Saturday, October 16, 2021

Craftily Bespoken

I got a flyer in the mail the other day. Nice photo of a young man, a shiny fellow, or at least recently exfoliated, with the tag line "Crafting Bespoke Experiences." Naturally, I was all a-twitter.

I flipped it over. I suppose I should not be surprised he turned out to be a realtor. If you're branding yourself as a crafter of bespoke experiences, you could be doing dang near any obscure thing. As a letter carrier, I could have marketed myself as a purveyor of hand-curated postal dispatch. Probably couldn't have gotten away with "bespoke" because--spoiler alert here--a lot of that crap that lands in your mailbox actually went to everybody.

I was in my forties before I heard anyone say "bespoke" and I strongly suspected it wasn't really a word. It's not a great word, in my opinion. You can't slide it into a sentence without it sounding like the wrench that got left inside the engine. But it has earned a vintage quality, having first been used in its current meaning in the 16th century, and it has strutted Britishly about mainly in the field of tailoring until recently, when it got discovered by Marketing, and now it is used willy-nilly to mark the user as a precious sod.

"Bespoke" primarily and historically describes tailor-made suits and shoes. If an item was bespoke, it was spoken for; it was ordered, or commissioned. Another word for it, in this country, is "custom." By golly, if you got something bespoke, it was not off-the-rack. It was made for you. Just for you! So our realtor friend is promising to give you an experience not meant for anyone else. Something he has fashioned for you and you alone.

That means he's not going to sell you just any old house on the block. He's going to sell you the one you want. Maybe you even specified you wanted one with an eat-in country kitchen and a big yard and he didn't even bother showing you the kitchenette on the postage-stamp lot--that's how bespoke the experience he is crafting for you is. And if you're the seller, it's your house he's going to represent. Not your neighbor's crappy old place. Yours.

You want that kind of mindfulness in a realtor.

It's possible I am being too snide, or even cultivating snideness. For all I know, this realtor indeed excels in facilitating artisanal transactions. It's possible his is a heart-centered mission that supports homefulness. He may even empower his clients' self-empowerment. If he really can create an ideal customer journey map, I think I speak for all of us in saying I can honor that.

And in any case I shouldn't judge. Here at Murrmurrs we are a bootstrapped enterprise of ideation and snackable content inputting. I'm mindful of that.

On the other hand, if he's just signaling he's gay, that's not going to make him stand out in real estate.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

SOL at the DMV

Way back last July, I got a notice from the state that my driver's license was going to expire on my birthday, which wasn't until late September. Smashing all previous personal records, I got right on it. This is not my normal operating procedure. I was kind of proud of myself.

What with one thing and a virus, they said I needed to make an appointment at the DMV rather than just walk in. So I popped online to do that. Eighteen screens later they had a calendar of available time slots to pick from. Every hour of every day was booked for two months out. But sometimes, they said, slots opened up and those would be posted Monday evenings.

The next Monday evening I popped online and eighteen screens later they had a calendar of available time slots to pick from and there was nothing for two months out. I sensed a pattern here. And I booked for the eighth of October, at which point my license would have been expired two weeks. If I'd waited until the week before my birthday, of course, I'd be looking at sometime in 2022. 

This time I was going to get a Real ID. It was about time, since that fake ID is over fifty years old now. The Real ID is a much more strenuous assertion of your existence than the previous versions. At some point, they promise, you won't be able to fly without it, although of course I can barely get off the ground now.

Quite a set of digital rabbit holes later, I was able to determine what current ID I needed to get the Real ID. It was serious business. They don't just take your word for it that you're a citizen in good standing, even if you're white. I would need either a passport or a birth certificate, both of which were in my safe deposit box, which I visit once a decade just to stamp myself as a grownup.

In order to get into my safe deposit box I needed my driver's license. I presented my driver's license. The teller squinted at me. "Are you aware your license has expired?" Yes I was. That's why I need to get into my safe deposit box. To get my birth certificate, without which I can't prove I ever hit air. The teller wasn't sure he could let me through the big iron gate with an expired license. 

Are you serious? I said.

He wasn't sure if he was. He had to check with somebody.

How about if you let me in there for now and I get my birth certificate and drive over to the DMV and get my new temporary license and come right back here with that and we'll put it back in the box all legit-like?
He told me I really shouldn't drive without a license.

I drove over here, I said. His face was unreadable but not reassuring. He also said I didn't look like my driver's license photo. I said Thank you.
I see what's happening here. I'm Charlie on the MTA. I can't get my license without my birth certificate and I can't get my birth certificate without my license. I'm in the lobby of the Wells Fargo on Sandy Boulevard, people--somebody heave in a sandwich!

I don't know how to prove I exist. But I am hungry. Therefore, I think I am.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Getting To The Bottom Of Things

The other day I got two big boxes delivered. The contents Required Some Assembly, and inside one of the boxes was the instruction to open that box first. That is because it was the box with the instructions (including Open This Box First) and the square screwdriver. Naturally, the other box was the one I opened first, just by chance, the one with no instructions and no square screwdriver, and went to the hardware store to buy the screwdriver, and now I have two square screwdrivers.

But I did succeed with the assembly, and was feeling mighty, so I decided to tackle a new project. I am going to fix my feet. I have all the parts and all I need to do is get them hooked up right.

My feet aren't much trouble. They're kind of little, and don't prevent me from tipping over, but nothing hurts. I'm super aware of my feet because I know how important they are for everything else. A long time ago I had all kinds of pain; I'd gotten used to it. My back sometimes went out, my knees creaked, and my neck shot out thunderbolts of neuralgia from a childhood injury on my good days, and locked up entirely on the bad. My chiropractor told me (before climbing into her Bentley) I was in for a lifetime of Advil, ice, and adjustments. I put it all to Old Age: after all I was nearly forty.

But when my perfectly fine shoulder went out for no reason, I felt betrayed. That's when an old gentleman I knew told me he had cancelled his hip replacement surgery after using the exercises in Pete Egoscue's Pain Free book for one week, and I might want to give it a shot. I'd been doing therapy for a half a year by then to no avail. But after ten days of these simple exercises my shoulder was fine again. And my back wasn't stiff anymore either. I was stunned. It took me a full month of doing the neck exercises to eliminate thirty years of neck pain, but then I was pain-free, smelled nice, didn't rattle much, and was totally obnoxious at parties.

Not in the old way. I became an authentic flaming evangelist. Because apparently not everyone has heard the Good News. That little light of mine? I was going to let it shine like the Republican neighbor's security light through your bedroom window. Everywhere I looked I saw people with duck feet and bow legs and knock knees and a life of misery just around the corner, but I knew how to fix them. I chased people down trying to save them. Total strangers, even. They just needed to get The Book. I was indistinguishable from a Jehovah's Witness.

So obnoxious was I, in fact, that dozens of friends have told me, enunciating, they Got The Book. They didn't open it, or use it, but they had it, and hoped that was enough to make me go away.

I know the feet are really important. In fact, if you want to do Egoscue's carpal-tunnel hand exercises, you're going to end up on the floor with one foot up on a stool. It seems like cleaning the gutters by clearing out the trap under your kitchen sink. But if your feet are the slightest bit askew, it throws off your whole skeleton. You can get away with it for quite a few years but eventually you're going down. You'll be approaching forty thinking you're supposed to have pain by now.

Anyway, my foot strike is better than most, except my right one is a little squashy, but since I had no pain I never really addressed it. Then the other day I looked and saw a bump near my big toe. Was that there before? I looked it up online. It's a gol-durn baby bunion. A bunion. Some old-lady bullshit. Land sakes. Next thing my ankles are going to puddle over my black orthopedic shoes and I'll be wearing my nylons rolled down. I didn't even know what a bunion was. Evidently I can expect the piggy that went to market to start barging in on the one that stayed home. Oh, no, you don't. I can fix you.

So I'm finally doing my Egoscue Foot Exercises. It's supposed to take three weeks. I expect my bump to disappear even though it feels bony. I really do. One day I'm going to look down and that sucker will have been raptured.

I may get bruises from a stiff breeze now and I can't sleep on my back in case my own neck pleats up and strangles me in my sleep, but my feet are not about to take me down. I've got beer for that.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

My Cherryot

When they notice the paint is exuberantly jumping off of their car, normal people consider it might be a good time to buy a new car. But this, of course, is my car. It's older than my blog. I'd say it was older than dirt, but some of the original dirt is still on it.

I was surprised to notice the paint vanishment, though. I figured if you just left your car at the curb and never bothered it with soap or wax or anything, the paint would just stay put out of loyalty if nothing else. Or if it was inclined to wander, it would be sealed down with all the bird poop. I mean, otherwise, what is the point of parking under the power lines?

Actually, I was a little set back by the bird poop accumulation, which has far exceeded previous efforts, and was beginning to develop some topography. In my usual deductive fashion, I thought it was evidence of my efforts to attract more birds to the garden, or maybe evidence of a new digestive enthusiasm on the part of the regulars. Took me a few days before it occurred to me that my standard car hygiene--God's Car Wash--had pretty much shut down for the last year. We did get two inches of rain a couple weekends ago but that was by far the most we'd had since last January. If you've been dissuaded from moving to Oregon because it rains all the time, fear no more. Now we're the land of smoke and dead trees.

So after the rain a lot of the car looks a little neater now, not that I was inclined to get a new one anyway. It would be fun, and if I did it would be all-electric, but even an all-electric car has nothing on mine, virtue-wise. Mine's all-gas but it's parked. And there's a significant cost to the planet of manufacturing a new one. And the electricity for a car might come from coal. So. No new car for me, unless someone creams this one. Have at it.
Besides, there's a lot to be said for mine. If someone scuffs it up, as someone apparently just did last week, I don't really care. That's a freedom. My curb-feelers work great, and will until a little more rubber is scraped off the sidewalls. My blind-spot protection is second to none, as long as I have a passenger with a good set of lungs. Thanks to the hole in the floorboards that Dave created with his imaginary brake pedal, we've got a good auxiliary Fred Flintstone power boost system, or good enough--he's seventy now, so he can't keep up highway speeds for long like he used to.
The sound system isn't all it could be, I'll admit that. We still have a thumping bass but the treble is way out of practice and both of us have trouble with the lyrics of everything except Build Me Up Buttercup.
It might be nice to be able to unlock the doors from a few feet away, but you don't really need them unlocked until you get there anyway, even if it's raining, which it isn't anymore. We do each have to roll our own windows down by hand. But that's fun. It's worth it just to put a young person in the seat and watch them feel along the side panel for the button like they're trying to find the spot that makes the bookcase wall turn around in a mystery movie.
I'm sure I could get used to one bell or one whistle if I had it. I'd probably get to where I couldn't imagine doing without it. But there's also a lot to be said for keeping the number of things you can't live without to a minimum.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Human Bean

Sure is a lot of talk about abortion these days. There has been all along, of course. I remember when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. I said something laudatory about it and was shocked when someone pushed back on my enthusiasm, and kind of hard, too. Well, shoot. I was nineteen and not accustomed to imagining other people had different opinions.

People still do, no surprise. I don't see a lot of point in arguing about it. Feelings run strong. And it's not just a matter of deciding when a human being arrives on the scene. That's too fine a line to tease out. Heck, there are people who believe it's a sin to try not to get pregnant, so we're all across the board here.

Right now we're rolling back abortion rights for women carrying six-week-old fetuses, at which point the items in question aren't even the size of a normal bean. A small lentil, maybe. But I'm a small person who was a small baby and I don't think size is much of a metric of worth. What is more to the point is whether the lentil is human. It's a tiny bean, but is it a human bean? Does it have more substance than a thought or a prayer?

Opinions differ. But it gets more tangled than that. I'd say a bean with human DNA probably is human. But does its humanity matter to me? Not all that much, frankly.

There's a tremendous conceit involved with the obsession over fetal human life. There's clearly a conviction at work here that not only is the human bean's humanity entirely evident at every stage, but that it is even more precious because of its presumed state of innocence. It's more important than the grownup variety of human that, since birth, has been demonstrating its sinful ways and relative worthlessness for all to see. The human bean is in a state of perfection and must be brought into the light, and when it disappoints us later we'll jail it or execute it or diss it on the social media.

I got a problem with that. I got a problem with the whole premise. I don't think human beings are all they're cracked up to be. I like a bunch of them, and I am horrified by the thought of murdering them, in an alley, or in a war, or, especially, in cold blood by the offices of the State, but I consider our species to be one among many, with some interesting attributes such as a certain kind of cleverness that destroys as often as it creates. We are admirable and we are deplorable. What I do not believe we are is chosen, or special. Or in short supply.

But we will be.

Because we clevered ourselves onto an existential precipice with our wish for dominion and our disregard for the clear consequences of our actions; and we've already been pushed over that precipice by our greed and callowness. If there is a ledger being kept on our value to the universe, which I doubt, we may finally be held to account. In the meantime, anyone with any political aspirations who is not devoted to trying to back us out of the hole we keep digging will never get my vote. I don't care what they think about abortion.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A Pig In Lipstick And Satin Ballroom Attire

First off, I'm not even sure pigs look any better with lipstick.

And besides, the name attached to this latest Oregon House Bill goes way beyond putting lipstick on a pig. This is formal satin ballroom attire with pearls, corsetry, cage crinolines and a bustle. Somebody else's whole job is to stuff you into it.

It's not the legislation itself. I'm fine with that. Oregon has just passed a law requiring public schools at all levels to provide free menstrual pads and tampons to students, no strings attached. Plenty of people put in a plug for it. This bill was in the works for quite a while, but then it got wings, and finally gushed out in June. The problem is that many students cannot afford to purchase sanitary products and might even stay home from school rather than leave their home toilets.

All this is well and good. But calling it the Menstrual Dignity Act is just plain trying too hard. Menstrual and Dignity do not belong in the same sentence. I know, I know, every generation since the '70s has seen an effort to dress this situation up and waltz it across the stage, but all such efforts fail in the face of stark reality, and that is that although this biological circumstance should not be shameful, there's really no hallelujah about it either. Period.

The language involved has undergone the usual modern torture. One of the beauties of English, I maintain, has been its spare quality, its efficiency, its flow if you will, such that our pronouncements don't have to get larded up with clauses like we're French or something. Until recently we could refer to "homeless people," for instance, although now that has become "persons experiencing homelessness," which means exactly the same thing, except it purportedly suggests some kind of temporary condition and not an innate character flaw, which (for my money) "homeless people" never implied in the first place.

So now we all have to be French about it and can't get to the end of our sentences in a timely manner without causing an uproar. Sure enough, the text of the Menstrual Dignity Act refers to "people who menstruate," and just as I was getting my eye-roll going, I saw the following sentence from its proponents: "One in five menstruators in the United States cannot afford the price of menstrual products."

Clean, spare language be damned! Maybe the sentence has a certain flow, but I can't say I love the word "menstruators." Like "educators" or "legislators," it suggests a degree of calculation I do not believe exists. Nobody signs up for this crap.
Absolutely, we should provide free tampons and pads in schools. Sure, some Republican-run school board in Wisconsin is going to rag on that kids getting free tampons, what a treat, are going to be spoiled. That's a stain on them. But I don't want to call this the Menstrual Dignity Act unless there are reparations involved. In which case, sign me up. As I've mentioned before, this crap was forty years of pointlessness and laundry.
"Not so," they'll say, terrified of owing reparations to so many. "There was a point to it. You were being entered into a monthly lottery for a brand new human being." Hell. I've met lots of human beings. They're not all of them the big prize they're made out to be.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Thanks, Gladys

City living! Within two blocks of my house, I can find four restaurants, a whiskey bar, a shoe store, book store, coffee roaster, computer repair shop, two art galleries, a barbershop, theater, essential-oil emporium, and a bicycle shop named Gladys.

Given the many options, I took my bicycle to the bicycle shop named Gladys. "Just spiff it," I said. "Do whatever it needs. I haven't had it out of the basement in a few years." I went home.

A couple hours later, Spiffer Miranda wrote me an email. Wanted permission to sell me a new wheel. "Also, your chain and freewheel have become very worn. I have a replacement that is compatible but it is a 6 speed instead of 7, and has a wider range of gears. Let me know how to proceed," she wrote.

I wasn't entirely sure what I might be getting with the new gear cassette. I started to type a message back with my questions and then thought: I could hit Miranda with a tennis ball from here if the buildings weren't in the way. I'll just walk over there.

A minute later I'm in the shop, which, even in this age, is a pretty zippy email response. "So," I said, "this new gear thingy. Are you saying you want to sell me a granny gear?"
Words were not minced. "Yup," she said.

A granny gear is a very low gear in which you can spin your pedals very fast whilst creeping up the hill like a big sissy. I've never had one. I'm not even sure they were available when I bought my first good bike in 1968. By the time a bike mechanic offered me a granny gear, I had too much pride for it. I preferred to muscle my way across the landscape in the highest gear I could. "That's bad for your knees," he told me. "Ideally, you should be spinning at 80 rpm."

Poo on that. My knees are fine. What I had going for me--in the absence of lung power, quick reflexes, good balance, stamina, and athletic ability--was a massive set of quadriceps. At one time, the only wrinkle I had was just above my kneecap, below the bulge of glory that was my thigh muscle. I had to floss it regularly for road dust so seedlings wouldn't take root. I was very proud of my thighs. It looked like porpoises were hanging out of my shorts.

Besides it just felt all wrong to me. I'd power my way up the hill like a big girl and pass some guy pedaling his fanny off, and sure, he could converse with his buddy the whole time, and probably eat a sandwich, but empires would rise and fall before he tootled to the top.
And more than once in heavy bicycle traffic I've been stuck behind someone on a hill centipeding along at a rate I had no gear for, and had to bail out of my pedals to keep from falling over. Screw the granny gear.

Miranda again. "Most bikes just come with this now," she said, evenly.

"Bikes come with motors now," I said back, and then suddenly realized that any kind of gear cluster would be manlier than a bike with a motor.

Miranda waited patiently for my decision. She was far too nice to point out the obvious. Or even glance down at my 68-year-old quadriceps, which have long since slumped past porpoise and into flounder territory. I looked at her open, friendly, competent face.

"Granny me, baby," I said.

After all, I don't have to use it.

I'm probably totally going to use it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Get Me Some Aggressive Morning Drizzle

Weather forecasts are crazy good now. Also, a little arrogant. Accuweather just cheerfully offered up the information that two months from today will be overcast and cool, with a possible afternoon thundershower. There's a lot you can find out. I can check the forecast on a minute-to-minute basis. I also like checking out weather in other places, which is how I discovered a San Francisco forecast for "aggressive morning drizzle." People think our own common winter prediction of "sun breaks" is funny. There's a pollen count. A mold index. There's--what's this? An outdoor pest forecast and an indoor pest forecast? Really?
Unless the Indoor Pest Forecast reads "moderate to high until the first day of school," this makes no sense to me. Can they see my ant invasions from space now? I can't bring myself to rule it out.
But it turns out they are making predictions based on such things as temperature and humidity and other factors that either favor certain pests or don't. Myself, I've never been able to associate any particular thing with when the ants go marching in. I think it's random. Depends on any given scout ant's perambulations and his personal degree of ant charisma.
As far as I'm concerned, if this is a measure of humidity and temperature and wind speed, you might just as well call it an Irascibility Index.
Indoor, but not a pest
The Indoor Pest Forecast became less of a mystery with the following notice: "The weather is favorable for a moderate level of indoor pest activity such as ants and cockroaches. Plan insect control products accordingly." At the bottom of the forecast in small letters it says "In partnership with SCJohnson and RAID." I guess you read the forecast to know when to line up your sprays and bombs. Otherwise they can stay under the sink and threaten visiting children. 

And the Outside Pest Forecast? That would make a lot of sense in Maine, where the vermin are unionized and punctual. In Maine, my sister used to get phone calls from her friends who lived 45 minutes away. (Everyone in Maine lives 45 minutes away from everyone else.) "Ayuh, black flies are in," they'd say. "Should be up your way by Thursday." Which means the Maine forecasters could use that hourly deal. 3pm, mosquito arrival in Waterville. Tomorrow, cloudy with a chance of Lyme ticks. Sunday morning, midges depart Brunswick for Deer Isle.

My collard greens
But that's mostly not what an outside pest forecast is about. There's a forecast for corn rootworm, black cutworm, corn earworm, alfalfa weevil, soybean aphid, and Western bean cutworm. There is a cucurbit downy mildew forecast. A Fusarium Head Blight prediction center. This is important for farmers looking to economize on poison purchases. I scan through these data bits with mild, but not personal concern, the way I read about monsoons in the Philippines or tornadoes in a trailer park. Until I came across the Blueberry Maggot.

There's a blueberry maggot?
Get SCJohnson on the line. My irascibility index is spiking.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ode To Joy

The more I know, the less I know.

That's the way it's supposed to work. If you have a question that doesn't lead to way more questions, you're not doing it right.

Take this whole subject of birds. I don't feel like I know much about them, even though the average citizen knows even less. I've accumulated some knowledge. But even the birds I know on a personal level, the ones I've observed closely and avidly, are mysterious.

So I don't know what's been going on with Studley Windowson this year. But it hasn't been a normal year. Just as I think I've got him all figured out, he changes it up. Since I started keeping records a few years back, I've discovered he and Marge start flirting, building the mattress, and sending baby Windowsons down the production line on pretty much the exact same days each year, or they don't miss by much. And whatever I don't observe directly (their front door is inches from my window) I can intuit by the interest level Studley shows in mealworms. That is one fine hard-working bird and provider, and although he will happily consume three or so mealworms himself at a time all fall and winter, there comes a day he flies off with them instead, and that's when you know wooing has begun. The mealworm intake ramps up when Marge is on the nest and he brings her lunch. And when the little Windowson goobers poink out of their shells, he grabs a ride on the Mealworm Express. He's zippeting back and forth all day long from wherever we are to the nest, and even later on he waits to grab three at a whack before he takes off. He looks like a dang puffin, fully herringed.

2011, possibly young Studley
This year, though, I was confused. Seemed like things were going along fine, but he wasn't taking as many mealworms, and at least once I saw him take over twenty of them and stash them in a crape myrtle. Every time I thought he was on schedule, there'd be a pause.

When I trimmed Dave's hair and beard, I hung up a bag of it near the nest box. And although I thought I heard Marge hammering the mattress together at about the right time, I didn't see a lot of activity. Just as I decided they were nesting somewhere else, I'd see one or the other of them pop in and out again. Seemed like the thing was happening, but the day the babies should have pecked themselves out of their shells and started squeaking came and went.

Later I watched Studley go into the house empty-beaked and come out with a soggy worm. I saw that a few times. But well past when there should have been little Windowsons. It was almost as though he was using the nest box as a pantry.

2018, first year with bum foot
He was hanging out in the hibiscus with a younger model, but I think that was a kid from last year. The younger model is very interested in this mealworm thing, having observed Studley score plenty, but every time he got a little closer and looked like he might give it a whirl, Studley ran him off.

And he'd still come by for his own personal worms. Not every day, but pretty often. He looked skinny. He always looks like shit this time of year what with the molt and all, and skinny because he's worked his little wingies to the bone. But I finally concluded he did not have a family this year.

On August first, after a few days' absence, he stopped by the back porch for a few worms. Something made me note the date, which I'd never done before. Something was off. He came by August 2nd. And August 3rd. He hasn't been by since.

Most chickadees don't die of old age, they say. They can max out somewhere around eleven, but most make it only two or three years. Something gets them. I've seen how cautious Studley can be. He is constantly looking around. Hides from hawks. Hides from us, if he sees Tater Cat in our window. And he's got experience. Something nipped off part of his foot. Something took out his tail, last winter, although it grew back. It shows he's either good at this survival business, or just the opposite. One of the things I don't know.

And I don't know how old he is. I was checking back, and chickadees have been renting out the nest box every year since we put it up in 2011. I couldn't tell one from another until the year he hurt his foot. Which makes him at least four, and possibly eleven.

A few days ago, I took down the nest box. Didn't know what I'd find. And what I found was a complete new grass mattress, untrampled, with Dave's beard woven in, and with twelve unhatched eggs. Doesn't seem likely Studley was shooting blanks after all this time. Maybe his sweet Marge met an untimely end. I don't know if a chickadee can die of a broken heart.

I know I can't. I'm still here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Aiming For The Tiny Scroll Hole

The author in control

I get stumped by computery stuff from time to time, sure, but it's a lot better than it used to be. Computers got better, and I got better too. Shoot, when I first started word-processing, entire documents used to vanish in the ether. One stray keystroke and all of a sudden text was going backwards and smacking into margins and puddling up and I don't know what-all. I had to summon the fairy children next door to fetch it back.

But now I've got that stuff mostly under control and I'm also familiar with the processes required to get the stuff out into the world.

That was hard at first, too. Back in 2008 when I tried to upload the essay that ultimately won the FieldReport contest, I couldn't make it go. I had to get my friend Magic Beth. My computer was a big dumb horse that munched grass and wouldn't move and it knew perfectly well that I didn't know what I was doing. Beth would come over and saddle up and pop a heel and snap a rein and the horse was all Oh, fine and then it would take right off.

But I've kind of got it down now. And I do try to get the stuff out into the world. You don't get as impressive a stack of rejection letters as I have by not sending stuff out.

Not that anyone's making it easy. Take Tin House, for instance. Tin House is a lovely and highly-regarded press that publishes about a half-dozen books a year, but that doesn't stop me from thinking mine should be one of them. Guess the hell what? They take submissions for non-fiction books two days a year. September 4th and September 5th. That's it.

So come the morning of September 4th, I jumped right on it. They use a form. Name, preferred pronouns (aw), overview, short bio, and your first chapter. Uploading your first chapter is a snap. You hit the button that says "Upload File" and it brings up a window with a list of everything on your desktop. You double-click the document you want and BOOP BOOP it gets sucked into the form. I do it all the time.

Not this time. This time everything on my desktop list is grayed out. That means you can't BOOP BOOP on it. I have no idea what I've done wrong, but I can't get my chapter into their form. They want it formatted as a Word document or a PDF, and my chapter is totally a Word document. I spanked it over from the Mac program myself. But it won't light up.

I never use PDF. I don't even know why there have to be so many formats. It's like screwdrivers. Just do flat-head and Phillips and be done with it. But no. As far as I can tell, PDF is this real old-fashioned-looking deal that comes spiral-bound and looks like someone scanned a printed book. I see no point in it at all. But just for the hell of it, I spanked my document over into a PDF, and then tried to upload it, and it lit right up and BOOP BOOP got sucked right into the form. So. Done!

But what the hell?

Turns out the form was looking for all the DOC files on my desktop and it didn't light any up because I don't have any, because that format got retired fourteen years ago. DOC and DOCX are both Word formats but DOCX has been the norm since 2007. My computer doesn't even recognize it. So for once the fault is with the submission form and not me. When they asked for DOC and PDF documents, they were giving us writers a choice. We could create a big thick PDF document on spiral-bound 8.5x11 bond paper and shove it over the transom. Or we could do a Word doc from the last century on parchment rolled into a scroll and poked through their tiny scroll hole.

I hope my chapter made a nice satisfying whump when it sailed over the transom.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A Sucker For Suckers

Well, I won't get too far into it. Let's just say that someone on Facebook is highly offended by the promotion of the deadly COVID vaccine, and also toxic masking, and you can tell she's serious because of all the capital letters. And:

"I will never go to a hospital as it's wholly unnecessary.
I do not trust man or medicine, I trust myself and God."

Well, she sounds like she has things well in hand. I don't think she's very old, so that helps with the health thing. She goes on to say she's survived plenty of viruses already, and people die of many other things every day, that's how life goes, and doggone it, I'm guessing that--except for a clear tendency toward hysteria--she's probably in good shape so far. So I don't want to be the one to tell her God is planning to take her out.

But it did get me to thinking about how many perspectives there are on taking care of oneself. Take my sister Margaret, for instance.

I don't want to describe Margaret as "medically fragile" because, despite her economy of stature, whe was one stout-hearted, robust, fully-realized human being. She lived as big as anyone ever has. Let's call her "medically"...hmm...let's see..."screwed."
She looked everywhere for an answer to her many and varied and ever-evolving pains, not to mention her mortality, which might have been more of an immediate concern to her than it is to most people. She had a number of beliefs that I would call "woo-woo" but I certainly had no interest in arguing about them. Whatever worked for Margaret was A-Okay with me. She definitely had a strong suspicion she had lived before, and might live in some form again, especially when some guru examined her aura and told her she had had polio as a youngster in the 1800s. Or something like that.
I guess that offered hope for a better throw of the dice the next time, although two consecutive lives with polio didn't seem that auspicious to me. For the current incarnation, she tended to approach her own suffering by adjusting her expectations and spiritual outlook. Mind over mutter, and all that.
So it was no particular surprise to me the day she demonstrated her new theory about mosquitoes. Dave and I were visiting her in Maine and the density of voracious bugs was appalling. Margaret held her arm out and a mosquito landed on it. "Go ahead, honey," she purred to the mosquito, "take whatever you need." And we watched as the mosquito sank her proboscis into Margaret's arm, for a good long while, and then drew it back out and plumply flew away. Margaret explained that remaining calm, revering all life, and allowing the good bug to do what it wanted to do, unmolested, would result in no welt and no itching.

So maybe. But at the time we were out on the shore being blitzed by the little assholes. I was plenty horrified by the onslaught, but when Dave saw the swarm coming--it blotted out the sun--he flew into panic mode. If mosquitoes are motorcyclists, Dave is their Sturgis rally. It was about to get gruesome in a hurry. While Margaret refined her temperament to include hospitality to mosquitoes, Dave took off running. The man could cover a lot of ground in a hurry. The car was parked a half mile away and a couple minutes later we could hear the door slam. Hell, we could hear the sound of mosquitoes in pursuit smashing themselves against the windows. And when we caught up to him, he was busy in the car sending as many mosquitoes as he could to their next lives.

I can't remember if we checked Margaret's arm in the aftermath. I do remember the first time someone offered Dave a couple Benadryls after a particularly harrowing attack. We were eating dinner and Dave was visibly swelling up and audibly anxious about how much worse he would be the next day. But he took the Benadryl. Next thing we knew his forehead was in the mashed potatoes and no one had the heart to remove him from his dinner. He slept for ten hours and woke up unscathed. That's not God, baby doll. That's Benadryl.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Storm The Motte!

There I was, reading an excellent analysis of the Afghanistan situation, and everything was going along swimmingly until all of a sudden out of nowhere the author wrote:

"They say they're just decrying the way we left; but of course, this is the motte, not the bailey."

And everything went blank for a moment with the little spinny-wheel going around in my brain while it was buffering, and when I came to, my only thought was: Well. That's certainly putting the sparch before the batson, isn't it?

I will admit I'm not a real educated person, herein defined as someone who has learned at least as much as I have, but retained it all. I'm not good at retention. This keeps me from being mired in guilt and regret, but it also means I've looked up "hegemony" so many times the internet just falls open to that page now.

But now I'm stranded in the middle of the article feeling stupid. It's like that time when the guy on Jeopardy answered an obscure question with "Who is the Venerable Bede, Alex?" and I'm all Whut? and sure enough half my friends already knew about ol' V.B. I figured motte-and-bailey would be the same sort of thing.

So it was with some relief that I discovered that the Motte And Bailey Doctrine was coined only about fifteen years ago. It describes certain kinds of argument that are currently in use, mainly by shitty people. It comes from the motte-and-bailey castle design from the 12th century, in which a bailey (a desirable piece of land) is defended by a stone tower on a motte (a raised earthen mound) and surrounded by a ditch or other impediment to attackers. When pressed, the people can leave the bailey and hole up in the tower on the motte and defend themselves, but nobody wants to live in the stinky old tower, and as soon as the enemy gives up they run back out to the bailey.

In the case of an argument, the bailey is the philosophical position that the arguer wants to promote, often something wacko or repugnant, and the motte is a more easily supported contention that might preoccupy the opponent and make her hem and haw while the arguer runs triumphantly back to the bailey of his original wacko position.

Let's take an example from (I swear on my mother's little box of ashes) an actual meme I recently ran across. Evidently the Hammer of God is coming down. The Lord will go to the covert deep places where the "deep state" hides, and they will be visited by thunder, by unending earthquakes, and roaring noises that instill dread and foreboding beyond measure. They will experience bizarre storms and tempests. Devouring fires will rise from nowhere and chase them out of their holes. No doubt about it, the Deep State is in massive trouble with the Lord and we will know it when He steps on Antarctica and gives it a 7.7 earthquake. And if you do not hear about it, it's because the Deep State runs the earthquake reporting sites and does not want to draw attention to Antarctica.

Holy shit!

In this case, the bailey is that the Deep State exists and is in hiding in Antarctica and you can't believe anything the government says but the Lord's justice will prevail.

But as soon as you raise that annoying skeptical liberal eyebrow, the arguer runs for the more defensible motte. "Historically, the promise of power has always attracted a share of people bent on corruption," he says, and while you're willing to concede that point, you flounder a little trying to figure out which to explain first: how government works, or what causes earthquakes, or who benefits from conspiracy theories about the Deep State. You're basically baffled, and buffering, and meanwhile your enemy has reoccupied the bailey and planted the flag of triumph.

Don't let it happen. Screw the seemingly reasonable bait argument. Storm the motte!
That's my pleeg anyway, but you can follow your own furb.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Cool, Calm, And Collected

It was a time of innocence. April, 2020. We were checking the latest advice from the CDC; it kept changing, as was to be expected in an unfolding epidemic as experts sought to unravel the means and circumstances of transmission. I made cotton face masks and bought hand sanitizer and worried about bicyclist-breath and whether six feet was enough distance to keep from my fellow potential virus hosts. It was obviously going to be a long haul.

Dave and I were walking home, wearing our cotton masks (his matched his shirt, which can happen if the lady of the house made both the shirt and the mask). An old man was approaching us. He never said a word. But suddenly he looked up and started clawing at his own bare face, and spitting, and glaring. Was he ill? Should we do something?
He veered off and kept walking and tossing his arm back at us as if he were throwing out trash, clearly, now, with hostile intent. Dave and I looked at each other, mystified. Could he possibly be upset at our face masks? That was too far-fetched to be true. Maybe he was psychotic. It was puzzling.

A time of innocence.

Now, of course, we know that unthinkable numbers of people are incensed that anyone wears a mask per expert guidance in the face of a public health emergency. Who imagine themselves victims of tyranny and oppression, in a world not lacking examples of actual tyranny and oppression. It's nuts. It's depressing. What is the antidote to the Grumpy Old Man?

Why, I'll tell you.

It's young people. Dave and I have been collecting them for years. Today's young people are the nicest, kindest, smartest, most earnest people you'll ever want to meet. They've been taught from an early age to consider other people's feelings, to go out of their way to not offend, to keep track of preferred pronouns and respect tribal identities. They are fucking adorable.
Dave and I don't always come off so well in this group. We're still bantering with the snide remarks and dark humor we were raised on, and don't recognize how offensive we now sound until we get that perplexed, concerned look (are they ill? Should we do something?). But they always give us another chance. They allow themselves to be collected.

So it was nothing new the other evening when the back door opened and in walked a young man who was even taller, thinner, and furrier than Dave. "I'm Ben," he said. "I was coming down the alley and your husband here invited me in." Hi Ben, want a beer? Ben thought he might. He was supposed to meet a friend, but not for another fifteen minutes.

I was making dinner. This was one of those dinners that is supposed to take 22 minutes to make, which it does if your prep cook is your friend Scott, who can turn a whole garden into dice in the time it takes you to scratch your butt. No Scott, though. I was looking at an hour, minimum.

"Do you have another cutting board, and a sharp knife?" Ben asked. I did.

And Ben sat at our kitchen counter and de-kerneled four ears of corn, chopped three zucchinis and a turnip, sliced green beans, stacked a cone of cilantro, and presented it all in five neat heaps of geometric perfection while I labored over an onion and a hand of ginger. Then he was sorry, but he had to go see his friend. It was nice meeting us, he said. We exchanged contact info. Soon an email landed in my box. Please note the effort made to avoid referring to Dave and me as old:
It was a pleasure meeting yall and spending that time together. As I age, I get more insight and perspective from those born before me...I'd honestly love to prepare dinner with yall again.
A dorable. The Bens of this world, and I've found there is no shortage around here, are the antidote to the Grumpy Old Men of every age. I hope he does feel free to pop by again.
I think I could get him to clean our kitchen. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

A Routine Screening

Ever since COVID, I've gotten a lot of my health care through the internet. The doctor will see me now, as long as I have a camera on my laptop. I get phone appointments. I type messages and order drugs and promptly get messages and drugs back. My medical care has become mostly digital. I'm not complaining--it's actually pretty slick.

Sure, some of my medical care was kind of digital before, but as far as I know they can't yet stick their fingers in you through your computer. But I'm older now and my need to have fingers stuck in me has waned. The parts that used to be thus probed have retired, or declined in some other way, or possibly nobody really cares about them as much anymore, because they can't get into as much mischief. 

So at this point most of my complaints can be resolved without me getting out of my chair. I can take a photo of a festering sore and upload it to my dermatologist and I'm pretty sure he likes it better that way, too. I used to go in person and show him my festering sore, and he'd wince at some quarter-inch patch and take care of it, and then say "Was there anything else you wanted me to check?" That always threw me for a loop. Yes. Fuck. You're a dermatologist, and it took me three months to get an appointment with you. Look at my entire body--that's why I brought it with me. It's not that big, and I can't see half of it. If you need to shove anything to the side to see underneath, you go ahead on.
The rest of my Medical Care Team is stellar. You can do so much online! Yesterday I decided to book my mammogram. I picked a date and time and then it said "Almost there! First, just a couple questions."

"A couple," in my book, is two.
They wanted to know if I've had a mastectomy. Breast implants. If I needed an interpreter. Was hard of hearing. Needed a wheelchair. Was afraid of anybody at home. Could enable my device camera. Was doing anything Saturday night. Liked long walks on the beach. By the time I got to the SUBMIT button, I wasn't sure I wanted to.
But I did, and then the site complained I'd left something blank that was required. It was the box that said "What would you like to have addressed in this visit?"
I'd left it blank because it was a mammogram appointment. It should be painfully obvious what I wanted addressed. I wondered: if I typed in that I wanted my chakras aligned, or my portfolio rebalanced, would it allow me to go on to the next step? Probably. Instead I typed in "I would like my breasts addressed. You may call them Lefty and Junior. Don't mix them up--they're not the same, they just live together."
Apparently that did the trick. SUBMIT.
That's when it occurred to me. The latest in online medicine! I've put on a few pounds. Already my laptop is mostly on my lap, but some of my lap-adjacent portions are now encroaching on the trackpad, and tacking toward the keyboard. I'm not super proud of this. But it made me think: could I just shlorp my jugs onto the laptop and slam the screen down and get a reading?
I gave it some thought and abandoned the idea. I might be able to get a good picture of Junior. For Lefty, I'm going to need a bigger laptop.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Git Along, Tiny Dogies

We're going into farming. We bought everything we need for a protein farm and I don't mean beans, baby. Animal husbandry. Yippee-Ki-Yay. Ordinarily I'm leery of these sorts of projects and balk at the learning curve, but this one seems like a slam-dunk. We're raising fruit flies.

It doesn't take long to whomp up a complete fruit fly out of practically nothing. The mommy fruit fly lays eggs and poops on them, which really revs up the larvae. There are stages. At one point the larval fruit flies are said to encapsulate in the puparium, and nobody wants to see that.

Fruit fly courtship is nice though. The male vibrates his wings and then licks the female's genitalia, and although I wouldn't make a point of watching, I wouldn't necessarily look away either. The female fruit fly is said to be receptive to the male within ten hours of emerging as an adult. Well, no shit. What with one thing and a mother, you basically get a whole new set of fruit flies every few minutes in warm weather.

I have read up a little. The literature insists there is such a thing as "virgin" and "naïve" fruit flies, the naïve ones being virgins that have not even observed copulation, and there are distinct behaviors associated with each. For instance, sexually experienced males spend less time courting and more time mounting, and naïve males are more likely to try to court sexually immature females, when they could just, like, wait an hour. The whole fruit fly life cycle peters out after about fifteen days, after all, assuming it is not cut short by a hummingbird.

But that's the plan. We're raising meat for the hummingbirds. Hummingbirds need solid protein and usually find it in the form of insects or spiders. A hummingbird can edit the spider right out of her web in nothing flat. And that's the sort of thing she'll need to feed her own babies. They aren't all about sucking flowers. She doesn't just funnel nectar into the wee ones.

So, in theory, we will put a banana peel in our fruit fly corral and be in business right soon.

There's a reason people know things like whether a given individual fruit fly has watched fruit fly porn. Fruit flies are one of the most-studied critters on the planet. They're easy. You can study generations of them in practically no time and they are easily herded, using simple tools like tweezers and undergraduate students.

I'm not too worried about achieving mature, well-marbled fruit flies in our corral, from whence both hummers and bushtits should be able to belly-up for take-out. It is true that in season we have literal tons of rotting fruit on the ground in this neighborhood, figs to plums to berries to apples to, in fact, bananas, in quantities that will seem unfathomable come the big earthquake. So we won't run out of fruit flies. The reason to keep them in a corral is the same as for any bird feeder. It's not so much that our birds need our help. It's that we want to watch.

Fruit flies are so good at replicating themselves that for centuries it was believed they spontaneously generated. The ancients believed they just appeared out of nothing, materialized right out of the aether. Which is nuts.

They're thinking of blog posts.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Junk Drawer

So yes. My new phone  has ingested several thousand of my sister's old contacts and a dainty portion of my own, and I am straightening out the mess by hand. It's coming along well; I'm nearly done with the back forty and should be finishing up 'long about month's end when the stagecoach comes through.

I am making a point to delete all the contacts I don't recognize. Then I add in the ones that aren't in there that should be in there.

I know what you're thinking. There's no point in deleting, Boomer. It doesn't matter how many people you have in your contact list. You don't have to memorize them anymore. The idea that you need to slim down your contact list is a sign that you're an old person.

But I feel compelled to a degree of tidiness here that is reflected nowhere else in my life. Give me this.

Because this thing feels like a junk drawer, full of orphaned knobs, mystery keys, old twist-ties. Just shut the drawer, I'm told, but the sight offends my senses. I just know one of those unknown contacts is the potato masher that will turn sideways and I'll never be able to open that drawer again.

Here's another sign I'm old: I have already deleted quite a number of people that God deleted first. Without a twinge, mind you: I don't litter the roadside with teddy bears and I don't need dead people in my contact list unless the smart phones get way smarter.

Once I've deleted my mystery contacts on the new phone, I go to the old phone to add in people I really do know. Yes, those contacts are supposed to be on the new phone, because I shlorped them over with a handy shlorping app, but they're not. I'm not troubling myself with "why" anymore. As it is, I feel lucky I didn't pick up the contact list of the dude walking down the alley when he stopped to drain his Weimaraner.

Lots of people have trouble throwing things away. They think they might need that metal clip some day, or that doorknob, or that hand-scrawled note that no longer makes sense. But I'm surrounded by perfectly useful items like mops and scrub brushes that apparently I've never found a use for. So hitting "delete" is easy for me.

After all, my own brain has decided all on its own what I don't need to know anymore. I'll be searching for a name, or a word, or the reason I walked into a room, and my brain says "Shh, there, there, you don't need to know that," and I've finally come to accept it. It's been a two-step process for my brain: first, go to the Data Department and poke a bunch of holes in it; second, pop over to the department that is supposed to monitor all the loss of inventory in the Data Department, and sing to it until it quits investigating. There was about a five-year lag between step one and step two but now I'm feeling better about it all. I'm pretty sure the third step will involve wearing a medical alert bracelet.

In the meantime, this doesn't hurt my writing at all. You have to get really creative with your metaphors when you can't come up with the word you wanted in the first place.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Real Truth About Vaccines

Buckle up, darlings! Our guest today is an authentic anti-masker on a recent thread. Uppercase segments and redundant punctuation are retained to indicate sincerity:

    Why should I deprive myself of my God given human rights? Why should I deprive myself of oxygen, increase my carbon dioxide levels and re-breathe the toxins I've just exhaled? Why should I lower my immune system and make myself sick?
    This is outright tyranny, manipulation and control of others. You have zero evidence to back up your claims and have done zero research. The mask wearers are leading us all into stupidity, slavery, and sickness.
    The fact is that this virus has a 99.9% survival rate and that is what people need to focus on. More people die every day of many other things. Death and sickness is part of life, you have to learn to live with it.
    This "vaccine" is not the normal vaccine, it's GENE THERAPY, this means your genetic blueprint can be MANIPULATED and CHANGED. This "vaccine" is still in clinical trials and therefore EXPERIMENTAL, which is ILLEGAL to both roll out without informed consent and against the Nuremberg Code. We have a legal and ethical RIGHT to BODILY AUTONOMY. I could go on and on. The SURVIVAL RATE IS 99.9%!!!! More people die of the shit sold in the supermarket!!!!!!!
Okay, okay, Petunia, calm down--you're hyperventilating, and that might be the whole problem right there. Put a bag over your nose and mouth Well. Let's take these points one at a time. Because the real problem is nothing you say is true.

First, your God-given human rights. God never said you didn't have to mask up. In fact, in Exodus 33:23, God said "Thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen." You sound young, Sweet Pea. May we see your back parts?

Next. Nobody's increasing your carbon dioxide levels or forcing you to re-breathe toxins you've exhaled. What have you been eating? What we're actually doing with the masks is mandating them as a carbon collection system to mitigate global warming. Once our masks are saturated with carbon we can drop them in the ocean. It's either this or we're coming for your hamburgers--your choice. BTW butt masks are next.

Mask wearers are not leading us into slavery. You're all mixed up. The phrase is "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some takeout," and that's where the slaves come in. They're just gateway slaves now, racing around town in their little cars trying to patch together a living out of the gig economy, with no benefits, pensions, or health insurance, but we can see where this is headed, and it's nowhere good.

About that zero evidence. Close to zero, sure, but we have administered 4.3 billion doses of vaccine worldwide so far, and some data are trickling in. Data? That means the raw bits of information with which we can draw reasonable conclusions. It's sort of like the stuff you use to conclude COVID has a 99.9% survival rate, or that vaccines lower your immunity, only in your case it's not "data," it's "bullshit."

I'm surprised you didn't mention the tracking devices we're putting in the vaccines. That's for real. But we're not tracking people like you, Peanut! We're monitoring the agents at the border so we can maximize illegal entry of future Democratic voters, ultimately achieving the goal of having more people to redistribute other people's wealth to. We also should be able to discover the optimum times to spike trees and blow up pipelines. We're planning to repurpose those, by the way. We're visualizing them filled with CBD oil, and underplanted with small labor-intensive artisanl arugula plots in a mixed-vegetation permaculture environment. You're going to love it.

Also, before you bring it up, we would never work with China to make a virus! Not until they promise to raise wages and quit using coal. Now, we have invested in bat conservation.

So. About the vaccines not being normal. True. Used to be we had to get someone to scrape scabs off cowpox victims or gather secretions from coughing and vomiting children and grow our antigens in chicken eggs just to get our vaccines ginned up, but now we can't get enough migrant scab-scrapers willing to do the jobs we don't want to do. Could be they'll come around once we lose all our crops to drought, but in the meantime, these modern mRNA vaccines that don't involve pathogens at all are really getting pretty slick.

None of this involves manipulating your genes, but if it did, I have some cool ideas. Maybe you could grow wool! You could shear yourself in the summer and wear yourself in the winter!

I'm not saying you don't make some good points. You said you "could go on and on"--absolutely true. And people do die of other things all the time. You could turn your head for one moment to scowl at a mask-wearer and bam get hit by a bus! Wouldn't that be something?

As to why you should deprive yourself of oxygen, well...there are some things to be said for that.

Meanwhile, rest assured clinical trials have been conducted and monitoring continues apace. In fact, you're in the control group, Sugar Pants. Good luck!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

If You Want Dignity, Choose Chess

I've been bicycling for a long time. Lots of things have changed. For instance, fifty years ago, people bought components for their beloved bikes designed to shave a few grams off the weight, even though it would be a lot less expensive to just take it off their thighs. Now, bicycles are made out of some kind of miracle metal where the atoms are so far apart that the whole thing wouldn't tip a scale against a bag of chips.

Also, modern bike saddles have some cush in them and are no longer made out of pterosaur clavicles.

Plus, people have helmets now, and stuff. They're made out of old ice coolers, but they're better than nothing, which was the style helmet I wore for the first 35 years.

Old-timers like to make fun of this sort of thing. What a bunch of sissies. We did just fine without all that guff, they say. Old-timers love to say "guff." Of course, the ones that didn't do so fine are no longer with us.

One time, our old beloved Hostel Club group went off for a week-long tour in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the home of zero cars and food bigger than your head. A couple of our friends put on strappy little leather helmets and toeclips and raced each other to Pennsylvania. From Virginia. They loaded up on salt tablets, because that was a thing then. We were already there, transported by motor vehicle as Nature intended, just in time to see them race up side by side, blast into the parking lot with a spray of gravel, lean over, and vomit copiously on their shoes.

If dignity were the goal in life, this did not appear to be the activity to get into. Naturally, we got into it.

The toeclips distinguished the serious biker from the hobbyist. They were little cages for your feet, and you jammed your toes in them, reached down, and cinched up the leather strap. With your feet locked in, you could really move. Problem. A moment of inattention while you're locked into your pedals, and you will go over like a dead dinosaur. It will look very majestic: no struggle, no fuss, no flailing, just your inert body, tied to a stake named Gravity. Modern bicyclists have abandoned the toe cages for a system wherein their shoes are locked into the pedals. You're supposed to click out of your pedals easily, but it doesn't always happen. Also, it is possible--I hear--to come up to a stop, click off one pedal, and lean the other way. Everyone's done it at least once. Lance Armstrong has done it too, I assure you, but he cleated all the witnesses. He stomped them into amnesia or worse.

So that's one way to efficient your way into a case of "road rash," or the transfer of all or part of your epidermis to pavement. I have never had a bad case of it, because no matter what I do, the road beneath my wheels doesn't go by all that fast. And if I get going down a mountain where my friends will gleefully reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour, I will show up at the bottom considerably later, and my forearms will burst into flame from braking.

Clothing is different also. Seems to me my serious biking friends in the '60s wore wool shorts and tee-shirts. Now you are expected to deck yourself out in Spandex. It's not attractive. I don't care who you are. You're going to look like a bunch of link sausages in Technicolor.

The Spandex, at least, makes a certain amount of sense, and reduces chafing, but does not solve all the problems in the shorts region. On one long trip, I emerged from the porta-potty with a distinctive hitch in my git-along and eased myself back in the saddle. A woman rode up to me and said, quietly, medicated diaper powder, and then rode off before I could thank her.

I submit that if the first words from a complete stranger include "diaper powder," you are not engaged in a dignified activity.