Life, Cubed

A day of living by the roll of the dice expands the idea of chance encounter -- exponentially

"They can be played like an instrument," says Fox, a tall, soft lumberjack of a man with unruly pigtails. "From the board or on the floor. You were making the music by activating the motion sensors."

Realization begins to dawn, but I recover in time to stick to my story.

What about the dice?

"Oh, the Dicewalk, great," says Fox, who has begun to look a little familiar.

"Do I know you?" I ask.

"Oh, yeah, from about 12 years ago," answers Fox quietly, "at the Mad Dog in the Fog." The local bar where I often sat secretly fingering my tiny dice, wondering if I should start to roll again.

Hmmmm ....

For years, Fox has used a die to determine his work and organize his time, but more recently he has started rolling for exercise. This is how he unwinds. A group of 10 -- including Fox's wife, Bodil, their 12-year-old daughter, Liv, and their daughter's best friend, Hanna Benkert -- joins him on 16th Street for the first roll. He gives us the odds, about 33 percent chance in any direction: 1, 2 -- we turn left; 3, 4 -- we travel straight; 5, 6 -- we turn right. The die carries us to Mission Street. It doesn't ask that we take BART; instead, it immediately demands we board a bus. Four stops later, we pile off, only to board the bus sitting right behind it. I ask Fox if he's read Rhinehart's book; startlingly, he shakes his head no.

"But we've e-mailed," says Fox, noticing my surprise. "I keep meaning to read it. I have a friend in Salt Lake that knows him. Tony Weller. He uses dice for any decision he doesn't think is important -- the clothes he wears on any given day, the music he puts on in the morning. It leaves room for more important things."

We pass a wig store; several of us sigh at the missed opportunity. At Cesar Chavez, the die tells us to disembark and walk back the way we've come, right past the wig store. We make a necessary hair-extension pit stop, then follow the die down Osage Alley, with its crumbling gray barn, to a garage sale on Lilac, then onto the No. 12 bus. We visit murals on Balmyand discover giant concrete bird totems on Alabama, all by the power of the die. We're led into the twisting warren of Bernal Heights, past Buddha heads and wind chimes, down roads that end in footpaths, up stairs that end in tea gardens, past a secret society clubhouse and a little pink bungalow called the Sugar Shack. The die leads us up the hill and down the hill and back up the hill again, past Benkert's house, to the giant Easter Island head that overlooks the freeway; and when the 12-year-olds finally decide food is more titillating than possibility, the die (which I am rolling) takes us back within spitting distance of the Benkert home and drops them off. We trudge on, up and down, up and down, in seeming circles that never loop, and just when it seems that we may never get off the hill, or see a public restroom, or eat real food again, the die spits us out on Precita, right in front of the Park Bench Cafe, which offers juice and a bathroom mosaic of a woman with a mirror positioned at crotch level, both hers and ours.

"You just got to trust that it'll all work out," says Fox. It's a variation of the soft mantra he's had to repeat all day, every time one of us has tried to bend the rules to reach a "promising" destination, or avoid another hill. "You can stop the Dicewalk, but you can't manipulate the die to go where you think it should go. You just have to give it up and see where the die takes you."

We head down Cesar Chavez toward Bayshore, past a very disgruntled party clown in a rental van and a pro-peace sign that reads "Poop Them Out," and wind up on 24th Street, where the die tells us to eat at Manivanh Thai.

We order only what the die dictates -- barbecue chicken, pad thai, sweet and sour soup, duck larb, and stir-fried broccoli. With all dietary restrictions amazingly met, we eat with gusto and head for home.

Even without the auspices of chance as our guide, the journey is not typical; our senses, having been heightened, are open and searching for hidden possibility and delight. In three frequently traveled blocks, we spot a Masonic Temple, a strange stone griffin, a hot-rod dune buggy, and a papier-mâché Lazarus. We have the dicesight. And it is nearly irresistible.

As Luke Rhinehart writes, "There are two paths: you use the Die, or you let the Die use you."

Instructions for Dicewalks can be downloaded at

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