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, April 27, 2006

Time Out

The furnace kicks on, belatedly heeding my injunction electronically transmitted. I do not know it's language. I do know, however, how to goad the translator. Sixty-two degrees is all I ask. Sixty-two degrees -- in the dining room, at least, with whatever that connotes for this most drafty corner of the house, my writing table nestled in the corner of my bedroom bracketed by windows that admit nearly as much daylight through the crenellated rot in their sashes as through their murky glass.

An epigraph, apt perhaps only to me:

I'd forgotten. Maybe I'd never known. He sang in that empty packinghouse as I hadn't heard him sing since childhood. Every nub in his sound had been burned away, all impurity purged. He'd found a way at last to transmute baseness back into first essence. Some part of him had already left this earth. My brother, the prizewinner, the lieder recorder, the soloist with symphonies, had found his resounding no. He sang Perotin, someting we'd had in school only as history, the still-misshapen homunculus of things to come. But in Jonah, all stood inverted: more good in the bud than in the full flowering. He'd found he freshness of always, of almost. He made that vast backward step sound like a leap ahead. The whole invention of the diatonic, everything after music's gush of adolesence had been a terrible mistake. He hewed as closely to a tube of wood or brass as the human voice allowed. His Perotin turned the abandoned warehouse into a Romanesque crypt, the sound of a continent still turned in upon itself for another sleeping century before its expansion and ouward contact. His long, modal, slowly turning lines clashed and resolved against no harmony but themselves, pointing the way down a reachable infinity.

The quote is from Richard Powers, deep into the twilight of The Time of Our Singing, page 529 in the Picador trade paperback, far deeper than its poetry should last, but there it is, waiting patiently for each discovery, none so precious as the first, Powers sitting back one afternoon at his computer, rubbing his fingers absently and considering -- Yes, that's it.

At the office this evening, alone after quitting time, I stood from my ineffectual writing, today a labor more Herculean than quotidian, and contemplated the city fallen before me, hundreds of feet down, cars like beads of mercury reasoning in faltering rhythms their ways through constricted grooves attended by insects to absorb into their plump insides, flat roofs graveled over, two rivers made one to run away like the time in every clock I see, whether blinking, ticking, or carving fluid circles in a shallow circular terrarium, metaphors for the ineffable, all of it, of them.

My palms pressed against the glass, I allowed it to resist my falling, a fantasy of weightlessness humming in my core. Unsatisfied, I leaned forward until the full of my chest rested against the glass, which held me with the indifference of one turning to a lesser task. I cannot pen my own story, can neither spin it in gossamer radial rhombuses of words nor fence it in like livestock.

Walking across town, injured shoulder throbbing with a day at the keyboard like a day hammering nails, I gagged on a poem of melancholy. A rejection of blues and grays in the poetry of sadness; a celebration, in its place, of the vividness of solitude, colors knocked off their banal foundations in a shockwave of alienation. Neon neon enough to define neon. The blue border of a posted notice commanding concentration. The atmosphere of sound resolved to order, one conversation to the next, ears like radio telescopes corraling distant messages or tricking static into nonsense facsimile.

Depression is poetry's bad penny. I will not be complicit in its gathering in the bottom of clothes dryers, between cushions, in gutters too valueless to stoop for. I will not stoop. Poetry doesn't need me; it never has.

A backyard, Glenlivet and a cigar, San Luis Rey, sweetish with a mild finish, a hint of something I lack the vocabulary to describe, another language unlearned. But I need no words to enjoy the murky traffic cone luster of its smoldering end, the swirl of smoke eddying around my tongue tingling with tobacco and peat, alive like no other part of me. My Sybaritic essence, distilled.

On my lap I persist in reading a Richard Russo short story I already recognize as an episode from his novel Straight Man, and I try not to feel cheated by the editorial padding, recycling having its place in art . . . and in marketing. And of course a first collection of short stories that emerges long after a novelist has emerged has more to do with marketing than with art.

Upon finishing the story, unfinished when the bus slowed to my stop, I returned to the Powers, and a book I have plodded through for months now, savoring, resisting its inevitable end by reading in sips, as I enjoy the scotch, mulling without haste.

On the street and alley my property connects like the crossbar of a stylized H, someone is always throwing someone else out in a public ritual of shunning alien to my suburban instinct for decorum. Dirty children play unidentifiable contact sports in the untended property two lots over.

An errant ball thudded on the roof of my patio which shed it like water to bounce on the concrete of my neighbor's patio. I eyed its downward trajectory until it came to rest against the low chainlink fence that divides my neighbor's property from mine. I looked up to the children and found one towheaded boy to meet my gaze, daring me to betray my age with an angry injunction. I refused his invitation, determined to remember my own childhood, content that my home, rickety though it often seems, would bear the incursion stoically.

Down the alley, a woman yelled "Get the fuck out then!" with the practiced ease of a leading lady in the third act of a production's final performance, already mindful of her next part, which on paper looks like more of the same.

The grass I have seeded bursts from beneath the overturned clogs of weed and exhausted soil in slim walls of artificial green, the turnedup undersides of the prior yard bare and accusatory. In one patch, the blades number only in the dozens, despite hundreds of seeds. I have probably done something wrong, another task incomplete. I am surrounded with evidence of my impatience. I trail it like a wake behind me.

I live amid mysteries of my own invention for another's gleaning. But whose?

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Caffeinator Makes the Trib

At least, it made the online edition.

Renegade Cyclists [--Ladies, Avert Your Eyes--] Stay Edgy. Guess they didn't get the memo that the three people who put the race on were professionals, two of them married with kids. Ditto, more or less, the additional volunteers.

Renegade. Funny. Still, in some respects, the article hit true notes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fib #1 (Over the Bars)***

i lie prone.
fear looms, pain pending
official video review.

*** "Fibs" evidently are the New Thing.

Right Hook

I'm laying on the street at the corner of Penn and 33d, Susan beside me, looking up at the bumper and grille of a big old Lexus. Lexus, the car I'd been focusing on when it all went to shit. My head having lifted without incident, I begin to pick myself up, bringing my knees up beneath me. And then the Lexus honks. It fucking honks. Fucking car.

I find my feet, stand up and swivel to face the car. "FUCK YOU!," I yell, in my best Jersey snarl.

My point having been made, I bend down to retrieve Susan, raking her upright by her steering tube, and dragging her and myself to the curb where I set her down gently. The Lexus hasn't moved, and the driver has gotten out, already on his cellphone to 911 or the police. He's gesturing at the phone and looking at me: "Do you need a medic?" he asks. He actually uses the word "medic."

It's a really good question; I don't know. I go back over the fall in my head. I was taking it easy this morning, first time on the bike after an 85-mile weekend, and I eased through Lawrenceville quietly and without incident, my legs spry and quickening to the brisk morning air. I shot a couple of narrow openings at moderate speed, nothing special, and as I reached 34th Street, where Penn and Butler merge, I picked up the pace, using the gentle downslope to set the cadence for my run into the Strip District.

Traffic was backed up from 32d Street, but the line of cars was moving only slightly slower than I was. I know 33d Street is a dangerous intersection, because cars tend to make last-minute rights to slide over to Smallman for the ride downtown. I'm the sort of driver who makes decisions like that on the fly, based on what's going on directly in front of me, and I've seen others do the same -- jumping out of the line of traffic when they draw even with the turn, unsignaled right turns, lethal.

Let me repeat: I know Penn and 33d is a dangerous intersection.

As I near 33d, however, I'm focusing on the wrong car, a Lexus. I'm at his quarterpanel, in his blindspot, as I near the intersection and I deliberately add some speed to bring myself up to his fender, where I'll be in his field of view. Most people hit only what they don't see; being seen is everything.

Thing is, while bringing myself clearly into his field of view, I've put myself on the quarterpanel of the vehicle in front of him, a silver metallic Chevy Trailblazer, and now the intersection is upon us.

And just like that, more or less at once, Trailblazer signals right and cuts hard for 33d. As soon as the wheels turn in, I know this is it, that first, inevitable, nasty fall on a city street. I've been waiting for it, sanguine. But with it upon me I fight, I don't want it.

My instincts are good by now, and I've been in situations nearly this nasty before and gotten out of them in one piece and still on two wheels. I lift out of the saddle in automatic mode and lock the rear wheel; this sort of skidding is one of my peculiar strengths on the fixie, not just the skidding but the angling of the skid, stopping on a dime, literally sliding into a motionless stance, balanced. But skidding is not a terribly efficient way to stop, and I'm sliding way too fast and Trailblazer's not moving out of my path nearly fast enough. I've violated the principal rule of riding in the city: I have no obvious out.

At this point, a few things happen at once. One, I remember that I have a brake, now, something I use so seldom I tend to forget it's there. My right hand slides up the bar to it and clamps down. Two, I sense perhaps enough daylight to take the sharp right with Trailblazer, between it and the curb. I might strike a pedal, but that will either not upset me or put me on the ground most likely behind Trailblazer. I can also lean into Trailblazer, a maneuver I've never tried but I've heard tell of; it's not the sort of thing one practices idly, invention born of necessity, rather.

I'm still weighing these options, skidding, clamped down on the brake and drawing ever so near the car when the rear wheel hops up behind me and hits me in the ass. This is so remote from anything good, especially as I'm now nearly on top of the Trailblazer; it signals loss of control. The wheel touches down briefly, but it's right up behind me again because now I'm pretty much in Trailblazer's backseat and my right hand is doing what millions of firing neurons and ganglia, one for each year of the evolutionary history coded into my DNA, tell it to do -- Squeeeeeeeze.

I'm airborne and tumbling, until finally, heels over rear, I crunch to the pavement on some combination of left hand, left shoulder, and cranium.

Of course, Moon rides with a helmet, which a) protects against severe brain injury, something we all know Moon cannot afford, and b) makes a really creepy sound when striking pavement at high speed under a substantial amount of weight, a striated crunch that suggests medical halos and spinal injury.

This catches us up, no? Right.

So now I'm on the sidewalk, Lexus man asking whether I need an ambulance, and two or three others who saw the fall milling around me in kind concern for my health. They're all ashen. I glean from this fact, and the fact that Lexus evidently called 911 before my body came to full rest on the pavement, that whatever just happened to me must have looked really scary. Clipped into the pedals, of course, when I go flying the bike flies with me; we probably both, Susan and I, flew through the air for a half-second and fell hard in a tangle of steel and flesh. Poor Susan. I pity the bystanders; I, too, would be appalled to witness something like that. I'm reminded of an unbiked motorcyclist I once watched slide across perhaps 60 feet of sidewalk and a few yards of grass before coming to an abrupt stop against a chainlink fence. He stood and brushed himself off that long-ago afternoon, just as I'm doing now.

The adrenaline hits, with the pain sure to follow. I'm up, I can feel my extremities, I don't have any obvious symptoms suggesting head injury except for the creeping sense of abstraction that attends surprise trauma. A youngish woman, pretty and petite in too much makeup and a suit so purple it prompts me to second-guess my initial diagnosis of my lack of head injury, is especially concerned. "Are you sure you're okay?" she presses, in a tone of voice suggesting that she won't believe any answer I give her.

"Yeah. Maybe." I shake my head, hands on hips, and turn my back on her, looking back up Penn as though I might run back the tape, analyze what went wrong, figure out why everyone looks so freaked out. There's no conscious decision on my part to shout, but there it is, a throaty yawp rumbling up from somewhere deep inside me and climbing skyward. Frustration, pain, fear, adrenaline -- I am, as they say, jacked up. It almost feels good. Almost.

It's probably just as well that Trailblazer's driver didn't stop. I don't think the driver saw what happened behind him or her anyway, because anyone with that much car has a corresponding amount of insurance and a sense of duty to match. I'm not saying Trailblazer shouldn't have seen or shouldn't have stopped. But Trailblazer didn't. And I'm over it.

Three strangers pacing with nervous looks on their faces wait behind me, at once relying on me for their cues and suspicious of any cues I offer, and then a vision emerges on the horizon, an old attorney on his bike, a man who works in my building and rides to work often, whom I've come to know only just by name, call him Steve, in his sixties I imagine or older, an old-school athlete with the soul if not the resume or the frame of a boxer. He rolls up on his old but lovingly maintained roadbike and dismounts, his tall slender body an aging geometrical testimony, points and lines and angles more fluid than his proportions suggest they would be, at home in his age.

A site for sore eyes.

In the ensuing few minutes, Steve's aura of responsibility and his personal familiarity with me combined with my continuing protestations that I don't need an ambulance, don't need a cop, really don't need anything but the time to figure out what's broken and how to fix it, have convined the others, all with places to go, to move on. I make an effort to pat each on the arm, look each of them in the eye, thank them for their kind concern. I don't take names. There's some discussion of Trailblazer, but I assure them that I was at least as in the wrong as Trailblazer was, that my fall may not have been evident to the driver, that I've got good coverage should anything come up and am not much inclined to sue in any event.

Steve says something to one of them about being my lawyer. Than adds that I'm a lawyer too. Soon after, they all meander off. Infer from that what you will.

The rest warrants recounting only in summary. We righted Susan to see if she was still in order, and discovered that the front wheel was out of joint. With no obvious bends, however, I immediately suspect that the axle has just shifted in the drop-out, which would explain why the tire is rubbing one side of the fork. I make as though to continue my ride, and I'm not just gesturing -- it seems like the right thing to do. Steve, balks. "I think you should go to the hospital, let them check you out," he says. I'm ambivalent.

All I can think, at first, is "I have things to do." But I'm not just banged up, I realize belatedly, or at least I can't assume, based on available data, that I'm just banged up. As the adrenaline slowly diffuses into my system, I discover that I'm in a lot of pain, most of it in and radiating from my left shoulder, which hit hardest in the fall.

I test my left arm, raise it above my head, and my body buckles beneath it. For the first time, the depth of the pain registers. This isn't a mere contusion, whatever else it is, and my arm really isn't all right in any conventional sense of that word.

"The ER, maybe," I concede, still hesitant.

"You should go," Steve reaffirms. "Can we get you a cab?" Steve asks. "Do you have a phone?" I say I've got money, then return to my bag to check that my phone hasn't been crushed. It's in fine working order. I look into my wallet skeptically. Steve much catch my look. Instantly, his wallet's out: "Just let me lend you $40," he says, withdrawing the bills.

"No. Thank you. Really. Just help me lock up the bike and I'll take it from here. No concussion, I swear," I say, and offer a smile designed to dissuade any alternative diagnosis, a smile that surely doesn't reach my eyes. I'm not much for smiling just now.

It then dawns on me that my roommate probably is only just now leaving the house. He has a wagon and a flexible schedule. I call. Tell him the minimum. Ask for a ride to the hospital. He agrees, of course.

Steve, however, keeps company until Roomie arrives, and helps me deal with a police officer. Evidently, the Lexus guy was on the phone long enough with 911 that they decided it would be best to send a badge to the site to sniff around. She, too, was wonderful; she encouraged me to file a just-in-case report, and took as much information as I had about the car. Candidly, I explained my complicity in the accident, and she sucked her teeth disapprovingly but not judgmentally.

I fish into my bag for my cigarettes. I need one.

Two hours later, leaving Presby, the verdict: nothing broken, nothing torn, a knee badly bruised and a shoulder pretty well relieved of its skin and swollen to within an inch of its life. My left arm feels like someone's pulling down on it pretty much any time I stand and let it hang, but I've been worse.

I'll be at work tomorrow, and back on Susan no later than Friday. And perhaps I'll be more cautious, or perhaps not. While today's misstep wouldn't have happened had I been more cautious, there's a fine line between dumb bad luck and recklessness, and today's fall bestrides it. That said, if I am nervous I'll allow it, hold back, for a while at least.

End of story.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Backyard Blogging

New rites of spring: training on Susan, seeing what I can do to improve the quality of my backyard. Tonight, from work I rode out the jail trail, up into Oakland, across Squirrel Hill to Beechwood and then out Beechwood almost to the High Level Bridge, whereupon I started home, climbing up through Squirrel Hill (Moon's single; when choosing between any number of routes, only three factors come into play -- distance, climbing, and the concentration of pretty girls dressed for spring), then cutting across Forbes into Point Breeze, and taking the direct route home through East Liberty and over Stanton. A tidy 18 miles or so, which I rode at an average of 12.23 miles per hour.

And how I know that brings me to a bit of housekeeping. I've been largely silent lately, because I haven't been posting my rides. I didn't want this to become a site where I monitor my training, principally because it would give me yet another excuse to avoid writing novel material that speaks to the real stuff, whatever that may be. Fortunately, Moon's friend from college has started WeEndure, a site dedicated to tracking endurance athletes' training miles in a variety of sports. Now, I'm not endurance athlete, but I've been making a passable showing of late, and the site provides ample opportunity for me to document my travels. From now on, those of you interested in keeping an eye on what I'm up to on two wheels can monitor Moon's WeEndure page. I'll be setting up a WeEndure badge and a direct link to my page there shortly.

The nicest thing about today's ride is each climb seemed more manageable than the one that preceded it, hence I was positively sanguine about climbing Murray from Forward to the top, and when I crested Stanton on the way home my breathing wasn't ragged and I never even slowed, as has been my tendency, as I crested and began down the other side. Indeed, the whole thing was somewhat routine. That's not to say today's ride home didn't come with its share of pain; climbing Forbes from Oakland was no picnic, and climbing the hill on Shady between Monitor and Forward was a bastard. But right after that I was on Murray, and everything was okay.

I had so much energy that at home I filled a glass of water, changed into flip-flops, and watered the lawn (not that you asked, but if the pathetic limp nodding of the dandelions is any indication, the weedkiller's doing its thing). No muss, no fuss, no wheezing collapse.

I'm a bit backlogged on things I want to post here, but for now the battery weakens and the sky dims. I should head in and do something -- shower, eat, sit on the couch with the cool breeze from outside drifting through the house through windows that just days ago were shielded with plastic that crackled and pulled in drafts.

It's been a beautiful day, and the night that now falls like a gently lofted top sheet is brisk and bracing.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

In Keeping With the Theme

Others in my circle have been writing about cycling lately, and I thought I'd throw them some linkage.

First, Michael has a run-in with a pizza delivery guy, and Stephie mocks him mercilessly for linking his ubertrendy Chrome bag.

Matt's going off-road, big time, that crazy bastard. He's just jealous that he can't join the lot of us riding the MS 150 fixed in June. Of course, he says he's going to run Arizona's counterpoint in November, but we'll see. Show off.

Brian writes evocatively of a long ride home, and also gives a way a bit about the upcoming Caffeinator alleycat, which is turning out to be a bit shorter, if run efficiently, than we at first anticipated.

Emily's got a problem with cyclist graffiti at the law school, and turns her post into a longer rumination culminating in this apt observation:

look, part of the problem is that cyclists and motorists are engaged in this weird competitive, combative struggle for who gets the road. it's the whole entitlement thing. people, people, PEOPLE!!! where in the FUCK did we as a culture go so astray that we're convinced that we get to act like assholes because we think we're entitled to certain things? it's really quite retarded. and it's totally unproductive and inefficient. you know the street signs that say "share the road"? um, duh! it's about SHARING the road. the street isn't for cars only. it's not for bikes only. this is my issue with the critical mass rides -- they end up pissing drivers off because the cyclists act like morons and basically cut off access to the streets to motorists. what does this accomplish? how are we working towards awareness of reasonable alternatives if all we're doing is alienating groups that really have no reason not to co-exist peacefully?

Elsewhere, however, she excoriates cyclists who "act like jackasses, cut off motorists, ride really irresponsibly, and behave as if they're entitled to this sort of activity." I'm sure she doesn't have me in my mind, but as my writing here attests, I have my moments. The way I see it, cycling's reward isn't just the salutary effect it has on the world and my body, but also the opportunity to take short cuts. I drive hard and sometimes I cycle hard. It's not entirely responsible, but then I've never claimed to be an entirely responsible person.

Finally, David explains why he's done with fixed gears, in an engaging counterpoint to the current trend toward single-speeds of various stripe, especially given his credibility as a former courier and serious competitive cyclist.

* * *

Yesterday, I was fiddling with my bike outside the doctor's office in Oakland before heading in, and a salty old black man came up to me and asked after the bike. Without asking my permission, he tested its weight while I watched to make sure he didn't scrape it against the meter post to which I'd u-locked it. He was relatively gentle, and he commented on how light Susan was. I smiled, and said, "No gears," gesturing at the rear hub.

"Why you got no gears?"

"Fewer moving parts. Lighter. Simpler."

"How you get up hills?"

"Work. Hard. But I get up them faster."

"Man I'm not seein' that."

"It's a thing. Not for everyone."

"Why don't you have two brakes?"

"Don't need them. Front brake's mostly a back-up anyway. Didn't have any hand brake for most of the winter." I tried to explain how direct drive works on a bike.

"Not me. I like old bikes. Got me a bunch of him. Schwinns. Good bikes. I like old Schwinns. I've got one with 28" tires. Stands about this tall." He held out his hand at the height of his sternum, comparable to mine.

"There's no way you can ride that."

"Sure do."

"How do you get on it?" My turn to be surprised.


"Oh well," I said. "I'd better head in."

He smiled and returned my farewell, then turned to walk down Forbes, looking over his shoulder once to look upon Susan once more, shaking his head slightly.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Variations: Oakland Morning

This morning, sunny and mild. This evening, blustery and cold. Today's commute was only a couple of miles longer than my usual ride, but normally I don't climb a hill like Main less than a mile from home. I'm not sure what was creaking louder, my bottom bracket or my legs.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

And Dave Wanted to Ask for Directions at Mile 6 With the River In View

Of course, he got shouted down, and in any event, the woman he hoped to stop seemed fearful of five cyclists in lycra and shorts and messenger bags. This was on the cobbles at the foot of Logan, one of the Dirty Dozen and so steep that several of us decided that rather than burning through our brakes in one ragged descent it would be more prudent to walk our bikes down. The thought of climbing the hill was almost comical. If it isn't the worst or second worst (after Rialto) of the Dozen, especially given its length (first half miserable; second half so steep I was worried I'd somersault over the handlebars before I dismounted the bike, at which point I started worrying that my feet would slide out from under me), I'd really love to know what rates higher.

Yesterday's ride was a bit of a mess. More than once we stopped to regroup and dither about whether we were heading the wrong way, more than once one or two of us found himself out of sight of the others and had to wait, twice phone calls were required to reunite, and several times we doubled back on our path to get back on track. The roads north of the city were entirely unfamiliar to me on a bike, and only marginal more familiar from driving expeditions, though our jaunt through Millvale did recall my very first weekend visiting Pittsburgh, between eight and nine years ago, which got me wondering about moving here.

With only one of the more notable doubling's back recorded, the tally is just about 30 miles, the last mile or so ridden by Dave and me alone after two beers and some minor carb loading (potato skins; no bacon) at Lot 17. But it was a hard 30 at an aggressive pace, notwithstanding a certain amount of hurry up and wait.

Messy or no, it was a lot of fun, Andrew, Aaron, Dave, and new riding partner Nathan, powering through the slight chill of a moist and cloudy April Fools Day, the wind playing us like big brass instruments.

UPDATE: Just thought I'd add, as much for me as for anyone else, that with standard 4-mile each way commutes factored in to last week's perfect five days of riding, my week's mileage came to 79 miles.

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