Monday, August 31, 2009

Philosophy Camp III

On Friday, I cheated a little, taking the bus to Woodinville before pedaling the rest of the way—about 50 miles—to Smoke Farm outside Arlington for this year’s Philosophy Camp, the annual, so it has become, summer retreat at which University of Puget Sound professor of religious studies, Stuart Smithers and I get together with a dozen or so former students and current acquaintances to read and discuss philosophy, eat good food, do sitting meditation and yoga, and, in general, commune with nature such as it is on the south fork of the Stillaguamish river.

On Saturday morning, we read David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement Kenyon University Commencement speech and wondered, as he does, about what it means to be authentically free in the contemporary world. In the afternoon, we pondered Nietzsche’s preface to Human, All Too Human, and tried to figure out what it might be like to be free souls and the kind of self-deception it might require along the way to becoming one.

In the afternoon, I led a yoga session, and even though I forgot the names of a few of the asanas, I think it went pretty well, enough that I’m not entirely disabused of the notion that teaching yoga could be a fun thing to do when I’m in my seventies.

Sunday morning, after meditation, we looked at Spinoza, prompting the jokey idea to combine him with brunch next time, for “Spinoza and Mimosas” as well as getting us all to wonder a bit about the greatest good and whether Spinoza has it right when he refers to it as something like the union of the mind with all of nature, and what that might mean if he does.

My alternate route from the farm started with a canoe ride across the river, and then a ride along a blackberry-choked rail grade. I saved half an hour of hill-climbing, but spent the time changing two flats on the ride home.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Upping Fuckgrades

I’ve been using Microsoft Word to write with since before you were born. Probably. Almost, anyway.

Back in the 20th century, 1984 to be exact, I much preferred the Apple program MacWrite. It let you use like 10 or 12 different fonts—sometimes in the same sentence!—and I think it even had search and replace.

Then there was this program called WriteNow that was smaller and faster—I’m pretty sure it fit on a single 512K floppy disk—that was my favorite for a couple months.

But eventually, the Microsoft marketing machine ensured that resistance was futile and by the time Word 3.0 came around, I’d succumbed and have been a consistent—if not consistently satisfied—user ever since then.

I think the software peaked at about version 5.1; seems to me that by then, it did pretty much all I wanted it to do; I could create endnotes, automate tables of contents, employ styles, even, I think, insert pictures, although I’m loathe to do so since every one allegedly is worth more than three of my usual 327-word essays.

Since 2004, I’ve been using Microsoft Office 2004 and have gotten used to its many quirks, foibles, and convoluted ways of doing things, but this spring, as more and more students began submitting papers for me to grade in Office 2008, it became necessary for me to upgrade which I did a few months ago, albeit reluctantly.

Today, therefore, I spent a good 45 minutes swearing at my computer, loud enough to wake up the kid well before her usual noontime reveille, trying to figure out how to format headers and footers in new Sections, something that was reasonably straightforward (for a Microsoft product, anyway) in previous versions.

The rub was the change in terminology from “Same as Previous” to “Link with Previous,” or some such nonsense, and don’t even get me started on the way they changed how a table of contents is generated, grrr!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gold Sprints

I finally made it to indoor bike racing last night and even competed, although I got smoked by Wreyford Senior and ended up with the second-slowest men’s time of the evening.

Still, it was good fun; better than expected; the racing part was tolerable; what I really liked, though, was crowding around other racers during their heats and screaming encouragement in their ears.

Free vodka from 42 Below was a plus, too.

I think the sport could really take off if only there were more and better gambling. I’d like to see the software designed for pari-mutual wagering so that as more people put more of their money down on one of the two racers, the favorite would be handicapped in some way, thus making it a better bet to put more down on the longshot.

That way, when some freak of nature like Patrick was competing, there could be incentive to bet against him, although if it were me on the other bike, he’d have to get about a 12-second penalty over 500 meters to make it interesting.

I talked some with Ryan from GoMeansGo and he told me about these mechanical systems they have in the UK; I think that type of system would be more exciting than the electronic version in play last night; something about virtual nature of the computer display creates a sense of distance between riders and outcome.

And I guess the skeptic in me can’t help but doubt the authenticity of the results when the potential for affecting them via software seems so great.

On the other hand, maybe if there were a more interesting display than just bar graphs—why not little cyclists?—it could be more compelling.

I didn’t realize until I just did some web-searching how popular Gold Sprints have become among the hipster crowd; and while I still prefer outdoor bike riding, I’m sure I’ll be back, especially if we get the gambling angle worked out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Advice Requested

The kid likes to do nothing better these last few days of summer vacation, than sit on her bed, laptop in lap, watching Youtube videos and reading posts on the F My Life site.

It drives her parents nuts, but that’s probably the point, right? I’m sure it’s no worse for her—and probably slightly better—than how I liked to plop myself down in front of our black and white television set all August long, glued to re-runs of Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island.

The paternalistic concern here is twofold: first, it’s a beautiful day, go outside and play, but we all know that children from time immemorial have always preferred to stay inside the cave captivated by the light from the fire rather than go out in the world and have to make their fun with mastodon bones and mud; second, though, and this is the greater worry: our child is going to grow up without the creative skills to make her way in the world; she’ll end up living in our basement watching the mid-21st century equivalent of Youtube videos—holograms, probably—lonely, unhappy, and without the requisite skills to fend for herself in the highly-competitive global marketplace of the future.

But maybe she’s developing those skills right now; after all, most of the young people I know make their livings these days staring into computer screens all day long; maybe the kid is currently honing exactly the sort of abilities she’ll need to make it in the world of tomorrow.

I kinda doubt that, though; it’s hard to see how anyone’s going to pay her for surfing the web; they’ll be robots to do that by the time she reaches maturity.

Ironically, it wasn’t too long ago that I’d have given anything for her to be able to amuse herself—even with computer assistance—for hours at an end.

Just goes to show, be careful what you wish for, especially for your progeny.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Family Cycling

I’ve got it made, I really do: good health (although I was just choking on my coffee), a nice house, a great job that gives me three months off in the summer, and a loving family (except in the morning when I’m trying to get the kid off to school or in the very late evening, when I’m fumbling around the kitchen after a long night’s bike ride), and never is that made more obvious to me than when I get the opportunity to ride bikes with my loved ones, something that happened not just once but twice this past weekend, both times when we rode to Capitol Hill’s Teletubby Park (it’s really called Cal Anderson) to watch outdoor movies, first, on Friday, the comedy classic 9 to 5, second, on Sunday, a bunch of shorts put together by Dead Baby Terry, which almost, if I’d have had it more together, would have featured the animated bike version of the Tortoise and the Hare that Mimi and I put together for Filmed by Bike back in April.

I like the cinematic entertainment better on Friday, but the scene on Sunday was way more fun, with Alex and crew from 2020 Cycle there with the bike blender which I helped stock with ice, limeade, and tequila; the amusing irony being that they were selling cookies for $2.00 a piece, but giving away drinks for free—and if that’s not a model for the way things should be all the time, I don’t know what is.

Mimi and I rode the tandem the first time, but since I was hauling the trailer last night she took her own bike, which was a tad bittersweet I have to admit; it’s only a matter of time before her interest in being my stoker wanes and I’ll have to wait until she visits with her own family (fat chance, there!) before I’ll get the opportunity to captain the tandem with her again.
video

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Don't Call, Don't Write

I used to be a consistent correspondent with a number of people; I wrote my dad every week or two when I was a young man (and probably only half of the time requesting money); and until maybe a decade or so ago, I had half a dozen pen pals with whom I traded letters pretty regularly. I’ve never been a big fan of the telephone, but I did always phone home on Sunday mornings, and I used to be a pretty good drunk-dialer (the sappy kind, not the mean kind) when I was in my cups.

Nowadays, though, I’ve pretty much given up both those practices; I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a personalized missive to anyone and as for calling people, the fact that my cheap portable phone only works for about three minutes until the battery starts dying probably says all you need to know about my habits on the blower.

I’m sure a great deal is lost here, but I seem unmotivated to behave any differently. At the very least, my longtime aspiration to be remembered as a man of letters is probably off the table. At worst, my chances of cadging room and board off of far-flung friends I used to stay in touch with, is totally shot.

It should be easy enough to just pick up the phone and call people, but it’s hard for me to relate to people if I can’t see them in the flesh; I depend on the subtle non-verbal clues, like when my kid raises her middle finger at me and sneers.

I’m kind of jealous of all those people I see in their cars talking on their cell phones; I used to wonder who the hell they were talking to, but now it’s obvious: they’re all having conversations with each other, one automobile to the next.

So maybe I don’t need inspiration to be more communicative; maybe I just need another car.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Unreal

I wonder if in the future people will look back on nights like the one I got to have last night and doubt such things could really take place.

In the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-scenario dystopia, when humans have scorched the skies, cities lie in ruins, and the lakes have all been drained for bottled water, who will believe that you could congregate a gang of about three dozen bike riders and pedal across town under a luminous and non-lethal sunset, roll up to a liquor store and supermarket right next to each other for provisions and libations, and make it, just as dusk is settling in, to a smooth-as-glass body of non-toxic water, whose temperature is just warmer than the velvety night air, swim, dive, and paddle about, before wobbling ever so slightly through quiet residential streets to a bar called the Monkey Pub, that seems right out of Central Casting’s version of a divey college watering hole, then manage somehow to find yourself later, still en masse, around a blazing fire that no one even fell into, although, I believe, some arm hair got singed?

Won’t it seem impossibly quaint to our descendants, like stories of goin’ downriver on the Mississippi on a homemade raft, or pickin’ out a piece of gingham for Molly at the ol’ general store?

I kept having the Truman Show moment, where it was all too impossibly perfect to be real, although if it was just another episode in the series, the one thing I wish the director would have done differently was the end of the night, where it seemed to me that the departure home was like ball bearings dropped in a skillet, people scattering off in all directions, so that my route back to bed was far more random, solitary, and beset with concerns for my fellow revelers than anticipated, and did make me wonder, even in this day and age, whether all that had happened was really real.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beer

I used to be a sophisticate; at 22 years of age, I only drank wine, sometimes at 8:00AM before work.

Now, though, my tastes in quaffables are more plebian; given a choice between a glass of fine claret or a bottle of beer, I’ll almost always take the latter.

I’m not sure why this is; among other realms of my life—say, bicycles, or wristwatches, or bread—my tastes have probably gotten more refined; at least, I usually spend more money on them than I did in the past.

But when it comes to what’s for dinner, or lunch, for that matter, or breakfast when I’m camping, gimme an icy-cold grain beverage, preferably one that comes in a green bottle, although I’m not really that picky.

Perhaps I just got burned out on fermented grapes; the year Jen and I spent in France that’s pretty much all we drank; or maybe my taste buds have aged in such a way that I no longer appreciate the finer things in life; or maybe my Pittsburgh roots are strangling the tender shoots of my more exalted feelings.

Or maybe there’s just something so delicious about a frosty cold one just plucked from the cooler with beads of sweat running down the bottle and hint of tiny ice chips in the frothy amber liquid.

If I were a real beer snob—the kind who only drinks microbrews and imported ales with unpronounceable names—then maybe I could claim that my predilections are as exalted as ever. But that ain’t the case; I’m happier quaffing a Rolling Rock or even a PRB or a Rainier than I am sucking down a Chimay—just so long, that is, as they’re chilled to about the temperature of Dick Cheney’s soul.

The only real downside to this is the havoc it plays with my girlish figure, but the solution is reasonably simple: all it takes is a twist of the cap and bottoms up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health Who Cares?

The U.S. will probably never get comprehensive health care reform, primarily because so many people don’t know what’s good for them.

Millions and millions of Americans believe that a perfectly healthy lifestyle involves hours and hours a day of driving around in cars, eating food from drive-up windows, and taking anti-depressants to cope with the pain of being fat and dyspeptic.

Not to sound all Tom Cruise here, but the surest way to reduce health care costs in this country is for people to get off their asses, move around a little bit, and stop going to doctors so much.

But in the meantime, it sure would be cheaper, more equitable, and more efficient if the costs of care were borne by everyone, all together, and nobody got left out; but if people can’t even see what’s in their best interest, how will they ever support it?

All you have to do is call something “socialized,” and it becomes anathema. “Socialized medicine,” ooh, scary. Take something perfectly benign, that everyone likes, put socialized in front of it, and suddenly, yikes: “socialized back rubs,” aagh! “Socialized chocolate sundaes,” run! “Socialized unicorns,” (actually kind of creepy.)

I’m lucky; as a state of Washington employee, I have a pretty good health care plan, but it’s not cheap, and the co-pays for anything out of the ordinary can be daunting. Consequently, my best health care solution: don’t get sick!

And then all the lies, misinformation, and hysteria about so-called “death panels.” I actually don’t think they’d be such a bad idea, as long as the first applicants for them were Rush Limbaugh, Kenny G., and Sarah Palin.

Kidding! I’m kidding!

Obviously, nobody should have a panel of physicians deciding for them whether they should receive medical care; we should leave it like the way it is now, where some nameless, faceless, mid-level manager, in a huge heartless, multinational insurance company cubicle somewhere makes the call.

Isn’t that’s what’s best for all?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jeans Patching

My sister, Deb, was a great jeans patcher; I had a pair Levis in 10th grade that featured her handiwork: some kind of silk brocade material over the knees, and—although I might be making this up—a one-inch border on the bottom of each leg that kept their frayed edges from unraveling all the way up to what dad would have referred to as my “pupik.”

I learned what I could from her and spent many an evening in 11th and 12th grade tracing thread around fabric in the holes of my denim trousers, Levis jacket, and probably even a sock or two.

Not that I had to from an economic standpoint; my mom at least pretended to be aghast, assuring me that I could take the credit card to Kaufman’s and buy a whole new wardrobe if I so desired; but it was the 1970s, after all, and that was, for certainly a few months, the style at the time, and besides, I’m sure I got some enjoyment out of doing something that struck my parents as unnecessary, if not downright ridiculous.

But I’d entirely lost interest in patching over the last few decades, so much so that when the knees went out of my favorite biking jeans a few months ago, I bought some iron-on patches, even though I knew those things never work.

And, of course, they didn’t, curling up at the edges even before the first wash and all but falling off after they went through the dryer the first time.

So, I got out a needle and thread, and after taking a good ten minutes to insert the filament through the eye, sewed around those flipped-up boundaries until both knees had that solid old-fashioned Frankenstein look to them; those patches weren’t going anywhere now.

Today, I sewed some fleece over the seat of some other jeans I was ready to throw out; they’re good now at least until the next wash.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sissy

I’m turning into a sissy in my old(er) age; even more than I’ve always been in my young(er) days.

Like today, in yoga class, I bailed early on a couple of simple poses, even though nearly all the other students in the class, (nearly all of whom were girls), persevered—all because it hurt my wittle inkum winkums too terrible bad.

Or later, at the dentist for a teeth cleaning, I was all squirmy like a baby when the hygienist came at me with the sonic cleaning device and I felt little tears spring to my eyes when she scraped away the tartar on my mandibular central incisors.

Then, coming home, I felt frightened by the prospect of hills I was facing; as I pedaled on the flat of the Burke-Gilman trail, the climb up from Montlake to the Central District seemed so daunting that I almost gave it up and took a bus, even though I was riding the Tournesol, which goes up more easily than yo’ mama goes down.

It’s probably a result of the relaxed lifestyle I’ve been leading this summer; since I’m generally not having to do many things that I don’t want to do, I’ve gotten out of the habit of sucking it up and dealing. When the hardest trial I face most days is trying to keep my ass in my chair for an hour or two of writing about classroom exercises to stimulate philosophical thinking in pre-college students, it’s not surprising that anything slightly more difficult than opening a beer bottle without a churchkey turns out to be a struggle.

So, it’s not clear to me whether my newfound sissyhood is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, you might see it as an increased sensitivity to my own feelings, a closer connection to who I really am. On the other, I may just have turned into a fucking pussy.

But don’t say that; I’ll cry.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dog Days

Late August, summer’s winding down, and conventional wisdom has it that by now, the kids—and their parents—are pretty much ready for school to start and life to get on with itself according to the usual routine.

Not.

I could easily do with another three months of vacation and I’m sure the kid would happily go double that. Frankly, I feel like I’m just now starting to hit my stride (although it’s probably more of a stagger) when it comes to rest and relaxation; the real me—the one who can sleep until 10:45 in the morning—is only beginning to emerge.

There are still dozens of bike rides I’d like to take, lots of places I’d like to camp out, and at least four or five evenings on which I’d be into overindulging and waking up to regret what I’d done. Unfortunately, it’s already time to start reining in my impulses and commencing to behave, presumably while I still can backtrack now and again.

You can look up the origin of the term dog days—apparently, they’re even mentioned in Aristotle’s Physics—but I still like to believe it has to do with the way dogs lie around in the August heat. Our pet, Becca, pretty much spends her entire day these days curled up in the shade, except when someone walks by the house with an animal, at which point she raises her head and barks half-heartedly until owner and dog are out of smell-range.

It’s a delightful luxury, of course, to be in this position of having few enough responsibilities at the present time to appreciate the somnolent mood of these canicular days; and I’m not complaining; (for one thing, I’m too lazy to.)

I do kinda long for greater meaning and purpose in my life, though; and if it weren’t for my stronger inclination to doze in the shade and read Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, I’m sure I’d get right on it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Accidents

First off, let me state unequivocally that I didn’t mean for the Obama mask to end up at the bottom of Lake Union; that said, I also have to admit that I wasn’t really sad to see it go.

I’m not sorry that I winged it over my shoulder; I do apologize for drowning it and for any pain or sense of loss experienced by its owner.

I throw myself on the mercy of the court. What can I say?

Accidents happen.

Just ask anyone who hit the curb of the “ghettodrome” in Seattle Center and fell on her wrist breaking it bad enough to misplace a debit card; or somebody else who imbibed Jello shots and woke up with a mouth tasting of cat shit; or consider all those, yours truly, included, who spun out on the wet grass of South Lake Union and are regretting the way their groin muscles feel today.

Accidents happen.

“The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry,” wrote the poet Robert Burns, and when you’ve got a drunken bike gang whose plans, such as they are, aren’t so much lain as thrown down in a heap like a giant bike pile outside of a nightclub, then you’ve got to expect that sooner or later, in the course of an evening, the unanticipated is going to occur.

“Boom! Take your drawers off!” wrote the rappers The Lamborghiniz, and when you’ve got a got a white guy in a blackface mask slithering around stage, it can’t help coming off a little racist awkward, don’t you think? So if my ire at the Obama mask was slightly over-the-top, I can’t help thinking that it wasn't entirely misplaced.

Besides, on a purely aesthetic level, the thing was just bad: when I first saw it, I thought it was a Nixon face with a phoney spray-on tan.

Here’s the lesson I take: we can all do better, mask-makers, wearers, and tossers.

That’s no accident.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Family Camping

We loaded up the car with the tent, cooler, plastic containers with supplies and eats, the dog, the kid, all our bikes, and loads of other odds and ends and drove, all Beverly Hillbillies-style, to this campground called Lake Sylvia, near Montesano, and while the lake was really more of a pond, the place was quiet and lovely and our campsite perfectly adequate; we unpacked, set up, drank beer and took a little walk with the dog, then enjoyed an evening around the fire snacking and communing with nature.

Just as we were retiring for the evening, the rain started, and continued all the way through the night, loud enough at times to not only wake you up, but to keep you from falling back asleep again.

In the morning, it was still all drizzly, with no sign, really of letting up, so instead of a camp breakfast, we drove into town for country vittles at the local diner, where we decided that discretion was the better part of valor—or, at least, summer vacationing—and that rather than tough it out in the wet and cold, we’d return home, set the tend up in the lawn to dry, and maybe sleep out if we felt like it.

But back in Seattle, it looked like rain in the evening, too, so we moved the tent inside, to the living room, where we turned off the internet and all the lights, built a fire in the fireplace, and camped indoors.

For my money, it was practically as good as real camping; all the windows were open, so we could hear birds n’ shit, and with the fire crackling in the hearth, it almost sounded like we were out in the woods, without those pesky bugs, or those neighboring campers who had to start inflating their air mattress with the battery-powered compressor at 7:00 in the morning.

I missed making coffee over an open fire, but not that much.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sick of Bikes

Thursday night was lots of miles with the bike gang and plenty of two-wheeled nonsense; Friday was the annual Dead Baby Downhill, all about human-powered mayhem; Saturday, Jen and I rode the tandem through the Arboretum to Ben’s wedding and back, and so yesterday, as I prepared to pedal over to Magnuson Park to catch some of the North American Bike Polo Championships, the question was floated, half in jest, “Don’t you ever get sick of bikes?”

Umm…no?

Sure, there are aspects of cycling I get fed up with—diagnosing those elusive noises emanating from my drive train can get tedious, as can dressing and undressing for rain showers from September through June, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that fighting a headwind gets old pretty fast. And I definitely get sick of cyclists, especially those who don’t fit my constrained ideal of what a bike rider should be like.

But biking? Not so much.

Pretty much every time I’m pedaling away, I like it. This isn’t to say I’m always delighted to be mashing uphill or thrilled to be doing sphincter aerobics as I weave through traffic, but it is to note that when it comes to the bicycling part of bicycling, I’m almost always the opposite of sick, healthy, I guess.

Like today, I probably ended up riding about 60 miles, just around town, out to Bothell and back and then later, round-trip to West Seattle. There were times that my legs and lungs weren’t completely joyful, but for the most part, I was always glad to be riding.

I experienced the freedom of being able to cover lots and lots of ground under my own power; I savored the sun and mist and drizzle of our late summer weather; and I had a little adventure where I rescued a garter snake from the Burke-Gilman trail where he’d have certainly been run over had I not intervened.

Sick, maybe, but not sick of.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

An Eyeful

It’s a good thing that, unlike our stomachs, there’s no limit to the amount our eyes can consume because if we did have eye-bellies, mine would be, after last night, so distended by all I saw, that I’d have to take off my shoes to raise my eyebrows, or something like that.

It was a visual feast from 5:30 in the afternoon when Mimi and I first arrived at the Comet Tavern for the Dead Baby Downhill and Messenger Challenge sign-ups, all the way until I finally closed my peepers sometime long after midnight but thankfully slightly before the birds starting singing in the AM.

As usual, it was a vast clusterfuck of crazy cyclists and fucked-up bikes (or vice-versa), although this year, for the first time (at least the route we took, following many dozens in front of and behind us), there was a fair amount of uphilling on the Downhill, as we skirted the western ridge of Beacon Hill in order to get the final bomb down Lucille Street to Georgetown, and my eyes drank in the panorama of so many two-wheelers stretched out in both directions as far as anyone could see.

Subsequently, there was the Fellini-movie mayhem of the after-party, everywhere you’d look something or someone else to ogle at, eyes gleaming with excitement all around, among my favorite sights, a glowing SurlyKat, flush with pride at her victory in the Lady’s Division of the big race, oh yeah!

And then, eyes (and that’s not all) were popping at Ben’s bachelor party, a sedate affair where about a dozen fellows sipped drinks and toasted the groom on his impending nuptials; at least, that’s how I saw it.

Later, I made my way back to the DB festivities in time to catch the Bicycle Belles’ performance; some said they weren’t at their best, but I didn’t see it, my eyes were only filled with the three-dimensional splendor of bike-love beauty for all to see.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Magnanimity

The way I learned it, Aristotle identified two different virtues related to the disposition to share with others.

For regular folks, it’s generosity; among the hoi polloi, the virtuous person willingly gives to others in need, helps out friends, buys the occasional Real Change newspaper from the vendor on the street.

For the leading citizens of Athens, though, it’s called magnanimity; among the oligarchy, the virtuous person makes grand gestures in support of the people: finances the building of temples, supports the Olympic games, hosts the season’s bacchanal for all who attend.

That’s the virtue I kept thinking Joby the neon-demon embodied last night as he pretty much single-handedly threw for us the most fucked-up and wonderful 12 year-old birthday party bike ride imaginable.

There was more booze than people could drink (in such a short amount of time so early in the night, anyway), then something like 800 linear feat of glowstix, that in a most charming display of hippy-dippy bicycle craft activity was eagerly zip-tied to everyone’s rigs, each in our own special and characteristic way, then groovy black-light dayglo dance music roller skating for anybody who wanted to—(and once we got a look at it pretty much everybody did.)

And while the aspiration to stay up for 5:00AM bicycle breakfast wasn’t universally fulfilled, the Technicolor nonsense did continue well past Last Call, even though bridegroom Ben, who I enthusiastically pedaled crosstown to fete on the eve of the eve of his wedding, probably won’t recall.

But I’ll remember, long after the light of the glowstix on my bike fades, well past the time my roller-skated hips stop aching, and the image that’s going to shine longest, I think, is the view of some three dozen hard-core heavy-drinking hobo bike gang delinquents going all Martha Stewart on the grass while decorating their two-wheelers; talk about good-clean wholesome all-American fun; I didn’t even really need that magic cookie; magnanimity made for psychedelia all by itself.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Men

You gotta love being able to stand and pee, but other than that, I’m not sure I’ve got all that much to be proud of being a man.

Read the news and pretty much every single story of death and destruction—okay, except that terrible story in New York where the drunk woman drove wrong-way on the freeway for two miles before crashing and killing eight people including herself—has a male perpetrator.

Whether it’s suicide bombers in Afghanistan or suicidal shooters in suburban Pittsburgh, it’s all human beings with that “y” chromosome; what’s up with that?

Now, I know that boys are responsible for all kinds of humanity’s greatest achievements: the bicycle, representative democracy, the Caesar salad, but I’m unconvinced that all balances out against some of the terrible stuff males have mainly been the architects of, like the fire-bombing of Dresden in World War II, or September 11th, or the music of Kenny G. or Michael Bolton.

I’m not sure what the appropriate response to this state of affairs is; widespread castration is probably over-the-top and would no doubt result in a glut of geriatric boy bands, but it’s pretty obvious that something should be done to address the violent tendencies of those members of the human race with penises and testicles.

As a first step, it might be a good idea to ban men from owning guns, bombs, aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, and high-end P.A. systems. Boys would be allowed to have Swiss Army knives, but the big blade would be replaced by an additional corkscrew.

Of course, there’s no chance of this ever coming to pass, at least not while the vast majority of government seats have a phallus atop them.

Lysistrata probably had the right idea; if women withheld their sexual favors from men, maybe conflict would lessen. But maybe things would just get worse, as that creep in Pittsburgh, Sodini, seems to illustrate.

But whatta I know? I’m just some guy.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

East of Eden

Take your major American fiction writers of first half of the twentieth century: Fitzgerald remains my favorite and even though I enjoyed The Bear, I’m still least taken with Faulkner; Flannery O’ Conner always blows me away although short stories don’t really count; I’m only tepid about Hemingway, despite my love for A Moveable Feast; many years ago, I plodded through Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, and remember being quite moved, if sometimes bored; I used to be a big Dos Passos fan; I’ve read Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, but only because some reviewer compared a Woody Allen to it; Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is certainly a contender for the Great American Novel, but that’s all he wrote; Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here was one of my favorite books for a few weeks; and I never really got into Henry Miller, even though we lived in Paris on the cheap.

That leaves Steinbeck, who I’ve always appreciated, but have never really gotten into; I cried at the movie version of Of Mice and Men, and enjoyed reading Cannery Row, but I hardly remember reading The Grapes of Wrath in tenth grade, and I never even got around to East of Eden until these past two weeks.

But now I’ve finished it, and I must say, I thought it was great—in the old-fashioned sense of “great,” not like, “Oh, that Adam Sandler movie was great.”

The historical and emotional scope of the novel is immense and even though, at times, it does seem like the characters are written in service to Steinbeck’s larger message, they usually remain complex, compelling, and intensely human. I wouldn’t say the dialogue is always scintillating, but where Steinbeck does excel is in his descriptions of place and time.

He evokes a powerful longing in the reader for a world that once was and a way of life that was somehow larger-than-life; a biblical story, better than the original.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Never Easy

I needed to replace the rear tire on the tandem; you could see where the sidewall was fraying, and one thing that really sucks is to have a blowout as you fly downhill paired up on such a big bike; that’s not just a single broken collarbone, it’s two, at least.

So…

I put the beast up on the repair stand to remove its rear wheel; doing so is a bit tricky since it’s secured with 15mm bolts rather than a quick-release, but eventually, I wrangled it out, even though I did that stupid thing where you forget to unhook the cantilever brake straddle wire and the tire falls onto the pads and gets stuck, so you have to shove the axle back into the dropouts then hold it there with your knee while you struggle to get the wire free.

The tire itself was relatively easy to change, but I guess I pinched the tube getting the new bead on, so I had to pull it out, patch it, and pump it back up, but, of course, the tube of vulcanizing fluid in my saddlebag is all dried up so I’ve got to poke around to finally find a good one tucked behind my toolbox in the basement.

Then, when I get the wheel back on, the brake pads are rubbing, and I have to face facts that the wheel’s out of true. So off it comes from the bike and on it goes to the truing stand; once that’s done, there’s no denying that, part of the problem is that, in fact, the brake pads are shot.

Fortunately, I’ve got a nice pair stashed away and it only take 15 minutes to find them and another half hour to set them up, but they work well, skidding the wheel without any squealing.

A good hour and a half to do a ten minute job; I’m glad it was bike-related or I’d have been really annoyed.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

In Your Facebook

I had to disable my Facebook account; it was making me too anxious.

Deciding whether to confirm or deny friend requests, wondering why the requests I’d sent hadn’t been answered, fretting if my profile picture was sufficiently edgy while still being appropriate enough should—by some strange set of circumstances—my daughter happen upon my home page: it was all too stressful, especially since everyone else’s updates were way more interesting than my own.

I’ll stick to blogging, where I maintain some tiny semblance of control over what appears on my own computer screen.

It was kind of cool hearing from folks I hadn’t been in contact with for a while, and a reasonably enjoyable time-suck poking around looking for pages of others I’d lost touch with, but eventually, it wore thin; I found myself alternately using Facebook as a stick to beat myself with—all those interesting updates from “friends” make me, by comparison, a total loser—and as a petard by which to hoist others—clearly, anybody posting interesting updates makes them a loser for spending time on Facebook doing so.

Ultimately, this may be one of those generational things: while I’ve never been averse to clogging up the internet tubes with narcissistic navel-gazing and self-involved ranting and raving about concerns of concern only to me, my appetite for revealing everything about myself to hordes of anonymous strangers and even to people whose faces I know but whose names I can never remember has its limit: I guess I don’t mind posting some 327 word reflection about how I got drunk and rode my bike around in circles, but to have to download, then upload the pictures, and write witty little descriptions of them is beyond where I draw the line.

In any case, I’m glad Facebook is out there, but I’m also glad it’s not my current obsession; call me when the fad is over and you’ve got time to be friends for real.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Greenlake Race July 2009

I haven’t been out to the Greenlake Race at midnight all year; the last time I showed up was for the Race of Champions in December, when I threw down my hilarious (to me, anyway) hoax and convinced people (for a few seconds, anyway) that I’d won the heat, so I figured—especially with the weather so lovely—that the July edition of the competition, for which organizer Rogelia promised he’d provide pre-race tacos, was in order; consequently, I made sure I had a nap in the afternoon and a couple beers with dinner to get in the mood, and after a pre-funk at the Café Metropolitan to toast the birthday of senior Wrayford sister, Ryan, headed up with half a dozen other hopefuls to the track around the lake.

There, a pretty good contingent of tipsy (and not-so-tipsy) cyclists were milling about, finishing up the last of the salsa and tortillas, in preparation for the witching hour flag to drop.

Eventually, the field was organized, and, at Rogelio’s command, the race began. I quickly dropped into the final group of riders, a lively contingent composed of a couple girls who screamed and giggled infectiously every time (half a dozen, at least) we got drenched riding through the park’s sprinklers and three young shirtless guys on BMX bikes, all of whom but one, I’m proud to say, I eventually passed.

At first, I wasn’t even going to race, but the night was too fine to pass up the opportunity and, thanks to my steady pace (along with the dinner beers and pre-race pre-funk), I was feeling no pain—apart from a bit ego-gnawing until I passed that second BMX-er.

Also, it felt good to support the ongoing event; it’s nice to see that it perseveres, in all its glorious stupidity, in the post-Ito era. I probably won’t make it back until December again (if at all), but I’m glad the race carries on, even if I don’t.