Sunday, April 24, 2011

Like Greyhounds in the Slips...

Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of the bar, heat lightning flashes in the near distance, just over the top edge of the curiously perdurable Inns of Virginia hotel across the street from Mad Fox Brewing Company, where I sit alone among what could only be optimistically and loosely called a crowd. Still, they are a persistent, noisy lot, and one can only hope that their livers, like mine, are exceedingly forgiving.

The Vaya is all but built. I have only to cable up the derailleurs (what an alien undertaking!) and wrap the Woodchipper in fine Cinelli cork, and it's all ready for a ride. It's about damn time, isn't it? Should be fully beta-tested before RamJam next weekend, where I can better experience how it shines as a randonneuring rig.

Slightly related, I recently picked up a new IRO Phoenix frameset (linked pix are not mine)—due for delivery sometime this coming week—in black for $199 online, to go with the workhorse high-flange hubset (pink is the new pink, which is to say it's the old black) I all but stole from IRO for $40 a while back. This because, well, dammit, I absolutely need another bike!

Switching topics again, in a blatant by-proxy effort to roam and experience, I've started reading Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey, by a gentleman with the unlikely name of William Least Heat-Moon. (The titular Q-word denotes “a noun, both singular and plural, referring to anything strange, incongruous or peculiar; at its heart is the unknown, the mysterious.”) The book is a lengthy travelogue of sorts, full of colorful accounts of small town Americana, from what I've gathered. Heat-Moon, accompanied by his wife, to whom he gives the curious appellation Q (quoz?), makes a journey by car in a series of short trips that trace the itinerary of the 1804 Hunter-Dunbar Expedition (the wha? Yeah, me too). This route takes him through the small towns and lesser trafficked backroads of Arkansas, Louisiana. Florida, Maine, New Mexico, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas, if the Publishers Weekly and Booklist are to be believed. Since I haven't read the book, I can't really comment from my own perspective, but it seems like Heat-Moon's search for the holy quoz is a gasoline-powered variation on the dérive so enthusiastically and refreshingly endorsed by the SI, may they drift about in peace.

I am probably making a small mistake here, both in sequence and in preference, as Blue Highways, Heat-Moon's first literary undertaking, and the first of his books I perused, preceded this book by 16 years and is more highly regarded by the vox populi willing to peck at the keyboard to share its opinion. Finally getting it right can be a blessing and a curse, because expectations set the bar high. Still, moderate success beats failure any day, and I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy this book. It was, admittedly, an impulse buy. That's often how I find the best reads.

Specifics about my promotion at work remain nebulous; again, it's realization is a certainty, only the start date and salary remain unknown. Yeah, I think I fucked up, you don't have to say it. I am still restless; more so than ever. But there's still much left to do in the readying, much that is mandatory (the rest must be left to fickle Fate—anything overplanned is, almost by definition, sterile and lifeless and poisonously predictable), and I'll use the time wisely. On another front, I somehow managed to pass a background check required to volunteer my questionable mechanical and social skills to support Phoenix Bikes, a nonprofit LBS located at Shirlington Village in South Arlington, and dedicated to providing "affordable bikes and bike repair service to our community." It's a once-a-week gig. I'll be meeting with one Kelly Auer next Tuesday to kick it all off. I met with her briefly last week, and was surprised to learn that she, through at least one of the extremely young mechanics toiling there, had heard of my clan, the Single Speed Outlaw Factory Team (SSOFT). According to Kelly, the young wrench had recounted a race (my guess is Big Bear) he witnessed, describing us as "a bunch of older guys who were kicking ass on the younger guys," or something to that effect.


Yeah, okay.


So, suddenly, I'm a fucking self-appointed saint. Expect the end of days to follow shortly. I can only hope the staff at Phoenix don't judge me by my lack of head protection when I roll in on my commute home next week. Until then, I leave all 14 of you followers (the blog is dead...long live the blog!) with a salty salute. Happy life!

P.S., do I drink this beer the chick tending bar just bought me? I don't ignore the irony that answering such a question requires lofty contemplation among the warm, loving, effervescent company of yet another beer, but this one is free. Is there really a choice here? And beyond the brim of the pint glass, through the window, nestled up and away in the velvety plushness of approaching night, the lightning continues insistently its pyrotechnic posturing, mocking the continence of the clouds.

And no one notices.

We are but a flash. Burn brightly.

P.P.S., just because:

Lovely the suns were in those twilights warm,
And space profound, and strong life's pulsing flood,
In bending o'er you, queen of every charm,
I thought I breathed the perfume in your blood.
The suns were beauteous in those twilights warm.

—Charles Baudelaire, from "The Balcony"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Here's to Now...

This is the world
Why are you waiting?
Everyone's standing by hesitating
So many people halfway there
Between two points in the middle of nowhere
And all those things you thought you'd be
Did you know that it doesn't come free?
Have you seen yourself of late?
Can you hear the sound of?...
Machines all breaking down
The fuel is running out
Severed lines
Destroyed by too much time spent down
My head forced down
My hope forced down
Between my legs I've come unwound

All my preaching stems from fear
You're my concern, I hold you dear
You must break out of this old cage
Do it now, this is no longer safe

—Jawbreaker, "Down," Unfun

Yet when we meet we seem in silence to say,
Pretending serene forgetfulness of our youth,
"Do you remember but then why should you remember!
Do you remember a certain day,
Or evening rather, spring evening long ago,
We talked of death, and love, and time, and truth,
And said such wise things, things that amused us so
How foolish we were, who thought ourselves so wise!"
And then we laugh, with shadows in our eyes.

—Conrad Aiken, from "The Nocturne of Remembered Spring" (1917)

The good times ain't so bad, and even the bad times have their secret charm.

It is illusion, of course.

Aiken is dead, and having become an authority on the subject almost 38 years ago, speaks no more of it. He roams the aery halls of the House of Dust now, takes tea with The Tsetse, sups with the devil-bearded Rabbi Ben Ezra. His words, his poems, his opus vitae, as with any great writer, are only as immortal as the mind of man, which is to say they are increasingly volatile.

What is the past to a present hellbent on reinventing itself every minute? It is only valuable to the extent it can be plundered, rebranded, and put up for sale. And even now, even the present, isn't good enough, though its proximal horizons are as far as anyone is willing to look.

No rest for the wicked, hurling ever onward to the next big thing, the next upgrade, as long as it's right around the corner. Endless, limitless progress. The American way of life is not negotiable. Yeah. Let's pretend...

And Baudrillard, too, is belly-up. But there is good news: The facade he so dispassionately spoke of, like Borges' beloved map, is falling apart, and with it the neglected structure behind it. It's all makeup on a dying actor, a mix of Dorian Gray and Faust. But if you don't look too hard, if you keep it just on the edge of periphery, if you don't think, well then, it almost looks, almost feels, natural, doesn't it?

This is the calm before the chaos, the plush interlude between the faux idyll of the recent past and the implacable vengeance of a future that is learning how to sprint backwards to catch up with us. The "devil's due" is a concept little acknowledged by Homo Avarus. We get it, but we love to ignore it. Some other time, Old Nick, when your spikes sprout velvet and you're heart swells with sentiment. You see, we're a little short on funds just now, and, well, you understand, don't you?...

But Lady Nature is tired of the shakedown, the strong-arming, the sterile, myopic emptiness of a civilization driven by rampant self-interest, molded by market forces, and immersed in an artificial reality it loves to create and tweak and improve, one so accommodating (if you have the cash), so instantly accessible, so easy that it makes the real thing—with its archaic and intransigent insistence on presence of body and mind and its immunity from complete commodification—almost unbearable to most people. We contain the seeds of our own destruction, and we are sowing them like there's no tomorrow. And this is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nous finirez tous par crever du confort.

Sadly, and not without a hint of irony, adding to the abyss is looking more and more like the appropriate strategy. Partake rabidly, belly up to the bar, storm the trough, abbagnarisi la pizzu, embrace Jevon's paradox. It all accelerates a noveau retour a la normale (Sous les pavés, la plage!), one that likely will lack an articulate observer to study, assay, judge, rewrite, and "improve" upon it.

Oh well.

On a lighter, slightly less profound note, I got this bag of bones out on some dirt a couple weekends ago for the Swill d'Ville, an annual mountain bike ride on the trails surrounding UVA in Charlottesville, starting and ending at Mellow Mushroom. Absent minded fool that I am, I forgot that I had set up the Monkey with a road-sized gear (44:19) to use as a foul-weather fixed-gear commuter. So about a mile into the SdV, I notice my rear tire rubbing rudely on the chain-stays every time I lay into the pedals with mean intent. I take a moment to try to pull out whatever little bit of slack exists in the chain, with the hope of moving the tire back far enough to stop the rubbing, when another rider asks me a question. The conversation went something this:

Him (staring at my upended bike): Hey, man, what size ring you runnin' up front?

Me (distracted): It's a 32.

Him: No way that's a 32.

Me: Huh? (Takes a look.) Fuck!

So, I run what I brung, worked a little bit harder than everyone else, and did damn well, all things considered. I even managed to win the derby with a novel strategy composed of 9/10 avoidance and 1/10 luck.

Since then, I hit Rosaryville with a proper fixed gear (but, alas, sans helmet—oops!) with Baler and crew, rode to a flick with Bootch-wah and G-spot at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, and did a 75-miler (out-n'-back) to support some SSOFTies and vicariously experience the mucky mayhem—thanks to a ton of rain—that was the Leesburg Baker's Dozen race this weekend.

The Vaya is creeping along toward completion and should be up and rolling before RamJam comes around at month's end. The shutdown (er, lapse in appropriations, hahaha) ain't happening, and with that nonevent is the nonevent of my forced vacation that I was really looking forward to. Damn, it never fails: if you want something too much, it never happens. On the flip side, this should open the gate on the new job, if I understand things clearly.

Should have gotten out when the getting was good.

Ah, well, here we are. And I am just winking dreary thoughts into a tiddle cup. The posts will take a turn toward the upbeat now that spring has arrived. I'm off tomorrow, and the weather is supposed to border on obsequious. Enjoy the week.

"No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”