Tuesday, January 21, 2003


I went snowboarding with a group of friends this weekend. Snowboarding, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept (which is probably none of you, but for the sake of discussion I am going to ignore that little fact), is kind of like skiing, only not. It is like skiing in that the ultimate purpose is to slide rapidly down snow covered slopes. Not like skiing in that there's only one plank, and that one missing plank changes things significantly (like, say, removing one wheel from a bicycle might make the bike riding experience a little different).

Of course, I wore all the required layers (including the all important puffy snowpants) that skiers and snowboarders share. To that, I added the snowboard boots. They're kind of like moonboots only . . . okay so they're almost exactly like moonboots. Thus attired, I trudged out into the snow and started to attach myself to my board. First, I strapped in my right foot. Most people strap their left foot in first but I happen to be what is called "goofy-footed." What that means technically is that I use my left foot to steer instead of my right. What it means practically is that my "friends" get to make comments like "GOOFY footed, huh? Well I, for one, am not at all surprised that you're GOOFY footed. huh huh" You know you're thinking of a few similar comments. Go ahead, make your "goofy" jokes here. I'll wait. Done? I'll wait some more. Okay, I'm not waiting any longer, whether you're done or not . . .on with my story...

So, with my right foot firmly strapped in (and I do mean firmly), I proceeded to strap in my left foot, also quite firmly. This was to ensure that my legs could no longer move independently of one another. I promptly fell down. Actually, this is not the first time I've been boarding (it's somewhere around my fifth), so once I got back on my feet and got moving, I fell down again. This happened several times. There is lots of falling down early in one's snowboarding career (this is where the puffy snowpants are KEY). Dave, for whom this WAS his first time, and I decided to take the double-green trail on our first downhill attempt. Green means gentle, blue means moderate, black means death - or difficult, but at my skill level that amounts to the same thing. Double-green, apparently, means flat.

Our friends waited for Dave and I at the bottom of the slope, having taken a regular green trail. They waited half an hour. Then they went back to the top to look for us again. My roommate found us on his third run. See, double-green is really meant for skiers. Skiers with poles. Really, cross-country skiers with poles. Snowboarders with both legs strapped to a board without poles don't go anywhere fast on flat to almost flat terrain. We did, however, get good at hopping (the snowboard hop is a very amusing thing to witness). There were many places where we had to unstrap one foot and push until we got to the next area that vaguely resembled a slope. We were both sweating pretty seriously by the time we reached bottom. I had a thin film of fog inside my goggles from sweating so much. This is more impressive when you stop to think that it was cold enough outside that the aforementioned film froze to my goggles moments after I took them off. We had a good laugh, and swore never to ride a double-green again. Then we fell down.

The rest of the weekend improved from there. I fell down several more times, but less and less often as the weekend progressed. After two days of practice, I can now do several things on a board that I couldn't before, like turn left (and I thought snowboarding was fun BEFORE I could steer...). Overall, I'd have to say it was a good trip (and thank goodness for puffy snowpants).

Tuesday, January 07, 2003


My friend Bruce is a large man. He is, you could say, larger than most people. Not all of them, but a lot of them. Bruce knows this. It is something he takes into account in his actions, like moving through crowds. Bruce wades through crowds. He doesn't push or shove, he just walks forward and those who notice him automatically get out of his way. I, being a somewhat smaller individual, do not have this imposing influence upon others. Those who do notice me rarely feel any primitive compulsion to move aside. When it comes to crowds, I don't wade through so much as slip between. Or I just follow Bruce, which is generally easier. It's nice to have a large friend. There are other times, however, when it is vaguely alarming. For instance, crossing roads.

Bruce, for some reason, appears to have come to the conclusion that since he is bigger than most drivers he must also be bigger than most cars. He doesn't generally challenge semis on this and he'll usually concede some of the larger SUV's, but for the most part, when it comes to crossing the road, Bruce tends to walk first and look later, or not look at all. His concept of the right-of-way laws (and here I am paraphrasing an actual comment) is that A) right-of-way laws are absolute and everyone WILL stop when they are supposed to and B) he always has the right of way ("All others are number two or lower"). He has told me on multiple occasions, when I try to debate this point with him, that he is likely to do more damage to the cars than they are to him anyway, so it's up for them to watch out for HIM. Now, like I have said, Bruce is a big guy, but he's not THAT big. Thus far, however, his philosophy has not been challenged. For a variety of reasons, which I think might have more to do with insurance premiums than any fear of Bruce, every car he was walked in front of has stopped without hitting him.

I have another friend, this one named Mike (which doesn't tell you much, since most of my friends appear to be named Mike), who has been hit by a car, even though he was doing all the right things at the time. He was in a crosswalk, and had the walk signal. All the cars were stopped. Theoretically, he should have been safe. About halfway across however, Mike notices that the car to his right is verrry slowly rolling forward. Mike turns, looks at the driver, meets his eyes, and gives him a Look. (Those of you who know which Mike I am referring to will know what I am talking about when I say "a Look." The rest of you should just feel free to make something up). The driver looks back at Mike, notices him, and completely fails to stop rolling forward until after he has already bumped into Mike's shins. Mike was shocked, but unhurt. The driver was still oblivious. For his pains, Mike (and through him, his friends) got an amusing story to tell. We have no idea what happened to the driver, but we're hoping reality has caught up to him by now.

So, quick recap: Mike stays in the crosswalk, waits for the walk signal, waits for cars to stop, and still gets hit by a car (albeit very softly). Bruce crosses where and when he pleases, ignores oncoming traffic, and gets off scott-free. Maybe Bruce has something there. I think, though, that I'll wait to see the results of a few more trials before taking up the practice myself.

Thursday, January 02, 2003


I have this dream where I am in a large courtroom confronted by The Powers That Be. If I were to peer over the side of the table where I sit, I would see golden letters forming the word "Defendant." I do not peer over the side of the table, however, because The Powers That Be intimidate me and I feel like it is very important that I act Decorous and not do Undecorous things like peer over the side of my own table. So I stand there, waiting, nervous and trying to look meek and properly respectful. Then The Powers That Be speak. They say to me, "Robert Smith, you stand before this court in order that you may be tried for the Crimes of Humanity." At this point, shock prompts me to forget the "meek and respectful" bit and I respond, "Whoa." Then, to be sure they understand my position, I repeat this line a few more times. Eventually, in the interest of clarity, I rephrase my objections, "Wait a minute. You're charging me with the Crimes of Humanity? What have I done that this burden should fall to my shoulders? Isn't there someone better suited to this? Isn't there someone who perhaps had a hand in the Crimes of Humanity that you might want to charge instead?"
The Powers That Be smile at me indulgently and I realize two things. One, it is probably not a good idea to be yelling at The Powers That Be. Two, I do not have a lawyer, or if I do, he is incompetent for letting me yell at The Powers That Be. Neither of these realizations fills me with much hope for the outcome of this trial. "Actually," say The Powers That Be, who can be very nice when it suits them, "You're not being charged with any crimes. You have been chosen as a representative of Humanity that you may defend, justify, or explain certain actions of your species. Before you raise another eloquent objection, other trials have already addressed the Greater Crimes like Genocide, Greed, and Boy Bands. We have also addressed most of the lesser crimes. Your trial addresses humanity's repeated violation of basic sense." I look around once more for a lawyer and see no one who will explain to me what is really going on and how I should respond. I bite the bullet and say, with complete honesty, "I do not understand."
The Powers That Be try again. "We would like you to serve as humanity's representative in helping us determine humanity's guilt or lack-thereof in what, We suppose, would basically boil down to ‘the perpetuation of bizarre quirks.'" Comprehension completely fails to dawn on my face. They go on, "For instance, there are the timeless questions: Why do people park in driveways and drive on parkways? Why isn't phonetics spelled the way it sounds? Why is there brail on the keypads of drive-up ATM's? You've heard all of these questions before."
"Yes, and I believe I can at least answer the last one. It's for blind people in taxicabs."
"Then tell Us, have you ever seen a speaker on a drive-up ATM?" I admit that I have not noticed such a thing. "Then how do these blind people in taxicabs know what is displayed on the screen of the ATM?" I have no answer to this and say so. The Powers That Be consider their point proven and continue, "Really, however, these issues are tip-of-the-iceberg cliches but they illustrate, We think, the concept We wish to examine at today's trial. But enough explanation. We shall now proceed with the trial. You have heard the accusations against you. How do you wish to plead?" I think for a moment then settle upon an answer I believe fits the situation.
"I wish to plead Contemporary Insanity." This is not what The Powers That Be had expected. They ask me to repeat my plea. "I believe that humanity should be acquitted of these accusations due to the fact that we were all Contemporarily Insane at the time these acts were committed."
The Powers That Be shrug, "Okay."
They nod. "Yes. We find humanity not guilty by reason of contemporary inanity."
"Insanity." They shrug again and ignore my interruption. "Now, having so ruled, We order that you must submit yourself to treatment."
"I what?"
"Treatment." I look around for a lawyer again hoping that maybe he was just late and would, at any moment, rush into the courtroom to save me. He fails to do so and The Powers That Be continue, uninterrupted by timely legal objections, "We order that you should observe these acts of contemporary insanity and report your findings to Us regularly for the next year. At that time We shall reconvene to determine whether the therapy has been successful. Case closed" Then I am led away by the bailiff who turns out to be my fifth grade gym teacher who takes me to a McDonald's filled with smurfs that all look like John Malkovich, or at least how he would look if he were blue and really short. Ultimately, it's a pretty weird dream.