Thursday, June 10, 1999

it's a conspiracy

There is nothing quite like a good conspiracy theory, and even they have nothing on the really far-out ones.

Bad or cheesy conspiracy theories are easy to come up with -- just ask the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy. During the 1950s, he was able to whip up enough hysteria over communism to create dozens of rabid theories.

During the McCarthy era, everything was a Red plot. The decision to put fluorides in our drinking water was a communist attempt to alter our precious bodily fluids. The invention of margarine was a Red plot to undermine the dairy industry.

Actually, even good conspiracy theories are easy to come up with. Just find something or someone you don't like, find a few unrelated coincidences -- only two or three are necessary, but friends and family enjoy it more if you can list a couple dozen -- and then use some logic too sketchy to find fault with.

If coincidences aren't readily available and you can't make any up, a cover-up is always a good defensive posture to take since critics are reluctant to engage in further discussion at this point.

An example of a conspiracy at this point could be:

"The federal government is covering up UFO activity in the Northeast because it has an arrangement with the aliens to sell the citizens of Rhode Island for mind-control experiments, in exchange for technology. I had some evidence but it was all destroyed."

I can't argue with that one, can you? Just as a side note, my oldest brother once bought our father a $1 million insurance policy against abduction by aliens, payable in annual increments of $1. It's too bad Dad lives in Pennsylvania; we'll never get to collect now.

Aliens and government make for some of the best conspiracy theories -- and remember, there really is no conspiracy afoot among our elected officials, they just want us to think there is -- but my personal favorite has to be the media conspiracy. I don't know why; I guess I just get a kick out of hearing how powerful I am. The news media supposedly are engaged in an all-out assault on, well, everything.

If you believe the conspiracy buffs, we're out to see Bill Clinton appointed president for life, wipe out the Republican Party, cover up murders at area movie theaters, eradicate traditional morals and religious beliefs, and back business interests in New Jersey at the expense of the common man.

Oddly enough, we're also working hard to get President Clinton removed from office, wipe out all the third parties, undermine local businesses, enforce a harsh moral code that makes the Inquisition look like a day in the park, and smear all the businesses in New Jersey so they can't function any more.

Apparently there are a couple high-level conspiracies and I haven't been initiated into either one. (Actually I have, but when they hired me I had to swear in blood not to tell.)

Truth to tell, there aren't enough truly soulless people to manage any one of these large-scale conspiracies, not even in the federal government. Sooner or later, someone would feel bad for all the people in Rhode Island and would crack, and the whole thing would come out unless it were an episode of "X-Files."

I used to get annoyed by people who accuse the federal government of blowing up buildings in Oklahoma City, who feel the news media are the Great Satan for not obsessing as much as they do, or who are afraid to admire the beauty of the stars because of the little bug-eyed aliens in their minds.

But after a while, it occurred to me that they're only like that because of the satellites broadcasting microwave signals directly into their minds from Rhode Island that we in the media have refused to cover, and so I figure it's OK if they're like that.

Thursday, June 03, 1999

voice of destruction

As I've grown older, I've started hearing voices. These voices aren't the sort that lead people to commit horrific crimes and make the news after a three-state police hunt, but I sometimes wonder if they don’t come from a different office in the same abyss.

What I'm talking about is the sort of voice that innocently asks, "Remember when you ...?" and sends people on a trip down memory lane.

It's a voice that makes people spend $15 to buy a videotape of an old "Speed Racer" episode they didn't like anyway. It's a voice that makes us go on wild roller coasters when we're told to keep our lunch down afterward. It's a voice that compels us to revisit childhood haunts and activities while making us forget how awful we thought they were at the time.

It's the voice of Satan, and it should be ignored at all costs. I know this because I recently let myself listen to this voice, and am still paying the price three weeks later.

On this particular occasion, the voice was all excited about bicycling. Investing a couple hundred dollars in a nice bike would give me the chance to spend more time outside, and if I rode the bike to work instead of driving, it would save us gas money and leave me a healthier man by summer’s end.

Despite the fond memories of riding my bike that the voice manufactured for me, I've never had a good relationship with bicycles. I used to ride one five miles every day on my paper route for The Pittsburgh Press, and in my 10 years as a paperboy, I had all the problems young boys have with bikes at that age.

The most frequent problem was getting my pants caught in the bike chain. For some reason, my first bike never had a chain guard, and my jeans -- I hate to admit it, but they probably had to be bell bottoms for this to happen -- would get stuck in the chain. The first time this happened, I fell over and was trapped under the bike for twenty minutes until a customer came out and saw what had happened.

My oldest brother, with his inimitable fashion sense, suggested wrapping my socks around the bottom of my pants to keep them from becoming stuck. Instead, I let my pants get caught a few more times, and finally just installed a chain guard.

On top of my paper-delivery spills and wrecks, I had a few more spectacular bike mishaps on my own time. I wiped out once on a gravel road one time and had to walk home with a red, raw leg. Another time, I took a trip over the handlebars that taught me the fear of God, steep hills, unseen potholes, and broken asphalt. Especially broken asphalt.

Fifteen years later, my forehead still has a few marks from one, and probably a few embedded bits of asphalt too.

But somehow that sweet-talking voice made me forget all that, and I ended up buying a 21-speed trail bike that I can use for my commute on slow days and ride off-road on the weekend on the area's wooded bike paths.

Commuting by bike has been an enlightening experience about New Jersey drivers I never would have received in a car. This has to be the only state in the union where motorists give bicyclists the finger for riding on the shoulder of the road. Nowhere else, I am sure do, drivers tailgate a bicyclist who's not moving 40 mph, even when there are other lanes to change to.

I take Route 514 for several miles during my commute, and even as a motorist I'm aware that it's a busy road, with cars and trucks whizzing by at 50 mph in some portions. And while traffic hardly flies on Route 206, with its perpetual gridlock, there are more than enough cars to make you feel vulnerable when all you have is a helmet to protect you.

With this in mind, it's easy to see what could have happened a few weeks ago, when I was riding my bike to work on a Thursday morning. I had forgotten to eat breakfast that morning, and was hypoglycemic about halfway through the trip. Despite this, I managed Route 514 all right, and even Route 206 was no problem.

The office parking lot was a killer.

I was literally about 100 yards from the office. I was going around a corner a little too fast, taking it a little too wide, and I saw a car coming. I didn't need to, but I put the brakes on ... a little too hard.

As the driver and his passenger watched, my bike screeched to a halt, and I flew over the handlebars onto the asphalt. I scraped my chest and legs on the ground, banged up both legs, and sprained my wrist and little finger so badly I couldn't use my right hand much for a week. I must have lost consciousness too, because I remember waking up to see people all around me.

"You klutz," my wife later said. "How can you have an accident in the parking lot?"

My co-workers were more sympathetic, but I think freelancer Minx McCloud summed it up for everyone when she came in and found me limping around the office.

"I feel badly about you being hurt in your accident, but I can't help but laugh at the thought of you flying over the handlebars," she said. "If only I had been in a bit earlier. I was having a lousy day and needed to laugh at the misfortune of others."

I'm not sure, but I think that voice of Satan might have been hers all along.