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Pedalling through the graveyard

To add to a week of oppressive summer heat, the most surreal sight Wednesday morning. I entered the park at 110th and CPW, and rode up the hill. No cars? Ok, that was a little weird. I saw tree debris, no surprise given the storm that hit Tuesday night, unleashing shocks of lightning, but your typical summer cloudburst. Then as I started downhill, I saw larger and larger tree parts, giving way to entire trees uprooted entirely from the ground. How could this be? I live less than two miles from this corner of the park. Was there a tornado? Turns out there wasn't, but given what got destroyed in the way of tree life, wow!

It was not so much better when I rode home, up the east drive. Even more trees yanked up from the ground. The park crews had done their best to clean up the roadways of as much debris as possible. Still, there remains much work to be done. Today, there were large stretches of police caution tape across areas of fallen trees.

The only side benefit from this calamity is that the park has been closed to most traffic since yesterday morning, so I have to worry only about the runners, other cyclists, dog walkers, and pram pushers. Not the cars.

Yesterday evening, I went to a screening of "Kimjongilia," a new documentary that deals with one of my favorite subjects, North Korea. Specifically, it focuses on defectors from the DPRK and their stories. It was good, however a bit on the earnest and pedantic side. The director padded her time with interpretive dance sequences, featuring both classical and modern dancers. I enjoyed the Philip Glass-esque music and the inclusion of old propaganda movie clips, including footage of Kim Jong Il in his office, working hard into the night, tirelessly for the benefit of his people.

Afterward, the director herself took questions from the audience. One woman sitting next to me asked, so plaintively, "If we can do something about Saddam Hussein, we must be able to do something about this guy." I wanted so badly to snort-laugh, to turn to her and say, "Really, do you have a fucking clue?" The director was actually nice about it. She began, "It's complicated" and briefly covered the bases. I asked if A. it was difficult to get defectors to talk (particularly given the scant amount of interview footage), and B. if the defectors' attitude about reunification was naive, given China and South Korea's apparent interest in maintaining the status quo. She didn't really answer the question, but did address the comparison between a Korean reunification and the German one, and finished by saying something along the lines of potential economic disaster of reunification would be better than prison camps. Well, duh! Now just tell that to the governments of China and South Korea, the former of which treats North Korean defectors as economic refugees, not political ones, and treats them accordingly, the both of which sees the DPRK as a giant industrial park. So does that make South Korea a hypocrite?

Sitting on this broken chair

Where to begin? It's the end of another lazy summer weekend. Race yesterday; ride to Nyack today. We expected to get drenched, but the skies cleared and it got hot.

Summer did finally arrive, taking her sweet beejebus time getting here. June was a month of cold and rain, highly atypical, even in place where the timing of the four seasons is a guideline at best. You can always count on hot, sweltering conditions on the East Coast. Always. I am in the midst of the usual experiment of how long can I last before caving and bringing up the AC from the basement. Getting through the summer with just a fan requires well timed movie expeditions and cool evening showers, not to mention frequently laundered sheets and a short haircut. On Friday, I sat down in Irina's barber chair and admitted that it was high time to get shorn. My neck is much happier.

Right now, the skies have opened up with yet another round of heavy rain, to match up with the flashing-lightbulb lightning in the east. I was visiting Lady Beauty Queen late this afternoon, when a light rain began. It transitioned into a torrential flood. We retreated under a nearby apartment building entryway, and watched it blow at an oblique angle.

Lucy was on the business end of a heavy-duty combing a few minutes ago, and I pulled off a larger amount of fur from her than usual. She has a bit of a longhair coat, and if I don't comb it every couple months, it starts to get on the matted side near her tailio iglesias. Lloyd's hair is much finer and smoother, so I can go longer without combing him. He also has a tendency to attack the comb, or try to eat his fur.

Outside my window, before the rain started at least, there was a gathering of art-type students on the roof of the building next door, displaying the fruits of their tie-dye party. Tie dye never goes away, even though the '80s are the current era to have been dredged up from the dustbin of fashion history. Big sunglasses, skinny ties, tight jeans abound. I chuckle whenever a kid walks by with a polo shirt with a vertical collar. Sighted today: one young man sporting a faux-hawk as he pushed a pram bearing his presumed offspring. Oh, the young breeding hipsters!

As a person who may or may not be approaching middle age, I am finding the occasional gray hairs emerging at my temples. I almost welcome a full head of gray hair, as gray is a coarser (but no less elegant or socially refined than its other colored cousins) breed, and would present with more hairstyling options than my current crop of Light Brown Grade Fine B. It's the much maligned aging process. Better than the alternative.

My body may be getting on in years, but my brain has other notions. Sometimes I feel as I am in a second or third round of puberty. This could be concluded based on my current personal affairs, none of which I feel prepared to elaborate for my readership at large. Some of you know the deets. But the 40s seem to be yet another transitional period for yours truly, as they are for other friends of mine. One close college friend, married with a lovely little girl, is now preparing to enter Divorceland, or Club D. He said to me, "I just want the girl I married back." I think that could be said of most of us whose marriages have hit the skids.

Um, yes, that

Work has been sucking me dry, like a leech that's gotten a little too greedy. Instead of active writing and editing, I've fallen into a pattern of mindless surfing in my off-hours. Which is almost as bad as developing an "American Idol" habit. But here is a bit I had been working on, and have finally hammered into shape of sorts. This essay is like an old Toyota Tercel parked on your neighbor's lawn, patched with copious body putty adequately sanded and not yet painted.

A place to work

I guess over the years, I’ve had a lot of workplaces. Didn’t really consider them more than a place to park my ass and get something done. Early on in the post-college work life, the company I was working for moved, and I had my first opportunity to consider how space affects your job, and your relationship to it and your co-workers. My first job was at a small radio trade magazine deep in the South Jersey pines. Decades previously, people built cabins there to serve as summer getaways from nearby Philadelphia. We were situated in one such cabin, a space that was bursting at the log-seams with people, piles of CDs, cassettes and albums, and gold record plaques. Passersby would regularly walk in and ask if this was a record store, an interesting theory, given that there was no signage indicating a retail establishment, and that we were hunched over our desks at all times of day and night. Being seated near the front door, I would usually be the recipient for these inquiries. I would bark out an answer and dive back under my shoulder length hair and press on doing whatever I was doing: taking radio reports, inputting the data, listening to piles of mediocre alternative-rock releases, or cranking out reviews of said albums.

Despite the extreme work load and the stress that accompanies working 50 hours in a four-day week, we had enormous fun. I never laughed so hard and as a result cut my teeth on bawdy humor common to the radio DJ breed. We fostered our in-house gallows humor throughout the 4 a.m. deadlines and everything you needed to do to put together a weekly magazine yourself. This was early in the days of do-it-yourself computer page layouts, and we still would place the pages on the boards, using a wax machine and a roller, and would call in ad changes to our print house. One oft-repeated crack was that we would dive into our own cones of silence, under giant headphones. At mealtimes, “Whatcha eating?” was a common refrain.

Then we moved. The owner and his wife bought an old furniture store down the street, a mammoth edifice that would give everybody their own office space (picture the “themed” rooms so common in furniture stores), so we wouldn’t be breathing down each other’s necks.

However, this move was a decision that was the beginning of a long decline for the magazine. The largeness and darkness of the space dissipated all our energy and took us away from each other. I couldn’t just make some asinine crack to Chris or gesticulate to Fred when the jackass from Geffen was calling again about his chart position. It felt very quiet and not so rock and roll “cabin fever” anymore. I already had one foot and a couple toes out the door, plotting my inevitable move to NYC, and dealing with my mother’s worsening cancer kept me away for months at a time. My section editor left, and I just didn’t click with his replacement, who was commuting down from Forest Hills. My roommates (both of whom worked there, too) and I weren’t spending as much time together as we used to, and I was ready for a new job.

So now I feel a certain analog with the new gig. We had been jammed into a very cramped midtown apartment/office, just substitute jerseys for music. I sat cheek to elbow with my co-workers and there was an immense sense of camaraderie. We would crack brews on Friday, and listen to loud rock. But, like an adolescent snake busting out of its skin, we needed a change. After a close to a year of planning and renovations, we moved to East Williamsburg on a warm Saturday morning in April. Watching the movers deposit so many boxes into the building was a sobering realization how much there was to be done. First came setting up and troubleshooting (of which there was a lot) all the main systems. Now we’re onto more thorough organizing, sorting through and inventorying boxes of old clothing and filing reams of paperwork from months past.

It is still too early to render judgment on the new loft-like space, a former restaurant. Sure, there is lot of space, but there is also bad acoustics and lack of storage. However, I feel privileged to be there to help mold this new environment, making it a comfortable place to get things done. I will let you know how that's proceeding.

Coming out party

Summer has made a sneak preview in the Northeast. Eighties and sunny today and tomorrow. For the moment, everyone welcomes the heat, and suspends the usual complaints. For me, it meant baring the arms and legs, applying much sunscreen, and giddily anticipating being caked in dried sweat. Of course, a warm day meant the roads and bridges were thick with two-wheeled bozos. There were cyclists everywhere! One tri group was ahead of us on the city-side ramp of the GWB and two of their riders were *walking* their bikes up the ramp, clogging traffic in both directions.

R. and I cruised up to the Orchards, and arrived only minutes before the SIG. I asked a woman with her name stickered to her helmet while on line at the register, "Which SIG?" "A." "Classic or 19?" "Classic," she answered with a bit of a harumph. R and I ate, and swooped down South Mountain Road. My favorite part of riding to the Orchard is the vista from the top of the climb, looking over the blossoming trees, east toward the quarry and the surrounding ridge. By the time we hit State Line and the roller, we were both toasty and hopped on the wheels of some Pacifico guys (I asked if it was ok, being the polite one). No matter how tired I am, I can almost always dredge up some energy to ride faster if it means, A. getting some draft, and B. getting home a few minutes sooner.

As we approached the bridge, we saw a small white bus with dark smoke and flames dancing from the hood. Oh my, I hadn't seen a vehicle on fire on the GWB before. (Tangent: when my family and I were driving to NJ, to drop me off for my post-college life in the summer of '88, we saw a huge UPS truck aflame on the Turnpike; it seemed portentous in regard to my decision to come east.) It must have just started, as the passengers were still walking quickly away from the bus, and the emergency vehicles were just blitzing their way through the traffic. In fact, two friends who crossed the bridge only a few minutes ahead of us didn't see anything amiss.

Food highlight of the week: Dinner at Little Pepper with El Jefe and the usual suspects. Lamb with cumin, pork with three mushrooms, Tea smoked duck. Despite the fact that the place smelled like cat pee, it was totally worth the annoying hourlong train ride from Brooklyn.

Video highlight of the week: This clip contains flame throwers, Jell-O, cheerleaders, but not all at the same time.

Here is a sample of my photo-taking excursion to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden a couple weeks ago. I have been trying to post them to FB, but the site's been a little recalcitrant in uploading my pix. I was playing with my new 28-135 lens, and the verdict is, it rocks!

Remember...



Apologies to NY Velocity for "borrowing" this.

Stan!

I knew that Stanard Ridgway was booked to play NYC months ago, but plumb forgot until I saw the listing in last Friday's Times. Ack! After work, I had a quick bite of squid kim-bob at E-mo, and walked all the way to Canal and West Broadway in the mist and light rain. (Maybe I was prepping for the $2.50 fare hike, which seems all but certain, but I digress.)

I didn't take notes for an actual professional-type review (old habits lingering), but I can say that it was a mighty fine show. The Canal Room was much better suited to his smallish audience—80 people max, based on my highly accurate head count—and allowed for more intimacy than was possible at the too-big Highline Ballroom. But it cut both ways: Stan had to put up with some over-adoring fans, one of whom walked up to him only a few songs into the set and handed him a Mary-Jane ciggy. Later, he tossed it to someone in the front row in a faux-panic when the sound of a passing police siren seeped through the walls. Then there was the annoying pair of women at the end of the bar, both of whom had diarhhea of the mouth and couldn't shut the fuck up between songs.

The highlight of the show was "I Wanna Be a Boss," certainly one of my all-time favorite songs of his. He dug out a lot of vintage solo songs, including a solo acoustic guitar "Overlords," "The Big Heat," and "Can't Stop the Show," as well as the usual Wall of Voodoo standards and things he's done with Drywall and Piextra Wexstun, such as "Police Call." Seeing him play let me hear stuff played in a new context, such as a Tex-Mex version of "Mexican Radio." I even appreciated the Drywall songs, which I have never been too keen on. I almost wish that I lived in the L.A. area, so I could see him play out more regularly, but waiting the 18 months between shows makes seeing his show that more delectable.

Anyway, I gotta be up early tomorrow for the club race, so off to the showers and bed.

Back to work

I promised myself that I would not write about the new job for at least six months. Well, it's now been half a year since I returned to the realm of 9-to-5. I did not seek out this gig; rather it came my way, and taking it seemed like one of those "no duh" decisions. After a few years of cobbling together massage jobs, and having far too much time on my hands, I realized that having a steady workload would be a relief. There were days during which I would be running back and forth between job sites, from lower Manhattan to midtown and back home. It was draining and always subject to last-minute schedule changes, and I was barely making ends meet. Plus, my health insurance was going to be ending once the divorce was finalized, and it seemed foolhardy at my age (and the fact that yet another race season was going to roll around eventually) to let that lapse.

(At the beginning of 2008, I stated my intention to a few people that I wanted to find myself a new line of work. And lo and behold, it actually happened! As can be seen from my CV, my planning rarely works out so well. Usually things happen despite my intentions.)

And to that resume, I can now add the prestigious position of sales rep, hardly a position that I would have imagined for myself even a year ago, but here I am. "Sales" was something that I avoided, and my previous attempts to sell anything, whether it was Girl Scout cookies, magazine ads, or massages, have generally fallen flat. Are things any different now? I don't really "try" to sell, but just use all those communication skills forged from years in the editorial world: otherwise known as "keep it simple, stupid." I can type emails fast, that's for sure.

The pace is steady, insanely detail oriented, and more than occasionally frantic, but thankfully I don't log the volume of hours put in during those relentless weekly magazine closings. The workload feels relatively luxurious when I think about my first job after college at the drafty log cabin in South Jersey (followed by the former furniture store down the street). The atmosphere here is similar, with a handful of us in a bullpen environment, close enough to each other that I could eat my co-worker's lunch. And if somebody gets sick, then you better hope that your immune system is robust.

What I appreciate in this job is the expectation that I need to think on my feet, to make decisions for my customers, to take the initiative to keep the office organized and humming, and having backup in the event that something goes pear-shaped. (Which never happens, you know?) And this entry would not be complete without a note of affection for my fellow-officemates. We serve as sounding boards for one another and entertain ourselves to no end.

Of course, there are aspects that could stand improvement, but at the moment, I am happy to have a job when everything in the economy is spiralling down the crapper. Add in the fact that so much else in my life is on the rocks right now, I am just revelling in my newfound ability to go somewhere every day and get paid, and feel a modicum of satisfaction.

And, on a completely different note, it's the first day of the WFMU fund-raising marathon! Please give whatever you can to help out the station. Even if you don't listen!



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Late February

I spent the tenth anniversary of Dad's passing at work, writing and sending emails, packing up jerseys, funneling orders in and out, taking calls--the usual rigamarole of a workday. Occasionally, my mind darted to the significance of the day, yesterday, but the everyday jibber jabber with customers felt so remote from what I went through at that time.

I was not with Dad when he finally died. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor about 18 months before, and had been doing pretty well, but things really went downhill after he fell and hit his head in his house outside Seattle. Soon thereafter, he was in hospice and rapidly lost consciousness. I was there for a few days, but instead of keeping vigil, I flew to Southern California to ride my bike.

This was outside San Diego, near where the Tour of California held its final stage this past Sunday. As I watched the riders climb Mount Palomar, I recalled my own rides in the area, and tangentially the emotional difficulty and guilt of not being in Washington with my family for a week. But I simply felt the need to start distancing myself from all the building grief of the past 18 months, and bicycling is one of the few ways I can simultaneously get out of my head, and achieve some sort of catharsis/zen. Or you could argue that I was being a stubborn, selfish asshole.

I ended up having leave California a day early to fly back to Seattle for the funeral. Right now, recalling these events seems like something experienced by somebody else. I remember being at the hotel with my husband, driving to the cemetery in the rain, jumping at the 21 gun salute, all capped off by the usual dreary Seattle February weather. I have since blocked much of it out of my daily functioning. I have realized that I think far more frequently of my mother and all the events surrounding her illness and death and the aftermath, and she died almost 17 years ago.

Yesterday was also Fat Tuesday, the biggest party day in New Orleans, the city where Dad grew up. He never spoke with the stereotypical NoLa drawl, in the way that his mother, my grandmother, and her sister, my great-aunt, spoke. It never even occurred to me till adulthood that Dad had completely divorced himself from that New Orleans lilt. He joined the Air Force at age 20, and from what I have gathered, never really liked the city, and so got out as soon as possible. On the other hand, I have quite a bit of affection for that city, given that I traveled there regularly as a child and adult, was married there, and watched the city get deluged on the TV.

None of my family lives there any longer (ML died in 1999; her sister a few years later), but I still feel enough connection to New Orleans to want to go back and see the old sights: my grandmother's house on Jeff Davis Parkway, the former Blue Plate factory nearby, the French Quarter, the lazy Mississippi. But then I consider whether I should harbor such romantic feelings for New Orleans; heck, Dad lived there and he managed to not think so fondly of it. I imagine his growing up, being raised by his own grandmother, being surrounded by a houseful of strong-willed Southern women, wanting to go out west to Colorado or California. He never did like cities, and I imagine growing up in New Orleans was crucial informing reason for this. His distaste of urban dwelling affected me in that I simply adore living in the city, specifically the biggest, dirtiest, scariest city around.

So there you go, Dad.

Tomo bento box < Caffe Swish bento box

Too bad Swish is closed for renovations. Feh. I wanted my usual bento box (Japanese for a lot of food, right?), to reward myself for my first full weekend of riding in an embarrassingly long period.

I knew today's ride was to be a slow one, given that I've been sick all week (exacerbated by the fact that I kept going to work, which made getting better that much harder to swing). It was also a soggy and windy one: temps of 54 by 9 a.m. and the gusts were pushing even me around. Our little group splish-splashed our way over to Crusher, and through Nyack. I felt okay until I blew up on State Line. Having company made the swings between feeling wonderful and horrible much more bearable, and they never complained about how pokey I was, or how much snot was cascading from my nose. My bike was noisy by ride's end, that I thought I was being followed by another rider, but in fact it was my own squeaky pulley wheels doing their mating cry.

This is the cruelty of cycling. Cross train all you want: run, swim, hit the rowing machine, stand on the stair climber for an hour, lift big pieces of metal, and none of it is an acceptable substitute for riding your bicycle. Outside. Even the trainer can't match up. To be a good rider, you have to be out riding. All the gd time. Sometimes I hate that. Bicycling is a jealous sport.

I can only hope to claw back some semblance of fitness in the next month or so. And then I will have to ask myself whether I want to line up at Grant's Tomb and risk totally humiliating myself. At least at a club race, there are fewer people standing around, so you don't look as much as an ass if you get dropped. Oh well, what good is pride at this point? I should at least come out swinging.

I did make myself proud in that I hosed and washed off my very, very muddy bike before collapsing on the sofa. I also managed to wipe down the chain and scrub the rims. It almost sparkles! The only thing still grungy are the chainrings.

I leave you with a choice picture from last weekend's trip to the City of Brotherly Love. A word of caution: don't order matzoh brei at a diner. And don't ask the fish for a light.

Seafood on the plate, not on the line

Oops. My bad. I'm back.

Feh. Today's fishing excursion got the scrub. Not enough people showed up. We needed at least eight; there were only five and a half (as the captain put it). I was bummed out, as this was to be my very first time fishing. Not only was I going to have a super swank rod and reel, I was going to be decked out in M.'s Carharrt Extreme Arctic coverall and rubber boots. Kind of annoying, having to take the train to JC, drive out down to Point Pleasant, and sit on the boat, all for naught. As a consolation prize, M. and I had lunch at a seafood shack down the street. We shared a dozen oysters and I tucked into a lobster roll with slaw. Cripes, it's been years since I had oysters.

So I'm home, having not killed anybody on a side trip to Trader Joe's, and am now knocking around the house. I just watched the latest episode of "BSG" on hulu. "Nine to Five" is on tonight's movie viewing. At the moment, Danny Stiles's WNYC show is blasting on the radio. Lucy's sleeping on the table, and I hope she doesn't fall off. She needs to be combed.

And it looks like this weekend will be the third consecutive without any outdoor riding, given that it's already 22 and still descending. Right, the trainer, again!

I totally missed all the inauguration hoopla on Tuesday, but was privy to the virtual shutdown of the Intertubes in the 11 to 1 o'clock hours. When I was going to the gym for my midday hour of physical exertion, I noted a couple dozen people standing rapt in the Bank of America lobby, watching the inaugural address on the big screen.

The new job has been far too busy for me to pay much attention to the portion of the world that does not involve custom athletic apparel. Which is good, I like being up to my ears in work. My dreams have been rather vivid of late; I recall one involving lots of big hairy spiders (I have a terror of them) and last night's involved one of those school dreams, but in this one I got an F. Other stuff happened, too. I can't remember what.

Enjoy this animated video about one girl's impression of the "Star Wars" movies. The animation makes it work. From boing boing, as is this love note.

Happy Year of the Ox!

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The pile of books

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney
Perforated Heart, Eric Bogosian
God's Crucible, David Levering Lewis
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning, Jonathan Mahler
About a Boy, Nick Hornby
Burma Chronicles, Guy Delisle















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