Monday, October 31, 2016

My Brief Foray into Politics


This post does not concern, nor reveal, my political views.  As I stated in my very first albertnet post, politics is a topic I avoid.  Why?  First of all, I don’t have enough readers to risk alienating half of them.  Second, politics is boring.  I firmly believe that most political dialogue between non-professionals is pointless.  Either you disagree with the other person and will never come to agreement, or the two of you already agree, in which case the dialogue is just reiterating each other’s opinions (or splitting hairs, which doesn’t generally change anybody’s vote).  I’ve personally never met an undecided voter.  I acknowledge they exist but this amazes me.

This post tells the story of my brief foray into politics, a couple decades ago, as a Precinct Captain during a Presidential election.  This was when I was a student.  My college career happened to span two such elections, with a different party winning each time.  I reckon I can safely tell my story without you figuring out which side I support(ed).

(I thought this would be a recycled “from the archives” essay, but discovered that most of my original version emphasized the wrong things.  The fun, human details that stand out in memory were largely missing from the original essay.  So I’m recycling some stuff here, but dredging up the more interesting details from memory.  Here’s a teaser:  a girl was involved.) 

My brief foray into politics

It all started with a knock at the door from some guy handing out political paraphernalia.  He represented the candidate I supported, so—being bored, idealistic, and bereft of the “refusal skills” they tried to teach us in junior high health class—I coughed up my name and phone number as a potential volunteer.  A week later, the phone awakened me from a late slumber.  The caller was a girl and asked for me by name.  I’d only moved to town a couple months before and didn’t know a lot of people, so this seemed too good to be true.  Her name was Charlie.  If you don’t think that’s a sexy name for a college girl, maybe that’s only because you haven’t heard her voice.  If she’s not running a political campaign today, she might be making a great living as a deejay or voice actor.  She “reminded” me (actually, I’d been ignorant) about the big rally the next day.

I decided to go.  Not because I’m a natural-born volunteer, which I am not, and not because I was a politically wild-eyed college kid, and not because I was looking for something that would “look good on my résumé” (having the good sense even then to leave out this kind of thing).  After two decades of reflection, I’m able to admit that my main motivation for attending was to meet Charlie and see if she was as attractive in person as she’d sounded on the phone.

The student pavilion was absolutely mobbed.  After much trumpeting, ballyhooing, and a few introductory speeches, a big boss asked each volunteer to state his or her name, organization, and reason for attending.  This threatened to take forever; the first few students gave long tirades about their beliefs, etc.  Fortunately, a lot of others (perhaps sensing the growing danger of death-by-blather) gave very brief intros like, “My name is Joe Blow and I’m hung over” or “Her name is Jane Doe and she’s shy.”

When it came to my turn I said, “I’m Dana Albert and I’m here because I disagree with almost everything [Candidate X] stands for.”  This was met with cheering and laughing and I was on the verge of thinking I had a talent for politics until somebody said, “Wait—almost everything?”  I feared I might be pilloried but there was just more laughing.  Everybody seemed pretty punch-drunk, which may well be normal at such gatherings.

Then we got down to the strategy for Election Day.  Each precinct would have a Precinct Captain who would lead a team of “walkers” to blanket the region, knocking on doors to hand out paraphernalia and remind people to vote.  Every door in every precinct would be hit three times.  This sounded like a whole lot of work and I considered slipping out and running for my life.  Once you’ve demonstrated a willingness to do volunteer slave labor, I reasoned, you’re marked for life.

On the other hand, I theorized that being a Precinct Captain instead of just a foot soldier might involve some interesting work and a lot less walking.  Who knows, maybe I was a bit punch-drunk myself, because I bit the bullet and volunteered for Captain.  Just like that, my apartment became the headquarters for Precinct 34-11.

The Precinct Captains gathered at one end of the pavilion to head up the walker recruiting process.  The volunteer pool was surprisingly small, to my dismay.  What’s worse, the other Captains actually knew how to recruit:  “Yo, free beers for anyone in my precinct!” and  “Coffee and doughnuts over here!” Being broke, I wasn’t about to pony anything up, so I scanned the room for anybody who looked like he could be cajoled, via mere words, into joining my team.  My eyes happened to settle on a singularly attractive young woman, and I was so stunned when she returned my gaze that I just froze, cowering inwardly.  Only the fear of being rude kept me from instantly averting my eyes.  I probably looked like a scared little puppy dog who’s made a mess on the rug that his master is soon to discover.  But to my surprise, the girl didn’t scorn me; in fact, she walked over.  And astonishingly, she turned out to be Charlie herself!

Actually, this only seemed astonishing at the time, and if you happened to read my original account you’d have thought I was a master of dramatic irony (i.e., the literary technique where the reader figures things out that the hapless narrator does not).  But actually, I was just clueless.  Only now, in retrospect, do I realize that Charlie came over not because I was looking at her, but because I’d stood up and stated my name a few minutes before, so she knew who I was; i.e., she realized I was the hapless last-minute recruit she’d telephoned the previous day, who had now recklessly named himself a Precinct Captain despite lacking the knowledge and volunteer base to cover a precinct.  My puppy-dog look had only increased her pity.  Surely this is why she—a higher-up party operative—agreed to be one of my walkers, for at least part of my shift.

Unfortunately, it would take a lot more than one volunteer to blanket my precinct three times over.  I wasn’t the only understaffed Captain; one of the big bosses announced, “It looks like we're really short on volunteers, so the best thing you can do is call up your friends and get them to help you.”  I thought about raising my hand and saying, “What if I don’t have any friends?”  This would have been taken as a joke, and yet the reality was, the friendships I had made were still too new and shaky to withstand this kind of burden.

And so, later that afternoon, I went around to all the apartments in my complex with my signs and posters to beg for support.  Only one neighbor agreed to help, and he wouldn’t commit to a specific time, which made him as good as worthless.  Going into Election Day, I had to kiss goodbye my dream of assembling a crack team of precinct-walking superstars, ruling over them with friendly yet absolute authority, earning their respect as a fearless leader, and then kicking back all day and watching the votes roll in.  But things weren’t all bad; after all, I was Precinct Captain over one of the most beautiful girls on campus.

I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. on Election Day.  The first task of our crew was hanging last-minute campaign signs all over town.  It was hard to see the point of this; perhaps the idea was to put on a show of great effort in order to guilt lazy voters into actually making it to the polls.  Then it was time for the first door-to-door shift.  Charlie had her real job to do until 3:30 p.m., but I was able to coax the party bosses into assigning me a couple of professional walkers who had come all the way from Washington, DC.  Despite 34-11 being a notoriously large precinct, every door was knocked on by 11 a.m. and I did only 45 minutes of walking myself.

I spent the early afternoon calling in the poll results and handling a few other clerical matters.  I was dreading the second walking shift because I had no volunteers and would have to do the whole precinct myself.  But check this out:  the neighbor I’d recruited not only showed up, but brought his brother!  The three of us covered the second wave in good time, so that when Charlie showed up at 3:30 I was already back at HQ and probably looked like I knew what I was doing.

I had to walk a lot during the final shift, by which time people seemed pretty sick of seeing us.  Going door-to-door was actually kind of fun; seeing college kids at home is kind of like seeing animals in the wild.  A lot of them seemed to be napping, and it wasn’t uncommon for pot smoke to billow out as the door opened.  I knocked on one door, heard a lot of shrieking and scuffling, and eventually it opened a crack and a girl giggled, “None of us are dressed!”  At another place the tenant, who’d been sprawling on a couch half asleep, roused himself to start arguing with me.  I explained that I didn’t have time to discuss the election, at which point his girlfriend took up the job.  They were really going at it as I left.

At 8:15 I headed over to the mandatory meeting of all the Precinct Captains.  I guess if our candidate had triumphed this would have been a big party, and there was certainly enough alcohol laid in for that purpose.  But our guy lost.  The state of the headquarters (somebody’s house) reflected the wreckage of the campaign:  all kinds of flyers and other paraphernalia, now completely useless, littered the floor; posters were beginning to curl and slide down the walls; charts of the periodic precinct checks displayed the carnage numerically.  I imagined being one of the bosses recording these numbers, the cause being slowly tortured to death before their very eyes. 

I went into the living room, where everybody was gathered around watching our candidate’s concession speech.  I don’t think advance polling was much of a thing back then, so this loss hadn’t been predicted.  Still, I was surprised at how nobody seemed braced for this eventuality.  It was like somebody had died … everyone was so depressed.

Maybe nobody wanted to be the first to leave, because we all hung around for a good while, some people drinking pretty heavily.  Maybe all the guys were waiting for a chance to hit on Charlie, which to be honest was the main reason I myself stuck around.  It did seem a bit crass to be pursuing such a selfish personal ambition under the circumstances, but then, defying my hormones to pursue extended mourning wouldn’t change anything anyway.  Life goes on, right? 

I nursed a single beer for so long it became warm in my hand, and I must have zoned out for a good while.  When I did my next casual scan of the room to see what Charlie was up to, I was startled to discover two things.  One, almost everybody seemed to have vanished, as though they’d been quietly dismissed or spontaneously bailed en masse.  Two, Charlie was totally making out with some guy!

Dammit!  This disappointment oddly mirrored that of the election itself.  In both cases, I hadn’t really had my hopes up but was nonetheless shocked to see them so suddenly dashed.  And who was the lucky guy?  I didn’t recognize him as one of the leaders, and he wasn’t particularly good looking or even well-dressed.  What was his secret?  Confidence, probably.  Yeah, even with (or especially with) his face mashed into Charlie’s, he exuded charisma.  Well, good for him.  Hell, he’d probably been working on Charlie for the whole damn election … who was I to think I could swoop in at the end, coordinate some pointless door-to-door campaign activity on Election Day, and sweep this gorgeous and important young woman off her feet?

Adding insult to injury, I now had to figure how to make a graceful exit.  Sneaking away seemed cowardly and antisocial.  But I couldn’t just tap Charlie on the shoulder to bid her farewell.  What would I say?  “Excuse me, sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to say goodbye and thanks for … everything.”  And what would I say to the guy?  Offer him my congratulations?  It was all just so awkward. 

But then all the empty beer cans and bottles littering the place gave me an idea.  I was seated at a table and kind of slumped over it for a spell.  Then I let out a little groan and slowly pitched myself out of my chair, slipping down off the table and sprawling out on the floor.  To complete the illusion of being passed out drunk, I let my beer bottle slip from my hand and roll a short way across the floor.  I remained as still as possible, eyes slitted.

Charlie’s new boyfriend chuckled and said, “Looks like somebody’s overdone it.”  He and Charlie walked over and helped me to my feet.  I staggered and slurred as they walked me—my arms around their shoulders—to the door.  “You gonna be okay, buddy?” the guy asked, showing off to Charlie as the cool big brother figure.  Well played, sir! 

I did my best impression of a drunk foolishly assuring them I was fine, and tottered away into the night.  As the door closed behind me, I even started singing in an off-key, maudlin way.  As I contemplated Charlie and her guy resuming their make-out session—and escalating it, now that they had their privacy—I continued singing, all the way down the block, until some guy yelled to shut up.  Forgetting for the moment that I wasn’t actually drunk, I shouted back some mild, halfhearted obscenities.  Then I headed home, exhausted and dejected.

Did I learn anything from my brief foray into politics?  Not really … just something I’d already guessed, which is that no political effort, however humble or lofty, small or large, grassroots or massively funded, will ever exclude personal ambition of one sort or another.  There’s nothing wrong with this, of course.  Somebody’s got to do that work, and I can’t begrudge those folks their well-earned rewards.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

I Will Disrupt Your Coffee


I want to disrupt your coffee.  I’m using the word “disrupt” because it’s so current and powerful.  Dang it!  I just realized maybe it’s already passé… maybe “disrupt” was current when I started the sentence but lapsed by the end.  Whatever.  I’m going to use it anyway.

(By the way, I’m just being flippant with the title of this post.  I hope to disrupt your coffee, but I don’t kid myself that I have much influence over my readers.)

What I’m saying is, I’m a newcomer to drinking coffee—in the last week or so I finally learned how to make it, albeit in a very old-fashioned way—but I’m going to have the audacity to try to get you, a coffee veteran, to change your approach to this ancient beverage.  That’s what I understand this whole “disruption” thing to be.

The ask

I’m going to ask you to consider drinking your coffee black from now on.  It’s that simple.  I’ll provide the rationale as we go along.  (If you already drink your coffee black, read this anyway because it might give you a pleasurable smugness.)

I am emboldened to suggest this because I’m not the first one to do so.  I learned this when talking to my daughter about the soda tax passed two years ago in nearby Berkeley.  Berkeley is the first city in the U.S. to pass an excise tax on sugary drinks, and according to this article it’s working out well.  Berkeley’s law covers “flavored coffee drinks,” a category which includes not just premixed, bottled beverages but also any coffee to which a barista adds sweetener:  “The distributor [pays] a tax based on the quantity of sweetener used according to the printed instructions,” according to this article.  (If you add your own sugar, oddly enough, it doesn’t get taxed.  A little loophole, I guess.)

So, how is it that Berkeley voters—despite fierce opposition from the American Beverage Association—gave this complicated proposition a landslide victory?  Simple:  Berkeleyites (aka Berzerkers, Berkleyistas) are enemies of freedom.  I don’t mean to imply that that’s a bad thing.  I myself am an enemy of freedom.  Society gives us freedom and what do we do with it?  We read Us magazine, buy microwave popcorn, and rudely lash out at strangers via the Internet.

What’s wrong with cream and sugar?

Look, I have no real problem with putting cream and sugar in coffee and am not here to render any expert opinion on what a cup of coffee ought to be.  As coffee achievers go, I’m pretty much a dabbler; I only have coffee when I really need the caffeine (though that’s more and more often these days).  For most of my life, I tended to dress up that rare cup of coffee with sugar, or maybe Sugar In the Raw if I was feeling all fancy, and either cream, half-and-half, or milk.  This increased the charisma of the beverage, and to this day I enjoy that flavor.

But then the other morning I had an epiphany.  I was rushing to get on a very early conference call (the downside of being the odd West Coast employee) and made up some instant coffee.  The brand I use—never mind what it is, especially since I’m about to bag on it—is fairly upscale and describes itself as “amazingly close to a freshly brewed cup of coffee.”  I used to tolerate this product okay, but either my jar has gone bad or my tastes have changed… this time, it tasted awful.  It wasn’t just bitter—it was sour.  I added plenty of sugar and milk but they didn’t help.  And then I thought, wait—is that what we use cream and sugar for?  To dampen the flavor?  That might make sense with a lousy product, but aren’t most coffee drinkers buying pretty good stuff?  The fresh beans, the Peets, the Keurigs, and all that?  Why would you dilute that?

Think of it this way.  Imagine you lined up a row of giant mugs, each a quarter filled, with a variety of coffees progressing from barebones to deluxe:  Brim, McDonald’s, Peet’s from frozen ground beans, Peet’s from their store, Peet’s from beans you grind to order, and whatever is served at the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence.  If you took a sip of each, you’d surely notice a great range of quality.  Now add a normal amount of sugar and cream:  you’d still notice a big difference, even if you used the same grade A organic cream and pure unadulterated cane sugar in each mug.  Now imagine adding more and more cream and sugar to each mug, tasting each at intervals.  The difference from one cup to the next would get blurred.  Eventually they’d all taste the same (i.e., like sweet cream).

So assuming you’ve settled on a favorite brand of coffee, something very upscale and high-quality, perhaps to the point that you even have a favorite bean and/or a favorite roast … why would you then go and add these very basic products—cream or milk and/or sugar—which blunt your coffee’s distinctive flavor?

Is coffee too bitter to drink black?

Perhaps you just like coffee better with cream and sugar, full stop.  And no, it’s not because you’re some kind of wuss and find the undiluted flavor of coffee too bitter to handle.  You don’t mind the bitterness; you just like a little cream and sugar, and you are this close to abandoning this essay except that on some level you’re enjoying your growing hatred of me and my unsophisticated opinions.

You know what?  I agree with you—coffee isn’t that bitter!  Nobody is trying to cover up the flavor!  Meanwhile, even if it is a tiny bit bitter, humans can learn to enjoy bitterness.  I give you the India Pale Ales that are all the rage nowadays.  I really do love them, and know from personal experience that they’re an acquired taste.  I remember the first time I had a Racer 5, which—at 75 IBUs—is a pretty bitter beer.  Man, I hated it.  But now it’s one of my favorites.  (My absolute favorite is the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, which is rated at 90 IBUs; when I tried that one for the first time, I was far enough into IPAs that I loved it right away.)

And—though I’m no expert on coffee—I gather that to the extent that it is bitter, this is a failing.  This article suggests four possible causes of coffee being bitter:  it’s brewed wrong, the grind size is wrong, the water is too hot, or the brewing equipment is dirty.  So a really good cup shouldn’t be that bitter anyway.  So why do we sweeten it?

I don’t know for sure how people get into the habit of putting sugar and cream in their coffee, but I’d guess that when they started drinking it, the flavor struck them as unusual and they dressed it up to make it more familiar.  From there it just became habit.

“But wait!” you may be thinking.  “It’s not that!  It’s just that coffee with cream and sugar tastes really good!  You’re overthinking this!”

What makes us enjoy a flavor?

Let’s not be so hasty.  Let’s think about this.  What makes us decide something tastes good?  I read some article on sweetness and I’m not going to do try to dig that up, but it was something to the effect that we humans are hardwired to like the flavor of things that are calorically dense.  This was an evolutionary adaptation, a way nature gets us to lay in all the calories we can when they’re available, to avoid famine.  So a sweet tooth is pretty unsophisticated, isn’t it?  Like kids with their damn sodas and candy and Froot Loops!  Loving sweet things is natural … but I think it’s also kind of weak.  Fat isn’t so different … it’s calorically dense, too.

But coffee?  Black coffee has almost no calories.  Maybe we like it because, as described by this article, “caffeine enhances dopamine (DA) signaling in the brain.”  In other words, coffee produces a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.  But a) people also like decaf, and b) if this was only about caffeine, people would just pop NoDoz.  So coffee provides a more sophisticated enjoyment than mere dopamine response.  It appeals to our cultured side, not just our primitive impulses.  (Maybe this is why dogs and cats don’t crave it.)

So why blend this acquired taste with extra stuff?  Is it really necessary to pile these treats on top of each other?  If so, why not make every cup of coffee an Irish coffee by adding whisky, and/or always having a donut with it?  

I have two problems with this treat-upon-treat enhancement of coffee.  First off, the cheap dopamine buzz of fat and sugar seems like a vulgar addition to a fairy sophisticated product.  Nobody adds sugar or fat to an IPA, after all, and  I’m not the only person who considers it a travesty to put corn-syrup-laden ketchup on a hot dog.  Second, coffee isn’t a treat—for so many of us, it’s a habit we indulge several times a day.  If we can learn to enjoy it on its own merit, we don’t only elevate our taste, but we avoid gratuitous sugar and fat (and the temptation to ever make do with non-dairy creamer and/or Sweet'N Low).

I’m not saying we should cut out cream and sugar entirely—just that we get over the habit of always including them.  I think they really are just a habit, a rote add-on to the coffee ritual.  I remember watching a colleague customizing his Starbuck’s coffee:  first a splash of milk, then a splash of half-and-half, then two packets of sugar, then a little shake of cocoa on top.  He assembled this concoction several times a day.  I asked him, “Why not add the sugar first, when the coffee is hotter, so it’ll dissolve better?”  He shrugged and said, “I’ve always done it this way.”

Trust me:  it’s not hard to learn to like coffee black.  It took me all of three cups to see the light, whereas it took at least a dozen introductions to IPA before I acquired the taste.  (I’d inherited a bunch of it after throwing a party a few years back, and by the time they were gone, I was a convert.)  Black coffee is actually pretty dang tasty.  And you know what?  Now that I have a taste for it, I’m more versatile:  I can drink it black as a matter of course, but next time I’m at a fancy restaurant with the cute little pitcher of cream and the little hinge-lidded cup of fancy brown sugar cubes, I can fuss pleasurably with all of that because it’ll still taste good to me.

One more rationale

I’ll give you one more reason to drink your coffee black:  it makes you more cool.  At least, drinking black coffee makes me feel a bit more cool.  Not many behaviors can achieve this sense of cool.  I could smoke a cigarette, but that would just make me an idiot.  I could drive a sporty little convertible, but that would feel like a pose.  I could wear a badass leather jacket and/or ride a Harley, but—being a forty-seven year old dad—I would look ridiculous.  But to like my coffee black … that’s a little bit of cool that is still within my reach.

(This isn’t a male macho thing.  Drinking coffee black is also cool for a woman.  For example, the woman celebrated in the Cake song “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” would surely drink her coffee black.)

Call to action

To be clear, I’m not asking you to give up cream and sugar altogether.  I’m suggesting that the next time you have a cup of coffee—which is probably only hours from now—you not add anything to it.  Give this a taste.  If it doesn’t appeal to you, taste it some more and contemplate the flavor for a moment.  What’s wrong with it?  Couldn’t you learn to like this? 

Take like a week.  See if you don’t develop a taste for pure, adulterated coffee.  Assuming you do, now you can ask if there’s any reason to go back to cream and sugar.  And if there is—if you just plain enjoy that more—well that’s fine too and now you know your preference is real, and not just a habit born of unthinking repetition.

(Should you put milk in your tea?  That’s a whole other question….)

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click 

Monday, October 17, 2016

From the Archives - Urination Poetry


Once again, it’s a slow news day so I’m taking the opportunity to archive an old work on the mirrored web servers that host this blog.  And in the process I’ll provide the footnotes and commentary that a highly sophisticated literary work like this poem so desperately deserves.

Urination poetry – March 28, 1987

            FOR BOYS ONLY

You have to go so bad that you’re in pain.
Relief’s the only thing that’s on your mind.                     2
But wait, before you get your bladder drained,
A toilet is the one thing you must find.

But actually, seclusion’s all you need.
A tree or shrub will hide you in a pinch.                           6
As long as no one else can view the deed,
To find a place to go is quite a cinch.

Relax, because you’ve earned your potty break;
And go until your bladder’s out of pee.                            10
And when you’re done you’ll shake and shake and shake;
An effort all in vain, it seems to me.

    For urine flow can never really stop,
    Until your undies drink the final drop.                        14

Footnotes & commentary

Title:  For Boys Only

This title just goes to show how little I understood females at age 17.  I probably thought they’d be totally grossed out by the way guys pee.  At this age I’m pretty sure I’d never heard a girl fart, and maybe hadn’t even heard one belch.  This was years before I knew a girl, in college, who was arrested for peeing in an alley.

Line 1:  so bad

An overly pedantic literary type might think I incorrectly used an adjective—bad—where an adverb—badly—was called for.  But that would be wrong.  To say “I have to go so bad” is a colloquialism I will defend to the death.  The only time I’ve said “so badly” is when my brothers and I were young and liked to say, “I have to pee as badly as Bradley.”  Bradley was a kid down the street.  I’m not sure it’s fair to hold him up as someone who had to pee particularly badly, but then we weren’t very fair kids.

Line 3:  get your bladder drained

I find this line alarming today.  Of course you drain your own bladder; this line implies that you’re having it done for you.  I wrote this sonnet long before I’d ever been catheterized or I wouldn’t have been so sloppy.  Of course the line would be better written thus:  “But wait, before your bladder’s finally drained.”

Line 4:  toilet is the one thing

More sloppiness.  I hadn’t really grasped that using a lot of one-syllable words makes the line of iambic pentameter stumble along instead of trotting gracefully.  And the word “must” is just plain wrong, as the reader is about to find out.  I should have written, “There’s something called a toilet you should find.”

Line 7:  the deed

For some reason, my use of “deed” in this line is one of my favorite things about this poem.  Perhaps it’s because it carries with it echoes of some truly great flatulence poetry:  “Whoever smelt it dealt it” and its rejoinder, “Whoever said the rhyme did the crime.”  Yes, peeing is not just something you do.  It is something of consequence that you boldly and deliberately carry out.  It is a deed.

Line 8:  quite a cinch

I hate this line.  Poets should be banned from using the filler word “quite” and the filler phrase “quite a.”  I should have put, “To find a place to urinate’s a cinch” or “to find a place to micturate’s a cinch.”  Now that I think about it, “micturate” is probably funnier than “urinate.”  I don’t know why.  And you know what?  I learned something today while drafting this post:  the noun form of “micturate” is not “micturation” but “micturition.”  Microsoft Word didn’t suggest “micturition” but did flag “micturation” as wrong.  And then, once I corrected it, Word not only un-flagged it, but auto-corrected my next instance of “micturation.”  It’s like artificial intelligence!

Line 9 – potty break

Nobody over the age of ten says “potty” except parents stooping to a young child’s level.  It’s almost as bad as “pee-pee.”  Whoa, check that out!  You want to hear an amazing coincidence?  As I sit here writing this, I’m playing music—every track in my library in alphabetical order—and I just heard Eminem sing, “The way you move it, you make my pee-pee go doing, doing, doing.”  Small world, huh?  (By the way, that “doing” isn’t the gerund form of “to do,” but rhymes with “boing.”  Just in case that was confusing.)

So, yeah, the problem with “potty break” in this poem is that it doesn’t ring true to the way a teenager talks.  Sure, poetry is known for elevated diction, but not this poem.  By this point in my education I was already familiar with Keats’ admonition, “beauty is truth, truth beauty … that is all ye need to know”—and yet I wrote untruthfully here, in a sense, by using language that wasn’t true to my poem.  I could have worked just a bit harder and come up with something much better, like “Relax, because you’ve earned this little break.”

(Should I also criticize Eminem for saying “pee-pee”?  Well, I have to say, the song this line comes from isn’t one of his best.  And this very line earned Eminem some harsh criticism in The New Yorker.  Something tells me he got over it.  Myself, I’m going to let it go ... after all, Eminem was a high school dropout and probably didn’t read Keats until his forties. He was only 36 when he wrote “Ass Like That.”)

Line 10 – bladder’s out of pee

It just makes me wince to read this old stuff.  Bladder’s out of pee?  Like, what else would it be out of?  Grape juice?  Compressed air?  And this line suffers from my old addiction to one-syllable words.  I should have written, “Unburden your poor bladder of its pee.”

Line 14 – undies drink the final drop

Do people still call underwear “undies”?  Doesn’t matter—as a teenager that’s exactly what I called them.  Beauty is truth!  It wasn’t until college that I heard “tight-y whiteys,” referring to briefs, in a derogatory way because of course boxers are the way to go.

(I just did a little extra research via my teenage daughter, who has never heard the term “undies.”  I asked her, “What do today’s teens call men’s underwear?”  She replied, “Boxers?”  I said, “What do you call briefs?”  She replied, “Gross?”  I can see I’m raising her right.  I hope she fully appreciates that guys are gross, period.)

I think the scourge of post-urinal drip is badly underrepresented in poetry, and I’m glad to do my part to right that wrong.  Ideally, this should have been an epic poem, not just a sonnet; that way I could have explored this issue in all its complexity.  How come I can go months without spilling a drop, and then I’ll have this drip problem like three times in a row?  What causes it?  Is it a nervous thing?  Will it get worse with age?  Is it related to why I can’t seem to pee without hitting the toilet rim?  Perhaps one day I’ll have more time and can explore this matter in depth.  Keep an eye out!

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Ride Report - Marin County Coastal Adventure Ride


My bike club has many fond traditions:  coffee, wine, cheese, paella, beer, pasta, race reports, and … shoot, what was that other thing?  Oh yeah, riding bikes!  And sometimes racing!  And, uh, race reports!  I almost never race these days, but today was an Adventure Ride so I’m filing a report anyway.  Now, if you’re not a biker yourself, don’t be put off … there’s stuff in this report that should catch the attention of just about anybody.  And it should hold your attention too, like a train wreck you can’t take your eyes off of.

Executive summary

It was long, rolling, scenic, fun, hot, and at times quite fast.  I suffered for all the usual reasons, plus a couple new reasons, one of which is weird and gross and macabre and in fact totally absurd.  Food and drink followed.  Camaraderie was rampant.

Short version 
  • Ride stats:  62.7 miles, 3:38:57 ride time, 5% of the ride in heart rate Zone 4 (i.e., redlined), 4000 feet of climbing.
  • Breakfast:  1 bungee cord hook, 1 cup salted water, 1 cup 50/50 blend of water and hydrogen peroxide, 1 bean & cheese burrito
  • During ride:  2  detached flaps of flayed flesh from the floor of my mouth, between the teeth and the lingual frenulum; 2 caffeinated gels; 1 blueberry crisp Clif bar; 1 bottle fruit punch Gatorade; good-sized bite of pain au chocolat from Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station
  • After ride:  loaded potato skins, lettuce bits, ranch dressing at BJ’s in San Rafael
  • Dinner:  nothing yet … I can’t quite face the idea of eating

I maimed myself pre-ride, taking a snapped bungee cord to the inside of the mouth, and thus suffered terribly even before the ride began.  I suffered some more, due to poor fitness and the injured mouth, on some climb out of San Rafael on the way toward  Mount Tam (though we didn’t ride Tam); we rode at a very hard pace over a beautiful rolling section along the coast between Muir Beach and Stinson Beach where I suffered terribly; we hammered along some more rolling stuff between Stinson Beach and Point Reyes station where—guess what?—I suffered some more; we had baked goods and fresh cold water in Point Reyes Station except somebody who had iced decaf; it got really hot and we rode stiff-legged over some hill and then some other hills, passing this big rock they call “The Big Rock,” and we wound down through some other areas and there was this dickhead motorcyclist who held his horn down forever while passing us and made a gesture and has now come down with scabies, or maybe shingles, or maybe this is just wishful thinking.  Then we hung out on the patio at BJ’s in some mall and enjoyed sprightly, impassioned conversation about watching track races, etc.  Overall, a grand day out.

Long version

I’ve been sleep-deprived lately and was all set to go to bed at 10:30 last night, when my older daughter asked for some help preparing for her first debate—that is, her first Debate Club debate (she and I debate things all the time).  So I got to bed at almost midnight, was awakened 6ish because my daughter was having computer trouble while tinkering some more with her debate stuff, and then she was getting ready to bike over to the high school where she’d meet up to carpool to the venue.  She was really stressed out and running late, and the laptop bag—stuffed with the laptop, lots of thick books and papers, and God knows what else—was bending her spine like a willow in a strong wind.  So I decided to lash the bag to her bike’s rack.  As I did this, I tried to say soothing things that would calm her down because she kept fretting about the debate.  “Let’s tuck in the shoulder strap so it doesn’t go into your wheel and cause a fiery wreck,” I said soothingly.  To which she replied, “Yeah, that would be two fiery wrecks in one day because I’m gonna go down hard in this debate.”  How does a dad respond to such negativity?  I tried to give advice (e.g., “If your opponent makes a good point, to which you have no obvious rejoinder, just say, ‘That sounds suspiciously like something Donald Trump might say,’” and/or, “If you get stuck and need to introduce levity into the debate, to distract the judges, just tell your opponent, ‘Look, I’m not going to argue with you.’”)

Now, I can’t explain exactly how this next thing happened.  I was bending over the bike, stretching a bungee cord over that big laptop bag, and trying to hook it over the edge of the rack, and I lost my grip on it.  I’m sure this has happened to you before, perhaps when securing your bike to one of those cheap rear-mount Hollywood car racks, and as the bungee cord recoils at like 600 mph its big metal hook snaps painfully into your hand or something.  But this time, the hook recoiled at like 600 mph and somehow WENT INTO MY FRICKING MOUTH, and the sharp end of the hook plunged deep into my mouth’s floor, between the backsides of my teeth and my lingual frenulum. 

Now, if that’s not the most messed up freak accident you’ve ever heard of, check this out:  it hurt so bad, and I was so freaked out, for a couple of seconds I just froze and couldn’t figure out what to do, other than to roar a terrible garbled roar, and the strap was still under full tension!  Alexa, who was holding the bike, completely freaked out and started screaming, which brought my wife running over.  I figured out that I had to pull on the cord to create slack at the hook end, and got the damn hook out of my mouth, which freed me up to start cussing like a sailor, and although it would be an exaggeration to say that a fine mist of blood was spewing forth as I did so, the look of horror on Alexa’s face was as serious as though I were spewing a fine mist of blood, so that I thought maybe I actually was, but as I applied a paper towel that my wife produced (kind of amazingly quickly) I realized I wasn’t bleeding that much.  At this moment I felt relieved that my daughter listens to rap music, so she wasn’t learning a lot of new profanities from me.

Now, as dire as this emergency seemed, Alexa still had to get to the school pronto so as not to miss her ride to the debate, so she was torn as to whether to abandon me before getting any answer to “ARE YOU OKAY?” which she kept asking and which I couldn’t articulately answer due to the continuous stream of profanities that I couldn’t stop painfully spewing forth.  Her mom told her, “Go!  Get to your debate!”  Alexa biked off, crying, and I tried to put her at ease by calling after her, interlacing encouragement like “Good luck!” and “Give ‘em hell!” with my curses.

I swished around a bunch of salt water, which hurt, and then a solution of 50% water and 50% hydrogen peroxide, which hurt like a motherfrockle, and then I had to push past the pain and eat something because for dinner the night before we’d had broccoli soup, kale, and quinoa, which tricked me into thinking I was full when I wasn’t, which caused me to dream about food all night.  It was a given I’d bonk if I didn’t fuel up before the ride.  So I made a burrito with a Mission tortilla, Rosarita Traditional refried beans, Tillamook medium cheddar cheese, and Casa Sanchez fresh salsa.  I skipped the brown rice because that seemed too prickly for my poor mouth.  Eating this didn’t hurt quite as much as I expected, perhaps because I still had massive amounts of adrenaline coursing through my system.

I headed over to Muzzy and MB’s place so we could carpool to the trefpunt, a mall parking lot in San Rafael.  Here we met up with a bunch of EBVC folks and also a bunch of Marin Velo Club folks.  My teammate Matt had set up the whole thing.  It was kind of like the Socs and the Greasers meeting up in a vacant lot for a rumble, except that everybody was really nice and came equipped with racing bikes instead of switchblades. 

We rolled out on some crazy twisty sidewalk thing with bridges and hairpin turns and fins and gills like some giant piranha fish and though the pace was ultra-mellow, I discovered that a piece of torn flesh had broken off from the floor of my mouth, like a glacier calving, and was now floating around in my mouth.  Could/should I swallow it?  That would be cannibalism!  Of course I wouldn’t get caught, but I’d have to live with myself.  I spat it out, which hurt.  Everything I did, or didn’t do, really hurt my mouth, and it hurt more after the (albeit necrotic) protective skin flap was no longer covering that tender, maimed mouth-flesh.  A few minutes later, another piece broke loose.  It was pretty gross.  I took a drink to kind of flush the area, and man, that hurt like crazy!  OMG, how was I going to stay hydrated when it hurt so bad to take a drink?

We climbed up that road going from Mill Valley up to Highway 1—I think—and regrouped at this crazy three-way road junction with a tiny little median that looked a little bit like a lingual frenulum.  Lots of traffic here, not the highlight of the ride.  A bit later we headed up this long, fairly steep climb, and I was dying on Muzzy’s wheel.  Remember earlier when I said I suffered for all the usual reasons, plus two new ones?  The second new reason is that I’m really not very fit right now.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s completely normal to suffer on Muzzy’s wheel, but I was suffering more than usual.  He noticed this because for once I wasn’t talking.  I was actually above my Peak Conversational Threshold, which is extremely high—almost as high as my Anaerobic Threshold, I think, maybe even higher.  Muzzy seemed to be enjoying this, as he said, “So, Dana … tell me about yourself.”  A little later he sawed me off completely, and without any apparent effort.  My heart rate was in the low 160s, which is hella high for me these days, and my misery was absolute.  Fortunately Muzzy and the rest of the badass bike mofos waited up at the top of the climb.

While certain riders braved the widespread poison oak aside the road to go micturate, I pondered my situation and realized that although my legs hurt, my mouth wasn’t bothering me so much anymore. My theory is that digging really deep during exercise produces enough pain-masking endorphins to significantly reduce all pain you might be feeling (possibly including existential angst or minor heartbreak).  Endorphins, in fact, might have been what enabled a runner to finish a marathon despite having been shot in the head at mile 10.  (I’m not joking—click here for details.)  So when we set off again, I decided to hammer like crazy and see if I could keep this mouth-pain under control.

It might not have been obvious to those around me, but I fricking buried myself on the bike today.  Wow, I went hard.  That said, I was able to pause for a moment (I may have even coasted briefly) to snap the photos you saw earlier.  Also, I developed a technique for drinking that wasn’t so painful:  I’d hold the bottle kind of sideways, squirt water into the uninjured side of my mouth, and then (by turning my head a little) kind of sluice the water down the side of my throat so it wouldn’t reach the floor of my mouth on the bad side.

It was good and hot when we reached Point Reyes Station.  We got fresh cold water from a spigot and I was surprised how good that tasted under the circumstances.  I had a Clif bar (fortunately not the chocolate brownie type that are almost inedible under any circumstances—no offense, Clif, I think your stuff is mostly great) and then Matt offered me a piece of his pain au chocolat (or “chocolate pain” as somebody called it).  All of my good breeding told me to politely decline because he should get the whole thing, but it looked so good, the chocolate all melt-y and ooze-y, that I accepted.  It had gotten slightly greasy in the hot sun, but in the best possible way, and I loved it.  Thanks, Matt.

After a long break we headed out over this awful little hill, legs groaning and creaking, and the rest of the story I think I already covered, with the Big Rock and all that.  Post-ride we sat around this place called BJ’s and ate loaded potato skins, which had bacon, cheese, certain other things I can’t remember, and scallions, which looked a bit prickly so I kind of shucked them off.  The thing is, the first one I ate went down real nice, but the second one hurt kind of a lot.  I guess it was the endorphins wearing off, or perhaps my mouth had coated the injured region with some sort of protective scum during the ride, which got washed off by two glasses of possibly astringent iced tea.  All I know is, by the third tater skin my mouth was in agony.

All in all, it was a great ride, and I’d like to extend a shout-out to my EBVC pals, and the MVC riders, and Ken’s Spanish friend, and in particular Matt for planning this Adventure Ride.  Now, if you’re just some unaffiliated reader and don’t know who any of these people are, just imagine your own friends, but better.


Midway through writing this I took a dinner break.  I figured macaroni and cheese would be pretty easy to eat, so I made some.  From scratch, of course, and actually it was campanelle, not elbows, and I deliberately overcooked it.  Just as we were sitting down, Alexa got home from her debate, and despite all her silly misgivings and pessimistic predictions, she and her partner won all of their debates!  And, the pasta went down relatively nicely!  Things are looking up….

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