2001 Notebook: Weak XLI
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9 October 2001
Like a Case of Anthrax
It’s amazing how few people send thank-you notes these days. I’m not complaining, though. Since thank-you notes are a rarity, my brief missives take on an inflated value. I like to look good after only a modicum of work; that’s why I’m an artist.

And so it was that I decided to send Rosie a quick note of appreciation.

    Dear Rosie,

    Earlier this year I made illegal copies of a few recordings you lent me. I’m enjoying listening to Gang of Four performing Anthrax; I quite like the chorus.

    Love will get you like a case of anthrax,
    And that’s a thing I don’t want to catch.

    If I were Gabriel García Márquez, I’d call my new novel Love in the Time of Anthrax.

    Thanks again,


Then I reread the note. I thought Rosie would appreciate the sentiment, but I thought the government spies who intercept email might find it objectionable.

Here’s how it works. Governments around the world snoop on email using allegedly powerful software programs with vicious-sounding names like Inquisitor, Predator, Violator, Velociraptor, and so on. By the time my mail gets to Rosie, it will have been read by untold numbers of secret agents. And so it was that I decided to add a postscript.

    P.S. For any government agent(s) reading this, you may or may not be interested in learning that “Gang of Four” was a popular Western music quartet. (Note: that’s “Western” as in “not Eastern,” not “Western” as in “Country and Western.”) I believe the ensemble has disbanded. In the context of the letter you’ve intercepted, Gang of Four has nothing to do with Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong, or any of their cronies, dead or alive. In addition, I believe the musicians’ use of the word “anthrax” was a metaphor for an overpowering emotional force, not a reference to the currently-fashionable biological warfare weapon. You may wish to confer with any aging punks and/or English majors on your staff for further clarification.

I know Rosie will enjoy my note, and I hope that the postscript will perhaps broaden the aesthetic horizons of a bored secret agent.

One-hundred flowers bloom!

10 October 2001
Essential Chinese
Marge is going to China, even though there are literally hundreds of fine Chinese restaurants here in San Francisco. I’m certain she’s not going all that way just to dine, but I forgot to ask her why she was traveling so far. I didn’t have much time to query her about her plans; I was busy giving her a quick tutorial in speaking Chinese.

Before I could begin my lecture, Marge asked me how much Chinese I knew. Marge knows me well, so she didn’t even blink when I admitted that I didn’t know a single word of Chinese except for a Taiwanese obscenity. Why would I speak Chinese? I can even can communicate with waiters who know no English by simply pointing to a menu. But I digress, as usual.

I explained that in any language one needs to know only three phrases:

    - Another drink, please.

    - Where’s the toilet?

    - I love you.

I told Marge that once she learned these three phrases, all of China would open up to her, not unlike the seven-acre buffet at Hunan Imperial Gardens.

11 October 2001
Safe Skies
Sylvester asked me if I’m nervous about flying tomorrow. For some reason, he would not accept my simple “no” as an adequate answer. He insisted that I justify my confidence, so I did.

“Look,” I began, “I assume you’re referring to the possibility that terrorists might hijack the plane and crash it into some American landmark, no?”

“Obviously,” Sylvester replied.

“For the sake of argument, let’s assume that airport security is as lax as it was before, and that armed, suicidal, would-be hijackers could again board a flight with relative ease. By the way,” I added, “I think that’s a safe assumption in spite of all the ridiculous security posturing.”

“If that’s true,” Sylvester asked, “then why do you feel safe flying?”

“Let’s make another assumption,” I continued. “I’d wager there aren’t too many suicidal terrorists who can steer a jet. Even those murderous morons aren’t stupid enough to waste their lives crashing a jet into Detroit; who’d notice? Odds are, they’d end up in one of the unpopulated Desolation Zones.”

“I suppose you may have a point,” admitted Sylvester, “but what about the flight back to San Francisco?”

“I may be wrong,” I confessed, “but I can’t imagine anyone committing suicide a few minutes away from a great San Francisco taqueria. Why do you think everyone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge? Because it’s miles from even an edible taco, that’s why. Who could possibly resist the siren call of the burrito after hours of stale, cardboard airline pretzels?”

“Forget it,” Sylvester said, “you can justify any lunacy with your idiotic rationalizations.”

“Exactly!” I exclaimed. “And that’s precisely why I’m not worried about flying, or anything else for that matter.”

Sylvester skulked away. Sylvester skulks a lot.

12 October 2001
Toilet Tales
This is my first time on American Airlines, and I’m not impressed. This may or may not have something to do with recent security measures, but the aft toilet on flight 360 smells just like a backwoods outhouse. I don’t know how the aeronautical engineers managed it, but the tiny chamber reeks of urine, feces, motor oil and assorted garbage that’s fermented over a long, hot summer and smells like, well, like a West Virginia outhouse.

Despite the stench, there’s still one thing missing: the possibility of the man underneath the toilet. According to reliable reports, women have spotted paraphenaliacs lurking in the toilet pits on several occasions. Perhaps the most widely-reported sighting was of a young man near—and presumably somewhat below—Peterborough, Ontario, in 1995.

And then there was another case at Horsetooth Mountain Park outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. In 1998, a woman using the outhouse there saw a red light in the toilet pit. She looked again and saw man standing in waste almost up to his waist holding a video camera. The intrepid videographer escaped.

Perhaps the moral of this story—if it is a story, and if it has a moral—is that no matter how stinky the situation, things could always be worse.

13 October 2001
Yet Another Cure for Writer’s Block
I’ve heard a lot of advice on writing, and most of it’s rubbish. For example, take the admonition from Epictetus, “If you wish to be a writer, write.” What kind of advice is that?

And then there’s Mary Heaton Vorse’s observation, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” Thanks, pal, that’s a lot of help. And I’m not going to bother repeating what Sholem Asch said.

I want to write, and I want to write well, and I don’t want to piss away a lot of time thinking of something to say, or rubbing my pants on a chair, or any other silly waste of time.

That’s why I’m glad I heard from Don Mayer. I buy some of my computer equipment from him for a simple reason: he usually has low prices. Periodically, he emails me news about sale items. Although I appreciate the updates, he augments his perfectly functional price lists with essays, editorials, and other superfluous content.

(I don’t mean to be critical of Don. After all, I too publish essays, editorials, and other superfluous content without even the redeeming benefit of something useful, like a price list.)

Anyway, this is what Mayer sent me yesterday.

    I have writer’s block today, so I’ll write about Small Dog Electronics’ history and business philosophy. Let’s call this Part 1. I’ll add to it the next time I can’t think of something to write about on Friday.

What a great idea! The next time I have writer’s block, I shall also write about write about Small Dog Electronics’ history and business philosophy instead of wasting my time with less productive approaches.

Thanks, Don!

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14 October 2001
Good-bye, Horn
I said good-bye to my horn today, the horn I’ve had for over thirty years. It’s on indefinite loan to a young, teenage girl. At the risk of being anthropomorphic, I’m sure it will enjoy the taste of teenage hormones again.

It wasn’t a particularly emotional farewell; my horn and I more or less parted ways when I fell in love with photography when I was sixteen. For the last decade or so, my horn’s lived in a dark chicken coop in Petaluma, California.

I still felt a little sad, albeit conceptually sad. For decades, there’s been an increasingly improbable chance I might play my horn again. I now realize I’ll probably never play as well as I did when I was a teenager. I may never even see my horn again.

Oh well, one door closes and another one opens. I still have my evil bass. Be afraid; be very afraid.

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©2001 David Glenn Rinehart