Thursday, August 14, 2014

Maui 2014


"Tell me about your trip," says a polite friend.
"It was pretty fun," I stammer. "We had a really good time."

Ugh. My new goal is to eventually write about all of my experiences and thoughts on this blog so that I can avoid conversions like that. I want to have more conversations like this:

"Tell me about your trip," says a polite friend.
"No," I reply. "If you're really interested, you can read about it on my blog."

That would be so awesome. When asked about vacations or Obama or the Ryder Cup, I would cut conversations short.

"Do you think the U.S. can win the Ryder Cup this year?" says a polite friend.
"Blog."

If everyone did that, we could have blog parties in which we all sit in the same room with iPads and read each others' posts on social media. Commenting should be encouraged. And headings!

Maui

We had a great Maui plan. Wendy used her hotel points to get a free hotel near the airport for a couple of nights so that we could do some things on that side of the island, buy stuff at Costco, and then head over to our condo on the west side of the island.

In the Marriott Courtyard, the boys learned how to use their new snorkel equipment in the outdoor pool while Wendy and I worked on converting our skin color from pasty white to golden brown without going through the awkward peely pink phase.

The morning after arriving in Maui, we booked a horseback riding session that started at 9:00 am. I figured that since we'd still be on Seattle time, 9:00 AM wouldn't feel early. It would feel more like noon. As always, I was right.

We drove up a highway to the dude ranch, got our horses and verbal instructions for how to ride them, and started our way down the trail towards the ocean.




Notice that this picture is taken from atop my steed, Mikey, who was a disappointment in many ways. What's the opposite of a trusty steed? A trustless steed? An anti-trust steed?

I am obviously a skilled enough rider to take a picture while riding a horse, yet the horse didn't seem to understand my prowess. I tried to get him to raise his front legs by shouting "Hi-yo Mikey!" and driving my sandals into the beast's flanks, but he just kept following the horse in front of him. Hey, I thought, maybe he'll gallop in a tight circle if I pull the neck cord thingie one way and dig in with the opposite heel. Nope, not even when I yelled, "Spin, you stupid idiot, spin!"

During the horse ride, Luke and Max were talking to each other excitedly, and Wendy had a big smile on her face. As we worked our way down the hill and saw the wide expanse of the ocean, I have to admit that I got a little emotional. I love my family. OK, that's enough sentimental kerfluffle.

After the horse ride, we went to I'ao forest. That's where a mighty battle took place between two Hawaiian tribes and made the creek run red with warrior blood. Nowadays, Hawaii is a calm place with no bloody battles between war lords, but it's expensive. I suppose peace always has a cost, but paying $5 for parking in that obscure area seemed unreasonable.




While climbing a tree, Max and Luke spotted a three-horned lizard.



After doing a few more touristy things on the east side, we loaded up on supplies at Costco. Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to take pictures there, so you'll just have to imagine the Costco aisles in your mind's eye.


[Imagine picture of Costco]



We headed towards our Napili condo on the west side of the island. Over the next ten days, our activities blurred together.
  • Swimming in the two resort pools
  • Snorkeling
  • Beach time
  • World Cup soccer
  • Lahaina shopping

The first time we went snorkeling, we walked five minutes from our condo down to the cove. Sea turtles didn't seek us out, but they didn't shy away from us either.



Wendy and I got up early (6:00 AM) a few days and snorkeled at a nicer reef a few miles up the road. We used a laminated card that listed the most popular critters in the area to put a name to things.

"Did you see the needlenose ferretfish?"
"Yes, it was right next to the butterfly gullscoy above the rakeling coral."

Without the card, I would have had to make up the names of the various critters we saw. That would have just given Wendy more ammunition that when I get into an unfamiliar situation, I make stuff up.




When the U.S. played Portugal at 9:00 AM Hawaii time, Max and Luke were outside playing catch with lacrosse sticks on a big grassy area between all the condos. At the same time Max made a difficult catch, the U.S. scored a goal to tie the game, and Max momentarily thought the loud cheer erupting from the surrounding condos was for him. A few minutes later, when Max was sitting on the toilet, Max again mistook the loud cheering for his well-timed success.

There was a great area for cliff diving near our hotel. Locals hang out on the rocks or on flotation devices in the water below while people jump from various heights. Here's a picture of me.




It looks like I'm diving but I was actually jumping. Deep down, I'm bothered by the fact that I didn't dive off the cliff. I consider it to be a mild act of cowardice. In younger days, I would have dived, and then I would have done a spin dive, and then maybe a back flip. Now? A jump. I suppose there is a lesson to be learned from this, like maybe when you get older, your courage and your imagination fade away.

I would prefer learning that I should not look a gift horse in the mouth or count chickens before they're hatched. I don't want to learn that fear and regret settle in as you age.

Max and Luke learned how to ride waves on boogie boards. Great feeling. When I think of alternate lifestyles I could have led, one of them involves being a jobless surfer, sleeping on the beach and eating food from trash cans. I never obtained a surf board, so my life went in a different direction.




One day, an on-shore wind was knocking the waves down and killing our thrill. I saw nice long breakers on one side of the bay near a protected area, but no one was swimming there. I assumed it was off limits. I walked over there with my board to check it out. Lots of rocks. I didn't see a "No Swimming" sign, so I made my way through the shallow rock-filled waters trying hard not to stub my broken toe. I saw a set coming in so I made my way out to what I thought was the right area. I skipped the first wave, jumped out a few more feet after feeling the strong undertow and seeing the larger next wave, and pushed hard off my good foot to catch the wave. Ah! Down the face, bank turn, down again, turn. It wasn't surfing, but it was close to that great feeling you get when you catch a wave.

And no, I didn't chicken out of surfing, you idiot. I'm not afraid to surf. I just wanted to stay at the beach with the family.

Here's a picture of the boys hanging out at the amazing Banyan tree in Lahaina. The boys were disappointed that they weren't allowed to climb the trees. At least there was shave ice nearby.



We also went to a luau (no pictures) and went on a submarine ride. 





That's it for our two-week trip to Maui. I'll write about our Yellowstone trip soon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

RAWROD 2014—Ride Around White Rim Trail in One Day


When adventure writers tell their stories, they start with the dramatic ending.

Dramatic Ending


May 3, 8:30 PM - After riding the White Rim Trail in one day, Paul decides he's done riding for the weekend and starts the drive home to St. George. He pulls over and dry heaves.

May 3, 9:00 PM - After riding the White Rim Trail in one day, Dug and his son Holden drive into the parking lot of Moab Brewery. Holden tells Dug to stop the car, now. He opens the door in front of the overflow crowd waiting to get a table at the restaurant, and vomits. The crowd looks on in horror.

May 3, 11:15 PM - Dug and Holden return to camp and climb in their sleeping bags, waking me up from a happy slumber. Dug warns me that Holden has been sick. He tells Holden to use a bag of donut gems in case he needs to vomit. Holden uses it. He continues to wake up and vomit into different containers over the course of the night.

May 3, 11:30 PM - The last pair of cyclists complete their ride in the dark with little fanfare. Everyone else is asleep or dealing with sickness.

May 4, 3:00 AM - 30 miles away from the White Rim Trail, Lisa vomits in her hotel room.

May 4, 4:00 AM - Unable to deal with the peer pressure, I crawl out of the tent and vomit in the sand.

Adventure writers also shift dramatically from present tense to past tense.

The Beginning


After having done a 4-hour, 20-mile mountain bike ride on Friday—my longest mountain bike ride of the year—we drove to the top of Horsethief Trail and set up camp at the parking lot.



Kenny has been hosting this event for years, but this year was special—his 50th birthday. He was also doing something different this year. No sag wagon, and no group really. The only plan was to meet at Musselman Arch for photos, and then everyone was on their own, or hopefully in pairs. 



We knew the next day was going to be a hot one, so we loaded up as much water as we could carry. My backpack had two one-liter bladders and a few gels and nut rolls, and my bike carried two bottles. I stuffed other food packets in my jersey pockets.

The goal was to leave at 7:00 AM. I wanted to take off a little earlier than everyone else because I'm one of the slower riders, but that was ruined when I woke up sluggish and wandered around like the camp idiot.

I was glad to hear that Paul decided to make a go of it. After the previous day's ride, he had lost some of his confidence and wasn't sure he wanted to try it.

On the ride from the Horsethief parking lot back out to Highway 313, I felt weak and uncomfortable under my heavy pack, but happy to be with friends and doing a ride I hadn't done in almost two decades.*

* In truth, I've never actually done the full 100-mile ride before. We always skipped the 13-mile stretch of dirt road.

When the 13-mile stretch of rolling dirt road ended, we gulped down cached drinks and headed up the 8-mile paved road towards the National Park camp entrance.

It was at the camp entrance where I had perhaps my finest moment of the day. My performance in the outhouse was nothing short of spectacular. The golf equivalent would be to bend a 3-iron from the deep rough around a tree and to within 10 feet of the pin. As I emerged from the outhouse, happy and light, I raised my hand in a polite yes-I-acknowledge-your-applause-and-I'm-secretly-thrilled-but-want-to-act-cool wave to my imaginary audience, who really had no business being there, imaginary or no.

Because of my majestic delay, we were now behind the other riders by several minutes. Entering Shafer Trail reminded me of how beautiful this area was.


As I started the Shafer descent, I noticed that my front brake wasn't working. Elden had loaned me his rigid single-speed bike for the trip, which is kind of him, but the bike wasn't in great shape. One of the bottle cages was broken, the rear tire was bald, and the power brake was out. I normally wouldn't say bad things about Elden's loaner bike—mouth, meet gift horse—but Elden frequently disguises his generous heart with vile meanness. For example, after the ride, here's what he texted me:

"it was great to see you -- bummed i didn't ride a ton with you, but i am far too strong to hold back at your pace"

Not wanting to fly off any of the switchbacks, I did a slow descent, skidding wildly around corners with only a rear brake and bald tires.

Paul and I met up at the bottom and rode hurriedly at a leisurely pace, if that makes any sense. We arrived at Musselman Arch to see other riders hanging out. Someone in our group took this picture.


After a couple of group photos and general milling around, we got back on our bikes. That was the last I saw of the Kenny, Heather, Elden, Lisa, and the rest of the fast riders.

The ride from Musselman to White Crack, which is roughly the half-way point, consists of a series of bends that wind around canyons. You descend slightly as you ride away from the rim and then ascend slightly as you ride back towards the rim. Rinse and repeat. 

The flowers and cactuses were blooming. At around 10:30 AM, it was already hot. Here, I turned around for the camera to capture the purple flowers, which unfortunately got washed out in this picture.


Once we finally got around that last mesa that we had been looking at in the distance for hours, we biked through a wide open desert. As we made the turn and headed northwest, I noticed a nice breeze coming from the south. 

People accuse the White Rim Trail of having a constant headwind regardless of the direction you're going. For the record, on May 3, 2014, I do hereby proclaim that we had no wind during the first half of the ride and a mild tail wind during the second half of the ride.

Progress


In my memory, the major checkpoints—Shafer, Musselman, Vertigo Void, Murphy's Hogback, Hardscrabble Hill, and Horsethief—were spread out fairly evenly. In reality, Shafer and Musselman are close to each other, Vertigo and Murphy's are only a mile or two apart, and there's a huge distance between Musselman and Vertigo. 

The tentative plan was to eat lunch at Vertigo Void, but several of us weren't riding fast enough for it to make sense to wait that long. Paul and I ate our lunch in the slim shade of a juniper bush, and pressed on.

By the time Paul and I reached Vertigo Void, the other riders were gone. Here's what they had been up to:


Paul wanted to keep pushing on, knowing that we had three difficult climbs in front of us, including Murphy's Hogback in a short while. 

The ride up Murphy's is steep and loose. Paul and I didn't even try to ride up the steep pitches. When I last did the White Rim Trail back when Bill Clinton was POTUS, Dug and I took pride in being able to clean all the moves. Now, I thought, How did I ever ride up that? In retrospect, I am in awe of my 32-year-old self. In fairness, my 32-year-old self was riding a geared bike with suspension, not a rigid single-speed. So I'm proud of my 51-year-old self as well. Good job, mes present and past.

After pushing our bikes to the top, Paul and I ate a snack and watched a few other riders do the long climb. Cori, who was hanging back with his girlfriend Emily, cleaned it. So did Jolene, who was hanging back to help out a struggling rider. 

Cori then proposed to Emily at the top of Murphy's Hogback. She accepted.

I thought that group of people represented the last of the pack (the gruppetto for you Tour de France fans), but it turns out that a couple of riders were even further back.

Suffering


There was a nice long drop down the other side of Murphy's Hogback, and then there was, for me, the most difficult part of the ride. It was hot, 90-degree weather. We had been on our bikes all day long. Eating was hard, and Paul stopped trying to eat altogether, relying on CarboRocket for his energy. CarboRocket, where energy meets experience. CarboRocket, a boost of freedom. CarboRocket, for her pleasure.

The heat was getting to me. I was weary, colicky, and dragging behind Paul, Cori, and Emily. I talked Paul into stopping so that I could transfer water from one bladder to the other and down some ibuprofen, and Cori and Emily pulled ahead for good.

For the next stretch of trail, I don't remember much. For me, every endurance ride has the same characteristics:

  • Pre-ride excitement
  • The this-is-never-going-to-end section
  • The problem (neck pain, hot spots, sunburn, not enough water, can't eat, can't poop, stomach, mechanical)
  • Crux fatigue (or worse, bonk)
  • Resignation to suffering
  • Energizing homestretch
  • Emotional finish

Riding near Candlestick, I was dealing with the crux fatigue, which Dug calls the "cave of pain." I didn't bonk, but I was miserable. I was saddle-sore, my feet hurt, my neck hurt, my legs were cramping. 

Jolene's group of riders caught up to us at the start of Hardscrabble Hill. Paul and I again walked our bikes up, relieved to be off the saddles.

Bry also caught up with us and told me he was running low on water because he was giving it all away to an embattled friend. I told him I had plenty of extra water, so I filled one of his bottles with CarboRocket.

The Homestretch


Once we got to the top of Hardscrabble Hill, where you can look down at the trail as it runs along the Green River, everything turned around for me. The ibuprofen had finally kicked in, so my neck pain was mostly gone, and I had adjusted to the suffering. All I needed to do was keep riding another 11 or so miles along the Green River before the big finish up Horsethief.

Here's a picture that Paul took of me with my camera. I rode down a bit and then rode back up to face the camera:



This was a beautiful section of trail. We got a nice cloud cover, a tail wind, and cooler temperatures as it approached evening.

Paul had a GPS on his bike, so we knew exactly how far we had to ride before the start of Horsethief. That helped us avoid wondering if the turn-off was right after this next bend, or maybe the next one. We knew we still had 7 miles to go, or 4 miles to go, or 2 miles to go. Horsethief is at mile 99, period, end of story. And then it's 1.5 miles of climbing.

Here's a picture of Horsethief that Todd Winner took.


After Elden and Lisa finished their ride, they jumped in their car and drove down to the bottom of Horsethief to help struggling riders. They asked Paul and me if we needed extra water, or if they could take our camelbaks, but we both declined stubbornly. We did agree to gulp down an ice-cold Coke that Lisa fished out of a cooler.

At the top of Horsethief, the riders who had finished sat in chairs at the top of the hill, watching, cheering, cajoling.


I decided that I wanted to try to ride up Horsethief. I let some air out of the bald rear tire so that I wouldn't have to stay seated to avoid skidding out and hammered up the first long stretched before it turned into switchbacks. Sadly, I had to push my bike up a couple of stretches. I like to think that I would have made it had Elden loaned me a better bike.

Then I rode up the last few switchbacks, doing everything in my power—including what Dug called the "paper boy"—to stay on my bike. Dug took this picture of me. I think that's Paul a little further down the hill.


"Go Bobby!" "Don't fall!" "Paul is catching you!" "Stay on your bike!"

Here's Paul riding up Horsethief:



Here's Paul finishing:


And here's me the morning after the ride:


Great adventure.

Special thanks to Kenny, Heather, Dug, Elden, Lisa, and Paul for all your help.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Crazy Weight

Back in February, Kenny sent out his annual invitation to do RAWROD—Ride Around White Rim in One Day. I haven't done that ride since Bill Clinton was president, so I decided to sign up.

I had been in decent shape between commuting to work on my bike and doing family karate a few times a week. I was fat fit.

In February, I had lost all of my winter holiday weight that pushed me up into the 190s, and I was back down to within my normal weight range of 184-188. That's about what I weighed last November when I had a humiliating bonk on a 10-mile mountain bike ride at Fall Moab. I knew I had to make some changes to finish a 100-mile self-supported mountain bike ride in one day.

I changed my eating and exercise behavior. (I guess this is another way of saying "I went on a diet" but going on a diet makes me thinking of eating tasteless food and using infomercial equipment.)



Here's the plan:

  • Normal breakfast. Bowl of cereal with fruit.
  • Spin ride to work 15 mile route, audiobook.
  • Small lunch. Soup or salad.
  • Banana or apple before ride home.
  • Ride home from work 12-mile route, no bus. Interval bursts twice a week, music.
  • Eat anything for dinner, no second helpings.
  • No grazing in the evening.*
  • Only one dessert a week.*
  • No finishing kids' food.
  • One longish ride on the weekend. 60-mile road ride or 3-hour mtb ride.
  • Karate class 4-5 hours a week.
* These were the two hardest and most important changes for me. 

That's it. I don't feel hungry, and if I get food cravings, I delay gratification by thinking how good the next meal is going to be. 

I've lost 20 pounds in the last two months. I weigh about 165 pounds. As a point of comparison, when I did Leadville in 2008—the last time I was serious about losing weight and getting into biking shape—I never got below 172 pounds. 

Positives
  • It's much easier to ride up hills.
  • I should be able to do the White Rim Trail without bonking.
  • If you're in good shape, you're immortal.
Negatives
  • I like eating donuts whenever I want, and I feel deprived if I can't.
  • I seem to have more lines in my face and neck. 
  • Moobs are less humiliating when the rest of your body is fat.
  • I sometimes miss the feeling that I can eat whatever I want whenever I want because I exercise a lot and don't mind being 15-20 pounds overweight.
Coming up next: RAWROD Report in May

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Anatomy of a Funny


Understanding humor is the key to understanding people. If you understand why a joke is superior, you can express your approval through measured laughter.

Let's begin our study.

A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar. They should have ducked.

That's funny because when you hear the phrase "walk into a bar," you think the priest and rabbi are walking into a pub or tavern, but it turns out they are walking into a low-hanging bar, probably made of metal because when a metal bar and a human head come into contact, the result is a funny clunk sound. This form of humor is called ad absurdium deus. The "ad" prefix has no known meaning in Greek, "absurdum" is derived from the Celtic words "absur" and "dum," and God only knows what "deus" means.

Great, so that's a funny joke. When someone tells it, you can laugh the appropriate amount. But how can we make it funnier?

A goose and a swan walk into a bar. It remains unclear why they did not duck.

This joke is twice packed with double entendres, making what the French would call a quartois entendre. On the one hand, you have the same funny thing going on with "bar" referring not to a tavern but to a metal pipe likely covered with barbed spikes. Now add to that the humor association among the goose, the swan, and "duck," and you have a delightfully fowl joke. That's called "word play," and it's something that is funny. Also know that it's funny when an animal hits its head against something metal, especially if it causes the animal to wobble or bleed.

Dare we make this joke funnier? We dare.

A mallard walks into a bar. Duck!

Some humor strikes the senses at such odd angles and with such twisted force that all mental processing of said humor is bypassed, resulting in a gut-level guffaw. This joke does exactly that.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Donut Panic

One of the things I like about Southern California is how the stores in strip malls are named. While driving from my parents' house to one of my sibling's houses, we see stores called "Liquor," "Pretzels," "Taxes," "Pets," and "Nails." Every now and then, someone like a dentist decides to get creative and call his store "Implants," but under the bright California sun, I can forgive that.*

* Note that I wrote "his" instead of "her" when referring to the dentist. I did that because in this example, the dentist is a Jewish male. Or maybe he's an elective surgeon. I don't actually live in California, so how would I know?

When we visited Portland later in the summer to visit Stan and Grey, I proclaimed to Wendy that Portland is a great city for two things: beer and donuts. (No, not the highly overrated Voodoo Donuts, which is nearly as mediocre as Top Pot donuts in Seattle.) Just as I made that proclamation during a rush of confidence, we both saw the same store:

"Donuts"

I half-skidded into the parking lot and expected everyone to pile out of the car in a frenzy. The boys were busy with iPads and Wendy has issues with gluten and the like, so I walked into the store alone.

What happened next could only be described as panic.

With all the trays of delicious donuts to my left and center, my heart pounded. I had to blink a few times to clear my head. No good. My brain had stopped processing information in language and flashed thoughts in kaleidoscopic color. I saw a glazed raspberry donut that I used to like when I was in college, but I knew for a fact on some level that a glazed raspberry donut—even though you can see the enticing little red opening—is too sweet and seedy. In that donut store, the thought flitted into my head and left in a whirl. When asked what could be gotten for me, I replied:

"Raspberry donut, please."

In a moment of crisis, I choked. I suppose that I can take comfort in the number of times that I have ordered successfully in a similar situation, like that time I ordered Beef Wellington at Fresh Bistro. Or I can tell myself that I'm gainfully employed with a job I like and a family I love, and that I'm an above average wiffleball player, but that's all cold comfort in a time like that. I know what happened.

-

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lance Boils

Mr. Lance Armstrong made it into the news by confessing that he cheated in order to win his seven Tour de France titles. As a commuter cyclist, I have opinions about this matter. But before I offer my opinions, I'll offer some thoughts.

* My only personal experience with Mr. Armstrong occurred in August 2008. I was about 3 miles from the Leadville finish. While drinking a beer in the back of a pickup truck, Lance said to me, "Good job. Keep going." Or he might have been talking to the cyclist next to me—I was tired. Regardless, Lance and I have a personal relationship, which gives me extra insight into this matter.

* It's common knowledge that a whole bunch of cyclists were doping. Whenever the subject of doping comes up with my friends who track this kind of thing a whole lot more than I do, I raise two questions:

Question 1: In any given tour during Lance's run, who was the top-finishing clean rider? Was it the sixth-place rider, the 18th-place rider, 126th-place rider? My guess is that it was one of the French riders who finished somewhere around 30th place, but I have no idea.

Question 2: Who was the last clean rider to win the Tour? Greg LeMond? Probably.

Miguel Indurain and the Spaniards most likely started the heightened EPO-style cheating back in the early 90s that made other riders believe they had no shot at winning without using PEDs. Are more recent winners like Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre clean? Again, I don't know.

One nice thing I've noticed while half-watching the tour over the last few years is that even the strongest climbers look like they're struggling on the steep ascents. It's possible they're clean.

Now, my opinions:

* While the cheating is bad, it makes sense on the "everyone else is doing it" level. What makes Armstrong's behavior particularly loathsome is how he went after accusers. He actually sued people for accusing him of doing something he was actually doing. He acted like a bully, both personally and legally.

* Armstrong has one of those great and terrible personalities like the best and worst conquerors. Armstrong starting LiveStrong is like Mussolini getting the trains to run on time.

* We don't celebrate moral courage that often. When was the last time you heard of a corporate executive who made a decision based on moral good rather than financial profit?

There is an interesting story in the news about the dramatic decline of violent crime coinciding with the drop in lead pollutants—especially lead paint and leaded gasoline. Apparently, lead made a bunch of urban youths more prone to violent behavior. Back in the day, energy executives saw studies about the damaging effects of lead, but instead of using ethanol as a gasoline additive, they went with the cheaper lead approach. Once the lead paint got cleaned up and we switched to unleaded gasoline, urban folks became less crazed.

I want to hear more stories about people doing the right thing, even though it costs them. There's no better place to start that with Lance Armstrong, who showed the courage of a winner in admitting to cheating. Bravo, Lance!

Good job. Keep going.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Charles Durning and the Good War

I'm a sucker for World War II stories. When Charles Durning died recently, I found out that he was a World War II veteran, which made me like him even more. But he didn't just see action in World War II—he had a Band of Brothers-type experience that took him from D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, if you were writing a fiction novel set in World War II and you created a character that experienced what Charles Durning went through, your editor would probably tell you that it seems a little too "fictiony."

Even if you don't know who Charles Durning is, you know who Charles Durning is. He's one of the great all-time "that guy" characters in movies. He played Detective Snyder in The Sting, he played the crooked governor in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, he played the guy who kept hitting on a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, and he played a memorable cop in Dog Day Afternoon.

He was in the first wave of soldiers landing at Omaha Beach. When the door of the landing craft opened, the guy in front of him went down, and Private Durning jumped over him and sunk to the bottom. As he pulled his gear off under the water, bullets whizzed by him. Here, he tells the story himself in this video clip:





R.I.P. Charles Durning 1923-2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Missives of October

Let's get this party started.

What's at stake for Bob in the Presidential election?

Two main things are at stake for me, Bob: (1) health care and (2) deterrence from lunacy.

Let's address health care first. Romney and his nutty right-wing├ęd friends want to do away with (privatize) all existing social programs—especially Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—and they don't want to allow even a watered-down social program like Obamacare to become fully operational. Ayn Rand and Grover Norquist would be so upset.

I want the federal government to continue these programs, just like I want the government to build highways and regulate businesses and defend our borders. In other words, I'm a commie socialist. If Romney is elected, he and Congress have vowed to repeal and "replace" Obamacare. If Obama is elected, at some point a right-winger will hold up a sign that says, "Government: Keep yore Hands of my Obamacare!"



I no longer want health care to be tied to large businesses. Eventually, I want the government to raise our taxes so that we all have government-controlled health care. That way, I can decide to leave a company to do freelance/contract work without getting crushed by COBRA or some ridiculously expensive private health care plan.

The second issue is deterrence. Romney has expressed a lot of different stands on different issues, so I'm not sure whether he'll be a relative moderate Republican who caters to Big Business or a more radical (severe?) Republican who caters to the Tea Party as well as Big Business. (I don't believe even he knows.) I can assume that at best, he'll be a slightly more competent version of George W. Bush, who was a blight on Amurrica.



We've already been down this path: Bad wars and flawed deregulation -> Increased national debt and financial crises -> Democratic takeover -> Republican obstructionism -> Gridlock > Republicans blame Democrats for not have cleaned up the mess fast enough.

I prefer the Muslum-in-Chef.

What about pensions?

I'm against pensions. Pensions used to be a good thing back in the 40-years-and-gold-watch era when huge corporations were more stable. Pensions don't make sense in a society where people change jobs every few years and bounce around from state to state. And when huge companies like Blockbuster and Circuit City flame out in a few years, any pension plan is going to be lost. And government pensions suck because I don't work for the government.

I want pensions to be replaced by more generous 401(k) plans. Am I saying I don't want to privatize Social Security or Medicare, but I do want to privatize pension/retirement plans? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

But wouldn't Romney be more like Reagan than Dubya?

I don't think the powers that be like Romney very much. I think Mitt is taking the same kind of unfair beating in Washington insider circles that Al Gore suffered from in 2000, back when Gore was a robot and Dubya was the kind of guy everyone wanted to drink a beer with. In this election, no one wants to drink a beer with either candidate, really, but Mitt is perceived as the rich asshole who won't get off the cell phone.

Ultimately, I think Romney is going to lose a close election because too many people think he's a dick.

What happened in wiffleball?

We started off the season 0-2 thanks to some erratic pitching on my part, and then we went on a roll with decent pitching and strong hitting. We finished a half game out of first place in a tie for second. We lost the tiebreaker, so we finished as the #3 seed, which meant an opening round one-game playoff against the #6 seed.

With our best pitcher struggling with control, we were down 10-7 with two innings to play, and then we trailed 11-10 in the bottom of the last inning. I led off the inning with a walk, and our pitcher, who felt awful for having pitched so poorly, belted a two-run walk-off homer to redeem himself and put us in the semis.

In the first semi-final game, we faced a decent team with a pitcher who was the star of his college cricket team in India. I've never seen anyone who can throw a wiffleball that hard. Since he started pitching in his team's fourth game of the year, he had given up only one run all year. He had three pitches: a straight blazing fastball and two slightly less blazing fastballs that broke either inside or outside. He was easily the best wiffleball pitcher any of us had seen, but he pitched on a team with mediocre hitters.

In game 1, our pitcher gave up a few hits but no runs. Their pitcher mowed us all down. I felt helpless. In the first three innings, he walked one hitter, and another hitter managed to pop up to the second baseman, which was a moral victory for us. With two outs in the top of the fourth inning, I guessed right and belted a pitch over the right-field fence for our only hit of the game. We won 1-0.

In game 2, we gave up more runs, but their pitcher's arm was sore. Throwing a wiffleball that hard probably isn't too smart. We trailed 3-1 going in to the bottom of the last inning, but he had stopped throwing his nasty heater. With the bases loaded and me on deck, the batter before me hit a two-run double to tie the score. I thought the pitcher would walk me since he had walked me in every previous at-bat, but he decided to pitch to me—I think he wanted the game to end. I hit a single to send our team into the final for the third straight year.

In the finals—complete with over-the-top announcers, national anthems, fourth-inning stretches, crowds, and at-bat music for each hitter—we lost game 3 in extra innings. I played well, so I blame the loss on my teammates. And I told them that in a contemptuous fit after the game. OK, I lied about that. But not about pension plans. That was true!

DVR Decisions

Now that Sunday night is when networks want to air their best shows, we're faced with an interesting decision. When the boys are in bed and we have only an hour to watch TV and two shows have recorded, which show do we watch? Here are some difficult choices I recall having over the years:

  • The Sopranos vs. Deadwood
  • Game of Thrones vs. Mad Men
  • Breaking Bad vs. Justified
  • Homeland vs. The Walking Dead

The Sopranos always won out, but Deadwood eventually became my favorite rewatchable show of all time. While I loved the first few seasons of Mad Men, the show isn't appealing enough to knock off Game of Thrones. Breaking Bad is a better show than Justified, but you have to be in the right mood. Same with Homeland. Sometimes, watching people impale, slash, behead, and defenestrate zombies is more appealing than watching Clair Danes struggle with a life-long mental breakdown.

I don't have this problem with books, by the way. If Richard Russo, David Sedaris, Nick Nornby, Mark Helprin, and Tobias Wolff all come out with a new book at the same time, I would somehow manage to ignore them all as they clutter my nightstand while watching reruns of Deadwood and The Wire on my iPad.

But what if people discovered a bunch of buried fiction from my favorite dead authors?

  • The Troika Driver and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov
  • The Adventures of Joe Harper by Mark Twain
  • The Sentimental Papers by Charles Dickens 
  • Prouder and More Prejudiced by Jane Austen
  • The Clean Man Without Balls by Ernest Hemingway

I think I'd go with Mark Twain's imaginary new novel.

Mountain Biking

Fall Moab is only a few weeks away, so it's time for me to get back on the mountain bike. There is a new trail section at Tapeworm that includes a pump track section along with a bunch of elevated ladders that I have tentatively named "Sphincter Pucker," "Widow Maker," "Fly or Die," and "Just Do It—No Don't!"

In about three weeks, we'll pull into the parking lot at the bottom of Gold Bar Rim, and the sky will be broad and clear, and everything will be right with the world for a few hours, and then the pressures of work, the duties of family, and the responsibilities of television will fetter us once again like dust in a corn silo. Or something.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thirty Days in the Hole

Every Wednesday evening, on my way back from karate class, I listen to a public radio station that features a segment called The Roadhouse. It's one of the rare times when I actually wish I had a longer drive.

The music consists of any song that could be played in a road house, where someone like Patrick Swayze could be a bouncer who throws you out for hurling a full bottle of beer at the band's cage. When you get revenge in a subsequent fight, you may or may not say something like this to the bouncer, depending on how you behaved in prison and how much you want to reveal about yourself.



If you're anything like me, you've probably stopped reading this post and you've gone out and created an iTunes playlist called "Road House." And if you're like me, you've rolled down the window in your Prius and cranked up the sound, knowing full well that ALL people will dig your music, even if they can only hear the bass.

What goes on your Road House playlist? You really just need one song. That's right—a one-song playlist. Here's the song:



If you're anything like me, there could be no greater way to express dissatisfaction in life than to shout into a microphone, "Thirty days in the hole! Thirty days in the hole! Thirty days in the hole!"

You probably wonder what kinds of things you can do that will get you thrown in jail for 30 days. Whenever a judge slams his gavel and tells me, "Thirty days," it's usually because I have brawled or violated noise ordinances, or maybe I borrowed a police car to knock down my neighbor's ugly carport. Or sometimes I get a 30-day jail sentence just because I'm wearing my favorite boxer shorts in a 7-11 parking lot and don't want a police officer to put handcuffs on me.

But what about other people? Here's a list of crimes you can commit that will get you thrown in jail for 30 days, courtesy of The Google:
  • Using a webcam to spy on your roommate
  • Animal torture
  • Improper sexual misconduct toward military trainees
  • Planting evidence
  • Collecting rainwater on your property in Oregon
  • Cyberbullying
  • Duct-taping a child to the floor of a day care center
  • Having too much junk in your yard
  • Being accused—wrongly—of throwing hot water at your ex-boyfriend 


Thirty days in the hole! Thirty days in the hole! Thirty days in the hole!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

August Burns Red

It has been reported that this web log has not been updated in days. This half-truth is only a click of a Publish button away from becoming an outright lie.

Excellent Idea #1

Form a rock band. Earn money by playing music that people either pay for or convince a library to pay for. If Fred Durst can earn money doing this, anyone can. The key to forming this cash cow is to come up with a good name. And here's where my brilliant idea enters the picture. Start the name with "SRO."

Example: "SRO The Red Stripes"

Why is this such a great idea? Because when the band goes on tour, the venue automatically includes "SRO" on the billboard. Passers-by will say, "Hmm, standing room only. I better go check out that band at the library." And then pretty soon all the libraries in the country will have to carry your CD.

If Led Zeppelin had been called "SRO Led Zeppelin," they never would have been forced to break up.

Wiffleball Update

The season started out with a rematch between last years winner (us!) and the runners-up. The game included all the over-the-top festivities of a finals game, complete with announcers, national anthem, and barbecue. We lost 12-0. I pitched the entire game, giving up all 12 runs in 5 innings of work.

Then we lost the next game 8-5 against the sales guys (After School Special). Again, I pitched. No one likes getting beat in any way by sales guys, but losing that game was especially awful. I was 0-5 at the plate, stranded a bunch of runners, and got shelled for the second game in a row. With 14 teams vying for only 6 playoffs spots, things were looking bleak.

After the 0-2 start, our team is now 7-2.

It goes without saying that I will discuss wiffleball at least one more time.

Mountain Biking Update

The end of Leadville marks the start of Fall Moab preparation. I was trying to think of the last time I went mountain biking, and I'm drawing a blank. It's possible that last year's Fall Moab trip was my most recent MTB experience. If that's the case -- if I have indeed not been on a mountain bike in ten months -- am I still a mountain biker?

Yes!

I'm an excellent mountain biker! Wow, that was almost too easy to resolve. I really should have expressed that thought in a sonnet, with the first 8 lines covering the question of whether I'm a mountain biker, and then last 6 lines offering the resolution that I am, in fact, a mountain biker. It would have been more poetic that way.

In this sonnet that I might just write, I should mention somewhere that I weigh 190 pounds, and when I put on an XL bike jersey, it stretches so tight over my belly that I fear I might look like Scotty, the fantastic Phillip Seymour Hoffman character in Boogie Nights. Here's Scotty in action:



There are a couple of key differences between Scotty's appearance and mine. For one, Scotty does not look like he could be an elite wiffleball athlete. Second, for someone carrying extra weight, Scotty has disproportionately small man boobs.

Excellent Idea #2

Write a novel about superheroes. One superhero runs fast, one superhero is really strong, and one can swim underwater without coming up for air. Bad guys want to do bad things, and the superheroes need to stop them. Hollywood might just make a movie, and you'll be rich.

1960s Pop Music

In Songbook, Nick Hornby talks about how the British people appreciate pop music for what it is whereas Americans look at pop music as being inferior. I agree. So I've been hunting around for great pop music. I have been shocked (shocked!) and appalled at some of the lyrics I've run in those not-so-innocent 1960s and 1970s. Check out this video:



There is no double entendre in this video. It's single entendre. This raspberry wants to have sexual relations with whomever it is he's singing to.

We need a man with some moral authority to step in and stop this madness. Or at least repress it. Mitt Romney might just be the man to restore Christian values to this country. In fact, he is definitely the man for the job, unless it might cost him votes or money, in which case cooler heads will prevail.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Election

If you are a Republican, and if you want Mitt Romney to win, you should just skip to the next section. I have mean things to say about that flibbertigibbet who makes John Kerry look decisively single-minded by comparison. How can a person who considers himself a faithful Mormon take so many different stances on so many different issues? I can only assume Mitt Romney compartmentalizes the worlds of business and politics the same way visitors handle their experiences in Las Vegas. Whatever happens in politics stays in politics.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Mormons, so it hurts to watch Mitt Romney carry on like a soulless robber baron.

Whenever I read about politics, one cloud hangs over practically every topic. Republicans want to win the election by focusing on the economy. To do so, they rely on the fact that Americans will forget that Republicans were in charge when the economy collapsed and ignore the fact that Republicans have done everything in their power to prevent Democrats from turning around the economy. Vote for Republicans! They'll lower the taxes of the wealthy, deregulate Wall Street, and embrace trickle-down! And why will they succeed where George W. Bush failed? Confidence!

Oh, and when did Republicans start believing that it's unpatriotic to pay taxes?

Excellent Idea #3

Borrow money to buy a small but relatively successful company. Give yourself a large salary. Set up a banking account in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. Lay off a bunch of workers. Funnel money into your offshore account. Declare the business bankrupt. Move on.

Thoughts on the 2012 London Summer Olympics

My five favorite 2012 Olympics moments:

1) The U.S. women's soccer team beat Canada in the semifinals.

That was one of the most exciting sporting events I've ever seen. Loved the bad calls that helped the Americans. Loved the YouTube clip of the Canadian woman stomping on the head of the American. If Canadians ask about the bad calls in a bar, you can just say, "Do you think Tancredi should be able to stomp on Americans' heads without being red-carded?" Canadians will apologize and then say something funny. I really like Canadians. 51st state, baby!

2) Kerri and Misty beat the Chinese in the beach volleyball semifinals.

Kerri and Misty are remarkably clutch. I went out of my way to watch every single one of their matches.

3) Bolt in the 100-meter dash.

I don't really like Bolt that much because he's not an American, and I don't like Jamaicans because they're too uptight about relaxing, but that 100m sprint was something. He would have beat me by a good five yards.

4) U.S. over Spain in men's basketball.

Here are some questions that interest me more than whether this 2012 U.S. team could beat the 1992 Dream Team. How would the 1992 Dream Team have done against this 2012 Spain team? What Olympic year would have provided the best crop of U.S. players? I think 1988 would have been better than 1992. You get Kareem, and Larry and Magic would have been in their primes, though Jordan was still a bit young.

5) The British distance runner slapping his bald head after winning gold.

Charming moment helped by the fact that that little British guy is not a threat to American dominance.

I also thought about adding men's team archery. In the final match to decide who gets gold and who gets silver, the Americans shoot their final arrow and lead by 9. If the Italian shoots anything less than a 9, they lose. If he shoots a 9, they go into extra rounds. If he shoots a 10, they win. Bam, bull's eye. The Italians celebrate. This would have made the above list, but the Italians failed to celebrate their gold medal by raising an American flag.

More later!