Friday, August 06, 2004
Nocturnal Reverie

There are times when I wonder what in the bleedin' 'ell I'm doing with my life. My goals for the day (off) were threefold: get out of bed, get a haircut, get the seatpost of my bike out of the frame. Of these I only accomplished the first, and that at 4PM. I ate Cheerios with soy milk, watched a movie, then took a nap. Such a day might suggest that I'm depressed, or else that I need to get up before the house pot of morning coffee gets tossed (barrista-ing and caffeine addiction go together like mining and blacklung). I've been physically tired lately, kind of sluggish. I can't really ascribe this to a lack of exercise, since I spend close on an hour a day dodging traffic on a bicycle.

Here comes my first digression of the evening: People who ride bikes love them. I have myself progressed from car hatred to bike love. When I first noticed just how out of true my back wheel was, there was an emotional pang. When I think my gears or derailleurs might be out of whack, my stomach sinks in a way that resembles body panic. I think bicycles may be addictive.

OK, jogger's high and all-- endorphins... but there's more to it. When I started biking last fall, I hadn't been on a bicycle in something like two or three years. I got sore in places I hadn't thought much about. At the time it occurred that they were the same muscles that were left sore after a night of vigorous sex, especially (as is basically always the case for me) if it had been awhile. There's the exhiliration from the speed, from the traffic, from the cardiovascular exertion... but the steady pumping of the legs and the holding half your body's weight up on your arms are undeniably sexual. Is it any wonder, then, that the most fanatic cyclists are endlessly going on about the superiority of fixed-wheel bikes, with their requirement of constant leg movement?

So many goodies for bikes, too. If I ever manage to get the seatpost unstuck, I plan on buying a better saddle. The one I have now isn't bad, but undeniably upgradeable. I need new brake pads. I'd like to get a headlight. The most exciting thing, the biggest step, is that I'm thinking of going clipless. Get the shoes, get the pedals, clip right into the bike. Get more power, smoother power, and work an entirely new set of muscles.

But yes, aside from my bicycle what do I have to be excited about? A significant part of my recent wonderings have been job-related. What am I doing working a service job when I hate humanity? Misanthropy and customer service just don't mesh all that well. But then I hit the button on the grinder and get a whiff of fresh-ground beans. I can't think of a better smell anywhere. The coffee dripping right out of the basket, especially for the first thirty seconds or so, is similarly transcendent. Then there's the summer and its attendant crop of bare shoulders... not that I have any kind of shoulder thing -- my odd bodypart fixation is all about calves -- but I doubt a man alive could deny the allure of a beautiful woman with smooth shoulders bared to the world.

Pervy moment passed...

But I've been thinking of other plans lately. Getting a part-time tech job, perhaps, while staying on part-time at the Cafe. On the other end of the spectrum, my old fantasies of opening a record store in Logan have been rekindled, along with newer, even more farfetched ones of moving to Philadelphia. Why? Because it isn't DC.

I spent the night, and part of the afternoon, Googling up a storm on the Peak Oil Theory, also known as The Hubbert Peak (also). Basically, the idea is that once you have extracted half the fossil fuel from any source, it becomes more and more costly to get more until it is no longer profitable. The theory is completely independent of scale: it can apply to a single well, a field, a nation, or even the entire world. The Hubbert Peak for the USA was about 1970, which was shortly followed by the first energy crisis. By varying calculations, we have either reached the peak for the world's oil supply already, or will reach it shortly. My first exposure to this idea was through one of Bruce Sterling's Viridian Notes, where it was luridly tied to the collapse of civilization and global war to secure petroleum. Since our entire civilization (i.e., the entire infrastructure that allows us to support such a high population) is built around fossil fuels, then their depletion would mean worldwide famine, among other things. Most pessimistically, it would mean a massive dieback.

I remember at the time I was given pause. I hate the imperialistic tendencies in American foreign policy, not only because they are immoral and make many people miserable, but also because they serve to empower corporations, enrich the already obscenely wealthy, and support an extravagant consumer lifestyle.

Would my opinions be different if it were a matter of whether my own friends and family members starve to death? Just how moral is my worldview?

Thus it was interesting to find that people interested in disproving the Peak Oil Theory are worried about just such a rationalization for militarism. They also sell dreamcatchers, display offputting anti-semitism, and accuse those espousing Peak Oil Theory of being pawns of the Illuminati. Or sometimes, just cuss them out.

In the end, believing in Hubbert's Peak just seems the more sane option, Alduvai Theory notwithstanding. To my mind, the arguments over whether petroleum is actually fossil fuel or if it is produced abiotically pale in comparison to the raw numbers comparing production to consumption.

Among the kooks and the varied doomsayers, I did find a few worthwhile analyses. The most entertaining, in inimatibly mordant fashion, is a piece by Kurt Vonnegut. A more hopeful view (at least at its conclusion) also gives us a metaphor involving a monkey. A doomed monkey, but hey! Monkey!

It's oddly bracing to see scientific evidence that I could live to see the beginnings of the collapse of civilization as we know it. When the end comes, I'll be ready with a stockpile of coffee beans, a solar powered grinder, and my bicycle. I might even have the seat fixed by then.

4AM. I've been up almost 12 hours!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Just Another Tantric Tuesday
I wish it was bluesday
'Cos that's my snooze day
Don't have to come up with a ruse day

Hah! I just beat my phone at Backgammon. My phone kicks my ass most of the time, or at least it has since I switched it from Beginner to Intermediate, but I've been holding my own more and more lately (the first masturbation joke gets Da Hooka). Losing Backgammon and getting two or three calls a month is the only use I find for that (very expensive) phone.

This is how I love to present myself, to myself and to others: the neurotic, unlovable lovable loser, wandering bemusedly through life, falling victim to one misadventure after another. If I actually put forth any effort to make anything happen, instead of letting things happen to me, maybe my life wouldn't be such a series of (mostly metaphorical) knocks to the head. Because if you wait for luck, the luck that arrives will be bad. Good luck has to be ferreted out of the (again, mostly metaphorical) bushes.

((Mixed metaphor? Ferrets get things out of holes, no? Not bushes? How often does one really need to know the hunting habits of musky critters, anyway?))

On the other hand, it does seem that whenever I try something new it all goes even more spectacularly wrong, and I get a nice story to explain (again, to myself and others) why I just don't bother. Never mind that repeated attempts might bring better results: the initial failure is enough to demonstrate the pointlessness of all action.

So the following is one of the stories I love to tell. In it, I am punished for the slightest variation in my routine, I suffer physical and psychological damage, I am entirely passive through the whole affair, and in the end it reveals itself as completely absurd. Do enjoy the tale of my Traumatic Tuesday and the Wacky Wednesday that followed it.

Enough With the Intro, Here's the Actual Story Already

When did last Tuesday start turning lousy? It followed a pleasant enough Monday. The weather was a bit rainy, but that allowed me the opportunity at last to try out my new helmet cover. The rain was light, though later on it became a torrent enough to drive several dripping bypassers into the Cafe. The night went along smoothly enough, with a few rushes here and there but nothing major. I guess the bad didn't begin until I noticed the fact that pretty much nobody was tipping. As in, we made $6 apiece in seven hours. That wasn't so great.

Oh yes! It was immediately on starting my shift, when I bounced over to the cash register to help a customer who turned out to be merely walking past the counter to use the bathroom. My last bounce brought me to the register, which somebody had pulled right to the edge of the counter. Not expecting the register to be so close, I slammed my left elbow right into a hard sharp corner. This caused me no small amount of pain, and gave me an incredible urge to scream in agony. However, I did not wish to startle the customers with a strangled wail. I ran around the counter looking for a place I could go where a scream would not be heard. Finding none, I opened the cooler where we keep the ice and screamed into it.

This did little to nothing to stifle the volume.

So one coworker nearly had a heart attack. Another spent the next fifteen minutes laughing at me, saying over and over that he had never seen anyone scream at ice before. (This is much funnier, by the by which is by the by, if you imagine it spoken in a Polish accent, which it was.)

Please note that the preceding event contains no small amount of foreshadowing.

Please also note my overuse of litotes in single-sentence paragraphs. I am hack. See me... um... hack?

Then there was the guy who came up and started banging on the door shortly after we'd finished the closing. My coworker J. went over to see what he wanted. I told her that if she wanted to open the door to talk to him, to put the chain on first. She misunderstood, and after hearing through the door that he wanted money, put on the chain as a gesture.

In any case, it didn't seem to work. He dropped down on his knees and held up his hands and implored us to give him some money. We shrugged, appropriately pained looks on our faces, and he finally went away.

Now, as a sidenote here, I'll just mention that my self-imposed exile/cocoon/whatever is still pretty much in effect. It was a shunning of 14th Street, true, but I haven't filled that barfly void with anything else. So, I went to the Red Room for some drinks and even a bit of dancing after work Saturday and discovered that the combined nostalgia and refound novelty of the place made it actually kind of nice. Hipsterfuck central, in short, is nice in small doses. But here it was Tuesday, and essentially my Friday since I would have Wednesday and Thursday off. Tuesday was my regular Saint Ex night. I had spent the evening watching the rain, thinking that if it kept coming down that hard (tv crawling flash flood warnings for the District and surrounding counties) I'd really need to duck in somewhere to wait it out.

By the time we got out, the rain had stopped. Completely. But I had gotten the idea in my head, so off I went, which put me walking with my coworker for about a block. In the middle of that block we ran into the guy who'd been pounding on the door, coming back the other way.

"C'mon man, just a quarter!"

"Sorry," I shrugged, and kept on walking.

The Tuesday night Saint-Ex crew seems to have thinned out in the last month or so, but I still had a nice enough time. They've gotten Dogfish Head IPA there since my last visit. I love a good IPA, but this one, flavorful as it was, wasn't as bitter as I like. But I digress...

Only to return and immediately digress again. See, my self-imposed social exile was due to several evenings in close succession during which people I kind of knew but not really well enough to call them on it acted like they didn't know who I was: ignoring my presence, even to the point when I walked right up to say hi. The most egregious case of this was from the person who walked into the bar halfway through my second beer, saw me, and came over to give me a hug. Such is the difference a month or two in absentia makes.

But an end to all digressions and back to The Cafe. The first thing I noticed was my bike locked to the fence around the Unenclosed Porch (as the liquor license calls it). The front wheel was at an odd angle. I don't know if it was then or later on that I noticed the water bottle was missing. This is the second water bottle I've had stolen off that bike. I leave them in the clip, figuring that no sane person would steal an average water bottle (likely covered in average dried saliva). This is probably an accurate presumption, but it fails to account for the less than sane among us.

When I go out for drinks after work, I generally leave my backpack behind. It's heavy and bulky and not what I want with me at a crowded bar. I also don't want to spend too much time retrieving it later, so what I've been doing is leaving it locked in the vestibule between the door and the outer gate, sitting on the table we leave out for the morning pastry delivery. When I opened the outer gate, I didn't see the bag where I'd left it. I glanced about and saw it on the ground. Puzzled, I picked it up. My helmet, previously clipped to the bag, remained on the ground. This was getting odd. I picked up the helmet and put it on, then went to turn on the taillight I keep clipped to the back of the bag.

It wasn't there.

I found it on the ground where the bag had been. Odd. I looked at the bag to see if anything else was awry and noticed that the topmost compartment was unzipped. It was empty. This is a compartment which had previously contained:

I am sure at this point that you can reconstruct the events as well as I.

But Wait! There's More!

I was riding home, going through my head all the things I would have to do. First, call my bank. Have them cancel the checks. Second, call my boss. Have her call her bank and cancel the paychecks. I had visions in my head of this weasel going to an all-night check-cashing joint and making off with my wages... or possibly writing himself a check and forging my signature.

Maybe even mailing things with my stamps or paying my bill!

So I reached the part of my commute from which it is all downhill. The road was slick, so rather than pedaling I braked lightly and coasted, leaning slightly into the gradual left curve. This is where the cab came by a little too close.

Now, when I say I was braking lightly, I mean with my rear brake. Like cars and motorcycles, bicycles get most of their braking power from the front tire. Unlike cars (I don't know about motorcycles), a bicycle allows the rider to operate the front and rear brakes independently. For a more gradual stop, squeeze only the right lever. For a sudden stop, squeeze both. I probably overuse the rear brake, which means that it is significantly more worn than the front. Lately it has been braking unevenly and rather ineffectively. So when the cab went by a little too close I hit the front brake right quick.

And immediately lost traction on the (recall: rainslick) road.

The front tire slipped out of my turn, propelling me diagonally into a parked car. I tried putting a foot down, but tumbled right over the bike and onto my (remember the foreshadowing?) left elbow and wrist. The bike landed on my left leg and my right leg landed on the bike.

I got up, straightened out the mirror, straightened out the seat, and rode the rest of the way home. See, unlike romance -- wherein I never even get near the horse to begin with -- in cycling I just hop right back on.

Once home, I washed off my scarified elbow and went to my bank's website to see about canceling checks. But my user number wouldn't work. I tried several times and could not get in. I entered all my information -- full name, birthdate, social security number, mother's maiden name, childhood pet, sperm count, etc. -- on a screen and was told I'd receive the information in 24 hours. This was the last straw. I went upstairs, got a bag of ice for my wrist (possibly sprained: merely using the mouse had been quite painful) and lay on the couch sobbing. Yes, sobbing piteously like a six-year-old denied candy in the middle of a supermarket.

A glass of wine later (I've discovered I don't particularly like Chianti) I returned to my computer and found a phone number for website assistance. I called, told the woman who answered what had happened, and asked to cancel my checks. She told me that this could not be accomplished until 8:30 in the morning, and gave me the number I needed to call. She asked if my ATM card had been stolen as well. No, just the checks.

I thanked her and went to bed.

tragedy becomes farce

I didn't get out of bed to call the bank at 8:30. I woke up several times and, as is my usual mode, looked around, saw no reason to get out of bed, and went back to sleep. At around 1 or 2 in the afternoon I got up and decided it was time to call the bank. The problem that kept me on the line for about an hour was that I had no idea what numbers were in the checkbook that got stolen, and the woman was annoyingly hesitant to cancel any checks without certainty that they'd never be cashed by anyone legitimate. I finally had to swear on a stack of bibles that I'd honor any legitimate checks that I might have given to somebody who has been holding on to them for a month or three, and we were on our way.

At some point during this my call waiting beeped, then the phone made its NEW MESSAGE noise, which the woman I was talking to heard as me gasping in shock at whatever piece of news she had just given me. That I don't remember what it was should reflect my actual level of interest. Then the house phone started ringing, caller ID giving the number for the Cafe. I was still stuck on the phone. I kept getting put on hold so she could call the check manufacturer and find how many checks were in a book (which I ended up telling her myself). Too bad I couldn't put them on hold for a change...

So I finally got off the phone and called the cafe. Apparently the guy had shown up saying that he had some things of mine and wanted to talk to me. M., the owner-manager, was worried that I'd gotten mugged and was bleeding in an alley somewhere, that the guy had my ABC manager's license (how else would he know the address for where I worked?), or any other number of things. She gave a description of the guy, which sounded vaguely like the pleading door-banger (though honestly I didn't remember him very well.)

I explained what had happened, told her that I would have called sooner had I not spent so much time talking to my bank, and asked her to cancel my paychecks. This she did, then called me back. I gave her the rest of the details and we left it at that.

About an hour later she called again, asking if I had a SunTrust ATM card. I told her I didn't. The same guy had shown up again, with a man he claimed was his father, to use the ATM. After nine failed attempts, they gave up.

Then again a little later, this time he had brought by one of my paychecks. M. had called her bank to see if the stop payment could be reversed, but such was not the case.

Then yet again, a few hours later, I got a call from coworker D., saying that he had come by with a single check from my checkbook. Each time he came by, he said he just wanted to talk to me.

At this point I got a jumpstart from Housemate W. to go visit my parents, who were recently back from a vacation in Italy. I told them the whole story, had my dad look at my car (he suspects the culprit to be a loose terminal, I still think the problem has more to do with bad wiring, probably in the driver's side door), had some dinner, and helped my dad set up WEP encryption on his wireless network. We had pasta with pesto and some kind of drink that involved pulped white peaches and Italian champagne. My mother, who after their last trip had told me how much I'd love Paris, told me how much I'd love Italy, and this time she really meant it. (I doubt neither, but seeing as neither my long-talked-of trip to Montreal, nor even my jaunt up to Providence (and I've been meaning to get a haircut since mid-Spring) has come about, I rather doubt that Europe is within the range of my current organizational acumen).

I headed home at around 11. Just as I was a few blocks from my place, my phone rang again. Flagrantly flouting the new hands free law, I answered. It was D. once more, this time telling me that the guy had shown up shortly after closing time waving my checkbook. They had told him to leave.

What had driven me to tears the night before was now making me giggle like a lunatic.

Epilogue #1:

Thursday I also had off. I ended up going to see Del Cielo and 302 Acid at Fort Reno. Friday I worked, but it was uneventful. Saturday he showed up. In summer, I bike to work wearing a t-shirt and shorts (either my patrol shorts or my touring shorts, if you're morbidly curious) with a change of clothes in my (eminently pilferable) backpack. I had just ducked into the rear bathroom and thrown on some jeans and a non-sweatsoaked t-shirt. On my way back to the front I ran into J., saying that there was someone who wanted to talk to me.

"Hey, Bob! You remember me?"

I recognized him immediately. Ordinarily I'm made uncomfortable by people I don't know well being overly familiar. In this case, hearing my first name used made my skin crawl just a tiny little bit.

"Yeah I remember you! You're the guy who stole my stuff!"

"Oh! That's a fucking lie!" (His story all along had been that he'd found everything... in an alley) "You remember me?" (to J.)

"Yes, I remember you from Tuesday night."

"Yeah, you took my stuff."

"Is that how you show gratitude?"

"You expect me to be grateful!? I spent my day off canceling all those checks. If you gave them back to me, all I could do was throw them away! They're useless to me! Get out of here."

He left, mumbling more about gratitude.

"Don't ever come back!"

He never even had the chance to try to extort money from me. Had he tried, in my little fantasy world, I'd've told him that everything he had taken was worth "my foot up your ass" to me. Then demanding that he pay me and M. the money it cost to cancel the checks. And finally saying something along the lines of "And if I ever see you again, I'm going to call the police... if you're lucky!"

Epilogue #2

My rear brake and front derailleur have been acting strangely (the brake slowing me down jerkily, the derailleur being cranky about going up to the largest gear) for about a week now. Also, the seat has been spinning quite freely. On Monday night I tried to adjust the derailleur (thinking that the brake pads only needed replacing sooner rather than later, which I could get to soon enough) and discovered that the rear wheel was off true enough to be reasonably called warped. The tire wobbled back and forth, rubbing first one brake pad then the other.

Today I drove out to City Bikes and ended up having to buy a new wheel. $63 parts and labor. The seat post seems to be jammed in the frame, unfortunately. The woman working on it coated it with some horribly greasy lubricant that got all over everything, but it's still stuck fast.

Yeah, but it's still less hassle than the damn car.

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