On ground rules, hygiene and running at night.

7 12 2008

Tonight’s dispatch comes to us from our correspondents on the West Coast. Apparenty greater metro Seattle is experiencing some measure of a hard-fought urban revival. At the risk of coming across as heavy-handed, I’ll place emphasis on the hard-fought part.

Long gone are the days of flannel, grunge and the truth that made watching “Singles” at once so funny and so unsettlingly real. No, our caffeine-laced pioneers of the drab chîc are swimming around in the same waters everyone else is: Thunderbird, urban blight, a whole lot of meth (which comes from the country and the suburbs, by the way, not the warehouse district) and, if you’re lucky, a bottle of Irish Rose.

What is it that makes “fun now” a good idea or a bad one? I suppose that hinges on your definition of “good.” In the past I have counseled on the qualities of abstinence. No no, not THAT kind. I mean letting a questionable experience pass you by in favor of not having that little talk with yourself a few hours or days down the pike where you say things, with the help of a mirror, like “How the hell did I get here?” These are also the moments where you find yourself calculating how quickly a human body accelerates in freefall, whether or not your legs can hold up under the impact of a 13 foot drop, and how long your stamina will hold out, fleeing on foot at a fairly good clip, through unfamiliar suburban terrain in the dark. All I can say to that is really, really watch our for lawn sprinklers.

As I said, in the past, I have counseled abstinence from such situations. But I’ll admit that in the recent interval I have elected to participate fully in some excursions that, upon reviewing the tapes, did not meet my previous qualifications for a good idea. But these subtleties and semantics tend to add nuance and flavor to a life, even if they do take something of a toll on a body, I have found. Let’s avoid getting too far down this slippery, slippery slope, though, by taking a moment to observe a few basic rules for which the breaking cannot be countenanced. They are simpler to call to mind than you might think.

1. Avoid armed standoffs. In essence, gunplay is only entertaining on TV. If the situation may involve small arms fire of any kind, it’s not worth it.

2. Have an exit strategy. This, above all others, is probably the most important rule. Almost any situation can be sampled safely if you have at your disposal a simple, viable route out. The simplicity of this idea, though, belies its inner complexity. A good exit strategy takes into account physical obstacles such as blocked doors, small bathroom windows, parking garages that are not manned at all hours, customs, border crossings, etc. It also incorporates the need for resources including physical stamina, cash or basic hand tools. (See my earlier example). In addition, a good strategy takes into account factors such as weather, terrain, navigational difficulties both urban and rural (i.e., a reliable after-hours bus schedule, Tube map or GPS system) as well as the disposition, dedication, armament and overall cagey-ness of potential pursuers. It bears mentioning here that a strong grasp of the disposition of local law enforcement collectives and some basic diplomacy skills are good companions. Finally, a successful exit strategy considers the possibility of changing conditions, or the X-factor. I call to mind an instance where I found myself lost in a labyrnthine Goth district utterly strewn with Brits with a heavy preponderance of eye makeup. I had not planned for the situation and briefly called to my salvation an Aberdeen Steakhouse as a navigational aid. For those of you who have never lived in London, this is somewhat similar to navigating a city like Phoenix with the directions “It’s near the Walgreens.”

3. Finally, and oh so very, very, very important. If at any time, under any circumstances, you find yourself in a location or a group of people that has anything to do with an electric bull, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. There is nothing that the well-traveled gentleman or lady has to gain from mechanized livestock.

As a result of my moderately recent adventures, then, I must take exception with the Experiential Abstinence Policy (EAP) and add this caveat: In some instances, all else being equal, and if a few unbreakable rules are still observed, there is wiggle room. That which is fun right now is probably worth trying at least once. And there is good news to be enjoyed. First off, if you’re on the move, with no fixed address, all you need to do is be sure not to share any errant personal information like cell phone numbers, don’t leave business cards lying about, and keep your valued personal items packed and out of view. Think Navy SEAL style: Remove the identifying insignia from your uniform before you hit the LZ. Also, try to plan things so that you have a reasonable excuse for going outside during daylight hours, preferably business hours. Witnesses and transport for hire all increase your odds of coming out on top. And remember that a bottle of Listerine can be had for pittance and is outstanding for providing swift, intense sanitation in situations involving, say, an unidentified fungus, for example.

So then. Pack your things. Personal items stored safely. Listerine. Maybe a little Purell, just in case. Try to avoid carrying large amounts of cash. A little recon will give you a sound exit strategy. Watch for firearms and bulls. Otherwise, go make a story!

And be sure to write it all down so we can review it later on.

The above is excerpted from the column “Ask Bill!” an advice column for everyman, featuring commentary and helpful hints for average readers and world leaders on the best courses of action in any given situation.

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On getting lost, and getting Lost.

2 12 2008

Logging in to the old blog dashboard just this side of slacking, I find myself in my usual Monday night position. Sitting stock still in my big armchair (my only remaining piece of real furniture), sometimes remembering to flip over to Monday Night Football. But mostly not. Mostly, my face is linked via direct neural connection to the TV screen as I try to keep up with the ever-changing plot line of Lost. I think we’re somewhere in the neighborhood of Season 3.

At any rate, this is in strong contrast to Sunday, which was devoted almost entirely to devouring The Commodore. Funny that I bring this up now, because the episode of Lost I’m wallowing in has just had a moment in which the character Desmond explains that he’s read every published word Charles Dickens has every written except for Out Mutual Friend (which is the first Charles Dickens I ever picked up, and is the last and only 13 pages of Dickens I’ve ever read as an adult). He’s saving it so that it’s the last thing he reads before he dies.

My reasoning is not so morbid as that, but I tried a few days ago to remember when it was that I first picked up Master and Commander, the first of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. I can’t quite remember, but I’m pretty sure I was not more than 12, maybe 14 at the most. And in the last few years, I’ve been rationing them. One a year, at most.

Recently I decided that there was too much detail of the preceding 17 volumes that I don’t remember. So it’s time to read through the rest of the series, the last few books, and then ….

start again. 🙂

I’ve had plenty of people tell me that there is NO reason to rearead books when there are plenty of books out there you’ve not yet read even once. Our Mutual Friend notwithstanding – I’m pretty sure that somewhere on page 12, the main character was revealed to be a large piece of heavy Victorian furniture – said friend is right. Just in my bedside cabinet alone I’ve got Calvino, Helprin, two very promising biographies and a small stack of non-fiction. Not to mention the fact that my Lovecraft could use some touching up.

But at the same time, who doesn’t want to relive every detail of their favorite stories? These are stories so engaging that they cause me to alter my dietary practices. Seriously – have you ever read a story in which you relish the the descriptions of dinners more than the actual food you intend to eat? In which the idea of those meals is actually more satisfying than your own?

Well at any rate, I have been drinking port after dinner for the last two days, and it is precisely because of The Commodore. So then, a glass with you and your favorite author. I’ll be getting back to mine presently. Tomorrow, to be exact. There’s another half hour of Lost still to go tonight.