Categotry Archives: From the Road

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Airport Morning

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , ,

The DHS dog comes by amiably, tugging his black-jacketed attendant along as he moves from person to person like he’s seeking a treat. He pauses at a small red bag in the genre of the modern over-sized carry-on, sniffing it up and down. Its owner, who profiles like a border-guard volunteer, doesn’t bother to look up and the attendant simultaneously tugs the leash as if to say “not the droids we are looking for.” The neighboring man, a near carbon-copy in build and appearance, though younger, does an exaggerated askance glance, rotating the eyes fully up and then down as he seeks the first man’s face for clues of felonious intent. The first man makes a phone call, irritated, as the dog wanders off in search of other milkbones; the neighbor is visibly more nervous in his extra-comfy leather seat with the three-pronged charging outlets and fake-marble-topped side table. He is tapping his feet and trying to stare straight ahead as though willing himself into a trance.

We are all thinking the same thing, at times like that if not at other times. The moment just before take-off, the acceleration into the lift that never quite feels like it could possibly be enough to lift even the assembled visible human mass off the ground, let alone the encasing steel and baggage. The moment of removing our shoes, patting down our own pockets for the trace coin or piece of wadded paper we will be berated for later if it remains. The lining up of sockfeet on the yellow gumshoe outlines, arms akimbo and upright, hands up, don’t shoot, but an even more surrendering position than that, as though we are about to be cuffed, or lifted straight off the ground. It has been ingrained in us at every turn: the trip we are about to take is dangerous. Maybe it was the image of the second plane going into the second tower over and over and over again, every angle, every speed, every shrill cry in the background. Two minutes hate, two minutes fear. Maybe it’s just the guards, everywhere. Maybe it’s a primal human terror at leaving the ground, at having nothing below but the clear blue sky.

Very few people read anymore. They play with their phones, their tablets, their computers. If they are reading, it’s often on one of these devices, especially if they are under 40. I’m always the only one under 40 with an actual paper book. Some idle picture-laden magazines do appear on laps, maybe even a sketchbook employed by the especially artsy type, the one with at least three colors of hair and pink socks poking above low-ankled black canvas shoes. There are an uncanny number of glasses and sunglasses up on foreheads, nestled in hair or perching on bald domes, reflecting back the sunny tarmac and its noisy sleek denizens. The padded, armrested comfy chairs are extremely popular, full long before any other section of the standard-issue adjoined seat rows without armrests. There is, mercifully, no blaring TV with some toned-down airport version of CNN alternating overly happy news with the specter of news that can only serve as a small reminder of what we all know we are all trying not to think about.

In a far corner by the window, a wheelchaired man is in a hushed but animated conversation with a cohort, possibly his younger brother. The Saints clothing per capita in this discussion is 1.5. Gestures and laughter punctuate their talk with such frequency that one wants to sidle over and join them, whatever the topic, knowing intuitively that it could only be enjoyed like that by people who’ve shared at least forty years of history together, and probably sixty-plus. I’m pretty certain I’ve played poker with the guy five seats down on my left and he keeps eying me cross-wise like he knows he recognizes me but isn’t sure from where and if he figures out from where, he’s definitely of the type that doesn’t admit outside of casinos how much time he spends in them. The girl in the purple shirt across the way looks like she’s too young to be flying alone but she’s probably at least 16 and it reminds me that age is entirely a relativistic experience. I can still remember how sixth graders seemed older than my parents when I was in first. I can still remember my grandparents calling my parents “you kids” when the latter were in their fifties. I frequently see someone I think I recognize from some past era in my life until I realize that the person I’m thinking of was 18 or 22 when I last saw them and that the person I currently see is 18 or 22, but the person I’m thinking of is actually now in their 30s.

Cell phones are picked up frequently, but never for long. Such seems to be their purpose, to shorten talks down to their distilled minimum. And maybe that’s how people always used the phone, mostly, but it wasn’t so visible, public, accessible, constant. People answer questions about their upcoming flight, layovers, weather here and weather there. Pickup arrangements are made, flight numbers relayed for the checking of delays. There is an intense, glazed, television-thrall type look to those who are only fingering their phones and not talking, be it an absorbing game or the unending scroll of the web and its diversions. There is frequent and profound sighing everywhere, as people are reminded that they are waiting. Or perhaps that they are trying not to think that this could be their last morning on Earth and that everyone is thinking about that just a little. We rarely come face-to-face with mortality in a mundane way. It is either the drama of immediate trauma to ourselves or loved ones, or a long slow sad decay. But there is something about the everyday fluorescent over-brightness of this gate area, its stainless steel numbered pillars glowing in the morning sun, that makes the end seem both near and absurd. One can’t think about it too long or it will become too much. We all hear stories about the person who ran off the plane that crashed at the last possible minute, have all contemplated, at least once, freaking ourselves out to the point of being that person. But we tap the right side of the door twice as we enter (or whatever your little superstition happens to be, if applicable), and board all the same.

I cannot help but thinking back to the 5-year-old girl in the line with the harried stressed father and the over-calm older sister and the meek mother, the one who appeared to have deep set scars under each eye. She was about three groups ahead of me in the bag-check line and an even shorter distance up in the security queue. They looked like gashes, red with the remnants of exposed blood, then tear tracks, then gashes again, as she turned nervously in the line like someone in need of the bathroom. I kept looking at her father, picturing him hitting her or attacking her, then the mother, because it could be her too or instead, after all, then berating myself for such harsh suspicions when children fall all the time or run too quickly. The particular shape and placement of what really did ultimately look like cuts, though, were hard to conjure an appropriate explanation for and I wondered if this is how profiling works or if this is more frequent for me as a would-be creative writer, or if there’s something about this slightly paranoid environment that makes one dread their fellow traveler. The family was white, very Southern looking, the father ruddy and one who seemed quick to anger, but perhaps I just wanted to see that. Serial has taught us how quickly we can explain the shocking, how much we can fill in what we want to see if someone tells us that’s the explanation, or if we suspect something enough. We did it that September morning, now already so long ago. We do it every day.

Should I have reported what I saw? If you see something, say something. It is, statistically speaking, far more dangerous these days to be a schoolchild than a plane-rider. And that’s even not accounting for yesterday’s tragic events in Peshawar. Peshawar, another city of stories from my father’s youth, turned again to a synonym for blood. It is, of course, statistically speaking, more dangerous to be almost anything than a plane-rider. Despite the thoughts we all are harboring and hiding, what we are about to do is safer than whatever we did to get us here. It is safer than whatever our step is after we leave the airport we’re headed to. It is safer than most everything else we fill our days with, even if cell phones don’t cause cancer.

A rack of vapid, over-makeupped faces stare at me from behind and above the real faces I see. It occurs to me to wonder whether the magazine industry would still exist were it not for plane travel. And how much longer, even here, it can compete with the small rectangular screens that even now I myself am partaking in to bring you these observations. It is not all useless, what we do on these screens, it is communication and contact and the desperate sense that we are not where we are. That we are closer with the ones we love and miss. That we are not, in fact, waiting in an airport for a metal tube that we really hope does not lead us to our doom, that we hope will comfortably and safely teleport us to one of a hundred other worlds. And now I bring you the irony of trying to will you into this space, to give you enough vignettes and insights such that you too feel transported to a place that, by all accounts, no one really sees as a place to be, a destination, a location they would choose.

The seats are filling in now, more closely, and at least two people have glanced over to see surreptitiously what I was working on so intently. One actually moved two seats further away thereafter, perhaps getting enough of a gist to realize that I was publicly talking about everyone here. There are now four people in wheelchairs here. None who appear to have lost their limbs in Iraq or Afghanistan. The friend in the animated conversation before surprised me by running off to a different gate with fond goodbyes five minutes ago, being replaced by what can only be the first wheelchaired man’s wife, also adorned in Saints paraphernalia. The attendant behind the Southwest desk wears a purple sequined Santa hat that is something I cannot honestly say I have ever seen.

Our plane lands behind me and the disoriented-looking, recalibrating new teleportees to New Orleans turn the corner single-file. Most are rolling bags behind them. Many are clutching their small reflective rectangles. All look a little like they have just survived something – exhausted relief. Maybe I am making too much of this or looking for it, but maybe it’s always there just in that moment atop the jetway. The planting of shoe on solid ground once more, the connection with the earth that our species has loved since the first of us grew tired of swimming and crawled out of the tide.

Soon, they will call our number and we will, as one, rise to take our preordained place beside the numbered pillars. We will carry those slight little dejected looks of boredom, punctuated only by the occasional excited child or particularly gregarious personality. I will think of the little girl again, of the plane in the tower, of all the other safe landings, of Albuquerque and my family and the destination that we all must be singularly focused on. I will tap the right side of the door, outside the plane twice, as I have since my early teens. I will settle into a seat, row 17 by the window if I can, stuff my backpack under the seat before me and remove my book. I will look out the window, sigh, read, and wonder how long I will be able to stay awake. The people who do this daily, for a living, who surely must have got better control of their worse thoughts than I do yet, will talk to us about things we have known since we were five. Five. Damn.

And soon, after a short little drive and that sudden loud acceleration, we will make for the sky.

Portrait of the blogger (sort of) as a pre-boarded man.  But mostly of a plane and all that tarmac.

Portrait of the blogger (sort of) as a pre-boarded man. But mostly of a plane and all that tarmac.

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Tournament Time

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Know When to Fold 'Em, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

My poker face at rest, early in my most recent tournament at the Belle of Baton Rouge last Friday. Photo courtesy of the Mid-States Poker Tour.

My poker face at rest, early in my most recent tournament at the Belle of Baton Rouge last Friday. Photo courtesy of the Mid-States Poker Tour.

I love tournaments.

I already talked a couple months back about how I love competition for its own sake, the thrills of the rise and fall of one’s prospect and the possibility of winning something. And I’ve even meditated extensively on the early morning joy heading into a debate tournament as I did most every Friday for five years recently and four years when in college as a competitor, let alone five years in 8th-12th grade prior to that. But having just completed a grueling 19-hour tournament over the course of two days in Baton Rouge this past weekend, I’ve come to a new appreciation about how all tournaments are in some ways the same, and specifically how debate and poker tournaments correlate as environments that has made my transition from debate coach to poker player rather smooth.

I was always impressed at the universality I found in ardently pursued extracurricular activities in college between myself and friends of mine who did ostensibly different things. My friend Ariel was in an elite a cappella group at Brandeis, Alisha in band management at Harvard, Fish in the Student PIRG at UC-San Diego. In all instances and more, it was clear that high school days of doing twenty extracurriculars to pursue all possible interests (and build a college-bound resume) was infeasible. People had, generally, one thing that they did. After an early dabbling in Model UN, the Socialist club, the literary magazine, and the non-drinking club, I quickly consolidated my energies into debate … and the rest is history. But as I would discuss the intricacies of these activities with the friends pursuing them, commonalities with debate quickly became apparent, even where there was not an overtly competitive aspect.

Each group had its own vocabulary and nomenclature. Each had its individual intrigues and romantic entanglements. Each had power struggles and leadership dynamics. Every group had a “that guy,” with the possible exception of the a cappella group which selected in part on popularity, almost like a frat. And each, in its way, brought people together to accomplish great and unlikely feats as only collections of highly motivated and talented groups can consistently do.

Nowhere were these parallels more apparent than in an extensive discussion I had mid-college with Ariel about an a cappella competition her group had attended. While there was no direct clash and engagement as in debate, the similarities of group and individual dynamic in the midst of the intensity of a struggle to win a subjectively judged event were uncannily striking to both of us. There were similar personalities in each of our stories, similar interactions between individual and larger team, similar qualms with the nature of judging and reputation, and remarkably familiar highs and lows and eventual triumphs.

Poker is not a subjectively judged event, but it effectively simulates one in the chance that the better hand will lose on the flop, turn, or river. While the strict outcomes are more like a sport, and indeed a sport without umpires or referees to add some human error, the fact that a person can win a hand they were 8% to win when the chips went in the middle is notably akin to a subjective or even seemingly corrupt declaration by a fallible human judge. And it incites equally pleased and sportsmanlike reactions from the losers. The most frequent expression of frustrated disbelief is to pound on the table once, eliciting an incongruous knocking sound from what appears only to be green felt (there is a harder surface beneath that is rarely reached except in the most angered moments), but berating rants are also not uncommon. As in the debate world, losing competitors are only too happy to tell someone who has just knocked them out of the tournament how vastly inferior a competitor they are, how stupid they have demonstrated themselves to be.

There are brazen jerks in both events. Maybe there are everywhere in the world, but intensely competitive environments have been known to elicit the absolute worst behavior in many an otherwise intelligent or even possibly kind individual. I have had countless run-ins with such people in debate, often getting in preachy arguments with them about how it is possible to both compete well and respect the dignity of one’s opponents without resorting to shady tactics or condescension. And heard the defenses of and from such people that they can be nice humans but ruthless debaters and that we should view this Jekyll/Hyde hybrid as perfectly acceptable. There is an arc of this argument that includes the notion that being intimidating, ruthless, and attempting to extricate tears from one’s opposition actually makes one a better debater in some way, that mercy or even respect are weaknesses that are to be stamped out by those who wish to be the best. No matter how vehemently I disagree with this perspective, there are certainly kindreds in the poker world who craft the image of an asshole in order to induce folds or angry calls at their desired discretion. The fundamental idea being that both debate and poker rely on calm, rational judgment, and this becomes abridged when someone feels personally threatened or a righteous desire to suddenly beat their purported villain/rival all at once.

What makes poker viscerally distinct from debate, however, in these kinds of interactions, is the enforced ongoing physical proximity to those one may deeply dislike. I never had to sit next to a debate rival for eight straight hours as I recently did next to a relatively well-known pro and world-class egotist last Friday. I’ll refrain from including his name, but several articles I recently found about his participation in this tournament alone described him as a “polarizing figure,” which may be the ultimate euphemism. Among other things, the individual displayed extensive racism and sexism in brash tones, as well as bad-naturedly making fun of me repeatedly both in person and on Facebook (he commented on a video the tournament took of one of my hands). He tried to engage everyone at the table in a discussion of how Michael Brown deserved to die in Ferguson (I know I moved to the South, but … Jesus) and went on to describe a sales clerk at a store he’d encountered who he deemed “too stupid to live.” This nestled amongst stories of his extramarital affairs and other disrespectful interactions with women. Nowhere had I been so proximate to certain self-loving and unsavory people capable of such disrespect to their fellow human than in the debate world. But at least there they’d just be across GA, not literally rubbing elbows with you. Finishing off his knockout (someone else got most of his chips two hands prior) was among the most satisfying aspects of that tournament.

All these events have reputational considerations that deeply impact the results, or at least the journey toward the results. Almost any regularly meeting competitive event has the cool kids and the people who are respected as the best and then the vastly greater number of people trying to knock on the door and establish themselves. This is the nature of most every gathering of people in modern Western culture – a ladder is either built-in or implied in most every workplace, school environment, club, or pastime. It has been a satisfying journey to come in as an unknown and consistently cash in over half the big tournaments I’ve played, especially when I don’t rebuy my entry into tournaments as many pros consistently do. If I get knocked out, I’m out, partially a product of my smaller semi-pro bankroll, but also increasingly a deliberate choice to maintain a serious do-or-die mentality throughout the tournament. I’m sure this has a negative impact on my stomach’s stability and heart-rate, but also I think makes it possible to play a 5.5-hour satellite, then a 10-hour day one, then come back two days later and ride out the 3.5 additional hours to a $2k cash placement as 15th of 115 runners in a “main event” tournament, all without busting out once at any point.

It is that elimination nature of a tournament, combined with the fact that you literally have a chance of winning until the moment of being knocked out, that makes both tournament formats so excitingly engaging, so palpitation-inducing and thrilling. No one managed to get debate on TV, despite C-SPAN’s offers around the time of my graduation, but poker’s a fairly well-established, if culty and heavily edited, spectator sport. My favorite part of each event is the advanced strategics. The careful calculation of the psychological state of the opposition and what move will elicit the worst response from them, while playing to one’s own advantages. Obviously making it over the money line (called the “bubble” in poker tourneys, just as the line for breaking is known in debate) was my favorite single moment of the tournament, swinging the event from a potential $270 loss (I never would have paid the full $1,100 entry fee at this stage in my budding career, but thank goodness for satellites) to at least a $1400 profit. But close behind and by far my favorite play was a 7,000-chip river-bet against a steely calm player who reminded me greatly of my friend Russ in the third hour of the main event. It was designed to look like a frustrated bluff on a missed flush-draw, a calculated over-bet of the pot that would have left either myself or my opponent, if he called and lost, with almost no reasonable chips to play with but was still not an all-in. I actually had a set of 4’s which I was 90% sure was good, but also thought the bet could be strong enough to get him off a slightly better set since the turn had been a queen and the river an ace. I had checked the rainbow flop (including my set), then bet hard on the turn that brought a second heart and the queen. The guy “tanked” (thinking hard for a long period of time) for over five whole minutes, a veritable eternity in poker (that’s a whole PMR!) before calling with an inferior hand and the probable assumption I was bluffing. I turned over the fours and asked if he had a set (the 10% chance at that point had diminished, but he could reasonably have a set of 6’s and basically take my tournament chances with it) and he angrily mucked. I watched him bleed out his remaining stack as I secured my near-double-up, talking to himself frustratedly and busting out an hour later. Not only was that hand the turning point in setting me up to run toward the money (I’d really just tread water up to that point), but after his departure, a couple neighbors confided that he was one of the best pro cash players in Baton Rouge. I felt that little jolt of pride that comes with overcoming someone with a better reputation, so familiar from my early coaching days at Rutgers.

I’m still not sure I have what it takes to do this professionally. But it’s become increasingly clear that the shape, structure, and payouts of tournaments are vastly more to my style and liking than the hourly grind of the cash game. There’s vastly more strategy in the former environment, where the playing field is somewhat leveled (entirely so if one isolates the ability to rebuy entry) and survival is the primary object. The latter brings looser and crazier play, which can both be an advantage for the patient strategist, but leads to wilder variance in a world governed by probability rather than fixed outcomes. Of course, New Orleans has almost infinitely more opportunity to play cash than tournaments, so being a full-time tournament player would require precisely the kind of journeyman travel that Alex got me to give up by leaving the debate world in the first place. The long-term nature of the “circuit” as both traveling weekendly tours are called, with its repeat players and uneasy camaraderie punctuated by vicious eliminations, is perhaps the greatest parallel between these two similar universes.

But I have found enough consistent success, at least a few months in, to feel that my self-evaluation of my ability to hack it in this world is not overblown. That I have the general skillset to hang with even the long-term professionals. I still probably want to supplement this lifestyle with a health-insurance-offering employment of some sort, preferably one that works against the capitalist structure or at least helps people somehow. But approaching a half-year of this experiment, I feel grateful (on Thanksgiving!) to have found another competitive environment where I can find periodic success and consistent outlet for the competitive strategic parts of my brain that constantly pressure me for release. And perhaps I owe no small amount of this ability to being forged in the nerve-wracking fires of fourteen years of competitive debate in one role or another.

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List of Things More Likely to Kill Americans than Ebola

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

EVERYBODY PANIC!

EVERYBODY PANIC!

Yesterday, all day, the “ebola outbreak” in Dallas, Texas, consisting of one sick Liberian who came to the US, was the top national news story in this rapidly deteriorating country. People almost everywhere were talking seriously about this as a threat to their health and safety.

This is not a news story. The ebola outbreak in Africa is probably a news story, though it still kills way fewer people than, say, starvation or civil war or actual seemingly intractable threats to health and safety in developing nations. But ebola in the United States is not a threat and should not be a news story. There have been three cases of people in America with ebola. Zero people have died. No one has contracted ebola in the US. The two Americans who contracted ebola abroad were cured. The Liberian in America with ebola is receiving the most intensive health care and scrutiny of any person in the history of hospitals.

Ebola in the US is not a news story. It is not an occurrence. It is a distraction and the needless generation of fear, much like, say ISIS.

But hey, at least ISIS did kill two Americans before we declared it the greatest threat to American security in world history.

So here is a non-comprehensive list of things more likely to kill Americans than ebola. It’s probably also viable for ISIS, though a couple of the more obscure ones maybe be only comparably dangerous to Americans as ISIS. That latter danger is also going to increase since we sent a bunch of Americans to try to kill every man, woman, and child in Iraq and Syria.

List of Things More Likely to Kill Americans than Ebola:

    Spiders
    Sharks
    Police Officers
    Scorpions
    Falling Off of Ladders
    Drowning in the Bathtub
    Looking at Someone Else’s Gun
    Bears
    Frat Parties
    Falling Off a Cliff while Hiking
    Snakes
    Dropping Electronics into the Sink
    Spontaneous Combustion
    Flesh-Eating Bacteria
    Lightning
    Lawn Mowers
    Autoerotic Asphyxiation
    Bees
    Peanuts
    Gluten
    Dogs
    Baseballs
    Icicles
    Jellyfish
    Vending Machines
    Roller Coasters
    Falling Out of Bed
    Pillows

And this is to say nothing of, say, actually dangerous things, like motor vehicles or smoking or alcohol or starvation or hospital mistakes, let alone things like heart disease and cancer and diabetes. So please. Please. Stop talking about ebola in the US. You might do something truly dangerous, like give yourself high blood pressure worrying about it.

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Fixing Football

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

I, like many sports fans, have been following the 2014 World Cup, though I share some misgivings about it as an institution (as do most conscious people). Clearly rotational hosting is both exciting and fun and showcases parts of the world that most of the developed globe doesn’t normally pay attention to, but it also extracts money from those least able to pay for it for stadiums that will sit dormant for decades and to line the pockets of the plutocrats that sit atop that particular society. This all also applies to the Olympics, which are great fun and give an outlet for nationalism that does not involve drone strikes. There’s a lot to ponder on whether the nationalism ginned up during world sporting events is actually a facilitator of dangerous jingoism or a kind of methadone for it – certainly the long-term likelihood is the latter and we should someday be fighting wars on the sports field if we still seem unable to resolve our differences through discussion. But then I see how people from the US get about their soccer team and it makes me just want to burn all the flags of every country. It kind of amazes me that our nation is still seeking validation.

In any event, this post will be driving by these political concerns which I think are important and going straight to the heart of how the World Cup playoffs are done. I didn’t used to like football/soccer very much and found it boring, but then playing FIFA video games taught me the complex strategy innate to the game and I realized that about 70 minutes of any given match are exciting, rather than three. And then, of course, I was hooked. I also have this weird thing where I specifically really like sports when the teams are nations because I like flags and other countries, even though the nationalism clearly embodied by this spirit makes me queasy. An unresolved paradox, but one that I usually set aside now to watch the World Cup or the Olympics.

I actually, parenthetically, did a pretty good review of my evolution with the so-called beautiful game last World Cup summer, in which I expressed excitement about an upcoming World Cup in Africa and Emily being in Liberia…. oops. Though I did, prophetically, conclude with the line “Anyone’s guess about where I’ll be in 2014 is as good as mine. Probably better.” I don’t think anyone will be bringing in their odds-laden tickets to exchange for a payout on that one anytime soon.

But here’s the point. The way the World Cup does playoffs is broken. You could argue that the way they do the whole Group staging is problematic to begin with, since they just make pots of countries and disperse them, but I actually think the status quo system of dividing teams for groups is pretty solid. If you’re not familiar, they make a “pot” of the top seven teams in the world, plus the host country, then three roughly regional pots for regional diversity, and each group is comprised of a random draw of one team from each of these pots. Given that part of the goal of the World Cup is mixing teams from diverse regions and this system prevents the top seven from facing each other in the first round (top eight this year since Brazil is hosting and is top-eight), I think it’s pretty viable as a system. Yes, every year someone gets anointed as the “Group of Death”, which, frankly, this year was probably not the USA’s group, but the one with Uruguay, Italy, England, and Costa Rica. Which Costa Rica, the only country therein not ranked in the top ten in the world, is assured to advance from, having beaten two prior champions. So the group thing clearly seems to work out.

The biggest problem with the World Cup draw is that the third game is often fixed. Okay, perhaps not fixed, but there are outcomes that are short of going all-out and trying to win that are favorable to a team. A team that knows it’s through to the next round might rest its starters. Two teams facing who both need a mere draw to advance might not fight it out that hard. In past years, there was overt fixing and agreements between teams to produce a certain result that would be mutually agreeable. In some instances, teams have even punted to really bad teams so that their knockout-stage competition will be weaker when they themselves are already guaranteed to go through. FIFA has recently instated a policy wherein the third-day games in each group will be played simultaneously to try to mitigate some of this problem, but not all of these adjustments depend on knowing the result of the other game. There has been rampant speculation in the US media, for example, that Germany and the US, helmed by a German coach, will agree to draw so that both teams can go through. Even the fact that people can discuss this openly, whether or not it happens, is a severe flaw in the system.

The problem is that there’s not much to play for beyond going through and especially nothing to play for beyond winning the group. This is because in the knockout stage, your opponent is merely someone else who went through from another group. Each first place team gets a second place team and that’s it. Even if this means, for example, that Mexico, a team that mightily impressed the world by collecting 7 of a possible 9 points from their group and drawing against Brazil in Brazil, just happens to get the Netherlands, defending finalists who crushed their opposition with all 9 points and a goal-differential of 10-3. Clearly this is a bad system.

There’s an obvious solution: seeding the playoff bracket. Instead of just putting A-1 against B-2 and B-1 against A-2, FIFA should rank the eight group winners as though they were all in the same group (i.e. points, then goal differential) and do the same with the eight runners-up. Then you pit the top group winner against the bottom runner-up, the bottom group-winner against the top runner-up, and so on and resolve the bracket like any normal sports playoff. Thus, every team will be directly incentivized to win every match by the maximum score, just as they are in the first two matches and every knockout stage match. The third group game is this bizarre competitive anomaly that at best gets people to play more weakly than they should and at worst creates actual rigging that cheats some teams out of the chance to go through.

We can’t run through an example of what this would look like for 2014 yet, since only two groups are finished, but I promise you that the horrifying Netherlands-Mexico match in the round of 16 would be delayed to a much later stage where it’s deserved. But we can take the example of 2010, which should be a good illustration:

Group Winners

Team Points Goal Differential
Argentina 9 +6
Netherlands 9 +4
Uruguay 7 +4
Brazil 7 +3
Germany 6 +4
Spain 6 +2
Paraguay 5 +2
United States 5 +1

Group Runners-Up

Team Points Goal Differential
Japan 6 +2
Chile 6 +1
Portugal 5 +7
England 5 +1
Mexico 4 +1
Ghana 4 0
South Korea 4 -1
Slovakia 4 -1

I broke the one tie (South Korea/Slovakia) on how many goals were scored total, which is the prescribed method in the World Cup.

So this creates the following bracket:

A better World (Cup)

A better World (Cup)

For the purposes of comparison, here’s what the actual 2010 World Cup did with these 16 teams:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

While the changes may not be obvious in all places (the two most exciting first-round games, Germany vs. England and Spain vs. Portugal, are actually intact!), the rubber really hits the road in the second knockout round. For example, real-life Germany vs. Argentina pitted the #5 seed vs. the #1, a matchup worthy of the semifinals, but happened in the quarters (and Argentina got trounced). Top-ranked Argentina deserved a much easier draw in the quarters, for example the winner of US/Japan. Similarly, the real quarters matched #2 Netherlands against #4 Brazil, surely creating a too-early exit for Brazil. Now, granted, the new quarterfinals create the blockbuster match of Brazil vs. Germany, but at least that’s the kind of #4/#5 matchup that we’re used to seeing as close and exciting in a quarterfinal. And #2 Netherlands can go on to get an easier draw, namely the winner of Paraguay/Chile.

Here we also see that Spain’s road to the Cup last year relied a bit more on luck than just pure skill. Maybe they would have beaten every team in last year’s knockout stage, but rather than drawing more deserved #3 Uruguay in the quarters and #2 Netherlands in the semis (their actual finals opponent), they instead got to face #7 Paraguay and #5 Germany, respectively. Not that Germany is some kind of pushover, but still. Having easier draw might have made it easier for them to have enough left to win it all by the time they faced the Netherlands.

Surely these matchups are just as exciting, but without the sheer injustice of things like this year’s Netherlands/Mexico match will be for whichever team gets eliminated therein. And more importantly, they prevent the greater injustice of collusion or strategic resting by teams that have no incentive to try to collect 9 points and maximum goal-differential. More competitive and contested games make life better for everyone – the teams, the fans, the nations. Why wouldn’t we do this?

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Facing the Direction I am Bound

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, From the Road, Marching to New Orleans, Tags: , , , ,

It's always emotional.

It's always emotional.

I’m overdue to head back north, racing for the direction where things should be wrapped up tight in a nice little bow, or at least packed up in cardboard and covered over with tape. Progress on the move has been slow and steady and not fast enough and I’m facing the very real possibility of having to cancel some of my farewells so that I can ensure the movers have stuff to actually take with them, since I’m not enacting the Bonfire Plan for the move to New Orleans. In the meantime, I’ve spent another weekend in Atlanta for so many good reasons, one of which was the first of two opportunities this week to see Counting Crows.

I feel like Counting Crows show posts for me should already come preloaded with the emotional ramifications, baggage, and impact of all prior such shows. Lord knows you can find a lot of that background information already in here (just pop “Counting Crows” into the Search function on the sidebar and see what happens). But there’s a reason that “Awareness is never enough – it must always be wonder” is a seminal phrase in my life, a watchword for my experience of the divine, and a clickable tag/category in this here blog format. Because it’s true.

I should be getting coffee and on the road for ten hours soon, so I don’t really have time to do the full concert justice. Suffice it to say that they opened with a classic 10-minute “Round Here”, went on to do one of their better covers from the recent cover album, and then Adam announced to the crowd that he had written a song for me.

Okay, not really. But kinda really.

I’ve been trying to find the lyrics online to prove to you that I’m not making this up. But listening to “Cover Up the Sun” for the first time in my life brought back exactly the same chill that “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” did on the pre-release quasi-illicit MP3 back in Waltham so many eons ago. But (remember the phrase!) even more so. Way more so. The song includes the lyric “When I left California, I was 29 years old, and the world just spun me round.” Which, okay, maybe that’s something Adam Duritz and I inadvertently have in common, though I’d never quite put it together before, but sure. But when the next lines are “Now I just watch Louisiana scroll across the window pane, and I’m facing the direction I am bound”, well, it’s enough to make a solipsist of the best of us.

Yeah, the song is about leaving the west and moving to New Orleans. There’s only a couple of references to the New York City area just thrown in for fun.

Of course I am not the only person who feels this way about Counting Crows or their lyrics or their shows. The magic of the band, as I’ve said repeatedly here, is being able to gather together thousands of people for whom the songs were written and feel the absolute power of people belting along to songs that are about them and to share that experience with everyone else who feels the same way and yet somehow have none of the charm of the song being about them reduced by the shared gathering. If anything, it’s enhanced. It’s perhaps in these moments that we get closest to the Jewish idea of God (although I note the irony of that statement in print, because I’d have to cross out the o for it to really be Jewish, but I’m not gonna because I find the idea of an unnameable God so distasteful, no offense dear Jewish people), with the re-convergence of all our divided split light, that we are all the same in our unique brightness and by coming back together, we can drown out the sun.

There were a couple more covers than I would have chosen for the set (I could probably go without “Friend of the Devil” for the rest of my CC life, though the intro to it this time ’round was hilarious) and I’ve probably never cried less at one of their shows, though this is largely because I am happy, both in the moment and with the visible trajectory of the near future. But it was also a summer set of joy and energy and just the right amount of bitterness to recognize the year just ended. And while none of the other new songs quite lived up to the power of that first one, they all sound at least intriguing and at most like future sources of wonder.

Maybe Counting Crows shows are well written horoscopes, online quizzes, or tarot card readings, that we can find our own meaning in the deeply expressed emotion of Duritz and friends bleeding out on stage. You can take the cynical road if you want to and I’ve never lately begrudged anyone the cynical road. But at the risk of being the sucker who falls for the seventeenth time, I prefer a deeper, more fundamental explanation. In a recent debate round for a summer exhibition tournament, I explained how free will is compatible with a tri-omni vision of God, how I believe we are all offered free will as the ultimate sign of respect and love. Much of my third novel is about exploring this concept as well. And yet, somehow, there always seems to be room for this incredible sense of everything working out, coming together, being for a reason. I don’t think it’s absolute or as powerful as free will, since refugees routinely starve to death in diseased camps after watching their families die, but the feeling of a benevolent net from the universe is palpable. Maybe it’s first-world privilege, which was on display at an other-worldly level in the Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta last night, but maybe it’s just our best burning bush, coming to you live on a perfectly-lit stage.

The rant about people leaving CC shows complaining that he didn’t play “Mr. Jones” will have to wait till after Atlantic City.

Counting Crows
22 June 2014
Chastain Park Amphitheatre – Atlanta, GA
with Toad the Wet Sprocket and Daniel and the Lion
new songs in italics

Round Here (Private Archipelago alt)
Untitled (Love Song)
Cover Up the Sun
St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream
Hospital
Colorblind
Start Again
Omaha
Scarecrow
Recovering the Satellites
Like Teenage Gravity
God of Ocean Tides
Friend of the Devil
Big Yellow Taxi
Hard Candy
A Long December
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Hanginaround

Palisades Park
Rain King (Oh Susanna alt)
Holiday in Spain

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Roadtrip Livin’

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, Tags: , ,

While it is hard to be alone and harder to pass through towns where memories abound, there is an upside to roadtrip living to be found even in the midst of having one’s life ruined. It is arguably the reason for going on roadtrips in the first place, but it’s most vital to remember that the underlying issue here is a reminder, not a conduit to the only way of living that way. This is a giant note-to-self, yes, but also a note-to-others who may find themselves mired in daily life not on the road, to daily routines or travails that are tiresome and yawn before one like an unending maw of drudgery.

What am I talking about?

When one is on the road, one lives a certain way. There is an expectation to each day, it dawns full of promise, one has a plan or schedule (or maybe no plan and no schedule!) or at least the outline of possibility. One makes demands from one’s day. “I will have fun today!” one says to one’s day. There’s an expectation of seeing people, doing something outgoing and entertaining, eating at restaurants one chooses and likes. There is a vacation/holiday atmosphere, by definition. Even when alone, I’ve been playing cards or seeing baseball games or camping, and when with friends there’s all the trappings of seeing old friends and hanging out. Even if one just hangs out all day, a day with friends is a special time. The point is that every day becomes special and savored on a trip.

But the larger point of living this way ought be the realization that it is not the trip that makes it so. It is merely that this is what we come to expect from living on a roadtrip. (Or I do, at least. It must be noted that some people don’t travel much and others get super-stressed and crazy whenever they do and so don’t actually enjoy it or let go.) One builds in Waffle House visits or even gets the thrill of Frosted Flakes being available as part of the free hotel continental breakfast (an old trip tradition for me that still makes me feel eight years old and excited about the world again). And suddenly one is atop the world, able to control one’s destiny and steer a course, even in the wake of heartache and homesickness. There is something about the coverage of land and the unknowns of a day that portends excitement that courses with energy through one’s veins. This surely must have been what drove the wagon trains west, the migrants of any era across their respective seas, the oldest of our ancestors out of our first primal valley.

But again, it need not only be so when on the road. It is easy on the road, intuitive, the very nature of being away from a daily routine dictates the thrills and elation and hope. But the challenge of life after a roadtrip is to build as much of that energy as possible into regular daily life. Which arguably is a challenge to not live anything that could be labeled as a “regular daily life”. Which is not to say that one can’t have a schedule or a routine or a day job, but merely that each day at home can be viewed the same way as a day on the road. Time is what we’re given and some of us may feel like there’s too much of it (okay, maybe that’s just me). But time is also an opportunity and there’s no difference between the me who feels all this possibility out here in Kansas or Colorado or Mississippi or whatever and the me who feels stuck in Jersey, or indeed whenever I get too tied down to a day job or a set of commitments. The context is different, but the potential is the same. So trips like this are not just to take a break from the routine, but to actually try to break the routine, to harness the energy of real life and raw openness on the road and apply it to daily life back on the home field.

It’s all, of course, easier said than done. There are tangible reasons why it’s intuitive to feel this way out here and intuitive to feel laden and squashed back home. But just remembering and reminding are a good start. A lot of it is about how you look at your day, a mere matter of perspective. Demand something from your day (these are instructions to me, but also to you). Insist that you will take time to be creative, to think, to do something that matters regardless of the context of your life. Something you’d be proud of. Something you’ll want to remember on your deathbed. Make contact with people, just because they’re there. Even if you won’t get to see them for years, reach out. Let them know they’re loved. It is the connections we have with other people and with the creative cognizance of our own souls that really matter in this life. The rest is just figuring out a way to maximize that. Or it should be.

Go. Do. Be. Pretend you’re on a roadtrip for the rest of the week. I’ll be trying every week to come for a long time.

(Remind me to do this if I seem to forget.)

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Monday Fun Facts

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, TH'HEAT 2011, Tags: , , , ,

1. I am in Kansas!
2. Kansas is not as flat as you think it is.
3. I am going to Manhattan, Kansas this evening, which I’m afraid will be very dull. It was really fun when I was there in 1987. I was an impressionable 7-year-old.
4. The Seattle Mariners have lost fifteen (15) games in a row.
5. I have not seen anyone I know for thirty-two (32) hours. It will be even longer before I see someone I know again.
6. I will be in Topeka tomorrow, a key setting in Loosely Based. I have not been there since I wrote said novel.
7. I used to regularly compare things to “the size of Topeka” to indicate their largeness.
8. “Largeness” is probably not a word, but Firefox has not red-squiggleyed it for spelling. Firefox has now chosen to red-squiggley “squiggleyed”. And “squiggley”.
9. I get a little punchy on the road. This mood is preferable to the incredibly sad/angry spells I get at least once an hour when on the road alone these days.
10. This list has more than ten facts.

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The Highway is for Gamblers

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

Leaving Albuquerque today, a few days later than anticipated originally. About a week away from Jersey, probably less. Going to pick up some baseball on the long lonely road home while probably seeing no one I know till Philadelphia. That should be interesting. I cannot claim that at this moment I feel great about that fact, but I’m hoping to pick up some momentum out there on the American highways I am so familiar with.

Saw Bob Dylan a few days back with my Dad. There’s a 4th Facebook album for those of you following along but not on FB. About the sixth time I’ve seen Dylan if I had to guess – I’m sure I could piece it together with information on this site in various places. The show seemed to me like it was all about divorce, but then, it would. A lot of his songs tore me to shreds in their melancholy beauty, but “Visions of Johanna” was the highlight of the night, followed closely by “Simple Twist of Fate”. The heartbreak in this universe is astounding and thank God we have the poets to try to capture little droplets of it, like stoppered tears in a bottle, to distill our pain and help us understand it and maybe compel us not to pass it on.

Maybe.

Leaving New Mexico, like departing from almost anywhere in the West for points east, always provides this little pang in the back of my mind. This little question of “why?” arises. Why are you doing this? You have seen people who feel more real, more down-to-earth, a community that stands not in opposition to openness in the same way as where you are going. Why leave? Why return? I know why, I have better answers this time around than any of the last times for awhile, but still the question nags like snagged bits of thread on a nail that tugs one just for a moment before releasing the frayed end as one walks away, just a little less whole than before. Every departure is a loss, every decision is opportunity cost, every move is at the expense of some unexplored reality. These are the trade-offs innate to life and to mourn too seriously over any that are not clearly devastating mistakes is costly and counter-productive. But there is a passing glance to be given on the way out of town.

And of course there is the difficulty of leaving alone. Of going anywhere alone, a feeling that doesn’t take, an experience that doesn’t wash no matter how many ventures are made under said conditions. The reason that the night of Dylan was the last night I could’ve chosen to see the Isotopes play at home, not because they were leaving, but because the New Orleans Zephyrs were coming to town thereafter and I cannot watch them play. For reasons that only Emily knows. Reasons I may share someday, but cannot bring myself to, for the dream doesn’t die. I find myself likely to grow old like Snape, embittered, blackened, but carrying this soft fragile unfulfilled love to the end of my darkest days. The pain does not subside, it does not dissipate, it subsists and burrows, grows and changes like a tumor, like a tapeworm, like a ravenous parasite of the soul. The texture or feel may be different, like shades of a bruise, but there is not healing in this metamorphosis. And in the changing, the pain defies adjustment or adaptation, refuses to be tamed by the human spirit, insists on hurting in new and unforeseen ways.

I leave laden and humiliated, the way I make my way in the world. Burdened with the frivolity of items that may help me make a new way and a new life in an old familiar and difficult place. The future has never looked so blank as it does today, at least not since I wrote “Hypothermia” on the frigid Castle fire escape in the early winter of 1999. I remember a decade of telling that young freezing boy it would all be okay. I was lying.

Bob Dylan
The Pavilion
Albuquerque, New Mexico
21 July 2011

Rainy Day Women #12 and #35
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Things Have Changed
If You Ever Go to Houston
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Tangled Up in Blue
Cold Irons Bound
Visions of Johanna
Summer Days
Sugar Baby
Highway 61 Revisited
Simple Twist of Fate
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man

Like a Rolling Stone
All Along the Watchtower

Forever Young

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Truth in Advertising

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, From the Road, Just Add Photo, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that having access to all of one’s e-mails for several years should allow the refinement of particularly effective advertising. Still, seeing these two back-to-back was a bit jarring this morning:

GMail20110721

Thanks a lot, GMail. Are there really people out there who are worried that Facebook is closer to taking over the world than Google?

As Goo Goo Dolls would put it, “Scars are souvenirs you never lose. The past is never far.”

In other news, while it wasn’t the most impressive book overall, methinks it was particularly well-timed for me to read Siddhartha this week. There’s a lot of insight in there about the particular paths that might be tempting at this juncture of life and good reminders of what roads are full of folly. Especially interesting as I play some poker and wrestle with the material reminders of my past that I want to haul out to Jersey.

Been sleeping and dreaming too much lately. The hazards of being home. Have extended my home visit a little bit and then will probably be taking about a week to cross back over the country. Leaving Saturday maybe? Still a little bit in flux. Might hike in Rocky Mountain NP, but definitely skipping Grand Canyon and LA, as were possibilities even a couple days ago. Feeling daunted enough about driving another 3k-4k miles at this point.

Next immediate stop: The Frontier!

For those without Facebook, here’s the latest album of pics: Volume 3.

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Happy Anniversary to Me

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

Eight years ago today, I married the love of my life in the hills above Los Gatos, California.

Seven years after that, she sent me a sweet recommitting note from Monrovia, Liberia, which I already reprinted here.

Two days after that, she met a man.

Four days after that, she called me to express sudden and unprecedented doubts in our marriage, eventually admitting after six hours that they stemmed from meeting a man. She promised not to cheat on me.

Five days after that, she cheated on me.

One day after that, she called me to try to divorce me by telephone.

I can’t believe I have lived through the last year. Most days, I’m not so sure I’m glad I have. But for the sake of you all who keep saying you want me to pull through, I’m trying. And the last couple days have been pretty good, actually. No crying in 48 hours alone, which might be a record this year. I don’t expect it to last today, but neither will I be alone all day, thankfully. I do try to plan to maximize my chance at hope.

Been taking a bucket full of pictures on my sojourn across the South, which will all be on Facebook along with the latest video and some other musings as soon as I’m at an Internet connection that isn’t throttled down to prevent visual uploading. That may be as late as Albuquerque, so don’t hold your breath. It also occurs to me that at least two or three of you aren’t on Facebook, so if you’ve missed the pictures you can see them here and here.

Next stop, Dallas. Nuevo by sundown on the 15th.

Happy eighth anniversary, Emily, since we’re not officially divorced yet. It was always you.

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24 Things I’ve Learned on the Homesick Heartache Tour So Far

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

So I haven’t written an actual post in a really long time, and you’ve probably noticed that I’ve stopped really making videos too. The thing is that I made a Day 8 video and it was of me crying and I debated about posting it and then I tried to post it three times and the upload kept failing and I sort of took that as a sign that maybe the Internet isn’t ready for footage of Storey driving and crying simultaneously on the New Jersey Turnpike. (Incidentally, Jake and I once saw the band Drivin’ and Cryin’ perform live at Georgia Tech. Unrelated.) Anyway, the upload fail both made future uploads from present location unlikely and sort of interrupted the daily momentum I’d built up for a while. So now I’m entering Day 12 and there are no new videos. Don’t hold your breath. I know you won’t because not that many of you were watching them to begin with. I’m not sure the format really works or is my thing. I like experiments and I will keep doing them. Just maybe not too many more videos. Though I kind of enjoy them as a personal chronicle in some ways. I’d really like to see videos of my high school or college self and those basically don’t exist. Even Gris may have lost the fabled Love Video. I guess there are the old Stanford rounds, but those are a little poisoned at the moment.

Trying to capture every passing moment and twist and turn on the Tour so far is both infeasible and slightly dull, so I think a list is both fitting of my mood, energy/time expenditure interest on this particular evening, and entertaining. It will call to mind a bunch of very random experiences I’ve had that will hopefully, upon future reflection, spring forth a bevy of memories from what this last two weeks have been like without having to itemize each one. Some things are perhaps best recalled as a jumbled mass of joy rather than a sequential turn of linear builds. Of course, memory is pretty darn intractable in my experience, so why I take actions to enhance or alter memory is sort of beyond me. A lot of the rules of how this works don’t seem to apply to my experience or perspective.

Oh, speaking of experiments, I’ve spent a lot of time today deciding that I think I want to get a rabbit in August when I’m back in Jersey. I need to do some research into the availability of rabbits in the area, as well as do some thinking about whether I want to get a show-quality breed or just settle for a mutt or what. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to be taking the rabbit to fairs and ditching debate for 4H. At the same time, there are some really pretty breeds out there and I’ve studied them long enough to have a wishlist of rabbit breeds that is worth consulting when I’m considering purchasing a pet rabbit that may be part of my life for some time to come. But a lagamorph seems to strike the right balance between an attentive furry friend and an animal that does not require constant care over, say, weekends or even possibly week-long trips. The issue of a trip like my present one does come to mind, but next summer is more likely to be set aside for a book than a trip, and there’s always the possibility that people will want to rabbit-sit, especially if he/she is cageable for certain durations. Which itself is another issue – I’m not wild about animals in cages, but if I let him/her romp around the apartment when I’m home, it might be a decent compromise. Even Pando boarded in very small spaces for weeks at a time when we went on longer journeys.

Anyway. Without further dilly-dally, the 24 things I’ve learned on TH’HEAT so far:
1. When robbing a house, one should not attempt to become the Foursquare “Mayor” of that house.
2. Most of the Ryan Adams album “Gold”.
3. Most of the Regina Spektor album “Soviet Kitsch”.
4. I don’t read much when people are around.
5. My phone’s spontaneous-turning-off is 100% correlated to it being closed. If left open, it works permanently until something forces it closed.
6. Many of my friends continue to be better than I am at chess.
7. Dominion may be the most universally liked board game, at least among those who’ve been exposed to it.
8. People are aliens. (To be fair, I’ve known this for a long time – it’s only gotten reaffirmed/reinforced.)
9. Some of the Sufjan Stevens album “Seven Swans”.
10. Some of the Vanessa Carlton album “Harmonium”.
11. It’s a bad idea for me to drive alone for nine hours on the day after a wedding.
12. Waffle House is always a comfort. If I lived nearer a WH, I’d probably be happier. This is probably a good chunk of what got me through 1997-98, no foolin’.
13. I should be more grateful that I still have a lot of hair at age 31 than I am on a daily basis.
14. A laptop makes it possible to not really feel like one is on a trip in the same way that taking a trip before having a laptop (and a cell phone) felt.
15. I don’t regularly eat as often as most people. (Also previously known but re-emphasized.)
16. I apparently have built my entire life around communicating with other people who I like. This has probably been a great decision. It also explains why most of my lifetime travel has been in the US, where these people are, rather than outside it, where other adventures may be more interesting but communication is vastly harder.
17. Lots of people are or seem or claim to be completely fine being partnerless for long and even perhaps permanent stretches of their lives.
18. I have very little in common with the people described in 17. (Probably a known, though 17 itself was just not well known prior to this trip.)
19. While no one else’s obsession with Chipotle burns quite as brightly as mine, most people functionally act as though it does.
20. No one thinks the Bar Exam is fun. This may or may not be related to the fact that there is no “high pass” or commendation for being a top scorer thereon.
21. Everyone is optimistic going into law school. Everyone.
22. The 30’s are when the real medical problems seem to start.
23. The evidence that families are cults seems insurmountable. (Also previously known, but boldly underlined herein.)
24. I have no idea, still, what this trip is going to be like on the long lonely stretch between North Carolina and Texas, nor on the return run between New Mexico and Philadelphia.

I like lists. I can’t even pretend that that was even a little unknown prior. So twenty-four is what you get. Good night for now.

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Ramblin’ Tangents

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid Stories, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, Tags: , , , ,

Someone should let me know if this is too quiet to hear. There was some ambient noise and I think the computer was at a bad angle for picking up sound. I think it’s still audible, but it might not be. May use a mic on non-driving renditions of these in the future.

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Penultimate

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Tags: ,

There is a wet-dog smell to the world today, the rain seeping into everyone’s fabrics and pores and hair and hope in the insidious unstoppable way of moisture everywhere. It is neither a cold rain or a warm one, kind of incidental and unfeeling, more than a drizzle but less than a downpour, to the point where one can walk and sit and stand in it long enough and believe that there is no other state to the sky than precipitation, mild and drowsy and endlessly wet.

I am on the train bound northeast, ever northeast, and the ads on the platforms seem even more discordant than normal with the landscape, their bright colors and outlandish claims brandished against a landscape otherwise gone monochrome. The green-gray vagueness swimming by against the bubbled pebbles of gathered water on the plastic windows’ exterior as I try to focus on capturing a series of thoughts every bit as much a moving target as my own body in this inexorable transit conveyance. The little rundown graffitied towns and rusting cars seem more melancholy than the last time, deeper reflections of a day where no one is quite happy it’s Friday. There is relief in the air, but no joy to it. Perhaps it is the apprehension of the rumors of tomorrow, the slim but inerasable possibility that this is the last night of the world.

I have been impressed with the ability of a few committed people to so thoroughly proliferate the concept that the seemingly innocuous date facing us tomorrow will be the beginning of the end. Certainly days in May always seem like the end-times to me in some way, but in no way can this or even mere spending and advertising account for the sheer universality of American awareness of May 21st’s alleged rapture. It can only speak to something deep within us, as almost all prophecies of doom and finality do. Armageddon holds the same appeal for the modern American as a snow-day for their progeny. I don’t need to do my homework or mow the lawn if it’s all going up in a fireball or under an unnavigable blanket tomorrow.

A medical education. A brand new sedan. A bundled cable package with phone and internet. Happy Hour. Cancer treatment. Business loans. A circus act.

There is a dead blue payphone booth, empty but still labeled and standing, and literally twelve visible cellular telephones, all held in the same crook-armed way of the totally absorbed, necks bent down in concentration as fingers plug away or pause mid-scroll, looks of consternation and concentration and the passive acquiescence of giving over one’s time to things that are not quite worth it. And I barely exceptional, plugging away on my portable big-screen within as they absorb and I could be writing what they could be reading and we are communicating without ever exchanging so much as a look or a sound or an acknowledgement of the other’s existence. And is it a tragedy or is it just change? Is it a loss or just a difference? And that question reflects back, reverberates through the echo-chamber of self-reflection like a nuclear-powered ping-pong ball in a zero-gravity tin-lined corridor. Plink plink plink plink plink, forever.

I am saturated. Soaked. Unable to absorb any more as the stutter-step of the train carries me endlessly to a place that would be the proverbial ground zero of any imaginable end of the world. Can I root against it any more than the self-proclaimed prophet? Can I suspend my own hubris long enough to entertain the slightly relieving possibility that there will be no more struggling with this journey, no more Sundays to face? And yet, of course, as my own experience dictates, as the dead window-smashed husks of industrial trackside buildings illustrate, the world ends every day. People die, divorces are filed, the loss of communication or contact or care or compassion, every day a tragedy somewhere for someone from which they will never recover on this planet. Their world spinning of its axis, out of orbit, falling into the sun of whatever challenge they will not be able to overcome. Salvations too, perhaps, but there is a permanence to loss that seems to have no corollary in things working out. The simple tautologies of life. Something found can always be lost, but many things lost can never be found.

This is the nature of a world that dies, where things thereon die, where we are all mere guests in the face of something larger than ourselves. We may want to be here when our host’s fate is tied to our own, when mortality can fuse for all living things. But the odds are otherwise, that we will go alone and in small groups, leaving behind – hopefully – more than just a pile of clothes.

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