Sunday, June 4, 2023

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume VII


This is the seventh installment in the “From the Archives – Bits & Bobs” series. Volume I is here, Volume II is here, Volume III is here, Volume IV is here, Volume V is here and Volume VI is here. (The different volumes have nothing to do with one another.)

Every time I dip into my past essays and letters looking for little nuggets that could entertain or enlighten my albertnet audience, I think I’ll finally come up empty, my archives finally having been exhausted. But recently I found a folder from the mid-’90s with old emails in it, pasted into individual text files. Email was new then and I must have thought I could keep up with the quixotic task of archiving it. Ha! Later I decided I could just trust the email software archive (as this was before anyone realized these programs would go extinct and lock up past emails forever.)

The posts in this installment are from when I lived in San Francisco, post-college.

May 1, 1995

[Email to myself, testing my new address.]

Hey Dana:

Just a quick note to say that you’re really one of the most outstanding individuals I’ve ever come across. Keep up the fine work.


[I mean, if I don’t give myself this kind of encouragement, who else is gonna do it?]

August 2, 1995

[To a friend who was dabbling in the new frontier of online quasi-dating, which back then meant meeting people in chat rooms, without any easy way to transmit photos back and forth. My friend had done lots of text-based chatting with his romantic prospect, and they’d even had a couple of long phone calls, but they hadn’t yet FedExed photos to each other.]

The way I see it, you and Cyber-Susan have highly compatible personalities. Keep in mind, however, that “she has a nice personality” is a disparaging remark in most circles. Humans are superficial about things like looks. According to Stephen Dawkins, this is a biological program that cannot be thwarted. (Not that he doesn’t have plenty of fruit-loopy ideas himself.) In any case, I see perhaps three possible scenarios involving your first face-to-face meeting with Susan.

1. She is a miraculous composite of Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, and Nicole Kidman. If ever there was a beauty that you did desire, and got, ‘twas but a dream of Susan. Her beauty sinks you into a swoon. Meanwhile, her voice, now unadulterated by the coarse fiber optics of the phone line, is the sweet singing of sirens. Her personality is sharper and brighter than ever when not dulled by the impersonal nature of the personal computer.

2. She is a hideous composite of a mole rat, a gorgon, and a bat. Her voice, when she gets excited (and I know she will!) loses the careful modulation she managed, through extreme effort, to keep up for six hours on the phone. In moments of passion, her speech sounds like the horrible screeching of two raccoons fornicating. The apparent wit and charm displayed in her e-mail messages turn out to be the result of painstaking labor, and a lot of plagiarism. The phone calls, you learn, were carefully scripted. After your initial, tactful efforts to put the “relationship” to sleep, she pursues you with terrier tenacity.

3. He is the zit-faced, pudgy, bespectacled Far-Side-looking teenage boy we feared all along. His voice is only as pleasant as it is prepubescent. But he’s got a great personality, and at least you have an interesting new pen pal.

But all kidding aside, I hope everything turns out swell. Just remember to use virus protection!

August 16, 1995

[In response to a truncated email.]

Your entire message read, “I am not sensitive about tasteless jokes at all, so give”

There is just trails off. I envision that right after you finished typing “give,” somebody sunk a large bowie knife between your shoulder blades. Then, before you could collapse onto the keyboard and type “67yhnyhhhhhhhhhhhh” with your face, he threw you aside, and, not knowing what else to do, sent the message. Either that, or you indeed did fall forward, and typed “tvgfruuuuuuuuuuuu” with your face, and he deliberately erased that part of the message.

What could the motive have been? Perhaps the perp was somebody who is offended by tasteless jokes.

September 12, 1995

I’m traveling on business with my boss. He has very high standards about the quality of his food and lodgings. We checked into our hotel and he decided the rooms weren’t up to snuff and switched to a neighboring hotel, causing god knows how many complications for those back at the office who think they know how to reach us.

Tonight we went to a restaurant and there was a bit of a wait, so we ordered a beer. Bass on draft. Well, it didn’t taste that good. I didn’t really care, but my boss sent them back. The bartender, who was obviously in training, suggested something else. It proved to be even worse. This time I really found it disgusting. It had the flavor of a sweaty gym sock (many of which I’ve sucked on in my day). Well, again, I wasn’t going to say anything, but we sent them back and decided we couldn’t go wrong with something in a bottle. Well, we ordered two Red Hook ESB’s, and as soon as the bartender set them down, I noticed that on the part of the label that goes around the neck of the bottle were pictured three Washington trolley drivers. I happen to have noticed, over the last month or so, that Red Hook no longer features the trolley drivers. So I checked the freshness date on the bottle, and the beer had expired in July! Sure enough, it too was gross—very flat and just kind of off. By this time we had our table, so we sent the beers back with the waitress, who must’ve told the young bartender, for he came out and apologized in person. A few minutes later the owner came out and also apologized. Then, when we had finally consumed the fourth beers, which were fine, the waitress brought out two more, on the house. Needless to say this was more than I ordinarily drink.

October 26, 1995

Cycling has gotten so hard. I shouldn’t take the bait when these weekend warriors try to school me. In the past I’ve let countless guys drop me since my fitness was not a question, but now that I’m out of shape I feel this need to convince myself of some essential quality that I (hopefully) still have. So I think to myself, “I don’t really want to do this to you—nor to myself—and my ego certainly shouldn’t need this, but it does, so now you must die.” And then we both suffer horribly, needlessly.

I duked it out with some newbie the other day, and it was just brutal. The whole thing lasted like half an hour, and he was like a Weeble Wobble, the little toy dude that weebles and wobbles but won’t fall down. This rider was, in fact, also like that little green goblin-head “stress reliever” toy wherein you deform this goblin’s face with your thumbs, force his eyes up into his sockets, then squeeze its head from the back so its eyes bug out, and this is supposed to relieve stress—except that he always comes back for more. Such dolls represent the futility of life: your foes are never really dead, you never get to relax. At least, not until you finally get out the power tools and make that fucking goblin BLEED. Or you jam the Weeble Wobble beneath the tire of the neighbor’s camper and it’s crushed like a boiled egg by the next time you see it. Victory, yes, but at a price. I finally dropped the newb but my stress wasn’t relieved, since I had to make sure he never caught back up. When will it ever end?

November 16, 1995

I’m so disappointed that the band “Smashing Pumpkins” turns out to be called “The Smashing Pumpkins.” I thought “Smashing Pumpkins” was a verb phrase, along the lines of “Smashing the Pumpkins.” Kind of like the novel Fools Crow: its eponymous hero has the original, humiliating childhood name “White Man’s Dog” until, as a teenager, he fools a band of Crow Indians and gets the better of them (killing several, I believe) and in return for his valor and cunning, is given the new, cool name “Fools Crow.” This name is a verb phrase emphasizing the act of fooling (i.e., “fools the Crows”).

Of course, “Smashing Pumpkins” is problematic anyway because nobody actually smashes pumpkins. They only smash jack-o-lanterns. That act does capture the random, energetic lashing out of a young grunge type, but can you imagine the force required to smash an un-carved pumpkin? It’d be pretty spectacular actually, with the guts and seeds flying everywhere. I think the band should be called Smashes Pumpkins.

December 1, 1995

[To a friend of a friend who was considering buying my used laptop PC, with or without an external monitor.]

No, no, no, heavens no, the built-in monitor doesn’t suck. It’s as good as monochrome LCD displays get. I just tried it out again and it’s fine. You open up the lid, there’s no screen, you pitch it back a bit, it comes on, it’s golden, it’s backlit, white-on-black or black-on-white, brightness control, contrast, wonderful. Better than most. A real selling point, in fact.

It’s just this. You’re working, late into the night, hammering away on that keyboard, and this is after-hours, when you’re working on your magnum opus after having stared at a computer screen all day anyway. Your eyes are tired. You’re grumpy. In fact, you’re feeling pretty shitty. And suddenly you don’t see the cursor all that well. You lose sight of where you are. Computer problem? Hell no—it’s a full-blown midlife crisis! You’re just frustrated. So you take it out on the computer. You say, “Dana, that bastard. He sold me a piece of crap. Typical of the kind of guy who would be friends with D–.” In reality, you’re just coming face-to-face with an awful truth: when the going gets rough, a 14” Sony Trinitron Multiscan HG Super Fine Pitch color monitor is a nice thing to have. You see, people buy color laptops and/or desktop computers for a reason. The monochrome LCD did not make the Sony color monitor a thing of the past. So that’s why I’m offering you the monitor as an optional accessory. It’s a magnanimous gesture, a way to say “Hey buddy, life is harsh. Your computer screen shouldn’t be.”

Look, all this e-mailing back and forth reminds me of a blind date. I’d hate for you to get all amped up creating a mental image of this computer, fantasizing about a sleek, thin, 4-pound gleaming miracle of modern technology but also fearing it’s an old, clunky, barely usable white elephant. The difference between expectation and reality can be a harrowing thing. You need to try before you buy. I don’t want this to end badly, like when I sold a phone answering machine to our friend D—. It was practically brand new when I sold it to him, but it broke almost immediately. I can’t believe it. Its life expectancy was much higher than that. It’s like my Sony TV: I loaned it to a friend while I went on my bike tour, and while he had custody, the picture tube blew out. I couldn’t very well make him pay for it, since I can’t imagine it was his fault; to this day (over a year later) he still has it, and is avoiding me. He’s got my VCR too—not much point bothering to get that back, without a TV to play it on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not chapped or anything—I broke his CD player and tape deck while he was in Japan, years before, and he was cool about it. Yet we haven’t spoken since I got back from my tour. Meanwhile, over this lousy phone answering machine, D— won’t even e-mail me anymore. The last I heard from him was the message on my voice-mail telling me the answering machine I sold him broke. The failure of that simple appliance, I fear, has ruined our friendship. And what’s worse, I don’t think he even paid me for the damn thing. If he had, I could just refund his money and all would be forgiven.

June 25, 1996

Regarding your question about bottom brackets, and whether a fixed cup is threaded backwards (i.e., has a “left-hand thread”): well, here’s how it works. You have to find out what market the bicycle was intended for. No matter where it’s made, the thread orientation is determined by the location where the bike will be used. For example, Phil Anderson’s bottom bracket is a left-hand thread, because he lives in Australia. Just as the water spins the opposite way as it goes down the drain in the Southern Hemisphere, bottom bracket fixed cups are threaded backwards there. This is why most successful racers tend to be from northern countries: the southern ones have all kinds of bottom bracket trouble when they race up here.

I guess you’re probably not buying that. The rule actually goes like this: there are three different standards for threads on bicycle parts: English, Italian, and French. An English standard bottom bracket shell has a cup that is 1.37 inches in diameter, with 24 TPI (threads per inch), left-hand (backwards) threaded. (This is what you have.) An Italian standard BB shell has a cup 36 mm in diameter, with 24 TPI, right-hand threaded. (This is what I have.) If your BB shell were French standard, it would be stripped, frozen, cross-threaded, and utterly worthless.

October 28, 1996

[Email to a friend far better connected in cycling than I.]

Man, that sucks about Lance [Armstrong] having cancer. If it’s really spread to his brain, you’re right, that sure as hell doesn’t look good. I mean, you can’t exactly amputate a brain…

Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

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