Wednesday, December 1, 2010

sorry.


we should really just stop apologizing.

sorry for this. sorry for that. sorry for the fact that our mayor's fat. fuck it.

i'm not sorry. i'm not sorry that we're living most of our dreams, and our dreams are hard-won, hard-fought, and tempered with the only thing hot and hard enough to shape stubbornness into something sharp and useful: love.

i've always had love on my side. i used to use it to dissolve resolve and melt my way past some beautiful defenses. blue eyes, a heart as big as a wide hand fist, and enough time to break it all down. and now here it is, holding everything together, threads popping like heart strings under strain, one more heart on this house of cards. at least we've got stubbornness in spades.

upgrade expectations, surrender prejudice. expect more. when i say jump, let's jump. it doesn't matter how high because we're just going to fall at the same 9.81 m/ss as everyone else, rich or poor, and get there at the same time, cannon ball or feather. i want to sink, you want to fly, and between the two of us, we'll stay grounded.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

MCL


medial collateral ligament. or at least, that's what medical professionals would call it.

it might even be the medial meniscus.

whatever it is, it is the chink in my armor, the achilles heel of my knee, the frust in my ration. and i came to equate it yesterday with all things that could have been heralded as independence and the romance of the open road and the rapha-esque epic of doing something totally stupid in adverse weather conditions just for the sake of doing something totally stupid in adverse weather conditions. it became truly epic when my knee started to throb and my thoughts went almost as numb as my toes and i wished for more windproof material over my genitals and wondered if mississauga would ever end, though it was a mystery as to where it ever began.

this is the week and weekend of independence. there are few helpers, and due to their scarcity, they must be preserved for only the most dire of needs - the ones for which we don't get paid if we don't oblige. so i had one helper one night this week and it was perfect and amazing and i couldn't have asked for anything more. bathed, fed, happy children in bed and asleep by the time i get home? amazing. then there was the epic challenge of getting to streetsville for 09:30 when daycare doesn't open until 07:30 and there's snow on the forecast and no car in the driveway. streetsville, for anyone who doesn't know, which is probably most people considering its geography, is in the middle of nowhere. it is exactly 23.8 miles of headwind, bad road, rolling hills, industrial wasteland, and suburban sprawl away from the coziness of a drafty little home in toronto, and i found a version of myself there.

i had forgotten about this self. this self of no pain, no gain. this person willing to put everything on his own shoulders, blame no one outright but come to the fardel with equal parts disappointment in having so much to do and utter determination to do it no matter what. this self would go the distance, or die (or have his genitals and extremities lost to frostbite while) trying. this self was a bit dumb, and a lot driven, and this self got to streetsville long after the soft, efficient, well-thought-out-and-put-together self turned back.

it was a long ride.

as my feet burned and ached with thawing, my knee began to throb after the repetitive effort. and instead of feeling elated that i had accomplished something ridiculous, that i had beaten odds and the possibility of giving up, i was worried. in 6 days i enter a new decade of my age. my body is starting to fail. i have to see specialists to heal. and even the no-impact of riding extremely slowly for miles into the wind makes my knee throb like it did after 13.1 miles of rending a new self. i'm hoping for recovery. i'm looking forward to pain-free running at speed, the way it was in july. i'm eager to get on a bike and hammer it back to mississauga, back into the wind, with nothing throbbing but my veins.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

thursday night melancholy.


it's really not a big deal.

people all over the world go to bed lonely every night. somewhere, some time, someone fills a mug with shiraz because there's no point in getting out the grandiose crystal stemware. she's not here; why make a show.

the skylight echoes my thought drip: rain here, rain there, scattered runs of wettened thoughts and shadows play across the bead left behind.

it's not that bad.

all the waterproof • fade proof words i can scribble under today's date will not bring you home, next to me, breathing through your mouth and twitching while you dream. there is no ink to save me tonight.

perhaps i may rely
on the dreams of others.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

nightswimming.


last night was a perfect makeout night.

the wind, electric and unseasonably warm, breathed the possibility of rain but promised nothing. there was an eery glow to everything from blades of grass to gravel to light-stained night sky, and all of it was moving in the periphery. the wind gusted. there was the hum of cross tires on pavement, the crunch of gravel under wheels at an unknown speed, the thud of my heart from the work or the possibility of what i might meet at the lighthouse roundabout.

i love night rides.

night rides, particularly ones like last night, are all about pseudo-danger. i can't really see anything, like where i'm going or what's about to jump in front of me, or where the holes in the road might be. i won't be found by anyone if i go down hard. i have to ride according to all the other senses besides sight. and i'm riding faster than i should because i'm so damn excited. in all reality, nothing would happen. nothing did happen. but i felt like it was about to the entire time i was out there. and it was awesome.

i went for the ride because i needed to get out of the house. being cooped up on house arrest after so many lonely lame nights and without any motivation can really get to a guy, and i was that guy. i had no real focus. i was dissatisfied with the internet and all its shiny things that i can't afford. i was scared to read any further in the tragic beauty that is The Grapes of Wrath. i was tired from long days of parenting and cleaning and trying to be a good person in a city run by an asshole. i was warm and cozy and it was cold outside and it might even rain. i was whining. it was definitely time for a ride.

i rode down to the spit, taking full advantage of the warm tailwind and the luck with the lights. no one else was out on two wheels. i churned out the few miles to the gates, let myself through, and hammered into the eery glow. it looked like i was pedaling straight into The Road. amazing. i went out hard, gave it everything into the wind, and had phil liggett narrate the whole thing. i made it around the lighthouse without even slowing down, and headed back, straight into the wind.

as i spun easily down side streets back to the house, it occurred to me that i didn't need to buy anything. looking down in the darkness, i couldn't tell that i wasn't on my serotta. i couldn't tell that i needed a new chain or a tuned derailleur or those new fancy shifter hoods. i whipped around the lighthouse in the dark at full speed on gravel, the same gravel that dealt me my last flat, and i didn't need better tires. i braked lightly and pulled up in front of the house and chuckled, knowing i'd go right in and eat some ice cream and stretch and look on ebay for fancy things for bikes. but right then, for those beautiful minutes in the dark, i didn't need a damn thing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

thank you, gabi.

we don't quit.

sitting on the uncomfortable perch atop our kitchen cubbies, my feet freezing, my knee pulsing in pain under the bungee cord that secured the ice pack, and my cannibalized road frame in the basement, i thought hard about giving it all up.

i thought about many things, almost everything, except the important things.

i thought about how expensive it is to love bikes. i thought about how bad i am at it, in a racing/competition sense. i thought about how much money i could save in not upgrading parts or drivetrains or engaging in humorous saddle preference experiments. i thought about all the times i've raced, and lost hopelessly (every time). i thought about how i couldn't bend my knee without searing pain shooting out from underneath the mysteriously non-swollen patella. i thought about how cheap and easy it is to fly places with a pair of running shoes and some shorts. i thought about how much better i am at racing on two feet. (then i thought about my knee and tried to think of something else.) i thought about my toolbox. i thought about how little money i could get for the painstaking builds i have in the basement, in the shed, under the tarp on the porch. i thought about the bikes on the storage pole in the dining room, and how mine is heavy and in the way. i thought about all of the things i could be obsessing about and training for and doing and reading about and getting dirty over OTHER than bikes, and i didn't feel freed by that thought process at all. it felt dishonest. it felt queasy. it felt like giving up.

i am terrible at racing bikes.

never in my life have i gone faster than a collected group of people and outshone some other person in my category or out, in pursuit of a finish line. never. i've been last plenty of times. i've been end of pack many times. i've been slower than average in all top-finishers of every duathlon and triathlon. i've been lapped by the pro women who started 3 minutes after i did. i am terrible at racing bikes. and it's this terribleness that keeps me, sometimes, from wanting to progress. i can't get motivated to work harder or train more or smarter because it seems like i've been around the machines long enough that some kind of advantage must have seeped into my body from sheer exposure. i should be faster because i've loved bikes longer than anyone else! but no. and sitting there in the cold kitchen, site of so many late-night forays into the mysteries of italian componentry and quiet hacksawing of steerer tubes, i thought it might all be pointless. why love something so expensive, consuming, and ultimately devoid of concrete yield?

perusing the serotta forum today, i got an answer.

after watching this video, i realized i was thinking about the wrong things when i thought about giving it all up. i should have been thinking about my own daughter (gabi in the video is someone else's daughter). i should have been remembering my own first time on two wheels, and how i still get excited after 20 years of getting on two wheels. i should have remembered imparting that same excitement to my daughter, my dream come true. i should have remembered all those stolen hours in the park, her leading me, both of us with ridiculous grins, enjoying the simple action of spinning wheels and self-propelled, perfect motion. i should have remembered that my knee hurt because i ran a half marathon on sunday and my family cheered me on when i needed it the most. i should have remembered that active parents usually yield active kids. i should have remembered so many fall leaves, crunching under 16-inch tires as the wide-eyed five-year-old got her first taste of riding on dirt. i should have remembered laps in the alleyway before dinner. i should have remembered my own joy as i took off the girl's training wheels.

i should have remembered that my daughter will remember this, and the future will be better for it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

evolutionary trait: cuteness.


children break my heart.

all day long, someone else's children are the receptacles of my efforts. they plot devious schemes to avoid getting caught doing something they're not supposed to just because they want to do something they're not supposed to. did anyone ever tell them they're not supposed to be stupid? did anyone ever tell them that they're supposed to follow the little rules and break the big ones? exercise choice not in whether or not to stick one's used gum on the underside of the table or whether or not to wear clothing against dress code, but in whether or not to believe commercials, get lost in video games, and otherwise tune out to any sense of reality.

once the day is over, it's time for practice. and practice is a glorious thing. here, consequence is introduced, suffered, and enjoyed at every turn. follow instruction or get hurt. follow along or get lost. take initiative or take punishment. pursue excellence or achieve shame. novel concepts to today's children.

after finally dealing with everyone else's children, the best part of the day looms. now one's own children get to break one's own heart. thanks are mandatory and reminded rather than elective. dinner and bath and bed are sequences of action rather than a romantic evening of glowing promise. and after all is said and done, the little brat is still awake and singing songs at the top of her lungs just because she knows the words.

children break my heart.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

details.


details


orwell wrote with profundity regarding the characters he could suppose based on the details of those he encountered. he sounds unafraid in his encounters, seeming to approach it all with an intellectual questioning, and a willingness to figure it all out. i have the questioning; it’s the willingness that often escapes me. i could be a detail-oriented person, writing essential lists of necessities for trips, or recounting in vivid splendor the sensory delights of my first kiss in a snowbank, or outlining the ideal attributes of the perfect cup of espresso. in reality, however, the one so eloquently and blatantly recounted by a down and out orwell, i am fastidious and neurotic, oriented only towards the mundane details like the end times of ebay auctions, the thread counts of some tire casing, the days since i last made love. this is ridiculous. in attempting to outline the details, the tiniest things that would put a reader into my soaking wet italian synthetic-leather road shoes on the side of a muddy, grassy bluff that juts out of one of the great lakes facing ontario’s wine region, i tend to forget the exact details that are important, and end up getting lost on the things i remember best. i used to photograph beautiful women without their clothes, preferably in industrial surroundings of decay and grainy spite, but the conceptual contrast was lost as soon as i got to frame. i spent the grainy real estate on the figure before me, and the background came in out of focus, unrecognizable, and ultimately benign. skin versus concrete doesn’t really present when skin is all one can see. i never did mind though...

to write within the details and come to some kind of inkling as to the identity of someone, maybe even the Self, one has to remember. unfortunately, a combination of sleep deprivation, obsession over the right place to deposit a two-year-old’s excrement at the right time, and the loose planning of the next meal has taken over my detail-detecting cognitive capacities. much of what i remember is out of focus and the texture of bisque.

through a glass darkly, however, is one of the best ways to remember, and recount, a story.

thankfully, i have only the attention spans for short stories, and tonight, only the attention span for snippets of character sketches, scene postulations, and what ifs. what if, after riding one’s bike for 70 miles in the vague direction of st. catharines, ontario, the bridge is out on the only road that allows bicycles and is going in a southerly direction? the sky opened, the protagonist laughed while donning a yellowing, clear PVC rain jacket, more duct tape than jacket, and the waves made the beach less than rideable. knowing he had been in trouble since he refused to turn around at a manageable halfway point, speculating that he would be home in many more hours and after much more self-imposed suffering, and at once aware and critical of the wetness of his carefully-planned matching blue and white kit, the protagonist furrowed his brow and made for the beach, hoping against hope that it would lead past the broken bridge.

next time, there will be grandiose descriptions of the grease patterns in my fingerprints, the 90’s-era pearl izumi teal (yes, teal) fingerless riding gloves i wore through everything, the rending crunch of gravel in my fancy italian riding shoes, the hopelessness of traction while carrying a road bike up a mud-grass bluff in said italian road shoes, the triumph of a snickers bar and gatorade for the exact amount of cash in my seatpack, the quirky disappointment of not pedaling all the way to a friend’s front door, the endlessness of the QEW monotony, the awkward return, long after dinner, in another man’s clothes, commando, and with a serious case of burning ass. next time.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

love it.


mr. miyagi always knew what to do with daniel when the kid had a problem: work.

it's amazing what a little sweat and focused effort can do to improve one's outlook. i was talking with a cousin of mine a few weeks ago, and going over our mutual dependence on two-wheeled exercise for sanity reasons, and he takes the cake on dedication. the guy doesn't race. he does a couple charity rides a year, mostly to hang out with the family members he goes with. but he is pretty quick-tempered, albeit highly self-controlled. knowing all of this, he brings his bike with him to work and then, upon finishing his work day at the office, goes for a ride.

he doesn't ride home.

he goes for a ride, and spins out the day, enjoying the wind or the sweat or the activity while skipping the inevitable torture and rage of a rush-hour commute. as he could be sitting in traffic, he instead sits into his cadence. he could be yelling at other motorists, but he's exhaling after a hard cardio effort.

this guy knows where it's at.

the only problem, then, is when the problem that needs to be fixed is the work itself. i know, i know, you're worried that i broke my frame again. no. it's fine. it's silent and quick and beautiful and works wonderfully. the problem is that i don't always love riding. and riding is what i do to fix all of my other problems. how can i fix something if i don't even want to ride?

it's a difficult thing, loving to ride long and far and up big hills, when located in downtown toronto. there are no hills here, and any road anywhere is full of traffic lights, streetcar tracks, absolutely crap pavement, and traffic lights. it's a great place to run, but it's a terrible place to be a cyclist. how do you ride out your frustrations when riding is frustrating?

like my sister would say: you signed up for it. why are you complaining? (lots of sympathy there.)

it's true. i love to ride. and if i really love to ride, i will love to ride, anywhere, any time, every time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

on the road again.


much can be learned by breaking things.

take, for example, that time back in the early years of high school when i took apart the only shimano rapidfire shifter in the county, just to replace a frayed cable, and found out the hard way that shimano is not built to be re-built. there is nothing a geeky freshman won't do to get all eight speeds of his heavy cromoly beast back in working order, even if it does take him all night and every single one of his dad's micro screwdrivers. i learned that there is a nifty little hole on the side of a shimano shifter where that new cable just slides right in, no complex disassembly required.

what about that time i broke the rim on that same damn cromoly beast? i learned how to mail order spokes of the right length for the rim and hub i would buy from the same vendor, back before there was internet and conversations were necessary to commerce. i learned how to build a wheel. i learned how to true a wheel. i learned how to properly inflate my tires and hop higher next time.

a few weeks ago i discovered that i broke my frame. 

long story short: this put me off my bike for a couple of weeks.

i learned a lot in this time.

i learned that there is a lot of other stuff to do while i'm not riding my bike. i learned that my to-do list is capable of independent, exponential reproduction, and will lengthen when unwatched and unattended. i learned that there are jobs to do and chores to finish and projects to start and when i'm not on two wheels, i'm bad at all of those other things i do while i'm not riding my bike. 

when things break, and i mean really break, like thresholds, and new places or levels are found, inevitably there is some kind of epiphany, as soon as the breaker has a moment to catch his or her breath and reflect upon what s/he just did. sometimes it's shock: shit, i just landed that unscathed and my bike is totally in half! sometimes, it's relief: finally babe, we made it through [child's] potty training, and we never have to do it again! sometimes, it's just death: . when i found that my frame broke, and i wouldn't be riding on my dream machine for a few weeks, there were a few immediate epiphanies. i realized that i was kinda excited about the excuse to buy a new bike. i realized how emotionally attached i was to the serotta as i stripped it down and drank a beer and got really depressed about it. i realized that the serotta forum is full of a bunch of really nice guys who genuinely like bikes and are sad to hear when someone can't ride his, and it's also full of a bunch of classist assholes who believe that those who didn't pay an arm and a leg for a new serotta shouldn't enjoy it let alone get any kind of warranty or repair favor when the craftsmanship fails. i realized that i become an asshole when i can't ride my bike. and i realized, most importantly, that the bike is really just a bike, a vehicle to greater things, regardless of what the vehicle is made out of. the greater things will still be great.

and they were.

my brother took me out for a ride and i felt like a million bucks afterward, even if i was pedaling a steel singlespeed with fenders and a bell. i rode my mountain bike for a couple errands and laughed at the sheer fun of such fat tires and inefficient pedaling.  i ran more. i played with my kids and looked at BMC's while waiting for them to fall asleep. 

the serotta is now fixed. i'm saving for a new bike anyway, but in the midst of the 'crisis' of being without it, i had the extreme fortune to meet matt chester. the guy is amazing. one of my coworkers was explaining matt to another coworker and said, 'it's like having god fix your frame.' or it's like a really nice guy, who's the best at what he does, do a really good job of getting you back on your bike, for no pretense or exorbitant fee or unnecessary machining. that's matt chester. and i highly recommend him and his work to anyone. took a breakthrough to meet him, and i'm glad i did.

i will also mention that throughout all of this, my ladyfriend was also a breakthrough. my cracked frame may as well have been her cracked frame, and she was online and networking and scouting deals to get me back on the road. she treated it like a mission. i ride bikes. i love riding bikes. but if i don't ride bikes, my life will go on. it just won't be the same, and my ladyfriend knew it. she looks out for me, and quests for the same things i do, and keeps me on the road to being better. 

i guess it's okay to break things, as long as i don't end up fixed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

sour grapes.


today was a gorgeous day to ride.

it was pretty hot, and a little windy, but it's the kind of day that we in toronto have waited for for the past 8 months, and it was the kind of day that one could get a sunburn, a windburn, and a hangover, all at once, and love it.

my frame is cracked.

i spent the day walking around with the girls, sweating, buying juice and laundry detergent, doing chores, and cheering on the riders at the toronto criterium. it would be a fine way to pout.

i learned last weekend that one of the unfortunate sides to cleaning one's things is that one may discover the last thing one wants to discover underneath all of the grime: an imperfection. the imperfection i discovered last weekend went far beyond a mere scratch or ugly weld bead. it was a crack. a long crack, starting in the weld and finishing on the other side of the seat tube. i guess that explains all the clicking noise while i climb.

at first, i didn't believe it.

then i yelled an expletive, tossed the rag, and went inside to tell someone, anyone, that something really bad had just happened. and all the while, i couldn't really believe it, but i kind of wanted to, because i knew something was up with that clicking sound while i climbed, and i always wondered about an excuse to buy a real racing bike and...

shit.

the frame's cracked. the foundation of my entire venture into bikes and road bikes and racing and training and everything else has been compromised. building that bike brought me to bike shops across the city, baby in chest carrier, in search of rare and specific parts or tools. it made me learn all about campagnolo and 8 speed and then 10 speed. i had to re-learn how to build wheels. i built relationships with quirky mechanics down the street, living the dream and charging way too little to solve my hardest problems with ease. that bike brought me closer to my dad. he found the frame on ebay when i asked him to help me snipe another, much cheaper, much less fancy frame. he paid for half of it. he rode more when i brought it up to his house and we rode together. that frame got me through two centuries. that frame got me back into climbing, and road bikes altogether. riding that bike made me eat better and train harder and shave my legs again. i had a lot to live up to, riding a bike like that. that frame weighs about as much as the brooks b17 i put on it when i first built it. that frame has class, is a conversation starter, got me onto the serotta forum, made me learn about generosity and the finer points usually reserved for true bike snobs. that bike got me into and through my first bike race.

and now it's cracked.

it's okay. i called serotta and they can fix it for about twice as much as i paid for the frame. and it'll take a couple months. and i'll have to pay for shipping. and it won't be the same. and that pissed me off. i knew i wasn't getting serotta guarantee or warranty when i bought a used frame off of ebay, but it never occurred to me that serotta could mean breakable, certainly not in titanium! it wouldn't really be that big of a deal if i had the cash lying around to just get the thing fixed, or just ride another bike, or just buy another bike, or just buy another frame. but i don't. ITTET, i'm dirt poor, living paycheck to paycheck and hoping for a summer job. groceries aren't getting any cheaper, and the girls aren't eating any less. 

thankfully, i came to my senses and asked around and got some advice and now the frame looks like it'll be repaired within 10 days. i'll build it up again next weekend. it will be glorious. i will learn more. i will ride it harder. it will be truly custom. i will know it so much better. i can't wait. thank goodness for tragedy; here comes fortune!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

misfit.


i read something once about a man asked of his recent result in a bike race. his reply (something like): 'i think i did pretty well. i came in first in my category. my category being: the successful [insert job here], wood-working, happily-married father-of-two 49-year-old category.'

this is wonderfully encompassing, and correct.

even desiderata mentions it - do not compare yourself with others, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

yeah. 

and i will take it one step further, and mention that these comparisons can and will often happen at inopportune times, and sometimes it will feel like most of the persons you are with are 'greater than yourself', but then we'd have to move on to that all-important stanza: 'whether or not it is clear to you..no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.'

thank goodness for that manifesto. like bicycles, i don't believe i would have survived adolescence without it.

take, for example, my small hill ride yesterday. 

i like to hit up bayview because it's longer than most of the hills i get to ride, and although full of traffic, it offers a two-section gradient and plenty of shoulder room, and is conveniently at the end of my requisite 13-minute warm-up routine. i huffed and puffed my way up bayview, fancying catching the brightly-colored jersey ahead of me, but settled for a rhythmic ('he's got to ride at his own pace now, digging deep into the suitcase of courage...') spin that took full advantage of spring weather and a 3/4 zip on my shirt. following bayview, i spun easily and quickly over the top and along the ridge to the other loblaws, the one with the hill, and i prepared to bomb down the descent and begin climbing/clawing back up.

then those guys were in the way.

i know, with spring, there are a million times more riders on the road. it was friday. it was absolutely gorgeous. it was normal spring weather after a week of absolute shite. the road is open to all. the universe is unfolding as it should.

but that guy's wearing a backpack. 

and i'm not talking a camelbak or other riding-based design of hydration-enhancing intent; i'm talking a chemistry text book, homework-porting pack sack that probably has his lunch baggies at the bottom.

and that guy doesn't even have a helmet on.

you can say what you like and steer yourself over to bikesnob's recent post about the helmet argument and all of that, but wearing helmets is the right thing to do, and i have instant prejudice/disdain for those who elect not to while riding bikes that make obvious one's intent to be fast and awesome on paved surfaces. not so fast or awesome when you're dead, dumb-ass.

so, where was i?

oh right. stuck behind pack-sack and his compadre dumb-ass, slowly, sssssssllllloooooooooowlyyyyyyyyyyy making their ways down the hill. 

the last time i subjected myself to this hill, i flew down it every time. 42mph without a hilltop push, and i could finally carve the turns because all the construction debris and gravel and sand had been cleaned off the road surface. it was glorious. it was probably the reason i did as many repetitions as i did - i couldn't get enough of the descent, and climbing back out is the only way to get home.

yesterday, there was no flying down the hill. there was gentle swooning, meandering even, and so much meandering that there was certainly no safe way to pass. so i gritted my teeth, squeezed the brakes, and let the universe unfold.

nearing the bottom, dumb-ass made the move i predicted and began a full-road swerve toward my (straight and acceptable right-hand side of the road) direction to start his own climb back out. his buddy, pack-sack, saw this and promptly told him, 'heads up'. 

disaster was averted.

i thought: maybe you should get a helmet if you're going to ride like that.

do not compare yourself with others...

i rode to the far end of the run-out, checked my blind spot, turned around, and looked up the hill. they had already begun climbing, and it looked feasible that i might catch them. i wondered if i should wait. i coasted to the base of the climb, debating all the while, whether i would catch them, if i should run that risk, what would be so bad if i did, and what makes one an asshole anyway, what they look like or their intent?

i shifted and started pedaling.

as the hill goes up, it doesn't seem so bad. there's a breeze in the trees and the pavement is smooth. the gradient isn't horrible yet, and victory seems to be within reach. 

then you look up.

nothing wrong with looking up, except that you can't see the top. and if any part of your brain is still working, you realize that it's crazy if you can't see the top because the hill isn't really all that long. so, it must be that steep. that's STEEP. thankfully, before you can calculate any implications to this realization, the steepness has slapped some good ol' survival-based instincts into your legs and you are forced to run on fight or flight, no calculating or implicating allowed. unfortunately, flight requires one to fight in this instance, so choice is further reduced to basic obligation: breathe, push, breathe, push, breathe, try not to die right now, breathe, is that god at the next curve?, breathe, it hurts to breathe, ...

i passed them somewhere after the first maintenance hole cover. i wasn't dying like i usually do, but i wasn't feeling schlecktastic either, so i tried a little 'we're all in this together' greeting: 'almost there...'.

pack-sack returned, 'yep...'

dumb-ass remained dumb.

i pushed on and summited, quickly spinning out of the parking lot, and headed home.

and then i thought about categorization and stereotyping and bad high school poetry (i wrote LOTS) and shaving my legs and upgrading my bike and it dawned on me: i'm the best rider i know, in my category.

i cannot compare myself with others, entirely, because, in a scientific method sense, my whole existence happens in the 'Discussion' section, in the margin of error, in the 'yeah, but'. this girl rides faster than i. and i change diapers faster than she. and that guy's waaaay slower than i, and he does real work that changes the world for the better. i can race cat 4 elite, the old man's category for guys who've never raced but want to give it a go, and i will be in the same start as punk asses from st. catharine's and the editor of canadian bike magazines, but none of them will get in the smallest car of the parking lot after having buckled in the world's most beautiful 5- and 2-year-olds, to drive home while sitting next to the world's most wonderful and beautiful and perfect-for-me partner, and have a beer while stretching on the most rickety back deck on the street. i win. 

i am still, without contest, the luckiest guy on the planet.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

so tired.


i am tired.

i have stress-zits all over my face, and i'm only getting uglier. probably more hair fell out. if only i could transfer the growth on my legs to that (dwindling) on my scalp. it's one of those stressed/worn-out tirednesses that sounds like the inevitable lead-out of 'my ass is getting bigger' to the christmas list diatribe of all the things wrong and fat and no longer new or fantastic. i'm the old wheels with the stripped nipple. i'm the dirt on the inner chainring, right by the crank arm bumper. i'm that nagging thread on the rear tire, indicating wear much deeper than hoped for.

it's been a long weekend.

no, we did not get friday off. friday was spent riding all the bad roads of toronto, heading to and from volleyball tournaments with and against rush hour traffic, in and out of the pissing rain. saturday was hammering and pulling and hammering and pulling and then..gloriously sailing in the 80 km/h winds of this undecided spring. tailwinds are beautiful; headwinds require some religion. today was more pulling and hammering, though not on two wheels. there were toddler head injuries to tend to, invalids to nurse, and mothers day to top it all off. wtf. no rest for the old ugly guys. it's been long.

and the serotta is dirty. and it's staying that way till i take it out again and hammer myself good and hard for good measure. i don't know that i'm meant to ride with people. i always find myself outmatched or underwhelmed and there's rarely a satisfying co-existence of given'r. whatever. solo it shall be. as long as the post-ride beer doesn't have to be.

i had a revelation, by the way, and thought i'd share it:

yesterday, back from the epic ride that rapha would have enjoyed, if only it had been in more picturesque and mullet-inducing scenery, i climbed out of the shower and looked down at the bath mat on the floor. there, side by side, were his and her piles of identical contents. a pair of well-loved riding bibs, riding socks still inside indoor birkenstock slippers, and a jersey on top, all hastily peeled off in anticipation of the steam-filled wonder of the post-ride shower. you know you've made the right choice, somehow, somewhere, when your piles look like that, side by side, without even trying. either that, or i'm excessively boring and making mountains out of molehill lycra...

time for bed. here's to optimism in spite of absolutely every damn thing. here's to going to sleep knowing that none of it was easy, and all of it was worth it, or will be some day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

more than meets the eye.


bicycles are magical.

take, for instance, my current inability to feel most of my extremities. the once mundane/routine/underdistanced task of tapping out thoughts in coherent words and sentences has become a work of effort, requiring extreme concentration and a new consideration of my fine motor skills. consider, also, the wonderful warming of my facial dermis, and the rekindling of sensation in each and every square millimeter just under my chin. i never think about these parts of myself. and now, after some time on the bicycle, here they are, apparent and wonderful and decidedly me. i like bikes.

i also like how bikes make people better.

i leave the door open at my workplace, dump a bunch of donated bikes and parts all over the room, pop open my personal toolbox, and start getting my hands dirty. inevitably, within ten minutes or fewer (i'm usually still downing my lunch when it happens), someone will come wandering in with a question, a broken bike, or some hands just itching to touch something greasy. it's fantastic. oftentimes, these persons are 'the youth', and they are refreshingly curious, even if reluctantly so, and it makes them better people. they ask questions. they tease each other. they admit that they know little of bikes, or they admit how much they know of bikes and it's enough to make me excited. the same people i would just as soon have left for jail or hard service are now transformed and being worthwhile and all about a pile of rusted bike junk. and the guy they would just as soon have thrown out the window or laughed at while he gets crushed by a fly-by SUV is now someone who might know something and might even be a little bit cool because he likes bikes too, and can fix them at no charge. hm. bikes make me better. every damn time.

i like how bicycles make loblaws a destination that has nothing to do with food. (see redway road, toronto.) i like how bicycles make me go faster than 42mph without even trying, and then make me go 3mph giving it everything i've got. i like how bicycles can be metaphors for the hardest and best parts of life. i like how i know a lot about bicycles, and still so very little. i like how bicycles bring the world to me. i like how bicycles are something in common with many different people, everywhere.

i was walking back from my sister's house the other night, heading down pape street, and carrying a couple of campagnolo wheelbags. (more on the ridiculously awesome scirocco's later.) two gentlemen were standing outside the barber shop, and as i passed by, one called out. i had no idea what he was saying, but he was definitely talking to me, and talking about the wheels, it seemed. he apologized after the third time i said, 'what?', and said that he would slow himself down. turns out he is from jamaica. he saw my wheelbags and wanted to see the wheels, wondered if they were really campagnolo wheels inside. we opened one and he took it out (my daughters and partner waiting patiently throughout this inter-walk-home-meeting), marveling and asking if it was for sale. i told him no, that i had just gotten them myself. he asked for how much, and said it was a great deal. that they were really nice wheels. he told me he used to race in jamaica. i told him that meant he must be crazy fast. he just smiled and looked wistful and spry and fast. i smiled and told him to have a great night. it was the highlight of my weekend. a guy from jamaica talks to a guy from nowhere about italian bike parts on a street in toronto and they both get excited about one thing: bikes.

bicycles are magical. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

there is much to learn.


racing is tough.

to provide a complete and total spoiler to the nail-biting suspense i'm sure you're barely enduring: i finished the race last weekend.

i was dead last.

there are a few things that need explaining.

i'll start first with some excuses/justifications for my placing. i raced in the U17/Elite Men 4 start, which is essentially a smackdown of old men who've never raced before by young whippersnappers with lots of energy and more to prove. they have more time to train. they don't have kids. they probably don't do their homework (neither do i). they spent the winter on the rollers they got for christmas. they're simply a lot faster. and then these other old men in my category - they've raced before. i have no idea why they are in category 4, for slow asses like myself who've never raced before, but they were there, and they owned it. jerks. finally, at least 4 people in my category DNF'd, and four more were DNS. that means, had those quitters not backed out and kept on going, i'd have been somewhere in the lineup that wasn't last. maybe i would have been 4 places ahead of last. maybe. either way, all those other old guys got dropped, flatted, or just plain quit. in refusing to quit, i took up the last place position, and held it for 5 painful laps. 

it was a beautiful day to get dropped.

the course was 70% 'gravel' road and 30% paved and about 98% windy. it was gorgeous. and sunny. and well-marshaled.  and fun. i had a blast. i got dropped somewhere toward the end of the first lap, because i forgot that i would never be able to catch back on, and i forgot that without the draft factor of the pack, i'd die in my own time trial against the wind. nevertheless, i took it a little too easy during one acceleration, lost the wheel in front of me, and 'got put into difficulty', started 'going backwards now', and no amount of 'digging deep into the suitcase of courage' could save me. 

i was alone.

for about 25 miles, i rode steadily, enjoying the hammering of my legs and the whir of wheels on all surfaces, enjoying my saddle, enjoying the sunshine and the complete lack of mechanical issues from the bike. nothing other than my muscles hurt. the saddle sore i so worried about beforehand never made mention of itself. i didn't cough too much. it was just a great day for a hard pace, and i should have tried to hold on a little longer. i did have one satisfying moment though, carving through an S-turn at the beginning of the gravel section, i accelerated out of the turn and dropped the only other guy still riding lap 3 or 4 with me. he was in last place. then i dropped him. and it seems he gave up or flatted after that. so i was in last place. it really was a beautiful day.

i learned things at the race.

i learned that all those excuses/justifications that you tell yourself before the race to get yourself signed up, they will dissolve and turn into the opposite of themselves as soon as the timer goes off. the only purpose they serve is to make you feel okay enough about your prospects to sign up and then actually toe the start line. 'it's april; no one's in shape'. (this is a fantasy. it's april and everyone's been training for this flat, belgian style race all winter on their dorky cylceops trainers, and they're more than ready to kick ass riding outside.) elite men 4 is a category for old guys who've never raced before and won't have too much to prove; i'll probably be a little younger and maybe a little faster. (yeah right. yeah RIGHT. this category is just as bad as the masters category - these guys train all the time, eat well, work hard, and are dedicated to doing this one sport really, really well. they know more about riding than i do because they do it instead of watching or fantasizing or writing about it.) i have good handling skills, so gravel sections might be a bonus for someone like me. (gravel is the least of anyone's worries in a flat race like this - pedaling hard will get anyone through it, and it's not hard to handle a road bike on wide sweeping curves and well-packed dirt.) it's my first race; results don't matter. (true, until you have to go find a marshal and tell him that you are not DNF like he thought when he marked you down, and you proudly take up the last place spot on the results list, a full lap behind first place (got passed in the finishing straight, right before i turned around for one more lap, and he bolted for the line).) 

racing is great. one thing calmed me down the night before - i realized that no matter how i do in this racing thing, it will likely just make me faster for my rides with friends and family, and in a race i'm anonymous, so there's really no pressure. learn. train. ride faster. try to last longer before getting dropped next time. and always enjoy it. 

upon finishing in absolute last place, i had the distinct and conflicting desires to never race again, and to race again as soon as possible. i think i'll stick with the latter.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

jitter.


so, i'm racing tomorrow.

with all of the pre-race jitters and preparation and hoping and analyzing and over-thinking and everything else, there is ample time to do a whole lot of one completely unnecessary thing: self-awareness. for example, i am currently sitting on what may or may not be the significant beginnings of my ultimate undoing, an unholy saddle sore. usually, i don't really get them much. usually, if i did get one, i'd generally shower and ignore it and it would be gone. usually, that would only happen after i noticed it. usually, i wouldn't.

now, i've entered into this state of hyper-awareness of my body, and my habits, and i'm beginning to act like even more of a weirdo, as i overanalyze all of the nit-picky little things that make up my weirdo routine just so that i don't interrupt them the night before this all important "bike race". do i eat cereal before bed? drink tea? definitely won't shave my legs..but they're soooo itchy after the inaugural shave of two days ago... what should i eat for dinner? should i drink some hydration drink? maybe i should have some wine to make sure that i sleep well. maybe i'll have weird dreams like the last time i had some wine and...SHUT UP.

this morning, while on the first ride i've been on in exactly a week, i was contemplating all this pre-race crap and i figured out something that made me at peace with the entire silly endeavor. although i hold myself and my colleagues to some vague notion of unconditionally striving for one's absolute best, i realized that tomorrow is but one race, in april, half on gravel and half on the road, i've barely trained for it, i live in a freezing winter place of the world, i have no experience with road racing, and basically: it's my first time. no expectations. none. just want to finish, without any mechanicals or major crashes, and come out having tried my best and probably learned something. i know. sounds like a cop-out, or a beleaguered dad giving his loser son a pre-race pep talk. no worries. it's true. i want to try hard. i want to learn something. and maybe after this race, i can get into a little more fast-paced training and kick mullin's ass on our next hill ride...

that's all. just pre-race jitters. i look forward to it. never raced a road bike before, not in a road race anyway. now it's time to see what all the fuss is about. i'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 12, 2010

continued reverence and now some optimism.

The essay originally terminated just there. All those pseudo-non-sequiturs and then it’s stopped. Nothing profound, uplifting, moral, or anything else. Just kinda dropped off.
 
After a recent meeting, and with the prospect of some springtime optimism, I’m revisiting. There may be some dignity after all.
 
I realize, in my own space, that I have a tendency to justify/lay blame as much as possible, on circumstance or persons other than myself. I will work hard to rectify it all. I will not voice my accusations, but I think them nevertheless. This is not fair. This is not just. This is completely immature.
 
There is a lack of identifiable dignity in the youth of today. And I refuse to let it be.
 
Once upon a time, I was wearing mittens in November. They were fleece mittens, polartec 300, navy blue, size large. Warm. Breathable. Basic. Necessary. We were out roaming the countryside, backpacks full of sustenance and legs full of energy. I stepped over a creek, braced with my hand on a rock, and soaked my mitten.
 
Never having done it before, but having memorized the various ‘insulates when wet’ claims of the miracle that was polartec, I took the mitten off and wrung it out. About a third of a cup of water dripped onto the ground. I put the mitten back on. It was practically dry, and very warm. I walked on.
 
This year is the third season of heavy road riding on my OEM campagnolo cables and housing. My bar tape needs replacing, as I’ve worn through the surface in all those perforation spots. I just replaced the saddle, and probably lost a pound off the bike. I toy often with the prospect of an entire makeover for the serotta.
 
And every time, I realize that I like better, I enjoy more, the things that I’ve fixed with my own two hands, re-vamped, re-worked, re-invigorated through ingenuity, research, and not a little bit of hard work. The old things that I’ve fixed mean more than the new things I’ve purchased. I guess it’s kinda like love versus sex.
 
So the youth need some re-vamping. They’re actually, probably, likely, the same youth that have always been around. Chemically imbalanced, caught between childhood and adulthood, and thoroughly confused and overwhelmed by all of it. And it’s okay. This is probably the way it should be, the way it has always been, and the only way that something great can come about. Oxygen used to be poison. Evolution is billions of chance combinations of trial and error. Flowers have to come from dirt. So there’s opportunity here. Time to strip the paint, grease the threads, start over again. Make it roll, make it glide, make it beautiful. We are all individuals.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

reverence. to be continued

Reverence.

This is not a diatribe or dissertation, and it is certainly not a disrespect. It’s noting and then wondering, how has it all come to this?

As I type, I am aware that what I am attempting to do is not even registered in the consciousness of anyone younger than my own generation. Few individuals younger than I, even by a few years, possess the attention span or conceptualization to even read something longer than a ‘tweet’. This is going to take a while, so the majority of people out there have already given up, because I’m still in the intro and there are top-40 songs shorter than this. I want to take a moment to recognize something that is at the core of so many problems, in education and beyond, with the youth and beyond, with pop culture and self-respect: reverence.

My dad moved to Canada before the rest of us so that he could establish employment for himself, get the enormous Immigration ball rolling, and start scouting out the living scene before his partner and four children arrived. Being young then and old now, my recollections are not trustworthy in the details, but the overall remembrances have stayed with me.

My dad, being far away from us long before the internet and MSN and iChat video, reestablished the most ancient of cultural development media, the oral tradition. He wrote us letters, instead of sitting around a fire and telling us where we came from, but his letters, at least the parts that my mom read to us, were entirely composed of stories. Like any good oral tradition, the stories were most true, muchly exaggerated, and entirely engrossing. Best of all, they were inclusive and expressive, and we felt involved in hearing about where he was and where we would soon be and who was doing what. I haven’t heard these letters then, but I remember them.

The letters were well-written. The stories were cohesive, entertaining, enlightening, and simply great. Importantly, the stories were about the people with whom my dad was working, and they became characters beyond ordinary men and women. They were true, they were real, and through words and paper and stamps back when they were cheap, they became awesome. I eventually met many of these people from my dad’s letters. They were no less important. They weren’t disappointing. Reality didn’t reveal an undesirable truth. They were people from stories I revered.

My dad wasn’t the only one who told me stories. The letters weren’t the only stories I remember. My uncle chip used to tell us stories long into the night, not for any reason other than his stories were great, and we adored them and him. My dad taught me about the beauty of bikes and horses and nature and landscapes and good people. I revered my dad. If he admired or respected someone else, mentioned why s/he was ‘classy’ or ‘a good man’ or ‘an amazing _______’, then I did too. I would nod, file the thought for later, and remember what made someone great. Greg Lemond. Omar the mechanic. Willard the potato farmer. Tony the logger. Mike the paddler. Paul Mason and his son. I revered my family elders. They were like superheroes with specific strengths and powers. People weren’t just people; they were amazing and could do certain things really well. They took time. There was respect.

As I grew up, I wanted to do things well. I wanted to go out with the most athletic, intelligent, beautiful girl I could, and even better if she was older than I. (Later I figured out that it was more about the girl than the external qualities that could be listed to approving nods by my grandmother, and it became about challenge and heartbreak and the more challenging and heartbreaking, the better.) I wanted to ride my bike well, or at least maintain it well and buy the best one I could after a summer of sweating buckets digging holes on ozone red-alert days in Virginia. I wanted to jump high, get big muscles, write poetry worth reading (still working on that one), get good grades, make good dinners, be a good brother. Doing these things wouldn’t pay me or get me something else I wanted or keep me from going somewhere I didn’t want to go. Doing these things was necessary; they were done for the sake of doing, and doing the best I could.

Of the adults I knew, I probably couldn’t think of one that didn’t do at least one thing to the best of his/her ability. Plowing snow or plowing fields or cutting wood or teaching physics or running a mile or running a school or running an engine, these adults did things, and did them well, maybe beyond what their best was once upon a time. They tried. They succeeded. They built on success. They failed. They built on failure.

Maybe it was the lack of desperation in my life that allowed me to do things for the sake of doing them. I didn’t have to work to get fed so I worked to buy the best bike I could, even though I wasn’t the best rider. I didn’t have to milk cows when I got home so I jumped my snowboard over the driveway instead, then studied or did art homework or talked on the phone. Life was easy. I never thought about the roof over my head beyond an abstract consciousness of the fact that I was lucky to have one.

This could go on and on and it already has and shouldn’t anymore. The youth have no dignity today. (yes, this is a generalization.) Because they have no dignity, they have no sense of purpose or pride, and therefore cannot conceptualize respect. They don’t respect themselves; they cannot respect others. They go through the days, insulated from consequences, eating and sleeping and mostly sleeping some more. Nothing has happened to them. There is nothing that will happen to them. The best rhetorical question for the youth: ‘So what?’

Without dignity and purpose, shame has no meaning. Shame can be a crippling tool of oppression, but avoiding it can also translate into motivation. It used to be shameful to ‘fail’ a grade. Now it’s okay to be 18 in grade nine and that’s only if you can manage to actually fail. That was also back when there was failure, when there wasn’t a trophy for everyone, when friendship wasn’t the winner, when something was someone’s own damn fault. Now, without shame, it’s everyone else’s fault, and it’s okay to be a failure anyway because hobos can make almost as much as garbage collectors who make twice as much as teachers who make less than half as much as doctors who are distant second citizens to professional hockey players. At least we have our societal priorities…

So what.

What happens now? Johnny grows old, leaves school because he can finally sign himself out of grade nine at age 18, lives in his parents’ house. That’s it. There is no resolution, none required, and the story ends. No one is ashamed because we don’t have shame or pride anymore, as dignity will die with my generation. Everybody wins. Friendship is the winner. We’re all individuals. There is no bell curve.



to be continued.

Monday, February 8, 2010

for they are vexations to the soul


there are a lot of things that can happen on a bike.

i've seen pictures of most of them, have lived a few myself, but today was a brand new threshold approached, and then passed for me. it was, after all was said and done, something to write a seinfeld episode about. the action was the same. the recollection and surrounding dialogue equally theatrical and meaningless. and the insult - inevitable.

there are a lot of things that can happen on a bike. you can get fit. you can get fast. you can look cool or not remotely. you can meet cool people or not remotely. you can ride away from people. you can ride into people. you can ride into cars or around them or through their choked lanes at rush hour. you can ride into a sunset or out of a dawn into a brand new day. you can ride to the bar. you can ride to a date. you can ride off a cliff or over a bridge or under a log or through mud, sleet, hail, rain, brooklyn, queens, queen's north of princess, parliament and shuter. you can ride with inspiration or devastation. you can ride in a costume, with no clothes on at all, or with only european-designed clothing on a japanese bike made with pennsylvania steel. you can ride to work. you can ride, away from work, in the direction of home, after a really long and half-frustrating-half-glorious day, and you can get spit on, apparently accidentally, by the very youth you spend all day trying to 'cultivate'. this is something that should not happen on a bike.

i have written and thought, countless times, on the topic of letting things go, particularly in the context of riding bikes in the city, and riding bikes around other people and things not remotely on bikes. most of the time, my mantra remains the same: be prepared for the worst, and let it go when it happens. give a little. let it slide. 

today, i had to let it slide.

i always let it slide. i had let it slide for the last 75 minutes of extreme asshole behavior so exemplified by some of 'the youth of today'. i had let it slide for years, in the work, on the way to work, on the way home from work, and everywhere in between. thick skin, one might say. thick skin is different from indifference because i give a damn, a whole big lotta damn, but i refrain from letting that show through. the skin is thick on the inside.

first reaction: let it slide.

second reaction: wait, that kid should know that that was wrong and unacceptable and a punishable offense. go and tell the kid in kind words. get a typical stupid kid reaction. let it slide. leave, cursing 'the youth' under breath. 

third reaction: get the kid's name. go back. get it. punish him. even with a small note or something. get his name. 

the kid hustles inside. his friends stay behind to laugh, heckle, play dumb, give false names. these are the youth. today, they are useless assholes, and they are not worth it. 

maybe tomorrow.


_________________________

there are a lot of things that can happen on a bike. fixing one's attitude about the shit of the day is definitely one of them. even by the time i got home after just 7 minutes spinning cold, salty circles westward, i had sloughed off most of the mortal coil and was once again calm. bikes are amazing.

_________________________

Need. A short story.

 

 

 

"then it's going to get warmer", she said.

 

his smile said, "i hope so" in a half-believing way and his posture bent itself forward in an awkward, "have a nice day."

 

he walked a crooked line across the snow, dodging nothing on the ground and everything in his head.

 

upon reaching the street, he turned south for no apparent reason. he passed the man selling mangoes, nodded at the girl from his painting class two years ago, and narrowly avoided collision with a shoulder-full of tommy hilfiger pomp. collision...

 

it was friday afternoon, just before four o'clock. the wind in his face, he was pedaling hard, determined to make it to work on time. passed the car. approached the box vans unloading another load of rice and fish for a diet he knew well. pedaled harder. he began to ring his bell as he passed the first truck. the ringing gave sound to the otherwise white noise of an everyday commute. it's wind in the ears and an occasional horn. he passed the second truck still ringing his bell. what a beautiful red blur he must have been.

 

"it's not your fault, and i just wanted to make sure that you knew that."

 

"yes sir." that's what his mouth said, empty of saliva and belief and emotion.

 

"so i hope you can still enjoy your holidays..." was followed by a longer stream of apologetic and unknowing fare-thee-wells from a stranger who didn't know how to help a man who'd lost his...his...

 

what's the word?

 

fresh and green, that traffic light was waiting just for him. he accelerated past the back of the third truck, wondering futilely how much one of those crates of rice must

 

no more than a second in the air. the man was still breathing, but he was bleeding from his head and his mouth and his hand and why didn't anyone speak english or call an ambulance or do anything other than cluck and chatter and watch the boy struggle?

 

"SIR! SIR! SIR, ARE YOU AWAKE? SIR! CAN YOU HEAR ME? SOMEONE CALL AN AMBULANCE! SOMEONE CALL AN AMBULANCE!"

 

he apologized for being late to work, explaining that he had had to walk there after being involved in an accident. yes, he was fine. no, he didn't need to go home. the bike? oh, the bike was still up there, locked to a post just north of dundas, the front wheel too bent to ride and the heart too...

 

he went away for the holidays and that night, in his parents' home in the country, the phone rang from across innocence and any semblance of belief.

 

some officer is on the phone. some man just died. some man just became...what? those questions, those emotions, those things to be written in a journal shared with the therapist, they never came. four words came, though, hot in concept and branded on unfeeling skin:

 

i killed a man.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

to what end?


there is a felt-burlap banner at the top of my parents' stairs, and it displays a fading excerpt from the bible. 

i've forgotten the details, but i remember the gist: sell all of your stuff, give the profits to the poor, and go follow jesus. it was more personal than that, written in the first person and with much more inviting verbiage, but the main point was clear - get rid of your stuff, do something meaningful. 

as i stood there doing the dishes and folding laundry for the past hour and a half, i had time to ponder what i remembered. i had other memories creep into consciousness, and i had questions from my day. this all came back to me in remembering that message of getting rid of stuff and doing something meaningful. 

working with youth, there is the daily preponderance of the inevitable question: is any of this worth it? the obvious answer is YES. the immediate answer is: maybe..maybe no..sometimes..i don't know let's just drink... 

there is a hill that extends from my parents driveway at a steep grade up into the trees and forest beyond. for some as yet undetermined reason, nothing seems to grow on this hill other than scrub brush and things that have somehow migrated from the badlands of south dakota (no, not your uncle or his pet weasel named Zak). after i got my first really fancy mountain bike, a 1997 specialized S-works cross country in dew green with a ti spring manitou and mavic 217s and xtr stuff and whatnot, i was sitting around at my parents' place, probably whining about something or waxing eloquent about something, and my dad got tired of it. he challenged me to ride up the hill. the hill that nothing grows on, and that tops out at an overhang of pine tree roots covered in sandy moss and pine needles. that hill. i had never been able to ride up something that steep, unless it was rock or stairs. but now i had a fancy bike with fancy wheels and tires and 24 speeds and front suspension and...

i tried.

i sprinted from the parked cars to the base of the hill, jammed a few crank lengths into it, shifted the gears, shifted my weight, threw everything i had at it, and topped out just a bike length or two past halfway. 

it is not a long hill. 

i tried several more times. at best, i made it within a bike length from the top, but with absolutely nothing left for what would inevitably be a very technical summit move. more often than not, the backwards dismounts were hairy and awkward (not unlike the youth of my work). dismayed, pissed off, and pretty disappointed at all the fancy shit my ass could not pull up a little hill in my parents' backyard, i sat back down and probably sulked. (thankfully, my specific memory is grainy and faded at this part.)

my friend j is a ballsy woman. she always has been. she is tall and blond and pretty and walks with a loping gate reminiscent of some graceful savannah animal. we met in high school. she rode bikes. i rode bikes (though not as much as i talked about, read about, and thought about riding them). she was older. i was shorter. i had a crush on her. we wrote letters. we rode bikes. j and i have started writing again, epic e-mails about everything from life to bikes to everything. she told me a little about why she was the woman i've perceived as ballsy - she always wanted to play and get dirty and give it a good hard go and not give up, because that seemed to be the most honest way to connect and experience something. i believe it is. and there weren't a lot of other girls for her to play with and get dirty and give a good hard effort, so she ended up doing the hard things with boys. she rode bikes. hard. and fast. she did her first triathlon the same summer i did mine and completed the whole thing despite screaming knees and a bike that was so small, her knees kept shifting the stem-mounted levers as she pedaled. she didn't want to be left behind. she didn't want to be 'waited for'. and as i recall, i don't think i ever had to wait for her. (she would definitely be waiting for me these days.)

j came over that night back in high school. she spent the odd evening or day or days at our house, and it was always great to have her. my little brothers loved her and the attention and game for anything attitude she always brought to the scene. she was a friend of my sister's. she was a great friend of mine. as she got out of the car and took out her modest little trek with that yellow rock shox quadra fork, i went in to tell my brothers that she was here, and my dad went to greet her.

minutes passed.

i opened the porch door to see j walking toward the house with my dad, laughing about something as the sun sent shadows skipping along the grass and dinner smelled delicious. she was just slightly out of breath. my dad looked at me and said, 'j got up the hill on her first try.'

i smiled, stifling jealousy.

how did she do it? what skill did she have that i didn't? isn't her bike too small and too old and too...? HOW?

naturally, being the suave, mature, calm, and collected intellectual individual i was, i calmly asked her to demonstrate just how she had accomplished the unimaginable.

'prove it! do it again!'

effortlessly, j tossed her blonde hair, turned to mount her bike, and pedaled smoothly--almost slowly--up the hill at a reasonable and calm cadence. there was some effort and determination, but absolutely no flailing or cursing. she aimed, applied force, and achieved. she even made coming down look smooth and graceful. damn.

after days like today, the inevitable question bubbles to the surface: are the youth worth it? then the usual thought process begins, rationalizing why they are or are not (depending on blood sugar and/or blood alcohol levels), what i could be doing instead, and ultimately there is a lengthy dissertation that melds richard sachs with rapha with ira ryan and takes place in a hawaii-like rendition of portland that is easily reachable by my family in ontario. it's a daydream. 

yes, of course they're worth it. just not every day. not every time. in the long run, yes, the youth are worth it. they must be. i was a youth once, and i needed someone to work with me, a whole village and two countries in fact, to save my sorry ass from myself. no, the work does not feel like it is fulfilling or perfectly purposeful every second of every day, BUT, in general, in the core, the ur of it, it is meaningful and purposeful and worthwhile. 

we need work. we need income. we need to be 'productive'. we need neuvation wheels and carbon seatposts. no. wait. we need to be fulfilled. yes. sell all you have. give it away. go do something meaningful. i don't think a lot of this is done by my immediate fellow society members. i think most people don't want to think, not this much anyway, and work because they need to pay for things that they need to have so that they feel like their work is worthwhile. yeah yeah, we all saw fight club and now we can wax anti-consumerism and talk about the people in haiti and put some perspective on and feel better for having considered 'the other' today. i think there's meaningful work that needs to be done while the youthful optimism and drive are there. i think this meaningful work needs to be continued as we age and gain wisdom and patience and lend these newfound qualities to the work that needs doing. i don't think we can buy satisfaction but i think we can earn it. i think i need fewer upgrades and more saddle time. i think i need to work harder and think less.

i think i need to take aim, pedal hard and steady, and get over it. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

star mangled nut.


i have been projecting lately. 

i have been planning all kinds of expenditures and upgrades in anticipation of some debt-lessening that is (hopefully) imminent. a jolly old christmas list, mostly for other people to whom i owe much and would just like to send a pretty little 'thank you'. i got caught up in it, and started thinking about things for myself. a new stem for the serotta. capping off that perfect build with a lighter seatpost and saddle. maybe some fancy aero wheels. thankfully, my ADD kicked in before i zeroed in on any acceptable stem, saddle, or seatpost, and the guy with the wheels seems to also have ADD and is currently AWOL. fair enough. i can let it slide. 

*** technical jargon bike story that relates but not obviously***

once upon a time, i bought a carbon cross fork from a guy just up the street. he had listed it on craigslist for a song, so i walked up and picked it up and let it sit for the entire summer and much of the fall before even embarking on the job of installing it. i had none of the right tools other than a hammer and a hack saw, and this is one of those things that requires the right tools - substitutes usually spell danger, dismemberment, or death. finally, i purchased a section of ABS from the hardware store, took apart the brake assembly, and switched out the forks. the seller was a total bike nut and very quirky but cool and made sure to mention that he had never been able to install the fork without extensive brake chatter. he had tried all brands and models of brakes, to no avail. i figured maybe i could be lucky, maybe i needed to shim the bosses with a coke can and all would be well, maybe i could just tolerate a shudder or two at every damn stop sign. i installed the fork, learned a lot along the way, and rode it for the better part of two months. chatter everywhere. tightening the headset only worked sometimes, and then the effect would fade and it was back to chatter. i also had neglected to cut the steerer tube to a reasonable length, figuring it would up the re-sale value of the thing should i decide to pass it on. one night, i tightened the headset and the top cap came off in my hand. i walked home, switched to a different bike, and promised to fix it. weeks went by. it snowed. one day, i was home from work with a sick toddler, and figured there was no better time to break out a hacksaw and hammer and get to the source of the problem. i trimmed the steerer tube. took out the mangled star nut. put in a new one, completely crookedly, hoped for the best, and put everything back together. i tightened the hell out of the headset with the new star nut and it worked like a charm. not only that - there was absolutely ZERO fork chatter. zip. none. quiet as a whisper, especially since i took the time to toe in all of the brake pads at the same time. the fork functions perfectly, looks even better than it did before, and has greatly increased the safety and efficiency of the ride. all it took was some effort, and the willingness to work with what i had right in front of me. get to the source of the problem (star mangled nut), fix it (new nut), do a good job (mostly), and move on, better for it. 

***

i tend to get very obsessive about things, daydreams based on things that i hope to soon have (fitness, health, springtime, warmer days with longer light), and all the specs on how to get the things, install them, adjust them, then..look at them and wish it was warm or cold or morning or night or the weekend or at work or... 

it's okay. 

it's fine. it will be fine, just like it always has. like i told my friend who asked about being ready to be a parent, living life in preparation to be an example to someone, a provider, a source: you're never ready till it happens, and then, you're ready. tonight, everything was put into perspective, as it usually is, every night around 7pm. there were no wheels, seatposts, carbon fiber, grams, spoke counts, or stem lengths to be figured and planned and calculated. there was a little girl with brown hair to put to bed and be made cozy. (to behold a sleeping child is to know absolute peace.) 

forget everything else. it all works out in the end. 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

betterman.


(i just started reading david byrne's bicycle diaries and i must say: it is excellent.)

what, if anything, do you believe?

i work long days with a bunch of people who don't seem to believe in much of anything. they, the insulated masses, come in, sit down, do nothing, leave. if they do do something, it's probably destructive or disrespectful or some motion in a backwards direction, opposed entirely to constructive progress. and i believe in them. i believe in the work. i believe that the completely flawed and outdated system in which i am supposed to work with them is, regardless, necessary and (can be) good. i believe that they are worth every minute of wasted time or late arrival or stupid act.

as the kind of person i am, i run often on inspiration. this has gone from the white-hot, stroke-of-genius, i-need-to-be-published/represented/shown/picked-up-by-a-scout-NOW, to a more patient, cautious, and unrelenting slow-burn type of inspiration. i glean inspiration from little things, glimpses here or there, and i keep them to myself, saving them for later when i get up the gumption to do something about them. i still want to create the best though, and my perfectionist attitude, coupled with my extremely limited time, (intelligence), and attention span, often keeps me from signing in, sitting down, and committing myself to a good college try. 

this is the part where discipline would be extremely handy.

reading david byrne, it is refreshing to see words that look and sound like things i have been thinking, but put together so much better, and from a much broader scope. i've barely been anywhere, let alone with my bike (i ALWAYS wanted to take it with me on any trip, but was never allowed as a kid, and couldn't afford it as a not-kid, and i really don't know about those fold-ups of which byrne is such a fan). the main gist, however, is elementally the same: bikes take us to cool places, and bikes make us better people. 

when i was in high school, i lived in a constant state of moral incongruence. my body and some of my brain and all of my heart wanted to do things a certain way, but my learned/parent-influenced brain wanted to do things a certain other way. make out with this girl. feel bad. don't know why. solution: go ride. go to party/not go to party. feel alienated. solution: go ride. feel like liquified testosterone on a spring day with pollen on the wind and the sun not setting until after dinner need to feel taste touch lick something. solution: go fuckin ride. riding was always the solution. something about sweating, getting an endorphin buzz, meditating without distraction, and mechanically revolving over and over and over again really helped me figure things out. it's still this way. this is the reason i miss my old commute. thirty minutes there. thirty minutes home. nothing but wind and wheels, and i arrive better. 

when my brother was really little, he had a hard time fitting into the system, namely preschool, and was asked to not come back for second semester. he was three. my parents, at their wits' end as to what to do with this kid, pooled together some grocery money and did the only thing they could: they got him a bike. it wasn't his birthday. he wasn't being a good little boy. he needed a fix, and this one came with two wheels.  to this day, i can still remember acting like race announcers (we hadn't heard of phil liggett as yet), calling out the turns and spectacular maneuvers of the other, as we took turns on his brand new bmx, complete with training wheels. up and down the sidewalk, no helmets, winter coats, and smiles trimmed with the wind-drawn tears on our cheeks, we had the time of our lives. my parents figured it out, and it was perfect. to this day, my brother and i continue to connect through our love of bicycles. 

the big deal is: we're brothers.

so i'm starting a club at work. it's a club about fixing up crappy bikes. i want the people i work with to help me fix bikes. i love working on bikes. i kind of hate working on dirty, old, crappy bikes, because they're not plug-and-play, they're sooo dirty, and they usually require primitive tools like hammers and channel locks. un. cool. but i think it'll work. i think if i can get even one of these people to hand me a wrench, once, that person will become hooked, eventually, and it will start a chain reaction that may end up saving that person's life/soul/sense of being in the world. drastic? yes. profound? i certainly hope so. inevitable? absolutely not. but i think it's worth a chance. i picked up some starter bikes today. i have some old parts in the basement. i'm going to ask for sponsorship for tools and work stands. and it's all for a good cause. byrne knows it, my brother knows it, and i know it: bikes make us better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the better way.


the best way to get around toronto is by bicycle.

this is a concept of which i have been advocate, proponent, and die hard idiot since it dawned on me a decade ago. i started my time in toronto in a shared residence room at U of T's whitney hall. a beautiful old building full of beautiful young people with high graduating averages and low alcohol tolerances. alas, what a difference an academic year can make...

but that's beside the [point].

the point: my consciousness of toronto was nucleic from the beginning, and only spread outward in atomic, then molecular, and finally viral awareness with the passage of time, the gaining of maturity, and the biannual event of moving. i hated moving. the two good things about moving: i got to discover a new part of the city and thereby come into a new perspective, and, i was forced to do away with a whole lot of unnecessary crap (figuratively and very literally). in four years, i moved from 'center of town' to 'way out in the east end'. i couldn't have done better. i got out of my shared room down the hall from gorgeous and previously-engaged women with whom i had to share the floor bathroom. i started to like my former roommate. i switched out of the ridiculousness of life sci./pre-med and got into things that really matter: visual arts and english. i stopped living on a victor ng lease (woah.). i built my own room, installed my own kitchen, lived under 11 1/2' ceilings, and rode my bike to and from school, a whopping 15 minute commute. it changed everything. school was just one part of a much bigger picture, and my bike was my means to all parts of that big picture.

riding was faster, more direct, more dependable, more efficient, cooler, cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and it made me happier. there is nothing that defragments my mind better than a good, solid ride home. 

the ride home today was only after two whole trips to the heart of downtown in what was (thankfully) not at all rush hour. i rode the subway. twice. i walked up and down steps and escalators and stood and sweated in my down jacket, hanging on for dear life to greasy rails and wondering just what that man put in his hair to give it that texture and aroma and how much of it will come off on the window against which he's sleeping before he slides far enough to wake up. the subway, apparently, is the better way. and it cost me more than my lunch to ride it today.

better.

Friday, January 22, 2010

today it's freitag.


there is something so perfect about the slow slip of reisling out of its glass, the slippery slide of the sunset behind buildings of steel, and the gentle and subtle satisfaction of friday. it holds much promise, much potential, and absolutely no more momentum. 

perfect.

as the tips of my fingers split and crack from dry winter air and re-washed and re-washed and re-washed handwashing, i feel a smile curling. this afternoon, i was beaming. i looked like a goddam rapha shot, meandering (with suffering and determination) up a cracked pavé surface toward some sense of glory and suffering and suffering gloriousnessness. really though, it was glorious. beechwood avenue is always "closed to traffic", but this makes it perfect for dog walker enthusiasts and riders to enjoy the hill or the valley in relative car-free-but-paved bliss. the hill is where it's at. 

it's rough. going down is more cautious than carefree due entirely to the surface (lackof)quality rather than the sharp left curve at the bottom. i mark my efforts up the hill based on transition points between this part of somewhat smooth pavement and the next part. they are long enough to mark sustained effort and achieve effective training. it's rough.

it's also next to the Don Valley Parkway, a meandering freeway designed to bring traffic in and out of the downtown core from the 401 that skirts the top of the city. this proximity makes it doubly exciting to ride beechwood for the hill, as the congested and choked freeway is right next to a perfectly broken road, aimed uphill and into the sunset, and the relationship couldn't be more literal in its metaphor. show me the steep and thorny...

the sun sets. everything becomes gilt golden in the process. the cars, petrified inside and out, stop moving. the tableau is set. and then someone rides, slowly and steadily, upward, from stage right diagonally up to stage left, one pedal stroke at a time, the sun glinting off of his fancy helmet, the frost forming on his chin. epic.