Bike hunting #2: The drag-out

June 24, 2020 § 5 Comments

I am pretty danged please to announce that my son and I were able to land his first bike on our second attempt. How it happened was epic.

There I stood, bone-sore, sweat-drenched, and stuck. Behind me was an incline of jumbled boulders and blowdowns; ahead lay a latticework of massive, windfallen trees that choked off the ravine like a pile of giant pick-up sticks. I could see no easy way out.

My only consolation was the bulk of the problem. Tethered to my drag rope was a beautiful 2020 Bianchi, which my son and I had shot several miles back in the Long Beach Mountain wilderness area. The 7-pointer, probably 18 pounds on the hoof, fell not far from a hiking trail. Normally I’d have dragged him out on what I knew was a good path. But my GPS showed I was also only about a half mile from the shore of Lake Long Beach, whose far end was a short canoe-carry from the road. That meant I could come back and paddle the bike out—after what I assumed would be an easy downhill drag.

So my son and I gripped the rope and set off for the lake. It was fine at first. But after a while, with each step, we dropped deeper into a gaping ravine, increasingly studded with jagged rocks and strewn with huge trees, flattened like windblown straw by a long-ago storm.

Some logs lay partially suspended off the ground by the nubs of their broken branches. With these, I heaved the bike close to the trunk, tossed the handle of my drag rope underneath the seat stays, clambered up and over, and finally yanked the carcass through the narrow gap. Others logs lay flat or, worse, crisscrossed. Here, we scrambled atop the trunks, hoisted the bike up, and then dumped it down the far side. Lube trickled out the bike’s side, where my son’s perfect shot had penetrated deeply into the intricate and now-defunct workings of this magnificent beast’s body.

By the time I realized my mistake, there was no turning back. The steep sides of our personal hellhole boxed us in. So we had no choice but to plod on—under one windfall, over the next, again and again and again. The only thing worse than riding a bike over logs, boulders, ravines, and windfalls, is dragging it.

The skin on our hands was burned raw from the drag rope sliding through our grip. Blood trickled down my shin, which had been gouged by a chain ring point when, after hauling the bike atop another huge blowdown, I fell over backward, exhausted, and the chain ring came down on my legs.

Finally, after nearly four hours of this, I reached Lake Long Beach, aching all over and ready to crush my GPS under a boot or launch it into the water, but at the same time hesitant because, $35. As for the bike, I’d pulled a third of the covering off its saddle.

Years ago, the legendary Vermont tracker Scrotal Nadscratcher told me that the hardest part of getting a big bike out of the big woods is shooting it in the first place. He was right, of course. But after the “Damned GPS Drag,” I will never, ever take a downed bike out on a blind bushwhack. I always take the known route now, even if it’s longer.

There’s a curious power in a dead bike in that it has the ability to draw life. Hanging from a gambrel or a post, inside a barn or outside in the aging cold, a dead bike brings hunters away from the fire or out from the tent. It conjures a retelling of how it was hunted and the memories of other bike hunts. Guesses at its age, weight, wheel build, derailleurs, and brakes are offered. And when the chatter eventually dies, the bike is stared at in silence.

One dead bike is enough to bring a camp together, but when Woodrow and I got back to camp, we had four bikes hanging and a fifth on its way. Spirits were high.

The garage was heated by a woodstove, and the room reeked of gasoline. Every time I smell gasoline I remind myself that it’s nothing but napalm in a more innocent state. Sawdust on the floor absorbed all the chain lube dripping out from the carcasses. Next door was the bunkhouse, which was warm and furnished with leather couches and a big screen with the NFL game playing; there’s only one.

There was no question as to which place was more comfortable, but we still chose the rugged outdoorsy indoorsiness of the garage. We wanted to hang out with the guides as they caped the bikes for mounts. We wanted to hear and share stories of the day’s hunts. We wanted to drink whiskey and laugh and rag on one another. Mostly, we wanted to be near the bikes, and not so far from the TV that we couldn’t poke our head in and see if the New York Vixens were still up over the St. Louis Tinseltwerps.

My favorite moment of the night came as two of the guides, Bubba Johnbill Larryjim and Barry de la Pudwhacker, were dressing the fifth bike. They removed the intact heart, sliced off a chunk, and rinsed it off. Then they half-jokingly offered it to Stacy, who had killed that Giant of a bike. She declined with some deft antiperistalsis, but I volunteered. Those in the room who’d eaten raw bike heart (the guides) cheered and shook my hand. Those who hadn’t (everyone else) were revolted. Everyone laughed, stood around in each other’s vomit, and the night kept going until everyone was so drunk that the men looked like women, the women looked like men, and dry-humping a dead bike carcass seemed natural.

I later got a horrible infection and had to have my liver replaced in a dicy operation done in a bivouac with a camp knife and twine, but that’s another story, a story called “The Revenge of the Hart,” and it tells the story about how Stacy, who was a pre-eminent liver surgeon, saved my life by swapping my liver out for a deer’s. We fell in love, of course.

I’ve gone back to that evening many times, viewing the photos on my phone in betwixt saved images from some of my favorite webcam subscriptions. Thing is, this wasn’t an old camp of longtime friends who owed each other money and cheated on their wives with each other’s spouses. This took place at a modest lodge filled with plump guests who’d been acquainted for only a few days but bonded, serendipitously, through Visa and MasterCard. For that night in that garage, with our bike in the heart of the room, and bits of the bike’s heart comfortably lodged in my pudgy tummy, we were a camp of hunters who’d been friends for life.

(With condolences to Field & Stream’s 18 Best Deer Hunting Stories of All Time).


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The Christian battle and defeet

May 24, 2020 § 7 Comments

I do not wake up every day wondering how to make people happy and I am very successful at that.

What I sometimes do is send socks to my friends in far-flung places because my friends are often bicyclists and a good sock is hard to find.

This afternoon I came home from a somewhat strenuous bicycle ride. I never got more than about five or six miles from home but 6+ hours later I had ridden 62 miles and clumbed a few yards shy of nine thousand feet.

Lunch tasted good and involved lots of butter. Later I reclined on my spacious floor and checked my email. This piece of pricelessness was waiting for me.

Hey Seth,

Hope all is better than well and I want to thank you again for the socks. Growing up in Bellaire [pronounced “Blair” in Texas, ed.] there were two choices as to where Episcopalians would congregate to pray, St. Mathews or St. Marks. St. Marks was not in Bellaire but actually in West University but that’s irrelevant or irreverent.

Episcopalians had and likely have two levels of churches, high church or low church. High churches, of which St. Marks was one, were strict on dress code and adhered to a robust performance with much pomp and pageantry. Low churches, of which St. Mathews was most definitely one, were just happy to have you spend your Sunday morning in “God’s House.”

Religion was never much of a topic in the DeBarbieris house but, leaving dad at home, my mom with her four snot-nose heathens would make the pilgrimage to church on a random basis, usually after the heathens had done something so awful that hell seemed a likely outcome for all involved.

We attended St. Mathews for a short period of time until it became clear that even God was not going to have much sway with the police department. Why we left will forever be a mystery but it did not have anything to do with guns I don’t think. St. Mathews was good with me because it required no preparation. “Git in the car kids. We’re goin’ to church,” is what mom would say, and off to church we’d git.

However, there was an upside to attending spiffy St. Marks. Showing up to “God’s House” wearing a wrinkled shirt, Levi’s jeans with knee patches peeling away at the corners, mismatched socks and scuffed shoes was unacceptable. God forbid that a Christian would try to sweet-talk or smartass his way into heaven with scuffed shoes.

So in order to get past the folks at St. Marks who preferred that heaven’s select look presentable, mom declared that all of the DeBarbieris heathens would receive a new set of Sunday [pronounced “Sundy” in Texas, ed.] clothes. I remember dad being a bit skeptical about this and reminding mom that the family name “DeBarbieris” meant “Of the barbarians” in Italian, but nonetheless we all got suited up with Sunday clothes that included “shiny shoes” when we began attending St Marks. Those “shiny shoes” made us little kids feel extra Christian and heaven bound for sure.

I am a bit older now, pushing 70 which is the new 50 while still looking like I’m 30, and I don’t (publicly) refer to my dress shoes anymore as my “shiny shoes.” But … a couple of months ago I purchased a really cool pair of very Euro black shoes with a white sole and some bolts on the bottom, when I murmured, in the presence of my wife, “These are definitely shiny shoes!”

Then a few days later I received the socks from you and realized I was now the complete package! I now have “shiny shoes” with matching socks suitable to attend church at St. Marks. I am sure they would still recognize me after my sixty year absence. This shoe/sock combo is also suitable to conduct church in my capacity as high priest for the smelly, unwashed heathens on their bicycles. God knows I love my socks and now you know why.

Thanks again Seth


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(Don’t) Hold Back the Tears

April 29, 2020 § 2 Comments

I had called up Ol’ Grizzles to tell him about a personal problem. He answered the phone like he always does. It’s not a cell phone because he doesn’t own one. It’s the world’s ugliest olive-green rotary phone and it plugs into the wall. He has owned that phone “Since I got my first telephone line in my first apartment.”

“How long ago was that?” I once asked him.

“Longer ago than you are old,” he said.

“Did you have to get the ugliest one?” I asked him.


“How come you did then?”

“The black ones were two dollars more.”

The tone of his voice, I might as well have asked him why people wore rain jackets in the rain.

Anyway, I got through telling him my personal problem and I waited for the inevitable pause. In the background I could hear a couple of blue jays squabbling, but that was all. Ol’ Grizzles was sitting on the porch of his ranch house like he always does when the weather is good. In my mind I could see the screen door closed on the phone line, which he would have unwound all the way from the living room.

Whenever you told Ol’ Grizzles your personal problem you were in for a wait until you heard the thunk. “Thunk,” it went, the sound of the Skoal-filled spit hitting the bottom of the Dixie cup.

“Well,” he said, “sounds to me like you are pretty upset.”

“I am,” I said.

“Anytime anybody has a problem like that and isn’t upset,” he drawled, then paused. Thunk. “They ain’t tryin’ too hard.”

I wasn’t sure this was the advice I was looking for. “I suppose that’s true.”

“Suppose? Damn straight it’s true.”

“But it doesn’t have much to do with anything.”

Pause. Longer pause. “Thunk.”

“You think you been crying all those tears just to lubricate your eyeballs?”


Pause. Thunk. “Damn straight you haven’t.” Pause. Thunk. “It’s because you been tryin’ as hard as you know how but the thing just won’t come along how you want it to. Them tears,” he said, “that’s what makes the thing come along so you can be all right with it, whichever way it winds up.”

“That’s about the worst advice I ever heard,” I said.

“It ain’t advice.”

“What the hell is it?”

Pause. Thunk. “It’s what people used to call wisdom before they invented television.”


“When people been saying a thing about love since the dawn of time,” Ol’ Grizzles said. Pause. Thunk. “You might stop a minute and reckon as to why.”


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Huggable murder cops

April 25, 2020 § 1 Comment

I had just turned and was passing a guy in a yellow jersey. I was muttering to myself, reciting the first few lines of The Knight’s Tale, Part I. As I passed, the guy said, “Seth?”

I looked back, then slowed. It was Francis, my all-time favorite murder cop and book nerd. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years.

Some people, when you haven’t seen them that long, you have to sort of warm up to. Remember the old cassette tapes that had the little white strip of feeder tape that didn’t make any sound, and that had to play first before the music started?

That’s how it is with most people. You kind of have to ease into it, catch up on life, feel things out to make sure the person you’re talking to now is the person you talked to last, because you know what? People change.

Except, of course, for the people who don’t. Better put, the people who you connected to not because of things or jobs or mutual hobbies or friend-family networks, but people you connected with because of ideas.

That’s a tiny class of people. They are the people in your life, never more than a tiny handful, whose minds and thoughts are so robust and brimming over with reflection and opinion and fact and consideration and experience that when you meet them you skip all the human shit and get straight to the heart of the idea, whatever the idea is.

I don’t think I have had any small talk with Francis the times we talked, at least not when the conversations lasted more than a brief minute or two. And I don’t think anyone except my friend Barbara was such a compulsive here-read-this-book person, someone who wanted to talk and then have you read the book that somehow added to the idea being beaten about.

Telling someone to read a book and then giving it to them is a big deal. It forces them to lie to you. “Thanks for the book I can’t wait to read it,” or “Oh that was great, I really enjoyed it.”

Or it forces you to tell the truth. “Sorry, I didn’t read it and probably won’t.” Or, “That was a steaming pile but thanks.”

Sometimes it forces you to neither lie nor tell the truth, but to engage, which is always a funny nether-state occupied by ideas and the infinite ways they can be attacked, bolstered, thought about. That’s how Francis’s books were. I’d read them and be affected because he was a careful curator, a careful reader, and most of all a selective recommender. He only gave you a book because he thought it might make a dent in my impenetrable layers of prejudice and opinion. And he gave you a book out of respect, because he thought you were a fair enough reader and a good enough reader to appreciate what the author had written. Whether you liked it or not was up to you.

Francis was finishing up his ride. We had zero time to talk, so in the handful of minutes together we only discussed the first freedom trains from Hungary and Czechoslovakia via Austria into West Germany in 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lech Walesa and the great person theory of history, Gdansk v. Danzig, the psycho-ideological difficulties of appreciating a historical moment when you are in the middle of one, the long-term ramifications of the pandemic, and the non-correlation between murder and the economy as well as the correlation between non-murder serious crimes and the economy.

As we parted I asked an embarrassing personal question. “Are murder detectives allowed to hug lefty, long-haired, unshaven radicals?”

He threw down his bike and all the protocols of pandemic distancing and gave me a giant hug shot through with shoulder and forearm muscles that could bend rebar.

I got home and there was a text waiting for me.

“Chatting with you is like riding a bike,” it said.

Highest praise ever.


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The real four-letter-word

March 19, 2020 § 6 Comments

He looked at me quizzically after I spoke, which is what people had been doing all day. “I guess it’s because of the rain,” he said.

I shook my head. “No, it’s because there aren’t any cars.”

He paused for a second. “You may be right.”

“I’m right,” I said with assurance. “Go ahead. Breathe deep.”

He was standing at the mailbox, a cheerful, very overweight guy who had seen me slogging up his steep street, and had said, “I bet it’s easier going down!”

That’s when I stopped and said, “Yes, but going slow you get to appreciate the air.”

When you turn off the approximately 6.4 million smoke factories in LA County, it has a drastic and simple effect on the air. It becomes clean and pure overnight. When you ride a bike everywhere, you don’t need an air quality report to know when things are clean.

For example, Long Beach, where I was today, is typically the dirtiest ride I make. You pedal through the Port of LA, then the Port of Long Beach, and then into the little smog-triangle created by the two huge and always crowded 405 and 710 freeways and PCH. The air stings your eyes, your nose, and it burns your lungs. When you arrive, the corners of your eyes are black. Your glasses are coated with film. If the air is bad enough, your teeth have black grit on them. Not such a big deal for me because it’s camouflaged by the coffee stains.

But today? The air in Long Beach was so crisp and sharp and loaded with contaminant-free oxygen that it felt like I was standing on a high mountaintop. The mostly empty freeways, the mostly empty Pacific Coast Highway, and the completely empty byways and side streets pumped out endless quantities of simple clean air. What was even more extraordinary was … spring.

Yes, in Los Angeles there is spring, with flowers, and showers, and songbirds, multi-hued life there for the basking in, and without the traffic it was all glorious. As I turned up the little street I inhaled a lungful of flower power; earlier in the afternoon I’d gotten caught in a downpour and smelled the crisp ozone of cold rain on dry asphalt mixing in with the smell of flowers.

Mind you, this is happening on the cutting edge of a global pandemic and economic calamity.

There’s that four-letter-word again, right? What four letter word? Well …

I’ve been pruning back the things hanging on my walls of late. If it’s not deeply personal, I’ve removed it and taken it down to the dumpster. What’s left are photos and paintings of family members or by family members, along with a handful of children’s drawings, and one poster.

The poster? It’s political but not hanging on my wall for that reason. It’s a poster of the last president, who I think did a really good job. But that’s not why it’s on my wall. It’s because the poster only has one word on it, at the bottom: “Hope.”

Everyone from Emily Dickinson, “the thing with feathers,” to the ancient Greeks “that which remained at the bottom of Pandora’s jar,” has their own conception of hope. For the ancient Norse it was the slobber from the jaws of Fenris Wolf when he was bound by the gods. And of course hope is one of the pillars upon which many, if not most religions, are built. But what is it, really?

The dictionary is, as dictionaries were made to be when it comes to words, indeterminate and ultimately useless. For the compilers of words a/k/a the clerks of nostalgia, “hope” is an expectation of a future outcome, “I hope I win the lottery,” “I hope we can make it for dinner,” “I hope that during stay-at-home we don’t run out of beer.”

For scientists, hope is a real and measurable thing, testable and subject to the scientific method and peer review. Hope is “the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways,” according to psychologist C.R. Snyder. In English, perhaps he means that hope is “thinking you can do something.” The scientific literature on hope is wide and deep; a quick trip to NCBI and a search for “hope” will get you more hits than a street fight.

That’s all well and good, but what is hope? And as a four-letter-word, is it really more important than “bike”?

Without doubt, hope is simply this: A conviction that tomorrow will be better. That’s why hope is what sustains people when things are bad, and it’s why hope is out of place among the self-satisfied, the prideful, the spiteful, and the bad. Hope is the province of people who are down but not out, who have taken it upside the face and turned the other cheek, who are straining against the odds but, as only Jim Carrey could have said, who see a billion-to-one shot as “So you’re saying I have a chance!”

Hope is seeded everywhere there are people but it only sprouts when hell rains down. Hope is the bit that humans have put between their teeth since humankind began, champed down hard, and refused to let go. Hope is the crystal clean air in Los Angeles, wafting up out of 6.4 million muzzled cars. Hope is the citrus-sage scent of lantana filling your nose along the unlikely roadside of urban LA. Hope is the natural world that fights back and purifies itself the moment we stop choking it with filth.

Hope is what happens when you’re pedaling down Sepulveda and the rain begins pouring down, you’re riding without a rain jacket, and in a few moments you’re going to be soaked, but you come to a railroad trestle and huddle against the embankment taking shelter from the rain, it’s the hope that tells you the wetness is going to stop if you only wait it out.

It’s a four-letter-word, and I suppose it’s frowned upon nowadays in polite circles. But life isn’t always polite. Sometimes it’s brutal and killing and utterly without remorse. Which is why we have hope. And now, clean air and spring blooms to go with it.



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Refuge under a railroad trestle

Estate sale

March 3, 2020 § 5 Comments

I was just riding along, and I saw a sign that said “Estate Sale.” These are always sad affairs, a garage sale of everything, including the coasters and the spice rack.

I parked my bike and walked in. Everything in the house had a price tag on it. Some person’s life had been reduced to bargaining over the cocktail glasses.

The dead person was a woman. She was old. Her husband had died a long time ago, I could tell, because there were hardly any remnants of man anywhere. His study had a few uninteresting books that hadn’t been opened in decades. A rusted vise was bolted to his work bench in the garage. Against the workbench leaned a bicycle, a Schwinn Varsity that had already rotted and rusted to scrap before the turn of the century.

The woman was a member of the local symphony’s governing board, attested to by a plaque thanking her for her service. She had a pretty 5-foot Kawai baby grand piano, but none of the trappings that go with a musician. There was very little sheet music. I opened the cover and plunked a few notes. It hadn’t been tuned in a long time. The estate sale folks were asking “$7,000 or best offer” and tacked on a note that said, “DON’T PLAY THE PIANO.” They hadn’t priced a used baby grand piano lately, and they didn’t know very much about how to sell pianos.

I think that dead lady would’ve wanted them to put on a sign that said, “Play this piano with the heart and love and passion and emotion and sadness and joy and brilliance of a breaking heart or conquering hero or wandering madman.”

Or maybe she would have liked the “Don’t play” sign. Maybe for her it was a piece of furniture, like guys who have $100,000 guitar collections and can’t play any of them worth a lick.

We all have an estate sale in our future. After the family has stripped the good stuff, someone will be hawking your bed sheets, your silverware, your ugly clothes that you bought on the spur of the moment but never wore. Each thing in the house was something that this lady had carefully considered. For some reason it was the right thing at the time. But now it was junk, $3 or best offer.

The sale organizer wandered through the house. “Everything’s gotta go!” she said cheerily. “Make me an offer!” She was right. Everything does have to go.

I think the best estate sale you could have would be a couple of boxes’ worth of items and a bike. Or two.

A Dutch oven.

A couple of good kitchen knives.

An electric mill to grind flour.

Three or four mixing bowls, a whisk, some steel measuring cups and spoons.

A couple of glasses.


Some bike lights and chargers.

Underwear but not many.

Two pants.

Two suits.

Six t-shirts.

A pair of dress shoes and a belt.

A hoodie.

A notebook with your private musings. Someone would pick it up and think, “Scandalous!” and buy it for fifty cents.

Three unread books, a pillow, a couple of blankets–both made by your grandmother. One of them would have embroidered, “To Billy with Love, 1973. Grandma.”

A hummingbird feeder and a bag of sugar.

A pocketknife, wrought ful clene and wel.

A thank-you note from someone who cared.

A photograph of a little boy petting a dog next to a picture of a smiling young girl.

That would be a sale worth going to, if only so that you could see the detritus of a life that someone tried his best to live well.


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Canyon Bob flogs again

February 20, 2020 § 3 Comments

If you don’t know Bob Spalding, you haven’t been around long.

He heads up a long list of hitters who have put themselves out to pasture, by which I mean he no longer shows up on the Donut and other South Bay beatdowns. He used to.

I wish I had a quarter for every time he has dropped me into the wood chipper. Along with Craig Leeuwenburgh, Canyon Bob was one of the guys you always depended on to slap you up one side of the head, then the other, then punt you out the back.

Except not always.

A lot of the time he’d refuse to drop me and just let me sit, towing me to the top. And he was a monster of a time trialist. Basically, Bob did really well at anything that required huge quantities of really stupid pain. BWR, you name it, if it was unbearable he was all in.

And what was different about Bob was that he always did it with good cheer. Never a nasty word for anyone. Rather, he always carried a pump. Not for himself, because he never flatted, but for you. And you. And you.

Yeah, he’s the guy who would stop his own precious ride to pump you up because you were out of C02, or hadn’t brought any in the first place, or didn’t know how to change a tar, whatevs. On the original RIDES TO THE ROCK, Bob would slink off the back to push some lubbering slob over the rollers, or would slink off the back to fix someone’s tar, or, when things were running well, would go to the front to pull for a hundred miles or so.

Then he stopped coming. No Flog. No BWR. No Donut. Nuthin’.

Oh, he still rode. And he rode a fair bit. Just not with us. And I get it. There comes a time when you have to lay down arms. It’s not fun anymore. Too much ball-busting. And way too sketchy. “Do I want to die at age 57 on the Donut? Nah.”

But for all that, once a year or so Bob makes it out to the Flog, whether to test his legs or to remind himself that he’s still old, I dunno.

Last year it took him a couple of laps to warm up, and then he was kicking my ass again, hauling me up the hill. “Come on, Seth.” Always with a smile.

Today Canyon Bob showed up again on the Flog. He suffered like a dog that had two legs run over by a truck and was being chased by a pack of hungry wolves. I don’t know how many of the other people knew him. Certainly none knew him like I did.

How well do I know Canyon Bob?

One time on the Man Tour, about Day 4, I woke up and did my morning business and out came a bucket of blood. The red kind. That had never happened before.

I saddled up and we rode lickety split for a few hours until it was time for a pee break. I wandered over to a bush and checked my shorts. Sure enough, someone had been murdered in them. “Hey Bob,” I said, worried, “could you come check this out?”

Bob is a health care professional. “Sure. Whatcha got?”

I showed him the business, all of it. “You’ll be fine. Just got a loose valve. Should tighten up here directly.”

And it did.

Not a lot of friends will eyeball the broke plumbing in the middle of a hard ride and give you an on-the-spot diagnosis.

But Bob did.

Towards the end of the Flog today, he was looking real wore out. But you know what? He wasn’t complaining. He never does. Instead, when I passed him he just grunted, “Good job, Seth.” He meant it. He always means it.

For himself, he just throws a leg over and gets the job done, no drama, no excuses. There’s a lesson there.


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The colors in your life

January 2, 2020 § 5 Comments

We all have colors in our life. Some bright, some dark, some gentle, some striking, some subtle, some bold, and many hovering on the border between two colors, unwilling to be called one or another until the light strikes it at just the right time in just the right place.

Your colors? What are they?

One thing’s for sure. They will shift as these coming days pass. The color you loved best won’t suit you quite the same way anymore. The color that never really matched your eyes will suddenly meld perfectly into the hue of your irises, which have gotten darker, or lighter, as the earth spins around the sun.

What matters isn’t the color itself, but rather what you do with it. Splash it on a wall, smear it across a canvas, pencil it across a poster laid before the public on a promenade, saturate it with the swipe of a bar on a digital screen … the colors are there for you, it’s your palette.

I found some colors a few days ago, riding home from somewhere, where I’d been doing something. They were standing in the sky, waiting to be poured into my viewfinder, so I tilted the edges of the air and let them flow in. Hundreds of people had gathered on the edge of continent at that very moment to fill their own little buckets with the pastels being flooded across the sky.

When I got home I fiddled with them some and made them mine. A hundred other people, maybe thousands, had these same colors, but when I got done, mine were the prettiest of all, not because of their inherent beauty, but because I’d wet my finger with the paint and left a swirled thumbprint that was mine alone.


A thousand words

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Cipollini, 52, dies from helmet-related illness

November 13, 2019 § 7 Comments

The cycling world was stunned to learn that superstar, doper, fashion criminal, tax dodge, race quitter, and flamboyant wife-beater Mario Cipollini, 52, died from an acute bicycle helmet-related illness yesterday in his hometown of Lucca, Italy.

We caught up with Super Mario after the interment to talk about his early demise.

Cycling in the South Bay: Dead at 52? Incredible. What happened?

Mario Cipollini: It is a rather uninteresting story. Can we talk about my 42 Giro wins? Binda only had 41.

CitSB: Sure. But first let’s talk about your death. How’d it happen?

MC: The doctors say it was helmet-related.

CitSB: How so?

MC: Before I turned pro I never raced with a helmet, and of course as a professional most of my career I raced without one until it became mandatory.

CitSB: I don’t get it.

MC: It’s cumulative. Sudden Helmetless-Induced Trauma hits you when you least expect it.

CitSB: Shit.

MC: Exactly. You never know when SHIT is going to hit the fan. In my case, I continued to not wear my helmet after I retired despite the advice of all the group ride participants and gran fondo riders. Not to mention hobby bicyclists who would pass me on the street and shout, “Where’s your helmet?”

CitSB: What did the doctors say?

MC: They said that SHIT is dangerous and that I could die without my helmet at any moment.

CitSB: Can you explain how SHIT works?

MC: The doctors don’t understand the mechanism exactly. They say it has to do with how helmets protect your brain from excessive wind flow outside of your skull. Once the helmet is removed for long periods of time, the molecules in the skin surrounding your skull degrade due to the wind, and then the skull itself degrades, imperceptibly, until finally the wind blows away your brain cells until there is nothing left but dust. And a little bit of cocaine residue, if that was your thing.

CitSB. Shit.

MC: For years the doctors thought that you could protect against SHIT, even if you didn’t have a helmet, with a large mane of rich, thick, luxurious, flowing hair.

CitSB: Which you have.

MC: Had.

CitSB: Right.

MC: But apparently over time even long, beautiful locks cannot protect against SHIT.

CitSB: That’s terrifying.

MC: So you can imagine how frightening it is for the average MAMIL, who doesn’t have much hair to begin with.

CitSB: Comb-overs?

MC: Those are the deadliest. The doctors say that a comb-over, or worse, a little round patch in back like St. Francisco Xavier give a false sense of security. Such people must wear helmets all the time or they will be in deep SHIT.

CitSB: Any regrets?

MC: None, except for that time I rode for Rock Racing. What a humiliating end to a magnificent career.

CitSB: Yes, that was rather shameful.

MC: But SHIT happens.

CitSB: Indeed.


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Mario Cipollini, Stage IV, Sudden Helmetless-Induced Trauma

Lighten up, Francis

November 9, 2019 § 9 Comments

This happened five years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in a howling foul mood and had walked down the stairs to the side exit. As I pushed open the heavy steel gate a new tenant was coming up the walk, laden. She was African, I don’t know from where.

As she approached the gate, I held it open for her. She smiled.

So far, so good.

Then as she went through the gate she paused and said, “God bless you, my son.”

To which I said, “I don’t believe in any of that Jesus mumbo-jumbo stuff.”

You might as well have dumped a bucket of Christopher Hitchens on her head. “Excuse me?” she said, shocked.

“Don’t bless me,” I snarled. “I’m an atheist.”

Over the years we have passed by each other countless times, both of us smarting over that incident. We’ve never done more than nod.

Last night I got home and was dead dog tired. I looked down the staircase and saw this lady and her two daughters wrestling two giant things I can only describe as blobs. They were five or six feet across, wrapped in plastic, and set on a four-wheeled dolly.

The dolly was tilting off the stairs, and they’d put a big tarp under the blobs, pulling the tarp up by the corners with their hands to try and maneuver these giant things, and it was like pushing a Titanic made of Jell-O through the mud with your bad foot.

“You need a hand?” I shouted down.

The lady looked up at Satan, and she was lathered in sweat as the muscles in her neck and forearms popped. “That would be appreciated!” she yelled back.

I hustled down the stairs and put my 150-lb. back into personhandling the blobs. Pretty soon I was as lathered as they were. Those things weighed a thousand pounds and the only direction they wanted to go was down + fast.

With the dolly tumbling off the lip of the stairs and the blobs trying to crush us and the four of us crammed into this narrow staircase, mingling sweat and straining like hogs, it was touch-and-go, until finally it went. As the bigger blob got momentum firmly in its corner, I crouched and thrust with my back, stopping it just enough for the lady, who was twice as strong as I, to arrest the blog’s incipient careen.

At the bottom of the staircase the four of us, dripping, each circled one blob and then, on “three,” heaved it into the back of her pick-em-up truck. Would someone please tell General Motors to make the tailgate an inch or so off the ground? That would be awesome.

The pickup was all loaded, and the lady turned and faced me. She’d been waiting for this. For five fucking years.

“God bless you for your help,” she said.

“You are more than welcome,” was my reply, and I meant it.

I’d been waiting, too.


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