Friday, December 28, 2012

Resolved

I've been traveling this holiday, so this one will have to be brief.

As we come to a close of another year, it's time to start getting a resolution list together. Here's one that I intend to make next year: get my act together. More planning, less reacting. That kind of stuff.

For example, I resolve to be like those people who send christmas greetings in the mail each year. For those who sent us a greeting, I'm impressed. Thank you, we do appreciate the thought and snapshot of you and your little ankle biters. The greetings get a special space on our fridge and stay up there for nearly the entire year, mostly because I don't have my act together enough to tidy up afterward. (Another resolution for next year, noted).

I had every intention of sending a greeting of our own this year. That goes for last year and the year(s) before, too. Like this one, which goes back a few years, before I was married and before my kid brother Brendan was born.


Oh well, better late than never.  Happy Holidays everyone. Be safe and stay healthy.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Present Ever. Like Ever.

What was the greatest Christmas present you ever received under the tree? I've had some good ones over the years.

The big wheel from Santa was undoubtedly breath taking.

A few years later, the wind-up Evel Knievel stunt bike from Ideal brought hours of entertainment.

The problem of receiving gifts like these was in trying top the experience year over year. That's all fine and dandy when you start off with rootie toot toots and rummie tum tums, but what happens when you climb all the way up to the top and have yourself an  Evel Knievel Christmas? Where do you go from there?

Flying Finnegan. That's where.

Flying Finnegan was a Kenner's answer to Milton Bradley's Mouse Trap board game. In Mouse Trap, you built this rube goldberg contraption as your mouse moves around the board collecting cheese. Once the trap was built, you hoped to avoid elimination by not landing on the crank wheel case, for doing so could lead to... MOUSE TRAP!

Flying Finnegan was like Mouse Trap, but supposedly better. Better because instead of building a mouse trap, you built a circus with a flying trapeze that launched Finnegan across the room and into a shark tank.

I can just imagine the Kenner marketing wizards pitching the idea.

Kenner Rep 1: "Hey, how's this sound: 'Flying Finnegan, like Mouse trap only better!'"
Kenner Rep 2: "Ew, ew! What about this: "'Flying Finnegan: think Mouse Trap with circus freaks and a shark jum--'"
Kenner Rep 3: "-- Circus freaks? Might as well say 'trailer park trash' while you're at it. No. We have got to believe that we built a better, uh, mouse trap. I mean, we got ourselves a frickin' shark jump don't we? No, we don't need anything fancy slogans, just a picture of two snot-nosed kids  --with hands waving in front of them for dramatic effect -- with the banner, "FLYING FINNEGAN, ACTION GAME OF SKILL AND DARING" right above Finnegan as he's going into the sharks. Shoot, it'll be a slam dunk!
-- Reps 1 and 2 sat dumbfounded, jaws agape --
Marketing Rep 3: "Anyway, no worries, PT Barnum's already shown that a sucker is born every minute."

I was one of those suckers. I wanted it. No. I needed it. No. I must have it, that Christmas. Resolved, my greedy mitts ripped the page right out of the Sears Roebuck and presented it to my parents. No Red Rider BB Guns, no Zeppelins, just Flying Finnegan. Thank you.

Christmas morning came and Flying Finnegan was under the tree with my name on it. I tore in and had it set up in minutes. The first few launches had Finnegan wildly missing the shark tank. But with each attempt, my range and accuracy improved until I finally dropped Finnegan right into that shark tank. The lid snapped shut with a loud bell. It was exactly like the picture of those bratty kids above. I repeated the process.  Finnegan again flies through the air, lands smack in the middle of that tank, lid shuts and bell dings. Sweet. Again, shark tanks, ding. Again, sharks, ding...

After a couple of more tries, I hated that game.

As it turned out, Flying Finnegan was a complete bust. It took about five minutes to master and then it was totally boring after that. I suppose the silver lining was that it taught this third grader a valuable life lesson on Moore's Law of diminishing returns. But it was a cruel lesson to learn at a young age. Flying Finnegan ruined the thrill of Christmas for me.

By the time I was in eighth grade, I could care less if I received a gadget or another acrylic sweater. It was all the same.

That was, until a pair of Bauer Turbo hockey skates appeared under the tree.

The timing couldn't have been better. That winter, a strong cold snap fell upon our hometown of Kirkwood (St Louis, MO). The golf course's hole #12's lake had completely frozen over, creating a perfect opportunity to learn how to skate. My brothers, who also received skates, and I spent our entire Christmas holiday at the lake. These were all day affairs. It wasn't pretty at first. But as soon as I got some of the basics down, I tackled the cross over, skating backwards, and then even the backwards crossover. When it snowed, we brought shovels to clear a sheet. Others arrived from around the area for pickup hockey. I was no Wayne Gretzky, but by then end of that winter, I could skate and manage a puck well enough.

I never outgrew of those skates because I stopped growing that year. I've still got them. And use them, too. That's 28 years worth of usage! Looky here, from this past weekend with Ms Katherine at ConAgra's downtown rink:


Thanks for the blades, Mom and Dad. It was my favorite Christmas present ever.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Bat, a Cat, a Dog and a Kat

As I mentioned previously, this past week's bat wasn't the first in our house. We had one a few years ago.

I was in the basement working on my bike. I heard a blood curdling scream upstairs from my wife, Kat.


I hurried upstairs to find Kat shrieking and eeeking while running around the dining room table.



Behind her was a bat. The bat, while chasing Kat, was flipity-flapping his wings every which way, causing its flight to suddenly droop and swoop.

Just then, our house cat Newton entered the room. Newton was attempting to catch the bat, the bat that was right behind Kat.



When the bat's flippity-flappings caused his flight to droop and swoop, the cat tried to pounce and trounce.

This commotion roused our dog Emmylou from her nap.



The dog came howling and growling just as Kat, being chased by the bat, being chased by the cat, went past.

OK, got it everyone? Sing along now! On three: one, two, three:

Kat shrieked and eeeked,
while the bat drooped and swooped
and the cat pounced and trounced
and the dog growled and howled...

I scratched my head and scowled, while I thought of ways to fix the situation.

Kat, the dog and the cat belonged here.




The bat needed to go.

But how, with the dog chasing the cat chasing the bat chasing Kat?

Kat was first. I grabbed her on the next pass and diverted her into the bathroom. "Wait here," I said while shutting the door.

Next came the dog, still chasing the cat chasing the bat.

I corralled the dog into the den and commanded, "Stay Emmy!" and shut the door.

Then came the cat chasing the bat. A furry-fury ensued, but into the sun-room went Newton. "Scat," said I, and then shut the door.

Whew. No Kat, no dog and no cat. I could now deal with the bat.

I opened the front door and grabbed a blanket from the couch before going back to the dining room.

The bat was there, still swooping and drooping, despite neither cat, nor dog nor Kat.

When the bat came around, I opened the blanket as wide as I could. Success! The bat was diverted into the living room.

In the living room, I stood near the open front door.  When the bat made another pass, I opened the blanket once more....


... and out he flew through the front door.

But then -- just as it cleared the stoop -- Shim popped out from behind a bush.

"I GOT THIS BARRY!" he whooped.

The bat swooped just as Shim scooped. It flew right into Shim's hand --and then Shim promptly bit its head off and spit blood and grimy guts everywhere.

The end.

Alternate ending:
My apologies for those who intended to use as a bed time story for young children. Don't fret, I've put together an alternate family-friendly version here.

The The end.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wayne Manor, Part 2 of 2

In case you missed it, we had an interesting Monday morning on North 52nd Street this past week. Like most Mondays, I got up at 5:00 AM to go to the Omaha masters swimming workout. As I made coffee, I heard a strange sound coming from the basement: running water. To be more precise, it was running water hitting my basement floor that was strange. That's not a sound you want to hear at 5:00 AM, or anytime, for that matter. I went downstairs to discover a pond forming from water gushing from behind the washing machine. Apparently, its hose had ruptured sometime overnight.

The first step to resolving a problem like this was getting it under control. That meant stopping the flow of water. Fortunately, there was a shut-off valve at the source. I went to close the valve, but with one quarter twist, the valve's handle snapped off in my hand. Crap! The water was still gushing.

No problem. I sloshed across the basement and grabbed a pipe wrench from the work bench. This crisis would be over shortly.

Nope. That valve was really stuck. The wrench rounded the valve stem, stripping all the threads in the procsss. The valve itself didn't budge. Double crap! The water was still gushing.

I re-sloshed across the floor to the work bench for a garden hose splitter: one that has valves allowing the user to control which (if any) hose gets the water. Fortunately, the splitter screwed right on and I was able to shut it off completely.

Also fortunate was the fact that my basement is unfinished, and aside from two area rugs that were ruined, the water didn't cause any real damage. And since the concrete floor has a floor drain in it, I thought I'd give the drain a chance to handle the inch of standing water while I went to swimming practice. Time: 5:14 AM

Ninety minutes later, the water had subsided some. I spent the next 30 minutes as a one man bucket brigade, scooping the water into a bucket and dumping it into yard waste trash can. After the water was completely removed from the basement, I got the mop out to finish cleaning up.

That's when I found a brown fuzzy thing hanging upside down above the utility sink.

"That's weird," I thought. "That looks like a mouse. But why is that mouse stuck to the wall, all upside down and everything?"

I got a little closer and noticed the dark wings folded beneath her body.


Nice. My basement has a bat in it.

Golly, what a Monday morning! Let's recap. A minorly flooded basement. A broken, stripped water shut-off valve that required a garden hose adapter to close it. 3,200 yards at the swimming pool, a trip to the hardware store for replacement washing machine hoses, a bucket brigade, mopping. And now a bat. Sheesh! It wasn't even 9:00AM yet.

Before I did anything else, I called Katherine down to showoff how resourceful her husband was. I displayed the ruptured washing machine hose, the broken valve, the stripped valve stem, the garden hose adapter and even retraced the circumference of the water's high mark. I wanted to make a big impression. You know, to ham it up a little and show her how fortunate she was to be married to such a resourceful (and handsome) man. Until this point, I said nothing about the bat. The bat was my Ace in the hole.

At just the right moment, when Katherine's eyes were starting to glaze over with boredom, I pointed to the fuzzy brown spot above the utility sink and asked her if she knew what that was.

"I don't know, what is it?" she asked as she got a little closer.

Wait for it. She moved a little closer. Wait for it...even closer. Then she stopped dead in her tracks...

"A bat." I said proudly.

"Eeeeeek!" And just like that, Katherine was no longer in the basement.

--//--

I put on a flannel shirt, heavy working gloves and grabbed a towel. Towels are awesome. So many uses.

The bat was clueless of what was going on. One moment, he's dreaming he's in the dark cavern of Wayne Manor, gushing waterfalls, ponds and all; the next moment he's enveloped in 100% Egyptian cotton, placed in a cardboard box and being set outside in the cold light of day.

--//--

This wasn't the first bat in our house.

Friday, November 30, 2012

JC Rides a Mountain Bike

In my last post, I covered my mountain biking experience on Thanksgiving morning.

After that, I ate. And I ate. And then ate some more. And guess what, there was still more eating.

So by Black Friday, I was a stuffed pig. I decided to just chill out and do nothing.

I didn't get out of bed until around 9:30AM. I moped around for a bit, probably scratching myself here and there. Of course, I was hungry again, so after washing my hands, I opened the fridge to pick through the leftovers. I ate, and ate, and ate...

Sometime later, I changed out of my pajamas and then plopped down to watch the Huskers play Iowa. That game was probably equally frustrating for Nebraska fans as it was for Iowa.


I only got up on my feet once, when the Huskers called that play in which Rex Burkhead carried the entire State of Iowa for eight yards. That was awesome.

But the game made me sleepy. Then I got grumpy because I wasn't wearing my pajamas anymore and couldn't go back to bed without changing again. Instead, I napped on the couch. I woke up with a headache a couple of hours later.

I got up. Drank a glass of water, opened the fridge and started picking through the left-left overs.

By the end of Friday, I felt gross. I was sick in the head, and a little sick to my stomach, too. Even though I never left the house that day, I was wiped out: mentally, physically, emotionally.

I didn't feel better until I went for a second round of mountain biking on Saturday with Shim, James and Rebecca Swanson. We rode four laps, three fast, and one really fast. Afterward, though my body was physically tired, I felt totally refreshed and invigorated.

As I drove home, I reflected on how over the past 72 hours, I experienced a roller coaster ride of mountain biking highs and turkey-coma lows. Mostly, it was all self-inflicted by how much activity I had/hadn't applied.  The revelation was an epiphany.

So on Sunday, I decided to carry the activity experiment to church. When it was time to stand and for the Worship and Praise, I stood and gave praise. I didn't hold back either. I clapped and sang like I never sang before. I felt a little hot under the collar at first. But soon, the inhibitions went away and I was thanking God for all my worth.

Our pastor then preached from Psalm 103. For those unfamiliar with the passage, the psalmist David, having just lamented over the pits and despairs of his life in Psalm 102, was now praising the Lord with all his soul in Ps 103:

Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits--
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Suddenly, my silly little ups and downs was lining up with the Word of God.

Real, or merely a coincidence? And would God use a mountain bike to illustrate this point to me?

I am a believer.

Not only that, but I bet Jesus is a mountain biker, too. In his stable of bikes, he prefers a mountain bike over all the rest.


And I bet he can tail whip like none other.

Can somebody give JC a big shout for mountain biking? Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Excitebike Part II

Thanksgiving morning, I joined a group of 20 some mountain bikers on trails set in the bluffs of the Lewis and Clark Monument in Council Bluffs.

Hang on. Let's set this properly. I am not a mountain biker. I'm more of a reformed triathlete/roadie who also dabbles a little in cyclocross. Mountain bike?

I don't even have a mountain bike.  Actually, that's not true. I own a 20+ year old chromoly GT Karakoram mountain bike. It's sitting in my basement as I type this, still sporting tinsel, garland and Christmas tree lights from last year's Winter De'Lights night ride. The Karakoram is also a steel tank and its components are shot. It really wasn't an option today.

But before the ride, Shim said that he had ridden these trails on a 'cross bike before.  So armed with that bit of knowledge, I decided to go for it on the cyclocross bike. 

It wasn't bad. In fact, I had a blast. I think I described it afterwards as intoxicating.

There were a couple things I took away from today's ride. 

Firstly, when bombing down an unknown trail, and a 90 degree turn suddenly appears before the ledge of a steep precipice, one discovers an amazing ability to ride their bike like never before. In that instant, I learned that while grabbing a handful of brake, shifting your weight to the back wheel while rotating your hips towards the turn creates an awesome power slide that just may keep you on the trail instead of launching off a 15' wall. It did for me at least.

Secondly, when the others on suspension bikes ask you (the fool on the 'cross bike) how you liked the section where a gnarly drop had been built into the course, and you have no idea what they're talking about, your best answer is, "yeah, pretty good."

Hours later, I'm still unsure what "drop" they were referring to.  What this probably means is that that I wasn't riding the course like it was intended to be ridden.  Instead, I was likely taking that section more conservatively and didn't recognize what the others were salivating over because I didn't catch any air. In other words, there was no with tail-kicking flare from the dude on the yellow 'cross bike today. Sorry to disappoint.

It's okay. I had a lot of fun anyway. So much so that I came down with a case of jitters afterward. I think I'm hooked. 

You know what that means.

It starts with taking an inventory of my mountain biking equipment. Logically, that means contemplating yet another bike. Golly, will it ever stop?!

As a stopgap, Shim suggested borrowing his old Rocky Mountain mountain bike. He even said that I could strip it and paint it yellow.  

He had me at "paint it yellow." That's when that twitch started in my eyelid again. Hives will soon follow.

If I went with his suggestion, I would add a fourth yellow bike to my collection. Itchy-itchy, scratchy-scratch. Let's count them to be sure:
  1. Old Yeller (the original Old Yeller)
  2. Madone Old Yeller (code name: Princess Buttercup)
  3. Cyclocross Old Yeller (code name: Butter Knife)
  4. Shim's Mountain bike Old Yeller 
Awesome!  Itchy-itchy, scratchy-scratch.

But the thing is, itchy-itchy scratchy-scratch, I managed just fine riding the cyclocross Old Yeller (Butter Knife) bike today. And I feel like there's still a lot I can squeeze out of  it before I'm ready to upgrade.

Itchy-itchy, scratchy-scratch.

Ok, I give. When can I have that bike, Shim?

In the meantime, it looks like I'll be spending more time on Excitebike's level five:


Happy trails everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cyclocross Cybernetics

I raced the Greenstreet Cyclocross Weekend last weekend. The venue was held at the former Fontenelle Golf Course in central/north Omaha. Kudos to Randy Crist and company for getting that course set up for all of us to have some fun.  Good times were had.

The race and course conditions changed drastically between the two days.  Saturday was unseasonably warm at 75F. It was also very windy. Saturday night brought thunderstorms and a 45 degree drop in temperature. I don't think it got above freezing all day. The rain actually helped the course by softening it up, allowing for better bite on turns. That, plus running the direction the opposite way somehow gave more recovery between the hammer sessions.

I entered the open 1-2-3 races.  The fields were small on both days. I finished 6 of 12 on Saturday, and 3rd of 8 starters on Sunday. For not having trained much cyclocross this season, I'll take those results.

Since cyclcross is a combination of fitness and technical skills, some may wonder how I was able to dial it in so effectively. In truth, nobody probably cares. But I have a story to tell. So like it or not, I'm going to tell you how I did it.

I did it by practicing cybernetics.

My friend David Kohll reminded me about cybernetics a few weeks ago at swimming practice. David is a fierce competitor and is a multi-gold medalist of Masters Nationals Swimming.  So he's got some creds. Anyway, David was telling me that he uses cybernetics to imagine his races before the actual event by imagining the venue and how he would perform at it.

Think. Do. That sort of self-fulfilling prophesy mumbo-jumbo.

I took his advice to heart and decided to use cybernetics to prepare for this cyclcocross race and its venue ahead of time.

Fortunately, I had some electronics to guide my cybernetic therapy sessions. It's called the Ninetendo Entertainment System (NES).

The best cybenetics training device for your buck
Now for those unfamiliar with NES, getting it to actually work is half the battle. The NES is famously finicky about getting the system to accept the game cartridge in its input slot.  It's common to get a screen full of snow or pixilated images when attempting to boot up. But with a little finesse, these obstacles are easily  overcome. This usually involves taking the following steps in order:

  1. Plug in cartridge, turn on NES.
  2. Curse when system does not work.
  3. Pull out cartridge, blow dust off, twice.
  4. Re-seat cartridge, try system again.
  5. Curse when system does not work
  6. Get a different cartridge. Duck Hunt is an excellent choice. 
  7. Jam Duck Hunt into system; quickly yank Duck Hunt out.
  8. Re-seat original cartridge, try system again.
  9. Repeat ....la la la, until you see this:


This is what I used to get my game on for the CX weekend.  Oh golly, the good times came rolling back when I heard Excitebike's 8 bit theme song:

Bahr bahr-bahr, bahr-bahr-bahr!
bahr bahr-bahr, bahr-bahr-bahr!
ba-ba ba-ba-dah,ba-dah 
ba dah-dah-dah-dah, dah!!

Lemme tell you something. 1984 old School NES was way ahead of its time. Everything was spot-on. My only issue was that Shigeru Miyamoto didn't provide an option to choose a yellow bike.

Oh well, I chose the blue bike instead.


From the starting line, my heart rate was rocking. Just like in real races.


And as in my cyclocross races, I also was beaten from the starting line sprint to the first berm.

As I recessed into a cybernetic stupor, I began to talk to myself on that blue pixilated bike. Encouraging stuff. Like, "It's okay, it's okay. Lots of time ahead. No need to panic just yet... baby step it through this technical stuff."

And you know what, it worked! I managed to get through that portion without a spill. 

A long straight away then followed. I looked for a wheel to duck behind. I latched on to a rider wearing what looked to be a red and white MWCC kit. 

Let's call him Shim.


I sat on Shim's wheel to catch a breath. For a long time. He pulled for like the next four laps. It was awesome.

Somewhere along the way, he started getting cranky. Probably because he was tired of pulling. 


His bike handling skills became sloppy. We crossed wheels and crashed. I tapped the A and B buttons rapidly to scramble back on the bike.  That's when Shim said it was my turn to pull.


I punched it and went around him while catching some sweet air.

At this point, things were looking great. I had fresh legs and only one last technical section remained: the barrier section. 

My thumb was already numb and stingy, but I squeezed the "A" button nonetheless.  My thumbnail had gone white.  

Shim was charging and trying to pass.


We hit the barriers at the exact same time. We both chose to bunny hop the barriers.

The checkered flag was just ahead. I punched the "B" button (turbo) to sprint the last 40 meters.  My temperature gauge alert was screaming at critical level. 

Just a little further.... It was going to be a close finish...Who was it going to be for the win? Shim? Me?

Brady!!

Wait, what was that? That sound wasn't coming from the NES.  But yet, it sounded vaguely familiar. My cybernetic fog was starting to burn off my brain. In its place, a woman's face began to resolve.

"BRADY!!"

There it was again.  Ah! Now I recognize it -- that was unmistakably the sound of my wife's voice, and it was quite terse.

"BRADY!!!"

"Uh, yes dear?"

"You left your glass on the coffee table again!  How many times do I have to tell you that you're gonna cause a ring stain if you leave it there?!"


I looked back at the screen just in time to see the finish: Shim tail-whipped me into the ditch a moment before taking the checkered flag.

Bahr bahr-bahr, bahr-bahr-bahr...


Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Not Skinny, Small Boned

For the past few months, I've been doing a little soul-searching on why I choose to live an active lifestyle.

I know the benefits: excellent health, clothing that fits right and being able to do stuff that I enjoy doing.

Still, it never hurts to examine one's motivations.

Career
Career requirements can put a wrinkle in training from time to time. Meetings and deadline can often spill over into lunch and late into the night. Balancing career and stuff outside (health, family,etc) is always somewhat of a dance.

Change in Season
The change in season has also contributed to my recent ruminating. Truthfully, since the road season ended in June, I haven't had the urge to race my bike. Instead, as the weather has cooled and daylight has become shorter, I've swapped spandex for hipster threads on more than one occasion.

I've also wandered onto the sidelines to watch my friends compete in cyclocross. That's a first for me. Normally, I suit up for these local races. So far, not this year. Anyway, here's an example of me on the sidelines from last month's Omaha Weekend:


The caption above says that I was giving Rafal some pre-race tips. Nuh uh. If anything, Rafal was giving me the racing advice, like "Hey Brady, can I tell you something? You should be out here racing with us instead of painting your house."

Actually, Rafal did say that diddy about painting. He noticed and commented about the white paint on my hands from painting the windows sills I had repaired earlier that day. True story.

Health Reasons
Recently, someone said to me, "you're so skinny from riding your bike, I bet you can eat whatever you want."

Truth is, I'm not skinny, I'm just small-boned. Though I've never been overweight, I have a looming potential to be so.  But I currently appear 'skinny' because being so is a side effect of doing something I enjoy.  If I didn't enjoy it, I probably wouldn't do it. And with the 4,000 calorie diet I'm on, I'd sure look different than what you see today. Therefore, perhaps I'm contingently overweight.

But what if I stopped being active?

Till now, the thought of being out of shape has been my final, fail-safe motivator.  When I've got nothing else, this is what gets me out of bed for early morning swimming practice. It's what keeps me riding over lunch or after work, whenever.

And if that goes. Oh boy.

Former swimmers are the worst (best) at letting it go. I've known a couple former All-American swimmers who totally let it go and have realized their maximum contingency.  They were once ripped and could eat whatever the wanted. But that (swimming, not eating whatever) ended when they quit swimming.

Swimming rewards a voracious appetite.  Aggressive swimmers are just plain hungry all the time. That hunger manifests itself in and outside the pool. They're hungry for yardage, for food, for accomplishment.  A 12,000 yard practice? How about a 12,000 calorie breakfast to match?  The thing is, once the swimmer hangs up their speedo, only the grueling workouts end. That hunger never ceases.

I'm sorry to say it, but I predict that within ten years Michael Phelps will bump Kirstie Alley as the Weight Watchers Spokes person.  I don't say this to be malicious. The fact is that he is a very driven athlete who has won more Olympic medals than any other before. And now he hates swimming.  But I bet he still throws down three fried egg sandwiches, choc chip pancakes and five egg omelettes and such for breakfast on a regular basis.

The hunger never ceases.

YPG. I gotta wrap this thing up. Swimming practice is at dark thirty.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Time I Nearly Froze to Death


It was 80° F this past Tuesday. Wednesday brought high winds, thunderstorms and a 40° drop in temperature.

Inevitably, when the temps fall below 50° F, many cycling folks begin salivating about embrocation.  Embrocation is a liniment rubbed on bare skin to mask the effect of cold.  It doesn't make you any warmer. It just feels like it. I'm not sure if that's good thing. You know that pain that you feel when you're getting frost bite? Well that's nature's way of indicating that you should probably put something warmer on than scented butter. And the stuff ain't cheap, either, costing upward of $5 an ounce.  That may not sound like much, but that's $640 a gallon.  Not that you'll need a gallon. You'll be long dead of hypothermia before a pint of that goop is gone.

Anyway, if you're a newbie and are considering riding outside this winter, you aught to consider investing in some decent riding gear. It's worth it.  And if you're local to Omaha, Mark Savery is putting on a free winter riding clinic at the Papillion Trek store (73rd and Giles) on November 5th.  Mark knows his stuff. I've learned lots from his listening to his advice.

The cold weather also means that we all have a choice on whether to ride the trainer or to embrace/tolerate the cold outside.

Since I hate spending time on the trainer, I'm in the latter camp. I tolerate the cold.

Notice how I didn't say that I embrace the cold.  I may have tried fooling myself  into "embracing" the cold weather at one time in my life. Back then,  I was delusional. Aside from the occasional nice winter scenery, cold weather riding basically sucks. It sucks because, in addition to being cold, it's often wet and/or windy. Nice. And throw in four months of bleak, gray cloud cover. Meh, embrace that, cold-winter riding fans.

YPG, it still beats the trainer.

I could have used some of Mark's winter clothing advice one winter. It was a frigid day with wind chills that made it feel like -10° F. Visibility was poor due to blowing snow.  But I wasn't afraid. No, I was a macho.

I was also seven years old and was preparing to go sledding.

Back in the 1970s, we didn't have any of that fancy-schmancy $640/gallon embrocation gunk. Times were bad. We had to make do without.  I got ready for cold weather the old fashioned way by layering it on. Knitted hat, fake fur lined jacket, mittens, scarf, snow pants over wide-wale corduroys, a sweater, turtleneck, thermal unders and a pair of itchy wool socks. Over my leather shoes I wore black rubber boots with rusty, adjustable clasps, only two of which were functional on each boot. I put plastic bread sacks around my shoes to help slide them into the boots. Mom said that the plastic sack served as an  additional layer of insulation to keep my toes nice and warm.

Of course all that bundling and exertion resulted in a sweaty mess before stepping one foot out the door.

The walk to the sledding hill was just over a quarter mile. The blowing snow found its ways inside of gaps in my layering and onto clammy skin. By the time I arrived, my sweaty feet had already gone numb, but not numb enough that I couldn't feel the burning cold or my itchy socks.

I took only one run down the hill before deciding that I wasn't nearly as tough as I had previously thought. I  started home.

I walked only 50 yards before believing that I was going to freeze to death.  I decided that survival was my top priority and headed towards the first sign of civilization, which was Mr & Mrs Aldinger's house some 50 yards from where I stood.

I trudged through snow drifts. I turned my back to the driving wind. I curled my fingers in my mittens. Finally, I arrived at the Aldinger's front door and rang the door bell.

Mr Aldinger answered the door. He looked surprised to see me.

"I'm freezing to death, can I come in?"

"Y-Yes, by all means, please come on in."  Mr Aldinger adjusted his bottle of oxygen from his right to left arm and then swung the storm door wide enough to allow me to enter. He took a deep draw through his plastic nose tube, then said, "It sure is nasty out there, young feller. You could catch pneumonia --"

"Who's at the door, dear?" called Mrs Aldinger from around the corner.

"It's young Brady Murphy from up the street, Gladys. He's been out in the weather and needs to warm up or he says he'll freeze to death. Now we wouldn't want that, right? How about fixing him a nice cup of hot chocolate while I call his parents to let him know that he's safe with us."

For the next hour, we drank hot chocolate and ate sugar cookies while playing checkers together.

After I had sufficiently recovered, I layered back up to embrace the brutal cold hike back home.

We lived all but five houses away.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Never Leave A Man Behind

"I don't suppose you boys have IDs on ya?" asked public safety officer Joe Hardy.

It wasn't a difficult question. We didn't have our IDs. But nobody wanted to talk. Shrugged shoulders and vacant stares was all PSO Hardy got from us.

"I didn't think so," Hardy said. "Get out of the pickup truck and into the patrol car. We're going to have to go get this thing written up."

An hour earlier, I was with my three roommates and two other friends at our house at 34th and California Street.  It was Wednesday night October 9th, 1991.  A half a pot of coffee on the dining room table had gone cold as we studied and did school work.  At around midnight, I had had enough and needed a break.

It was warm that night and I wanted to get out of the house. Suddenly, for no better reason than why not, I shut my book and said, "I'm going streaking. Who's with me?"

For me to suggest something like this was out of my character. There was a moment of silence as the rest tried to figure out if I was joking or serious.

"I'm totally serious," I said.  "Who's with me?"

My roommate Scott Alter was all about this kind of mischief.  He lived for the moment as well as anyone I've ever known.  He could walk into a party knowing no one and emerge being everyone's friend. Scott simply knew how to have fun. Of course he was with me.

There was also no need to persuade roommate Robert. Robert -- or Rocking Robbie Pisco as he preferred -- was a hot blooded Italian who backed down from nothing or no one. Sports, academics, women -- there was no challenge that was too great for Rockin' Robbie Pisco. When he saw that I meant what I said, I believe he just stood up and yelled, 'YEEEEEEEEEAAAHHH!"

Friends Dan 0'Keefe and John "Hugs" Hospotka were not roommates but happened to be at our house that night.  Dan was the quiet type. They say that you never know the quiet types. He simply nodded his head to indicate that he was in.

In truth, I'm unsure why Huggs was at our house that evening. John was not on your traditional four/five year plan. He was a lifetime student. He knew just about everyone on campus. Or at least, just about everyone knew him. They knew him because he gave everyone hugs. I'm not kidding here. He just went around literally hugging everyone. So much so that that's what everyone called him: "Hugs".  Anyway, Hugs gave the thumbs up that he was also in on the plan.

And then there was my roommate Tom. Tom was the most pragmatic of my roommates. He was the thinker. He represented reason amidst the chaos that the other three of us presented to him. As a result, Tom was entrusted with the household budget. He collected rent and paid the bills. He got us to school on time. And he could prepare a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs like no one.

When Tom saw that all of us knuckleheads were committed to streaking, he agreed to be our get-away car driver. He also happened to be the only one besides Scott who had a car, and there was no way Scott was going to miss out on this. So, we sorta needed him to drive or it just wasn't going to work.


The plan I suggested was have Tom drive us to campus in his pickup truck. He would drop us off at the top of the mall, at 24th and California, right next to the all-women's dorm, Deglman hall (#26). At that point, we would only be wearing boxer shorts. On top of our heads. Just boxer shorts. Nothing else. We would then proceed westbound down the mall, passing by Swanson Hall (24), St John's chapel (28), the Library (29), the Student Union (22), then Kiewit (21) and Gallagher Halls (19). Finally, at the bottom of the mall, Tom would be waiting for us with his pickup truck at Wareham parkway. In all, a distance of two city blocks that was home to 2,000 on-campus residents.

It was a reasonable plan.  We were all college students in relatively good shape. Well, Hugs kinda looked like the Buddha (the fat and happy Buddha), but the distance wasn't that far.  It was after midnight, midweek. We'd be there and back before very many noticed. Right?

Tom dropped us off as planned. We streaked past Deglman and Swanson Halls without issue. I was the first to reach the fountain in front of St John's. On the spur of the moment, I climbed up on top of the six foot pedestal. It was at that point that I heard some girls yelling out Swanson Hall's windows. I looked and saw silhouettes gathering at the windows. I climbed back down and started heading down the mall.

Robert was next to climb the fountain's pedestal. More yelling from Swanson Hall. Robert started yelling back. This only encouraged Scott to be even more obnoxious when it was his turn.  When I looked over my shoulder, Scott was cupping his hands around his mouth to amplify his yelling. By now, cat calls were also coming from Kiewit and Gallagher Halls. I started running. Really fast.

I spotted Tom waiting with the pickup truck on Wareham parkway. I was the first to climb in. Then Scott, Robert and Dan. By now, the entire center of campus was in an uproar. I saw camera flashes from dorm windows.

"LET'S GO, LET'S GO!" Scott yelled while pounding on the truck's sidewall.

"Wait, Hugs is not with us!" Robert countered.  "Never leave a man behind!"

To my horror, I looked up the mall to see Hugs strolling leisurely along as if he was the Grand Marshal of the Rose Bowl parade or something. Only this Grand Marshal's boxers were draped over his head.  Not that that would have stopped him from giving you one of his namesake hugs.

It probably only took an extra 30 seconds, maybe a minute, but it felt like an eternity before Hugs finally climbed into the back of the pickup. Tom sped through the parking lot to exit campus property. I sighed in relief. I thought for sure that we were going to be caught.

That's when we saw the flashing lights of the public safety vehicles speeding to block our exit. PSO Joe Hardy nabbed us.

YPG.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bring Me a Bucket

I've reached a new low.

This past Wednesday evening, I rode my Madone to KFC to buy a bucket of fried chicken.

As in finger lickin' good.

Anyway, I don't think the good folks at the KFC on 40th and Dodge had ever seen a high end road bike parked outside their door. They sure liked my fancy road shoes, though.  Even said so.

"Those are some fancy shoes there."

"Thanks.  They're made for my bike pedals. They clip right in, locking shoe to pedal."

"Ha ha ha, that's funny. Regular or extra crispy?"

Funny was those fancy carbon fiber road shoes on greasy KFC floors.




Friday, October 5, 2012

Hipster Thread

This cooler weather makes for excellent cycling.

Most of the year, I commute by bus in the morning and cycle home after work. This works best for my schedule because at a distance of six miles from door to work, the commute is just long enough in the summer to cause a hot sweaty mess, and short enough in the frigid winter that it's not worth the extra effort to get bundled up for the ride.  But now, the weather is perfect, neither too warm nor too cool. This allows me to ride into work in my business attire, hipster style.

I was mulling over this whole thing while riding in the other day. It might have been because I wasn't wearing a stitch of spandex. Perhaps it was because my right pant leg was rolled up so it wouldn't get caught in the drive chain. Or maybe it was because I was toting a road kit in my messenger bag, next to a hand packed lunch with a thermos of hot coffee.

The crisp cool air, the crunch of dry leaves and the hum of the tires on the pavement lulled me into smug feeling of wholesomey goodness.

As I was track-standing at an intersection, it dawned on me that I was in solidarity with my hipster brethren. This caused me to quiver involuntarily; I lost my balance and had to click out of the pedals to keep from eating shit. After gathering myself, I took the following litmus test. It goes like this.

Question 1: Did you like the way Urkel dressed then? How about now?


Question 2: What's your take on skinny jeans?
This one I failed on. Last Friday I rode in to work in skinny jeans and a flannel shirt buttoned all the way up. I changed into business attire when I got there. Later that evening, I rode home in a v-neck tee shirt and skinny jeans.

Question 3: How do you feel about facial/ body hair?
I wore a full beard at the beginning of 2012 and sported wookie sticks much of the year. I also let my hair grow out this summer. However, I still bathed regularly, wore deodorant -- and for extra credit -- had my teeth cleaned professionally twice in the past year.

Question 4: Do fixed or single speed bikes appeal to you?
Guilty here, too. As winter approaches, the idea of having a low maintenance bike for the street crud is appealing. That would be a sixth bike in the stable, which would also equal the number of pair of shoes in my closet.

Question 5:  Do you have a current racing license?
Yes. Two, if you count Masters Swimming. But maybe a better question is: have you been shirking racing lately? Shim mentioned that I reminded him of another friend who trains to race, but never actually races. Ouch. Thanks, pally.  I countered that the only race I trained for but bailed on was the Hy-Vee Triathlon, and that was because of a registration technicality.  I also wanted to mention that I raced in this year's Corporate Cup 10K running race, but telling a cyclist that my last two attempts at racing were a 10K and bailing on a triathlon wasn't going to cut it.

So in conclusion, I'm a mixed bag. It appears that I have some hipster tendencies. I commute by bike. I ride the bus. I hug trees.  I also have roadie tendencies, too. And, I train in multiple disciplines and have raced top events in swimming, running and cycling in 2012.

YPG.

Which character(s) do you identify with here?


Friday, September 28, 2012

I Think that Monkey's Trying to Tell Me Something

Recently, I was involved in an instant message exchange that went something like this:

Yeah, pretty good.

Now I'm no expert in communication. I botch things up a lot too. However, while others may leave stuff out, my verbose flag defaults to "on". I say too much.  So in the above case, I may have responded to Shim's similar question with: "Yes, I think so, but I'm in a meeting right now in conference room 1401 and I am unsure when it will be adjourned. Also, I brought my mountain bike. You may want to go ahead without me since you'll be on a road bike. Have fun, be safe."

Shim's probably right. My response might be overkill.

All forms of communication involves abstract thinking. It's amazing that the sounds that come from squeezing air through the larynx is understood as expressed thought. And it's so effortless. We do it without even trying.

Written communication is even more abstract.  It's mind boggling to think that the letters we clob together express our thoughts. Words are very powerful. One must be very careful in choosing the words that come out of their mouth. Otherwise, you may end up with a mouthful of teeth.

Lately, the trend has been moving even further away from whole words to simple scripting. For example, everyone knows what lol means. Our phones carry emoticons (smiley faces) on them. Apple's iPhone even has a full keyboard dedicated toward them called emoji.
  
Here's one such string of emoji recently sent from Leah to Lucas. See if you can figure it out before reading the solution:


Apparently, that string of emoji translates to "come join us at the Crescent Moon for Octoberfest beers after work."

Wow, that's right-brained!

When I asked Leah how Lucas responded, she showed me something like this:


Oh boy, that's TMI, Lucas. Translating that may be unsafe for work.

So basically, it's come to this:

The Rise and Fall of Communication 
by Wholesome Steel-Cut Goodness

It all started with squawking noises. Think Kubrick's 2001 A Space Oddessy:


Over time, the apes refined their nonverbal communication skills. Body language and simple gesturing evolved from the squawking. Language and the oral tradition followed. Next came the cave drawings, the pictographs and hieroglyphics. These eventually morphed into abstract letters and words. Finally, after eons, the Kings James Bible was expressed, marking the high-point of human culture.

But since then, it's been a downward spiral. I'm sorry to say it, but humanity's heading toward a second dark ages. See for yourself: the language used to express the great works of literature has been eroding. In place of William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a 140 character Twitter block. For Tolstoy or Fitzgerald? How about Facebook's "like" symbol?

Soon it will all be over but the shouting.

Until then, I'll be brushing up on my emoji. Here's one for my buddy Shim:

YPG

Friday, September 21, 2012

1200 Repeats YPG

"You got this one, Brady?"

"Yeah."

The past three minutes of active recovery have barely managed to bring my heart rate under control. I approach the line, glancing down at my watch to ensure it's been reset from the previous interval. My thumb drifts over the stop/start button as I look over my shoulder to see if the others are ready.

It's go time. I flick the start button with a few quick kicks to launch off the line.

The legs feel great. There's snap in them as they turn over quickly, almost effortlessly. Arms tucked in and pumping. Chest up, shoulders back, head in alignment. There's a little bit of headwind as we round the first corner. Stride lengthens imperceptibly into the straight away.

We breeze through the 200m mark. I check the watch: 39 seconds. A good start.

Tail wind on the second half of the first of three turns around the track. Heart rate trending upward.

The second checkpoint comes at 400 meters: 78 seconds. Right on the mark.  One lap down, two to go.

The middle 400 meters of 1200m repeats requires the most courage. With a rate of perceived exertion already 17 of 20, and two laps remaining, I'll need that courage.

The distance ahead burdens the mind. My inner voice speaks up: fortitude.

The 600m checkpoint comes and goes.  1 minute 57 seconds. Solid.

Breathing has become shallow and rapid. Heart rate still rising, and likely near 185 bpm. RPE definitely 18. The springy feeling has left the legs, but the form hasn't.

It's taken about two months to get to this point.

The last time I did any sort of racing was at the Masters Swimming Long Course National Championships in early July. Before that was the state cycling road race in June. With local road racing over, I started running again.

Since that time, I still swam and biked. But from July 10th until this past Tuesday, I also averaged 1.5 runs per week. Tuesday nights at Westside's track with Team Nebraska Triathletes were my mainstay. The other times I ran were 6 to 8 mile pace runs every other weekend.

At the 800m checkpoint, the chronograph shows 2:37.  My heavy foot falls and labored breathing are syncopated against those behind me.

Running is a unique blend of mental and physical pain. It hurts in different ways than cycling. Running pain is more intense than cycling. But when you blow up in running, you're done. In cycling, when you blow up, you may be able to sit-in and recover, allowing you to push and blow up again. Repeat, etc... In general, bike pain is less intense, but more frequent.  Pick your poison.

At 1000m checkpoint, I deny a look to the watch. Only a half of a lap to go. Though the quads are burning and I'm gasping for breath, it's Gump time.

It's this exact moment why running is exhilarating. Somehow, at this point, the mind and body agree on a common goal to get me across that finish line as quickly as possible. A metamorphosis ensues. My legs are refreshed with springy new life. Pain dissipates from the body.  Euphoria passes over me like the first cool breeze after a long hot summer. It feels like taking flight.

As I cross the finish line, I flick the stop button on the watch and gulp in mouthfuls of sweet air.

3 minutes, 52 seconds. Not bad for a 1200 meter repeat.

Yeah, pretty good.

YPG.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Yeah, Pretty Good

Takashi was from Japan. He lived in the dorm room next to my brother Matt at the University of Missouri. Takashi was studying organic chemistry or molecular biology or something scientificy like that. He was a whiz in maths and sciences.

Having a grasp of the English language was another thing altogether. For starters, Takashi had never studied English before coming to USA. Another issue was the trouble of pronunciation. Particularly troublesome is the letter "L", which ends up sounding like an "R". eg, "See you in the lobby' could come out as "See you in the robby."

Initially, Matt was unaware of the language gap. Takashi was simply a good faker. When spoken to, Takashi would nod his head in agreement. When called upon, he'd answer smartly with his go-to phrase,"yeah, pretty good."

Takashi must have practiced pronouncing that phrase -- yeah, pretty good -- over and over until he had it locked down. His diction was neat, but not too precise. He had good tone and inflection. He even used a slight pause to emphasize the interjection, "yeah."

Some of their early exchanges went like this.

"Hey Takashi, that was a hard organic chemistry test today. How it go?"

"Yeah, pretty good."

Another exchange might have gone:

"You see that football game? That was HUGE!"

"Yeah, pretty good."

But it was only a matter of time before Matt starting suspecting something else was up.  Like, after a particularly difficult exam in which the top score on the bell curve was an appalling 61%, Matt asked how Takashi did.

"Yeah, pretty good."

Or, after seeing Takashi choke down an awful Salisbury Steak at the dorm's cafeteria...

"Yeah, pretty good."

Of course. Those three words. Whether good news or bad, Takashi would go with that mantra. In fact, Takashi repeated it so often that Matt began to second guess if he was using it as a language crutch, or as a maxim of life.  Like, no matter what was dished at him, Takashi was going to take it all in stride and say life was still pretty good.

Ultimately, Matt decided that Takashi was using as the maxim. It was like that special place of retreat: Takashi's own blossoming cherry tree on Mt Fuji.

Could you live on those three words?  Let's try:

The Huskers are 1-1 in Pelini's 5th season? Yeah, pretty good.

The roof needs repairing and the house painting? Yeah, pretty good.

Dissertation marked up as exemplary? Yeah, pretty good.

Stuck in a crappy job? Yeah, pretty good.

Downsized in this economy? Yeah, pretty good.

Broken collarbone needing surgery? Yeah, pretty good.

Wellness assessment came back spotless? Yeah, pretty good.

And so forth...

I dunno Takashi, I'm on the fence.

Yeah, pretty good.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Sound of the Season

Ah, the cooler weather can only mean one thing. No, it's not the return of Husker football. Nor is it the return of Glee for that matter. Wow, that actually hurt my brain typing that word, "Glee." Ah! There it is again,  sharp pain!

No, the return of cooler weather means that all those people who hate working out during the heat of summer -- the same ones who also hate working out during the cold of winter  -- the same that hate damp and chilly springs, and windy falls -- those people have approximately the next 3.5 weeks to go on a diet and start exercising again.

How do I know all of this?

Well yesterday, I was in the locker room when I heard an unmistakable sound of the season. From the space just around the lockers, from beyond the row of commercial faucets and sink bowls laid neatly in a slab of formica, and past the shower curtains, and wall mounted urinals, there emanated a deep guttural sound. One that begins to resonate in the infrasonic range well below human perception, and builds slowly, like a freight train rumbling towards you at 100 MPH from ten miles out, building gradually and louder until the last moment, erupting forcibly into a high frequency-piercing screech.

wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeettcchhh!!! Ack THPPPT!!

There, in the semi-privacy of a toilet stall, a man standing in brand new sneakers pointing towards the commode is puking his brains out after pushing it too hard on that first 5K run in months. And he's making no effort to conceal his production. No, he's in there like a fire breathing dragon, roaring, hacking and spewing the technicolor contents of his guts into the porcelain bowl until there's nothing left but bitter yellow bile and the inevitable dry-heaves.

Make no mistake about it. EVERYONE in and outside the locker room pauses to take it all in.

Now I don't know about you, but when I hear such things, I don't feel pity. Nor am I overcome with arrogance for my own level of fitness.

No, when I heard that kind of puking, I feel energized.  Why is that?

Because that guy went for it. He gave it all and was paying the price as the puking man.

Puking man reminds of the many times I too pushed it beyond what I could take: wind sprints at the end of soccer practice, the first day of circuit training, or a 5K race that ends in fountain of Gatorade erupting from my stomach. Indeed, I owe it to puking man and that wretched sound of the season for a surge in personal motivation. I'm ready to push it again.To flee and to fight. It's go time. That's my kind of rhetoric.

I hoped to be inspired by the sound of the season many times during the next few weeks.  But like the Macinaw peaches that are ripe for a short window, this season will also soon pass.

Here's to the sound of the season! Let's make the best of it.


Friday, August 31, 2012

The Final Push of Summer

My childhood friend Jeff had a Black Labrador named Ace. Ace was what you called a big-boned pooch, probably pushing 140 pounds. He had a healthy appetite, and would come barreling into the kitchen as soon as he heard the plunking of dog food into the bowl. He was a very fast eater. He'd inhale that food, snarfing and coughing it down, only to chase it with a half minute of slurping from his water bowl. Then, with drool slopping from his jowls onto the linoleum, he'd sweep the kitchen perimeter to find tidbits of snacks that had been missed by the broom:  potato chip crumbs, cracker fragments, a macaroni noodle or random grape, etc...

When the family was away, Ace would help himself to whatever was within reach. Once, he got into the garbage and devoured the shells of four large lobsters. When the garbage was secured, they'd come home to find an empty plastic wonder bread sack in the middle of the family room. When a loaf of bread wasn't in reach, he'd go to the next best thing: baking flour. One time they came home to find Ace covered in a gluten mess of sticky flour paste. Jeff said the kitchen looked like a hand grenade had exploded inside a five pound bag of flour.

But Ace's signature was his pooping. It made sense. I mean, what went in must come out. In the case of the baking flour above, Ace was like a bread machine. First, he ballooned up really huge. The family was worried and took him to the vet to make sure that his bowels weren't obstructed. He was fine. Then over the ensuing 24 hours, he squeezed out a roll of dough about every 45 minutes.

But it really wasn't so much his poops, but how he pooped that made him stand out. Ace was basically a showoff. He'd make a big production of his, um, productions. He'd literally wait until others could see him doing his business. He seemed to enjoy it when another dog was in view. Even better, he'd wait until the neighbor was backing down the driveway and then drop a bomb in their yard. Ace like it best when the garbage truck or school bus came by, causing a minor traffic jam. His timing was impeccable.

When the stage was set, it was go time. He'd walk around in circles to tamp down the grass. He'd turn about a dozen times. It didn't matter if the grass was knee deep or freshly cut. For that matter, it didn't even matter if it was grass -- if the occasion was right, he'd poop on the cement sidewalk or street. When he was finished, he make this huge show out of covering his tracks. Many dogs kick dust over their dirt, but Ace took it to the extreme. He'd kick all four legs about five times each, throwing up an enormous cloud of dust in the process.

The turning and tamping, the squatting and then the high dust kicks. You could say that Ace treated his BMs as performance art and the world was his stage.

Anyway, I thought of Ace recently when I saw that Omaha public pools are doing a doggie dip fundraiser for the Nebraska Humane Society.

Ace went to one of those things once. He was on his best behavior with the other dogs for most of the evening. But when the lifegaurd blew the final whistle, it was showtime. Ace made a trail of wet paw prints to the patch of dry cement directly in front of the exit. As the pool guests and their dogs started heading towards the gate, Ace had already begun turning his circles. At least 50 guests and their dogs had gathered when he began to squat. As I said, his timing was impeccable.

Some say they could see Ace smiling as he made that final push of summer.

Happy Labor Day everyone.

Friday, August 24, 2012

That Damn Hat

I've got this straw hat. It's big and ugly. Some might say it's obnoxious. See for yourself:

 
My straw hat taking it to the Botanical gardens sunflowers

I don't know what style it is. It's some sort of garden hat hybrid crossing a sombrero with something you'd see in southeast Asia. Whatever it is, it's effective at keeping the sun out of my eyes.

I got it some 25 years ago to protect my skin from the sun while life guarding. I'm not sure where I picked it up. It could have come from the gardening section of a hardware store. Or a neighbor's garage sale. Good Will's a possibility.

Anyway, ever since I've had it, I've busted that thing out just about whenever the sun has shined. After hanging up the life guarding whistle, I've worn it while doing yard work. My dog Emmy gets excited when she sees me don it because it often means that I'll be taking her for a walk. And the hat has also accompanied me to many cycling races. Like it or hate it, it often provokes comments from others.


So that brings me to yesterday's fourth stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. At nearly 41 years old, Jens Voigt was having a quite a performance, soloing away for some 95 of the 97 miles of a monstrous mountain stage that included 87 miles of altitude. After getting away, he built up a six minute lead while climbing Independence pass. He then climbed two more mountain passes and battled through a downpour before emerging in Beaver Creek without losing that lead. On the final climb, just shy of the 1000 meter mark, I could think of no better way to salute his effort than to run alongside him in my MWCC jersey and that signature hat, all the while encouraging him to keep those cranks turning, as the red kite was just over the final crest.

I tend to think that Jens like the hat. He won the stage after all.

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Friend Scott

It was 25 years ago this Summer that my Dad took a promotion that moved us from our home of 17 years in St. Louis to Denver. I had just completed my junior year at St Louis University High School (SLUH) and my parents gave me the responsibility of choosing whether I would stay with them or finish my senior year in St Louis. That decision was a lot of responsibility for a 17 year old!  I look back now and think how supportive my parents were entrusting me with that decision. Thanks Mom and Dad.

St Louis had a lot going for it. It was familiar. My sister was there, as were many friends. And I loved attending SLUH. But moving to Denver had its merits too. My parents and two brothers were there. There was excitement and adventure in exploring the unfamiliar. And there were those majestic purple mountains...

It was on a visit to Regis Jesuit High School earlier that Spring that I had met Scott Alter. I had told the school's Dean of Students, Michael "Mr D" Doherty, that I had wanted to know more about the swimming program there. As it turned out, Mr D was also the coach of the swimming team, and it was a strong program (Missy Franklin goes there today). Anyway, Mr D's eyes lit up as he said that he knew the perfect student to show me around. His voice then crackled over the school's PA system as he called Scott down to the principal's office to be my chaperone.

It was immediately apparent that Scott had well-rounded social skills. He was that kid who was respected by classmates and teachers alike. From the get-go, he was accommodating to me; he didn't ask much -- no needling questions -- but just enough to know a little of my background.  After that, it was as if he simply accepted me as part of his circle of friends. And his circle was wide as it was deep. He had this charisma that just drew people to him. Everybody like the guy.  At the end of my visit, I remember feeling that if I did decide to go to Regis, I already knew that I had one friend there. Thanks, Scott.

Later that summer, I took a job life-guarding and coaching the 8 and unders swimming. My employer was also the same Dean of Students, Mr. D, who ran a summer business managing private neighborhood swimming pools that he staffed with students he culled from his swimming team. It was a good gig. He paid well and there were lots of lifeguard parties to go to. It was at one such party that I caught up with Scott again.

Scott helped me meet a lot of new friends that summer. So much so that when it came time to making the decision to stay in Denver or go back to St. Louis, it was already made. Although I could never replace the SLUH experience and life long friends there, I knew in my heart that I was only looking for a reason to stay in Denver with my parents before going away to college. I was also excited about the challenge of trying something new.  It probably would have all worked out anyway, but I was certainly more confident with friends, thanks in large part to Scott.
 
Scott's parents were also awesome. They had a cabin on Buffalo Mountain near Frisco, CO where they enjoyed entertaining during weekend getaways. Thanks in large part to them and their hospitality, I learned how to snow ski that winter over many weekends up at Copper Mountain. Thanks, Alter family.

My high school senior year was truly amazing. In less than a year, I went from a familiar and comfortable life in St Louis, to living like a rock star in Colorado. Again, thanks Scott.

Our Regis swimming team did well that year. Scott and I both had strong programs. Strong enough to earn athletic scholarships on Creighton's swimming team. That scholarship is what made Creighton affordable and was what brought me to Omaha. We were roommates three of four years in college.  Oh God, those were some fun times.  I could tell some stories...

After undergrad, Scott went on to Dental School, while I moved to Phoenix for a job. Our lives started diverging on different paths.  But it was okay. We had a friendship that was built on a solid foundation. Though we spoke less and less over the years, our friendship never shifted. When we talked or caught up on email, it was if time had never separated us.

--//--

Scott passed away suddenly this past spring at the age of 42. What started out as flu-like symptoms was later revealed to be a massive blood clot that had formed in his leg that eventually got lodged in his heart. He died in his home while the paramedics tried to revive him.

Katherine and I were driving back from a vacation in Santa Fe when I heard the news. In fact, we were on our way to spend the night with my parents in Denver when my Mom called me. I will never forget hearing my Mom's voice break up when she began to utter his name -- Scott Alter. I already knew in my heart the words that were coming next.

Scott left behind a beautiful bride, Jennifer, and two equally beautiful children: Samantha and Jack.

We buried Scott in Aspen on Passover, which was also the day before Easter. I cannot describe the mixture of grief and joy that was experienced that weekend. Heart wrenching. Even now, I am transported to that space and time as I think of that weekend...how we recounted tales that made Scott such a special gift to those who were fortunate enough to encounter him.

Because his funeral was on Passover/Easter weekend, and in Aspen, it was decided that a second memorial service would be held at a later date in Denver for those who were unable to attend. The memorial service is this weekend, and I'll be in attendance. Lately my mind has been filling up with those bittersweet emotions, thinking again about my good buddy Scott.

It's rare when you meet someone like Scott. Someone that has the ability to dispense with all the formalities and just become your friend in an instant. And not just your friend, but a best friend. He was that way to me and to so many many others.

Thank you for your friendship Scott. You were, and always will be living on in our hearts.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Got Any Grapes?

My younger brother Brendan likes to tell this one.

A mallard duck waddles into a crowded bar. Now this is no ordinary duck. By appearance it looked normal. But it's what happened next that made him stand out. The mallard walked up to the burly bartender, opened his beak and said, "You got any grapes?"

A woman in a black cocktail dress knocked over her drink. The crowd at the bar went silent.

Frank the bartender was astonished by what he had just heard. He stammered, "Ww-w-what did you say duck?"

"You got any grapes?" the mallard shot back.

The bar erupted in laughter.

The duck stood patiently until the din settled. He repeated, "You got any grapes?

Another uproar.  The bartender waved his meaty arms to have everyone settle down.

"No duck, I don't have any grapes. How 'bout a PBR?"

More laughter. In the chaos, nobody seemed to notice that the mallard had waddled out the door.

The next day, and for several days following, the duck returned to ask the bartender if he had any grapes.

Word spread about the mallard. People came by the droves to see it for themselves. Times were good. Frank was selling lots of PBR.

But after a few weeks, the crowds became complacent.  They only came to Frank's place to eat his free peanuts while the duck did his grapes routine. Beer sales were flat, and Frank grew resentful of the mess that was left behind.

Frank's resentment built up. One day, when the mallard came in and asked for his grapes, Frank snapped, "Do you see any grapes here, duck? No? Well that's because we don't serve grapes here. Got it, beak face? Just peanuts, beer and the hard stuff. So next time you come in, ask for one of those or you'll regret it!"

The duck flinched slightly as Frank yelled at him.  Aside from Frank's yelling, the bar was eerily quiet. The party was over. After Frank finished his tirade, the duck turned and waddled back out the door.  Frank thought he had seen the last of him.

But the next day the duck was back. He waddled up to the bar and proudly asked, "You got any grapes?"

Frank's face went flush. "NO! I DON'T HAVE ANY GRAPES. THE NEXT TIME YOU ASK FOR GRAPES I AM GOING TO HAMMER THAT BEAK OF YOURS RIGHT TO THE BAR!"

The duck turned and waddled out the door.

Again the next day, the duck waddled right up to the bar and opened his beak...

But before he could say anything, Frank interrupted, "Dammit duck, you'd better watch it. You'd better not ask for any grap--

"You got any nails?" the mallard asked.

"No I don't have any nails," Frank retorted.

"You got any grapes?"

--//--

That duck is my hero.

Some of you know that one of my favorite novels is Joseph Heller's Catch-22. It's a confusing story, but a theme that pervades is the idea that we tend to get caught in cyclical ruts. In these ruts, we can become complacent and even somewhat comforted to the patterns we subject ourselves and are subjected to.  In Catch-22, the protagonist Yossarian discovers how he has become stuck in one such maddening loop, and then decides to make a leap of faith to free himself of it once and for all.

For a while now, I've become complacent with my career. I don't exactly know when it happened, but over this period, I plateaued and my skills began to stagnate. That, plus the additional stresses in the work environment, and a demanding schedule finally led me to look at making a leap from the trap I allowed myself to fall into.

It took a few months of dusting off the resume and going through interviews, but I am excited to say that after nearly six years in my current role, I've accepted a new position within the company that will shake off the complacency and challenge me. I'm thrilled and can't wait to start.

Granted some of this euphoria is a common reaction to closing one chapter and beginning something new.  But still, I can't help but have a sense of hope that something else has begun.

It's good stuff. Indeed, it's wholesome, steel-cut goodness stuff.

You got any grapes?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nice Rack

My workplace is friendly to cyclists. They actually encourage commuting by bike in a number ways. A few examples include participating in the federal cycling commuter tax benefit, providing clean locker rooms with showers and free towel service, and by providing ample parking at nice racks installed just outside the main entrance.

Speaking of nice racks...


Anyway, over the years, the committed commuter/cyclists have gone through a number of growing phases. Initially, it was simply exciting to ride your bike to work. Commuting by bike was counter-culturally cool. It was like going under the radar. And in those early days, not too many folks were riding. There was lots of space on the single rack outside.

Later, when the commuter tax benefit kicked in, more folks started riding. Or so it seemed. During the summer months, the number of riders swelled. Space on the rack became sparse. That's when a push was made to install rack #2.  Within a summer, that rack was also over-flowing. A third rack was then installed. Meanwhile, the skeptic in me had long-concluded that most of the bikes belonged to colleagues who parked just outside of the city's metered parking, and then coasted a few blocks on their bikes to avoid paying for parking.

That leads us to the next stage of commuting evolution: contempt. Indeed, I have a healthy contempt for those who take a spot on the bike rack without earning it. Some may say that at least they're getting daily exercise. Bullshit. You don't get squat from coasting twice daily for three minutes.

I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if these fake commuters took a middle spot on the rack. You know, one that's not too presumptuous and stuff. But no, they are flaunting it with their rusty old heaps. They're taking all the good spots, like the end caps that have easy the access. And if they happened to get a crappy bike spot in the morning -- why, they'll snake your good spot while you're out riding over lunch.

I know, boo hoo hoo, it's just bike parking, right? Pfffff. C'mon man, we all learned the same lessons in kindergarten. One of those -- the place back -- is time honored tradition that states that when you leave your spot temporarily, you should expect to resume occupying it when you return, no questions asked. Nope. At my work place, you will be schwinned* when you leave the rack.

*schwinned: transitive verb 1) the act of discovering that while you were out riding your bike more than one mile over the lunch hour, a colleague has moved their POS Schwinn into your coveted end-spot on the bikerack. 2) the negation of the place-back.

The final stage of the commuting evolution is snobbery. I admit it, I've become a snob. I expect things to be in a certain order. And when they're not, I've taken it upon myself to make the necessary adjustments.  Again, take the issue of being schwinned.  To avoid being schwinned, some of us have taken to using a proxy -- or a pit bike -- to stand in our bike's stead while we're away.

typical pit-bike proxy
Snobbery? Yes. Do I care? No. Many times, finding a pit-bike proxy is just a matter of locating and then moving another POS Schwinn that a fake commuter had failed to secure properly. Or, you can do what my good buddy Shim did once: he brought in his own pit-bike in from home to serve as his proxy. It lasted about two weeks before it was stolen. Nice!

And while we're on the subject of snobbery, here's something one shouldn't expect to see at the bike rack: dirty laundry.

Exhibit A: this fella used his handlebars as a clothes rack:


Exhibit B: not to be outdone, here's someone's sweaty chamois.


I mean, in a word: ick.

Whew! It's time for a recap: 1) The work place bike rack should be reserved for those who actually ride their bikes more than a few blocks 2) Place-backs are to be honored. 3) The bike rack is not a place to air your laundry. It's for bikes. And by bikes, I mean bicycles. No motorized vehicles.

So that means one shouldn't expect to see a pink scooter parked at the rack.


There were a couple notes left on the scooter when I arrived. One note said, "this rack is for bicycles -- don't park your scooter here again."

The other one said:


I suppose having a pink scooter motor pace the lunch ride to the taco truck on Vinton Street is a fair trade for a spot at the bike rack.

It sure beats a dirty chamois draped over a POS.