31 August 2008

It Didn't Take Long

Something like 24 hours, if that, before rumors about VP candidate Sarah Palin's allegedly faked pregnancy started sweeping across the internet. So far none of the mainstream media seem to be touching it, but unless some substantive evidence comes up to disprove the story, it can't be long before it surfaces.

Supposedly the five-month old baby born with Down Syndrome actually belongs to her teenage daughter, who disappeared from public view during the final five months during Governor Sarah's alleged pregnancy, and photos taken of the governor when she would have been seven months pregnant, seem to reveal little or no evidence of a baby bulge.

There is more supporting evidence (or insinuation, if you prefer): here's just a couple of the thousands of blog entries that have already popped up on the subject: Fame Crawler and the Daily Kos.

What are the chances of it being true, and if so, what effect is it likely to have on the campaign? Well, if it's not true, it should be fairly easy to put paid to the rumors with DNA evidence and/or testimony from the attending physician, though the Palin campaign might shrink from dignifying the allegations by responding to them at all. If there is anything to it, well, it might or might not derail her campaign. Think, for example, of all the cocaine-snorting charges hurled at George Bush during the 2000 election: while they provided further ammunition for Bush-haters, they didn't seem to deter his fans to any great degree.

And while Palin could be attacked on family-values and hypocrisy grounds - if she can't even keep her 16-year-old daughter on the straight and narrow, where does she come off trying to lay down fundamentalist anti-abortion policy for every woman in the land? - she could also win some sympathy votes. Most families at one time or another have had some sort of secret scandal, and while the Palin story, should it be true, is a bit more Southern, er, Northern Gothic than most, quite a few parents might see an element of nobility in a mother going to such lengths to protect her daughter's reputation and future. If, on the other hand, it can be spun as Governor Palin's attempt to protect her own reputation and future... Well, obviously it can go either way. In any event, the "official" campaign of 2008 seems to be getting off the sort of whiz-bang start that may not have been seen since the days of "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!" (Grover Cleveland, 1884). Good news for the media and American Government teachers trying to elicit interest from bored teenagers; maybe not so good for those hoping for a sober and dignified discussion of the issues. Either way, I suspect it's going to be the most interesting election we've had in a long time.

30 August 2008

(Not So) Beautiful Losers

Up until Obama gave his acceptance speech Thursday night, I'd been mentally composing a diatribe about how the Democrats seemed to place more of a premium on looking good in defeat than on actually gaining and wielding power. You're familiar with the syndrome, I'm sure, especially if you live in or near one of our latte-sipping capitals: people looking up from their copy of the Times or the New Yorker to deliver a pursed-lip sneer at "that idiot Bush" or "those red state morons" when in fact they are more interested in validating their own cultural and moral superiority than in actually doing the hardscrabble work necessary to effect an actual change in the way government works (or, as increasingly seems to be the case, fails to).

We saw Al Gore and John Kerry in turn throw away what should have been easy victories because of their petulant "I can do it myself, Mommy" refusal to wield the slightly tacky but still powerful weapon that was Bill Clinton, and by their slightly wonky, cerebrally aloof manner that alienated millions of potential Democratic voters who might have sensed that George W. Bush had little if anything in common with their interests, but nonetheless related to him because he came across like a normal human being instead of a computer-generated composite candidate.

I'm still concerned that Obama will manage to blow the election in a not dissimilar manner, even though - or perhaps because - he comes across as being at least twice as smart and ten times more eloquent than the disastrous Gore-Kerry diumvirate. Even though I don't particularly care for Hillary Clinton, I was astounded when Obama chose, with all due respect, an old hack like Joe Biden as his VP candidate when putting Hillary on the ticket would have virtually guaranteed him victory in November. That plus a summer of waffling and a few too many platitudes had me convinced that we had yet another presidential contender who was more concerned about looking good in defeat than doing what it took to win.

Obama's rousing football stadium performance went some way toward allaying my concerns, though I in no way thought it the masterpiece of oratory that the MSNBC and CNN talking heads seem to think it was. Are none of them old enough to have seen a Kennedy speech, I wondered (that's JFK, not Bobby, who in my opinion suffered from Obama-itis himself)? My criterion: if I'm watching something on TV, be it a political speech, a movie, a football game, whatever, and find myself gradually starting to poke around on the internet instead of paying full attention, then something's lacking. Granted, when as a young boy I listened to Kennedy speak, he didn't have to compete with the internet or much else in that pre-multimedia age. But what made his rhetoric so riveting was the way he could artfully blend the profound and the profane, mixing high concept political philosophy with down and dirty ward politics. Obama comes closer to that level of discourse than any politician I've seen since the days of JFK, but he's not there yet, and bear in mind that Kennedy barely won the election (some say it was just as surely stolen as was Bush's 2000 triumph) against an opponent considerably less attractive (though perhaps with a bit more substance) than John McCain.

Still, the Obama show was as impressive a spectacle as anyone has seen in American politics in recent memory, if ever, and if they'd gone whole hog and hired the Chinese architects of the Olympics opening ceremony to orchestrate it, the election might have been all wrapped up by Friday morning. Until, that is, wily John McCain took advantage of Obama's nixing-Hillary blunder to slip a fast one past the Democrats by nominating a VP out of far right field and instantly wipe about 90% of the orgy of wasn't-Obama-wonderful musings right off the media map.

True to form, Democrats laughed and sneered at the seemingly oddball choice of Sarah Palin, and you can't entirely blame them. While Obama's rally offered at least a whiff of Triumph Of The Will, McCain's unveiling of Palin was pure, unabashed Babbitry. To see McCain awkwardly pawing at the undeniably milfish governor was a bit like nervously watching grandpa at a wedding when he's had more than his customary glass of wine and has possibly forgotten to take his meds: part cringeworthy, part appalled fascination at the prospect of what he might say or do next.

But Palin herself, though far to the right of mainstream America, has a powerful presence that, even if it only energizes the previously uninspired or disenchanted evangelicals, is going to considerably strengthen the McCain ticket. Even though I strongly disagree with her on the great majority of issues, I found her very likable, and imagine she would be a heck of a lot more fun to hang out with than Joe Biden or perhaps even Obama himself. George Bush won his elections, despite also being ideologically out of step with most Americans, on similar grounds, even though his clownish wisecracks and self-deprecating humor never completely disguised the bullying frat boy that was also a part of his persona. Unless Palin does or says something incredibly stupid in the coming campaign (or if the thousands of researchers and bloggers already engaged in frantic archeological excavations of her entire life and career come up with some real scandal), she'll be a more formidable candidate than Bush ever was, to the point where Republican partisans might start to wonder why McCain is heading the ticket instead of her.

The election is still Obama's to lose, but none of this drama would have had to happen if he'd taken the obvious and common sense step of appointing Hillary as his running mate. Hey, JFK by all accounts could barely stand Lyndon Johnson, but he knew that all his high-faluting ideas about New Frontiers and torches being passed to a new generation would amount to zilch if he didn't first accomplish the task of winning the election. I'm not advocating an all-out Macchiavellian approach here, just a little old-fashioned pragmatism. Hell, I don't even know if Obama would turn out to be a great Kennedy-esque President, or a disastrous Carter-esque one (at this point I'd settle, albeit reluctantly, for a reprise of Bill Clinton), but in light of the crises and challenges facing the world today, I think taking a chance on Obama seems immeasurably more appealing than continuing with the dreary rendezvous with catastrophe that the Bush interregnum has proved to be. Now it just remains to be seen whether Obama wants it bad enough to make it happen.

Kayaking On the Hudson

I forgot to mention one of the coolest things Jackson and I did this past week: we were wandering along the Hudson River a bit disconsolately after having just missed the last Circle Line cruise of the day when we noticed a bunch of kayakers splashing around just offshore. Remembering something Patrick Smith had told me about free kayaking for the public, I went up to the Pier 96 Boathouse to investigate. I hadn't been misinformed: anybody who knew how to swim could simply walk up and after signing an affidavit promising not to sue them was given a few minutes instruction, a life jacket, and sent out to sea on his or her very own plastic kayak.

Well, not too far out to sea, granted; you weren't allowed to paddle out any further than the ends of two nearby piers that provided a sort of artificial inlet. But given the size of the waves on even a relatively calm day, not to mention the heavy traffic frequently encountered on the Hudson, it wasn't a bad place to practice one's kayaking skills, at least not for a neophyte like me. Jackson wasn't quite as impressed, having just recently done a 100-mile trip down Utah's rather more rapids-laden Green River, but it was an excellent opportunity for him to instruct his doofus uncle on the finer points of handling a kayak paddle, and in any event, he's always happiest when he's in, on or very near water.

In this case we were a little of each, in that the kayaks not only sit very low, but also take on a fair bit of water even if you don't manage to tip yours over (we didn't; nor did any of our fellow boaters). The downside of this is that even under the best of circumstances you get a fairly damp behind (actually a soaking wet one, if the whole truth be told), and some very wet feet as well. Normally this is not the sort of thing I aspire to, especially when I'm going to have to take a long subway ride shortly afterward, but it was a nice enough day weather-wise and the excitement of being out on the Hudson under one's own paddle-power was more than enough to make up for a mild soaking.

It brought back memories of paddling around in a canoe at my uncle's lake house in Northern Michigan when I was a kid, and made me wonder how I'd let so many years go by without repeating that experience. True, the slightly smelly and probably filthy Hudson is no Long Lake, but I suddenly was overcome with a possibly irrational desire to take a canoe down the Eel River in Northern California, something I could have done but never did during all the years I lived in close proximity to it.

Anyway, kayaking on the Hudson comes with a five-star recommendation from me, and you've got till mid-October to take advantage of it before they shut up shop for the season. And by the way, I don't know how they're funded, whether it's by the city or what, but they've got a box for "donations" at the tables where you check out kayaks, so feel free to chuck in a couple extra bucks to make up for the ones I forgot to drop in, my only excuse being that I was wandering around in a state of blissed-out (and soaking wet) bemusement by the time I set foot on dry land again.

29 August 2008

Hello Again

It's been a while, hasn't it? I don't know if any of you out there rely on regular posts from yours truly for any part of your daily entertainment/information/inspiration quotient, but if by any chance that's the case, I apologize.

I've been playing host and tour guide to my 12-year-old nephew Jackson, and while theoretically it should still have been possible to do a bit of blogging after he went to bed, the fact of the matter is that he was usually up as late as if not later than me, and also that after a full day of trying to keep up with a 12-year-old, I didn't have a whole lot of energy left over.

I promised him this trip last year as a combined Christmas/birthday present, before, I note, I was aware of what rising fuel costs and exchange rates were going to do to the cost of it. But you don't take back a promise to a 12-year-old on economic grounds, do you? Well, I wasn't about to, and I'm glad I didn't.

We spent five days in New York - Jackson's first time ever on the East Coast - and then flew over to London for eight days. While we were there, I idly noted that the Eurostar/Channel Tunnel now made it possible to do day trips to Paris, and the next thing I knew we were getting up at 5 am to do just that. I warned him that there wasn't much to see there but old buildings and French people, but he was all right with that, and assiduously practiced three phrases of French for his trip: je m'appelle Jackson, je ne parle pas français, and mon oncle est un imbécile.

The kid is part water rat, I suspect, because in every town we visited his first impulse was to head for the nearest river, lake, ocean or drainage ditch and wistfully ponder it. As a result, we spent much of our few hours in Paris meandering along the Seine and seeing little to nothing of the buildings and street life above. Eventually I sprung for a boat ride that took us up and down the river so he could at least say he'd seen the Eiffel Tower. His mother, who's a very gifted chef, will no doubt be pleased to learn that the sum total of our experience with French cuisine consisted of a croissant on the Eurostar, a sandwich in the Gare du Nord, and a visit to a Paris branch of le Subway, where we were waited on by a very cheerful girl who helped us with our halting French and gave us coupons that gave us our order for half price. "So not all French people are mean and rude, are they?" he said, and I barely had the heart to tell him that she was actually a North African immigrant.

Seriously, I've never had the problems that some people claim to have with the French, even the Parisians. They seem perfectly nice to me, but then so do New Yorkers (except for the extremely aggressive one who rammed a shopping cart loaded with a television set that he'd no doubt recently stolen into Jackson yesterday and told him to "Get the #$*%^% out of my #$&&% way"). Even the Londoners, who are generally the rudest of the bunch, were pleasant, and that, combined with castles, funny accents, and San Francisco-style weather, caused Jackson to like London best of all. In fact I almost thought he was going to cry when we boarded the plane to leave, though being 12-almost-13, it came out a bit more like an angry scowl.

He got to attend his first Premier League match ever, and I got to my first one since November 2006, and we both had the enormous pleasure of seeing Fulham defeat Arsenal (ironically, the last two matches I've seen both involved Fulham beating Arsenal, something which otherwise hadn't happened in more than 40 years. There was also a reunion of the West Country Walking Society up in Gloucestershire that saw us tramping over some slightly muddy hillsides and then lolling about in the ancient town of Cirencester. We took a double-decker bus to Greenwich and a river boat back to Westminster, crossed the Thames about a dozen times via various bridges, and hung out in Soho and the Portobello Road Market, the latter causing me to wonder why I'd ever left the old neighborhood.

In New York, apart from the usual Empire State Building/Circle Line/Times Square/Staten Island Ferry tourist route, we also took several midnight bicycle rides (until my extra bicycle got stolen the night before we left for London) and attended Jackson's first punk rock concert ever, which happened to be Rancid at Irving Plaza (now, for reasons I don't understand, known as the Fillmore). We got to go backstage and meet the band, and Tim and Matt, who grew up about a mile from where Jackson lives, traded stories with him about middle school and other East Bay stuff. We had excellent seats in the "VIP" section looking right down on the stage, but about midway through the set Jackson pointed at the roiling mass of bodies below us and said "I want to go down there." "I don't know, Jackson, it can get pretty rough in a Rancid pit," I told him. "I know," he said, and headed for the stairs.

Well, I didn't want to tell him that I had never been in a Rancid pit, at least not since the days when they were playing living rooms and coffee houses, but I also wasn't going to let him go down there on his own and then have to explain to his parents about the missing teeth and/or stitches, so I dutifully followed. As it turned out, it wasn't nearly as violent as it had looked from above, though of course there was the usual sprinkling of obese morons who could only show their appreciation for the band by flinging their fists wildly around and trying to trample anyone smaller than themselves into the ground.

I tried to stay close to Jackson and if necessary protect him, but it quickly became obvious that it wouldn't be necessary. The kid was going crazy, like he'd been born to jump and down in a punk rock pit, and was seemingly oblivious and/or impervious to any and all mayhem transpiring around him. In fact, I came closer to getting clocked than he did, and that was probably at a moment when I stopped momentarily to laugh at the incongruous continuity of it all: 60-year-old granddad and 12-year-old neophyte bonding in what by now has become an almost timeless (well, punk rock's been around for more than 30 years, hasn't it? that's gotta be pretty timeless to someone who's 12) ritual. Like Rancid sing in Journey To The East Bay, "No premonition could have seen this."

We also had a couple chances to catch up with Jackson's cousin (and my niece) Gabrielle Bell, who was just back from the Japanese premiere of Tokyo!, a third of which was based on one of her comics, and which she co-wrote with director Michel Gondry. But then it was time for Jackson to go back to California and start 7th grade, which, I'm suspecting, might feel just a bit anticlimactic after the past couple weeks. We took the subway to JFK yesterday (which was when he had the unpleasant encounter with the shopping-cart wielding thug, the only such experience he had in his whole time in New York), and while I was busy trying to instruct him in every rudiment of going through security, boarding the plane, stowing his luggage, etc., he casually strolled away and we didn't even get to say a proper goodbye.

Now the house seems awfully quiet and empty, all except for the refrigerator, which has strangely remained full for an entire day, and any mess and clutter is strictly my own. I guess I never fully understood why people have children - well, not exactly why they have them, but why they're so willing to sacrifice for them, and put their own lives on hold for them, and to put up with all the petty and not-so-petty aggravations that come with them, but now I think I do. Not that Jackson was particularly aggravating; in fact, he was just about as perfect a child as you could ask for. But I suspect his parents have, in the course of the past 12 and a half years put up with the occasional inconvenience in order to raise him and his sister, and yet I've never in all that time heard a word of complaint out of them. Nothing, in fact, except for how proud and happy they were with their children. Now, thanks to my time with young Jackson, I can see why.

08 August 2008

A Little Knowledge Is An Annoying Thing

I caught a little bit of the opening ceremonies from the Olympics and found myself wishing I'd kept up with my Chinese lessons. For the first time in my life, New York, Washington or the United States of America no longer seemed like the center of the world. The technological accomplishment coupled with the national pride and cohesiveness of purpose emanating from Beijing made me feel like a citizen of some minor satrapy situated somewhere on the outer fringes of the new Han Empire.

I never came close to real fluency in Chinese, but in the mid-to-late 70s I could read and write it well enough to decipher simple news articles or the cliché and catch phrase-laden speeches of Chairman Mao and discuss them with my classmates in Berkeley's Asian Studies Department. If I'd stayed at it, chances are that by now I'd qualify for a position as some sort of civil servant, perhaps even a provincial administrator, once the People's Republic completes its takeover of the country once known as America.

All kidding aside, it's hard not to see conflict looming between China and the USA, and we can only hope that it will be limited to the civil, economic and cultural level, because I wouldn't bet too much on our chances militarily. Granted, back in the 70s and 80s it was widely predicted that Japan would be ruling the world by now, but Japan didn't have 1.3 billion people and a government that, for a while now, has seemed almost incapable of putting a foot wrong.

Oh, there's that unpleasantness about Tibet, of course, and the sharp restrictions on free speech, the harsh treatment of dissidents, and all that other very un-American stuff. But so far at least, the Chinese government has not only been getting away with it, they've got away with it and still enjoyed widespread support and affection from their people. Hell, the American government is probably much less popular with Americans, land of the free and all that jazz notwithstanding.

One could be cynical and say that the reason the Chinese government is more popular is that it's delivering the goods, consumer goods, that is, in the form of rapidly increasing prosperity while America seems determined to drag all but a few of its people in the opposite direction, and one would probably be right. Nevertheless, the Mandate of Heaven, which is the classical Chinese version of "God is on our side," looks distinctly like it's residing in the Middle Kingdom these days. By the way, the name Middle Kingdom, which is the literal meaning of Zhong Guo, i.e., China, refers to the idea that China exists midway between heaven and earth, and is also quite literally the center of the world. The rest of us live in the suburbs at best. This notion has been rather fundamental to Chinese cosmology and politics for the better part of 5,000 years now.

Be that as it may, what will really be killing me about the next two weeks of nonstop Olympics coverage is the constant mispronunciation of the host city's name by American newscasters. I've been putting up with this ever since Peking became Beijing, but it's lately been reaching a tin-eared crescendo. Listen, you twits, I don't care how sophisticated and international you think you're being by pronouncing the "j" in Beijing as if were the "zh" sound associated with a French "j." The fact is, you're WRONG, and you sound like an ignorant boob to boot. The "j" in Beijing is very much like and English "j," and if you really want to display your savoir dire, why not try learning the proper tones (falling and rising for "bei", level for "jing") distinguish the words ("Beijing" is actually a compound word meaning "northern capital") from the numerous other uses of "bei" and "jing".

Oh, what's the use. It's hard enough to get people to speak or spell English correctly. But once again, if only I'd kept up my studies and been in line for that provincial administrator job. With the autocratic might of the Beijing government backing me up, you can pretty well bet there wouldn't have to be too many tongues cut out before people stopped mangling the name of the new capital of the world.

02 August 2008

Another Inconvenient Truth

Spent a few days out on Fire Island last week, a grateful guest in a waterfront house that, I discovered, cost more than my annual income to rent for the season (May to September). "It's only that cheap," my host breezily assured me, "because it doesn't have a swimming pool or central air."

I found it more than luxurious enough for my needs, however, luxury for me having, after a couple years in New York, being any place where it's possible to get eight hours of sleep uninterrupted by car alarms, ten-ton trucks threatening to careen into one's living room, drunken, screaming neighbors, or the mingled inadvertent symphony of televisions, radios and stereos emanating from fourteen different apartments.

On the Island, the only late-sound to be heard apart from the gentle lapping of the water against the pier was the distant thump-thump of the disco in "downtown" Cherry Grove (downtown being the intersection of two boardwalks (no streets, no cars) where you can find a handful of bars and restaurants, the Lilliputian post office, and the only grocery store in town.

I use "disco" in the classic sense of the word, as there was a very 70s feel to Cherry Grove, not just in terms of the music, but also in the mores. It felt very pre-AIDS, which was odd, since the Island, like New York City in general, was hit very hard when the epidemic was at its most deadly. And even though it's rare these days to hear of someone dying from AIDS, it's equally rare to encounter a group of gay men in which several of them, if not the majority, are HIV-positive.

Yet it just doesn't seem to be much of an issue anymore. Which is good, great, in fact, on one level. I've met many men who've been positive for 20 or 25 years and are still in good health; some of them have never even had to take drugs for their condition. Most of them are carrying on with their lives as though HIV were barely an issue at all.

What's not so good is that quite a few of them are also carrying on with their sex lives on the same premise. Perhaps I'm guilty of being naive, but for many years I simply assumed that most people who were HIV-positive either had protected sex only, or, if they did have unprotected sex, only with others who were already positive. Okay, I'm not totally naive, and I figured there were bound to be some who were either too antisocial, too drug-addled, or too oblivious to care, but that they were a tiny minority.

Also, there has been an image, built up during the darkest days of the epidemic, not least through movies like Philadelphia, of AIDS victims as martyrs, almost saintlike in their forbearance and acceptance of their fate. When people were dying left and right and there was no available treatment, it seemed almost churlish to view them any other way, or to dwell on the fact that some - not all, certainly, but quite a few - had acquired the virus by way of sexual proclivities in the face of which Caligula might have blushed (sorry, Morrissey).

So it came as a rather rude awakening to me when I discovered that having promiscuous, anonymous unprotected sex has once again become so common on the gay scene that many men find it barely worth commenting on. Granted, I'm basing this on largely anecdotal evidence, but given the proportion of gay men who've unhesitatingly acknowledged having unprotected sex all or part of the time, despite having no knowledge of their partners HIV status (or, in many cases, their names), I think it's safe to say this is more than an occasional aberration.

And given the fact that most gay men I know are neither crazed drug addicts nor sociopaths, and more often than not are from the upper end of the socio-economic spectrum, I'm guessing this is a phenomenon that cuts across the whole of the gay community. And it's not something that's being talked about very much, at least not to my knowledge. Yes, a couple years there were a number of anguished discussions over why certain men would specifically seek out bareback websites or venues, but the subtext was always "certain men," i.e., some mysterious, shadowy group whose existence or motivation couldn't be explained or understood by the majority of "normal" or "responsible" gays.

But if, as it appears to me, unprotected sex has gone mainstream, it's worth asking whether there's a conspiracy of silence around it for political reasons, in much the same way that AIDS is treated differently from all other communicable diseases (it's the only one I know of, for example, in which it's not standard operating procedure to track down the partners of infected individuals). In the 1980s there were, or at least seemed to be, sound reasons for this special treatment; things are very different today. Especially in light of today's news that new HIV infections may be up to 40% more numerous than was previously believed, it's almost certainly time for a bit more candor in and from the gay community. And if you're having sex with men - regardless of whether you're male or female - you might want to think about being even more careful than you thought you had to be.

01 August 2008

Summer's Almost Gone

There are those who view summer in New York City as the most unbearable of times, and can hardly wait scurry out of town for the milder climes of the Hamptons or Fire Island or New England.

I am not one of them. Summer in the city is "pretty much like heaven on earth," I said to Aaron as we strolled along the Hudson late last night. We reminisced about the time almost exactly a year ago we'd been walking in the same spot only to get caught in a torrential thunderstorm, the soaking we received having been entirely worth it, however, in exchange for the hour-long lightning display we'd witnessed in advance of the storm sweeping in from Jersey.

Since "a chance" of thunderstorms had been predicted for last night, we were hopeful that the spectacle would be repeated, especially since this time I'd brought an umbrella, but this time the storms passed us by and the air hung over us with the cloying thickness of mid- to late-summer, i.e., warm and moist as bathwater, making walking seem more like swimming, and lounging more like soaking. It was absolutely splendid, which is why I couldn't resist pointing out that summer's end was rapidly heaving into sight.

"Oh, you told me that way back at the beginning of July," said Aaron, "and when we had that cool spell I almost believed you." He went on to remind me that we'd then gone into a week where the temperature had climbed into the 90s every day, and that it hadn't got a whole lot cooler since then.

"I know we've still got all of August, and sometimes that's when the hottest days of the year are. But statistically we're already past the hottest part of the summer, the days are getting shorter, and everyone knows that the second half of anything good goes by way faster than the first half." Well, that's not a verbatim account of what I said, or anything close to one, to be honest, but it conveys the general sense of it. Maybe it's just my particular type of personality that starts worrying about the coming winter on the first day of summer, but I suspect there's a little bit of that craziness in all of us.

I've got a project I'm working on, if the definition of "working on" can be stretched to include "constantly procrastinating," and it's got a couple of deadlines staring me in the face. It involves editing a memoir/autobiography of a friend I know from when I lived in London. The first deadline is coming up in less than three weeks: it's when I'll next be in London and when I promised to have a first draft of my edit done for him. He'll understand if I can't keep that promise, but my second deadline is a little more inflexible: he's 80 years old and not in the best of health. I want to put a finished manuscript in his hands while he's still alive and able to read it and possibly find a publisher for it.

It's going to require some rather intensive work on my part to get this done in the next couple weeks, work which will require me being indoors much of the time when I might much prefer to be on my bike or at the beach, but considering that I've had the original draft in my possession for eight months now, including all last winter, I can't feel too sorry for myself. But it does prompt me to reflect on the passage of time, and the way it speeds up once the end of anything is in view.

I could be talking about summer, a love affair, or life itself; one of the first times this feeling really hit home with me was during the World Cup - I think it was 2002 - when there was a stretch of really good games, England were still in the hunt, and everyone - well, everyone except sourpusses, misanthropes and Americans - was practically giddy with excitement. As one match ended, and with another one due to start in a matter of minutes, I enthused to no one in particular, "This is the best World Cup ever. I wish it never had to end!"

Of course it did, and long before the end, even before England were ignominiously eliminated, the games had thinned out from their initial furious pace, and already I was looking ahead to 2006 and 2010, and that's when it hit me: when I measured out my life in quadrennial dollops of football fever, there wasn't nearly as much left of it as I might have liked. I started counting how many more World Cups I could reasonably expect to see: even if I lived to be 100, there'd be only 11 more, and since that time one of those has already come and gone.

It's like that with summers, too, and years, for that matter. They go by so much faster now, and if experience is any indicator, they're not about to slow down. Am I being morbid, or merely realistic, to recognize that I'm now reaching an age where it's no longer considered unusual if I or one of my contemporaries falls over dead. Granted, I'm probably in the best health of my life, and if I take sufficient care of myself, chances are that will continue for some time. Till I'm 70, perhaps, or even 80 or 90? Given my family history, I could easily live that long or longer, but not only do those ages no longer seem so far away - especially considering that the last 10, 20 or 30 years seem to have passed in the blink of an eye - but I also have to consider that simply being alive is hardly the be-all or end-all of existence.

How much longer, for example, will I able to hop on my bike and ride across the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan? Or run laps around the track in McCarren Park? Throw myself into the pit at a punk rock show? So far I have no trouble doing any of these things, but there are many people my age who would struggle just with getting up the stairs to my third floor walkup. The fact that I've defied the odds so far does nothing to contradict the reality that I won't be able to do so indefinitely. Bodies wear out, lives run out, and I have no reason to think anyone's going to make an exception in my case.

Looking at things that way, shouldn't I be in a much bigger hurry than I am? Shouldn't I be practically maniacal about putting every minute of time I still have to some productive and/or pleasurable use? Logic would seem to say so, yet I squander at least as much time as ever on lolling about, watching TV reruns, reading (or participating in) mindless message board squabbles, or simply staring off into space and feeling sorry for myself. It reminds me of when I was a kid in school, and spent all year looking forward to summer vacation. That first day of freedom was one of the most awesome sensations I've ever known: what seemed like an eternity stretching in front of me in which I could do practically anything and everything I could dream of. Then, just like that, it was August, there was a slight nip in the air, and the newspapers were full of those hated back to school ads. Those last couple weeks took on an almost desperate quality as my friends and I grasped frantically at the dwindling joys of the season and bemoaned all the time we'd wasted and the opportunities we'd let pass us by.

Then suddenly it was over, we were back into our school clothes, sitting up straight in those cramped wooden chairs and not even wanting to look at the clock or calendar because another summer might as well have been another lifetime away. But at least in those days, we had another lifetime - quite a few of them, in fact - to look forward to. One of these years, sooner rather than later for some of us, we won't.