August 20, 2015 § 30 Comments
All my adult life I’ve been a provider. Not a very good one, perhaps, but there’s always been a roof, clothing, food on the table, and on most days, enough love to go around. Most days. Not all.
I didn’t become a provider because I wanted to, I became one because I was married at twenty-four and a father at an extremely unripe twenty-five, and I knew from watching my father that when you have a family you provide. You fail at a lot of things when you’re twenty-five, but you move heaven and earth not to fail at that because they are children and they are frail and you are all they have. In retrospect, they are all you have, but you’re generally too dumb to understand it at that age.
I never questioned my role because I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in Texas, and it was assumed that men provided and that ones who didn’t weren’t very good men.
What I never did was nourish because that was my wife’s job. I worked and brought home whatever I could, and she kept the home fire burning. She nourished us all with wholesome home cooked food, and for almost thirty years she averaged six hours a day or more in the kitchen.
The last time I cooked a meal for her was September 10, 1989. Our daughter had been born two days earlier and my wife had had a brutal labor followed by a difficult birth. On September 8, her first night home, I cooked her dinner. I put two wieners in a pot, boiled them, and put them on buns. She had not yet been in America a year and hated hot dogs, but she ate them, grimly, and she thanked me.
On September 9, I cooked her dinner again, two boiled wieners.
On September 10, I put the wieners in the pot but they never got to boil because she dragged herself into the kitchen and slowly, painfully, without anger or reproach, made herself a meal she could eat. It seems strange looking back on it that for such a supposedly liberal person I had such a reactionary and misogynistic view of marriage. “It was her job.” I thought. What does that even mean?
When she left last June 6 for a three-month trip to her parents’ home in Japan, for the first time in my life I was going to be alone with my sons at home for more than a few days. Naturally everyone wondered, especially them, how they would avoid starvation. “Subway,” they said.
Since she left I’ve cooked a meal almost every night I’ve been at home. I’m not a great cook, I’m not a good cook, I’m not even a mediocre cook. But I haven’t cut off any fingers yet, and each day I’ve managed to prepare something cheap, wholesome, always edible, and occasionally even something that was eaten with gusto.
There is a profound happiness that comes from watching a child eat with relish what you have made from scratch, even when the children are young men, and even when the fare is modest. It is different from the pride of providing, it is the joy of nourishing. Is this what she has felt these thirty years?
Unlike the money you bring home, which is converted into things like bicycle tires and clothes and tuition and rent, the food you make with your hands that is eaten in front of you by your children is a different thing altogether. There are so many ah-hahs, like watching the last morsel disappear and immediately wondering, “What am I going to make tomorrow?”
Like the mysteries of grocery shopping, how much will they eat, so how much should I buy and are these avocados ripe?
Like the mysteries of cooking itself. When a thing is good, how can I improve it? When a thing is bad, what did I do wrong?
Like the mysteries of kitchen tools. Which knife for which task, and why are they all so fucking dull? And where does she keep the peeler? And how do I stack the pots so they all fit in the tiny cabinet? And why are my hands all scaly and dry and cracked? And when should I add the potatoes?
But there’s more. My sons watch me struggle and sweat and serve up mystery dishes, and they eat them, and we laugh and joke over dinner, and they always say thanks, Dad, and they take turns doing the dishes without being asked, and when tonight’s stew was ready and we, all famished, sat down to eat what promised to be a darned good meal because hunger is the best sauce and we realized there was no bread and one of them jumped up and ran, with his feet, down to the store to buy a loaf, and we all laid into that stew and fresh bread and piping hot corn on the cob roasted in the shuck with as much relish as if the whole dinner had been prepared especially for us by the chef for the Queen of England and we cleared our plates thrice over and cleaned the dogdamned stew pot down to the charred stuff on the bottom that’s when I loved and missed my wife more deeply than any words can ever say.
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August 8, 2015 § 22 Comments
“Hey, Wanky!” said the email, “Let’s check your chub!”
I said to myself, after checking the sender’s address and noting that it was from a respectable, upstanding person, “That can’t mean what I think it means.”
So I started over:
“Hey, Wanky! Let’s check your chub! I bought two tickets to the Body Spectrum fat scanner, one for you and one for me. It’s in Santa Monica–we could pedal over after the Friday coffee ride. What do you say?”
I said, “What in the world are you talking about?”
She said, “It’s this thing where they tell you your fat content, bone density, menstrual proportionality, and cranio-fibular viscosity.”
I said, “I already know my fat content: too much.”
She said, “But it will be FUN!”
I said, “Do they dunk you in a vat of kryptonite? Or is it the deal where they strip you naked and pluck your fat off the underlying tissue with those torture pincers?”
She said, “Neither. They just lay you on a table and scan you.”
I said, “With what? A bar code reader?”
She said, “No, silly, with x-rays.”
I said, “I don’t want to get irradiated like a piece of food being prepared for a bomb shelter just to be told I’m chubby.”
She said, “It’s free.”
I said, “Okay.”
As we pedaled over to Bulletproof Coffee, where I had a large cup of coffee made with a stick of butter, I said to her, “Look, I know my fat content. It’s between 13 and 15 percent, give or take a point. Guaranteed.”
She said, “How do you know?”
I said, “There are about 10,000 online fat calculators. Do ten of them, take the average, and that’s your fat. And no cancer-causing x-rays.”
She said, “But what about your bone density?”
I said, “My bones can’t be dense. I ride a bicycle and my resistance training consists of trying to resist having seconds. My bones are like peanut brittle, guaranteed.”
She said, “You’ll feel better knowing.”
I said, “I never feel better knowing. I always feel better imagining.”
We got to Body Spectrum and they very nicely made me take all the metal out of my pockets. I asked if I could leave in my fillings and the plate in my head. They said yes.
The nice lady scanned my body. Then a different nice lady sat down with me to review the results.
She said, “You are not fat.”
I said, “Did someone say I was?”
She said, “But you have some fat around your viscera.”
I said, “You mean I’m chubby inside?”
She said, “Yes, but not unhealthily so.”
I thought about Wednesday when we went to the coffee shop and the nice counter girl asked if were a cyclist. I was wearing floppy shorts and a t-shirt and all my friends were wearing stretch underwear. “No,” I said. “I’m just a person.”
“I didn’t think you were a cyclist. You look ill … ”
“I do?” I asked.
” … suited. I meant to say ill-suited to be a cyclist.”
I gave her no tip for service, but a $5 tip for being so unintentionally cruel.
Back with the chubby checker, things were better. “Your numbers look good,” she said. “16.3% body fat is fine. You might want to do some resistance training, something to build bone density.”
I started to tell her about all the second helpings I was resisting, and all the booze I’d resisted in Germany, but didn’t. I quit while I was ahead.
100% butter made with pure butter.
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July 8, 2015 § 12 Comments
I don’t know if he ever really said it.
Rich Meeker is supposed to have said something like this: “Masters racers train too hard and ride too much.”
Please check in all nasty comments about Rich at the door to the Internet, or refer to one of my earlier posts and pile on there. Just because someone cheated doesn’t mean they aren’t smart about their sport.
For over 30 years people have been telling me variations of “You train too hard and ride too much,” to which I always politely smiled while thinking, “WTF do you know? Where were you on the Donut Ride?” Right, Elron?
Of course on race day those know-it-alls are on the podium and I’m DNF because “no legs today.”
Turns out, they knew a lot. Masters racers, apparently, train too hard and ride too much. “Oh, yeah?” I can hear you Wankophizing. “Too much for what?”
Too much to do well at races, that’s what.
“Well, who cares about racing?” I can hear you shout back.
“Only the people who pay entry fees and show up to race.” In other words, ME. And YOU.
Of course it doesn’t matter what people say to me. My mind is ten million impermeable layers of granite, especially when it comes to cycling. I know everything, and what I don’t know isn’t worth knowing.
“Yeah,” Fields once said, “but the problem is that what you know isn’t worth knowing either.”
Then one day a very helpful pro (“What does he know?”) suggested that masters racers train too hard and ride too much. I ignored him while nodding wisely in assent.
But something made me listen, even though it was a few weeks after the fact. My 51-year-old body, whose recovery slows each year like a tiny pebble rolling uphill through a massive pit of wet cement, refused one morning to do what I demanded of it.
“I wonder if I’m tired? I mean, like, permanently.” I thought about an old blues musician from New Orleans who, in his 80’s, was asked how he felt as he sat on the corner strumming his guitar. He considered the question briefly, and looked at the eager tourist who was desperate for the aged musician to utter some reaffirming words about a life fulfilled from singing the blues.
“I reckon,” the man said, “that I feel like an old worn out shoe.” Was I, too, becoming a Converse All-Star that had been to one hipster convention too many?
I tried to ride my bike that morning and did so, without vigor. And from that point on I started exercising my sitting muscle. Throughout the race season, which in California runs from January 1 to about December 31, I have only ridden hard once, maximum twice, during the week, to wit:
- Monday: Nothing or easy pedal
- Tuesday: One 5-minute effort on the NPR or full gas 1-hour effort
- Wednesday: Coffee cruise
- Thursday: 60-minute full-gas Flog Ride, or 60-minute easy pedal depending on what I did on Tuesday
- Friday: Coffee cruise
- Saturday: Race or Donut with full sprinkles and choco pain glaze
- Sunday: Easy Wheatgrass cruise
My results are as follows:
- Still feel like racing in June, as opposed to weakening in Feb., cratering in Mar., and giving up after the BWR in April.
- Legs feel fresh
- Reduced reliance on Chinese doping products
- A baby’s handful of good race results, i.e. a single top-50 and no crashes
They say less is more, which is definitely not true for money or penis length. But for masters racing, ol’ Meeker the Beaker may have known what he was talking about.
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July 3, 2015 § 12 Comments
The biggest muscle in the old fellow cyclist’s body is not the buttock or the jaw despite the close proximity of the two. No, the biggest muscle is the will muscle, or rather, it is potentially the biggest muscle. Typically the will muscle in cyclists is poorly developed and dwarfed by the beer muscle, the descending muscle (located in the abdomen), and the Strava muscle.
However, in order to reach your fullest potential and perhaps break the top-40 in an October upgrade crit, you will first need to enter a race with thirty or fewer riders. Failing that, you will need to work on your will muscle.
The will muscle’s most basic failure-to-flex typically occurs on rainy, cold, overcast, humid, hot, snowy, or windy mornings. By failing to flex the will muscle when there are four raindrops on your window you will remain in bed. This initial flex is more important than all other flexes of the day.
Like any muscle, the will muscle requires constant use to build and to avoid atrophy. It also requires fuel. Unlike the beer muscle, which is fed on beer, and the descending muscle, which grows on giant tins of Danish butter cookies, the will muscle only grows when nourished by positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement such as showing up on the Flog Ride and getting shelled in the first hundred yards will cause the will muscle to shrivel.
The will muscle can also be wrecked from overuse, like a normal muscle in Crossfit. The will muscle can only do one major exercise at a time, and some exercises require all of the muscle, such as giving up drinking, waking up before noon, or learning the names (middle ones too!) of your children.
In other words, there is never enough will muscle go around, so if you’re going to quit boozing, or quit wenching, or start learning Sanscrit, you can pretty much write off any other goal or activity that requires significant use of the will muscle. Remember the old American Express ad, “You can have it all!”? Well, they lied. You can’t.
The will muscle, even when highly developed, eventually fatigues and gives out when overused or when asked to do the impossible. It will also fail when you give it too big a task before properly conditioning it, like when I used to lift weights.
When I used to lift weights I went straight to the huge, massive stuff. After loading up the bar with 95 pounds of solid steel and lowering it from the little holder thingies onto my chest, I had that funny thing happen when the weight is sitting on your chest crushing your heart and you can’t lift it off, and you make that funny choking screaming noise and hope someone is watching, which they were, and if it hadn’t been for that junior high school girl who ran over and lifted it up with one hand (she was a beast) I wouldn’t be here today.
Your will muscle is the same way. Don’t ask it to do the massive 95-lb. bench press (quitting booze, etc.) before you have conditioned it with easier tasks (switching to decaf, actually listening to your spouse, not calling your boss “asshole”). In other words, work up to the big stuff.
Finally, don’t fall for the performance-enhancing stuff to make your will hypertrophic. Everyone hates an iron-willed teetotaling machine with a six-pack and a seven-figure salary.
So, start small and build up your will muscle with baby steps, such as, for example, by finding a really useful blog on the Internet that has a very affordable subscription price, say on the order of $2.99 per month, and subscribe to it.
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June 11, 2015 § 20 Comments
I hate Cheerios and always have. When I was a kid I disliked the absence of purple, green, and yellow marshmallows such as were featured in Kaboom! and Lucky Charms and other healthful, sugar-infused breakfast choices for growing bodies and developing teeth. Cheerios were boring.
As an adolescent I despised the name. What the hell was cheery about getting up the morning and having to eat something soaked in a bowl of cold milk?
Now that I’m a really grouchy old man there is no food more detestable than Cheerios, or at least that was true in the month of May, in the year of Before Cheerios, or B.C. In May, B.C., we had Cheerios up on the shelf because my youngest son, who turns 18 shortly, eats them for breakfast.
Since all families engage in various forms of food poaching, especially when there’s only one bar of chocolate left, or only enough ice cream for one bowl, my youngest never had to worry about anyone poaching his Cheerios. But that was the B.C. era.
Several days ago Mrs. WM left with Junior for a months-long trip to the Far East. Now we are in the month of June, After Departure, or A.D, and one thing I can tell you is this: I’m really hungry.
In years 1-29 B.C., our fridge was always full to bursting. After less than a week into the year 1 A.D., it looks like this:
Now the first thing this picture should make you think is, “How does a family exist with a $325 refrigerator?” The second, of course, is that getting up in the middle of the night with hunger pangs, staggering to the fridge only to be faced with a pint of heavy cream, some vinegar, a few onions, a head of lettuce,some eggs, last night’s spaghetti, some condiments, and a jug of milk is cause for an immediate trip to the all-night supermarket. (The big plastic thing on the right is some kind of fermenting Japanese vegetable that I had to swear not to touch, i.e. toss, in Mrs. WM’s absence. I swore, but then again I’m a notorious liar.)
However, the need for food is balanced by an almost superhuman cheapness on my part and a commitment to eating everything before I buy anything. In addition to having a somewhat reduced grocery bill since 1 A.D. (daily grocery bill dropped from $25/day to $7 over 7 days), the other big difference between the B.C. era and the A.D. era is that I’ve lost five pounds and become giddy if I have to stand more than five minutes at a time.
People who claim that they cannot lose weight should come spend a few days here and try to fatten up on a raw onion dabbed with Stubbs Barbecue Sauce and nori sprinkles.
Most of all, they should try to fatten up on Cheerios. That’s what I’ve been reduced to eating in the morning, a single measured cup of Honey Nut Cheerios with a quarter-cup of almonds and a cup of milk. That was until three days ago, when we temporarily ran out of milk and I had to eat the Cheerios dry, the most loathsome food in the world, with salty almonds for breakfast.
My eldest son and I made a shopping list yesterday. It looked like this:
- Milk, 2%, gallon
Then we went to the store after dinner and made our grocery purchase for the week. It was a cool evening, and it’s a ten-minute walk to the store. I had to lie down three times before we got there. On the way back home he put his big arm around my shoulders.
“Love you, Dad,” he said.
“Love you too, son,” I answered.
Cheerios or not, the year 1 A.D. isn’t turning out so bad after all.
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June 7, 2015 § 22 Comments
A friend was driving in L.A. yesterday and witnessed a terrible accident, where a woman in a jeep flipped her car, flew in the air, and landed on the side. My friend stopped and talked to her and calmed her while waiting for rescue to arrive, as the driver was trapped. The man who caused the accident was distraught beyond words; a real mess.
The woman was extricated without any broken bones, and in addition to being freaked out she was upset about having her new car totaled. My friend thought that with the violence of the impact the woman would have been killed instantly.
My friend’s take away on it? “If I know one thing for sure, your health is all that matters. The metal can be replaced but the person cannot.”
I pondered her wisdom this morning and thought about the people in life who sacrifice their health for the cheapest and most worthless things. On the way home from the race in Chula Vista yesterday I stopped in Leucadia and got a Subway sandwich; meat, some olives, some jalapenos, some radishes, some tomatoes, some purple onions, and a little bit of vinegar and black pepper on whole wheat. There is a Starbucks next door so I got a cup of black hot coffee and sat down on the outside deck to enjoy lunch before battling the heavy traffic back to L.A.
I was wrecked from 50 miles in back-to-back races and hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the apple that Dandy had given me before the start of race #2. The first bite of that sandwich was nirvana. I shivered, it tasted so good.
A family came up while I was caressing each bite with my tongue, and one by one they sat down heavily under the little umbrellas. They were terribly obese. The mom was 150 lbs. overweight and the little girl with her was horribly overweight. The smallest person in their family of five was a solid 50 pounds overweight and looked rail-thin in comparison to everyone else.
I thought about the diabetes that they either had or were going to have, of struggling to walk from the car to the curb, of forcing themselves uncomfortably into airplane seats, of the joint pain, the back pain, the neck pain, the lifetime of doctor appointments, the continual ingestion of pharmaceuticals, the body shame, always having to shop from the racks with the most gigantic clothing, and never ever getting to know the pleasure of riding a bicycle along the coast for an hour or two though they were in Leucadia, which is smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth.
And for what? Junk food at Subway? The little girl, who was about eight years old, had a 12-inch roast beef sandwich stuffed so full with “fixings” that she could barely get it into her mouth, and the end of the sub drooled sauce like a broken sewage pipe. Everyone had two bags of chips, a cookie, and a giant coke cup.
What’s worse, no one looked as if they were enjoying their meal. It’s as if the surfeit made the food utterly tasteless.
I thought about my friend, who for over twenty years after coming back from cancer has completely changed her life. She rides, she has overcome addiction, and she refuses to put her health second to anything. Most of all, she has the spiritual strength and the strength of character to stop in the middle of a catastrophe and help others. Is her respect for her own well-being part of what makes her able to help others in time of need?
I think it is.
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