Protoblogging: banking on art*

(From an email dispatch sent to some friends during my first trip to San Francisco, in early 2000.)

Union Square is only two blocks away, so I scouted that area out, with its high-end Armani-type shops and all. The middle of the square was an art market, with artists displaying their wares and selling them. Refreshingly, it was "real" art, and not just kitschy portraits and caricatures.

I met a woman selling metal sculptures and she told me her story. She started off as a technical writer for an aircraft company (McDonnell-Douglas I think) and eventually moved to a bank. Her rational mind and strong work ethic allowed her to climb the corporate ladder, eventually becoming a vice president. She lived in a $4000/month apartment in central San Francisco, and everything was rosy.

At one point she realized that she had lost her sense of enthusiasm. Banking was sickeningly profit-driven, which she felt was corrupting her spiritual side. One day she saw someone welding, and felt draw to the way he was able to make things out of steel and iron.

So she quit her job and enrolled in a welding school. (Needless to say, she also ditched the apartment and scaled back all around.) She had never been artistic (her father once told her she couldn't draw stick figures even if she used a ruler), but she began making things with her welding equipment.

Now she lives in Santa Cruz and is a successful metal artist. Her sculptures are small scale (you could put them on a coffee table) and are usually quite "rational" and geometric, although they are rich in metaphor and have spiritual-sounding names (usually not too flaky).

This sounds like something out of some kind of motivational infomercial, but there she was, happy as a clam, right in front of me. Nice way to kick off my visit. It might be a good foil against the heavy dose of dot-comness I'll be immersed in over the coming days.


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Protoblogging: Fear and Mortality*

(From an email sent to a few friends in 1998, a year after my father’s death.)

My dad lived his whole life in fear that he would drop dead any minute due to the heart condition he acquired in his youth through rheumatic fever. I always felt that his fear severely limited how he lived his life. He was afraid to venture too far from home, to be physically active, to take risks. Considering his heart condition and a bout with colon cancer ten years ago it is ironic that he lived to a relatively ripe old age of 75.

As I have mentioned in the past, the similarities between my father and I are astounding. For example, I also live with the fear that I will drop dead any minute. Every little pain is a tumor, or an aneurysm getting ready to pop. The one big difference between my father and I is that I don't let this fear limit me. I venture far from home whenever I can, engage in physical activity, and to some extent, take risks. Yet I live with the fear.

One constant in my life -- another thing I share with my father -- is that of irony. Without getting into details, I think I am the King of Irony. There is too much anecdotal evidence to deny this. Thus, it would be in keeping with the ironic nature of my life for me to drop dead any minute now -- my being the healthy, active, opposite of my father, who waited until he was 75 to drop dead, and even then it was more like a "settling in" than a drop.

The only way to keep the fear of a sudden and unexpected death at bay is to also, like my father, embrace it, which ought to ensure it doesn't happen (oh, the irony!). On the other hand, there may be double irony, which will kick in when the aneurysm pops.

(Keep this e-mail. You can refer to it in the eulogy.)


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It’s hot and I’m lazy and I’d like to try something different. For the next little while, instead of writing new stuff I will recycle some things that I wrote for other online media during the 1990s (primarily email, but also forums and the like). I call it protoblogging — when you blog pre-written stuff that you would have blogged if you had had a blog back then.

Protoblogging: Days of whine and posers

(From an email sent to a former employee of the software company where I then worked, reporting on the “upgrade” of the company’s lunch caterers. They had gone from being a couple of disorganized sandwich guys, both named Johnny, to a better-run operation — that still employed the Johnnies. The quality of the food had improved, but some employees resisted the change. Late 1997)

Version 2.0 of Johnny and Johnny has been released. J&J are still there, but there's a new guy cracking the whip and keeping them hopping.

The whole sandwich thing has been re-thought. Instead of just bagels and three-day old buns, sandwiches are now available on croissants, rye, and baguette. Sandwiches are made in advance (as in, earlier that morning, not earlier that week) so there's no more waiting while the Johnnies fumble through the complex job of assembling sandwiches to order.

The Js now wear aprons and look and behave much more professionally. What has changed most is the menu. Where sandwiches used to consist of meat, mayo, and thumbprints, they are now much more exotic. For example, one can get a sandwich of hummus, marinated eggplant, and alfalfa sprouts, or salmon and arugula.

There is a price to be paid, of course. Sandwiches are now $3.50 -- up from $1.50. The more exotic ones cost a bit more. (Drinks and coffee are still free.)

Predictably, people at the company are whining and complaining about the "high price" of sandwiches. As if you could go to Titanic (ed. note: a nearby upscale sandwich shop) or one of the other sandwich joints around here and get a salmon and arugula sandwich with a glass of OJ and a cappuchino for $3.50. Yeah right.

I admit that I was spoiled by the $1.50 sandwiches -- but then, half the time the meat was spoiled too. Shaddap, I wanna yell to these over-employed software dorks! It's not like you can't afford it!


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A Scooter Story, in Three Parts (or More…)

Part 1: Loss

Around lunchtime on Saturday I went outside to talk to Martine and noticed something didn’t look right in the driveway. Car… Martine’s scooter… Hey, where’s my scooter?! As they say in Newfoundland, there it was, gone! Somebody had stolen it right out of the driveway.

Friday night, I had gotten stuck in a downpour while crossing the Jacques Cartier bridge, so by the time I got home I was soaked through. Normally, when I park the scooter in the driveway I immediately lock it to a post using a bicycle U-lock and a cable through the front wheel. That night, because I was so wet, I skipped that part, thinking I’d go out and do it later. Unfortunately I forgot. Martine’s scooter, on the other hand, was locked as usual, so the thieves had ignored hers.

After digging around for the registration and insurance info, we called the cops. They said we could wait and someone would come by eventually, or we could just go straight to the cop shop and report it there. We decided on the latter.

We had some stuff to do first, and then there was a thunderstorm, so it was after 5:00 PM before we started getting ready to go to the cop shop. Just then the phone rang. It was the cops.

Part 2: Recovery

Cop: Mr. Hawco?
Me: Yes?
Cop: (Identifies self.) Did somebody steal your scooter?
Me: Yes.
Cop: Did you file a report?
Me: We were just going to do that…
Cop: OK, because we have your scooter, and a suspect.


Apparently, around 2:00 PM (before we even phoned it in) the cops saw someone riding a scooter. The rider seemed a bit young, and when he saw the cop looking he stopped the scooter, threw it down, and ran away. The cops chased him for about ten blocks and nabbed him.

He’s 12 years old.

The cop said there was a bit of damage to the plastic body of the scooter but not too bad, and that I’d be able to pick it up in a day or two. Woo hoo! They found my scooter before it was even formally reported stolen! Relieved, we got gussied up and went to a party in town, telling everyone the news.

When got home from the party there was a message from the cops saying the scooter had been released and we could pick it up at our convenience.

Part 3: Screwed Again!

Sunday, around noon, we went over to the cop shop to get the scooter. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to start it, because the thief (or thieves) had busted the key mechanism, leaving a few parts behind in the driveway. So I brought a few tools along, in case I had to hot-wire my own scooter.

The trouble began when the cop advised us that because the scooter had been there since the day before (it was released at 11:20 PM), I had to pay a day’s storage fee. There was also a “towing” fee. $88 altogether.

Oh well, at least I got my scooter back. The cop took us around to the compound, and instead of bringing us to an orange Yamaha BWs with a black carrier on the back, he pointed to a busted-up up blue Yamaha with no carrier. The ignition system was wrecked, the seat was busted, and the entire plastic body was cracked and beaten up and barely attached. Did I mention it was blue?

However, the license plate and the serial number on the frame matched mine. It would appear that my scooter had been sent to a low-budget “chop shop” where they took off the nice orange body — transferred it to another stolen scooter, and slapped some busted up body parts on mine. Then the kid went for a ride and got busted.

The scooter was completely unrecognizable. We explained to the cop that 24 hours earlier this pile of junk was an orange scooter in near mint condition. So instead of releasing it, he told us it had to stay in the compound, because the investigation would have to be expanded. Not that I cared, because I didn’t want to ride that piece of crap anyway.

The worst of it is, my insurance is only for liability — because it was a used scooter I defaulted to my usal “just the basics” mode. There is a small chance that our house insurance might cover some of it, but after the deductible there won’t be much left. It’s basically a write-off, because I would have to replace 100% of the body parts as well as the ignition system, the seat locking mechanism, quite likely the seat itself, and the rear carrier.

The kid is 12 so he won’t even get a slap on the wrist. A wag of the finger maybe. He likely won’t rat out his friends, so they get off scott-free, and the kid’s parents probably won’t even have the decency to contact me and try to set things right.

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