April 20, 2014 § 36 Comments
The night had started off slowly. I was sitting next to a couple of dudes at the bar and they were discussing beer. “I like the slightly fruity finish, almost strawberryish,” one said of his light-colored ale.
“Yeah. And it’s amazing the way it starts with a full nose, almost chocolatey, then transforms into something airy and almost, like you said, a fruity aromatic.”
I looked at my 32-oz. glass of suds. “Are you guys talking about beer or edible underwear?” I asked.
They laughed nervously. “Ha, ha. Good one. What are you drinking?”
“Oh, that’s a good beer,” approved Fruity Finish.
“Yes, very workmanlike, solid,” added Chocolatey Nose. “For sure it’s a biggie and has those strong citrus notes. Kind of muted compared to others but still lots of orange rind and piney notes. It’s a big beer, for sure.”
“It is?” I asked, wondering if they were talking about the big mug.
“Oh, yes,” chimed in Fruity Finish. “I’d add that, you know, it’s a well-balanced bitey IPA, right?” He eyed my giant mug. “You’ll get a better nose from a tulip glass, it’ll let the smell travel and pull out the high notes on that classic mix of piney, mango, citrus, resin, dankness. There’s enough bitterness, nicely mixes with the fruity, citrusy, fresh finish.”
I looked at them as if they were trying take upskirt photos of my wife. “You think so?” I asked.
Fruity Finish and Chocolatey Nose nodded. “How would you describe it?” asked Chocolately Nose.
I took another swallow from the giant mug as the bitter liquid charged down my throat. I savored it for a moment. “Hmmm,” I said. “Tastes like ass.”
The two connoisseurs winced. “Ass?”
“Yep,” I said, taking another swig. “A big old nasty swallow of ass. And that’s what beer’s supposed to taste like, by the way.”
They didn’t know what to say, so I continued. “Beer is one of the nastiest things ever invented, worse than kimchi. It’s rotted inedible offal stewed in a pot and left in a bucket to rot some more. If it doesn’t taste like shit you’re doing it wrong.”
Fruity Nose protested. “Good craft beer …”
“Fuck good craft beer. Beer tastes foul when you start and gets fouler with each successive swallow. That’s why by your tenth beer you’re cross-eyed trying to choke the shit down. That’s why men drink it after a long day digging ditches or clear cutting virgin old growth. If you’re going to fructify and chocolatify it, might as well soak a pair of flavored edible panties in ethanol and eat that.”
The two experts politely turned away, which was perfect timing because up came the Godfather. He sat down at the bar next to me and ordered a beer. Like a man, he pointed to my glass and said to the bartender, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Like a man, he didn’t bother to ask what it was, he just assumed that it was strong and bitter and there was a lot of it.
“How’d you get into cycling, Godfather?” I asked him.
The barkeep plopped the huge cold mug in front of him and he paused to take a deep, manly draft after we clinked the shit out of those 12-lb. mugs. “Fatty tuna,” he said.
I thought about that for a second, hoping like hell he wasn’t about to pronounce that there was a finishing note of raw fish. “Not saying I’m drunk, Godfather, but you’re gonna have to help me out with that one.”
“Fatty tuna,” he repeated. “And strawberries.” Then, like a man, he sucked down a full quarter of his glass and dissected it the only way any man worth his salt would ever evaluate a beer. “That shit is good,” he said.
“Damn straight,” I said, adding the only man-approved comment to another man’s approval of a cold beer. “But I’m still not understanding the berries and tuna thing and what it has to do with bikes.”
Godfather lives up on top of the Hill and runs the global energy consulting arm of IBM. He is always nicely dressed and seems like the perfect product of Southern California suburbia. But he isn’t. “You know, I grew up in Pedro,” he said, referring to San Pedro, the impoverished little armpit at the southernmost tail of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. “We were fishermen, and our family had fished the peninsula since they emigrated from a little village in Sicily in the early 1900’s. All of Pedro was fishermen, mostly Italians and Portuguese, and Croats, too.”
“Pedro?” I asked, incredulously. “You mean the place that’s now crawling with gangs and drunk longshoremen and street people who live in shopping carts?”
“The same,” he said. “We had three boats, the biggest was the Giuseppe, a hundred-footer. When I got big enough to work the boat, I was seven, they took me on my first run. We left in the wee hours and sailed up by Abalone Cove, shining lights on the surface to bring up the squid. Once we had a full load of squid, we sailed farther out to the bait barge and cashed in our bait for money that we used to fuel up the Giuseppe and the chaser boat.”
“What’s a chaser boat?”
“We had a little motorboat hanging on the back of the Giuseppe, my dad ran that.”
I tried to envision all of this happening right here on the coast of Southern California in the late 1960’s, a family fishing operation off a peninsula that’s now slathered in tract housing, faux Mediterranean designs, and filled with people whose only conception of beer is fruity finishes and chocolatey noses.
“I bet your old man liked beer,” I said.
“Damn straight he did. But we were a big Italian family, so he loved wine, too. Anyway, we fueled up the boat and headed out because we knew the tuna were running up from Baja, and if we could land a decent catch we’d be able to keep a roof over our heads for the next three months or so. It was a big deal. Grandpa climbed up into the crow’s nest and started scanning the water for dolphin fins because the tuna ran beneath the dolphin schools. Sure enough, he spotted ‘em. He had eyes like a hawk, just like the whalers back in the day.
“He shouted down to dad, and we rolled the chaser boat into the water, and dad cranked the motor and set out after those tuna with grandpa coming up under a full head of steam. Dad got to the school, and started to turn it with the chaser boat, bringing the dolphins back to the Giuseppe, where we had the nets. It was exciting stuff, yelling and the crew doing everything just exactly at the right time and then bam, those nets were filled with tuna and all hell broke loose. We wound up with three tons of tuna that run.”
“So what does that have to do with cycling and strawberries?” I’d managed to hang onto that thread despite the boat chase and the tuna catch and the squid and the old Italians drinking beer.
“I’d ridden my bike down to the harbor that morning at dark-thirty. Dad filleted a 30-lb. cut of fatty tuna, wrapped it in some newspaper, and put it in my basket. Now mind you, the bike and the tuna weighed almost as much as I did. ‘Go get us some berries, Gerald,’ he said. So I had to crank that big steel bicycle loaded down with fresh fish all the way up the wall on 25th Street and out PV Drive South out to what is now Trump National Golf Course. It wasn’t a golf course then, I can assure you.”
“What was it?”
“Strawberry fields. And corn fields. Paolo and Maria Pugliese farmed strawberries all along the coast along with a couple of other families.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“I am not. Where you now see multi-million dollar McMansions and a golf course there used to be strawberry fields and old Italians with sunburnt faces. It took me forever to get there, lugging that fish on that heavy bike. Remember, I was only seven. Finally I got there, and old Paolo took my fish and handed me two big wicker baskets. ‘Go pick your berries, Gerald,’ he said. So for the next two hours I bent over in the fields picking those fresh strawberries, then I rode home.”
“And that is how you got into cycling?” I asked.
Gerald finished off his beer in a one long manly pull. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”
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August 2, 2012 § 4 Comments
This morning’s New Pier Ride was a wankfest deluxe, replete with a dozen different flats, a founding NPR wanker who tumped over on his side at 2mph and trashed his frame, a cement mixer swooping by at warp speed, four hundred thousand medium-sized rocks scattered along the 2.5 mile western leg on the Parkway, bar-bumping, shoulder-rubbing, hollering, hiding, sprunting, attacking, crumpling, wheelsucking, and of course Going to the Front.
The clarion sounded last night, announcing on the Internets that MMX would be coming up from North County to work off his hangover; that Fukdude would be gracing us with his national champion presence; that Prez would be there in a new lime green kit; that Erik the Red would be on a scalp-collecting mission, and that every newbie, oldbie, dumby, and Gumbie would be flailing and flogging in a mad attempt to not get kicked out the back on the first lap.
The wankers answered the call in force. Promises of an audience with the Godfather, promises of sunny weather, and promises of a merciless beatdown resulted in seventy wankers rolling out from the Pier, with an additional 30-40 getting picked up along Pershing.
How was it, then…?
“Today was a dynamic one for me, filled with highs and some lows. I slept three hours and rolled up to the Pier still drunk. I was pumped at the prospect of an exciting, solid ride.”
“I got there early and rode up the bike path. There were lots of people. and they kept coming and coming, like roaches to a pile of fresh puke.”
“Wow, a big ride for Marc’s birthday. Not that anyone knew.”
“WM has cultivated an impressive ride. Blew me away how it kept growing and swelling all the way to Pershing and then along the Parkway.”
“It was cool to see people I haven’t seen in a while.”
“This ride and Wankmeister’s crazy blog got me back into cycling. I’ve been doing this ride for two months and it just gets harder even though I’m getting fitter. Today was the fastest ever.”
“From Pershing I left the wankoton and moved to the front of the class. Got in a nice hard slap at the front after the overpass.”
“Had Wankmeister on my wheel for a long stretch, pulling into the wind. At the front I felt fantastic and never anaerobic, I could have danced all night.”
“I kept waiting for the pace to quicken, but it never did.”
“Did a few rotations and drifted back five or ten wheels, then repeat.”
“Seemed like the first first real acceleration was the second lap, when one or twenty numb nuts let Eric and a couple others go down the road. I had to chase like a motherfucker.”
“Is this ride always this hard? I used to be a bowler. Bowling’s just not this hard.”
“King Harold did a wonderful flat back pull up toward the u-turn, start of Lap 3. I was third wheel. Harold flicked an elbow and the second wheel sat up and moved right, like a total fucking wanker, leaving me to bridge that little gap and then pull all the way up to the turn. Fucking wankers. Don’t they read your blog? Go to the fucking front.”
“Finishing up the 3rd lap I hit a huge rock no one pointed out and nearly lost control. Pinch flatted, which took me out toward the start of the last lap. Major bummer; I was so primed and ready turn on the jets. I think there were twelve flats today.”
“Is there a slower B ride?”
“I kept trying to Go to the Front, but just ended up Going out the Back.”
“Strava flail. How hard was this ride, anyway?”
“The New Pier Ride is incredible. Props to Douggie, Trey, and the other wankers who thought this up. Never seen a regular ride like it, or even heard of one. Fantastic stuff.”
“This ride is a fredfest. Saw two fucking freds almost murder each other and take me out.”
“Won’t be doing this again. Fast enough to tire you out, but not fast enough to make you faster. Fucking trucks and rocks and lights and traffic and crazy people on their first bike ride. This NPR shit blows.”
“People of all stripes come from all over. Its amazing. Really inclusive, which is unusual for road cycling.”
“I didn’t get my coffee this morning because we had a power outage at my apartment. Needless to say, OTB.”
“There were the usual fast guys and lots of new guys who think they are fast until they get near the front and melt like ice cream in a reactor core. I watched a number of guys near me who never took a pull. Now, granted, some of these guys are the guys who were waiting for the sprint (as though this was a race)–we know who they are. But there were others who never got to the front but would linger near it, kind of like a dude with a naked chick who sticks his face down near her crotch and sniffs but won’t drop trou and start humping. I don’t like these people. Hump or go home.”
“I noticed you on the front numerous times, Wankmeister, but I think your legs were zapped. Good posing, though, even though you slowed us down every time you pulled through, you wanker.”
“I saw Eric on the front a few times, including that attack I had to chase down. He’s a badass.”
“The guy in the SBW was awesome. Is that the Dennis Herrera dude you were telling me about? Driving the front. I loved riding with him.”
“Awesome all the other girls out. Makes me feel good to have other girls riding nearby. And they’re strong and getting stronger.”
“Bull would pull but he would get so gassed he’d let gaps open up after, only to come back to the front for another pull. Relentless = awesome.”
“Returning to the South Bay, you had the typical wankers hitting the gas, even though they had all been wearing invisibility cloaks on the Parkway. WTF?”
“Fucking endless list of riders who never pulled, not even once. That Pischon dude took a monster hit westbound on Lap One. Beastly. Prez got the bit between his teeth once, too.”
“Fast guys are fast: Lonergan, Hair, Davy, Eric, Big Steve.”
“So many people do this ride, get dropped and jump back in make it scary. I especially don’t like the guys who get dropped and then when the lead group catches them they feel compelled to jump towards, but never on, the front. Scary bunch of wankers.”
“Ride is awesome because when you get shelled you can hop back in. I’ve gotten hella stronger in six months and can almost finish the ride.”
“Post ride festivities indicate there is a real community feel that has developed from this ride. Kudos.”
“People taking care of each other is a good sign. The camaraderie is apparent and it’s contagious. This is beautiful. Saw people always stopping to help with mechanicals and flats. Just don’t see that much.”
“I wish I could do NPR more often!”
“Thanks to all the SB wankers for creating such a great ride and for making me feel a part of it.”
“Is this a regular ride? What time does it start?”
“Can you dig all the westsiders who come down for this? Legit.”
“Huge turnout, largest I’ve ever seen. Wanker to hammer ratio was decent.”
“Lots of fresh faced wankers I don’t know. Not so fresh faced at the end, just rent with shrapnel and had the look of the black plague about ‘em. They’ll toughen up.”
“Does this ride always have all these rocks? I fricking flatted. Yo, wankers, point shit out and help thy fellow rider, that is if you’re not riding over your head and can remove your hands from the bars without crashing out thirty people.”
“Great pace, not too fast, not too slow.”
“Fireman brought it home over Hair in a nail biter.”
“Great to see MMX out and briefly catch up. Dude’s riding strong.”
“Fuck that was a giant group festering at the pier before ride. The last time I saw that many idiots in one place was when I watched a joint session of Congress.”
“Every lap I poked my nose in the wind and soon thereafter thought I would be dropped.”
“The ride was incredibly hard. However I noticed several dingleberries at the ass end who were neither poo nor hair yet were stubbornly there. Someone oughta shake them loose.”
“Post ride coffee looked like a class reunion. I almost got a phone number. These biker chicks are smokin’ hot.”
“Dave Perez likes having his picture taken. And why was he lying on the ground at Fukdude’s feet?”
“My favorite part of the ride: Some wanker shouting ‘Stop riding on the rocks,’ as if those little pebbles were a problem. Pussy needs to ride a few miles in rural Madison County. He’d be praying for rocks. Our roads are paved with possum teeth, the bones of Republicans, and small bore bullets.”
“This Cancellara looking dude I’ve never seen in my life goes, ‘Hey is this the last lap?’ and I go ‘Yeah,’ and he goes ‘Then you lead it out, I’ll jump on your wheel and take the vee, ok?’ Uh yeah, sure, and you wanna pork me in the ass afterwards as well?”
“It was the fastest NPR to date, 24mph + average speed, not counting the boulders flying everywhere, fucking pachinko cycling at its finest as Trey flailed in the corner and broke his bike. Not that he cares, ’cause now he has an excuse to get a new one.”
“My legs are still sore in weird places from racing San Marcos with my fit all fucked up!”
“Can you introduce me to that cute chick I was riding behind? She is so hot.”
“I came to ‘sit-in on a social ride,’ because ya, SPY MMX is here, let’s be social because they are the BEST!”
“Ride started out super chill…seemed extra slow to the base of Pershing. Then people started flying and others started gasping, I was like, wow, do these hackers have medical clearance to be out here?”
“Can you introduce me to MMX after the ride? I’ve always wanted to meet him.”
“I set a PR on the whole ramp section meaning it was the fastest in a long time.”
“This just wasn’t even a social ride, I mean nobody really seemed to be in social mode unless that meant look to the person behind you and give them the ‘Noooo, you go!’ look or look ahead at where you can go to make everyone else have to go faster.”
“What’s wrong with people? Might as well attempt to take a pull, why not?”
“Surfer Dan told me to go to the front today and tell people he told me to. Of course he wasn’t there. Surfing.”
“I took a short pull that clearly seemed slow to everyone else because someone quickly came by me. Thanks.”
“Everyone seemed to be hurting a lot after about Lap 1. Wankers!”
“I went to the front when I could. Problem was that I kept jumping on wheels of people that liked to act like they were going to the front and then slow down like five wheels before it. Guyyyysss, that’s not the front!”
“After four laps we had completed what Strava records as the fastest total time for the four laps I have ever done with two laps being the fastest ever. So it was a damn fast four laps. Anybody who thinks it wasn’t hard was in the caboose.”
“I actually wanted to sprint, but I had never heard so much yelling, cursing, and wheels going squiggly! But, I was close enough to the front to see the people that were legitimately sprinting and I must say it was damn impressive!”
“When we turned off the Parkway a SPY guy, Perez, and a couple others went back to hammering. I followed. Another PR.”
“Ramp…fastest ever. Four laps…fastest ever. Return to Imperial…fastest ever. There was no fucking break.”
“They should call this the Lots of Rocks, Flats, Yelling, and Gasping Ride.”
“It was a huge ride that became much smaller once the gas got turned on. Props to everyone who kept getting back in the mix!”
“I felt like my head was a giant pimple that was about to burst!”
“What a bunch of whiners! Why would you come on a ride that is supposed to be a total beatdown and then complain when you get an awesome workout?”
“I say thank you to people after they get me through a workout that I never could have done alone. You just got stronger without asking for it!”
“Wanker crashed out turning onto Imperial on the way back. It looked like he pulled a Tink and just fell over. Hope he was okay.”
“NPR as of late and especially today: more LADIES, and all the ones that have been coming regularly are getting stronger and stronger!”
“The Pier almost sank from the weight…of bodies, not bikes.”
“NPR participants will lobby Manhattan Beach planning committee to widen the alley.”
“More horsepower today than the Arkansas Tractor Pull Championships. But not as many IQ points.”
“Big names, astonishing jerseys, 110 wankers. Doesn’t get much better than this!”
“Can your Tuesday AM ride do this?”
“Burlap Jack, Mountain Mouse, Pippy Aus-Stocking, the SPYfia family shooting the place up, guns blazing, bodies everywhere, blood gushing from new orifices, but afterwards everybody friendly as hell. Even Daniel.”
“In order to make the World Way overpass in the top 10 required having the tip of the saddle touching the lower intestine. Fuck that hurt.”
“Getting back to Westchester, the tip of the saddle was now rubbing the pancreas.”
“First lap was like a fuck’n MMA cage fight, with 20 dudes in the cage at once who only knew how to groin kick and eye stab. Nasty shit.”
“Second lap, beside the white boulders… there were flashes of white light…and fifty wankers pedaling triangles in the gutter as their heads spun around like Linda Blair. Hope they got their demons outed.”
“The so-called sprint was more like Custer’s Last Stand, minus the surprise. All the wankers knew the killing was going to happen. Scary shit.”
“Wankmeister, you’ve taught a lot of people that beatdowns are to be valued. Now could you teach them to Go to the Front?”
July 26, 2012 § 8 Comments
Spivey and I got the morning started off in his garage taking turns ripping our thumbs out of our palms. He had over-tightened the quick release on his front wheel, and by the fifth try we had wrapped a towel around our bleeding hands and were inventing new combinations of “motherfucker” and “shitfuck” and “goddamned cocksucker,” etc. This was the high point of our day.
We arrived in Encinitas and the SPY/Swamis participants on the Godfather’s 48th birthday celebration ride trickled in. They all had that gnarly, unpleasant, “Where’s my fucking coffee?” look that augurs ill for any bike ride.
MMX gave his customary speech, thanking everyone for coming and expressing his pleasure at the day’s route. We would do the Swamis ride through Elfin Forest to the church, then meander out up Summit to Bandy Canyon, back through Rancho, around by the lake and then home. It would be an “enjoyable” ride, according to the Godfather.
Those who knew him, which was most everyone, realized that it would be a crushing beatdown from hell. What better way to celebrate inching closer to death than with a punishing assault up and down the roads of North County?
The boys in yellow
In addition to the fifty-five riders from North County and environs, Alan Flores had made the drive down from Newport, Bill Holford from Long Beach, and Francois, Maxime, and Brieuc had rolled over from Annecy, France. They were part of the wheel engineering and marketing team for Mavic, who has just released the new C982X14.219 integrated hub-spoke-wheel-tire system. They’d come to California for the product roll-out, and also to kiss the signet ring of the Godfather. You can read about the whole thing here.
The Mavic wheel was fucking rad. The tubular and rim are seamless, so that when you rub your hand (or penis) along the rim up and over the tire there is literally no change in surface curve from the rim to the tire. It’s as if the tire and rim and molded in one piece. This reduces drag coefficient by 78.82 Å, but raises the drat coefficient by 17.8 Mofos, as changing the integrated tubular looks about as complicated as one of those charts that shows all the different parts of a woman’s reproductive organs.
When I asked Francois about changing the tire, he laughed. “It is so simple, in fact. We radio the neutral car and they simply come and replace the entire wheel.”
Of course. I’d forgotten that when you’re in charge of support for the Tour, mechanical problems are a cinch. We all got inordinate pleasure later on when Maxime needed to adjust his seat but didn’t have a wrench. I got to go around to everyone and say, “Hey, the Mavic neutral support guys need a hex wrench, 4mm. Anybody got one?” It was even more awesome when one of the guys did.
What was super cool about the Mavic guys was the way they “represented.” More than just engineers or marketing shills, these guys could ride. They took everything that the North County riders and roads could throw at them, and acquitted themselves more than honorably. It was cool to watch how smooth they were on the bike and how easily they fit into the peloton. I often got the feeling that they were taking it easy on us, in that golf-game kind of courtesy where it’s uncool to stomp the living shit out of the people you’re hoping to do business with.
Rolling with the rollers
Each time I’ve gone to North County for a ride, I’ve been crushed. The crushing hasn’t been administered solely by the heads of state, either. Chubby dudes on fixies. Girls on ‘cross bikes. Elderly gentlemen learning how to ride again after their triple bypass. No genera of rider has been unrepresented in the classification of “Stomping Wankmeister’s dick in North County.”
I’ve tried to figure out why that is, and after reviewing my past power files and carefully analyzing the Strava data, it’s pretty clear: I suck worse than they do. What else could explain getting dropped on Rancho by everyone, including that nice lady in the Seven jersey who just got into cycling in February? What else could explain having to lean up against Spivey’s car after the ride to keep from falling over after getting off my bike? What else could explain having the whole group wait half an hour for me to catch up?
Well, actually, there is a factor above and beyond my suckage. It’s the fault of the North County roads.
Unlike the South Bay, where you are either riding flat, doing huge climbs in the Santa Monica mountains, or doing steep medium-length climbs in PV, North County San Diego is just rolling. All routes. All the time.
When you roll out of Encinitas and start the Swamis loop it’s a series of short rollers. They’re hard because of the pace, but not steep. You can find a wheel and hunker down. Same for Elfin Forest–there are plenty of short zingers, but nothing to kick you out the back per se.
The problems start to accrue after about forty miles, when the incessant rollers have, like a frog in a slowly heated pot of water, gradually brought your muscles to a boil. You stand out of the saddle–perhaps on Summit, or perhaps on Bandy Canyon–and you realize that there’s nothing left. By the time the pack rolled away from me and Spivey on Rancho, even though we’d had a 20-minute break and a coke, we were at whatever level of flaildom comes after “Code 6 Wanker.”
The bikers who live and train in this shit all the time–the MMX’s, the David Andersons, the Victor Sheldons, the Erik Johnsons, the Ryan Dahls, the Stefanoviches, and all the other “gimme my fuckin’ coffee” wankers and wankettes–have no problem. For them it’s another easy or semi-challenging sixty miles in the saddle. For the Wankmeisters, Spiveys, and other poor bastards whose strength lies chiefly in their ability to imagine how great they are, it’s a total fucking beatdown.
How much of a beatdown? At the hip little breakfast joint afterwards, Spivey and I were so fucked up we couldn’t even mutter phrases of obscene admiration at the luscious cuties who brought us our oatmeal and burritos. Yep, that much of a beatdown.
Comparing apples to apples
Inquiring minds likely want to know how the North County Swamis-type ride stacks up against the local South Bay institution, the Donut Ride. Well, it doesn’t. Unlike the Donut, which lollygags all the way to the bottom of the Switchbacks unless there’s a Sergio or a Rudy or some other legit rider with a bug up his ass, our route started hard, was hard in the middle, and finished hard. On the other hand, North County visitors such as MMX and Stefanovich have showed up on the NPR and after a few hard efforts quickly realized the importance of having a large group within which to find shelter and relief. The key point is that although those guys can come up to LA and hang with our rides, I certainly can’t go down south and hang with theirs.
Maybe with a bit of practice that will change. Or not. Unfortunately, as soon as I hear the phrase “Let’s go down south to ride with the SPY guys!” that old desire to join the ride wells up again, just like my third grade desire to talk out of turn. Wish I could repress it, ’cause I know it’s gonna end badly.
July 24, 2012 § 6 Comments
Remember how when you were a kid there were things that you knew were going to get you in trouble, and the trouble was totally going to outweigh the fun, but you did it anyway?
Well, I probably didn’t hang around kids like you, or rather, your parents wouldn’t let you hang around kids like me.
My bane was talking in class. There was no surer way to get in trouble than to repeatedly talk in class. Mrs. Opal Smith, my third grade teacher who I was secretly in love with, tried to shush me by giving me the nickname “Mouth.” Since I loved her though, I loved the nickname, too. It was kind of her pet little lovey name for me, I thought.
Then she got to sending me to the principal, Mrs. Riley, which was a tad harder to square with my secret love theory. Mrs. Riley was a tall kind of linebackerish woman who wore pretty pink dresses and necklaces and could beat the living fuck out of your ass with a wooden paddle. I didn’t love her quite as much as I loved Mrs. Smith, but after she got good and warmed up and started huffing, what with me caterwauling and the paddle thwacking and her grunting it was okay for me, and seeing as how often we did it together I kind of think it was okay for her, too.
After a while Mrs. Smith started getting interference from Mrs. Riley. It was that “Can’t you control your own classroom?” kind of blowback, so Mrs. Smith took matters into her own hands by moving my desk into the very back of the room (mistake) next to the windows (another mistake) and then building a giant cardboard and pegboard wall around my desk so that I was in my own isolation unit (potential career-ending mistake).
The isolation wall was higher than my head, but if I raised my hand to be called on, my hand would poke out above the top and Mrs. Smith could say, “Yes, Mouth?” and I’d answer “12!” or “Four pumpkins!” or would slowly spell out the test word. My classmates thought it was hilarious, and I had the best ol’ time tucked back against the windows where I could watch the butterflies or wave at Mr. Vallieres, the janitor with the giant riding lawnmower who would always talk with me back in his workroom and tell me funny jokes and give me a piece of licorice now and again to and from my whippings with Mrs. Riley.
Isolation from the rest of the class made me even more aggressive in my talking, so pretty soon I quit raising my hand and just talked away. The other kids would catch snatches and bits and start laughing and it drove Mrs. Smith crazy.
When the new gun came to town
Mrs. Riley retired in the middle of the school year and she was replaced by Mr. Bradford, an ex-high school basketball coach who was about 6 feet and twelve thousand inches tall. He had a bald head and a booming deep voice and was the kindest, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet unless you got sent to his office for discipline.
One day Mrs. Smith, like Mr. Gorbachev many years later, “tore that wall down” after a particularly bad spate of unlicensed talking, and sent me to Mr. Bradford for some disciplining. “Well, hello, Seth!” he said with a smile, reading the little white discipline card that Mrs. Smith had filled out. “I see you have a problem knowing when to keep your mouth shut.”
Showing a deft defense, I didn’t say a word.
“Seems all cleared up now, though,” he mused.
I shut up some more.
“Tell you what. I’m going to give you something to talk about. And I’m going to give you all the time you want to discuss it. You can talk about it as loud as you please, in fact. Sound good?”
I shook my head.
“Well you see, Seth, Mrs. Smith says you’re the most talkative student she’s ever had. I don’t know whether to believe her or not.”
Sweat poured off my forehead.
“Before we get to discussing, I want to show you something.” Mr. Bradford opened his desk drawer and pulled out the biggest wooden paddle I’d ever seen. It looked longer than my leg and thicker than my head. It made Mrs. Riley’s paddle look like the backboard for a midget’s hairbrush. “Let’s get started, okay?”
I was frozen to the couch.
“I want you to get up, turn around, and grab onto the edge of that couch. But do me a favor, will you? Hold on tight. Because if you don’t you might go straight through that wall. Which is made out of brick. And you might die.”
I instantly calculated death v. ass whipping, and assumed the position. As the paddle came down it whistled through the air, shrieking like an artillery shell. The sound was so massive and loud and accompanied by such force that my feet lifted off the ground. In the milliseconds it took for the pressure to scream “PAIN” to my brain, I remember thinking, “That was so hard it didn’t even hurt!”
Seconds later I couldn’t breathe, and the next whack lifted me so high up into the air that I lost my grip on the couch and hit the brick wall with my forehead. Mr. Bradford went back to his desk and started working on some papers. I collapsed on the couch, sobbing. He’d occasionally look up and smile. “I’m here to talk if you want to, sonny.”
I’d sob a little more and shake my head and he’d go back to work. Once I calmed down and had wiped away all the tears, he put his papers down. “Why don’t you go back to class now? If you feel like you need to talk some more, just tell Mrs. Smith and have her fill out one of these cards and we’ll have another little chat. Okay?”
I nodded and went back to class. Nothing is worse than walking back to class with raging sore ass, and as Mr. Vallieres saw me go by he hollered. “Hey, little buddy. How about some licorice?”
I went into his workroom, breathed in the smell of gasoline and grease, and took the proffered candy. He pulled his red bandana out of his pocket, ran it under the tap and wiped my face. “You get back in there and keep grinning, buddy. Ain’t nobody gotta know but you and me. Don’t let ‘em see they got to you. Don’t never give ‘em that satisfaction.”
Mr. Vallieres, raised the son of a cotton sharecropper in Louisiana, taught me more than any teacher ever did.
The trout and the mouth
Some fish scientists once did a study with wild river trout. They put them into a tank with solid sides so the fish couldn’t see out, and placed the tank outside in a yard. Most of the fish would just swim around in the tank and eventually starve to death.
But a tiny percentage of the trout would jump out of the tank, where of course they would die on the lawn. The trout knew there was a small chance that they’d be jumping from the tank into an adjacent pool of water or perhaps a stream, and they’d have beaten the odds. So they took the chance and jumped, and died. I don’t know what the scientists proved, except that scientists are a bunch of sadistic fucks. But I know what the trout proved. They proved that there are only two kinds of wild trout: jumpers and starvers.
As soon as I got back to class everyone stared at me. They knew what crying eyes looked like, and most of all they could see my whipped and chastened appearance as I went back to my desk with that big old “I ain’t hurt” fake grin plastered on my face. I sat. Painfully. Proudly. Silently. For about ten minutes.
Because no sooner did Mrs. Smith start talking, than my brain started turning again. There was my favorite pretty teacher saying things, and asking questions, and telling other kids “Good answer!” and teaching up a storm, and before I knew it I had lots to say and contribute even though I didn’t understand the subject and dogged if I was going to sit there like a trout in a tank.
I was a jumper.
Without thinking or even raising my hand I said “It’s a verb!” even though she was asking a math question, and the class started laughing and she looked needles and hand grenades my direction and there I was…I knew I had to shut up…but there was so much to say…and that whipping hurt so bad…but the talking felt so good…but the whipping felt worse than the talking felt good…
The one thing that was going to get me into the worst trouble was the one thing I wanted most to do. Dog have mercy on the souls of those teachers.
When someone mentions “riding in San Diego” I get that same bubbling-up happy feeling that I used to get sitting in my isolation unit in third grade when I’d vaguely hear Mrs. Smith say something and have the irrepressible urge to answer.
“Hey, let’s go do the Swamis ride!”
[Bubbly happiness and enthusiasm.] “Okay!” [Followed by ass kicking beatdown.]
“Hey, come on down to North County and let’s do a BWR training ride!”
[Bubbly happiness and enthusiasm.] “Okay!” [Followed by ass kicking beatdown.]
“Hey, come on down to North County again and let’s do another BWR training ride!”
[Bubbly happiness and enthusiasm.] “Okay!” [Followed by ass kicking beatdown.]
“Hey, let’s do the BWR!”
[Bubbly happiness and enthusiasm.] “Okay!” [Followed by ass kicking beatdown.]
The reality of going to San Diego and getting thrashed is always a thousand times more horrific than the fun-ness (funnity?) of bundling up the bikes with Spivey and rolling south at 5:00 AM.
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from “Pace Protection” Miller: “Hey, come on down to North County to celebrate MMX’s birthday with a Sunday ride! We’ll even do part of the BWR course! It’ll be fun!”
And me? What did I do?
I said, “Okay!”