Tuesday, July 31, 2012


As it’s the last day of July, I’m starting to get nervous about summer ending. 

I’ve only swum in the lake twice and my quota of afternoon naps is far from being reached. 

I fear it’s time to put the brakes on time so I can savor my last few weeks of freedom before school starts.

Fortunately, I’ve figured out how to do that, though; it’s really quite simple.

You know how time drags when you’re bored out of your mind?  Like when you’re sitting in 10th grade math class and the teacher is reading problems from the book?  Or you’re at a half-day mandatory professional development meeting on the subject of earthquake safety?

The clock turns into something out of a Salvador Dali painting and the seconds seem to ooze by like Ol’ Man River performed by chilled molasses.  Everything slows down except for your patience and you begin to imagine you’ll be trapped there forever.

The good news is that by employing this same strategy, I’m able to make summer last longer.  Consequently, I’m doing everything I can to make sure I stay as bored as possible.

Instead of sitting on the couch reading pot-boiling page-turners, I’ve taken to just sitting there, staring vacantly into space.    And rather than availing myself of the many cultural charms our fair city has to offer, I make it a point to only go to the lamest, least interesting events out there, if I go at all.

I eat bland food, take the same bike rides over and over again, and watch infomercials on TV.

This has enabled me to make the 16 or so hours I’m awake every day seem double that.  And by combining this with sleepless nights staring that the ceiling worrying about the future, I’ve succeeded in having 24 hours seem more like a week.

And I’ve purposely mad this 327-word essay as ennui-producing as possible so you’ll be able to enjoy summer longer, too.

Friday, July 27, 2012


If I were riding down the Burke-Gilman trail (or Westlake Boulevard for that matter), and I came wheel to wheel with a line of forty or so cyclists carrying beer and other provisions pedaling to the beat of a throbbingly loud bicycle-mounted sound system who invited me to come with them for a swim in Lake Washington on what may have been the warmest evening of the year so far, I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t turn around and follow without hesitation.

When I mentioned this to tehSchkott, he pointed out that there’s your difference right there: I’d U-turn for fun because I’m the sort of person who does that; all those spandexed teeth-gritting riders we tried unsuccessfully to entice didn’t because they’re not.

Of course, this is circular reasoning, but that doesn’t make the conclusion false even if the argument’s fallacious—which is, I think, a decent metaphor for the evening’s experience: it’s undeniably true that the water is fine, the beer refreshing, and the music festive, even if the manner in which those outcomes were derived is questionable.

The waxing quarter moon formed a perfect ear in the sky as if our planet’s satellite were listening in, making me suspect that Luna, too, would have turned her celestial chariot around to follow the music even if that sometimes meant pedaling dangerously close to the sounds of Katy Perry or yet another playing of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”

Pasty torsos held a meeting in the water while less hardy souls mingled on land as dusk settled and Springsteen crooned; eventually the ride stumbled west to a patio near a different, but still connected body of water—which is, now that I think of it, another reasonably appropriate metaphor for the bike gang experience: the names and particulars are different but the flow is all one, so really, even if you don’t turn around, you’re still part of the same vastness whether you embrace it or not.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


You probably know the story of the “Princess and the Pea,” the fairytale about the king’s daughter who was so sensitive that she couldn’t sleep if there were a single pea placed under a stack of mattresses twenty feet high upon which she reclined.

You may also be aware that cycling great Eddy Merckx was constantly noodling with his handlebars and saddle and allegedly carried a wrench with him on rides so that he could continually tweak his stem and seat heights to exact perfection.

But what you may not have noticed is how particular you yourself are to minor changes in the set up of your bike(s).  This may be, in part, because we get used to whatever we ride, but if you want to test my claim, do like I did a few weeks ago and put a stem on your most-ridden rig that has 10 millimeters more reach on it than the one your currently run.

When I replaced the cockpit on my Saluki, I thought I’d try going from a 60mm reach to a 70mm.  Sometimes, I’ve found the steering a bit floppy and I thought if I were stretched out just a tiny bit more, the front might be that much more stable.  Plus, that 70mm was all that the distributor had in stock and I figured what the hell, I’d never even be able to notice such a tiny distinction, less than half an inch in real numbers.

But I’ll be damned if the bike didn’t feel all wrong with the longer stem reach.  I tried to convince myself that it didn’t really make a difference, that I was just imagining things; plus, the prospect of redoing the entire cockpit held me back, too.

After a couple of weeks, though, I couldn’t stand it any longer.  I put the 60mm back on and now I love the bike all over again.

Tonight, before bed, I’m checking under the mattress for peas.

Monday, July 23, 2012


It seemed to me that this year’s route for Seattle’s most diabolical guerilla time-trial bike race, the infamous Tour de Watertower, was easier, or at least more efficient than in years past, and I guess my time, which, at 3 hours 39 minutes and change was a good five whole minutes faster than my previous personal best is testament to that.

But this isn’t to say that race was a walk in the park, nor even a ride through one, although it did, as usual, lead us through some of Seattle’s loveliest neighborhoods to a few of its most spectacular views.

I was particularly taken, this time, by the panorama of our fair city afforded by the eastern slopes of Magnolia as one descended from the watery heights there and I savored the opportunity to ride across the Aurora Bridge in sunny broad daylight, too.

But I think my favorite part of the route was winding through Myrtle Edwards Park on my way to West Seattle for the final two climbs: the sky was smudged with blue and white so that the scene seemed more like a painting than a 3-dimensional reality.  As I pedaled through the park, I felt like an animated rendering or perhaps some minor character in a Wes Anderson film.

I’m proud to say that I didn’t have to walk up any hills, although I did carry my bike two blocks up some steps on Dravus that led to Magnolia’s watertower.  And unlike in previous races, I never really got any leg cramps, a result no doubt attributable not so much to fitness, but rather the relative coolness of the day and the generosity of folks at the checkpoints in refilling my water bottle.

According to my modified scoring methodology, whereby you take your age, subtract your final placing, and then the highest number wins, I came in, I think, second.

And even better, I took first place in the fendered bike class.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


There I am in San Francisco, one of the greatest cities in the world; I’ve gotten all my work done for the day and it’s only 9:00 at night.  You’d think I’d want to go out and tear it up, wouldn’t you?  You’d almost assume I have a responsibility to do so.

On the contrary, all I really had in me was a walk around the block and back home to bed with the Steinbeck book I’m reading.  Lame, I admit, but this is the person I’ve become, apparently.

I no longer have the appetite I once had for what lies outside my ears.  The idea of standing around in a bar or nightclub with a bunch of strangers sounds like less fun than curling up on the couch with my novel, even though the book I’m reading, In Dubious Battle, isn’t one of Steinbeck’s best.

Perhaps this is partially a reaction to the way I’ve spent the last few days, which has entailed a lot more schmoozing than I’m used to.  When I’ve had to be charming all day long with folks I hardly know, perhaps it’s not surprising that come evening, I’m ready to cocoon.

It certainly wasn’t always this way, though.  When I was younger I never wanted to be all by myself in the evening; even going to a movie in a town I was visiting seemed like a failure. 

It wasn’t so much a matter of meeting people as being around them.  Jen and I would go to New York, for instance, and only return to our hotel room to sleep and change clothes.

I still like feeling connected to the world at-large; I just am satisfied know that it’s going on out there without me.

One night, I did manage to hang out and watch a bit of a baseball game at my old haunt, The 500 Club; as soon as it was over, though, I finished my beer and left.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


When I replaced the cockpit on my Saluki a few weeks ago, I accidentally set up the brakes opposite the way I have them on all my other bikes.

Instead of the left lever controlling the front cantilever, I ran the cable so that my right hand controls the slowing of the forward wheel.

This is backwards to how most bikes in the U.S. are set up; apparently, though, it’s more common in England.

And, for what it’s worth, the late, great Sheldon Brown used to run his bikes with the front lever on the right, too.

It turns out I like it this way and not just because I’m reluctant to redo everything.  Since I usually rely more on the front brake to stop my bike than the rear, it make sense that my dominant, stronger hand should be in control; it seems to me that I get faster, more reliable slowing.

One downside is that with downtube shifters, my right hand naturally controls shifting the rear cassette, so if I want to change gears while braking, I’ve got to reach across with my left; not a big deal, but something to note.

Also, Sheldon counsels against having different set-ups on different bikes since, in an emergency stop, you might be apt, relying on your automatic responses rather than conscious intent, to apply the rear brake when you mean to slam on the front, thereby failing to stop quickly enough.  However, unlike Sheldon, I’m a two-brake panic-stopper; when I have to stop on a dime, I grab both levers, so I needn’t worry that I won’t slow down in time to keep from sliding under the pick-up truck or whatever.

The most compelling case for switching the levers back is that I mixed them up unintentionally; it’s kind of amateur to run set-ups that are accidental; on the other hand, now that I’ve ridden like this, I would have done it on purpose had I known.

Friday, July 13, 2012


This is how excited I was: on my way to catch up with this year’s Running of the Bulls ride, every time I saw a group of people wearing white tops, I slammed on my brakes, thinking that I had found the assembled masses, a tactic that probably only added ten or fifteen seconds to my route, seeing how fast I was pedaling to get there.

Arriving, then, at South Lake Union less than an hour en retard (quite a feat, if I do say so myself given that I started out for my destination 1500 miles and half a day away, in Santa Fe, NM), I was rewarded with the sight of more than four score cyclists in the customary garb along with a handful of people who weren’t actually bulls but were nevertheless dressed in manner that suggested male cattle, prompting me to immediately take the ceremonial plunge into the water, my first such foray into the drink on this year’s summer riding calendar.

Traditions happen almost by accident as like minds agree to reinvent an occasion occasionally; at the current rate of growth, sociologists in the future may be confounded as to whether Pamplona or Seattle came first.

Who’s copying whom?

Or is it, like the invention of the internal combustion engine, one of those developments that emerges concurrently around the globe, a hundredth monkey phenomenon, the human hive-mind giving rise to a spontaneous expression of our species’ collective unconsciousness?

Or maybe it was just the ideal summer evening, purple clouds filtering golden sunbeams over the park, white clothes stained burgundy through pink complementing the celestial hues perfectly.

Bottle rockets hardly needed launching to augment the festivities, but they were, of course, to the surprise of no one and the chagrin of just a few.

And then, the plastered pelaton was off again, red sashes trailing, and while minor crashes lay ahead, the noble tradition was once more secured, bull taken by its horns.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I realize the world depends upon people who do things.  And it’s obvious to me that happiness is essentially a by-product of setting goals and working towards them.  I also am aware of the fact that when I act like a slug I feel like a slug, and generally end up being disappointed with myself for failing to make more meaningful contributions to the world and all the people and animals in it.

That said, it’s nevertheless increasingly difficult to give a damn, especially as one realizes that really, it’s all just froth, and of course, just sound and fury signifying nothing as we caper about, strutting and preening on the world’s stage.

Besides, all this is just illusion: ephemeral, transitory, and impermanent; no matter what we do, it’s all going to be forgotten in a few generations at best, and even if it lasts longer than that, cosmology, geology, and even anthropology will scoff at our pretensions.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter; after all, all we’ve got is all we’ve got.  Just because the earth will be charred to a cinder in a couple billion years doesn’t mean that our few decades on the planet are meaningless, at least when observed from the vantage point of the lives we might potentially make a difference to.

And even if the human race has pretty much gone extinct in a couple hundred thousand years, that doesn’t make our individual lives pointless, although granted, it certainly puts the decision to attempt writing another book or developing a new class in a different context.

Imagine the greatest people who ever lived: your Jesuses, Gandhis, F. Scott Fitzgeralds.  Had they been as lackadaisical about accomplishment as I am, would the world be as rich and meaningful place as now?

Perhaps not, but who knows?  Maybe things would be better, although what “better” means in long-term is open to inquiry.

Or the world without me: exactly the same, except for these 327 words.

Friday, July 06, 2012


I’m not really sure I know how to vacation.  This may be, in part, because I live a life in which, arguably, one can never quite tell whether I’m already not out of the office, both literally and metaphorically.

Point taken.

But even given that, it’s unclear to me what being off entails.

I still do my daily yoga practice; in fact, I feel an even greater sense of urgency to do the full series since I’m not having to be somewhere soon after I’m done.

I can’t help but feel I ought to do at least a little writing on a regular basis, even if that amounts to little more than navel-gazing pieces like this.

And I never quite fully refrain from thinking about this which, as a philosopher, is pretty much my full time job anyway.

So, what does it mean to be on vacation, anyway?

I suppose sitting around the pool, which I’m planning on doing directly, counts strongly in favor of it.

And, presumably, cocktails with the family at sunset, which we engaged in last evening, is a marker, as well.

Traditionally, beer for breakfast, or, more pointedly, a pina colada before noon was a sure sign of being off.  Perhaps I can indulge in one or both of those before the day is out.

I’m reading a Stephen King book, The Tommyknockers, instead of the William Faulkner novel I brought along; I guess that counts, too.

And finally, instead of the standard 327-word essay, I’m cutting this one short at under 260.

Vacation, indeed!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


Your job is simple enough: you just have to throw strikes and make the hitters put it in play.  Three outs and your team, now up by two runs, will win the hard-fought game in extra innings.

But you commit the unforgivable sin for the slow-pitch softball pitcher: walking the lead-off girl hitter.  Then, to make matters worse, you put the next hitter on base via the free pass, too.  Six pitches later, you’ve issued a base on balls to another girl, this one who you struck on out three pitches last time she was up, and who had no intention of swinging at all this time around.

The next hitter pops out and your team perks up a little, chattering encouragement behind you.  But the slow-motion train wreck inevitably unfolds: “walks will haunt” as they say, and the next batter smacks a bases-clearing double.

The winning run crosses the plate, the opposing team mobs her; you toss your glove at the fence, kick at the dirt, and go sit in the dugout with your hat pulled down over your head.

A couple members of your team come over to console you; they say things like, “Nice game; you kept us in it;” “Softball’s a team game; we all could have played better,” “Tough loss; we’ll get ‘em next time,” but you know (that they know) it’s all your fault.

You’re the goat, the loser, player who lost the game; it’s a fact, even if people pretend to deny it.

The pain is interesting enough; you get to experience the feeling that real athletes must feel when they blow the game; it makes you wonder how the Ralph Brancas and Bill Buckners of the world can live with themselves. 

Letting your teammates down hurts; you lie in bed that night reliving your failure and beating yourself up for being such a loser.

Next day, it’s a little easier; three days hence, you can even write about it.

Sunday, July 01, 2012


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, said Lao-Tzu.  A yoga practice of 46 (or so) poses begins with a single breath, say I.

You awake, slightly hungover from an evening on which you rode your bike around a foreign, but not entirely unfamiliar city, stopping here and there for a beer or two en route and so, you think, “Ah, what the hell; I’m in a hotel room, why not just sleep in and forget about it,” but your conscience gets the best of you and so you resolve to just get up, brush your teeth and at least stand and chant and then, once that’s happened, you resolve to do three sun salutations and the padmasana, but after a couple of surya namaskaras, you find yourself seguing into utthita trikonasana and soon enough, before you know it, the entire primary series is done with, which just goes to show that by far, the hardest part of any practice is right before you start.

Once you’ve begun something, you’ve already practically finished it. 

Your brain tries to kill you beforehand with all the reasons why you can’t do what you ought to do but if you can just manage to trick yourself by imagining that you’re not really going to carry things through you can, by degrees, surprise yourself with what you might be able to accomplish.

I first noticed this is seventh grade when I had to redo the social studies project that Charles Titterington stole from my locker.  I cried for a  couple hours at first, but when I eventually got started, it only took me about half that long to get it done.

I’m not exactly sure what the implications of this are in life generally, other than to note that things are sometimes easier done than said, a phenomenon, which, though counterintuitive, serves to explain why, when all is said and done, here I am, finished with this.