Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - The Year in Review


Last year I did a “Year in Review” blog post in which I made the claim that “throughout the year I’ve based my blog posts on the most important current events” and that blog topics “that must have seemed completely random to you will now, with the benefit of perspective, prove to be the most timely and pressing issues of the day.” I set about backing up those unlikely claims, in the rhetorical-joy-ride spirit of making my outlandish and patently false statement seem reasonable. I figured I’d make a tradition of that format, and set out this year to do exactly the same thing.

Alas, either I got lucky last year, or my mental faculties have severely declined during 2010, because I can’t manage to tie in my last 48 blog posts with the big news events of the year. Thus I find myself with about 150 minutes left (before I leave for a New Year’s party) to create my end-of-year blog post. So, inspired by an episode of “Magnum, P.I.” in which the writers had completely run out of ideas and/or budget and resorted to loosely tying a together bunch of old footage with Magnum and his buds sitting around reminiscing, I’ll give you a “blog post highlights” ensemble. If you enjoy it, great; if not, you can enjoy making fun of me behind my back.


I started off the year by racing my bike up Mt. San Bruno on January 1. At the summit, as I caught my breath after 18 minutes of terrible suffering, I witnessed the grotesque spectacle of a racer who had not only ridden too hard in the race, but had clearly partied too hard the night before. As I wrote, “He’d climbed off his bike and was sitting on a low stone guardrail, staring blankly into middle distance. To say he was frowning doesn’t cover it. Every part of him was frowning. His mouth had an exaggerated closed-lip crease of a frown, extending down so far it almost reached the edge of his chin. His eyes were frowning as though tugged downward at the outer edges. The bags under his eyes were frowning, his eyebrows were frowning, and the creases in his forehead were frowning. Moreover, as he hunched over even his shoulders were frowning. He reminded me of one of those Greek theatre tragedy masks.” I gaped for several long moments before realizing it was the friend I’d driven to the race, and was in fact looking for at that very moment. I literally hadn’t recognized him.

The race had perhaps been a test of my manhood, but a greater test awaited me in January: could I install a new dishwasher by myself, instead of hiring some handyman? I had serious misgivings, so as a twisted method of steeling my resolve I chatted with my brother online about it, and told him I was on the fence about taking on the task. I admitted, in fact, that I was feeling like a wuss. He replied, “Like a wuss—because you're sick, or scared, or what?” He sent me a link to a 28-page online installation guide, and said, “Man, with instructions like those, you can’t go wrong! Just don't let the wife see them, or she’ll figure she can do it!” (His mention of my wife was masterful; he was tacitly pointing out that my reputation as a man was on the line.) I mentioned that I didn’t have the soldering iron mentioned in the instructions, and he retorted, “You don’t have to solder! You’d use a torch, anyway. Now there’s a man’s tool.” And so on, until there was no question but that I had to try it. The post documents my trial. I’m happy to report that almost a year later, the dishwasher still working like a champ.

As a companion piece to the dishwasher installation tale, I posted an essay, from my vast personal archives, that is an extended lament on the following topic: “Men have come a long way toward contributing equally to the ongoing housekeeping and child-rearing duties; have developed impressive cooking and diaper-changing and even ironing skills; have sincerely adopted the principles of gender equality; have even learned how to be emotionally sensitive in a manly, non-effete way—and yet both women and men alike are still immersed in the timeless conviction that all men should have the robust, uncomplaining, tireless physical strength and invulnerable armored flesh of the day laborer.”

I rounded out January with an examination of how modern cyclists use electronic data-gathering devices, based on a survey of fifty-two of my cycling pals. Remarkably, though only 17% of these riders still race regularly (and 60% don’t race at all), fully three quarters of them use these sophisticated training devices, and a quarter of them use highly expensive power meters.


Finally, some real action hit albertnet: the story of a friend crashing on a bike ride. The crash itself, eerily, was prefigured by our chitchat earlier in the ride: “All this crash talk … could we sense fate lurking in the background? It wasn’t a day for the Grim Reaper to come looking for a soul, but perhaps we had a collective hunch that the Grim Weed-Whacker might be seeking a flesh offering.…” If you have a taste for schadenfreude, or even for a side discussion of economics or some “Star Trek” references, check it out!

I also posted an archival story of the sad demise of my old (360,000-mile veteran) ’84 Volvo; a discussion of the bedtime story ritual I have with my kids; and an impassioned plea for Gmail users to use my special high-tech Adsense blocker to foil the insidious ads that Google places alongside the e-mail. These ads are based on text within your messages and those of your friends and family, but nobody seems to care. Alas, I fear that this post, just like my 2009 essay about keyboard layout and repetitive stress injuries, was a mere tilting at windmills—that is, pissing into the wind. But hey, I tried.


I started the month with a long complaint titled “I’m Not Complaining.” If you don’t find the post funny, you can laugh at the accompanying doctored photo; I don’t have Photoshop so I did some actual cutting and pasting (and ended up with a paper doll of myself my kids had some fun with).

Following that, I posted an essay comparing the relative merits of highbrow and lowbrow entertainment, focusing on a comparison of the King Tut exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young museum to the movie “Avatar.” Really, it was no contest: high ambition aside, the de Young exhibit was a joke, and should have been called, “Some Stuff We Found in Tut’s Cousin’s Car.”

I filled out the month with a stab at fiction, and then posted a study, from my archives, about the strange new sports-medicine science of rinsing. Rinsing means tasting—without ingesting—energy drink. That’s right, a serious study that involves spitting out tasty beverages onto the road.


A pleasant surprise for the albertnet reader: a post that actually ties in nicely with current events. In May, a kid named Jordan Romero became the youngest person ever to climb Mt. Everest. The month before, I blogged about his plans to attempt this feat, comparing it to a foolhardy (but much less dangerous) exploit from my own youth: riding my bike over the highest pass in North America with almost no food, no money, and no cold-weather gear.

I also blogged about staying in a motel. Could this possibly be interesting? Well, here’s an excerpt, from a bit about the breakfast bar: “There are Plexiglas domes, with hinged doors, over trays of innocuous items like English muffins, biscuits, and bagels; what’s unsettling here are amateurish labels stuck on each saying ‘Please use tongs.’ Somebody at this motel, or from the home office, had to go buy a label-maker and make all these labels because something was happening in these breakfast rooms the dome manufacturer never anticipated. Had there been complaints of people fondling the pastries? Poking and prodding them like produce? Or something even worse?” If that grabs you, check out the full post!

April also features a story about an underground bike tour I did in and around a major western city. This story has been called “the most fascinating and thought-provoking of its kind ever published in English,” if only by me, and just now, and for self-promotional purposes. I also posted an archived story about the Markleeville Death Ride. In this post I offered a prize to the first reader to point out its sneaky literary gimmick. So far, the prize is unclaimed. It’s possible that nobody ever read the story. Your chances here are far better than with any lottery or raffle!


Anybody familiar with sibling rivalry will be happy to know that my brother Bryan took me to task for the article on sports-drink rinsing I posted in March. So this month I wrote a follow-up essay defending myself while also going on the offensive. If albertnet were a tacky reality-TV show, the promo for this episode would have one of us saying, “It is on. It is so on.”

If you like bicycles, and want to see a photo of a very strange beach cruiser with 36-inch wheels, and want to saturate yourself in a lively discussion of the ins and outs of bike mechanics, you’ll have to check out “Big Red – Letters to a Young Gearhead.” If this sounds appalling, turn instead to its polar opposite, art criticism. See? Albertnet has it all! And if that’s not enough, you can enjoy a photo-rich account of a couple of guys standing around in poison oak in the cold rain freezing their butts off for a couple of hours, just to spend two minutes watching the best bike racers in the world go by during the Tour of California.


If you’ve ever wanted to write a sonnet, but didn’t know how, I wrote a guide providing detailed instructions for the intrepid budding poet. I’m not going to say that writing a full iambic pentameter Shakespearean sonnet is child’s play, but I should point out that, having read my instructions and passed the short sample test provided, my nine-year-old child wrote two beautiful sonnets, which she gave to my wife and me for Christmas. (I’ll post one of them, at the end of the original sonnet post, shortly.)

Following that is a wild post about a very strange encounter I had with a crazy guy while chaperoning a bunch of third-graders on a field trip to San Francisco. As I wrote therein, “I actually have a track record of being singled out by crazy people. I don’t know why. I mean, we all encounter the occasional nutjob—the woman standing on a street corner holding a coffee can at her chest, pointing it at cars and shouting profanities; the dude on the department store bike zigzagging wildly down Wildcat Canyon Road yelling at my bike club, ‘You’re all dog crap!’; the woman angrily ripping leaves off a tree and stuffing them in a trash can—but crazy people seem drawn to me and often engage me in one way or another. I suppose if I’d thought to mention this to the school, they’d have found somebody to replace me as chaperone.” Read all about it here.

The Phantom Solace,” a short story I posted in June, has been called “a refreshingly off-the-wall and entirely entertaining literary lark in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland” by all zero of the people who read it. If fiction isn’t your bag, but you think you might instead like a ripping yarn about a new parent boiling over in the face of a botched diaper change, check out this post, taken from my archives.


Everybody loves the thrill of victory, and in July, as I drooled in anticipation of the Tour de France, I did a post cataloguing the various forms of bike race victory salutes. I used my two daughters as models for photos and movies illustrating this most beautiful of human gestures. Following that (perhaps drunk on my own bathwater), I foolishly dared to criticize soccer, “the beautiful game,” in commemoration of the single World Cup game that I’d seen on TV and was still sore from wincing my way through.

As my “from the archives” post for July I put forth an essay I wrote while a college student at UCSB, about a kid struggling to fit in in a new place while dreaming of becoming a writer. Speaking of vocations, I finished July off with an essay about the seemingly innocuous conversation opener “What do you do?”, exploring its hidden pitfalls: “The person who gets asked this question may naturally assume you’re attempting to place him in some sort of social hierarchy; if he’s insecure, the question may strike him as a euphemistic version of ‘What the hell good are you, anyway?’ Meanwhile, with our ongoing economic meltdown, the person you ask may well be unemployed, which would start the conversation off on an awkward foot indeed… This blog post is about the problems inherent in this question; the duty incumbent upon all of us to quash it; and some handy how-to suggestions.”


By August, I was tired of writing, and my audience (i.e., my mom) was tired of reading, so a vacation was just the thing for all (i.e., both) of us. My family and I took a long train trip, and I submitted three travelogue posts with lots of photos. A certain amount of text was inevitable—I can’t help it—but you’ll be delighted to know that the “situation room” sequences concern train car restroom disasters. Just try ignoring those! Here are the links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

I finished up the month with a from-the-archives essay about the 7,500-mile cross-country bike tour my wife and I did in 1994. The essay is the final from-the-road dispatch that I sent around, via CompuServe e-mail, from the laptop—equipped with 2400-baud modem—that I brought along on the tour. Many more photos here.


The kids went back to school, and I blogged about it, recalling that awful, magical annual childhood ritual. Then it was time for new cycling shoes, and I managed to wring some crushing pathos from the topic. Okay, it was nothing like crushing pathos, but I did find myself caring more about shoes than I thought a man capable of being. I included photos of very early cycling shoes, unaware that the discovery of the oldest shoes on record, magically preserved in sheep dung, had stolen my thunder three months before.

Another post from September might have embroiled me in a seditious libel lawsuit, had the injured party not been (evidently) too stoned to Google herself and notice my story. Speaking of the munchies, I also posted the tale of how I ate my way through another leg-crushing edition of the Everest Challenge bike race.


Every now and then I put a whole lot of work into a blog post, and in October I researched and wrote an essay about something that had been on my mind for years: the uncanny similarity between Lance Armstrong and Eminem. This essay ponders the strange question of why cyclists suspected of doping are fair game for all manner of witch hunters, while other entertainers freely abuse drugs, setting a terrible example for our kids, while going scot-free. The conclusion I reach in my analysis may surprise you. If you’re at all interested in the topic of doping in sport, don’t miss this one.

After this heavy topic I drifted into the merely caloric: a post about making pasta by hand, including guidelines, instructions, and loads of photos. Then I blogged about the Great California ShakeOut, which was the largest earthquake drill in the history of the United States. (If this seems like a pedantic subject, just think back to January and the terrible earthquake in Haiti, or February and the terrible earthquake in Chile, and if you live in an earthquake zone, ask yourself how prepared you really are.) I wrapped up October with a humor piece, from my archives, about business travel.


My nine-year-old struggled to learn the parts of speech by memorizing a rap song about them … and a blog post was born. It goes without saying that, having read the very tame rap she’d been given by her teacher, I had to create my own. Along the way I reflected on the strange ease with which kids memorize songs … as long as the lyrics are naughty.

Following that self-assigned writing project, I finally got around to replacing the frame of my commuter bike, documenting the difficult process (with description and photos) along the way. This is definitely one for the gearheads. For everybody else, there is a post giving poignant tales of Thanksgiving meals gone awry, and a pre-turkey bike ride that almost went really well.

I wrapped up the month with another fictional piece, this time in the guise of a scientific study of how rejection affects health. This post has been compared to the groundbreaking work of … nobody!


Truth can be not only stranger than fiction, but more harrowing. So it was when I was blindsided by the Lotion Sniper this year. Happily, I lived to tell the tale. Thus, I was able to continue my fond tradition of writing a whimsical Holiday Newsletter, which I’ve posted to albertnet. For once, I have actual quote-worthy praise, from my brother Max: “I laughed so hard I pissed myself!” (I’m sure he was exaggerating, but at least he didn’t damn me with faint praise.) The rest of the month, until now, was dominated by bad weather and indoor workouts, which almost killed me. Excerpts from my December '10 Trainer Diaries give a dark glimpse into this hideous realm.

Thank you

Thank you for visiting albertnet, and for following this blog (if not all year, at least for this post).
Actually, wait a second … shouldn’t you be thanking me? No, of course not. As all content creators will tell you (be it a creators of a book, play, movie, or album), I couldn’t do it without you. Except that I could. And probably do.

Anyway, happy new year!
dana albert blog

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From the Archives - The Trainer Diaries

This has been a really wet month, so I’ve had to train indoors. As I described in an earlier blog post, training indoors requires a lot of gumption and discipline, and I’ve found that achieving the right intensity can actually help enliven the workout, while maximizing its benefits. In turn, riding good and hard is best achieved through use of a heart rate monitor, and a good tool for maintaining day-to-day consistency (i.e., keeping yourself honest) is a training diary.
Most training diaries stick to basic facts: duration, mileage, and heart rate statistics. Mine delves a bit deeper, into the thoughts racing through my mind during the workout and my general ruminations on the activity itself. I’ve decided to share some of my training diary entries with my albertnet audience, to provide a rare view into the harrowing psychology of indoor training. Enjoy.
A quick note on some terms: in this post, “bpm” means heartbeats per minute; “bpm avg” means my average heart rate for the whole workout (not including warm-up and warm-down); “tour” means any workout, be it outdoor or indoor; “above zone,” aka “TAZ,” means the amount of time spent above my heart rate target zone (in other words, the amount of time spent really hammering). If you come across other terms you’re not familiar with, check out this handy glossary.

3/22/10 Tuesday
1:01:00 159 bpm avg 0:37:18 above zone
I woke up at like 5:30 a.m. because I didn’t feel well. Bad sinus headache and nausea. But I figured heck, if I feel lousy, I might as well be on the trainer. I climbed aboard and felt just awful. For the first fifteen minutes I couldn’t get my heart rate past like 145. I felt like climbing off, but then I thought, what am I going to do at this hour? Sit around and feel lousy? Go to work early? So I kept pedaling, and suddenly I started having very positive sensations. My HR was skying above the zone! I kept this up for a good while but at about minute 55 my HR dropped about 5 bpm and I was hit with a strong wave of nausea and had to quit. Ever since, I’ve felt really awful, but then hey, I felt awful to begin with!
In other news, while I was toiling away, Alexa strolled in and said, “I just hurled.” I was about to fly into action with the sponge & bucket when Alexa went on to say, “I got it all in the bucket and rinsed it out.” What an outstanding individual.
3/18/10 Tuesday
1:34:06 162 bpm avg 1:14:22 above zone
A nice, long, grueling trainer ride. I was able to get to that dark place where the high heart rate can be achieved. I’m having trouble adjusting to civilian life now; I have this urge to go pound somebody’s face in. [Note: I wrote this rather rash comment under the influence of vast quantities of adrenaline and caffeine. I really don’t have these impulses most of the time, which is in large part due to, and the reason for, these workouts.]
10/23/10 Saturday
2:00:21 161 bpm avg 1:43:26 above zone
This trainer workout—my first in five months—was truly the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, I had to spend some time getting my tunes together (I didn’t prep for a trainer ride because I was holding out some vain hope it wouldn’t be raining and I could actually ride). Then, my trainer wheel had a flat! I patched it, but the patch failed. Then, the trainer mech had come unscrewed and required attention. Then I had to find my old shoes somewhere in the garage, and the wrist strap for my heart rate monitor. Then I couldn’t find the tarp I put under the bike to catch the sweat. It took me like three hours just to get on the bike!
Once I got going, though, I had fairly positive sensations. Once I got my heart rate over the zone I of course tried to see how long I could last. When I climbed off the bike I was pretty much shot, and largely useless for the rest of the day, climbing stairs real slow like an old person.
10/24/10 Sunday
1:01:00 149 bpm avg 0:00:02 above zone
Man, this was awful. Another rainy day thus another trainer ride, and I was already completely rendered from yesterday. I suffered so hard for this wussy average heart rate. For the last 20 minutes I averaged 152 bpm, and was determined to go long enough to get my avg up to 150. But at just over an hour, Alexa came running up, waving her hands and yelling, “It’s an emergency!” (I had prohibited the kids from bothering me except if absolutely necessary.) I assumed someone had gotten caught in the threshing equipment or something, and whipped my headphones off and stopped pedaling. “Misha defecated on the floor!” Alexa cried. I took this as a good excuse to call it a day workout-wise.
I don’t know why the cat did it. I’m guessing she remembers the time I was riding the trainer and she headed for her cat box and I instinctively shouted, “No, Misha, no!” because I didn’t want to inhale her toxic vapors at 160 bpm. Anyhow, right after cleaning up the cat feces, I noticed how hard the rain was hammering down and checked our main downspout from the roof. As I’d feared, the top of the downspout was packed with leaves and overflowing, flooding the backyard. To get on the roof I needed a ladder, so I had to get into the crawlspace under the house (we’ve lost track of the combo on the lock so I had to remove the latch with a screwdriver). I went up on the roof in nothing but drenched cycling shorts and socks, as it would have been pointless to change without having showered.
Good thing I went up there, as water was already pooling up and if I hadn’t cleared away the leaves right away we’d have had water coming down from our ceiling. I finished that up, put away the ladder, and—drenched and cold from the torrential rain—jumped in the shower. By this time Erin had come home, and—knowing I was at the tail end of my glycogen window—I asked her to bring me some cold apple cider (which I’d really enjoyed after yesterday’s sufferfest). She did, and after I drank it the ceramic mug slipped from my soapy hands, fell on the floor of the tub, and exploded, sending shards into my foot. The water from the shower made my foot appear to bleed extravagantly, like that famous scene in “Psycho.” Lindsay came in at that point and screamed. Man. Anyhow, a hard, hard ride with a hard, hard aftermath.
11/7/10 Sunday
0:48:20 152 bpm avg 0:13:06 above zone
Man, this was grueling. It took a really, really long time to get into TAZ territory. Once there, though, I felt okay and was hoping to last an hour. But at 0:48:20, my left pedal broke! Cheap piece of crap. I have to admit, though, I was relieved to be done pedaling … and relieved that I’d relegated those cheap pedals to my rain bike, or I could have broken that pedal during the Everest Challenge or something!
12/4/10 Saturday
1:45:26 161 bpm avg 1:30:34 above zone
I felt surprisingly good during this workout, especially since I felt kind of nauseated beforehand. I think it was just butterflies in my stomach, for I had big ambitions for this ride and knew how much it was going to suck. Actually, at moments during the ride I felt kind of nauseated too. Erin was working down in the office just behind me, and I became a bit self-conscious about all the spitting I had to do and all the belching. Something about this kind of effort seems to scour my respiratory system of all the mucus lining it, and once all that slime has been raised into my mouth it’s got to go somewhere. When you add two bottles of sugary drink, the amount of spitting just escalates. And one of those bottles was a fizzy drink, hence the belches.
Anyhow, it got me thinking about what would happen if I actually hurled while riding the trainer. I mean, athletes hurl all the time, don’t they? I had a teammate who would throw up every time we did sprint practice. In high school when Erin ran track, she and her pals would frequently puke after wind sprints. A colleague of mine hurled right after the Mt. San Bruno hill climb a couple years back. Can you imagine, on the trainer, if you just blew chunks? I mean, yeah, there’s a tarp and everything, but it would be a disaster. No way could I get to a toilet fast enough; once I’m unclipped from the pedals it’s hard to climb off the bike, elevated as it is on the trainer, and my cleats slip on the metal tubing and everything. I’d probably be halfway off the bike when I erupted and would end up face-down in my own vomit, like a rock star or something. After which I’d probably be forbidden to ride the trainer in the house and would have to brave the cold garage like Bryan. Dang.

12/5/10 Sunday
1:07:05 153 bpm avg 0:09:56 above zone
Needless to say I felt El Crappo Grande throughout this tour. Oddly, about 35 minutes into it my heart rate—which had averaged only 146 to that point—suddenly popped up to 159, just above my target zone. For 2½ magical minutes, I was able to keep it up there, and was even thinking this might end up being a good ride. But then just as abruptly my heart rate dropped right back down again, and stayed down (until toward the end of my workout when, through sheer anger, I was able to dig in and get another seven minutes of hard-won TAZ). Anyhow, I’m left puzzled by that brief period of relatively agony-free heart rate elevation. Perhaps some kind of “cardiac event”? I sure hope not. I’d hate to die riding the trainer. Nobody could say, “At least he died doing something he loved.” And somebody else, probably poor Erin, would have to clean up all the loogies from the tarp since I wouldn’t be alive to do it.
12/7/10 Tuesday
1:19:25 152 bpm avg 0:04:58 above zone
My heart rate monitor has been screwing up lately. Could be electrical interference from the fan or something; the readout sometimes just suddenly goes to zero. Of course, this gets me so enraged it might be a net positive, as anger helps me go hard. Conversely, happy thoughts can cause my heart rate to drop. I was hammering away the other day and Alexa walked in and set a muffin down on the bike cabinet for my post-ride glycogen window. I was so touched, my HR dropped like three beats-per-minute!

12/11/10 Saturday
2:00:48 161 bpm avg 1:35:04 above zone
Sometimes I marvel at how variable my body’s performance is. Not just riding—that variability is totally understandable—but even just getting around. The other morning when I took a rest day, Alexa woke up before me and was impatient for her breakfast. Following her down the stairs, I found I could barely walk. I had to use both banisters to support my weight (like a girl at the gym clutching the railings of her Stairmaster) because my feet and legs didn’t seem up to the challenge. Many weeks ago I hurt my left heel playing soccer—against children! At these times it seems my body is just wearing out. But at other times—most of the time, actually—I can bound up and down stairs at high speed. It’s the same body; why does it take so long for it to get moving each day? Waking up in the morning I feel like Han Solo coming out of the carbon freeze.
I suppose it’s just the natural effect of ageing, which really pisses me off. After all, I’m trying to use sport to resist the effects of age. So far I think it’s working; slow mornings aside, my body is doing okay. My resting heart rate is down to 38, a personal best, and last time I tried riding outdoors, I could still make it up the hills. But I want more, I want better. By the time I’m seventy, I want my heart to beat only every so often. I want my heart not just to be the size of a fist (as they say); I want it to be as hard and as hard-hitting as a fist. When I get gallstones I want to tell my heart, “Just swim down there and crush out those stones!” When I go up a flight of stairs I want to not just skip every other step; I want to soar over the staircase entirely. So anyhow, during and after this ride, I felt like maybe I could achieve that. It was a good day. Of course I knew better than to expect anything but a sorry aftermath.
12/12/10 Sunday
1:15:36 151 bpm avg 0:00:00 above zone
A sorry aftermath. I didn’t have the gumption, the night before, to set everything up, so I did it the morning of. That’s a drag, because I don’t wear my contact lenses when I ride the trainer (the salt in my sweat is like an abrasive between the lens and my eye), and my glasses won’t stay on my face when I tilt my head forward (as when setting up the trainer), so I’m basically stumbling around tired and blind, and as I dread the workout everything kind of slows down. So I puttered around at length before finally mounting the torture rack for this one. Sure enough, I felt like crap. When I feel good, there’s a kind of excitement to a trainer workout, but when I’m fried, it’s just totally boring and seems to last forever. It would help to have something to look at, though of course I can’t see very well. I felt like one of those pinky mice I used to feed Aisner’s snake: blind, hairless, helpless. These “Day 2” trainer rides are as hard on the mind as on the body. No, I take it back. They’re harder on the body.
12/14/10 Tuesday
1:35:39 155 bpm avg 0:08:24 above zone
Hard to get up for this. At about 4:50 I woke up to pee, and when I lay back down the drumming of the rain on—what, the roof? a wheelbarrow?—was so loud I figured I’d have to put an earplug in, but I was too tired to reach for the earplug on the nightstand, and next thing I knew the alarm was waking me up (at 5:40). Of course I was being as quiet as possible this early in the morning, but downstairs in the kitchen the cat wouldn’t stop meowing, and I couldn’t find her jar of food. Erin must have fed her during the night, but where did she put the food afterward? The jar was just gone and the cat wouldn’t shut up. It was like a bad dream.
After silencing the cat with a dish of milk, I got out the Folgers. I’d never tried it before. Erin’s mom bought it in frustration at our not having any coffee around here. I was hoping to use it as some sort of secret weapon; I already have a strong association between this brand and my workouts, because on the trainer I listen to a lot of rap, including Eminem, who in one song raps, “Wake up and smell the Folgers crystals!” So I figured that literally smelling the Folgers, and of course drinking it, might inspire me to go harder. I know … grasping at straws. Anyhow, something worked, because I managed to get a bit of TAZ toward the end of this tour. Mostly, though, this one sucked.
12/16/10 Thursday
1:00:56 145 bpm avg 0:01:04 above zone
As Lance Armstrong said, “Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail.” Today I wasn’t even the nail, which after all is a useful (albeit small) building component that has a job to do. Today I was Barney, the big purple dinosaur, being rightfully beaten with sticks by hyperactive, evil little boys. That’s what I was thinking about as I futilely pedaled the bike. I’d seen such boys at a cookie decorating party one of Erin’s friends threw last weekend. I was in the backyard trying to have a conversation with some other sensitive dads about whether or not men can wear Ugg boots, and these two little monsters were yelling continuously and hitting everything in their sight with sticks. They were trying to shear limbs off a fledgling tree out there, and do whatever other damage they could to anything else they could find. Or maybe the real goal was to out-violence each other. I tried to dissuade them from hurting the tree, but I didn’t actively intervene—they might have turned on me. Was I that awful as a little boy? If memory serves, I was more likely to curl up on the ground in the fetal position, cradling my head, while blows rained down on me. Okay, that’s a huge exaggeration; probably most of the blows were psychological. Anyway, I wish those bullies could see me now! While they’re strolling through malls wearing Dockers and fanny packs, I’m in Lycra on a trainer pedaling away furiously like a hamster on his wheel. Hmm. Come to think of it, there’s no real comeuppance or redemption here.
I tried to motivate for a big effort this morning, but to no avail. My new game-changing secret weapon, Folgers coffee, is actually useless. I was trying to figure out, as I made the coffee this morning, what the Folgers crystals remind me of, and finally it hit me: Drano. They’re like brown Drano, and they have the same effect on my plumbing. Not much other effect, though. None of my other trainer tricks were doing much good either. The rap music was almost demoralizing. As Obie Trice yelled in my ear, “I’m hittin’ harder than those Hiroshima-type bombs!” I was thinking, “I’m hitting weaker than those plastic Wiffle-type bats.” I don’t know how much longer I can keep up this indoor-training charade. But outdoor riding is out of the question; at 5:40 this morning, the temperature was 37, with 95% humidity! Oh, and of course it was pitch-black out there. Dang.
dana albert blog

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2010 Holiday Newsletter

NOTE: This post is rated PG-13 for mild mature content.


Every year I write a Holiday Newsletter and send it with my holiday cards. As newsletters go, mine isn’t very useful; it doesn’t, for example, describe the highlights of the year. It’s actually more likely to focus on a single low point of my year, just to counter-balance all the highlights you’ll read about in other people’s newsletters. Or it’s simply random—the “secret Santa” of holiday newsletters, you might say.

In keeping with the tradition I started last year, I’ve decided to extend my Holiday Newsletter to my extended blog “family.” Enjoy.

Note: please do NOT read this newsletter aloud to your kids!

Seasons Greetings!

Before I get to the standard good tidings, I’d like to make a humble request of all my friends and family: please don’t tell your kids that Santa doesn’t exist! This is the time of year when I get really nervous that somebody’s going to spill the beans. I was at the library with my kids recently and saw a book was on display titled The Truth About Santa Claus. Seeing this, I felt the same kind of panic as a teenager whose mom has walked into his room before he can hide his “Playboy” magazines. What if my kid saw that book? The title alone suggests treachery.

Why, you might ask, should we perpetuate this Santa myth? Well, for one thing, it is charming to watch our benighted children participate in it. I’ve loved reading Alexa’s letters to Santa over the years, asking for mundane or impossible things (a “new live rabbit” and “more aquafresh” one year; aquafresh and “miny piano” the next).

A couple of years ago on Christmas eve, right after her goodnight hug, Alexa suddenly assumed a panicked expression, like someone who just realized she left her purse in the train station, and said, “Wait! We have to put out some cookies for Santa!” Last year she left him meticulous instructions: “To tell the stockings apart, look at the license plates with our names on them in the loop on the top of our stocking.”

The myth is good for adults, too. It keeps us on our toes. For example, Alexa and Lindsay have somehow arranged with Erin and me that every year they get to sleep under the Christmas tree for the last three nights before Christmas. This makes it a bit tricky when it’s time to fill the stockings and deposit the presents. It’s fun going around like a cat burglar, stuffing a stocking right above their sleeping heads.

The whole Santa mythology also opens the door for useful discussions with our kids. I appreciate the chance to dispel my daughters’ natural skepticism even while encourage critical thinking. For example, they asked how a bunch of little elves could make enough toys for all the children in the world. “Oh, believe me, they don’t,” I replied. “How could they? Santa outsources most of his production, just like most corporations. I mean, think about it—would elves really make Aquafresh?”

When the kids asked about the whole “he knows when you’ve been bad or good” bit, I became indignant. “That’s just a myth that parents came up with to try to trick their kids into behaving. I won’t lie to you: Santa doesn’t know what you do and he doesn’t care. Every kid gets presents, even the ones who are little monsters all year. But you should be good for its own sake.” With this lecture I hoped to instill the impulse to question authority—but within bounds.

Another reason I’m opposed to exposing the Santa myth is that, even if your kid is ready for the truth, his younger sibling probably isn’t, and there’s no chance of the older one keeping a secret. Decades ago when my older brothers learned the truth, they wasted no time in breaking the news to me. They couldn’t wait to watch me cry, and they weren’t disappointed. Meanwhile, once a younger sibling learns the awful truth, he tells everyone in his class. Some of those kids will tell their even younger siblings, and now you’ve just trashed the whole holiday. Meanwhile, we can’t really expose the Santa myth without giving up the Tooth Fairy too. After all, once our kids realize we’re capable of lying to them consistently and repeatedly, their skepticism will naturally increase.

Ah, now you want me to defend the Tooth Fairy myth! Fair enough. Frankly, the Santa legend is fun and all, but the Tooth Fairy is something we need. Why? Imagine the alternative, which is presenting the losing-teeth business straight: “Here’s the deal, kid. One by one your teeth will get loose. Your tongue will get tired as it pushes that tooth around, until the tooth is hanging on by one little strand, at which point you’ll taste blood. Eventually you’ll yank the tooth out, which will hurt, and then you’ll have this funny-looking gap in your mouth. The next tooth that comes in will be oversized and as this process repeats you’ll get uglier and uglier until you get braces, which are truly hideous, and which will hurt all the time. Sorry, but that’s just the way it goes. Life’s a bitch.”

Compared to that, giving up a few coins or bills each time to create goodwill is a great bargain. For trivial amounts of money these kids will actually look forward to all this unpleasantness. Almost four months before she lost her first tooth, Alexa said something so interesting I wrote it down: “I wish my teeth would fall out so I would get money from the tooth fairy and I wouldn’t have to earn it.” I asked her what she would buy with the money. She replied, “A gallon of milk for Lindsay.” That’s not even a real expenditure, since we’d buy milk anyway. It’s a zero-sum game that makes it fun to lose teeth!

Here is Alexa with her first lost tooth (July ’07):

Here is Lindsay with her first lost tooth (November ’09):

Awhile back we had a close call with the Tooth Fairy myth. I was loading groceries into the back of the car when Alexa suddenly asked me straight out if the Tooth Fairy really exists. It seems one of Alexa’s classmates was spreading the evil truth about this myth. “Don’t listen to kids, they make stuff up,” I told her. She said the kid’s mother had told it to him. Man. I’d love to get an audience with that mother and excoriate her for turning her kid into a merciless little killjoy, running around the playground sharing the bad news. I’d give that woman a taste of her own medicine: “Ah, so Truth is that important to you, eh? Well then you’ll be happy to know I just told the whole PTA how you paid for your Prius—that is, with a stock portfolio comprising equal parts Monsanto, Phillip-Morris, Halliburton, and bundled credit default swap instruments!”

We had another close call with Lindsay’s last lost tooth: I simply forgot to swap the tooth for the money during the night. I sneaked into the kids’ bedroom in the morning with a $5 bill (the smallest thing I could find), and climbed into Lindsay’s bed as if to snuggle. I reached under pillow, extracted the tooth from the special Tooth Fairy purse she’d put it in, palmed the tooth with two fingers while using other two to insert the bill in the purse, and pulled my arm out just as she woke up. She immediately checked the purse and found the money. It was unbelievably close, like the action movie cliché of people running and diving for cover mere seconds before something explodes. Which, in fact, Alexa did when she saw the five-spot. She found it totally unfair that she had never gotten that much. She was in tears. I had to scramble and explain that the Tooth Fairy pays a flat rate, based on the prime lending rate set by the government. I acknowledged that there are regional variances, of course; that in the Bay Area the tooth rate would be a bit higher than, say, a third world country. During the ensuing discussion Alexa seemed to forget all about the $5. These kinds of trial-under-fire give me some of my finest parenting moments.

So you may be wondering, when is it time to reveal the truth about Santa and the Tooth Fairy? The answer is: never. Let the kids find out on their own, or—and this is the best case scenario—let the truth dawn on them so gradually that they go from believing the myth to helping to perpetuate it without even realizing it. This will prepare them for adulthood, when they go along with the greatest mass-delusion of all: money.

Well, I was hoping to give you all kinds of updates about the Albert family, but I see I’m out of room. Have a great holiday!


dana albert blog

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Lotion Sniper


I spend little time in malls. The exception of course is when I’m doing my Christmas shopping. Recently I went to the San Francisco Centre on Market Street and as I navigated the curving escalators, I ruminated on two things.

First, I thought about how I used to be annoyed at the layout of these escalators: instead of lining them all up, so you could make an uninterrupted trip to the floor of your choice, the up- and down-escalators are staggered, so when you reach a new floor and want to go up another, you have to walk 180 degrees around to the next up escalator. The idea, of course, is to take you past as many shops as possible. I used to be put off by the sneakiness of this, but with so many modern technologies making our lives more sedentary, I now applaud the mall designers for forcing us to get more exercise.

Second, I made up my mind that this time I would keep a close eye out for the lotion sniper, and would make damn sure he didn’t get me again. What, you haven’t encountered the lotion sniper? Well then, read on!

Sniper Strategy

Lotion snipers only seem active during the holiday shopping rush. They seem to rely on their prey—shoppers—being dazed by the Christmas music playing in the stores. This music is particularly disorienting when three different stores are playing three different versions of the same song in a ten-minute period. I found myself catching lyrics of “Sleigh Ride” that I’d somehow missed as a kid, like “Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up it’s grand/ Just holding your hand.” As a somewhat romantic teenager, wouldn’t I have found this line compelling? How did I miss it? Meanwhile, the song seemed longer than ever before, with one version having a stanza I was sure was new: “Your thighs are nice and loamy/ The egg nog’s foamy tonight/ Let’s ditch those fuzzy knickers/ Amidst my snickers and sighs!” (Okay, I made that up. I don’t remember what the new stanza actually was.)

So while we shoppers are all dazed with music and the whole holiday shopping frenzy, the sniper expertly scans the crowd for an easy mark, which I guess would be anybody who’s not talking on a cell phone or gossiping with pals. In other words, somebody like me who’s minding his own business.

Once the sniper has you on the hook, he or she commandeers your wrist and begins an elaborate demo of three different skin products. Of course you won’t know in advance how long and complicated this demo will take, which is how you let yourself get roped into it in the first place. The sniper keeps up a constant patter laced with fancy words like “antioxidant,” “exfoliate,” “toner,” “embrocation,” and possibly even something utterly nonsensical like “Naugahyde.” (That last one isn’t a real example; I haven't paid close enough attention to remember them all.)

Lotion imbroglio

The skin care demo goes completely against my modus operandi when shopping, especially during the holidays. My goal is to be surgical: enter a men’s clothing store, go straight to the sale section, see if anything decent is heavily discounted, buy three of four of whatever I like and think my brothers and father will like, and get the hell out. I’ve never understood how people can go shopping for pleasure. But the skin product sales pitch is hard to endure even when I’m not in a hurry. It’s just a tragic waste of time all around. There is zero chance of me buying any product from these people. Whatever human failings I possess that make me such a natural victim for lotion snipers, these failings are overshadowed by my essential cheapness. All that chatter about tight skin and oily skin and dirty skin and dead skin makes it hard for me to think as I try to prepare the statement that will quickly snuff out his hope that I’ll buy anything. It gets awkward.

Perhaps it’s how I was brought up. I’ve lived more than half my life in California, but I grew up in Colorado, which may have given me certain characteristics of Midwesterners. If I were from New York City or Detroit, I might not think twice about putting the guy in a headlock and saying, “Three seconds, break neck. One, two….” Larry David, or at least his sitcom character, would put the guy down at length with consummate rudeness, making bystanders both laugh and wince. But I just somehow don’t have the heart.

I’ll never forget something that happened at The Cosmopolitan, a restaurant near my office where I once had lunch with my colleagues. The waitress was describing the special in typically overblown frou-frou foodie terms (“suffused with a parsnip emulsion and dressed with a cranberry truffle salsify” or some such) when she caught my colleague smirking. To our astonishment, she got so flustered she started to cry. “I’m just trying to do my job!” she sobbed before storming off, without having taken our orders. You’d think a waitress would have thick skin, but you never know. Could it be the same with lotion salesmen?

So I give such hucksters their audience, unable to refuse their demo. Once on the hook, I’ll writhe uncomfortably until the guy has said his piece, and then I’ll bicker politely with him over his rejoinders to my objections. Really, the only graceful way out for me is to never engage in the first place.

Ensnared again!

Despite my resolution to avoid the sniper this time, I somehow managed to fall victim once again. What happened was, I saw a woman standing in the aisle with a giant tray of juice samples. I’m a sucker for free juice. Naturally, I reached for my free sample, but just as I did, a guy appeared from behind her. “Hi, how are you?” he said with a big smile. Dammit! It was a trap! I’d been set up! This was a new tactic this year: two lotion snipers working together, like hyenas.

Unwavering in my resolve, I said, “You’re just giving juice samples, right? I’m not trying out any lotion!” He said, as if taken aback, “Lotion? No, of course not! Have some juice. This juice is from the acai berry, which—did you know?—is the richest source of antioxidants there is.” Relieved that he was just hawking juice, I let down my guard a little. Big mistake.

“Where are you from—what kind of accent is it you have?” he went on. He himself had some vague, non-specific European accent, probably fake. (For some reason lots of rip-off artists I’ve encountered have these odd accents, like the quasi-Euro guy in Chinatown who sold me a $25 Casio watch for like $60 back in ’91. As I talked him down on price he kept saying, “Hey, don't do me no favors!”) The sniper’s question about my supposed accent appealed to my curiosity because I’ve actually had a number of good honest people, over the years, ask where my accent is from. It’s a real mystery to me why I should be thought to have one. Some think I have a slight British accent, which is of course false, and one or two say Dutch, which is probably a guess based on visuals. Of course, I should have recognized right off that I’d spoken only a dozen words to this guy—on what basis could he hear an accent to begin with?

But this guy was smooth. Somehow, when he said, “Hey, I wanna show you something,” I failed to say “Oh no you don’t!” Perhaps I had the unhealthy curiosity of a rubbernecker at a car wreck, or maybe on some level I thought I could learn something from this guy about the craft of selling. Most likely I felt, on a subconscious level, as though I were already involved in a dialogue it would be rude to cut short. (Of course it’s not really a dialogue; he might ask a question, but it’s only an input into his script, to be parroted back to me later to perpetuate the illusion of conversation.) Before I knew what was happening, I was rubbing some damn salt scrub into my hands over a bowl, while the sniper waited patiently with a spray bottle to rinse them.

The artist

What did this guy look like? I’m having trouble remembering. My overall impression was that he reminded me of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, so any memory of his actual appearance is supplanted by a stock photo of The Artist. He had an exceptionally friendly demeanor, so that he could make insulting insinuations without making me angry. “Did you shower this morning?” he asked. I said I had. “You can’t just shower once a week—you have to shower every day!” he said. “And that rash on your throat? That’s from shaving. This product is second to none in making the skin relax. It will totally rejuvenate you. And blackheads?” He gestured along his nose and below his eyes. “It will completely get rid of your blackheads!” He wasn’t a big guy; how did he know I wasn’t going to say, “Who are you saying has a rash and blackheads? Why, I oughtta…”?

Meanwhile, he had flat-out lied to me. He said he wasn’t hawking lotion! So what was this? Oh yeah: a three-part total skin care regimen. I suppose neither the exfoliant nor the revitalizer nor the moisturizer was technically a lotion. But he’d moved completely beyond that part of our interaction. “Your hands get so dry, working all day for” [here there was a tiny delay as his mental machinery recalled a data point it had extracted from me earlier] “…Blascorp.” I wanted to say, “Oh, yes, Blascorp is notorious for drying out its employees’ hands.” But instead I listened politely. He was so enthusiastic about how much dirt would be removed from my hands, I was expecting to see something like the wastewater from a Rug Doctor.

What I could have said

It’s hard to think when a well-polished shtick is flooding your brain with information and you’re carrying out this weird operation with three different substances on your hands. It would be understandable not to be able to think of anything to say, but this wasn’t really the case this time. I thought of plenty of elegant ways to short-circuit the sales cycle—but I couldn’t bring myself to use them. This guy is just trying to make a living, after all, and is probably paid entirely on commission; he hadn’t really done anything to give me license to be a jerk to him. So when we got to the end and he asked which product I liked best, I wordlessly pointed to the last one, which had made the inside of my right wrist as smooth and shiny as plastic.

“Look, I’m not asking you to buy all three,” he said. “That tub there, it’s such a highly concentrated product, it’ll last you a whole year!” I thought of saying, “What are you saying, pal, I can only afford one? I thought you said this was a three-part regimen! You think I’m cheap or something? Am I not worth it?” But this would have given him a fresh opening and I was really trying to wrap up. I could have said, “It’s actually rather unsettling how smooth the skin on my wrist is now. And it’s even more unsettling that you’re the first person who has ever rubbed lotion into my wrist. My mom never even did that. I need to go somewhere quiet and collect myself.”

When he said, “Imagine your wife rubbing this into your feet!” I could have said, “I’d rather not. My wife hates my feet. She says my toes are too long. I try not to even let her see me barefoot.”

At the end I said, “I’ll think about it.” He hated that, of course. “Why come back later, after our promotion is over, and pay more? Fifty dollars is just not that much money; why not do something nice for yourself?” To which I thought to reply, “Hey, you said yourself, this isn’t just oil and lanolin here. This is a sophisticated product. Before I buy a year’s supply I need to wait a day and see if my sample gives me a rash or something!” Or I could have gotten dark and said, “Do something nice for myself, huh? Well as a matter of fact, I have a deep-seated self-hatred that makes it impossible for me to spend any money on myself. I’m actually not worth it. I really believe that. And it’s a sore subject, I wish you wouldn’t bring it up.”

Perhaps my most honest reply would be, “Who says I want smooth, healthy skin? Smooth, healthy skin is an affront to my masculine dignity! Do I look like the kind of guy who exfoliates and gets manicures? It’s bad enough my hands have become so slender and girlish from office work. I used to be a bike mechanic! I used to have big, meaty hands, grease-stained, with a smashed thumbnail, and I was proud of them!” But I just couldn’t. What if this guy does get manicures? What if he’s miserable enough as it is, stuck in a mall all day listening to Christmas songs, trying to get people excited about $50 skin creams? What if he’s supporting his poor sick mother?

“I’ll think about it,” I repeated, taking up my shopping bags and shuffling off, head down as if a chopper were overhead. I made it to the down escalator and didn’t look back.

dana albert blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fiction - Rejection Affects Health

NOTE: This post, though referencing an actual psychology study, is a work of fiction. I use the actual study as a jumping-off point for something entirely fanciful.


“Rejection triggers responses in the body that can increase a person’s risk for maladies such as asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and depression, a new study says. Scientists at UCLA recruited 124 healthy young adults to participate in a lab-based test aimed at determining whether social stress such as rejection causes inflammation, which can have detrimental effects on mental and physical health. Participants were put through stressful tests that were designed to make them feel rejected. Measurements of inflammatory markers were performed on samples of oral fluids taken before and after the tests…. Not surprisingly, the inflammatory biological markers in oral fluids increased dramatically after the stressful tests.

—“Rejection Affects Health,” WebMD Health Newsletter, 10 Aug 2010


Our recent study was a big success. One of the conclusions we arrived at is that further study is warranted, with a widened scope. In our initial study we had recruited healthy young adults; what more light could be shed, we wondered, if we studied all ages?

Our first follow-up study was with seniors. The results are not documented because the sessions did not go smoothly. Several of the participants could not hear—and others could not understand—most of what our test administrators were saying. Moreover, several of the male participants had poorly shaved chins, with little white hairs like Shredded Wheat stuck to their skin, and other subjects drooled, which distracted the administrators.

Much better success was found with other age categories, and those results are documented here.

Test #1 — Six-year-old test subject

Several six-year-old study administrators were recruited and trained in how to make the study subject feel rejected. These administrators very quickly caught on to the study methodology and did an excellent job carrying out the test.

On a school playground, a test subject was selected: an especially cute six-year-old girl who we felt would be unaccustomed to rejection. She was not made aware that she was participating in a test. The administrators, who were also her classmates, set about teasing her mercilessly. The first said, “I’m not friends with you anymore!” The second joined in, “Yeah, you’re like a baby, always carrying your ‘Roo Bear’ around!” The third administrator yelled, “We hate Roo Bear—he smells like dog farts!” Then they all laughed.

The impact on the subject was immediate. Subject bawled loudly for some time. We had trouble getting a good oral fluid sample with our swab, as subject thrashed around and her saliva was diluted by nasal mucous, which was flowing freely from both nostrils, and by tears streaming down into her mouth. Subject would not stop yelling. It took us a long time to figure out what she was trying to say: “It’s not ‘Roo Bear,’ it’s ‘Woo Bear,’ and she’s a girl bear!”

Not surprisingly, and despite the trouble with the oral fluid sample, this social trauma resulted in significant increases in markers of inflammatory activity, with abnormally high levels of tumor necrosis factor-α (sTNFαRII) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). We recommend further testing with this age group, though it has become obvious that it would be wise, going forward, to notify the subject’s parents in advance.

Test #2 — Fifteen-year-old test subject

Subject was a fifteen-year-old bike racer. Administrator was a fellow racer, who was given specific instructions in carrying out the test. Following a difficult hill climb bike race, a group of racers was comparing results and talking about the race. Subject, who did not finish in the top twenty, looked ideally awkward from the outset. Administrator said to the group at large, “Hey, I don’t need this energy bar … does anybody want it?” Others had been instructed to say nothing, and eventually subject replied, “Yeaahh!” Administrator stared at him in disgust and did not hand him the energy bar, behaving as though subject were uniquely exempt from the energy bar offer due to some obvious defect.

While this test initially looked promising, the professor made us feel like idiots by refusing to analyze the oral fluid sample. Apparently the test setup was rendered invalid by the elevated inflammation markers that would inevitably accompany athletic challenges like bike races, and we should have known this. We have thought about trying again with this age group but are feeling a bit demoralized.

Test #3 — Twenty-year-old test subject

A pretty brunette college student was recruited as administrator and instructed to be conspicuously friendly toward a prospective subject in her foreign language class. After some delay, subject eventually asked her out on a date. From the outset of the date (a casual lunch at a café), per our instructions, administrator was oddly cold, refusing to smile or engage subject in conversation. Eventually subject asked her to explain herself, to which she responded, “I talked to my old high-school boyfriend for a long time on the phone last night—he’s at BYU—and we’ve decided to get back together.”

To our great surprise, the oral fluid sample showed no significant increase in either sTNFαRII or IL-6. We interviewed the subject later; here is the most salient excerpt from his statement:

“She was straight-up fly, so I made sure not to get my hopes up. Sure, I was disappointed, but mostly I was trying not to laugh. I was tempted to say, ‘BYU? In Utah? The epicenter of American polygamy?’ or, ‘Seriously, your high school beau? There’s food in your dorm fridge that’ll last longer than your “relationship”! With four years of young women being dangled in front of him, you really think he’s going to wait for you? But I didn’t say anything.

“Anyhow, it’s no biggie. My roommate and I like to compare notes about girls rejecting us. It’s like a running joke. We even have an expression for it—‘me dio calabazas’, which means ‘she gave me pumpkins.’ We love recalling these rejections … it’s almost like keeping a scrapbook.”

Test #4 — Forty-something test subject

It occurred to us that our study should include subjects having the classic risk factors of mid-life crisis. Those in their forties, burdened with mortgages and living in fear of losing their corporate jobs, were deemed ideal. We selected our subject on the basis of his age (forty-one), life commitments (family, Bay Area mortgage), and the fact of his maintaining a non-commercial blog (apparently as a hobby). We recruited a woman of the same age to serve as the administrator, accosting subject at a barbecue. Administrator’s friend began the dialog by asking subject’s wife if she blogged; she took the bait, replying, “No, but my husband does.” Administrator promptly asked subject, acidly, with evident bewilderment and even revulsion, “Why do you blog?”

Subject was speechless for at least ten seconds, before stammering, “It’s because I’m stupid and I don’t have any friends, why do you think?” We immediately swabbed him and found unprecedented high levels of both sTNFαRII and IL-6. A quick scan of our records showed this was in fact the strongest data set of rejection-inflicted inflammation on record. Subject agreed to a brief discussion about his experience. Why, we asked him, was his reaction so strong?

“Well, first of all,” he replied, “she asked the question with such disgust, as if she were asking, ‘Why would you sniff a cat’s butt?’ I mean, ‘Why blog?’ Why do anything? Why do a crossword puzzle? Why knit? It’s like she couldn’t imagine that a person would write just to express himself, maybe improve his writing, and post his stuff to a blog in case somebody might want to read it. Her question seemed like either a rejection of the idea that I could ever offer anything of value to the literary world, or a rejection of the very existence of literary world, like the world has forgotten that there are modes of written expression that go deeper than Twitter or Facebook.”

We asked if that was all. (Subject became even more agitated and we even considered re-swabbing him.) “Isn’t that enough?” he said. Finally, after some reflection, he said, “I guess I’ll admit that, since nobody questioned the idea of my wife blogging, this woman’s incredulity was like a rejection of my masculinity. Like, why would a guy blog, you know?”

Further study is clearly warranted.

Test #5 — Forty-something test subject #2

Based on the success of the last administrator/subject pairing, we again selected a forty-something woman as the administrator and a forty-something white collar husband/father amateur blogger as the subject. This time, the venue was a high school reunion, which we felt would be a perfect setting. (We deny the assertion that this test was an attempt at getting the “high score on inflammatory activity markers”; we are simply trying to isolate acute cases for further study.) Administrator was a friend of the subject’s wife. Subject, again, was unaware that a test was being performed on him.

Administrator, behaving in a friendly manner, casually asked subject if he was on Facebook. He said he was not. She asked if he Tweeted. Again, he replied no. She asked if he did anything social online at all, and he said he had a blog. “A blog?” she said, with unmasked repugnance. “Why do you blog?”

Subject, to our surprise, was placid, even sanguine. “You mean you really don’t know why bloggers blog?” he replied. “I thought everybody knew that. It’s so that they can make fun of people to a wide audience. For example, by tomorrow everybody on the Internet will know that you went around this reunion with your bleach-blonde hair and boob job thinking you were all hot, when really you looked ridiculous because your teeth were stained purple by red wine.”

Thinking quickly, we swabbed the administrator and found sTNFαRII and IL-6 levels that were completely off the charts. Clearly, further study is warranted.

dana albert blog