Sunday, February 26, 2012


sometimes, the bike makes the floor dirty, so the street is there, on the floor, getting in between the cracks of the boards a century old, and the cycle is made complete: we've returned dust, to dust.

i used to judge the depth and quality of a ride in terms of whether or not the difficulty of it made me want to quit the sport altogether. did it ever get so hard that everything felt heavy? did the air sear my lungs and did my lungs collapse into my stomach and did my stomach roil with unfair demands of effort? should i just quit, and sell everything, and take up yoga or some other peaceful, inside activity? yes? then: a good ride.

corollary: this sentiment of necessary quitting of the sport in its entirety must not continue to the conclusion of the ride. if it does, it is a bad ride.

i have looked at many things and wanted to quit them altogether. all along, of course, i've known i never would (my guilt is deeper than anything driving me to leave or quit or otherwise pursue selfishly). months of not sleeping through the night and changing diapers at all hours and working a job and doing the dishes and never exercising and always being tired: no quitting. years of becoming only one part of myself while all the others shrivelled up and died defenceless, despicable deaths: no quitting. argument after argument about all of this with the lady: no quitting. i'm not sure what, exactly, anyone expects to gain by quitting. i don't know why anyone thinks there might be some kind of relief after quitting. it's still torture and pain; just in a different form, or from a different direction. and besides, why the fuck does everyone think they deserve to be happy, past the age of ten?

beats the hell out of me.

there are things that must be forgone. there are words that will never encompass all that must be communicated. that's why i gots my hands. that's why autocorrect completely sucks. that's why we stick around, we don't quit, we get to a new place, in ourselves and out, and some people call it religion and i just call it good, maybe even enlightenment if we can get that far. we do not quit.

and of course, i will have to remind myself of this tomorrow morning at 5am. wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


there was the gentle, eager hum of tires on pavement.

the sunlight, usually so elusive this time of year, splintered the morning into more and more audacious promises of springtime weather, and everyone smiled ridiculously. i pedalled easily, coasting over bumps, ignoring the weight on my back, anticipating traffic and flowing into my usual lefthand turn lane.

she was pretty. judging by her hair style, the look in her eyes, and the neighbourhood in which we both found ourselves, i assumed she was young, spoke a different language than english at home, and made much more colorful food that i ever do. her car was black, and older than my backpack. she squinted, but the sun was in my face, at her back, so maybe she was looking for something, maybe a sign, or a street name. (here in toronto, we're lucky to find one on any of the four corners.)

whatever she was squinting at, or looking for, it wasn't i. it wasn't i until i squinted at her, judged her front wheels to be moving, judged her car at about axle height as my front wheel went careening toward it in a perfect vector of human power.

we would collide.

except, we didn't. she saw me at the last minute. i prepared for the worst. we both slammed on the brakes. we both got angry at the near-miss. she yelled at me through her closed window and flipped me the finger. i looked back at her while pedalling, and just through up my hand in a gesture of 'what?!' what was i supposed to do? what is your problem? what part of the-left-hand-turner-is-always-at-fault did you fail to read, memorize, and practice?

it was an otherwise gorgeous morning. and i wasn't coasting over bumps. i was pedalling lightly over them, not having stopped pedalling since i started, as that's how it goes on a fixed gear. it's also quite intense to stop a fixed gear with legs and hand brakes and the will of something holy while trying to avoid a head-on collision with an ugly car driven by a pretty young lady. thankfully the only thing getting splintered was the scene, by the sunshine. i arrived alive.

and yet it got me thinking. i only commute about 5 minutes each way to work and home. i rarely have interactions with vehicles, and not nearly at the rate or intensity at which they used to be, when my commute was 32 minutes one way, through the heart of the city, twice. i've been reading michelle landsberg of late. wonderful lady and writer who never fails to instil a wonderful sense of slow-burning rage in me. having fancied myself a feminist for a decade, made a lot of art about violence against women, based a thesis on it, and having campaigned for awareness and prevention of it most days from september to june, i'm used to the slow-burning rage, but i never cease to be shocked. landsberg wrote in one column about the assumptions of white people. born into our privilege, we are usually appallingly unaware of the ease we take for granted. the list was cute and profound and sickening all at the same time, and worked very well to consider just what it is that makes one marginalized. what cues must be given and taken to consistently establish the social barriers that distinguish between this class or that group or them or those. of course, all of this crystallized in my mind while i recovered from a near-something experience, and, from my privileged perch atop a used carbon saddle on a two-wheeled mechanism condemned by our mayor and driven by my love for physical activity and quest, i came to a completely arrogant, but somewhat true conclusion.

cyclists are marginalized.

further: this is accepted practice.

when i was growing up as an american landed immigrant in small polish town ontario, i stuck out. i talked differently. i cared about school. i couldn't drive any heavy machinery from a snowmobile to a skidder. and i was american. out came all of the anti-american jokes. they're along the lines of dumb blonde jokes, or racist jokes, or any other kind of "joke" whose punchline depends on the denigration of an entire group of people loosely linked by a single defining characteristic, usually completely superficial. none of this anti-americanism was bad, though, because it was americans. big, fat, gun-toting, loud-mouthed americans who think canadians live in igloos and the entire world is up for stars-and-stripes' grabs. yeah. right.

except: if all of the 'american' terms in the jokes were replaced with 'jew' or 'arab' or 'muslim' or 'your mom' or 'japanese internment camp survivor' or any other 'term', the joke would have been wholly offensive and deemed 'too far'. it would have been disturbingly non-comical. alas, no one saw it my way.

backlash is a tricky thing, and i do not, by any means, mean to discount the struggles of such noble and (unfortunately) necessary movements and revolutions such as feminism and anti-capitalism and anti-racism. by calling cyclists 'marginalized', i'm stepping on some tricky ground. i recognize this. but i also recognize that it is this realization, this one instance of being marginalized, that called out a general awareness of what it means to be marginalized. and i was aghast! backlash has made it tricky to be a white man living in the western world. i may be dirt poor and living from crap paycheque to crap paycheque, unable to afford exorbitant hydro bills of my rented home, or the gas to drive the car anywhere but somewhere that's free to stay for the night (thanks mom and dad). however, i am now the butt of all the jokes, and it's okay because i look like the privileged. and, honestly, i probably act like the privileged, because i am privileged, and a couple hardships here or there will never stack up to generations of anguish doled out by people who look like me. i get it. respect.

so for one instance, in one morning, some driver of some car didn't see me, the all-important me, and that was a terrible experience. marginalized people are usually 'not seen'. the noble cause for which they work is not recognized nearly as scrupulously as the extreme hassle they've placed upon others as they are momentarily in the path of something bigger and more lethal and..senseless.

so my list of privilege became that much longer. imagine being not seen, and then imagine that being routine, along with the accompanying outrage at such life-endangering invisibility. imagine all the people...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

the last thing i wanted to do when my alarm went off this sunday morning was ride.

no, not true; the last thing i wanted to do was leave the sanctuary of a dark and warm bed, next to a dark-haired, warm lady, to walk down some dark, cold stairs, dress in the dark, ride in the cold dark, and stick my bike on a trainer to just be as fat and slow as i was the last time i did that.

of course, i got up anyway.

i'm paying good money for this. i've spent thousands of dollars on riding clothes and bikes and bike parts. the least i can do is show up to a 6:30 a.m. self-led computrainer ride and hammer myself until the sun comes up. so i did. and it made everything wonderful.

hooked up to a computrainer, the bike is held there, suspended in mid-air, by attachment to its rear axle. the front wheel remains stationary. the bike couldn't fall over if it wanted to. i go nowhere. going nowhere is a great place to be when contemplating things. i contemplated a lot of things today, and forgot about all of them on the ride home, because then i was going somewhere, and there was much to pay attention to, mostly as a matter of survival. the front wheel moved. i look at it periodically, because i am very proud of it. i built it a few nights ago when i should have been doing homework. i followed jobst brandt step by step. i did everything mike t said to do. i took the longest i've ever taken to build a wheel, since my first one, and most of this time was in the tensioning of all the spokes, a quarter turn at a time. all the spokes were greased at each end. all the nipple beds were greased before i even put nipples into the rim. i turned things slowly. i repeated sequences. i took breaks. i allowed for unwinding of the spokes. i kept tensioning. i dished.

and then, after three and a half hours, there was a wheel.

it was the nicest wheel i had ever built. the parts were not a lot of specialness, or at least, not the hub. the lacing pattern was staid and correct and the opposite of flashy. the nipples were brass. the spokes crossed 3 times. the labels all match up. nothing special, at all. but when i spun that wheel in the truing stand, it was hard to tell that it was spinning at all when i looked at it dead on. it was the straightest, roundest wheel i had ever built. i think it was the wheel i had built with the least apprehension, and the most patience. i must be getting old.

i was talking to my lady friend a couple of days later, and one thing led to another, and there i was, being stupid and overtalking my abilities in one arena or another, to compensate for my lack of abilities on the bike, particularly as compared to her and her lady riding friends. it's the truth: she's just stronger and faster. and it's also true that i'm just getting older, and being sidelined by injuries (to bikes or bodies) and overworked schedules doesn't make getting faster any easier. i let all of this boil up, and boil over. i was stupid. i sounded like the youth. i flew off the handle. i attacked her friends because i was afraid of how weak i really was. this is not getting old. this is acting like a dumb, shameful, gutless kid with nothing to show for hard-learned lessons. this is like falling and throwing the bike (as if it crashed by itself).

of course, i cooled off, changed my language, and apologized.

this is how it goes when you get old and patient. you come back around, use a different tack, make it right, learn for next time, emerge better, or at least, not behind. i went around and around that wheel more than 6 full times, tightening each spoke by a quarter turn. each time around, i did stress relief of all types on all the spokes. a ping here. a pang there. more turns. more relief. a true wheel. i suspended a cylinder of aluminum in a woven web of stainless steel rods inside a round, straight aluminum hoop. i did that right, 28 times. and for some reason, i still couldn't carry on a non-offensive conversation. oh man...