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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Red Skin State

It’s about as warm as it ever gets in Seattle. It is sunny and 80 degrees. My apartment doesn’t have air conditioning but it is comfortable during the day, and at night it cools off enough so that I still need to sleep with a blanket. We are having what a lot of people consider to be good weather. My body hasn’t seen much sun since I moved here from the sub-tropics of Florida. My skin has been the color of boiled chicken for most of the time I have lived up here in the upper left hand corner of the country.

Lately I don’t seem to gravitate to warm places when I travel. I have been taking my overseas vacations during the winter to places that have even worse weather than Seattle. During the summer months I have been traveling around the Northwest, which isn’t exactly famous for sunshine. In these parts, hot sunny days are less common than earthquakes or volcano eruptions. Tan lines are about as alien to me these days as, well, aliens.

I sat outside the other day and read for an hour in the hot sun. I now have a few blotches of red on my otherwise very white carcass. I don’t even know if I am capable of getting anything remotely resembling a tan. I used to think that I tanned easily enough but I’m just way out of practice. It is sunny again today so maybe I’ll go out and try to get some red blotches on other parts of my body without getting the red blotches already present even redder.

Here is the problem. I live downtown and I don’t have a deck connected to my apartment. The only park area around my neighborhood is the Seattle Center which is hosting a huge music festival this weekend. This means that there won’t be six square inches of available grass to lie on, or a single empty park bench where I can sit and read.

The Folklife Festival at the Seattle Center ushers in the summer every Memorial Day weekend. Armies of musicians with fiddles, dulcimers, banjos, bongos, flutes, guitars, and anything else you can pick, blow into, beat, hammer, or bow, all these people converge on the Seattle Center to play. Since I’m already on the subject I have to say that this is about the whitest crowd I’ve ever seen. There isn’t enough skin pigment in this entire venue to fill a musician’s tip cup. Someone could make a fortune today with a sunscreen concession.

I come from European peasant stock—German and French. The German side is fair haired and light skinned. Although I lean more towards the Mediterranean French side, the German blood in me is responsible for my sunburns. I have always wished that I looked more Mediterranean, a little darker skinned and with dark hair. If I looked more Greek I would also look more Mexican, more Lebanese, more Spanish, more ambiguous racially, and I would blend into a crowd in more places than Seattle. I have tried several times in my life to pound the square peg of my white skin into the round hole of a sunny climate on the globe. It doesn’t work so well. I’m sure that I damaged my hide during my residencies in latitudes closer to zero. On sunny days like we’ve had here this week even Seattle isn’t far enough away from the equator to save me from sunburn.

Friday, May 27, 2005

This Perfectly Good Apartment

Fixing up old homes has turned into a major industry in America. From This Old House, with the preternaturally cheery Bob Villa, there has spawned dozens of spin-off TV shows and magazines dedicated to destroying your weekend with chores. From a casual glance of the TV guide and the magazine rack you would think that we are a nation of handyman wannabes, but what about the rest of us? What about the people who wouldn’t know a miter saw from an electric toothbrush? For these people I will be airing my own TV show.

Instead of This Old House, my TV show will be called This Perfectly Good Apartment that I’m only Renting so Why Should I Bother to Lift a Finger Around Here to Fix Anything? In the first episode I’m lying on the couch downloading pirated mp3’s when I notice that the there is some sort of leak coming from the unit above me. I make a mental note to tell the apartment manager but I unfortunately file this mental note in the same mental folder where I keep my knowledge of college calculus, which means I will never again have access to that information.

In episode Two I am looking for the cheese grater to make nachos when I discover that one of the drawers in the kitchen is extremely difficult to open. After a pitched battle with the forces responsible for the drawer being stuck I finally pry it open. I make a mental note to tell the apartment manager of this problem. I now use this stuck drawer as a sort of safety deposit box to store important papers. It turns out that the cheese grater was lying under a stack of dirty dishes in the sink.

My show will teach you how to avoid spending your Saturdays at Home Depot and instead waste them watching a Patrick Swayze Movie marathon on TNT. This Perfectly Good Apartment that I’m only Renting so Why Should I Bother to Lift a Finger Around Here to Fix Anything? will instruct you on kitchen remodeling techniques not explored on those other programs. If you are dissatisfied with your kitchen simply go out to eat every night. You will save a lot of money in the long run and you won’t run the risk of rupturing a gas main and leveling five city blocks because you wanted your dining area to be more “open.”

One of the most useful home improvement techniques you will learn on my show is simply to ignore problems around the house. Let’s face it, you are just too busy to fix that broken overhead light in the bathroom. You still have eight beers from the case you bought yesterday, that doesn’t leave you much time to find a ladder and risk electrocution. Besides, there is another light in the bathroom. Just get a brighter bulb for that fixture and the problem is solved.

The final and most useful hint you will learn from me is this: If you don’t like where you live now, you can always move. It’s not like you are married to that dump of a house you bought. Learn to embrace your inherent laziness and give up on the idea of home improvement. There are things in this life that you cannot change and maybe not having a deck on your house is one of them.

Remember that we live in a world that is highly specialized. Carpentry is a very specialized skill and you can’t be expected to master that sort of expertise. You are probably good at other stuff like remembering arcane baseball statistics and the lyrics to crappy pop songs. If God wanted you to be a carpenter he would have made tool belts big enough to fit around your waist. Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Duct Tape in a Cup

Coffee is not just a morning stimulant; it is a powerful medicine in the fight against aging. It washes the fog out of my eyes that are too blurred to read newsprint until I have at least ten sips from my cup (I have my computer’s font size set on 16 right now.). I often need caffeine before I can walk without a pronounced limp first thing in the morning. Today it is the cure for the physical hangover of either a tough day of mountain biking yesterday or the subsequent nine hours I spent passed out from exhaustion at the end of the day.

A lot of people say how coffee makes them feel jittery. Jittery? I think that coffee is the only thing that keeps me together. I think of coffee as my liquid chemical version of duct tape, and without it the jalopy that is my body would be broken down on the side of the road, with the hood up and steam pouring out of the engine. Like duct tape, coffee isn’t a very sophisticated technique to make repairs. I should keep to the scheduled maintenance; I should realize that my body is now a vintage Oldsmobile and not a Porsche, and I should use only high quality motor oils instead of Maker’s Mark Manhattans.

But coffee, like duct tape, is an inexpensive, versatile, and highly effective method of fixing a broken down body. Coffee is cheaper and a lot easier than surgery, physical therapy, or alcohol rehab. A paper cup filled with hot black liquid and which costs $1.64 with tax is a lot more convenient than actually taking decent care of my body. Coffee is breakfast. Yesterday, after almost three hours of mountain biking, an unfinished latte that I bought for the drive out of town also served as my very late lunch.

I don’t drink a lot of coffee. 16-20 ounces in the morning is usually enough to get me up and running. I take drip coffee, not black like a man but with a bit of sugar like a little sissy-boy. I may have another cup in the afternoon, but I really don’t need this one. I will order a latte just to have something to fidget with as I do my scheduled hour and a half of reading. I am fairly moderate as far as caffeine consumption is concerned, which goes against my abnormally compulsive nature. You could probably talk me out of my afternoon coffee, but don’t stand between me and my first cup of the day. That ranks up there on the stupidity scale with standing between a mother grizzly and her cubs. I’m usually not a violent person but before I’ve had coffee in the morning I can’t be held responsible for any bad behavior.

I’ve almost finished my coffee and I feel like I can probably do something besides type nonsense on a keyboard. If I didn’t drink coffee I’d probably type nonsense all day long. Without coffee I would imagine that what I wrote would be a lot more bitter and profane than it is now. It’s dark roasted lithium.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Mud World

This was my first trip up to Tiger Mountain so I can forgive myself for getting off on the wrong exit. I usually don’t drive myself up to this Seattle favorite mountain bike trail and as a passenger I never pay close attention. The same goes for the trail itself. I usually just hump behind friends who are familiar with the mountain. I figured that I had done Tiger Mountain enough times so I shouldn’t get lost going by myself.

There were about ten cars in the parking lot when I pulled up to the summit. That’s kind of a crowd for a week day this early in the season. I ended up passing three cyclists and one forest service truck all afternoon.

The ride begins with a pretty healthy climb up the forest service road. I locked out my front and rear suspension and started grinding up. The road is so steep in places that you can’t stand up on the pedals to crank because you will lose traction on the rear wheel. If you stop on the steeper inclines it can be a chore to regain your forward momentum so if you are going to take a breather do it on a relatively flat section. The brutal uphill section gives you lots of time to think. What I tend to think about is how much this part sucks. I think about how much easier it would have been if I had gone to a matinee.

I saw another rider about 1/8 of a mile in front of me. I didn’t feel too strong out of the gate today so I didn’t think I’d be passing anyone on this ride. This climb will never seem easy to me but I think I felt better than usual because I had done interval training the day before yesterday. I kept swearing out loud and grinding up the road that spirals around clockwise to the top of the mountain. I blew past the guy in front of me and raced up the last mile to the top.

When I got to the trailhead I lowered my seat, unlocked my shocks, put on a thermal sweatshirt and helmet, and started down the single track trail. It was a sunny day but on the trail the tree cover is so dense that it is like riding at dusk. There is not much time to be reflective on the way down because most of your thought processes involve making life-saving decisions on how to ride the course. My new bike makes the riding decisions a lot easier and I was constantly amazed at some of the obstacles I was able to negotiate with not much trouble. The trail is in pretty bad shape because of all of the rain we’ve had this past month but I was able to ride most of it at a fairly good clip. This was the first time that I didn’t have at least one wipe out coming down.

Because of the mud, most of the trail was pretty treacherous and a lot more technical than usual but there are plenty of sections where you can open up the trottle. Through the fast parts I’m laughing out loud at how much fun I’m having, but around the next switchback the trail will turn to shit and I’m picking over logs and four foot drop-offs. I passed two guys on the descent. My new bike simply outclassed what they were riding. As I get older I need all of the technical advantages I can get.

Before I began today I was planning on doing two laps of the course. The downhill was just too punishing today and by the time I was back at the bottom all I could think of was getting back to Seattle and having a nourishing pint, or a nap. My bike was so completely covered in mud that I had to stop by the self-serve carwash on the way home to make it pretty again.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

What is Fashion?

How Much is that Purple Shirt on the Sale Rack?

I tried to buy some clothes for myself the other day. I have a complete lack of patience when it comes to shopping so my actions are more along the line of a smash-and-grab artist than an intelligent consumer. About all that I look for in clothes is something that makes me look good and won’t make me look like a complete idiot. This seems to preclude about 99% of what I see in the department stores these days. I often feel that the goal of the fashion industry is to try and make as many people as they can look goofy.

The idea that there is a ‘fashion industry’ cracks me up. When we talk about the ‘fashion industry’ we aren’t referring to the anonymous people working in slave-labor factories sewing together our Tommy Hilfiger jeans or DKNY shirts. That’s the ‘industry’ side. We mean the ‘fashion’ side of runway models and clothing designers. When we say ‘fashion industry’ we don’t mean people toiling in some third world hellhole, we mean the beautiful people and the glamour of New York and Paris.

We love hearing about all of the tremendously talented people in fashion design who really only decide what color everyone is going to wear for the season. This past year it was purple for boys. If you didn’t have a purple dress shirt you probably got beat up at the office by the other kids. Whatever genius decided that the color this year would be purple probably made more than all of the employees of every slave-labor clothing factory in China put together.

Fashion is supposed to be about individuality, but what could be individualistic about buying a shirt that is the same color as every other one in the store? Fashion is really about dictating the parameters of the uniforms we will wear for the coming season, unless you buy your clothes when they go on sale. In this case you will be wearing your purple shirt a few months late.

When I buy clothes I like to think that I am buying something that will be timeless, something that someone could have worn twenty years ago and could wear twenty years from today. When you look at old photographs and you make fun of the clothing, you are making fun of the purple shirts of a bygone era. Whether or not they bought their clothes on sale won’t cut them any slack when we laugh at their “funny” clothes.

For my fashion cues I like to watch French movies from the 1960’s. I can’t remember what film it was but I saw some French dude in an old movie wearing a pair of black shoes with a buckle. I have owned a pair of black dress shoes with buckles my entire adult life. Sometimes this means getting a pair resoled because the ‘fashion industry’ decides to leave the “black dress shoes with buckles” field fallow for a few seasons. I have a heavy black leather car coat that I have owned for years and that I haven’t worn for the past two years. It hangs fallow in my closet until that particular men’s accessory becomes a bit less ubiquitous. A good black suit always looks good along with a black trench coat. That's about all that I know about fashion except the old adage that when you buy a bottle of expensive wine the label should match your shirt.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Grow Up!

What does it say about a full grown man when the funniest thing he has experienced in weeks is a scene in a bootleg video of The Simpsons in which Homer tries desperately to change the channel on the TV by mistakenly squeezing down on his ice cream sandwich instead of the remote control? Please excuse me while I laugh about that once again. I would call my nephew and ask him if he saw that episode but I’m terrified that that he has outgrown his love for that staple of American humor. I know that I will never outgrow a wonderful sight gag and sometimes I wonder about myself. When will I grow up?

Another terrific sight gag that I have been telling people about since I was a kid comes from one of the Pink Panther movies. Peter Sellers as inspector Clousseau is leaning back in his chair in his office. His chair starts to fall backwards but is stopped by the wall behind it. Inspector Clousseau is now stuck sitting in his chair leaning back against the wall at a 45 degree angle. He makes a few failed attempts to push his weight forward and right himself when one of his assistants enters the office and approaches his desk. Clousseau feigns that everything is as it should be but when his assistant leans over the desk to show him something Clousseau grabs the man’s tie to right himself. As his chair comes forward he pulls the man’s head downward slamming it into the desk.

Can someone please tell me which movie that is from so that I don’t have to rent the entire Pink Panther series to find that one scene that has brought me untold joy since I first saw it many, many years ago. On second thought, watching all of those silly movies would do me some good right about now. I promise that I will grow up right after I have plowed through all of those movies.

I think my problem is that I prefer laughter over other human responses. This would explain why after spending countless hours wandering through Paris art museums my favorite painting depicts one fat guy lying naked in the grass next to his car while another fat naked guy mows the yard around him. I can even remember the name of the work, Funny Place to Park by Eric Fischi (I had to find his name from my notes).

I can honestly say that I think that I like to laugh more than the average person. My search for laughter drives my own need to write comedy. If I had to put my finger on it I would have to say that my humor compulsion may be driven by the fact that perhaps I see life to be more of an absurdity than most people. Voltaire said that God is a comedian with an audience too afraid to laugh. As an atheist I’m not afraid to laugh at anything. I also recognize the stupidity of an essay that begins by describing Homer Simpson using an ice cream sandwich as a TV remote control and ends with a refutation of an almighty being, but I don’t have time to fix the essay and it's much too late for me to change.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hello, My Name is Technical Difficulties, Captain Technical Difficulties

I’m seriously thinking about changing my name to ‘Technical Difficulties.’ That way whenever I sink my web site I can blame it on technical difficulties and you will all know that it was my fault. It’s not as if this thing is technically difficult to anyone with the faintest grasp of whatever it is you call web site stuff. I’m sure that geeks have a name for it. I would probably have less difficulty reading Mandarin Chinese than something having to do with html or ftp.

If I were still in school I would get beat up by the other kids because my site is so completely devoid of any technical sophistication. Leftbanker.com is the technical equivalent of children making a fort out of couch cushions. Take a look around this dump. No streaming video, no bells, no whistles and yet I can’t seem to keep this boat floating.

The Leftbanker garbage scow almost sank with the entire crew, but with a bit of help I was able to bail out enough water to bring it back above the surface—at least for now. With all of the preoccupation with keeping the U.S.S. Leftbanker from sinking it has been hard to worry about content. I can’t be expected to write essays during a disaster. That’s like asking the captain of the Titanic to sit down and play a tune on the piano while his boat is torpedoing to the bottom.

I had some problems with my hosting server and I was unable to publish anything for a few weeks. The only contact I had was via the crappy little comments box—the life boat of the foundering ship of Leftbanker. I paddled around looking for survivors but I think that all of my readers perished. Sorry, but it’s not my fault if you can’t fucking swim. I’m back at the controls and I’m steaming back into the virtual sewer known as the internet. Full speed ahead.

Think of this essay as a rechristening, a bon voyage party for all of the great things to come. I will cruise around the entire internet, not that there is much to see. After you take away the very necessary 99% of the internet used by porn sites there isn’t much left. 99% of the 1% not represented by porn sites is filled by right-wing assholes. I’m sure that somewhere in the world of the internet there is a tiny speck of an island that is not a complete waste of time. The tiny speck of an island that is not a waste of time is definitely not Leftbanker but maybe I’ll take you there…barring any technical difficulties. Wear a life vest this time.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Support Our Troops

I picked up one of those ubiquitous “Support Our Troops” magnets off the street this morning. In this time of war, when American soldiers serve in great peril in a part of the world that is now almost entirely hostile to even the idea of Americans not to mention American soldiers, I think that buying a $2 magnet that says you support our troops and putting it on your car is just about the lamest, most hollow gesture in the entire history of lame and hollow gestures.

I’ll wager a round of drinks that these magnets are made in China. What you are really supporting is a bigger trade deficit, but if the damn thing makes you fell better then by all means stick one on your car. How about getting a magnet for the front and another for the back of your SUV? Wouldn’t that make you twice as patriotic as the commies who only have one magnet? We won’t even mention the filth who don’t have a single $2 magnet on their car.

Since before the invasion of Iraq began I have heard lectures from conservatives about the need to support our troops. I was told that by participating in an anti-war demonstration weeks before the war started I wasn’t supporting our troops. I thought that the war was misguided and not necessary and would not strengthen the security of the United States. I thought that the Bush administration’s claims of Iraq’s threat to world peace were hyperbolic at best and outright lies at worst.

The tattered “Support Our Troops” magnet serves as an apt metaphor for the short attention span of a lot of people who initially were in favor of the war and now choose to forget all about it. If only it were that easy. The problem is that we still have an occupying force in Iraq and they are still dying at an unacceptable rate. Unacceptable to the people who are losing people they love in what is still (to me) a misguided and unnecessary war.

For too many Americans the only stake they have in this conflict is a $2 Chinese magnet they bought two years ago when they were whipped into a patriotic fever by the administration’s call to war. I don’t blame the magnet people; I blame our president who did not ask the American public for the slightest sacrifice in support of the invasion. In fact, he dished out huge tax cuts to our wealthiest citizens at the same time that he sent our soldiers to war. As anyone who has served in the all-volunteer military can tell you, there aren’t too many rich kids in uniform. If you make over $1 million a year you got upwards of a $90,000 tax cut. That is $89,998 after you buy the stupid fucking magnet. Supporting troops has never been easier, cheaper, or more meaningless than it is today.


My favorite is "Power of Pride". Isn't pride one of the seven deadly sins? Are we supposed to subconciously think "Proud of Power"? I don't get it.
Also funny is "Proud to be an American". I dunno... I didn't have to *do* anything to be an American. I was just born here so (btw, Bill Hicks already covered this.)

I love the Wikipedia entry for Pride, especially that the "See also:" part lists Narcissism and Victory Disease.

As for the yellow ribbons, I just try to ignore them and whistle that old Tony Orlando & Dawn song Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.

-- Jeff Spicoli
-- # May 17 2005, 05:44 pm homepage

Just a couple of comments from "a right-winger" ...I agree the "Support our Troops" magnets and the like are a bit meaningless...but your bit about the wealthiest and tax cuts...my feeling is quit with the rich are evil. Why do you think our wealthiest citizens should be punished? Obviously...if you make more money...your tax cut should be more. Fair is fair! Hope about everybody pays the same percentage on their income...say 5%. Then the government could send out pre-stamped envelopes and if you wish to donate more...then do so on your own. Lets see how many "citizens" do so.

-- Susan
-- # May 19 2005, 05:44 am e-mail

Did I say that the rich are evil? I know this is one of the right's talking points when dealing with progressives, but try not to put words into the mouths of others. This is a subject for an essay but the rich should pay a higher pproportion of their income in taxes. In a nutshell they derive more advantages from the system and should pay for it.

-- leftbanker


Quit your bitchin'. Get your ass back into the military - you probably have knowledge that could be put to immediate use and that would keep our young men and women out of harm's way.

Otherwise what are you doing that a thousand pierced-faced, black tee-shirt wearing Seattle dudes aren't already doing? Sitting around pissing about magnets is unworthy of you, soldier.

Talk about cost-free actions! This is America Jack. You can sit around as bitch about Bush until the grass grows on your back. Anti-war protest is a big zero because nothing is risked - nothing will ever be gained except your eventual sense of shame.

So Bush and the rich are your big enemies, huh? How safe, how safe indeed.

-- das

So your idea of patriotism is buying a $2 magnet and mine is serving honorably in our nation's military. I object to a pointless war that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives, and you rail against perceived liberal bias on NPR (one of the only decent sources of news in America). I guess we can agree to disagree.

P.S. I was in the Air Force which means I was an airman and not a soldier--a minor point that only a veteran would appreciate.

-- leftbanker


Stop assuming you understand the minds of thousands of people who buy stickers or magnets to support the troops. It is just a symbol for people to say that they stand behind the whole effort, including, tragically, sending young men and women into battle because, yes, they believe in the cause. Should we all just trapse along and pretend that young men and women aren't dying for us (we already did that during the Vietnam years)? Go ahead and make fun of them but that is their right as citizens. You don't know all these people - stop belittling them.

You seem to have an excess of piss and rage coupled with a deserved pride in your military service - why don't you take it out on terrorists who want to bring us to our knees rather than a president who would destroy those same terrorists?

I like a lot of things about NPR but I get tired of its default anti-Bush stance. I guess if it were well-done anti-Bush reporting I might respect it more; but often NPR strikes me as incomplete and lazy in their reporting.

-- das

There are no minds behind the SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!(TM) ribbons that don the backs of the gas guzzling SUVs. The sheep blindly follow their leader and never question anything. They denounced us as being unpatriotic when we tried to get the troops body armor. They denounced us as anti-American when we complained about stop-loss. They called us whiny liberals when we tried to get adequate health care for the families of deployed troops. We did all of this despite the fact that we mostly opposed the war.

When you are living paycheck to paycheck and you are paying the same taxes as wealthy people, it is NOT the same or equal. When lower income people have less disposeable income, they cannot contribute to the economy as much, and the wealthy have a disproportionate say over how the economy is run. That is not equal. Plus, when you say everyone should pay the same taxes, you are not taking into account unearned income. There should be a price to pay on unearned income, yet the largest tax cuts went to this unearned money. If you don't do anything to earn it, why should you enjoy all of it? Someone who lives paycheck to paycheck doesn't get to invest extra money. It's a vicious cycle that is quite difficult to get out of.

Amen to the power of pride sticker. I've had those same thoughts.

-- Daedalus

Ah yes, Leftbanker, you whiny Seattle hippie, don't you understand that das and his ilk of neo-modern patriots need do nothing more than prove their patriotic worthiness by justification by faith.

They are the masters of empty words and gestures.

"Believe in Bush and ye shall be safe from the evil terrorists."

There's no need for discussion or compromise with the faithful flock. They are right and blessed by God, and the rest of us are unworthy scum. They carry themselves with the kind of single-minded certainty that comes from faith in a false religion.

I'm sorry, das, but you're full of shit, you creepy little small-minded jerk. I don't have to mince my words with assholes like you, and I wonder what great contribution you have made to the cause in your life to carry yourself with such great sanctimony and condescension.

I mean, really, you have demanded TWICE on here that Leftie, a military veteran, must re-join the military to “cleanse” himself of his liberalism and dissent to the Bush cult.

Have you ever served, weasel? Please dazzle us with your lofty tales of national service that gives you such license to question the patriotism of others.

I dare you, I double-dare you. 'Cos I just know you haven't.

-- mat

You Americans, all you need to do is stop taking so much energy and you'll be fine, your economy will be on better standing and everyone won't hate you so much. Wake up and smell the bomb shells

-- Rich Jerk