No shit, there I was. Some of you may have caught my daylog -- the one from April 8, 2004 -- and if you didn't, I urge you to go check it out now. It has direct relevance on what follows.

I've been on travel a lot recently. Boulder, Los Angeles, Denver -- in and out faster than I can blink. Getting up at dawn (local time) and not sleeping until I've put in a second day's work back in the hotel room, checking e-mails and proofreading mind-numbing contractor documents. Never mind making sure I have the Red Sox game on in the background so my good karma will wash over them. Boston fans, you can thank me: I tuned into Game 4 against the Yankees because I was bored. I didn't miss a single game after that.

Erica's been busy, too. She's in grad school now at University of Maryland in College Park, studying nutrition. She had exams all week, and of course she's also handling the bulk of the work getting ready for our wedding. She's an angel, and a great kisser, and she's got great legs... and she's the meanest damn tail gunner ever to play Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. No wonder I'm going to marry her, neh?

I'm going to take a little timeout here to talk about the chronic overuse of the word Zen. Ever since the Robert Pirsig's book everyone goes totally apeshit about "Zen" being intricately attached to their art. Archers, knitters, football players, soldiers, postal workers... I'm a little sick of it, personally, but I can't say I think they're entirely wrong. A few years back, when I was an undergrad, I played Half-Life a lot. I was mediocre at best, but I enjoyed it -- and then one day, after a 12-hour day of ROTC and senior design project preparation and a raft of endless shit, I sat down in front of my terminal and loaded up Half-Life. Like one of those Tibetan sonsabitches during the Vietnam protests, I was on fire. Two-on-one kills, three-on-one kills, dodging rockets I didn't even know were coming. I went something like 49 kills in a row on a jam-packed server without getting killed. The fatigue put me at ease.

Just the other night, I was home from the West Coast after a three-week absence. Erica was exhausted from her exams. I poured us some whiskey and cranberry while the lasagna cooked. I cannot accurately convey how tired we were when we sat down. I turned on the Gamecube and we settled in for another drubbing.

The first race was so easy I thought that perhaps I'd accidentally set the game on 100cc. The second race they gave us some trouble, but I still won easily. We plowed ahead, always winning with seconds to spare, occasionally wrestling back from tough starts or bad positions -- but always squeaking by. The second- and third-place karts were aggressive, but Erica is a demon with green shells: she would pick whichever one was closer to us in the standings and relentlessly bury them under withering fusillades of items. Pink boxes, green shells, red shells thrown backward, bananas left behind tight turns... our nearest opponent felt her wrath. At the end of the fourteenth race, I paused the game to let the lasagna cool down. When I came back, I called her attention to the scores: we led with 140 points (the maximum possible at that point) and the next closest competitors were our two nemeses, tied with 96 points each. With two races to go, the worst possible outcome was for us to walk away with 140 and the computer to have 126.

I pointed out the score to Erica and she giggled. We had only been this close once or twice before, and this goal had been eluding us for months now. We settled in and drove the last two courses, finishing with the nefarious Rainbow Road. Let me tell you something: that Zen detachment bullshit is not bullshit. I dodged almost every item on the track. I hit dash panels five-in-a -row, I wove between giant bananas and moving Bowser shells, I did a variable-radius spiral turn down a blind ramp, zig-zagging between obstacles with fractions of a second to spare. We didn't take the lead on that course until the last straightaway, where we scooted past Donkey Kong and his gunner Peach, landed a jump, and corkscrewed down the last turn in a flurry of blue sparks.

Final Score: J.R. & Erica, 160 - a perfect score on mirror mode, to complete our trophy case. Donkey Kong and Peach, 110. Petey Pirhana and Toad, 110. Nobody else was even close. Our final time for mirror mode was 35:09:41. Upon Googling to compare other people's times and scores, I find that a 160-point finish on mirror mode is widely considered a fool's errand. I'm all Zen and shit. POW.