickly enough to cope with the horror it had just been dealt.

My wife told me what had happened. "We got to the hospital, and the nurses wouldn't let us see Leslie. I could tell something was wrong. The nurse looked terrible. We asked what was going on. She said they couldn't tell us, because it was confidential. But the nurse said Leslie was okay. We asked about the baby, and the nurse said she couldn't tell us. She said Leslie didn't want to see anyone though. I had brought the onesies with me to give to Leslie. The nurse took a blanket from us to give to Leslie, but said 'I'm not going to take the onesies.' She was very careful with her words."

Although the nurse hadn't said what happened, it was clear.

Today, what was unsaid yesterday outside the confines of our bedroom has been said. The baby died. The baby was active and acrobatic in the womb, and her umbilical cord became tied in a knot during the first stages of labor. The knot prevented oxygen from getting to her, and she suffocated before delivery. Leslie gave birth to her daughter and she and her husband held her in their arms, but it was far too late. A few hours earlier, their baby was twirling and dancing in a sea of amniotic fluid. Now they held her lifeless body. What was sure to be a life full of joy, heartbreak, angst, and love was snuffed out at the earliest possible moment. Simply gone.

How can this world be anything other than a churning bucket of chaos, sending drops of evil sloshing over the side and into our lives at random intervals? There is good in the bucket too. But anything can spill out when you jostle it.