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Deus Ex Machina

Despite the most beautiful of intentions I find myself a victim once more to idealized conceptions of time and space, the meaning of life, freshly baked sweet fluffs. With a six-pack of Michelob someone left in my fridge I head out into the bright Saturday warmth to discover happiness, my purpose, a patch of curvaceous meadow yet unsoiled by canine detritus. On the uppermost reaches of hippie hill in Golden Gate Park I spread my poncho on the grass and sprawl down, sipping beer and letting the bongo cacophony massage my senses into raw serenity. Joy comes in starts, a snatch of robin song, two more beers, a jubilation of drums.

Later, tipsy, I dance along the footpath to Haight Street, that mythical place alive now in dazzling sunlight, and crowded with ideas and anklets and cell phones and handmade bongs. I open my senses and drink it in. Hand jive. Beggars. Police sirens. Horns. Pierced tongues. Studded nostrils. Cigarette ash. Tangerines. The dark geometry of cypress trees fringing the Panhandle. Ukuleles. Blonde goddesses. Street urchins. Drug dealers. Angry blacks. Hostile whites. Confused single parents. Criminals. Sweet and sour pork. Dope. Urine. Pizza grease. Scuffed tennis shoes lurking in shadows. Bicycle chains. Green delicious apples. Lipstick air kisses. Japanese girls in mondo plastic shining. Ripped dirty blue jeans. Help wanted. No one under 21. Finally, my street, my door. Stairwell. No phone messages. Wait, a message on my cell phone: “Zack, this is your conscience calling. A check-in, a reminder. Please contact me immediately. There's a problem with your account.” The banks are getting sly, like domesticated monkeys mainlining Viagra.

I collapse on the couch and grope for the remote, this junkie's syringe. Ah, that's better. Television, you cur, you slut, my jailer, my pipe of opium, the glint of light at tunnel's far end, my dilated eyes weary and transfixed, waiting for a clue, a sign that I live, I breathe, I am — and by a turn of logic, the feeling that tomorrow, beginning in the chirpy and redolent a.m., I can be someone, and happy, and free, and at peace with the crimes my mind has committed, will yet commit, have plotted and asked pardon for.

Which is all a grandiose way of saying that I didn't want to waste a dozen hours watching college basketball this weekend, but I did. So sue me. These are the times I wish I was Jesse Jackson so I can simply admit it, ask God's forgiveness, and move on. But I'm just a regular guy with a regular job and regular fantasies of being elected to the Republican National Committee and French-kissing Barbara Bush on the warm turret of an Israeli tank. While George watches. And Dick calls a press conference. And George W. finishes his homework so he can go outside and play catch with the negro fella who just moved in across the tracks.

But that's another story for another more perky time.

As for the basketball: I watched, I dozed, I crank-called old friends, I profaned forgotten gods, I was appalled, I wondered what would have happened if feng shui experts had been consulted on the construction of the Maginot Line.

No!: St. Joseph guard Marvin O'Connor almost single-handedly beat the number one-ranked Stanford basketball team Saturday in the second round of the NCAA playoffs. There was a gorgeous moment in the second half when O'Connor hit four three-pointers in a row, Stanford was on the ropes, staggering, desperate — and then O'Connor took himself out of the game. Huh? Here's a kid who's hotter than a Houston sidewalk in August, his team has taken the lead and stolen all momentum from arguably the best team in the country, and he signals to the bench that he needs a breather??? Unconscionable, perverse, silly. A dumb mistake. Even if you're close to collapsing in spasms of pain and imploding lungs, you stay in the game and suck wind during stoppages in play. That way Stanford still feels the pressure of your huge and growing presence, and is forced to consider double-teaming you every time you touch the ball, which opens things up for your teammates. Given the gift of O'Connor's problematic breather, Stanford regained momentum, and won the game. Ironically, O'Connor came in and hit several more spectacular shots. But in the end it didn't matter. Stanford goes to the next round, St. Joe's goes back to Philly.

Sick!: The hype surrounding the NCAA basketball tournament, aka the March Madness, aka the Big Dance, aka Pastrami on Rye Heavy On The Mustard, is non-stop and absurd. Front page stories on every newspaper, cheerleader testimonials in airport kiosks, commercials on the telly proclaiming Oklahoma University as “a leader in athletics and thermonuclear weaponry.” It's so preposterous, it tickles and stains. Like being forced to eat two hundred mini-donuts by a bull nurse in leatherette.

Droll!: Following one of the seemingly hundreds of games, CBS showed part of a Michigan State press conference. There beside Spartan coach Tom Izzo were three of his players, slouching and generally looking like kids who understand the hypocrisy and hopelessness of America. The comic part came when reporters referred to the players by the title “Student-Athlete.” As in, “Student-Athlete Brown, did you expect more frontcourt pressure in the second half?” Then the expected mumble-mumble cliché train, before the next question: “Student-Athlete Heffenreffer, blah blah blah.” Student-Athlete. That's a good one.

Stupid!: With seven seconds left, and down by three points against USC, Boston College's Kenny Harley drove to the basket instead of pulling up and launching a three-pointer. He missed the lay-up, didn't get fouled, and the B.C. Eagles lost to the underdog Trojans, 74-71. Harley said: “It came down to the last shot. It was either go for the 3 or try to get the three-point play. In a situation like that, I tried to drive in and get some contact and draw a foul.” Wrong, Student-Athlete Harley. You must shoot the three-pointer, because unless USC fouls, your season is over. By the way, your season is over. See you in Introduction to Addition.

Moronic on the Local High School Level!: After the Division 1 California State Girls Championship in Sacramento, Berkeley coach Gene Nakamura raised his index finger toward the school's raucous student body section and cheered, “We're No. 1, we're No. 1.” However, it was Narbonne High of Harbor City which won the game, 48-45. Nakamura, who appears to be a victim of public schools himself, said afterwards: “We won that game. Everyone saw that we out-hustled them and out-played them the second half.” The second half? What about the first half? What about the idea that a game consists of two halves, four quarters and a bunch of tennis shoes squeaking in the paint? To be fair, Nakamura was also angry about a controversial offensive foul whistled against Berkeley in the closing minutes. But anyone who's ever played anything will tell you one call doesn't make or break a game. And any coach who shouts “We're number one” should be strung up by his toes and smoked like a Virginia ham.

The Corpse That Refused To Die: Eddie DeBartolo, the swashbuckling swine who used to own the 49ers, took out a full page ad in Sunday's Chronicle sports section thanking the Niner faithful for helping make his reign “the happiest time” of his life. Thanks for thinking of us, Eddie. It was the happiest time of my life too, which is even more pathetic than you taking a full-page ad out in a self-stroke move worthy of its own Kama Sutra chapter. Nice to see you still spending thousands of dollars trying to get someone to like you. I'm available to watch highlights and order cold potato soup for only $5,000 a day. Just bring the cash over and we can relive the glory years. For $10K a day plus my own suite I'll even go to Vegas with you to watch the Final Four. My bags are always packed.

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