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.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Variations: Oranmore Plus

Last night, I played cards with a few friends, two of whom are former competitive cyclists. I had intended -- but forgot -- to ask whether it ever got easier. What I would have meant by the question was not whether I ever improved. There's no doubt that I have; my aerobic resilience, right now, is probably as good as it's been since the last time I took up regular running, six or so years ago. But no different than when I started, it often seems, by the time I'm a few blocks from home, or, later in a ride, a hundred feet up a steep hill, my legs and lungs are burning, I struggle to maintain some semblance of control over my breathing, and I just labor to get through it.

In rock climbing, I found with time came strength, and strength was most palpable by reference to how much climbing I could do without working. Climbs that had once left my arms trembling and my mid-section aching became warm-ups, limbering exercises, nothing to think about; I could climb them all night if I chose, with only very slow incremental reductions in strength. The analogy to what I find with cycling would be if easy climbs made everything burn and my muscles screamed at me to stop, but I persevered, but that's not how it worked in that sport. In running as well, the first mile or so hurt less and less with time.

But with cycling I don't know that my subjective sensory experience of my body is all that different now than it was a year ago, when I began riding in earnest -- this notwithstanding the fact that my commute now is all but daily (eight out of the last nine days, with tomorrow clinching my first five-day week in memory), a guaranteed eight-mile round-trip that at least gets my heart rate up for twenty minutes each way.

But I was wrong.

With this question lurking in the back of my mind, I embarked on the first Variation this week's schedule afforded, this being the first day this week I left the office anywhere near five o'clock. And with the question in mind, I realized that while I still felt like I was working too hard on the first long flat leg of the jail trail, my initial challenges did not waste me as they used to. I climbed up through the hollow without leaving the saddle, at speed. Up on Boundary, I turned left onto Fillmore instead of continuing straight up to Fifth or turning left onto Winthrop. Fillmore is steep and nasty, but short, and though it was hard to work up it I did so at a standard pace, out of the saddle, and by the time I locked up outside Khiva Han, a block from the hill, I had all of my wind.

A few stops later -- Moon was out flyering for an upcoming alleycat (definition here, but n.b., I'm perilously close to qualifying as an airhead, the next term defined), which, if you ride a bike, and you don't suck, you should come out and play with us -- Moon stopped in at Crazy Mocha Bloomfield and ended up in a long conversation with the proprietor of Dreaming Ant, the ubercool videostore in the back.

On the heels of that chat, my flyering done, I finally set out for home by the crescent moon. I decided that Stanton was too far, and heading down the hill to Butler directly too easy, and that this left me with only one option: Oranmore, again.

Which returns me to my subject. Mossfield, the rollercoaster run along the perimeter of the cemetery, as always presented a challenge. On each short downhill, I'd run up to something close to maximum spin, and then try to carry as much of that momentum as possible up the following hill. That spin takes a while to deteriorate to a point where my rpm approach a comfortable standing level, and fighting the spin prolongs the amount of time until I can get out of the saddle productively. It's a lose-lose -- either I stay in the saddle and fight my diminishing speed, or I succumb to it and let it take me down to a level at which I can comfortably stand, which on a moderate hill is infinitely more comfortable, albeit slower, than the ensaddled alternative. But I'm stubborn, and this is training, so I fought with everything I had until the last uphill preceding my turn into Stanton Heights. On the last climb, I bled speed and stood, conserving my energy for Oranmore. And more.

Oranmore was brutal, as always, but I maintained a steadier pace, a more even line, and found myself at the top of the hill long before my legs began to mumble about giving it up. More palpable progress. Moreover, at the top of Oranmore, experimenting with something I picked up looking at the map of a prior Variation, I turned left into Stanton Heights's side streets atop the hill rather than drop down to Stanton for the familiar descent into Lawrenceville.

Turning left onto Coleridge, I saw another climb a half-block distant, just a blip on the map. I shuddered a bit, my breath still ragged and my throat burning, but it was short and over before it began. Plus, as I climbed I had the tantalizing view of an aqua post-sunset sky framed by the trees on either side of the street, that view that undeniably says you're approaching the top of something. And so I was; as best I can tell, that is the functional highpoint of Stanton Heights, and I climbed it from the Oranmore basin.

From there, as the map reveals, I wandred sort of aimlessly through the neighborhood, figuring that sooner or later, if I kept Stanton to my right, the streets would spit me back out onto it, and they did, but only after treating me to a couple of brutal descents.

About two thirds of the way down the last one, Stanton in sight and legs tensing into oak to resist gravity's siren song, a group of children awaited me near the bottom of the slope. They called out a jumbled, polyphonic greeting from their post under a streetlight, and then a young, impossibly skinny girl moved assertively toward my path down the hill, hand outstretched. "Hi-i," she sang out again as I approached, importuning something I couldn't quite interpret. Uncertain, and still wrestling with the handlebars and gravity, I started to wonder whether she wanted me to slap her five as I rolled by, but I realized that if I did so I might not be able to control the bike's speed, and with the T-intersection at busy Stanton looming, I couldn't risk it. Instead, I just slid by, with little room to spare, grunting and fitting a feeble belabored smile. As I passed, she shouted something that sounded like, "Hi -- you dick."

Kids these days.

Spring has sprung in earnest, folks, and the night was absolutely beautiful. I climbed Oranmore and could have ridden more and more, another sign that I am growing stronger.

Monday, March 27, 2006


This week brings Spring in earnest to this quarter. I might defensibly hope that this morning, at 26 degrees upon waking and 31 degrees at departure, may represent the coldest morning I will have to endure on two wheels until sometime next fall. But I cannot hope, regardless of the temperate forecast, that the temperature will not bob around to an extent defying even layering. In the spring, on a bike, one carries almost as much as one wears, never sure.

Today, leaving the office a bit late at 6:30-ish, using the lights in the twilight from an abundance of caution, I wore less home than I wore to work. This morning: skullcap, full-fingered gloves, fleece vest under windbreaker. This evening: no skullcap, half gloves, vest balled up and stashed in my bag.

I was surprised at the chill leaving the office, but I knew it would fade with effort. Nearing home, I turned down Butler at the cemetery entrance, gathering speed, and as I turned I was repelled from my sanguine meditation by a sudden chill, the air cutting through my shell as though it were sheer and drawing taut the skin on my arms into gooseflesh. I was reminded at once of the pockets of cold that lurk beneath the surface of the bay where I have vacationed with my family lo these past thirty years in August or September, the testicle-shrinking, shiver-inducing frigidity that suggests its matriarch North Atlantic, a few miles east, and incipient winter hibernating all summer long -- like the coding for cancer in a body -- amid the dark waters.

But Spring surely has sprung; the sun no longer shines impotently, the days lengthen and grow more amiable. I am eager for thunderstorms, rain spraying sidewards and back from the few square inches where the rubber of my front tire meets the pavement to soak my feet and ankles mercilessly, a spine of water improbably preceding me in a distorted parabola from the front tire's pinnacle, a forgotten physics calculation's vindication. Even the odd typically ephemeral peppering of hail, in its way, is a welcome advent, its prickly smarting against cheeks and fingers an affirmation, a stinging ablution.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Variations: Flat Pittsburgh

Hungover like a frat boy, I conditioned joining Brian and Eli for a short ride on a promise of no real climbing. They were kind enough to oblige.

This week: 53 miles (of course, I never post my normal, 8-mile commute days, of which there were three this week). Not enough, but oh well.

Man, I could really go for a pizza. But I think instead I'll fix the egg sandwich I couldn't bring myself to cook this morning.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Eyes Wide Shut

Like an elite athlete struggling to recover from invasive surgery, I have yet to reacclimate myself to my dreams. A psychic injury, of sorts, entirely ended what had been, until then, a vibrant, lucid dreamlife, one that made an adventure of virtually every night and every (rare) catnap. Science tells me I must have dreamt. And so the injury did not deprive me of my dreams, but rather deprived me only of my lucidity within them and my recollection of them in the cocooned in the muslin of morning.

Recovery has been slow, faltering, incremental. Now I remember at least some of my dreams upon waking, and I not infrequently awaken to them from within. The control I once enjoyed -- making of each dreamscape an amusement park, or at least a new city to be explored -- has been long in returning, however, and I regret my continuing inability to mold each subconscious island into a playground of my own design.

Lucid dreaming is something that should come with practice and effort, conventional wisdom has it, and there are any number of suggested techniques for achieving greater lucidity to and control in one's dreams. In my case, I benefited from chatty, whimsical parents, who fixated on the idea for a spell when I was relatively young. Simply listening to them illuminated its possibilities, and at some time in adolescence, with no real effort applied, I began to awaken to my dreams with some regularity with a host of results. Slowly, I developed the ability to manipulate my nocturnal sojourns to suit my mood and my fancy.

Now, I would estimate, I awaken to about a third of the dreams I recall upon waking, and so I am returned to a state more endemic to my youth, when dreams could be fearful occasions. I've only had a handful of nightmares sufficiently vivid to have stayed with me, and very few since adulthood. I almost never exert the god-like control I once took for granted, however, an elementary reminder of my subjugation to my own implacable hardwiring, how fragile things are that a finite episode has changed things so inexorably, even many months after its passage.

Now, I often awake aware that I have dreamed an epic, which I recall only in fragments. A couple of early mornings ago, I found myself shackled to a long story of a devising wholly removed from any conscious effort or contribution, a ride I had not asked to take and could not readily end. At one point I woke entirely, somewhat breathless and tired with the odyssey, only to fall quickly asleep and continue where I left off.

In a last segment of the dream before waking for good, perhaps twenty minutes before my alarm was set to go off, I found myself face to face, through prison bars, with the dark almond-shaped eyes of a beautiful young woman. She looked Japanese to me, but I struggle to distinguish one far eastern ethnicity one from another so she might have been imagined with the features of a different heritage (an interesting question lurks here regarding whether my subconscious could have given her the features of a discrete ethnicity when my conscious mind would struggle to explain what suggests one background over another, but that's nothing I need to get into here).

I remember only that our eyes' silent meeting was fraught with meaning for both of us, a caesura in the drang of all that had transpired around us, but beyond that context eludes me as it has since I woke that morning. The oddity of the moment, however, was that as I stood there, still, returning her stare, I had the entirely dissonant experience of meeting her wide steady eyes with my own while another part of me, a thin rope of connection, reached back into this world to feel the tight press of my shut eyelids asleep in my bed. I wasn't necessarily lucid to the dream as such; perhaps if I had been the sensation would have been less discomfiting. Rather, I had the irreconcilable experience of my eyes being both as open and shut as they ever are at the same time.

Paralleling this disconcerting duality, I woke from that scene at once happy to be of one mind and sorry I couldn't have followed the dream further to resolve it in the dream world where resolution once came so readily.

Each night I go to sleep hoping things have returned to what used to be normal. That hope, the prospect of control, used to be self-fulfilling. Now it appears not to be enough.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Variations: Nightlife

Time was, on Friday night I'd be home at 8, drinking something, anticipting a shower, considering outfits, playing phone tag with cohorts. It's not entirely unlike that now, but the occasions are fewer and farther between. Tonight weas a celebration dinner on southside, a full stomach, mist, and a phantom journey through the haunts of my recent history en-roundabout-route to home and basketball and a quiet night of, well, this and little else.

Today's commute included some unfamiliar features, and encompassed a number of nasty hills, notably Bates, which I have only climbed once on Susan, and not recently. Truth is, it was nothing I looked forward to, especially at rush hour, the most likely time for me to try it, when in addition to gravity I'd be negotiating cars backed up at the light atop the hill. It's not the sort of hill one wants to stop and then have to start up again on.

Tonight, outside the restaurant, I stripped of my sweater, rolled up my khakis, decided to skip the skullcap,and affixed lights to the frame. Cruising nightspots one after another, I observed their differing schedules: Southside Works (the map has it as a big patch of dirt, which reveals how new the complex is) was fairly busy with its movie heatre and its covertly corporate restaurants; Oakland was heating up, the young needing no excuse to start drinking on classless Friday, the sooner the better; Walnut Street in Shadyside was strangely quiet, and Ellsworth was predictably even quieter.

By then Stanton loomed, but notwithstaning persistent cramps from dinner and dessert, the incessant pistoning of my khaki-clad legs, and the beginnings of saddle sores from the coarse fabric of my cheap pants, something in the winter air, some hint of spring evenings awaiting mere days away, something even of summer urged me to pedal on, away from the direct path home. And so I pushed onward along Highland, observing a few stalwarts sitting in the warm glow inside Tazo D'Oro's picture window including one winsome woman sitting alone with only her wild hair and a book for company, climbing the last modest hill toward the park.

Then -- and only then -- did the nipping at my ears and the chafing inside my thighs urge me homeward. I turned down the hill along the edge of the park, a phantom playing out my slow descent down the steep hill, consciously forcing myself to concentrate as in my fatigue and cramping and general complaisance I didn't trust myself to hedge against the many hazards concealed by darkness -- teens exiting the park between cars by the curb, people lurking inside those same cars who cast no silhouette in the darkness, potholes barely detectable below my front wheel, dogs, errant unseasonable squirrels, firewood laying improbably in the road, the usual.

On Negley, heading back toward East Liberty, the gentle descent pulled imperceptibly at my bars, and I found myself quickening until I was nearly spun out, easily exceeding 20 miles per hour on a stretch of pavement that felt flat, speeding sufficiently to require a significant reduction in speed before I turned a wide sweeping right from the double yellow line on Negley to the double yellw on Stanton.

I slowed then, preparing for the climb, regretting that my spin through Highland Park had done nothing for my cramps. On Stanton, as I stood out of the saddle and began to negotiate my effort level with my lazier nature, I made a deal with myself: I would allow myself to use my brake descending the sharp side of Stanton if -- and only if -- I climbed all of Stanton without resuming the saddle or taking a slow-down break.

And that's where it all came together: two thirds of the way up Stanton, where I typically flag, I found an unlikely sanguinity, a resignation to my own determination, the triumph, however brief and inconsequential, of my better nature. For the first time yet, I climbed the easier side of Stanton without faltering, at a steady pace, left-right-left-right, the bike rocking beneath me like a tool, like a stubborn animal enslaved by its own ineluctable momentum or a workout partner exasperated by my persistent bitching but unwilling to let me off the hook -- I wasn't sure who was pushing whom, and before I could figure it out I was atop the ridge contemplating the other side.

Descending Stanton with the aid of a brake I'm still relearning how to use was an unmitigated rush; arriving at an empty house to a tall glass of water and a humming furnace an unmitigated privilege deferred. My ears tingled. My legs felt strong. And my wind returned soon enough.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

May and Melancholy

More dedicated readers, all seven of you, might have followed recent comment threads enough to have noticed the frequent offerings of one May, who even was kind enough a few comments back to furnish a link to her weblog, A Private Eye. Although it's not usually my practice to blogroll anything so new (beginning at the end of February, so far May has posted only a handful of ruminations and photos), in part because quality is in question given a brief sample, and in part because so many blogs fail to take root in their proprietors' worlds and soon enough wither away, I'm making an exception in this case (under MoonOverWords). For as long as it lasts, this one is worth watching.

In her most recent post, "Melancholy," May writes beautifully and provocatively on the subject:

Today, when I drove back home, it was darker than usual. It had just stopped raining and there was mist all around. I passed by the grey lake and by an old hotel attached to the corner of the road. In the water, in front of the hotel, there was a sailboat without its sail and it was slowly swaying. I was listening to the sad “Autumn leaves”, sung by Eva Cassidy. A deep sensation of warm melancholy came over me like a tender hug. I did not reject it. Although I am often too busy and too projected toward the [pursuit] of enjoyment, it felt good to acknowledge that I am still able to miss what I cannot have.

This little fragment, if nothing else (and examples abound), illustrates why I was so floored when May semi-apologized for her English in an earlier comment on this site. Her evocation of such an ephemeral, protean state of mind, makes a lie of any such apology, whether read for its veneer or for its substrate. An old hotel attached to the road, a boat slowly swaying, compact images fraught with elusive emotional antecedents demurely withheld.

Surface flattery aside, hours after I first read this I continue to turn it over in my mind, the casual equivalence May implies between melancholy and the regret that attends our desire for objects beyond our reach. I have never made that association, at least not directly, tending to use melancholy in the sense of its tertiary definition of pensiveness, perhaps tinged with something closer to depression.

Perhaps timing has something to do with it: of late, I have found myself in a state that I might call melancholy, if only out of an abundance of charity (insofar as the recent strain I've caught is closer to depression tinged with pensiveness than the reverse). At this age, I find myself conscious of cement hardening around my ankles. One might think that my enduring solitude and childlessness would forestall this cliche of American manhood, but while the specific gravity of the weight anchoring me may differ for this me from what it would have been for the married-with-children version of me I imagined five or so years ago -- each possible me layering in fugue one over another, until the doubling and trebling of posited mes defies focus or resolution -- it's turning out to be like the punchline of a certain species of joke in which the subject thinks he has negotiated a series of hazards only to find himself imperiled by the one he didn't anticipate.

I am: a lawyer, a loner, a homeowner; I am not those things I keep imagining I could be: a writer, a thinker, an academic, a man beloved of many friends and reviled by a few carefully selected foes, a starting pitcher for the New York Mets. I am: a smoker, a cipher, a contrarian with a contentious streak; I am not: an athlete in enviable health, a person who forms strong lasting relationships, amiable.

And, perhaps like May, I pride myself on being here now, n appreciating each of the inconceivable incidents of each miraculous day. The most exasperating thing about my occasional (but recently more frequent) dark moods is that they take me out of the now -- kicking and screaming sometimes and other times without much of a fight --and fill me with thoughts of the past, all of which fundamentally is inaccessible, and of the most remote corners of the present, which are no more available to me, states of mind I cannot attain like a desert mirage, accomplishments that continue to elude me if only for lack of trying.

How difficult it is to look at oneself and accept, how difficult to live according to one's moral and philosophical commitments, even given the challenges of their formation, endeavors begging for vindication in manifestation. How difficult to say what one means, to clarify rather than obfuscate, to speak in a voice worth listening to, even when the speaker purports to be his own audience.

And in that sense, perhaps, life is suffering, just as the Buddhists would have it, and it is only in the exaltation of this peculiar suffering with which we are all blessed that one may achieve satisfaction and peace.

Good God, at this rate I'll be rereading the existentialists by week's end. Another trial.

To return to May, the promotion of whom was to be the thrust of this post (modest thought it may be, coming from little old me), I can't help but feel a little envy: if she expresses herself so well in an acquired (second or third or fourth) language, how much more ably must she speak in her native tongue. Alas, in my monolingualism (another regret), I'll never know.


This is long overdue. Under MoonOverFriends, please find ma vie en vert, new friend (to me) Stephie's weblog. I won't speak for her; her early posts (the blog is fairly new) say plenty about her interests (generally, film, consistently with her graduate work) and offer plenty of reason to keep an eye on her site.

Snakes on a Plane, Man . . .

Snakes on a Mutha F*&kin Plane.

I don't want to love Samuel L. Jackson, but I just can't help myself.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Intersection -- Eleventh and Penn

I eased up to the intersection, two cars waiting in front of me, and watched the courier on the other side of the intersection, lithe and hoary in black on black on black, steady himself with the occasional backward rotation, wheel cocked to the side, slowly inching into the intersection playing traffic like chess.

My posture was similar but more patient, wheel turned toward the double yellow line, standing on my leveled pedals still and balanced, a quick rearward quarter cadence to regain my deteriorating equilibrium followed by a lazy half-rotation forward, eyes on the courier's progress toward me as I waited in line for the light to change and the cars before me to move.

Behind and to my right approached the tell-tale clicking of a freewheel. Turning slightly to the right, I waited until a diminutive woman in red sweatpants coasted into my peripheral vision, safely on the sidewalk, where she stopped at the handicapped ramp and waited for the light with her own peculiar breed of sanguinity, slouched down on her low saddle like a lanky teenaged boy on a BMX bike.

My mind was flooded with work, and errands, and thoughts of the coming Caffeinator. At rest, slowly eating up the bit of pavement I'd allowed for that purpose, I relieved myself of the burden of concentration, and my ruminations, diffuse as the breeze in my face, carried me away without a second invitation.

The light changed, and the cars in front of me eased slowly forward. I stood into the pedals, tracking the bumper of the car in front of me, watching its right taillight for signs of a change. The courier passed on the other side of the line and waved, lifting his hand slightly from his bars in answer to my reflexive nod, quiet bonhomie.

The intersection was clear and safe, and I allowed myself a brief glance at the young woman as I passed; she still lingered there with her foot down. Her face, alabaster doyenne hosting a frenzy of pink on her cheeks, was radiant and impassive. I resisted the temptation to stop in the middle of the road and stare (conversation was out of the question for a host of reasons), instead turning my head and then my shoulders into the turn, which I fed with my gathering momentum, angling my front wheel toward a familiar seam amongst several metal caps in the road.

Homeward, angel.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Comedy of Errors

Today, Andrew, Aaron, Dave, and I met at Kraynick's to work on our bikes. More specifically, Dave finally had the parts to finish assembling his first fixed gear, and Aaron was set to help him across the finish line. I needed to replace my bottom bracket and put a brake back on the bike. Brakeless had always only been a temporary thing; it just became a six-month temporary thing.

It's worth noting that I'm not patient with mechanical tasks, not even a little bit. Add to that that I hadn't ridden since Monday and had spent the last couple of nights drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and watching basketball like the vegetable I sometimes feel compelled to be, and add to that that I woke tp a nasty sinus headache even a shower couldn't clear, and circumstances were all set to conspire against anything going smoothly or well.

First, getting up into Bloomfield: I packed a bag and, running late, headed up to a Bloomfield cafe for breakfast. This, unfortunately, required a quick ascent up Main Street from Lawrenceville into Bloomfield. Or rather it quickly required a slow, agonizing ascent. I was fighting gravity, my own pre-coffee torpor, and a bottom bracket that, once removed, would be the marvel of a number of knowledgeable bike people at Kraynick's: You were riding on this?

When I arrived, late, Dave had already encountered problems with one of his fancy new crank arms, which arrived cracked. I went to work on removing my bottom bracket, which proved nasty. Pursuant to the advice of Jerry, the sage proprietor, we tried to remove the BB on the assumption that the drive side was threaded left, instead of the standard right. Turns out, however, that both sides were right threaded. Girded by a generation of knowledge, however, Jerry disregarded our comments to that effect and provided me with the better of the two BB's he carries, which was right threaded.

The details don't matter, but over the course of the ensuing hour, while Dave was finishing up his attractive new fixie, Jerry realized and accepted that both sides of my BB were indeed right threaded, and we drew the conclusion that someone, at some time, had actually tapped my frame and rethreaded at least one side of it, making it a bit of a BB bastard. We managed to use the cheaper of the two BB's he carries combined with the receiving cup from my old BB to make the bike work, but the diagnosis remains that I should have the frame bored out to a greater diameter and rethreaded the right way for an italian bottom bracket; until I do, I'll have no choice but to use a cheaper, less durable and smooth component.

Having sorted this out, we turned to reattaching my front brake and running a line to it. I removed my fancy yellow bar tape and bought what Jerry had in cork: black, black, or black. Boring. Attaching the brake and running a new line, matters attended do by the more technically inclined Andrew while I reattached the crank arms to the new BB, proved uneventful, but once we replaced the front wheel it proved tricky to keep the brake from rubbing. Although a single pull front brake should be self-centering, it seemed to want to stay out of alignment and rub on one side. In a rather coarse gesture, we just opened it up wide enough that the rubbing wasn't a factor even with the brake significantly off-center. After all, the brake is there for assistance on downhills on long rides more than anything -- after riding brakeless all winter, I will not give up the workout that comes with braking through my legs.

Finally, we were ready to ride, and ready to watch Dave figure out what it is not to be able to coast. I should note here that Dave is a pretty serious cyclist when it comes to geared road bikes; the man has killed me on such rides in the past. But he's the last in our group to pick up or build a fixie, so in this one regard he's still learning.

From Kraynick's, we headed to the Quiet Storm for much needed bathroom brakes, coffee, and lunch.

After we were relieved, refilled, and refreshed, we hit the road. We recognized it was a bit late for a long ride, but still wanted to collect a few miles. My sinus headache had not relented, but I wasn't prepared to go home. We headed down Graham to cross Friendship and head into Shadyside and Oakland.

Turning onto Morewood from Centre, leading the group, I heard a pop and then a clang as something kicked up from the road to ricochet off my frame. I looked down to find that one nut had come off my front wheel axle. I pulled to the side, instructed Andrew to watch my bike, and jogged back to where I'd heard the sound. In the gravel by the side of the road, only eight inches from the oblivion of a storm drain, I found my nut, thankfully brilliantly chromed. I returned to the bike and threaded it back onto the axle, cranking it down harder than a front wheel requires, and cranking down its opposing nut equally hard. Then I cranked down the rear nuts just for good measure.

Almost immediately, though, the brake was rubbing again, and hard this time. Looking down, a skein of rubber fragments coated the brake and the fork. I pulled over again, no more than two blocks from where I'd last stopped. Examining the brake, I discovered that it had actually been rubbing the front tire and had created a frayed groove in the tire for its entire circumference. Removing my multi-tool from my bag, I used an alanwrench to loosen the offending brake pad and slide it down to the rim. But it dawned on me that the whole thing didn't make a lot of sense. The front wheel wasn't centered in the fork. Removing the front wheel, which proved rather difficult as it had wedged itself into the fork weirdly, I reset it and found it centered again. Now, the brake wasn't impinging, but the shoe on the rubbing side was too low. Once again, I loosened the alanbolt to slide the shoe back to where it belonged.

We proceded through Oakland without event, unless you count the car that bore up on me at the tail of our group and rode my wheel, simultaneously refusing to use the other lane it had to its left and to back off as anyone who didn't want a small slip up to end up in a large lawsuit would do. Refusing to be muscled out of our lane, let alone permitting him to pass only to harrass my friends ahead of me, I slid further out into the lane and offered, with my left hand, a Jersey salue. He rode his horn and remained behind me for far longer than circumstances required (the left lane still entirely available to him), and I just taunted him with my finger and my bike and my greedy determination to enjoy a fair share of the road. Eventually, he raced past me and I watched his brake lights blink once, twice, and a third time. I imagined him looking for an appropriate place to pull off the road and I checked the left lane to make sure I had an evasive option in that direction. He didn't stop, though.

Fighting a stern headwind down Fifth Avenue toward the Birmingham Bridge, a wind strong enough to obviate most of the benefits of the downhill, I pushed through the valley and up the other side. Behind me, I heard a metallic pop, and looked over my shoulder. Dave, behind me, called out, "That was my seat."

We pulled over again, and circled. His seat had fallen backwards, its nose sticking erectly upward. A few minutes of fiddling later, it was back in position, and again we were off. At Fifth and Grant, however, we found ourselves stopping again, to examine Dave's chain, which seemed to be popping on the odd rotation. That problem we identified (it related to a chain guard that was too snug with his track chain), but couldn't remedy at the time.

Deciding enough was enough, we turned toward the strip and shifted over to Smallman for the ride home. We stopped at 20th-ish, under the bridge, to say good-bye to Dave, whose return trip required the climb up Penn Avenue to where his car was awaiting him at Kraynick's. Before parting, however, we considered his crank arm, which still was noticeably loose. Deciding it was nothing, we parted, and Andrew, Aaron, and I continued down Smallman into Lawrenceville.

Andrew came to my house for a beer, Aaron continuing directly home to Blawnox. Upstairs, basketball on the television, my phone rang. I picked it up and it was Dave. "Do you know what talent is?" he instructed. But I thought he had asked what time it was.

"Six-ish," I said.

"No, what talent is."

"Oh," I said. "What's talent."

"Climbing Penn Avenue with one crank," he replied.

"You lost your crank?"

"Yeah, it popped off."

And as though that weren't bad enough, he's convinced that someone siphoned half a tank of gas from his truck while it was parked on Penn Avenue in Garfield. In broad daylight. On a Saturday afternoon.

Everyone is in one's piece. Everyone's bike is in one pieces -- or in Dave's case, two pieces. And hopefully everyone made it home intact. But all in all a rough day. And I still have that sinus headache.

The good news: the better of my two brackes is in seventh place out of 78 after three days of March Madness, and is positioned to finish very strong. I might be looking at a very healthy chunk of money here. Which I evidently will need to remachine and reequip my bike.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

questions (an open thread of sorts)

folly's plaint: when will it stop?
wisdom's lament: so soon?

what's next?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Variations: Oranmore

Today, factoring in a couple of necessary stops, the passage of the storm before I left the office, and the fact that I will not be able to ride to work tomorrow, I had to take dramatic action.

I've written about Oranmore before:

Oranmore, the last street priot to Stanton, between milemarkers 9 and 10 on the map, is particularly entertaining. While the map doesn't show it very well, the lion's share of it is a slope so steep that, at least on a fixed gear, it feels more like working some new fangled Nautilus machine than it does riding a bike. It's not, that is to say, just like riding a bike. It's like kneading a mountain of pizza dough with your feet in a room full of ammonia while someone hits your thighs with a rubber mallet. It's short, at least -- its only virtue.

Nothing's changed, except that this time my bag was full of unused rain clothing, a pound of coffee, and a carton of cigarettes (I know, the irony -- bite me).

In sum, Oranmore [see milemarker 8 to Stanton]: 'nuff said.

Eagle Rock

Saturday, I was home in New Jersey. In the morning, I headed out to explore the town in which I was raised. It was a bit cool for my shorts and jersey, at least for a while, but as I leaned into the ride it grew more comfortable.

Once away from home, I pushed slowly southwest into the corner of my town, which backs up against Eagle Rock Reservation, a sizable patch of woods embedded in the suburbs atop a cliff at the edge of my town. I schemed to evenly distribute a substantial climb, aiming to avoid any of a host of near-vertical hills, drawing on my imperfect and fading knowledge of the roads I once drove incessantly as a teenager.

At the foot of the Reservation, which sits atop the cliff at the western edge of town that shields us from thunderstorms and denies us a view of sunsets, I climbed the switchback road I once spun my 1980 Mustang on as a seventeen-year-old, and made my way out to its breathtaking overlook. The view isn't stunning because of extraordinary height; perhaps 150 feet below the vantage point one can see the road at the edge of town through the winter-barren trees below. There are houses. And cars passing. Rather, the view is extraordinary for the unimpeded panorama of all the meadowlands and Manhattan beyond, laid bare, impossibly close.

The old stucco and spike wall that deterred the young from plunging down the cliff on a Saturday bender has in substantial part been removed and replaced with a marble memorial, complete with modified traffic pattern and statues in bronze, to those who died on September 11, with a large bronze book containing the names of those many residents of Essex County who died that day, several of them from Montclair. And were the memorial -- seventeen tablets lined up below the view, five columns of names, towns, and ages per tablet -- insufficient to evoke the tragedy the City's emasculated skyline just beyond the wall would stumble to the task.

I spent perhaps ten minutes up there, sweating, catching my breath, drinking all but the last few sips of my water, planning to head home fairly directly from the rock . . . it was a lovely day, and the unmanned skyline was sprouting new growth, construction cranes visible at lofty heights in several locations, the Freedom Tower soon to begin to rise from the ashes and restore to the financial district its virility.

Riding home, I did not dwell. A couple of the downhills were so steep I found myself skidding just in trying to minimize my speed; and so I slid down one hill, and skipped down another, praying on both occasions that my chain wouldn't choose that moment to let go. I have grown accustomed to New York's loss in some fundamental way, but views of the City still affect me, still, as perhaps they always will.

In the Dumbo section of Brooklyn (so identified do to its location Directly Under the Manhattan Bridge), Saturday night, my friends' gallery proved to be an inviting space, and their stable of artists impressive given how new said friends are to the business.

Friday, March 10, 2006


The hint, the barest hint, like an emerald tassel of aurora borealis over Orient Point, Long Island, really the mere suggestion (and the concomitant suspicion that it's all in one's head) -- wishful thinking, even -- of something, someone, extraordinary, peripheral vermillion amid the stars, just . . . maybe.

There is magic in sitting across a table from someone about whom one's predominant thought is: She's out of my league. And there is simplicity in it, too.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


So today, out of an abundance of ambition, and basking in the glow of an unusual eight-hour night of sleep (I woke at 4 and found myself strangely uncomfortable with the thought that I still had three hours of sleep ahead of me; I woke to my alarm groggy and disoriented by my circadian satiety), I decided to cap the week with another long ride home in the unseasonable temperatures.

The only real differences from yesterday's return trip are pace and a few different choices made on the fly. Neville is no longer barricaded, so I was able to roll right through Fifth without jogging over to Craig. Because I didn't get forced over to Craig, I was free to use Ellsworth instead of Bayard, so I took Ellsworth to Bayard. After that, my route was identical to yesterday's, through Friendship and East Liberty to Stanton -- except that I made a left a block before Stanton rather than stand in a line of traffic, and came across Chislett.

9.74 miles in 44 minutes, for an average speed of 13.28 mph.

And since tomorrow I'll drive to work, heading directly to NJ at the end of the day, that wraps up my week unless I bring the bike to Jersey for a ride in the burbs on Saturday morning. I may. But for no, the tally for the week, factoring in the three rides discussed here and a standard-issue eight-mile round trip on Monday, is 66 miles in five days. 150 miles in two days it ain't, but it's still my best week in memory, and I felt fine tonight -- like I could have gone on or a while.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Training Begins . . .

. . . when the urge to quit does.

Tonight, within a mile of embarking on my circuitous augmented ride home I found myself thinking about whether I should just turn around. I felt dreadful, weak in a deep way, left knee twinging with my cadence. Granted, I went out last night, had a few drinks, stayed up until 3 and then rose at 7:30, so it's not like I wanted for an excuse.

I decided to persevere, though, and tabled the decision whether to climb Stanton or just push through Bloomfield and down the hill by the hospital. After climbing into Oakland, I settled in -- still weak, but no longer uncomfortable or afraid that I had no climb in me. At Millvale and Liberty, I decided to push through to the Park, and at the Park, I turned right onto Friendship, Stanton beckoning.

There are no short cuts, and I have a long way to go. By next month, in the warmer weather, I must take this path home -- or variations on it -- almost every day. And by then I'd like to be making a similar trip on the way in, too, or at the very least adding a climb to the ride by turning up Main or Fisk in the morning.

If I can ride a hard 20 miles four out of five business days, and add a long-ish 30-mile-plus ride on the weekend, I should be able to muster what I need to survive the 150.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why the MS 150 Is Going to Kill Me

Because these 30 miles, a mere 20% of what I'm going to have to ride in two days in June, almost killed me. A brief pithy narration follows.

As for the start, I've already bemoaned the 5-7% grade of Stanton Avenue from Lawrenceville into Stanton Heights so I won't waste my time doing it again. Today, I noticed, while I had more trouble holding a steady pace out of the saddle, once I got past the back and forth changes of the hill's brutal beginning, I found myself in the saddle up into the Heights, holding down a respectable pace without standing. Nevertheless, I feared I was in trouble, underfed, underhydrated, over-cigaretted, something.

I pressed on, of course, to meet Moon's riding partner (MRP) at Enrico's in Highland Park, which explains the quick left turn off Stanton. At the cafe, MRP was drinking the last of his coffee and reading up on the methodology of a little diversion I found and passed on to him and a few others last week, an asteroid / comet impact simulator that is entirely too fun to play with. He had scrawled equations in the margin, checking the scientist's math. Engineers.

After a few wardrobe adjustments -- it was at once mild and chilly, with a significant breeze, making it very hard to figure out what to wear -- we were off. We rode uneventfully into East Liberty until at Penn Circle and Penn, yours truly in the lead, a woman crossed against the signal with her stroller in front of her without so much as glancing our way. I could tell by her body language that she was going to do just that, and I had already confirmed that there was no traffic behind me, so I swung left into the lane, clearing her by a bit more than an arm's length. MRP reported that as he passed he heard her say "Whoa." Responsible parenthood.

From there, we rode into Shadyside and then Oakland, cutting through the University on Fifth Avenue and proceeding downtown, where I led us on a meandering path through the triangle, the belgian stone of Grant Street clacking beneath our tires as we passed. Through the park we then rode, picking up the trail along the Ohio and heading out toward SCI-Pittsburgh, our second time riding out that far. We discussed as we rode the prospect of getting across one of the bridges in sight ahead of us and returning via Carson.

As we neared the big blue superstructure of the McKees Rocks Bridge, however, we realized that there was no direct ramp and that it crossed the river from high on the palisade to our right. We contemplated what we could do to get up there, and my testicles shrank as MRP, who is much fitter than I, manifested an increasing commitment to finding our way up the ridge one way or another.

Jumping off the trail at the decommissioned prison, we first tried to continue downriver on Preble Avenue. Very quickly, however, we reached the barricades and guard stands at the entrance to the Alcosan water treatment facility, the fence rimming which was adorned with a Terorism Threat Warning jammie (we're currently at yellow, in case you're wondering). We turned back, rebuffed but not deterred.

The alternative had been visible the whole time; a cut in the ridge that led back across the highway, 65, that fed the bridge. We'd climb up from behind, somehow, and get there that way.

And it was directly under that overpass that I found myself suddenly in the grips of a profound deja vu that it took very little time to replace. Directly under the 65 overpass stood a looming, narrow building that looked all too familiar. It was Eagle, a rather daunting gay bar that I've visited a couple of times over the years with friends, the last time probably a good five years ago. Three or four levels of exquisite, thematic gayness. Truly, a very entertaining place. I knew only that it was north of the rivers, all these years, having never driven there on my own. I never would have been able to find it, but here it was, a stone's throw from a sewage treatment plant at the acute convergence of a couple of dilapidated streets.

I noted this to MRP, and we slowed a moment while I explained the barely marked building's odd significance as, among other things, one of the very first gay bars I ever visited -- certainly, the first of its over-the-top fetishy ilk -- back when I was still coming to Pittsburgh as a tourist.

MRP indulged me for a moment, and then cut left against a Do Not Enter sign to climb an intimidating hill with crumbling asphalt. There was no choice but to follow. Had my goal been to reach the bridge, it would have been my choice too; my goal, at that point, was to lead MRP to believe that my goal was to reach the bridge, a fine but important distinction.

The hill was pretty rough, and at the top it curved left into an unfamiliar neighborhood that was really rather depressed. Young men stood on porches eyeing suspiciously our slow progress over the peak and down into a small valley; a vicious-looking dog near the bottom of the valley rushed a fence as we passed. At the bottom, another road branched off to the left, and rose quickly at a grade surpassing even Stanton. My stomach sank as MRP withour hesitating turned into it, lifted out of his saddle, and began to climb.

The gmap elevation -- this passage is the sudden crag visible between miles 14 and 15 (you have to scroll right to see it) -- really doesn't do the hill justice. In eighteen months of on-again-off-again riding, almost exclusively on a fixed gear for the past year, it remains a source of pride that I have yet to get off the bike because a hill has gotten the best of me. But on the worst hills, I usually spend the second half of the climb negotiating with myself over whether it would be okay, just this once, to give in, to unseat myself and walk the last little bit. Today, it wasn't so much a negotiation as it was a screaming match, the conflict palpable and adequate to raise veins in my forehead if the exertion hadn't already done so. MRP's inexorable progress a half-block above me, however, furnished enough motivation to hold me in doubt, which was enough to keep me moving, barely.

At the top, winded and entirely drained, having reached the peak of the palisade, we turned right into a gentle grade that took us slowly away from the bridge. Between two houses to the left I spotted the bridge -- below us.

"Dude, we're above the bridge," I panted.

MRP said, "I wondered if you saw that."

A few blocks down, at my suggestion, MRP turned down a dead end to see if we could get a view and figure out how to get to the bridge. The road terminated directly above the intersection at the end of the bridge, and we figured out how to reach it.

The bridge itself was actually quite spacious, and while in our uncertainty we opted for the sidewalk we agreed that in the future that won't be necessary. The sidewalk itself was reasonably clean, except for a few sprays of broken glass, and we stopped at one stanchion to enjoy the view down the Ohio, the circular pools of Alcosan directly below us.

The rest of the ride, once we crossed the bridge, was relatively uneventful. Meandering back upstream, we soon found ourselves on West Carson, which, despite the vaguely uncomfortable rate of travel of the cars at our elbows, actually was relatively smooth and safe. We passed Station Square, and sped through South Side to Southside Works and the Hot Metal bridge, where we crossed over and headed up through Panther Hollow into Oakland.

The rest is familiar. In service of training, I forced myself back up over Stanton, despite my fatigue, and enjoyed a familiar conversation with myself all the way up, which took a while in that I punctuated my slow ascent with several slow-downs to near dead stops for a rotation or two just to get some blood into my thighs and some air into my lungs.

At home, absolutely exhausted, I hit the kitchen before even removing my helmet, where I devoured a quarter-bottle of dry roated peanuts, a glass of water, and a banana, bringing with me upstairs to set up a map and do this write-up a Clif bar and a glass of milk.

I'm still hungry.

The upshot is that I will not be cleaning the house today, as I'd originally planned to do. Indeed, I'll be fortunate to drag myself from this seat and into the shower.

I'm committed to ride to work tomorrow, however, chafed perineum notwithstanding. But I'm none too happy about it.

The Sunday Papers

Last night, Moon was at a fantastic show with, among others, his friend, a reporter for the Post-Gazette. At some point, our discussion turned to our preferences for weekend newspaper, and I confessed, with no small measure of guilt, that I have the Times delivered on the weekends and that's usually it.

Little did I know what I was missing.

Today, the P-G's website, and presumably its print edition, prominently features an article on the trials of contemporary consumer packaging. Hard-hitting news from one of America's last privately owned regional newspapers. After noting that in 2001 more than twice as many people suffered packaging-related injuries than from skateboards and swimming pools combined, the article considers why:

"The loss prevention managers at these big retailers are really the driving forces behind it," [Ken Sullivan, director of marketing for SCA Consumer Packaging,] said. "They're really concerned about gangs of people who come in and scoop up all this kind of stuff."

Of course, "high-visibility packaging" allows thinly staffed big box stores "to showcase products with a minimum of staff involvement," he said. "You just hang it on a peg and let it sell itself, while the employees in blue vests stay busy hiding themselves from the customers."

But in the world of Barbie, words like "theft" and "economics" are no-no's when it comes to the raison d'etre behind her impenetrable packaging. Instead, it's all about -- what else? -- looking good. A spokeswoman for Mattel, which makes Barbie dolls, noted that all those wires and manacles holding Barbie down -- which she delicately referred to as "points of restriction" -- are designed to keep America's favorite doll in great shape during her multi-thousand-mile journey from the overseas factory.

It's not like the Times awaiting me downstairs is going to want for fluff, but packaging? Really?

Friday, March 03, 2006

This House Is Home 9

Since I moved in, the transom over my bedroom door -- clean of paint unlike most of the others -- has made my every passage Damoclean.

The transom is divided, and the left pane (looking out) has a rhombus of glass cleanly broken free of the rest of the pane, two sides the faces of the upper left corner, the two other vertices punctuating the two opposite sides. Even before I moved in, the inch or so offset of the glass in the four-sided figure has begged for tape or removal, remedy. But it has never moved or changed in any way; like everything else in this house, I have assumed a sort of stasis and grown been complacent.

Tonight, clunking upstairs in my cleated bike shoes, braced in lycra and long underwear and neoprene, helmeted, I greeted my roommate unseen in the TV room and headed to my room. I opened the door and as I passed beneath the transom I heard the inimitable sound of glass on glass, a thief's diamond etching a circle in a museum window under cover of night. I completed my stride before turning to see that the transom had turned on its hinge to parallel the floor, and the rhomboid had separated entirely, point down, to rest on the bottom of the frame.

A guillotine stayed. A reprieve. A warning.

School Day

On the corner, beside the mailbox, stood Lowell, his hair a bowl inverted over his head and cocked rakishly to the rear. His cheeks, orotund and kissed rouge by November, resembled those of the squirrels frantically scratching at the base of a tree in the yard behind him, gathering a winter's rations. Like them, he lifted his nose slightly to the wind before noticing my approach, his hair blown momentarily back from his fair brow.

Between bangs and cheeks his eyes safely demurred -- indians, not chiefs. His parka was fisherman green and lined with tawny fur matted and spiked like a stray dog's. Clouds scudded by on their way to sea, and Lowell's eyes danced with the mailbox's bureacratic blue.

My workboots, buckskin with faux leather furls of padding at the achilles, crunched a passel of leaves underfoot, and Lowell of the Squirrels met my wary gaze, a line of evenly clipped hair bracketing his brow like a fitted paintbrush.

I don't remember how we greeted each other then. Certainly, we didn't embrace as is my custom now. At that tender age we did not lower ourselves to share an adult handshake, a complex taste we'd yet to acquire. Maybe we slapped hands; just as likely we stood awkwardly around for a moment, proximity our language, toeing tufts of yellowing grass at the edges of the treacherous flagstone sidewalk, tilted by implied tree roots into angles that might impart flight to a bicycle well aimed.

Too long a shared glance would have pitched us in each others' grappling arms to the foot of the hedges beside, every intimacy an invitation to idle contest, and I would have ended beneath Lowell's much larger frame, braced in babyfat, looming above me with a leering smile, seeking my surrender too long in coming.

I picked a red berry from the yew and pinched it between my bare fingers, rubbing to reveal the tiny pit within, the red pulp one shade too pale to suggest edibility. In the corner of my eye, Lowell's backpack was thinner than my own, I knew, and fit him, while mine, packed and cantilevered out from my lumbar made me feel small, unbalanced, vulnerable.

The wind sent a squall of leaves tumbling dryly across the road, where "Lennon Lives" was scrawled across the wall of the bowling alley, then an incomprehensible legend, a graffito like any other graffito, and I shivered inside my own coat. A hat hid in my hip pocket where it would stay even were a gale to come down from the arctic to embarrass my smarting ears.

Finally, Brent appeared in front of his house up the road and shambled with his charismatic dullard's enthusiasm toward us, a slim Trapper Keeper under his unjacketed arm, a beaming Cheshire smile haunting his fine blonde hair. The tacit ritual repeated itself, expanded by one exponent, and after a time we turned into the wind toward school.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Evolving Tenor of the Smoking Debate

Care of 3QuarksDaily, an article by a physician posits that lung cancer sufferers are the lepers of the twentieth century.

It is a sign of the times that there has been no storm of protest over the increasingly manipulative and moralistic character of anti-smoking propaganda. In the crusade to reduce mortality from smoking it is considered legitimate to exploit the deepest fears of parents and children. While the law seeks to prohibit smoking in public, the new anti-smoking advert seeks to proscribe it in the private sphere, fomenting domestic strife to achieve this objective. At a time when a wide range of civil liberties are under threat it is alarming that the strategy of using children to police their parents' behaviour - reminiscent of totalitarian regimes - provokes so little public disquiet.

The whole article, which isn't terribly long, warrants reading by any smokers and by anyone who's concerned about the degree to which anti-smoking fervor has displaced all semblance of tact in most contexts; people are very nearly comfortable spitting on smokers (and I speak from experience; the vitriol is sometimes astounding) and in general denigrating those addicted to tobacco in a way they'd blanche to see anyone denigrate, say, an alcoholic, an also-deadly, also-safety-jeopardizing addiction that garners considerably more sympathy than opprobrium.

If to No One Else, At Least I'm Predictable to Myself

Thanks go to non-blogger Rachel, who directed me to this gem of a quiz.

take the WHAT BAD BOOK ARE YOU test.

and go to not as good as reading a good book, but way better than a bad one.

When I started this test, I thought, "Watch me draw Lot 49." This book was huge for me as an undergrad, and remains one of my avowed faves, notwithstanding that it violates one of my principal rules for identifying worthy books in that it doesn't read aloud, whether in whole or in part, terribly well, and notwithstanding its intrinsic pretentiousness.

I still recommend it to people, too, precisely as it was recommended to me: find a quiet place, start it at 11 pm or so, and read it through in one sitting. I read it in the empty, silent living room of a vacation rental on the East End of Long Island, the night and the bay blackly invisible behind the reflective picture window but for a few lights faintly glowing on the opposite shore. It was like having a nightmare without the inconvenience of having to fall asleep first.

I haven't tagged people with memes in a while, but because I'm very curious about what other books are there, I'm going to today. Majikthise, Emily, Michael, and the folks at Bloodless Coup -- you're up.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Mind the Gap

Just posting this as filler to let you know that a graphic posted below has, at least for some of you, created a big air bubble above it. Scroll down for more nonsense.

UPDATE: This post now is somewhere between superfluous and a total non sequitur. Know what? I don't care. You're reading it anyway.

MoonOver[Your State Here]

[UPDATE: Graphic removed, because I refuse to let a stupid quiz ruin the formatting on my weblog. For the record though, among the continental United Staes I'm almost perfect east of the Mississippi (omitting only Illinois and Indiana), and west of the Mississippi I have visited only Michigan (well, that's not really west of the Mississippi, but whatever -- I'm American, ergo I suck at geography), Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and California. Or something like that. Like I said, graphic removed, but feel free to play with yourself. Really. Do.]

create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

Why "Crash" Shouldn't Win the Oscar

Armand and I over at Bloodless have been having fun upbraiding Crash as pretty much the most overrated Best Picture odds-on favorite ever, but Matt Zoller Seitz just nails it beautifully. A tip of the hat to Armand.

I'm also going to pat myself on the back for posting the Afterschool Special observation here over a week before Zoller Steitz did, when I wrote:

My whole problem with the movie is that it doesn't show racism as being all that complex, unless complex equals nothing more than pervasiveness and brazenness. I'll grant that it doesn't play heavy favorites, but it also uses a bunch of extreme archetypes to supposedly hem at the more subtle, insidious stuff that really plagues us. The racists you can see aren't nearly as problematic as the ones you can't. Everyone's racism in Crash was on such display that they might have been drug using jocks in an afterschool special, and though the movie had its moments overall it felt like nothing so much as an afterschool special for adults: hectoring, pedantic, and predictable.

Zoller Steitz says it way better, in any event.

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