Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Sometimes, more often recently, I find the thought of conversation almost painfully unappealing. I sicken of the sound of my own voice. Worse, I don't know how to shut up. So I stay home. Confronted with the necessity of conversation, I will speak, and speak, and speak; I will stand outside myself and imagine how I must sound, I will fear that I grow tedious to others as I do to myself; I will hear the repetition, the doggedness, the inability to let a topic go until I have worried it to sodden, masticated tatters; and then I will leave and spend too much time imagining that I have acquitted myself poorly, again, I will vow to change, to shut up, to listen more and share less, to hold my hand closer to my vest. And then I will decline any number of subsequent opportunities to visit others, exiling myself from the world, manufacturing excuses -- money, fatigue, other commitments that either do not exist or will be demurred in precisely the same way -- to stay home.

At home, the ennui thickens like epoxy until it fastens rock hard skin to skin and I find myself immobile, losing interest, disappearing into my own head, which I find comforting even in a vague sort of familiar contempt, as in the company of an especialy unpleasant relation of long acquaintance, the devil one knows, perhaps.

I used to be far more comfortable in the company of strangers, use to work a room with some aplomb, and while to outward appearances I'm no less able to carry it off now when circumstances conspire to force me, it lacks the appeal it once had. I don't know why.

Is it just that I've been there so many times before, that the divergent minutiae are overwhelmed by the general sameness of things, that nothing seems as new as I'd prefer?

Settling down, settling in, is if not inevitable at least very common among even the most admirable of individuals, a honing of focus, a recognition of one's limitations, aiming to do as well as one can within one's sphere, and forming that sphere with dimensions no greater than one's reach. But what of settling before certain preset expectations have been satisfied -- companionship; professional ambitions well-defined, attainable, toward which one is moving; financial stability -- settling in the absence of such things is an excruciatingly solitary process of self-abnegation and compromise, and even as I resist the alternative, I thrash about in my own head.

Just ask me. I'll tell you all about it.

UPDATE: The party, as it turns out, was fun. I knew one more person there than I expected to (for a grand total of two), and everything was fine. Funny.

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Friday, May 26, 2006


If rock climbing restored to me the pleasure I take from being in the woods, cycling has restored to me the even more primitive pleasure to be found in rain. Left to our own devices, most children will rush out into each rain storm, plunge their hands, palms down, into the nearest puddle, and cavort heedless of any risk of illness or hazard.

I have logged something like 50 or 60 miles in the past 10 days alone in rain -- first at the Ride of Silence, then in the morning of Pedal Pittsburgh, and then this morning and this evening riding to and from work.

Children are a burden on their parents, no matter how they spin it presently or later. And children do -- it's true -- pick up colds as readily as pebbles and sticks and the inappropriate tics of their parents. Sick children are more burdensome. So we forgive parents, and preemptively ourselves, for being prudent to a fault.

But what do we miss, raised to believe that rain is an adversary from which we reflexively hide beneath umbrellas and oilskin, roofs and awnings?

Were rain lethal, or even a terribly bad thing, we never would have made it to the point of fashioning even crude shelters. We would have perished like all the other maladapted species who speak to us in crumbling, blanched whispers from the deepest strata of history.

Tonight, climbing out of Panther Hollow into Oakland, and arriving at the bottom of Schenley Park, the sky loomed ominously, as it had intermittently all day. I had divined from the satellite map a tentative expectation that I might fit 20 or 30 miles in between the visible rain bands, which seemed in jerky flipbook doppler animation to be moving more slowly than is usually the case. But I am no weatherman, as the world sees fit to remind me, time and again.

The prospect of rain required no mental preparation; the skies had tipped me off for the six or so miles I'd ridden from downtown, had whispered to me even before I turned the office light out on my workweek and embarked on my long weekend, Memorial Day . . . .

As I'd intended, I began my ascent, loose and ready from a moderate-paced ride out of the city. I passed the Conservatory, bent right onto the bridge over Panther Hollow below which I'd passed not ten minutes earlier, and negotiated the complex of overlapping ramps and merges to enter the park proper. I lifted out of the saddle to get up the momentarily steep first switchback, then resumed the saddle for the mild climb to the next.

I heard live music, the Ramones, from inside the park, the tinny sound of a snare played out doors, the flurry of nonsense syllables, and over all of it the piercing squeals of tween or teen girls, mocking a ritual invented by the oldest among their parents as though it were a birthright. Rounding the bend, I saw the source of the noise, the volume of which was increasing. A few dozen kids were crowded into a shelter in David Lawrence Park, tucked perfectly into the rectangular rainshadow provided by a peaked roof standing on four pillars.

There was something surreal about the prospect of a middle school or high school band, playing the same covers I had played in the one living-room-bound middle school band for which I had briefly played keyboards nearly twenty years ago. Aside from this unlikely tumult, the park was almost empty, nothing like it was on Tuesday when Frightened Monkey and I invented, in slightly longer form, the particular route I rode tonight.

As I reached the top of the park, approaching the tennis courts, I considered the prospect of lightning. Even exposed, more or less alone at the top of a park, I couldn't find the energy to worry much. I wondered briefly whether having bicycle tires between me and the ground would save me. I imagined not, but figured the odds of being struck by lightning were, well, like the odds of being struck by lightning. My corduroy shorts became saturated and stuck to my legs; my sunglasses became impossible to see through, leaving me with a familiar choice between uncorrected vision, rainfall constantly interrupting my vision, and obscured but corrected vision through sunglasses that I'm sure look sillier than they really are when the skies darken and empty themselves on the world below.

Descending through the trees, slow to accommodate the danger presented by poor vision, the canopy's untimely shadow, and the prospect of a line of parked cars, I witnessed the absurd spectacle of a man trying to mount a mountain bike to a trunk rack while hiding under his umbrella. I resisted the urge to call out something mocking, recognizing that I looked as absurd to him as he did to me.

But why hide? Why treat the rain as something to be endured only reluctantly rather than embraced and celebrated? The rain continued all the way home, out Forbes through Squirrel Hill, across Braddock through Point Breeze, down Dallas into East Liberty (or whatever neighborhood lurks between Point Breeze and Highland Park), through Highland Park and up Stanton into the Heights, skirting the edge of Morningside, and then finally, shamelessly riding the brake down into Lawrenceville and home.

As the rain diminished, my glasses dried into something less than clear, my gloves squelched in time with my cadence as I methodically climbed Stanton out of the saddle, water moving around within my shoes, dress socks, all that remained of my workday uniform, sodden and bunching around my ankles, and I wished the deluge back, to complete the circuit, rain by morning, rain by evening, and the welcome prospect of a warmer shower awaiting me at home.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Leaders of the New School

There has been much said about Jean Rohe's commencement speech at the New School, which preceded John McCain's by-all-accounts canned stump speech, the same he delivered at Falwell's Liberty University and Columbia University this graduation season.

Ms. Rohe was born in 1984, when I was dressing in layered rugby shirts and jean jackets with the collars high, which makes her 22 now. Rather than relying on the brief media accounts, I strongly urge anyone who is interested to read Rohe's post-mortem comments and the full text of her talk at The Huffington Post. And when you're done, scroll down a bit to read the petty, inarticulate comments of Mark Salter, McCain's pit bull (they begin: "I am employed by Senator McCain . . .").

Ask yourself whether Salter would be an improvement over Karl Rove. Armand thinks not.

(Without getting into the partisan politics of it all, I think it's an insult when any politician delivers a transparent campaign speech at a commencement. If you can't drop your own ambitions for a little while and speak from the heart (and not from the focus group) to a new group of graduates, go find the nearest American Legion hall and leave commencement duties to someone with something interesting to say and the nerve to say it.)

UPDATE: Majikthise has more.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ticking Away the Moments That Make Up a Dull Day

Time doesn't fly away from us, it slides out from beneath our feet.

At the gas station, where I paused to buy one more carton of self-loathing at a dear, sin-tax-inflated price, a young woman in DIY-compliant uniform filled up a Mitsubishi's fuel tank. She wore black jeans, various gleaming metallic accoutrements, a black hoodie, and her hair, too, was colored an improbable shade of black. Her nose might have been pierced; I'm going to say it was, so picture it with me.

I did a subtle double-take; there was nothing terribly important about her refueling, nothing terribly striking about her or her car, and yet something pulled me up short. Her car, the Mitsubishi, wasn't terribly small and seemed an awfully nice, less than fuel-efficient vehicle for a woman who looked like she favored Cars Are Coffins stickers. More importantly, the car looked entirely too expensive for a girl in torn black jeans -- a loaner from mom and dad, perhaps. I smirked inwardly, not because it was justified but just because that's what I do: I smirk, alot.

Here's the thing: as I walked into the convenience store, sorting through possible reasons the hipster and her car caught my eye, it dawned on me: the car isn't worth much; it's close to ten ears old. It is the sort of car a poor hipster drives -- maybe not a signature member of that class, but a member just the same.

And in this way, the mind's nefarious tendency towards fixing one time in mind as the present and denying the existance of aggregating evidence to the contrary revealed itself. My time, Moon Time, had stopped moving nearly ten years ago, at least as far as Mitsubishi goes. That particular iteration of the car in question remained in my head a $20,000-plus mid-sized sedan, and so it had remained, even though the model has not issued in anything even remotely resembling that form in at least five years.

Returning to the tarmac after completing my transaction, I noticed that the car was missing a hubcap, shod in cheap tires, and looked its age.

It's impossible not to wonder in what years my other sensibilities are fixed, and what it is, if anything, I view in light of the age it actually is. I'm certain about one thing: I don't see myself for my true age, and I thank my stars for that salutary delusion.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

A City Besieged

Grousing about the weather is a Pittsburgh pastime of unquestionable pedigree and endurance. Among outdoor athletes, the grousing reaches crescendi in spring and fall, when the sky grows dark and ominous with the prospect of rain, and the sun finds summer at or below the equator leaving us all pining for its grace with the faith of the devout; and on the tenth or eleventh consecutive day without sun, like a lapsed Catholic, our faith falters, and we shake our fists at the sky, bereft, betrayed.

Notwithstanding our uncommonly dry Spring, the delayed arrival of weather more typical of this time of year has provoked the usual hue and cry, our yearly ritual. Brian's in on it. So is David, just days after noting how odd it was that the rains belayed their arrival. And I'm hardly innocent.

This morning, nether regions impossibly sore from 50-ish unpadded miles in the past two days on Susan's miserable saddle, I skipped riding in, especially in light of what should be a long-distance sort of weekend. I figured that if it was vaguely painful just to walk to the shower, naked under my robe, getting back on the bike once again would be intolerable.

Instead I drove, having an after-work commitment making bus commuting impractical. Still half-asleep from the somnolent creep down Butler, I had my breath stolen from me when I turned onto Ligonier and paused at the red light where it met Liberty. Before me lay the narrow strip of Liberty arrowing into the heart of downtown, and at its end stood the monolithic USX and Mellon towers, dwarfing at their feet the cornice of the granite facade of the Pennsylvanian, its lower stories eclipsed by a train trestle in the foreground.

All paled beneath the sky, which was bruised and inflamed with the insistent vibrancy of spring, and lurching toward the city from below, the vividly green flora of Polish Hill, within which hides the narrow, begrudging easement of Bigelow Boulevard. The sky and the hillside formed discordant jaws threatening to devous all the iron and concrete of this city, the water of the rivers perhaps rising up to facilitate in- and digestion. The city, in a word, looked small.

The wind hurtled about my car, the clouds about to reach down and pluck me from the roadway, and all I could think was: I wish I were on my bike.

I can take or leave the rain, in itself, but I love this weather, its profundity, its urgency, its life-giving ablutions, and I love living in a city so green, with hillsides to look upon, waterways to stand beside, backroads down which to disappear.

Missing the sun when it goes is a biological thing, and like anyone when it goes for long spaces of time my spirits plunge and I find myself aching for something I cannot name. But I wouldn't trade those struggles at the expense of this, the heavy gray sky I see out my window, offset with the blues and greens and reds of the city and the suburb, the bright yellow of the right field foul pole at PNC park, the gleaming dome of a distant church, a sliver of brilliant green marking the trees between the Gateway towers, and the gray, always the gray, the gray that is white and blue and purple and even a little green, the gray ever-changing, bringing with it all the joy and petulance of resurrection.

Truly, I do not mind the weather in this city.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Actually, there was no moon to speak of, unless by moon you mean Moon, as in me, inhabiting the streets of this capital city after almost everyone has gone home, or somewhere else at any rate, unless by Moon you mean a small, pale, concentration of reflected energy at Third and Forster, in the shadow of the capitol building, rotunda exterior all illumined in green and cream, the plaza about the building qua astonishment open to the public as though terrorism was just a story you tell your children to keep them in line, flush (as I was) with the intangible learning of an evening spent plying someone with a wealth of knowledge to share (even if the Mets were losing to Philthadelphia in the background) . . .

Yes, let's think of it that way, the Moon over Harrisburg my aquiline face, reflecting dully the shared light of a dozen streetlamps, and Harrisburg itself, among the more storied cities of one of this nation's more storied states, the river a few blocks hence, eclipsed in its unaffected beauty only by the opulent enterprise of men, this capitol, this building atop a hill, and the simple, unpoliced knolls of its setting, a green apron beneath bluish light, reminding me, as every setting does, that home is here, right here, wherever I bed down for the night comfortable in my own skin.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Understanding the System

By all accounts, sentencing in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial was, in its way, riveting. I have not followed the goings on in that trial closely for a variety of reasons I am not inclined to go into here. Probably, it boils down to a combination of his plea and my displeasure with the death penalty; although I wouldn't have been surprised had he been sentenced to die, I'm hardly upset that he won't be executed and granted the martyrdom he so fervently seeks. As Judge Brinkema observed, in effect, there really is no more ignominious end than to rot in a Supermax prison.

One thing jumped out at me, however -- a victim statement following sentencing:

Judge Brinkema asked whether there were any family members of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the audience who wanted to be heard.

No one responded initially. As the judge prepared to move on, Rosemary Dillard, whose husband died on American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon, rose from the audience.

Walking to a lectern a few feet from Mr. Moussaoui, Mrs. Dillard looked at him and said: "I want you, Mr. Moussaoui, to know how you wrecked my life. You wrecked my career. You took the most important person in my life from me."

As Mr. Moussaoui stared back impassively, she continued, "I hope that you sit in that jail without seeing the sky, without seeing the sun, without any contact with the world and that your name never comes up in any newspaper again during the rest of my life."

She then thanked the judge for "what you did," thanked the prosecutors "for what you tried to do," and the court-appointed defense lawyers for "what you had to do."

That last little bit, reflecting an abiding appreciation of the role of defense attorneys in our system, floors me in its simplicity. I don't know what Mrs. Dillard does that led her to include that gratuity at an intensely personal moment, but as someone who believes strongly in the critical importance of the criminal defense bar, and thinks it incumbent on any attorney to take the occasional case he or she finds distasteful as a matter of service, charity, and humility, I'm grateful for her choice to include that last expression of appreciation -- even if it was no more than a matter of basic politeness.

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