In Which The Author Acts Like Someone Else’s Dad

When I saw the Tuesday night moto sheet I said “God damn it” loud enough to produce a double-take in the 285-pound woman standing next to me. Even though it hadn’t been five minutes since I’d heard her tell another steatopygous Stegosaurus of a heavyweight twentysomething BMX mom that Oh my God, I got so drunk after the fair that night I pissed the fuckin bed while the handful of elementary-school-aged kids around them nodded sagely. It made me think of something I’d read recently about the children of Afghan tribesman during the reign of Czar Nicholas. Something about how they had no childhood but were thrust headlong into the cares of the adults around them. Still, she hadn’t been the one to break the unwritten rule about not starting drama at the moto board. That faux pas had been all mine, and after thirty-four years in the sport, longer than any of the parents around me had been alive, I should really be above that sort of thing.

Still. My son is nine years and three months old. He is eighty-sixth percentile for height but he is so thin that there are no pants commercially available that fit him properly. Like his father, he has an oversupply of brain pan; when we went to the motorcycle show last year he put on an adult Arai Quantum in size XS and said “This is too tight.” As a rider he is reasonably indefatigable, capable of doing fifteen miles at pace on a mountain bike, but he just doesn’t have the muscle mass to shove a BMX bike out of the gate the way he wants to. When I tell him that he will eventually have that capability, that I could break a chain at the age of fifteen, he quite sensibly responds “That doesn’t help me now, Dad. I want to win races now.”

But he wouldn’t be winning any races tonight. There were four other children. One of them was ten years old and the others were eleven. At this age, having a two-year advantage is like being Nelson Vails at an amateur velodrome event; you have so much more leg than the competition that virtually nothing else matters. God damn it.

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In Which A Neighbor Opts Out

When the fat family moved, I became the old man of my cul-de-sac. Fifteen years prior, I’d been the new kid on the block, a buzz-cut bounder in my late twenties with a flashy BMW and a willingness to check every box on my builder’s option list. Eighty-eight homes in the subdivision and mine was the last to go up, sold at the highest price in arrogant defiance of my father’s rule-of-thumb that you should always own the cheapest house on your block for resale’s sake. But as the years flew by and I dutifully followed Thoreau’s decree to be what he called “new wine in the old bottle”, my neighbors drifted off in dribs and drabs. The recession of 2008 blew many of them away, short-selling if they were lucky and enduring foreclosure if they weren’t. Then one day I looked around and I realized that I was surrounded by strangers a decade or more younger than I was, raising children on tight budgets and carefully washing their pre-owned Toyotas on Saturday. They staged parties and cookouts to which I was pointedly not invited. Seemingly overnight, I’d become the “horsey people” from Updike’s Couples, the staid holdouts to whom the social rhythms and beating hearts of the hood were a complete and utter mystery.

Perhaps it’s not accurate to say “the fat family”. Not because they weren’t fat. They were spectacularly, gloriously fat. The husband and wife were both pink and plump from wrist to cankle like prime pigs when I moved in though they were scarcely any older than I was. They had a daughter who cleared two hundred pounds before she cleared the age of ten. Around that time the husband lost his job and had to take a temporary gig as a Wal-Mart greeter. Not surprisingly, the wife packed his bags for him shortly afterwards and it became just her and the daughter. She didn’t seem to age; you don’t really get wrinkles if every inch of your skin is under a Nissan GT-R’s worth of boost pressure. By the time the daughter was a teenager I couldn’t tell them apart. They even dressed the same, in a style I nicknamed Country Kitchen. Periodically, the husband would stop by for visitation, levering his sad big body out of his Saturn Ion in such a manner as to effectively broadcast his misery to all and sundry inside Neptune’s orbit. Sometimes he would have to wait until his ex-wife shooed-out her date from the previous night. Yes, she had boyfriends. It must be amazing to be a woman. If I go three days without using conditioner on my hair I can feel my visibility to the fairer sex evaporate like fog on a sunny Ohio morning but this chick had ’em lined up like Cedar Point’s Millennium Force despite not being able to fit in the seats of said roller coaster or, indeed, any other roller coaster I’ve ever seen.

The fat family’s house was purchased by an upwardly-mobile young couple whose every aspect seemed calculated to both raise my envy and irritate my pride. She was Generic Corporate Blonde, pantsuited but trim and muscular in the mandatory fashion for director-level advancement, steering a Prius in distracted fashion, early to work and late to return. He was a dark-haired version of the fellow who plays Jamie Lannister on GoT, striding out to his brand-new 528i every morning in a manner that indicated his eagerness to take on the world and beat it. No kids, no parties, no raised voices, not a hair out of place. Ah, but there was trouble in paradise.

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I Would Prefer That My Son Be Toxic

7 Toxic Phrases Parents Need to Stop Saying to Their Sons

I genuinely try my best not to live in an echo chamber, as much as anybody really can in the year 2018. What I actually mean by this is that I don’t typically “unfollow” or “unfriend” over political beliefs. It’s no secret to anybody who’s ever read a single word that I’ve written that I am generally to the right of Ronald Reagan on most issues, although I like the think that when it comes to social issues, I’m fairly Libertarian, and I wish that more Republicans would be, too. Marry whomever you like. Smoke whatever you like. But please don’t force me to pay for failing social programs, your healthcare, or your “right to housing” or whatever that lady from Westchester is talking about in between her hilariously incorrect takes on global politics.

There’s one guy whom I follow on Twitter (and if you’re not following me…well, that’s actually pretty smart of you) who hits retweet on every single possible liberal social issue. He’s a basic white dude, but of course he’s an advocate for LBGTQ, for womyn, for minorities, for poor people, for immigrants…you name it, this dude is on it. He’s childless, but he’s all about Marching For Our Lives. He tweets about toxic masculinity at least once a day. Drives me crazy.

In the real world, he and I get along smashingly, mostly because we don’t talk about any of that silly shit in person. I even coached him around a racetrack once. Genuinely nice guy.

Unfortunately, I can’t agree with him on most of what he says, or really any of it, because I don’t get to have the “luxury” (note the sarcasm here) of living childless in a three-floor walkup in a trendy neighborhood. I’m raising kids.

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It’s Just Lines On A Map, You Know

If you have time today, you might want to read about something that happened one hundred years ago. On July 17, 1918, V.I. Lenin (you might know him as the fellow from the Johnny Socko song) ordered the execution of the Romanovs. The details are recounted in dispassionate fashion at Wikipedia but they are enough to curl your hair: one of the children had an entire pistol magazine emptied into him before being bayoneted a few times, after which he was shot in the skull because he was still alive. When the stripped and mutilated bodies were delivered to a gang of Bolsheviks for disposal, they were enraged because they had expected to be able to rape the Romanov daughters before killing them. Failing that, they decided to use their fingers on the dead bodies.

When I read the Twitterati screaming for the triumph of “politics is personal”, that’s what comes to mind for me: a group of “resisters” abusing a dead woman’s body because someone told them she was a class enemy. These are forces which should not be released lightly. We think of America as a place where political discussion has always been relatively polite and reasonable but that’s only because our high-school history books omitted thousands of incidents where things got out of hand in the worst way possible, from the Memphis Massacre to the Bonus Army. I see a lot of people on Reddit and elsewhere, members of both the Blue and the Red tribes, who are very comfortable with the idea of destroying people’s careers and lives because of their particular stance on a political issue. That’s all well and good until the person you’ve destroyed decides that the shame of not being able to feed his children is too much and that the only possible answer is to come to your house and remove your face with a butter knife before committing what they call “blue suicide” nowadays.

Civilization is a veneer that we would do well to keep in place as long as humanly possible. David Brin, who is about as liberal as they come, wrote The Postman as an answer to post-apocalyptic fiction and a reminder that we are all better off because the mail gets delivered every day. As a parent, I would agree.

On the other hand, there might well be a breaking point at which it’s worth reconsidering the whole enterprise, or at least the Terms Of Service associated with said enterprise.

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The Camel’s Nose In The Kid’s Cage, Plus DadLogic

It was all fake. Every bit of it. The kid in the cage, staring forlornly out from his literally padded cell in the company of children wearing $69.95 Vans Sk8-Hi shoes? Fake. The picture of TRUMP CHILD CONCENTRATION CAMPS? It was from President Obama’s administration. The refugee child crying on the cover of TIME while Trump looks on with disdain? Not a refugee, and never separated from her family.

But if the coverage was entirely fake, the motive behind it was tiresomely real. After two years of trying every avenue of attack possible, the media has learned NAZI FUHRER DRUMPPPPPPFFFF’s weak spot: he is sentimental and doesn’t like to make people unhappy. The whole point of the fake-cage tempest-in-a-teapot was to get Trump to move the line on immigration a bit. Which he did, promptly stating that he would work to overturn the 1997-era legislation that governs the separate detention of children. Approximately an hour after he agreed to that, the media line changed.

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The Man In The Arena

It’s an unpleasant thing to say, but it’s true: This world is divided into those who do and those who watch. Which is not to say that most of us don’t wind up falling into both of those categories depending on the situation: even Presidents have favorite television shows, and Gore Vidal apparently laid off the criticism long enough to clean his house from time to time. In general, however, it is usually possible to judge someone’s credibility, legitimacy, and even character by how much time they spend doing as opposed to watching.

Elon Musk spends most of his time doing. A simple list of his favorite side gigs make you wonder where he finds the time: flamethrowers, massive underground tunnels, a breathtakingly viable private space program with VTOL rockets. And then there’s the matter of his day job, which involves nothing more than the creation of the first viable large-scale independent American automobile company since, oh, the Second World War or thereabouts. You can call him a Bond villain, which is the proverbial praising with a faint damn, or you can call him a megalomaniac, which is the typical bomb lobbed at the confidently successful by the socially-awkward unaccomplished. But you cannot deny that he is out there Doing. Big. Things.

A hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, Elon’s innovations and ideas would have spawned a flood of strong-willed competitors; look how many American men took Henry Ford’s success as both a personal insult and a spur to attempt great things of their own. In this modern, sickly, navel-gazing age, however, what’s happened instead is that a million mewling nonentities have re-imagined their pathetic lives as wriggling suckerfish clinging to the Great White Musk Shark, hungrily scarfing up bits of waste and detritus as they congratulate themselves for adding parasitic drag to the whole enterprise.

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This Is Where The Small Car Rides Away And The 9.9 Percent Take Over

Richard Herriott at DrivenToWrite has a mildly caustic piece up regarding FCA’s — that’s FIAT’s to you non-automotive-space normies — decision to abandon its traditional focus on small cars. Citing fears that small cars are becoming “commoditized”, FCA will shift the majority of its development, engineering, and production efforts to vehicles from brands like Maserati and Alfa Romeo, which face no danger of commoditization because traditionally commodities are known to be in more or less constant demand.

Mr. Herriott worries that FCA is going to lose what we’d call a “customer pipeline” as a result of this. He points out, quite rightly, that buyers are statistically loyal to the last brand they’ve purchased and that FCA’s lack of small-car development will cost it customers for its large-car lineup. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, I would have agreed with him. Today, however, we live in the world of the 9.9 percent.

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Twenty-Two Speed (Of God’s Blood And Burial)

As the rain starts to fall, I take a moment to chide myself. I’m not pushing the bike hard enough. I know this because I have all these thoughts in my head: concerns about my son, some agenda items for a writing project to which I agreed a few months back but which is only now starting to eclipse all other worries as the deadline looms, the vague outline for a piece I’d like to write about Joni Mitchell’s song “Carey” and the Saturnine (as opposed to merely saturnine) pull of nostalgia for days spent in vain with a worthless lover. Were I truly pushing, there would only be the ball bearing.

“On a bike your consciousness is small. The harder you work, the smaller it gets.” That’s what Tim Krabbe says in The Rider, an absurdly perfect 148-page story of a meaningless cycling club race from 1977. Krabbe said in this book what all of us had been trying to say about road cycling for a long time. I read it on a friend’s recommendation in 2011 and immediately I thought: yes, this is it, there’s no need for any more books about bicycles, you can let that long-simmering idea go. “During the race,” Krabbe writes, “what goes round in the rider’s mind is a monolithic ball bearing, so smooth, so uniform, that you can’t even see it spin. Its almost perfect lack of surface structure ensures that it strikes nothing that might end up in the white circulation of thought.” The harder you push, the less you think. In 1999 I rode 107 miles in five hours and change as part of a two-day tour. I rode a Klein Pulse mountain bike in a long paceline of roadies. I spent the entire time attempting to not vomit. When I arrived at the finish I realized I did not remember a single thing about the ride, nor did I recall having a single useful thought for the whole time.

Krabbe is 75 years old now and still covers a weekly 45-mile ride around Amsterdam, riding at the same pace as the young Dutch hotshot roadies. I am 46 and I am struggling to get 26.2 miles done in under one hour and 48 minutes. In 2014, a Kenyan ran this same distance in 2:02. Barefoot, I think. Whereas I am on a brand-new titanium road bike of exceptional specification and unjustifiable expense. On flat ground, a domestique in the Tour de France averages 27mph. I’m averaging an unimpressive 16.7 on the move, which drops to 15.1 average for my trip because I have to wait several minutes for stoplights and crossings.

It’s time to think a little less and pedal a little harder. So that’s the trick about road cycling: it has to be mindless.

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It’s Important To Win, It’s Inconvenient To Not Lose

Nothing ever changes. This past Sunday, I lined up on the starting gate of the Dayton, Ohio indoor BMX track next to a fellow named Brian. Thirty-one and a half years ago, Brian was the hottest 14 Beginner at Phase IV BMX in Pataskala, Ohio, winning three races in a row and effortlessly dominating the two dozen or so kids who would show up on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings to challenge him. I was a whippet-thin, sullen-faced kid on a hastily-assembled bits-and-pieces special, strong and fast but perilously unbalanced. It took me through the long summer and into fall to finally beat him, which I managed to do maybe twice before I turned fifteen in November and he did not. I can still remember crouching over my Patterson Pro next to his Diamond Back Silver Streak, eyes forward, waiting for the lights and horn to sound.

Everything changes. Brian and I have children now — his four-year-old son who wants nothing to do with BMX, and my eight-year-old boy who after just a few weekends has internalized the rhythms and the statistics and the casually bloody heart of the sport. I quit riding in my early thirties and redesigned my life around the automobile; Brian stayed with it and just kept getting better, mastering that deft touch some people have that lets them soar into the air then place their wheels back on the ground with the delicacy of a Nureyev or Baryshnikov. He was at the race to win a thirty-six-inch trophy and further his standing as a top-ranked 45 Expert. I was there because of a fiction I created, one in which my son and I are just racing because I want to do it and therefore there is no pressure on him to win. In this fiction, which is a mirror image of reality, he is merely my fellow traveler in a BMX journey that I decided on a whim to reanimate after fourteen years without so much as a practice lap.

A few slots down from us on the gate was another old soldier, a man who had been both a champion pro rider and a homeless alcoholic, now returned to the sport with a young man’s fervor but with a body broken by years of substance abuse and indifferent medical care. Yet there were moments in practice where you could see him ride up the face of a jump, rear up and balance his brand-new DK Professional on its back tire, then lean it into the next turn like a MotoGP superstar at Suzuka. We had briefly met at the registration desk earlier in the day, chatted for a moment, then walked towards the paddock with the same sort of cripple’s limp, each of us secretly and cruelly hoping the other fellow had less cartilage in his knees.

“Everybody ready?” the starter asked, and we all nodded. Brian, the other fellow, and I nosed up to the gate and sat there balanced, both feet resting on pedals, eyes forward, hands tensing then relaxing on the handlebar grips. The first two of us to cross the line would go on to the main event. The third-place racer would go home. Alright riders, the electronic voice intoned, random start. Riders ready… watch the gate! Four lights, four horns, and three men going from zero to 130 revolutions per minute in the space of four hard shoves at the pedals.

Ah, but we can come back to this race later. It’s not the important one.

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The Creature From The Tech Lagoon

I first saw the kid in the corner of a “meeting space” about two months before the end of my contract. Tall, skinny, basement pale, awkward bowl haircut, bewildered look. Polyester slacks. Yellow stripe shirt with these absurd white contrast French cuffs and collar. Two-thirds of a prom outfit from the white-trash site of urban Columbus, really.

The purpose of this particular meeting was to hear a mutual pitch from RedHat and Microsoft, trying to get our department to set up its own little kingdom of servers and “container architecture”. This is a constant struggle in pretty much any major corporation, a battle that’s being fought behind the scenes 24/7. Once upon a time, each company had a mainframe and it was under the direct control of the tech department. Then when minicomputers like VAXen came along, you had individual departments setting up their own systems. When small “servers” came along, the problem got a thousand times worse. Then you got Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA and FINRA, laying a complex web of compliance regulations on all those small servers. So the Fortune 500 companies swept everything back up into one central department. This made life much tougher for all those individual departments, who now had to go to corporate IT and wait a year for something they used to get done in a month. So they started… cheating, setting up their own stuff on the sly.

My ex-wife had a job for a while where she would sniff out these “shadow servers” and even the “shadow helpdesks” set up to support their users. Hundreds of $20,000 computers and hundreds of full-time jobs, all shuffled off the books and reported to headquarters as something else just to avoid the hassle of dealing with central IT and their deliberately difficult processes. Once she arrived in a city to find that the department she was investigating had built a whole server room, a million-dollar operation listed as something else entirely. She tore the place down to the ground like Samson. A couple years afterwards, she heard rumors that it was being set up again. The heart wants what it wants, you see.

Anyway. The company for which I was contracting had spent a billion-with-a-B dollars on a central tech architecture and container platform. But that didn’t stop my sub-department from wanting to spend a million-with-an-M dollars on its own private little playground. So the RedHat and Microsoft people had arranged a meeting to show us all the benefits we would get from buying their products. And that’s where I saw the kid, whom I would later come to think of as The Creature From The Tech Lagoon.

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