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June 2 1998, Tuesday



  find myself obsessively checking the web statistics pages for various places I've linked to at whim, seeing how much traffic I can dump into other sites. It's the bestowing of an almost sadistic bounty, an indication of an immature grip on the reins of power. (Similar indications are evident in biblical accounts of YHWH and the myths surrounding ancient Greek gods and kings.) It reminds me of when I was a kid and used to feed the ants sugar and then design obstacles of saliva for them to negotiate on their way to free lunch. It's a pointless obsession, like playing computer games. By the way, Nancy has lots and lots of games, but I haven't played any of them. Nor have I watched any videotapes or even much teevee. I'm in a mode that demands that I work, since only work, the sort of thing that brings returns in the real world, has any meaning to me. I've been that way most of my life. My father is the same way. Producing things is our only pleasure. I don't know how socializing fits into all this, since I seem to enjoy doing that as well. But sometimes I'd rather just be alone than deal with the work necessary to socialize. Overall, then, I'd say this week of isolation is working well for me.


ut unlike yesterday, today I decided to get out of the house. I rode the mountain bike into downtown Bethesda to Bethesda Avenue, since I really don't have a sense of any other place to go in the town. I'd filled the water bottle with dilute ice vodkatea, since my being somewhat drunk imparts a pleasant - slightly comic - quality to unfamiliar places.

In the Barnes and Noble I tried to read magazines on subjects that interest me, but that was a problem, since there are no good magazines about the World Wide Web. The magazines I found myself looking at (and I've forgotten the names already) were vapid and insulting; I guess I've been spoiled by too many Jon Katz columns.

Quite a few "customers" in the Barnes and Noble were actually taking naps, including a cozy young upper middle class white couple crammed together in an overstuffed high-backed chair.

I wandered around in search of, I don't know, adventure, kindred spirits, evidence that people enjoy living in this town, that sort of thing. Instead I found myself in a Staples looking at the mice and sipping my vodkatea. Prices were remarkably competitive with catalogue prices, which indicates that Staples must be paying unusual attention to the rates at which technology prices decline.

You know you're in the city when you find yourself looking for a bathroom. I had to go to the Giant supermarket on two occasions just to pee because I could find no convenient places in the not-especially-big outdoors.

I went to Bethesda Bagels and got myself a big messy cream cheese everything bagel along with a cream-cheese-free everything bagel. Then I went out front and sat on a bench, doing my best to redistribute the cream cheese riches between the two (Nancy had suggested this procedure to me a few days ago). It was a lot of food for only two dollars.

Then I just sat there, soaking in the pleasant shade and watching people and their antics. Some more observations about Bethesda:

  • There are a lot of Lexus cars (Lexi?). Despite the hype on all the teevee newsmagazines, I didn't know very many people (insecure of their perceived status) actually bought them.
  • There are also a lot of Mercedes, not a big shocker.
  • Unlike Charlottesville, there aren't that many Volvos.
  • Lots of people, especially smartly-dressed women, like to walk around talking loudly to whomever about intensely personal issues over their microscopic cellular phones.
  • There are lots of bicycles and irritatingly health-conscious bicycle people (as well as others of a similar breed: career joggers and roller bladers). You know the kind: mid-30s, extremely muscular, suntanned, and wearing not very many clothes as they whiz by in an instant.
  • There are also lots of preteen skaters that go around in packs of a half dozen or so. For the first time ever I saw a group of them who couldn't skate very well; they must have been just starting out.
  • People linger in places and exchange lots of eye contact with perfect strangers, but since they're so busy, they only stay for a short time and then move on.

The other big Bethesda Avenue hangout spot (such that it is) is in front of the Barnes and Noble. This is where people really seem to get into the game of scoping each other out with something akin to deadly seriousness. The women mostly wear sunglasses so as to cloak the actual actions of their eyes. But you can still read their body language, which reveals even more than normal - the sunglasses paradoxically cause them to let down their guard. I snapped a few discrete pictures with my digital camera as I witnessed the goings on, but I think I missed all the really good stuff. The Panasonic Coolshot is a pretty good spy camera; it is very small and can be made to give no indication that it is doing anything as you snap away.

A young woman scoping out the Barnes and Noble scene as pedestrians bubble up from Bethesda Avenue.

A couple little girls in hippie dresses cavort near the water fountain in front of Barnes and Noble. Note the man in the background talking on his cellular phone.

A well-scrubbed mid-30s-ish family showed up, pushing their three kids in a grey futuristic ærodynamic high-impact plastic stroller. To contain three kids front to back, the thing had to be as long as a motorcycle. I didn't envy the parents, even though they seemed very proud of themselves and the warped family-oriented display they were making. It's becoming increasingly clear that the demographics of Bethesda divide mostly into two categories:

  • Upper-middle-class white people in their mid 30s with nice District of Columbia jobs and several kids
  • Upper-middle-class white people in their mid 30s with nice District of Columbia jobs and an obsession with exercise

Not fitting into either camp, I really don't see Bethesda as a good town to go bald in.

The only black people I saw in town today was the big black woman with the scary black and green nails in Bethesda Bagels and a group of kids, a school group from a distant neighborhood, that fanned out trying to sell candy to pedestrians.

I'd been hoping to see the Mayor of Bethesda Avenue; we'd talked by telephone and arranged to run across each other somewhere in his small jurisdiction. But towards 7pm, huge angry clouds were building up in the west, and it seemed best if I just rode home.

As small droplets smacked me, I accelerated. About half way, huge rain drops began to fall. I wasn't getting very wet, since these drops were few in number and I kept under the trees at the sides of streets. But when I did venture out into the open, the droplets smacked me harshly. Some felt as though they contained bits of ice. I made it back to shelter not a moment too soon.

Great balls of ice, some about the size of marbles, rained down from the skies, making a terrible racket on my Dart and the porch roof. I collected one and bit through it to have a look at the layers. In the very middle was a seed, about a millimeter in longest dimension (a large and unusual condensation nucleus if you ask me). The ice layers were thick and there were only about three of them.


hen the stormed had passed, I tried to log in to Nancy's internet provider,, but their connection to the Internet was severed and wouldn't be up until morning. So I had to content myself with other things.

Downloading pictures from my digital camera proved tricky. Nancy's computer is a Windows 95 machine that uses a serial mouse. Since my camera needed a nine-pin serial connector and her only nine pin serial port was occupied with the mouse, I had to make do with no mouse at all during the picture download. Windows 95 isn't completely impossible without a mouse, but it's kind of tricky. It was certainly more usable than a mouseless Macintosh.

But then, trying to get everything working after I was done with the camera, I ran into big problems. After much head scratching, I ended up uninstalling and reinstalling the modem. Now it's all working fine. You know, I'd been trying to shoot for a sort of low-impact use of this computer. Oh well.

As I worked on my downloaded pictures, I listened to and watched VH1. It featured a fascinating biographic piece on Ozzy Osborne. I especially liked the part that documented the time he impulsively bit the head off a white dove during a press conference.

Whipping pictures into shape on Nancy's computer has proved impossible. I'm used to the kind of control Photoshop gives me. I have no such control with Nancy's rudimentary programs, which don't allow cropping, combining images, free rotation, or specific localized use of filters. Nancy's highly regarded graphic technique evidently embraces these limitations and works within them, but I find them unhelpfully impacting my creativity. Posting the images in this entry are about the limit of what I can do, though for some reason the JPEGs ended up being 100K each and I can find no way to make them smaller. I guess I can take care of them later.


he cats pester me occasionally as I work and I have to stop everything and pet them for fear that if I don't, they'll require expensive psychiatric treatment some day. Providing this affection is not as easy as it sounds; I'm kind of allergic to the scruffier of the two black and white cats, who I have taken to calling "Fangy" in tribute to her unusually long canine teeth. She spends much of her time at my feet in the computer room. The other black and white cat, "Fluffy" is her working name, makes some exceeding strange vocalizations that sound like a human speaking an unfamiliar non-Indo European language. She likes to sleep with me every night. Then there's "Droolia," the calico. She spends most of her time out on the front porch, although she drools and whines a lot when she comes inside. She hates the other two and (according to Nancy) probably can't distinguish between them.


one year ago
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