Thursday, December 29, 2011

Aging gracefully...

Despite insanely temperate temperatures, I haven't been able to get out & ride at all recently. It's a shame, but it's life. Life intrudes & life trumps.

Too, I sweat hard (as anyone who's been near me knows) and I sweat copiously, in all temperatures. In mildly winter-like temps, I will soak even the most technical gear. Fuck you, wicking capabilities... Cycling in the winter means pushing your body into the wind at whatever speed you're going (and that's w/o any actual wind buffeting your hide), and the hands/feet are particularly vulnerable to chilling. I'll go through a pair of gloves in about an hour, filling them w/ sweat/steam/water, which then makes my fingers go numb.

So, I don't really have much enthusiasm for trying to ride for effort in the cold. And I tend to fall on ice.
But it's been gorgeous out, and I had some open time, so off I went. I've heard tell of good riding along the river bottoms, which, besides being the setting for blues tunes and generic southern gothic novels, is a mystery spot for me. I set out w/ half an intention to make myself find these spots others are raving about. It felt gooooooood to pedal and move again. Temps in mid-30s w/ no wind! Awesome. I do wish I'd been more into riding when I lived in Chattanoogie, as the mild winters and endless hills were/are great for such stuff.

Got down to Minnehaha Falls and went down the path to Ft. Snelling and the nature trail down there. It was pretty much deserted. I haven't been down there in years. I remember skiing it once, but nearly fifteen years ago, I bet. And running it once or twice, plus Watt killed a young raccoon the last time we were down there--again, over a decade ago. But today it was empty and glorious, and I cruised along the rutted dirt paths, thinking, 'Is this where they're riding? How easy it is to find!' It was a blast to pedal hard, get tired, have fun. Lungs were working and the terrain was easy to ride and scenic as hell. I laughed at myself: five days short of 45 and there I was, riding my bike like a teenage interloper. Not attempting any jumps or anything, but aware that, yet again, I was riding alone, in the woods, with uncertain ground beneath my tires, and my own limited handling far inferior to what my bike wanted to do.



Someone should tell Jeff Frane & Hurl that there's good riding along dem old bottoms...



I encountered a couple walkers and several dog/human pairs, and the majority seemed nonplussed at seeing me, if not outright hostile. I smiled and waved and kept 'racing' along. It was awesome and I was making big plans to build my incredible cx skills down in the bottoms all next year. Then the DNR dudes stopped me and scolded me, sending me hither. I totally know how Adam and Eve felt when the door to Eden hit them on the ass.

I rolled away, chastened, with no better idea where the fucking real bottoms were. And that isn't a men-lurking-in-shadows-making-furtive-comeons joke. But it could be, and a damn good one.

I switched gloves and headed home. My fingers and toes were icy and tingling for the last ten miles, reminding me--yet again--that I'm really not a good candidate for endurance events in the cold.

I got home and found a note Harper had been working on, an after-incident review of sorts for Santa. Yes, apparently the big man had shit the bed in his annual duties. I pointed out that she should beware seeming a bit, you know, ungrateful. She patiently explained that she had sent him a nice letter, clearly asking for several items, and she'd said 'Please.' In her airtight logic, there was no reason why he only delivered two of the five requested items. She was pretty bummed. How to explain this to someone well-invested in magical thinking? And, how to not sound like a shaming asshole to boot: 'I know we've spoon-fed you this magical tale about Santa, which certainly defies even casual logic, and now we're making you feel bad because you, rightly, feel he didn't meet his promises'?

I saved the note, since it's fucking awesome. How could the old fart deny this kid?


That said, he better watch his ass, since she is not to be trifled with...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hubris vs Destiny; genetics, fate, eventualities

There's nothing like reading informational guidebooks, taking their imaginary quizzes, scoring in the 'doing everything correct' category, then realize the reason you're taking the test & reading the damn book is because things are deeply NOT-correct.

Nature vs. nurture is interesting, as in fate/predetermination vs. 'random' chance/choice. Do they explain how we get where we do, or why? I am unsure. We've spent past several years having what appeared to be open, thorough discussions w/ kids about healthy living habits, nutrition, ways to combat the forces of 'media pressure' in terms of appearance, exercise for health rather than 'diet', etc etc.

That's all well and good, until the kid falls into the vortex of disordered thinking & self-image, and then you're fucked. Seeing the gremlin lurking beneath the surface, hostile invader of your dear kid--it's horrific. If it were 'only' possession, we could have at it w/ the village excorcist, but this is deeper than spirituality (if you will). Worse, in its way, than drug addiction. The cracked inner mirror might never repair itself. A life squandered self-hating, self-fearing, mistrusting and malingering-----a pointless, tragic waste.

This isn't cancer. Not childhood lukemia or polio. This is a culturally adapted, self-created, very deadly, distorted inner vision. Something that's subsumed someone who knows better, knows enough to know it's wasteful, pointless, indulgent--yet cannot do anything about it.

Precociousness is over-rated.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm bemused at myself that twitter feeds/drains whatever built-up need I have to blurt snark or witticisms--the length constraints are likely a boon to my long-winded ass. I don't see blogging as quick-spew, yet I don't really sit down to compose essay-esque materials, either. Writer manque, eternally, I guess. Been inching into/through the endlessly uncompleted book on firefighting, emergency service, and civic service. Trying to figure a balance between dry stuff vs. the literally flesh-&-blood tales from the job. Also, I really wrestle with trying to convey the cyclical nature of our job (shift work, calls, fires, etc) as well as the profound LACK of closure or narrative arc to the work: we show up after something (bad) has started, try to restore order to the chaos, then leave w/o knowing full effects of both the event & our ministrations. Which works against nominal narrative structure. But I need to get a draft of this done so I can (finally) stop thinking about trying to get a draft of it done, if only to look at the mess and throw it up in the air...

I was at the kids' school for something the other day, parental volunteering for a class project (no, not the nude study in art class), and I was with two sections (21 kids @) over two-plus hours, with six other parents, all mothers. My schedule allows that. I like that the school encourages kids to think and express themselves, etc. but there is a definite, worrying undercurrent by a vocal minority of parents who genuinely state, 'I want my kid to feel empowered and good about him/herself--that's more important than being challenged academically.'

We don't pay this much money for the kids to be told how great they are. It's not mutually exclusive, of course, but academic rigor IS a good thing. Otherwise children slide by thinking they are great and fall flat on their faces first time something doesn't go well or they get challenged by someone didn't get the memo to let the kid win. Emperor's New Clothes as national delusion...

The art teacher is nice but a bit passive. The kids were fifth & sixth graders, with the appropriate range of developmental, maturity, academic quirks. There was a lot of distraction, a lot of whispering & side-talking, etc. Kids kind of just did what they wanted.
I went to a faux-arts school, and we were an entitled, snotty bunch--without knowing how entitled we were, unlike at the true success machine schools, where they are told/taught they are/will be leaders, and I'm not sure which is worse: slovenly arrogance or noblesse oblige. So, I'm aware of the slippery slope of permissive classrooms. If you let kids, like dogs, do whatever they want, do not be surprised they eat everything in the cookie bowl and shit all over the floor. I also taught at two southern prep schools, more of the Leadership Machine version than empowerment collective models, and there was strict order. Sure, some of it was southern culture, and there were certainly numerous opportunities for adolescents to be puerile, but there was more order and more ability to get stuff across.

I watched two sections of bright, healthy, supported kids basically half-fuck around. Not all, but many. The distracted were either chatty girls, with some boys joining in, and/or buzzing boys. I don't know why more boys seem to be ADHD but there seemed to be no real effort made to guide/direct/shape their impulses.

I guess I fall into the curmudgeonly school, where I understand that there are wiring/chemical issues at work, AND I think, from watching enough of them, that enforcing discipline (self-control) will only help them. Several of the kids seemed to spiral out through the endless opportunity to spiral out. It's akin to letting a dog have the house to roam so he 'will feel at home' & being surprised that the excess space has made the dog restless and destructive.

Classes went fine. Kids are kids, etc etc. Then we got to the end & teacher asked the adults for feedback. We made suggestions, said it was a cool idea--combining art, Spanish, public speaking--and that the kids did well. I didn't criticize the teacher or the class, but was musing about classroom management and what is actually best way to teach/learn, when several mothers stated how great the kids were, how awesome things had gone. I paused, held my tongue.

I don't think it was a shit project, nor were the kids lame, but to say it went phenomenally is a stretch. I wondered if, as I am inclined to find the things needing improving while acknowledging but not dwelling on all that goes well, these parents are inclined to see all the good in the deal, ignoring the errors and flaws. Is either one better, worse, helpful, a hinderance? Clearly, my gut reaction is that being blindly optimistic and calling it great does a disservice to the opportunity to improve. But I wondered about it: what is the difference between being a pessimist (which I don't think I am) vs. a blunt realist, or a cynical idealist? How about between an optimist vs a rose-glasses myopic? More importantly, if they are just ways of responding to the world at hand, does it matter?

Or, does it shape a world view where we hope things go better and wish they really were improving, even as there is easy evidence that things are what they are. It's no fun being the loutish cynical voice at middle school art classes, but how does that spread to overall social views, or parental blindness? Or cultural blindness?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Slow moooooving racers

Finally got out to 'race' this past weekend. Red Barn CX is another great, fun place to race. Of course, the men's beginners are up first, which means getting up and hitting the road around 0700. It was cold out, still dark even, when I drove north. The race staff had been there longer, and would be there all day, so I shouldn't whine, but it was chilly chilly.

It was a costume race, and I broke out the sacred cow getup with ironically appropriate cowbell. Getting there early enough to ride the course twice was a big help. (Slow learning curve...) I started in the back row, figuring I'd only get in people's way or push myself beyond skill level if I did my first race in the middle of the pack. I think I was 55 of 56 out of the gate.

Unlike last year, I didn't think I was going to die from the end of the first lap until the middle of the third lap--you know, that 'This is stupid. I probably have asthma. My foot might be broken. I should just stop now and protect my testicles.' etc etc, the insidious comforting whispers of quit-mind.

I passed a handful of folks--and held most of them off. There was a good battle/race somewhere in the apple trees for the top spaces, and, far behind in the sticks, there were the rest of us. My handling was a bit better than last year; my conditioning felt much better; I enjoyed it a good deal. Sloppy and rusty/absent actual skills, but I managed all right.

Good fun to have the other plodders mock each other for getting passed by a cow.



I had to leave directly after my race, and never heard whether I won the costume contest. If I didn't, that's some bullshit. Seriously. I raced as a cow. Fuck Super-Mario Brother: that was just a mustache...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

spinning wheels

The thing about tattoos is that they're permanent. I know this, obviously, but there were several massive exposures to full-exposed skin this summer (beaches, festivals, long long hours in men's sauna at the club). LOTS of really questionable 'personalized expressions of character & identity.' And that's coming from me...

I wish I'd had courage/vanity/?? to go full back on my first Blake back piece--except, I didn't know at the time the limits of the artist working on it. Having spent/wasted enough time in a range of ink shops, with a range of needle-wielders & artists, it's only late in the game (ie, too late for do-overs) that I truly understood the range of skills involved. Fortunately, none of my eagles look more like angry chickens, but still. I'm glad I've found some good workers over time.

Annie's been home nearly three weeks and the house thrums along nicely. In fairness, we all managed well when she was in Philly: she didn't crack for missing us; we proceeded apace. It's a testament to the kids' stability, I think.

Between some doubled-down parenting duties from mid-Aug until early October, I shelved the 'in season' cyclocross training. Which doesn't mean much, given I'm a neophyte across the board. It's really clear I need to gain more confidence w/ my bike-handling skills AND gain more skills bike handling to increase my confidence. In the meantime, I'm wary and tense, which makes me more likely to mess up. I'm realistic about gravity, age, skill, etc, so I'm not gnashing my teeth about the lost training time, but I'm VERY aware of how self-conscious I've felt about trying to push to get up to skill-speed (when it's deeply lacking). Mountain biking is supposed to be great for developing skills--except it comes with roots, rocks, ruts, trees, cliffs, etc, and the accompanying hazards of falling on such things.

The MRSA infection pretty much crushed my cx 'season'--though it's cleared up almost wholly and I'm able to ride around w/o pain, or fear of rupturing the tender, healing skin. Still, it's late to thrust myself into races where everyone else, even those w/ my skill level (true beginners), has been racing for several weeks/months.

This was to be my weekend debut. Except we had a conflict Sat morning & I didn't get off shift in time to make it to Jackson Meadows for the 0930 start. Fine, I said, I'll double-down Sunday, the excellent Green Acres race then Bandit Cross in the woods. Except I woke up at 0700 and realized I was sore, tired, and beat-up/down from two poor-sleep work shifts. I wasn't feeling like moving much, let alone racing, by 0800, when I needed to leave to get there in time. Too, I didn't feel like racing then coming home before going back to see friends race the big kid levels. Too long a gap between Cat4 and the rest. If I'd been racing more, I might be willing to get my ass kicked in 45+ but there's been scuttlebutt about the plague of old, slow newbies clogging the masters' courses. I label myself guilty w/o having saddled up. Because I would be that plagueing clog.

So I shelved the early race and contented myself w/ hanging in the house w/ the girls--which is ALWAYS a good time. I tinkered w/ my bike, which is ALWAYS a risky dumb thing to do before attempting to ride it... I headed down to the Falls for the Bandit race; the bike held up--my minor tinkering wasn't hazardous, for once. A good amount of folks showed, the sun showed; good stuff. Jeff had created a challenging course.

We rode the path, gathered at a central spot, then rode a practice lap. The rocky, rutted descents were more technical than I was comfortable with, to be honest. Or, after I did them twice, I felt wary but somewhat all right about them--though there was very real chance of mis-hitting one and endo-ing into trees or off the path. What got me worried was a. my own paltry skill; on single track, with folks trying to race, one yahoo who has no skills becomes a hazard for many and a problem on the course; b. even if I could muster courage and skill to stay upright or out of the way, there were several younger guys without more skill than I had but far more speed and youth. I worried about getting nailed by one of them.

A household issue texted in as we were prepping to race, and it was w/o much sadness I turned for home. The majority of the course was awesome, but the rough patches gave me pause. I've had to burn enough sick time (w/ the bike-fall shoulder two years ago, and miscellaneous child care, plus some coverage w/ Annie's trip) that I don't have much to spare. Hard to explain why I mangled myself on a rocky, rutted course when I haven't been riding off road at all. That's called DUMB.

So much for my grand debut weekend...
I do have more desire to get out and suck in the crits next season, and at the track, and on gravel. So many different ways to suck and have fun!
Great to see Mr & Mrs Velo out there today, and Brandon K; Martin, Ian, Alix of LGR represented far better than I did; Jeff is a gem. And all the others I don't know well. Good times in the woods, avoiding football foolishness.

Monday, October 3, 2011

falling fall

Rode outside for first time in a month. Been a long, long month. Annie gone, doing work in Philly, kids being kids, chauffeuring a lot, plus this pesky MRSA infection... And getting reading glasses. I've had better months. But still, things are good. And the weather is suddenly gorgeous. Just freaking gorgeous.

Enjoy it while we can, eh?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cycles and pathways

Thinking a bunch about memory and experience, and the entwinement of emotional experience. When I drank, the nights I went deep (too deep), I'd have little to no memory of specifics, or vague outlines, of what came out of my mouth/mind. Those who were with me, however, bore witness and had specific recollections/experiences of where I'd been at.
I dated someone for a few years who had a cycle around her cycle where she'd explode in incredibly intense outbursts, then, once her period came, it would all subside and she'd have no recollection at all of it. I'd been standing in the blast zone, however, and had very distinct experience/perspective/memory of what she'd been on about.
I think of that now because, in looking at some long-term relationship issues, it strikes me that I carry very strongly the memories and associations of a shared emotional crisis, yet the other people involved have little actual memory of the events.

Who is right? I don't think it's a right/wrong matter, but it's a complicated dynamic. Don't dwell in the past, sure; don't condemn the now for the sins of the past, sure. But when the pattern repeats, and one party of the dynamic is unconscious of the cyclical nature of it, how to bridge that gap?

Annie & I were talking the other week and, while I normally/nominally get called analytical and rational (at expense of emotional), I made the observation that I dwell frequently in the realm of the emotions. I am curious what emotions drive people's behaviors and motivations, my own included. I can maintain a dispassionate emotional gauge, as Aunt Linds says of me, but that's different from by driven by the opposite of emotion.

I was talking with a friend whose drinking has been a problem. He was saying it wasn't really so bad. (Having been there enough, I can say, Yes, it was so bad.) I pointed out that, since his perception was skewed after the first 6-10 beers, he didn't have much position of authority regarding how his behavior affected those immediately connected to it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

blah, blah, blah

I don't know the mysteries of the heart. Many times, the surprises and mysteries are just basic human dynamics. We are surprised by our own predictability. Other times, there are flights and feats of impressive fancy or lunacy. Try to know ourselves, be aware of our dynamics with those around us, and hope we can communicate.

Sometimes, it's just wading through the shit. Whether it's yours, another's, or a strangers doesn't change the fact that it's shit.

Randomness and deliberate intersection. Wandering w/o set plan through the state fair grounds a week or so ago, it was interesting that we crossed paths with several different sets of people at several different intervals. There were MANY people there, yet there were five or six sets of wanderers we saw around the place. Timing within finite space. 'It's chance/fate that we met that day.' Yes and no.

Mostly, I'm sad and scared by the unknowable within each of us.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Brain buckets and money bags

I live in the city; I work in/for the city. I ride my bike and drive my car. I think the efforts to become 'sustainable' are grand. The bike-consciousness is a great improvement over asphalt asshat jungle. Do we need a full-time bike-pedestrian coordinator? Do we need one more than we need police investigators, or at the expense of having enough firefighters to actually staff the rigs that cover the city?

It rankles me that Rybak took the former Fire Chief, now-deposed Emergency Preparedness/Reg Svcs czar, Rocco Forte's advice on 'streamlining' the fire department. From the first budget crunch of 2003, Forte offered the fire dept. as a sacrificial lamb to his own career advancement. In the previous contract negotiations, Forte was essentially the city's star witness AGAINST the fire department. It took several years before the Mayor and City Council fathomed that Forte's agenda was for himself. Now he is gone.

They are hiring another consultant to evaluate the fire department, the 'service delivery model', jargon jargon jargon. The previous two studies (within past five years) both found the city UNDERcovered: we were short on per capita staff and rigs for the population density. With attrition, compression, elision of spots, the department has shrunk until there are not enough people on staff to cover the rigs in the city. That is after closing several rigs in past five years. The administration is heavily staffed but seems less efficient than ever, but that's likely who is in the spots, not too much bureaucracy.

I wish Rybak had taken this opportunity to save face & put distance between himself & Forte. He could very easily have stated that, in light of new information (or some such political euphemism), he was going to re-examine the suggestions and findings of the previous two studies. Both recommend maintaining four firefighters on each rig; they recommend at least the same number of rigs in the city. Thus to have X number of firefighters on Y number of rigs on three shifts, the city would need 3XY firefighters. Instead, he said, cut the budget and make it work.

So, that's great math. We do not have enough people to fill the positions on the rigs. That's not tricky statistics or spin. That's how the numbers work.

I am really grateful to the City Council members who seem to have finally taken a look at the stripped-bare content of the department. Their support--of the department and the citizens--is appreciated. I say that as a city worker and as a tax-paying resident. The head of the Public Safety Committee voted against maintaining the already LOW staffing.

---

On a related note, I'm a big seatbelt and helmet fan (car & bike). They don't always save you, but they improve your chances of avoiding traumatic violence. We responded to a bike-vs-bike collision on the greenway last night. The guy on the trick bike was going about ten mph, they estimated; he was on wrong side of path while avoiding some construction dirt. The cyclist on the road bike was doing 25 mph. He swerved and the rest of the riders in the on-coming group swerved, but the last guy didn't see him. Head to shoulder collision. Roadie managed not to dislocate his shoulder, although it looked like it when we got on scene. His wheel was totaled. The helmetless guy hit head-first, then got tossed onto the ground, again head-first. Knocked the fuck out. His wife and friends were right there--total terror hearing the violence of the collision and turning around to see him unresponsive on the ground.
We got there as he was coming to. Could speak and had no apparent neck injuries, but at minimum a significant concussion, or worse--brain bleed, TBI.

While we were treating him, several dozen riders passed. Most had common sense to stop, dismount, or soft pedal through the scene. And it was a scene. Fire truck, then ambulance arrived, the two injured riders, bystanders, friends/family. Several people, of course, were irked that their rides were interrupted by traffic. I nearly got clipped three times by people persisting in passing the trucks at speed. A codger on rollerblades started to curse at me for blocking his path.

It's great to ride bikes, but that isn't a free pass to indemnity. I ride a lot, break some rules, try not to be an asshole (not always successfully). But, there's a world at work around us.

A helmet might have broken the roadie's collarbone but it would have prevented the severity of trauma to the other guy's brain/skull/face.

With Annie away, I haven't been riding because I worry that, in case of accident, the kids would be stuck alone at home (not to mention I might have a long wait for someone to come get me). I love riding but there are collisions, risks, idiot drivers, errant cyclists, my own clumsiness.

I'm glad there were rescue crews available to help the cyclists, as well as the wheelchair-bound woman who got hit by a pickup at the midtown farmer's market, and the little boy who went unresponsive after knocking the wind out of himself, and the woman who OD'd while at rehab. I can say that she was closer to dead than alive when we arrived and she was breathing again when we left. Did I save anyone's life yesterday? Perhaps not. Did we help a series of people in need? Likely. What is it worth to the city and the citizens?
I guess I'm not the one to put the value on that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

gravitational pull ~~~ ball/chain of security

Annie and the girls voyaged forth yesterday. They're driving to Philly, where Annie's doing a show w/ New Paradise Laboratories. She'll be there through early October. I'll be here. Kids are w/ her for a week; in Mass. w/ my folks (and me) for another week; back w/ Annie for a week, then back there late august. Then school starts.

I can only barely conceive of the hardships military families face during deployment. This is a brief sojourn, and all will be well. Logistical headaches will arise but nothing horrible. It's an awesome opportunity for Annie, and they say that a. it's always sunny out there, and b. the cheese steaks are killer.

So, we got up around 6 am to get them loaded and away. I was tired and doodled through the morning. The pre-departure mania hadn't been overly fraught (with tension, dissension, or whatnot) but it was a busy set of days.

Then, they were gone.
The house was empty.
My day was open.

Strange feeling. I did what I usually do, biked, shaved hairs, went to a movie, then went to dinner afterward.

What's odd is how much the duty/habit of family grounds me. W/ no one awaiting me, there's a sudden absence of place or weight or whatever it is: repetition of coming home and not-ditching family duties and obligations, when in respite, becomes a phantom-limb-like habit.

It'll take some getting used to the house being empty, my off-shift days relatively open. Not drinking, there's not a whole lot of getting wild I can now catch up on. Same w/ chasing ass. I'll enjoy the lessened responsibilities for a while, but I'll miss the kids more. We're fortunate to spend so much time together, to have such a great groove together, and it's never, ever a burder or sacrifice to come home to them.

Who are we when our points of identification shift? I don't have to get home to get the kids, or meet Annie, or anything. So, who am I, removed from my relative identitiy? Same old dope, but it's interesting to witness and feel the actual tension of non-responsibility. What keeps us moving? What keeps us grounded? What do we do to ourselves, out of habit, or out of safety?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Civic duties

We were responding to a call the other night. With our nifty rig computers, we get more info from Dispatch than what they say over the air. Some of the info is helpful, some is irrelevant. Often, it clarifies the type of call it will be. Thus, a call for a possible heart attack sounds quite serious. When the follow-up comments state, 'Caller says he hurt his back last week and his muscles hurt and he think his heart might be failing,' that puts us in a better ballpark of what to expect. (Not much.) Likewise, when we get a difficulty breathing call and the follow-up states, 'Caller reports not having heard from his uncle for several days. At the house now. Uncle is in the bed, not moving. Caller thinks he might be dead.' That is more than just difficulty with breathing. That is the complete absence of breathing...

We were called to a seizure. The comments stated, 'Caller states her father was on ground, not responding. They think he's breathing.' Then the Dispatcher typed, ''Caller states her father just fell out.' We're trying to determine WHAT he fell out of.'
I nearly got on the radio to explain that it is an intransitive verb. To fall out is, locally/colloquially, to faint, lose consciousness, get light-headed, take a knee. Sometimes preceded by 'done.' As in, 'We were just hanging and she done fell out.'
I imagined the Dispatcher trying to find out what the dad had fallen out of, and, generally, those who employ this turn of phrase are more than apt to respond, 'Shit, he just fell out. He's right here.'

We arrived. There were two or three slatternly post-teen mothers stalking around smoking. A few kids roaming about with dirty faces, well dirty everything. And on the floor of the foyer was the father, who had, indeed, fallen out. There was a wet rag on him, because when someone faints/falls out, it's proper to toss water on them, or drape a wet rag on them. He was breathing and conscious. He'd drunkenly fallen off the front porch earlier (several hours earlier) and now his hip hurt. A lot. So he'd crumpled to floor in pain.
Which led to 911 call and report of their father falling out.
Which led to us arriving, post-haste.

The man was complaining about his hip, writhing in pain, then trying to scootch back toward the living room. His daughters were yelling at him, 'Dad, STOP. Stop fucking moving!' then continuing to wander and smoke and curse. We tried to get him to stay still so we could evaluate him then to await his medical chariot, which would bring him to hospital to evaluate/x-ray/'treat' a bruised hip. It hurts like hell but there's really not much to do for it.
After much carrying on, much family yelling, futile attempts at reasoning w/ yelling daughters and squirming father, the medics arrived (about ten minutes; I slowed them to code-two, meaning no lights/sirens/red-light-running, not for this). The daughters were on the phone/s, complaining that their dad had drunkenly fallen off the porch but the ambulance was taking FIVE HOURS to arrive. In their minds, it really was taking hours.
I tried to explain that he was in no grave danger--even, ahem, that he wasn't all that hurt--but their familial pride was swollen and they started motherfuckering us. The dad grimmaced, groaned, yelped, half crumbled, overcame mountains of suffering, but was able to lean on me and limp to ambulance (rather than get carried on the canvas litter. It was like watching vintage James Brown on stage. He seemed to be near death's door, until he wanted his smokes, whereupon he turned on heel and made decent progress (for a one-legged near-dead man) back toward the parlor.

Ah, another soul snatched from the jaws of death.

A. These are the calls we have.
B. I really did have to reign in my desire to give the Dispatcher a grammar/syntax clarification.
C. I'm fucked up because I really do have grammarian arguments with myself on calls.
C2. Given what we deal with, my fuck-uppedness is benign...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Science. Man vs machine vs eye of child-gods

Harper and I were walking back from the store the other day. It was steamy hot. We passed a man coming around the side of his car. He was tall. A few seconds later, Lux said, 'I thought that guy was Frankenstein for a moment. I know it wasn't really, but I looked up and he was tall and his head was big and square.'

We'd been discussing the meaning of 'evoke' and 'evocative' so I said that this was a good example of his shadow *evoking* the specter of Frankenstein, and did she see how the mind can play tricks on us? Just like at night when we hear scratching outside our windows, the first choice is generally a thirty-foot-tall beast with incredible talons, rather than the tree branches that are always there.

'Besides,' I added, 'we know there's no such thing as Frankensteins. That's a story, done for effect.'
'Well,' she replied, 'I think scientists made them but then destroyed them.'
And from there we entered a ten-minuted debate about whether Frankenstein was a (once-dead) human with a living brain, or if he was part-machine (robot) and part human.
I traded heavily on logic and reason: 'By definition, if he's metal, then he's a robot. You can't have a half-metal robot human. Or, if you can, that's not Frankenstein.'
'Well, (my grandmother) has steel in her knees and hips.'
'True, but she's alive.'
'And what about those metal things in his kneck?'
'Those were to hold the head onto the body, and were over-sized for effect.'
'How do you know?'
...
We called it a truce.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wheels within the wheels of chance & fate

Two posts below, I discuss how certain shifts develop a theme (people with shit everywhere; fat people in small cars; dead pets; off-my-meds crazy) that reveals itself only in course of our calls.

Another aspect of my job is that we respond to whatever we're called to, whenever it comes in. Today, we were doing a commercial building inspection on Lake Street, and the manager of the repair shop turned out to be a cyclist who'd just completed Ride the Rockies. He was telling me about his trip, we were commiserating about the hazards of cycling in general, and steep downhills (like the rockies) and distracted drivers (like anywhere, generally, and the two people who blew stop signs and nearly pegged me at two different intersections on my ride to work this morning, specifically). This wasn't much of an inspection: the public never goes beyond the service counter; the three workers have numerous exits at the rear; the building, if on fire in the night, would be prohibitively dangerous so we'd most likely stay outside and spray the burning machine metal.

We left and I was trying to call the man for our next inspection, as we were running early. Our rig cell phone is/was locked/frozen and I spent several minutes trying to fix it w/o banging off the street.

I was reaching for my personal phone but we caught a call that came in as difficulty breathing. We arrived at the nursing home and were met by the nurse-like people (don't presume everyone in sensible shoes knows much about medicine...) who were, unlike most calls to this place, quite agitated. One woman led us to the stairs at a speed sufficient for competitive stair climbing. In a small room, several staff were kneeling around a man who wasn't breathing. They were doing a form of CPR. We took over, and they continued to stand over/around us. Six staff around three firefighters, our equipment, and a lifeless man. In a small room. I had to actively encourage people to clear out. Still, several stood there for most of the thirty minutes we worked the man. The paramedics arrived, we continued to do CPR and breathe for him, but/though it was clear he wasn't coming back--no electrical energy in his body. As soon as I stopped compressions, everything went flat on the monitor. He up and died in his easy chair. The list of his medical conditions was several pages, so it's not unexpected.

After half and hour, the medics called it. We were all drenched in sweat. We cleared the mess from the attempt, lifted him from the floor to his bed (for his family's imminent arrival) and said bye to medics.

As we carried our gear and the medics' gear down the hall, we passed one of the nurse-like staff, who was sobbing quietly. Odd: this is a nursing home, where people go to die. Most of the time, we find residents dead in their chairs, having been overlooked for several hours. This man was old-enough and sick-enough that death wasn't a shocking turn-around. Of course, it's sweet to care and be saddened by a human's death, but from the nurse with paperwork, the man hadn't been in the place for more than a few months.

We continued to our next inspection, still dripping sweat. No time to decompress, process, or towel off. The caretaker of this apartment building looks like a non-famous Iggy Pop. Year of hard living, but he's still ticking. His body emits enough second-hand smoke to clog a room, but he's a colorful odd-job.

And so we went, doing our stuff, going places for things and people. We don't know what we'll get; we respond and adapt and adjust as we must.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Road to the Left Coast, and back

Mind is still road-bleary, but we're back. American West is long and wide. Spacious skies, for sure. Rolled out to see the peeps in Bay Area. Good stuff. Badlands at dusk/sunset; Rushmore at coffee break; Wyoming all afternoon. Nevada, the nuclear test zone. Sierra Nevadas/Tahoe/Donner Pass; Oakland.


I've spent most of my 'free' travel time in the Bay Area in the past several years, seeing Michael for training and pleasure, hanging w/ Fran & Norma at their oasis off San Pablo, getting my familiars w/ Linds and Shelley. I love the place, albeit from comfort of brief-stay tourist. Linds & Shell live just off Lake Merritt, and that's a great neighborhood. I wander around, check the strange birds, and the stranger people, and dig Oakland, when I'm there. Fran and Norma live not far, and their place is a well-considered compound of esoteric and deliberate art. Michael and Carol are just up the road, and their place is always welcome and welcoming. Good people make for great visits.

I made plans to head this way several months back, when Annie thought she might be in Prague for three weeks with NPL. The plan was vague but easy: head west w/ kids in car, drive to the Bay, be there. When Annie decided not to make the European gig, it made this plan all the better. We were quite busy with end-of-school work and a couple theater gigs for her, so we never really made any more plan than the skeleton.

I realized, a bit belatedly, that I had/have a strong desire to share the experience--the feelings as well as the people & places--with Annie and the girls. Perhaps auditioning Oakland for a pipe-dream escape from Mpls's land-lockedness and winter and mosquitoes. Plus, a goodly chunk of my closest friends are out there, and I have such good associations; I think I wanted it to resonate w/ the rest of the team.

We drove well, and long. America opens wide and vast once one passes Lincoln, NE. I'm not as taken w/ the Badlands as Annie, but they are cool. We arrived just as the sun was dropping, and the light was stupendous. Note to self (again): the only walking area is at the east entrance. Twice now, we've toodled through the rest of the park looking for the next hiking trail.








We did Rushmore, briefly. Lots of wheezing tourists. We saw and split.





Post-Rushmore, we back-roaded down through the SD/Wyo borders to Laramie, which is a great little town (in Wyoming). Good food, strong coffee, and off into a tumultuous stormy evening. Wind attacked us for hours, just pounded the car. Salt Lake in early morning was nice; we stopped and played in the salt flats.





Kids were great and amused themselves (and us) throughout.


Post-Utah, Nevada is a hard stretch. It was a mental burn to get through it. Climbing into the Sierras was great. Zip, zip, zip through the mountain passes, then final stretch to Oakland. We were road bleary for the next day and a half, but we managed to do good stuff w/ the aunties.







I walked the pup way more than he was used to, not having any outdoor enclosed areas. Good to stretch my legs and check out the neighborhood more, and he enjoyed the sights and smells.

Oakland; Berkeley for lunch; San Francisco w/ Tim and Haarlem, including the Embarcadero and Crissy beach near the Golden Gate Bridge. The girls braved the cold water, splashed in the Pacific, and got sand between their toes. The pup plowed right into the ocean (as did Harper), then romped all over the beach. I was worried he'd either get swept out to sea, run away, or pester the milling groups of school kids, so he ended up leashed more than he liked. There were many, many dogs out there, and Moby wanted to meet and play with all of them, even if they weren't all so interested in him.





Interesting California vibe: dogs were roaming everywhere, in an 'It's cool, just chill' sort of way, yet when Moby tried to play w/ people's dogs, they were standoff-ish and unhelpful (refusing to break pace in their walk so I could collar the punk, thus continuing his interference w/ their walks...). Ah, the end of land madness of it all.



Michael and Carol's for dinner. Harper got to see the pigeons up close, including some babies. We caught sunset from the peak, and the girls went noodling for gophers in the backyard.



Moby & Shrike met cute. Annie and Carol finally got to see each other in the flesh and talk. Good times.



Return trip was arduous but fun.





The worst part for me was the stretch after Laramie: Nebraska is endless, and once that is traversed, there's still several hours of Iowa eastbound before taking a left onto I-35, and another several hours from there. But we survived and arrived home in one piece.




<
Shallow reflections for now. Main points: safe travels, great companions, lots of sites seen, people visited, time spent in reflection as the miles ticked away. I'm so impressed and thrilled by how Flann & Harper travel. Annie and I did some trips pre-kids, and it's nice to hit the road w/ her again, even as a quartet.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dial-a-theme

I've written before, perhaps here or just on someone's garage, about the way we find, or see revealed, themes or trends in our various shifts. Because I have no idea what will actually occur when I show up for work each day (beyond the usual routine of cleaning, sitting/waiting, etc), there are shifts in which the calls we respond to give the over-narrative for the day.

Last week, it was open trauma/gashed flesh: the guy whose nose was obliterated by the other guy who swung the heavy belt buckle; the fellow whose finger tip was severed by a lawn mower; the little girl whose foot got caught in the spokes of her bike (we think) and the metal served as cheese-slicing agent, slashing through her shoe and deep into her heel. No other real calls than these, and some fire alarms.

The other day, it was sadness, or hardship, or quotidian tragedy. Life's a Motherfucker. Call it what you will, we supped at the trough of broken-heartedness, and we were full to sickened with it.
An old lady fighting to stay out of a nursing home, but unable to care for herself over the weekend when her caregivers were off. Moral dilemma: do we respect her (lucid) wishes to live on her own, even if it means she may/will fall and hurt herself, or die? Or do we do our little part of the big machine to get her to a nursing home, where she'll wish she were dead (but can't kill herself, thanks to the staff's presence--no, she'll have to sit, suffer, and die of neglect or infection like everyone else).

Drunk sick by too much Listerine too early in the morning. Half-arguing with us about us calling a squad to get him to detox. What is the better option? He knows he's killing himself; he knows he can't/won't stop.

The enormous woman with myriad health complications who needed six of us to get her out of bed to get to hospital because her breathing is compromised because she is enormous and has myriad health complications. The acrid tang of putrid flesh was almost as hard to take as how horrible her quality of life was. Yet she was pretty upbeat overall.

Public service to help someone w/ her smoke detectors. Realizing w/ growing horror how truly mentally impaired she was/is, yet there we were, in her living room, with her odd husband and goofy kids. These people were barely or sub-functional, and they were also living their lives just like anyone else, except with a good deal more chaos and fear and confusion.

It was a hard day. A sad day. No easy answers, or hard ones, for that matter. No solutions. At times, very, very little hope.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Hamlet, and shit like that.

Rain on plain plains of flyover country, which, beset by endless rains and tornado pains, is both less dismissable and justifiably missable by those who fly from edge to edge of the country. And, we've got fungus on our mildew.

Soundset w/ Ben & Shana, and Flann. Parental obligation: to not bounce/dance more than my eleven-year-old kid was at any given time. And, not to shove her out of the way to slap hands with the frontman for the Dirty Crusty Clowns...

More pressingly, a dream was had last night (early this morn, really). Vivid and sustained. Attempt at capturing as follows:
One of those situations (within the dream) where it's kind-of like work, and kind-of not. I'm part of a crew called to a DOA. Then the medics, or the cops, or someone stops me and says, It's your mother. She's dead.
I respond, I know she's dead. She died in 1969.
No, she's upstairs. She slipped and hit her head. It was a bad head wound. ... We need to you identify the body.
We go inside and upstairs--a typical small, southside house; narrow rear stairs--to an entry hall then a small den. Wrapped in a sheet is a body. We unfurl the sheet. In the dream and in my consciousness as viewer of dream, I'm thinking--Oh, I hate the suspense of the reveal when we're on gory calls. Too many movies where it's a pornographic violence money shot (roll the corpse over to see exposed brain or eaten eyes or whathaveyou). I'm thinking, Hmmm, she looks small. And young. And, well, freshly dead.
It's almost as if the ancient Egyptians had handled the post-mortem, the way the body was spun in cheese cloth. At one point, we can see the body, yet the face is still covered. I can see the eyes, and the hair.
Hmmm, I think. She doesn't look very dead. The body has good color. We stare at her. Hmmm, it looks as if she's breathing, or trying to. Are you guys sure she's dead? I ask.
Those? That's just final exhalations. Gas leaving the body. End of electric circuitry.
We look at the body, unconvinced.
I tell the other firefighter to unroll the cloth on her face.
Sure enough, she takes a couple gasps. I tell them to use the BVM and give her some breaths.
Sure enough, she starts breathing.
Then opens her eyes, then sits up. She's very much alive.

There is only mild surprise in the room. Jaded EMS providers have seen it all, even the resurrection, apparently. Then I have a conversation with my long-dead mother. 'But, you're dead,' is how several sentences begin...

She says, yes, she is dead, and yes, she is here, now, alive, briefly. But not really alive. It doesn't look necessarily like her--ie, what my memory of photographs of her conjur as being 'her'--but it also feels like it IS her.
She turns her head to show me the left side, where she struck her head on the table edge. The hair is shaved/lost (like a chemo patient) on that side, and there's a six-inch open tear/gash along the entire side of her skull. She's dead, all right. Even if she wasn't dead long ago, this one looks pretty bad.

So we sit and talk, mostly enjoy each other's company. We hug, there is a corporeal feeling to the hug, in the dream and in my sleep.
She doesn't try to sell me any subscriptions to heaven and I don't beg her to stay.
After a while, she tells me she has to go. We hug again, and cry pleasantly. I can almost smell her hair and feel her/our tears. I start to walk away then stop and trot back to her. (As is the case in dreams, we were both still in the upstairs apartment and also outside, so I was walking along a straight path, slightly upward, then turned and was back in the room, sort of.)

It felt important for me to tell her not to feel badly for dying young. I didn't want her to hold that sadness and regret and guilt any longer (forty-two years seems plenty). That was the most-tangible sentiment in my dream, beyond a suffusion of warmth and loving calm, the need to tell her not to feel bad, that I was all right. She smiled and said she knew all that.
And then I woke up.

Biking to work in the barometric vacuum of humid pre-rain dawn, I mused about the dream. How seldom I think of Judy in this manner, and how very seldom I dream about her. I wondered if it was a Greek myth deal, Orpheus descending to rescue... his mother? (Who at this point would be considered too young for me, even were we not closely related...) Then I considered how much my/our sense of dead/dying have been shaped by cinema more than books: Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment seems the leitmotif for dying moms everywhere. I import the emotions I projected onto Debra's death scenes, which were also a replacement for my own unknown/buried/unformed response to Judy dying when I have 2.5. Watching Terms the first several times, I thought/wondered if that was what my mother felt, saying goodbye to me. If it wasn't, it felt close enough. So I assume that all dying mothers go through their Debra Winger goodbye and we lost children (sons) carry that burning maternal sorrow deep in our hearts.

Then I thought about The Lovely Bones (which could easily be called the Lonely Bones), both the book and the movie, and the notion of the dead hovering over their lost families. (I saw the movie recently and enjoyed it, while understanding how it was a commercial failure.)

I worry more about dying young for my kids than my lost mother. I tell the girls often things I'd hope would/will resonate in their consciousnesses when they're older or if I'm gone too soon. We were talking the other morning and I observed, apropos of something--can't recollect what--that for most people, a sense of self, a sense of being loved and belonging, can provide the best compass to negotiate the seas of life. It's not an antidote to living and losing and learning, but to have that core piece solid is to have a foundation to build on.

Maybe it's the weather, or maybe it's the onset of middle age, where my mortality begins to feel palpable.

So I went to Soundset w/ Flann. Ten hours of outdoor rap festival. Lots of drunken kids (17-30 year olds are kids to me...) but the gloomy skies kept the dehydration to a minimum. It was a good experience, I suppose, for her to see the less-glamorous side of party life. Dope was thick in the air, everywhere, and it irritated her eyes. I mentioned that it's less detrimental than booze, except for the criminal risk and attendant stupidity of those trying to score weed.

She was a good sport and made it through a long day. She got to meet and talk (however briefly) to her heroes in Doomtree. We watched the meet-greet line from the outside afterward, noting the balance of PR and good-sportedness the bands must achieve, since small groups (even local superheroes) still need fan support so the posing and hand-slapping and being grabbed are all part of the equation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Almanzo recap, 2011



I'm warm now, and that putain soleil has deigned to show its slutty mug in the sky, but it's Sunday, a day after the Almanzo. I am sure I am not alone in having a strange day-after blend of sentiments. I can imagine that in most cases, when a significant number of people DNF a race, there's morning-after regret: 'If only I'd done x, or y, or z'; 'If I hadn't done...' and the raft of self-recrimination and second-guessing.

Honestly, I bet a paltry few of the legion of DNFers are saying that. Sure, this surreal sunshine makes for hallucinatory daydreams, but really, most of us were cooked--by the elements, not the course. I cannot fathom how those hard-assed men & women were able to withstand the chill, the invasive & penetrating wetness, the bone-cutting combo of supersaturation and windchill. The break area at Preston, esp inside the general store, was less filled with people who were having second thoughts than those who were shivering uncontrollably.



It was a gorgeous ride, the scenery is simply stunning and varied, and with the shifting layers of clouds and rain, the palette was a swirling mix of asphalt, cobalt, gray, etc. I wished to snap some keepsake photos at some of the panorama vistas or some of the micro oddities and natural coolness, but my fingers were squishing inside the gloves and the camera-phone's screen was not able to function in the wetness and grit. In my head, it was glorious.

I'd worried and pondered and fretted all week as the weather reports were grim. Knowing myself, I worried I'd sweat too much if I over-dressed; I also know I lose function when feet & fingers get too chilled. I dithered and diddled, switched and re-switched my packing list. In the end, I chose to overpack (so I thought) and tote a change of socks, gloves, jersey, etc, in my backpack, which has good side holsters that held extra liquid for me. Mistake. The weight of the pack pressed and rolled against my lower back and within five miles, I was feeling tightness, spasms, and burning in my back. And it didn't go away. I was near to crying for the sheer un-stopping-ness of the pain. Low-grade and temporary, but for the matter at hand, a real bummer. I stopped a few times and tried to stretch; I'd shift and stretch while coasting, but to no avail. Then, for brief periods, it would subside and I could pedal freely.

I threw in the towel mentally pretty early. My fingers and toes weren't hurting yet when I knew the back would just get worse the longer the day went on, the more tired I got, the colder/wetter I got. Plus, my legs were feeling shittier the more I struggled with my back. Gun to my head? I could have made it further, but probably not the entire route. By mile 25 or so, my fingers and toes were really wet and getting numb. The mud was smeared so thick I couldn't accurately read the odometer, and the cue sheets were hard to read. Fortunately, there were hundreds of tire tracks leading the way through the mud.



It was interesting to feel the battle between mental and physical take place in my back rather than in my legs or mind. I'd expected to struggle and suffer in the course. I was aware that the second time I rode it last year, it was far easier to bail on the second half's hills--knowing how hard they were, despite being in better riding form than when I did it as a rookie, totally unaware. I offered up the vision of bailing in Preston, which removed some of the psych worry. Then, when I felt better briefly, I WANTED to continue further, but the reality that I don't know my way around down there and could easily be a long, far-flung journey back to the base if I by-passed Preston--that got heavy in my mind & legs. I finally yielded to common sense: nothing could would come of pushing a twingeing back pain in such hard conditions: the wind, the hills, the rain, the temps...

People were in great fettle, digging the absurdity and camaraderie, but after three hours of it, a good many started to flag. It was a treat to see many local faces, mud-covered and grinning, as we be-spattered ourselves. Plus the many who'd traveled from afar for the event. Great spirit overall. And we suffered together. The hills, of course, never take a vacation, and they were no shorter for all the rain and wind. When I pulled the plug, I found myself shaking violently at the store in Preston; tried to pee to get the excess liquid out, but I couldn't. The more I stood there trying to stretch, the colder and stiffer I got. I found another guy heading back and we rode out together on the asphalt. He was in worse overall shape than I, so I tried to pace & support him back. Fortunately, it was all on Hwy 16, so there were no directions to follow. Still, he was fading. I tried to encourage him, but he was throwing in the towel. Another abandoner zipped up behind me and I mistakenly thought it was my riding pal with a second/third wind, so we upped the pace. After a mile or so, the guy came around me--different dude altogether. I looked back and the first guy was vanished. We'd seen a steady caravan of bailing bikers in cars passing us, and a smattering of cyclists also on the road. The man wasn't in jeopardy: he was cooked and done, but not in peril. I needed to get dry. I needed to get my back free of the weight. I plodded on.

I am so completely in awe of all those who got past Preston, let alone those who completed the 100, and the truly hardy souls who knocked off 162 miles... Words fail me. I can easily yield to the better bikers, stronger riders with good legs and engines, but I genuinely cannot understand how they were able to withstand the same brutal crap for so long. I wore winter boots w/ gore tex & all that, & I dumped out six ounces of cold, muddy water when I finally disrobed. It's not just the gear, and not just the skills--something remarkable. Many folks who likely could have legitimately finished also chose to call it a day. Lower competitive thresholds or less desire to suffer for glory. Even a 57 mile day in cold rain, 2/3 on gravel, with hills, isn't particularly easy.



Chris Skogen, who originated this particular race, which is now the centerpiece of the local gravel century race series, is a remarkable fellow. His dedication and vision and enthusiasm and humility are astounding. The volunteer crew are selfless and sacrificing. It's an honor to be a part of it, and I felt the most shame to bail out if only because I felt the organizers had put so much into it, I hated to undervalue their efforts.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gravel: craven gravel-grubbing ravens

It's all mental. It's all mental. It's all mental. It's physical. That part, the physical, is also largely mental, until it's merely physical. It's all mental. It's all mental.

I sweat heavily. In winter (ie, 2/3 the year here), I run a risk of over-heating within my protective layers. I daren't underdress; I dress correctly but the sweat at my hands, feet, neck, face, congeal and freeze if I'm out for much more than twenty minutes. XC skiing, too. I start too cold, get really hot, then the sweat chills and my body thermometer gets screwy.

Warm temps, well, I just sweat. So for longer endeavors, I must monitor my fluid intake, but the stomach cramps and bloat aren't particularly pleasant, either.

Managed a couple nice rides in between rainstorms this weekend. Lonely trail ride Saturday, pretty and buccolic and whatnot. Wanted to make a 50+ out & back but the trail evaporated on me in Winsted and after 500 yards bushwacking in crushed cornfields, I lost spirit and turned around. 65 miles of gravel, no hills... Almanzo is going to draw some deep, dark spiritual blood this weekend.

Last year, I'd never ridden on gravel, nor completed a century ride. I managed to stay pedalling on ALL the hills. Four months later, with a lot more miles in my legs, I had no mental reserve for the hills: knowing they'd suck, I pulled the trigger on 'em early, and walked several of the biggest ones. When I tried to harden up and pedal instead, there was no fire to do it. Strange. Sucky.

I love cycling. It's a challenge and a thrill. It's dangerous--even if the overwhelming threat of vehicles and their distracted, hostile, oblivious drivers are avoided, there are still crashes w/ major consequences. It takes so little to hurtle us unprotected.

Rain is the rule (now that we seem 'safely' past the snow season), with torrential, stormy, ceaseless, lingering--so many types of rain, the mud people must have 1000 words for it. Better find a rain jacket that breathes a little, too, lest I melt or dehydrate myself during the 700 person leadout Saturday morning.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Show em the bones, shake them and rattle them, toss them like dice.

We're so divided and distressed that the meta-critiquing and ceaseless bitching can't pause. By alienating the other (literally making alien, other, foreign, threatening), we put ourselves in the stupid corner and can't risk allowing the others to be human, let alone correct, occasionally. Our heads will explode before our faux-orthodoxies will.

We killed Osama bin Laden. Small joy. Note the frenzy of micro-navel gazing: media fetishizing of the Seals, of Malinois, of stealth planning. It's the elite military branch. I fucking hope they can do what they do. I'm glad they did it well. But the immediate grinding of gears and axes is nauseating. Rightists cannot give Prez Obama a lick of credit and must smear a good united moment. Tired and pathetic. News covers all the wrong angles.

Tired bullshit. And we haven't strung two sunny days together in months. Grrrrrrrr. I'd say bring on the easter bunny for slaughter, but, apparently, I missed that one, too.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring in name alone

Yesterday's snow was funny. Not really ha-ha funny, just, fer-fuck's-sake funny. Like having your car broken into after having your bike stolen. But the snow melted and sun came out and plucky orphans rose up to sing again. They always do.



It's still chilly. I've spent the morning trying to edit one of several looooooooooooonnnnng essays about the contemporary fire service. I'm not going Johnathan Franzen about it--because I don't have the skills, for I certainly would if I could--but my tendency to seen a massive, interconnected narrative severely impedes my progress in the short form. I'm making some progress with this revision/edit. Went through it proof-wise last week and have been altering and arranging the paragraphs into a cohesive, linear, reader-pleasing flow (or that's the thought). But I'm just mired in the shit, and around each new pp I find another section. It all fits (says he who sees the macro in the micro) but I'm trying to keep it fluid/flowing. Too, this is the same challenge/problem I have with two other VERY similar essays. In fact, I've started them over the past several years to alleviate the stuckness I found myself in with each successive essay. My hope is that I'll smooth this one out, then be able to condense and integrate the trio of 'em into one gorgeous whole....... Sure, kid.

As I wander the house to clear my head, I find myself chilled. Not enough movement of blood while sitting and typing. Plus, it's fucking cold outside. And I turned off the heat to spite God or Mother Nature, those abusive, negligent parents of us all. How's that working out, slugger? I was coming down the stairs when my stupid new slipper/houseshoe slipped off my foot. Before I could do ANYthing, both feet shot out from beneath me, I flipped onto my ass hard, and bounced down the remaining four steps, smashing both heels on the tile floor. I sat for several moments, taking stock. Fuck me. That hurt. And it happened so fast, even MY cat-like reflexes couldn't prevent it. Neither heel is broken. No ankle twists. My elbow struck the wall and the stairs, but it's fine. My right shoulder was jarred pretty good when the elbow hit the step, but it remains in place.

And this is how the end will come, I thought, dropped down the stairs by my five dollar rubber slats, left to writhe, cry, and bleed out on the kitchen floor... Ick. So many bad ways to go out.

Speaking of such, my friend shared a video from her town in NM where a mountain lion strolled onto the porch to sun itself and lap some water. A mountain lion. Big, strong, fierce, deadly cat. Another BAD way to go out.

Annie's off to Philly for a fortnight to work on a project. Surveillance and public space. It's cool to see the ways she can explore her devious interests w/o becoming a drug mule or moonlighting mommy hooker... I appreciate that the kids aren't unsteady so our travels don't give them bad feelings or cause meltdowns.

I'm off to pedal to clear my mind. Glad the winter gear hasn't been stored yet. Hope I don't get swallowed by a pothole.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rewards for not being a deadbeat dad

Monday was a glorious family day. We'd had a rough night at work, including the brutally smoky basement fire in store next to Bulldog on Lyndale. (Which is a separate discussion.) And some dipshits running around setting fire to trashcans in the alleys of Seward. Yay! But I got home, did some editing of some endlessly unformed, sprawling fire-related essays, and mainlined coffee. Initially I was going to nap early, but that seldom works. Annie taught early and we met up at the health club industrial ego complex for a pairs workout. It was great fun to grunt and groan and sweat w/ the sweet Ace, on machines totally free of bacteria. She's a stud and we had fun. I had smoke fumes pouring from my skin all morning, and after she split I did some CV to force more of it out the pores, then sat in sauna for a while.

We got home about the same time and promptly took a nap. Totally punk rock wild-child freaky, yes? Sure. I took my pants off, in case she had dreams (and intentions) of ravishing the first man she saw in her bed. Except we both slept hard for 90 minutes. Glory. Picked up girls from school and collected ourselves to go for a nature walk. 'Goddamnit, you kids! Turn off your devices, step away from the screens, and go look at some fucking nature! (Psst, honey, do you get reception in nature? Phew...)'



Much as our house & its taxes are expensive and stressful, the area we live is awesome and the access to cool shit isn't to be devalued. I stumbled upon a dunn brothers, which apparently slings a mean cup of joe, and we set off for the river. Initial intent was to walk a bit, then help Lux look for pigeons for her school report. I had it on good authority that a passel of the winged rats loiter beneath the 3rd Ave bridge on Main St. We walked out on the Stone Arch first, checked the raging, raging Mississippi River. Sheer power. Terrifying force. Beauty and awe, both.








Then we walked out along the power plant promenade--getting even closer to the mayhem of spring thaw. The view and span of downtown Mpls vista is gorgeous. We went to check the chickens, er pigeons--no dice. Perhaps they were too busy breaking the economy with their cushy union jobs. We did find this:



Drunk with river stank, we altered our plan & hit Tuggs for burgers for dinner. For the last time. Ridiculously expensive (is this really a tourist attraction? Fucking Lame) and not great burgers--I'd do Burger King over them, seriously. Then we walked to Lunds so Flannery could continue her performance piece in which she is an orphan who happens to rent a room from us. Her commitment to it is admirable and a pain in the ass. I/we hope it's a phase. She uses her money not for glitter or for Tweetering, but she coupon clips, saves, compares, and shops for herself. She's made a section of the fridge for herself, and hollowed out space in the cupboards for her provisions. It's a bit scary in its thoroughness. I can't imagine where she gets her stubbornness from...


We chilled, had H-Lux read to us, then after she went to bed, following a couple educational episodes of Arrested Development (a show so much finer than, say, 2.5 Men x 1000 that it's criminal it was cancelled, but we'd crucify jesus if he walk into town nowadays, too), we sat down on couch w/ Flann to watch The Birds. So campy, so shrewd, so mean and smart--and those pesky birds... Great stuff. She was thrillingly terrified, and bemused.

A great day. The kids are so interesting and thoughtful, sweet and funny, that it's painful to worry about the pitfalls that await as part of life. The needless hazards and unexpected tragedies... But nothing stops the wheels, so be present and speak honestly and let the shit shake itself out.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

transitional gestures

We suffer through the inconveniences and unpleasantness of winter, long winter, here for those pearly days before and after summer's swelter kicks in, with humidity befitting a southern state, mosquitoes befitting a swampy state, and tornadoes from Kansas. My three-day swing was exemplary. Annie and I caught a matinee, Source Code, which was enjoyable and interesting; I later watched Love & Other Drugs, on a mini-Jake Gylenhaal kick. Those eyebrows--so disconcerting. But that one was good, too. Read (another) depressing article about the stupid cynicism that drives Hollywood: basically, white men make movies and they don't want to watch, nor support, movies in which they're not the epicenter. This particular article was about the travails of women in film: smart women, funny women, real women. Three-card-monte rigged marketplace. Same song for films for non-whites. Something was on at work the other day, with Dana Owens/Latifah, and it was so piss-poor in the writing department, it hurt my head. And the execs will point to its dismal box office as 'proof' that (white) people don't want to see these movies. Bleah.

So I got my cinematic swerve on. Got three good days riding in, too. 40+, 60+, 30+: not bad miles for me. I'd aimed for Stillwater the second day but the Gateway turned to ice/snow field and, after a fall and several slide-outs, plus lugging bike increasing yards, I bailed--and then ate it HARD on the penultimate patch of recrossed ice. Hard like--gasping for air, shocked and minorly panicked: the instand reminder I wasn't near home, or near much at all. I'd been humoring myself after the first fall (where I bounced through some slush, lightly abraded my arm & knee, and soaked my sleeve) that, Hey, it's just slush. Falling won't be a hazard, just an inconvenience. I was deep in I LOVE BIKING reverie when whooooooosh, down I went. Bike hit hard; I hit harder. Cold sparks shot through my gut from my right hip. I had to pause to consider that I might have broken my fucking hip. Dumbshit.

Then I remounted, chastened, and biked in shame out of the emerald forest. I did keep riding and, while short of a century, put it over 60 for first time since last fall. Right side is bruised/tender/ouch-y over a 12" x five inch swath of haunch and love handle.

I rode yesterday to make sure the leg didn't get stiff. I felt really good, then, as I turned around, I realized I'd actually had the wind cutting across my back the whole time. Return trip was dispiriting. Until I got out of wind and life was good again.

I was pondering this as I rode: 'If god is unknowable.' Period, that's it; not follow-up clause. If god is god, there's nothing we can say or know about him, his preferences, his grand plan. If we can guess his intentions (and note how frequently his inferred intentions match well with those diviners...), then he is not god. By definition, that is true.

And why do people keep building towns on flood plains? And why, why are they surprised when every spring the river floods (again)?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Can't tell what's more worrisome: the pundidiots calling Michele Bachmann Palin-lite or saying she's a more-complete Palin... And, somehow, she's evidenced ANY legitimate qualities of leadership.

Years ago, dear aunt Linds was visiting DC and Liza was telling a story about some schoolmates of hers, granddaughters of Marriott clan; they're Mormons and their inheritance was dependent on the girls being virgins at marriage. Linds snorted and wondered how the old man was going to satisfy his blood demand--sitting bedside for the conjugal consummation? Girls played nice and clocked their ducats.
Same as it ever was.

None of these shitbirds is actually spiritually motivated. Power is its own false god, far more palpable than the unknowable old media one. Code words to 'the faithful' keeps the wool over their eyes and the keys to kingdom in the braying Gantry's sweaty palms. We deserve what we bring on ourselves, I suppose. But it's some stinky shit.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Let us now praise famous wo/men

We debated waiting until after school to bring Vargas to the vet, pondering how disruptive the weight of what was happening during the day might be on each girl, but then, if it was looming at the far end of the school day, I doubt there'd be much release or relief in school work. The prospect of bringing them along to the vet was entertained then jettisoned. I think they'd have handled it well, but if it didn't go well, I don't think that's really fair, or helpful, perhaps. So they went to school, having pet and kissed Vargas goodbye (and, of course, later, it wasn't enough time to say a full goodbye, wasn't sufficient breadth of parting: sorry, my dears, it never is, it never is), and I returned home to do meaningless tasks, spilling time until it was time to stop her time. Poor dog, unknowing. But then, we are all poor dogs, unknowing.

I gave her a final walk, half hoping she'd have bounce enough in her step to dissuade me, then half-hoping she'd teeter and sway, reinforcing my decision. She did both, and neither. Once she got a head of steam, she could lope-limp along nicely for ten feet or so. At rest, or moving slowly, she tottered and swayed. The rear legs were shaking and straining--not failing, quite; not yet failing, but coming closer. We made it four houses before turning around. It was time.

The vet is undergoing some renovations, so there's a tiny all-purpose room for entry, exit, waiting, paying, with persistent construction clanging and whirring on the other side of the drywall. They'd been evacuated yesterday during the gas leak, so they were running behind. I sat down and there was a guy with a nice husky sitting across from me. I pondered: I got Vargas when Watt was decrepit & starting his decline. She'd been young and perky when his legs were failing. I'd brought him to the vet and, stopping at the dog park for a private moment, had seen a young, vigorous husky, and that had helped reassure myself that I'd done right by old Watt. Now, eight-plus years later, here I was with Vargas, and here was a strong, proud equally blue-eyed husky. It could be an omen, if one were looking for augury and cosmic conversation. Was it a good omen or a bad omen?
We started chatting, the guy and I, about huskies. While we talked, I kept Vargas still on a piece of carpet. He asked what was the matter with her leg, then extended his well wishes for her recovery. I thanked him.

At that point, I wondered if perhaps the vet should reconsider this waiting room arrangement. I'm not the most sentimental person, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the most emotionally jacked person to bring a dog to be put down, but I was feeling a bit odd sitting there: for me, I had that strange and perverse impulse to apologize to the husky dude, and the malamute-heeler mix gal when she sat beside us, for bringing the specter of death into the (cramped & construction dusty) room. However, I could have in all right begun wailing and sobbing, making a grief circle in the dusty floor, and they would have felt horrible--and worried the death curse might be contagious, and they'd pull their dogs away from Vargas. Just in case...

But I felt all right about the decision and had no need for their generalized sympathies or concern, so we chatted away amiably about dog stuff (living dog stuff). Until the receptionist asked if I wanted to keep her ashes. And then the other two got quiet and looked a bit pale. Fine, it's part of life, this dying thing. And it sucks, and it's what happens, one way or another. Generally, it's the other ways... They got me into a room eventually, and I squatted beside Vargas on the floor, stroking her gorgeous head and her much diminished flanks. She'd lost ten pounds in the past month, even without any activity and more-generous feeding. The doc came in, after more than a little time. As I said, they were interrupted by yesterday's fireball, and I wasn't distraught, but it felt like a goodly amount of time to be sitting awaiting the executioner's sing-song greeting. He came in, we talked about what I'd noted in her decline; he looked at her even briefly and nodded. Last month, he'd felt she was doing all right. Now, the decline was clear. He bent and stroked her, cursorily examined her, prepared the tourniquet, and brought in the big pink-liquid-filled syringe.
She was tired out from her walk and lay on her side. He secured the tie-off, poked a couple times before getting good access with the needle. He looked at me and said it would start. I stroked her and said goodbye, told her to take care, and I thanked her. He pushed in the liquid. I could feel her breathing slow, slow more, then she was still. Like that, she was gone. He took his stethoscope and listened for a few secs before pronouncing her. Which seemed strange, or redundant. But that's the biz. I kept my hand on her, stroking still or resting it on her head. She was gone.

The stillness is what gets me. Perhaps it's the void where someone's life-energy is. Soul, life force, spirit--whatever you wish to call it. I told the doc that it's always a strange feeling to declare someone dead at work. We rush into a room, find life interrupted--by seconds or days--and make it official. There's always the mind-trick, where we think we see a movement. Our impulse is for life, is to live, is to believe people are alive. Being the arbiter of existence, even so tangentially, is strange. I always expect the deceased to twitch, or sit up. The stubborn bastards... But they don't. They're dead.

Vargas' electrical circuits were winding down, a twitch here, a toe flick there, but she was gone. As we stood there, watching her and talking about death, I remembered the Belbers had a horrible at-home experience with Abby, their old Corgi. Bring enough juice to do it the first time, if you're going to do it.

The doc had things to do. He expressed a genuine condolence--a good spirited, friendly lug like Vargas is a sweet thing--then told me to take my time before leaving. I knelt again, stroked her a bit more, and said goodbye. I scrunched down and gave her a kiss, and whispered thanks.

The all-purpose room was empty, so I poked my head back into their work space. The receptionist was startled, then worried I was bereft. I smiled and told her I just wanted to say thanks, and added they might want to consider a separated waiting room, as I hadn't wanted to bum out the others. She said that's what the construction was for, to provide a private side for bereavements and a separate exit. Have a good weekend, I said, and left, the useless leash wrapped around my fist.

I got home, did some cleaning--brought her stinky bed downstairs, scrubbed a bit of the floor, scraped the flaky caked drool from the chair we couldn't use lest she climb up and destroy it w/ her funk and claws. I went about my day, then picked up Harper from school. We talked about it as we drove home. In the rearview, I watched her eyes swell and spill, but/and we kept talking about what it was like as she (Vargas) drifted away. Once home, the poor kid erupted. She sat in my lap and cried for half an hour or so. Then we talked about other things and she got a snack. We've had three other dogs during V's tenure, four counting Watt, and she was the only one whom Harper didn't perceive as a physical threat--being the smallest is a pain. Even though Shrike was more dynamic (! to say the least) and actively loving, he was an overzealous menace. django was bully and Lux was tiny then. Even little Moby is a spazz and Harps is the only one who moves when he slams her, so that's his game and her headache. Even the cat picks on her. So, Vargas the stolid, slow, lumbering, lazy, loving: that was gold for Lux.
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I've appreciated all the condolences and well-wishes folks have sent today. I appreciated Vargas, even as I didn't particularly enjoy her. I am grateful that, through her, I stumbled into dog training and met all the amazing people I've met in past seven or eight years. Funny how that works. Bad clicker training for a dog that had no drive for toys, tugs, or treats: I end up in Hudson, Wisc., meet the Vyatkins, then Mark K, then Cat, then all the Red Star crew, then Michael E, and so it went, like dominos or a phone tree... For that, I'm deeply appreciative.

For the record, I didn't have her stuffed.