Thursday, August 28, 2014


Children are the timekeepers, the pacesetters.

They own the rhythm; we rent.

I finally figured this out a couple of weeks ago, by my children's absence. They're out of school now — out of college — and far away from when we had to manage their comings and goings, to schedule and compromise and drive and correct and helicopter and fret over them.

Our daughter's home for a while, but she'll be gone again in time.

Before she came home for a spell, I noticed how out of rhythm I am.

It was a particular morning, after so many mornings of warm quiet, that became noise and fume and bustle as our dog and I started our daily stroll. Our street, with its comfortable fit of cars, became clogged like a ballpark lot, even at the corners.

Oh: School!

It came on me without warning, not that I was looking. Parents at the school nearby for some reason feel need to drive their children to school for the first couple of weeks, then quickly relax their vigilant chauffeuring. But the streets are now suddenly filled with more cars most times of the day, parents executing the many errands and obligations that school requires.

Long ago I'd know that day, know it for a month and a half, awaiting it, planning for it, buying for it, arguing over it, maybe looking forward to it. But I knew it, knew it very well.

No more.

Now I lose track of time, sometimes even of days of the week. There is the hot time, then the cool time, then the brief green time. When I swim there is the gray time of cold water, and the washed out lengthy time of warming water.

I'm a rather milky Meriwether Lewis, unable to mark time's passage by the seasons, by the changing arc of the sun or subset of stars.

Though grossly unbalanced and jarring, the children's rule of time works. It is the way.

Even if it breaks your heart. When I was briefly a teacher,  I realized the gut-punch kids suffer, especially here in the Sacramento area. School starts at a temperate time, the hot summer seeming to have finally weakened its oppressive hold. But it's a trick. About two weeks in, the sun swoops to within a couple of miles of earth and children and their teachers melt, feeling itchy and cheated.

Too late, and to my horror, I realized that as I teacher I had to know the seasons. Not only know them, but plan and make ready for holidays — all of them, to revel in them, even Father's Day and the Fourth of July! — for the sake of the children.

I'm not a holiday person. This required the most of my meager acting and organizational skills.

For the sake of children, we are all right with summer happening in early June and ending in the hottest heat. We take it for granted that fall is a hot dry time with a superfluous dropping of leaves at the very end.

For children, we see the Fourth of July as the top of the roller coaster, roaring downhill to the end of the ride, everybody out, fun's over.

Now summers no longer necessitate vacations, nor winters hunkering down. They're interchangeable save for clothes. Seasons are whittled down to two, summer and winter; I know by whether a wool beanie is on my head and hot cocoa in my hand which is which.

Maybe that's why the Hallmark®© Channel exists, to remind wayward adults of the signposts. Having cards and trinkets to sell, Hallmark©™ rolls out its teary, cheery shows to herald the coming holidays and restore our vital need to buy our childhood back.

It's a service for the out-of-whack.

Not for me. I've got to grow up now, as an unfettered adult. Time to keep my own time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tainted love

An unfunny thing happened on the way to my favorite part of facebook™®:

Up popped a picture of a woman performing fellatio on a man. Various nude bodies took various positions in the background.

Porn has pocked "Did You Swim Today?" which has been just about the only reason I use facebook®™©.

Porn's sudden presence where no one expected it — and I trust most don't want it — has sent ripples which may spell rifts. I'll watch and wait.

When I started on DYST?, as users often call it, there couldn't have been more than a couple of hundred users, but they came from far and away — many parts of the United States and the United Kingdom mostly, but elsewhere too.

They have all to this point fulfilled a simple mission, as espoused here on the page:
Here's a place for swimmers (NOT SPAMMERS) to report on their daily swims. Did you? Where? Was it in the open water or a pool? Was it hard? Did something cool happen? Who was with you? Did somebody tell a good joke? Do you have a good tip to share? Is there an event coming up? Did you rip a good time?
And that's what has happened. Simple sharing, simple support. From a first time across a 25-yard pool, to multiple times across the English Channel, swimmers on DYST? have described their swim and how they felt, and others have encouraged and advised. Swimmers ask many and varied questions, and other expert swimmers, having been there and done that, answer in kind.

Swimmers have been funny, have been vulnerable, have been sympathetic and even teary, but in almost all encounters I've encountered, the conversation has been resoundingly, unremittingly in favor of everyone else's shared passion, no matter where, no matter what.

I have met some of them, from in the state and around the globe, and celebrated those visits.

Some have promoted themselves, or causes, in various degrees and fashions and frequencies — more than, "Hey, look, I swam here!" — but I take it there's a tacit agreement that it's all good in the name of swimming. Pursue it or don't.

About the only time I've seen swimmers get worked up over topics, it's been about swim technique and training devices or nomenclature; some argued a year back, for example, about "wild swimming" as a term some British habitues use for open water swimming, as perhaps implying vulgarity or lack of discipline. Everyone has an opinion on these kinds of things. But it's never gotten snarky or dismissive.

I'd bet the house that "(NOT SPAMMERS)" was not part of the original credo. It's a late addition.

I wasn't paying attention until complaints arose about the porn spam that DYST? now has more than 11,000 members — exponential growth since I started contributing and sharing less than two years ago.

As it's grown, I guess, DYST? attracted spam. Occasionally some person or entity will try to sell sunglasses, sometimes sofas (?). Some swimmers will try to cheekily shame them into going away, and I sometimes join in. Eventually the spammers will go away, though I doubt the shaming caused it.

Now the porn. I saw the complaints first and not the actual porn, so I wondered at first whether DYST? users might just be extremely sensitive. I mean, these people pictured in their swimsuits look pretty darn good.

Then I saw it: Yep, porn, standard explicit variety. No swimsuits.

Some have complained about it on DYST? Others say they still have not seen it. Some of those who have are threatening to leave the page, or have bid their adieu, prompting responses.

Here's where the whole concept of social media gets weird for me.

Some of the responses, in the spirit of DYST? have expressed sympathy for the feelings of the person leaving, and wishes that the person would reconsider.

In our fear of the unknown, some have said even hovering a cursor over the porn will invite a virus on your computer, or open access to private data, or stash porn secretly on your computer as a kind of rogue server.

Others, breaking wide of the DYST? ethos, have said in essence, "Good riddance!" or "Lighten up! It's just porn," or, "That's reality. Live with it."

All of which have spawned their own responses, and the discussion has acquired an acid tinge. Meanwhile, the guy who created the page, and someone on DYST? who seems to be in a position to know, said they're making efforts to get rid of the porn, which may or may not have been put their by people or entities that had gained access to the page.

The DYST? creator recommended maybe not using the page for a couple of weeks while spammer control ensues.

Which I'll probably do, being just about the last person who has any idea how facebook®™© works, nevermind how to root out spammers among more than 11,000 users.

Forgive me for sounding like the late Sen. Ted "The Internet is a Series of Tubes" Stevens when I say that facebook®©™ has seemed to me like a boundless cocktail party, only with generously distributed time-space portals. Except each is by him or herself in front of a screen, really, and any cocktails are B.Y.O.

One schmoozes at this or that klatsch, and one says something and others chime in, "I like that!" or comment as if in conversation. Someone shows you a plate of chicken vindaloo she's eating, or pictures of the vacation they're somehow concurrently enjoying, or produces a baby in a cute new outfit, or another handy offspring with a medal around his neck, and seeks your review and approval. And you give it or don't, and since you're really in a room alone in front of a screen, it's hard for the approval seeker, likewise alone, to infer by your lack of "like" whether you like the food or baby or medal.

Ads run in constant display about the perimeter of the cocktail party, along with alerts about what others in a vast corner of the party are doing. A nearby portal whisks you there to like and comment, or look and do nothing.

Now that I know that more than 11,000 people are on DYST? —and I know I haven't encountered more than, say, 200 different people in all the time I've been on DYST? — I wonder where all the rest are.

So now I imagine a boundless cocktail party divided into limitless banquet halls, each connected by open doors. I'm in the hall with the subset of 200 I see most every day, and the rest are in other halls somewhere, sharing and conversing with each other. The chance exists that I may see and encounter some of those in other rooms, but I think it's slim.

Someone, somewhere, brought porn to share or infect or anger or disgust or delight or whatever. The stash hasn't made it to all the rooms; the battle is met, apparently, to keep it from doing so.

I'm hoping the DYST? defenders win. It's another pressing issue over which I feel helpless. DYST? is important for me, even though it's difficult each day even to visit the posts of the seven dozen or so DYST? members whose exploits I see regularly.

I like to go to the Irish Sea with them, or the storybook stream beneath the stone bridge near the Lake District of England, or Lake Geneva or Lake Michigan, or myriad points along the California coast or the ascendant St. Johns River or the glacial depths of Argentina. I like the painless close encounter of jellyfish or moray eels, the vicarious wonder of dolphins arcing.

I'd be heartbroken to lose it.

• • •

In other news: I'm keeping it.

Or keeping losing it. Thanks to old friend Robert Zint who hollered all the way from Texas, "Use an electric shaver, you barnacle-domed dolt!"

He didn't say it really. He merely and in the most friendly way suggested the shaver, which is so much better than scraping with a razor over the bumps. I'm just trying to sustain the melodrama.

• • •

In still other news:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Déjà voodoo

It's stunning and horrifying footage, no doubt: A shaky camera captures a stunt plane racing straight up to the sky then diving straight down, when suddenly a wing comes off.

Frantic voices scream and caterwaul as the plane spirals down, the camera operator desperately trying to keep the terrible image in view. After frustrating moments, the plane appears again, now riding parallel to the ground, its remaining wing held aloft like a dorsal fin.

Finally the pilot somehow manages to level the plane before bringing it to a short bouncy landing on a runway. Someone runs into view toward the plane, where the pilot opens the hatch and is just about to get out before the video stops.

So miraculous.

So fake.

So last year.


It's not the fakeness that confounds me. In fact, in the year since I first saw this on facebook®™©, the German crew that made the film posted video showing how they tried to deceive viewers using model planes, computer graphics and clever editing. I'm not sure why they did it; maybe an elaborate portfolio to attract the movie industry to their talents.

What bugs me is that I saw this last year, as one habitue and then another shared it.

The first time around, I followed the myriad comments to whomever posted it, which evolved into a long string by amateur forensic videographers, pointing out how fake the film really was. I may even have contributed a comment of my own, something like, "still, it's a really good job of faking us out!" (my strong suit on facebook™®© is useless comments.)

Then the video disappeared, with the generally accepted idea that the film is fun and frightening and fake. The world moved on.

Then last week the video reappeared, posted by someone new who commented, "Have you seen this? How scary!"

And the world moved back.

The world in fact seems to be circling the same path over and over if facebook©™® is part of your life (and it is, admit it).

Once the fake stunt plane video re-emerged, I began making a list of other posts that merry-go-round on my facebook©®™ news feed, having been on the Internet for a year or more without indication they'll go away. This list is incomplete. I do not even have to link to any of them, because you will probably know them by their descriptions:
  • The cat dressed up in a shark costume and riding a robotic vacuum cleaner around a kitchen, blithely zigzagging across the floor on the machine while a woman nonchalantly works at the sink.
  • The commercial (for cheese?) of a mouse that gets caught in a trap and instead of dying turns the trap into a bench press.
  • The Miami-Dade police officer who takes pity on a hungry mother and, instead of arresting her for shoplifting, gives her $100 so she can buy groceries.
  • The Bruno Mars "Marry You" lip-dub proposal a man orchestrated two years ago by putting her fiancée in the back of a slow-moving station wagon and enlisting dozens of family and friends in an elaborate dance to the song.
  • The video from 1988 of a gymnast named Paul Hunt who performed a hilarious parody of a woman gymnast.
  • The video, also purposely deceitful, of an eagle attempting to pick up a toddler from a park.
  • The dog happily diving and emerging from a gigantic pile of leaves.
  • The elegantly dressed models photographed under water amid wrecked ships.
  • The subway staircase that someone had turned into working piano keys, inviting the public to play with the music on their way to work and shopping.
  • The flash mob in a town square in which musicians play Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
  • Any flash mob, for that matter.
  • The black swans that surf ocean waves.
  • The photo of scratches cleverly placed in the sand of a beach so that from a distance the scratches look a three-dimensional seascape, complete with real people sitting in a rendered boat.
  • The rider's-eye view of a mountain biker navigating a narrow mountain ridge, inches away from precipitous death.
  • The video showing a member of Congress sneaking in a rule that disallows Democratic dissent on legislation.
  • The violists from the 18th Century suddenly breaking into an AC-DC before shocked patrons at a concert.
  • The fifth-grade boys, dressed in caps and goggles, performing a synchronized "swimming" routine using blue tarps as water and concealed mattresses, before a howlingly enthusiastic school talent show audience.
OK, I've grown tiresome, and I know I tired myself out just listing these. You can doubtless add some yourself.

Perusing swim-related pages as I do, I come across similar perennials:
  • Some visual variation of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: "Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air." Every two months or so, someone posts this.
  • An animation of a skeleton swimming. With each different stroke, muscle groups appear showing how they contribute to the swimmer's movement.
  • Variations on "save the sharks" posts, including the photo of a shark and diver with the caption, "This is the most dangerous animal in the world, responsible for millions of deaths every year. By his side we can see a shark swimming peacefully."
OK enough, I've made my point.

And it's not about the posts themselves. The lip-dub proposal is fun, gymnast Paul Hunt is funny. The others are in their own way enlightening or encouraging.

My point is they never go away. They're asteroids swirling in their own growing belt around my computer, appearing and reappearing without abatement.

Part of it is a function of facebook®©™, which by definition connects users and urges them to share, and as new users share what older users have seen, the same material gets passed around. And around and around.

In that way, facebook®™ hasn't advanced us much farther than when I was a kid and my parents and their friends — in those rare moments when they could be adult friends and not our guardians and keepers — would swap crude jokes which had been mimeographed on heavy slick oily paper. The jokes were usually typed, and simple stick figures illuminated the raunchy punchlines.

(By the way, how far has personal printing advanced, that just a generation ago personal copies of anything were largely the domain of government workers who had access to clunky machines making dim images of the original after great time and expense?! Now my parents could have printed their jokes in 3-D!)

The papers were folded many, many times, concealed in pockets and purses from prying curious children. The papers were torn on the edges, their oily lamination having come off at the folds; the jokes were barely legible when they reached new hands.

"Oh, this is a good one," an adult friend would say, carefully unfolding a joke and laughing. "Here's one," he'd say, producing a folded paper, "have you seen this one?"

facebook™®© is like that in a way.

Or is it designed that way? I've heard a critic on the radio describe facebook™®© and similar applications as "distractionware," not only filling up our free time but spilling into the time we used to use for other things.

Does some algorithm keep the same posts floating and whirling before our eyes, keep us from being interested in Ebola or the Islamic State or U.S. companies cheating us of taxes by taking their legal offices offshore … or imperiled water worldwide or impending natural disasters or the need of our attention at the neighborhood school board?

What are we doing, exactly?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bald-faced liar

This lie has run deep for too long. Time to confess:

This is not me:

I know I've said it's me, said it so many times even I believed it.

And I know you've wanted to believe it, hanging as you do on my every deathless, breathless word, my genius for insight and especially prevarication.

At one time it was me … the man-child with the uncombable hair … the glasses as big as Charles Nelson Reilly's, bobbing on my bulbous nose since 10th grade shortly after I lost — and then miraculously found — Danny Juenke's towering pop fly in the fog while I played centerfield. The fleshy lips measured in hectares, the clown ears, the flounder eyes, the JC Penney back-to-school reversible polo shirt.

All these things, though true, were not immutable. Of course I believed otherwise when I made it the symbol of my business, the first image most people encounter when they wonder what I'm up to.

Change happened. The glasses came off some five years when I realized contacts were not the torture devices I had feared, with their sharp edges slicing my eyeballs, or sticking permanently, or pulling out my corneas when I took the lenses out for cleaning.

None of that happened, of course, and the change opened my eyes, literally, to the wonder of swimming open waters. Occasionally I wear glasses, but they are small-lensed; they look like the glasses of someone who actually cares how he looks.

As of last week, the hair has gone, and I look really look like this:

(The same cross-eyed thousand-yard stare, the same Brezhnevian eyebrows, I can assure you. The same sartorial sophistication. I haven't gone crazy, for goodness' sake. Just bald.)

In my corrupted Thoreau-ic simplication of life, I stopped trying to comb recalcitrant hair, so I have been getting it cut short in the last year. Corrupted, of course, because at the same time I began wearing loafers because I didn't want to tie laces, and putting on my button-down shirts like T-shirts to save time, I have also been growing facial hair, wasting all that savings in shaving.

Last month bald patches showed up like sinkholes on the back of my head. Alopecia, my wife told me, having consulted the Internet. Alopecia, the skin doctor confirmed; a decidedly non-pattern baldness for this male. A fun game at home was when Nancy would announce how big the patches had grown.

"I can fix that right away," the doctor said. Steroid cream and it's cured, she said.

My Major League career teetering in tatters, I said:

"Actually, I was thinking of a different route," and explained my plan to shave my head.

The doctor looked perplexed. "Then what can I do for you?" She seemed to need a problem to solve, and I guess shaving oneself bald didn't strike her as a solution.

"You already did it," I told her. As long as the bald patches didn't signal some malady more urgent, then I felt free to widen the patches into a whole.

"You mean, shave it bald?!" the haircutter asked last week. "You mean, all of it!?"

"We ask seven or eight times when someone wants his head shaved," said the receptionist. "We want to make sure you're sure."

I was sure. Reasonably sure. Somewhat sure.

Off went the hair, two minutes tops. Home I went to make myself a hat of shaving cream and scrape  it off with a new razor.

Swimming friend David, long bald by choice, recommended shaving with the grain. He also recommended not going out in public for three or four days after, but I hoped that wasn't necessary.

Maybe I'll stay like this, maybe not. Already I'm waffling.

At least it's been like an archaeological dig; I have gotten to see what lay all my life beneath the mass of knotty hair. My head has corners, which I've always suspected by feel, but there they are; not as pronounced as I had feared, worn pyramids from a forgotten civilization.

But my hair also hid a lot of little red bumps and discolorations, only one of which I could feel, the one I warn haircutters about when they wander that neighborhood with a razor.

As long as I'm being truthful: My first thought seeing my reflection was Dustin Hoffman in makeup as the 121-year-old Jack Crabb in "Little Big Man."

And I make sort of a bad imitation of Walter White from "Breaking Bad," which I didn't see 'til the deed was done and the mirror near.

David tells me to get some sun and the blotches won't frighten onlookers so much.
(rubbing newly bald pate to think this over …) 
My head is a bit too small for my body, and the lack of hair worsens the proportions. That's one feature I still hope is mutable, hair or no.

But the bumps and spots …
(more rubbing, more cogitating)
Besides, baldness clashes with my lazy lifestyle. Hunting around for streaks of stubble on the back of my head, while somehow not scraping the many bumps into bloody streaks — let me tell you, it isn't pretty. Nor does the process go quickly.

So what's the point? Good question.

Maybe it was just do to it once and move on. Maybe I'll grow it into a Bob Haldeman/Roger Maris/Johnny Unitas flattop on the way back out. Maybe I'll slink back to the skin doc and ruin myself on steroids.

Until then, some insights from the newly shorn:
  • Baldness attracts any cool breeze. Good for summer. Probably disastrous for winter.
  • My head is always moist, which is weird. Maybe I've said too much.
  • A bald head is not smooth, or I'm not doing this right, which is highly probable. Shirts do not pull slickly over my head like they used to, but stick like Velcro®™©. Hats put up a fight before coming off.

    It's a non-slip surface. I could put a coffee cup up there, or a smart phone if I had one, and it would stay all day, within reach and ready to use.

    Interesting fact: Geckos stick to walls by first shaving themselves bald.
  • Fantastic scientific fact for swimmers: Your cap catches a great deal of water, conservatively half the volume of whatever body of water you're swimming. Your hair absorbs that vast quantity somehow. But without hair, the water spills in torrents from your cap, drowning small villages down slope.

    In the name of decency, ye who are about to be bald for whatever reason: Be careful where you remove your cap. Stand beside the body of water you just left; return the water to its rightful place.

    At least don't do it in the car.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kill Fee Week, Part II

Kill fee: |kil fē| noun. Payment made to a creative for work done but not used.
Such ancient ruins, these. No chronicle of their collapse exists except for what remains of my quickly dimming memory.

The client either had no real authority to commission me, overstepped authority, worked under an assumption about her bosses that ultimately and suddenly proved false, or the project itself died. One of those.

The logos are for a food technology center that may or may not exist.

The project instructions are apparent in the lengthy explanation I supplied for each idea — especially where I chose to ignore them.

These would have been part of the step after very rough pencil sketches.

The project came at a time when I was just starting to harness Adobe Illustrator®™, but before realizing it could do more than geometric shapes. These are inspired by the work of illustrator John Hersey, an early craftsman of digital art whose work still relies heavily on polygon and perfect curves and the simplest of Illustrator™© tools.

Ironic that this project was about the wild and organic.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kill Fee Week, Part I

Kill fee: |kil fē| noun. Payment made to a creative for work done but not used.
Stuff happens. Some projects die before their time. No harm, no foul. No fee, except for the starting payment, for services up to that point.

I learn something no matter what — in a technique, a relationship, step more skillfully taken. And I have fun.

Here's one project that didn't go to production, for a bicycle motocross racing group in Sydney, Australia, which sought a jersey redesign. Things didn't work out. Here are some of the sketches.
This is from round 2 of illustrations, in which decision makers in the club asked for
designs which hearkened to the look of other racing jerseys. I tried — but I wanted
to give the club something out of the ordinary, harnessing the print capabilities (left) and
riffing off of dazzle camouflage designs (right).
The club asked me to explore Sydney-ish visuals. The city is known the world over
for its still-stunning opera house, for example, like a nautilus disarticulating on dry land.
I played instead with the stylized image of the rainbow serpent that appears on Sydney's city coat of arms.
The rainbow serpent is integral to the myths and creation stories of
the Australian aboriginal people. As fascinated as I am by aboriginal art, especially the "x-ray" style that seems to expose creatures' bones, I'm uneasy about using it.

I feel the same about the entrancing art of the Pacific Northwest, in which native cultures have advanced an extremely spare graphic style. It demonstrates life's interconnectedness, depicting animals whose limbs and parts are made from other animals, all distinctive by their ovoid black, white and red eyes.

I'd love to draw inspired by that art, but I don't feel it's mine to mess with, that it's sacred to those cultures. Maybe I'm glad the racing club didn't choose this.

These designs are inspired by Reko Rennie, a Sydney artist known for his aboriginal-inspired geometric
forms, so simple yet so unsettling in their vibrancy. It would be an obtuse reference, but I figured the
Sydney folks would get it. Just in case, I tucked shapes of the opera house room, the Sydney Tower
and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in among the lines.
A threatened species of frog has become a sort of anti-mascot for the racing club, which rides at part of the
park where the 2000 Sydney Olympics took place. The frog's habitat limits the club's use of its track. I thought
the kids in the club might like themselves enveloped in the frog's long slimy tongue, eventually catching
one of their teammates.
The shirt would have been printed using dye sublimation, which affords subtle variations in color and detail.
I tried to take advantage of this with transparent angel flame-wings, and a gradient behind the repeated
hex nut pattern.
More frogginess
Because who doesn't love a monstrous eyeball on a racing jersey?
The project included the possibility of a logo redesign, from this:
Two-color version of the original full-color look,
featuring a frog.
To some of these possibilities:
The club benefits from a wealth of impassioned supporters, but ultimately the collective passion from many directions could not provide direction for the jersey design under the agreed-upon budget.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thought police state

"(For quality assurance,
this call will be monitored
and recorded …)"

Fliizzzzz, ka-dunk, whooooOOOooooop, klik …

"Hi … hello? Hello? Uh yes, this is the Sacramento Sheriff's Department. 'Service with concern!' That's our motto!

"Well, we at the department just want you to know that, even though we've denied up and down for months that we secretly access folks' cell phone data, we were in fact … lying.

"— not lying exactly! The federal government and Harris, the maker of the spying equipment made us keep it a secret.

"I'm sure you can agree how the strength of a relationship relies on the highest level of trust.

"Which is why we couldn't tell you, whom we work for.

"But we got found out. You may have heard last week in the news. Yeah, Channel 10, stubborn folks.

"Hard as it is to admit, it turns out we can get hold of your data if we want. Have been able to for, oh, the last eight years.

"We have the best of intentions, you understand — 'Service with concern!' after all! — and maybe we'd have told you if we could. It's just that we were under strict orders not to reveal —

"What's that? The Sheriff's Department, just like I told you …

"No, really …!

"Come again? How did we get your number?

"Isn't this shawn turner illustration? I thought so.

"Let me just answer your question with another question, Mr. Illustration: Shouldn't we have your number? What we mean is: Isn't that the primary way people get hold of you?

"You don't keep your number a secret, do you? Of course not, that's the way you do business, right?!

"Is there some reason you don't want us to have your number? Something you don't want us knowing about, perhaps?

"Hey, calm down, I'm just asking. If you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to worry about, right?!

"We're only interested in bad guys. It's for your protection, after all. Let's say a bad guy called you, for some particular reason. You'd want us to protect you from the bad guy — who's calling you for some particular reason, right?

"Besides, we're not the only ones. Lots of other law enforcement agencies are using — uh, scratch that, never mind.

"What? A warrant? Well, we're enjoying what you might call an extended murky period in American civil liberties, where it's not quite clear whether we need a warrant to follow your phone transactions. We're learning on the side of 'No, we don't.'

"Sure, take your complaint to Congress, but Congress signed off on this a long time ago. Something called the Patriot Act, remember? Congress can't do anything about it now. You wanna be a patriot, don't you?


"That noise? Oh, that's the San Jose Police Department, testing out its spy drone. Yes, it's a good 200 miles off course as the crow flies. Good thing the police there haven't used it yet; they need some practice. Look, San Jose apologized for buying the thing and for sneaking it past the city council, and supposedly won't use it until the department gets a good public looking-over. It was only gonna use it on bad guys.

"You meddling citizens, getting in the way of justice.

"Drones are a pretty dumb idea anyway, if you ask me. I mean, you can hear the drones from a mile away. We can get your cell phone info and you won't even know we're comin —

klik … flooooEEEEEEEp — BEbooop … chikachooooook … hissssssssss … klik!

"Hello, who's this? Huh?! We called you?! I don't think so. What? That's for me to know and you to — well, you aren't going to find out, uh … Mr. Illustration.

"I advise you to get off the phone immediately and forget this whole matter. Should you go blabbing, remember: We are not the CIA, we did not break into Senate Intelligence Committee computers, nor did we lie about it in front of God and country.

"Nor are we or our minions spying on you right now.

"You'll just have to trust us.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rainy days and Mondays

On the best good workdays, Jon Miller and Dave Flemming talk behind my back.

They're the San Francisco Giants' radio broadcasters, and on the best good workdays, they're unfolding the tale of another game from a Giants road trip back East, their voices crackling three timezones away on the little silver digital radio in my office.

Usually it's a Wednesday or Thursday — getaway day, what used to be called the businessman's special — first pitch a bit past 10 or even 9 Pacific Standard Time!

Baseball! Before my third cup of coffee! That doesn't happen very often.

(Yesterday was an exception, a so-called "wrap-around" series, the last of four games that began on Friday with the New York Mets and ends on a Monday. The Giants don't typically play on Mondays, but games seem to get crammed together as the season goes down the stretch.

(The Giants won 4-3 and took three of four from the Mets. Hurt players are coming back, a new starting pitcher replaces one who's out for the season, so maybe doom is premature. Hold that thought.)

I can listen to the game, good or bad, and get work done before my stomach can tell me it's lunchtime.

Only two problems with a morning ballgame, one small and one heart-breakingly huge.

Small: No baseball later that day. Just 57 channels and nothin' on. Sorry, not watching the A's.

Heart-breakingly huge: Rainouts!

It doesn't rain on ballgames in California. But three time zones away, summer means rain and rain delays baseball.

Though far away and high and dry in my office, I drown in the downpouring despair of rainouts. I wash down the drain, grim and dour. I lose the day in mourning.

No, really.

The worst is when a game gets under way but stalls as storms roll in and the grounds crew pulls the giant tarp over the infield and the broadcasters unfurl their limited supply of rainy day stories, hoping all those steps will soon reverse and the game can resume.

When they don't, the broadcasters toss it back to the radio station and the people on the regularly scheduled program must vamp until the next update. I didn't tune in to hear the talk-show hosts prattle. I want my baseball!

Every so often, the broadcasters return with hopeless updates, ephemeral as Sputnik sightings, here and gone. Back to you in the studio.

Almost as bad, though, is when the game resumes hours later. Everyone's attention is elsewhere by then, even the players'. The starting pitchers have changed, the players shambling about with knots in their muscles. The energy has changed. After rain delays, I just want the game to get done and get over.

And drought to envelop the earth. During baseball season, anyway.