Thar she blows

November 28, 2014 § 17 Comments

When I was in 3rd Grade I rode my bike to school with Jeff McMahon. In Texas we pronounced it “Mack-Mu-Hon.” I was a middle class kid and Jeff’s family was pretty redneck but we didn’t know it meant anything that one of us lived in a house and the other of us lived in a trailer, and we were friends because we were both in Mrs. Opal Smith’s class and took the same route to school.

Whether you were a middle class kid or a redneck, in those days every boy in Texas had a handkerchief. A handkerchief, along with a pocket knife, was one of the earliest symbols of manhood. You don’t hardly see it anymore, but older men, especially in the country, would make a big deal out of blowing their noses. It was as manly as scratching your nuts, only manlier, because you could only scratch your nuts with other guys whereas you could blow your nose anywhere, and you did.

There was a whole ritual to it that fascinated every southern boy who ever lived. You’d be sitting in the middle of dinner and Ol’ Grandpa would reach into his back pocket and pull out a big colored handkerchief the size of a bedsheet, turn his head a little to the side, and blow his nose.

You could tell by the length and the force of the blow, as well as by the sounds of mucous as it issued forth, whether it was “a good ‘un” or not. Then Ol’ Grandpa would take the wadded up hankie, which was now filled with so much snot and boogers that if he’d blown anything else his head would have caved it, and unfold the hankie like he was reading the newspaper to take a brief look at his creation.

If you were sitting next to Ol’ Grandpa you’d try to sneak a glance to see if it was “a good ‘un,” and if you were lucky you’d get a glimpse of some big old green clump of snot just before he’d fold up the hankie and stick it back into his pocket. No one thought it was nasty beyond belief or abnormal in the least. Just stick that ol’ snot-filled pillowcase back into your pants and sit on it for a while until you needed another big blow.

I still remember when I got my first set of hankies. Granny picked up a set of three at the Ben Franklin Five and Dime, a blue set for me and a brown set for my brother. We tore open the packages and blew our noses on the soft cotton until our noses hurt, but since we didn’t smoke or have a cold, our mucous was always clear and white, and when we’d do the unfold-and-check it was always disappointing to see that we hadn’t been able to blast out one of those green monsters.

One morning Jeff and I were riding to school and he took out his hankie and blew his nose. “I got a danged cold,” he said, making a big deal out of his blow.

“Yeah, me too,” I said, and counter-blew. By this time I was using white hankies because they showed up the results better. We both checked our results, riding no-hands of course, and then stuffed the hankies back in our pockets.

The bell rang and we went into class. Mrs. Smith was a stickler for politeness and proper language, which was a source of endless frustration because of all the little rednecks in her class. She also forbade talking unless you raised your hand. Jeff, who was the nicest little Baptist redneck you ever saw, never cussed or caused trouble. He was one of those shy kids who wanted to blend in, and he did.

Mrs. Smith had her back to the class and was writing something on the blackboard, when Jeff took out his hankie and gave it a little blow. Mrs. Smith heard the noise and spun around. “Did you say something, Jeff?” she snapped.

“Why, no ma’am,” he said.

“Well I heard you say something. What did you say?”

“Oh, I didn’t say nothin’ Miz Smith. That was just m’snot rag.”

“Your what?” her face froze. “What did you say?”

Jeff, who had probably never heard the word “handkerchief” before, calmly repeated himself. “I said it was m’snot rag, Miz Smith.”

All hell broke loose as every boy broke out into hysterical laughter and the girls shrieked and giggled and he almost got sent to the principal. It was only towards the end of Mrs. Smith’s excoriation that he even realized that “snot rag” wasn’t something he was supposed to say. Then his ears turned bright red and he hung his head in shame. We all thought he was going to cry, but he didn’t.

On the way home he turned to me. “If I cain’t say snot rag, what’m I sposed to call the dang thing?” he asked.

“I dunno,” I said. “We always call it a handkerchief at our house. Or a hankie.”

“A hankie? Sounds like a durned girl.”

From that day on, Jeff stopped carrying a snot rag. I did, too.



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November 27, 2014 § 44 Comments

Sometimes I wonder what to write, but not today. This one is easy.

My blog gets about 1,037 visitors per day. Some of the visitors read what’s here, some of the visitors take the extra step to comment, and some of the visitors take what is much, much more than an “extra step.” They send me $2.99 a month and become subscribers.

What do subscribers get that no one else gets? In terms of content, services, or other tangible things … well, nothing.

But it is the subscribers who keep me going.

People who fiction do pretty much the same thing, whether they’re great, good, mediocre, or terrible. We channel the vagaries inside our heads, the strangeness of our daily lives, and the wonders of existence into words.

I don’t know why I do it, but I do know this: When people, the vast majority of whom are strangers, send me $2.99 each month to thank me for my efforts, everything I do and write feels worthwhile. Is it strange that satisfaction and self-worth are so cheap? Not to me, because it’s not cheap at all. Rather, it’s an act of incredible kindness and generosity.

Plus, $2.99 fits squarely inside my “money value matrix.” When people are talking about whether “x” amount of money is “worth it,” I always ask this question. “Would I bend over to pick it up if it was lying on the sidewalk?” Since I would pick up even a penny if it was lying on the sidewalk, $2.99 is a whole $2.98 more than my minimum estimation of “Is it worth it?”

The other side of the satisfaction I get from your contribution is obligation. It’s a bit of a challenge at times to crank out 1,000 words on a daily basis, more or less limited to the topic of “Cycling in the South Bay,” and to make sure that in each post there are no glaring misspellings or egregious grammatical bloopers that rouse the ire of Billy Stone. In fact, the challenge is at times so great that I’m tempted to just say “Fugg it” and be done with the whole thing.

But I don’t, and that’s because of you, who send me your monthly $2.99. That money means something to you, and you earned it somehow, and you went through the horrible experience of interfacing with PayPal to set up your subscription.

That money means something to me, too. It means that you value what I do. You value it more than one of these, the same as one of these, but slightly less than one of these. And what makes your contribution even more meaningful to me is that you give it when you could simply keep reading for free.

And finally, your gift makes my lifelong dream real by turning me into what I’ve always wanted to be: A professional writer.

Thank you.




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Freshie pokes

November 26, 2014 § 15 Comments

“You’re gonna die,” my brother said with grim satisfaction. I looked at the horrible purple bruises up and down his arms.

“What happened?”

“Freshie pokes,” he said with a smile. “Every time an upperclassman sees you the first week of class you get a freshie poke. Feels like this.” He hauled off and socked my arm as hard as he could. He clinically studied the tears that began welling up in my eyes to make sure he’d hit me hard enough and I wasn’t faking it. “Only about a thousand times worse. And it goes on all week.”

“All week?” I mumbled, lip trembling.

“Yeah, unless they peg you as dork meat. Then it goes on all year.”

The next year, 1976, it was my turn to start at Jane Long Junior High School. That entire summer I had dreaded the first week of school. “Ready for your freshie pokes?” my brother would say just before pounding my arm a few times.

The first day of school came and I went to the bus stop with my brother. He had long hair and was a tough guy. There were a few guys on the bus who looked even tougher, but no one gave me a freshie poke. I wondered if I would cry. “Probably,” I figured, looking at the size of the guys on the bus.

I stayed as close to my brother as I could until the bell rang. “See ya, dork,” he said. There were several big hairy guys dishing out freshie pokes in the hallways, but somehow they missed me as I scurried, terrified, from class to class.

After school I went into dad’s study. “I want to ride my bike to school,” I said.

“Okay.” He hardly looked up from his typewriter, a huge desktop Remington with no letters on the keys.

“I need a backpack.”

He looked up. “A what?”

“A backpack. I can’t carry my books to school on my bike without a backpack.”

In 1976, no one used a backpack for books. Instead, kids used these things called hands. And for a guy there was only one proper way to carry your books and binders, and it was under your arm, with one hand. Girls could use two hands and hold them out front. If you were a guy and you tried to hold your books out in front with two hands, even if you had a hundred of them, you would have been instantly beaten to death.

There was only one place you could get a backpack, and that was at a camping store. And backpacks weren’t for kids to take to school, they were for backpacking. I knew I was going to look stupid and would probably get punched up one side and down the other, but it seemed safer to go by bike, where I could time my arrivals and departures, than to have to run the bus’s freshie poke gauntlet.

Dad drove me down to a camping store by the Galleria. It was very unusual for my parents to buy me something unless it was Christmas or my birthday which, economically for them, fell on the same day. We picked out a little brownish-orange knapsack made by a company called Wilderness Experience. It was waterproof and had a little buckle thingy that you could strap around your waist to keep it from sloshing from one side to the other. The whole contraption screamed “Bash my face in.”

The next morning I aired up the tires on my Murray 10-speed, rolled up my pant leg, slung on my backpack, and cinched the “Punch Me” belt. It felt beautiful, riding my bike on my second day of school. No hanging around the bus stop, no bus gauntlet to deal with, only cars honking and trying to kill me, which wasn’t nearly as bad as a freshie poke. My commute went from an hour to twenty minutes.

I locked up my bike, unhooked the Punch Me cinch, and tried to jauntily sling the backpack over one shoulder, as if that would somehow deflect from the fact that I was going to be the only kid in a thousand with an orange dorkpack. As I walked through the giant blue gates, gates that were barred and looked like a prison entry, kids noticed, in the way they always do. No one has sharper eyes than a kid.

I stood at the main doors, praying for the bell to ring. My heart was pounding. About that time the buses began discharging kids, and an extremely mean looking, blonde redneck began striding towards me, grinning as he balled his fist. He had freckles and a chipped front tooth. “Freshie poke!” he said as his pals watched, laughing.

The redneck let loose with a punch. The last thing I saw was his fist and its giant knuckles, speeding towards my tender, bony arm. “Just don’t cry, dork,” I told myself. I flinched and twisted to the side, causing my backpack to shift around my shoulder. At the moment of impact his ham-sized hand slammed into the edge of my backpack and the sharp plastic edge of the oversized binder that I’d crammed in on top.

The force of the blow twisted me around and almost knocked me down, but it didn’t hurt and no one noticed. Redneck was holding his hand, limp, first cursing, then crying, then moaning in piteous agony. He’d broken two fingers.

The bell rang and I scurried indoors. I’m pretty sure I’m the only freshman in the Jane Long Junior High School Bicentennial Entering Class of ’76 who never got a freshie poke.



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Gingerly stepping back from the brink

November 25, 2014 § 36 Comments

I still remember that fall-off-the-wagon drink. It was at the finish of the first Belgian Waffle Ride. After three years of abstinence it was the best thing I’ve ever had, before or since.

The way the cold ale rolled down my throat was unforgettable, every nerve in my body poised and prepped and quivering to receive that alcohol buzz, the buzz that turned into a roar, and the roar that turned into obliteration. That was 2012, and a lot of bottles have been emptied since then.

My life with alcohol was never very exceptional. Everyone in my family drank. Everyone except me. We never had DUI’s, or drunken family punchouts, but there always seemed to be a pretty solid buzz going on almost anytime after five o’clock.

Alcohol didn’t mix with me because I didn’t like the taste; it was pretty simple. When I lived in Germany, the first day there a friend got me drunk on Kolsch and the next morning I vomited all over the bus stop. So, no more Kolsch. Then a friend invited me to her vacation home in Bernkastel, and she introduced me to German white wine. That, I liked. I was 25, and had gone through college never having had a beer or a hangover.

When we moved to Japan in 1992 I gradually started drinking sake, and then wine, until I became like my Texas family. After work I’d flip the buzz switch, sit back, and get my obliteration on. It never took much. After one bottle of wine I would be blotto. Compared to heavy-hitting drunks, I’ve always been a lightweight.

Then I quit drinking for five years. It made my friends upset, and my wife even more so because when I’m sober I’m neither fun nor nice. Booze seems to be the only thing that brings out the fun in me, so after five years I began drinking again. Then I stopped for three years. Then … Belgian Waffle Ride, 2012.

That’s when I realized how perfectly bikes and beer complement each other. Some of the best days of my life have involved an arduous pedal followed by great beer. The exercise and dehydration accelerate the onrushing obliteration; it’s not Billy Joel’s “slowly get stoned,” it’s the body-wide thirst that screams “Love me with a hammer.” But looking around me, there appear to be a whole lot of people who know when to stop, as well as those who have simply stopped once and for all.

I really love alcohol. It makes me happy, it lets me forget, and most of all it makes me tolerable to others, until of course the inevitable happens and I’m sloshing around in some public place needing to be dragged out feet-first. Last night was one of those nights, and I got to put on a show in front of my 22-year-old son. I do remember there was pizza, and I do remember drunkenly howling that the U.S. Constitution only has 21 Amendments.

The next morning my son said, “Dad, I have a question.”


“You’re almost 51, right?”


“And you’ve got lots of experience drinking, right?”


“And you know that if you drink ‘x ‘amount of beer, it’s going to result in ‘y’ behavior, right?”


“So why don’t you make sure that you stop drinking before it gets to ‘x’?”

“Well, it’s pretty simple.”

“What is it?”

“I have a drinking problem.”

“That’s not all you have.”


“No,” he said. “If you’re willing to make the effort, you also have a drinking solution.”


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Breaking up is hard to do

November 24, 2014 § 23 Comments

Dear Miss Cyclocross,

I’m finally over you. I can’t handle any more of your abuse. Oh sure, it was fun in the beginning and yeah, we had a good run of three years together. But after a while having you push my face in the dirt and beat the crap out of me just wasn’t fun anymore. Every weekend it seemed like things would start out great, then you’d knock me down while your friends stood around and yelled at me and took embarrassing pictures of me all twisted up on the ground, then we’d get drunk, and then the next morning I’d wake up with pains in body parts I didn’t even know I had and bruises all over and a horrific hangover. You’d apologize and say that next time it wouldn’t end that way, but it always did.

And you were never a cheap date. I had to drive all over hell just to hang out with you, and when I did there were a couple other hundred guys — and girls — I had to share you with. I still remember when we started together and you were satisfied with my top-end machine. Next season you weren’t even glancing at anyone who hadn’t upgraded to discs. I hate to namecall but you are a fickle bitch. Every time I looked around it was $35 here, $35 there. That shit adds up.

And the food we ate when we were together wasn’t all that great, you know? The first forty times we snacked at some taco truck with a name like “Amos’s Fiery Anus Burritos” it was romantic, but after a couple of years it was mostly indigestion.

Sure, I met some cool people through you, guys like Phil Beckman, Dot Wong, and all those rednecks in Bakersfield who’ve never even heard of a good time that didn’t involve beating someone’s ass while standing around drunk under the scorching sun in a dirt field, but for the most part your friends suck just like you do. I mean, do you know how tired I got of having your stupid friends yell “Get out of the way, dumbass!” and “You belong in the beginners’ race, dumbass!” and “You crashed me out, dumbass!” My name isn’t dumbass. Got that?

Yesterday, though, I really knew it was over. You’d caught the eye of Derek, one of my best friends ever, and he was asking about you. I warned him that you liked it rough, but he didn’t care. He kept begging me to show him how to get off and I kept telling him you didn’t care how he did it but I finally showed him. Then he was asking me all these questions about how dirty were you, how hard would he have to go, etc., and I told him that if he wanted to run around with you he had better put in for the long haul because you were mean and a tough nut to crack.

Plus, he only had a rental.

But he begged me to introduce you to him and so I did. Beforehand you know what I told him? I said, “Dude, she is going to kick your ass.” He was pretty afraid of you after all I’d told him about all of your nasty tricks and what a vicious bitch you are.

“Which race should I do?” he asked me.

“Because you suck and she is going to stomp your dick very hard you should race the 35+B race. Start at the back so you won’t clog the turns and hurt anybody, and so you won’t fall off your bicycle. It will take a couple of seasons before you’re comfortable riding towards the front, if ever.”

Then on our first warm-up lap you knocked me down in one of the loose sandy turns and Garnet V. almost ran over my head. “Is that how you’re supposed to do it?” Derek asked me.

“Your turn is coming,” I said. And it was.

Pretty soon Derek’s race started and he won it. The next closest person was on a mountain bike and riding in a different race.

So, you humiliated me again, Miss Cyclocross. I won’t mention the fact that you let my pals Slasher, Ryan Dahl, Eric Johnson, David Anderson, Mike Williams, and Carey Downs all climb on top of you. But I will mention the fact that my neck and shoulder hurt like hell, that I can’t walk very well, and that I’m tired of being used. Plus, I can get a vicious hangover on my own.

Go ruin someone else’s life, Miss Cyclocross. Mine is in tatters.

Your ex,




Wankmeister cycling clinic #25: Training vs. Racing

November 23, 2014 § 5 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I know some dudes who are great racers and some other dudes who are great trainers but they’re not usually the same. F’rinstance, there’s a bunch of dudes who are killing it in October and November on the group rides and the dudes who win all the races are at the back or off the back, and then later in the year the training beasts aren’t doing so hot and the racing dudes are smashing everyone’s face in. What’s up with that?

Pudsy Pudknocker

Dear Pudsy:

Racing and training are different. I’ve broken it down for you below.

1. Training: You get to stop when you’re tired and then start again after a latte, a potty break, and a chat with your pals.
Racing: You get to stop once, at the end, or when you fall off your bicycle, which then becomes the end.

2. Training: Looks matter.
Racing: Legs matter.

3. Training: Everyone’s a winner.
Racing: There is only one winner. And it’s not you.

4. Training: Your buddies help you.
Racing: Everyone tries to kill you, especially your buddies.

5. Training: Mileage matters.
Racing: Winning matters.

6. Training: Strava matters.
Racing: Winning matters.

7. Training: The best rider doesn’t always finish.
Racing: The fastest rider always wins. [Note: I’ve said this before and been ridiculed. Now re-read it and STFU, unless it’s one of those races where the winner crosses the line last.]

8. Training: You can tell your wife you killed it.
Racing: Results are posted on USA Cycling.

9. Training: You can’t lose a training ride.
Racing: You can lose a race, and you will.

10. Training: Respect is earned by showing up, shit-talking, wearing a fancy kit, riding at the front, blogging, buying lunch for others, etc.
Racing: Respect is earned by winning.

11. Training: You might be able to hang with Daniel Holloway, Mark Cavendish, or Taylor Phinney on a winter SoCal training ride.
Racing: I don’t need to say this one, do I?

Hope this helps.



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Is my friend doping?

November 22, 2014 § 15 Comments

Admit it. You’re wondering. Click on the flow chart to enlarge.




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