Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I keep wanting to hate Dave Eggers.

He’s handsome, talented, rich (I suppose—richer than me, anyway), critically acclaimed, a great humanitarian, a successful social entrepreneur, not to mention younger than me by more than a decade, and curly-haired, too, so, by all rights, I really should despise him.

I was completely prepared to dismiss his best-seller, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, especially since it was a best-seller, on the grounds that it was way too po-mo and flashy, but when I read it, once I got past the introductory stuff, I couldn’t help but fall in love with both him and his brother and the way Eggers wrote about them.

I thought What is the What, his semi-fictionalized (I guess) autobiography of a lost boy from Sudan, was really powerful and compelling, and I wasn’t even bothered by the business that rankled some critics of his seeming to co-opt a story and voice that wasn’t his.

Today I finished—basically in a single sitting—his latest book, Zeitoun, and if I didn’t hate his talent and success before, I really should now. The book completely blew me away, so much so that there I am, weeping silently on the bus as I read the last few pages of the story and the acknowledgements afterwards.

In recounting the tale of one man’s experience, Eggers manages to address these huge social issues, indicting the Bush administration’s handling of Katrina as well as the “war on terror” without being pedantic, heavy-handed, or even really very political. You see the human scale of the tragedy, but that’s what’s makes it larger-than-life.

Perhaps above all, it’s a love story, between Zeitoun and his wife, Kathy, so that by the time he disappears from her in the post-storm storm you’re as crazy-scared as she is while mourning their loss and the loss of your own country and you’ve even managed to forget to keep hating Dave Eggers all over again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rather Ride

I went to Town Hall last night to see David Byrne talk about bicycles and the future of transportation and what I took away from it was that my favorite aspect of bicycle advocacy is bicycle riding; or, that is, I tend to lose patience with talking about bikes when I could be riding them.
(Of course, here I am “talking” about them; so, if I were you, I’d stop reading right now and pedal away.)

The former Talking Head was promoting his new book, Bicycle Diaries, which, at thirty or so pages into it, I’m enjoying more or less. He does a good job mixing travelogue and philosophizing; I certainly share his perspective on how great it is to ride around in a city you’re unfamiliar with—or even one you know pretty well—as a way to get to know it better.

He sat on a panel discussion with three other people involved in working towards transportation alternatives—some kind of urban planner, a functionary for the Department of Transportation, and the acting Executive Director of a bicycle advocacy non-profit—and frankly, if it weren’t that he was David Byrne, I’d have been pretty bored with all four speakers.

The talented Mr. B. did show a few charming slides from his two-wheeled travels and he affected a reasonably effective absent-minded professor sort of schtick, but the whole event struck me as a bit of a bait-and-switch, even down to the penitent letter from the owner of Elliot Bay books, stuck in my copy of Bicycle Diaries apologizing for it not being autographed by the author, as was promised as part of the $30.00 admission price for the evening.

Still, it was pleasant to be out of the house on a Monday night, surrounded by so many fans of cycling; I’ll give it that, at least.

Frankly, though, I think I do more for the cause of bicycling to ride around drinking with the bike gang.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Well, once again, the MacArthur Foundation, in its infinite wisdom, has overlooked me when selecting for the year’s “genius” awards.

Despite my unrivalled claim to being the world’s greatest writer of 327-word essays, the selection committee continues to reward individuals whose talents and abilities are applied to far more mundane enterprises, such as writing poetry, making films, or authoring in-depth analyses of civil rights issues. Nevertheless, I remain confident that, in coming years, as those who choose the winners become more sophisticated in their choices (and perhaps, somewhat more senile in the process), that 327 Words will receive its due recognition and its creator—yours truly—the half million bucks that goes along with it.

I don’t mean to sound all conceited or anything, but I mean really: this year’s MacArthur fellows include, among others, a mathematician, a poet, and even a friggin’ ornithologist! Somebody who studies, what? Orns? What’s up with that?

Now, I’m not saying that these folks don’t deserve their awards; I mean even “Rocky” won an Oscar for best picture, right? But if you think about the contribution to culture and meaning in the contemporary world, how can you compare, the import of—and I don’t mean to sound too harsh here, but really—a papermaker, to the positive affect upon humanity of almost daily 327-word insights into such vital human concerns as bicycle-riding, afternoon-napping, and ineffective parenting?

No doubt many will consider my complaints here to be merely sour grapes, but I would argue that it’s much more than that: it’s sour apples, watermelon, and pickles, too!

I’m sure that the selection committee worked long and hard to make its choices, but clearly it was neither long nor hard enough, which by the way, is a problem that the creator of 327 Words never experiences, badaboom-badabing, hah!

Of course, there’s always next year, and so I remain hopeful: but if I don’t win in 2010, it’s time to start writing about orns!

Friday, September 25, 2009


The superior feature of the evening out last night was getting to be outside all evening.

I didn’t have a roof over my head (except for about 15 minutes when I stopped into the deserted soccer bar off Aurora for a coke and a pee) for almost seven hours, from when I left Bothell after post-meeting libations with colleagues around 7:00 until I crept into my house at nearly 2:00

In the interim, I got to cross town east to west and north to south, wander around a beachfront while the quarter moon sank into the sound, scream as loud as I can in duet with a train roaring, clattering, and whistling by, climb the steep hill out of Carkeek Park twice, hone in on and meet up with a couple dozen cyclists in a supermarket parking lot, roll down a dark wooded trail behind and in front of others who shared the hilarity of not running off the path into a tree with me, stand around a hardwood fire that eventually burned as a hot as a blacksmith’s forge, talk my way out of trouble with a cranky security guard, dodge pushpins and bottle rockets launched from a homemade blowgun, and finally, before the night was done, pedal another fifteen miles by myself along my new favorite route in town, so that by the time I arrived at home, all I wanted to do was let my trousers wrinkle down upon my ankles and my shirt flutter atop it before lying prone upon by back and staring at the ceiling to recall the sights and sounds of the night, including crows silhouetted against the dying glow of the day, crackling embers and shiny faces, and one unopened PBR can left sitting on our backyard table, a mute but eloquent illustration of all that happened and didn’t in the out of doors I got to be in for all but an entire day’s worth of starry night.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Could Do It

I realize I’m a cycling fanatic: I own seven bikes, all of which I ride; my daily commute on two wheels is about 20 miles in each direction and I almost always cycle at least one leg, often two; I regularly drag my kid to school on the tandem and one of my favorite dates is to go dining and dancing with my darling wife on the bicycle built for two; I own a Haulin’ Colin trailer that I frequently use with to carry heavy loads; and my preferred night out with friends is to gang up with several dozen asshats on bikes and ride around causing mayhem to ourselves and others.

Clearly, this ain’t for everyone and I’m glad of it, really; one of the things I like best about being into bikes is that it’s kind of nerdy; if cycling were as popular as say, I dunno, driving maybe, it wouldn’t be nearly so attractive to me. It’s like how as soon as REM got popular in the late 80s, you didn’t want to like them anymore.

Still, as I ride around through traffic, it does occur to me that any reasonably healthy person (in Seattle, anyway) between the ages of about 14 to 65 could easily conduct most of their daily errands and chores on bike if they wanted to. All the places most people are going and most of the stuff they’re taking along with them could be carried on a decent bicycle with a decent rack or basket, I think.

So why people choose to sequester themselves inside of metal boxes is kind of beyond me; I feel sorry for most of them except the ones who piss me off like the guy who swerved into the bike lane this morning on Jackson and nearly drove me off the road; if only he’d been a cyclist, it wouldn’t have happened or at least he’d have heard me when I swore at him.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My So-Called LIfe

Over the last few months, Mimi, Jen, and I have been on Hulu, working our way through the one and only season of the charming and poignant television drama, “My So-Called Life,” starring the transcendent Claire Danes as 15 year-old Angela Chase and heartthrob Jared Leto as the object of her adolescent infatuation, Jordan Catalano.

Aside from moving me to tears at some point in nearly every episode with a touching moment of teen angst, or parental love, or spousal (mis)communication, the show also got me wondering philosophically from time to time, making me think it could be a good candidate for one of those Philosophy and Popular Culture series books, the ones like that take some pop phenomenon like the Simpsons or Seinfeld or Lord of the Rings, or even the Atkins Diet and use it to inspire a bunch of articles that raise philosophical questions and/or issues of some sort.

I would want to write a piece about how the relations among characters in My So-Called Life inspires an interrogation of the mind-body problem, specifically the relationship between an immaterial consciousness and the material human physical form.

This was most clearly explored, I think, in the final episode, where—in an obvious nod to the play Cyrano de Bergerac—geeky nerd Brian Krakow writes a love letter to Angela for (that is, from) Jordan which Angela doesn’t just like, she loves. And yet, in the final scene, when she learns it’s actually from Brian’s “soul,” she still drives off with Jordan’s body, which has me surmising that a case could be made that the show’s creators are somewhat ambivalent about their position on the issue.

On the one hand, they seem to recognize that there can exist an attraction between our immaterial “selves” (whether these be minds or souls) but they also admit that, as physical beings, there’s no denying that we can’t help being drawn to specific bodies, no matter what’s inside them or not.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Add It Up

I like going to birthday parties where the guest of honor thinks they’re turning old, but really, at a couple decades behind me, has no clue as to what old actually is, because it reminds me that neither do I, frankly, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure—as I was when some girl was on the karaoke stage belting out the Bryan Adams song, “Summer of 69”—that I was the one person in the room who had been born by then, even though I wasn’t as interested as the song’s narrator at that time in cars, girls, and music, as I was by bikes, bb guns, and model rocketry.

Age is just a number, and even though in my case, it’s one that’s divisible by the average age of the guests in attendance last night, it’s reassuring to think (or perhaps pathetic to observe) that a guy of my advanced years can still get up on a makeshift stage and with a younger partner scream out the lyrics to a song that came into the world just about the same year as plenty of the people there listening to it—and still have a fucking blast doing so.

I remember thrashing around on the dance floor to the Violent Femmes, “Add It Up” at Club West in Seattle, Monday nights in 1984; it was 80’s Night, I guess, but since it actually was the 80s, we just called in “night.”

It’s kind of amazing to me how well the song has held up, but then again, I guess Gordon Gano’s question, “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” is as timeless as ever; I’m sure just as many people are wondering that today as back then, in any case.

A quarter-century goes by in a flash, unless of course, you’re waiting at the DMV; 25 years from now I don’t know if I’ll still be singing karaoke, but I’m pretty sure I will be old.

Friday, September 18, 2009


It’s easy enough to forget that one of the best things about bike riding is riding your bike.

When so many nights’ entertainments include lake-swimming, or bull-running, or fry-eating, one is liable to overlook the part about bike-riding which, while admittedly, is not entirely what it’s all about, is the common feature that binds things together.

But then, you get a night like last, where before there’s even a stop to pee, you’re as far south as you usually go, and even before beer is bought, you’re sufficiently distant from downtown that kids on BMX bikes are riding over from the skatepark to see what the fuck is going on, and even with a hill so long, you can test the hypothesis that cursing acts as a painkiller over and over again, you still arrive a waterfront park in a whole different municipality more or less completely sober and early enough that the unofficial caretaker is still sufficiently awake to get in his car and drive over to check that no graffiti is being painted or litter left behind.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately about whether free will is an illusion in our deterministic universe, but if it is, I sure am glad that events have unfolded since the Big Bang such that my participation a thirty-plus mile bike ride after dark on the last Thursday of summer was not only possible, but inevitable, and that even with all the pedaling, there was still time to hang around a fire on the beach and close down not just one, but two bars before the night was out.

The switch-backed gravel road out of the park was steeper than I remember, and longer, too, but it eventually earned the kind of downhill that goes on and on while your heart rises higher and higher in your throat and reminds you once more how utterly fine it is to be out on a bike ride, riding your bike.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


On my morning ride out to school, while descending through the Montlake neighborhood, as I arrive at the corner of 26th and Boyer, it’s not uncommon for there to be a line of cars coming from 24th, stacking up towards the bottom of the hill, making their right into the Arboretum. It’s much less common, but not unprecedented, for one of those cars, seeing me waiting to cross the intersection, to slow down or stop and wave me across, the driver—almost invariably a middle-aged woman in a late model foreign car—smiling serenely as she commits her random act of kindness for the day or simply demonstrates how pro-alternative transportation she is despite being behind the wheel of an automobile.

Usually, and today was no exception, I don’t take the bait. I either pretend I don’t see or, as I did this morning, purse my lips and shake my head until the driver—as she did today—looks all surprised and put out before gunning her engine and proceeding on her way.

I realize it’s ingracious of me to act this way, but here’s my explanation:

First, I don’t like to be patronized; I want cars to treat me like any other vehicle on the road (albeit one that sometimes runs red lights and almost always rolls through stop signs.) It’s not my job to be some broad’s feel-good charity case just because I’m on two wheels and she’s on four.

Second, I’d already stopped, so what was the point?

Third, the half-dozen drivers behind her would have given me, not her, the stink eye for holding up traffic.

And finally: I’m a rebel, baby; don’t expect me to act the way you expect me to.

Funny thing is, on my ride home, at a nearby intersection, I pissed another driver off because I didn’t stop. Granted, I was riding through a crosswalk, so he should have braked anyway, but still, I was grateful he did.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Will Survive

At first I was afraid, I was petrified…

I tossed and turned all last night worrying about the upcoming school year and could barely choke down the leftover Honey Nut Cheerios in Mimi’s breakfast bowl this morning.

But eventually, I climbed on my bike and started pedaling out to Cascadia, and honestly, by the time I got to the Burke-Gilman trail in the Sandpoint neighborhood, I knew I’d be okay; I’m sure there will be loads of days with nights like today’s, but I guess it beats not working—at least my creditors think so.

Riding through the wetlands northeast of Husky stadium, I ran across a flock of birdwatchers, easily identifiable as the common form of Gray-Haired Caucasian Systematizers. Many were already wearing their fall plumage of Gore-Tex and Polarfleece, even though the temperature was pretty warm. I felt sorry for them, displaced from their home offices and station wagons, and sort of relieved that I’ve still got someplace to go to, thus delaying my own possible metamorphosis into such a creature, although I’ll be more likely to spend my mornings trying to identify types of mushroom than species of bird.

I have to remember that no matter how difficult or trying a day at school turns out to be, I’ve still got my ride home, a psychological salve I’m blessed to enjoy. This afternoon was perfect for cycling; I even had a bit of a tailwind, since it certainly couldn’t have been an improved fitness level that made the ride so relatively easy—except for the climb from Montlake to Union, which, I’m sure, is going to be, if not the death of me, at least the cause of my ready use of the U-Pass as the year goes on.

I did miss being home or in the neighborhood all day, but that’s something I’ll just have to get used to. The kid, by contrast, seems completely adapted, ignoring me just as much as ever.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Off the Couch

I did it! I managed to get up off the couch and am now ready to make my unique contribution to society and the world!

But first, a little nap in my chair.

It’s never to early to begin addressing the serious problems that we face as a people, a nation, and citizens of the world.

Just give me some time to wake up, first, okay? Maybe another cup or two of coffee is in order to get motivated.

President Obama today warned Wall Street about the dangers of “unchecked excess.” Thankfully, I’m doing my part to reign in any activity with even a hint of ambition.

I know! I could ride my bike from Cairo to Capetown. For starters, though, I’ll pad across the carpet and lie down in the corner.

Maybe it’s the weather: if the sun hadn't risen today, I’d feel completely different.

But now, I’ve decided to adore everything I do, even those things I had no intention of caring about until I had to do them; is there any other way to live?

For the last few months, my unspoken motto has been, “I don’t wanna do what I don’t wanna do.” Now, though, I haveta, even if I don’t wanna.

Ah well, all good things have to come to an end, except apparently, for Joan Rivers’ career. Ha-ha! Kidding!

In life, so many things are better to have done than to do, I think, and probably vice-versa, as well. I’m thinking specifically about a bike tour from France to India; I’d like to be the guy who’s done that; I’m not sure, though, I’d be willing to be the guy doing it.

Such ruminations are a luxury, are they not? Won’t my mind and body soon be occupied with far more pressing concerns? Like what’s for dinner and who’s going to fix it?

What I’ll miss most is that there’s never a night that’s a school night. I hereby devote myself to that attitude.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cyclocrossed Off (My List)

I’m relieved to report that cyclocross racing is not my new “thing;” and I’m indebted to the bicycle gods for making this abundantly clear by seeing that I got a front tire puncture just as I was rolling up to the starting line for this morning’s 45-and-over “Masters” Category Four race at Big Finn Hill Park in Kirkland, thereby ensuring that I would complete but one lap of the course before retiring trailside to patch my tube and listen to the announcer’s overheated commentary on the race.

So, while I did succeed in fulfilling the novice’s goal of keeping the heat leader in my sights, it was only as he flashed past the finish line lap after lap.

I should have known better, really. Where did I get the idea that I’d enjoy bicycle racing that wasn’t based around urban checkpoints, alcohol consumption, and/or generalized thematic stupidity?

Plus, it was squid-hell and most of the guys there had their “game faces” on, meaning they couldn’t smile back at me when I said “good morning,” although the worst offender was a dude behind the sign-in table who, when I asked if he could take a second to lend me a hand pinning my race number to my jersey, replied “Oh, no. I’m responsible for organizing this whole event, I don’t have time for that,” unaware, apparently, that his self-important explanation took longer than it would have to help me.

Still, it was a lovely morning for a bike ride, and the miles I would put in made me comfortable having not just one pastry, but two, for breakfast.

And while I probably won’t make a habit of ‘cross racing, I’m glad that it’s out there and that so many people like to get up early in the morning, dress in plastic, and drive their bikes on their cars to a park and race each other in circles.

Me, I’ll stick to reading the Times and drinking coffee.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Madrona T-Dock

There are many things I love about swimming in Lake Washington: its ready accessibility; the way you feel connected to endless summers bygone and yet to be; the semi-nastiness of water when you consider all the goose poop, human fecal coliform, and gasoline in it; but maybe my favorite aspect of all is when you get to the end of the Madrona T-Dock and there’s that sign on the railing that says, “No Swimming or Diving” right at the spot where you dive off to swim.

Today was a bonus summer day: we roasted in the sun at Mimi’s soccer game and the perfect accompaniment was one last dip in the lake, a coda, of sorts, to a summer that has been frighteningly lovely in the “what did I ever do to deserve this?” kind of gratitude sense, made more poignant by the understanding that either we may never get this kind of weather again, or worse, that it’s a harbinger of what’s to come with human-induced global climate change.

But no sense in fretting on such a perfect late-summer afternoon; a couple of three beers, a Husky football win!, and relaxed conversation around a shimmering body of water hardly two miles from your house; What? Me worry?

I’m freaked, of course, about the upcoming advent of school, and, as usual, wonder how in the world I’ll resume playing the part of a responsible, contributing member of society in the 21st century, but this afternoon, in the water—chilly as it was—all those concerns melted away and I could pretend, for a while, anyway, that summer will never end—not until that giant asteroid hits the earth in 2012, anyway, and puts us all out of our collective miseries.

The hard part, of course, is the ride back up the hill; we were hoping to skitch a ride on somebody’s car, but no such luck; still, no complaints; a small price to pay for the water.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I don’t really buy that old canard, “Freedom isn’t free.”

Seems to me that most of the examples people cite to support the claim aren’t so much wars of liberation as they are battles for economic supremacy. Even the Revolutionary War can be construed as an more of an effort to secure financial rather than political liberty, and certainly, none of the armed conflicts the U.S. has been involved in over the last half-century or so have obviously contributed to the maximization of we citizens’ freedoms.

On the other hand: to the extent that the victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 are our nation’s most powerful symbols of lives lost in support of American independence, I wholeheartedly honor that sacrifice.

Where else in the world, I ask you, would a person be unconstrained from joining several score of fellow bike riders on a cross-town jaunt to a bar where a grease and potato-eating competition was taking place, or from consuming 11 12! baskets of French (aka “Freedom”) fries to win said contest, or from ingesting so much booze you’d have to lie on your back around an outdoor fire for a solid hour or so, sitting up only to see if the night was still spinning and then puke out your guts when so affirmed?

Fallen freedom fighters, I salute you!

This year’s .83 9/11 Never Forget (How Fat You Really Are) Bike Ride and Freedom Fry Eating Contest was once again an unrestrained debacle in celebration of all we hold dear and the valiant eaters who gave freely of their innards to compete a heartwarming embodiment of rights—notably that inalienable one to pursue happiness—we cherish.

And the fact that yours truly was free to (over)-exercise that right but still sufficiently looked-after by compatriots sharing the evening’s struggle that I wasn’t left lying on my back outside makes me not only proud to be an American, but grateful beyond measure to be alive.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Now?

Ever have one of those days where nothing you do seems worth doing?

I mean, there I am, single-handedly saving the world from a giant asteroid collision, then inventing a safe, biodegradable, renewable fuel source for humanity’s benefit, and finally, finishing things off by cooking and serving a totally-organic locally-sourced absolutely-free gourmet meal for dozens of needy men and women down at the homeless shelter, but it still seems so empty, somehow.

I might as well sit on the couch all day, napping and reading trashy novels, not that I have any idea what that might be like.

It’s almost time for school to start again, and I’m savoring these last few days of freedom by carving a full-scale replica of Michelangelo’s “David” out of plastic I’ve salvaged by recycling discarded telephones while simultaneously composing what a New York Times critic who heard the rough version called “Beethoven’s Tenth;” and since I spent the day before yesterday cooking all the dishes in both versions of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, (and then hauling them—hot—by bike, to school cafeterias around town), I’m feeling a bit out-of-sorts, as if there’s something I should or could be doing but I’m not.

Perhaps it’s just the expected letdown after the trip I took last week on my homemade rocketship to repair the International Space Station, but I dunno; maybe I shouldn’t have stayed up so late performing successful open-heart surgery on those infant twins; but then again, their healthy cries afterwards kept me up, anyway.

Maybe I should cancel my appointment with President Obama this afternoon; seems like he’s got the health care thing more or less on track even without the assistance he’s been begging me for.

What I’d really like to do—if only Tiger Woods would be willing to postpone the lesson on putting I’m supposed to give him this evening—is drink some beer and watch the Steelers play.

That’s worth doing, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I don’t believe that human beings have a non-physical soul.

There’s no immortality, eternal life, nor reincarnation. When we die, we die and all that remains of us is our bodies, the work and things we leave behind, and the memories of us in those whose lives we touched.

Consciousness is a miracle to be sure, but it’s a naturally-occurring one. I believe it arises out of biological processes and came into being historically because it conferred some adaptive advantage upon creatures who developed it.

It exists, certainly, in the most robust sense, but only as a result of interactions among physical things. The image I have is of something like a projected film. It’s appropriate to say that a movie we are watching is real, that it exists, but it’s only there because the projector is casting light through a moving strip of plastic. As a consequence of those material interactions, a non-material artifact comes into being. But when you shut off the projector, it’s gone.

I know it’s terribly presumptuous of me to make such a claim; long traditions involving vast numbers of people way smarter, more educated, and hard-working than me make phenomenally well-rendered arguments that human beings are eternally-existing non-material souls embodied in ephemeral flesh; who am I to disagree with Plato, Descartes, or the fucking Dalai Lama for fuck’s sake?

Belief figures into it, no doubt; epistemological positions render metaphysical conditions. If I lived in Tibet and everyone around me was certain that reincarnation was a fact, it would be for me, too. Heck, if I lived in Kirkland and went to an evangelical church, souls might exist, as well.

And maybe my lack of belief in the soul means that I don’t have one; perhaps belief is a precondition of its existence; or maybe it’s the other way around: I don’t believe simply because I’m not possessed of one.

Too bad I won’t be around when I die to find out.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Still Don't Get It

I’m clearly too ill to understand what the opposition to health care reform is all about. Is there really anyone who doesn’t want sick or injured people taken care of?

I suppose some people are afraid that the government would be making health care decisions for them. But why is this worse than an insurance company doing so?

No doubt pro-life advocates have concerns that the government would be paying for abortions, but this just isn’t the case—and even if it were, why would anyone who’s not terminating a pregnancy care?

Another possibility is that folks are nervous about the government having access to their health records; but look, anyone who pays taxes has already opened up their kimono to Washington, so what’s the problem?

Obviously, lots of conservatives are simply against anything Obama supports, but are they really so rabid that they’d deny medical care to people just to get their way?

Ironically, plenty of people who support health insurance reform are healthy, reasonably fit middle-class liberals like me; lots of those who oppose it are overweight, sallow-complected, conservatives like Rush Limbaugh; you’d think that since I’m likely to be paying for services I don’t use (unless I wreck my bike without wearing a helmet), that I’d be the one yelling at my congressman in the town hall meeting.

What’s weird is that I’m sure everyone agrees that nobody who’s sick or injured shouldn’t be cared for. Why can’t this be the starting point for discussion? Why isn’t everyone asking how can we make sure that everyone has the medical care they need?

My dad always wanted me to follow in his footsteps and be a doctor; that is, until he didn’t. When I was about 30, he told me that the medical profession was so screwed up, he was glad I didn’t go into it. He did, though, take great pleasure in charging lawyers $350.00 an hour to be an expert witness in court.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Cyclocrossed Up

The original plan was to ride out to Kirkland and sample the cyclocross course at Big Finn Hill Park, but the record-setting morning deluge coupled with a threat of more rain in the afternoon convinced us all that the more prudent course of action would be to conduct the Tour de Fireplace, where we would ride bar-to-bar in search of cocktail lounges with wood-burning hearths as a feature.

But even that somewhat constrained ambition was initially thwarted, as our first destination, the Uber Tavern up in Greenlake, had yet to open.

The good news, though, was that we were able to get in a little urban cyclocross on the way there, throwing our bikes onto our shoulders and running up the stairs over Aurora; I felt like I got all the practice I need to ensure that I’ll earn DFL in next Saturday’s Sunday's competition should I actually get it together to race.

Probably the one thing I don’t need in my life right now is another bike-related hobby; as it is already I could pretty much spend most days and nearly every night engaged in some sort of bicycling nonsense, from Gold Sprints to Alleycats, drunken group rides to stony commutes, but much of that will end soon enough once school starts, so I may as well gorge on two-wheeling while I can.

I’m intrigued by the possibility, though, of trying my hand at racing in the mud; as it turns out, the XO-1 seems like it will be the perfect cyclcocross rig; I’ve just got to get some fatter tires; yesterday, for instance, it was pretty hairy riding on wet grass; I’m sure, though that the bloody mary I had for breakfast didn’t help—not that it hurt, either.

And I’m impressed to notice this morning that I’m bruised in several places I wasn’t before, my elbow, in particular, from hoisting my bike, I guess, is nicely contused. Still, no burns from fireplaces; that’s a plus.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Snot Rocket

Among the many pleasures associated with bicycle riding—snaking through a line of cars stuck in traffic, bombing down a hill after a few beers, savoring a tailwind on a Sunday morning smoke n’ spoke—one should not overlook that simplest of joys afforded to riders of all styles and persuasions, beloved by all except those who travel too closely behind; I refer, of course to the classic proboscis projectiling, the aptly-monikered “snot rocket.”

While standing on a street corner blowing your nose without a handkerchief is rightly construed as disgusting and gross, doing so while in the saddle of a moving bicycle is, again but for those traveling too closely behind, perfectly acceptable (at least to me, and since I’m the one writing this, so there.)

There are a number of techniques one may employ.

Some prefer the thumb-over-nostril style, accompanied by a long, deep exhale. Traditional and effective as this method is, it has the downside of positioning the elbow such that stray spray may occasionally find the crook of the arm.

Others opt for using an extended index finger laid along side the schnozz, a la Santa Clause heading up-chimney; however, one must be careful that the “products of ejection” clear the wrist when doing so.

For these reasons, as well as broader aesthetic considerations, I prefer the bent index finger/lower knuckle approach; not only is a solid seal created between digit and nosehole for superior propulsion throughout the process, riders are reasonably assured by the angles of exit, of arriving at their destinations with forearms, and even shirtfronts, relatively free of unwanted spotting.

Of course, the to success is riding speed; the snot rocket launched while speeding downhill is far safer than one initiated while mashing upwards; seasoned practitioners often wait until they crest a rise to initiate launch sequence.

I myself am not that picky; I prefer to savor said pleasure whenever possible, as do others, save those travelling too closely behind.

Friday, September 04, 2009


When I arrived at Westlake Center for the weekly .83 ride, I witnessed in attendance, two of my constituencies: non-squiddy bike riders and old people.

The latter, especially the scores of gray-haired liberals sporting cardboard signs in support of health care reform, looked pretty much as to be expected: lots of relaxed-fit blue jeans over white running shoes and t-shirts with pictures of whales and dolphins on them; the former, though, by and large, were stylin’ and profilin’: ladies in evening gowns with opera gloves to mid-shoulder, fellas sporting white shirts, ties, and vests; it looked like some kinda bike-themed Senior Prom or maybe auditions for the remake of Bugsy Malone.

In faded polo shirt and cardigan sweater, I felt a bit like the golf pro at the country club and was kinda bemoaning my inability to fit in anywhere, but thankfully, Mork the Delayer pointed out to me that there’s all sorts of other communities to which I belong: schoolteachers, Hempfest attendees, people who like to drink, and I didn’t feel so left out, and why should have I, really?

Probably by the time we were cruising down First Avenue, being honked at by suburban housewives (a community I’m not a part of) on our way to the fancy new SODO liquor store, and certainly, when we arrived at Anarchy Point for piñata smashing and bottle-killing, I couldn’t have felt more included even were I fully bedecked in the proverbial soup-and-fish.

A full moon had risen and the early September evening was surprisingly warm; I talked to a guy who caught three hefty Pink Salmon in the Duwamish but said he was a vegan and that the haul was for his mom; later, after the beer shortage became critical, the ride spilled downtown where bikes were hauled up steps and the elevator to a party where the formalwear, even though a bit limp in some cases, seemed right at home and so, there, alone, redressed, went I.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Right Ho, Jeeves

I’m not sure why I’ve never read a P.G. Wodehouse novel before.

I’ll vouchsafe the tales of the foppish Bertie Wooster and his ever-resourceful gentleman’s personal gentleman, Jeeves, were a favorite around my house, especially with my mom (maybe that’s why I never picked one up), but as my cousin Seth once kindly said about 327 Words, I can’t believe how much time I’ve wasted not reading them before now.

I just finished poring through Right Ho, Jeeves, an hilarious tale of broken wedding engagements, drunken speeches, and bad behavior on the part of upper-crust Britains, and I haven’t laughed out loud so much while reading anything since I first waded into the so-called “feuilletons” of S.J. Perelman.

What’s so especially rich about Wodehouse’s writing in how delightfully he captures the self-centered cluelessness of all his characters (save Jeeves), especially Bertram W. himself. Many’s the time I saw myself in his narcissism and craven behavior; here’s a fellow whose entire self-worth turns on the acquisition of a white mess dinner jacket with brass buttons, a sentiment that feels very familiar to somebody who has, in the past, allowed his happiness to turn more or less completely upon whether his knickers or cycling sweater matched the color of his bike or not.

I also like how Wodehouse, or at least Bertie, fully embraces the restorative powers of stiff drink, especially when pitching woo to the weaker sex. “You consider total abstinence a handicap to the gentleman who wishes to make a proposal of marriage, sir?” asks Jeeves. “Why dash it,” Bertie replies, astounded, “you must know it is.”

I certainly know, from my own experience, that I never would have wed were it not for distilled spirits; I’m quite sure that Jen, bless her heart, would never have pledged me her troth without the help of fancy cocktails and tiny bubbles.

“Give me a drink, Bertie,” says Aunt Dahlia.
“What sort?”
“Any sort, so long as it’s strong.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Seventh Grade

Just dropped the kid off for her first day of seventh grade, and in addition to feeling aggrieved over a teaching schedule that starts before Labor Day (just wrong!), I couldn’t help but be moved to reflect upon my own experience in that middle year of middle school way back in 1969-1970 when the world was simpler, home computers yet to be invented, and, according to Wikipedia, the Brady Bunch premiered on television.

Seventh grade was, for me, the year that my friends became way more important and influential in my life than my parents. I cared much more about what my fellow Guttersnipes (our neighborhood group of 10 or so little scofflaws) thought of me than whether or not Mom and Dad endorsed what I did.

That was the time of “buck-buck,” which we used to play at any and all parties and get-togethers; it was when I got given a super-flying wedgie from my pals for having been the first of us to go to a party with girls; those were the days I’d get up at 4:30 in the morning to deliver my paper route while listening to my transistor radio in the pocket of my fringed suede jacket; I remember one day being so frightened by the spooky guitar solo in Led Zepplin’s “Whole Lotta Love” that I had to turn it off.

Our homeroom teacher that year had perhaps the most unfortunate name ever for a 7th grade educator: Mrs. Hyman. I’m not sure any of us boys really knew what a hymen was, but it sure seemed funny when Charles Titterington held the Elmer’s glue bottle down by his crotch and squirted out sticky white gobs.

I got suspended from school for an afternoon when, in math study hall, I wouldn’t stop saying “mugwump, mugwump, mugwump;” the algebra teacher picked me up and threw me against the lockers; I wonder what similar adventures are in store for our kid this year.