Friday, July 3, 2015

From the Archives - fiction - A Hair Cut


This is a short story from way back.  It was inspired by my move to the Bay Area in 1990, and my abrupt recognition of how different it was from other places I’d lived.  “Different” is perhaps less apt a word than “complete,” in the sense that the little pond I’d imagined the world to be had suddenly given way to a vast ocean.  I came away feeling embarrassed at my own parochialism.  Given the progress America has made in the ensuing 25 years, I trust a wake-up call as shocking as this would no longer be possible today.

A Hair Cut - October 15, 1990

Nick knew Steven from Colorado.  They’d been next‑door neighbors, but Nick mostly knew Steven’s parents.  Steven was ten years older.  When Nick was twelve, Steven opened a hair salon.  Nick stopped by to visit.  He didn’t go inside because Steven was in the barbershop chair with a blond girl on his lap and he was kissing her.  Nick did not want to disturb this.  He wondered if he would ever own his own business.

Years later some friends of Nick’s shared some gossip about Steven.  What they said didn’t seem right because Nick had seen the girl in the barbershop chair.  His friends said Steven was “that way.”  Nick did not know if this was true, and he liked the haircuts because a girl complimented him once. 

Five years later they both were living in California.  Nick had moved to Berkeley for college and Steven was in San Francisco.  Nick phoned Steven to arrange a haircut.  He hadn’t seen Steven in years.  Steven gave him directions.  “I’m in the Castro,” he said.  He mentioned this several times.  Was this for emphasis, Nick wondered?  Or was it just because the first time, Nick had said, “Kestrel”?  Nick didn’t know the city well.  He had no idea where the Castro was.

Nick took the Bart train to San Francisco and got off at the Embarcadero station.  The attendant at the kiosk was not helpful with the instructions for Muni.  Muni buses ran down Market Street towards the Ferry Building and up towards this neighborhood Nick had never seen before.  He waited a long time for the Muni.  Buses kept passing him and none of them said K, L, or M.  Finally Nick asked a passerby who said K, L, and M are on the subway line and you have to go downstairs.  Nick could have waited all afternoon otherwise.  He knew nothing about Muni.

The subway was awfully loud.  Nick had a book of short stories by Hemingway.  He liked how he could feel how the characters felt, and how they couldn’t help how they felt.

When Nick came up out of the subway at Castro Street, he was disoriented.  The street was busy with people and ran down a long hill through old houses like he’d seen in photos.  He looked in the window of a clothing store and one of the mannequins had a hockey mask.  Nick wondered why they would do this.  In whose eyes would this make sense?  He had to ask for directions, but he did not want to ask the people on the sidewalk.  He finally asked two children how to get to 18th Street.  They told him and he was thankful because they were just kids.  They were awfully nice kids.

He found the hair shop.  It was up a steep wooden staircase and down a short, dark hall.  He saw the hair salon to his left but the doorway had black bars across it and a padlock, so he kept walking.  Farther down the little hall was a strange, dark shop with lots of leather and chains.  He went quickly back to the hair salon and a big man with a thick mustache let him in.  Steven was not in the shop.

Nick was glad he had his book and kept reading.  Steven arrived and they shook hands.  Nick felt that he had never known Steven well.  He sat in the big black leather barbershop chair.  Steven’s old salon had had a smaller chair.  While Steven cut Nick’s hair he talked to him and as they talked they used the mirror on the wall so they could see each other.  Nick thought about how it was perfectly normal for people to look at each other when they talked.

Steven was great at cutting hair.  He used little sharp scissors and took a long time.  While he was cutting and they were talking Nick saw another man come into the salon.  He had short dark hair with tight curls and he was talking about his hair.  He said he just couldn’t do anything with it anymore.  He sat down and flipped through a magazine while talking to them.  Three times, Steven pinched his finger in the scissors and yelped.

“How do you like the dildo shop next door?” asked the other hairdresser, the one with the mustache.  Nick said that he hadn’t really looked at it.

“They’re very common here,” Steven said.

“It’s as normal as going to a hardware store and asking for a screwdriver,” said the man with the magazine.  He paused and then said, “I wonder if I meant to make a pun on screwdriver.”

Another friend stopped by to see Steven.  He had thick, tall blond hair and was muscle‑bound.  He did not stay long and after fifteen minutes or so the curly-haired man left too.  When he left he patted Steven on the belly, Nick couldn’t help but notice.

Nick’s hair looked very good after an hour or so but Steven kept cutting, hair by hair, until two hours had gone by.  He charged Nick sixteen dollars.  Nick wrote him a check and then did not know what else to do.  He was a customer but also an old friend.  Steven asked if he wanted to get some tea.  They left the salon.  As they walked down the steep wooden steps, an attractive young woman looked at them and gave Nick a big smile.

“Did you notice that this is a prominent gay area?” Steven asked suddenly.  Nick said that he hadn’t noticed.  “Well it is,” said Steven. 

The coffee shop, Nick noted, also sold beer and cocktails.  It was a curious structure with a corrugated steel roof, Christmas lights, and a patio.  Steven said Nick could get whatever he wanted.  There was a big chalkboard listing all kinds of different drinks.  Nick thought hot chocolate would be good because it was cold out, or maybe a latte.  Those were two dollars and Steven was paying and Nick bought house coffee which was eighty cents.  Steven asked if he wanted to sit outside and Nick said he did.  It was cold outside and getting dark and the coffee shop was beginning to look more like a bar.

On the patio there were lots of people who were dressed lavishly.  Even the plain t-shirts struck Nick as lavish.   A small group of people nearby were talking.  A young woman with short dark hair was talking excitedly to two men with earrings, thick spiked hair, and long overcoats.  “Yesterday, I . . . I saw this cute girl and I . . . I scammed on her and uh . . . cruised . . . uh, she came over and we . . . we made out!” she said at last, talking fast and seeming happy to finish her sentence.  She smiled brightly and the two men nodded.  Nick felt that she was very young.  Nick didn’t think anything was funny but he thought he might laugh but he didn’t.

Steven asked if he was cold.  Nick was in shirtsleeves and the air was cold but he said he was fine. Steven wanted to go in.  They sat in the bar and Steven talked about how bars were encouraged to sell food.  He also pointed out the corrugated steel ceiling, which Nick had not noticed.  Around him lively people milled about and every so often two men would kiss and Nick did not want to look like he was watching.

Two men approached the table.  One had several days of red beard and a turtleneck, and he had a thick musky smell.  The other was a small man with deep clear eyes and a brown leather jacket.  Steven introduced the short man to Nick and the man extended his hand.

“Hi Nick, nice to meet you.  You’ll like Steven, he’s very nice.”

Nick had known Steven for more than fifteen years but he didn’t say so.  Maybe he didn’t really know Steven that well anyway.

The other men left and then Steven was talking a lot about his father.  He said he hoped Nick did not dislike his father.  Nick had always been fond of Steven’s father.  He knew Steven’s father well.

“I don’t think my dad liked your dad,” Steven was saying.  “He never really knew your dad but he probably made assumptions.  My dad always said the new yuppies with their liberal ideas were ruining the city.”  He paused for moment and then began talking faster.  “But he really wasn’t bad about it or anything and he was really tolerant about a lot of things, too, like my being gay and stuff like that.”

The word stung Nick like a bee inside but he did not flinch.  He nodded casually.  The word did not shock him but to hear Steven say it did.  Nick’s neck and shoulders were all tight.  For a few moments his mind drifted and when it came back he found he was talking about money.  He wondered:  was he talking too much about money?  With his other friends it didn’t occur to him to worry about what he was talking about.  Then before he knew it Nick was telling Steven about his ex-girlfriend.

It was dark out and the bar was full and the music was blaring and the bar was full of cigarette smoke and they left.  They walked along the street.  A block down there was a Safeway and across the street were two gyms on the same block.  This was Market street, which had lots of buses running between this neighborhood and, at the other end, the Embarcadero where Bart had let Nick off, hours ago.  Clothing stores lined the street with elaborate window displays and Nick had to look because Steven was pointing them out.  Nick didn’t see any more hockey masks.  They passed a brightly lit deli and Nick walked right past it but Steven had stopped.  He had said something but Nick didn’t hear.  Steven repeated his question:  “Are you hungry?”

Nick was always hungry and everybody always knew it.  Steven bought soft uncooked noodles and some sauce and they went to his apartment.  The door to the street was small and stiff and opened into a long dark hall.  The hall ended in what looked like a carport but Nick only saw a large garbage can.  He thought that seeing a raccoon would not surprise him.  Inside, the apartment was pretty nice but it was all one room and had no windows except the one in the back door that had some kind of clear plastic film over it so it wasn’t really clear.

Steven explained that the concrete foundation was no good because it allowed moisture to seep through.  Steven had always fixed up houses, building walls and porches with concrete, and then he would leave them once they were all done.  He was planning to do a lot of work on this studio.  There was a block of concrete two feet high jutting out from the wall.  It was a mistake when they built the building, Steven explained; he was going to extend it up and put on a table top.

While Steven was washing two plates and a pot to cook the pasta in, Nick sat on the edge of the couch and tried to think of something.  In the apartment were a bed and a couch and a stereo.  On the wall there was a framed photo of somebody Nick thought he recognized.  He asked if the guy was from Boulder and it turned out he was but Nick could not have known him.  While they ate Steven got out a photo album so Nick could see if he recognized the guy on the wall.  Nick knew he wouldn’t.  Steven flipped over the pages of photos, and looking at them was giving Nick a crick in his neck.

Steven got up and walked over towards the kitchen.  He was talking about fathers again.  He asked if Nick knew Tim Glenn.  Nick had heard the story about how Tim always got his hair cut by Steven for years and then heard some gossip and suddenly he and his entire church condemned Steven to Hell and Timmy’s hair never looked as good again.  Nick hated that about the church.  He said to Steven that he sort of knew Tim but mainly through his little brother.

“Yeah, I just sort of thought Tim’s dad reminded me of your dad,” Steven said.  Nick thought about the two dads.  Were they similar?  Nick remembered a story about Mr. Glenn:  once, during dinner, he got so frustrated slicing a baguette, he took it out to the garage and cut it into neat slices with his band saw.  Maybe Nick’s dad would do this, except that the blades of power tools aren’t clean.  Maybe Nick’s dad would use a laser.  Nick realized he was no longer hearing what Steven was saying.

After a while Nick decided he had to get home and then he was worried about finding the Muni station.  Steven loaned him a jacket while they walked to the station.  There was so much to see, and it was all so vivid.  This was something Nick had been marveling at for the last few weeks, when he’d started wearing contact lenses.  Not that everything he saw was pleasant.  There were homeless people begging and Steven got all sore.  “It’s their damn problem,” he said.

At the entrance to the Muni station Nick gave Steven back his jacket and thanked him for the haircut, the coffee, and the dinner.  Steven smiled and they shook hands.  Steven was a nice guy, Nick thought.  And now Nick just wanted to get Muni over with and get back to Oakland.

Nick hated the Muni station.  It was dark and he sat on a concrete bench and somebody sat next to him.  He was a big man with golden red hair and a golden red beard and a black leather biker jacket with lots of studs.  Nick hunched forward over his book.  He stared at the page but could not read.  Another man walked over, short with a thin voice and a white shirt with a collar and a necktie.  He chatted with the red-bearded guy, saying he was only in the area for a day and he had stayed at such and such hotel.  Red said that was a good hotel and Short said he had had just a wonderful time and really liked the area.

“Yes, it’s a grand place to be, even if for only one day,” said Red, “or only one night.”  Short agreed, emphatically.  Red continued, “It’s even a good place to come to just to look at the pretty blond boys.”  Short asked, “To look at who?”  Nick knew Short had heard it fine the first time.  “To look at the pretty blond boys,” Red said loudly.  Short replied, “Oh, yes, even the Aryan-looking ones.”  Red said, “Yes, especially the Aryan-looking ones, but never, ever the skinheads.”

Nick hated being the brunt of Aryan jokes but he chuckled.  He wondered if a skinhead would bother him like this.  He wished he could think of something to say but then the Muni came and he walked quickly down to the last car and boarded.  He looked again at his book. His neck was really sore and the train started up and screamed in his ears.  The train was narrow and the seats were hard.  When they got to the first Bart station Nick got off the train.  He heard it slip away into the tunnel behind him and roar up to speed but he did not watch it go.

Nick was very glad to be back on Bart.  It was familiar and quiet.  He was glad to be able to lose himself in his book and he almost missed his stop.  Nick walked up College Ave towards home.  He passed the pizza place and the little bookstore he liked and the convenience store where he got change for the Laundromat.

The back of Nick’s neck was cold where Steven had trimmed it.  There was a breeze bringing fog in from the bay.  Nick got home and went to bed.  He lay in bed and tried to think about nothing.  When he woke up the next morning there was a stiff, cold breeze bringing a thick fog in from the bay and it wasn’t until he looked in the mirror that he remembered he’d had his hair cut.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cycling Guidelines, or How Not To Be a Fred - Part II


In my last post I explored the difference between a) being a cycling fascist, and b) helping the reserved novice avoid some behavioral pitfalls that could cause embarrassment.  In short, I described how to avoid looking like a “Fred.”  Nobody wants to be this guy (except maybe this guy):

Rather than positioning myself as an authority, I surveyed 37 of my veteran cycling pals to see which behaviors are totally normal and acceptable; which are borderline (as in “I wouldn’t do it...”); and which are (in the survey’s words) “laughably Fredtastic.”  My last post covered all but the top ten most egregious behaviors; this one explores the very most frowned-upon.

Before we get started

I want to emphasize that I fully support the novice (or expert!) cyclist who doesn’t give a rat’s ass what is “done” and what is not, and cheerfully flies in the face of convention.  This post may help that sort of cyclist enjoy his rebellion more; after all, there’s no joy in unknowingly transgressing.  Moreover, this study shows how much wiggle-room exists, since there is somewhat limited consensus among those surveyed about cycling DOs and DON’Ts.

Also, I’m going to use “he,” “his,” and “him” throughout this post, simply because “he or she,” “his or her,” and “him or her” are too clunky.  Can a woman be a Fred?  Yes.  Have people tried to create a gender-specific term (e.g., “Freida”) for a female Fred?  Yes.  Did the below photo accompany a blog post called “Bicycling:  Are you a Fred?”  Yes.  Would the person shown below be welcome on a group ride with my club?  Yes, yes, yes.

Survey results – the top ten

(To see the 10th through 20th most frowned-upon behaviors, and to see a tabular summary of the behaviors that didn’t make the top 20, click here.

10th Most Fredtastic:  screwing up rotating paceline

When I was first compiling the questions for my survey (which were based on my own observations, my Internet searches on the topic, and consulting my bike pals) somebody rightly pointed out that fashion missteps are only part of the puzzle; poor technique can be every bit as damning.  Perhaps we should go easy on technique, though, since the intricacies of this sport can take a long time to learn (whereas it ought to be pretty obvious which is the front of your helmet and which is the back).  One respondent remarked that poor skills “are totally correctable and the responsibility is on us old schoolers to educate the newbies.”

On the other hand, it’s perfectly reasonable for the novice to brush up on his skills before joining a group ride.  What is to be done, though, when the skill in question can only be learned by riding in a pack?  The rotating paceline is a perfect example—it is impossible to learn this on your own.  (If you’re not familiar with this term, click here.) 

You may find it perplexing how little slack the respondents gave to the novice who screws up the rotating paceline.  Nobody found this acceptable, 39% tagged it as borderline, and 61% chose laughably Fredtastic.

I think this harsh judgment derives from just how frustrating it is when you’ve got, say, ten riders who are this close to achieving a gloriously efficient paceline, but there’s one guy who just doesn’t get it, and the whole thing gets gummed up and instead of blissfully pouring everything into the pedals and really hauling ass, everybody has to be making constant adjustments.  It doesn’t take long to identify the person who is cocking things up, or which of the many possible mistakes he’s making: 
  • Surging when at the front of the fast line, making the whole line adjust, so the guy at the back, moving over from the slow line, has a devil of a time;
  • Swinging too  far out to the side;
  • Failing to slow down slightly after moving over to the front of the slow line;
  • Getting to the front of the fast line and then unconsciously matching (instead of slightly exceeding) the speed of the guy at the head of the slow line, thus stalling out the rotation;
  • Getting to the back of the slow line and somehow forgetting to move over to the back of the fast line, causing widespread disorientation;
  • Perhaps due to being lazy, weak, or unfocused, randomly letting big gaps open ahead of him, which introduces a rubber-band effect to the whole line;
  • Failing to keep out of the way of the rotating riders when he’s given up doing his share and is sitting on the back.
Frankly, once the novice rider has achieved a comfort level with riding in close quarters, the rotating paceline actually isn’t that difficult a concept.  When I see somebody fouling up the paceline, I myself have little patience (though, like the others, I bear the frustration silently).

A nice counterpoint to all this was provided by a respondent:  “If someone screws up a paceline, the bad is on you for not going fast enough. In fact, screwing up a paceline is a good way to thumb your nose at a bunch of slow riders.”

9th Most Fredtastic:  water bottle behind saddle

Do a Google image search on “worldtour cycling time trial.”  You won’t see a single photo of a bottle mounted behind the saddle.  This is partly because of UCI article 1.3.024 bis:  “Bottles ... may only be located on the down and seat tubes on the inside of the frame.”  Do the pro cyclists chafe at this?  No.  That rule didn’t exist until 2013, before which time pro cyclists never used rear-mounted bottle cages anyway.

Think about that.  Some of these guys are willing to do an awful lot just to go faster.  They’ll tolerate headaches incurred by sleeping in oxygen-deprivation tents; they’ll take dangerous and illegal drugs; they’ll thaw and inject previously frozen blood; and they’ll do a five-hour ride, then guzzle a ton of fizzy water, pop a few sleeping pills, and try to sleep through dinner, to lose weight.  That all these pro cyclists refused to use a rear-mounted bottle, even back when it was legal, says either a) there isn’t actually much aerodynamic benefit to this; b) it’s inefficient trying to access a rear-mounted bottle;  or c) they still have some pride.  Whatever the case, nothing looks more tri—and less roadie—than a rear-mounted bottle.

The survey results confirm this:  two respondents (~6%) found this bottle placement acceptable; 31% said borderline; and 64% said Fredtastic. 

I think I know the two guys who said this was okay ... they’re real jokers who like to steal water from triathletes, so they don’t have to carry their own.  Yes, I made that up.  The real explanation may have to do with my survey question, which included handlebar-mounted bottles, which used to be popular (i.e., in the 1930s).   Maybe we’ve got a couple retro-types in the group.

A final note:  UCI 1.3.024 bis also states, “It is forbidden to place an empty bottle (without any liquid) on the bicycle.”  I guess this is why racers always discard their empty bottles:  they’re just following the rules!  Since fans get to retrieve these discarded bottles, it’s a win-win.

8th Most Fredtastic:  aero bars

Okay, that same Google search shows that virtually all WorldTour cyclists use aero bars during time trials.  So why is it that only 5% of my panel found aero bars acceptable on club rides, while 32% said borderline and 62% said Fredtastic?

Well, racing a time trial with these bars is one thing (we might tell ourselves we have to, because our competitors are), but why would you ever train with them?  What’s that you say?  “Practice”?  Who needs to practice?

In 1990, on the night before the collegiate national championship team time trial, my UCSB teammates and I finally got around to installing the aero bars on our funny bikes.  These were the über-cool kind of TT bike (now illegal) that had a smaller front wheel and down-sloping top tube.  We’d only ridden these bikes once (in the conference championship TTT), and that was just with the bullhorn bars.  Four of us had never tried aero bars on any bike.  So, after mounting the aero bars, we took one short test ride, in the dark, through downtown Palo Alto.  Given that we rode the bikes flawlessly the next day, winning the TTT, the single, brief test run was (by definition) all the practice we needed.  So why would anybody need to train with these bars on an ongoing basis?  You might as well have a sign around your neck saying, “I have a confidence problem,” or “I am a slow learner.”

I guess the other problem with showing up to a club ride with aero bars is that, since nobody else is using them, you might appear to be seeking some kind of equipment advantage.  Notwithstanding the fact that some roadies train on deep-dish carbon wheels, we’d all like to pretend that on training rides we prefer a level playing field.

7th Most Fredtastic:  big puffy jacket

I see people on fancy-pants road bikes with standard-issue Lycra bike shorts and then these big poofy nylon jackets, like an inverted MC Hammer.  This kind of jacket looks way too warm and there’s no way it’d scrunch up small enough to stuff in a jersey pocket, or even in the Fred’s oversized seat bag.  Experienced cyclists know to wear thin layers and constantly make adjustments (zipping, unzipping, scrunching down arm warmers, stowing things, etc.) instead of alternately suffocating and freezing.

6th Most Fredtastic:  not holding line

It’s understandably unnerving when somebody two inches ahead of you, or right next to you, wobbles around on the road, drifts due to inattention, or chooses the wrong line through a curve.  It seems irresponsible to join a group ride without having mastered the basic skill of riding in a straight line.  Perhaps that’s why a quarter of the panel called this failure borderline, 3% called it normal, and 72% said Fredtastic.

But you know what I’ve encountered more often, and which is also totally annoying?  It’s when one rider, usually in a race, yells at another for this infraction.  This is the most common criticism I’ve heard in the peloton and seems to be the rough equivalent of a motorist honking his horn. 

Usually, it’ like crying wolf:  I’ve heard this accusation far more often than I’ve seen it warranted.  During one collegiate cycling season, I fielded this complaint several times—even though in the years before and the years after, and even during USCF races that same year, I never heard boo.  Did I have a four-month lapse in skill?  No, it’s because that spring, using my brother’s student ID, I was racing for the tiny, virtually unknown Cuesta Community College Pedalers (CCCP).  Little teams like that always end up taking the brunt of riders’ frustrations:  “Goddammit, hold your line, Cuesta!”  I have it on good authority that no less accomplished a bike handler than Davis Phinney used to get this kind of verbal abuse when he was on Austro-Daimler and AMF, but never heard another peep once he joined 7-Eleven.

5th Most Fredtastic:  nervous, erratic riding

It’s not hard to see why nervous, erratic riding would bother people.  Nobody found this acceptable, 19% said borderline, and 81% flagged it Fredtastic.

Cycling, after all, is a social sport.  A two-hour ride with one pal is basically “My [Rolling] Dinner With André,” and a three-hour ride with the club is basically a three-hour cocktail party, as stoplights and such reshuffle the group so everybody gets to chat with everybody else.  Who wants to be next to the guy who is wobbling around, slamming on the brakes during descents, surging on all the climbs, and/or generally exuding the wrong vibe?

4th Most Fredtastic:  fanny pack etc.

The fully category here is “fanny pack or anything tied around the waist.”  Yes, people really do wear fanny packs while cycling.

The panel was pretty judgmental on this one:  a whopping 84% said it was Fredtastic, and 14% said it was borderline.  Only one person approved it.  I think that was me.  You see, when I ride with my daughter, I end up schlepping her stuff.  Sometimes this stuff includes—gasp!—a thick long-sleeved extra jersey (as un-stowable as a big puffy jacket).  I do a balancing act between showing my daughter the ropes and indulging her comfort, not wanting to sour her on the sport as she adjusts to it.  Meanwhile, the un-stowable garment isn’t so silly when you have someone to carry it for you; as my daughter wrote in her Grizzly Peak Century report recently, “Everyone needs a Sherpa!”  Since the jersey won’t fit in my pocket, I tie it around my waist.  If necessary, I’ll continue this practice when my daughter starts joining our club rides.

That said, I’d never ever own, much less wear, a fanny pack, on the bike or anywhere else.

Okay, are you ready for the podium?

3rd Most Fredtastic:  knee-high socks

I can only speculate on the mental illness that would cause a cyclist to wear knee-high socks, but I think we can divide this (thankfully small, but ominously growing) population into two categories:  those who are having a little carefree fun, and those who actually think they’re getting physiological benefit from their socks.

Let’s start with the first group.  Obviously, tall socks have a market:  those whimsical, fun-loving fashion vanguards.  Consider these:

Meanwhile, audacious socks are a perfect way for a cycling rebel to have some fun; consider this tale about Floyd Landis deliberately tweaking his competitors in his first road race by wearing tall, loud argyle socks.

But there’s a darker side to knee-high socks:  the whole “compression sock” notion.  Some actually believe that these socks will help you recover, etc. and you’ll actually be a better cyclist.  Usually this fallacy only destroys your post-ride wardrobe, but some people (I hesitate to call them cyclists) are now wearing them while training, or (gasp!) even while racing.

Please, somebody write in and tell me the above picture was Photoshopped.  I vomited mentally when I discovered it.  Fortunately, tall socks are confined to the idiot fringe of road racing, and I’m sure the offensive rider shown above was punished severely by the peloton.  (As a former pro once told me, it’s very difficult to help someone win a race, but very easy to make him lose.)

Needless to say, my panel had little patience for this tall-sock silliness; only 16% found it borderline, and everybody else rightly tagged it Laughably Fredtastic.

2nd Most Fredtastic:  underwear under cycling shorts

When I proposed this as a category, one teammate replied, “This is a myth. Perhaps you recall it from a waking dream as an undergraduate studying absurdist literature but it never happened.”  This was quickly countered by another guy:  “Underwear under Lycra DOES happen!  On a Cal cycling team ride circa spring 2001, a young female newbie was clearly wearing underwear under her Lycra.  She was also wearing a sweater tied around her waist.”

Obviously, it doesn’t make much sense to do this, since the so-called chamois has been specially engineered to wick away moisture, keeping baby drier (to quote a diaper commercial).  Why would you introduce a clammy cotton layer?

And yet, I myself have known three riders in favor of underwear under cycling shorts.  Many years ago, a teammate of mine trained with underwear but left it in the dresser on race day.  When I cheekily asked her why, I was brushed off with the comment, “It’s a woman thing.”  I never argue with that line of reasoning.

Four riders in our group ruled this behavior “borderline,” but everybody else said it was Fredtastic.

By the way, when researching a recent post I discovered that the yuppie/hipster website Coolhunting sells cycling-specific underwear.  Clearly, the assault on cycling’s image just never lets up.

Speaking of which, it’s time for our gold medal winner!

The Number One Most Fredtastic:  arm warmers with sleeveless jersey

It is in fact not terribly uncommon to see a cyclist wearing arm warmers and a sleeveless jersey at the same time.  (And no, I’m not talking about a sleeveless under-jersey plus a sleeved jersey.  Stop quibbling.)  Of all the behaviors in my survey, I think this is the most laughably Fredtastic of them all, so I was pleased to see this position reinforced by the panel.  A whopping 92% found this Fredtastic, 5% borderline, and just one renegade deemed it acceptable.  (Maybe that’s the smartass who was [hypothetically] quibbling about the under-jersey.)

This disapproval isn’t a matter of some cycling-specific fashion or tradition, and doesn’t pertain to the great cultural divide between road cycling and triathlon.  Nor is it a technically complicated matter, or anything safety-related.  It’s just a basic matter of the most obvious common sense.  Either the weather is cool enough for arm warmers, or it’s hot enough for a sleeveless jersey—it cannot possibly be both.  But since this logic evidently does elude some newbies, I’m going to break it down as simply as I can:

Of particular note here:  there is no box saying “Wear sleeveless jersey with arm warmers,” because there is simply no use case for this.  And yet, people do employ this combination.  Puzzling over whether there was some flaw in my decision tree, I consulted with my wife, who (though an accomplished cyclist) has no use for roadie culture.  After some thought, she said, “What if you have really nice shoulders?”

Aha!  Paradigm shift!  I had been operating under the unconscious assumption that function, comfort, and/or the prevailing fashion of the sport were driving people’s choices.  But what if the larger, weirder world of non-cycling fashion—that produces everything from tramp stamps to shredded jeans to giant women’s sunglasses to huge, ornate hats—were asserting itself?  Intrigued, I did a little Internet research and came upon “The Great Arm Warmer Debate.”

I didn’t really find this much of a debate.  The blogger herself, a cyclist named Shannon, has decided this combo is okay, and two out of three of her respondents agreed.  (The other reader comment was just praise of Shannon’s phrase “cyclist version of knee socks.”)  So this so-called “debate” was really more of an online love-in.  But it was illuminating:  here is a cycling cohort utterly unconcerned with things like function or tradition, who blithely occupy a kicky, fun universe and don’t identify as rebels.  And I have to admit, Shannon does have nice shoulders.

Maybe veteran cyclists like me are just bitter because our biceps are too wimpy to hold up our arm warmers unless we have elastic-trimmed sleeves to help out.  Or maybe our body fat is so low we can’t take cold shoulders in stride.  Perhaps we’ve suffered so much through this sport, we feel we’ve earned the privilege of scorning the unenlightened.

Or, maybe we’re just right.  Judge for yourself!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cycling Guidelines, or How Not To Be a Fred - Part I


I want to start off this post by stating something important:  I think novice cyclists are great.  These are people making the transition from non-cyclist to cyclist, which is a difficult transition all of us cyclists have had to make.  I earnestly wish to make cycling as friendly as possible to all newcomers, which is why I chafe at the (albeit sometimes jocular) elitism of the so-called Velominati, and why I criticized “The Rules” in these pages.

That said, I suspect that many newcomers (to cycling or, really, to anything) would prefer not to wear their novice status on their sleeves.  Nobody wants to be a Fred; that is, nobody wants to be this guy:

To the extent that cycling is a social sport, people will naturally want to fit in—but that’s not the same thing as being told what to do, especially by a self-appointed expert.  A set of widely accepted guidelines, which the novice cyclist may choose to heed or ignore at his or her whim, strikes me as a useful thing.

To sidestep the matter of whether my authority counts for anything, I created a survey and sent it to my cycling buds.  This is an accomplished group of no-nonsense road cyclists, most of whom have been riding for at least twenty years.  I based my survey questions on several sources:  behaviors I myself find questionable; behaviors cited in various Internet “are you a Fred?” articles; and pre-survey ideas from my cycling buds.  The overall gist was, “How would you react to this behavior if displayed during our club ride?”  I had respondents rank each behavior according to these descriptors:  “Totally Normal/Acceptable”; “Borderline/ I Wouldn’t Do It”; and “Laughably Fredtastic.”  The results of that survey, along with copious commentary and caveats, are presented herein.

But first

To reiterate, I’m not trying to tell anybody what to do.  Rebelliousness has been a part of this sport for generations, and I’m all for it.  What I think most people would like to avoid is being an accidental iconoclast—i.e., a dork.  It’s useful to know what the norms are, whether you intend to adhere to them or flout them openly.  So take each of these guidelines with a grain of salt, and jettison them as you see fit.

I hasten also to point out that I use “Fred” as a kind of shorthand.  I don’t actually get any smug pleasure from labeling this or that rider a Fred.  Codifying behaviors is as much about helping people rest easy as it is warning anybody about potentially sneer-inducing behaviors.  So if, for example, you’ve been feeling self-conscious about buying house-brand bike clothing (i.e., Nashbar) instead of springing for mainstream brands like Pearl Izumi, you can relax:  49% of the seasoned veterans surveyed find the low-cost choice perfectly acceptable and normal, while only 14% think it’s Fredtastic.

One respondent suggested that “the main reason we care about these behaviors is that they act as a signaling system for safety—a sign that the rider is a newbie and may need a bit more space.  It’s not just that we’re dicks (although that’s part of it too—good social skills are not a requirement for participating in a quasi-individual sport).”  I think he’s onto something.

A final bit of perspective:  I was riding recently with a cycling newbie—my 13-year-old daughter Alexa—and she asked, “Dad, were you ever a Fred?”  I said, “Sure.  I had big tube socks that were usually stained with chain grease, and I tipped over a lot when I first got toe-clips, and I had a particularly ugly helmet with a visor.”  She asked, “Did you know you were a Fred?”  I replied, “No, I didn’t.  Freds never do.  But after my best friend complained about my visor, I did snap it off.”  After a pause, Alexa asked, “Dad, will I ever be a Fred?”  (She likely perceives that, for now, she’s too young to be judged, which may well be true.)  I replied, “No, you’ll never be a Fred, because I won’t let you.”

But then I caught myself.  What if she doesn’t actually care?  Who am I to stand in the way of her individual expression?  So I asked, “Is that okay?  Are you even looking for my opinion?”  She rolled her eyes and said, “Dad, I’m a teenager.  I’m self-conscious.  Thank you for giving me advice.” 

If that’s where you’re coming from, this blog post is for you.  On the flip side, if you’re looking for ways to get under the skin of overly uptight bike fascists, this post is also for you!

Survey results:  part one

My survey comprised 41 questions.  About half of the behaviors surveyed didn’t produce a sizable negative response; for example, “Wearing mountain bike shoes instead of road shoes” was tagged “Laughably Fredtastic” by only 2 out of the 37 respondents (i.e., about 5%), and 35% of respondents found this behavior “Totally Acceptable/Normal.” 

The variety of responses across many of these surveyed behaviors suggests something I’ve long suspected:  that, as a group, cyclists’ perspectives actually aren’t that homogenous.  One respondent commented, “Many of the ‘borderline’ (and even some of the ‘Fred-tastic’) I have committed and/or seen committed on EBVC rides.  Conclusion:  hypocrisy is ‘completely normal/acceptable’ among ‘serious’ cyclists.”

I quite agree.  Consider the mountain bike shoe question:  my friend Peter, a former pro road racer, wore mountain bike shoes on the road for like two years even though he actually owned a brand-new pair of road shoes.  He was just too lazy to set up the cleats.  On the flip side, a current teammate of mine was so bothered by Alexa’s mountain bike shoes, he offered to take up a collection for me to buy her some proper road shoes.

Here’s a summary of what appear to be the least frowned-upon behaviors surveyed.  Click on these to zoom in:

Survey results:  part two

Next I’ll go through 10 of the top 20 offending behaviors.  (I’d do all 20, but so many people complain that my blog posts are too long.  The top 10 will be covered in my next post.)

 20th Most Fredtastic:  Abruptly Rising

Asked for their opinion on “Abruptly rising from the saddle so your rear wheel is thrust backward,” 53% of respondents cited this as borderline behavior, and 47% deemed it laughably Fredtastic.

This behavior clearly identifies a newbie, because it’s a somewhat dangerous move that, because it comes naturally, must be unlearned.  Whenever you stand on the pedals, the bike automatically goes back (actually, it probably just slows down for a beat), which requires evasive maneuvers on the part of anybody drafting you.  I wonder how many newbies don’t realize this, and are puzzled by how often guys in the group start cussing for no apparent reason.

19th Most Fredtastic:  QR on Right

Queried about “Wheel quick-release lever on starboard (i.e., wrong) side,” 47% of respondents found this borderline, and 50% Fredtastic.  One respondent found this normal/acceptable.

Why should this matter?  Well, many road tires are directional, though I couldn’t say whether mounting them correctly actually makes a difference. If you’re old-school and have a magnet on one of your spokes for your bike computer, this would be a problem.  Most of all, the backwards skewer shows a lack of attention to detail.

I don’t see this mistake very often, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.  I was riding with a pal who noticed, before I had a chance to, that his front wheel was on backwards.  He actually took me to task for failing to call him out on this, but we both agreed it was an understandable error simply because my friend was a new father and wasn’t getting enough sleep to function properly.

18th Most Fredtastic:  Too much watt-related commentary

When asked their opinion on “Commenting too frequently about power output,” 51% found this Fredtastic, 37% said borderline, and 11% said normal/acceptable. 

This behavior suggests an interesting dichotomy:  expertise vs. experience.  It tends to be the serious rider who lays out the cash for a power meter and understands the readings well enough to talk about them.  On the other hand, the true veteran probably tired of all this performance-related (and, more generally, cycling-related) conversation long ago, and has little appetite for it.

17th Most Fredtastic:  No socks

Riding without socks was tagged as Fredtastic by 53% of respondents, with 36% finding it questionable and 11% normal/acceptable.  The fact that four respondents approved of going sockless surprises me, because I cannot remember the last time I rode with someone who didn’t have socks.

In road racing, socks are mandatory.  Way back in 1985, when my feet were at their adolescent stinkiest, a friend of mine showed up to race having forgotten his socks.  He had to borrow mine—after I’d raced in them.  He was an even stinkier dude than I was, and I said, “Just keep ‘em.”

16th Most Fredtastic:  Pie plate

Responses broke down as follows:  57% found pie plates Fredtastic; 34% questionable; 9% acceptable.

What?  You don’t know what “pie plate” means in a bike context?  Well, you’ve come to the right place!  Check out this post for a full explanation of why spoke protectors are such a grind.  (Short answer:  “We didn’t call them spoke protectors though,/ As ‘pie plate’ better mocked how big they were./ They caused the largest cog to seem to grow—/ A mean illusion, awful to endure./ A bigger cog meant lower gearing, see;/ The stuff of weaker boys, embarrassing./ We longed for smaller clusters, finally free/ Of pie plates. Lack of metal was our bling.”)

15th Most Fredtastic:  Sleeveless jersey

For “Sleeveless jersey when it’s not that hot,” 54% came back with Fredtastic; 41% borderline; 5% acceptable.

To me, nothing says “newbie” like a person who is woefully ill-prepared for the weather conditions.  I clearly remember the first time I wore a sleeveless jersey on a not-so-warm day.  In my defense, I’d just moved to San Luis Obispo (where the weather is often cooler than it looks) from Boulder (where sunshine almost always means glorious warmth), and I’d listened to too much “Beach Boys” music and got the wrong idea about California.  Sleeves, even short ones, make a huge difference, and I froze my ass off that day.  I never made that mistake again.  So when it’s 60 degrees and cloudy here, and feels like 50 degrees, and I’m rocking two jerseys and a pair of arm warmers, and I see some biker in a sleeveless jersey, I think, “Either this is your very first ride, or you never learn.”

14th Most Fredtastic:  Half-wheeling

Half-wheeling is Fredtastic to 56% of my panel; borderline in the eyes of 33%; and normal/acceptable to 11%.  I think that 11% is more along the lines of “normal,” as in “an inescapable evil we’ll never be rid of.” 

This behavior—whereby the offender is riding next to a pal, and keeps pulling slightly ahead, so his bike is half a wheel ahead—is surely based on the competitive impulse.  Resisting this impulse demonstrates the triumph of discipline over instinct.  Probably because I ride so much by myself, I have to struggle against this one constantly.  It’s not that rare for a pal to grab my shoulder and pull me back so our wheels are lined up again, and whenever this happens I’m completely mortified.  Let me take this opportunity to apologize in advance for the next time I do this to you.

13th Most Fredtastic:  Bento Box

If you don’t know what a Bento Box is, in the context of bike gear, congratulations.  You must enjoy a more rarified biking environment than I do.  A Bento Box is this little bag that mounts behind your stem.  I’ve circled it in this photo:

One of the Fredtastic things about the Bento Box is the company it keeps:  the bike above has a pie plate, aero bars, and saddle-mounted water bottle cages (all of them flagged in my survey).  No, I don’t know what the junk is on the top tube of that bike, nor what the white thing is mounted to the aero bars.  Maybe it’s a diaper-wipe dispenser or a blood bag.  Man, I just looked too closely at the far-forward position of the saddle on that bike, and I almost barfed into my mouth.  If my daughter ever tricks her road bike out like this, I’m sending her to boarding school.

No, not all Bento Box users are triathletes.  But every time I see one of these things, it’s on a way over-accessorized bike that generally looks way too expensive for the speed it’s being pedaled at.  Not that an over-expensive bike is a sign of Fred-dom, exactly; only 17% of the panel found “Quality of equipment clearly surpasses rider’s ability” to be Fredtastic, and 39% found it normal/acceptable.  One respondent commented, “Riding equipment above the ability of the rider should be acceptable if, and only if, the rider aspires to higher quality [defined as fitness, skill and élan] AND the combination and configuration of that equipment is otherwise PROfull.”  Bikes overly loaded with accessories are never PROfull, and particularly egregious examples like the Bento Box suggest that a silver-tongued bike shop salesman had a field day with the bike owner.

My main issue with the Bento Box is that it’s utterly needless.  I’ve done unsupported rides of over 200 miles and I never needed more room than my jersey pockets provide.  (And I don’t even use a seat bag.) 

Survey response:  56% of respondents tagged the Bento Box as Fredtastic; 31% found it borderline; and 14% of these softies said it was acceptable.  I wonder how many of that 14% thought I was talking about Japanese food as a glycogen-window snack.

12th Most Fredtastic:  Jersey riding up

“Jersey that rides up over non-bib shorts, exposing skin.”  There’s no easy phrase to describe this, and there’s no easy way to tolerate being stuck behind it when you’re in a paceline.  Back in the ‘80s my brother did a really long ride while afflicted with this sartorial malady, and he got this terrible crescent-shaped sunburn on his lower back.  Like many teens of that era, he liked to go around shirtless (when off the bike), and his low-riding non-biker shorts showcased that sunburn and the golden brown tan that followed it.  It was kind of creepy, like the Cheshire Cat’s grin that remained long after the cat himself was gone.

Perhaps it’s mostly novices who don’t grasp why bib shorts are worth paying more for.  Myself, I haven’t worn non-bibs since I was junior, when it was popular to ride up behind a guy, grab the waistband of his shorts, pull it down, and hook it under the back of the saddle—and then attack.  This was as effective as it was humiliating to the victim, and I wouldn’t rule out a nefarious plot concocted by the Sportswear Industrial Complex.

Not a single respondent found this scenario acceptable.  It was deemed Fredtastic by 57% of the group, and borderline by the other 43%.

11th Most Fredtastic:  Clip-on mirror

Not surprisingly, 58% of respondents found it Fredtastic to use a little mirror that clips to the helmet or the glasses.  Another 39% deemed it borderline. Oddly, one respondent thought it was acceptable.  Must be a really nice person.

My issues with this accessory are threefold.  First, if you crash, you’ve got broken glass right near your eye.  (Yes, I also favor plastic lenses for sunglasses.)  Second, if a motorist is behind you, it’s better to make eye contact with him (by turning your head) than to assume he’ll notice your mirror.  (He won’t; you’re lucky if he notices you.)  Finally, it could be that the guy who buys this mirror lacks the skill to look over his shoulder while riding—in which case you may not want him in your group.

Okay, you caught me.  I was inventing rational reasons to support my predilections, which I confess are largely aesthetic and stylistic.  Go right on ahead using your clip-on mirror, your Bento Box, and your pie plate.  I promise I won’t say anything, especially if you ride me off your wheel.

Stay tuned...

Watch these pages, because next week I’ll unveil the top-ten most widely denounced signs of newbie knowledge gap.  Here’s a little teaser:  behavior #1 was rated “Laughably Fredtastic” by 92% of the panel!


Click here for Part II of this article ... the top-ten Fredtastic behaviors!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Middle School “Graduation” Speech ... From a Dad


I am vaguely aware that there is, coming up, some kind of “graduation” ceremony for my older daughter’s middle school.  I’m still waiting to hear the details, such as when and what this actually is.  One thing I know for certain:  nobody has asked me to give a speech at the event.

The nice thing about being a blogger is that nobody has to ask.  Here is my unsolicited commencement speech for all eighth-graders—and their parents—everywhere.  I encourage you to give this speech at the dinner table tonight, like I’m going to do.

(By the way, this speech is not based on the performance and behaviors of my own eighth-grader, who is perfect.  Everything in here is completely hypothetical and/or archetypal.)

Middle school “graduation” speech ... from a dad

Of course I’ve never given a speech like this before.  I’m not even sure why middle schools have such ceremonies, since middle school is just a stepping-stone anyway.  But I could say the same thing about high school, which has itself become a mere waypoint on the way to college.

As I hope you’ve already heard, middle school (or junior high, as I knew it) is actually the hard part.  If you’ve done a halfway decent job of making the transition from largely irresponsible, clueless child to basically self-sufficient (albeit exasperated) teenager, high school shouldn’t be a difficult transition.  Moreover, kids seem to mellow out in high school, as their brains catch up to their hormone-ravaged bodies.  So, since you matriculating middle-schoolers are all going to be just fine, I’m going to focus this speech on what you can do for your poor parents over the next four years. 

There’s solid precedent for thinking of your parents on this momentous occasion, even when all the fuss seems to be about you.  I suppose at my high school graduation somebody must have given a speech, but I don’t remember it.  What I do remember is what my physics teacher said during the last week of school.  He gave what struck me as kind of the antithesis of a commencement speech.  Here is my best recollection of what he said: 
Look, a lot of fuss is about to be made over all of you. You’ll wear this fancy cap and gown and attend this big ceremony with all these people watching. But don’t get too excited. In the big scheme of things, graduating from high school isn’t that big an achievement. It basically means you showed up for four years. And if you really think about it, most of you could figure out a more fun way to spend your afternoon than dressing up and standing around through a bunch of speeches. Try to appreciate that this ceremony isn’t actually for you. It’s for your parents, and your grandparents, so please honor their ceremony by not decorating your mortarboard with stickers and whatnot, and justifying this misbehavior by saying it’s your ceremony. Instead, behave respectfully, go where you’re told, and try not to do anything to disturb the event. You have the rest of the summer to screw around and do as you please.
Of course, there aren’t any caps or gowns at today’s ceremony, and since kids your age aren’t organized or devious enough to smuggle in beer or inflatable dolls, like the students at my high school graduation did [wait for laughter], I’m going to give you some guidelines on how to advance your development as thinking, considerate, and mature beings in your day-to-day life.  If you follow this advice you might start to feel a bit less anxious about grades, popularity, life changes, and the ten other things that I, as a parent, could never understand.

Guideline #1:  Honor your commitments!  No excuses!

This does not mean “Prioritize your commitments and honor the most important ones.”  It means you should not commit to doing something unless you know you will have the time, resources, ability, discipline, and commitment to do it, as promised and on time.  You must honor every commitment you make, no matter whom you made it to.

When you’re in high school, you will have all kinds of distractions—some of them of the “hanging out” variety, but also a great number of worthy extracurricular activities.  That’s great—but you shouldn’t, say, skip practicing the piano because you have to write a student election speech.  If you cannot honor all your obligations, you are overscheduled and need to scale back.  Commitments come first; leisure comes second.  That said, before committing to something, ensure you will still have time to set aside for leisure.  It’s important, too.

Remember that extracurricular activities shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of good grades.  If you’re on a sports team, your teammates rightfully expect a certain level of participation, even if you have a big test coming up (and after all, who doesn’t?).  It is more important to learn to be reliable, balanced, and responsible than to get straight As.  Many great scholars totally wash out in real life, and not all successful people were top students.

There is almost never a good excuse for failing to honor a commitment.  For example, to say “I ran out of time” means a) “I did not manage my time well,” b) “I did not prioritize this commitment to you,” and c) “By making this excuse I am demonstrating a willingness to let this happen again.”  Remember, nobody wants to hear an excuse.  Often, an excuse functions as the opposite of an apology.  It suggests that you’re not holding yourself responsible for your failure.

Guideline #2:  “Own” your problems

You must recognize when something is your problem, and don’t try to make it into your parents’ problem.  Say, for example, you forgot to get up extra early for a student council meeting, and now you’re about to be late for it.  Don’t yell at your mom or dad, “You gotta drive me!  You gotta!”  After all, you made the commitment to attend that early meeting, not your parents.  It is unpleasant and offensive for them to be shrieked at by somebody who has made a mistake and behaves as though it’s his or her parent’s job to fix it.

Sometimes you will fail.  Everybody does.  Fail gracefully, without dragging down the people around you, particularly your parents who suffer (if only silently) whenever you do.  Yes, of course you can always go to your parents to be consoled, but resist the impulse to implicate them in your mistake.  Learn how to accept a setback as stoically as you can; try to learn from it; then move on.

Guideline #3:  Understand the role of your parents

Most of you kids probably dream of having the cool kind of parents, who are a combination of personal assistant, chauffeur, purveyor of booze, and ATM.  Well, I hate to break it to you, but that’s not what your parents signed up for.  And all those hundreds of loaded diapers you stuck them with have probably exhausted your parents’ patience.

There are all kinds of ways your parents can support your efforts, but not all of them are actually helpful.  Should they be available to help with homework?  Of course (unless it’s something like calculus that your parents put behind them decades ago).  Is it right for your mom or dad to bend over backwards to get you out of a tough spot, when you’re behind on an assignment due to procrastination and/or disorganization?

Perhaps not.  If they help you out of such a bind, perhaps they’re sending the wrong message, such as “It’s okay to fly by the seat of your pants, since you’ll always have a parent to pick up the slack.”  (You won’t.)  As important as that school assignment seems now, the bigger education is in managing your time.  This never seems obvious in the moment, but it’s better for your mom or dad to let you fail now—and thus learn self-sufficiency the hard way—than for them to leave you stranded later, when you’re truly on your own.

There is more to parenting than helping a child succeed.  A good parent strives to teach his or her child to be helpful to others.  Many of us parents are trying to instill character, which is rarer and more valuable than the ability to succeed. 

Of course this development takes time.  Infants are practically useless; grade-school kids are often clueless; teenagers often feel overwhelmed.  Self-sufficiency is an evolution.  You are now at an age where you can and should be taking on as much as you can:  setting and adhering to your routines, cleaning up after yourself, getting yourself where you need to go, and knowing what to do and when to do it without being reminded.

I hope that most of you have already managed to climb well into the purple tier of the developmental triangle I’ve presented here.  This is a simplistic schematic; the colors should blend m ore, to convey that even before being totally self-sufficient, a person can still be helpful to others. 

Remember that you are not yet an independent adult, free to pursue only what is important to you.  So long as you are dependent on your parents, you should expect them to be involved in setting your priorities.  When you set goals for yourself, work to keep them aligned with the goals your parents have for you.  And when you ask your mom or dad for support, remember that you do not have the big picture; gracefully accept it when the answer is no.

Not all the help your parents give you is solicited; for example, they are justified in giving you unsolicited advice.  That’s part of their job.  And even though you didn’t ask for advice, you’re expected to follow it.  It’s exasperating to your parents when you don’t, and then they have to deal with the consequences ... which brings me to my next guideline, which is a sore point with so many parents.


Why don’t the greatest mathematicians do everything in their heads?  It’s because they need pencil and paper to organize their thoughts.  Why was written language invented?  It’s because oral communication is too imprecise, unreliable, and ungainly.  Writing something down frees your brain up for bigger, better thoughts, while keeping tasks from being forgotten.  As your life continues to get more complicated it will be impossible for you to honor all your commitments without systematically recording what is due and when.  So get a pocket calendar you can bring to school with you.  Record your commitments in it.  Keep it handy.  Look it over frequently.  Document deadlines well in advance.  Check things off as you complete them.

This calendar is only one of your tools.  Figure out everything you’ll need and keep it handy.  I’m talking about your wristwatch, your textbook, your homework, that permission slip, your house key, your gym shorts, your glasses, and the ten other things that I as a parent hope to be blissfully unaware of because they’re your problem, not mine.

Imagine if David had shown up to duel Goliath and forgot his sling:  “Dude, I couldn’t find my weapon, we’ll have to reschedule.”  That’s not gonna happen.  Goliath’s gonna kick your ass.  So, select a single best place in your home to store each of your life tools, and store them only in this place!  If you leave these tools lying around, they will be in people’s way, and they’ll get squirreled away and/or buried, and you won’t have them when you need them ... and then, if you complain to your parents about this, well, you’re in clear violation of Guideline #2 above.  (Don’t tell me you forgot Guideline #2!  Pay attention, there’ll be a test later!)

Guideline #5:  Figure out guidelines of your own

I don’t claim to be some world authority on all this.  Perhaps the most important skill for you to develop is a sense of being in charge of your own life, becoming self-sufficient, and figuring out—usually when something doesn’t work—what you need to do to become more effective.  Periodically step back, look at your life, and ask the question, “How can I make this work better?  What is falling through the cracks?  How can I keep that from happening?”  If you create the right habits and systems, you will get more done and avoid all kinds of strife as you go along.

I’ll leave you with this refreshingly non-didactic thought:  as systematic and prescriptive as all this seems, everybody is just winging it, and that’s okay.  You’re all amateurs.  There’s no such thing as a professional high-schooler, and if there were, we’d see all kinds of malpractice suits.