Friday, December 07, 2001

A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

Something fairly interesting once happened to me on a December 7. A milestone, I suppose. No, I'm not telling you what it is because that would be more information than you needed.

It was certainly more information than Kubi needed the time I, heaven only knows why, actually told him the story. And of course because of who I am, my telling the story made prominent mention of the month and day, which led Kubi immediately to exclaim, "a date that will life in infamy!"

Oh wait, it's coming back to me. (The time I told Kubi the story, not the story itself, which is pretty indelible.) We were eating lunch at Wa Ha Ka (purveyors of allegedly Oaxacan cuisine). It was a day of bawdy conversation because in addition to this story, Kubi got to retell his favorite Margaret Thatcher story--actually, a pop culture reference, although I forget from where.

"She makes love the way she makes war... with an iron fist! ('OWWWWWW!!!')"

The best part of my December 7 memory isn't even that which makes the day special, but rather that I successfully escaped being forced to watch The Mirror Has Two Faces. I was so relieved not to be subjected to that drivel that anything else that happened that day was icing on the cake.

(We don't talk about her. Saw her at this high school honor student thing in Las Vegas once and she was every bit the bitch you've heard about. Make fun of her, naturally, since she inspired the best South Park episode ever, but in general avoid talking about her.)

"Disintegration is the best album ever!"
"Robert Smith kicks ass!"

June 2000

(non quiz-bowl portion)

On the theme of work sucking, June 2000 bit the big one. It was my first real crunchtime as a developer (I guess that March project was sort of real) and what I resented about it was that it was an internal project. That is to say, in the grand scheme of things it didn't hurt our company's bottom line one iota if we screwed it up, so what was the point of working us like dogs? To simulate "game conditions," I guess. Blah.

I was unhappy. My unhappiness was palpable. More to the point I was angry. I believe R. used the term "truculent" in an email. I was overworked and underpaid (egregiously so, relative to the figures bandied about in the previous blog entry) and it looked for all the world like it was time for me to find something other than software development to do with life.

R. was in Pittsburgh at the time, on a project, but when he came home for the July 4 weekend he and I had the relevent conversation. I wanted to give it a shot; luckily things would click later in the year with our first big client, also known as the one that had practically our whole company staffed for it over the winter, also known as the only success story in the history of the campsix incubator, also known as the one I develop for to this day.

Anger is a difficult animal. I am not an angry young man, I don't write well enough. I'm certainly not an angry black man. (On the off chance that new readers exist, I'm white. A few weeks ago, either a judge or a caseworker in the dispute resolution place downtown had occasion to ask me whether I consider myself an angry person. I don't, I just have a temper is all.

Having said that, I must admit that my state of mind/life around June 2000 was one of the things that popped into my head that led me to change my mind and choose anger management over a $150 fine last month. Did I forget to tell you this story?!

Matt's Anger Management Story

(I could look through past blog entries but I'm too lazy.)

So that one Wednesday in October, shortly after the layoffs, I got into an argument over parking and spit in the guy's face because he was an ass. (Legally he was correct that, by half an inch, I was blocking his driveway. Was I impeding him from getting into or out of it? Hell no. Did he have anything to gain from my getting ticketed other than the spite value of effing someone over? Hell no. Scum, and as Bill Simmons would say, "I will not argue about this.") The parking enforcer saw this and the other guy decided to press charges. Then I got a letter saying that instead of going to court I'd go to an out-of-court hearing within California Community Dispute Services.

The judge pointed out, in boilerplate language, "legally I cannot force you into anger management." This after I opted to pay the $75 now, $75 later. But as we were about to finalize the paperwork, I started thinking about my recent past. Various incidents came to mind. Maybe anger management would be useful after all. I changed my mind. This led me to have to go across the street (and across the street again because the paperwork was incomplete) and talk to this social worker guy Stephan (short 'e', hard eff-sound) who was a little bit smarmy for my taste. The weekly classes would be at Glide Memorial Methodist Church, in the evening.

Okay here's where the problem was: classes were to begin at 6 p.m. in downtown San Francisco. That's not a very fun time and place to try to find a parking space. Bear in mind that I got into this whole mess over parking. So I was going to find a space eight weeks in a row? Then too, it's not the best part of town. I was about to say not quite the worst either but hey, look what gets second billing in the "Sights & Culture" of my gratuitous link!

Waiting in line I stood out: Not the color of my skin so much as my age, my clothing, come to think of it my sobriety. This bossy woman was saying who could sign in and who couldn't and why. She said I could do the classes until I had an "intake interview," she wanted to talk to me at 9:30 the next morning.

Uh, no. That very day was when I first got the e-mail about the contract work I'm doing now. While it's true I wouldn't be doing this work right away, 9:30 in the morning is a time of day I don't do unless it's a really good cause. So I called up ol' Stephan and asked him if it was too late to change my mind again and pay the two $75 fees. He gave me the phone number of the right person, who said I could indeed do it. Two cashier's checks (purchased from 7-Eleven of all places) later, I was for justice system purposes a free man.

What I'd be required to tell the military about this for security purposes is unclear. If you think this contributes to my unease about pursuing that vocation, you're darn right it does.

In any case, I'll be damned if I know what Glide Methodist church, with all due respect, had to teach me about anger. Or for that matter what on Earth this honky with the knit polo shirt could possibly teach my fellow anger managers.

The Airport Story

On my way from parking the car to the church itself, I visualized what anger management might be like. Would we be asked to tell the group about ourselves? I'm such a relatively privileged person, my part of the discussion would be absurd. For no apparently reason I pictured being asked, "what's the angriest you've ever been?" Which leads me to a story that I think every known reader of this thing has heard about before. I'll tell a conspicuously context-free version.

Four years ago, a friend of mine went home for Easter. She was supposed to get back on Monday (I think) but a freak April 1 blizzard decimated air traffic that week. She finally got a Wednesday morning reservation, due to arrive around 12:40 p.m. I had volunteered to pick her up at the airport. (N.B. I took the T to the airport and I suppose the plan for getting back would have involved a cab.)

I got to the airport a little bit later than planned but I knew her flight number and I also saw on the "Arrivals" board that:
1. Her flight was the only one listed as coming in from that city.
2. Her flight was delayed, indefinitely.

Eventually, the Arrivals board indicated that the flight would get in at 3. After checking my voicemail every 15 minutes or so, I finally decided that at this point, she wouldn't call because she was so close to Boston anyway. I went and grabbed lunch at the Cheer's in Logan Airport.

Around 3:00, I heard an arrival announcement and people began walking from the gate. (Although the current air travel regime was four years away, at this point you already couldn't go past security without a ticket in this particular Logan terminal.) More people walked from the gate, none of them her. More people, more people, fewer people, then nobody. I sweet-talked my way past the metal detector to go to the gate and confirm that the airplane had completely emptied.

This was strange. I checked my voice mail and found on it a message, left ten minutes after the last time I'd checked it. "I notice you failed to pick me up at the airport" was the first sentence. The rest was to the effect that she'd talk to me again when she felt like it but that I shouldn't bother contacting her.

Here's the question you must ask yourself: If the only flight from that city on that airline--the one she was supposed to be on--had been three hours late then how had she gotten to the airport at almost exactly the same time (maybe 15 minutes earlier it turns out) as she had expected to? It turns out there was a flight that had been scheduled to depart earlier that morning. Somehow--we deduced later--she had gotten put on that flight and not realized it was a different flight than expected, possibly assuming it was the same one because its actual arrival time was similar to the other flight's scheduled arrival time.

At the time I wanted answers. I marched right to the front of a line of heaven-knows-how-many people (at least half hour's wait, maybe an hour's?) to get to the bottom of this. (Note: When air travel was a fustercluck following September 11, there were all these news stories that would mention in passing what a pleasant surprise it was if/when at a given airport nobody got angry and nobody cut to the front of the line. I always hang my head in sheepish memory when I hear news like this.)

My outrage essentially involved the incomplete, misleading info on the "Arrivals" screen. Or, as I put it to the woman who ever more strongly and less politely urged me to go away, "You lied to me!!" As she kept telling me to go away, I suggested sarcastically that she call the police. She pushed a button on her console that apparently had this effect. She told me something to the effect of the cops being on their way.

I ran out of things to say to the woman or else I ran out of energy. I sat down on the checked-baggage scales (no, I don't remember how much I weighed) and started to cry. To bawl, really. Two very polite officers asked me if I knew where I lived. (I did; I told them where I lived.) They asked if I knew how I had gotten there. (Yep.) They escorted me to a cab stand, where I'm pretty sure I got put immediately to the front of the line.

This story almost certainly makes no sense in this context-free telling. At the very least my reaction must seem bizarre. (I guess even if you know the full story it's pretty bizarre.) The best part was the Jamaican cabbie who took me home. I told him the story and he was dumbfounded. "Man you should dump this woman, she's no good. Find yourself a nice woman." I honestly can't remember if I had the heart to tell him that this wasn't my girlfriend. Nothing of that sort between us, never was and never would be. (Which, if any complete strangers are reading this, basically gives all the context that this "context-free" version really needs. You don't need the gratuitous detail. Just look at what I say and how I say it and nod your head knowingly and go "ohhhhhhhhhhh, I see," and thank your lucky stars I had no desire to share any further.)

Back to June 2000

Anyway, the heroine of the "airport story" and I actually had three or four phone conversations that month, on more-or-less a weekly basis. By phone gossip standards I think my life was incredibly boring then. (In phone conversations with other people it was probably anything but boring but that wouldn't transfer at all to conversations with her herself. Nobody ever says to the person on the other end of the line, "isn't it juicy gossip that I'm having a phone conversation with you of all people?" To say nothing of venting the self-referential meta-angst that would be associated with this.) Her life wasn't boring but I've forgotten anything worth retelling, at least that's (in my opinion) the correct thing to say.

Every now and then after one of these conversations I'd say hi to my roommates and dash out the front door of our house and bolt down the street on a dead run, sprinting until I was too tired to be hyper.
Work Sucks, Don't It?

After weeks on end of waking up in the middle of the afternoon and not necessarily leaving the house, I went to a two-hour meeting Thursday. It was excruciating. Then I put in a full day's work today, only it doesn't feel like work because I only thought about coding instead of actually writing the code.

Also I don't have a contract yet. They're saying all the right things about how I shouldn't worry and I guess I trust them, since this is the same company that Silicon Age worked with for so long. But they have a new CFO whom I don't know very well, the start of whose tenure with the company coincided suspiciously with layoffs and termination of the Silicon Age contract.

I do know that Chris got his money. Fel (their VP of engineering) even told me how much Chris made--truthfully it turns out, not that I know directly from Chris but rather Chad's girlfriend somehow knew how much Chris was getting. (Envious I guess.)

Sign that you're making a lot of money: You know those radio stations that have workforce promotions? (WZLX used to have the same thing but it looks like not anymore.) If you're making exactly as much money per hour as the radio station contest winners are, you're doing pretty well.

It looks like I'll be making less than that but comparable to it, exact figure to be negotiated. It occurred to me, knowing what I know, that I have a reserve price below which I'd politely decline to do this thing, regardless of the sunk time (11 hours so far) or the current market. What's really frightening is that, worked out to 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, my reserve price is more than double what I made for Silicon Age.

(This makes perfect sense in that a contractor gets no benefits and lives from project to project if not day to day, with lots of downtime. WIth that in mind, what Chris and I should work out is a tradeoff where Vectiv gets one manpower out of us and we take turns earning our money versus playing Civ3 all day.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

June 2000

back so soon?
quiz-bowl travel portion alone this time

First things first, the things I most love to recount about my months as I write about them at the end of the year (or the end of the next year innocent whistling): The trips!

(My mom thinks I should have joined Corwyn on his week-long trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon and so on. Or maybe even Scott's month-long Midwestern odyssey. Maybe she's right. Either would be more fun in hindsight than sitting around playing chess on-line, blogging, and playing board games with myself. Bah.)

At the very beginning of June, one week after Memorial Day weekend, Chad and I made a trip to UC-Irvine for an invitational quiz tournament. We had to stop at the airport to pick up our ad hoc teammates, two gents from Arizona State, Jason Z. and Ed. Zuff-dog is the more talkative of the two. He and Chad and I hit it off really well. The first night was a trash tournament. The first game we played, I almost singlehandedly rallied us from nowhere with some insane second-half buzzes. I think we won the thing but it was so disorganized that it's unclear whether a winner was ever declared. We crashed on the floor of a guy named Monty, although before crashing this big group of us went to Denny's.

I'm remembering almost nothing about the academic tournament, sorry. Maybe if I think hard enough it'll come to me. Wait, we were split into an upper and lower division, which makes sense given that both master's and high school teams would have otherwise been in the same field. Joe and Tim wrote a board-game theme pack for USC. Their team was the last team we faced. We won the game and I remember having a good game and deciding to myself that, although I wouldn't actually tell anyone, this would be the last academic quiz-bowl game I'd ever play. The rest would all be trash.

Oh, the night before something weird happened. We were using the women's bathroom because the men's was either so far away or locked or both. (Like most southern California campuses, this was the sort of architecture wherein you nearly always went from one room to another via the great outdoors, bathrooms included.) I bought an, um, sanitary napkin as a souvenir of our visit. Heaven knows why. Someone female thought this was the most ridiculous thing she'd ever heard of.

We were a scary team; funny things were said at regular intervals, nearly all of them obscene. The sands of time have washed all of them away except the general impression of bawdiness and mirth. Z, I miss you.

Hey there was a trip I completely forgot. Flash back to February. We went to ACF Regionals at CalTech. This trip was with Chris and, uh, I guess just Chris. We took separate cars because of a screwed-up travel situation that had no business being that way. We were giving the UC-Berkeley team a ride and the Berkeley people all crashed on the floor of the house of one of their freshman. (Kubi's comment in hindsight: How in the world did we NOT end up crashing with them?!? I second that.) Silicon Age stayed rather at the Saga Motor Hotel.

For months after this (February) trip; rather, for months after I made the mistake of admitting something to him that I shouldn't have, Kubi would make fun of me about "Ms. Froggatt." Holy crap, how did Google know to correct my spelling of her (first) Name?!? You know, of course, that by my putting this on the Internet I'm encouraging some freak accident of knowledge transfer that will result in something I never ever live down. Anyway, she was a freshman then, she's a junior now, time flies when you're having fun, maybe one day I'll have the balls to so much as talk to her beyond normal quiz-team banter.

Also worth noting: The existence of Kubi frightens and amuses the UC-Berkeley team to no end. Their favorite thing at any quiz tournament where I see them, regardless of whether Chad is also there, is to imitate him over the course of game play:
"C'mon gang!"
"Chad, focus!"
"It's a real cheese-melter!"
"GOOD! Guys, GO!"

Speaking of Chad, he was basically my travel partner for the other June trip: Atlanta, Georgia, home of the most poorly-run high school quiz championship I've ever seen. (In general the host let us down but still: I'm continually shocked and relieved that this tournament didn't completely kill our organization. I mean, what can you say about a tournament were some volunteers airlifted from hundreds of miles away are more useful than the host school itself?)

We took the red-eye flight, almost got lost on the way to the hotel. He almost singlehandedly prevented me from flipping out. Miraculously we ended up with a room for just the two of us. (NAQT hotel distribution is notoriously unintuitive. It's because nobody bothers to be anal about this because millionaire Kevin Olmstead is a lot of things but isn't anal.)

Actual comment from Kubi to Dwight Kidder when Dwight commented on the ratio of room size to occupancy: "Plenty of room to masturbate." A priceless look covered poor Kidder's face and I think he just turned and walked away and the door shut behind him. As far as I can tell Chad was kidding.

At the airport on the way back we were bumped from our flights; actually we volunteered to take $500 vouchers and free hotel room if we'd fly into L.A., arriving 1 a.m., and catch a 7 a.m. L.A.-S.F. flight the next morning. Later I would sell Kubi my voucher (hey, they were transferrable) at half of face value since he and his girlfriend were still doing the long-distance thing.

Still at the airport, we went to a TGIF's and reminisced about old St. Louis Cardinal teams while we waited for our food and commented to ourselves on just how hot the girl one table over was. Game X (like I really cared that year) of the NBA finals was on. This was the year that Portland choked in Game 7 of the conference finals, a stunning moment in TV history that Kubi had availed himself of my bedroom to watch while I wrote questions. Anyway, at the airport we saw... it must've been Game 3 because Indiana won. I'd berated Kubi to no end about his being a "front-runner," which led to his repeated sarcastic remark, "GO PACERS!" At some point in L.A., either the night before or the morning of, he turned to me and said something like, "why are you always here?"

Between work and home and quiz-bowl trips and especially writing questions, 2000 was the year Kubi and I were inseperable, warts and all.

Anyway, people other than Chad exist in my life. Jon Couture's posse for some. If I studied this page long enough I could tell you exactly who he brought to Atlanta with him. He has fine taste in his female friends I must say. This group of us, and of course the Harper-Nixons (they were not yet the Harper-Nixons but were already engaged, see previous entry) and Mark(?) all went to a Red Sox-Braves game. Boston failed to score and I fell asleep in the nosebleed seats. The game was so boring that most of ESPN's links to it are dead.

It was too f---ing hot.

Also, Sunday afternoon I went to this reasonably-priced restaurant with the Michiganders and without the Kub. This is where Craig D. Barker promised/threatened to get rich, buy or build a sports stadium, and name it Bruce Arena after both me and the soccer coach.

Last but not least my sister was in town for this tournament. She even got to placate the crowd once when it was Sunday morning and nobody knew what the hell was going on. I still remember with great pride her raising her voice to be heard and saying exactly the right things. She handles crowded control precisely the way I would, only better.

May 2000

one engagement, one break-up

I've kinda neglected these monthly recap things lately. Only 19 of them to go before 2002. Joy. For the longest time it didn't occur to me what was special about May 2000, then I remembered. (Heh. Wouldn't it be funny if I were a month off?)

Nearly every week for coming up on five years now I've been having this recurring phone conversation. Obviously not the same conversation: I no longer ask her to resend the Terrier Tussle playoff/filler questions that I lost and we no longer commiserate about our exes. In fact by now, I wonder how much of the "my life" half of the conversation merely rehashes these very entries. (This is, after all, 50% of my known audience. Maybe 33%?)

Anyway, I found out about the engagement in May 2000. I think it was by phone, though there may have been an e-mail strongly hinting at it. I definitely remember walking north on 7th Street, from CampSix to the Muni station, with the news fresh in my mind.

(Shameful confession: I took some, uh, liberties with the office phone service at CampSix. Blame me if you'd like for the demise of the Internet incubator, though I picture bean counters in a conference room somewhere:
"Where the hell is Woonsocket, Rhode Island?"
"Oh who cares, when are we going to build that bowling alley?"
(I shit you not: One of the dreams of the CampSix founders was to build an office complex whose perks and amenities would include an employees-only bowling alley. This was the dot-com world of 1999-early 2000. Good riddance to it I guess.))

It was news of the engagement that brought me news of the break-up, I guess. By that I mean, the engagement was an excuse for me to send a "hey, have you heard?" e-mail to pick up a conversation that had lain dormant for six weeks or so. It's hard to say how the two pieces of news compare to each other.

Sign of the times: The breakup led to a change of residence. The engagement didn't, at least not immediately; I suppose in those olden days that never were, neither of those would have any immediate effect on real estate.

Anyway, I distinctly remember it was a Wednesday that I found out about the breakup. I remember spending all afternoon trying to think of the Right Thing To Say when I should have been working on whatever of the last of the Java practice problems we were working on at the time.

Speaking of Java, I almost certainly took the certification exam in May. The first time I took it I failed it. This made me angry. (Not as angry as Chad when he was ONE SHORT of passing the first time he took his.) I took it somewhere in Embarcadero Center. Blah. The time I passed I took it somewhere near Oakland Airport, in a building generally used for flight-related classes and exams.

Things that Oakland building had in common where I went to school in Tulsa as a kid:
0. Long drive to get there.
1. Hot and stuffy with no air conditioning.
2. Gruff but good-natured black guy ran the show.
3. In general, I experienced academic success.

To celebrate passing the Java exam I went to a Taco Bell near the Coliseum before hopping back onto 580 for the trip home. (I'd borrowed Kubi's car to take the test. He loaned me his car all the time, his only proviso being I wasn't allowed to move the driver's seat. This resulted in my having to drive like an old lady, stretching my limbs to do everything. Also, I took the wrong turn exiting from the Bay Bridge and ended up going halfway back east again, getting off at Treasure Island and turning around.)

Maybe I should say something about the engagement or the breakup? The former are now happily married as well they should be, and I'm not just saying that to kiss up to my audience. :-P The latter, maybe it would be too much to say I felt vindicated. Most people, at least who I talked to, seemed to realize that ultimately theirs was a relationship that would not last.

No, instead of vindication what the breakup made me feel was irrational and not worth talking about. The phrase "then why the hell am I in San Francisco?" crossed my mind without my ever repeating it aloud.

I have so much to say but I have no idea how to put it or whether it's wise to say. Some I'll postpone for the "June 2000" entry.

Some relationships are built on what people outwardly have in common. One of my all-time favorite Onion articles has to do with a case where two people have so much in common that everyone thinks they should get together but they actually don't. In any case I make friends very easily with people with whom I have a lot in common.

Meanwhile, everyone knows couples that started out hating each other or at least getting on each other's nerves. Sometimes it's because those people have more in common than they'd care to admit. There are people who have some of the same destructive reactions that I do, who stress out over the same things. People who I understand to a disturbing extent, although maybe certain things people have in common are a warning sign of why they should not get together, ever. Who knows?

To be topical and truthful and yet still gratuitously cryptic, I should say something about unrequited love. Charlie Brown referred to it a lot; this is how the word "unrequited" entered my vocabulary at an early age. Actually, my question has to do with this. Charlie Brown always talked about his unrequited love for the Little Red-Haired Girl but how does he know she doesn't like him?--I mean hell, he even got to kiss her for crying out loud, didn't he? (Am I misremembering the whole point of It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown?)

Don't get me wrong, this has nothing to do with me and I'm most certainly not in denial. (Having lived through it long enough, I can see pretty emphatically from hindsight that denial sucks.) But just specifically to Peanuts, I think Chuck really sold himself short here.

(Plus, for heaven's sake, even without the love of his life, how does he not realize just how much of a thing both Peppermint Patty AND Marcie have for him?)
Geeks R We
Scene: Kitchen. Chris is microwaving his pot pie. I had just offered him leftover (refrigerated) pepperoni pizza, our new subletter Nelson not home yet.
Me: "Having Nelson around has brought home just how introverted I am. I still haven't really made an effort to talk to him or spend time with him."
Chris: "Whatever. Everquest came out with a new version. Between that and Civ3 I'll be introverted for several weeks."

Although as a result of our five-minutes-earlier conversation, I did wash out Scott's tray o' yams, blue-green mold and all. Gotta love food garbage disposal.
Me: "Want some pepperoni pizza? It's in the refrigerator."
Chris: "No thanks, I'll just heat this thing up. Want some yams?"

We then traded horror stories of spoiled food in college dorm rooms.
Matt's Personal Presidential Trivia
sorry to be fixated on this. After I post this I swear I'm going for a long walk or run to work off those damned Sunshine Cheez-It crackers. (Both the White Cheese and the Spicy are equally evil and addictive.)

1. Who was the first candidate I ever supported in a presidential primary? (Hint: 1988. "Supported" as in I hoped he'd win and wanted my parents to vote for him. It's not like I stumped or cold-called or anything, since I was only 13.)

2. (trick question) Who did I vote for in the 1992 presidential election?

3. Who did I vote for in the 1996 presidential election?

4. Had I still been in Massachusetts for it and/or remembered to get an absentee ballot, for whom would I have voted in the 2000 GOP primary?

Anyone who managed to get all four of these right, including myself, needs serious help. Actually I'm not even sure my memory is perfect for the third question. But I think I know who I voted for. I know I changed my mind at least once, two minutes before heading into the booth.
Political Postscript
I love Virginia Postrel enough to link to her yet again but do have to say that I'm with Andrew Sullivan on issues of human life, when it begins, how to protect it and so on. My politics are pretty simple really: I'm in favor of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, pretty much in that order. It's a shame Virginia's not in my camp on the controversial part of the former, but for just about everything else I agree with her.

Oh, also, while looking for links I noticed that Pat Robertson is leaving the Christian Coalition. Good for him or good riddance to him or something like that. My political life would be so much easier if the Christian Coalition and similar groups up and died, since in college I met so many people for whom Christian Coalition types were the only Republicans who even existed. They're so easy to demonize, and when it comes down to it demonizing is all at the Carvilles and Hillary's of the world are good at.
Warning: Politics
This entry has also set a personal record for most-reedited entry, right down to the renumbered footnotes.

"Still, Republicans hope the letter will convince Leahy that the White House and Senate GOP mean business. 'As soon as we get back [from the year-end holidays],' says the Republican aide, 'they better start moving some people or nothing will happen in the Senate. Or that's the plan.'"
--National Review On-Line

My party sucks. That last line, "or that's the plan," shows exactly the sort of ultimate doubt and lack of resolve I've come to love from the U.S. Senate. Being a Republican[1] is a lot like being a Red Sox fan, although I don't imagine the two have much of an intersection.

[1] Officially I am a registered Libertarian. They send me junk mail now and then, it's entertaining. I registered to vote in September 2000 at a table being run by the Berkeley College Democrats. Taking advantage of their resource to register for the Democrats' arch-rivals seemed rude.

Republicans do a lot of things extraordinarily well. Outside of government they run great businesses and raise fantastic children. Inside of government they win wars[2], clean up towns[3], and do a far better job than the other "major" party of leaving people alone, free to run their lives the way they want to[4]. The problem is they can't do politics for shit. And this actually makes sense.

[2] Democrats are also good at winning wars. See Woodrow Wilson and FDR/Truman. On the GOP side there's Abe Lincoln and there's Bush I and we can only hope Bush II soon. To avoid a really nasty finger-pointing session I say LBJ and Nixon get dinged equally for the Vietnam mess. Then the one that puts the GOP over the top in my book, Reagan. Not that the Cold War was a war in the conventional sense but it was probably the one we could least afford to lose.

[3] Mayor Giuliani is a Republican. Mayor Daley is a Democrat, as is Slick Willie Brown. If you know your big-city mayors, that's pretty much all you need to know.

[4] I hate it when people on the Left accuse people like me of wanting to run other people's lives, when in government practice in fact it tends to be the other way around. If you're wonkish, interesting column also on NR On-Line about the difference between being anti-State versus anti-Left. I'm clearly the former.

Don't ever trust any non-moderate Republican who decides to make government his life's work, since getting your paychecks from the taxpayers[5] is so contrary to the bedrock principles of conservatism. There's just no way around this contradiction, and I wonder if this helps explain why the Trent Lott's and Newt Gingrich's of this world will never ever win any PR battle they get themselves into. This also eats at me a little, moreso about the possiblity of working for the CIA or NSA than the possiblity of military service. There are very few things we need a government to do but national defense is a no-brainer as one of them.

[5] With the exception of teachers. Teachers can never be paid enough. I'd be ecstatic if only the money went directly to the teachers instead of to central educational bureaucracies that even teachers hate. Or better yet if less of their pay was docked to fund groups like the NEA.

Sort of on-topic but not really, interesting piece here on the origin of the term "soccer mom." I have issues with this phrase, this label, as you might imagine. Not its original sense: My sister played the game long enough that I was the proud son of a soccer mom. Hmm, whenever I drove Sarah to games was I a soccer mom? Hey, this happened before I started blogging but one of my favorite moments of September was when I went to my friend Cindy's adult recreational women's soccer game. The crowd for the game numbered somewhere in the teens, mostly boyfriends (including Cindy's own[6]) but also a daughter loudly rooting for her mother. I love the fact that the world's most popular sport is so important to both British men and American women.

[6] Okay yeah. To this day a disturbing portion of whatever social life I have involves spending time with female friends who themselves have boyfriends or even husbands. Once I grew up, so to speak (continuing process I guess) and learned exactly what this signified and what this didn't signify, it was a piece of cake. I don't ever talk about Cindy, at least not as much as you'd think, certainly not in the angst sense. That just shows you how right things are, sort of like the umpires and referees who are noticed least when they do their job best. And then there are guys like this (search the article for "Luckett").

Anyway, where I wanted to go with this: Maybe it's just me, but as spun by either CNN or George Snuffleupagus, uh, I mean Stephanopoulos, the legendary Soccer Mom demographic always comes off with a double-whammy combination of spinelessness and self-absorption. They have no idea where they want this country to be headed (this is actually my beef with undecided voters generally) but when they do decide, it's either the lying cheating SOB who they think is sexy or the one who bribes them with the most taxpayer-funded swag or the one who promises over-simplified, wrongheaded solutions to get rid of bad things like meanies and guns. If this demographic were as easily swayed as Democratic consultants make it out to be, or as stupid as Dems seem to think it is, then Republicans would never win a major election again in my lifetime. Hell, we're the ones who want to take away education and poison the children, right?

Don't think for a minute that I'm criticizing the real-live soccer moms I knew and loved, especially my own. The problem with the popular media image of the "soccer mom" is that it is nothing like the real ones, at least not the ones I knew. Maybe Tulsa is a singular place--well, not just maybe, I know it is--but soccer moms in Tulsa are rough, tough, upstanding citizens who know right from wrong and don't take crap from anybody, especially their children.

A real soccer mom is much smarter than the focus-group twerps you'd see in CNN election coverage. You know those parents whose son joins the frickin' Taliban and still say things like, "he's a really good boy?" Let's just say that a real soccer mom, or any Tulsa parent for that matter, would know better.

These are the women who should be celebrated, in my opinion. They're level-headed, they're iron-willed and hey, some of them are even sexy[7]. Seriously, read this blog. Yeah, Andrew Sullivan may be trendier and he barely made the cut for the last link on my perfunctory home page but Virginia Postrel comes much closer to what it is I think and feel. (Alas--although good for her--she's married.)

[7] Yeah I noticed the resemblance too. If you think you look like this woman, take it as a compliment if you'd like, otherwise bite me. :-P

Anyway, you know all about those 2000 electoral vote maps and the overblown op-eds about "blue country" and "red country." Well know I guess you know which part this Okie came from. :-)

Tuesday, December 04, 2001


Please skip this entry if you object to my possibly coming across as a pompous ass. To avoid pompous asses, I highly recommend Cooch's World


Okay fair enough you were warned. In the previous entry I meant to write, had time permitted, about the fact that a journalist named Missy interviewed me when I was in high school; her profile on me appeared in a weekly(?) called Tulsa People, whose primary purpose seemed to be free advertising supplement with enough original content that people would actually read it. Apparently the spin was that I was, like, really smart, probably specifically that our high school quiz team kicked ass.

In the article, the spin on that 149-out-of-150 in Mr. Wilson's class was that I was mad at myself for missing whichever question I missed. (The one I missed had something to do with monocots and dicots I think.) I vehemently claim this was patently untrue that, rather, I was all smug about miraculously salvaging my grade. Heh, if only it had been a "resurrection" final, where the # of points available to you is the number of points you need to make up. Oh wait, actually it might have been. This would explain why I'm so smug.

But based on my experience today, clearly I was also pissed about missing whichever question I missed. Today indeed I took the GMAT. I'll find out in two weeks how I did on the writing sections. The second one I know for dead certain a whole set of topics that I missed, because 30 minutes is only so long in which to write.

The sections I know already are Verbal and Analytical.
Analytical: 97th percentile
Verbal: 99th percentile
Overall: 99th percentile

I guess those look pretty good, but I swear my first reaction was...

97 on the *#@@*!% ANALYTICAL?!?!?

"You're a f---ing Harvard math major for chrissake!" -Deborah Lusetti, some restaurant in Connecticut, en route home from a tournament at Princeton, November 23, 1996

Why am I mad? Specifically because I f---ed myself. Bent my own self over the table and just kept pumping away. Would it have killed me to actually use the time allotted to me?!?

In my defense, the new computer format blows. The secret to my lifetime's worth of awesome test scores, prior to the Internet age, was that with a written test, when you finish a section you can go back and check over your answers. This new computer crap don't let you do that. So I used more-or-less my normal test-taking strategy (oh, something else that blows: you can't pick and choose which problems to do first, you have to answer them in numerical order. testing services can bite me!)--and ended up with (no exaggeration) about 40 minutes left over on each multiple-choice section.

(Could I have used that time on the 30-minute-each written parts? Hells yeah.)

So any in case, the Prometric employees (about my age) smiled appreciatively at my scores. I smiled back politely. I went back to my car (which miraculously accumulated no parking tickets despite my putting $1.30 worth of time on a meter that had a two-hour limit and coming back almost exactly three hours later). The assorted F-bombs are probably still echoing through the Intrepid's interior.

Crap. I'm not mad enough to cry but I'm mad enough to shake my head and mutter to myself about how much I suck.

Everyone else in the world probably hates me for feeling that way. I called my sister and left a message because she's the only person I know who would actually understand this. Although for all I know she may hate me too.
Ever have one of those days where you suddenly remember that you're supposed to take the GMAT? No? I guess not. Did a few quick practice questions with the freeware application I got two months ago: Aced the analytical reasoning part, missed two questions in the reading comprehension and FOUR(?!) sentence correction.

"Me fail English? That's unpossible."

This morning I woke up to my radio alarm at 7:45 a.m., approximately seven hours earlier than I'd been getting up the past few days. Song on the radio was Def Leppard's "Hysteria," then a canned radio message something like "...and now here's an even deeper classic..."--none other than Poison, "Talk Dirty To Me". They still play that I guess. Wow.

It made me feel at home. Someone up there knew I had a test to take. Like in Mr. Wilson's seventh grade science class when I got 149 out of 150 on the final exam and in doing so pulled an A out of my ass (or was it a B, from a C?).

Most morning teams thoroughly annoy me but there's at least one exception. There also seemed at one point to be bunches of San Francisco radio personalities named Gina, although thanks to the magic of voice tracking and ClearChannel multi-ownership it turns out all but one of them are the same person.

The other one, I'll write about more in this space sometime. She was reading news stories, including the one about Liz Hurley being pregnant. She mentioned if she had that kind of money she might want to have a baby and not even have to have a husband. This led to weird radio loopiness about how she's "pushing 40" (actually 35) and all. Chris Townsend, KNBR sports: "How am I supposed to tell you about the Warriors after that?"

Gina's comment about not being able to find a man will no doubt get her some fan mail, I think I'll sit out this round.
Every now and then it hits home just what lying, cheating, overpaid dirtbags run the game of baseball. I have no current special ties to the Drillers, having left Tulsa for good five years ago, but I still find this galling. Where does the money come from? Clearly from the teams that try to claim with a straight face to be losing money hand-over-fist.

Monday, December 03, 2001

Oh, the subletter!

I should write about him. Nelson is of indeterminate Asian heritage; he came down here from Canada for unknown duration (presumably when Udo comes back Nelson no longer lives here? I'm unclear on all this). He rang our doorbell at about 4:45. We introduced ourselves. He asked how late the restaurants around here are open (11 p.m. I guess, I don't really know) and what the deal is with laundry (free washer and dryer, BYO detergent). He expressed great joy that Udo left his monitor here and great anticipation of blissfully crashing. As I type he is apparently still asleep.

Guys get to know each other slowly, if at all. :-)

When I heard his name was Nelson I briefly hoped it would be Nelson Lu of baseball stathead fame. Guess not.
Let's Bitch About Our Roommates
(rumor has it this is among the world's most boring general topics)

Roommates: They breathe your air, occupy space, fill refrigerators, and bring their friends over. But rent is cheaper if you have them so it all evens out.

Our new subletter moved in today. Udo and Dagmar left for Mexico this morning. They should get back in mid-January I guess. This is also when Scott gets back from his road trip to the Midwest. Unlike Udo, he apparently didn't fell like arranging for a subletter.

The difference between guy rooming situations and girl rooming situations has come up all the time in conversations between me and female friends. I guess here's the downside to the guy side of things: I didn't know Udo was subletting until he was already showing the place to potential subletters. (Note: Since he has the master bedroom with its own bathroom, my conjecture is it's much more appealing to a subletter than Scoon's room, sharing the main bathroom of the house with me and with whoever happens to drop by. The difference probably exceeds the difference in rent, a key point for potential arbitrage.) Not that I mind, at least I don't think I mind, but if I did mind I may have been SOL.

Udo had a couple friends over Sunday night, which makes sense as he was going away. I didn't know this until they knocked on the door. I let them in. "Is Udo in?" Why yes he was in, as was Dagmar, behind a closed bedroom door. Mark and (I knew Mark already, never learned the woman's name) intrepidly went down the hall and knocked on the door. For all I know this could have become awkward but apparently their timing wasn't as bad as I feared.

Unlike Thanksgiving weekend, no heavy drinking went on. European beer was bought and somewhat consumed. (Between Leo in Somerville and Udo here I can readily identify the kind of beer that actual Europeans buy in the U.S., which is quite different from European beer that Americans buy in the U.S. Beer purchased by Europeans in the U.S. comes in those very tall cylinder cans and has names like Oranjeboom.) I don't remember any cooking smell either. And long before I expected, the guests were gone.

What's the proper etiquette when your roommate's friends come by and you weren't aware this would happen? Assume that you're fairly apathetic to the fact that they're there. I tend to hole up in my room, which is not unlike what I would have done in an empty house anyway. I'll come out and say hi now and then.

Thursday I actually had friends over unexpectedly. They even ended up (after I asked Udo's permission) drinking some of his chocolate/coffee type mix. Corwyn has moved to Portland; this was the night before he left.

(None of my known audience knows Corwyn. I think all of my known audience vaguely knows Willy Jay, who is now clerking for a judge in Oregon. Corwyn, Willy, and I worked for the same bi-weekly newspaper (for the love of God update your websites people, otherwise how on Earth will you be taken seriously?!? argh...) and kind of bonded putting the issues out. Now Corwyn is in the same pretend baseball league as me. Most of the league went to Harvard; most of the Harvardians did quiz-bowl. Corwyn's team is the Long Island Lolitas, I thought you'd appreciate that.)

Joon and Paul and Stephen and David and Mike all came over, since Corwyn was arriving at my place at 8 and we were dining somewhere TBA. Only, Corwyn needed to tell his roommate where we'd be since his roommate was delayed in lab. Earlier that day someone had suggested Hot Pot City, so when I got the phone call and the pick a place now bottom line, this made sense.

Of course, by the time I could e-mail people to say, "if you get this message in time, don't leave for my place, we'll go to Hot Pot City so you might as well stay in Berkeley," they had left for my place to use the carpool lane before 7. So we played cards for awhile, then Corwyn got there, then we played cards some more (Hot Pot City is much much cheaper after 10 p.m., which I always always forget), waited for his roommate to call, finally figured his roommate would meet us there, and went in two carloads back over to Berkeley.

(As one of the East Bay people pointed out, if they were already coming to my place, Hot Pot City actually resulted in little to no further driving than eating in SF would have.)

It was far more crowded than usual; someone wondered if this was "hot Asian chick night." Then we got the bill and it was $7 a person instead of $12 a person. None of us has any idea why, or whether this is Thursday-specific, but it explained why the place was so crowded. Then we went back to The Place That Needs A Nickname (Paul and Mike and David's place) and played cards well into the night.

Compared to that trio, I feel sheepish about the extent to which people who live here have our own separate sets of friends. Then again, when Chad and Shelly were here Saturday, I entertained them and Chris and Udo made themselves scarce. (Admittedly, Chris is desperately hooked on Civ 3.) Which, yeah, Chad and Shelly are predominantly "my" friends but hell, he used to live here. And he used to work with us. If there were such thing as a communal friend for this place, you'd think it'd be Kubi but I guess not.

I can't believe I wrote that many paragraphs without bitching about the thing that most calls for bitching: the sorry state of our refrigerator. Actually it's in a much better state, since I cleaned it today. I had to throw out an astonishing amount of stuff. I don't like to do that, and because I don't like to do that I'm not the one who overbuys perishables in the first place. The sad irony to Udo and Scoon separately leaving is that the ones still left here, Chris and I, are the ones whose food consumption involves almost entirely the microwaving of frozen dinners.

So many vegetables, long since rotten. The Country Crock had gone bad, at least I assume that's what the solid yellowy stuff surrounding it was. Cheese... I found less cheese than I feared I would find, partly because we consumed so much on Saturday.

Worse than the wasted perishables was the redundancy of it all. We own seven distinct mustard containers. Different flavors would be one thing but they're all French's. What happens, do people go to the grocery store and ask themselves (or each other) "do we have mustard? I can't remember, oh well can't hurt"? Those can go with the three redundant salsas and two grape jellies and the capers and the peppercorns and the... (basically I have an irrational dislike of condiments)

It was absurd, how many places things were being kept. The veggies out in the main fridge compartment may have been sketchy but you don't want to know how bad they'd gone in the crisper itself. Beer cans in four different places, same thing for pop cans.

There's a humongous piece of cake in a paper carton in the fridge. Astonishingly it doesn't look spoiled or moldy or anything. I may get up the nerve to try it. There's lunch meat that belongs to neither me nor Chris. It would clearly spoil by the time its rightful owner came back; might as well chow down.

And I haven't even gotten around to throwing out Scoon's yam dish yet. That's just really sad, that he spent so much time preparing the thing only to have it go bad. I might actually cry.

Can't blame a man for cooking I suppose.

Oh, last but not least my room suddenly has a weird smell to it again. Where does this smell come from? Is it delayed reaction from the stuff in the fridge? Is something wrong with the clothes I just took out of the dryer? (That's when I noticed it, kind of a linty smell.)

For the most part I'm a lazy slob but every now and then self-knowledge is humbling and painful. Ever get that God we live in a sty sort of feeling? Today the fridge, tomorrow... something.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

It's crazy when you can't fall asleep at night partly because there's still blogging to do. It's even crazier when your core audience is most assuredly up and facing the day, even just three hours away.

Today's comparison that didn't need to be made (but I'll make it anyway): The sensation of tasting perfectly prepared sea scallops, versus the literally orgasmic sensation.

I discovered the former first, most assuredly. I think there was some country club in North Carolina and my grandparents were there, or at least one of them. Probably both. (Grandpa passed away in 1989, grandma twelve years later, though the last half of those were not as her true self, as Alzheimer's slowly claimed her identity.) ...on a happier note... Scallops are to be eaten slowly, with (ideally) a high-enough quality fork that you avoid tasting the metal of the fork and experience only the softness of the meat inside your mouth. For me, at least, I put a bite of scallop in my mouth, lean back and savor it with my eyes closed and a big grin on my face. I'm in heaven.

The latter I discovered--come to think of it you really don't need to know. (Should I set up a "mature content" blog? Nah.) Well, a little bit of it anyway. By accident it was, some time between 1989 and 1990. Later than summer 1989 because I had no idea what mistaken impression I left at this summer program if I moaned while looking at box scores. Earlier than fall 1990 because... just because.

Speaking of baseball (whose role in my life now takes on very very disturbing elements) at some point in childhood I shared a certain bad habit with ballplayers, and not spitting. Scratching I guess. Someone somewhere pointed out to me that this was impolite to do in public. Somehow nothing about it being good or bad in private ever sank in, probably value neutral, though there never seemed to be much point in more than the Al Bundy set position. So help me I didn't know any better. Then one night it was pure dumb luck. "Hmm, this feels pretty good." Anyway you know the rest.

I remember being very much in awe and also mildly disappointed. The latter was something like, "I hope that's not all there is." Not that it wasn't great. But sex itself held immense appeal, partly for its mystery. My fear was that, relatively speaking, I'd be a lot less wowed by sex. I guess my fear was ill-founded (some hand-waving is required here with verb tense), since it turns out seeing someone else go completely bonkers with bliss is fun in a way that solitude can never match.

...anyway... the defining feature of my Saturday was the sea scallops, not the sex.

I woke up early in the afternoon, noticed that two people were watching TV. They smiled at me as I darted from bedroom to bathroom. Without glasses I thought it was Udo and Dagmar but turned out to be Kubi and Shelly. Here's where panic very nearly set in: Had I invited people over and completely forgotten about it? No, rather, I'd given them an open-ended invitation before and they just kind of dropped by. Specifically to eat Scoon's cheese, since my one roommate who buys all the cheese is gone until January.

(Damn, we also should throw out his yams. Argh. He always makes more food than can be consumed. Does that mean we should eat his food more aggressively or is there still an overriding factor that taking other people's stuff is rude?)

Kubi and Shelly had caught the beginning of Tennessee-Florida (he's a major Gator fan, it's unclear why, though he's spent summers down there before) but switched to a movie when it was 14-0. He ended up easily distracted by my baseball books while she took a cell phone call from family back in Kansas, leaving me to get engrossed in my first of two joined-in-progress movies of the day while all three of us had cheese and crackers.

High Fidelity is, generally speaking, a good movie. I'll get the things I don't like over with first:
1. There's an element of fixation that in real life would be harassment. The Onion had a great article about this once but I can't find it in the archive, something about man getting in massive legal trouble for trying to do in real life the things he saw work in romantic comedies.
2. The talking to the camera thing was fresh when Ferris did it but should have died completely as soon as Malcolm started doing it.
3. Speaking of Ferris Bueller, John Hughes managed to get his name into the closing credits.
4. The main character has... issues. Regardless of whether things work out with his latest girl, he needs help. Especially the part about wanting to feel validated when it comes to how good he is in bed.
5. I didn't really see enough of the movie to see why he's so into his latest girl. There's one that it seems like he'd have been better off with.

Okay now the things I liked:
1. John Cusack makes compulsive lists of things, always top 5's. I can actually identify with that!
2. The music store world is a fun setting. I know people like that. People like that currently live upstairs from me. They also used to make the burritos I ate so often when I lived in Boston. Music is good.
3. In a bit part, Hey that's Darlene! Whatzername... took several seconds to come up with ""Sara Gilbert" even though I did have a crush on her at some point growing up.
4. In a not-so-bit part, Hey she was on the Cosby show! Didn't come up with Lisa Bonet until the closing credits though.
5. In a key scene involving a list of songs, I scored massive ego points by correctly predicting the presence of Tell Laura I Love Her on that list.

After the movie we caught the thrilling conclusion to Tennessee-Florida and the start of Colorado-Texas. Right before dinner my baseball team was eliminated (check out this just well enough to lose pitcher card--he's almost a full run better than league average in this offense-inflated universe we have, yet not his season for the ol' luck).

We ate at the Beach Chalet, starting off with some nachos to go with our beers. I correctly predicted Chad would get the baby back ribs. Shelly had the steak and shrimp. I went with a "not ready for solid foods" meal, getting the scallops and salmon and a side of garlic mashed potatoes. The main entree had a carrot puree under it, very good and also very mushy. The mashed potatoes were the kind that are almost liquid--not runny but rather a melts-in-your-mouth sensation. The exact opposite of chunky mashed potatoes. Some bread pudding topped off the best meal I've had in several months. I picked up the tab, since they did treat us to Thanksgiving dinner and all.

We got back to find that Colorado had won the Big 12. Blah. Maybe I should like college football more. Kubi and Shelly and I chatted for a long long time after the first "we should get going" reference, then ultimately they did hit the road. Udo and Dagmar sucked me into my second in-progress movie of the day.

I'm glad I paid no money to see Cast Away because I would seriously demand a refund. It's an act of omission wherein I didn't enjoy it, so much as an act of comission where the people who made this movie really need to be hurt. The worst part is, they really couldn't figure out what kind of movie this was supposed to be. Comedy? I guess the stuff with the volleyball was okay. Action adventure? Hard to say: You're on an island, then stuff washes ashore, then you build a boat, then you row through the water, you row some more, and one day a ship sees you. This part was enough for me to sit down and watch, I admit.

What came next... the big dilemma at the end of the movie really did have to happen. I'd have been disappointed in its drippy sentimentalism without it. But they did nothing worthwhile with it. I'm torn: I really shouldn't spoil the movie and I also can't put into words just what's so wrong. What I hate about it is how they try to manipulate the audience emotionally, to clobber us over the head with what it's all about, and yet can't actually... with a good 15 minutes left in the movie, I suddenly realized to my horror that there was no good way for this movie to end. Its actual very very ending might be making the best of it but still really nothing: I'm angry that I spent an actual portion of my life watching that movie.

(Oddly enough the very very ending sort of reminds me of the very very ending of Dumb and Dumber.)