Feedback’s a bitch

Part 4 in a series chronicling the One Sorry Blog Baseball Card Sell-Off
By Paul Rivas

Editor’s note: One Sorry Blog founder Paul Rivas is selling off his baseball cards on ebay with seller name onesorryblog, keeping only a precious and worthless few. He intends to sell every last card that will bring money at auction and donate the remaining 30,000 for no tax break. Realizing that his last hurrah in the hobby is upon him, Rivas is recording and reflecting on the experience at One Sorry Blog, the thinking collector’s blog.

Remember that guy who didn’t pay until I took him to ebay court? Well I was struggling with what Feedback to give him, and I finally opted for neutral. Feedback is what each party says about the other after the transaction, and it’s overwhelmingly positive. A legitimate negative Feedback usually means the person is either an idiot or an asshole. After no contact from ebay username greightwhitehype (lame) anytime in the regulation seven-day period following him winning $178.50 in auctions, I filed a dispute, because, damn it, this is a firesale and I’ve got to get this stuff out the door! He paid the next morning (yesterday) and I shipped him the cards the same day WITH FREE INSURANCE to show that I appreciated his paying, even though I’d felt compelled to leave neutral feedback on account of his flakiness.

This morning I fire up ebay and see that the cheeky bastard left me negative Feedback, saying “BAD EBAYER DOES NOT GIVE ANYTIME TO PAY FOR AUCTION!”

I know, huh?

So I sent him a message right away saying:

EBAY POLICY IS 7 DAYS TO PAY. NOT ONLY DID YOU NOT PAY, BUT YOU NEVER EVEN CONTACTED ME. I WAS THE BIGGER MAN HERE AND GAVE YOU NEUTRAL FEEDBACK EVEN WHEN I COULD HAVE GIVEN YOU NEGATIVE, AND HERE YOU GO AND SCREW ME! AND ALL OF THIS AFTER I SHIPPED YOUR ITEMS THE SAME DAY I RECEIVED PAYMENT AND WITH FREE INSURANCE!!! YOU LOW-RENT PUNK!!! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF. YOU’RE A DISGRACE TO THE HOBBY AND TO EBAY.

I then logged on to gmail and saw that he had also followed up the negative Feedback he he left with a proposal that we mutually remove the feedback we left about each other. Since I’d already given him a good written undressing, I reluctantly accepted. When I see a negative comment, I always go and read what the other side said. I’m confident that people would do this in my case, particularly since these two negatives (two items sold to this gypsy) are coming after three glowing positives, the entirety of my Feedback, but I’d still rather not have 40% of my Feedback coming from this blackmailer. After more than 100 transactions over the years, I’ve never had a negative Feedback on ebay, and I’d just as soon keep it that way.

His excuse was that he’d been out of town and couldn’t get to a computer. Then how did he ever bid? And why didn’t he say so when he made that Immaculate Bid?

What do you folks think happened here? Do you think he was trying to either not pay or screw me from the beginning? Did I overract to his having gone in the tank for a week?

For ebayer eyes only: the logistics

Part 3 in a series chronicling the One Sorry Blog Baseball Card Sell-Off
By Paul Rivas

Editor’s note: One Sorry Blog founder Paul Rivas is selling off his baseball cards on ebay with seller name onesorryblog, keeping only a precious and worthless few. He intends to sell every last card that will bring money at auction and donate the remaining 30,000 for no tax break. Realizing that his last hurrah in the hobby is upon him, Rivas is recording and reflecting on the experience at One Sorry Blog, the thinking collector’s blog.

If you don’t intend to ever use ebay to buy or sell cards, you can skip this one. Still, I hope that you continue reading. I got some encouragement from my cousin-in-law (who has actually appeared on a real football card, which is probably more than any of us can say) today who said he found Part 1 interesting. I said that I hoped it would be interesting for anyone who had ever picked up a baseball card. I was finding it interesting, and I hadn’t seen a baseball card in ten years. And that, I guess, is why I’m writing all this. I’ve definitely been feeling some urgency to get it all down now, while it’s happening, because it could be that I don’t have enough good cards for this epic sale to last even a week.

My first mistake was to offer optional insurance for $1. As it turns out, insurance costs $1.65 and up. I now charge $2 for optional insurance. I didn’t used to offer discounts for combined shipping to winners of multiple auctions (which happens! – see previous post), and no one seemed to mind, but now buyers pay the full shipping price once and add $1 for each additional card. I’ve also implemented what I think is the best shipping for sports cards on ebay. There are two options: the card in a semi-rigid top-loader, wrapped and taped snugly in a regular piece of paper and sent in a regular old envelope for $1.50, OR, the card in a semi-rigid top-loader chucked in a bubble mailer for $3. I make a few cents on both of these options, as with insurance, but not enough to pay for gas to and from the post office. It’s occurred to me to charge a ton in shipping and take less for the cards, because ebay takes a percentage of the final auction price and not of the total auction plus shipping charges, and quite a few sellers apparently do this, but, well, actually I can’t think of a good reason why I don’t do this. I guess I’m striving for total transparency whenever possible, and it’s important to me for potential buyers to know that I offer fair and reasonable shipping rates, even if it costs me a little in the long run.

I’m listed on ebay as preferring PayPal, which I do, because payment is instant, despite never actually asking what percentage of my sales they take, but I also accept money orders and cashier’s checks, in an effort to not discriminate against the Internet shopper with bad credit, or perhaps the Latin American shopper, who doesn’t trust that his credit card information is safe online. But what I didn’t do until today, and what took me a good 20 minutes to figure out how to do, was include a payment address. A payment address is not my registration address or my shipping address, but an address where low-tech buyers should mail their homeless-style payments. This resulted in one buyer probably having to go use the Internet at his local branch library and write me asking for my mailing address for payments which, incidentally, is different from my registration address.

I mentioned that posting a new item for sale takes about five (5) minutes, but I neglected to mention that this was only possible after a 15-minute tutorial on scanning with Dr. Mary Nisbet and a frantic call to my mom asking her how to get the scanner working. Apparently, the thing to do is click scan, then click the little box asking if you want to use the “scanner drivers”, which allow you to perform fancier maneuvers with the thing rather than settle for the more basic options available if you don’t click there. So use the scanner drivers. Then “preview” it. Then something that looks an awful lot like scanning, and which the layman is likely to confuse for scanning, will happen. But it isn’t scanning, it’s just previewing. Then you draw a rectangle around the card and click “scan”, and then it scans for real. Posting similar cards consecutively helps speed things up. Going by sport and year seems to work best, so all the 95-96 basketball cards, then the 96-97s, and when the basketball cards are gone, switch sports. This is so you don’t have to change categories as often, which takes time. Oh yeah, all this scanning came after Craig told me someone told him that scanning works better than photos. I’d been wondering why my photos of my cards were coming out so bad compared to everyone else’s, then I learned it’s because everyone else’s were scans and not photos. Then my scans were no good, and that’s where Dr. Mary Nisbet set me straight.

Now, having 115 things for sale on ebay is an awesome prospect when the first 11 items brought in $408, but what happens when I have 25 auctions ending per day, and 25 payments arriving via Paypal and the mails? I don’t know – talk to me in three days. But what I think will happen is that I’ll no longer feel the need to check up on my auctions every two minutes. It’s also important to remember that I’ve largely been posting the best items first. I expect that eventually, when the popcorn kernels are only popping every few seconds and my cards cease to bring in even the modest $0.99 that I’m asking, I’ll cease to bother with posting 25 things a day. The saving grace is that ebay keeps track of five steps in an idiot-proof manner: buying, paying, shipping, seller leaving feedback, buyer leaving feedback and the item being returned (if necessary), so that it’s hard to lose track of where you are in the process. I leave positive feedback for buyers the minute I hear of them paying. Some sellers like to wait until the buyer leaves positive feedback after receiving the card, but I don’t have the time or attention to detail to get into mind games with buyers and remember who I’m withholding feedback for and why. I have a few things for sale now that I’m not sure will bring 99 cents plus $1.50 shipping, but I’ll know for sure in six days.

In the meantime, these are the things I’ll be thinking about and trying to improve as the big bucks start a-rollin’ in.

What do you folks think about bidding $50 for a card and paying $3 shipping vs. paying $33 for a card and paying $20 shipping? Would you be inclined to opt for one or the other?

Off-ebay success, a late-paying bidder and the trusty card shop

Part 2 in a series chronicling the One Sorry Blog Baseball Card Sell-Off
By Paul Rivas

Editor’s note: One Sorry Blog founder Paul Rivas is selling off his baseball cards on ebay with seller name onesorryblog, keeping only a precious and worthless few. He intends to sell every last card that will bring money at auction and donate the remaining 30,000 for no tax break. Realizing that his last hurrah in the hobby is upon him, Rivas is recording and reflecting on the experience at One Sorry Blog, the thinking collector’s blog.

With two days to go before my next auctions end, I’ll take a minute to consider my totals thus far: 11 cards sold, all PSA graded (they were my only 11 graded cards), for a total of $408.

$408 is $408, right? Right, except when there’s a deadbeat bidder involved. Some guy bought my first 94 SP A-Rod PSA 8 and my 89 UD Griffey PSA 9 for $127.50 and $51 but… wait for it… didn’t pay until I filed a dispute inducing him to honor his bid. From the look of his ebay Feedback, it seems that every once in a while he decides to not buy or sell whatever it is he has promised to pay for or send. I’m lucky and thankful that he decided to pay. So much so, that I’m going to insure his $178.50 in cards free of charge, which will put me out $2.50 or so, but not really, because he paid $6 for shipping that will only cost $4. And if that isn’t proof that it all works out in the end, I don’t know what is. Good thing, too, because subsequently, my other 94 SP A-Rod PSA 8 went for $108, meaning I likely would have got less for the first one the second time around.

I now have 99 items for sale on ebay, more than I’d ever thought I’d have the patience to list, but I’ve also already hauled in $80 for two off-ebay transactions. While at the post office mailing off a few cards to winning (and paying) bidders, I sold my 89 Upper Deck factory set to an old roommate for $40, or exactly what it would have gone for on ebay, without the hassle of shipping an 800-count set and without paying any ebay fees. When another promising bidder asked a question about the A-Rod, we ended up arranging a deal for three cards that I estimated would have brought $50 on ebay. I let them go for $40, payment was instant via PayPal, and the guy was “VERY pleased” with the transaction. Now tell me if this isn’t the way to go whenever possible, given that there are folks loose on ebay who Otto in Repo Man would have described as “dildoes who don’t pay their bills”.

The third side of this story is that two of the three cards in that deal were 95-96 Finest KG PSA 8s, both of which I’d put on consignment at Great American Baseball Cards for $40 apiece, of which I would get $30 per card. Craig told me that one guy who likes Finest almost bought one. Craig’s was actually the first place I went when I decided to sell my cards. I left some Randy Moss, Kobe and KG cards with him, all the best of which are already on ebay or sold now. Craig doesn’t much sell stuff for a fraction of the alleged value, and good for him: cards bought from the card shop should cost more. When I interviewed him for a profile in The Independent in 2005, we counted 13 card shops in the Santa Barbara area that had closed since he’d opened in 1986, including Murderer’s Row, where I worked under its second owners. By any measure, Great American is an institution and Craig is a caretaker of the hobby. Buying cards there, however 20th century that may seem, should rightfully cost more than on ebay. After all, around the world, things that are charming, historic and inefficient always cost more.

It’s worth mentioning that the 95 Bowman’s Best Guerrero PSA 8 that I just sold for $27.75 was one that I had bought ungraded at Great American for $25, making it literally the only card among the 11 graded cards sold that I had bought or traded for years ago for less than it went for on ebay this week. I think that Guerrero card must have been the last single card I ever purchased at the card shop. The last pack I ever bought there was 96 Score. I was trying for the Cal Ripken 2131 card and I busted it!
That’s right, the best card I ever got from a pack came from the last pack I ever bought at the card shop I’d patronized for 10 years. Needless to say, it’s up on ebay now.

I never had huge luck with packs. In fact, a Lawrence Taylor RC from 82 Topps, also from Craig’s, might be the next best card that I ever got out of a pack.

Flipping cards for cash ain’t easy

Part 1 in a series chronicling the One Sorry Blog Baseball Card Sell-Off
By Paul Rivas

Editor’s note: One Sorry Blog founder Paul Rivas is selling off his baseball cards on ebay with seller name onesorryblog, keeping only a precious and worthless few. He intends to sell every last card that will bring money at auction and donate the remaining 30,000 for no tax break. Realizing that his last hurrah in the hobby is upon him, Rivas is recording and reflecting on the experience at One Sorry Blog, the thinking collector’s blog.

Greetings to all you noble collectors out there, millennial hobbyists. I’m selling my sports card collection for whatever I can get for it on ebay, trading memories for cash. This blog series is my contribution to the hobby, a chance for everyone who has ever collected cards in the last 20 years to see exactly what their cards are “worth”.

First, here’s a few things that are important to remember but too depressing to repeat: baseball cards from 1986 to 1996 are the most difficult to sell of any in history due to overproduction and steroids; baseball cards are difficult to sell in February because the season doesn’t properly start until April; football season is well over, and basketball playoff excitement is still months away.

Laughing at these negative market forces, somewhere along the big schlep I decided to sell my cards. It was all part of moving back to my home country for a third time and getting rid of a bunch of stuff that I’d even forgot I had because it’d been stored in my parents’ closets so long. Stuff like Pulp Fiction posters and t-shirts that are no longer appropriate for an engaged man to wear in public. The only differences was that I had over 30,000 baseball cards. Shortly came my first major realization of how this whole process was going to work:

Nobody cares what sets you have!
Aside from the fact that they’re a hassle to ship and almost impossible to grade accurately for prospective buyers, sets are out. I had success selling my boss’ sets from the 70s on ebay about ten years ago, which is not at all relevant to my case today. As a set collector, this was probably the most heart-wrenching revelation of the whole deal: if I ever wanted to sell anything, I’d have to break my painstakingly assembled sets wide open and sack them for the one or two cards in each that someone might buy. In preparing to do so, I learned the most important factor in the card business today:

Condition is king!
Since there is no shortage of even the best cards from each set, the overriding determinant of price is condition. There are plenty of 89 Upper Deck Griffeys, but they’re not all in certifiable mint condition, as identified with a professional grade of PSA 9. Having a handful of cards graded in my final days as a collector was the smartest thing I ever did. Graded cards are the easiest to sell, as their condition is assumed to be indisputable. My graded cards were the first to go on ebay and brought in the most money, by far, per card. In turn, this simple fact drives all card sales on ebay. Any card that is a legitimate candidate for a mint or gem mint grading is one that will command a good price at auction. Check out some completed auction results if you don’t believe me. I have posted 75 cards for sale this week, the condition of every one of which I scrutinized and described as best I could. I’d gained a reputation for being a scrupulous descriptor of the condition of those 70s cards, and I feel that dedicating five minutes per card (the time it takes to scan the card, write the description and post the item on ebay) to describe each card accurately is a good investment. The last thing you want in a firesale is customers returning things. And in a true firesale…

Everything must go!
I ritualistically sorted through my singles eight or nine times, sorting and resorting into smaller and smaller piles, until I realized that I’d rather have the money for all but one or two of them, which comic man Shane Amaya aptly described as more pop art than sports cards. A stack of very nice 70s and 80s basketball cards that I’d set aside for myself went on ebay the next day. Why in hell was I selling them if I didn’t want to sell the nice ones? Five minutes per card is a lot of work when there are 30,000 to go, and if anything was worth selling, it was the historically and stylistically influential cards that I’d handpicked in my last couple years collecting as being culturally relevant. Surely the point of selling any collection is to sell the best pieces. Here I began to understand the crucial role that guys like me play in the sports card hobby:

Save the baseball card hobby – sell your collection!
When you commit to selling your collection piece by piece to the highest bidder, holding nothing back and accepting practically any price, you have a chance to do something great. Nice cards are injected into the hobby at a rate of 25 per day (two hours at the computer). By writing even a one-line explanation of why one of my favorite cards would be a worthy addition to any collection, I initiate a relationship with potential buyers. I can be sure that potential bidders will at least be aware of my point of view, which I hope will be inspiring. Just because I’ve decided I don’t need a great 87-88 Larry Bird showing his leg way up in the air after a rebound and Kurt Rambis in the background anymore doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it. It’s a great card! That’s why I got it in the first place! And because it’s in great condition, it’s suitable for even the most discerning collector. Whether it goes to a Larry Bird fan who doesn’t care what the corners are like, to somebody trying to build an entire 87-88 set in NM-MT+, or to a white power group, I can be sure it’ll be appreciated. Buyers get exactly the carefully selected cards they’ve been looking for and I am assured of getting exactly what their cards are really “worth”, and…

They’re only worth what somebody will actually pay for them on ebay!
There must be other sports card selling sites out there, but none can have anywhere near the traffic that ebay has, or be as easy to use. I’ve been astonished at how much simpler ebay is to use than I remember it and also at how much more I can do on ebay. ebay keeps track of everything. Paypal is awesome, and payment can be instantaneous. The trick is to get as much money as you can out of each card. When there were no bids on my graded Gwynn, McGwire and Piazza cards after three days, rather than risk somebody being the only one in seven days to be looking for a 93 Finest Piazza PSA 9 and grabbing the card for the starting bid of $0.99, I ended the auction and relisted them at $8.99, $5.99 and $4.99, respectively. They’re all selling now. I didn’t do that for my 95 Bowman Andruw Jones PSA 8, and after a week of very low traffic the winning bidder only had to shell out $5.50, probably a bit lower than what he would have had to pay if I’d started it at $4.99. There’s no danger of starting high-traffic items, like PSA 8 94 SP A-Rods, at $0.99, because the market will not let one of those sell for less than $120 or so. There is, however, a very real chance that there’s only one person looking for a Darryl Dawkins rookie card this week and that that person is willing to pay more than the $0.99 starting price tag. Cards like that one may only worth paying $0.20 to list on ebay, whereas $0.70 spent to list an exceptional 93 SP Jeter with pictures all over the place may have more than a $0.50 impact on the price of the final bid. ebay takes this fee plus 1% of sales, in my case, and Paypal takes another bit from credit and debit card payments.

So those are the dominant themes from these first couple weeks, which thus far include eight sales for about $280 (with one deadbeat buyer not having yet paid his $180 bill) with another 67 cards currently on auction. I’ll put another chunk up today, and hopefully every day, until they no longer bring in enough money to make it worthwhile. I’ll be posting new blog entries as often as interesting stuff happens.

How much would you pay for a 93 Finest McGwire showing his red mullet on front and back?

What’s one card from 1986 to 1996 that you’d like to have?

Unemployed, 29-year-old scuttles baseball card collection

A One Sorry Blog News Service Special Report

1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie card

Somewhere near the Goleta-Santa Barbara border, California – Today One Sorry Blog Editor Paul Rivas announced a firesale on his baseball card holdings “while supplies last,” encouraging all who have ever had baseball cards to “come out and check out what this crap actually sells for.”

Everyone knows that this is the worst time in the history of the hobby to attempt to sell baseball cards for cash-money, a notion Rivas wholeheartedly accepts, but shrugs off.

Ni modo,” the erstwhile collector said in a statement issued following his all-too-brief announcement.

Rivas knows that to sell a baseball card today is to convince the buyer to forget that it’s only been six weeks since Christmas and he has no money, to inspire him to buck the lethargy of the winter, when there is no more football for a long time, spring training hasn’t started and the pinche NBA isn’t even at the all-star break, and to tell him to forget about steroids already.

Yet now is when the unemployed Rivas has the time to cull 800-count boxes for the one card, rarely two, that will bring a few quid on ebay. And why not? When one dedicates dear time and other resources into a hobby for so many years, as Rivas, a Fernando Valenzuela collector, did, one doesn’t seek material reward. One understands that the selling is all part of the collecting, that the collection has an end and a beginning, usually in the very same place, in Rivas’ case, the hallowed Great American Baseball Cards, his “honorary headquarters”.

Rivas is conducting the One Sorry Blog BASEBALL CARD SELL-OFF on ebay with seller name onesorryblog. Sales totals for Week 1 were $262.71, including an OSBBCSO record $127.50 for a 1994 SP A-Rod PSA 8. Today, Rivas posted a 93 SP Derek Jeter that gambling expert Ace Cummins described as “tits”.

As a card collector, Rivas made two insanely successful speculative deals before he could even drive. Now, he is content in his role as a selling contributor to “the whole deal”. Persuaded to explain to his fellow collectors and readers why he would sell-off, for ha’pennies on the dollar, all the time he had invested as a child, in the form of more Barry Bonds rookie cards than he ever knew he had, Rivas said:

“They take up space, they’re dusty and nobody will pay money for them. For every one that goes on ebay, there are 1000 that are going in the fire. I’ll keep the Santa Barbara Islanders cards, the Gauchos’ cards, the Fernandos, the Travis Frymans, the Bo Jacksons and the Billy Ripken Fuck Face card. The rest of it, chinga su madre. It’s not sad; in fact, I’m quite enjoying it. Getting one last thrill out of the bastards. And ebay is great. So much easier and better than when I last used it eight years ago. There are a few that I’d like to see go to good homes, but otherwise, I could use the money. I’m gonna donate the 30,000 that don’t sell to Rene Spilborghs [father of Santa Barbara native and Colorado Rockies centerfielder Ryan Spilborghs] to use at his discretion. I found out yesterday at Craig’s that he reads One Sorry Blog.”

Recetas magistrales (o, Si bien mi vida le pertenece a la empresa, mi corazón le pertenece a Boca)

La razón
por Martin Balzamo

Humano o replicante?

Durante un curso sobre el clima de la organización, que es el resultado de una encuesta que se hace internamente, el disertante planteó la disyuntiva de ser robots o personas. El pobre, en un intento de hacer participar a la audiencia, trató de armar dos columnas y anotar, según lo que le sugerían los participantes, características de los robots y características de las personas. El ejercicio iba más o menos bien hasta que llegamos a la discusión de si los robots tenían inteligencia o no. La discusión fue acalorada hasta que alguien terminantemente dijo: Existen las redes neuronales. Se hizo un silencio y pasamos a otro tema. Nombrar algo que el inconciente colectivo cree saber más o menos, pero no acabadamente, es una excelente forma de poner fin a una discusión.

Hay pocos temas para hacer esto, pero se me ocurren algunos: decir algo como el tiempo es relativo o si uno viaja a la velocidad de la luz su masa cambia es un excelente argumento para terminar una discusión con un categórico todo es relativo. Un ejemplo un poco menos común es la aplicación del teorema de incompletitud de Gödel. Este señor, cuando todos los demás matemáticos intentaban axiomatizarlo todo, demostró que los números naturales, esos del cero para adelante, no se pueden axiomatizar. Es decir, tiró por el piso la creencia de que a cualquier cosa se le podía dar estructura, unos axiomas y dominarlo todo. Si uno da con un auditorio que sepa algo de lógica puede decir: como dijo Gödel, no todo se puede axiomatizar. Y listo. Fin de la discusión.

A esta altura, esto parece una receta magistral, que debe leerse como: nombrar algo que haga parecernos muy inteligente. Y rogar que nadie sepa demasiado de eso. Digamos que es la receta magistral uno, pero hoy tenemos dos recetas al precio de una.

Volviendo a la inteligencia y a las redes neuronales, el dilema era tratar de entender qué es la inteligencia. Y se me ocurren dos excelentes formas de explicarlo. La primera es de una película de culto: Blade Runner. Harrison Ford es un cazador de replicantes. Los replicantes son robots muy parecidos a los humanos. Si se les pregunta cualquier cosa contestan como un ser humano. Razonan. En una entrevista a uno de ellos, Indiana Jones, que acá no hace de Indiana, le plantea algo así al robot, que hasta el momento no se sabe que es un robot:

-Si llego a mi casa, es mi cumpleaños y cuando entro veo una tortuga dada vuelta. Qué debo hacer?

La vi hace tanto tiempo que no recuerdo bien si este era el diálogo exactamente, pero lo maravilloso era que el robot entraba en pánico (tener pánico parece ser algo de un ser humano). Empezaba a temblar, se ponía violento. Un ser humano, preferentemente porteño, habría respondido: Es una joda?

Inteligencia es capacidad de mirar desde un costado. Salirse del problema y verlo desde afuera. Darse cuenta de que tal vez la pregunta es una joda.

El otro ejemplo de qué puede hacer una persona y qué un robot o una computadora es la maravillosa forma en la que los sitios web diferencian un tipo (un ser humano) de un programa. Simplemente con un pequeño dibujo de letras torcidas. Mi pequeña hija de seis años ve uno de esos carteles extraños y dice: acá hay una a, una x y una z. Una computadora no puede hacer eso. Los programas que reconocen texto no son capaces de reconocer texto torcido, con manchas, con bordes difusos. Las redes neuronales todavía no pueden reconocer una letra en un texto torcido. Es una solución tan sencilla, tan elegante!

Tal vez porque hace veinte años me deslumbró el problema de reconocer letras en una mancha de píxeles negros y píxeles blancos, es que me gusta tanto este asunto de las letras en las páginas web. Cómo hace un programa para saber que una mancha de puntos es una letra O? Si trazo cualquier línea de borde a borde, pasando exactamente por el centro, siempre obtengo el mismo patrón: blancos, negros, blancos, negros, blancos. Las letras tienen propiedades geométricas, como la de la O. Así los programas reconocen letras. Pero si las letras están torcidas o un poquito deformadas o las letras O un poco abiertas… el programa falla. Mi hija no.

Y cuál es la segunda receta magistral? Toma esta forma: Acá hay que explicar el racional. El racional es una mala traducción del inglés al castellano y hace referencia a lo que en castellano es: La razón.

A mi me encantaría explicarle al que me pide el racional el asunto de la tortuga, el replicante y la letra o. O contestarle: Ni sé qué quiere decir racional porque no es una palabra del idioma castellano! O hablarle de mi incapacidad para saber qué es inteligencia, qué es razón. Pero mejor hago un esfuerzo, repito lo que dije con otras palabras y todos contentos. Se acerca navidad. Hay que portarse bien. Y explicar el racional.

A Night Out – a short story

Editor’s note: A Night Out is the first short story published on One Sorry Blog. Please leave a comment letting us know what you think. We would like to feature short stories regularly. If you or someone you know writes fiction, consider becoming a contributor to One Sorry Blog.

A Night Out
By Paul Rivas

“I’m going ten meters across the street for dinner.”

It was exaggerated compliance with her request that he tell her where he was going when he walked out, rather than just walking out, and he’d meant it to be rude. Now Restaurant Other Fish was closed.

All he’d wanted was the shrimp dinner and Premium beer he’d had the night before. He had been counting on it being open. It had been open earlier; he had seen the girls that worked there sitting out front. Then again, maybe they had only been sitting out front because they didn’t know where else to sit on their day off. It was impossible to know. He could have asked if they were open, but still he could never be sure that they hadn’t just made up an answer on the spot. He could never really know what their status had been at the very moment that he had seen them sitting there, before he’d asked out loud and given them time to think about it.

Michael estimated that he and his girlfriend had fought 14 times in the last two weeks. Now Other Fish was closed.

He could see that the Irish bar at the end of the block was dark, so he went back across the street and continued two blocks in the other direction, past the bus company building and the taxi drivers and deadbeats who hung out there. There was a place open on the far corner. There were people eating there, and there was an old man with a cart alongside.

“Is there anything to eat?”

“Barbeque.”

“One then. Is there any beer?”

“Toña, Victoria.”

“Victoria. A liter.”

“They’re gonna have somebody bring it.”

He turned and recognized the young man who had spoken as the crackhead who had inserted himself into the baseball game that afternoon. He had waltzed right in and demanded an immediate turn at bat, and Michael had lobbed the first pitch at his head.

Although a crackhead, the kid was still a friendly face. Michael nodded a non-verbal greeting at him and sat down.

The food came and was delicious. He hadn’t eaten real barbeque, the kind that reminded him of home, in three months. He ate slowly to avoid finishing before the beer came, which it eventually did. The guy who brought it had the face of a 24-year-old, but none of a 24-year-old’s enthusiasm. The beer was not Toña or Victoria, but Brahma.

At least it wasn’t Quilmes, he told himself.

“Fucking foreigner. I asked him if he could spare a peso for food, and he started giving me shit. I should go back there and fuck him up. Fucking foreigner. If it was for vice, I wouldn’t have asked, but it was for food. I’m so fucking hungry I can’t stand it. Do you mind if I sit down?”

“Please. Drink beer.”

The guy had just walked up, and was Michael’s age. He wore jeans that didn’t fasten and a baseball uniform undershirt, white with red sleeves and collar. His left arm and leg hung crooked and almost useless at his side, very nearly more trouble to drag around than they were worth.

“Everyone calls me Scatterbrain, even my grandma. ‘Scatterbrain, dinner’s ready.’ I used to be a little crazy. I was skinny.”

He was a crackhead. Michael suspected he was also furious at his disability.

“That’s Candy. He’s like a Volkswagen.”

He was talking about the guy who had brought the beer. Michael encouraged his tablemate to explain by raising his right eyebrow slightly and winking halfway with his left eyelid.

“He’s got his motor in back. He likes to get it from behind.”

Michael smiled and made a noise. He noticed for the first time that Scatterbrain was so unwell, he looked as though finishing his beer might kill him. There were few streetlights in this neighborhood, and the last thing Michael wanted was the death of a local on his hands, even a crackhead.

No one else seemed concerned. The two women continued to eat and serve food, first to a woman walking by with a small child, then to a taxi driver idling at the curb. Candy paid scant attention to the addict’s chatter, which did not diminish in volume or pace despite his abject appearance.

“What’s your name, friend?”

“Miguel.”

People here pronounced his name Mycole when hearing it and Meetchelle when reading it, so he always just said Miguel.

“Miguelito. Did what I said bother you? About the fucking foreigner?”

Michael shook his head sympathetically.

“Good. Because I’m telling you, I should have killed him. Oh, and watch out for this guy, though. He’s a thief and a criminal.”

Michael looked at the man Scatterbrain indicated. He had faintly muscular arms and a few amateur tattoos.

“Good evening, ma’am. Miguelito here is gonna buy me a dinner and a beer.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Michael saw the woman laugh off the request and the man chuckle.

“If you want marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or a woman, Scatterbrain can help you. He’s into that stuff.”

The crackhead nodded much more assuringly than Michael would have thought him capable of.

“Or maybe you’d rather take a spin with Candy?”

The man shrugged, indicating it wouldn’t be the first time a stranger had taken a liking to Candy. Scatterbrain encouraged him.

“She’ll appreciate it. Look at her, she’s excited already!”

Even crackheads hit the nail on the head once in a while, Michael thought. Candy half smiled, his lips lengthening and shining wet. He wore a scarf, despite the heat, and his eyebrows were almost entirely shaved off.

“Look at her! Posing!”

“Candy! Is your name Candy, or isn’t it?”

“My name is Ricardo.”

“Or María Ricarda. Candy or María Ricarda.”

Scatterbrain seemed to continually be trying to convince himself that he occupied a superior position in the neighborhood hierarchy than the gay prostitute. Michael wondered who really outranked whom. If nothing else, Michael thought, Scatterbrain could be sure that Candy would never stab him. Any other of the neighborhood nightcrawlers was liable to get fed up with him and become violent at any time.

Michael felt himself relax a little, but remained wary of slipping into overconfidence. Scatterbrain seemed to notice.

“Buy me a meal. You bought me a drink, and I appreciate that, but what I really need is a meal. I’m starving.”

“I’d love to be able to buy everyone a meal.”

Michael didn’t explain that what he’d really done was to invite the altered young man to help him finish a bottle of beer that he knew he wouldn’t finish alone. He had intended to get drunk, but thought better of it after seeing how many guys with nothing to lose were out on the dark street between the hotel and the restaurant. His girlfriend didn’t drink at all anymore, and now two beers were almost too many.

“Buy him some dinner, and buy me some dinner and some beer.”

The tattooed man had initially put on a stone cold straight face, but abandoned it when he saw Michael smirking.

When a particularly antagonizing crackhead went by and fired a toy gun at him, Scatterbrain found the energy to stand up and hurl the empty pint glass at his enemy’s head and yell that he was sick of the guy. Still, he hadn’t forgotten his hunger.

“Miguelito won’t buy a guy a plate of food, but he’ll buy him a beer.”

Michael thought this sounded terrible, but decided that it was probably true. The tattooed man just laughed.

“Miguelito’s gonna wish he never ate here. You can tell that he’s good at dodging conversation, though.”

Michael took the comment as a sign of approval, a message that he could relax. Here he would be free of the usual harassment of foreign faces, on account of his having shown himself to be adept at avoiding becoming nervous or being sucked into any double-meaning sex jokes, a pastime in that part of the world. It felt good to have the backing of someone from the neighborhood who knew everybody and whom everybody knew.

A boy from the baseball game came running up to the man to ask permission to stay out until nine o’clock. When Michael showed himself curious, the man said it was his nephew.

Michael heard people call the man Oscar. He had a cell phone, and for the last half hour, when he wasn’t renting it to passers-by, he had been calling home to ask whether or not the milk had been delivered yet.

Somebody asked why he bought milk from that son of a bitch instead of over at the other place, where they bring it right away.

“Because that son of a bitch is cheaper, that’s why. 70 pesos instead of 84. Here, Miguelito, have a beer. Go on, drink it, it’s cold.”

“Alright.”

“I practically never leave my house, you know? I’m only out here right now because I got in a fight with my wife.”

Michael laughed an honest laugh.

“Me too.”

“Drink the beer, it’s cold. Scatterbrain, take this and go buy yourself something to eat.”