Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trauma Sponges

Work has been relatively slow past couple shifts, which is a nice respite after the go-go-cuckoo-ness of the middle of the month. Sure, we're still digging out fire hydrants and stumbling through knee-deep drifts from the street to the sidewalks, and the putative emergency routes are actually less wide than the single-sided streets thanks to the new no-fly zone the plows have been observing five feet from the curbs. Also, the regular work world is in that end-of-year torpor where half the offices are on vacation and flex schedules, teletubby commuting, and those of us on shift work keep wondering when the request for more shovels and toilet paper will be stamped and forwarded. Since the weekend before Xmas, there's been a skeleton crew in the Admin offices, which gives a sense of rudderlessness to the ship of state for those of us out in the satellite stations. Are you there, boss? It's me, your staff.

Xmas season is hard, and we managed to avoid, for the most part, depression tragedies. I've caught a few over the past decade: home for the holidays is too much, so the sad person disappears for a few hours, never to return. Shitty thing to do to the family. Others just give out: multiple natural-death discoveries over this period. Perhaps no greater number than regular days, but the holiday veneer makes it seem worse.

We had a near-miss, or save, I guess, last night. A teenager had been busted smoking weed (with her adult uncle...yay, family) and grounded. She spent day half-pouting, as is the wont of grounded teens, then ingested all the pills she could find. The family thought she was just sleeping and pouting; in fact, one of the older women in the house was resting on the bed with her, thinking it was a nap, when they saw she was turning blue. We got her breathing again and the medics got the narcan into her, bringing her back around. Two hours later, she'd have been left to sleep all night, and forever.

I gave her a parental/teacherly lecture in the ambulance: 'No matter how bad you feel today, it WILL get better. Tomorrow will come. It's hard to believe that when you're in the middle of it, but it does get better.'
She stared at me through her gummy, lidded eyes, doubt and refusal the only focusing energy coming through the narcotic haze. I'm sure I don't know what her life is like, but the risk with teens, as evidenced here, is their sense of perspective is so short and myopic that they take rash actions over nothing. The dust will settle but the suicide won't.

Three shifts ago, we had a fender bender where all the passengers of the medical transport service immediately claimed injuries. They were so ingrained in the victim cycle, so self-selecting as injured and victimized, the thought that they were NOT hurt never crossed their minds. We'd had a boy jump/leap/fall fifty feet onto the road: THAT was injured. This was bullshit. After checking the passengers, investigating the cars for impact-damage (relative speed indications), I could barely muster civil, professional neutrality. The mother whining about all her injured parts, while moving freely and sighing about the inconvenience of it all--she tested me. We're not allowed to tell people they are, in our opinions, fucking weak, fucking faking, fucking whiny, but, honestly, when we witness the on-going abuse of the system, it's hard not to point out the bullshit. I certainly tell all the smokers who call us for their respiratory problems that their continued habit of smoking is making their breathing problems worse, and, by implication, wasting our time. Why should we rush through shitty streets to get here because your poor lungs can't get good oxygen through the dank, dense curtain of nicotine and ash clotting everything?

And tomorrow night is amateur night. Let's hope for a paucity of drunk stupidity.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Opposable thumbs

We lose our autonomy in the vats of our comfort and complacency. A metric fuck-ton of snow fell at warp speed. There's only so much snow the plows can clear. We were shoveling the apron at the station every 90 minutes instead of 2-4 hours and we were behind. Surprise! Nature won. Yet people act as if there should be an app for that. Harden up and shovel more fucking snow. (Too, Mpls plows can/could aim for within a five meter reach of the curb; even on the putative Emergency streets, there's barely room for two Priuses to pass with Smart Cars parked on either curb.)

The hypocritical invocation of Xmas' sanctity in name of ... Republican politicians not-voting for benefits for the same patriotic workers whose visages papered their campaign literature (when it was convenient); now, they're as suspect and greedy as anchor babies. Religious smugness vs. anti-commercial smugness vs. not-so-veiled anti-Other mean-spiritedness: Reclaim Xmas. Reclaim America. Reclaim the Constitution (that thing tattered, shredded, Patriot Act-ed, and water-boarded until barely a postage-stamp sized memo during Good Old Days of W. Bush).

I saw a treacly piece of not-news about one of those guys who never drops the mask of Santa, 'just spreading Xmas cheer all year round.' It's a story. If I committed to playing Captain Ahab, or Hester Prynne, or MacBeth (Lady or Her Mister, Chauncy MacBeth), would people find it a sweet gesture for literacy? If I went deep to play a Harry Potter character, or the Tooth Fairy, or Satan, would they interview me on a slow 'news' cycle weekend?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So, there was some snow? And, it totally, you know, fell. All over everywhere. And then more snow felt. The eskimos ran out of fucking words for snow, because we had so much fall today--and they probably don't have enough words for 'dumb-ass blindly determined drivers repeatedly miring their cars in deep snow.' I realize you live JUST OVER THERE, but the street really is impassible. Not for everyone but you, but for everyone other than Santa.

It's gorgeous outside, but the trick is that the temps are plummeting. Already kissing zero and heading south. Won't be above ten until Weds. That's depressing. Strong winds are depressing. Etc. Etc.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cyclotic Summary

I wanted to train & race more at the track all summer; three nights I had work trades set up, we were rained out. The final day of the season, rained out. I took the class in May, where three classes were rain-affected, but didn't get to race until early August. Good, in a way, because the beginner's men class is/was clogged with, well, beginners. A range of skills and speeds, with higher likelihood of crashing. My goal was to avoid a bad crash. It's a lot of fun, and I hope to do more of it next year.

I completed three of the AGRS races (100 mile gravel self-supported endeavors). There are those who race, and those who ride. I'm safely and deeply in the latter, but it's still a great deal of fun and challenge. I had to pull out of the fourth event, the Heck of the North, due to work. It was the week following the Gentleman's Ride, aka Almanzo Redux, which put sufficient hurt on me to disincline me to ride, even if I'd been able to get up there. Beautiful terrain, but hard shit.

And there are cats who RACE-race these things. Tuck and pedal hard for 100 miles of gravel, hills, descents, more gravel. Yikes.

I pulled something in my left elbow doing a ridiculously hilly ride in SW Wisconsin. Dairyland Dare is no joke, either. For the flat middle of the country, there're a lot of damn steep hills/valleys.

The men & women on Behind-Bars/LGR have been most welcoming this season. I am old enough to be the father of a few of them, but it's been a great time. While I'm continuing to 'build my base' (and I'll do that until I'm just stuck in a slow gear/land), while also developing racing skills, endurance, speed, handling skills, power, balance, etc, those around me were actively racing. I looked over the cyclocross results for Cat-4s, and recognized a handful of gents I was generally finishing with. It's pretty apparent that the starting positions made a decent difference for the short-lap races. The one time I wasn't in the way back, I had a glimmer of 'Hey, this might actually land me above the bottom-third!' and then someone ran over my rear wheel, knocking me to the VERY back. I never ended up DFL, and learned a little bit over the course of the season. It's hard and really, really fun.

My intention to ride all winter is tempered by my desire not to wipe out on ice/snow. Lots of people live by their bikes, but I acknowledge my fear of falling trumps noble intentions and daring desires.

Oh, and then we got a puppy...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dias de Gracias, antes de los dias del tontos (viernes 'negro')

I was putting the girls to bed last night and, in lieu of jesus pep talk or mish-mash of guilt- and/or hegemonic-driven Thanksgiving narrative, suggested we spend time today thinking about those we love, those we miss, all we have, and then spend serious time considering those who don't have families to visit, or aren't welcomed, or have no ties, or no jobs, no homes, no health, no food. It's easy to forget to even make cursory attempts, or lip-service tributes, to the sentiment at root of the day--especially when the culture as a blobby whole is either shrieking in rancid pleasure at it's tea partied a-historical/logical self-supremacy or else (NO: AND/while) revving up it's amphetamine-fueled fat sodas & lattes to break each other's necks at four-thirty am tomorrow for more shit we don't need.

It's easy to feel despairing about the nonsense accumulating on the surface, in the blood stream, in the psyches of this nation's residents. The culmination of a far-too-easy assault on logic, clarity, and integrity by... mad marketing men, business conglomerates (if the 'news' is owned by the sellers, what is the freedom of the press?), not-even-pseudo demagogue politicians, and, yes, reality fucking t.v.

Wow, it's so depressing I'm going to go sweat and play french rap loudly. Tomorrow, I might put 1000 denver boots on random cars in the mall parking lots. It's like 1000 Points of Light, but with meaning.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Downward dogdom

After a long struggle to make it work, I've had to yield to the realities of our/my home life, work schedule, and training limitations. I couldn't make it work with Shrike at home. He's utterly sweet, but utterly jacked, and I wasn't able to sufficiently shape his drives to manage him at home (or on the field). We moved past the long period when he was a source of domestic contention, and the solution worked relatively well: he was kenneled outside or inside when I wasn't home; kids/Annie would interact minimally with him, letting him in/out, feeding him, small social interactions. But he's so strong and wild that they were (rightly) uncomfortable with him, and, because I wasn't home to handle him when I wasn't home, there was no way to truly solidify their hierarchy when I wasn't there.

Even when I'm home, he would get so twitchy that simple living time was futile. When we go to the park to play & train, most every day I'd sustain some form of minor, albeit painful, injury: bruised knees and ribs, torn fingers, smashed jaw. He is as loving a Mal as I've seen, and doesn't blow me off out of spite or headstrongness: he simply blows a mental gasket. It certainly hasn't helped to be able to train only intermittently, so that when we do get out w/ other people, his enthusiasm runneth FAR over.

I am so grateful for all of Michael's help, encouragement, wisdom, support, friendship. It pains me deeply to give up, yet I look at Shrike and know that he'll NEVER be a dog to hang out around the house with us, that the kids will NEVER be able to walk him or play with him w/o legit fear of getting hurt... Too, I then worry that he might get a hair across his ass one day when I'm on shift, and the consequences for the family who don't know how to read him would be unbearable for me.

Michael will be training him now, and likely solving many of the problems that I was unable to. It feels like failure to me, but I've tried to be realistic about my training abilities as well as my work/life/family situation. It hurts, and frustrates, but that's life. I really hope to see Michael and Shrike competing... He's been a crowd favorite EVERY time we stepped on the field.

Too, my threshold for the assholes, nutjobs, monomaniacal freaks, deluded halfwits, and emotional basket cases who comprise the thick, doughy middle of dogsports is far surpassed. I hate spending time with people who don't listen, who are paranoid and deluded, mean-spirited and petty (we get oodles of that at work). People who don't actually understand what it takes to train their dogs, from the dog's perspective, the trainer's, the decoy's, yet who badmouth others and gripe about everyone else's shortcomings and blame everyone but themselves. People who will never set foot on a trial field but kill the air of cyberspace with inane, poisonous rantings and interweb conspiracies. Good people, too, who love their dogs too much to see the dogs will never make it--that's so much time, energy, emotion, and money squandered, in minor-scale egocentric obsession.

I came back to decoying after breaking my leg. The ankle remains gimpy but I've done all right. I'm not young and the wear-tear on the body add up. To be really good requires dedication, hours of training, skill, and time. My ego and spirit like doing it, but when I'm getting beat up, or traveling far, and the dogs, the trainers, the judges, are trapped in their own basement of delusion and control, and undermining the better-nature of the sport, it's not worth it. Younger guys are motivated to do it. My shoulder injury last fall hasn't healed well enough to be free of worry, and that's a large factor against competing: don't do it if you're worried about what might happen. That's how injuries happen, too.

I love and am deeply grateful for all the people I've met, especially the small rare band of good people with clear minds and generous hearts. I've enjoyed time across the country with a range of good people putting forth big efforts to make something happen. That is great. I've learned a great deal. In many respects, dog training eased me through some hard straits of marriage (which is likely the opposite for most couples...) These things have been instrumental for me in the past seven years.

I can walk away from the bullshit and the nonsense and the crazed control freaks who threaten to ruin the dogsports with their ceaseless raving misconception that they are alpha-omega of the sport, even if their training sucks and their lack of generosity when it matters eclipses all their hard work and genuine dedication. I can walk away from the fucktards who don't know or do shit but blather on the internet, though their toxic spew is a real-life hazard for other people. I can gladly dismiss the shitty bitter folks. Fuck 'em.

My problem was, I just want a dog to do stuff with. Shrike is an awesome dog but too drivey for me to handle. Keeping him as a pet dog would have driven him/us mad. I want the girls to grow up with a dog they can help train, hang out with (w/o fear of getting obliterated every time they pet him), walk, do all that stuff. I was making a stretch to do it w/ a Mal, and I learned so very much through my time w/ Shrike.

Someone was needling me recently about spending so much time cycling rather than training. At least when I'm a sucky biker, I'm out there amid other sucky bikers who're working our collective sucky asses off to achieve something. There will be no internet sniping from the safety of your slovenly suburban compound: show up, ride your bike, (have fun), and shut the fuck up. I wish I could spend more time training dogs with good friends, but Oakland, Menomonie, Appleton, Boston, White Rock are far, far away.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

civic duties of the befuddled

I stirred from a couple-hours sleep at shift change this morning. My breath was killing me from behind pursed lips. One of those nights... My second lucid thought--after, oh yes, I am at work--was that I expected to see a co-worker come dancing in, giddy with the expected landslide smack-down refutation of Hope/Change. My waking mind put forth the question, rhetorically, to my not-yet-present co-worker: Isn't it a bit counter-productive to be thrilled to vote for a party whose first order of business, most likely, (upon taking senate/house, governor's office, white house) will be to overturn your right to marry and to serve in military, and to have basic benefits for you & your long-term partner?' To which, she imaginarily responded (as she has in the past) that she was a fiscal republican. Supporting the party who rocks out for the super-rich is a bit like the fire department deciding to vote to give Rocco Forte and his regulatory services empire a raise, taking from our own pockets money to pad his retirement nest.

And then my day began.
I keep having visions of horrified and repulsed Europeans, Africans, Slaviks, etc, as if they were watching average americans roam the parking lots and discount shopping malls in their ridiculous big cars, buying ridiculous oversized shit, and complaining about the threats to their way of life while ensconced in their big, dumb american houses. Ask most of them to identify some solid, actual threat from Obama (NO, he isn't and hasn't rounded up your guns and ammo, but that canard keeps the NRA homefires of cash flow burning bright) or some actual, plausible solution your tea partying friends will actual do... and there will be awkward silence or incoherent half-garbled non-truths from cable news crawl. And those folks in places where the stakes are real and are high will look at us, not with envy, but with horror, fear, disdain, perhaps even pity.

What the fuck.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wheels of Autumn

Trying to race some cyclocross. Trying. 'Race.' Some. The CX part is true, but for the late-summer temps, which render the extra gear moot.

I don't know how to ride over rocks & roots well.
I don't know how to steer through twists and turns well.
I don't feel comfortable going down rutted, rooty, twisty descents.
I respect my penchant for proving gravity's existence.
I don't have what some call a motor.
I don't have much of a base.
I don't have young legs.

I've done four races so far. First two, I nearly exploded in initial pandemonium of charging dudes, even as they passed me--or I slunk backwards like an anchor--and couldn't make my lungs work right. Then, tired, scared, bummed, I cursed myself for the hubris of trying to race bikes when I'm credibly middle-age-ish. Then, reminded myself that I could quit at any moment. Pondered that. Then, saw I had two laps left, and sucked it up.

Worked on making last lap as error-free as possible each time; tried successfully to avoid the crashes I'd had in the previous three or so laps.

Yesterday, the Crosstober race was 'fast,' according to one and all. Except I was dropped like a McDonald's bag out the window of a bitchin' GTO in the initial sprint. Why sprint when I'm going to go slow for the rest of the race? I thought I'd pace myself and make ground on all the fools who'd taken the speed bait and were not tapped. Except: the two guys I was marking kept getting further away from me. Oh well.

Got myself a sweet raffle prize yesterday:

This is a hobby. It's fun. It's hard. There's so much to learn. I'm enjoying the company of the other Cat4 riders, even though most of them are better riders than I am. As one guy said, 'I'm on the twenty year developmental plan...' Word.

The dudes and lasses of Behind-Bars/LGR have been generous with their support and encouragement for my nascent attempts. Good people.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wheels of time

Almanzo Redux: 100 miles of hills, descents, gravel, dirt, gravel, raging water crossing, cows... It's hard to be driven/competitive and be mediocre. I'm old enough to make peace w/ it, but it's really amazing to be putting forth as much effort as my legs allow and watch everyone just breeze away. I did fine, overall, but it's frustrating to spend eight-plus hours as the weak link. The group was awesome and supportive and good-spirited, which made a great difference. I hadn't promised anything other that what I delivered, but it chaps the ass.

The more I ride, the more amazed/wowed I am at the range of people with major legs/lungs. Below top-level racers, who generally look the same, a wide swath of folks can ride the fuck out of a bike. Annie wonders why I try to ride so much, and I explain that it takes hours and miles, deliberate riding, to develop a base, let alone skills, reserves, or power & stamina.

That said, it's a hell of a great way to get around and pass the time.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A paean to Vargas, she of the obdurate spirit & massive mug.

So, Vargas.

I'm appreciating the evolution of my relationship with her--which, let's be honest, is really just my attitude towards her. She remains as aloof, resentful, long-suffering, indifferent as ever.

She was the dog I came home with when I went looking for a replacement for my beloved, extremely crazy husky Watt. I was done w/ sled dogs, with all that hair. Early '00s internet research wasn't as thorough as it is today. Dog books and internet info sent me toward the bullmastiff, 'nightwatchman's guardian' etc ad nauseaum. Breeders and 'fanciers' all have some special trait that makes each particular favored breed unique, but it's all the same pablum. Watch Dogs 101 and consider how similar each breed's 'unique' traits are.

I did pick the least-active puppy in the pen, the most indifferent to visitors--because I liked her color. (Yes, shame on me.) All the research about how awesome and active these dogs are was bullshit. Basically, they eat a lot, crap a lot, and sleep a lot. Period. I wanted a dog to play with, to do stuff with. According to all the insider information I found, the bullmastiff is the perfect dog for...everything.
From there, I went searching for training classes, ran into the worst clicker trainer on the planet, and found myself in Hudson, Wisc., for what's been a six+ year run w/ serious dog training, protection dog work, sport dog competitions, crazy dog people immersion. I'm grateful to Vargas for that.
Of course, training her for basic obedience was hellish. No food drive, no ball drive, no toy drive... just stolid indifference, and waiting until I went away so she could go back to sleep.

She is, largely, the best pet dog for 90% of most people--provided they don't let her eat their winter storage. She sleeps in, goes out & potties, gets excited for breakfast, forgets she's eaten breakfast and gets excited all over again, then sleeps until the next meal-time. Period.

She smells horrible, despite baths. She drools enough to have scarred the walls w/ miscellaneous semi-solid slobber. But she's sweet and mellow and has been perfect for the girls, Harper especially.

Vargas isn't dying, but she's not young. I see her legs wobble more frequently as she rises or attempts the stairs. She's eight or so, I don't really remember. That's good for a bullmastiff. I expect she'll outlive me, just for spite.

I got a presa in exchange for training at the kennel in Hudson, and rehomed Vargas. The presa grew up to be an ass, and with my schedule, there was no one in the house while I was on shift to make him behave. I/we don't need that. He threatened two babysitters, and that was it. I want a dog to be part of the family, not a threat to it. I got Shrike, the superlatively Malinois-crazy Malinois, and he's as sweet as can be, but he, too, is loaded to the gills. He's good with the girls, but he's a true risk from sheer energy. He's three and a half and no one but me can walk him. I'm bummed that, again, a family dog w/ working drive escapes us. Largely, it's my schedule. If I weren't on 24 hour shifts, it'd be far easier to manage the dog at both ends of the day, but when I'm gone, it's understandable that he gets bored. Still, he's sweet w/ the girls and generally quiet and mellow when kenneled.

When Shrike was 18 or 20 months, we got a call from the pound: the people who had Vargas had dropped her there w/o calling us; her microchip still had my number so I went out & reclaimed her. She'd just been too much of a lazy pig for them: wouldn't go out to potty but pooped all over the house; ate all the food she could scrounge from counters and such. I couldn't let her get put down over that, so back she came. What a juxtaposition: skinny, twitchy, high-drive Shrike & The Hippo, Vargas. I would get mad at her for being such a big lug, for stealing food and being a pain in the ass. She had a phase where she started crapping in the house, no matter how often I put her out. Then I feared I would have to put her down, but she stopped as randomly as she started.
Recently, as my frustrations with Shrike's endless hyperdriven energy have revealed that, despite my best intentions, it's not easy to raise a working dog in a non-working dog family, not with my schedule, I've come to appreciate Vargas. She is. Yes, yes, yes, yes, she is. She endures.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dualistic weekend

Busy, hot weekend of self-created challenges. Got done with a ten-day on-off series of work shifts Saturday morning and powered out to Red Star Kennel, in Hudson, Wi., where Mark & Irina were hosting a French Ringsport trial. French Ring and Mondio are similar, with small irritatingly nuanced differences. The French are all about aesthetic nuance, which can be a pain in the ass for the non-French. Or me.

I put Shrike in for the Brevet solely because the Brevet certifi
cate is the sole 'prize' in all of dog sports that I truly coveted. There's something vastly old-timey and slick about the certificate, and it harkens to the early days of dog stuff. Big shiny trophies might fill a case, collecting sunlight and dust equally, but the Brevet paper speaks to days and dogs of yore. And better mustaches.
Shrike hasn't been training much, not with the crack-like presence of any decoys, but the Brevet routine is so short, I hazarded it would be doable. He is so twitchy that the muzzle exercise do not go well. He spins out of control with in a few seconds of confused discomfort, and, from there, goes nuclear. I knew we'd lose most of the muzzle points but figured much of the rest would be fine. Except there are so many small differences between the two sports that I made lots of small errors--in part because I spend so much time trying to will Shrike not to spin off his axis on the field.

We passed ugly. It was a generous scoring by the judge, but they view the Brevet as a walk and chew gum test. We'd have been dinged enough to borderline not pass a level one (except he'd have done well for the added OB exercises). The dog is a marvel of impulse and explosion.

The FR3 dogs were really strong and fun to watch. Good to see how training pays off. Good to see a slew of old friends and internet acquaintances. That night, Annie and I had a mellow date: robbing banks and stealing ambulances, just like the good old-timey days of courtship. AKA, Thai food at home and walking to watch Scott Pilgrim vs World, which was really funny.

Got up early Sunday to drop my stuff off at the pit for the duathlon. Then, from 0745 until 0920 or so, I stood around. I understand their need for crowd control etc, but it's a bit silly to stand around, waiting. Hey, I had it easy: rolled out my house, down the street, across the bridge, and there I was. Other folks drove hours to do it.

MFD crew represented again: Chad Saloka, Ben Pena, DaRoss Jones, Shana Dooley, Amy Powers. Last year I pulled the fastest time of us. This year, while I hoped to repeat, my focus was to post fastest single-speed bike leg. But then my calf cramped the first step off the bike. I had to walk, limp, shuffle the second leg. Chad and Ben came in about 1:50. DaRoss at 1:53, with me a minute back. I still can't figure out how those guys get through the transition zones SO much faster than I do, but I improved my time from last year.

As I explained to the girls afterwards, it's a challenge within the challenge. We all want to go out and rock the race, totally kick ass and blow others (in our minds) away. Reality is, we're all rank weekenders, which is fine. We're chasing vanity and curiosity and pleasure. My calf turned to cement and I pondered quitting--not because I was in such pain but because I felt my 'record' slipping away. 'Screw it, I'm going home to sulk. I've got an excuse...' but the test is how we face adversity (used lightly and mostly ironically here) and make decisions when things don't go our way.

Can't imagine the amount of $$$ collected in the bike pit yesterday. As BSNYC might say, A mighty herd of Freds breaking all sorts of non-records.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Man. Not the Man. So very The Man. Really, Not the Man

I wear a badge and ride in a shiny red truck for work. My charming disposition alone allows me access to most every building in the city. What? Oh, perhaps it's the badge and truck, not my winning wiles.

I go to various Co-ops for organic self-regard and free-range smugness, where I/we have been members since before half the bakers were lesbians and/or vegans, and I get the cold fish-eye of liberal, anti-authority resentment. 'Screw you, Man.' I browse for the same shit everyone else browses for, but I get the hard-inflectioned demi-curiousity: 'May I help you?' 'What are you looking for today?'

Eight-dollar-per-# strawberries, is the answer, just like every working man.

When I shop co-ops with my work partner, he gets more of the same, leavened with a frisson of liberal guilt: He, too, wears the badge of shame patriarchal war-machine, he has a mustache...but he's brown-skinned! Holy conundrum, Fish-fan-man. We want to hate The Man for keeping us down and thwarting our struggles, yet we're not allowed to be mean to minorities, lest we be seen as intolerant... Oh, the agony. (And, yes, Ben appreciates your Free Tibet stickers on the Subaru.)

When we do inspections on Lake Street, the mercados and tiendas are generally run by immigrants getting exploited in Sabri-owned shitholes. We walk in, badges and radios and vested authority, and we're met w/ dull terror and long-standing mistrust. I can understand it. I try to explain we're doing inspections on every building in the city, but between cultural and language barriers, there's enough wariness to prevent ease of interaction. I feel for the store workers, and I also have a responsibility to prevent asshole landlords from exploiting immigrants, whether in the stores or the shitty living quarters above, to the point that a small fire turns deadly.

I'm certain many inspectors come in w/ enough Minnesotan baggage that the exchanges aren't polite or helpful. Ben and I speak decent Spanish, and try to be flexible, but the wariness remains. End result, also, is that the fines on the building will cause eviction or harassment of these legit workers. Sad deal, but I can't let them work/live in deathtraps.
We had a debate about which was more tragic/pathetic (generating of pathos, ie) of our first couple calls this morning: woman w/o insurance having some sort of seizure; bone skinny, racked with bruises and skin infections. Unsure if she'd been beaten or just took such horrible care of herself, and smoked so much for so long, that her skin had no perfusion. In a dark, dingy, dusty, depressing house with two equally cowed, frail adult daughters, and two hard-looking, sullen men. OR, the pair of adult alcoholics who, after a bottle of vodka and case of malt liquor (per usual), fell over, whereby he struck his head, then a few hours later fell and struck his head again. He was so cocked we couldn't get a coherent word out of him, other than some bragging about being a Marine and being ready to kick our asses--so, a typical drunk--but his pupils were disturbingly unequal and his breathing was labored and the foam at his mouth didn't seem like toothpaste. His old lady was no better, absent the head trauma. She went from concerned about him and whining at us to help him to HOWLING that we were hurting/killing/hurting him, and WHY WHY WHY were we doing it?!?!?!?!? when we started to load him to get to the hospital. Drunken drama, with a possible brain bleed to boot. Sad and stupid.

It's one of those days that the accumulation of stupidity and hard-times, plus shitheels and walking tragedies, plays hard with tempers and timing, and the wrong tone/word shoots out at the wrong call. As if the enslaught of pointless shit outstrips my humor and patience, and then the call where it's in full demand, all I've got is a headache from too many smoke-choked apartments and no humor from too many self-created dramas.

Is there any wonder it's hard sometimes not to be a glue-veined prick to the smugly insolent at the co-op?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Create your own adventure, the grown-up version

I ventured to lower Wisconsin last Saturday for the Dairyland Dare--recruited in the ice age of February by my girl T-bell. She tried to get me to do it last year, but I was out east. Her report then: HILLY as hell, plus hotter than Hell. AND, at least Hell's a dry heat: this was soupy upper-midwest humid hell.

So, I should have known what I was getting myself into. But you can't, until you get there.
We were planning on riding the 200 & 150K routes, respectively, but as we sat in the diner across from the Crazy Cow Saloon and stared mournfully at the weather forecast, we scaled back. Expected highs were over 90 by midday. It's been hot for a while, sticky and wet and unpleasant. Global warming deniers can suck my sweat-stained socks.

Saturday morning, we got up way too early for a recreational activity, in order to get on the road early. Even though we crossed the start line about 0700, the humidity and early sun were brutal--and the first hill came in the first mile. Steep as shit, making me glad I hadn't chowed down right away, lest the burning taste of puky oatmeal and bagel be the hallmark of my morning.
I was drenched in sweat before reaching the first water spot at 15 miles. I was squeezing my fists to force the sweat out, like squeezing a sponge. The hills were no joke. I repeat: the hills were NOT FUCKING AROUND. Whoever says midwest is flat isn't wrong, except for these hidden crevasses where the ice age chased the last mammoths to their exhausted, frozen deaths.
For most of the ride, I amused myself thinking of C. Lander, of Stuff White People Like, and BSNYC, whose clever prose and spot-on critique of cultural things would make them great roommates, or not. But truly, white people like artificial challenges. We like to pay to gather together with our wildly expensive and over-qualified recreational toys and, in a group of like-minded and skilled folks, push ourselves for no good reason--other than to talk about it later. And put photos on facebook.

There were lots of Basement Olympians there. Semi-professional group riders. Dudes who take themselves far, far too seriously. It was great to see people of all shapes, sizes, conditioning, & ages working hard and having fun. I chuckled at the random breakaway guys who zipped past everyone, feeling like Cancellara. 'Seriously, my man, you're in Wisconsin. Chill out and smile, at least.'
A team of overly serious trainers whizzed by me, twice. Their leader was like Dolph Lundgren, and about as humorous. If I could have kept up, I would have, and made inane conversation as we went. But they were chasing PRs and monitoring their wattage, while I was trying to keep my hands from slipping off the handlebars.

Having only done a couple century rides, ever--and both in past two months, as part of a gravel road-race ('race') series spearheaded by Chris Skogen/Almanzo Hundo, whose mission is to run free, self-sustained group rides--it was interesting to see how luxurious this game was. Generous and friendly volunteers everywhere, laden with fruit, water, munchies, etc. Very different from the DIY spirit. Regardless, these events require massive planning and effort by the organizers--that's nothing to sneeze at.

It was a good, brutal mental test. Not knowing the course or how many hills remained effectively obliterated my focus and confidence. I was crying uncle/aunt by mile 30. I re-scaled back my goal for the day: not 200K, not 150, either. I'd do a hundred at respectable pace and be done with it. The money was already spent. It was only my pride preventing me from being rational--and convincing me to soldier through the illusion of pain.

I wasn't alone in the rough waters of self-created self-turmoil. Many others were getting their asses kicked. We ALL chose, and paid, to do it. My friends in the military might have chosen to enlist, but what-all they're confronted with is certainly less of a whimsical adventure. People starving and homeless, ill and ill-prepared, they are facing real challenges. We were simply riding (very expensive) bikes through some hills in Wisconsin.

At a water stop, I texted Tbell (again, how rough is it when my hardship isn't making fire from earth but finding good reception for my vanity phone?) and learned she, too, had scaled back, and was, in fact, already waiting for me at the end.

Good: I knew the end was certain and could 'push' myself the final fifteen miles. Wrong. I was shot and stuffed, tattered and battered, slanted and enchanted. Oh, maybe not the latter. Pavement would have been music to my ears, but I figured headphones were gauche.

Felt like a ton of bricks dropped on me at the end. Discouraging. Ate and zombied about, then drove back. Within a couple hours, we both had false confidence: 'Dude, we TOTALLY could/should have done more... NEXT YEAR, we will...'

Monday, August 2, 2010


I must admit I wasn't particularly gracious about summer's advent. I'd become adjusted to my kid-free daytimes, and the sudden shift was bracing. Still, we fumble and stumble through everything. Girls are awesome to hang out with--which is a plus--so it was always a matter of my low-grade selfish whining. Tug of responsibility and whatnot.

Harper said she really wanted 'something big' to happen to/for her this summer, perhaps a result of feeling eclipsed by her older sister in all things, and the letdown of kindergarden's end. So, she's learned, or allowed herself to achieve, to swim unfettered by floaties. This was a matter of overcoming her non-negotiable wariness of putting her head in the water. Once she passed that: fish-esque. Then she (finally) lost her first tooth, followed in short order by her second tooth, its neighbor.

Flann and Harper both have gotten into cycling, and we've been toodling about for much of the past couple weeks. Pretty fun to share an activity.

Weather. Swelter. Whatever.
Off to east coast to visit my folks. Return to work on-off-on-off for half-a-month (stupid).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

National Experiment

I'm not impressed nor convinced that the 'straight pride' bumper stickers are either humorously intended or a cry for no-special-rights, since they are, by definition, upholding an unequal dynamic. I was in Chattanooga, 90-94, during the release of Spike Lee's Malcolm X. When police stood heavily outside the theaters because... because... well, 'that material' might incite trouble. Hmmm. We manifest our fears and reflexive beliefs by our unconscious actions.
I worked at an all-male, former-military, evangelical Presbyterian boarding school. Yes. So, there was rampant religiosity and overt bigotry, and many many inadvertently funny testimonies. There was also a mini controversy over the rebel flag, which many stalwart sons of the south wanted to fly on their walls or in their windows. Now, the controversy wasn't that they did. Nay, the administrators were getting early-90s PC, ish, and began to forbid stars/bars from flying in the open--which was an effrontery to many. The controversy came when the handful of African-American students wore t-shirts or caps w/ the X on it. 'We can't wear our colors. How come they can wear theirs?' was the complaint of the white students. Several faculty members agreed.
The flag of a secessionist government, and outright symbol of 'southern pride' & antideluvian power order, and appropriated symbol of reactionary (if not racist) whites, the Confederate flag is a symbol of an actual political/cultural entity. Malcolm X was a man who held no elected office, made no laws, enforced only those already on the books (which said whites seemed slow to honor; and he 'enforced' them only insofar as he verbally reminded white America of their existence), and spoke articulately of racial imbalances. The movie, a biopic, sold souvenirs. Kids and adults wore them as show of pride, as cultural artifact, because Spike Lee & Denzel Washington are/were cool. (Equally, some white kids flew Confederate flag for same reasons--because it seemed cool and a way to participate in a larger community, without really knowing the what behind the why.)
But it's problematic that teachers were so easily led to equate the two, showing the hearts up their sleeves: fear, misunderstanding, resentment.

Which brings me to the ugly 'revulsion' spreading like fungus through white America about Obama. On one hand, it's just ('just') and extension of the Fox News stranglehold on people's minds, and our own complicity with easy slogan existence. Deeper, though, is a psychic reaction that is profoundly ugly. We should own it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Biked over to watch the Hold Steady play outdoors at Cabooze/Whiskey Junction last night. Hot all day, humid with devil's breath blowing hard. I'd ridden for a couple hours late afternoon, and it didn't feel super hot, until I realized that my breath was hot on my face as I exhaled.

The show was good. I was in the equivalent of Wrigley Field's cheap seats, against light-rail track bike path with a dozen other cyclists and a couple drifters/drunks. The population of the biker bar on this fine summer eve was heavy on recreational bikers, I'd have to say. Lots of hog porn in parking lot; lots of standard issue Sturgis shirts (few more than three years old); lots of biker babes/bitches/whatever. The sheer intensity of posturing and preening gave me psychic Botox.

All subcultures have their own customs, hangers-on, etc, and it's endearing/nauseating to witness. I may be a dork in lycra, sweating and puffing along the roads/paths of Mpls/St Paul, but/and I any different than the dudes strutting tough in ironed denim?

Ah, foibles. Vanity of vanities.

Dog world, too, gives me pause. So many people love their dogs, but what does that matter, or, does that matter above all? The dudes who posture in the parking lots of dog events, stacking their 'brutes' and talking about how game each is, or their instinctive habits--are they really less legit than the Sch folks who spend umpteen hours making marginal dogs scrape past club-level tests? To what end is it all?

Two firefighters got caught in a third floor room when there was a flashover or explosion of some sort. One received bad, bad burns to his hands and arms. News and officials keep stating the injuries are non-life-threatening, that both men are all right. Possible loss of both hands? Not all right. My thoughts are with them.

Monday, June 28, 2010

At least the gates of Hell have a dog.

Was in Wisconsin for a doggy event all weekend. I'd packed stuff to sweat in, to wear afterward, to trial in. Neither enough shirts nor socks, however. Then I was informed I had to wear long pant to trial. I don't mind it, but was miffed because, a. it was fecking hot, and, b. I'd just arrived for the weekend, leaving my entire wardrobe, including pants/slacks/trousers, at home.

So I went to WalMart, or Wall Mart, or Wall's Mart.

And there, in the wilds of Wisconsin, were the people of WalMart. Actually, before that even, I negotiated a parking lot full of the cars of the people of walmart. The right-wing and reactionary, and xenophobic/racist/idiotic, excess of bumper stickers gave me, briefly, pause.

WHO, exactly, was threatening these good, doughy burghers? WHO was impingeing on their right to... eat a LOT of processed foods?

This is America, I thought. Too smug, self-satisfied, incurious, dull to hoist ourselves off a throne of skulls to look at the reality behind our blue-screened fantasy world. There were no sneaky minorities threatening homes, safety, lily white daughters, jobs, schools. Just a lot of pre-type-two diabetics with horrendous tattoos.

Seriously. I nearly went to a lazer place in horror at the atrocious skin art. I, too, am shamed. And there appeared a paucity of lily white daughters, while we're at it.

As a nation, we resemble an indolent, insolent teenager: bored, myopic, self-obsessed, petulant.

And I was there, marveling at the forced-labor greeters at walmart (who have earned chairs to rest on while saying hello/goodbye to everyone). They reminded me of the early-post-911 TSA gate checkers at Mpls airport: three former school lunch monitors who were gurgling like hyenas over their discount cinnabon, the frosting of which matched nicely their gut-strained uniforms, who refused to let us leave the waiting area with an infant. THIS is our security? THESE harpies who are actually searching a grandmother and, yes, an infant are responsible in some form for national security. If only Canada could take over...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Relativity, in a relative context

It's an odd predicament to be competitive but also realistic about one's limits. Almost oxymoronic, but not quite. I'm not old, but closer to long-toothed than to baby teeth... I do most things to excess. I stopped drinking and drugs for that reason, but most everything else is done thoroughly. I don't flit about or dally in/with things or people. If I like you, I'd doggedly faithful. If I don't, so be it. I frustrate Annie to no end because, when she is pipe-dreaming, I only filter in what's possible. No point wasting time on implausible fantasies--when we're talking about What-If issues. If there's a way to make it happen, I want to do it. So, when I get into something, I don't dabble.

It's been about a year since I began riding my bike more seriously. My ankle hasn't really healed after I broke it five years ago, so running has gone largely to wayside. My friends Dan & Linda are devoted/fanatical/maniacal/inspirational cyclists (athletes, but, now/finally, cyclists), and encouraged me to give it a try. Who knows why I resisted initially, or why it clicked for me when it did, but I've found such direction and pleasure and vehicle into which to channel my focus/drive/interest. In the past month I've done two hundred-mile gravel rides. Technically, races, but if one finishes nearly 20% after the first group, that's more of a ride than a race. Except, of course, it's ALWAYS an interior challenge. Pushing myself to finish as quickly as possible makes it a race of sorts.
I seldom dally; I go all out when I'm into something. After six-plus years heavily into dog training, I have fatigued a large amount with the poorly socialized humans attached to the far ends of the leash. I would enjoy spending lots of time training dogs with good people, but it is hard to make happen w/o lots of driving, which becomes problematic for my schedule.
Cycling can happen from my doorstep, during the day (this past was first year both girls were in school, so my off-shift days were free 0900-1530 for first time in a decade), and by myself.
I'm not in bad shape, and I've ridden my bike for years. But to actually ride with endurance and speed and power...that takes hours and miles of repetition, let alone practice and understanding. So, I go for my little rides around Mpls and I chase after people who look fast/er. Sometimes I catch them; often I don't. We're all entertaining our own private races in our heads--generally the other person is wholly unaware that you're in a race together...
I will get caught and dropped by skinny punkettes on single speed Raleighs. By paunchy older men. By insolently lanky teenage boys.
If one has ridden a bike at all seriously, nothing I say here is new or revelatory.

Americans don't really follow European sports--futbol/soccer & cycling, to wit--and our superficial attentions miss the point, the essence, not to mention the details of these highly complex sports. 'Lance Armstrong is a bad-ass Texan. He beat all those skinny Euro wimps in that race, right?'


The tactical complexity of bike racing makes American football and baseball look like four square with three squares removed. The endurance and suffering required to do it well are so far beyond comprehension of casual Versus-in-July viewers that it's scandalous.
As I've spent more time reading and watching local races and discussions, watching videos, talking with my friends who do it, I've begun to get an inkling about the sport. Still, watching vs doing...
I generally like to support local businesses, esp. ones with good intentions and foll0w-through, so I've begun lurking at Twin Six, Cars-r-coffins, Behind Bars, Peace Coffee, Angry Catfish... local bike and coffee joints. Two good things going great together. None of which makes me a better rider, but it's enjoyable to find 'communities' that aren't militantly right-wing, paranoid, socially dysfunctional (as a large swath of dog people are; not my friends--who know I like them--but the rest). As my dad said years ago, 'People are people, no matter the job or circumstance.' So, clearly, lots of cyclists are bonkers, but it's a different sort of crazy than the dog nuts.
Hurl at CRC invited me to ride the Slick 50, a season-beginning group ride. First group ride, first fifty mile ride for me. I saw a flyer for the Almanzo 100, and signed up. Good challenge. Something to aim for and to endure. Meanwhile, I wanted to find more people to ride with. My schedule means I'm out there with the retired codgers (many of whom are long-time cyclists who dust me) and Pilates mommies. I'd like to have camaraderie of a team, plus direction and support from others. One team caught my eye and appealed to my sense of humor and aplomb when I watched track racing and cyclocross last summer, Behind-Bars/LGR, a small, dedicated, mostly-mentally balanced squad based near me. I don't have much to offer, skill-wise, but I'm willing to work hard, try hard, and I've got a good sense of absurdist humor.
Even if we all agree that local club-level racing shouldn't be taken for more than it is (a bunch of enthusiasts going bonkers for imaginary goals, on far-too-expensive equipment), there's a far, far chasm between wanting to do well and even being able to keep up with the lower-tier racers.
The two portions of the AGRS I've done in the past month are both the first two hundred mile rides I've ever done and the first gravel riding I've ever done. Having done one doesn't mean I can do another just like that. Mental uncertainty is a real figment, and a real adversary. And, I'm competitive: I want to do it as fast and honorably as possible. Sure, I could ride ten miles an hour and finish in ten hours, but I want to be competitive, and, for me, that isn't a competitive pace. But it's a fucking long way to roll over gravel, regardless of pace.

Saturday's Westside Dirty Benjamin was far less hilly than ye olde Almanzo, but there was wind galore. And it was still 100-plus miles, which is no joke for casual riders. I'd toyed with riding my single-speed but thought better of it. I chased a couple single-speeders for several hours, so I know it's possible, but I need better legs to pull it off. In the wind howling through the front-side of the race, I tried to pace a couple different single cats, since I knew they were putting forth serious effort to get over the rolling hills in the gale of prairie gusting. I caught one guy for the third time with about six miles to go, and we rolled in together. I leaned over and croaked to him, 'Just so you know, I'm not going to launch a wreckless sprint for the end. You've been ahead of me all day, it's yours.' He laughed.
This series is inspiring for its simplicity and militant, obstinate belief that people can/should put together challenging events free of charge. Lots of generous support from sponsors and donators helps immensely, but it's the dedication and will-power of those hosting each event that makes it come together. I love that spirit, and the people who run the shops listed above, plus many others, graciously support these events to help make them happen AND to go off with style and grace. The riders are largely overwhelmingly supportive of one another, helpful, cheerful. We're each and all on our own private journey, churning the miles away, but I've had nothing but great interactions with 99% of the other riders.
My sisters-in-law and a neice/nephew came out to the checkpoint Saturday to say hello. I'd just spent 12+ miles worrying a faulty crank, so I was a bit distracted. So distracted, I shorted myself water and carried superfluous food. Oh well. It wasn't too hot.

And, here I am at the finish. A bit tired. Wondering how everyone else at the finish picnic looked so damn fresh and cheery...
(And to those fuckers whose big-ass cars have bumper stickers that read 'Bikes are for kids; spandex is for aerobics; roads are for taxpayers' I make the brief riposte that a. fuck you, b. fuck you, c. fuck you. Or, bikes are for everyone, and they are traffic, and they need under two feet clearance on the road; sport-specific clothing is ALL silly, out of context. If I'm unappealing & ridiculous to you in my cycling togs, how does your fat fucking ass look to me, as you lard it around in a excessively compensating vehicle? I pay taxes, too, you fuck, so the road is also mine. What threatens you so much about a dork on a bike? From the safety of your car, what compels you to 'teach cyclists a lesson' by swerving at them? If someone wipes out, or hits a curb, or your wheel, what will your defense be? You're a good person? Get fucked.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Elmer Gantry stands tall in the HD-age

The papers were full of emotional response to the tragic fire deaths last month. In the aftermath, we learned that the building, a bar with apartments above, hadn't been inspected for over fifteen years. The bar itself had, and an inspection for the apartments was scheduled but the tenant cancelled/rescheduled it. This is a red-tape failure spanning three or four mayors and fire chiefs, but in the tumult of the deaths, politicians DEMANDED answers.

Many problems in the old system. People had/have been working to streamline, improve, and fix the issue for several years, with success. But there are many buildings that fall between the cracks, or haven't yet been completed. We can't barge in to every place, so it takes time to arrange and coordinate inspections.

Two mealymouthed firefighters went to the press to complain that when the MFD re-assumed inspection duties (there's a territorial pissing match or grey area between regulatory services, FD, and fire prevention bureau, which itself hovers between Fire and Reg Serv.) we were given shoddy training. I don't disagree that a three+ hour powerpoint isn't the best training tool, but we were given good info, plus very clear direction for problem solving and references. Most of all, none of us would, or should, claim we can't recognize CLEAR safety violation--missing or damaged smoke detectors, exposed wires, gaping holes in floors/ceilings. But, because the dumb firefighters chose the aftermath of a high-profile tragedy to try to undermine the inspection process (because they are pouty about 'having' to do the inspections), they also gave the media ammunition in the finger-pointing flock shoot.

'Building not inspected for 16 years!' cried several headlines, followed by, 'Fire captains say they weren't trained well, can't do good inspections.' And, from there, a second (or third or fourth) narrative developed: that the fire occured because firefighters didn't do a good job inspecting the building.

How can you do a bad inspection, or not know what to look for, in a building you DID NOT enter because the FPB had not assigned that building yet?

The building was a slovenly mess. Residents all said they accepted that in exchange for cheap rent. No one is prevented from installing or maintaining smoke detectors in their apartments or houses, regardless of whether the fire department or reg services inspects. The fire was likely caused by careless smoking. Without smoke detectors, the fire grew and the smoke killed all six of the people in the apartment. That is horrible and a tragedy.

We live in a culture, or society (since culture seems sorely lacking), in which government officials, bankers, CEOs, and other power people regularly stand before the flat-screen eye of the nation and lie their fucking asses off, but they do so with carefully modulated intonation, so they sound 'honest.' When, or if, anyone bothers to fact-check or call them out on blatant lies, they simply equivocate, deny, or ignore the reality-based facts. And continue on their way. Lance Armstrong will continue to issue his doping dance denials until they nail him to his own cross with his own dirty needles giving him B-test stigmata. Marion Jones/Mark Maguire et al NEVER did steroids until, oh yes, they did (admit to what was clear from the start).

Reality tv has engendered a generation and its followers of vapid fucks. The shows inject threadbare 'dramatic tension' into ... anything: can Bob and Bill get past their differences to make a cake by Friday? Will Khloe and Khimmy quit bickering in time to get their bodies bleached? Isn't Simon mean? NONE of it matters or is even real. My co-worker gets berzerk over it, saying he's glad he went to Iraq so these fucks can eat their own shit in hopes of just two more minutes of cyber 'fame.'

I also work with a religious guy who preps for his weekly sermons by watching/listening to HOURS of televangical television, loudly. It's near impossible to escape the braying invocations, and I cannot shut it out. Much of what these preachers are preaching is utter nonsense--literally: their words have no denotation and seldom a legit connotation. But if they say it in a preacherly fashion, it must be holy and inspired. But it's bullshit. Self-justifying bullshit spewed to keep the flock in the pocket.

Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis merits rewatching, and widespread discussion.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yet another thing that trumps golf

The Almanzo 100 was Saturday. I rode it. The day, the course, the people, the challenge/s, the concept were all spectacular.
Four years ago, a guy wanted to host a race/ride that would showcase the local scenery & terrain, challenge riders, and be a conscious rebellion/counter-point to the high-fee event rides--thus, a free event. I believe four of the twelve completed the ride.

This year, there were over 400 signed up initially, and about 300 started the race. 268 completed it. That's crazy growth. One very dedicated man, with help from his family, friends, local officials, has created something truly special. There is now a 'race series' connected to this event, the AGRS (all gravel race series): the Ragnarok (in April, out of Red Wing); the Almanzo (May, Rochester/Spring Valley); Westside Dirty Benjamin (June, west of Mpls); Heck of the North (October, out of Duluth), plus the Gentleman's Ride (September, retracing Almanzo's route, but with Chris and friends able to participate this time).
The rules are simple: You are on your own. You are responsible for you. You are on you own. Help one another out. Be smart: bring food, liquid, tools, equipment, etc enough to get you through 100 miles and many hours of riding outside your comfort zone.

I am new to cycling. I had never ridden 100 miles at a shot (the previous weekend's 100 Miles of Nowhere for Fatty didn't really count). I'd never ridden on gravel. I was not a race favorite.

I sweat a great deal, which, over the course of long-distance exertion, makes me a strong candidate for dehydration. Or hypothermia, depending on temperature and wind. Sweating profusely causes saddle sores. Sweating profusely burns lots of energy, leading to bonking. Entering a self-supported ride was a stretch. I've been riding a good deal the past year, but that is relative.

I knew the mental component would play a significant factor: the unknown. CAN I do this? Do I have what it takes to finish? WHAT does it take, for that matter? WHAT's coming next? Not to mention, how my body would endure the hours of riding. That was another unknown. Hard to conceive what it would really entail--despite having biked 60-80 miles several times recently. If I weren't fighting uncertainty, I could logically assess what it all should/could mean. But that's what psychology does--my haze of doubt, unknown, fear, etc obscured my ability to clearly assess the realities.

I finished the ride. I came in under eight hours. I started at the way back of the pack, rather than getting caught up in racers' adrenalin. I figured I had plenty of time to catch/pass whomever I might. I must say that I passed a whole lot more people than passed me. I was the 140th finisher of 268. Not quite mid-pack, but I pedaled well and did my thing all day.

That being said, it was incredibly fucking hard. I felt like a salt-encrusted zombie (except for the brain-hunger) at the end. It was beyond me how all these other people were so spry.
The winners arrived around 5:15, two hours and 35 minutes before me. Wow. Granted, there were groups of fast-racers working together up there. And they were/are people who ride bikes seriously... I bonked at one point, not too far past Preston, I think. Mind started to quit--largely because of low blood sugar. But it was a fascinating feeling, to witness it (helplessly) while it was occurring. I'd packed way too much stuff and initially tried to self-carry it all (rather than take advantage of the drop-spot at mile 64), and this heavy, clunky bag swung against my back for many hours. It sucked.
Beautiful scenery. Gorgeous day. People were really nice, though most were doing their thing, riding as hard as they were able, or wanted. The gravel was really crazy. I've never played with it, so it was a non-crash crash course in riding on/over/through gravel. The HILLS were bonkers. Utterly fucking bonkers, and not only were they S T E E P: the descents were rough and on gravel. Quite scary. There were a handful of crashes over all. Even though I was prudent and started away from the front, I still got caught up in the early race adrenalin, AND, I certainly didn't help my overall time by losing so much time at the outset. Unsure whether my finishing time would have been much different had I been mid-pack (nor if that matters at all).

We were picking up speed and rolling out nicely when we hit the first descent, about three miles in. I'd begun passing people, making my way at a decent pace through the spreading crowd, and I was about to pass one more guy as we turned and started to roll downhill. I rode up on his ass, braked, started to pass but figured it was rude and I had 99 miles to go, no point rushing. That decision likely saved me, for the energy of passing gives a little burst of speed or acceleration, and, as it was, I found myself struggling to keep the bike under control as Mother Earth withdrew from us like the frosty virago she is. Seriously, a major introduction to how fucking steep the drops/climbs would be. And, just ahead, major carnage. Too many dudes at the front hitting it hard found themselves with no more road and too much momentum. Scary reminder/s of reality and risk. There were many more semi-perilous descents all day. A couple people wiped out hard along the way.

Suffering, alone.
Riding, riding, riding. Just trying to eat the miles in the swiftest pace possible, maintaining energy to get across the line. Fairly straightforward. Endurance=endure and time. Realizing more and more how freaking difficult it is to become a true cyclist--how many hundreds of hours and thousands of miles need to be spent to simply develop the muscle memory, stamina, experience to do it. And that's just the base level. To have more than one (slow) speed, or any actual skill--that's an entirely different, more complicated issue. I marvel at how many people just left me in the, well, dust, all day Saturday. Too, I caught and passed a great number of people, so I'm not horrible, but there were strata of competitive vs pleasure riders (perhaps not pleasure, per se); okay: racers vs riders.

In high school and college, being a football player, I was surrounded by lots of big dummies (not from Surly) who scoffed and mocked the soccer players for being effete and less-macho than the swollen, violent pigskin boys. I knew enough to appreciate how hard it was/is to run that much, and how much skill goes into the dexterity of good soccer. Cycling requires brutal stamina, merciless tactical acumen, yet the casual observer gets tripped up on the goofy costumes and the media illusions around Lance Armstrong's success.

I don't know that I could have pushed much more, or ridden any slower. I just go. Absent the uncertainty and worry, however, I think there would have been more efficient pedaling and mental focus.

We'll see how the Dirty Benjy goes in June. Going to be hot hotter hot, albeit less hilly.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Statements of the Obvious, parental version, brief

I hate mothers who smoke while pushing their kids in strollers.
I hate parents who smoke in the car with their kids.
(When I was young, my good friend's step-father was an abusive drunk; he did have a bitchin' camaro, however, and would drive us around occasionally in it. Except he was drunk-ish as people frequently were in the 70s, and he smoked, so the combination of the Camaro squealing corners and the trapped smoke gave me a visceral reaction. Too, for the first couple years after they married, my mother smoked and our trips up I-95 in August heat were marked by her smoke blowing back into the car. So: cars, smoke, and me are not good.)

I hate fathers who feel they have to 'man up' their sons before the boys are even in school, since the specter of 'gayness' is implicitly a mark of unmanly failure for these dumb dads.

I hate fathers who are disappointed by having a daughter, since they 'can't play with her' the way they could with a boy (by what? enforcing insecure homophobic machismo on them? Why, yes, actually: several guys have said they fear turning their daughters into lesbians by playing catch with them.)

I hate fathers who keep their daughters at a distance because they cannot separate parental and familial affection with predatory lechery. But if you actually liked your wife as a person, rather than as a fucktool, you might see women as more than just object and/or threat, which would make it easier to love your daughters correctly.

Awful lot of hate for so early on a sunny morning, sure, but it's what the world presented me.
On a better note, hooray for those who valiantly give it their best.

Monday, May 10, 2010

100 miles of the mind

Saturday I did the 100 Miles to Nowhere, a quasi-fundraiser spearheaded by Fat Cyclist/Team Fatty for Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Brief thoughts: 'Stuff White People Like' should certainly include 'adventure challenges'--triathlons, marathons, 'extreme' sports, fun runs, fundraiser runs: it's great stuff but people are safe and able to spend time & money (often quite a lot of both) to train for wholly artificial challenges. I'm no exception. The success of Kenyan runners isn't because they have a super-tight-knit fixie culture that forces the non-skinny-jeans crew to run rather than ride. It's a way out of their hard lives.

It IS an interesting and valid challenge to put oneself into mental discomfort (physical, too, but it's the mental part that limits the physical). I struggle with this some with my daughters: old-school football coaches did all sorts of damage, but the virtues of 'sucking it up' DO make one better, tougher, less inclined to quit. I've never ridden 100 miles. I've been working up to it. Last Monday I aimed for a century but wind was in my face first 35 miles, temps were cool, and the rain was coming at me. Mentally, I caved in. I stopped to piss and said, 'Sure, I'm alone on a beautiful trail. I've got 15 more miles out, about an hour of riding, then I'll turn around, ride the same 15 back, another hour--only to be standing right here, with another two-plus hours of return monotony facing me. MENTAL failure. As I turned around and headed back, I felt lighter. It was the release of worry, of uncertainty.

I'm 43 and a very late beginner for cycling. The hours necessary to develop a base, a reserve, not to mention the actual handling skills--let alone the ability to ride well, ride hard--it's all out of reach. Doesn't mean I can't ride because I enjoy it, or can't push myself because it's a good thing to do.

Annie's bemused by my fervid immersion into cycling. I don't do anything half-assed, and really throw myself into things I'm interested in--wine, women, & song. Wait: I don't drink (for that very reason, no moderation); I'm passionately faithful, but intense (to extreme) about my desire for Annie; I can't sing but the music that moves me strikes deep into my core.

When I drive long distances, I get focussed. If it's X-hundred miles somewhere, I'll drive there, stopping for gas only. It's a challenge and a mania. It's not an effort: any other way is anathema to me.

So, Saturday, I went to the basement, sat on my bike, popped 2003 Vuelta de Espana in the dvd player, and pedaled. I had lots of water and snacks and whatnot right beside me. I sweat. I sweat a lot. I changed my shirt/jersey four times; my bibs thrice--and should have changed them at least once more. Ended the day with saddle sores largely caused by the swamp in my shorts, plus shifting my body artificially on the trainer, lots of grinding rather than balancing.

I was aiming for 20 mph while pedaling, which would give me 5 hours, plus breaks. Except, of course, there's no coasting on a trainer, so whenever I needed to pause or shift or adjust myself, I slowed down or stopped. The ride got tedious, random joints barked a little, I sweat an awful lot. And that was it. Finished in toto just under six hours, with four five minute breaks and one or two shorter stops.

I explained to my (many) skeptical friends that it was a fundraiser that was also an analogy writ small for the frustrating labyrinth of cancer treatment: spinning wheels endlessly, going nowhere, suffering mentally from the tedium and the endlessness of it. It is NOT akin to cancer--about that I'm very clear, but a good-natured parallel.

I sweat hard, my skin tears easily, I need to hydrate a lot, I get bloated with hydration. Muscles a bit sore. Ass cheeks chafed from shifting on the seat w/ sopping bibs. Taint chafed, because that's what cycling is. Lycra abrasions on prick, again from sweaty bibs. Minor stuff for a good cause.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Glass houses, glass jaws, glass pipes.

"Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis." Tim Wise

My head spins at the churlish ugliness & ignorance that flourishes. Micro- micro-levels of it on full display in all facets of society: my job is choked with scared, bitter, chickenshit crowd followers whose bravado from hiding is mis/taken for actual courage, their false words as gospel; it's on display in my hobby, where pettiness and unchecked insecurity/hostility/jealousy fuse with excessive disregard for actual fact/achievement. Too much comfort? Too much relativity, spurred by the left but now subsumed by the right? It's a gloomy time, yet all is relatively well. Perhaps that's the problem.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Open mouth. Insert fist. Repeat.

Firefighters can be morons. Time and again, when given the chance, we pick the least elegant, tactful, thoughtful, politic, wise, sensitive, non-solipsistic angle of an argument, bray it loudly, and then find ourselves truly surprised that people take offense.

Several years ago, when former-mayor S. Sayles-Belton was campaigning for Mayor, she gave a pitch to the members at a union meeting. Black female speaking to largely white male audience. The guys, strength/safety in numbers, were boorish & ignorant to her. She won the election and remembered her shitty treatment.

Etc. The examples are endless, ranging from minor and hysterical to major and incomprehensible.

The recent serious fire on Lake Street has many folks asking valid questions and, in absence of clear villains to blame, searching for possible paths to blame/responsibility. This was a local bar, a dive, with a handful of apartments above it. For whatever bureaucratic inefficient reasons, the building had not been inspected in over 15 years. That spans five fire chiefs and three mayors. The duties of inspection have changed hands repeatedly. There was an inspection scheduled which the tenant cancelled due to a conflict.

Survivors have all stated that the building was a mess, poorly maintained. Few or no working smoke detectors, no alarm system, years of neglect and haphazard reconstructions. Tenants didn't complain much, they said, because it was cheap rent. It is the duty of the landlord to provide basic safety for his/her tenants. It is also the duty of each of us to take some responsibility for our own lives. If you live in a shitty apartment, the cost of a week's cigarettes will purchase a smoke-and-CO detector. THAT right there would have saved most if not all of those lives. (More than likely the cause of the fire was careless smoking or unmonitored flame (candle).)

As media scrutiny (lots of bold headlines with little thorough follow-through) has chewed on this tragedy, the responsibility for the apartment's poor condition has been debated. Two fire captains have come forward, anonymously, to speak with the newspaper about the poor level of our training when we took over inspections again. Firefighters can be infuriatingly myopic, stubborn, stupid, even, about the big picture. Our job is not what it used to be; no city job is, really. Teachers certainly have radically different job descriptions than they did. Etc. But there was typical grousing from the general body over resuming inspections. We had a three-to-four hour power point lecture on the basics, and we were given a manual of codes. Prior to this, the inspections division had full-time, dedicated inspectors whose primary job it was was to know and interpret and enforce the codes. It was a budget move: save firefighter jobs by absorbing the inspections.

Personally, I felt the training wasn't the best--power point generally sucks--but they gave us a clear path to follow, they are always willing to help, to answer questions, and to come along if we ask. Even if I don't know all the minutiae of the building code, I most certainly DO know what to look for that is dangerous and safety related. Our job is to educate the public, in addition to address whatever emergencies occur. Any one of us should be able to see the lack of smoke detectors in a building.

The fire captains took the tragedy as an opportunity to vent about the 'hardship' of a program that is protecting junior firefighters' jobs. They made themselves, and all of us, look like idiots but claiming incompetence when the context was BASIC FIRE SAFETY.

Now, the conversation has shifted to our ability to do a basic task--when the bigger problem was that a. the building lacked basic safety equipment, and b. no one had actually inspected it. There discussion is off track if it chases the chimera of incompetence when there was a breakdown at the base level. We've managed to, once again, shoot ourselves in the foot gratuitously.

Three damaging fires in past three weeks. Three fires likely caused, or definitely caused, by smoking. Stop smoking and 'accidental' fires stop happening so frequently.

May good things come from the loss of lives. May they rest in peace.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Working for The Man, not the man per se. Seriously.

Places we go where we are viewed, either initially or entirely, as The Man: various co-ops, various coffee shops, various bike shops, housing projects, supermarkets near housing projects.
One unwritten part of our job is to smile and wave at everyone we see. Mostly kids, of course; the occasional adult. Big red truck, smiling/waving firefighters: hooray for public safety. In poorer neighborhoods, we spend a lot of face time with kids trying to convince them that we're not cops.
At the progressive enclaves, the stand-offish response is bemusing, especially because my crew & I live in the area we work, belong to said co-ops, and frequent them whether in uniform or not.

Intolerant liberals: the scourge of my workaday existence...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

'Ain't but one way to die.'

Great trip to the left coast, in all its sea-sodden, sun-blasted weirdness. Two states, indeed, if not three or four. Hung w/ Auntie Linds in Oakland, walked her neighborhood and dug it; visited Chez Metcalf, in all its creative-sodden, mind-blasted weird greatness. And chickens. Michael & Carol were amazing hosts, as ever. Road trip in back of windowless panel van to LA. Felt like a gringo in reverse.

Dog world, weird and bitter and pathetically awesome as ever. Met lots of virtual acquaintances; saw lots of on-goingly poor training and weak conception of training; had some laughs and learned some stuff. Didn't get hurt. Ran my old ass off, playing the fool and dancing with some dogs. Good stuff. Especially the didn't get hurt part.

Missed the girls a great deal; saw many things I wanted to share w/ them. Took lots of small photos. Not the same, but it's close.

Bad fire at work while I was off-shift. Likely no smoke detectors. Much as the profession has slowed down in the past two decades, causing our 'irrelevancy' to bureaucrats, the advent of smoke detectors has astronomically reduced fire deaths, injuries, & damage. These poor folks were dead before the firefighters even arrived. Very sad.

Spring seemed to be releasing the kracked-un's... Busy Saturday at work. Lots of difficulties breathing, largely due to excess smoking and/or drinking. Early in the day we were called to an apartment for someone having breathing difficulties. Call came from a nephew off-site, who said his uncle was having trouble breathing AND that he'd likely be unhappy to see us. We met a 64 year old man in his underwear, still in the vicinity of influence from the 40 oz bottle and the brandy on his nightstand. He has COPD, lung cancer. He has a host of proscribed meds & inhalers. His lungs were tight, constricted. He militantly refused care, adding he took his inhalers but they didn't make any damn difference. We had a very senior pair of medics arrive, and they, rather than get controlling or confrontational, were quite rational with the man. They explained he was making his quality of life worse, and that it was a horrible way to die. The man demurred.
After a couple back-forths along these lines, the man interjected, 'Ain't but one way to die! Only one.'
'Are you saying you want to die, Sir?' the medic inquired; if he stated yes, we could take him on a psych hold (although we all knew the struggle to 'help' him would possibly cause him to go into respiratory arrest).
'Hell no. But we all got to die, and there ain't but one way to do it.'
'Well, Sir, you are choosing to ignore medical advice, but you are a man in your own home, and you're relatively sober, so we'll have to leave you here. When it gets worse, you're welcome to call us back. We will come, and we will try to help you.'

The man picked up the phone, dismissing us with a wave, and proceeded to call and chew out his nephew.
He had a point. He also was wrong, but I think he knew he was wrong, and in that fatal acknowledgment, he was thus correct.

I am continually stunned by how remote the life/death process is from most people. My mother-in-law insists her doctor is impressed by how healthy she is--though I suspect she's omitting the qualifier 'for someone who should be in an iron lung.' She knows her incessant smoking is horrible for her, but she persists, hoping--I suppose--she'll outlive the statistics, or she'll slip away quietly. She might, but odds are better that she'll suffer a stroke and its devastating, debilitating consequences. There is a long, long, hard way between living and dead.

We were shaking our heads at his stubbornness and at his plight as we left. I pointed out that it was bracingly more honest than all the people who continue to eat poorly, smoke too much, and juggle their meds, then insist on calling us at all hours because they do not feel well. No shit you don't; and, what do you think we're going to provide you that might trump your own derelictions?

And so it went. Spring and all.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sammy Hagar weekend, 2010 version

Annie's up north, Grand Marais environs, teaching something. Girls went to their g'mother's place for a double-header overnight (poker and small weapons smuggling were on the docket). Oh, and Shrike's out west getting some training before I fly out on Weds. I was putatively free. Free. I had to feed/break Vargas, plus the kitty and the goldfish--but not to each other. Otherwise, my time was my own.

Friday, after driving the kids out to granny's car, I checked out Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I've read two of the trilogy. Movie was really good. Must have been a shock for those unfamiliar with the book. Honest violence, if there's such a thing in a movie. The ending seemed a bit off, perhaps they're hedging bets on sequel. Nice lack of polish in the cast's appearances. Only ripped stomach muscles in movie belonged to heroine.

Saturday, I joined in the Slick 50, a non-race group ride spearheaded by Tom E. from Cars-r-Coffins in S. Mpls. He's a good guy and very welcoming. I had no idea what the pace would be nor how I'd fare. Too much biking alone makes it hard to estimate what others ride at. Weather was better than initially projected, sunnier and less windy. Still, a brisk 23 degrees riding to Cuzzy's for the 10:00 start. No, the 10:15 official start. Which departed at 10:58:59...

About fifty or so folks showed up, predominantly men, with five or six women. A range of cyclists and bikes. Starting to ride more seriously (whatever that entails) at 43, I'm a bit behind on the skill set, the learning curve, and the historic experience. It was a blast, one long dense pack rolling up the river road, through the overflowing Big Muddy at one point, heading further north than I've ever biked, then moving west to the Grove de Maple. We stopped at The Lookout, which my mother-in-law informed me used to be a roadhouse, practically, when she was a wild child in the mid-60s. I'm 2/3 straight-edge (don't drink, don't smoke, love to fuck, but hey, two of three ain't bad), and non/anti-drug to boot, yet it amazed me how fast and long these inveterate smokers and drinkers can motor their pedals. Skills learned, acquired, or inborn. Impressive all the same.

I ran into a nice guy I'd had in a fiction-writing class at The Loft, and then a really good guy I'd met dog training about five years ago. He seemed a bit too normal and emotionally grounded to be a serious dog junky. He lost his dog to sudden heart failure and stopped training--wholly understandable. Turns out he is/was a serious cyclist before that and still, so it was a nice crossing of sub-sub-cultures.

I rode my geared cx bike rather than the single, as I didn't want to embarrass myself calling for a cab in Osseo after getting dropped at mile five. It wasn't a race, and for the most part no one got dropped or abandoned. I was happy with how I fared, in terms of a general assessment of riding in a pack of bikes, reacting in a group, turning, passing, braking. It was a blast. I'm looking forward to the Almanzo 100, as well as the homegrown Dirty Benjamin in June. The final five miles or so, the horses of testosterone started bucking against their traces, finally accelerating and turning up the speed. I kept up. Which, as I've learned from watching bike racing on tv..., means very little. Any number of the guys and dolls could have been pushing 3x as hard as I could muster for the first 55 miles, so how I did in those final 5 is misleading or inaccurate. But, it was fun to find energy in the legs to press it down the backstretch. Bunch of single-speeders were flying it. I'd have been toasted by their pace.

Did the North Star roller derby with Tbell, Betsy D, La J. Jo, and some other ladies, plus a classmate of Flann's. Roller derby is fun to watch, for about 90 minutes; the scenery is both diverting and depressing--well, as seen through the eyes of single lesbians, it is. Some hard-looking boozy broads sauntering through the corridors, plus the non-self-identifying-but-identifiable-all-the-same-as hipsters with full sleeves of Sailor Jerry vintage and full cans of six buck Pabst. Conceptually, it's a great event. In practice, it's a bit wearying.

Got home, walked big head, got annoyed by the kitten, and tapped the fish's glass. Missing Annie and the girls. They are more fun than anything else.

Read some paper, got furious at the Pope's bullshit, then went for a ride. Brisk and windy, albeit sunny. Fought wind all the way east, then enjoyed its buffering on the return. Between river paths and greenway+, I did 37+ almost entirely off the streets. I appreciate that about the cities. It's cool. Saw Tom from the Loft on his sunday group ride, and then Dan the man chugging back to his place from his g'friend's: timing is everything. Funny coincidences of space.

Got home and was more beat up than after Saturday's ride. Easier in the group, I expect, plus worse wind today and single speed. My toes were burning even after a shower. Body tired as hell. Got the girls, pointed toward where I'd been yesterday--multiple perspectives on the gravel pit 'mountains' of Maple Grove--then enjoyed them as they played in the sun.

Dog world beckons. Weds to SF, then driving to LA for Mondio championships. Looking forward to it. At least it won't snow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jean Genie

Granted, it's not so much that I'm 'getting' old. I am old. Which is so freeing that a. I get to be an unapologetic curmudgeon, and, b. that I get/have to get over myself. So liberating. And I get to pee in my pants more.

I'm bothered by many disgraceful attributes, mentalities, habits of our grand culture, but one that keeps sticking its lumpy ass in my face is the bi-gendered jeans things. Guys really don't need and should abstain from wearing jeans with lavishly ornamental rear pockets. And, truly, most guys should just go with Levi's. Are we so impatient, immediate-gratification, and stupid that we'll pay triple the cost for pre-worn jeans? God knows it's not as if we're going to do any serious WORK in those jeans. Guys who do work for a living generally have worn in jeans that didn't cost 100 bucks. Or Carhartts.

Ladies... if you don't have a muscular ass, 150 dollar jeans with dishonest lines won't give you an ass. The jeans that have mini-zippers and meretricious pocket angles might draw some approving cursory interest, but, anyone who actually studies the cut of your jib will see the falsehood--and resent you for it.

Spanx... get fucked.