Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sears Bike

I get obsessed with stuff.  I always have.  I don’t really like that about myself.  I get interested in something and think about it constantly.   One day, without warning, it will hit me.  Hey, I want to learn how to …

And then it consumes me.  I’ll spend years trying to master my obsession until I stop seeing rapid improvement.  Then I get bored but keep doing it until something else grabs my attention. 

The whole of my adult life has been one obsessive endeavor after another.

Before I was an adult, it was usually not something I wanted to learn but something I had to have.  One year it was an LED digital watch.  I could not sleep until I had one. 

There was also the pocket calculator year and then the GT Coyote II skateboard year.  It was pretty easy for my parents to know what to get me each year for Christmas.  But extremely difficult for them to patiently listen to me go on about how I wanted whatever it was for the months before I got it.

One year, I got a bicycle for Christmas.  My first bike.  I was 7.  I was not obsessed with getting a bike.  It was just a good gift.  I had wanted one for a while because I was one of the oldest kids I knew who could not ride a bike.

Since I didn’t yet have rollers, and back in those days it snowed every day of winter, I had to wait until March 21 1972, (the first day for 3 months it did not snow) to start learning to ride my shiny new red bike.   This was back in the days when Shim was cruising Dodge St. with Charlie Burton, in his Mustang II picking up chicks 

After a few days, of trying to roll down the driveway and stop myself by sliding my shoes on the pavement, I got the balance feel.  I still remember how it felt.  Too easy.  My brain opened with the realization.   Just go there, where “there” was not falling to the pavement.   

After getting the hang of it, we’d ride all over town.  And by all over town, I mean about 2 blocks up the street to the elementary school playground where we’d ride around in circles for hours.  Yeah, it was like a crit.  Sometimes we’d ride up to Mike’s corner store on 40th and California and get 7 cherry Jolly Rancher candies for 14 cents.

Since the hills were steep, the bike was heavy, and the legs were tender, we employed a special method of hill climbing.  Here’s a photo from my first ride on Strava in the Summer of 1972.  I got the KOM.  

I loved that bike.  I rode it for years.  I knew that everybody else loved it as much as I did because it was the greatest bestest bike in the whole wide world.  And it was red!

When I was out somewhere with it, it never left my sight unless I locked it up.  Even then, I always feared exactly what Peewee Herman so beautifully depicted in his classic Big Adventure movie.  I knew that there would never be another bike for me.  I knew that I’d still be joyfully riding it to this very day.

And then I saw it.  This skinny, long haired, guy in torn up jeans.  His name was Pino, and he lived across the street from us.  He was spinning an orange 10-speed up our hill so fast I couldn't believe it.  Pino was wearing no shirt.  Pino was also an accomplished guitarist.  He could play (and sing) “Heart of gold” wonderfully.

When Pino got on Strava with his fancy orange 10-speed, he smashed my KOM with the following:

But it wasn’t having my PR obliterated.  That didn’t bother me.  Pino was about 15 or 16 years old.  So that was to be expected.  No, it was the look and operation of the bike.  Much of it seemed unnecessary and dangerous so I knew I had to have one.

First of all, no little kids had bikes like this.  Only big kids.  If I had a 10-speed bike, I’d be a big kid.  End of story.  Not really.  There’s more continued immediately after this word.

Secondly, 10-speeds had gears.  We didn’t know anything about them, so we used to say things like, “You have to pedal as you shift, otherwise you’ll strip the gears.”  We didn’t know what that meant or that it was complete nonsense, but we knew it was bad.  If we were mad at someone, we’d just give a pull on the shift lever of a resting bike (There was no index or sis shifting) believing we were doing some terrible damage to the bike.

So the gears seemed to be the only meaningful thing that distinguished the 10-speed from the children’s bikes.  However, it was the rest that attracted me.  I became aware that if something seems dangerous, stupid or unnecessary, it’s more cool.  “Welcome young man”, said the culture of cycling.

My kid’s bike had brakes that I was always in contact with.  My feet were always on the pedals.  The brakes were operated from there.  Safe. 

The 10-speed brakes were on the handlebars, which may or may not be where your hands were when you needed to slow or stop.  Pedaling backwards on one of these was useless.   More dangerous, and therefore, more cool.

Pino’s bike had toe clips or “cages” as we called them.  Pino strapped his feet onto his pedals.  What a horribly bad idea, I thought.  You’ll be trapped.  You mean you have to loosen the strap to get your foot out?  How incredibly scary (cool) is that?  I knew I was not brave (cool) enough to ride with my feet strapped in, yet.  But someday …  

Quick release wheels?  Are you kidding me?  You mean someone could just walk up and take your wheel off or mess with it and loosen it?  How horrible!  Cool.

My red bike was becoming  a constant source of problems.  There was a design flaw with the way the cranks were attached.  There was a pin that held one of them in place.  I kept breaking it.  I was told not to pedal so hard.  Um …

Anyway, after about the third time of breaking the crank, I just left it that way and if I wanted to bike somewhere, I had to just pedal with one foot.  This same thing happened to me in Colorado years later, but I’ve already talked about that, so.  I didn’t really care anyway.  I wanted, no needed a 10-speed.  I could speak of nothing else.  It was the spring of 1975 and there seemed no way I could wait until Christmas to get a 10-speed.  I had no money.  I had no way to earn money that I knew about.  I could make the occasional 5 bucks here or there mowing lawns.  I got $.50 cents for allowance each week, so that seemed like it would take forever to build up enough cash to get a 10-speed.  Then, like something straight out of a Brady Bunch episode, the luckiest thing in the world happened.  The end of the school year carnival and raffle was happening.  Grand prize for the raffle was a brand new shiny, hunter green Sears 10-speed bicycle!  It looked sort of like this (except it had road tires).

Well – I could sure as hell afford a raffle ticket.  In fact, I could afford a lot of raffle tickets.  I saved money to buy more raffle tickets.  I knew I would win the bike, because it was exactly what I wanted.  Green was the new red.  It was the most beautiful bike in the whole world. 

The only difficult part was waiting until the raffle so I could claim my prize.  I actually told people I was pretty sure I was going to win it.  I didn’t want them to lose all hope, but they had absolutely no chance of winning the raffle, since I was going to.  I had many Brady Bunch episodes to back me up on this.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the day of the carnival and my new bike was at hand.  I hung around bored all night, repeatedly asking my teacher if it was time for the raffle yet.  Finally, as darkness approached it was raffle time.  The last thing to be won was the bike.  The whole neighborhood packed into the school gym.  I’d known for weeks my name would not be called for any prize before the drawing for the bike, so I didn’t lose hope as I sat there winning nothing.  I figured that made it more of a guarantee that the bike was mine.  When they announced that it was time to draw for the bike, I told myself to just be calm and wait until after they called my name before I walked up to take possession of my new bike in front of all of the admiring public. 

"And the winner for the brand new bike that would be perfect for one particular person in the audience who has been drooling over it for weeks, because ever since he saw Pino’s bike he knew he could not live without it, is … Alan Herrink!  An adult with 2 small girls.  A man who already has a bike he doesn’t use at all!  A man who lives right next door to Freddie!  Just to make it that much more cruel.  Let’s all give Alan a big hand for winning something he has absolutely no use for.  Or if you’d rather, we could point and laugh at the kid who thought he was going to win this very special 10-speed bike and thereby stop riding up his hill on his one pedal bike, like some lurking shark."  

“Sorry kid,” Alan told me, as he walked up the aisle to claim my bike, “You can come over and look at it anytime you want.  Everybody talks about how much you like to look at this bike.”

So I didn’t get the bike.  I went all summer and into the fall with a stupid one pedal one speed, coaster brake bike that I could only stop if I could get the pedal turned around far enough.  Well that was dangerous enough to be kind of cool, I guess.

Then – at Christmas time, I got what I always always wanted.  A brand new hunter green 10-speed bike from Sears.  I guess Alan had given my dad a hell of a deal on it.  I would joyfully ride this bike the rest of my life and never ever want a different one.  And this time I meant it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I saw Shim while riding Sunday

I was riding, Shim wasn’t.  Shim was sitting in an idling van pulled off into the turning lane.  I didn’t know it was Shim.  I thought it was probably some creepy guy in a van (other than Shim) waiting to yell at me, riding through the mud/vegetation beside 72nd street in Papillion.  As I approached the stopped van, I noticed the passenger side window was down.  Oh crap, thought I, it really is someone interested in yelling at me for riding my bike through the mud/vegetation.  Maybe it’s a forest ranger.  Maybe I should make jokes about pic-a-nic baskets.  Anyway – I guess I’ll just ignore the guy and keep on riding through the grass here.

“Fred!” shouts Shim.

“Oh hey Shim, what’s up?”

“We’re meeting at Crane for a ride.”

It’s weird.  I had been out for about 90 minutes or so by that time.  It was cold (by normal standards) and wet, but not raining.  I was soaked, but relatively warm.  The day before, I had gone on a group ride.  It was sunny that day, but much colder.  The great thing about this wet ride was I was just able to sink into some form of meditation through the ugly grey day.  So when Shim said, “We’re meeting at Crane …”  I had to make him repeat it.  I recognized the words he was saying, but they registered no meaning for me.  I was confused.  So I said completely meaninglessly, “The one on Center?”  I believe he answered in the affirmative. 

The reason my question was meaningless was that I had to get home immediately.  In fact, I had gone a little too far in my sheer joy of the nice warm (low 40s) wet day, that I was in danger of not getting home in time for my wife to get to work on time.  As long as I didn’t have a flat on the way home though, everything should be alright …

If I had just been walking along, nice sunny day,  and Shim had said, “Hey Cube, We’re meeting at Crane,”  I would have immediately known it was the one on Center.  It’s almost always the one on Center.  But in my semiconscious meditative wet state, the fact that I had no way of joining the ride seemed irrelevant.  The first thing I needed to know was, “We’ll which Crane?”

Once I knew the location - I could snap to awareness and let the reality seep in.  While waves of understanding filled my being with the mental picture of the Crane coffee shop and a few riders sitting around, Shim added, “Yeah it’s in about a half hour.  I had no way to get a hold of you.”

At this point, all of my faculties rushed back to me in a flood.  “Oh yeah, cool, I couldn’t go anyway.  My wife has to work.”

As I continued on, I thought about how weird it was that Shim should be driving along 72nd just at the right time to see me and let me know about the ride.  How lucky.  Except it wasn’t.  Had he been driving by a moment earlier, he never would have seen me.  And that wouldn't have mattered, because I couldn't go anyway.  Sort of like "Which Crane are you going to?"

One thing was gained from all of this though.  I saw Shim while riding Sunday.

Then I had a flat. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The time I got held up at knife point


I think it was a class called “Earth Science” or maybe it was just “Science”.  But the teacher was a guy I really liked.  I was in 7th grade, I believe.  His name was Mr. Cisar.  It was pronounced the same way as The Roman Emperors.  One day, someone said to him that they heard that people are more afraid to have a knife pulled on them than a gun and did he think that was weird.  He said, “Well maybe that’s because people know a knife is loaded. 

Actually, I don’t think that was Mr. Cisar who said that.  I don’t really remember who it was.  I did think it was clever, but I didn’t believe it.  I thought I’d be more afraid of a gun than a knife.  And I was right.  Yay me!

The thing between the Prologue and Epilogue

So when I was about 16 years old or so, I wanted to get a job so I could buy a car.  My dad’s car.  A 1972 Chevy Nova.  It was gold.  It was an 8 cylinder 307 1 barrel.  Dad’s asking price was $300.  He assured me that that was the “friend rate.”  My insurance would be an additional $46 a month.  Gas would be about $2 every three days (I only ever put $2 at a time in it). 

So after the initial investment, I’d be up and running for about $66 a month.  I needed a job.  I applied at all the cool places.  Gas stations.  Grocery stores. Supposedly, the Baker’s gig was a 2 year waiting list.  I don’t know where that rumor came from, but that’s what people said.  If you went up to Baker’s customer service to get an application, you could tell.  They were sizing you up.  They were thinking “You?  Baker’s?  Not gonna happen.  You see that building across the street?  It’s called “Burger King.”  That’s where your job application is, kid.   

So yeah, I got a shitty fast food job at Wendy’s.  It paid the league minimum of $3.35 an hour.  Don’t get me wrong – Of the big 3, I think Wendy’s would always be my choice.  But it was still fast food.  There was one job that “Fast food” was better than, though.  “No Job.”  In fact, when I first got the job, I was so proud of it, I’d wear my powder blue and white striped team uniform around places without any sort of shame.  That didn’t last very long.  After about 3 weeks, I realized the “Chicks dig a guy in uniform” thing – yeah – must be some other kind of uniform. 

If you were a high school student who worked at Wendy’s, you typically had to work one of the 2 weekend nights until close.  I normally worked on Saturday because I wanted to go to games on Friday.  I was assigned to the grill.  This meant that it was my job to take out all of the trash.  And the big bucket of disgusting grease (juices, as their called in the industry) had to be dumped into the big huge way more disgusting bin of rotting grease out back. 

There were 2 five gallon plastic pickle buckets that collected the grease that cooked off the hamburgers.  They sat under the grill just at the grill man’s feet.  Sometimes they would get slightly kicked out of the way of the chute and the drippings would lube up the floor real good.  It was a real pain in the ass to clean up, but it was kind of fun to slide over to the carry-out sandwich station to deliver the patties. 

To empty the grease buckets, you needed a rubber spatula because you couldn’t just dump the grease into the big smelly rotting bin of grease.  You had to then scrape the bucket clean.  Often, there was a two inch thick layer of hardened yellowish grease, kind of like a crust, on top of about 18 inches of liquid ick grease.  Sometimes, you’d go to tip the pickle bucket into the disgusto-bin only to have the hard crusty top hold the rest of liquid stuff in place.  This made the upside down bucket top heavy and difficult to navigate.  Sometimes the crust would break on its own.  Sometimes you had to shove the plastic spatula into it to break the seal.  And sometimes the whole thing would come splashing down on your arm as you went at it with the spatula.  It was pretty much impossible to get the grease completely off of your arm until a long hot shower.  And the next morning, when you got into your car, you realized it was time to get a new pine tree air freshener deal.

It’s not a good smell.

So anyway, if you had to close, the rule was nobody could leave until everybody was done closing their station.  This included the manager.  Everybody was supposed to leave at the same time.  But that rarely happened.   Sometimes, the manager would be way behind because of a real busy night, so he’d let everyone go while he finished up late at night alone with all the money from the afternoon/evening sales. 

Ideally, the only money there was from whatever came in after the dinner rush.  The non-closing manager would make the deposit after the rush so there would be very little cash there at close.  Normally. 

Sometimes it would be busy all night and we would be short staffed and there would be no opportunity to make the early evening deposit.  This is what happened the night we were robbed.  It is also why there were rumors that it was an inside job.

So one Saturday night, we were all done except for the Jay, the Manager.  He decided to let us go while he finished up.  There was one little bag of trash that I hadn’t already taken out.  It was from the manager’s office.  Jay handed it to me to throw into Long John Silver’s trash on the way out.  Wendy’s trash was way at the back of the Wendy’s parking lot.  Long John Silver’s was right next to Wendy’s employee parking, so we’d usually throw smaller items in there to save a trip.  So as Jay unlocked the door to let us go to our cars I was the first one out.  Looking to my right, I saw my friend Ron who also worked at Wendy’s, approaching me out of the darkness.  He was being all sneaky and put his finger to his lips to let me know to be quiet and play along with his little prank.  Oh man, was I ever game for that!  Ron, wearing a ski mask, pretending to rob Wendy’s.  This is hilarious.  Jay’s gonna shit his pants!

Except it wasn’t Ron.  I don’t know who it was.  NotRon then grabbed my left arm and shoved his fist into the middle of my back.  At the same time he was yelling for everybody to get the fuck back into the building right fucking now.  Since I was the first one out, I was the last in.  There were 2 other workers there (Sheila and Joe) besides the Manager and me.  Sue was already gone.  Sue worked front register and was usually done closing her station at around 10:01.

The rumor was that Jay and Sue had an arrangement whereby Sue could leave early.  They were fucking.  That was the rumor.  So it was just me and the 2 other employees that Jay wasn’t fucking, being herded back into the restaurant.  At that point, I believed there was a gun to my back and I was terrified.  I thought I was going to die.  As NotRon shoved us around a corner to go toward the back of the store, I glanced down and saw the biggest chef’s knife I’d ever seen.  I almost smiled with delight.  Everything’s going to be alright, I thought.  I mean, I worked in a restaurant.  It wouldn’t do to be terrified of knives.  I then thought of Mr. Cisar’s (or whoever it was) clever little thing about knives being loaded at all times.  What has 2 thumbs and is more afraid of guns than knives?

NotRon shoved the employees into the walk-in cooler and went with Jay to get the money from the office.  While we were in there, we devised a plan.  I grabbed a plastic rack that normally holds packages of buns.  I imagined that it would somehow protect me from the knife when NotRon returned to kill us.  Sheila grabbed a can of garbonzo beans, she would heave at whoever opened the door.  Joe ladled some chili onto the floor just in front of the door, thinking that the thug might slip in it long enough for me to overpower him with my plastic bread rack thing.  Although all of these things are ridiculous, we all felt pretty damned heroic shivering there waiting for the bandit’s return. 

Well none of it was necessary.  After a few minutes, Jay came and got us out of the cooler.  He had a puffy red eye where he claimed NotRon had slugged him when he heroically lied and told NotRon he didn’t know how to open the safe. 

The crook was gone and the police were on their way. 

There were 3 police officers that came to get the story.  Each one of them separately asked each of us what had happened.  I had to tell my version of the story 3 times.  As did everybody else.  One of them asked me if I thought it was a white or a black man.  I said he had a mask on and it was dark, so I didn’t really know.  Then he said something that some might call racist.  He said, “Well, you know how white people and black people sound different some times?”

“He sounded mad,” I said.  Then I casually glanced at the notes he was taking.  I have never had any problem reading upside down.  He wrote “black” on his notepad.  I minded my own business.

Later, Sheila said that she thought it was a white guy but you could see the skin around his eyes was black.  She figured he had put some shoe polish around his eyes to make himself appear black.  Then I realized.  We’d just been robbed by Al Jolson.  I immediately alerted the authorities.

Sunday, I was working the 11-2 shift.  I was looking forward to it more than any other day I’d ever gone into work at Wendy’s.  I was a brave hero who would be the admiration of all of my co-workers.  They’d all be dying to hear about how I survived the knife in the back thing.  Yeah I was pretty cool.

Except when I got there they’d all heard the story from everybody else.  There was just one thing they wanted to know from me.  Why in the hell did I leave a bag of garbage in the walk-in cooler?

Because I’m not cool like Shim, is all I could say.


Within a few days, Jay quit the manager job, citing extreme stress and fear and stuff.  Even before he quit, people were saying they thought Jay and Ron (AKA NotRon) had cooked up the whole thing.  Jay could have made the deposit at some point before close, but purposely didn’t, they said.  The claimed bluff that he could not open the safe was beyond ridiculous.  Why would the money even be locked in the safe at that point?  It normally wasn’t.

I didn’t believe the rumors (except that Jay and Sue were fucking) because I couldn’t imagine doing something like that, so I couldn’t imagine Ron and Jay doing it.  However, I had never told anyone (even the police) that I initially thought it was Ron sneaking up on us because to me it obviously wasn’t after it turned out to be a real burglary.  So looking back on it, I think it was Ron and Jay.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On Strava

A while back, Brady and I agreed to a pact.  Blog once a week.  Brady set the due date based on something related to Bryan Redemske’s deadline for something,  I don’t really know.  It was set at 4:59 A.M. Central time (I guess daylight or standard, depending) on Friday Morning. 

I believe Brady’s first post of the new pact was some sort of friendly taunt about how I just wasn’t the type to stick to this pact.  His point was that to slog away day in and day out takes a certain kind of boring, non spontaneous, structured, uninspired approach like Bryan Redemske employs, and that since my writing is highly superior to Bryan’s and obviously comes from true inspiration, to just dole out the same boring crap week in and week out like Bryan does, just didn’t suit me. 

Brady detailed how Bryan has some daily thing he does and that there is a topic each day of the week or something.  I don’t recall exactly how it went and it would be much too difficult to go back and reread that post.  But it was something like: On Monday, Bryan writes about the color and texture of his bowel movements and how it compares with the typical bowel movements of the members of the peleton.  On Tuesday, it’s MOD’s Korner, Where guest writer Mark Savery explains how a good pump can really make those calves pop, et c.

Over the past 8 months or so since the pact began, I’ve tried to take this challenge and run with it.  I’ve tried to be true to myself, ignoring Brady’s taunt and eschewing any idea of form, template or design pattern.  Eventually, I came to understand that Brady was right.  I usually don’t get started on the post until late Thursday when I’m forced to come up with something.  By that time, I’m scrambling.   I now feel the weekly dread of Thursday approaching.  It’s in the back of my mind as early as Sunday afternoon.  I’ll be sitting there thinking I don’t have much going on. Maybe I should fire off a few stanzas.  Get a jump.  But no.   I procrastinate until Thursday, kicking myself all week.  That’s no way to live.  Every day should be a fucking celebration.  That last “fucking” was at no charge to you, by the way*.  

Well last week was the first time I missed the blog deadline completely.  I’ve been late before. But this time, I just said “huhhhhnh.”  I didn’t even attempt to write a thing.  Not even after I had heroically survived the manflu.

Last week, in the grips of a soul shattering sickness that would have killed most people, I hopelessly tossed and turned upon what many at first considered to be my deathbed.  I’m told I was mumbling something about “Blogging to fredcube”.  Of course, none of the medical team understood this.  A few days later, when I woke up alone.  Shivering.  Leather straps holding my arms and legs still.  I had vague recollection of the events of the previous 80 hours or so.  I didn’t know what day it was.  I yelled for somebody, anybody to come and free me from my bonds, but there was no answer.  I struggled against the restraints, but in my weakened state, it was useless.  All I could do was wait and hope I hadn’t been forgotten in this little room. I didn’t even know where I was.  It didn’t look like a hospital.  I continued to yell and cough as my parched throat begged for me to stop.  

Eventually, sure that I’d been abandoned, I began to look around for a possible way to escape my chains (leather restraints).  Then I saw it.  A slim chance.  Was it possible that my captors had made such an error or was I still in some delusional state?  It was worth a try anyway … 

What had been previously overlooked in initial panic was that the big thick leather straps that held me hostage were actually a series of twisted sheets and blankets.  The room I was in became clear as dawn approached.  I recognized it as the basement bedroom in our house.  With a little planning and luck, I figured I may be able to free myself from this entrapment and then go use the restroom.  It was obviously too late to make the blog post deadline, but I was alive.  There was that. 

A close call like that can induce no small amount of soul-searching.  Where had I gone wrong in the blog world?  At the end of it, as the dulling effect of the narcotic, known on the street by the name : “NyQuil” faded, I realized the truth of my failure.  I’ve not known such clarity before or since.  One phrase kept coming back.  “Breakfast Serials”

I didn’t yet know what it meant, but found its familiar sound comforting.  It’s a simple phrase, but one that got me through some of the more difficult stretches of freeing myself from the sheets.  More than a few times, I’d find myself exhausted and sweaty from the struggle to liberate a limb from some tangled mess of linen.  I’d begin to panic, feeling hopeless.  Even if I did get free, what then?  The phrase “Breakfast Serials” would return like a spirit guide to slow my pulse and give me the courage to continue.

Once I had freed myself and brushed my teeth, I stumbled to my computer.  The last of the evil green elixir still slightly in control of my mind and body.  I went straight to Google to see if there was any known phrase as the one that had been my constant companion as I  worked toward my emancipation from the prison known simply as “The Guest bed”. 

I searched for hours among the results finding nothing of interest.  Perhaps I truly was delirious.  There was no rhyme to any of it.  The nonsensical phrase that I’d believed held some significance and encouraged me to free myself was just that.  Nonsense.  As I reached to the on/off switch of my computer to give up my hunt, something familiar caught my eye.   On about the 50th page or so of results, was a link that was underlined in purple, indicating that it was a site I’d visited in the past.  Surely this is a mistake, I thought as I clicked the link.  Then I understood.

“Breakfast Serials” was not some mystical phrase from the gods.  It was the title of that first post of Brady’s.  Only now, it looked not like a taunt, but a how-to.  It has been there all along.  How to write a weekly blog.  It doesn’t have to be entertaining in the least, it just has to be there.  This realization has breathed new life into my blogging.  New monotonous, boring life.  For nearly 8 months the answer to my blogging struggle has been right there.  It is not the cheeky sounding challenge I once saw it as.  I now see that Brady was trying to help.  Had I taken his words to heart initially, I could have saved myself so much time and walking through pig shit (I really did not like Dean at all, by the way).

I mention all of that to introduce my brand new, totally different blog approach.  This is how it’s going to be from now on.  Each day of the week, I will have a different topic.  I will write something about the events of my life each day.  Unfortunately for you, it will be really boring.  Boringer than normal.  Also, I will only be publishing Friday’s version.  “Weekly Recap.”
So um here:

Saturday, I was goofing around on Strava.  If you don’t know what Strava is, then you’re not reading this, so it’s cool.  I noticed that there was a “Lance Armstrong” on there.  Actually, there were several, but one of them seemed like it could actually be him.  So I decided to follow him.  He’s from Austin, Tx. and runs a lot.  After he runs for about 5 miles or so, he puts it on Strava.  Then about 100 people comment and 200 people give him Kudos.

This is really weird to me.  The comments are along the lines of “Still my hero buddy.  Nice run!”  which I think is so totally dorky, I’m immensely entertained by it.  Others say, “Hey Lance, let’s go for a run some time.  It would be a blast!”

Again.  Dork!

Then there are those who think LA has maybe taken PEDs and are upset and think Strava is the place to tell Lance what’s up:  “Loser, Cheat.  You suck!”
(throat clearing): Dork.

But the best part is - sometimes, the man himself comments to his commenters:

hey matt fritsch - ask alex zulle, jan ulrich, joseba beloki, ivan basso, and andreas kloden how many tours i have... and if that doesnt please you then ask the 200 guys in those "7" pelotons.

Settle the F down folks. Let's all move on and enjoy ridin', runnin', swimmin', sufferin', whatever. Let it go. Or I'm calling Gianni Palla.

Lance’s photo is a little cannon with a star over it that says “COME AND TAKE IT”.  I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds real Texasy, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Lance comments.  People rush to his defense.  Other people say he’s a bad man and so on.  Personally, I don’t get emotionally involved other than I do find it to be just fun to watch.  Hey, it’s my form of reality TV.  So what? 

Over the weekend, there was another really interesting thing.  I was looking at the gps route of one of his runs, trying to decide if I thought it was the real Lance Armstrong, and I zoomed into the start/finish.  

 Nice Place.  This is what I imagine Shim's house looking like.  Then the next day, I was reading an article about how AP reporters caught up with him on his morning run to ask him about the upcoming Oprah interview:

Wearing a red jersey and black shorts, sunglasses and a white baseball cap pulled down to his eyes, he was training by himself and about a mile from his home when he talked to the AP. Armstrong ran for about an hour as his team of lawyers and advisors began arriving one-by-one at his house.
Leaning into a reporter’s car on the shoulder of a busy Austin road, he also seemed unfazed by the international news crews gathering at the gates of his home. He cracked a few jokes about all the attention the interview with Winfrey had already drawn, then added, “But now I want to finish my run” and took off down the road.

Yeah this is mildly interesting.  What’s really cool, is you can see where it probably happened on Strava.

So yeah.  Zooming in on Lance Armstrong’s morning run and doing the detective work to guess where the AP interview about the Oprah interview happened is my idea of a good time, but I still maintain that the people who get involved in comment wars are dorks while I’m just normal.  See how that works?


* gra·tu·i·tous  

  1. Uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted.
  2. Given or done free of charge.
free - gratis - costless - free of charge


Thursday, January 03, 2013


I think lots of people would like to be able to write.  Personally, I’d just like to be able to read.  I do read a few books a year but I’ve never studied writing.  I can see certain patterns in most stories, but I surely miss more elements of a good story than I catch.  Most of what I write is a half-hearted joking attempt to frame whatever story I’m telling into a cliché story framework.  I think it’s funny that way. 

Thinking about what to write for this evening’s deadline, I began to consider the possibility that since the year is over, the pact to blog once a week must also be over.  At last, the end of a glorious year of putting garbage to ink and setting it out there for all who care (about 2 people) to see.

I’ve been hearing over the last year or so that blogging is dead.  It has fallen to the likes of Facebook and Twitter.  That’s fine, I guess.  Usually, I would like a few more characters to express myself than a tweet allows.  Facebook is laden with lurkers much stupider than I am, so I feel less free to express myself there than here on blogger.  I just don’t want to be drawn into arguments about whatever drivel I happen to spew.  Sometimes, I’m sort of clever but not extraordinarily so.  I dislike saying to people – “Yes I know.  You are arguing against the literal meaning of what I said, not understanding that you and I agree.”

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted some thoughts on the government’s handling of the current tax/spend/deficit/fiscal cliff thing.  Not surprisingly, there was a lot of commentary response.  Surprisingly, most of it was not completely idiotic.  One person however, threw a herring so red in there, I believed she must be a troll.  I do not know the girl, but the conversation was going something like this:

person:  Until the government takes responsibility blah blah blah ...

another person: It’s the people who voted in these polititions blah blah blah ...

Girl I don’t know:  Being gay is a sin.  America is morally bankrupt.  God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

Huh?  What?

People continue:  Here’s an interesting article from the senate blah blah blah ...

And so on:  Interesting points everyone.  I think blah blah blah ...

Girl I don’t know:  Biden is a imoral (sic) pedophile.  Muslims are stupid.  Obama is not fit to lead.  Fox news laid out all the facts.  People are still to (sic) stupid and voted for a moron anyway.

So yeah – I don’t want to blog on Facebook.  Incidentally, I am pretty excited to have real honest-to-goodness reasons to use “(sic)”.

When I was in college, taking the requisite English classes for my degree (Bachelor of Science, Computer Science with all the honors and privileges, etc.), I considered switching majors.  I loved college English.  The class was composition and I excelled.  I enjoyed studying and writing.  It was difficult, but rewarding to get the words tightened down just right. 

Don’t get me wrong - I understand this was a freshman level course and there’s a lot more to English and writing than talking about your summer vacation.  But I did give serious thought to pursuing that course.

A simple glance at the potential earnings of computer guy v. English teacher and the fact that I already had 2 children at that point helped me choose the computer route.

So while I was considering what to write today, I decided maybe I should start with a framework for my story.  I just jotted down the first dozen or so things that came to my mind that it seems like I see in a lot of stories.  Here’s a transcription of the handwritten list.

A boy with dreams


a girl

non-friends, tormentors

a conflict of some insurmountable problem

an examination of the possible solutions

none of them work

a lesson learned.  a solution found – it was there all the time.

girl understands she has loved the boy all along

bullies change heart.

world peace.

Vampire invasion.

And here's a crappy photo of that list from my crappy phone's crappy camera:

As you may be able to tell, the vampire invasion part of the story happened in some rewrites.

Oh is that time correct?  I guess I’d better get started on this.  So without increased delay, I present – Story.

The light rapping on the boy’s bedroom door was his mother’s loving reminder that it was time to get ready for school.  The boy was in his junior year.  For the most part, he was a decent student but he could not help but think his life was shaping up to be like everyone else’s in town.  He felt trapped.  He would graduate next year and then attend the nearest university.  He would never get a chance to fulfill his real dream.  He knew he was meant for something greater.  For you see – He wanted to be a …

Tap, tap, tap, “Better hurry sweety, you don’t want to miss your bus,”

The three musketeers, as they called themselves, trudged along on their way to the bus stop.  Hauling their burdens of books and supplies, they began to talk about the future.

“Red”, or “4 eyes” said he was enlisting after school.  His 2 nicknames were so obvious, I won’t bother to describe him.  His parents had absolutely forbidden him to join the military.  He was a top student with acceptance letters from colleges around the country.  His father, a third generation coal miner, saw a chance for his boy to escape the soul crushing fate that awaited 99.999 percent of the people in town.

The story's protagonist just listened as Red went on about how the Marines would make him a man and that his dad didn’t know anything.  Red did not respect his father.   He was just a dumb coal miner in Red’s eyes.  That would all change by the end of the story (if not for the impending vampire invasion).

The third man of the trio, D’Artagnan, was the ladies man of the group.  Once in the fourth period study hall, he had loaned a pencil to Janet Johnson (no relation), the most popular girl in the school.  According to D’Artagnan, Janet had then taken the pencil and written her phone number on a piece of paper and given it back to him.  He would not show the number to anyone, saying he feared that the others would steal it and try to steal his “woman”.

D’Artagnan’s real name was Stuart, but he had been given that nickname after suggesting the boys call themselves “The Three Musketeers” and then suggesting that he be called “D’Artagnan”

When the boy had first heard D’Artagnan’s tale of conquest concerning Janet Johnson, he was crushed.  He had long believed Janet to be his soul mate.  He often fantasized about some sort of global apocalypse scenario where he must save Janet from some unimaginable horror.  He admitted to himself that it seemed a bit extreme to wish for the end of the world for a peck on the cheek, but he was smitten.  Also, he didn’t see any less dramatic way to get her to notice him.  Often the boy contemplated the nightmare scenario of also having to rescue Janet’s boyfriend, Aryan.  I won’t even say what sport Aryan played or what his position on the team was because I like to keep a little mystery in my stories.  Hmm, mystery writer …

The daydream often went like this:

After hacking through the last door that stood between the boy and the outside of the burning building, the boy dropped the axe.  No strength remained in his arms to hold it.  He started the painfully slow jog toward the exit.  Smoke drenched lungs burned and longed for clean air.  Carefully, he made his way around the lifeless bodies that lay strewn about the long dark hallway.  His eyes stung and watered, blurring his vision.  Approaching the exit at last, The boy heard a faint cry for help.  A voice he could never mistake.  But where was it coming from?  The boy stopped to listen through the roar and heat from the flames that threatened to engulf the building.  There.  Behind the door to his right.  The sound was definitely coming from behind there.  “Janet,” he yelled, as what felt like crushed glass lining his throat tore away at his ravaged vocal cords, “Hang on Janet, I’m coming!” The boy grabbed the handle to open the door and was shocked to learn that it had heated up to about 800 degrees, instantly scalding his palm.  Using his other hand and a corner of his sweatshirt, he tried the doorknob only to learn the door was locked.

“Janet,” he called in a raspy voice, “The door is locked!”

“It’s the kid from study hall,” He heard her say to someone.  Then she yelled back, 

“Please help, kid.  We’re trapped in here.  I can’t reach the door.  Aryan is hurt real bad.  There’s a game tonight!”

He didn’t know what to do until he remembered the discarded axe.  “Hang tight, I’ll be right back!”

This is usually where the daydream ends.  There no way to really save Janet while also letting Aryan burn up in a fire and then still convince Janet that he’s a real stand-up guy.

Boy realizes he can’t even daydream right as the Three Musketeers board the school bus.

Ah what the hell, to be continued …