2001 Notebook: Weak XIV
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3 April 2001
John lent me one of his mas macho mountain bikes, a lovely aluminum beast with big, thick tires and massive shock absorbers. I haven’t spent much time on a bike in years, and I’m quite enjoying pounding down steep San Francisco hills. I aim for the bumps and holes in the pavements. I am impervious to anything except BMW drivers who attempt to shave and/or apply makeup at the same time.

I thought I had the perfect bike until I heard a radio story about the Swiss. In 1891, the Swiss issued their troops with the latest in technology: bicycles! Over a century and a millennium later, the Swiss still have three thousand soldiers on bikes.

But not for long.

The Swiss have decided to get rid of the Army bikes by the end of next year. Even though I’ve had completely different experiences with Swiss Army knives and watches, I’ve decided I must have a Swiss Army bike. A must is a must.

On the surface, the Swiss Army bikes wouldn’t appear to be entirely suited for urban transportation. The Swiss bikes aren’t made from lightweight aluminum, have relatively wimpy tires, and rely on the riders’ derrières to absorb shocks. The Swiss Army bikes do, however, have one invaluable feature my bike doesn’t: a bazooka holder.

I must have a bazooka holder on my bike if I’m to spend years riding bicycles in San Francisco. The sight of a bazooka in the rearview mirror commands a modicum of respect; even a BMW driver knows that. All your base are belong to us!

4 April 2001
Imaginary Wealth
A friend told me that his wife has lost about a hundred thousand dollars on the stock market. I know how that feels, sort of.

Fifteen years ago I was drinking beer on a warm, Sunday afternoon when I ran out of beer. That’s one of the common perils of drinking beer, so I knew what to do. I went to the store to buy some more beer.

And for some strange reason, I bought a lottery ticket even though I agree with Kerry that the lottery is a tax on the stupid.

When I returned to base, I was amazed to discover that I’d won a thousand dollars! I spent the next hour drinking beer and calling my friends to announce my good fortune. On my nth call, I noticed that my winning ticket wasn’t a winning ticket at all. Oh well: easy come, easy go, easy come again.

Although my friend’s wife lost a hundred thousand dollars, it was a hundred thousand dollars she’d recently made on the stock market. I enjoyed my fleeting thousand dollars before it vanished, I hope my friend’s wife also enjoyed her phantom wealth. I like imaginary money; it has most of the benefits and few of the problems associated with the real thing. Easy come, easy go, easy come again.

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5 April 2001
Infinite Cake
Eric had a birthday last Friday; it’s just one of those things people in their twenties do. Eric’s cheap coworkers decided to get him a German chocolate cake instead of a proper bottle of Scotch. They may or may not have reasoned that a cake also lasts longer than a bottle of whisky.

I dropped by Eric’s office yesterday, and he insisted that I visit his cake’s carcass.

“It’s great,” Eric enthused. “We ate half the cake on my birthday, half the remainder on Monday, half of what was left on Tuesday, and so on. It’s the birthday cake of a lifetime!”

I couldn’t decide if Eric was truly enamored of his infinite cake, or whether he was just masking his disappointment at missing a bottle of birthday Scotch.

6 April 2001
Time is Brain
I read a scary article about strokes that almost made me want to live next to a hospital. Although I had a vague idea of how strokes worked, I never knew how fast the brain atrophies when its plumbing fails.

My favorite part of the feature was a three-word explanation of why strokes require immediate medical attention: “Time is brain.”

Time is brain! How could it be otherwise?

7 April 2001
The Theory of Relativity of the Ages of Children
Lynn and I were discussing the mysteries of the universe, but we couldn’t figure out the Theory of Relativity of the Ages of Children.

“I wish Einstein was still alive,” lamented Lynn. “Maybe he could explain why children age three years for each year we get older.”

8 April 2001
Captured by Communists!
China captured twenty-four U.S. spies who conveniently landed their damaged surveillance plane at a Chinese military base, and Americans are having a collective hissy-fit. Having been captured and held by card-carrying armed Communist soldiers, I can report that being a prisoner of espionage isn’t all that bad as incarcerations go.

I was captured by Soviet soldiers when I, along with half a dozen friends, inadvertently invaded Siberia in 1983. We were part of a Greenpeace media stunt to call attention to Soviet whaling. We’d politely telexed the Kremlin to let them know we were planning on sailing our ship to the USSR’s twelve-mile territorial limit. We had a cunning plan, a clever strategy I may now reveal.

Having announced our itinerary, we planned on being met by a warship when we approached the Siberian coast. After the Soviets blocked our ship, we would command, politely but firmly, “Stop killing the whales!” The Soviets would reply, more firmly than politely, “Turn around. Go back. Amscray!” We would respond by repeating the same request, as would the Soviets. It wasn’t great dialogue, but the script was entirely suitable for propaganda and fundraising purposes.

My job was to putter out in an inflatable boat and get a photograph of both ships on the same piece of film. Having accomplished our mission, we’d motor back to Nome and release the “Greenpeace confronts Soviets” story.

When we reached Soviet waters, though, no one greeted us except the odd gray whale. After a bit of confusion and consternation, we decided to drink some more beer and head for the whaling station.

We landed on shore very early in the morning to scenes of wonder and amazement. We saw huge slabs of whale meat scattered along the beach, a dozen Aleut natives in sealskin clothing, and huge dogs—Siberian Huskies, presumably—weaving in and out of the thick fog. The natives saw some oddly-dressed Caucasians passing out save-the-whales pamphlets.

I was having a great time photographing the circus until I heard the sound of a truck heading our way. The truck screeched to a halt, then soldier after soldier jumped out of the back of the truck, crouched, and aimed their rifles.

At us.

The soldiers weren’t all that intimidating once they lowered their rifles. Most of them were very young, with poor complexions and tattered and patched uniforms. They asked us to get into their truck; how could we refuse? The soldiers took us to a military base, where we were briefly interrogated by Mr. English, a hip young man in a leather jacket who greeted us with admonitions to, “Be cool! Be cool!”

After a few hours, the Soviet military treated us to a magnificent helicopter trip over the rugged Siberian mountains en route to a larger military base. After we landed, soldiers escorted us to a clean, well-lit place for prisoners, our home for the next five days.

The Soviets were good hosts; a soldier-cum-waiter served us three meals a day. I enjoyed the venison, or perhaps it was elk. (It wasn’t until much, much later that I figured out the Soviets were probably serving us whale meat. Who says Communists don’t have a sense of humor?)

We were suffering from boredom, and our hosts were suffering from bureaucratic overload. Apparently capturing invaders calls for lots and lots of paperwork, and Mr. English wasn’t getting much sleep. (The most amusing part of the interrogation was when Mr. English found out that one of my friends had visited Moscow years before. “Tell me,” he asked, “is it really true that the stores there are three blocks long?” Poor Mr. English had apparently spent the entirety of his hip, young life in Siberia.)

The Soviet major who did some of the questioning was a little upset; he reminded us, firmly but politely, that after World War Two, the Soviets didn’t take kindly to being invaded. He told us they were trying to figure out whether to charge us as a sailors who strayed way off course or as raiders. The former charge called for a slap on the wrist, the latter charge carried a sentence of three years in the salt mines.

I suffered the way I fear the twenty-four involuntary American guests are suffering at the hands of the Chinese. Locked in a room with nothing to read and no way to write was the most boring time of my life. Also, I gained four kilograms from eating too much whale meat and not enough exercise. (I was fattening myself up for the salt mines, just in case). I’ve heard the American captives are being fed by caterers, and that just can’t be good for military preparedness.

After a few days, the Soviets concluded that we were more trouble than we were worth and sent us packing. One officer gave us a lovely bottle of vodka as a going away present. In turn, I offered to buy my former captors some cheeseburgers and pills the next time they were in the states.

“Just like Elvis used to eat?” asked Mr. English.

“A meal fit for the king,” I confirmed.

I’m sure the American president will eventually convince the Chinese to release the bored, overfed prisoners. After all, what Chinese bureaucrat could deny that anyone who can steal a presidential election is a person to be taken seriously?

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©2001 David Glenn Rinehart