Dear John

Nature rarely calls at opportune moments. More so than death or taxes, I know that the moment I near the head of the DMV line, comfortably settle into a chair, or quiet an anxious sibling to sleep nature will call me to the porcelain throne. Tuesday night on the way home from school was no exception. Typically after a long evening of classes, my mind settles down for a long drive home flipping through radio stations for songs, staring out the window, and occasionally avoiding other vehicles. Yet after passing closed department stores or sketchy gas stations, my body begins to feel mild irritation, much like a castle wall immersed in Greek fire. A half-hour of this, my face beading with sweat and my leg bounces up and down like a happy dog being scratched behind the ears. Reluctantly I pull into a gas station and casually . . . ok, frantically run for the stalls while throwing a half-hearted wave to the gas station attendant, who clearly believes I’m up to no good. This belief is further confirmed when I happily leave the bathroom full of relief smiling ear to ear and desiring munchies.

Now most restaurants or well-bred establishments uphold the rule that only paying customers may use the restrooms. This halts the formation of long lines, excessive cleaning, and the strong odor of many D.C. parking garages.* Most gas stations not being well-bred or well-cleaned, the post-peed patrons refuse to consider any toll. Not me. Guilt typically sets in after a visit, coercing me to buy . . . well something. A soda. Slim Jim. WD-40 . . . anything. To me, it’s like tipping your waiter. The door to the bathroom was open, well-lit and free of significant slime; therefore, I will ensure that your business will flourish for another day. I buy $1.45 worth of pretzels and leave, free of bodily pain, giddy with generosity, and anxious to munch on salty dried bread.

*Fun Fact: In truth, many stairwells at D.C. parking garages once existed as lavatories, their signs still etched into the doors but fading and hidden by metallic paint. These new renovations apparently are lost on many members of the commuting populace, who frequently leave watermarks at every corner and terrace after a night of rigorous libations. Cleaning crews of course scour every inch with antiseptic but never truly exorcise the winding stairs from the haunting musk; the result is that most parking garages smell more like a bathroom than many home toilets, which thanks to scented fresheners more typically reek of peppermint and sugar cookies.

Motor City

Three simple yet important qualities or questions guide my taste in automobiles: function (Does it work?), utility (Can it get me there?), and size (Can I comfortably stuff ten or twelve adults and/or children loaded like sherpas into it?). Other factors essential to more fervent automotive buyers like style, make, model, year, country, cleanliness, stereo, sunroof, engine, quantity of tailfins, speed, color, brightness of headlights, mileage, cost, or thickness of racing strips are ignored, unwanted necessities like new socks on Christmas morning. I do not care if the machine I am driving happens to be a 1970 Ford GT 500 Mustang convertible or dispenses coffee milkshakes (though that feature is long past due). If I fear damaging the car to such an extent that I cannot drive it, the thing no longer becomes a car but a large metal albatross around my neck, a driveway monument to American excess or – if they include the milkshake dispenser – genius.

On the other hand, if my brother Kevin was forced to choose between, say . . . a castle in the Alps and a 1970 Mustang, I would not invest in a home-warming gift . . . unless said gift involved a pair of fuzzy pink dice. Kevin absolutely loves tractors and cars of any and all kinds, an obsession as strange to me as my bibliophilia probably is to him. Given the opportunity, he would jump on our riding mower like the Lone Ranger on Silver amid three feet of snow even just to cut down any ambitious blades of grass that look a little bit too healthy. Moreover, he adores American cars – Ford especially – becoming quite agitated if you insult his favorite models or praise any foreign makers with too much fervor. Thus any critique is seen as a personal insult. This is where Pat and I come in:

Pat: “So Kev, I hear that Toyota is the top-selling car in America. That’s like the entire nation, right?”
Kev: “GRRRRRR!” *he punches Pat’s arm and storms off*

Kev: “Ford rocks!”
Murph: “Yeah, it shudders and quakes too. Usually just before it breaks down!”
Kev: “GRRRRRRRRR! *he punches my arm and storms off*

Pat: “Hey Kev, when you get your license will you get a Forerunner?”
Kev: “Foreign piece of crap. I’m going to get a 1970 Ford Mustang GT 500.” (he says this as if it’s one word).
Pat: “You’re right. A Forerunner’s probably too powerful for you. Too much SUV for one man.”
Kev: “That stupid car doesn’t have power. It’s not American. It’s weak!”
Murph: “It’s Japanese. It can transform into a giant robot, shoot surface-to-air missiles, fly, and make coffee milkshakes. It can do anything!”
Kev: “That car cannot transform!”
Murph: “Sure it can. It’s Japanese. It’s like standard features on all their products. I’m pretty sure the blender will transform if you’re man enough to find the right button.”
Kev: “ GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR *he punches our arms and storms off*

As I said before, it is quite fun to irritate family members if you know the right . . . well, buttons to push. Nevertheless, despite his short temper Kevin possesses great inventive intelligence capable of disemboweling an engine or gadget for parts and reassembling them into something totally unique and new. I try to avoid mentioning that many of the parts were not made in the states. Such truths I fear could destroy him.

Dasad on the other hand has a distinct preference in foreign cars, namely Acura’s and Subaru’s (and one day he hopes a Ferrai or two). While Kevin can take an engine apart, examine it, and put it back together within seconds, Dasad can recognize the make, model, and year of any automobile on the road merely from glancing at their headlights. Listening to him talk is like hearing Sherlock Holmes lecture on the various kinds of soils a footprint can leave behind. However, like Holmes and heroin, the man does get a little hung up on head lights though. For example, Dasad’s current vehicle is an Acura, an Acura XM . . uh, MXD? Or is it CCR? No, . . .um, Eclipse? Well it is small, gray and has an internal navigator with voice recognition like in Knight Rider. Anyway his headlights resemble miniature moons captured within crystal globes and powered by a million tiny nuclear reactors. They figuratively burn holes in the surrounding forest and any deer foolish enough to jump at the wrong moment. Literally they blind the hell out of anyone driving from the opposite direction.

My Explorer’s headlights resemble candle flames compared with his earthbound beacons, a fact that amuses Dasad whenever we happen to be driving.

Now these three varied and distinct personalities collided at the auto show this weekend. One would of course consider me the neutral judge in this debate among foreign and domestic automobiles, between Dasad and Kevin. However, as mentioned before, I wield little authority among the car enthusiasts, possessing little in the way of engineering or mechanical intelligence. I am trained as a biochemist, a proficiency which is arguable at best. However, my perspective is not totally for naught. For example, I can easily judge the speed of any car by three distinct qualities:

1) Number of “ponies” under the hood (Ponies: a slang term here meaning horsepower for those not in the know)

2) The flatness of the body (I call this the fish test; if a car looks like a flounder it must move really fast)

3) The number and style of tailfins attached to the rear (by and large, the longer and higher the tailfin, the faster the car moves. Cars that possess two or more long tailfins never actually remain stationary. What you see in the parking lots is actually the afterimage burned into your retina of an automobile which travels so fast that it resides in several different places at the same time).

I also learned that car companies love bribing potential buyers with cheap trinkets and former Miss America contestants, who distribute them. Unfortunately I am easily bought. Several fake smiles and sheepish nods later, I am encumbered with piles of key chains, cheap plastic pen holders in the shape of SUVs, fully illustrated car brochures, and of course several logo-marked bags to tote it all. With a few carefully aimed jump-shots, we buried most of this swag in designated recycling bins. Everything but the bags. Not knowing enough to question or criticize any of the automotive specimens, I resorted to judging the cars on the basis of swag. If a company could afford to offer free high-priced goods to potential customers, they must — or so I reasoned — christen each of their products with the same love and dedication. Shopping bags were thus emblematic of the quality of the automobile.

In this war, Scion far exceeded all others in style and thickness, enveloping the logo in a sea of smooth metallic gray. It was beautiful. Meanwhile, Ford’s totes lacked any real style or interest: an uncreative white with the company logo on the front. It seemed to exude boredom; as if the geniuses at marketing said “Hey, who cares what it looks like? It’s just a bag.” Just a bag indeed. What if the engineers held their work to the same standards? “Hey, who cares? It’s just an air bag.”

I would offer a few photos comparing the two; however, they have mysteriously gone missing from my desk before I could take any photographs. Apparently my little theory was discovered earlier than intended, and somewhere up in my brother’s room lies an immaculate white bag pressed and folded like flower petals in the folds of a Tolstoy novel.


Short message today for anyone visiting the site, take a look at Dasad’s recent posts if you have the opportunity, here or at my Blogroll. I have begged him for years to post some of his art, and finally you have the opportunity to see his work. Keep visiting his site when you get the chance, leave comments, and maybe we can coerce him into posting more of his work this month.

Club Thumping

Night clubs are peculiar organisms, stimulating intense physical exercise at the cost of its patron’s health. For example, inside a club music pulsates like an electronic heart pumping remixed tunes through every shadowy corner, wet bathroom, and cluttered kitchen. Arriving from the cold, patrons placing their hands against the glass windows or doors can literally check the pulse of the party. Boom boom boom ba-boom. The music draws in dancers like a diver draws a breath before the plunge, opening doors occasionally to exhale swirling wisps of smoke, odors of beer, and evaporated sweat. Yet the health of the dance hall demands a high cost: the accumulation of large tab deposits, the death of alcohol-depressed brain cells, and great pain and disorientation the following morning.

For someone who feels hung-over after a thirty-second workout, night clubs would not contribute to my overall health, methinks.

In spite of – or perhaps because of – this aversion to movement, Pat, Tiff, and Katie invited me out to listen to a DJ friend at one of the local restaurants/bars two Saturdays ago. It was all very kind and wonderful; although, I do not believe that they realized the scope of how truly dull and boring I actually am. For my defense, I tried to warn them over the weekend that my personality did not lend much to drinking, dancing, or conversation outside the realm of movies, books or Middle Earth. Anime (greatly misrepresented as “Japanese porn” in my family) and black and white movies encompass a large (if sole) percentage of my TV viewing; recent color programs like American Idol, Lost, and the local news are mostly ignored, thus limiting most normal dinner conversations:

“So, did you see E.R. the other night?”

“Uh . . .no, sorry.”

“Oh, . . well you probably heard that Simon . . .”

“American Idol? *cough* . . . no, probably not.”

“Ah . . . um, did you know about the four-alarm fire downtown today?”

“A fire downtown, really? Wow, ‘fraid I missed that too. You see, I was reading an excellent Incredible Hulk graphic novel, when Super Napon Robo came on. The main character started shouting something, which they translated as ‘the answer to life, the universe and everything . . .’ so of course, I had to shout 42!”

“. . . Check please!”

So in the end they ignored my objections and insisted I come along anyway. Apparently my arguments only served to strengthen the general consensus that I required some training in social competency.

Frankly I just do not see the problem. My ideal evening typically involves a Lazyboy, some iced tea, and one or multiple combinations of the following:

a) a good game,

b) a good movie,

c) a good book.

Unless interrupted by an extended trip to some far off locale, a dangerous (though rare) sojourn to a lost continent, or opportune visit to Borders, I prefer a quiet night home with my stories. It is for these reasons that I have maintained a simple, happy life full of wonder, magic, second-hand adventure, tea-stains . . . but sadly no girlfriend. Katie suggests that this is an unconscious cry for help.

Thus the club. Our party was seated directly in front of the DJ, placing us near the large ear-shattering speakers and the large gyrating rear-ends of the dancers. “Hey!” Tiffany shouted as one tall gentleman whipped his leather-encased rear into her head. Patting her head, the dancer apologized and continued to twist, twirl, shimmy, and shuffle around his partner, who in contrast remained rooted to the floor, clapping her hands sporadically to an unknown rhythm. That was more my speed and said so. Patrick, no great dancer himself, laughed and agreed. Katie however only sighed with uniquely sisterly resignation that seemed to say “Worthless. Totally worthless. I’ll never get any nieces or nephews at this rate.”

Not all the evening was absurd, though. To my female readers this may sound chauvinistic but few scenes exceed the beauty of girls dancing. If my readers mistake my thoughts for misogyny or the sex-starved ravings of a closet pervert, you are free to believe such misconceptions. Yet the sight of girls on the dance floor from my perspective is at once sexy, energetic, lovely, gentle, strong, graceful, delicate, and above all beautiful. Through dance, women personify all that men – or at least this man – lack. Even to a song as ribald and asinine as the “Booty Call” – at which I should note all guys empty the dancing arena – women exude dignity, charm, grace, and above all a beauty that far exceeds any age, appearance, or even sense of rhythm.

Nevertheless, I did not stir to enter the dance floor. That was their temple, not mine, and accepted my exclusion with dignity. I ordered another iced tea and asked Pat for the score of the basketball game. He rattled off some numbers, which I failed to hear, long since deaf after the second verse of “Baby Got Back.” Nevertheless, as I sipped my fifth raspberry iced tea, pretending halfheartedly to watch sports while gazing at the electric goddesses gliding around the dance floor, my manhood felt well intact. If a young lady had caught my eye, I might have easily gathered the liquid courage, sauntered over, and with a devilish smile asked “Hey, baby, you up for a little one on one PVP action later tonight near the Ruins of Stonehoard Keep? We can trade mythic armor, if you know what I mean?”

Katie, I would not count on being a aunt anytime soon.