Interlude: Morning, Kitchen, Willoughby

THERE ARE DIFFERENT kinds of morning light, and they’re not all golden. Today’s is pale, but my kitchen has wood and copper in it, and a new bright orange stock pot, and daisies in a washed-out Bulleit rye bottle on the long prep table from the old apartment that the boys and I sanded and restained a weekend or two after we first moved in. You can do that kind of thing when you leave the city and have a small back lawn. The other finishing touch was a red clock, which is ticking above my head, softly. I think a boy may have just gotten up. It’s 8 a.m.

There’s rice waiting in the cooker and bowls warming in the oven. We’ll be watching anime and eating soon. I think I’m up to four kinds of soy sauce in the pantry, but the good stuff isn’t easy to find around here. I’ll get some at Sunrise Mart, one of the items on the notepaper on the fridge that says NYC at the top. I no longer have cats, including the one who loved to pull everything off the fridge. I’ve had cats my whole life. I don’t really miss them. That was unexpected. And I really don’t miss walking barefoot on cat litter in the morning.

No boy. I guess they’re still asleep.

When they’re at their mom’s, I turn the thermostat off and use a space heater. Then I turn the thermostat back on and can’t figure out why it won’t obey my temperature settings. I wrote to the manufacturer and got a manual for it, but my eyes glazed. I’ll try again when they’re not here and we don’t have better things to do on a Saturday, like try out the local comic book store or see what the “tree festival” is.

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I HAVE NEVER been a good housekeeper, and that has always been a nut of conflict. But this is my kitchen. My house. My daisies. My expensive Honeysuckle-scented all-surface cleaner. My sense of what to teach boys about manhood. Endurance, self-sufficience, beauty, efficiency, cast iron. The cast iron is from my mom, mailed cross-country. I remember using it when I was the boys’ age. The slow cooker is brand-new and I expect it to break next year. In the maelstrom of the separation and move, I wanted a slow cooker, and this is the one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, whose cookbooks I really like. I didn’t read the Amazon reviews; I should have. I also got the front end of my new bike wrong; the stem is too low, so it puts me into a racing posture. I am not a racer. You can look at me and know that.

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I GOT 1) the slow cooker wrong, and 2) the bike wrong, and 3) I signed a car lease I shouldn’t have, and 4) the old landlord outclevered me and kept a few thousand in security deposit.

But:

  1. About a month into our new life, I handed the boys a cookbook and told them to pick dinner from the slow-cooker section. They came back in ten minutes: Korean Braised Short Ribs.
     
    I’m like—seriousl…uh, never mind, YOU’RE ON.
     
    It was excellent. It was less expensive than processed foods. When the accidentally wrong slow cooker breaks, I’ll get a cheaper one.
     
  2. The too-low stem on the bike means I spend a good deal of time out of the saddle, because I don’t like the position. That would be more of an issue if I were spending any time on the bike at all, which is related to it not being quite comfortable enough, and also related to life being an upheaval—but I got the bike built in time to have a finished one at the start of my new life, and I love it in all other ways. It’s not a particularly expensive bike, but it’s got exactly the tires I wanted, and just the front bag and the very fenders, all of which you’d think would be bolt-ons to any random bicycle, but most bikes don’t have the right spaces to accept them.
     
    I ride it around town on errands. When there’s a little more money, I’ll get a fitting and replace the accidentally wrong stem, and it will be the brevet whip I meant it to be.
     
  3. The car lease was a mistake. I can’t afford it. I really wanted to go completely car-free, but the boys ended up going to school twelve miles away. It’s the cheapest monthly rate I could possibly find, on the cheapest car around, but I should have bought a beater outright and paid less for insurance. And the mileage limit is too low and the term is way too long. But we have reliable transportation, and the accidentally wrong lease will—eventually—expire.
     
  4. As for my old NYC landlords:
     
    The ones before these ones were powerful criminals. (No kidding. I spoke briefly with the NY District Attorney a year or two before they finally broke them up and put them out of business. It was in the news. Too late for us.) These ones…benefit of the doubt. Maybe just dishonest slimeballs. So they get my money and I cut my losses and move on. You can’t pull a victory out of everything.

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NOW I HEAR the stairs creaking and crackling, so I’ll wrap it up. A new familiar sound in this new familiar life. And the light’s not as pretty in the kitchen. Rice and anime await, and noise and mess and bickering and comic books and piano and trombone and cello and cookie baking and fart jokes and farts. And, I’ll cop to it, the work I didn’t get done this week for, honestly, not any good-enough reason. The copper canisters and the orange stock pot are steadfastly cheery, and the red clock—it just ticks softly on, but soon I won’t hear it.

 

 

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The Man Who Designed Books

I REMEMBERED, WHILE compiling a big list of production managers, small press owners, and anybody else I could think of who might need my services, that they always ask for samples, and it always takes hours to figure out just what they want and which things to send. If they specialize in how-to for sports-loving arthropods, I wonder if the self-help for anxious cetaceans I did will be quite the right thing to send, and I notice, while browsing EXO-STRIKE! An Invertebrate’s Guide to Bowling (in order to familiarize myself with the publisher), that it contains a lot of diagrams; there are none in my design for EASY ECHOLOCATION: Mackerel Without Worry.
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Five snapshots of one boy

I LEFT HIM in the building lobby with the last load of divorce stuff. This is my boy who hates being left alone. If his brother falls asleep first, you’ll be seeing him out of bed soon. It was midnight, our move-out deadline, and all kinds of things had gone wrong all day, all week—from the flooded kitchen, to the moving company sending a truck that was too small, to the lapses and errors of communication that worsened an already touchy month and left him with me that night when he wasn’t supposed to be.

“I have to get the van,” I said. The U-Haul van was in a parking lot a few blocks away. “I’m going to jog the whole way and be back as soon as I can.”

“Are you really going to jog? Why?”

“Because I know you don’t like this. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I left at a run, with my iPad, so I could message his mom, from the Starbucks on Dyckman, that we were leaving and I would just keep him tonight. No Internet in the apartment anymore, and my phone was dead.

But the Starbucks was closed. Surprising, considering the huge-capacity nightclub down the street and the jumping row of bars right next to me. So I stood there for a minute on the corner of Broadway, with the heavy Alcohol Alley foot traffic blurring by me, and then turned the iPad on in case Starbucks left their WiFi on, and got signal and sent my message. But I couldn’t stick around to see if it was received. I knew he’d be at his limit, and I still had to get the van.

He couldn’t see me running to the garage, but I ran.

When I came back in, he was red-faced and holding back his tears. I remember the Hemingway story “A Day’s Wait” whenever a child visibly masters himself. There are things I love and admire about my children, but this is one thing I respect. To have a nine-year-old brain and prevail over fear? Holding back his tears? Mad respect.

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HE HELPED ME load out. I propped the door with something heavy, and we organized and hauled and reorganized.

Am I being a big help? he asked as we passed each other.

You’re being a humongous help.

And on the next pass, I said: I want to tell you something. You’re not working like a boy, you’re working like a little man.

He LIT. UP.

Really?

Yeah, really. Tell you what. It’s midnight. We’re wiped out. Our new place is still an hour away. Make you a deal, you stay awake that whole time, I’ll split a beer with you when we get there.

Oh, you are SO ON.

Another pass…

Dad, because I worked like a little man?

Yeah. I’ll split a beer with you.

A BEER NOTE: He gets ONE SIP. ONE. ONE. A SIP not a GULP! ONE! whenever I have a beer and he happens to be around, which was a couple times a month and is now less frequent. They also get ceremonial quantities of wine on Jewish holidays. Split a beer means he gets about a tablespoon in one of my tiny sake glasses and I get the rest. So don’t write to me.

You’re not going to stay awake.

Oh, yes I am!

No way.

Youuuuu’ll see.

Nope.

What makes you think that?

It’s midnight, you’re exhausted, and you’re nine.

Youuuuuu’ll see.

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WE SAT TRIPLY exhausted, grimy, and sweaty, in the idling van at the curb. I put it in gear but didn’t move out yet.

“You guys don’t like it when we use profanity, do you.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. It makes us feel like we’re not safe.”

“Even hell?”

“Yeah.”

“What about damn?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Then I will just say: Let’s get the HECK outta here!”

I checked the mirror and waited for traffic. There was a pause.

“Well, what were you going to say?”

“Well, I was going to use the F-word.”

“Oh, THAT one’s okay!”

“It is?”

“Yeah! That doesn’t bother us. We’ve heard that a lot!”

“Well, then,” I said, looking at my son looking back at me, hesitating, both of us waiting to see if I’d do it. “Let’s get the FUCK outta here.”

He laughed. I laughed. Then he said excitedly:

“Can I say it?”

I paused…

“ONE time. ONCE. You may say it ONCE. Not twice, not three times. ONE TIME.”

“Okay!”

“Got it?”

“Got it.”

And he flung his arms up in the air and shouted, “WE’RE! FUCKING! DONE!”

Then he said, “Wow. That felt GOOD!”

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“Dad, why does that feel so GOOD?” he asked on the highway to Connecticut.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I do not know.” And then added, “ONCE. ONE TIME. That was it.”

“I know.”

“You may not say it at school, you may not say it around Mom–“

“I KNOW.”

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AND BLASTED THE air conditioner to keep myself awake during the drive, so that my hands were in sharp pain by the time we got to our new home full of boxes. And split our beer.

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Brilliance and color


A companion piece to this entry,
Five Snapshots of One Boy
is here.


brilliance_and_color

AT 7AM THE NEXT morning, I got up from the mattress that doesn’t have a bed frame yet and went into my kitchen to make my tea. I can see the wet street because there’s nothing covering the kitchen window—which is probably odd, since I moved here ten weeks ago, but general move-in stuff hasn’t been as important as making one single room beautiful and functional. That’s the kitchen. The boys and I live in it together. We cook together, they do their homework there, and if they don’t want to read in their room, they’re doing it down in the kitchen. That’s what I wanted when I put the kitchen together, and that’s what I got. When they’re at their mom’s, I cook in it, sit at the nook with my computer and work, and keep it nice. (Usually.)

One room at a time, as money allows. The living room is next.

I don’t remember the precise moment when I realized we could use the 25-minute drive to their school as podcast time, but it happened in that kitchen or on the way to it, and I got kind of excited. My more sciencey boy loves RadioLab (so do I), and my less sciencey boy tunes out anything he’s uninterested in and listens to the music and TV shows in his head instead, so I thought it could work well—and RadioLab Shorts are about the right length.

So we would do that. I got them up and we had breakfast and referred to the new checklist on the envelope on the refrigerator and got out the door at very nearly the appointed time.

brilliance_and_color

FALL IN WILLOUGHBY, Connecticut is retina-dazzlingly gorgeous. If you’ve ever had the experience of barely being able to look at someone who was talking to you because they were just too beautiful, it’s a similar sensation, especially along Simpaug Turnpike before it crosses Umpawaug Brook. During this part of October, every morning brings a new shock of rust and gold, and the green and yellow fade, morning by morning, like drying paint.

The RadioLab Short I already had on my phone was about an endangered bird species. There are spoilers for it two paragraphs from now (like, big spoilers for the entire episode), but the episode’s not very long, so you can listen here first if you care about that. I started it playing when we were underway and glanced to see who had noticed. Science boy was forehead-down over Rick Riordan. Music-in-his-head boy was looking out the window. I can never tell what he hears or doesn’t, but it’s generally a good bet that whatever’s already in there is more entertaining than whatever you’re trying to force through his ears.

So I let it play until it got to a point they had to understand, or the rest wouldn’t make any sense, and I paused it and made sure they did, which I also figured would get them listening in the first place if they weren’t. They made the right noises to make me go away, which are indistinguishable from paying actual attention, and I let it play again.

This episode is about a group of people who go to a huge amount of trouble and gargantuan expense to try to turn endangered whooping cranes back into a viable wild species. There was a full-length RadioLab about it; the Short is a sort of coda, in which those people realize some of the cranes are going into this lady’s yard and eating from her bird feeders, which is not good for a variety of reasons, one of which is that whooping cranes in this project have already been shot, so allowing them to learn populated areas are good foraging grounds—that’s bad.

So the endangered-crane repopulators go to the lady’s house and ask nicely, and she refuses to take the feeders down.

At this moment in the show, we’re disappointed in our own species. (Except for those of us who are longtime RadioLab listeners and can see how much time is left in the episode.)

The next thing is a phone call they recorded with her—and she is not what we expect. She’s not a crazy bird lady, or some intractable ignoramus. She’s a widow whose husband of fifty years had Alzheimer’s, and the one thing that brought him back to her was when the birds came back to the bird feeders. And then, in more recent times, amazing huge white ones started showing up. It was magical.

The hosts, as they do, performed our own thoughts and emotions for us. On the one hand…but on the other hand…but how does this change…and I won’t spoil the rest of that conversation. But in the car, driving through the painfully splendid Autumn and making the sharp right onto Cain’s Hill Road—which I refuse to stop reminding them I climbed on my folding bike with a trailer because I didn’t know the hill was there until I got to it—first I asked what they thought. And got the expected responses: Why won’t she take her bird feeders down!?

Which we talked about. And then I pointed out that there were no bad guys in this story. There were only good guys, but what they wanted was different. Then I said, What if you were a judge, and you had to decide how this should go?

Science boy, who was the main one I was talking to, since his brother was still just looking out the window, said, I think she should take them down. It’s a whole bird species!

Then, because I have a thing about including them both whenever possible, even when it’s pretty clear (as during the story the night before) that one isn’t paying attention, I said his brother’s name and repeated the question. If you were a judge, what would you decide?

He said, “I’d tell the lady that even though he’s gone, she still contains him within her.”

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MAY YOUR DAY be gorgeous and humbling.

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How to get a Brother HL-2270DW printer to talk to a Time Capsule with MacOS 10.8.5

Because while spending four hours trying to get this working, I googled, and heard the screaming of other souls like mine.

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There’s always another hill

I NOTICED I WAS losing my voice around mile 75 or so, which I noticed because I was saying things like:

“T-left Millbrook.

“T-left Millbrook.

“T-left Millbrook.

“T-left.

“T-left Millbrook.

“Anyone can T-left Millbrook.

“T-left Millbrook.

“There’s a left. Are you a T-left?

“Are you Millbrook? I hope you’re Millbrook…

“Millbrook. T-left.

“Left Birch Ridge Road, Hardwick on right.

“Left Birch Ridge Road…”

This was a 208-mile, 21-hour ride, including twelve climbs that Strava wants to call category-4 and several platoons of regular old stabby little vindictive hills. Now, if you’re not a randonneur, you may be thinking wow, that’s a ride, THIS GUY IS INSANE! Which is a reaction we cherish, since we’re nuts–but if you are a randonneur, you’re thinking, Wasn’t this a 300-kilometer brevet? That’s 186 miles, not 208. And don’t you only get 20 hours for a 300K, not 21?

Correct!

Here, finally, is incontrovertible evidence that chanting “T-left Millbrook” until you lose your voice is not a viable GPS strategy:

GPS track of me riding the Princeton 300K

That’s me riding this course. (Strava geeks: the whole thing’s here.) The yellow parts are “bonus miles.” That means I strayed off the course and had to find my way back–not just to the course, but to the same point where I left it. That’s brevet rules: You must ride the entire course. You may ride as many bonus miles as you want–if you know a restaurant a block off-route, for example, you may decide to eat there–but you may not skip a millimeter of the route. So when you see this:

202 detour

which does not return along the same path by which it departed, it means I stood in a gas station at 11:30pm, did simple math several times to make sure I wasn’t screwing it up, concluded that I’d have to travel at twice my maximum speed for 30 minutes, and called in and let them know I’d be rolling in well after the cutoff. And then I just effin’ well took 202 to Summer Road, because (1) my iPhone wouldn’t show me the way back onto the course, and (2) I rode back along the wrong turn and couldn’t find it. But I was about to be over the time limit anyway, and no help for it, so there wasn’t a self-serving dilemma to wrestle with. As much.

princeton_2014

So about iPhones.

A sidebar which you should skip
if you’re not a randonneur

Google Maps often doesn’t use the same names for roads as cue sheets do. There are three ways it can vary:

  1. The cue sheet uses the official County Road or Route number, but Google Maps shows what that segment of it is named locally–so it won’t find “Rt 719,” and you don’t know you should be searching for “Climbsbury Switchback.”
  2. The opposite of that: The cue sheet says, “Pothole Way B/C Broken Spine Plummet.” B/C means becomes. The cue sheet is telling you to be alert for the name change. This is very considerate of it. Too bad, though, because Google Maps is waiting for you to type in “County Road 4857B.”
  3. The road changes names along its length, sometimes in many places. Google Maps is absolutely certain this one particular name changes in this one very precise place, and you’re not there yet, but the road sign you’re looking at believes you are. So Google Maps refuses to find the intersection, and you can’t out-stubborn a road sign. This cue sheet was created by either:
    1. Somebody who relied on Google maps instead of riding the entire route and reading every street sign, or:
    2. Somebody who knows the area intimately and uses the colloquial name for the road, which is technically correct only at its other end. You know, the town end, where everybody lives. Neither Google nor the road sign knows that only the last twelve yards of Busted Rusted Mill Road is called Turkey Bladder Hwy S, way out where where it has that little curve and ends at Flung Phone Junction. Oh, right–that little bit by the abandoned lot where the nickel Coke machine used to be–yeah, funny story about that Coke machine, but anyway, nobody calls it that.
       
      Except, you know, every GPS in the world.

Google Maps also doesn’t work well on brevets in areas without Internet access, and only today did I understand why other GPS apps would work better. Any of them will put a blue dot on the screen to show where you are, but without Internet access, Google Maps can’t draw a map behind the dot. It has to get its maps over the Internet. Other apps cache the maps in advance. After some advice from my friend Bill, I’m playing with Motion-X.

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MY OFFICIAL RESULT: Did Not Finish. DNF.

I wasn’t afraid of not finishing, though. I was afraid of not being able to.

The numbers say I was able to. The 22 bonus miles would have taken me about two hours at the end. I came in one hour overlimit.

princeton_2014

I BOUGHT MY Trek 1000SL in 2007, when I had two-year-old twins and the sleep deprivation was still bad enough that I couldn’t think about bikes or parts or tires. And I didn’t know much about them anyway. I had a hybrid bike. I did my first century on it. I thought I should probably get a road bike and see if it was better, like everyone said. BICYCLING magazine said the 1000SL was their pick for best entry-level road bike. That was all the information I could process. The bike shop didn’t have Midnight Blue in my size, so I bought Flame Duotone for, I think, $700.

This is the only road bike I’ve ever owned as an adult, and the only bike I’ve ever ridden a brevet on.

It’s not suited to brevets, but…“suited to?” It’s a bike, right? So isn’t it suited to whatever I want to do on a bike? We’re oversold on the idea–mostly I think we oversell ourselves on the idea–that we cannot do X without Bike Type X, or Y without Bike Type Y. Racing? You need carbon. Touring? You need steel. Expensive steel. Expensive carbon.

It’s a bike. Your legs make it go. If you can balance, you don’t fall down.

That being said…

It’s started falling apart. Things aren’t just at the “things break” stage. They’re entering the “things keep breaking” stage. And if you add that up…well, I’m slowly building a new one, as I can afford parts, and that one will be more suited.

But this is the one that let me start randonneuring, back when I didn’t know what randonneuring was, and let me keep randonneuring once I knew. And yes, it’s Monday, and I still have numb fingertips and toe tips from Saturday, and my butt is still too tender to place on another saddle today, and that is related to what bike it is. So the new build–parts sale by parts sale, as money trickles in–will have 44mm tires and low-trail geometry and front bag instead of saddlebag, and all that. You get obsessed with a specialized activity and you find out what’s better for you–and not even necessarily more expensive. So you end up with things more suited.

Still a bike, though. Just a bike. You push with your legs, it goes. Beautiful lugged steel and internal wire routing would not have minimized my bonus miles, and neither would Zipp wheels and aero bidons.

A generator light might have, though, since I was on low beam in pulse mode because I didn’t bring my headlight charger like I thought I had (the Garmin charger looks the same), and didn’t know how much battery time was left. And so might a front bag instead of a saddlebag, with the map case you can flip a cue sheet over in without stopping, the food you can reach without stopping, the phone you can reach without slowing in the dark so you don’t crash while fishing for it. And a frame that wider tires can fit into might mean that on longer rides, the orchestra of saddle sores doesn’t start tuning up until mile 250 instead of mile 175.

Bring on the parts sales, man.

princeton_2014

“YOU RIDING IN or pedaling in?” The voice came from the car that slowed beside me. Five miles from the end. Seven miles an hour. Almost one AM.

I gingerly peeled my butt off the saddle and stopped so I could answer.

“Okay, see you at the end,” he said, and left. His brake lights flared after the next light. I didn’t turn. Not turning was correct navigation. He drove on.

princeton_2014

THIS IS the deep part, which I thought would be the longest part, but is the shortest part.

I sold the first novel I wrote, and then sold every other novel I finished and tried to sell. I wrote all my term papers the night before, and got good grades. I never played team sports.

Brevets taught me how to fail.

I love randonneuring.

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Sus—

Like most of us who are not dead yet, I have weaknesses and strengths. I’m bad at paperwork, for example, and dumbstruck by the jargons of medical insurance and school bureaucracy—which are their purposes, I’m pretty sure—but there are things I’m good at. Sloth and gluttony are particular talents.

Saturday, May 17, at 4:00am, the Princeton 300K began.

Annotated elevation profile, showing  mileage and target times to milestones

If I DNF, it won’t be for lack of fussiness.

I made that to print and take along with me. You can click and make it bigger. The rows of numbers across the top are hours. At top is a 20-hour ride, and if you trace your finger down from any number, that’s where I need to be at each hour to finish in 20 hours. Because the route is so hilly, the even spacing of the numbers isn’t really accurate—during some periods, I’ll be crawling up a hill at 3mph; during some much briefer periods, I’ll be descending at 40—but that’s the general overlay of a successful finish that uses every minute of the allotted 20 hours.

It also gives me a “reverse lookup” of the same information: Whenever I get to a certain place, I can look above it and see which finishing time I’m on pace for: 20 hours, 19 hours, 18 hours, 17 hours.

20 will be just fine with me.

***

With sloth and gluttony as my main strengths, and catching every single flippin’ school illness running a close third, conservation of talent dictates that edujargon and hill-climbing must remain weaknesses. We can’t all be good at everything.

I DNF’d on this ride in 2010.

***

This blog entry will go live at 9:08am on Saturday. That’s when controle 3 closes. (The red squares are controles.) At that point, if nothing’s gone wrong, I’ll have been hauling five pounds of rice cakes around New Jersey for five hours.

I’ll try to tweet my arrival time at each controle here. Hopefully when you click that, it’ll say something like CTRL 3 1307. Because if it says CTRL 3 1309, I’m already out of the game.

***

I hope the new chain catcher works.

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