July 3, 2007

And still I ride. I give in to the thrill and to the fun, risks to myself and others notwithstanding. After all, if I wanted a life without risk I'd live in Naperville. I'd order my meat well-done and use paper towels to open restroom doors.

Me, Jan. 24, 2006

Bike racing has been my life for three years, and I've made it my calling to spread its joys, by writing on this blog, by rallying my team, by creating a Web site to recruit people into the sport.

How do I now square that with the risks that Saturday's tragedy reminds us of? How do I tell a family that their father should join me?

At this moment I can't.

Racing is no less safe now than it was a week ago -- with new awareness it may even be safer -- but at this moment I'm not sure how to go on.

At this moment my thoughts have not reached conclusion, but here is a start. I expect these thoughts to evolve and reverse and reverse again. They are what they are.

All life's decisions balance risk and reward -- the reward of jaywalking vs. the risk of getting hit by a bus, the reward of a hamburger vs. the risk of heart disease -- but right now my inner scales are out of calibration.

I know I want to race again, but the desire is not yet back. I can't imagine bearing down on a finish line, surging out of a pack or wanting a wheel enough to elbow someone off it.

And I can't imagine riding on the outside. As I drove to and from Wisconsin this weekend for a visit with family, my insides quivered every time I found myself staring at the centerline.

I mourn Beth, but separately and selfishly, I also mourn that my sport is in fact full of danger. It seems so unfair. Cycling would be just so perfect if it were not so risky, if it did not exact such a toll.

I've already sent myself to the emergency room twice this year. Ellen doesn't want me to race anymore. Mom says she understands this is what I love and that there are risks with anything, but I don't think she means it.

I could always ride without racing, but I can't fathom it. Cycling without racing would be like golfing without a green, or sewing without fabric.

In all seriousness, I would need professional therapy to switch to a new life without racing.

This is not to suggest that such a life couldn't be as fulfilling, with more free time and money for loved ones and other pursuits. I'm just saying I'm not ready for it yet.

Ten years ago I was 40 pounds heavier and content to idle in front of the television. A lot has changed. Cycling is now who I am. I like who I am.

I like the dedication it has taught me. I like the health it has brought me. I like smugly looking around a room and knowing I'm the only bike racer. In short, I like the person that racing has made me, to say nothing of the relationships it has found for me. Could I still be that person without it?

Would it be too much to say that cycling has saved my life?

If lightning were to strike me now, it could not be said that fate stopped me before I could live a full life, that I did not find all the joys and experiences I was looking for. Ten years ago, that would not have been the case.

Again with the inner scales, as we wrestle with what is worth the risk. For every 50,000 people who complete a marathon, one will die. For a big race like October's Chicago Marathon, that statistic almost makes tragedy a matter of course. But how many lives has marathon training saved? How many thousands of people will now live to be 80 and see their great-grandchildren?

What if my father had been 40 pounds lighter and rode a bicycle instead of idling his time in front of the TV?

When someone like Beth is robbed of the chance to experience a full life's joys, it falls to the rest of us to experience them on their behalf. This is our charge, whether those joys come from racing or not.

It's a natural reaction to want to continue this sport "for Beth," to do an extra 50 miles "for her." But I don't think it's necessary to continue racing on her behalf, and it's a little presumptuous to say what she would have wanted us to do. Anyone who quit this sport would not be doing her disservice. All that's important is that we do something on her behalf, that in whatever we do, we touch others, we create and we love.

For those who do decide to continue racing, there is a new duty: to keep the rewards worth the risk. There has to be a point to what we do. We must keep this sport fun, safe and positive, and we must let the haters, the intimidators and the cynics know that they are not welcome.

Even if it is not always requited and even if most teammates don't yet know me from Adam, I have in three short months developed an intense love for my team, not just for its riders but even for its uniform and what it represents. (Yes, I'm crushing on laundry.) When I see a teammate, any teammate, I swell with admiration and a desire to put their needs above my own -- true love, in my book.

Me, June 29, 2005

The team has long felt like family. I felt it last spring, when my father passed away. There is something that binds us, something more than that we pay dues to the same treasurer. Like family, we share goals and values. Like family, we did not choose to be together -- we just are.

Last night we met to hug, cry and tell stories.

Just as I can't imagine not doing this, I can't imagine doing this without them.


May 31, 2007

"What do you do with yourself," the orthopedist asked me, "other than riding bikes?"

I sat on the exam table. My legs dangled out of my gown.

"I cook a little," I said. I bit my bottom lip and wondered. I looked toward the ceiling for an answer. "In the winter I lift weights."

It was my first meeting with a specialist since the accident. All week, more experienced cyclists had shared stories of their own broken collarbones and welcomed me to the club. Two told stories of doctors re-breaking the bones to help them set correctly. The tellings made me woozy.

I wasn't very nervous about the prognosis. Indeed, I'd already written off the entire year. I was surprisingly fine with it. And if I could have peace with losing an entire season, losing anything less would be a gift. Thus, the orthopedist could only have good news for me.

Turns out the news was about as good as I could hope for. The fracture was severe but it would not need to be re-broken. Surgery shouldn't be necessary. One of my shoulders would never be quite like the other, but it will soon start healing and feeling better. I can be on the bike in five weeks, and start exercising as soon as I'm comfortable.

Racing by July?

I can sit unharnessed. I should still wear the immobilization truss when I sleep and a sling when I'm walking around, but that's not a problem. I've found them useful for getting seats on crowded buses.

There's still pain, but it's getting better. (In the emergency room the nurse had asked me to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most pain I've ever experienced in my life. "It's a 7," I said, "but I've also had a very charmed life.") This morning I put on a T-shirt with only minimal agony, which is progress.

This was scheduled to be a rest week anyhow.

I've been extremely grateful for all the good wishes and offers of help. Ellen in particular has been an angel, scolding me if I so much as attempt to wash some dishes or dry myself unassisted after a shower.

I'm a little chagrined, however, by all the people who have assumed I crashed on Sunday's Bike the Drive. Are my bike handling skills so suspect that people would think I'd bite it on a charity ride?


April 11, 2007

I woke early this morning for a long ride, checked the weather and returned to bed.

"The good news," I said, "is that it's not raining. The bad news is that there's an inch of snow."

This is supposed to be a high-volume week of training for me, but 30 degrees in April is somehow less endurable than 10 degrees in January. And mentally I can no longer sit through four minutes on the trainer, let alone four hours.

The worst part of this weather is that there's no recourse. Normally when you are inconvenienced or treated unjustly you can write an angry letter or get a refund or ask to talk to the manager. But what can you do when your training plan is shot and you're heading east into a 25 mph wind and the freezing rain is slapping you silly? Pray angry?


April 7, 2007

Three recent moments:



For the second consecutive year I file for a tax refund, once again thanks to sizable capital losses. This is the reward for being a shoddy investor. If it weren't for losing money I'd save no money at all.



Ellen is taking the Blue Line to O'Hare when she realizes she has forgotten the pattern to the baby sweater she is knitting. With an international flight ahead of her, she calls me to lament.

I ask for the name of the book and find it on Amazon. The book has been scanned into Amazon's searchable database, so I am able to locate the pattern. It's blurry but legible, and I take to dictating over the phone.

I squint to read. I'm at work. The last thing I want is for co-workers to hear me giving knitting instructions over the phone. I cup my hand over the phone and furtively look over my shoulder so I can toggle to a spreadsheet should anyone important walk by. I feel like I'm talking to my bookie.

It's jibberish to me. In the beginning I am a kindergartner, stuttering my way through the mysterious code: "Kay one open-bracket kay one pee one close-bracket until end of row. Kay five moss st three parenthesis three colon five colon five parenthesis kay next ..."

But by the time we get to the sleeves -- "Are you sure you need me to read the sleeves? What about a nice sweater vest?" -- I am a pro, translating on the fly. "Now knit three rows. Work nine rows in moss stitch like you did on the back. Knit three rows. OK, now change to your 3mm needles and work 14 rows ...

And this is how I learn to knit.



Ellen and I finally go to the new Hot Doug's (motto: "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friend.") We go on what we think will be the last cold Saturday of the year, figuring it's our last chance to beat the summer crowds.

(Hot Doug's, celebrated for its imaginative sausages and its fries cooked in rendered duck fat, has become quite the sensation lately, thanks in part to publicity from owner Doug Sohn defying the city's ban on fois gras. Pilgrims come from all over the Chicago area. Mario Batali was spotted there a few weeks ago. It's the Chicago equivalent of New York's Magnolia Bakery, except unlike the 45-minute wait for a $2 cupcake, Hot Doug's is worth every minute and every penny.)

We are wrong on both counts. Not only is it not the last cold Saturday, but it wouldn't matter anyhow: At 2 in the afternoon the line stretches around the corner.

We wait outside for 30 minutes. Ellen knits. I read. We take turns waiting in the car. Then we get into a vestibule, where we thaw for five minutes. We move into a second vestibule, where we wait another five minutes. Finally we get into the actual restaurant and can study the vast menu on the wall. The "game of the week" is a combination of elk and venison.

We split four sausages and an order of duck-fat fries. It's all outstanding. One of our sausages is a plain Chicago-style hot dog for control purposes. It may be the finest hot dog I've ever had. At $1.50, it's a steal. (This is the real gift of Doug Sohn: He doesn't rush his customers, and he doesn't try to squeeze every last dime out of them, as lesser men would be tempted to do. He may be a poor capitalist but he is a great American.)

As we leave, the line is as long as it was when we'd arrived. In the first vestibule, I say in a whisper loud enough to be heard by all, "I can't believe he ran out of hot dogs!"

It may be the first time people have their coronaries before stuffing their faces with sausage.


March 2, 2007

It snowed this morning, part of what is hoped will be winter's last throes. As Ellen drove me to work, gusts of wind whipped the snow and sent it dancing across Lake Shore Drive like huge white wraiths.

Last night was my last fiddle class. It was part of the non-cycling off-season merriment that I wanted us to enjoy before it was back to obsessive interval workouts and weekend roadtrips to backwater racing venues.

Each Thursday we headed to the Old Town School for class, fiddle for me, banjo for her. Folk is a major departure for me. I took 10 years of Suzuki, but I hadn't put bow to string in 15 years. The class was fun, and the mechanics quickly came back to me.

The other night Ellen and I played together in my living room. "You're getting good, honey," she said. "It almost sounds like a real song!"

After months of weight lifting and churning through countless NetFlix and Tour stages on my trainer, the racing season now resumes. My countdown to winter camp in San Luis Obispo sits at 1. The kits are washed, the Clif bars are stacked high, and "The Rider" is packed for its annual reading. I leave at 3:30 tomorrow morning, and 14 hours later we'll be on the road. It will be Leslie's first trip outside since her original test ride.

Last year's camp was a revelation, in which I surprised myself and others. More important than its physical training, it gave me the confidence to have a good season. This time the pressure will be to prove last year wasn't a fluke. The day I return, racing begins in Kenosha.

You know how whenever a plane crashes, there's always one guy who's alive only because he changed his flight at the last minute? I'm that guy. A major computer upgrade is launching Monday at work. There will be pain. There will be suffering. But I will be far, far away, suffering my way up the Pacific coastline. To get farther away from the situation I would need a boat.

Yesterday I remarked to a co-worker that I'll have to do 25,000 feet of climbing next week. "What do you mean you have to?" she asked. "What happens if you don't?"

I could only look at her blankly. How do I even begin to explain the hideous obligations of a Cat 3 cyclist?


Dec. 8, 2006

There's a winter sensation that all cyclists hate. It comes when you've been on the trainer for an hour or two and you check your watch -- only to discover you've been riding for only 15 minutes.

I have a widget on my start-up screen that counts down the days to my team's training trip to San Luis Obispo, Calif. That is the week that will cleave winter from spring. The suck will end, the fun will begin. When I installed it, it read in the low 90s. I checked it today thinking that surely it would be well into the 70s, maybe even the 60s -- only to discover that it stood frozen at 85.


This week I hopped on the trainer and watched "Overcoming," a documentary about CSC and its 2004 Tour de France. It wasn't as good as "Höllentour," but it included timely training scenes and was a fitting season's-first-movie-on-the-trainer. (I subscribe to the NetFlix base-training plan: If there's a red envelope by the TV, ride. If movies are in transit, rest. Tomorrow is either "Yojimbo" or "Dr. Zhivago," depending on how long I feel like going.)

My favorite character in cycling documentaries is the soigneur. He's always the same: stoic, wise and muscular, often with a Scandinavian accent. He's the one who, while all the others are out riding, will fill water bottles, fold laundry and, sotto voce, explain to the camera what's really going on with the team.

The soigneur in "Overcoming," Ole Kaare Føli, is the best so far. There's a great scene where he steps from the shadows and confronts directeur sportif Bjorn Riis, telling him to smile more. Even better is when he counsels Carlos Sastre after the death of his brother-in-law and then tells his future by kneading into his back, like a gypsy reading a palm. "You will have a good day tomorrow. I can feel it!"


Sept. 27, 2006

Two recent moments:



The worst part about bouncing down the lakefront path at 20 mph isn't the road rash to your knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, hands and forehead. (Yes, forehead! Even with a helmet!) Nor is it scuffing all your girlfriend's expensive time trial gear. It's not even the embarrassment of having done so all by yourself, without the assistance of cars or other riders.

It's the old man with binoculars who strolls across the grass, hands behind his back, to inspect your sprawled self. "I'm OK, I'm OK," you say, "but maybe I should consider birding instead." He nods in agreement and returns to the trees.



Without breaking stride, the kid descending the stairs ahead of me whips out a black marker and tags "312 Mental" on the wall. I call for his attention, but he pulls his hood tighter over his head and starts walking faster. I have no idea whether he hears me when I yell down Lower Michigan, "You are the coolest guy in the entire world!"


Aug. 18, 2006

Three recent moments:



"I think I'll become a pro cyclist. Then I can retire at 33. Like Jesus."

"Careful. He had a better 401(k) plan. Jesus saved."



We pull up into an L.A. strip mall for some Iranian ice cream at Mashti Malone's. In the parking lot there's a large dog sitting on top of a car, and he's created a commotion.

Except it's not a dog: It's a bearcat, a furry beast with a tail as long as its body. It prowls and snarls atop the car, occassionally taking swipes at curious onlookers. The owner holds it by its tail and reassures: "He's only playing."

I'm standing next to a prototypical L.A. character: The aging surfer, shirtless with kinky blond hair down to his shoulder.

"That's a bearcat?" Ellen asks.


"What's it doing here?"

"What are any of us doing here, man?"



I'm in line at the bike valet after watching "American Graffiti" in Grant Park. Two hipster cyclists are passing out fliers to the weekend's bicycle film festival. The guy behind me accepts one from the lady hipster.

"So what do you think about Floyd?" he asks.


"Floyd Landis."

"Sorry. I don't know that much about the filmmakers."


June 15, 2006

Four recent moments:



A man at the Jewel tosses a box of condoms into his grocery cart. He notices me noticing him, so he discreetly slides the box under a bag of diapers. The expression "closing the barn door after the horses have bolted" comes to mind.

In fact, I think it's time for a new idiom that reflects these modern times. If ever I see someone doing the equivalent of closing the barn door afte the horses have bolted, I'm going to say, "Looks like someone's hiding the condoms under the diapers."



"This will be your first Fathers Day without your father."

"That's true."

"This was my first Mothers Day without my mother."

"But our family has a new dad to celebrate."

"And ours has a new mom."

"It's the law of conservation of parents."



I'm at a Texas Roadhouse. I'm in Elkhart, Ind., where it's either Texas Roadhouse or Olive Garden, and Olive Garden doesn't sponsor a cycling team.

To my left sits a doughy middle-aged couple in polo shirts. They are discussing the persecutions they must endure for their views on immigration, and they run through a list of truths they must suppress.

"If they wanted to learn the language, they could, but they're lazy. Of course, you can't say that, because you'll offend someone."

"They're criminals just by being here. Why would we want criminals in our country? Of course, you can't say that, because you'll offend someone."

"Have you ever been in a Mexican city at night? Did you feel safe? Is that what we want our cities to be like? Of course, you can't say that, because you'll offend someone."

And then the woman says the thing that has me halting my fork inches from my mouth.

"I'd like to bring Ronald Reagan back just so he could kick. Their. Butts."

The things you're exposed to when you leave the city.



"I need to shave."

"You could use my razor."

"And end up smelling like lavender?"

"You don't want to use the Venus?"

"No, I can only use Mars: Bringer of war and smooth skin."

The real punch line comes 10 minutes later when I am bemoaning all the hoary gender cliches -- that's H-O-A-R-Y -- employed by various newspaper columnists.


May 12, 2006

Three recent moments:



"You hate oatmeal, but you like oatmeal-flavored Clif bars."

"And oatmeal cookies. Hey, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

"Oh, please."

"And oatmeal happens to be one such foolish consistency. It's so mushy -- blech!"



"Only 28 days until World Cup!"

"How time flies. Seems like only yesterday it was 29."



My new favorite sign of spring: The reappearance of the tai chi school that holds sessions in my alley. Sometimes they exercise using swords. Making my way through their ranks, bags of groceries in each of my hands, I feel like Neo from "The Matrix," operating in bullet time.


April 4, 2006

Six recent moments:



On April Fool's Day, a 73-year-old man suffering a range of maladies is hospitalized. One possible diagnosis is hinted at when he is handed a brochure titled, "Living with Heart Failure."

For three days I laugh at the oxymoron. "Living with Heart Failure." Its wit is in its brevity, as it's a topic you would prefer not to be such a quick read. More comforting than a flimsy brochure would be a bound, 10-volume manual, perhaps with an inscription on the title page: "Take your time, Mr. Seemann. No hurry here."



How strange. My brother is calling from my parents' phone.



It's midnight. I don't know what I have to say, but I need to be talking to someone.

For a few moments, the accented voice of a United ticket agent is strangely soothing. He is awkward and uncomfortable but polite and helpful, and his English is outstanding. Twice, however, he stumbles when his script would have him chirp, "Thank you, Mr. Seemann, and have a great evening." Across the world and across the cultures, he seems to realize how thin on gravitas this salutation is to someone who is calling for bereavement fares, and he sounds apologetic.

And then I start calling West Coast friends.



Now more than ever I thank God for having given me the prudence to have set my phone to vibrate and not "La Cucaracha."



It's 3:30 a.m. and I can't sleep. I don't know whether to drink wine to bring myself down or whether to make coffee to wake myself up. I decide on coffee and spend the hours before sunrise writing and flatulating and reading the news and playing poker. So begins the period of tribute.

At 4 I trade e-mail with my sister in Greece.

At 5 I start calling East Coast friends.

At 7 I go for a ride. I self-time myself on a practice time trial. I don't do well.

At 10 I start calling my Midwestern friends.

At 11 I go to work. They send me home.

"I wanted to work today."

"Go home."

"He was a journalist. He'd want me to put out the paper."

"Go home."

I go to Greektown and buy a bottle of retsina for a toast to come.



I pull a suit from the back of the closet. I own two: one blue, one gray. I can't remember which one actually fits, so I examine their breast pockets and grab the one containing the most recent wedding programs.


April 2, 2006

The crash was probably my fault.

It was my team's weekly group ride. After getting stuck towing a weak rider the last 2 miles into Highland Park, I was eager to proceed to some long, fast miles with our stronger riders. Finally, after a short warm-up, the pace turned hot and it appeared we were off to the races.

Halfway up a false flat it looked like someone might get to the top before me, and per usual I would have nothing of it. (Oh, to think how many grams I could trim if I left my ego at home.) Just as I jumped left to pass, someone swung around on my left and my front wheel clipped their rear. Down I went, hard.

Fortunately, my body broke the fall so my bike was mostly fine. I also had the foresight to land on my back, so I was able to reach up and catch the two people who landed on me. My hip and elbow took the worst of it, but nothing was broken, save for my helmet, which cracked. I'd wanted an excuse to buy a new one anyhow. The shock wore off after a few queasy minutes, and I was able to ride the 20 miles home.

At least it wasn't a race, and thank goodness I was using my crashing wheels instead of my Ksyriums.

A teammate insisted I pop in at the physical-therapy clinic that sponsors us. I checked out fine, and I had my single square inch of road rash cleaned by their first-aid specialist, a former Army medic fresh from Iraq. Our conversation went something like:

"You've probably seen worse than this, huh?"

"Uh, yeah. Nice Spandex, by the way."

Afterward I went straight to the bike shop down the street, which was hopping with fair-weather cyclists. Nonetheless, my guys gave me an even faster check-up than the clinic, truing my wheel and nursing my derailleur for only $7.50.

The special service may have been thanks to the case of beer I bought them last summer. It always pays to tip your mechanic in currency they appreciate.

The shop has a very "High Fidelity" feel to it, and I've come to like the guys who work there, even though I'm sure that behind my back I'm not spared their expert heckling. I like how they always ask about my Ksyriums, the way obstetricians also might ask about the babies they have brought into the world.

The one lingering issue was my training. With Saturday's ride cut short, I'd have to ride 5 hours today in order to make my weekly goal. Without intending as much, I did it, the hard way, the hard way being to get lost in the northern suburbs, the hard way being in the cold and the rain, the hard way being without enough food. But if I can do 90 miles in the rain today, next week's 44-mile race will be soft indeed.


March 4, 2006

Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafes. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

I should have worn my booties this morning. They're uncomfortable and my teammates complain about how they squeak against my cranks, so I leave them behind when it's above 30, but by the end of today's ride my feet had lost all sensation. My toes were no more than rumors. I pedaled by faith, trusting that my feet were in fact down there and still connected to their pedals.

It's supposed to snow tomorrow.

On the bright side, Tim brought $35 of Yojimbo's gift certificates, my prizes for placing at the two Tour da Chicago stages I did. My first purse! Like the fisherman who buys a $10,000 boat to catch $20 worth of walleye, I've now recouped about 1 percent of my cycling investment. Obviously only one course of action can follow: race 99 more times this year.

It may sound like I've spent an outrageous amount of money on cyclng. That's because I have. Bikes. Wheels. Maintenance. Entry fees. Travel. Food. Coaching. Uniforms. Tylenol. But just as long is the list of things I don't spend money on. Cable. Car expenses. Fashionable clothes. Children. Pets. Decent coffee. Name-brand groceries. Interior decorating. Furniture. Dames. It all nets out, and in fact the non-racer's lifestyle may be more expensive to maintain than the racer's. Life is cheap when you haven't one.

This week I saw a colleague with a bottle of Gatorade Rain, whatever that is. "I don't know," he said. "They all taste the same to me."

The bottle caught my eye because I thought the label said "Pain" and it got me thinking about how fantastic that would be. Liquid pain. Lemon-lime liquid pain. It would be a great time saver for cyclists. Instead of riding for hours to achieve the exhaustion and muscle depletion we need to become stronger, we could just drink a glass of pain and go watch TV like normal people.

Until potable lactic acid becomes a reality, I'll have to settle for the real thing. Tuesday I leave for San Luis Obispo, Calif., where my team holds its annual winter training camp. Over six days we'll ride more than 350 miles and climb untold thousands of feet. It's liable to be the hardest riding I've ever done. But it will be warm, and it will be great.

The Sunday after I get back will be the first sanctioned race of the year, a criterium in Kenosha. Some are reluctant to race this early -- "It's too cold!" "The riders'll be squirrelly!" "I'm in base!" -- but my engines are revvin' too hot to pass up a race. Besides, we're racers. This is what we do. Let's ride.

And then, only 98 to go.


Feb. 9, 2006

Two recent moments:



At any given time there are as many as five pairs of shoes under my desk, various permutations and multiples of cycling shoes, running shoes, dress shoes, casual shoes. I'm running out of floor space. But just as I complain about having too many shoes, I think of the people who have too many feet.



The best part about eating a slinger at Diner Grill comes years later when you tell people about the ordeal. Their eyes get big right about when you get to the fried eggs, the eggs that are stacked on top of the slices of cheese on top of the hamburger patties on top of grilled onions on top of the hash browns. You haven't even gotten to the chili, shredded cheese or side of toast.


Jan. 30, 2006

Two recent moments:



I've always promised myself I wouldn't get too anal about my training. Ride hard, ride long, rest up, repeat. Anything beyond that -- power meters, heart-rate monitors, anaerobic threshold measurements -- would take the mystique out of cycling, and it's mystique that makes cycling so glorious.

But for every moment of decisiveness, there is a moment of weakness, and sometimes they are one and the same. It's in such a moment that I buy a heart-rate monitor. Like most impulse purchases, I don't shop for a good price. I don't even mind when the only model the shop has comes with a women's watch unit. (I tell time like a girl!)

Nontheless, it immediately pays dividends. The literature says my heart should beat 135 and 150 times a minute, which I discover takes more effort than I usually exert. Even when I'm watching "Leaving Las Vegas" on the trainer and Elisabeth Shue is having violent sex with her Latvian pimp, I hover around 130. This tells me I need to work even harder, or watch even steamier movies. (Or maybe I need a new seat after all.)

On my first team ride using the monitor there is a junior with us, so the ride is more mellow than usual. My heart rate sits around 100 most of the morning, getting above 120 only when I'm pulling or climbing.

After the ride a half-dozen of us mill about in Wicker Park and discuss lunch plans. We decide to go to Sultan's Market. Five minutes after I've stopped riding I look down at my monitor: 177. That's as high as it's been, and a precious 13 beats from my supposed maximum.

Who knew I could be this excited for falafel?

Note to self: Don't think about chickpeas during a race, or surely my heart will exceed its maximum and cleave in two.



I bump into a neighbor on the back stairs. "I was wondering," she says, "if I could bring my chicken to your place later on."

I give a queer look. "Sure, OK," I say, "but I had no idea you had a pet chicken."

Oh, right. The party.

She's made teriyaki chicken for our building's progressive dinner party, for which I have agreed to host the entree stage. I reminded the organizer that I have bachelor accommodations with bachelor furniture and bachelor housekeeping, including a bachelor toilet that sometimes doesn't bachelor flush unless you give the handle the ol' bachelor jiggle and hold, but she was unswayed.


Jan. 19, 2006

Three recent moments:



I'm watching "The Squid and the Whale." Two women in front of me make out for most of the movie, a strange but somehow fitting counterpoint.



For the first time in almost three months it's warm enough to ride without heavy gloves. It feels like a prisoner's first moments out of the handcuffs.



The singer scolds me for checking my watch, as if I'm the one taking the stage an hour late.

Getting old's a bitch.


Jan. 17, 2006

Chicago pet store or strip club -- can you tell?

  1. Collar and Leash
  2. Doggpound
  3. Puppy Lovers
  4. Pete's Petland
  5. Birds and Beasts
  6. Ruff N' Stuff
  7. Doggy Style
  8. Off the Leash
  9. Ruff Haus
  10. Furry Beastro
  11. Cat Calls
  12. Lucky Horseshoe
  13. Heavy Petting
  14. Tails in the City
  15. Commercial Leather Products
  16. Chicago Eagle
  17. Bow Wow Lounge

Pet stores: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17
Strip clubs: 2, 12, 16
Neither, as of this writing: 7, 13


Jan. 12, 2006

Boss, life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.

Zorba, "Zorba the Greek"

Somewhat related, I placed 6th out of what I believe to have been a record 95 riders in Sunday's stage of the Tour da Chicago. I don't have any photos. In the interest of cutting weight, I left the camera -- and its whopping 1,050 grams -- at home.


Jan. 11, 2006

Two recent moments:



My gym offers a rudimentary fitness profile. The aerobic test is on a stationary bike, so naturally I nail it. The technician's eyes pop out. She's never seen a V02 this high: 67, whatever that means.

Then she administers the strength test, which measures how hard my hands can squeeze a caliper-like contraption. It goes something like this:

"OK, squeeze this as hard as you can."


"I said, squeeze this as hard as you can."

"I am."


She circles "1 -- Needs improvement" on my chart.

I almost protest the nature of the test. "But my legs! Test my legs! I have arms of cheese but legs of steel!" No matter. As it is in life so it shall be with my fitness: My capacity to endure will always overshadow my ability to apply force.



There used to be a restaurant downtown named Mirage. Months after it closed, its signage remains, so it looks like there's something there, but there's really not.


Jan. 7, 2006

(Ald. Ted Matlak [32nd]) said he had supported the tear-down because the development project proposed for the site would add parking, reduce density and eliminate space for a corner tavern.

Jan. 5, 2006, Chicago Journal story on the planned demolition of the 1899 Artful Dodger building

Things I would do if I were an alderman and wanted to make my neighborhood suck, and the order in which I would do them:

  1. Add parking, so there could be more cars, thus more congestion, noise and pollution. Also, less safety!
  2. Reduce density, because people shouldn't have to live in the suburbs in order to be isolated from friends and services.
  3. Eliminate spaces for corner taverns, so that drinking and socializing is ghettoized into loud clubs and sports bars.

Jan. 6, 2006

Three recent moments:



I'm walking down Glenwood and admiring my new lobster-claw gloves. They form a Vulcan salute -- two fingers, two fingers, thumb -- that make them warm yet dextrous.

I'm also reviewing the debate I've just had with a fellow cyclist regarding a rider's responsibilities vis-a-vis red lights and stop signs. His thesis was that if cyclists obeyed the rules of the road, drivers would be inspired to follow suit. My counterargument -- that he was a fantasist and an apologist -- was as inarticulate as it was ineffectual. It is only later, in the townhall of my mind, that I am a master debater.

And I'm thinking about the cyclist who was killed this week in Bucktown. I'd seen him at Critical Mass but never knew his name until now. Isai Medina. He rode a homemade chopper bedazzled with blinkies, and he always had a smile to share. That's the chopper for you: It sucks the mean out of anyone. Wednesday night he was standing on Western Avenue when a car hurtled onto the sidewalk, killing him. It was a freak accident, but it has nonetheless made me sad and angry.

I'm walking and admiring and reviewing and thinking when I see a car barrelling down the cross street. I step into the crosswalk, defiantly enough to say, "Piss off and slow down, 'cuz I'm not afraid of you," but hesitantly enough so that I can ditch in case the driver doesn't see or doesn't care.

Which he doesn't. He breezes through the stop sign and turns in front of me. His window is inches from my nose when I scream, "Gonna stop or not, asshole!?" Then I reach up to flip him not one but two middle fingers of righteousness.

Except I can't. The gloves. The lobster gloves. All I can do is wag two claws of powerlessness.



Sign I have too much cycling on the brain, latest in a series: I see the headline "Ted Koppel to join Discovery Channel" and think, "Isn't he a little old to race?"



The new 11-7 hours are killing me. I'm seeing my friends more, including the casual, chance encounters that are so important, but two nights in a row my eyes flutter while I'm reading and I'm in bed by 10. That hasn't happened since -- since when? Junior high?

I wasn't born to be this normal. Or maybe I just wasn't born to be this old.


Dec. 31, 2005

Three recent moments:



My back door makes a funny sound whenever it closes with my keys on one side and me on the other. It sounds like a guillotine. I should get that fixed.



An oncoming car doesn't have its lights on, so I give my usual warning: I point at the driver, give him the evil eye and scream "LIGHTS!" as he passes.

It doesn't work.

Across the street there's a police car parked outside the Landmark. Two cops sit idle inside. The driver rolls down his window when I approach.

"You gonna go tell that guy to turn his lights on?"

"We're on a job here."

They appear to be staking out Eatzi's Easygoing Gourmet.

"Yeah, well, you sure look busy."

"So do you, sir."

So do I, sir? Nice comeback, Starsky.

I race down Clark and catch the car at Diversey right before the light turns green. This time the driver hears me. He jumps from oblivious to startled to sheepish in the instant it takes me to yell, "How 'bout some lights there, huh?"

When I return northbound, I give the cops a salute, but with four more fingers than they deserve.



It's New Year's Eve and I've had too much to drink. Water, mostly. Some coffee, some Diet Coke. Ever since a long, hard ride in the morning I've been hydrating non-stop so that during the evening's festivities I'll be able to hold my own and maybe someone else's, too.

As a result, I'm walking to the night's first party and I really, really have to pee, so I stop to discreetly use the open-air facilities in a vacant Winnemac Park.

All the while I expect a searchlight to descend on me. Wouldn't that cap the year, to be arrested for public urination?

And then I think: Plausible deniability. What could they prove? You can't fingerprint pee. Not if I'm careful, at least. And not if I use gloves.


Dec. 29, 2005

I have a map neurosis when I travel. Even when navigating a straight line in a grid city, I must pause every few blocks to reorient myself. God help me in a non-grid city like Boston or London. The spines of my guidebooks crack, the corners and folds of my maps turn soft, and any time I save by not getting lost is negated by all the time I stand checking coordinates and scratching my head.

It's in that spirit of wayfinding that I've been re-reading lately, giving second and third reads to the books that on their first read promised to be my guidebooks. Over the years I have shuffled along and changed, so it makes sense to revisit them. (And why bother having a personal library if it is never drawn from?) In this double-checking I reorient myself according to where I've been, what landmarks are now in view and what roads are newly opened or closed.

(That said, I concede that I'm not sure where I'm going, but I'm nonetheless happy with how I'm getting there. Recall my experience in Yosemite: I wasn't lost. It was the goddamn path that didn't know its way.)

No surprise, media consumption this year waned whenever the cycling waxed. Even though I didn't race as much as others, I trained like a madman, and my heaviest months for movies were the winter months when I plowed through DVDs on the trainer. (Movies spiked in May, but six of the seven were from the "Star Wars" series in anticipation of and including Episode III.)

Here, then, are my 10 most-enjoyed books, movies and races of 2005*:


  1. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," Jonathan Foer
  2. "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber," Julian Rubinstein
  3. "The Rider," Tim Krabbe
  4. "Cloud Atlas," David Mitchell
  5. "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," Joan Didion
  6. "The Perfect Mile," Neal Bascomb
  7. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," Robert Pirsig
  8. "Ravelstein" Saul Bellow
  9. "Big Deal," Anthony Holden
  10. "Chicago Noir," Neal Pollack ed.


  1. "Brokeback Mountain"
  2. "Annie Hall"
  3. "Hell on Wheels"
  4. "American Flyers"
  5. "Adaptation"
  6. "Syriana"
  7. "Capote"
  8. "Before Sunset"
  9. "House of Flying Daggers"
  10. "Shopgirl"


  1. Circuit of Sauk
  2. Fall Fling Criterium No. 1
  3. Tour da Chicago (Tic Tac Toe)
  4. Lakefront Road Race
  5. Sherman Park Criterium
  6. St. Charles Cycling Classic
  7. Alpine Valley Road Race
  8. Leland Grand Prix
  9. Matteson Tuesday Series (June 28)
  10. Tour da Chicago (Prologue)

* Not to be confused with "10 best."
** I saw only 17 theatrical releases, so big- and small-screen viewings are classed together.


Dec. 16, 2005

Three recent moments:



I'm riding my trainer on my back porch, pedaling with one leg to improve my stroke. It's 20 degrees. A neighbor in the backyard holds a cigarette between fingers that tremble in the cold. Her dog rolls around in the snow. And they both stop what they're doing and look up at me like I'm the crazy one.



The lesbian bar down the street -- one of the lesbian bars down the street -- has two giant nutcrackers stationed outside its door. Their chompers are as big as bear traps and look just as benign.



Someone steals my salad from the break room. I spend the rest of the night casually glaring at my co-workers. I search their eyes for treachery. I search their teeth for specks of spinach.


Nov. 21, 2005

Three recent moments:



I keep a spare CTA card and $20 in a Ziploc bag that I take when I'm cycling. When I can't find my wallet I use this baggie to go downtown to see if maybe, just maybe I have left it on my desk.

The wallet's not there, so I return home on the train, resigned to having lost it. I'm feeling sorry for myself and calculating the expenses and hassles I'll have to bear. They are not many, relative to the grand scheme of things, but still I'm not in the mood for the deaf panhandler who walks up the aisle, and neither is the mentally retarded man in front of me who angrily points to the "No panhandling" sign.

Likewise, I'm not in the mood for the sick boy across the aisle who is throwing up into his grandmother's lap, but there's no "No vomiting on Grandma" sign for me to angrily point to.



A few hours later there's a message from Visa's fraud-prevention department. I call and talk to a woman who says it was suspicious that my debit card was used to buy gas on the South Side that morning.

That's right: Buying gas is so out of character for me that it sets off klaxons at Visa. As if there were ever doubt, I think this cements my all-important bike cred.

"How did you know I hate cars?" I ask.

I'm strangely relieved to know that my wallet is now stolen and not just hiding under laundry -- if ever I am blessed enough to have a say in the matter, I'd choose to be the shlemazel over the shlemiel -- but it is somewhat alarming how well Visa knows my patterns. Will I get similar calls if I start buying low-fat milk instead of skim or start buying clothes anywhere other than Sears? If I attempt to buy dinner for two, will it go through?



My roommate's wallet is on the dining room table. I look at it with the nostalgia of a pensioner. "I remember when I had a wallet ..."


Nov. 20, 2005

The contents of my wallet as of 3:30 a.m., which is when I believe it fell out of my pocket somewhere on my ride up Clark Street after work:

  • $114
  • Two blank checks
  • Two credit cards
  • ATM card
  • Illinois driver's license
  • California driver's license (expired)
  • Jewel loyalty card
  • Metropolis Coffee loyalty card (one purchase from free pound of coffee)
  • Work gym pass
  • Cheetah Gym 10-workout card (two workouts remaining)
  • Blood donor card
  • USCF racing license
  • CBF membership card
  • CTA card (magnetic)
  • CTA card (Chicago Card)
  • Business card for Tony Becker (professional)
  • Business card for Tony Becker (novelty)
  • Business card for guy at the lighting store who in September received the fluorescent fixture I brought for repair, but who never called me back and with whom I never followed up
  • Baby photo of nephew

Nov. 18, 2005

A recent moment:



"I was thinking about what color my umbrella is ..."


"... and I realized, 'Hey, where did my umbrella go?'"

"Don't you mean parachute? 'What Color is Your Parachute?'?"

"I'm supposed to have a parachute? I'm worse off than I thought."


Nov. 6, 2005

Two recent moments:



Enough people ask whether I'm growing a beard that I begin to think the answer is, "Apparently not."



I have a new wide-spectrum lamp. It's supposed to improve my disposition, especially during winter, and I could use that. I could use more light, more happy, a wider spectrum.

Mostly I use the lamp to read. This week I read "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Foer and find it extremey sad and incredibly heartbreaking. It fills me with longing -- insofar as one can be filled with emptiness -- which pretty much negates any benefit of the lamp and puts me right back where I started. It's like putting on a raincoat to stay dry and then jumping into a swimming pool.


Oct. 24, 2005

Five recent moments:



"I'm seeing Sleater-Kinney at Metro. The crowd will all be short lesbians, so at least I'll have a good view of the stage."



When I start a book, I like to get through the first 10 percent in the first sitting. Then, whether it's a good book or not, I continue to flip toward the back to monitor what kind of progress I'm making.

On my 30th birthday, I decide that this is a life hack I wouldn't mind. I don't want any spoilers, thank you, but I wouldn't mind knowing where I am. Halfway through? Nine-tenths? One-tenth???

Also, better footnotes, please.



"I noticed you taking communion."

"Yeah, I didn't want to be the first to not take it. Also, I was sort of hungry."



I'm driving to Ohio with Gus and Conrad. I take a turn behind the wheel, and Gus does Sodoku puzzles in the passenger seat. I realize that this is the problem with Sodoku: Unlike a crossword, there's no potential for collaboration. At no point is Gus going to ask, "What's a one-digit number that's not 3, 4 or 6 and is also not 1, 5, 8 or 9? And if it's 2, then what's a number that's not 1, 2, 6 or 9 and is not ..."



"I'm not sure which is worse: dating or looking for a job. They both have the same, insufferable interview process, the same 'I enjoyed meeting you, let's do it again' follow-up e-mail, the same sense of lonely rejection."

"But if you don't get the job, you can't go home and hire yourself."


Oct. 18, 2005

So this World Series. It's a big deal in my city this year. I'm to understand that its importance rivals the Tour de France, but it lasts two fewer weeks? With each individual contest lasting much less than five hours? With opportunities to sit and eat sunflower seeds? Without much chance of death or maiming? And participants, even the ones shaped like Larry Walker, are still considered athletes?

America! What a country!


Oct. 6, 2005

Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life

Studies add to earlier evidence that traditional bicycle saddles, the kind with a narrow rear and pointy nose, play a role in sexual impotence.

The studies, by researchers at Boston University and in Italy, found that the more a person rides, the greater the risk of impotence or loss of libido. ...

"A consumer's first line of defense, for their enthusiasm as well as sexual prowess," said Marc Sani, publisher of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, "is to go to a bicycle retailer and get fitted properly on the bike."

Researchers have estimated that 5 percent of men who ride bikes intensively have developed severe to moderate erectile dysfunction as a result. But some experts believe that the numbers may be much higher because many men are too embarrassed to talk about it or fail to associate cycling with their problems in the bedroom.

New York Times, Oct. 4, 2005

Why is everyone looking at me funny?

The long and the short of it is, I've always associated cycling with my problems in the bedroom. They just tend more toward problems of opportunity than to problems of motive.


Oct. 3, 2005

The cycling season is long, much longer than the 18 weeks it takes to train for a marathon. It comprises endless training runs up and down the lakefront, hundreds of hill repeats in Highland Park and too much healthy living for anyone's own good. After seven months of this, I'm exhausted, especially with the healthy living, so at poker Saturday night I indulged with two brats and three beers, not exactly a bender but also not the best supper the night before a criterium. I figured, Hey, it was only a criterium, and I never do well in those anyhow.

(I'm mostly certain that the beers had nothing to do with falling off my bicycle on the sidewalk and taking a chunk out of my knee after I bumped into Sandy and had my weight too off-balance to clip out.)

Sunday's race was 10 laps at a suburban office park. The course was a .8-mile oval with a gentle rise between turns 3 and 4. Before the race I scribbled on my forearm the race numbers for the top five finishers in Saturday's time trial so that I could spot the likeliest threats. Naturally, officials assigned us new numbers, rendering my notes useless, and for the rest of the day I had people asking me what all those numbers on my arm were.

My nascent criterium strategy is cribbed from the Chicago Machine: Attack early, attack often. Often enough to make the race lively, early enough so that if it doesn't work I have time to recover before the final sprint. Better to race aggressively and come in last than be a weenie and come in first.

My first attack was with seven laps to go. I had a 50-meter gap when a young ABD rider bridged to me. I invited him to work with me on an expresss train to glory, but he declined. His face showed no emotion. I figured he was an errand boy dispatched by his orange elders (there were about 10 ABD riders in the race) not to form a break but merely to reel me in. It worked. I stood up after half a lap and rejoined the 30-strong pack.

I attacked again with four to go. I got the same gap, but not even a single taker. Again I coasted back.

I figured I'd burned my last match but managed to work back into the front 10. With half a lap to go I was in second, right on the wheel of someone who looked like a triathlete. I figured that was a good wheel to be behind: A triathlete would be liable to keep up a strong, even pace the rest of the way but might have a sprint even worse than mine, allowing me to overtake him at the line.

On the climb before Turn 4 I saw some riders accelerating up the right. Suddenly that looked like the place to be, so I ditched the triathlete and insinuated myself into their line.

I was in fourth position coming out of the final turn. This is the point of the race where everyone usually passes me, like the tide passing over a piece of driftwood. I focused on sticking to the wheels ahead of me and minimizing the damage.

Then a funny thing happened: Nobody passed. I started the sprint in fourth, I finished it in fourth, by far my best finish in any race. (The kid who had bridged to me earlier ended up winning; he's half my age.) I coasted down the course in disbelief. Fourth place? Really? I really belong here?

Sure, it was only a citizen's race, and I don't pretend I was the fourth-fastest or fourth-smartest rider out there; I just got lucky and sucked the right wheels at the end. But I've been waiting a long, long time for a hint of success. Sunday was the first seagull spotted after a transatlantic voyage: Land is near.


Oct. 1, 2005

Today was a time trial, my first and the first event of the Fall Fling, a four-race series that will end most riders' seasons, including my own.

I experience gear envy at most races. I have an entry-level bike with entry-level components and entry-level legs. It's worse at a time trial, where about half the riders are flush enough to afford not just one bike better than mine but two, the second being a time trial-specific bike complete with $2,000 disc wheels and aero helmets pinched from the firing station of the Death Star.

Since I'm not likely to do more than one or two time trials a year, I haven't even sprung for clip-on aerobars, so I must resort to the poor man's aerobar: Resting my forearms on my stem and hoping circulation returns to my fingers by the next morning.

The race took place in Maple Park, a rural village that looked destined to be rural for not much longer. For every field being plowed there were two staked out for development.

The course was advertised as 10 miles long with two turnarounds. The wind was about 10 mph out of the south. In theory, wind-borne gains and losses should net out, but I felt like I was fighting it in all four directions the course went. And that's a Chicago truism I've learned and relearned: The wind will always be in your face, whether your cycling north, cycling south or sitting at your desk.

My goal was 25 minutes, which would have been an average of 24 mph and based on last year's times would have been good enough for the top 10. Coming into the last mile, I knew I was well below where I needed to be. My legs were regretting the two hours I'd spent on the bike at Critical Mass the night before.

I checked my odometer to see how far was left. With about a kilometer to go I got ready to gas it, to ration out every last calorie of energy, every last watt of power. I was in my poor-man's tuck and staring down at my front tire when I saw a thin blue line pass below. I looked back and saw a card table at the side of the road and some people standing nearby. "Was that it!?" I yelled. Yes, they said, that was it, the finish line. The race was done.

A few hundred meters later I came across a race marshal. "That was a pretty short 10 miles," I said.

"Yeah, it's only 9.5 miles."

It was my own damn fault. I knew at which corner the finish was supposed to be, but I blew it by navigating with my odometer and lost my chance to earn a few more seconds with one last push. My time was 24:33, which would have been great for a 10-mile course, but I didn't think it would earn me any points for anything shorter.

Race headquarters was in the village American Legion hall. While I was looking up my time a large, angry woman in a large, cheerful sweater came in demanding to talk to the race organizer. She proceeded to chew him out for the fact that she'd never been notified of the race and suddenly there were 50 cyclists going by her house. (In fact there would be 220 cyclists going by her house, one a minute for four hours.)

She was a vision of flimsy indignance, or perhaps of indignant flimsiness, so out of proportion was her rage to the grievance. The organizer was polite and apologetic, saying that press releases had been sent to the local paper and other outlets but that he was sorry one hadn't been mailed to her. She kept badgering him about not being notified; he kept apologizing. He took her address for next time.

"Do you even have a permit?" Yes, he said, and she demanded to see it. He dug it out and handed it to her, but she couldn't read it: She hadn't brought her glasses.

"There'd better not be trash in front of my house," she shrieked. "Who's going to clean that up?" Volunteers would be sweeping the whole course, he said.

"Why have I never seen a bicycle race here? Have you done this before?" This was the fifth time the event had been held in Maple Park, he said. "Hmmmph," she said. "Must have been on days I was working."

She continued grasping for a legitimate reason to be upset. It was like she really, really wanted her day to be ruined and the organizer's polite, rational answers were foiling her at every turn. Her final thrust was to act as if she was just looking out for us. "What if I pulled out of my driveway without paying attention?" At this all the cyclists within earshot rolled their eyes at this crazy lady, apoplectic at the thought of having to pay attention while driving. The horror, the horror.

Poker was at Jeff's tonight. During a break I went online and checked for race results. They were up. Out of 55 riders in my category, I finished 13th, much better than I had expected, considering how poorly I felt I rode.

Out of six people at the poker table, I came in second. But I've come to expect that.

Tomorrow is a criterium race. I don't expect anything to come of that, but next Saturday will be a longer road race, my preferred format, and it will be worth double points toward the overall standings. I'm hopeful. After that, winter. Rest. Indulgence. And then rebuilding for next season.


Sept. 28, 2005

Three recent moments:



"I don't think we've met. I'm [important person]."

"I'm Luke."

"You new here?"

"Five years."

"Oh. Well, welcome."



I'm making salad for a small dinner party. It calls for candied pecans. I've made this before but always end up nibbling too many along the way. One for the salad, one for me. One for the salad, two for me.

This time I chew gum while I cook so I'm not tempted to nibble. This fails. In the end I just become adept at chewing gum in the left side of my mouth while eating candied pecans in the right.



Sometimes I wonder about the motorcyclists popping wheelies or gunning their engines. Do they realize that when I pantomime the act of masturbation I'm referring to them?


Sept. 19, 2005

Three recent moments:



"Addison stop, Addison stop, home of the 2006 World Series, doors open on your left."



A woman is Rollerblading down the lake. She's attractive, but she's not wearing a helmet and she's talking on a cell phone, two qualities that strike me as evolutional disadvantages, like the supermodel whose narrow hips couldn't possible bear a healthy child. It suggests a variation on one of Sandy's favorite jokes:

Q: What's the hardest part about Rollerblading?

A: Telling your parents you're evolutionarily disadvantageous.



It's three months and a week before Christmas and I have already seen my first holiday display, and already a treacly version of "Frosty the Snowman" has made me want to jump in the river. Thank you, Marshall Field's.


Sept. 13, 2005

Four recent moments:



"... but then working for Marvel would mean living in New York City."


"Did you just say 'Gotham'?"


"Gotham is DC."

"Oh. Of course."



A fat woman in flowing, fat-woman clothes gets off the Clark bus at Bryn Mawr. She's shaped like a pear -- an overripe pear that's been dropped once or twice. From behind thick, ugly glasses she squints at the noon sun. Teeth are missing. On her left arm is a constellation of sores, but also a large homemade tattoo: "LOVE."



I gather that one sign you have a gambling problem is when your poker playing makes you late for other, more important responsibilities. Is it a problem, then, when your poker playing makes you late for other, more important poker games?



"As soon as I could once again remember the lyrics to 'El Paso,' that's when I knew I was sober enough to get out of bed."


Sept. 9, 2005

Two recent moments:



"I found your blog the other day."


"You must have a lot of spare time."



Songs I hear on the radio on the first Saturday morning of September: Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" and Tom Petty's "Refugee." I change the station before "When the Levee Breaks" has a chance to come on. When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay ... Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good.


Aug. 18, 2005

Three recent moments:



I finish fifth in a practice race down in Matteson. Someone mentions that the guy who finished second has a titanium hip.

"Whattsamatta," I ask, "he couldn't afford carbon?"



I'm at the Men's Wearhouse to buy a weddings-and-funerals suit, something to wear, knock on wood, no more than once or twice a year.

Taking a cue from my strategy for picking a wine, I take about three minutes to pick one from the second-to-cheapest rack. Just as I cannot tell the difference between a $10 bottle and a $20 bottle of wine, I cannot tell the difference between a $200 suit and a $800 suit. I'd get the cheapest, but I don't want to look like some sort of tightwad.

While one salesman helps me, another finds an excuse to walk by and casually says, "Yeah, this is a nice suit." When the tailor measures me, he says the same thing, in the same way, twice. Each time it sounds very sincere but also practiced, like George Zimmer has them say it a hundred times a day because he knows how much the customer likes to be complimented for his taste. I feel like I should tell them to stand down: "Guys, it's OK. I know it's an ugly suit. I'm cool with that."



We're waiting for "Broken Flowers" in Old Town. An ad for the National Guard comes on screen. A handful of young, beautiful teenagers with young, beautiful bodies frolic in what is either a volleyball court or a desert wasteland. They pump their fists. "Freedom rocks!" a red and blue logo proclaims.

We are bewildered. I wonder whether there's been a mix-up at the ad distributor. Perhaps somebody in red-state America is waiting for "Stealth" to start, seeing ads for French wine and hummus and also saying, "What the fuck?"


Aug. 16, 2005

Three recent moments:



Bob comes over to help me change the pedals on my racing bike. He feigns shock at all my new cycling gear. "You're gay for bikes!"

OK, so it's true that my bikes rival my friends for my most important relationships in Chicago, and that there's nobody else I currently clean weekly with a Q-tip. But Bob forgets an important fact: All of my bikes -- Faith the mountain bike, Charity the commute bike, the Colonel the racing bike and a fixie I'm hoping to buy this fall whom I haven't even seen but have already named Amanda -- are girls.

I'm gay for girls.



I'm at Johnny Sprockets, my neighborhood bike shop, because I have decided to buy a new wheelset and naturally have decided to buy it right away. I cannot wait to shop around for the best price.

My wheels are there but they're not ready, so my guy at the shop drops what he's doing and starts working to make them true and centered. I sit and listen as he and the other mechanics talk shit. No manhood or mechanical skill goes unquestioned.

My guy carefully spreads talcum powder inside a tire before inserting the tube and putting it on the wheel. We chat about wheels and racing and my bad experience when I strayed and visited a different shop. He asks whether I have a wife or a girlfriend or anything.

"No, just my Jamis."

"That's what I thought, the way you came in here and bought a wheelset without having to consult anyone."

"I've heard of people who are able to do both -- ride and have a girl -- but I've also heard of the Yeti. Doesn't mean it really happens."

It's been an hour and he's still working on the second wheel. There's no way his commission on this wheelset covers more than an hour of labor, let alone labor this careful.

I slip out. Busch Light is the best stuff at the liquor store across the street, so I walk a half-mile to the Jewel and buy a case of Goose Island. When I return, the work is done. I give my guy the beer. "Aw, gee," he says, "you didn't have to do that."

He shows me the boxes with my wheels. While I was gone he had tossed in about $25 worth of tubes, gels and chamois creme. "And you didn't have to do that," I say.

How often does good karma balance itself this quickly?

And that's the great thing about the local bike shop. Even if I could have saved $100 by going elsewhere, my guy does things he doesn't have to do. There are many things in this world that are best measured in dollars and cents, but sometimes things are best measured in beer and chamois creme.



The Cubs are on at the gym. Derrek Lee hits a groundball to first and runs to third, where he is forced out.


Then I realize I'm watching in a mirror, but for a second it made sense: The Cubs have been playing so poorly that a clockwise run around the bases wouldn't be all that surprising.

People know how I feel about color-man Ron Santo, but still it breaks my heart to hear the anger and frustration in his voice. A few days earlier Santo gave his signature "Aw, geez!" -- "Aw, geez!" belongs to him as much as "Holy Cow!" belonged to Harry Caray and "Hey, hey!" belonged to Jack Brickhouse -- when Aramis Ramirez popped out to the infield and casually walked down the baseline, bat in hand. "Does he even want to play?" an exasperated Santo asked.

It would not have surprised me if the next thing I heard was Pat Hughes explaining that Cubs legend Ron Santo had put on a uniform, barged into the dugout and demanded to be put in at third, just to prove that a legless, 65-year-old diabetic could run with more spirit than Aramis Ramirez.


July 28, 2005

My mother possesses a pure heart, a heart incapable of entendre or suggestive language. How else could she e-mail this sentence regarding my brother and his wife:

S&M are their days off.


July 5, 2005

Two recent moments:



Do Butch and the Sundance Kid hold hands before they jump off the cliff ahead of the armed posse? I can't remember, but it seems like they do. At the very least there's a twinkle of love in their eyes.

This is the scene I think of at the end of Stage 2 of the Tour de France. Four riders have spent several hours attempting to escape the enormous peloton, an audacious move as likely as a sand castle escaping the rising tide.

They ride alone, each taking turns breaking the wind. Periodically a motorcycle tracks close and announces their lead. Five minutes. Four minutes. One minute.

With less than 10km to go, they are caught. This is always heartbreaking, to see brave escapees swallowed by the relentless, heartless maw of the peloton. This time it's doubly so: At the last moment, the final two escapees reach out and hold hands in a gesture that says, "We gave it everything we had and failed, mate, but I'm glad we tried." And then they are surrounded and never seen again.

Watching this alone at a bar, I am moved. It's because of these moments of love, almost as much as Lance's moments of triumph, that I race.



I ride through Waukegan on my way to the Wisconsin border. A parade is about to start but I navigate through the barricades and have Main Street to myself. Children wave to me from the sidewalk. On my way back the parade is in full swing so I walk my bike down the sidewalk. A woman hands me a small American flag and wishes me a happy birthday.


July 1, 2005

Four recent moments:



A black SUV is parked in the bike lane on Damen. Three men stand on the sidewalk outside new condo construction. As I pass I yell my usual epithet: "I don't park in your lane."

"OK, Sparky," yells the man holding the granite counter samples.

I turn back, only because his response was so smug. (Is there anything less threatening than yuppie smugness?) I ask how hard it would be to park somewhere else. I point out that parking there is illegal and forces me into the middle of traffic.

"C'mon," says a young woman I hadn't seen in the driver's seat. "Can't you just go around for a second?"

Things I could say in response.

  1. "A second is all it takes for me to get killed."

  2. "You're putting me in danger for your own convenience. But that's what SUVs are all about, isn't it?"

  3. "Hey, I didn't paint these lines, but they're there for a reason, and it's not to be a spot for your fat, lazy ass."

  4. "Greedy motherfuckers!"

But because I am slow and dim, I say this instead: "    ."

And go on my way.



A teammate and I are riding through the far-northwest suburbs. We turn onto a country road and are met by a surprising peloton: 20 Holstein cows. They're herded by a stout elderly woman with white, curly hair and a floral-print shirt. She carries a cane in her left hand and a turqouise rope in her right. "Come on," she croaks with each crack of the whip. "Get on up there!" We pace behind for a few blocks at 1 mph, careful to weave through the trail of manure.



It's 11 p.m. It's strange to see a handyman laying out his tools outside a Bryn Mawr apartment building this late. A few steps later I see why he's there: Inside a brightly lit garden unit an anxious woman cradles her cat while a police officer shines his flash light at a broken window and a pile of glass shards.



"Who are you seeing at Ravinia tonight?"

"Mahler's 'Resurrection.'"

"Never heard of them."


June 29, 2005

I finally had a good criterium experience last night at the practice races in Matteson. I felt much more in control of my bike and my position in the line. In all three races I stayed with the leaders -- which I guess made me one of the leaders, fancy that -- finishing fourth, fourth and sixth, but came in last in each sprint, each time banging a fist on my handlebar as I got passed a few meters before the line.

Satisfaction was muted by what I took to be the tacky tactics of one rider, a teammate with whom I'd never ridden before and who finished ahead of me each race. He didn't take a single pull the whole night, instead sitting in until the final 200 meters. When he could have blocked for my flyer, he didn't. When he could have worked with me on a breakaway, he didn't. When he could have finished a race without laughing at me afterward, he didn't. In contrast, two South Chicago Wheelmen worked together admirably, sacrifice that I think paid dividends for both.

Such is the criterium. If the time trial is the race of truth, the criterium is the race of guile. It's the road race, my preferred format, that like life itself is a combination of both. But until I can move to Europe, where road races are more common, I'll have to deal with it.

I discussed this with Bob on our training ride this Sunday: Even if it is not always requited and even if most teammates don't yet know me from Adam, I have in three short months developed an intense love for my team, not just for its riders but even for its uniform and what it represents. (Yes, I'm crushing on laundry.) When I see a teammate, any teammate, I swell with admiration and a desire to put their needs above my own -- true love, in my book.

On the bright side, the wheelsucker finished the night with a Cat 5 tattoo, and I did not.

It's unlikely I'll get to Matteson again this summer -- if I ever have another Tuesday night off, it will probably be spent at Chicago's Outdoor Movie Festival -- which is a shame. The guys who run the races are fun and generous, and I enjoy the atmosphere of racing around an active paint factory. It recalls the old "Mortal Kombat" video games where the hero battles the boss in some industrial setting busy with pipes, barrels and explosions of steam.

As a result of the racing, however, my legs felt heavy this morning for the monthly time trial my team runs as a fitness check. I finished 35 seconds slower than my last outing, a slowdown of 2 percent, strange considering I feel like I'm in the best condition of my life.


June 16, 2005

Sylvia sits down on the wooden picnic bench and straightens out her legs, lifting one at a time slowly without looking up. Long silences mean gloom for her, and I comment on it. She looks up and then looks down again.

"It was all those people in the cars coming the other way," she says. "The first one looked so sad. And then the next one looked exactly the same way, and then the next one and the next one, they were all the same. It's just that they looked so lost. Like they were all dead. Like a funeral procession."


The cars seem to be moving at a steady maximum speed for in-town driving, as though they want to get somewhere, as though what's here right now is just something to get through. The drivers seem to be thinking about where they want to be rather than where they are.

I know what it is! We've arrived at the West Coast! We're all strangers again! Folks, I just forgot the biggest gumption trap of all. The funeral procession! The one everybody's in, this hyped-up, fuck-you, supermodern, ego style of life that thinks it owns this country.

Robert Pirsig, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

Another Chicago bicyclist was killed two weeks ago.

Alicia Frantz fell from her bike during the morning rush and landed in the path of a truck. She died on the spot. It was her 32nd birthday.

I never met her, but she was the friend of acquaintances and an acquaintance to my friends, and I'm not the first to say she sounds like the kind of person I'd have liked to have known.

Whenever a car kills a pedestrian or cyclist I am sad and angry for days, and I am doubly so this time. Sad that a bright light was put out, angry that she was doing the right thing and died for it.

The crisis is that this happens every few days around Chicago. (Now you understand why I am sad and angry all the time.)

As a yearround bike commuter, I worry that the lesson taken from Alicia's death is that she'd be alive if only she hadn't been on a bike. I prefer to think that she'd be alive if only the driver had been on one, too.

The trendy bumpersticker a few years back was, What would Jesus drive? Mine would have read, Would Jesus drive? Would the Buddha? Would they even carpool? Or would they take their bagel and coffee to the train platform and wait with the rest of us?

After the accident I submitted some strident, self-righteous thoughts -- even more strident and self-righteous than this -- to the opinion page of a local newspaper. It had the good sense to reject them without comment. And now, two weeks later, I have in my pocket the keys to a car I will be borrowing for the summer, this after suggesting that all drivers, even the careful ones, share responsibility for Alicia's death. It's hypocrisy writ large, insofar as one can at once be unpublished and writ large.

The goal, then, is to go the summer and use the car for fewer than 10 non-bike-related trips. So far, so good, and it's about to get better: Tomorrow I leave for a week in Wisconsin with my bike, a tent and a bag of Clif bars. Seven days away from this hyped-up, fuck-you style of life.


June 8, 2005

Four recent moments:



On the train a young woman is reading "He's Just Not That Into You." She pulls a pen from her purse and underlines a passage about why the titular he should absolutely not be called or e-mailed, no matter how tempting. She writes a check mark in the margin.

Something tells me she's having a rocky week.



A jet ski enters the lake from Diversey Harbor. He is going too fast to avoid being obnoxiously loud and loathsome. He also is going too fast to avoid getting tangled in the line a fisherman has just cast into the waterway. "The catch of the day!" I yell from the bike path and give a thumbs-up.



A fire truck arrives at the El station the same time I do. As its crew walks through the station, two young women at the fare machines leer over their shoulders and ask to be hosed down. Casually and jovially the firefighters make their way up the motionless escalator, at the top of which is the biohazard that they have come to clean up: a small pool of blood.

It's not messy enough for a shooting -- not that I would know -- so I presume it was a stabbing, but I can't find any information to say one way or another.



On the return trip, four college girls board at Addison. It's an hour after the game and they are dressed in Cub red and blue. A redhead among them has two Band-aids in an "X" above her left eye. One of her friends peels back the bandage to inspect the wound and confirms that, yes, she's going to want to go to the hospital to get this checked out.

The tears begin. She blubbers about how she's not crying because she's hurt but because she's ruined the night for everyone and she can't believe she has to go to the hospital and who will pay for that? Insurance? Really? All of it?

As I wonder whether she was hit with a foul ball she makes a tearful, incoherent call to her mother. The friend who has been rubbing her back and saying kind things takes the phone and translates: "Hello, Mrs. M--. This is Molly's friend Laura. Molly was at a club and somehow she fell and hit her head and she has a small cut above her eye, but it's really not that bad. It's really not as serious as she thinks. She's going to be fine."

It's hard to tell whether this is the whole story or if there was more mischief involved than Molly would want her mother to know about.

The two other friends are behind me and are getting impatient. One whispers to the other, "I want to fucking slap her so she'll stop crying."


May 18, 2005

The only good meme, I always say, is a meme deleted with a mournful sigh.

But Matt asked nicely, so I'll play along.


Total volume of music on my computer:

22.33 GB (5,980 songs)


The last CD I bought:

Andrew Bird, "The Mysterious Production of Eggs"


Song playing right now:

Lambchop, "Life's Little Tragedy"


Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:

  1. "Fanfare for the Common Man," performed by Woody Herman. My father is not a music lover, but he would put this on whenever he was entertaining students. I regard it as the family anthem. When I am dead and the bicycle parade is sprinkling my ashes through the streets of Chicago, this had better be playing on the loudspeakers.
  2. "Gonna Fly Now," either the original Bill Conti or as performed by Maynard Ferguson. I rely on this when I am at the end of a hard run. After 20 miles I neither mind nor notice how corny it is.
  3. "Thank You," by Led Zeppelin. Long story.
  4. "Lilac Wine," by Nina Simone.
  5. "It Never Entered My Mind," performed by Miles Davis.

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton:

Let's see -- five people who are aware of my wee blog here.

Fingers tapping ...

Crickets chirping ...

Ghosts moaning ...

How about:

  1. Sandy and/or Sarah
  2. Jim
  3. Mikal
  4. Ted
  5. Darth Vader

May 16, 2005

Three recent moments:



We're discussing a friend who a few years back got the Kansas state motto -- "Ad astra per aspera" -- tattooed "right above her butt crack." I point out that it's a good thing she's from Kansas and not Illinois or else she'd have "Land of Lincoln."

But then someone from New Mexico points out that "Land of Enchantment" wouldn't be so bad.

(It turns out that Illinois' and New Mexico's mottos are in fact "State sovereignty, national union" and "Crescit eundo," respectively, the latter of which would be entirely inappropriate.)



Bob brings two friends to poker. On the first hand one of them loses 20 percent of her chip stack to me, and I feel terrible: Here Bob ropes these nice people into filling out our table and has failed to tell them how good we are. This isn't nickel ante at summer camp. Plus, she's a librarian, so I suspect $20 is an entire day's wage.

She spends much of the night sighing silently and furrowing her brow. Meanwhile, I play uncharacteristically loose and am the first to run out of chips. Toby exits soon after, and then Bob and Sandy go out on the same hand ("You stayed in and you didn't even have the flush!?"). It's down to her and Jason, and after a dozen hands that go nowhere she finally wins it all with a medium pair.

I still feel terrible, but obviously for different reasons. Maybe this is why we never let women play with us.



I'm watching the Giro d'Italia on a live feed of Italian television. I don't remember any of the Italian I learned in college, and we never got to the chapter on cycling terms anyhow, so the announcers are but white noise. Yet I'm transfixed. I feel like I'm back at the Uffizi and staring at one of its masterpieces: Even though I have only a slight idea of what's going on and the nuances and characters are well beyond my ken, the canvas is beautiful and humbling.


May 10, 2005

Three recent moments:



I'm at a seedy bar with a beer show-off. He's the type who takes two whiffs of a Belgian ale and tells you the cassock size of the Trappist monk who brewed it.

The selection is limited and difficult to make out, so he orders what looks like the most exotic bottle in the refrigerator. It appears German. The bartender, one of three curvy Russian blondes behind the bar, pops the cap, puts the bottle on the counter and spins it to reveal the three most horrifying words my friend has ever read: "Bucklers non-alcoholic beer."

I spring for a Pabst so he can drown his sorrows properly.



I attempt a 27-mile run, per the online advice of running coach Jeff Galloway. At the turnaround I start Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," but I have mistimed it and the resurrection comes too late. By 20.5 miles I have bonked and am worrying about pain in my knee, so I abandon the run and walk to the Clark and Division El stop.

At the station a 1-year-old girl sits in a stroller nearby. I know she's 1 because an elderly polish woman is gushing over the young mother and asking about her child's age, name and siblings (1; Amber; a brother, he's 4).

I hang my tongue in defeat, and the girl responds in kind.



I'm still getting used to my shaved legs. Their smoothness often startles me in the morning: "Oh! Who do we have here?" (Let's just say it's a question that doesn't get asked much around these parts.) I'm sucking on toes and well on my way to third base before I realize it's just me.


May 4, 2005

Pronunciation: &-'prE-shE-"At, -'pri- also -'prE-sE-
Function: verb
Etymology: Late Latin appretiatus, past participle of appretiare, from Latin ad- + pretium price
1 a: to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of b: to value or admire highly c: to judge with heightened perception or understanding : be fully aware of d: to recognize with gratitude

Merriam-Webster, "Appreciate"

Two, four, six, eight -- Whom does President Bush appreciate?

I decided to find out, but after 150 instances my head started to hurt and I stopped looking. Nonetheless, it's a fascinating study in rhetoric.

Most of the time the president uses his appreciation as a form of roll call. He starts most speeches by naming others in the room and whether he "appreciates" or "appreciates so very much" their presence.

Sometimes he uses it as a synonym for thanks, but with a dose of ambiguity. Like when he says "I want to appreciate your wise counsel" -- it's not clear whether he appreciates it or not, nor how wise he truly considers your counsel. I want to think he's being a smart ass here.

Often he appreciates things that don't necessarily exist -- "strong bipartisan support," "the courage of most Americans," "your understanding" -- as if by "appreciating" them he can will them into being, like the sign in the diner restroom that says "We appreciate your cleanliness" whether you're smearing feces on the walls or not.

I think the foible I appreciate most is the way he appreciates things that he likely does not in fact appreciate. Questions, for example. Whenever a reporter asks a real stinker, President Bush likes to say how much he appreciates the question. But a president who averages less than one prime-time press conference a year does not strike me as a man who appreciates being questioned. Perhaps "I appreciate that question" is a code phrase to the IRS, meaning, "Commence the audit."

At any rate, I hope you appreciate the hour or so it took me to document all this.

  1. "Fidel, I appreciate your tone, I appreciate your constructive work on this issue." (May 4, 2005)
  2. "I appreciate you letting us use you as an example, looking forward to meeting the kids." (May 4, 2005)
  3. "I appreciate you bringing the payroll taxes in." (May 4, 2005)
  4. "I appreciate you bringing that up again, Elizabeth." (May 4, 2005)
  5. " I appreciate you saying I brought up an issue that I didn't need to bring up." (May 4, 2005)
  6. "Thanks, Sam. Good job. I appreciate it." (May 3, 2005)
  7. "I appreciate you understanding that you're going to get your check." (May 3, 2005)
  8. "And I appreciate that gesture ... And I appreciate that gesture." (April 28, 2005)
  9. "I appreciate that question." (April 28, 2005)
  10. "I appreciate the strong bipartisan support for supporting our troops in harm's way." (April 28, 2005)
  11. "I appreciate his courage and the courage of those who are willing to serve the Iraqi people in government." (April 28, 2005)
  12. "I appreciate such a generous welcome." (April 27, 2005)
  13. "I appreciate the courage that Marianne has shown and her determination to succeed." (April 27, 2005)
  14. "I appreciate the fine job he's done ... I appreciate the ambassadors who are here ... And I appreciate you all giving me a chance to come by and visit with you." (April 27, 2005)
  15. "I appreciate the fact that our small business owners are taking risks and pursuing dreams ... I appreciate the fact that the small business entrepreneurs are some of the great innovators in our nation." (April 27, 2005)
  16. "I appreciate the fact that the Senate has passed a version of the budget." (April 27, 2005)
  17. "I appreciate the leadership in the House." (April 27, 2005)
  18. "I appreciate Mike McIntyre from North Carolina joining us ... I appreciate Michael Steele, the Lieutenant Governor from Maryland. I appreciate Gordon England, who's the Secretary of the Navy ... And I appreciate Vice Admiral Rod Rempt for your hospitality at the games." (April 20, 2005)
  19. "I appreciate Secretary Don Rumsfeld joining us today ... I appreciate Secretary Francis Harvey ... I appreciate the family members who have joined us today ... I appreciate Chaplain David Hicks, for his invocation." (April 7, 2005)
  20. "I appreciate citizens from Iraq who have joined us. I appreciate my fellow citizens who have joined us." (March 29, 2005)
  21. "I appreciate the determination of the Iraqi electoral workers." (March 29, 2005)
  22. "We appreciate the fact that Canada's tar sands are now becoming economical." (March 23, 2005)
  23. "I appreciate the meetings we've just had." (March 23, 2005)
  24. "I appreciate the commitment of the prime minister and the president toward a spirit of partnership to outlast whatever politics may occur." (March 23, 2005)
  25. "Thank you, Paul, I appreciate that very much. " (March 23, 2005)
  26. "I appreciate the fact that the unemployment rate here in Colorado is 4.9 percent." (March 21, 2005)
  27. "I appreciate the idea." (March 21, 2005)
  28. "Yes, I appreciate you saying that." (March 21, 2005)
  29. "I appreciate so much, Senator, your willingness to join in this issue." (March 21, 2005)
  30. "I appreciate the world leaders taking my phone calls." (March 16, 2005)
  31. "I do appreciate the public concern about the use of steroids in sports ... So I appreciate the fact that baseball is addressing this, and I appreciate the fact that the Congress is paying attention to the issue." (March 16, 2005)
  32. "I appreciate the fine example that you have set for aspiring young scientists." (March 14, 2005)
  33. "I really appreciate what Boston does off the field, too ... I appreciate what individual players do ... I appreciate what the Red Sox are doing in the Dominican Republic with Seor Octubre." (March 2, 2005)
  34. "I appreciate the willingness of these men to take on these tough new assignments in an extraordinary moment in our nation's history." (Feb. 17, 2005
  35. "Thank you all very much for your attention and questions. Appreciate it." (Feb. 17, 2005)
  36. "I appreciate people bringing forth ideas." (Jan. 26, 2005)
  37. "I appreciate that question." (Jan. 26, 2005)
  38. "I appreciate His Majesty's understanding of the need for democracy to advance in the greater Middle East." (Jan. 26, 2005)
  39. "I appreciate your hard work. ... We really appreciate you having us. I appreciate the Justices of the Supreme Court being here... I appreciate General Myers ... I appreciate Barbara and Jenna." (Jan. 20, 2005)
  40. "Fuel -- I appreciate Fuel being here." (Jan 18, 2005)
  41. "Yes, I appreciate that question." (Dec. 20, 2004)
  42. "Well, I appreciate that, Ed, but we did take on Medicare." (Dec. 20, 2004)
  43. "Yes, I appreciate that." (Dec. 20, 2004)
  44. "I appreciate the nations of Great Britain and Germany and France who are working to try to convince Iran to honor their international treaty obligations." (Nov. 26, 2004)
  45. "I appreciate his work to fight Internet pornography ... I appreciate his service and wish him and Janet all the best." (Nov. 9, 2004)
  46. "I appreciate that. Listen, I've made some very hard decisions." (Nov. 4, 2004)
  47. "I appreciate all people who voted." (Nov. 4, 2004)
  48. "I appreciate you being here to watch it. And I really do appreciate working with Mr. Chairman ... I appreciate other members of the congressional delegation who are with us today ... I appreciate my friend, Jim Leach being here ... I appreciate his hard work on this bill and I appreciate him working with Chuck Grassley to get the bill done ... I appreciate members of the ex-governors club who've joined us today. ... I appreciate their friendship ... appreciate you coming." (Oct. 4, 2004)
  49. "I appreciate the members of Congress who are here today." (Oct. 4, 2004)
  50. "I appreciate the strong leadership of the -- of those who represent the armies of compassion." (Sept. 30, 2004)
  51. "I appreciate you serving your respective countries and working together to make the world a better place." (Sept. 22, 2004)
  52. "I appreciate your courage. I appreciate your leadership ... And I appreciate your will, and I appreciate your strength." (Sept. 21, 2004)
  53. "I appreciate his courage."(Sept. 21, 2004)
  54. "I appreciate you giving me the chance to come on and have, what we say in Texas, 'Just a visit.'" (Sept. 28, 2004)
  55. "I appreciate the hard work of the commission over the past 20 months." (Aug. 24, 2004)
  56. "I appreciate the Senate's work." (Aug. 9, 2004)
  57. "I appreciate the solid and bipartisan support of this bill. I appreciate both people -- people of both parties coming together to support our troops." (Aug. 5, 2004)
  58. "I appreciate so very much those in my Cabinet who have worked hard to make this agreement come true." (Aug. 3, 2004)
  59. "I appreciate Prime Minister Howard, he's a strong partner in peace." (Aug. 3, 2004)
  60. "I want to know the facts. I appreciate the fact-finders working hard." (Aug. 9, 2004)
  61. "I appreciate -- listen, one of the reasons I enjoy working with LULAC so much is I appreciate your commitments to freedom and to entrepreneurship ... Once again, I appreciate the good work of LULAC." (July 8, 2004)
  62. "I appreciate your understanding for the need for us, whoever is traveling with me, to get moving." (June 10, 2004)
  63. "I appreciate your willingness to work on promoting freedom around the world ... I appreciate your government's good work. I appreciate very much the Chancellor's help in Afghanistan ... I appreciate our mutual work on the U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq." (June 8, 2004)
  64. "Thanks, Gerhard, I appreciate you." (June 8, 2004)
  65. "I appreciate the fact that we've got scholarship and award recipients who are with us. And I appreciate the distinguished guests who are here, as well." (May 19, 2004)
  66. "I appreciate his good, strong advice." (May 19, 2004)
  67. "What I appreciate is the fact that in the contracts you sign with the players that you include a commitment to participate in at least 10 public service events each year. I appreciate the commitment. I also appreciate the players' commitment, as well." (May 10, 2004)
  68. "I appreciate Sununu, the Senator from New Hampshire." (May 10, 2004)
  69. "I appreciate the dramatic comebacks that you were capable of making. I like it when a kicker ends up winning the game." (May 10, 2004)
  70. "I appreciated your strong words, and I really appreciate your faith." (May 5, 2004)
  71. "Thank you for what you do. I appreciate you." (May 5, 2004)
  72. "I appreciate your vision and your understanding of that, Your Majesty." (May 6, 2004)
  73. "I appreciate your friendship, and I appreciate the opportunity to hear your thoughts on a range of issues that face your country." (May 6, 2004)
  74. "I appreciated your advice, Your Majesty." (May 6, 2004)
  75. "I want to appreciate your wise counsel, Your Majesty." (May 6, 2004)
  76. "I appreciate you coming." (May 6, 2004)
  77. "I appreciate the Prime Minister understanding that vision." (April 16, 2004)
  78. "No matter where they may stand on this war, the thing I appreciate most about our country is the strong support given to the men and women in uniform." (April 13, 2004")
  79. "I appreciate the candid discussion we've had." (Feb. 25, 2004)
  80. "I appreciate you bringing up the Russian bases problem." (Feb. 25, 2004)
  81. "I appreciate his willingness to go to Iraq and I appreciate his willingness to gather facts." (Jan. 27, 2004)
  82. "I appreciate your friendship, I appreciate your strength." (Jan. 27, 2004)
  83. "I appreciate David Kay's contribution." (Jan. 27, 2004)
  84. "I appreciate Ozzie Guillen being here." (Jan. 23, 2004)
  85. "I appreciate the fact that Josh Beckett -- a big, old Texan I might add -- (laughter) -- is involved with youth baseball." (Jan. 23, 2004)
  86. "I appreciate the joint efforts of the Russians with our country to explore ... I appreciate the astronauts of yesterday who are with us as well, who inspired the astronauts of today to serve our country. I appreciate so very much the members of Congress being here. ... I appreciate your interest in this subject." (Jan. 14, 2004)
  87. "I appreciate Commander Mike Foale's introduction. I'm sorry I couldn't shake his hand." (Jan. 14, 2004)
  88. "To John Travolta. (We shall call him 'Moon Man' from now on.) I appreciate your friendship. I appreciate your love of flight. Thank you for being such a fine entertainer." (Dec. 17, 2003)
  89. "I appreciate so very much American heroes who are here, well-known and not so well-known heroes." (Dec. 17, 2003)
  90. "I appreciate that question." (Dec. 15 , 2003)
  91. "I appreciate the fact that durable orders for durable goods are up." (Dec. 15 , 2003)
  92. "I appreciate the Hot Shot team members from the great state of California." (Dec. 3, 2003)
  93. "I appreciate the representatives of the conservation groups who have worked in a constructive way to help change the attitude inside the halls of the United States Congress." (Dec. 3, 2003)
  94. "I appreciate the fact that the Indonesian government was able to accommodate my desires to come here." (Oct. 22, 2003)
  95. "I appreciate Vin for the short introduction. I'm a man who likes short introductions. And he didn't let me down. But more importantly, I appreciate the invitation. I appreciate the members of Congress who are here, senators from both political parties, members of the House of Representatives from both political parties. I appreciate the ambassadors who are here. I appreciate the guests who have come. I appreciate the bipartisan spirit, the nonpartisan spirit of the National Endowment for Democracy." (Oct. 16, 2003)
  96. "I appreciate very much your commitment to trade and markets ... I appreciate your honesty and openness and forthrightness when it comes to battling the pandemic of AIDS ... I appreciate your leadership, and I appreciate your friendship." (Aug. 12, 2003)
  97. "I appreciate her strength; I appreciate her courage. And I appreciate you being here today, Madam President ... I appreciate President Arroyo's leadership." (May 19, 2003)
  98. "I appreciate his advice, I appreciate his counsel." (April 29, 2003)
  99. "I appreciate those who are members of the faith-based world who have answered the call, the universal call, to help a brother and sister in need." (April 29, 2003)
  100. "You asked about sharing of intelligence, and I appreciate that." (March 6, 2003)
  101. "I appreciate societies in which people can express their opinion." (March 6, 2003)
  102. "I appreciate that question a lot." (March 6, 2003)
  103. "I had a chance to tell both soldier and loved one alike that their service to our country was noble and strong and good. And I appreciated that very much." (Jan. 17, 2003)
  104. "I appreciate you all. giving me a chance to talk about a significant problem which faces America." (Jan. 16, 2003)
  105. "Thanks for your good work, and I certainly appreciate it all." (Nov. 19, 2002)
  106. "I appreciate those kind remarks, Rosario. You're a gran amiga. Buenos dias." (Oct. 17, 2002)
  107. "I appreciate so very much the chair of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I appreciate so very much the President and CEO." (Oct. 17, 2002)
  108. "I appreciate their spirit. I appreciate their love for country ... I appreciate the spirit in which members of Congress are considering this vital issue." (Sept. 26, 2002)
  109. "I appreciate the government of Portugal for its strong support in the war against terror." (Sept. 10, 2002)
  110. "I appreciate the way the House voted the bill." (Sept. 5, 2002)
  111. "I appreciate so very much Vice President Cheney's hard work on this issue. I appreciate Colin Powell and Ann Veneman, who ably serve in my Cabinet .... And I appreciate Elaine Chao as well. ... I appreciate so very much Cal Dooley, and a guy I call "Jeff", William Jefferson, Congressmen from California and Louisiana ... I appreciate your leadership and I appreciate your work and I appreciate your help." (Aug. 6, 2002)
  112. "I appreciate so very much Senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Steve Chabot from Ohio for sponsoring this important piece of legislation. I also appreciate Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Congresswoman Melissa Hart for coming, as well ... I appreciate Hadley Arkes." (Aug. 5, 2002)
  113. "I want to appreciate Chip's support of the tax relief plan." (Aug. 7, 2002)
  114. "I appreciate the long hours that they're putting in. I appreciate their love for America and their patriotism during this trying time for our country." (July 16, 2002)
  115. "I appreciate so very much his leadership and his continued willingness to find a new common ground in this most important relationship." (June 27, 2002)
  116. "I appreciate you saying that, Martha. I appreciate you hear me say that I appreciate the fact that our country prays for me and Laura." (June 27, 2002)
  117. "I appreciate her leadership. I appreciate her concern." (June 25, 2002)
  118. "I appreciate the good -- I appreciate, I want to thank Chad Ettmueller, who's the -- I guess the man in charge of the Red Cross here." (June 25, 2002)
  119. "I really appreciate the theme of this conference and the importance of the conference." (June 19, 2002)
  120. "I appreciate you answering my mail, Mr. Congressman." (June 19, 2002)
  121. "The thing I appreciate is that you understand education should prepare children for jobs, and it also should prepare our children for life." (June 19, 2002)
  122. "I appreciate you qualifying it that way." (June 13, 2002)
  123. "I appreciate all the Mexicans who are here today." (May 3, 2002)
  124. "I appreciate President Fox's leadership in our hemisphere ... I appreciate his vision." (May 3, 2002)
  125. "I told the Crown Prince how much I appreciate his vision for a peaceful and integrated Middle East, and how I appreciated his leadership in helping rally the Arab world toward that vision. I also appreciated the Crown Prince's assurance that Saudi Arabia condemns terror." (April 25, 2002)
  126. "I appreciate that, respect that, and expect that to be the case." (April 25, 2002)
  127. "I reminded him how much I appreciated his statement toward Israel ... Then he went and sold that in Beirut, and I appreciated that, as well." (April 25, 2002)
  128. "The government has been acting, and I appreciate that very much." (April 25, 2002)
  129. "I deeply appreciate President Fox's early support and his continuing advice." (March 22, 2002)
  130. "I really appreciate the fact that my National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, is here to offer prayer. appreciate the members of my Cabinet who are here." (Feb. 7, 2002)
  131. "I appreciate her example of faith made stronger in trial." (Feb. 7, 2002)
  132. "I appreciate the work the airlines have done with the Federal Aviation Administration." (Nov. 19, 2001)
  133. "I appreciate Norm Mineta, who is here." (Nov. 2, 2001)
  134. "I appreciate the patience of the American people." (Nov. 2, 2001)
  135. "I appreciate the courage of most Americans." (Nov. 2, 2001)
  136. "I appreciate diplomatic talk, but I'm more interested in action and results." (Oct. 11, 2001)
  137. "I personally think that a -- and I appreciate Tony Blair's -- and I've discussed this with him -- his vision about Afghan after we're successful -- Afghanistan after we're successful." (Oct. 11, 2001)
  138. "I appreciate the actions of that government." (Oct. 11, 2001)
  139. "I appreciate my friend Tom Ridge." (Aug. 26, 2001)
  140. "I appreciate a straightforward fellow, a fellow who you know where he stands." (Aug. 26, 2001)
  141. "I want to appreciate and thank the U.S. Steel and its workers for a good conservation policy." (Aug. 26, 2001)
  142. "I appreciate your strong stance on holding the line on cutting the car tax in Virginia." (Aug. 26, 2001)
  143. "I appreciate so very much the supplemental that got passed." (Aug. 26, 2001)
  144. "Mr. Prime Minister, I appreciate your leadership." (Aug. 23, 2001
  145. "I appreciate so very much the Italian leadership in the Balkans." (Aug. 23, 2001)
  146. "I appreciate so very much President Putin's willingness to think differently about how to make the world more peaceful." (Aug. 22, 2001)
  147. "I appreciate this attitude so very much with President Putin." (Aug. 22, 2001)
  148. "I appreciate you bringing such nice weather." (April 30, 2001)
  149. "I appreciate what's going on here." (April 25, 2001)
  150. "I appreciate your service to the country." (April 23, 2001)
  151. "I appreciate that so very much." (April 23, 2001)
  152. "I appreciate the members of the press." (March 30, 2001)
  153. " I actually said this in New Hampshire: 'I appreciate preservation. It's what you do when you run for President, you've got to preserve.' I don't have the slightest idea what I was saying there." (March 30, 2001)
  154. "I appreciated the vote." (March 29, 2001)
  155. "I appreciate the hard work that's being done on the legislation." (March 29, 2001)

April 19, 2005

Three recent moments:



I drop an open can of coffee on the floor. I quickly grab a dustpan and wonder, Does the three-second rule apply to coffee grounds?



For the fifth time in a week I am downtown and am asked for directions. I don't mind. I never mind. I love showing off my Chicago chops. And much more than extended daylight or flowers peeking through soil, this is the true harbinger of spring: when suddenly there are people in Chicago who care where Navy Pier is.



It's Tuesday, which means speedwork on my running schedule.

It's nice out, which means instead of the treadmill I do sidewalk fartleks: arbitrary distances fast alternated with arbitrary distances slow.

It's really, really nice out, which means I do my first shirtless run of the year. (Neighbors of Edgewater, you have been warned.)

Usually I think of my fartleks as fire-hydrants runs. I'll sprint to one red plug and lollygag to the next. Today I notice my slow intervals coinciding with glass storefronts, all the better to admire myself in. When I run, my belly rolls jiggle in such a way that I can pretend they are abs, and that my man-breasts are pecs.


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 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 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 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 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 3, 2005

Cubs baseball is on the air!

WGN 720-AM, five minutes ago

And Ron Santo is already annoying me.


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.


Feb. 26, 2005

If you spend much time downtown late at night, you will eventually fall for the stranded teen scam. It's like the Spanish prisoner scam, in that a fool and his money are parted, but much less ambitious and not nearly as intricate. I fall for it about once a year.

Usually it's a boy. He flags you down and gives you a convincing sob story about how he was here visiting his girlfriend but now he's $10 short for the train back to Indiana and he's embarrassed to ask but can't you just help him out? And because you are caught off guard and because you are a generous person you give him a few bucks and never expect to see it again.

Tonight it's an older guy, maybe 40. It is just after midnight underneath the AMA Building. He's wearing a construction outfit and a hard hat and is talking frantically on a hands-free cell phone. He's smoking. His hands are dirty.

Once he has my attention he ends the call and explains his situation.

His family owns a construction company, he says. I recognize the name, not just from its signs around town but from reports of its close and thus questionable ties to the mayor. They're doing the demolition of the Sun-Times building. Tonight somebody broke into the site and stole some equipment. He was in the middle of a beer and a sandwich when he got the call and had to come down to deal with it.

Then his truck broke down and AAA isn't covering the tow truck that came to fix it. He has $220 but is $50 short and of course he left his wallet at home. If he can't pay, his truck is going to get hauled to a pound at 60th and State. There are gangs there, he says. He is frantic, but shoves in my face a towing receipt that seems to support his story.

So what the hell. I get ready to give him $50. While I dig around for some paper he keeps talking. Mentions his trust fund, the $58 an hour he earns as a crane operator. Points to a nearby skyscraper he worked on. He's not some bum, I'm to understand. He asks me where I work, says he knows some of the union guys there. I say I just do computer stuff.

I write down my address for him and write down his. He lives in New Lenox, which I gather is a suburb. (I don't leave the city much.) I give him the money. His hands are full so he sticks his cigarette in his mouth in order to shake my hand. His grip is strong and calloused. We hug.

We walk through the plaza. He says how thankful he is and how angry he is "at, I'm sorry, that black guy. The tow truck guy. I'm not prejudiced, but jeez."

At the stairs to the Red Line I give him my hand again and tell him to take care. He shakes but looks at me in disbelief. "You're taking the train home?" he asks, as if we were at the shore of Lake Michigan and I'd said I was going to be swimming home.

He looks down the stairs and sees two black guys talking at the bottom. StreetWise vendors. "You're going to go down there? Alone?" He says he's going to walk me down. I try to beg off. I do this all the time, I say. It's the city. I live here. He's even more frazzled than before but he insists.

We walk past the StreetWise guys. One asks him for his cigarette. "Y'now you can't smoke on the train," he says.

"Well, I'm not riding the train," my new friend says with a nervous growl. He looks like a man who could make a bear cry uncle, but the CTA has cowed him.

At the turnstiles he asks if I really do this every night. Does stuff like that happen all the time? "Hey, it's the city," I say, all the while thinking: "Stuff like what? Stuff like black people living in Chicago? Stuff like StreetWise vendors wishing they had a cigarette? Yes, I imagine it happens almost every night."

I thank him for the escort and shake his hand yet again. A few seconds later he yells after me.

"Hey, guy," he says, "are you married?"


"You seeing anyone?"

Yeah, I guess I am. What, does he want to set me up with his trust-fund sister?

"Well, my dad is going to see that you take her out to a real nice place. I mean it."

I insist that I don't expect anything more than my $50, but he means it. Me, I've already written it all off as a karma deposit. Then he thrusts his grimey paw through an iron grate and I shake it one last time and wish him luck.


Feb. 25, 2005

Two recent moments:



Someone asks whether I'm buying Cubs tickets.

For about five years the Cubs have used a wristband-lottery system to open ticket sales. To receive a numbered wristband, fans spend about an hour in a queue from the former Yum-Yum's all the way to Waveland. After two days of this the team draws a number at random. Sales commence with the corresponding wristband and continue sequentially.

No, I say, I will not be buying tickets this year, and I describe how it used to be, before the lottery, before the Internet, before the scalpers and speculators, before the Cubs' owners sapped almost all the joy and fun out of being a fan.

I was in college right before the Cubs hit their tipping point, when bleachers were still the cheap seats. You could get walk-up tickets to most games, but if you had a popular game in mind -- Opening Day, for instance -- you could camp out at Wrigley Field the night before the first sales. It would be cold and miserable and you would wish you had brought more socks, but people would be friendly and would chat about the pitchers and catchers who had reported that week. And it was good. A fan could earn his tickets, rather than depending on luck (via the lottery) or wealth (via scalpers, may they burn in hell).

In 1997 I waited overnight and didn't even stick around to buy. I had to go take a test. I waited with Stacey until we were finally inside, in a carpeted waiting room where the Cubs had laid out coffee and Ann Sather cinnamon rolls. I stuffed my pockets with rolls, gave Stacey a list of a few games I wanted and high-tailed it back to Evanston for my test.

So, no, I tell this person, I will not be buying tickets this year. And I feel like the old man who, when invited to the movies by his grandson, declines and instead rhapsodizes about the first talkies, when cinema was good.



Why I am not an accountant, or perhaps why I should be one: I don't think of the soda machine as selling Diet Cokes for $1.25. I think of it as selling three laundry quarters for $2. The Diet Coke is free.


Feb. 20, 2005

Three recent moments:



I'm in a coffeeshop. Tables in the center of the room are reserved for a speed-dating event. Around 6 p.m. women start to gather. They chat nervously about the process, just as the Christians of Rome might chat nervously about why they've been herded into the Coliseum and whether that was a lion they just heard roar.

As if dating isn't humiliating enough. As if speed-dating doesn't multiply the humilation enough, compressing a year's worth of rejection and disappointment into a single hour. This coffeeshop has broken new ground in the field of humiliation: speed-dating with spectators.

I watch and listen, pretending to read just like all the other non-participants along the room's perimeter. I know the decent thing to do would be to leave but I can't. It's like gaping at the proverbial car wreck, except it's a dozen car wrecks. It's a demolition derby of human relations.

It's a strange thing to watch relationships be born and die in just five minutes with all the boring parts edited out. It's reality TV reality.



I'm using a trial membership at a neighborhood gym. It's located in a historic hotel, a relic from the days when Edgewater was a resort community for Chicago's wealthy, before the El was extended north and brought in all the riff-raff. The weight machines and treadmills are in an elegant ballroom, complete with chandeliers, high ceilings and marble floors. It feels like "The Shining." I expect blood to start dripping from the walls, or maybe tropical-flavored Gatorade.



I'm riding down Lawrence on my way to poker. It's night, so I'm wearing my reflective vest and balaclava and have turned on the blinky atop my helmet. A guy sitting in a parked car across the street thinks it looks pretty silly and yells, "Where ya goin' there, spaceman?"

I don't mind being regarded as looking silly, but I take exception to being heckled for it, so I do something the guy isn't expecting at all: I do a quick U-turn, roll up to his open window and threaten to break his fucking nose.


No, of course I don't. I may be capable of willing a broken nose, but as you might guess I am not capable of threatening one, let alone do the actual breaking. I wouldn't even know how to. Ask him to wait while I unlock my U-lock and then club him with it?

But I do make the U-turn, roll up to his open window and with a well-practiced glare ask, "What's that, friend?"

I'm pretty sure he was slack-jawed to begin with, but now he is slack-jawed and mousy. "Nothing," he says. "Sorry."

And that's the great trade-off of the balaclava. Although it makes it harder to hawk loogies on Hummers (but not impossible), it lets me adopt a personality contrary to the nice, timid guy that I am. It keeps my head warm but turns my heart cold and vengeful.


Feb. 12, 2005

A note found in the alley behind my home:

Alexis my cousins name is Jalamen and he is a boy ain't that a boys name. Write me back



Feb. 10, 2005

Personally I think that ass-related things should never be a surprise, but rather carefully planned for, researched, and outlined using PowerPoint and an Excel spreadsheet, but your mileage may vary.

"Mimi Smartypants," Feb. 8, 2005

This marital advice springs to mind when I open this fortune cookie ...

It may be well to consult others before taking unusual action.

... and, because deep down I am still 14, I append it with the usual "in bed."


Feb. 3, 2005

Three recent moments:



I am shopping for a wedding card. I know I am in Andersonville because at least a quarter of the selection has a same-sex theme. I know I am holding the world's worst wedding card when I pick one up that says "May you have a blessed marriage ..." on the front and "... and many more!" on the inside. Perhaps there was a mix-up at the card factory, and somewhere out there there's a birthday card whose inside reads, "... and for God's sake may it be your last one."



A student from my alma mater calls to ask for a contribution. First she wears me down by asking about my job and cajoling me into reminiscing about my college days. I'm too preoccupied with the eggs I am frying to remember much. After about 10 minutes I am so fatigued that I almost beg to give $20 so I can hang up and have my lunch. Finally she makes her pitch. "Today we're suggesting that alumni give $250." I laugh out loud, but she handles it with I've-been-calling-journalism-majors-all-week-I'm-used-to-the-guffaws aplomb. We split the difference at $30. I had, after all, just an hour earlier found $10 on the ground at the groceria when I was buying my eggs.



I'm on the Red Line to Evanston. Two elderly riders are communicating in sign language. I turn down my iPod to eavesdrop.


Jan. 31, 2005

A month into this I suppose I should codify the rules.

Unlike some other blogs you may be familiar with, this site will have few, if any, of the following:

  • Links.
  • Comments.
  • Titles.
  • Time stamps.
  • User-friendly archives.
  • Examples of correct CSS.
  • Words all-capped for hyperbole OR IRONY.
  • Observations on current events.
  • References to work. (As far as the job goes, there is no blog. As far as the blog goes, there is no job. Please don't ask; please don't tell. Getting fired for a blog is just so 2003, and the cliche would destroy me.)
  • Named references to anyone to whom I haven't made a lifelong commitment.
  • Oblique and/or sinister references to anyone I'm avoiding naming.
  • Posts I may regret when St. Peter -- or other potential dates -- is Googling me.
  • Ruminations on anything outside my expertise.
  • Intimations that I am an expert in anything but me. (They say write what you know, and I happen to be the world's foremost authority on me.)
  • Stories about my children or pets.
  • Children conceived because I'm running out of material.

Quite frankly, it's going to be mostly photos.


Jan. 30, 2005

Trying hard now

It's so hard now

Trying hard now

Getting strong now

Won't be long now

Getting strong now

Gonna fly now

Flying high now

Gonna fly, fly, fly

Today ended the first week of my latest 18-week marathon training regimen.

In training for marathons I am a slave to Hal Higdon. If Hal tells me to run off a cliff, I ask only whether I should do so at race pace or training pace. He has not yet asked me to run off a cliff. Not literally. Instead, he tells me to run fast on Saturdays and run long on Sundays. Having not been in training mode since October, I'd forgotten how challenging these weekend runs can be.

Most of my running has become pedestrian, ho ho. During the week my biggest obstacles are boredom and whatever techno music is playing at the gym. (I take it that gyms intend for techno music to inspire clients, but it merely inspires me to want to hurl dumbbells at the speakers.) Thus the iPod is invaluable. If I have it on shuffle, I'll sometimes run an extra mile just to find out what the next song is going to be, and if I turn it up all the way I can almost drown out the throbbing beat of the house music.

On the tough weekend runs, I must lean on a few playlists that help me forget how little I'm enjoying myself. The first is a series of songs with at least one of two qualities: Their beat comes close to my goal cadence, or they make me feel like I'm running in a commercial for the Special Olympics.

  1. Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Ghost of Stephen Foster"
  2. Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Hell"
  3. John Williams, "End Titles to Star Wars"
  4. John Williams, "Duel of the Fates"
  5. Neil Young, "Rockin' in the Free World"
  6. Richard Wagner, "Ride of the Valkyries"
  7. Twang Bang, "Driving Like a Maniac"
  8. Fiona Apple, "Fast as You Can"
  9. Rolling Stones, "Paint it Black"
  10. Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive"
  11. Hypnotic, "Caravan"
  12. U2, "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of"
  13. Andrew Bird, "Way Out West"
  14. Bill Conti, "Going the Distance"
  15. Gioacchino Rossini, "William Tell Overture"
  16. Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run (Live)"
  17. Clyde Federal, "Silver Bootstraps"
  18. Sugarcubes, "Fucking in Rhythm & Sorrow"
  19. Violent Femmes, "My Way"
  20. Maynard Ferguson, "La Fiesta"
  21. Carl Orff, "O Fortuna"
  22. N.W.A., "100 Miles and Runnin'"

It's on the last mile that I really need to turn on the cheese, so I'll play one of three cheese-tacular songs:

  1. Maynard Ferguson, "Gonna Fly Now"
  2. Bill Conti, "Gonna Fly Now"
  3. Vangelis, "Titles from Chariots of Fire"

I like to simulate the marathon's homestretch with a 385-yard sprint. For this, only one track will do:

  1. Malcolm Seemann, "Giggle (Live)"

It's a 43-second recording my nephew made just after he turned 6 months old. It's perfect for the end of a run and any other time that rolling over and/or dying has appeal. According to iTunes I've listened to it 41 times, and not once has it failed to make me smile. This is ideal for maximizing oxygen intake, though it attracts some strange looks at the gym: "That guy was wan and lifeless a few minutes ago. What's with the sudden grin? And why is there smoke coming out of the treadmill?"


Jan. 24, 2005

Three recent moments:



My key snaps off in the back gate. I arrange for a locksmith to come. I stick around to let him in, but it seems unnecessary. What is a locksmith's raison d'etre if not to let himself in?



I watch "The Big Sleep" with Sandy and Sarah. The movie's title proves to be justified: Sandy and I both nod off about an hour in.



I have a bicycle trainer and a borrowed TV set up on the back porch. My pace is about 30 miles per movie. This morning I watch "The Triplets of Belleville." It feels akin to watching "Passenger 57" during a hijacking.


Jan. 19, 2005

It's my third bike winter and people are still astonished to see I've cycled in to work. "Don't you get cold?" they ask.

"Never," I say. "When used properly, after all, the body is a remarkable furnace."

It's the "when used properly" that gives it the right touch of smugness. I use my body more properly than you do, neener neener.

But it's true. As I believe Bob has pointed out, biking may be the warmest way to get around Chicago. By the time I get to Montrose, less than 10 minutes into my ride, I am usually shedding layers. (I've gotten good at riding with no hands and taking off my glasses and helmet in order to yank off my balaclava.) Walking into work I will have unzipped my sweater, leaving just a T-shirt between me and the elements, but I'll share an elevator with women wearing fur coats the size of phone booths.

A person waiting for the El is lucky to wait in the cold less than 10 minutes, and after 10 minutes, has a car warmed up?

People at bus stops often shoot me looks that say: "It's 15 degrees out. Look at that dummy on the bike." I'm more than happy to shoot back a look that says: "It's 15 degrees out. Look at those dummies who've waited 20 minutes for a bus."


Jan. 17, 2005

Three recent moments:



A young office assistant reads the Bible during his down time. Propped open on the desk is a paperback novelization of the "Doom" video game. I speculate he is writing a book report. "The Bible. 'Doom.' Compare and contrast. Attach Venn diagram(s)."



Sandy tells us the handles his mother uses to keep track of his friends. One is "the handsome one," another is "the reader," a third is "the one who smiles."

I am "the quiet farmer."

Which is fine -- I've been called worse -- but couldn't I be known as "all of the above"? Don't I smile enough?



The coffeeshop is playing Creedence Clearwater Revival. It's not popular behind the counter. "At least it's not Kansas," one employee says.

"Right," says a colleague. "You want to avoid those bands named after states. Y'know, Boston, Chicago ..."


Jan. 15, 2005

I've been reading about the rubber bandwagon. Bands for cancer, bands for tsunami relief, bands for faith. Even the White Sox are selling black rubber bracelets for $2. (Proceeds go to charity, not to finance middle relief, unless acquiring Luis Vizcaino somehow qualifies as charity, which it might.)

I like to think I don't need a yellow rubber band to remind myself to "live strong." I don't need a pink band to remember we're still fighting breast cancer. I could, however, use colored bands to remind me about other things. Sort of a wearable to-do list. 1. Live strong. 2. Call Mom. 3. Do laundry.

I'm imagining waking up on April 15 and finding green and yellow bands around my wrist. "Green band ... green band ... Fuck! Taxes! And fuck! Live strong!"


Jan. 13, 2005

I have high tolerance for Chicago's winters. I don't mind the cold, the darkness, or the long, drawn-out suffering. It suits me as a sort of Lenten balance to summer, and it's all worth it if it keeps the Californians and Floridians where they belong (in California and Florida, respectively).

I don't complain. People know it's cold. They don't need me to point it out. God knows I don't need them to point it out.

But I can't deny one complaint: The itchy skin. The red, throbbing, itchy and scratchy skin. It's the only aspect of winter I can't abide. And I don't know whether this is unique to me, but all my itchiness is confined to my sides and behind. Feels like I'm wearing sandpaper underwear. If I had a wooden ass -- like, if it were the 18th century and I'd had my butt blown off in the Revolutionary War and had to carve a prosthetic posterior from a cherry tree -- I'd be a walking fire hazard.

And the answer to your question is, no, I don't know why the whole world needs to know this.


Jan. 11, 2005

Three recent moments:



A conductor makes an announcement at the Belmont stop: "To the young lady who just boarded the train. I think you dropped your glove. It's tan." Passengers burst into applause. This conductor has saved the day as surely as if he'd leaned over to scoop a child from the tracks.



A man discreetly palms a paper towel when he leaves the men's room. I exit behind him, and he uses this towel to open and hold each door for me. (Maybe he just saw "The Aviator.")



In her haste to get to a red light, a woman honks behind me and nearly runs me into a snowbank. I catch up to her at the intersection. She has rolled down her window. We have a spirited discussion about cyclist rights and publicly owned streets.

There is yelling. There is swearing.

There is a toddler sleeping in the back seat.

"What an example you are for your child!"

"It's not my child!"

"And thank God for that!"


Jan. 8, 2005

This don't be that place ... I tol' you, this don't be that place.

A server at the Wiener Circle

Three guys from nearby public housing were flirting with her and had asked whether this was that place where the wait staff yells and cusses at the customers. By the time their dogs and fries were ready she had conceded that this indeed was that place, but that the yelling and cussing didn't start until 8 p.m.


Jan. 4, 2005

I suppose I should explain what's going on here.

Recently I came across a transcription I'd made of the following voice-mail message:

Hi, Luke. This is Greg Knauss. And on behalf of the entire Web community, we want you to start writing again. We were goofing around today -- the entire Web community -- and we kind of ran out of things to read. And so we went back and poked around Minnesota Stories and, dammit, start. That's an order. Further instructions will follow. This has been the entire Web community, saying "Bye."

Greg Knauss, Sept. 8, 1999

Remember those days? When it was possible to run out of things to read online?

Those days were great!

There is no longer such a shortage. In fact, there's such a surplus of good writing that any self-respecting person must consider the following questions before starting, say, a blog:

  1. Are you really all that interesting?
  2. Can you think of anything more narcissistic by nature than a blog? If no, are you OK with that?
  3. What, do you think this is still 1995 and you're still 19?
  4. If as a non-blogger you already suspect everyone thinks you're a moron, why blog and remove all doubt?
  5. Is it possible to do anything that's not being done already?
  6. What if it's found by people you know and respect? Worse, what if it's found by people you know and disrespect?
  7. Wouldn't time be better spent reading good blogs than writing, at best, a mediocre one?

It's all been considered and re-considered, and yet but so what the hell: Let's do this, even if it's five years late.

These are decisive moments. This is Decisive Moments. It's sort of a blog, but mostly not. It will be what it will be, and nothing more.