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March 30, 2005

Four recent moments:



I take a long nap on a Friday afternoon. I wake a little before 6, which coincidentally is when I woke up in the morning. This might explain why I was tired enough for a long afternoon nap -- that and having spent the morning helping two friends pack for an interstate move.

Also by coincidence, a little before 6 in the a.m. on this day is as close to sunrise as a little before 6 in the p.m. is to sunset, so the light coming into my room is nearly identical as when I woke up the first time. I am gobsmacked with confusion. "It's still 6 a.m.? Did I dream this entire day? The move? The improbable cardboard cut on my neck? The post-move enchiladas? Do I now have to help them move again?" It is as if "Groundhog's Day" were rewritten as "Good Friday."



We're leaving "Melinda and Melinda" at the Landmark and Sandy spots Wilco's Jeff Tweedy leaving at the same time.

It's funny how careful with your words you get when you descend four flights of stairs near someone famous, the thought being that if you are sophisticated and witty enough the famous person will interupt and invite you out for a drink, or maybe up to their apartment for a private show.

We are neither sophisticated nor witty enough, and Jeff Tweedy ignores us accordingly.



I'm leaving the video store. Cars that have tried to sneak through on a yellow are blocking an intersection. I figure I'll leap onto my bike and zoom through the gridlock, thus proving once again the the nimbleness of the bicycle and the folly of the automobile.

What I do not figure on is catching my pants on my seat, sending both me and my bicycle crashing to the pavement.



"How the hell do you ride a paceline through the Loop?"

"Very, very carefully."


March 29, 2005

Last summer I overheard some kids talking about Peter Berry, d/b/a King Kiser. He was a graffiti artist who'd fallen onto the tracks in Rogers Park and was killed by a train. A few days later a local newspaper ran both an obituary and a front-page profile. From all accounts he was a decent kid and was well-liked, and since his death "RIP Kiser" tags have been common sights, especially along the Red Line.

But it's one thing to tag alleys and billboards and it's another to mark up beloved community fixtures. It's a shame, then, that Peter Berry's legacy will be the Andersonville water tower and every time someone looks up and says, "What a fucking asshole."

Coincidentally, my building also got tagged this week. It's the first time this has happened since I moved in, which is surprising given our proximity to two public schools. Mostly I was upset that they hadn't taken the time to make it look good. The script was rushed and sloppy, like that of someone whose medium was yellow snow, and I couldn't make out a single word. (Then again, I don't pretend I was supposed to.)

I also grimaced thinking about the money it will cost our tapped condo association to clean it up, but a neighbor tells me that the city has a graffiti clean-up program that has already been notified. Any day now Mayor Daley himself will show up with brushes and industrial-strength solvents.

Photo taken: March 27, 2005


March 28, 2005

It was a perfect morning for an alley cat race, and Payton put together an outstanding course. He called it Tic Tac Toe, though it more closely resembled Bingo or, a propos, an Easter egg hunt. It tested not only a rider's speed and bike handling but also his guile, game theory and knowledge of Chicago geography.

Each rider was given a unique grid of nine squares. Each square contained an address. At each address was hidden a rubber stamp. The objective was to locate the rubber stamps and use them to mark the grid, with points being awarded for each three-in-a-row. There was also a time incentive, so a rider had to decide how many rows it paid to pursue. No good collecting the maximum eight if it took all morning to do so.

The race kicked off with a bonus sprint from Pilsen to 141 N. Wabash, and for me this was the most exciting part of the day. I was riding a proper road bike, not the lumbering winter bike I'd used at the first stage, so I could keep up with the leaders this time. We left Pilsen in a pack of about 15, but when we hit downtown I called "Clear!" at an intersection and was surprised to look back and find nobody there: We were down to nine. I was the ninth.

I fought to hang on. At one point I got dropped -- getting dropped from a paceline is surprisingly emotional, like getting ditched by your friends at the mall, and it invites the same insecurities: I'm not good enough ... They don't love me ... Why am I the way I am? -- but I dug deep to rejoin the group and enjoy the twin benefits of its slipstream and its sense of direction.

We were heading up State near Marshall Field's when the group suddenly stopped: It had overshot the destination, which appeared to be the subway entrance at State and Monroe. The two riders ahead of me dismounted and started running down the stairs with their bikes, shoes clicking and clacking on each granite step. I followed, and sure enough a race official was waiting for us at the bottom. Thus I was third to complete the sprint -- my first podium finish!

In full stride I grabbed a ticket from the official -- the ticket would prove the order of our finish -- and dashed up the escalator to start completing my grid. I'd mapped out what I thought was an efficient way to complete two rows, but I couldn't find the rubber stamp that Payton had hidden at 31 W. Jackson -- I scoured the Red and Blue Line stations but somehow couldn't find the pedway that connected them -- so I ended with four stamps but only one row. Nonetheless, I was the second person to arrive at the finish line, West Town Bikes, so I earned an enormous time bonus, and I finished in fifth place overall.

Great stage, Payton. Now to get Tic Tac Toe added to the Tour de France.

Photo taken: March 27, 2005


March 23, 2005

Two recent moments:



I'm riding home from a trip up the North Branch Trail. Three large, snow-white feather dusters float across the road about 20 yards ahead. They belong to three bounding deer.

In the woods to my right are a dozen more deer, and their tails are also in full plumage. They look like ghosts wandering through the trees. I stop and watch with a woman walking her dog. She says she thinks saw a coyote, so this must be how deer express their sense of danger, much in the way our species might knock knees and urinate.



There's a young boy and his young mother in the seat ahead of me. The boy turns around and looks at me.

"Can I see your game?"

"My what?"

"Your game!"

"Oh, this. It's a radio." I show him my iPod and give him one of the earbuds. It's playing Portishead, which I assume isn't his thing. I scramble to think of something from my library an urban 4-year-old might like. "'Hey Ya!'" I think. "Everyone loves 'Hey Ya!'"

But by the time I find "Hey Ya!" his mother has yelled at him to turn around, which he does, leaving the earbud dangling on the seat.

He starts to cry, and I realize that the iPod wasn't even on. I'd paused it so I could eavesdrop on three gangbangers who were comparing experiences in Cook County Jail. (Memorable quote: "You don't even realize how much you stink until you get outside, and then it's like, 'Fuuuuuck!'")


March 21, 2005

I'm drawn to the handwritten "going out of business" signs -- or, as in two of the cases here, "business is going elsewhere" signs -- that are so common in a city in flux. Each one hints at untold pathos and drama, and the worse the grammar, the more I am drawn to them.

This first is a favorite. It belongs to a store that sells phone cards and shoes -- talk about synergy -- that had been located a few doors south of Broadway and Bryn Mawr but moved into the corner space when the discount clothing store closed this winter. Now it has moved back, and the move apparently took four hours longer than expected.


Broadway and Bryn Mawr.



4620 N. Broadway St.



5525 N. Clark St.

Photos taken: March 18, 2005; Jan 12, 2005; Nov. 30, 2004


I've got a ticket to ride. And a sticker.

To review: Earlier this year I competed in my first race. Then I joined a racing team, and now I have a racing license. This week I will probably buy my first racing bike.

My guess is that most people would have done all that in the reverse order.

In cycling your age is rounded up, so my "racing age" is a premature 30. It's official: I'm a senior citizen. In baseball, geezers are called "old timers," but in endurance sports like running and cycling, they we are called "masters," and I am eligible to race as a "master," a label that belies my total lack of experience and talent.

Photo taken: March 19, 2005


March 20, 2005

Current events have reminded me of the importance of a living will. I'm not sure how to go about writing one, but maybe something here can suffice.

Should calamity strike and leave me unable to speak for myself, kindly Google "Luke Seemann," "persistent vegetative state" and "what he would have wanted." Unless someone Googlebombs the same, this page or a cache thereof should be the No. 1 result.

And the answer is this: to die quietly so my loved ones and legislators can get on with their lives.


March 19, 2005

Good morning.

Photo taken: March 13, 2005


March 18, 2005

To protest a disagreeable work assignment, I went on a grooming boycott for five weeks. I still showered, usually, but went without shaving.

Granted, this was about as mature as the time in college when I "protested" a particularly boring professor by not studying for his final. This will teach him! But this time it worked. Awareness was raised. Concessions were made.

To celebrate a return to my old schedule, I indulged in a professional shave, my first.

My barber is a throwback, the classic white man's barber. He is not a stylist. He runs a barbershop, not a salon, and for $13 you get exactly what you came for: a straight eye for the straight guy. Bad jokes are told, baseball wisdom is exchanged, the weather is bemoaned.

There are Maxims and Stuffs among the magazines, and I'm sure a guy could get something racier if he asked for it, but there's never any need: There are never more than two customers there, and the wait is never long. Usually when I arrive my barber is waiting in the chair smoking a cigarette, or there is a note on the door saying he's out to lunch and will be back by 3.

As I sat with a hot towel wrapped around my face, my nose sticking out like a periscope, I wondered how much longer this place would last. It can't be much longer, and I file it and other white-man barbershops with the many civic institutions -- bowling alleys, corner hardware stores, hot dog stands -- that are fading away as my city changes. Surely this location will soon be a bank or gourmet grocery or -- deep, mournful sigh -- a salon.

For the record: A shave and haircut? 232 bits, plus a 32-bit tip.

Photos taken: March 17-18, 2005


March 17, 2005

Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, "Notes from Underground"

This quote showed up in a New York Times story this week. An ultramarathoner used it to explain why he runs hundreds of miles at a time.

Suffering is why I run, too, but not in the same way. It's not suffering I love. It's having suffered that I get all woozy for.

I don't even like running. I hate running, in fact. But I love ending a run, and if I feel great stopping after 1 mile, then logically I should feel even better when I stop after having run 26.2 of them, and I do.

That's why I embraced this previously mentioned passage from Tim Krabbe's "The Rider":

After the finish all the suffering turns to memories of pleasure, and the greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is Nature's payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering.

(I don't pretend, I should point out, that this is anything but the most decadent of luxuries: the freedom to control the intensity and duration of one's suffering. It is the indefinite ordeals of life that make me shiver and quake, and I'm not about to visit the unemployment office or oncology ward and preach the virtues of a good hurt.)

For four months I've been suffering with my winter bike, a Trek mountain bike I bought when I first moved here and didn't know any better. I hate it. I hate its fat tires, its weight, the way it makes me feel like a child for riding it.

Its rear tire has had rotten luck this winter: five flats and a shot brake pad. The latest flat happened Tuesday night. Usually a flat is a calamity that waits to surprise me in the morning. This one I heard the instant it happened, a pop and then a fizz that Dopplered as I went. The bike was ridable, but I knew it would not be for long. At Foster it finally gave out. At 2:30 a.m. I walked the last half-mile home.

So Wednesday, hopeful that the last of the snow and salt is behind us, I switched to my preferred ride, a Cannondale touring bike. I'd been training on it, but this was its first trip outdoors since November.

I've always said that I look forward to summer for three things: baseball, fresh basil and sweating. My perfect summer moment is spent sitting in my living room with a ballgame on the radio, a plate of pesto in my lap and a paper towel soaking the sweat from my brow.

These days I look forward to only this: cycling down Michigan Avenue. It's my favorite moment of each day.

There is no parking on Michigan, so there is no risk of getting doored, and contrary to most urban situations I feel safer here the faster I am going. My winter bike is nowhere near fast enough for the job, but the Cannondale does just fine.

It takes three minutes to blaze from Oak to Illinois. My body is alive with pedaling, my mind alive with anticipating cabs, tourists and stop lights. After having suffered four months on the winter bike, it feels good to be alive again. It feels good to have suffered.


March 16, 2005

Two recent moments:



I'm going down Peterson Avenue on a Saturday morning. Five young men are jaywalking. They're sailors and they appear to have just left the Oriental Nail and Massage.

Something tells me their first few hours of leave weren't spent getting a manicure.



The guy on the next treadmill is walking backwards. I speculate that he's trying to reset his odometer like in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."


March 15, 2005

Separated at birth?

I worry about his lung capacity, however, and what it means for his trumpet career. He didn't cry or wail once over the weekend. Instead he expresses distress with series of hoarse bleats. Sounds like a ton-ton from "Empire Strikes Back."

Photo taken: March 12, 2005


March 14, 2005

This is how my nephew Malcolm occupies himelf when he isn't blogging.

He's not quite crawling. When he pursues an objective -- his father is a frequent one -- he rolls over and over until he reaches it. Or he'll do a five-point army crawl, with his elbows, thighs and belly touching the ground. He tends to favor one of his legs when he does this, so it's as if he's a wounded soulder dragging a bum leg across no-man's land, except with more giggling.

Photo taken: March 12, 2005


March 11, 2005

From BP Bridge.

Photo taken: March 5, 2005


March 9, 2005

Three recent moments:



I'm a reserve striker for Arsenel. We have a safe lead so the coach puts me in with five minutes to go. When the keeper bobbles a cross, I leap high into the air and tap it in for the first goal of my career. It's such a glorious goal that after I wake up I lie in bed for several minutes to replay it over and over.

My dreams need a TiVo.



A teenager enters from the end of the car. An older man wearing several layers of clothing stands and blocks his way. He opens the outer coat to reveal what I take to be a badge. His partner sits the boy down and gives him a cursory patdown. I can't hear but I can follow his lips: "You can read the sign, can't you?" (The sign says, "Do not board between cars.")

The three of them get off at Sheridan. The partner tugs discreetly at the boy's shirt -- not enough so that the boy will notice, but enough so that he can be grabbed easily if he were to bolt -- and once they are on the platform frisks him more thoroughly. During the frisking the boy rolls his head and makes a face at the people watching from the departing train.



Later in the day, three girls enter my train. I know I'm getting old when I peg them as high school students and they turn out to be from Northwestern.

I know I'm getting really old when the Aragon show they have just seen is a band, The Used, that I've never heard of.

I know I'm getting really, really old when they tell the three boys hitting on them -- three boys from Decatur who are staying in a hotel downtown but are mistakenly on a northbound train -- that Decatur is "ghetto fab" and I have no idea whether this is a compliment or not.

It's all just so Andy Rooney. I feel like my ear hair has grown a centimeter since these girls entered my train.


March 8, 2005

Sears Tower lets off steam at dusk.

Photo taken: March 5, 2005


March 7, 2005

Mom at the Art Institute.

Photo taken: March 5, 2005


March 5, 2005

Zamboni time at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.

Photo taken: March 5, 2005


March 3, 2005

Cubs baseball is on the air!

WGN 720-AM, five minutes ago

And Ron Santo is already annoying me.


March 2, 2005

I rode in my second race this weekend. In January I had done an alley cat race, but this was my first sanctioned race, a 10K time trial in Wheaton.

It is still winter in Illinois. The cold is no obstacle to alley cats, but the spandex crowd is a more delicate bunch, so the race was held indoors on trainers. Riders are racing against the clock but ride head-to-head against an opponent. Split-screen digital avatars show their status. It's like a NASCAR race being held at an arcade with Pole Position and a sack of quarters.*

I knew going in that it was a little ridiculous. The $25 entry fee was a lot of money to spend just for 15 minutes on a trainer. That's almost $2 a minute. I have hired I have read, in the New Yorker, of hookers who cost less by the minute. Nonetheless, a co-worker had done it and reported that it was fun, so I decided to give it a go.

Before the race a volunteer gave me some basic advice. Go smooth to start, he said, to get a feel for the trainer. At three miles start going hard and fast, then gas it for the final 200 meters.

The trainer was similar to the one I've been using at home, but at home I can do easily do 10K in under 15 minutes. It must not be calibrated correctly. The resistance here was much greater. As soon as I started I knew I'd have to gut it out just to break 17 minutes.

My racing partner was about 15 years older than me. He matched my 21 mph pace for the first three miles, tailing me by about 5 yards. I wanted to yell at him to stop drafting. Once I goosed it to 23-25 mph, however, he fell from vision -- insofar as he disappeared from the screen but continued to pedal three feet to my right.

By the end I was in my highest gear -- I'm still learning; would I have been better in a lower gear but with a higher cadence? -- and giving it everything. Between wheezes I growled. Had I not been plugged into my sprint mix I might have let up. Head down and blind to the finish line, I finished in 16:35. Slower than fair, but faster than middling.

I'm not licensed yet so I raced as a "citizen" and was the second of three citizens in my age group. Had I been with the Cat 4 riders I would have finished 16th out of 40.

While I cooled down, the volunteer I'd talked to earlier asked how I did.

"Personal record," I said.

He was thrilled. He slapped his hands together, then caught himself short. "Hey, didn't you say this was your first time?"

"Yes, and?"

He said I don't get to claim a PR until I've done a race twice. So I guess I'll do it again, but I'll wait until April when there will be one held at Navy Pier. This was fun but wasn't worth leaving city limits for.


* I described the race at the Oscar party Sunday night. Someone suggested that a footrace could be held using treadmills, in which case two people could hold a ribbon and run toward the winner as he finishes. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

Photo taken: Feb. 27, 2005


March 1, 2005

A recent moment:



The mother and husband of a federal judge are murdered a half-mile south of my home. The judge's daughter is a friend of a friend. I met her once or twice.

Around 2:30 a.m. I pass the scene on my way from work. Dozens of law enforcement figures are still active. About 10 reporters and photographers are staked out on Foster. The print shooters have the long, fat lenses common at sporting events and as I pass they rustle to attention. I deduce that the bodies are about to be removed from the house.

I continue home. It's been snowing all day. Fresh salt crackles beneath my tires.