December 17, 2014 § 12 Comments
I am hoping to get a pro contract next year and want to start the season strong, without losing fitness over the cold months. I live in Los Angeles, where it can be very hard to train during the winter. As I write this the weather has plunged to 65F, and scattered showers (20%) are predicted throughout the day. It’s been like this since Monday, and I can’t afford to lose any more fitness. I’m 37 and just upgraded to Cat 2, so this is my last shot at the big time.
Your concerns are well founded. You begin losing cardio fitness after 24 hours, and muscle begins turning into beer after a week of inactivity. Southern California is a challenging place to stay fit in the winter, with anywhere from six to ten days of overcast skies and an average of 1-2 inches of rain from October – March. Winter lows can hover in the high 50’s, often for weeks at a time. Having the right equipment will make the difference between getting a ride with BMC in 2015 and having to beat me again in an upgrade crit. Get an indoor trainer like this. All the pros use them.
I bought that trainer like you said but after thirty minutes it was so boring that I jumped off and smashed out all the plate glass windows in my house. Is racing at the pro level really this hard? Also, I posted my trainer ride on Facebag, Strava, and emailed it to all my friends but no one has “liked” or “kudo’d” it yet. Any ideas?
Sorry. I forgot to tell you, you also need to buy the entire library of these. You probably didn’t send the training file to enough people. Try Twitter, Linked-In, and Pinterest. People actually really enjoy poring over trainer files, so keep sharing. And pro racing isn’t nearly as hard as riding on a trainer for thirty minutes. If you can get up to 1-2 hours you will have simulated Roubaix or a climbing week in the Tour.
I got the library and am up to 3 hours a day. My FTP has increased 20% and I am rolling like a monster. But the software on the videos compares my wattage to the actual wattage in a pro race, and there is still a gap. For example, the winner of the Ronde averaged 350 watts for seven hours, whereas I’m averaging 175 watts for my first thirty minutes and dropping off significantly after that. Thoughts?
You are definitely pro material. Sorry, but I forgot to mention that you need someone to help structure your workouts. There are a lot of quacks out there claiming to know how to get you to the next level, but these folks are the best of the best. Get ‘r done, buddy!
All the floorboards in my house have rotted through due to the sweat from my indoor trainer. Also, I go through three tires a day, and at $70 a pop we’re having to cut back on electricity, water, and Rapha. I’m up to fourteen hours a day now, though. FTP is up another 5%! Getting “R” done!! Any ideas for the floorboards??
I forgot to tell you that you need one of these, too. All the pros have one; it’s where Lance hangs all his yellow jerseys. Also, fourteen hours is good. You might be ready to go to the next level, details here.
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December 13, 2014 § 8 Comments
In thirty-three years of riding and racing, I’ve gotten two good pieces of advice, which makes for an average of one about every seventeen years.
The first one was from the Fireman. I was pounding my brains out on the front of some stupid group ride. A few people got unhitched, but most didn’t. Towards the end I faded and could barely struggle home, much less contest the sprunts. The fresher rides beat me like a rug on cleaning day.
“Dude,” said Fireman, “just remember. You race like you train.”
“Huh?” I said.
“Yeah. You train like an idiot, and you’re gonna race like an idiot.”
I thought about that, and he was right. Fireman trains smart, and every year he wins a couple of very hard races. The races that he targets, he almost always places in. He’s not the best climber, the best sprinter, the best breakaway rider, or the best time trialist. But he trains smart, and he races even smarter.
It was good advice, but useless, because I love to pound on training rides. “Everyone gets shelled,” is my motto, so when it’s my turn I accept my beating, almost joyfully. Almost.
The second good piece of advice I got was from three-time national crit champion and all-around hammer and good guy, Daniel Holloway. I had watched Daniel work over the Gritters brothers earlier this year on the third day of the 805 Crit series put on by Mike Hecker. It was two against one in a three-up breakaway. Daniel had to go fast enough to stave off a lightning fast pro field, but not so fast that he burned himself out when it came time for the sprunt. With one lap to go he attacked the Gritterses and soloed.
“How’d you do that?” I asked one day when we were coming back from the NPR.
“Easy,” he said. “I followed the breakaway rule.”
“The breakaway rule? As in, ‘Don’t ever be in one?'”
He laughed. “No, that’s the wankaway rule. The breakaway rule is ‘Don’t ever be the strongest guy in the break.'”
“Yeah. If you feel great, don’t ever show that you’re the strongest. If you’ve got the legs to win and you’re up the road with three or four other guys, always be the second strongest guy in the break. Never the strongest.”
“What does that mean, you know, like, in reality?”
“Don’t take the hardest pull, take the second hardest pull. Don’t take the longest pull, take the second longest pull. When the ‘strongest’ guy takes a monster pull, show that it hurt you and rotate to the back, even quickly.”
“You saw the 805 Crit, didn’t you?”
“That’s the ‘then what.’ When it’s time, you go. And the ‘strongest’ guy who’s been out there crushing it for the last hour suddenly isn’t the strongest guy anymore. You are.”
I memorized every line of this conversation and swore I would put it into practice. On a few of the Donut Rides I’ve managed not to completely spend myself in the first ten minutes and have actually done respectably on the climbs. One time I even beat Dave Jaeger. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Daniel showed up for our new Thursday AM beatdown ride on the Flog Course around the Palos Verdes golf club.
On the first lap the Wily Greek strung it out, dropped all but ten people, and stuffed the rest of us deep into the hurt locker. After hanging out for a few moments in that close, uncomfortable space without enough air, I got dropped. Then I felt a hand on my ass and a strong push. It was Daniel, grinning, and the fucker wasn’t even breathing hard. “Suffer, old man,” he laughed, easily throwing me back up to the leaders.
On the second lap he attacked and only Wily and Derek could answer. The rest of us melted into a loose coalition of hapless chasers. Forgetting everything he’d told me, I rode like a madman, the strongest guy in the four-man chase. By the sixth and last lap I was a puddle of guts. When I hit the 20% final climb up La Cuesta, my chase group companions roared past. Daniel was coming down the hill. He saw me, turned around, and rode up next to me, about to offer me some key advice.
“Don’t say it,” I said.
“Don’t say what?” he asked.
“Advice. Don’t give me any more advice.”
“How come?” he said, grinning.
“Because it’s not seventeen years yet.”
He looked at me funny and easily pedaled away.
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December 9, 2014 § 28 Comments
There is no greater fear than the Fear of Getting Dropped.
I used to think it was a function of cowardice, because everyone gets dropped, and people who avoid rides because they’re afraid of droppage, well, come on. Eddy got dropped. Lance got dropped. The fastest guy on your group ride got dropped. And of course you got dropped — repeatedly. It’s the nature of the beast.
Since droppage is inherent in cycling, i.e. there is always a point where, when people are going hard enough, you will get shelled, I’ve never understood why people avoid hard rides or hilly races because of their FOG’d. On reflection, though, it’s not about cowardice. For some it’s about the humiliating nature of reality. Getting shelled every time, every climb, or coming off the back early in the ride/race means you’re not very good. The people riding away from you? They are better than you, and all of the complex emotional defense mechanisms that we generate to “attaboy” ourselves crumble when the peloton rolls away.
But that’s not the main reason for FOG’d. The main reason is primordial and lies with the herd and the tribe. Whether it’s solitary confinement or lagging behind the other zebras because of an injured leg, being culled from the group speaks to our most primitive fear of defenselessness and death. When the tribe can no longer support you, you were either put on an ice floe or taken to Obasute-yama. When you could no longer keep up with the healthy herd you fell prey to the wolves who forever shadowed the group, waiting precisely for you to stumble or lag, and then pull you down, and then sink their fangs into your throat as they sunk their bloody snouts into your gore-soaked entrails.
Starting out with the group, getting popped, and flailing home alone has all of those connotations, not to mention mile after mile of cursing the sorry bastards who didn’t even have the common courtesy to wait.
When I heard about Tony Manzella’s new Dogtown Ride and glanced at the list of guys like Rudy Napolitano and Matt Cutler who were in attendance, I knew it would be a great ride. It would be great because, with 60 miles and 6k of climbing, it was going to be hilly and hard. I knew it would also be pitiless and therefore a small group. None of these guys were hand-holders. They might wait for a couple of minutes at the top of the first few climbs, but after a while if you couldn’t keep up you would suddenly remember a kiddie soccer game or a load of laundry or that this was December and not really part of your profamateur training plan.
The ride began at 8:00-ish at Dogtown Coffee on Main Street in Santa Monica. There were about 30 starters. After the first hour we were down to less than twenty. By the time we took our first rest stop at the bottom of Piuma there were about ten, and when we got back to Santa Monica there were perhaps eight riders left. I’m sure I’ve done harder rides with better riders, but I can’t really remember when.
And you know the funniest thing of all? At one point or another, almost everyone got dropped.
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December 5, 2014 § 26 Comments
Rides come and go, mostly go. When the New Pier Ride was ruined by construction on Westchester Parkway, a new ride was subbed in. Dreamed up by local rider Junkyard, the new Thursday ride has now reached a point of such viciousness that its founder not only gets shelled in the first three minutes, but it’s gotten so hard that he can’t even get out of bed.
Now that, friends, is a hard bicycle ride.
The Thursday ride leaves at 6:35 AM sharp from the fountain in Malaga Cove. The route is simple:
- Right on PV Drive.
- Right on Paso del Campo.
- Right on Via Campesina.
- Right on Via Chico, through the arch, and back to PV Drive.
- On the sixth lap, left on La Cuesta, where the ride terminates at the top and you vomit.
- Back to Riviera Village for coffee and lies.
The awesomeness of the ride is expressed by the fact that it immediately starts with a climb, so people immediately get shelled. No imagining, no hoping, no fantasy that you actually had sort of a good ride. You start and if you don’t have the legs you’re gone. There is something beautiful about this type of summary execution, where the usual habit of lingering, wheelsucking, and flailing by at the end becomes a nasty sort of trial, judgment, and punishment within the first few hundred yards.
However, the fun doesn’t stop there because the beginning climb isn’t that steep, and the following climb up around the golf course isn’t that steep. So with practice you can get strong enough to hang on, although the humiliation and crushing sense of defeat that comes from getting repeatedly shelled the first few times you do the ride is usually enough to make people go away and never come back. The net effect is that after a few laps are three groups.
- Stathis the Wily Greek.
- Everyone else.
- The fragments.
But it gets better because there are no stoplights. On the NPR, indeed every group ride in L.A., the ride is controlled partially by stoplights, and largely by stoplight whiners. Essentially, when you’re off the front on the NPR with one other wanker and you have a pack of 85 chasing with a tailwind and you’re pedaling harder than teakwood and you approach a red light and you run it, at the end of the ride all the wheelsuckers and never-seen-the-fronters and wait-til-the-end-sprunters and why-are-we-hammering-it’s-Novemberers will berate you for scofflawing. Never mind that there was never any danger, and never mind that the whiners are the very people who will pull the craziest death-shit in the middle of a pack fighting for a wheel. The point is that they want to detract from your awesomesauceness and your heroic brokeaway antics. Plus, they’re pissed that their sprunt didn’t count because you had already crossed the imaginary line in a fantasy victory.
Not so with the Thursday ride! There are no stoplights to run, only stop signs, and the stoplight whiners never, ever, ever show up for the ride. It’s like killing two birds with one stone, then fricasseeing them and eating them for dinner.
The ride offers up lots more goodness, for example racing tactics. There is always one idiot or two who will attack from the gun and establish a healthy gap. Said idiot, who often writes a daily blog, then gets reeled in and crushed. But rather than simply floating to the back to regroup and attack again, the torrid pace and the constant rolling climb punish the would-be attacker to such an extent that the next hard acceleration, typically unleashed by Derek, or by EA Sports, Inc., or by 26, obliterates the hangers-on so that Sausage, Spivey, Fireman, and I wank along until they shell me, too.
In short, you can get all the misery and failure of a race every single week without paying a nickel or driving a mile.
But wait, there’s more! Repeat riders get stronger (can you imagine that?) so the ride gets even harder. 26, who never finished without getting shelled, put the wood to everyone yesterday. When a big boy like that gets as comfortable on rolling power climbs as he is in sprints, it’s going to mean mayhem.
Best of all, with the exception of the time that Sausage got dropped, turned around, and hopped back in with us as we came by, there is no cheating. Once you get unhitched, you’re on your own to struggle and suffer and try to catch the little red blinking light in front of you. Or you pair up with another wanker and suffer in tandem.
The ride is short; just under one hour long, and after finishing the climb on the last lap you jog left and go up La Cuesta. It’s only a little more than a quarter-mile long, but at 12 or 13 percent it feels like a light-year. Now if we can just get the ride’s founder to start showing up again.
December 2, 2014 § 30 Comments
When I saw the big yellow Penske moving van with the tan pickup hitched up behind it, I almost shed a tear. After two years of threats, Brad House has moved to Texas. Do the poor Texans have any idea what they’re in for? Do they remember Radical Reconstruction?
Few people have made a bigger impact on cycling in the South Bay than Brad. Whether it was the bright orange catmuffs he began wearing a couple of years ago, items that make an already ridiculous looking sport even sillier, whether it was his cycling shorts whose rear panels had expired in 2002, whether it was his “all the guns, all the time” right wing views that made the NRA look soft on the 2nd Amendment, or whether it was his random habit of opening his mouth and jamming it full with both feet, Brad was a force that none could ignore.
In addition to his uncanny ability to say the exactly wrong thing at the perfectly wrong time, though, Brad has made the South Bay an exponentially better place to ride for hundreds, if not thousands of cyclists. Foremost among his contributions was his advocacy. Cyclists, as everyone knows, are whiny little bitches. They will complain about their two free team kits, their 25% shop discount, and their “free but turn in at the end of the season” team bike for hours upon endless hours. Just try getting your average wanker to show up at a city council meeting and advocate for something cycling related, though. Ain’t ever gonna happen.
Unless your name is Brad House.
The same energy with which Brad broadcasts batshit crazy political views that will make Texas seem like a moderate-liberal enclave is the same energy he brought to council meetings in the South Bay. Brad always found time, always made time, to advocate for cyclists’ rights. And he invariably articulated his position thoughtfully, persuasively, and intelligently — so much so that the suit-and-ties on the city council had no clue they were dealing with a cannonball that was looser than a $5 hooker.
Brad is the first cyclist I ever met who refused to back down to bullying cagers. He didn’t simply control the lane, he controlled the very oxygen in the street. He was the first person I ever rode with who took his rightful place smack in the middle of the lane and refused to be bullied out of it. One time on the Donut a cager with a latte honked at him to get out of the way at a stop light. She is probably still getting the dents out of her hood.
In contrast to his aggressive defense of his right to ride in the road, I never heard Brad talk shit about anyone, ever, and it’s not only because he loved to talk about himself. It’s also because, beneath all the flibber-flabber and blibber-blabber, he saw himself as a kind of Pied Piper for new cyclists. Although they’re ashamed to admit it now because their mentor wears those orange catmuffs, hundreds of people in the South Bay got hooked on cycling, and improved as cyclists thanks to the friendship and encouragement of Brad House.
Nor were Brad’s contributions limited to advocacy and raunchy tales in mixed company that would make a porn star blush. Every race promoter in Southern California owes a debt to Brad, who promoted races here for decades. Whether it was the San Pedro Grand Prix, one of the best and most challenging race courses ever, the annual drag race held out at LAX on Westchester Parkway, the countless hill climbs in PV, or cyclocross races, Brad invested the time and passion and legendary cheapness that is required to put on a bike race.
Yet for all his cheapness, he was a generous guy. I remember five years ago at Woodland Hills I was bonking before a race. “Brad,” I said, “got any food?”
“I think I got a candy bar somewhere,” he said. We went back to his pickup and he rummaged around on the floor in the back seat for a few minutes, stirring up more dust and trash and filth than you would think could be contained in such a small vehicle. “Here!” he triumphantly called, holding up an opened package with a half-eaten Clif Bar in it. The expiration date said something on it about the Jurassic.
But no candy bar ever tasted better, and on the fuel generously supplied by Brad I went on to finish 72nd and didn’t fall off my bike.
Despite his welcoming mien to beginners and his extremely sketchy bike skills and his wildly flapping elbows and his crazyman catmuffs, Brad was also a successful bike racer, and he never tired of reminding people that he had more California State Champion jerseys than anyone in history. Whether that’s true or not, he certainly had no shortage of them, and along with his expired rear short panels and unblinking brown eye, those flashy jerseys were a sight to behold.
More than his racing exploits, his kindness to others, his advocacy, his passion as a promoter, and, when he worked at the bike shop in San Pedro, his ability to take a perfectly functioning bike with a minor problem and turn it into a rolling catastrophe, Brad will be remembered by most as a friend — someone who was there when you needed him, often there when you didn’t, too kind to hold a grudge, and always looking forward with enthusiasm and passion to the next ride.
I’ll miss you Brad, sort of.
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November 29, 2014 § 19 Comments
Over Thanksgiving Dinner I had sternly lectured Sherri about forgiveness. “Sure, ol’ Puddinhead is a fourteen-carat asshole. But you can’t get too angry at him.”
“Why not? Nobody can stand the bastard.”
“Because cycling isn’t like the real world. In the real world when you meet an asshole, you avoid him forever. But in the cycling world, when you meet an asshole, chances are great that he’s going to be on every group ride you do for the next ten years. And when it’s your turn to fall off your bike on your head, chances are excellent that it’s asshole who will be there to call EMS or drag your corpse to the roadside so that the embalmer doesn’t have to get truck treads out of your face.”
“Easy to say, Mr. Turntheotherbuttcheek.”
“I’ve got a lot of practice. There’s nothing that happens in cycling that’s worth getting angry about, at least not for more than a few minutes. We’re too dependent on each other — on rides, in races — just being on someone’s wheel is a leap of faith of the biggest sort.”
Sherri shook her head. “Some assholes just need a good killin’.”
I had been excited all week about Friday’s SPY Holiday Ride. One of my buddies who had never done it before kindly offered to give me and the Wily Greek a lift down to San Diego. He, like many others, wanted to see how he would “stack up” against the monsters of North County on their home turf — a 60-mile, hilly, crushing, full-on dick stomping contest of the very first order.
Normally I don’t accept such ride offers because they are invariably accompanied by a phone call the morning of the ride saying, “Hey dude I got really sick last night and barfed and can’t make it sorry have a great ride.” There’s something about anticipating the ride that makes people sick at about 3:00 AM the morning of. I call it the poopy diaper effect.
At 5:00 AM I got out of bed, loaded my junk, and roused Mrs. WM. She loves getting up at 5:00 in the morning to drive me places. It is fun for her, especially if it is bicycle related.
A few minutes before we got to my teammate’s house, my phone rang. It was Wily. “Yo,” he said. “You still going?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Didn’t you get Poopy’s text?”
“Yeah, dude. Poopy got really sick last night and barfed and can’t make it.”
I flipped through my phone. Sure enough, Poopy had sent a text at 4:58 AM. “That motherfugger,” I said. “I guess it was too much trouble to actually call.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“I dunno,” I said. “Mrs. WM needs the car today. I guess I’ll go home.”
“At least now you have something to blog about,” he said.
“Nah. I wouldn’t want to call out Poopy in public. Some things you gotta keep to yourself.”
I sat around and fumed for a couple of hours, then went out for a ride. It occurred to me not to be angry or hold grudges since, you know, we cyclists all depend on each other, but I was furiously mad. It’s one thing to lecture people, it’s another to have to practice what you preach, which I make a practice of never doing.
It was going to be hot so I took two water bottles. One of them was a very nice Specialized bottle with the premium nipple that had caused a big marital spat. I had found it on a ride and brought it home.
“What’s this?” asked Mrs. WM.
“It’s a water bottle I found.”
“You gonna drink onna nasty found bottle?”
“Sure. Just wash it up and it’ll be good to go.”
“I ain’t washin’ on no nasty found bottle. Maybe he had onna AIDS.”
“You don’t get AIDS by drinking old water bottles. It’s in perfectly fine condition.”
So Mrs. WM disassembled the actual nipple, including the two rubber washers on the inner nipple assembly, then took a toothpick and ran it inside the washer grooves. As I was peacefully sitting on the couch she came over with the toothpick, whose end was covered in a black, nasty slime. “Here’s onna your supposed okay water nipple,” she said.
I looked at the slime. “What the hell is that?”
“That’s onna your water bottle that you was gonna stick in your mouth.”
“Is it clean now?”
“Sure it’s clean. I been cleanin’ it!”
It’s been a great water bottle ever since.
The day’s anger management route was out PCH to Latigo Canyon. Latigo is a 40-minute climb if you are really, really good, and a multiple of 40 minutes if you are me. I decided to ride steadily and not push it. As the first section of the climb kicked up, some dude came whizzing by.
He was riding a wankish red bike with three chain rings, MTB pedals, and a helmet visor. I was tempted to let him go, fully expecting to see him again, when I noticed his legs and kit. The kit was very pro, and he looked super fit. “Hello,” he said in an is-it-English-South-African-Kiwi-or-an-Aussie accent as he flew by. I pedaled up behind him and noticed a yellow ANZ tag on his seatpost. “Air New Zealand?” I wondered.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
He smiled. “Woody.”
“No kidding? What’s it short for?”
“I’ve only met one other Woodrow my entire life.”
“Oh, really? Who’s that?”
“My youngest son.”
It was his turn to be surprised, and we chatted about names, he chatting while I gasped out little chopped syllables. He was flying. Woody, who’s only been biking for two years, is a pilot for Air New Zealand, and had brought his beater bike to get in a ride during his layover. “I don’t want to get m’heart rate over 160,” he said, as mine pushed 180, then 280, then 1,000.
Before long the residual anger I’d had about being stood up by Poopy was wholly replaced by the burning pain of the climb and the gnawing fear that Woody was going to ride me off his wheel with a helmet visor and a triple. I hung on, barely, and after we crested the top I gave him lots of advice about how to climb properly. He seemed to listen.
We descended Kanaan Dume and got back on PCH. Woody put his head down and started going somewhat fast. For the next twenty miles he averaged a solid 30 mph. It was all I could do to tuck and suck. When we reached Will Rogers Park I sprinted around him for the win, then gave him lots more advice about how to get strong on the flats. He seemed to listen to that, too.
We parted company in Manhattan Beach and I pedaled, decrepit, back home. It had been a great day, the water from the water bottle had tasted fine, and I wasn’t angry anymore.
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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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