Seeds

LAST NIGHT WALKING BACK from a special-treat dinner at a pharmacy counter, my eight-year-old scientist asked if rum, whiskey, wine, beer, alcohol, and scotch were all the same kind of alcohol. So I told him about it, and since he recently learned about percentages, I explained what a liquor’s proof number means. He sees me with a glass sometimes, but never drunk, for which his only references are Captain Haddock in TINTIN and the sentries Toshiro Mifune gets soused on sake before he kills them in SANJURO.

That led to a conversation about the stages of drunkenness, which led to revelation of the existence of alcohol poisoning, and how it works, which led to the contexts in which it’s most likely to happen, which led to teenagers, young adults, and parties.

Which led to silence as I tried to decide what to tell them, what would scare them, and what they’d misinterpret.

So I asked what would happen if they drank, and the scientist said he’d want to run around and act silly, and I said what if you drank more and kept drinking? And he guessed he’d want to punch people for no reason, and I said, you’d pass out. Then I had to clarify what “pass out” means and this whole time, I’m wondering how much he even gets anything I’m saying. So if you pass out, I asked, what can happen to you?

You could fall down. People can laugh at you.

Take your money, I said. Punch you in the face. Draw on you with permanent marker. So here’s what you need to know. And I thought, am I going all the way with this tonight? Are they ready for this? Can I make it general enough that it doesn’t freak them out? So here’s what you need to know. What if you’re with someone who passes out? Then people can do those things to them. So if you’re with someone who passes out, you should probably watch out for them, and make sure those things don’t happen. Especially if it’s a girl.

Well that’s okay, he said, because girls don’t like to drink alcohol.

Sure they do, I said. Some do, some don’t. Some of your ideas about boys and girls are—they can do all the same things.

OK, he said.

But if it’s a girl who passes out…if you’re ever at a party and a girl passes out, sometimes there can be boys who will want to do bad things to her and hurt her.

But why? Why would anyone do that?

Because they’re not good people.

But why?

Because they’re not good people. So if you’re ever at a party, and there’s a girl who passes out, you be the one who looks out for her and keeps her safe. Right? So—what would you do?

I would punch them in the face!

Well, uh—no, you don’t have to punch anybody in the face, just make sure she’s safe, and tell the other people to knock it off.

Tell them to knock it off! That’s like how a grownup talks.

Yeah. But you be the good guys. Right? You be the ones who don’t let her get hurt. Got it?

Got it.

And then over to the silent boy who’s been holding my other hand: You interested in this?

Not really.

But he’s the one who listens when you don’t think he’s listening, and who nurtures and protects every child on the playground, and who a father once swore he wanted to marry his little daughter after he championed her safety during some swingset contretemps, and who thinks he’s a superhero, and whose safety my heart clutches for the most when he gets his chance to stand the good stand against villains he doesn’t realize use actual fists and boots, and it’s Dad who told him to do it.

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Filed under Being a grownup, Bravery, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Gender, Kids, Parenting

The work-at-home bike commute

In 2009 I lost my job on Wall Street.

(I assume you know me well enough, but I’ll remind you anyway: Wall Street, not WALL STREET.)

Wall Street is at the bottom of Manhattan, and I lived way up at the top where cabbies think you’re trying to trick them into going to the Bronx. Three days a week, I rode my folding bike twelve miles downtown, folded it up, hoisted it up onto a shoulder (it was a Dahon Matrix; at the time, I didn’t get small wheels) and carried it into the building. And then—I was cheery. I rolled with idiocy. Crisis? No crisis. Problem? No sweat. After solving everybody’s problems in the whole world, I rode twelve miles back home, where I was also cheery, and nice to my family. Then the recession came and I lost the job. Well, sort of. I got insulted by a poorly handled pay cut and took my desk fan and walked out.

And very soon was not cheery, and did not roll with idiocy, and was not nice to my family.

I know people do lunch rides, but I just won’t, ever. There are probably reasons for this. I don’t know what they are. But thing was, I had found the secret magic that got me riding: my commute. It took  the same time as the train, and—the real thing—it didn’t have to be wedged into my day between other things. I didn’t have to find time to ride; my hour of exercise was simultaneous with the hour I couldn’t avoid spending on transporting my person to work anyway.

So I got my 24 miles and my cheeriness and it didn’t displace a single other part of my life. Sunlight glittered. Angels hummed Count Basie.

Then recession and a new business—which meant working from home! I can go climb Fort George Hill at lunchtime! I thought, and I’ll be surprised if I do that even once!

It’s not that far to Fort George Hill:

It’s just that for those unknown reasons, I won’t.

The solution didn’t come for I don’t know, a year of complaining how I missed my commute. But here it is. Somebody’s going to read this and look surprised and go DUH! out loud and wonder why neither of us thought of this sooner, and buy a new pannier and change their whole life.

Here’s what you do.

You get a pannier that carries a laptop. (I have an Arkel Bug.)

You get a laptop suited to your work that fits in the pannier. (I have a MacBook Pro 17″. I didn’t buy it until I took the Arkel Bug to Tekserve and had the guy put the computer in it and made sure the zipper would close.)

You find a Starbucks twelve miles away. It doesn’t have to be a Starbucks, but you get where I’m going here.

That’s it. That’s your commute. Mount up on your Xootr Swift (because now you do get small wheels) and ride there in the morning and work.

Up to Dobbs Ferry

Then when you’re done, ride back home and don’t be all cranky and resentful because Congress. Be cheery and harmonious because leaves and sunshine and roots and railroad ties on the South County Rail Trail.

Or, you know. Distant caravans silhouetted along the Nile. Whatever they have in your neighborhood.

If you do it, would you tell me? Obvious as it is, it’s still one of the better things I ever thought of, so I’d like to know.

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Filed under Bicycling, BikeNYC, Bikes, Commuting, Employment, Freelancing

A thought about an experiment in translation

This is on my personal blog instead of the RIDE blog because it’s just me thinking aloud.

Any literary translators out there?

So I was thinking it would be nice to have RIDE available in other languages, but then I thought, No, each translation would probably cost too much to make sense.

So then I thought, what about a royalty split? Translator gets a percentage. But then I thought, No, I had to stop doing royalty splits with authors because the accounting is so impossible, plus it’s kind of insulting to say, Hey, do all this work and you might get a fraction of what I get out of it.

So then I thought, what if the translator just gets all the sales income and I don’t get any part of it?

And then I thought, I’m not actually seeing a down side for anybody here. I wouldn’t make any money, for either my editing/design/production or my own story, but that’s not the same as a loss. The story authors and the artist would be in a similar situation: they’ve been paid and aren’t seeing anything more coming in after that anyway, and any author/artist who didn’t want to participate could just say no thanks. The translator wouldn’t get paid up front, but they wouldn’t have to spend anything, either, and after doing the work, they’d be the foreign publisher. So the first penny that came in on that edition would go directly to them—and so would the ten-thousandth penny.

Since we’re not dealing in physical copies, but rather in .epub, .mobi, and .pdf files, and I’d do the production work (slotting the translated stories into existing files where the English stories currently reside, changing the title on the cover from RIDE to whatever word now goes there, sending the files to the translator) without compensation as part of the experiment, there is no out-of-pocket expense for anybody, just some work for me and some work for the translator.

Translator starts their own accounts at Amazon, Lightning Source, B&N, iBooks, etc., uploads the files, talks it up online, and gets some money. How much money? I have no idea. Not a ton; RIDE isn’t The Hunger Games, and it only exists because I love bikes and wanted to read short stories about them, not because I did any market research. But the money also wouldn’t be zero.

But that’s the experiment’s main question: Is this a viable plan? Would everyone benefit enough to keep doing it? Would there be any kind of “rising tide floats all boats” effect? Would the expansion of the series into more languages help each edition sell more because the series itself becomes better known? Would anybody but the translator end up getting anything out of it? Would the translator get more than a few bucks?

I don’t know. It’s all question, no answer, at this point. But that’s my half-formed idea. What do you think?

If you comment, please include who you are, where you are, and what you do, so I can understand what perspective to read your comment from: Writer, publisher, translator, reader, know-it-all (pick just one, please), continental U.S., Fiji Islands…

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Filed under Anthologies, Books, ebook production, Fiction, Short stories

4 bike thoughts during a break

I STILL CAN’T ADJUST a drivetrain, but it’s no longer because I believe my dad, who told me I’m no good at anything mechanical. Now I understand better. I’m good and fast at typesetting, for example, which is a tricky thing I won’t be good and fast at next year if I don’t do it every day. I’m still learning things about body copy, and I’ve been setting it for years. I’ve barely learned anything about drivetrains after a few dozen sincere but sporadic stabs at adjustment.
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PEOPLE APPARENTLY HAVE the capacity for being uplifted and burgeoned by a gorgeous sunset over a mountain pass. I look at the sunset dutifully and sometimes try to get my burgeon on, but I’m disappointed in myself. I don’t have that. I just have knowing it’s where I should be, and putting a check in that box: Where I should be. The check feels like approval. A good review I don’t need you for.
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MY ROAD BIKE has a broken spoke so the brake rubs, even with its release lever open, and my folding bike is still in the suitcase that took it to Los Angeles and back, because it needs a new derailleur hanger before I should bother putting it back together, but I wrote today.
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LEARNING HOW RANDONNEURS relate to each other has given me perspective on life off the bike. There’s a hierarchy that you can ignore without anyone thinking less of you, but if you try to insert yourself into it and you figure your level wrong, then you live with that. Acting like you’re still something you used to be is poison unless they know about the injury. If they don’t, you’re an awkward problem. That one’s lost. Don’t try to chase it into a win. Shut your mouth, heal up, ride a lot. Let them come back to you, if they’re coming, which they may never do. Oh well. Just put your check marks in your boxes.
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I FINISHED HALF of today’s work list, delivered a couple of proofs, and just thought I’d enjoy mentioning those things before the second half of the climb. Have a good ride. Check.

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Filed under Bicycling, Design and production, ebook production, Employment, Favorite, InDesign, Randonneuring, Senseless Acts

Two things I designed recently, and the kind of clients I’m looking for

I also posted this at the TYPEFLOW blog.

Books come from authors. Directories come from databases. Both have their quirks. Databases drink less.

I wasn’t sure whether talking about directories here would make me seem less like a book person, but the truth is, I love both. For either, my job comes down to transformation: A novel is transformed from an ugly, unhelpful Word file into something like fine art; a directory is blobs of raw data refined into attractive, functional listings.

Typeflow does both. Here are some examples:

(Click to see a bigger version that you can zoom in on.)

Directory and book interiors
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The traditional Rosh Hashanah blog

A couple of times a year, any uncertainty about what is a Jew dissipates, and I become a true member of a singular tribe, the American Jews of the diaspora, when I perform, with sincere and profound humility, our only major tradition: Googling to see when the holiday begins, what we’re supposed to already have started cooking, and what the greeting is.

1. Tonight; 2. brisket and sweet stuff; 3. L’Shana tovah.

The brisket is in; the jumble of blocky tzimmes precursor is heating around it. The boys have been guided by paternal threat and prattle through the evening pouring of the cheap red wine over meat, the morning grocery shopping with their own carts, the splendor of beef turned purple by grapes so it looks like a giant tongue, with sound effects, and onion-chopping best practices with The Good Knife. They will be recalled from the Wii for kugel insertion and the basting ceremony. I don’t know that basting is necessary when observing loose tinfoil protocol, but also can’t see a down side to it. Teach your male children to baste.

Tonight’s challah is round instead of braided because so is the cycle of creation; this is, after all, a new year’s celebration. It’s sweetened because so may your year be sweet.

This has always bothered me as a metaphor, ever since I was a child, because it’s just too facile to be recognizable. Years aren’t sweet or bitter; life is sweet and bitter. Even horrible years have the stray golden raisin in there, and good years harbor the roots of bad ones to come—much as savory tzimmes contains root vegetables (see, it’s genetic; that took no effort).

What I wish for you, and for myself, is that what has taken root in the past, no matter what kind of manure or burnt field it first sprouted in, bears good fruit in the future. I also wish you an easing of droughts and destructions, so that orchards can once again be maintained by one standard orchard’s worth of toil.

May your troubles convert to gelatin in the heat of your efforts, as melts brisket collagen at temperatures over 180°F.

May you question and break free of the traps of your childhood, just as we all, at some point, ask, “Why am I drinking Manischewitz?” And may you pass your mistakes on to the next generation, just as in the same breath, we pour Manischewitz for our own children, so that they in turn may taste the fuller flavor of rejecting the overly sweet nonsense of their parents.

L’shana tovah. May you be signed in the…sealed in…crap, I don’t know. I googled it twice already. Here:

Eat up.

rosh_hashanah_blog

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Filed under Cooking, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, God, Heresy, Kids, Music, Parenting, Religion, Senseless Acts, Whatever

The yellow bike is sold

“This is my yellow bike,” he said, in a tone I didn’t notice at the time. I didn’t notice his face, either. I was walking ahead, holding the camera facing back at the end of a nonchalant arm. It was the day I gave him the bike. He was four. Nothing in his entire life had ever been remotely like this day. He didn’t know it was a universe where a boy could have his own bike.

I heard the tone and saw the face that night, offloading the pictures and video onto my computer. I could have missed them. I didn’t watch everything as it transferred. Instead, I learned my heart had another little door in it that could open. I learned also that his was so full that a bike could brim it over.

His fraternal twin brother liked to clean his blue bike. Liked the inclinometer I installed on it. Still wants a computer. The boy with the yellow bike just liked riding it. The day the training wheels came off, I saw him do my running dismount. Until they did, he liked to sit on the stopped bike like a cowboy on a fence during a work break and eat a sandwich. He kept growing. I got a longer seatpost for it instead of a bigger bike. He got heavier and learned how to skid. There’s about 20′ of black rubber on a sidewalk on Seaman Ave. His personal best.

Today I asked him how he felt that somebody was coming to buy it. He said he felt good, because another family would be happy because of that bike. He has a 20″ red one now.

I watched it carried to the elevator as I closed the door. The back tire is new. I didn’t tell the dad that’s because of all the skids. Let his kid write some new stories with it.

Bye, yellow bike.

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