Captain Inertia
Thursday, February 26, 2004

(Via the Quarterwit.) Best line, from the guy who's actually been devising a way to destroy the ball: "Lantieri, a Cubs die-hard himself, would not reveal his exact demolition plans but admitted he has been blowing up a dozen balls a day in his California lab in preparation."

Did you hear that? A DOZEN BALLS A DAY. I'm sure he won't stoop to blowing it up...he'll just whip out his disintigration ray and the thing will disappear totally.

As much as I think the whole Bartman-is-evil-and-the-ball-is-cursed thing is very silly, I find this pretty hilarious. Also, I am now going to make a little voodoo doll of Luis Castillo and stab it every time he comes to bat. (See the sidebar.)
Monday, February 23, 2004

Speaking as a man who's gotten into passionate, passionate arguments about the quickest way to get from Brooklyn to Times Square: I am way, way too excited about this. A friend called me last night just to say that he was "in love" with the new D train (over the Manhattan Bridge, and then express stops up Sixth Avenue, oooooh...), and I'm actually planning out excuses to take the new train. I am a nerd for the MTA.


1. My hat. (Looking around at Matt and Hannah's, trying to find it, but in the end having to leave it behind due to needing to catch a train.)
2. My CDs. (Receiving call from Hannah after she dropped me off at the train station.)
3. My toothbrush. (Standing in my bathroom at 11 PM last night, laughing.)
4. My sense of competence at Fifa 2002 soccer for the GameCube. (Being schooled by Matt, over and over and over and over again. Even when I played as Man U and he played as the Albanian national squad.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Can we all agree that, unless you are actually a Cossack, wearing one of those Russian Cossack hats is unnecessary? Thank you.

Interesting bunch of links found in the Revealer. A Presbyterian minister opines in an op-ed that the Christian community is beginning to polarize around 'progressives,' who focus on the social justice, compassion, and the Golden Rule, and 'evangelicals,' who focus on discipleship and the Great Comission. Donald Sensing, who writes a blog called One Hand Clapping, disagrees. Huh.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

I've always been a little suspicious of Grape-Nuts: as the old not-so-clever joke goes, they contain neither grapes nor what the heck are they? I vividly remember my first exposure to Grape-Nuts in fifth grade, when my school class made a trip to Appleton, Wisconsin, and my host there served me Grape-Nuts for breakfast. I remember thinking, this has to be a joke. Nobody would regularly consume something that tastes like this. I just remember them being astonishingly crunchy and hard to chew, even after lengthy exposure to milk. I don't think I've ever worked that hard to consume breakfast in my life.

And yet, a week or two ago, I had a lively conversation with a friend of mine, who I'd say has good or at least above-average judgement when it comes to music, movies, and food. And he vigorously defended Grape-Nuts. (I'd like to point out that we got onto the topic because he was consuming a bowl of All-Bran at the time, which I won't even stoop to exploring.) So this week at Key Food, on an impulse, I picked up a box of G-Nuts. And this morning, on another impulse, I had some.

First impressions: eh. It's not the gravel-in-a-box I remember from fourth grade. I did garnish them with a little bit of sugar, but overall, it was tolerable, I guess. I suppose this shouldn't be surprising, given that in between fourth grade and now I've matured a little bit in my tastes, and learned to like grown-up things like a) coffee, b) spinach, and c) fish served other ways than deep-fried. (Oh, Long John Silver's, I hardly knew ye!)

But here's the twist: I couldn't finish the bowl! It was, like, too intense a food experience for me. I should point out that in usual circumstances, I always finish a bowl of cereal. There's like a 0.0% chance that I won't fully finish a bowl of cereal; my usual habit is to try not to rudely scrape the bottom of the bowl before looking around for more. But I guess Grape-Nuts are, like, infused with nutrition or mojo or are too potent for me in some way, because I got about three-fourths of the way through the bowl and started to feel like a fat American runner trying to keep up with a Kenyan during the Boston Marathon. I just couldn't go on. It was all I could do to finish my cup of coffee.

So, en toto, the verdict is that Grape-Nuts have defeated David. Make of it what you will.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Key quote: "A school counselor from Stamford, Conn., Mariane Bauer, stood outside the Bose store yesterday and said she felt right at home. "This is like a piece of Stamford in Midtown," she said. "It's really nice that they brought the suburbs into the city." Ms. Bauer, who also has an apartment on the Upper West Side, patted her pocketbook and said she came ready to shop. "I've got my credit cards," she said."

Arghghghg. Yeah, that's what New York needs, lady--a piece of Stamford.

Friday, February 06, 2004

“The Captain” was the janitor for the company I work at. A lot of people called him that rather than his given name. It was an odd nickname, but he was an odd guy. He had poor social skills. He had a strange accent. From what I can tell, he had no family. He always smelled strongly of baby powder—possibly because he was a janitor and using too much baby powder in an effort to not smell like trash. It was two years before I learned his full name.

The first day I came to work at my company, he approached me, without bothering to introduce himself, and pointed at one of my other co-workers, and for no apparent reason, said, “You gotta listen to this guy. He’s the governor.” I nodded and said OK, as though it were commonplace for custodial staff to misidentify co-workers as gubernatorial elected officials. I went about my business. Later, I figured it out. He just liked giving everybody wacky nicknames, frequently derived from current events or politics. He’d greet me in the hallway: “Hello, Mr. Undersecretary of State. How are things in Washington?” In the elevator: “How’s it going there, Mr. Vice-President? You gotta tell George W. to bring the troops home!” I started playing along, greeting him in the same way: “How’s it going, Mr. Senator?” “How’s it going, Secretary-General?”

Soon enough, my co-workers started to get a kick out of it. They’d do it too. He’d come into our office to take out the trash, and be greeted like Norm walking into Cheers: “Captain!” “Colonel!” “Speaker of the House!” And he’d always say something weird: “Hey, general, how are the troops?” (He was always asking how ‘the troops’ were.) “Hey, governor, are you gonna get elected in California?”

The weirdest thing, though, was definitely his laugh. This guy had the laugh of an unhinged man. Tell him a joke he liked, and he’d laugh for a full minute. He’d just laugh and laugh and laugh, and then draw a big breath and keep laughing. He’d stick his tongue out of his mouth like Michael Jordan going up for a dunk. It was ridiculous. And his sense of humor was a little strange, too: if you told him a joke that was too sophisticated, he wouldn’t laugh. I once told him my dad’s all-time favorite joke (Knock-knock. Who's there? Indonesia. Indonesia who? Every time I see you, I get weak Indonesia.) and he didn’t get it. But tell him a joke about, say, one of my co-workers needing to buy diapers because he’s wetting the bed, and he’d lose it. Anything scatalogical or sexual, and he’d go for it. Once we told him that Yannis the Trusty Greek had been eating out of the trash, and he laughed until he walked out of the room.

My co-workers thought he was a riot. I guess I did too. But it wasn’t particularly nice; it was more laughing at him than with him. Eventually the rest of the guys started competing to see if they could make him laugh, and when he did, they’d surreptitiously pull out their watches and see how long he would laugh without stopping. All of us, without exception, called him “the Captain.” He was, pretty much, an object of ridicule.

Fast-forward a few months. The Captain attends a big meeting at my company, called by the CEO, to explain the new rules in our HR manual. 20 or 30 people are there. The CEO does his shtick, explains everything. There’s time for Q&A at the end. People ask questions, and the Captain just sits there. Then at the very end, just when everyone’s about to leave, he gets up and says, “Can I say something?” Yes, says the CEO. And he proceeds to go on this long, rambling tangent about how what his role is at the company and why he’s important and all this other weird stuff. Nobody knows what prompted him to say it. He doesn’t express himself well. He’s confusing. And he’s going on and on. Everyone at the meeting is thinking, first: please shut up; we’d like to go home. And second: what the hell is he talking about?

He goes on for about five minutes, and then our CEO—from everything I’ve seen, a kind man—says, Captain, why don’t we talk about this later? And the Captain says, “Oh, yeah, we’ll talk about it later,” and proceeds to keep talking. It gets a laugh. But then the CEO interrupts him again, and says, more firmly, “Please take a seat.” And the meeting breaks up. It’s safe to say that just hearing about the incident second-hand was painfully embarassing for me.

Eventually, the Captain gets transferred to another facility my company operates, out in Brooklyn. He’s not happy about this. He’s worked out of the Manhattan office for however many years; he doesn’t want a new routine. Once or twice I overhear him venting his frustration to a few people around the office. But—I suppose he tells himself—given that it’s a choice between going to Brooklyn or losing his job completely, he needs the job.

With me so far? This is where I come in. On his last day working at my site, he came up to me, gave me his hand, and then gave me a big hug.

This had approximately the same effect it would have had had he announced that he was, in fact, a secret agent for the Mossad. I was even more surprised when I saw him do it several more times that day to some other co-workers, including some of the people who had been the worst about teasing him behind his back.

The day goes by. I leave work, go home, change, make plans to meet up with some friends in Washington Heights. At about 8 or 9 PM, I take the train back to the station I use to get to work, intending this time to change trains and hightail it uptown.

And who walks down onto the train platform but the Captain. Of course; he works late. He’s getting out of work right about now.

He looked forlorn. The end of his last day at the old office and all that. He was, of course, alone. And my first thought was not, oh, I should go say hi, but rather, God, I hope he doesn’t see me. I froze, convinced that he’d see me—I was right in front of him—but he walked right by me without noticing. It was a little uncanny; he couldn’t have been more than five feet away. I was relieved when he walked all the way down the platform without noticing me.

Right? No big deal. Awkward situation avoided; it happens all the time.

Then! Monday morning, I’m on my way to a meeting, and I see the Captain, again. AGAIN. It was near a train station near my apartment in Brooklyn, which also happens to be very near to the facility to which he had been transferred. The Captain had just come up out of the stairs from the train station, and was just standing there, on the corner, looking a little bewildered. And again, he does not see me, although I see him. It was like freakin’ déjà vu.

And it occurs to me, all at once: this is the Captain’s first day of work at his new job. He’s just come up out of the subway for the first time. He doesn’t know which way to go. He doesn’t know what his new job will be like. He doesn’t know if he’ll like his co-workers. He has no clue what’s going on. I should go over to him and say hello, and tell him that the place he’s looking for is right down that way and take a right, and that I’ll see him around. That would delight him!

And what’s more, I was aware that the fact I’d run into him twice in four days was a—well, quite a coincidence, and that I really, really should go talk to him and say hello.

But, of course, I didn’t do that. The automatic pilot takes over: avoid the awkward situation! I slipped behind him—again, no more than five feet away—down the stairs, into the subway station, away from him. I felt a twinge of guilt about it, but as I swiped my MetroCard I was actually saying “fast, fast, fast” to myself. “Fast,” as in, hurry up and walk faster so you can put that awkward moment behind you.

It’s not a big deal, sure. To overdramatize it would be ridiculous. The world will not stop on its axis because I didn’t greet the Captain. I’m sure he found his work OK. But I know I missed an opportunity--a chance to scrape an extra spoonful of kindness out of life, maybe, to add an extra ounce of compassion to the Captain's life, even if it was in a ridiculously commonplace way. Maybe when you're a 50-something unmarried janitor, who has a freaky laugh and smells of baby powder, commonplace kindness is at a premium. What do I know?

I could have been a sign for him at the end of one chapter of his life and the start of another—just a small, subtle signal, saying “It’s OK. You can do this.” But I didn’t do it, because it would have been too weird and awkward.

I have no conclusion to this story, obviously. I hope the Captain is telling someone else that they are, in fact, the Governor or the Subcommander or the Secretary-General. And I hope the next time I see him on some subway platform I will go over and say hello.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

(Hint: it's a rhetorical question.)
Tuesday, February 03, 2004

It's bad for you, and it's frequently not as fun as Fifa 2002 for the PlayStation.

These, however, are extremely funny, and therefore morally licit. (Via Eve Tushnet.)
Monday, February 02, 2004

A good friend who was in S&B refused to call it "Skull and Bones" or "my secret society," instead dubbing it "thing," as in, "Nah, I can't go out with you Thursday, I have...thing."

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