January 8, 2012 § 2 Comments
“You up for the La Grange ride? It’s fuckin rad, dude. You’ll fuckin love it. It’ll be your new favorite ride.” Fukdude was amped and up as we massed at the Center of the Known Universe for the Sunday Kettle Ride.
“I feel like shit. I’m still trashed from yesterday. I’m flailing. FTR is next Saturday and I’m already overtrained and cracked.”
“So you’re coming, right?”
The choices were bad and awful. I could go with Fukdude and the mixed-Ironfly contingent of Toronto, JDawg, Vegemite, Newlywed, Gonzo, M8, Danc, and Becker Bob, and get thrashed into a pulp on the La Grange Ride, or I could roll north with Roadchamp, G$, McRibs, and TF, and get squished and smeared along the roadway up Latigo.
I ended up going with my team, as I suppose it’s better to get your beatdown surrounded by friends, and the La Grange Ride is one of the most famous rides I’ve never done. As usual, Fukdude had a plan. “You’re going to get on my fuckin wheel, dude, and I’m going to drag you over the wall. Once you’re over the wall just grit your teeth and hang on. It’s all mental after the wall.
“You’ll be rolling out looking at all these fuckin dudes and thinking ‘Fuck, who are all these fuckin dudes ’cause you won’t fuckin know any of them because they don’t race but they’re strong as shit and this is their race. It’s a fuckin beatdown, dude. You’l love it. Just hang on.”
From paradise to Tin Pan Alley
We sheared off from the Kettle Ride at Marina del Rey and headed to West L.A. It was nasty and gnarly, and went down roads that, six and 3/4 days out of seven, were choked with cars. At the rendezvous point, the corner of Westwood and La Grange Avenue, riders began showing up in dribs and drabs until there were about eighty of us. The La Grange cycling club has a description of the ride on its web site which is a masterful expression of understatement and non-disclosure.
The first part of the ride is described as “purely conversational” as we started off by slogging through what seem like dozens of traffic signals, and continue navigating potholes, avoiding treacherous splits in the asphalt that run parallel with your tire, and staying far enough forward that the guys flaunting hairy buttcracks were behind us, not in front. The “conversation” is a variety of “fucks,” “shits,” “whatthehells,” and “oh-oh-oh-oh-heyfuckitHOLE!” as the menagerie bumps, whacks, brakes, stops-and-starts its way to the throwdown.
I turn to JDawg. “When does this fucking ride get hard?”
He looks and grins. “Oh, about…now.”
We begin rolling up Nichols Canyon, the road kicks straight up, Danc spins off the front, and I’m fifth wheel, tucked behind Fukdude per the plan. A few minutes into the climb I’m laughing to myself. “This is nothing.” The group is strung out single file, I’ve got my high cadence on, and Danc is playing rabbit just up the road. The climb continues. What could be easier than this?
We hit a couple of turns and the guy on the front pulls back Danc and it’s full throttle. The easy climb that was perfectly suited to my cadence goes from totally doable to on-the-fucking-rivet-holy-mother-of-Dog-I’m-gonna vomit. Danc latches on, I struggle for another minute, the oxygen debt becomes an oxygen Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, all power to the engines is instantaneously lost, and it’s Teblow Time.
Flail and flog
JDawg whips by me. “Spin, buddy,” he says. I try to focus on the blur as it races past, and try even harder to decipher his words. “Spin.” I know that word. “Buddy.” I’ve heard that before. What can he mean? Who is he talking to? Where am I? What am I doing? What is this hand grenade that has detonated in my chest?
Then there’s a hand on my left leg as Danc gives me a huge push. “Just a couple more minutes, buddy,” he urges. “Minutes.” I know what those are. One minute on Nichols Canyon at full throttle is a time interval equivalent to a billion years. Two minutes is twelve billion years. I gasp, choke, drop my head, and shoot off the back.
The second group comes by. I struggle on as the road continues up, up, up. A few seconds’ rest and we hit the Wall. This is the part of the ride that Fukdude described thus: “We’re gonna hit this fuckin wall, dude, it’s like straight fuckin up and you’re gonna already be on the fuckin rivet and you’ll come off a little but you’ll have to give just that extra bit beyond what you’ve got and then you’ll hitch back on and can just suffer the rest of the way. It’ll just be a few dudes and if you don’t hook on there you’ll be flailing by yourself the rest of the ride.”
He was right about the “on the rivet” part, but he was way wrong about that “extra bit” part. I would have needed a new set of legs and a hoist to close the 50 or 60 yards that now separated Group Flail from Group One. They crested and were gone.
My group of wankers included Newlywed and Vegemite, the 17 year-old team vegan who, like me, was doing the ride for the first time. The other six guys were La Grange, and they punished us mercilessly until Newlywed curled up in a fetal ball and launched back to the next chase group. Vegemite put in one good attack, then melted down into a puddle, but manfully hung on.
Adding to the fun of having your heart up in your throat for about 40 solid minutes with zero recovery was the thrill of trying to hang onto the wheels of the guys who knew the route, a fair chunk of which involved shooting through stone red lights, drilling through narrow corridors of cars at 40 mph, blasting into the middle of high speed intersections, and my personal favorite, doing it all while navigating massive potholes big enough to swallow you whole, jumping giant road cracks, edging through piled up rocks and gravel in the gutter, and stomping full power on the pedals with each punishing roller.
I flogged and flailed as two of the Mexican La Grange guys discussed the sprint finish strategy. “Hay un semaforo, y despues, los mailboxes y el sprint finish.” From my college Spanish, I knew that “semaforo” meant “fat older sister,” and “despues” meant sitting. So the one guy’s sister was sitting on the mailboxes to cheer us for the sprint finish. I was onto their strategy now.
Ahead of us, Fukdude, JDawg, and Danc had three Grangerites in their breakaway. In a well-timed urination on La Grange’s home fire hydrant, Fukdude nailed the sprint, with JDawg taking second. In Group Flail, I waited until the slight rise that presaged the mailboxes atop which the sister would be sitting. I saw the mailboxes, but no sister–and by the time I realized my error the Grangerites had sneaked by, narrowly beating me to the line by a hundred yards or so. Vegemite crept in slightly OTB, and Group Flog, containing Toronto and Newlywed, arrived in the next wave looking quite fresh, strong, healthy, fit, and fast. Had we done the same ride? I staggered over to the bushes at the Skirball and assisted with some emergency shrubbery hydration while all the Grangerites stood around and looked daggers at Fukdude, JDawg, and Danc.
Pedals of love
After fueling up at the CotKU with coffee and a chicken sandwich, I headed for the Hill and for home. In Redondo I was passed by Don and Dustin Webb. Dustin sits in the front of his dad’s customized rig, carefully belted in and wearing a very cool Livestrong helmet as Don does the tough work of pedaling the bike and his 115-lb. son up and around the hills of the peninsula.
As we hit the steep part of the pitch coming out of Redondo, Dustin looked back at his dad in pure happiness as Don cranked the bike up the hill. “He loves it when I suffer,” Don laughed. The customized fairing kept the headwind from chilling Dustin, who was warmly dressed in long-sleeved jersey and tights. As we crested the hill, Don took out Dustin’s water bottle and helped his son have a drink.
We chatted about gearing and about upcoming plans to convert the sturdy but heavy rig into a carbon fiber frame, all the while enjoying the sunlight and the beautiful view as we rolled out atop the Cove. Watching Don’s smooth, almost effortless power as he propelled his customized assistive cycle up the slope, I reflected for a moment on the morning I’d just spent smashing and bashing up Nichols Canyon, and compared that effort to the lifetime that Don has devoted to caring for, and enjoying the time with his son Dustin. My efforts felt small compared to their companionship and love.
We parted at Coronel, and I hit the climb up Via Zurita with a vigor and strength and freshness and happiness that I hadn’t had before.
January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
This morning we rolled out of the offset-center of the known universe in Redondo Beach with a gaggle of about 75 riders. At Malaga Cove the pace mysteriously increased, first with Johnny, and then with a massive attack by Wikanator, followed closely by Marco. I tagged along until the taste of vomit got a bit too sharp, and shortly after we crested the Malaga hill we were joined by a handful of other escapees, including the feared Neapolitan.
Perez hit the gas, one or two others took turns, and then Rodley blew the group apart as we passed Indicator and came through Lunada Bay. He’s ready for FTR and going fast. Just past the school, the Neapolitan hit it hard, followed by me and Marco, and when we dumped out onto PV Drive we were a threesome, soon joined by Perez, Derek, and five or six others. Perez, always willing to hit the front, and Derek, always willing to let someone else hit the front, epitomize the Donut Ride: a couple of guys drilling it to the Switchbacks while everyone else cops a free ride and waits to attack on the climb.
Our breakaway got snagged at the Golden Cove stoplight, and our 40-second advantage melted back into one big amorphous group. The Neapolitan surged a few times, but the fireworks didn’t really start until one of the guys had words with Saturn, and then another guy got involved, and pretty soon there was a shitstorm of screaming, yelling, cussing, hollering, middle-fingering, pushing, scratching, eye-poking, spitting, nose-tweaking, shin-kicking, toe-stomping, tit-tweaking, and pecker-pinching such as I haven’t seen since kindergarten.
Unfortunately, the usual litany of he-saids, she-saids degenerated into actual physical contact when some guy with a really tiny, shrunken, shriveled, microscopic, woefully small and inadequate…ego…either pushed Suze or slapped her, depending on which eyewitness account you believe. Now I’m all for a spirited chorus of “fuck you’s” and “up yours” and “yo’ momma’s” to keep things lively, but gal-whacking gets you Loser of the Year and Please Don’t Come on this Ride Anymore You Douchebag Award.
If you’ve confused cycling with MMA, or if you are so angered by the wagging middle finger that you have to hit someone, perhaps you should take your anger out on, say, someone your own size, rather than engaging in fisticuffs with a woman pushing fifty.
After the dust-up, we hit the Switchbacks, and all of the wheelsucking, cowardly, craven, spineless, yellowbelly pretenders cowered some more, while others did the dirty work. On the third turn, what was left of the lead group split apart, Nick and Derek raced away after doing nothing but suck wheel for the entirety of the ride, and I put on my reverse jets and went backwards really, really quickly.
I counted 22 riders go past me like I was standing still on the way to the top. So it looks like my form for FTR is right on target. A massive beatdown awaits.
The rest of the ride turned pissy, then shitty, as these photos attest.
January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
After the carnage of Bury My Heart at Wounded Tupperware, I moved to the bathroom. The first target was the medicine cabinet, which was populated with 386 different types of cold medicine, Tylenols, Bufferins, Advils, Bayers, generic aspirins, boxes and boxes of Band-Aids, and a special Japanese cream potion for stretch marks. All of the medicine and creams were years—yes, years—past the expiration date. With one fell swoop it all went straight into the trash. In ten minutes the medicine cabinet went from being a pharmaceutical museum to a small but spacious area containing toothpaste, razor, shaving cream, floss, one package of Band-Aids, one unexpired bottle of aspirin for the headaches none of us ever gets, and a comb.
In a quick run to the kitchen I had the inspiration to check one of the kitchen drawers. And you know what? YOU HAVE ONE OF THESE DRAWERS, TOO. WORSE, YOU HAVE MANY OF THEM. It’s the kitchen drawer of death. It contains forty pencils, most of which lack an eraser, none of which is sharpened, and the remainder of which are too short to use. There is an even greater number of pens. You know—the pens that you pick up when you have to write something down in a hurry and then say, “Fuck, this pen doesn’t have any ink.” And then instead of tossing it, you drop it back into the DOD and root around for one that works. Over time—surprise—it fills up with useless pens.
The inhabitants of the Drawer of Death are warring for the limited space in a battle to the death of paper clips, binder clips, rubber bands, coupons, report cards from five years ago, old thank-you cards that were cute, class photos, Subway buy-one-get-one-free coupon sheets, Domino’s handy order menus (never mind that you order everything online), corkscrews that don’t screw very well, nail clippers that you don’t like enough to put in the bathroom and use, and my favorite, wooden Japanese earwax diggers.
This is the drawer that is so chock full of shit that it barely opens, or that is so heavy the bottom sags so that it doesn’t close properly. This is the “Let Mikey Eat It” drawer, where useless shit goes to copulate with other useless shit, resulting in a nasty procreation of crap that emblemizes all that is wrong with clutter.
I hit that drawer with a singularity of purpose: throw everything away except one of everything that worked. In five minutes the drawer had a pair of scissors, a pen, a pencil, an eraser, a notepad, a tape dispenser, a set of nail clippers, paperclip, a rubber band, a thumbtack, a magnet, a pushpin, and one wooden earwax digger. I can hear the shriekers now: “Oh my Dog! What’ll you do when you run out of paperclip.”
“I. Will. Buy. Another. One.”
The filthiest of lies
One way I had always skated around the evilness of clutter was by reminding myself that, “The apartment may be cluttered, but it’s not filthy. I’m a clean person.”
I thought about that while looking at my hands after playing executioner on the Drawer of Death. They were black with dust and dirt. It hit me: if you have clutter, you have filth in your home. You live in filth. Wow.
Next I targeted my toolbox, filled as it was with slowly rusting unused tools, and an assortment of pedals, pieces, wrenches, bolts, nails, pins, ball bearings, chain segments, hex wrenches, box wrenches, pliers of every variety, four kinds of hammers, giant files (What in the fuck did I ever by a giant steel file for? My teeth?), a massive hacksaw (prison escape?) crescent wrenches, screwdrivers of enough number and variety to deplete the Russian national vodka supply, plastic baggies with mysterious lockrings, bolts for strange chainring patterns, odd cogs, duplicate cogs, spoke nipples, spokes, pieces of various cadence monitors, enough plastic tie-downs to secure a naval fleet, strips of tire for boots that would last the entire South Bay cycling community for the next hundred years of sidewall punctures, picture hangers in quantity for a medium-sized museum, a prybar whose only possible use could be braining someone, a massive wood saw, five kinds of bike lube, three boxes of tubes that had rotted, six pairs of worn out cleats, twelve sets of bolts and washers for the worn out cleats, three sets of drill bits (I’ve never owned a drill), an exacto with no blade, a bottle of turpentine, four empty tubes of super glue, and the symbol of all symbols: a bottle of cleaning fluid covered in grease and filth.
With a tump and a bump I emptied it all, sorted out the few usable tools, reduced that small number by removing the ones I knew how to use, offered the keepers (along with a guitar peg tuner and a steel slide) to a good home on FB and heaved the rest down the trash chute. Then I set the huge red Husky toolbox out by the dumpster and replaced it with a small plastic one about the size of a large tackle box. Our neighbors had already been poaching the crockery set out by the trash cans, and the Husky was gone in the blink of an eye.
Is nothing sacred?
If the “thing” in nothing is a thing, then hopefully, no. If you need a physical object to conjure up the warm memory or to remind you of your affection, then perhaps the attachment really isn’t all that strong. If the only way you can feel good about yourself is through the physical objects that clutter your home, maybe it’s time to consider that…and all that it implies.
In my atheist family, nothing was more sacred than Christmas. Throughout my moves, there had always been a core of Christmas talismans that made it. Back at mom’s house in Austin, there were endless ornaments and mementos of Christmas past. Today they sat, tidily confined into two large plastic storage containers, courtesy of (where else?) the Container Store.
Within those hallowed plastic boxes that filled six straight feet of precious shelf space in our frightfully small closets were the treasures of my youth and of my own family. Ornaments made by hand in kindergarten. Ornaments given to me by my grandmother when I was a child. Precious creations by my own kids that hung on our various trees, year in and year out.
So I did the only thing I could do: I removed the handmade stockings that belonged to each of us, and set everything else out by the dumpster, including the plastic containers.
Fuck you, Christmas. Fuck you, ornaments. Fuck you, Container Store. Fuck you, things!
Back into the apartment I walked, staring lasciviously at the sleek, gleaming, open shelves. Twenty pounds lighter? Try twenty thousand.
Next I zeroed in on what was left of my blues CD’s. They represented musical continuity in my life from my earliest childhood, when the only records our family owned were Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs, the Lomax Leadbelly recordings, Blind Lemon Jefferson, a few Beatles albums, and a couple of 45’s: Tutti Frutti by Little Richard, Water by some old cowpoke, I Walk the Line by Johnny Cash, and Janis’s LP, The Pearl.
Fuck you, music. With the click of a mouse they were put up for adoption on Facebook, and then taken off to a new home, a new database, and introduced into new, appreciative, loving lives, to clutter my dresser and hang anchor around my neck no more…no more, no more, no more, and don’t you come back no more!
Next: Wankmeister hits a wall of resistance and stares down an attempted intervention
January 1, 2012 § 11 Comments
As I review my cycling resolutions from 2011, one thing stands out: there weren’t any. I logged over 12,000 miles, but that was by accident. There were a couple of vague references to “winning Boulevard” and “dominating at Punchbowl,” but they seem so stupendously silly and preposterously impossible under the harsh light of January 1, 2012, that I can’t believe I was sober when I wrote them, even though I’ve been on the wagon for three years.
For 2012, then, the goal seems simple enough: have a goal. After reading the first half of the first chapter of Gemba Kaizen, it seemed obvious that this year’s cycling goal should be…and just before I wrote down the perfect cycling resolution, in walked my eldest son, just home from college.
It’s so nice to have your kids back home with you after their first semester. They grow so much in that short time. They see the world differently, have a sense of their own strength, and begin, ever so slightly to reflect on the hard work you as a parent have done to make this chapter in their life possible. In a word? Appreciation.
“Man,” he said, surveying the kitchen and the living room. “This place is one nasty fucking shithole.”
“Well,” I admitted, “it could use a bit of picking up.”
“Picking up? More like blowing up. It would take years to clean up this mess and you’d need a gross of flamethrowers and a hazmat team. How do you guys live like this?”
“The same way you did for about eighteen years, I guess.”
“Very funny,” he said, making a beeline for the towering, heaping, tottering, massive pile of dishes that filled the sink and spilled over onto the counters. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work cleaning. I watched with much satisfaction and pride, enjoying his keen sense of sanitation, responsibility, willingness to pitch in while I shirked on the sidelines. “You know what?” he said.
“You guys need to get your shit together. This place is unbearable. I can handle it for a couple of weeks, but Jesus, look at all the Mom piles spread all over the fucking living room. You can’t even walk without knocking into one. And what’s with the case of bottled iced tea next to the couch?”
The “Mom pile” he was referring to is the affectionate name we give to the little mounds of paperwork, sometimes 8 to 10 inches high, that cover every inch of our apartment. Mom will be working hard at something and then the phone will ring or someone will post to her FB or she’ll get a text message or the moon will enter a new phase and she’ll have to drop what she’s doing and rush off to the Nijiya market to get the last package of kenpira gobo for $2.13, down from $2.45, and so she’ll drop whatever she’s working on into a “Mom pile.”
She then kind of forgets what she was working on when she gets back home, but that’s never a problem because while at the market she also picked up twelve large shopping bags’ worth of essentials such as fermented soy curd and pig’s blood. By setting the shopping bags atop the Mom piles, the paperwork pretty much goes away, at least until we’ve eaten all the pig’s blood.
“Well, son,” I said. “It’s not that easy.”
“Sure it is. Get off your ass and help out, Dad.”
I sat for a while longer, admiring the speed and skill with which he plowed through the monster tower of dirty dishes.
Know (and experiment on) Thyself
I once had a buddy who we’ll call “Dogbait” (not his real name). Dogbait was famous for many things, not least of which was the time that he and Filds gave Porky a musette bag hand-up in a long, hot summer road race. Porky, famished and on the brink of bonk, reached into the bag and discovered it had been filled with his least favorite energy food: blocks of wood.
Then there was the time that Dogbait and Filds loosened a bolt or two on Porky’s rig before a big crit and got ringside seats to watch the crank fall off in mid-sprint. Porky was hardly hurt, and the neck brace came off within the month.
But the most famous period in Dogbait’s life was his career as a scientist. Somewhat underemployed, and rather hungry, and only living under a roof when he could find a bridge, he learned that by volunteering for medical experiments he could make plenty of money for beer and bike parts. For several years he supplemented his income by participating in all manner of experiments, trials, grafts, tissue removals, drug tests, and novel procedures not yet approved for use on animals.
As I considered my son’s challenge, to “get off my ass and help out,” I thought about Dogbait and his exemplary, even noble, willingness to stand up and volunteer for the scientific firing squad. Sure, I had formed ideas about setting goals, reaching goals, motivation, and bending the human mind to accomplish difficult tasks, but it’s one thing to preach the gospel of New Year’s cycling resolutions…it’s a different thing altogether to set them for yourself, not to mention attempt to reach them.
The problem behind the clutter
In fact, the house was a mess, and had always been a mess. The last time we had moved, a mere eight months ago, we had so thoroughly de-cluttered that our cast-offs filled half of the garage to the ceiling. To get rid of it we’d had to hire two laborers with a dump truck. They shoveled for three hours straight, filling half the dump truck with the useless crap we’d accumulated in a mere four and a half years.
My cycling resolutions, whatever they were, had no chance at all in the midst of this chaos. In fact, by applying some of the basic tenets of Gemba Kaizen, it was doubtful that my problems had anything to do with cycling at all. How can you assess the functionality of the production line when it’s covered with clutter? How can you isolate the obstacles to your cycling improvement, or make rational goals for anything at all, when your personal life is, quite literally, one big mess?
I concluded that I can’t. In order to make a meaningful goal I needed to see what lay underneath and I needed a clean space in which to live.
Starting small and the 5S System
The enormity of our junked up apartment was so overwhelming that even a wildly optimistic crazyfuck like me had to admit that this would have to be done in tiny, tiny increments. So I whipped out my handy dandy Gemba Kaizen manual and reviewed the 5S System: Chunk, Organize, Clean, Hygiene, Repeat.
All family life begins in the kitchen, so, waiting until my wife had left the country to visit her family, I began the first part of 5S, chunking. I started with the wine glasses. No one here drinks. The occasional drinker who shows up, although certainly in need of a strong one due to the chaos and clutter, doesn’t need fifteen wine glasses. So I narrowed it down to one glass and threw away the rest.
Then I moved on to the plates. We’re a five-person family and that’s only when the two older kids are around. We had thirty plates. I chunked all but eight. Twenty-five saucers? Eight. Fifteen miso soup bowls massacred down to six. Forks, spoons, chopsticks, serving trays, coffee cups, teacups, nothing was sacred. After about an hour, I saw something I’d never see before: space in the kitchen drawers, space in the kitchen cabinets.
The more deeply I dug, the more I discovered. One reason the big pots never get put away is because the biggest cabinet is always full. “But full of what?” I wondered. Down on my hands and knees I peered into the gloom. There it was, a Tupperware breeding pod. Square Tupperware, round Tupperware, oval Tupperware, large, small, medium Tupperware, and an endless supply of lids. Clearly we had a breeding pair in there somewhere, and they were mass birthing the Tupperware babies.
Unfortunately for the Tupperware party, I’m pro choice, and I vote, especially with my hands. Our stock of Tupperware, enough to supply a dozen bomb shelters for ten years, was reduced to seven pieces.
As the last plastic tub clunked down the garbage chute, it hit me: when my wife gets home on Tuesday I’m going to be in very deep shit.
Next: Wankmeister doubles down on suicidal self-improvement endeavor