New Year’s

I am not superstitious, but I always feel an obligation to be happy and celebrate New Year’s for no other reason than the belief that the way you spend midnight on New Year’s Eve is an indicator of how your next year will go. This year, I chose not to go back to visit my family for New Year’s, and my closest friends are off doing their own things, so I’m facing the realization that I may have to spend New Year’s without people who are close to me. It’s a bad omen. This whole week has been pretty shitty to me and I don’t even feel like celebrating, but still, there’s that sense of obligation.

Unlike many people, I am not so much into the getting-shitfaced-drunk-to-make-myself-feel-better thing, so now I’m really in a quandary. Do I go to some party with people I don’t know all that well and pretend to like the smell of cheap vodka and the loud distorted music, or… hmm, well I suppose the only other option is to sit at home by myself and eat ice cream while watching some octogenerian TV host struggle to smile through Botox-infused face-lifted plaster of leathery skin as he does the countdown to 2007. Maybe cheap vodka isn’t so bad after all. Sad.

How are you spending New Year’s Eve?

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Money, it’s a gas.

I love going to the farmer’s market near my house. Fruits and vegetables are far fresher there than at any supermarket. The other day, while browsing through the produce, I noticed one of the farmers grab a bag full of tomatoes from his stall, saunter over to the stall next to him, and exchange his tomatoes for a bag of persimmons.

For some reason, seeing the barter system still alive and kicking, in the heart of Silicon Valley in the 21st century, warmed my heart. There was no credit cards or PayPal transactions involved. Aside from the fact that these farmers probably had Palm Treos or Blackberries in their pockets while doing the exchange, this transaction was probably much as it was thousands of years ago.

Seeing this actually inspired me to go and read up a little on the history of money. If you think about it, money is really one of mankind’s greatest inventions, much like the alphabet. (All you hippies who are going to pipe up with ‘money is the root of all evil’ can go shove it.) Like the alphabet, money lubricates the gears of human social interaction by allowing easy transfer of something purely abstract (ideas in the case of alphabet, value in the case of money). Call me a bourgeoise capitalist pig, but I’d be willing to bet that the concept of money will exist as long as human civilization does.

Accordion Hero

I was at Fry’s the other day (yeah, okay, I’m a computer geek, what do you expect) and saw a Guitar Hero demo set up. Never one to resist playing with a new toy, I tried to play along with a song at the “Mentally Challenged Double-Amputee Chimpanzee” level, or whatever the easiest difficulty level was. Whatever it was, it wasn’t easy enough.

I was surrounded by a bunch of nine-year-olds who were clearly way better at this game than me. They were giving me sad, annoyed-yet-compassionate looks as I tried to keep up with the music, the way you’d look at a guy in a wheelchair blocking everybody’s path at the triathlon sign-up booth. I came away from my Guitar Hero experience knowing that I will never be asked to join Metallica. If they had, say, a Triangle Hero, or Kazoo Hero game, I’d be willing to try that. But guitars? I ain’t got rhythm, baby.

When I came home, I discovered that someone made an open-source Guitar-Hero-like game, Frets on Fire and, since I’m a masochist starving for punishment, I downloaded it. The most absolutely kick-ass bitchin’ awesome thing about this game is the control scheme. You pick up the keyboard and hold it like a guitar. The F1 through F5 keys are the frets. You get to rock out while holding a computer keyboard! If you had any illusions of being cool, just wait until you start strumming on your keyboard.

As a future celebrity who’s getting paid millions by ad agencies, I fully endorse this service or product.

Shaved and deadly

I took some time off recently to visit Southern California and swing by Joshua Tree National Park and a couple of other scenic places. The terrain of SoCal is pretty different from the Bay Area. Namely, there are cactuses. Cactii. Whatever.

I recalled getting pricked by a cactus needle a couple of years back when I was in Arizona and that it wasn’t very fun, so I decided to be extra-careful this time. Imagine my surprise when I was walking in Joshua Tree park and saw a prickly pear cactus that looked like it had been freshly shaved. The little pimple-points where the spines are supposed to grow were there, all right, but there were no needles. “I wonder if the rangers shaved off the needles to make it safer for hikers,” I thought to myself, not realizing at the time how ridiculous it sounded. Curious, I reached out and glided my hand over the surface of the cactus.

The cactus was not shaved. In fact, the needles had been quite intact, but were so thin and light that they were completly unnoticeable. Until about a billion of them embedded themselves in my palm, that is. I jerked my hand back and, upon closer examination, saw that my palm had sprung what looked like very fine blonde hairs. I had always known that I was in danger of growing hair on my palms, but I didn’t think it would be this painful. Tiny droplets of blood welled up underneath some of the needles. Others were so thin that even though I felt pain, as if from a splinter, every time I moved my hand or fingers in the slightest, I could not see them unless I examined my skin from a couple of inches away.

Cursing my stupidity, I spent the next half hour gingerly trying to extract the spines from my hand. This is when I found out that evolution had graced the prickly pear cactus with needles that were, in fact, barbed on the ends. Try pulling them out. Not fun. Mostly, the process succeeded in transferring the needles that were embedded in the palm of my right hand to embed them in the fingers of my left hand. It took over a day until I could no longer feel them stabbing my skin every time I touched something with my hands.

Moral of the story: don’t trust a shaved cactus.

Chestnuts roasting on the open fire of hell

I really don’t get why all the stores play Christmas music this time of the year. I mean, first of all, does anyone actually like listening to Christmas music? I find it annoying as hell, but maybe that’s because I’m an un-Christian heathen. I wouldn’t find it all that annoying if they played it, say, a couple of days before Christmas, and maybe on Christmas day itself. But the stores are now engaged in an escalating arms race with each other to see who can pull off starting the Christmas theme the earliest. You can’t even be safe assuming the madness will only start after Thanksgiving. Now the wreaths go up in October. If my calculations are correct, by 2010, stores will be doing Christmas sales starting in August.

If I ran a store, I’d try to differentiate myself from my competitors. That’s why I’d play heavy metal Satanic music during the Christmas holidays. (In marketing, they call that a “niche play”.) My store would be a refuge and a safe haven for all those folks who are annoyed to death hearing “Jingle Bells” over and over and over and over again wherever they go. These people could come into my store and relax in the nurturing atmosphere of guttural voices screaming about blood and destruction. I might even put pentagrams and bloody handprints on the walls.

It’s the Christmas spirit.

Getting fit the old-school way

For someone like me who never wins a raffle, it was a thrill to win a kettlebell in some random online drawing. What’s a kettlebell, you say? I didn’t really know, either. You know those old cartoons where they have the prototypical carnival strongman, who wears a striped shirt, has a long mustache, and lifts weights that look like cannonballs with a handle on top? Those cannonballs are kettlebells, it turns out. Think of it like a regular dumbbell, except with a totally retro look to it. So, anyway, I won one.

My first tough decision was choosing a size. They come in different weights, none of them sane. You’d expect them to be available in sizes like 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs, and so on. Or, for the internationally-minded, 5 kg, 10 kg, 15 kg, etc. But no, they come in weights of 1 pood, 1.5 pood, 2 pood, and so on. What the hell is a pood? A pood is 16 kilograms. Nice, isn’t it? Who wants a sane system that just any mortal can understand? Not the kettlebell people, that’s for sure.

Most places recommend starting working out with a 1 pood (16 kg, 35 lb, for those paying attention) kettlebell. That’s really what I should’ve gotten. But my ego writes checks that my body can’t cash. (My ego also dabbles in stock day-trading and keeps making wire transfers to some guy in the Caribbean. I’m not sure what’s going on there.) So, I decided to get a 20 kg (44 lb) kettlebell, since I figured I’m no average beginner!

The package arrived being carried by a wheezing UPS guy who had to carry a 44-lb cannonball up 3 flights of stairs. And back down, since I wasn’t home. And back up again a day later, on the 2nd delivery attempt. So far, the UPS guy got a far better workout out of this thing than I did.

So now I’m faced with this big, black, cast-iron monstrosity. It sits in my living room, mocking me. I trip over it whenever I get up from my couch and go to the kitchen.

Well, at least it’s not a Bowflex.