Thursday, December 25, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Pre-Christmas Salvation Show

It has been said that there are two kinds of people in this world, those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't. This is true. Being a fan of Neil Diamond is like being in on a private joke. You don't enjoy his music the same way you enjoy The Beatles. You enjoy it more like the way you enjoy Bon Jovi. Those who don't like Neil Diamond simply don't get the joke.

The highlight of my grad school experience was playing drums in a Neil Diamond cover band for the USU Valentine's Dance. We were a rag-tag bunch of hired guns who were willing to set aside our more purist musical aspirations for an evening of schmaltz, debauchery, and tight pants. I'm not sure everyone in the band got the joke-in the 2am Beto's aftermath many of them swore they'd never play a Diamond song again-but to me the experience was transcendent.

I felt the same way a few minutes after 8pm Friday night when a brilliant light burst from the back of the ESA* stage, illuminating a solitary figure through billows of dramatic smoke. As Neil strutted down the ramp, brandishing a black acoustic guitar and churning out the chords to "Holly Holy", the crowd exploded, and a satisfied smile crossed my face. My own personal Hebrew Yule had arrived.

It was clear from the outset that when it comes to showmanship, Neil Diamond is an A-List veteran. From the old-school PA announcer who introduced the show James Brown-Style to the little motorized platform that floated from one end of the stage to the other while he played, Neil worked the crowd like a Soft-Rock Master. Even the platforms for the other musicians in his 15-piece band were motorized, shifting back and forth into different arrangements as the concert flowed from one song to another. When Diamond sang his signature duet, "You Don't Send Me Flowers", he sat at a little table on one end of the stage and gazed mournfully at a bottle of wine.

That's when I began to wonder if even Neil was in on his own joke. To me, Neil Diamond fits in the same category as Tom Jones and Barry Manilow. They all make great music, but you can't entirely take it seriously. But I think Neil does. And I think that's the only way he can get away with it. As he strutted around the stage, flashing poses and crooning for the audience, I got the distinct impression that he believed every ounce of the spectacle he was creating. When I see William Shatner do a deadpan rendition of "Rocket Man" on YouTube, I can't tell if he's making fun of himself or if he's completely serious. On Friday night, Neil Diamond struck me the same way.

Either way, the concert was a blast. Diamond hit all the big songs, from "Shiloh" to "Sweet Caroline" to "Forever in Blue Jeans", sing/talking his way through them all. Cracklin' Rosie was still getting on board, and that stupid chair still can't hear him at all when he sings "I Am...I Said". And of course, they're all still coming to "America". The Traveling Salvation Show was in full force, and Neil's love was still on the rocks.

During the encore, I looked down from my modest upper bowl seat and noticed something that made me smile: someone was actually waving a cigarette lighter. Sometime in the last five years, the cigarette lighter tradition has been almost entirely replaced by the LCD cell phone tradition. Unlike most of today's concert, the first twenty rows of Neil's gigs aren't filled with 20-somethings holding up their camera phones recording the act. The Diamond event was filled with plenty of youngsters, but not near as many as the number of middle-aged and straight up elderly patrons. One silver-haired woman of 70 in front of me spent an entire song sitting quietly with a single fist raised to the air Black-Power style. Neil Diamond himself is in his mid-60's.

Still, when he stood at the top of that ramp Friday night, he looked like he was 20 years old. And he treated his audience like they were, too. So maybe it doesn't really matter whether he's taking his act too seriously or not; he's just giving the fans what they want. They just want their crooner in blue jeans, and last weekend in Salt Lake City, Christmas came early.


*Energy Solutions Arena, or "The Place Where the Jazz Play that's Sponsored By the Company that Cleans Up Our Nuclear Waste".

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The White Elephant Collection

Last weekend I got together with a few friends for a now semi-traditional group Christmas Date. After a quick buzz around Temple Square and a generous meal at Macaroni Grill, we retired to my buddy Visser's house to engage in that most hallowed of Christmas traditions, the White Elephant Party.

My score for the evening was a Jumbo TV Remote, large enough that you could basically punch the buttons with a clenched fist while your eyes were closed and still locate the right channel. I was very happy with my take. Other notable gifts included a Virgin Mary night light, a generic train set enclosed in packaging covered with Engrish, and a selection of my old mission photographs. It was a fine night for all.

In the aftermath, I've come to realize that over the years I've built up a respectable collection of worthless conversation pieces. I wouldn't call all of them White Elephant gifts necessarily-some of them would be tremendously difficult to part with-but thanks to the Internet, I can share the items and their stories with you, the reader. Enjoy.

Star Wars Movies...on Beta

Plenty of people have copies of the original "Star Wars" trilogy on VHS, but if you look closely, these are not VHS tapes. Yes, my friend, thanks to my buddy Jared, I am the proud owner of Sony Beta copies of Episodes II and III. For those of you who aren't old enough to remember Beta (I only barely do myself), it was a short-lived video format from the early 80's that quickly went the way of 8-Tracks, Videodiscs, and Lazerdiscs.

Boba Fett Bobblehead

Lest anyone forget my juvenile fascination with the fruits of George Lucas (that doesn't sound very good, does it?), about a year ago I stepped into my shower and discovered that my sister had given me an official Boba Fett Bobblehead Doll. She left it in my shower because she assumed that way I would find it quickly. But sadly, she left it there while I was still trying to adjust to my KJZZ graveyard schedule, and in the confusion I did not discover said gift for about three days.

The South Side Brick

OK, so one fine summer day I'm riding shotgun with my ZL Elder Seamons and my greenie Tubbs as we tool around Chicago's South Side, on our way to visit the James Earl Jones of the Windy City, Mr. Dan Giles (now dead). As we are about to round the corner of Ada and 83rd Street, we pause as a group of children crosses the street in front of us. The last kid in the bunch, a 16-year-old, takes his time as he swaggers in front of our brand new green 1997 Ford Escort.

Not being familiar with proper South Side relations, Seamons honks the horn to encourage the young man to get out of the way. At this point the young man stops, his eyes get wide, and he stands in front of our car, waving and cursing. So Seamons pumps the brake, lurching the car forward a touch, just enough to send a message.

Now our young friend is irate, and begins screaming something to the effect that we can't come down to his neighborhood and etc., etc., etc. So Elder Seamons rolls down his window as I begin to duck down in my seat and yells at the kid to get back in front of the car so he can "do it again".

Fed up with the negotiating process, the kid lowers his head and begins scanning the ground. I distinctly hear him mutter the words, "where's a brick?" Lo and behold, there is a good-sized brick approximately five feet from him, and as he bends down to pick it up, Seamons steps on the gas and we swing around the corner. Elder Tubbs, riding solo in the back seat, turns to look behind us just in time to see an airborne brick rapidly approaching his head, and he ducks just in time to avoid decapitation and getting a face full of rear windshield glass.

2.3 seconds after the rear windshield shatters, Seamons is out of the car and chasing the kid on foot. Tubbs and I pause in the car, surmising that the image of three young white men in shirts and ties chasing a 16-year-old African-American boy through the streets of South Chicago would probably not help the image of the LDS Church in the neighborhood. So eventually we get out of the car and trot behind Seamons at a safe distance, waiting for the formation of the inevitable mob.

Fortunately, 18 months of missionary service has taken a serious toll on Seamons' aerobic conditioning, and the young perpetrator escapes sans further confrontation. So we pick up our trophy and return to our Talman apartment just in time to see a SWAT Team storm a nearby house and throw one of our neighbors in a Paddy Wagon, cut the brick into three collectable chunks, and call it a day.

I really, really miss the South Side.

Chrome Skull Gearshift Knob

For about two years I kept this knob on the gearshift of my 1996 Maxima until the set screw began eroding the shift's threads. In that time it was quite the conversation piece, and managed to quickly sift the parade of girls who rode shotgun with me during that relatively date-heavy period. The attraction to the piece originally came from the skull Harrison Ford hangs from the rearview mirror of his 55' Chevy in "American Graffiti", but the majority of girls didn't quite get the reference, unfortunately. No big surprise.

Gator Head

If you see one of these for sale anywhere outside of the Deep South, you'll probably get charged about $25, but on the streets of New Orleans, these farm-raised babies fill the barrels of French Quarter souvenir shops at a mere $9.99 a piece. This one is enjoying a taste of Indiana Jones.

Marc Singer Autographed Photo

Two summers back my sister and I drove down to San Diego to see Ray Bradbury speak at Comic-Con 2007. After seeing the legendary sci-fi author in the flesh and even getting a chance to meet the man and get his autograph, we trolled the convention to see who else we could see. We ran into George "Mr. Sulu" Takei, David "Darth Vader's Body" Prowse, and LaVar "I'll let you take a picture with me for ten dollars" Burton. But the best moment came when I spotted actor Marc "The Beastmaster" Singer, who also played Donovan in the early 80's Sci-Fi miniseries "V". Totally cool guy.

1980 Cleveland Browns Autographed Football

I inherited this football from my grandpa on my mom's side, and thus would never even consider parting with it at some White Elephant Party, but it's still quite the conversation piece. Die-Hard NFL fans will recognize the 1980 Cleveland Browns as the "Kardiac Kids", notorious for winning or losing their games on last-minute plays throughout the 1980 season. (Non-NFL Die-Hards might still recognize the name Lyle Alzado on the ball.) True to form, the Browns' season ended when Raider cornerback Lester Hayes intercepted a Brian Sipe pass in the end zone during one of the coldest first round playoff games ever recorded. My dad attended the game (we were in town visiting family for Christmas), and his jacket actually cracked from the cold.

Hawaiian Hula Doll

Years ago I convinced a girl to bring me back a hula doll from her trip to Hawaii. We'd been dating off and on for several months, and the relationship was on life support with little-to-no chance of survival. I think my demand was in the hope of keeping enough fleeting contact to preserve a chance of romantic success. Years later, she's married with at least one kid that I know of, and I've got this weird hula doll. So I don't know whether to keep it, give it away, or auction it off on e-Bay.

The Keychain Collection

Here the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you look closely, you should be able to identify a set of Blues Brothers keychains, a Rolling Stones tongue keychain, an R2-D2 keychain, an old watch, a souvenir keychain from when Ringo Starr played at Weber with his All-Starr Band in 1999, a skull keychain (there's that skull theme again), an Alcatraz keychain, some kind of Aztec mask keychain, what looks like a plastic Swiss Army thing, a small flashlight, and the keys and key fob from the '64 Mustang that I drove into a cement wall at 70mph.

Mono Plush Toy

This little plush toy is the cuddly incarnation of the Epstein Barr Virus, commonly known as "Mono", also commonly known as the "Kissing Disease". I bought it as a Christmas gift for a girl I was dating a while back, but the relationship didn't make it to December 25th, and thus I was unable to "give her Mono". Now I'm going to have to wait and give Mono to some other girl.

The Moses Statue

What better way to boost the spirituality of your home than to add a ceramic statue of Moses hurling teeny versions of the Ten Commandments? That's what I was thinking when I laid down twenty bucks for this thing at the Centerville Albertson's three years ago.

Nasty Nick

When I was about ten years old, I strolled into Baseball Cards, Etc. in Five Points Mall in Bountiful and slapped down five bucks to invest in the very first Garbage Pail Kid, Nasty Nick, #1A. It might be worth something now, but looking back I still think I should have spent eight dollars on Adam Bomb, who was card #8 but was much more iconic of the Garbage Pail Kids series. Live and learn.

The Elvis Meets Nixon Snow Globe

My fascination with Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon is well-documented. My basement walls boast two Velvet Elvi and I've got a poster of Richard Nixon bowling in my bedroom. Their Oval Office meeting in the early 70's has to be one of the all time convergences of American political and popular culture, so when I discovered a mini-shrine to the event in the National Archives Gift Shop in DC two years ago, I had to pick up a T-shirt...and the snow globe.

The Black Power Afro Pick

Possibly the greatest thing I brought home with me from my two years in Chicago. While serving on the South Side, one night an investigator named Ronald took me aside and gave me a genuine Black Power Afro Pick. It's got a peace sign carved in the middle, and the top knob is shaped like a Black Power fist, and I can't look at it without remembering all those summer nights riding my trusty Trek 820 mountain bike (dubbed "Thunderlips") along 79th Street past Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam headquarters, past the riot troops getting ready to take on looters after the Bulls won the NBA title, dodging bottles, bricks, and a whole lotta curse words.

Man, I miss the South Side.

Pimpin' Presidents Fridge Magnets

My downstairs fridge has become decorated with a tasteful variety of colorful magnets in recent years, but perhaps none are so noteworthy as my set of "Pimpin' Presidents" my family got me a couple of Christmases ago. And who better to represent the collection than a man who embodied the pop and political cultural convergence that Elvis and Nixon worked so hard to start: President Ronald Reagan. I only wish he'd been drawn with a big Superman logo to go with his bling-bling.

The Lifesize Richard Simmons Cardboard Cutout

My buddy Breto passed this on to me years ago as a kind of Viewmont High heirloom for guys with quirky senses of humor. I was going to pass it on to this kid named Christian, but then he stopped returning my phone calls (which also left me with his bootleg copy of the Beatles' "Let it Be" documentary, incidentally). So now whenever folks swing by the old bachelor pad, they always get a little quality time with Richard Simmons. If they want to spend some quality time with his lower half, they have to go to my parents' basement and go through some of my storage.

The Tabasco Bottle

One cold winter night in 1994, I dropped into the local Dee's Family Restaurant on 5th South in Bountiful with my good friends Brian and Ben. As we slid across the vinyl seats and took up our positions in a remote booth, Brian picked up this bottle of Tabasco Sauce and said something about how a friend of his had chugged one once. Upon hearing this, our waiter told Brian he'd give him five dollars if he'd do it. Five minutes later, Brian was screaming and dumping glassfuls of water down his enflamed esophagus with one hand and desperately clutching five dollar bills with the other. Ben and I rock-paper-scissored it to see who got to keep the bottle, and the rest is history.

The Nutters Trophy

This one is an actual White Elephant gift, my score from semi-traditional Christmas Date #1 in December 2007. The most coveted prize of the evening was an eighteen inch white ceramic Cockatoo-won ultimately by Mr. Dan Moench-but I was most pleased to accept my consolation prize, a small statue of a basketball player in very humiliating shorts.

The Rubber Viking Helmet

The Rubber Viking Helmet has seen plenty of action over the years, first as a key prop in the Salt Lake Institute News Network Skit, "Thedon the Friendly Nephite", then as a inspiring "Zombie-Fest" accessory for my friend Mr. John Visser, and finally as my new roommate Dustin's favorite hat. But technically the helmet still belongs to a kid named JR, who actually bought it from a Crossroads Mall Halloween shop back in October of 1998 around the time the two of us were starting a band with Breto. The band lasted through two practices, JR got engaged to a blond, and ten years later, he has still failed to reclaim his rubber helmet.

If he happens to show up for next year's Christmas Date, I'll have a happy surprise for him.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Geriatric Cleansing

One of the most frightening moments of my mission was having to get up in front of the Naperville First Ward Relief Society and tell them my companion and I wouldn’t be accepting dinner appointments unless they started inviting their non-member friends over. But as hairy as it was to deny the culinary generosity of a roomful of middle-aged women, it can’t have compared to what Bishop Pepper Murray had to do to the University 32nd Ward last October.

On orders from a higher authority, Bishop Murray got up at the end of a fast and testimony meeting two months ago and announced that effective January 1st, all membership records for members aged 31 and above would be shipped out. Years of lax rule enforcement were about to come to an end, and thus began the Great Geriatric Cleansing of 2008.

The news wasn’t any surprise to me. I’d been hearing rumors of a singles ward crackdown almost as long as I’d been hearing rumors that Steve Martin had joined the church. It was as common as church ball fights and three-week engagements. But after that meeting, the rumors became reality.

The initial reaction was pretty predictable. Of the 64 members of the ward who were about to get laid off (Bishop Murray wasn’t crazy about the expression “kicked out”), a few bailed immediately, a few circled the wagons and began lobbying for realigned age restrictions and special FHE groups for exiled members, and a few like me just sat back and figured they’d use the two month window to weigh their options.

I didn’t have any interest in joining the lobbyists any more than I wanted to go to those special parties people throw on Valentine's Day when they aren't dating anyone. If God wanted me out, then I didn’t want to stick around. And just because I was getting the boot because of some arbitrary age requirement didn’t mean I had to abandon my friends and start hanging out exclusively with people “like me”. Besides, as I’ve looked back at every season of change I’ve gone through, they’ve always come out fine.

Of course, my options didn’t look very promising. The way I see it, come January 1st, I’ve got four doors to choose from:

Door #1: Go to the traditional family ward at the end of my street.

Pro’s: 9am Start Time, convenient 30-second commute, and a few old friends from the U32 who’ve already defected.

Con’s: Depleted dating pool, noisy meetings, possible calling in the scouts program

Odds: Two to One

Door #2: Go to the Monument Park Ward, currently handling the bulk of the 30-45 crowd along the Wasatch Front

Pro’s: Continued membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, slight possibility that Kate from "Lost" will dump the Hobbit, join the church, and attend same ward.

Con’s: 1pm Start Time (plus 2:50 Start Time for Sacrament), 40 minute commute, rough 15-year jump in average age for dating pool, general feelings of disillusionment.

Odds: Ten to One

Door #3: Liquidate assets, buy Harley, go Kerouac for five years, popping in to visit random wards across country along the way

Pro’s: Fulfils lifelong dream, generates constant stream of writing material, maintains semi-faithful activity in church

Con’s: My current lease runs through the end of February, current mutual fund values severely depressed thanks to geniuses behind our current economy

Odds: Eleven to One

Door #4: Inactivity

Pro’s: More time to watch football

Con’s: Possible forfeit of eternal salvation

Odds: I don’t even want to say

No matter which door I choose in two weeks, it’s clear that a decade of time in the world of singles wards is about to come to an end, and I’m going to walk away as single as I was the day I walked first walked into a U32 Sacrament Meeting back in the fall of 1998.

When you look at it that way, it’s easy to assume that I might look back on those years with a lot of regret, and feel like a failure because I didn’t “Graduate With Honors” (one of the most shortsighted expressions ever coined by Church Culture) from the student ward scene. But even though I can think of plenty of times I wish I had been a little braver and talked to some girl in Sunday School, or been a little more direct with dating instead of playing the old LDS Signal Dance, I can’t honestly say that I have any real regrets. Obviously the value of the friendships I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had will outweigh the unrequited dating efforts, but even when it comes to matters of love and marriage, I can sincerely say that I have paid my dues. I may have broken a few hearts, and I know mine has been broken plenty of times too, but I have nothing to apologize for.

In the time since the big announcement, when people aren’t asking me what I’m going to do, they’re usually telling me they hope to still see me around. But while I appreciate their friendship, and imagine I will pop up at an activity from time to time, I kind of think that you rarely do yourself any good by revisiting old relationships. If it’s truly time to move on, then it’s time to move on.

It seems the Lord’s pretty intent on clearing my slate right now. It’s probably for my better, but even though it feels like a steel-toed kick in the junk, I’m guessing I should stay out of His way and let Him do His thing. After all, this whole gig has always been about His timing, and it always will be.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Chick Flick Misnomer

I've been a tad delinquent in my posting lately, though it isn't because I haven't been writing. In fact, I've been doing a lot of writing on a memoir/manifesto project that I hope will soon bring me fame, fortune and the respect I have so rightly deserved for many years now. But I can't really post that stuff, because it would spoil the surprise...

I can, however, write a bit on a subject that came up while working on the memoir/manifesto: Chick Flicks. It continually bothers me that so many people continue to use the term to cover a broad selection of modern films, especially since a few of these films are in my personal library. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I resent any threat to my hard-earned machismo, and so I must address this topic in a public forum. Once and for all, this debate must be settled.

Many people use the term "Chick Flick" to describe any movie that includes a romantic subplot beyond anything more than providing a hot love interest for the hero while he blows up bad guys (see any film starring The Rock). But this characterization is far too broad. Upon further review, I have decided that what the uneducated Philistines of our population deem Chick Flicks are really two separate categories: true Chick Flicks...and Romantic Comedies.

Some people may say that I'm just arguing semantics here. These people are idiots. Simply put, there is a big difference between "Sleepless in Seattle" and the six-hour PBS version of Jane Austin's "Pride and Prejudice". That difference is this: a girl won't have too much trouble getting a guy to watch "Sleepless in Seattle" with her, but there is no way on God's green earth that a man will ever watch "Pride and Prejudice", no matter how lonely, pathetic or sexually-deprived he is. Even Collin Firth's dad wouldn't do it.

Don't misunderstand me; Romantic Comedies, other than being funny (most of the time, anyway), are indeed designed for a primarily female audience. But they are also designed to accommodate a male audience, because those males are usually the ones paying for the date. They use humor (John Cusack) and eye candy (Kate Beckinsale) to change an obligatory experience into potentially enjoyable one. They have side characters and subplots that are genuinely well-written and insightful. I'm sure that Chick Flicks have these, too, but these additional items are not there for the sake of the male audience. They are there to enhance the experience of the women who have gathered for Girls' Nights Out as they sit together in a common living room wearing pajamas, painting each other's nails, burning pictures of ex-boyfriends, discussing the economic condition of Kenya, or doing whatever it is that girls do when they hang out together. (I think a lot of them play Bunko).

There is a dangerous middle ground, however, where what one thinks is an innocent Romantic Comedy is actually designed to promote discussion and soul-searching between a man and a woman who are in a more advanced stage of their relationship. I like to call this the "When Harry Met Sally" zone.

But if we label all of these movies Chick Flicks, then I am denied the enjoyment of some of my all-time favorite movies, such as "Moonstruck" and "Tootsie", which happens to be a wonderful movie where Dustin Hoffman dresses like a horribly unattractive woman in order to pay his rent and score Jessica Lange. It also features Bill Murray in one of his finest supporting roles. These films are absolutely about romance and love and the male-female dynamic...but they are not Chick Flicks.

So let us review...

Chick Flicks: Pretty much anything based on a Jane Austen novel, with the noted exception of the locally-made film "Pride and Prejudice", which features the Darcy character driving a 1967 AC Cobra 427.

Romantic Comedies: Pretty much anything with Meg Ryan, including "Top Gun".

Thank you for your time. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to my manifesto.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Gas Relief and the Vast Scooter Underworld

When gas prices finally began to settle late last summer, I refused to get too excited too soon. Every previous dip had been followed by an even nastier spike, and suffice to say, I harbored no trust for the economic masterminds running the gas business. Until the price dips below $3.00, I told myself, I won’t acknowledge any bubble bursting.

Well, I just drove past a Maverick station that was selling unleaded at $1.59 a gallon, and from what I understand, we Utahn’s are still paying more than the national average. It appears the bubble has burst…and taken my mutual funds with it.

At one point last summer I briefly considered the prospect of buying a motor scooter, not unlike the classic Vespa Toad drives into a garbage can at the beginning of “American Graffiti”. Eventually Toad scored the cute blond, so going the scooter route can’t be that bad an idea, right? Surely a scooter couldn't harm my machismo anymore than owning a copy of "Serendipity" or listening to the occasional Carpenters tune already has?

Well, my scooter flirtings never materialized, but I did get an exclusive peek into the vast scooter underworld on a recent Suarez around the greater Salt Lake area with my buddy Chidsey. Chidsey and I were on a mission to acquire blank DVD’s to help in my efforts to digitize several years’ worth of Jazz Bear jumbotron clips, and on our way back to the arena, we dropped by a scooter shop to check on a repair job.

See, a few years back, long before our current economic crisis, Chidsey decided to pick up a scooter, because that’s the kind of thing he does. He also goes to see “Evil Dead: The Musical” and dresses like Wonder Woman for Halloween. Chidsey acquired said scooter through alternative channels, secured through a contact made at a scooter convention he attended in Salt Lake. (The answer is yes; there are conventions for scooter enthusiasts, just as there are conventions for Star Trek geeks and Amway salespeople). This contact led him to Holladay and an old man named Buddy, whose backyard featured the scattered remains of approximately two-dozen Vespas. One thousand dollars later, Chidsey left this backyard with a machine that didn’t quite run and didn’t quite have a title.

This was the machine we had come to the scooter shop to check on. Chidsey dropped the thing off back in August, and by mid-November was still waiting for the return of his ride. Where I come from (Bountiful), we call this “lousy service”.

When we entered the shop, we were met with a dazzling array of brightly colored motor scooters, all shined up and ready to hit the road at no more than 40mph. We made our way past all the tempting little machines to the service desk at the back, which was manned by the kind of guy who used to smoke pot behind your high school while quoting Allen Ginsburg. Actually the whole place was manned by these guys, which made you surprised that they still had anything in stock and hadn’t just gotten bored and given them all away one lazy Tuesday.

When Chidsey identified himself and described the scooter in question, the service guy’s eyes brightened a bit and he said this:

“Yeah, that one’s coming along.”

At this point I need to mention that I admire Chidsey for not reaching across the counter and pulling the scooter boy over it by his naughty bits. Because to me, “coming along” is an unsatisfactory explanation for a three-month service job on a 40-year-old piece of machinery that runs on what appeared to be a weed whacker engine.

But I could be wrong. Perhaps in the world of secondary transportation, speedy response is not a high standard. Maybe scooters are kind of like Ferrari’s, and need the tender hands-on attention of a seasoned expert, the kind of guy who, say, keeps a lot of spare parts strewn around his backyard.

But there’s another part of me that feels like this guy was a symbol for life in general, at least the part of it that is out of our hands. You can try to control everything in your life, you can try to micro-manage, but ultimately, whether it’s gas prices, the stock market, or my prospects for a third roommate to cover my lease, there are aspects of an advanced society that always seem to wind up in the hands of a stoned beatnik with a lot of time on his hands. We can try to learn patience, or we can beat the beatnik into bloody submission, but neither option is going to get our scooter back any quicker.

At least when we do get it back, it won’t break the bank to fill up the tank.