Superspy: The Evco Report Part I

Belatedly, a brief report. A rather elaborate scavenger hunt was held in Vienna on 15 July, 2006 to celebrate my daughter’s 17th birthday. Besides Beta, roughly half a dozen of her friends took part. The hunt took them to about ten interesting locations around Vienna.

Behind the scenes, roughly half a dozen of my friends took part. Maybe more. Maybe seventeen, actually. And those are just the people who signed up at the forum that was created to plot the game. But ganging up on the kids like that was fair, because the kids are all brilliant, and I’m not, and you know, weakest link etc etc. I’d guess more than 20 people helped out behind the scenes.

So you had this big gang of talented people working hard since April to put this scavenger hunt together.

I’m losing the thread here.

So, anyway, the facts:

About a week before the day of the hunt, Beta was visited by a stranger at her place of employment, who gave her a package to give to another person, who he told her would pick it up the following day. He was such a good actor that she readily took the package.

Later that night, she received a text message from Australia (this was an international team, by the way, from California to Australia, to half a dozen European countries) ostensibly from the woman informing her that she had accidentally gone to Australia instead of Austria and to open the package herself.

Inside was a blank journal and a couple blank scraps of paper. The journal was a present. The scraps, when heated, provided a URL of a blank page. Hidden in the source code was a message, ROT-13 encoded and written backwards.

Beta and her team quickly decoded the message, by hand, not using any of the many online tooks I had expected they would use.

About this time Beta started receiving dozens of postcards from around the world warning her off her hunt. Some included hidden messages, and other red herrings. Some were in Russian or other foreign languages.

[End of Part I. Part II tomorrow]


Latest Evco mission resounding success. Evaluation and debriefing still on-going, but I can tell you that much already. I forgot sunscreen, the day was quite sunny too, bad mistake. Beta seems to have loved it. Enjoyed the gathering afterwards, not sure if that bookstore/restaurant will allow me back in any time soon, quite a mess when we left. What do you expect from an evil conspiracy, right? Will post more on this later, must head for the hills right now for a couple days of hiking with visiting relatives. For now, I can post two conclusions:

  • I have more and better friends than I had realized, all over the world, who will go to unbelieveable lengths to ensure that my daughter, whom they have never met, has a fun birthday celebration. Either that or, people enjoy nothing more than a good old 3vil 1nternational c0nspiracy. Even their friends, whom I had never met, helped for hours in the hot sun.

  • Never give a high-school boy a super-soaker in a bookstore/restaurant.

Why everyone loves Roland Barthes

The elegance and originality of Roland Barthes’ thought and expression are legendary. It was this very quality that led Raymond Picard to attack him for what he vaguely termed disrespect to the “culture

List of ten random events in reverse chronological order

  • I give my Doc Martens a good shake before putting them on.

  • Red cat with face covered with grey dustbunnies smells my Doc Martens with excessive interest as they stand by the door. The boots, I mean. I don’t have them on yet.
  • “I think it went outside. I think it worked,” my wife says when I come out of the shower.
  • I step over a folding lawnchair unfolded and on its side in our entry way,and walk past the wide-open front door to go take a shower.
  • I feel bad, the cat looks so cute sleeping, but still pick him up and place him in the kitchen. “It’s your job, pal. Go for it.” He gazes under the cabinets with more interest than I expected.
  • I give my wife a thousand-yard stare.
  • I look at the complex arrangement of furniture, moulding and open doors that form a sort of fence leading from the kitchen to the open front door. “There are too many little holes,” I tell my wife. “You have to be able to think like a mouse. Mice are by nature agoraphobic, for them it’s normal. If I’m a mouse, why would I emerge from under the cabinets, where it is nice and cozy, out into the looming agora of the kitchen?” “And what, you can think like a mouse?” my wife says.
  • I remove the mouldings from under the kitchen cabinets while my wife carries lawn furniture up from the cellar. “We’re building a better etc etc,” I say.
  • “I have a great idea,” my wife says, and explains it to me.
  • My wife joins me in the kitchen for breakfast. We eat toast, and listen to the news on the radio, and to a distinct gnawing sound coming from a kitchen cabinet.

Bedbugs on the shoulders of giants

He sits there thinking of all that has led to this moment. The long process of his personal development. His family history. Millennia of human history. Millions of years of human evolution. All the way back to amino acids growing self-conscious in boiling seas of ammonia. All the way back to stars forming, to the big bang. He washes his hands, sprays a little air-freshener around and

    Let’s try another opening paragraph.

You are here, right? All your life has led to this moment. And not just you; your parents, and their parents, all the way back to Elvis.

Kind of a downer, isn’t it? Evolution, schmevolution.

But there are things where you think, you think, wow.

I am referring, specifically but not exclusively, to solo cello music. Think of everything that has to come together for me to listen to Anner Bylsma playing Bach suites on a Stradivarius in my car on the way to work.

Anner Bylsma has to learn to play cello. Bach has to become a composer – someone has to teach him, and someone had to teach them, etc. Stradivari has to make a cello. It has to find its way to Bylsma. I have to somehow convince Bylsma to get into my car and play.

All these vectors converging at this point. All this human evolution leading to this sublime moment.

I hear Steven Isserlis is your man nowadays, for cello. My teacher neglected to let me know Isserlis was just in town recently, playing a couple concerts. He didn’t tell me when Jorane was here either. Jorane, no big deal, but Isserlis.

I’m thinking, what’s with the cellist names, anyway? Anner Bylsma, Steven Isserlis, Suren Bagratuni, Mily Balakirev, Pablo Casals, Yo-Yo Ma, Mischa Maisky.

To name but a few.

Do you have to have a posh name to play the cello? Not that I aspire to be anything but a crappy amateur cello player, so it’s not like I’m crushed. Mig Living. Doesn’t have that cello sound. OTOH, would you buy a book by someone with that name? I would. If I went into a bookstore, and there’s a book by someone named Mig Living, I’d buy it. I’d be all, motherfucker, someone with my name published a book!

Actually, I’d probably leaf through it at the bookstore and think, dang, I could write better than that! I wouldn’t buy it because I’d be jealous envious.

Does that bug you, how often people mix up jealousy and envy? It does me, worse than people who use the word “irony” wrong, because I don’t always use it right either. You envy other people, you’re jealous of your own stuff, get that through your heads, people who use jealous and envious wrong.

Solo cello music is one experience that makes me think about all the lines of evolution and fate that led to the moment, a close second to that is watching Funniest Home Videos on TV. With the music, you have an artist mastering her instrument and the family and cultural history that led to that. You have the luthier angle. You have the composer angle. You have the cultural scene that enables them to play, and perhaps the technological angle if it’s a recording.

Here is this person playing, and no matter how great they are, they are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Usually, though, it’s more like the Funniest Home Video thing. Gamma and I were watching that on TV at her grandparents’ house recently. We were really howling. They used to show unexpurgated Tom and Jerry cartoons on TV when Beta was little, we used to howl like that. Gamma’s grandfather came downstairs to see who was howling, that’s how funny it was.

And I was thinking, this is another Anner Bylsma moment. Technology had to advance to the point that video/audio recording devices were easily portable. Economic development was necessary to reach the point that such devices became ubiquitous. Culturally, someone had to invent the birthday party, and the pi

The fat little grey mouse

There was something I wanted from the cellar. I forget what. I walked to the stairs, turned on the light and froze. An animal was coming up the stairs. It froze too.
In fact, we sort of mimicked each other’s body language for several seconds. I froze, it froze. It was like looking into a funhouse mirror that changes your reflected image into a mouse.
Mice are animals. They are wild animals, usually. They are mammals, what do I know, they can transmit rabies and shit.
I turned, slowly, and crouched to grab, what? Nothing in range. A dish, I could trap it under a dish and release it outside.
It turned, slowly, and crouched.
I leaned over and picked up a catfood dish.
The mouse darted under a cabinet. Fucker.
The can-fed red cat watched all this.
Come here, stupid. There, under the cabinet.
The cat sat and watched.
I picked him up. Pointed him towards the mouse like an uzi. Get him. Go for it.
Set him down beside the cabinet. He looked up at me. There!
I tapped my fingers along the base of the cabinet, the cat finally got the idea. Maybe he heard something running around underneath. I looked around for better equipment. Took a couple steps further down into the cellar.
The cat looked left. At just that instant, the mouse outflanked the cat, running past its right side and down the stairs.
It either hid behind the vaccuum cleaner, or went into the laundry room.
I am like, I am not the sort of man who stomps on little mice as they run past, especially not barefoot. And mice are usually barefoot.
I started moving the vaccuum, then thought, what happens if it is, indeed, behind there? i am wearing no socks, and baggy pants, it could run straight up the inside of my jeans into my boxers.
So I picked up a push broom instead. It turned out to be our broom where the broom part falls off the handle when you pick it up. So in fact, I stood there holding a stick.
This must be how billiards was invented. It’s logical. You’re sitting around the drawing room, your butler is chasing some mice around the room with a stick, they end up on the table, he’s poking at them. Maybe you’re poking at them too, maybe you have a fireplace poker in fact.
Maybe the last mouse you poke is the eight mouse.
Gamma liked this story. She is on the mouse’s side. She forbids traps. She doesn’t even like us to swat flies right now, so it’s mice and flies as far as the eye can see at our house right now.
The cats are okay with that, too.
It’s a fat little grey mouse, I told her.
You’re a fat little grey mouse, she told me.