Sunday, September 26, 2010


Back around 1981, my old pal James and I rode our motorcycles to Yosemite. I sat upon a Honda 360, his was a 400 of unremembered vintage. We were young and vigorous and arrived without incident.

That’s when we sat at the wooden table at the campsite and thought, “Hmm, perhaps we should have brought some food.”

We were cramped in the two-man tent, and hungry. Then we got cold. We were awakened early, while it was still dark, by the falling rain that had nearly collapsed our poorly tethered tent. By the time we found a place for coffee and breakfast we were dripping wet.

It was a grand adventure!

In 1986 Kristin and I took a two-week trip to Canada, on our 1983 Kawasaki 750. We had a windshield and a radio and we were comfortable beyond belief. The only campground incidents included a squirrel that had chewed through the side of our food bag and died—gorging on trail mix—with its hindquarters hanging half outside the bag, and the apparent theft of a buck knife and a flannel shirt.

I have wondered, lo, these many years, what kind of thief is in need of a weapon and lumberjack clothing. Regardless, it too was a grand adventure.

So now, after many years of not cycling far from home, busy with trying to work as little as possible and seeing just how long I can make one loaf of bread last for a family of four, I once again took to the highways and byways to see what sort of mischief I could get up to. I have recently returned, after nine days and 1,781 miles. There is some debate whether, in style and manner, I was more like Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper. I’ll leave that up to you decide, as long as you don’t choose Jack Nicholson. He was just a passenger in that movie.

And if you don’t know what movie I’m talking about, get thee to a motorcycle rally.

My iron horse on this particular journey was a Kawasaki Vulcan 900 (903cc if you want to obsess over the details), and a smooth and powerful ride it was. There was no question it could get me safely to my destination. In question, though, was whether I should travel with any flannel shirts, and whether I would get blown off on the way.

I chose not to put a fairing on the bike, because it would ruin the look of this beautiful gray cruiser. But I’m almost fifty years old, and hanging on to the handlebars for hours on end tends to weaken my weary muscles. I felt some trepidation, but went anyway. You never know unless you go, right? Turns out the headwind wasn’t too bad. I just leaned back, kept my speed constant and steady, and tried not to relax so much that I fell asleep.

The grand culmination was visiting daughter Kate at her new digs in Prescott, Arizona. But I also saw Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, the Laughing Buddha Coffee House, and Barstow, California.

Not sure what to say about Barstow. I’ve probably already spent too much time talking about this dry, dusty, drive-through town. But I’m sure the residents are all fine individuals.

I also went to Sedona, Arizona, but it wasn’t as goofy as I thought it would be. It is known for being a haven for mystics, hippies, UFO hunters, and New Age weirdos. There was some of that, but it was mostly a thriving tourist trap. There were more cars with out of state license plates than there were mystical crystal-reading aura-diviners.

It had been many years since my last lengthy motorcycle road trip, and I found that the thrill of the open road still calls to me. Without Kate’s move, though, I’m not sure I would have been compelled to venture so far from home. I just might have to convince the other two children to relocate when the time comes to keep my blood flowing. Maybe Bozeman and Atlanta. Or Omaha and Pensacola.

And Kristin will have to remember how to pack all of her belongings in one small saddlebag. She was good at it 24 years ago, but judging by our bedroom closet she is clearly out of practice. Until that time comes:

Get your motor runnin’. Head out on the highway. Lookin’ for adventure. And whatever comes our way!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


For those readers under the age of 21—and if you don’t have proper ID I don’t care how gray your hair is—let it be known that nary a drop of liquor passed my lips before I was of legal age. I was too busy studying my lessons, and volunteering for several local charitable organizations, and tending to all of the chores around the house.

My sister and brother were no help at all.

If you are already old enough to drink, then you know most of what you just read is malarkey. Except the part about my evil siblings. I was Cinderella and they just stood there and laughed at me in my dusty frock. And I did study and volunteer and chore myself to death, wondering which day my prince would come.

Or princess. I wasn’t picky.

When it became legal for me to buy liquor, I did. If memory serves, the morning of May 15, 1983 I found the nearest liquor store with the earliest “Open” sign and bought myself a birthday present. I say “if memory serves” because I don’t really remember all that well. Probably because of the passage of time . . . or because I drank a case of beer on my own just because I could.

I have sampled many different drinks in my day, and I have a few favorites. Fortunately, friends keep introducing me to new concoctions and my favorites list grows. It gets to the point that I visit my local BevMo superstore and just stand in the center near the snack racks with my arms outspread, slowly spinning hypnotically. Until I am asked to leave, which I try to do quietly (as long as I can grab a bottle or two on my way out).

In my own defense, let me assure you that my life doesn’t revolve around alcohol. I’ve successfully held down a variety of jobs over the years (but yes, as a substitute teacher you might say that I am currently underemployed) and the family budget has never had a line item titled “booze” (but yes, that might be due to the difficulty in separating expenses including beer from the gas station and drinks with a nice dinner out and cash purchases at the liquor store and trading cigarettes for moonshine with neighborhood hillbillies).

Moderation and I have a passing acquaintance, an uneasy alliance you might say. I don’t nag it for being a party-pooper, and it generally leaves me alone unless it finds me lying in a gutter. Then it drags me home and drops me on the front porch, to be thwacked in the head when the morning newspaper is flung porchward.

Despite my apparent adult fascination with a wide variety of drink mixers and concoctions, I most often return to my first love: beer. It can be refreshing after late afternoon yard work, and it can be used to toast celebratory events as widely diverging as a Superbowl victory or the birth of a family heir. Even better, if you’ve had a few too many you might be forgiven for drawing a mascara mustache on the little heir.

My newest adventure in beer is the home brewing of it. I want to follow in the steps of a friend of mine who has successfully brewed two batches of beer and who has been kind enough to let me share in the joy. I didn’t have to share in the joy of the work, or the hours of boiling and mixing and storing and bottling and waiting. No, I didn’t even have to wait.

I drank store-bought beer until Kurtis called me up and said his was ready to taste. That’s exactly the moment I was able to share: the tasting.

His was so good I want to try it on my own, but I am scared. I am scared of the capital investment, because if I don’t take pleasure in the process of crafting my own ale I will be stuck with large piles of equipment. Bottles and caps and a capper; kettles and brushes and funnels and a carboy; thermometer and hydrometer and siphon and airlock. As a minimalist that would seriously irk me, to have it all sitting around and taunting me.

I am also scared of not being very good at it. I don’t want to make beer that people spit out. I am also scared that there are just too many brands left on the BevMo shelves that I have not tried.

So maybe I will join Kurtis in the actual work the next time he brews his five gallons—if he’ll let me—and I’ll see if I actually feel an urge to do so on my own. If the answer is yes, I’ll buy the equipment and jump right in to the process.

If not, I’ll drink Kurtis’s and find some other hobby. Hmm, maybe I would enjoy growing wine grapes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I am in the midst of a project. I am trying to figure out if the family dog (“Zen,” if you insist on personifying her with a name) is smarter than the rest of us, or dumber than a box of rocks.

This domesticated beast that lives among us is equal parts canny observer and oblivious hound. She has run into sliding glass doors thinking they are open, but at least one of my children has done the same so that may not be an appropriate indication of mental acuity. Zen has also smashed at least two screen doors off their tracks, thinking that her slender figure can fit through the opening once the screen has slid two or three inches to the side.

Either she lacked a certain spatial awareness, or she had a deep-seated drive to chase down a squirrel scampering across the backyard fence regardless what stood in her way. Neither is exactly a brilliant display of intelligence.

In her defense, however, Zen has learned a variety of ways to control the behavior of the humans in the house. She’s not much of a food beggar, but if one of us two-legged creatures is cooking breakfast or dinner she will sit nearby in the kitchen, quietly. For a while.

If it becomes apparent that her mealtime is in danger of passing, she will do her snapping thing that gets our attention. She snaps her jaw shut loudly to bring the focus back to her. We have thus far been lucky to avoid having any fingers in harm’s way.

Once we meet her eyes she opens her mouth. Kristin says she is smiling; I say the dog is simply breathing. Regardless, the psychic message is clear: “Food. Bowl. Now.”

With nary a please or thank-you we carefully measure the kibble and present it on her own eating mat. A little while later we will be asked to open the back door so that she can make business in the yard, and possibly chase wild neighborhood rodents. If done quickly, damage to the screen can be minimized.

While outside, Zen certainly behaves as if she were Empress of the World. She sniffs the grass and the agapanthas, passes by the lemon tree, and eventually squats for a bit. She makes a token attempt to cover her deposit, no doubt to appear civilized, but she doesn’t really look where she is scratching. Half the time the dirt and grass fly over her pile.

Then she looks up at whoever might be nearby as if to say, “There you go. Take care of it at your leisure.”

Same thing when we take her for a walk. She walks ahead and we hold the leash as if it were a gown that has to be held above the ground. At whatever moment she decides, and on whichever lawn she chooses, she makes business again. Some of the time we have to bow down and bag it. I know others had to do the same for me in the long distant past, but I eventually learned to take care of myself.

Not so the dog. She will be forever needing our assistance. Or our obsequiousness. Either she is too dumb to take care of herself, or too clever. Perhaps we are being manipulated by the cunning canine.

Lately Zen has taken to burrowing into the bathroom wastebaskets. She knocks them over as if she were looking for something in particular. If the smell is intriguing enough we might find a trail of her discoveries across the bathroom and even out into the hall. Usually, though, the various paper products and clumps of hair—from self-administered haircuts—litter the area around the sink.

I don’t know if Zen knows what day of the week it is and is saying, “Hey, empty the trash already, the garbageman comes tomorrow morning” or she is only responding to the basic reactions of her underdeveloped mammalian brain: “Mmm, me like dirty smells.” She never appears concerned that we might not clean up after her. After all, she has us well-trained.

There is currently not enough data to make a final determination on the whole brains vs. rocks discussion. Given the fact, however, that Zen has a platoon of humans ready to put food in her bowl twice a day, and at the right time, and these same humans follow behind her in the yard and on the leash with a plastic bag at the ready to pick up her unmentionables, I’m thinking Zen has the upper hand at this point.

The morning I wake up on her beanbag and find her under my covers, I will officially declare my surrender. Then she can start cleaning up after me.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Labor Day is upon us once again, and as its origination continues to pass further into the distant past we as a people do little more than thank our lucky stars we have another paid holiday. Except for those folks who still have to work because they are in some sort of service industry . . . and, I suppose, those people who have a job but don’t have decent holiday pay benefits. And a day off with pay certainly does no good for one of our many unemployed citizens.

Come to think of it, for a lot of people Labor Day may be just another rotten, stinking Monday.

Here’s to you, then, those of you left behind. I salute your disheartened and slippery grasp of the American Dream.

Since Labor Day began as some sort of political chicanery between a scheming President of the Democratic Party and the Labor movement, it would seem appropriate that Republicans not share in the bounty. After all, they oppose Democrats at every turn, and certainly the Right is no friend of Labor or the unions.

So, attention all Republicans, starting in 2011 you no longer get the first Monday in September as a paid holiday. But don’t worry, to even the score we will take away Thanksgiving from the Democrats. There’s no reason a bunch of turkeys should stay home from work and eat their own kind.

There. Now everyone should be happy. I am an equal opportunity offender.

As the 2010 version of Labor Day approaches, I am reminded to be thankful. Yes, I did indeed just mash together the two aforementioned holidays. To complete the image, I am wearing a Halloween mask and have a basket of brightly colored eggs by my side. But that’s not what I’m thankful for.

What pleases me is that I accomplished a goal this summer. Not the goal of riding 4,000 miles on my bicycle this year, which will be met (or not) toward the end of December. Which reminds me: in the spirit of the holiday mash up, I should set up the Christmas tree today.

And not the goal of home brewing my own beer, that keeps getting postponed because I am still finding delicious new varieties at BevMo. Someday, though, I vow I will be called Beer Maker.

What I achieved this summer took patience and planning and a whole of sitting around. From June 16 to July 27 I watched The X-Files. Yes, the show that went off the air in 2002. Yes, the show I only watched occasionally when it was originally broadcast. And yes, I still don’t have TV reception, ever since the government forced us onto the High Def Entertainment Rainbow. I’ve got an analog set and an antenna on the roof, and all I get to watch is static.

Unless I go to the public library. There I found all nine seasons of The X-Files on DVD, plus the two X-Files movies made in 1998 and 2008. By checking out one season with my cheerful librarian and placing the next one or two on hold, I could watch the entire nine years in order.

Back to back, hour by hour, 202 episodes. In 42 days.

Now sure, you could take issue with me. Perhaps this doesn’t really qualify as much of a goal. Not like running a marathon in each of the fifty states (six down, forty-four to go). Where’s the commitment in doing nothing more than sitting in front of the boob tube and watching bright images flicker past my face? Perhaps my time would have been better spent interacting with my wife and children, or tending the dog, or watering the lawns.

One of those three is definitely a lost cause, and it’s not the one about the family because during most of those 42 days they were out of state on a variety of vacations or hanging out with friends. I was the one at home, wondering where the dog had run off to and refusing to water the lawns, and so I watched some TV.

Once in a while the dog would join me, though usually she wouldn’t hang around for more than one episode while I dutifully plowed through three or four a day. Or seven. Okay, I didn’t just watch “some” TV, I watched a lot.

It was almost a relief when I finished this little project. I enjoyed each episode, but they started to overwhelm each other. Kind of like eating eight tacos but the ninth or tenth or eleventh is overkill (another lesson I had to learn the hard way). I have, quite frankly, had my fill of The X-Files, and will now turn my attention to some other activity.

After all, there are forty-four states I have not run a marathon in, and I’m not getting any younger. Maybe it is time to put down the tacos and the remote control and head out for a pleasant twenty-mile training run.

Or maybe I’ll eat just one more before I leave.