Friday, June 28, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Three: The Keeper At the Gate

The Keeper At the Gate
The Guardian is no match for the boys

     We pulled out of the parking lot behind the saloon and turned onto Coronado Avenue. There was a pretty good breakfast crowd at the Little Lighthouse Restaurant, but otherwise things were still quiet. Soon enough the tourist trade would come pouring in, filling the art shops and boutiques that line both sides of the Avenue, as well as the four or five saloons that make up the drinking scene in Ruby Beach. We are a small town, really. It was only a few hundred feet to the beach ramp. As we pulled up to the toll booth, there was the Atlantic Ocean. On this crystalline day in March the sea was brilliant azure close in, with dazzling white breakers gently slapping the morning sand. Further out, where we would be going, the ocean was a far darker hue, rolling along in large smooth waves that would give us a fast, undulating ride across the surface. 
     The sky was clear and blue, except for the seagulls that flocked constantly along the beach, waiting for handouts. The beach vendors were pulling in and setting up for the day. They all drove step vans like mine, pulling large trailers from which they would dispense hot dogs and sodas and bicycles for rent and kites and lounge chairs and all the other accoutrements of a tourist's day at the beach. We paused at the toll booth. The elderly lady working the booth stuck her head out.

     “Five dollars please.” she said.

     “No, ma'am, I said, “”We're not going to the beach. We're just dropping off some supplies to some of the other beach wagons, then coming back.”

     “You say that every week and I'm starting to think you don't really come back.” She knew how this was going to turn out but I admired her effort.

     “There must be a mistake,” I said. “I'm new on the job and this is my first day on this route. This is my supervisor right here...” Cromwell leaned over towards the driver's side and gave the poor lady a stern look.

     “Lady, we've got almost two-point-five metric tons of ice in the back of this wagon and it's melting fast. Plus I've got to train the new guy here and this really isn't part of the program. But if a lousy five dollars is that important...”

     “No, Sir, but I'm sure I remember you from last week and they told me to watch out for you boys and one of you is named Blix and...”

     “Blix?” said Cromwell. “What kind of made up name is that? Sounds like bad info to me, ma'am. I'm Fred and this is Joe and we really gotta get this ice to the vendors down here.” She was beaten from the start and we all knew it. It looked to me like she was trying not to laugh and I know that someday I will be punished for keeping a straight face in these situations but until then it is all part of the game.

     “Well, OK, but I'm watching you boys and you better come back through here pretty quick or else.” She was grinning pretty big now. This was a cool old lady. Hell, everybody in this town is cool. “By the way, what's in those red cups?”

     “Training Juice, ma'am,” said Cromwell as I headed the big truck down the ramp onto the sand.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine Two: Supplies

Cromwell and Blix Prepare for the Journey

     The parking lot behind the Crooked Angel was empty except for two vehicles: Molly's sleek vintage Porshe Carrerra and my not so sleek vintage Chevy Step Van. It sat in the far back corner of the lot, next to the little beach shack that I was renting from Molly while I regrouped, as it were; while I attempted to pull myself together after the divorce. Cromwell and I carried our drinks and sandwiches across the parking lot to my truck for the ride to the beach. The beach is only a half a block from the Crooked Angel, but we have coolers and sails and ropes and so forth that pretty much stay in the truck, and these have to be transferred to the boat.   
      My truck is a forty year old Chevy step van, like the big box trucks used by parcel delivery services and bakeries. She has an aluminum body and a strong eight cylinder motor. In the twenty years I have had her she has served as a work truck, camper, party wagon, office and sometimes home. These days she is a crew bus and on weekends headquarters for our beach sailing. Ruby Beach has one of the last beaches in Florida that allow motor vehicles to drive on the sand. Driving on the beach is a rare privilege and makes for the perfect situation for launching our beach cats. My boat was waiting on the beach with the mast rigged and ready to go, sitting several yards above the high tide line. All we had to do this morning was get the beer and ice loaded then raise the sails and go.

     “How much beer do you have in the truck?” Cromwell asked.
     “Not near enough,” I replied. “Less than a case.”

     “OK,” he replied. “I'll run into the Seven Eleven and get a case and a couple bags of ice.”  He handed me his drink and sandwich and started across the street . I stepped up into the big truck and put the drinks in the cup holders on the engine cover. Then I went into the back and pulled out a medium sized plastic cooler. Reaching under the bench seat I slid out a case of Red Stripe beer (in the hard-to-find cans, not the stout little brown bottles. No glass on the boat!) I made a layer of twelve beers in the bottom of the cooler. Next would be the ice, then another layer of six beers and the plastic tray for the sandwiches and cigarettes and cell phones and so on. The rest of the beer and extra ice would stay here in my truck, in a big fishing cooler that was kept permanently on board for just that function. This regrouping of my life after Mona was taking a lot of beer. I sat in the driver's seat and took a sip from my Bloody Mary. A pair of gulls were swooping and dipping over the parking lot. 
     Cromwell came out of the store with the beer and ice and crossed the street. I went into the back and opened the rear panel doors and he handed up the bags of ice, then the beer. We finished loading the coolers and sandwiches and went into the front and sat on the black and red reccarro racing seats I had put in a year earlier. Cromwell and I reached for our drinks. He raised his in a toast.
     “To the Beach!” he said.

     “To the Beach!” We touched the red plastic cups together and I started the engine.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine One: The Crooked Angel Saloon

 The Crooked Angel
Blix and Cromwell drink some breakfast and talk to cryptic Molly

   I walked into the Crooked Angel Saloon on a painfully bright Sunday morning in March. The atmosphere inside was the very essence of a Florida beach bar at ten in the morning: the fragrant smell of stale spilled beer , stale cigarette smoke and stale foiled dreams. Molly was behind the bar, rinsing glasses and running water and doing all the things a bar owner does on a Sunday morning before opening time. I walked past her toward the back, headed for the Men's room. As I walked past I didn't say anything, just raised my hand in the international sign of “I'm hungover” and kept moving. Molly smiled her beautiful Sunday morning smile and reached for her second-best brand of Vodka. The saloon was empty. It would not open until noon, but at noon I would be rigging my catamaran on the beach and I wanted a Bloody Mary now. I went into the Men's room and over to the urinal. Someone was in the toilet stall.

     “Someday I'm going to start a Sunday without having to smell that,” I said.

     “Smell what?” came a voice from the stall. “The lovely smell of roses?”

     “Yeah, the lovely smell of roses. I didn't see your drink on the bar. You going straight on me?”  The sound of ice tinkling in a glass came from inside the stall.

     “Jesus,” I said. “You got a TV and newspaper in there too? At least wash your hands when you're through.”

     “Yes, mother,” Cromwell said. I zipped up, washed my hands and went back into the bar and sat on the stool in front of the tall drink Molly had made for me. A medicinal Bloody Mary, two parts Absolut vodka with four parts Crooked Angel house mix, four dashes of tabasco, two big olives and a celery stick. I took a sip.

     “Yow! Good stuff! Thank you, me darlin'.”

     “You're welcome, me darlin'. Is Cromwell awake in there?”

     “As awake as he ever gets. By the way, isn't there some health regulation concerning food consumption in public toilet stalls?” She was leaning over the rinse sink, giving me a wonderful view of her perfect Florida bar-maid chest. Molly had bought the Angel with savings from her earlier career as a dancer. While some of her co-workers were investing in drug abuse and bad boyfriends, Molly had bought Walmart stock. She straightened up, stretched deliciously and gave me a green eyed wink.

     “No doubt. Everything is against the law in Florida. Including serving drinks before opening time.”

     “This isn't drinks,” I said. “It's breakfast.” Cromwell came in from the back, shaking his empty glass, rattling the ice to show Molly it was empty.

     “More breakfast, please, miss,” he said. Cromwell is the tall, dark and handsome type, and knows it.   Molly took his glass. He sat down on a stool and turned to me. “Now then, Blix, what is on the schedule for today?”

     “Let's see,” I said, holding up a blank white cocktail napkin, “Ah yes, first will be drinking, followed by sailing, then more drinking, then, later: sailing and drinking.”

     “Hmm, a busy day,” Cromwell said. “Will we have time for lunch?”

     “I think so. Yes, in fact, it says here that we're scheduled for lunch with cocktails at the Yacht Club. We'll be dining with the Commodore.”

     Molly laughed. “Yeah, right. Like they're going to let you two kooks anywhere near the Yacht Club, after that thing with the seagulls.” She set Cromwell's fresh drink in front of him.

     “Did I say Yacht Club? Oh, I see, must be a typo, actually we will be dining alfresco on the beach, enjoying delicious cold sandwiches prepared by chef Molly of the renowned Crooked Angel Culinary Academy.” I put the napkin back on the bar. Cromwell picked it up and held it at arms length, as though studying it in detail. Molly took it away and threw it into the trash can behind the bar.

     “Okay”, she said. “Two club sandwiches and two drinks to go then you two bastards have got to get out of here. I've got real customers coming in and I want to be ready.” She went into the kitchen to put together our lunch, giving her tail a shake for old time's sake. We watched her leave, then looked at each other. Molly makes really good sandwiches. We both lifted our drinks, taking measured sips so that when the glasses were back on the bar there would be equal amounts remaining. We knew exactly how long to make the drinks last so that Molly would have time to fix the club sandwiches, get them wrapped up and return to fix two extra strength Bloody Marys in red plastic cups. It was part of our Sunday morning pre-sail ritual. We were following well-established steps that would soon result in our being out on the ocean on board my eighteen foot catamaran. Some days it would be on Cromwell's boat, but today it would be on mine. The ritual had evolved naturally, the end result of our need to get through the morning and out on the ocean with as little effort as possible. Sunday mornings in Ruby Beach are not a good time for excess effort or confusion. Cromwell spoke.

     “Who is this Al guy?” he asked.


     “You said we were going to be dining with Al Fresco at lunch.” Inane conversation was part of the ritual, a way to get the vocal chords warmed up, set the tone for the day.

     “Oh, Al,” I said. “Right. You are going to like this guy, Crom, a very interesting character. His full name is Alain de Cordoba Fresco. He once served as court jester to the King of Spain, in the late Fifties, but after the revolution he came to the U.S. where he had a very popular children's TV show at a local station in Kalamazoo, or maybe it was Kokomo. He apparently made so much money there that he was able to retire here to Ruby, where he spends his Sunday afternoons on the beach, eating lunch with strange men.”

     “Sounds like a good guy. But what if we 're not strange enough for his taste?”

     “Oh, don't worry,” said Molly, coming in from the kitchen. “Cromwell and Dixon are strange enough for anyone's taste. You two make the Cat in the Hat look normal.” She set the wrapped club sandwiches on the bar. They had a very satisfying heft about them, as would the two drinks to go. It was all part of the ritual.

     “Indeed, me darlin', indeed. But then, what is normal, anyway?” I put a ten dollar bill on the bar.

     “More,” Molly said. I looked at Cromwell. He looked at Molly. Molly rolled her eyes.
“I know,” she said, taking the bill from the bar top. “On the tab.” She threw the ten into the tip jar. We each took our wrapped sandwiches and our drinks and turned towards the back door of the Crooked Angel.

     “By the way,” I asked as we were walking out, “How much is the tab these days, anyway?”

     “You don't want to know,” said Molly, leaning on the bar and giving us both a very direct look and an ironic little smile. “You really don't want to know.” Cromwell pushed the rear door to the saloon open with his foot and we stepped out into the painful sunshine. The door closed behind us.

     “What did that mean?” he asked.

     “We really don't want to know,” I said.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: Prologue

                                                        It Was All A Dream

   “Goodbye, Sam,” I said, and I pulled the trigger. I don't know who was more surprised, me or Sam. I know Sam was surprised as hell that I had the nerve to shoot him in his stupid movie-star face in the first place, but what surprised me was that the damn beat-up old shotgun didn't make a huge roar and blow Mr. Handsome's head clean off. Of course it didn't. What happened instead was the gun made a loud “click” and a little plastic bullet more or less trickled out the end of the barrel and bounced off his forehead. But at least he let go of the girl he was dragging around by the arm and stared at me with a very surprised look on his face.

 “What the hell! Are you insane? I can't believe you were going to shoot me, you sonofabitch!”  He was really pissed.

     “Shut up, Sam,” I said, re-loading another shell into the barrel of the shotgun, “Or I'll shoot you again.” Which was actually pretty funny, because I was planning on shooting him again anyway, as soon as I could jamb a shell into the chamber and cock the gun and so on. I sure as hell didn't want to get into a big wrestling match over the gun and I really didn't want to get into one of his goddamn movie-star fistfights, complete with witty threats and manly bon mots and all that crap. I had been in a drunk-ass wrestling match more than once in my illustrious career, rolling around punching and sweating and grunting and cursing. It was too much like sex and it always made me slightly uncomfortable afterward.
     But Sam wasn't crouching like a jungle beast preparing to spring or or drawing back his mighty sinew to deliver a knockout punch. No, he was still standing there cussing and glaring and just being pissed off. I couldn't help but think how typical it was of him that he would be more outraged that someone would try to kill his wonderful self than be frightened about it. But by that time I had the gun loaded and aimed at his head again. I could hear shouting and confusion in the saloon behind me and someone yelled “Don't do it, Blix!” and that gave me pause. Who was doing all this shouting? Just a moment before it had been only me and Sam and the lithe, beautiful femme fatal he was dragging around by the arm. Now who the hell else was in here?

     “Just stand right there,” I said to Sam, “And you might get out of this alive.”  I didn't really want to shoot Sam. I just didn't want to share the treasure with him. And he was such a pain in the ass about money that I knew who would get the best of the deal if I let him live. So, yeah, in a way I did want to shoot the sonofabitch. I was definitely sick of his “me first” crap and his movie star handsome bullshit. I backed away and turned around. Rusty was sitting at the bar, and over in the corner by the jukebox was a small cluster of tourists, all talking at once. The saloon had been closed since Molly's death and no one was supposed to be in here. And even though it had only been a few days since she passed away the place was boarded up and just dusty as hell and there was water dripping from somewhere overhead. “How the hell did tourists get in here?” I wondered as I walked over to the bar.

     “Wow, man, I can't believe you were going to blow Sam's head off like that!” Rusty said. He was really excited. “What the fuck, man! Are you crazy?”

     “Shut up, Rusty,” I said. “Let me get a grip on this. How did those tourists get in here, anyway?” I turned towards the corner booth where the gaggle of frightened witnesses had been babbling and pointing at me but they were gone. The girl was sitting there instead. She was wet, her diaphanous white blouse clinging provocatively to her heaving breasts. She was very beautiful and very frightened. On the table in front of her was the shotgun. Sam walked over with a ratty piece of paper in his hands. It was the drawing of the map that would lead us to the map.

     “Are you done fucking around, now, jackass?” Sam said. “Can we get back to work?” He spread the paper on the bar top. He was the boss. “Now look, the way I see it is we've got to cut this trench right through the concrete here going towards the rear door. That will be your job, Blix.” He was standing way too close, in my space and in my face, as usual. Mr. In Charge. He turned to Rusty. “Now you, Rusty, will...”

     “Excuse me just a minute,” I interrupted quietly. I slid off the bar stool as casually as I could, then I suddenly exploded across the room, jumping onto a booth seat to gain some spring action and dove through the air towards the girl in the booth. She was beautiful and frightened and too surprised to move. The tourists in the corner started babbling again. I grabbed the shotgun and spun around fast before Sam could make his move. He and Rusty were standing at the bar, looking at me like I was crazy. Sam had the map in his hand. I was moving closer to him, shotgun pointed at his face. Sam gave out one of his big dramatic “Here we go again” sighs and put the map on the bar. He was obviously planning to give me a good old-fashioned Hollywood ass kicking for my own good.

     “Good-bye, Sam,” I said. I pulled the trigger. Another loud click and another pathetic blue plastic bullet trickled out of the end of the barrel. This one didn't even have enough force to make it to his face. It just made a weak little arc and bounced off his chest. He was wearing a really expensive- looking white shirt, some kind of pirate get up, open at the chest. The girl in the booth tried to suppress a giggle, but I could hear her anyway. There was water dripping somewhere.

     My name is Blix Dixon. I woke up this morning and decided that I couldn't take it any more and it was time to just put it all down, write it all down and maybe get some of this stuff out of my head.  I mean, you don't have to be Sigmund Freud to see the symbolism of dreams like that one. Everyone has their story to tell and this one is mine. Not my life story or anything as mundane as that; who cares about all that stuff? No, I mean the story of what happened the summer after my second wife left me and I lost the house and my life fell apart and I got into the drinking and sailing and hell raising on the beach. 

 And meeting Ponce deLeon.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Good Trouble

Three flats in five days. Three. This comes after a period of flatlessness that extends so far back that I had forgotten that such trouble was possible. Then, like a bad dream that won't stop, flat flat flat. One of them was yesterday, at the library. The library was the scene of many flats, once upon a time, until I learned about proper inflation and not treating road bike tires like mountain bike tires.

But, for whatever reason, the Curse has returned and yesterday I found myself doing yet another roadside repair. Afterward I always pedal home and patch the bad tube with those Skabs glueless patches that I like. I patch the old tube and put it back on the bike, after removing the spare tube and putting it back in the saddle bag. While having an almost 100% success rate with the Skabs, I figure using a patched tube as a spare is asking for trouble. Me, I get trouble enough without asking.

Or maybe not. In fact, trouble ain't that common with me these days. I would like to think it is a result of my maturity finally catching up with my years, but I know better. Things are just going smoothly because how much trouble can ya get into when all you do is read books and ride your bicycle around town, awkwardly sober and suffering zero interaction with the citizenry?   I famously do not play well with others but these days TJC the TPC roams the streets alone, bereft of companionship and un-pirated. I am without a ship or a mission and as I mentioned recently, enough is enough.

My son Beau, he of the Los Angeles Beauregards, finding himself equally without trouble (or mission) but, unlike his elderly père, seeking both, has made his way home from the West, returning to his natal state of Florida where he now resides, (over in St. Petersburg) stomping the bushes and stirring things up. There seems to be work there, our kind of work, big buildings that need doors and trim, hardware and careful fitting; we have the tools and we have the talent and maybe...

Well, we shall see.

Meanwhile, after getting hundreds of requests (okay, three) I have started thinking about serializing the novel I never wrote. I have no idea if it is even readable. I think I sent some pages of it over to my friend CryJack the Playwright but that was back in one of my periods of dark unrest and for all I know she is even now puzzling over the literary merits of my liquor store shopping lists and multiple drafts of suicide notes.

Whatever the case, I guess I will display my dirty laundry and verbal meanderings for all the world to see. Or at least the handful of my remaining readers.

So stay tuned. After three flats in five days anything is possible. Maybe even something good, some good trouble.


Whispering Pines Trailer Park (for now) and Publishing House

Monday, June 17, 2013

How Did I Get Here?

I realize that anyone reading this Booger probably thinks I don't even OWN a bicycle anymore. I haven't posted a ride report in a while now and hardly ever mention even minor details of a cycling nature. But ironically, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I have almost 2000 miles under my wheels so far this year, which is equal to ALL my miles for last year. I'm riding more than ever.

What's happening is that I am living on my bike these days. Oh, I'm still sleeping in my old trailer at the Pines, but that is about all I do there. These days, absolutely unemployed, I work a kind of route. If I get up early enough (when it is not yet over 80 degrees F) I will usually chug a cup of hot black Folger's instant coffee and head out on one of my three twenty-five or thirty mile loops. I'll come back to the trailer, grab a quick shower then stuff my computer into the Goodwill messenger bag and head for the Library, or the Blonde's, for free wi-fi and air conditioning. I check e-mail and scan for any comments on my pages; I read any new postings from my friends and make my comments and then, if I'm at the library, I dive into the shelves to find a couple books for the night's reading.

If I'm at the Blonde's I raid her refrigerator and play round after round of mindless online poker. Then, off to the trailer where I ditch the computer and drink another couple cups of coffee before I head back out, this time for my evening float. I float slowly around the neighborhood. The object is, as soon as I am in the saddle, to start up a daydream. How I will remodel the trailer, the off-grid houseboat I will never build. How I will spend my lottery winnings, if I ever get a dollar so I can play. I dream many dreams; money-making schemes, all the great things I may still one day accomplish, I dream about old friends and places I have been. I can float-ride for three hours just assembling my dream bicycle, going over in my head the merits of SRAM vs. Shimano. I build a dazzling home bike shop in my mind...

The goal, on my evening Float of Quiet Desperation, is escape. I'm getting outside my head and getting in some miles. I drift aimlessly about my home, where I know all the quietest streets where absentmindedness will not result in death. A successful ride is one in which at some point I look up and I am momentarily disoriented. I am, just for an instant, disoriented and don't remember pedaling to this place, a few miles from home. “How did I get here?” I ask.

It all results in many, many slow miles. My trusty old Schwinn, recently reduced to one gear, is perfect for this pursuit. No shifting, no sound, just slowly spinning pedals and an overloaded soul working hard to drop the weight, unloading the burden, the concerns, the slowly dawning realization that this might be it, this might be it...

Then, as the sun says 'Fuck it, man, let's call it a day,” I do the same and: turning on my headlight and blinking red taillight, I get into the drops and blast home, pushing hard, taking crazy chances in the twilight in highway traffic and cutting really fast into the turns and riding like the devil was after me and getting home for another quick shower, some clean dry clothes and the books. I brew some tea, turn on my reading lamp and grab whatever book I have set aside for the night.

I do this every day. It sounds idyllic, and in many ways it is...but I'm losing my fucking mind. I am a draft animal, a hustler, a problem solver and one of those guys who brings his work home. The Blonde, stuck with recent financial disasters, was forced to cut off my beer and rum allowance. That's not an inconsequential amount of cash, given my thirst. That was two weeks ago. Abruptly finding myself sober, I looked around and said, “How did I get here?”

I don't like it. I was happy with what I had when one of those things was plenty of beer and rum. Beer and rum and bicycles was all I needed. But now...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer Rerun #1: Waiting For Grace

Hey Guys!  This post originally appeared on May 6, 2011.  
My Economic Philosophy
At this point in my cycling  career I am like a third-world refugee picking scraps from the local land fill to piece together any two wheeled contraption I can to keep myself flying. There is majestic irony in the fact that when the winds of change blow through my life they will do so in such a way that while cycling dollars will be available cycling time will not, in that devilish inverse ratio of money-to-happiness nightmare that has plagued my soul since I hit the streets a-runnin'. The formula is fiendish: the times when I have plenty of money I am miserable.  Not because of the money but because of what I have to do to get it; while the times I am poor, with plenty of cycling, sailing, goofing off time, I am happy but my various creditors are miserable. And miserable creditors have a way of spreading that misery around until even a Dedicated Goof like me gives in and goes back to work.

On The Road Again
Not long after I got the Old Schwinn put back together I started logging miles and keeping a miles log that showed some serious effort on my part, consistently getting in two hundred mile weeks, albeit at a pace that would best be described as stately, to put it kindly. But I was riding, and gradually becoming addicted to the first healthy addiction in a long career of, well, you know...unhealthy addictions. Meanwhile, due to the poverty (that makes me so happy) my thirty year old Schwinn Super Le Tour was feeling the effects of all these miles as well as my less-than-average maintenance skills.

One day while Way Out There I was passed by a Fred-On-Carbon and while this was in no way unusual, for one reason or another this time I decided to give chase. After seven miles I caught and passed him. This was an unfortunate occurrence, because it caused me to start thinking about miles and speed. After that, I started pushing things a little. The happy part of the story is that with increased speed came increased daily mileage as a side effect. The downside is that after not many days of my new efforts the Old Schwinn filed a protest in the form of two broken spokes on the rear wheel and an inexplicably bent axle.

Off the Road Again
So sits I here now, grounded, as it were, too broke and inept to facilitate repairs on my poor old steed. The miles I am not riding mount up daily. My ass is beginning to take the shape of my computer chair. Anyone who rides long miles understands the pain and sacrifice of the ass-toughening period required before five or six hours in the saddle can be accomplished without excruciating pain.

This blog, ostensibly about bicycle riding and working on bikes, will now be...what?

Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do
Well, I could write about Mobile Home Rehab. The Management at the Whispering Pines Trailer Park finally had enough of my non-payment shenanigans and rather than evict me, instead gave me the opportunity to work off my rent debt. So not only am I not riding my beloved (but broken) Schwinn, I am spending my days ripping rotten, moldy wood out of trailer walls, painting over years of cigarette-smoke-stained ceilings and crawling around under dilapidated units to repair plumbing systems that look like the Little Rascals did the original installation.

Argh!  I Say...  
Well, not really Argh,  because I actually derive a certain pleasure in doing the best job I can on these trailers. I make sure that when I am through, every thing is “Clean, Dry and Serviceable” as we were trained to say in the Good Ol' United States Air Force. The ability to draw small pleasures from untenable situations is what keeps me going, sometimes. I consider it one of my few admirable traits, if not direct evidence of my mental instability.

My Guru Will Know What To Do
During a ride last week I broke two spokes.  The LBS was between me and home, so I carried the Old Schwinn there  only to receive a severe shock. Walter, the Homeless Janitor Retired Airplane Mechanic Turned Bicycle Shaman, was gone! Argh!

How can these things keep happening to me? I had weathered the storms of mistrust, witchcraft, bad communication, limited destruction and over-Indulgence In beer to finally find  my One Bicycle Guru only to learn that he had departed for a Far Country!

“Where did he go?” I asked the lady at the counter. I managed to keep the trembling out of my voice. I was looking over her shoulder to the Repair Area in back. It was dark in there.

“Uh...” she seemed reluctant to speak. The news was obviously unspeakable! Oh my God, was he dead?

“What happened/” I asked. I saw the beginning of fear in her eyes. She didn't want to tell me.

“He opened a new shop in Ormond Beach,” she said. She seemed poised for flight.

“Ormond Beach?! What's he doing up there?”   I knew I had to regain my composure before she hit the panic button under the counter. (Little Known Fact: Bike shops, like banks and liquor stores, sometimes have dangerous customers).   “Well, what are you guys doing for a mechanic these days?”

Yes,  I am  such a perfidious character that  I had already forgotten My Guru and was angling for his old job, even though I am possibly the worst mechanic in creation. She relaxed, seeming to brighten up.

“Oh, we have a great new mechanic.” Hmmm...

“Well, can I go around back to meet him?” I asked. This New Guy better be good, I was thinking.

“Oh, uh, no...” she said, regaining a little of that nervous apprehension she had exhibited moments before. “”We had to change the rules...there were to many hooligan kids hanging around so now he just comes up here. Just a minute...” 

" Oh Good Lord",    I thought. Another complete sea change in my cycling world. Now I have to WAIT to see the mechanic. I had grown accustomed to swooping up on my bike to the garage doors of Walt's little shop, where he always had some oddball Big Box bicycle in the stand, while a fidgeting kid was hanging around waiting for what I always figured was a free repair. Now that I think of it, sometimes it was me that was the fidgeting kid.


The New Guy
The New Guy emerged from the back. While he seemed a perfectly normal-looking young fellow, I Knew. Here it comes, I thought. 

Don't project, said the Voice. "Oh Yeah?"    I said.  "OK, I'll be as sweet as I can be."

“Hi!” I said brightly. “How are you?” He faked a smile. I could tell I had interrupted his work and he wasn't happy about that. I was fairly certain it wasn't a tiny tricycle or a big box bike back there in the stand.

“What's up,” he said.

“Oh, I have this old Schwinn I bought a while back and I've been trying to keep her going as best I can, but the rear wheel is wobbling and now I've busted a couple spokes. I think it's time for a new wheel, but I wanted your opinion.” He glanced at the Love of my Life. His attitude wasn't surly, but it might as well have been. Without a word, he turned to the computer and punched in some keys.

“A new wheel will be $55,” he said.  "Plus labor."

“Hey!” I said, maintaining my effort at brightness and good cheer. “That's not so bad. The hub that's on here now is a Shimano, I noticed. What will the new one be?”

“I don't know what the new one will be, but it won't be a Shimano. And you have to pay now.”

Now, was this cause for upset on my part? I don't know. Granted, the guy was no doubt busy. Who can tell? The shop area was behind a Magic Curtain. But the demeanor...well, it hit me like I was being told I had cancer by a doctor who already had his golf clubs slung over his shoulder and was heading for the door. I reached down and gave My Little Darling a pat on her top tube and started for the door myself.

“Hey, thanks. You've been really helpful. I'll figure out what I want to do and let you know.”

And then I beat It out of there.

Outside, I tried to rationalize the whole event. Hell, that kid didn't know I had carried that bike on my back the three miles to the shop. He surely wouldn't understand, or care, the significance to me of a whole $55. Was it his fault I was broke and living in a trailer park? Of course not. But all the same...

A cool breeze feathered In from the North. It felt good and I turned to face the direction from which that caress had come.

It'll be alright,  said the Voice.  

 "I know,"   I said. Somewhere in that northerly direction was Ormond Beach and Walter the Bike Guru's new shop. I smiled as I visualized  the Old Shaman fiddling with some cheap bicycle in his stand while some little kid fidgeted nearby, waiting for Grace.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Bicycle Emporium

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reality Roller Coaster

Nobody Knows...
It ain't easy, I tell ya. Being a big-time Blogger takes stamina and courage and research and suffering. I have to read a lot of books and go on inebriated vision quests and ride my bicycle (not all at the same time, although I have been known to try.) I have to sleep, sometimes in the afternoon (usually after one of those vision quests) and then try to remember my dreams.

In my research I often dig deep into the library shelves, boldly going without fear to the lower numbers of the Dewey Decimal System, down to the double oughts (information) and the double-o ones, (general knowledge) and when no one is looking, I will surreptitiously slip a book from the 002's (risky business) I know that people want facts and tips and new ways of solving old problems. They turn to us Boogermeisters for advice, guidance, understanding. It is a heavy burden and I tremble, sometimes, at the responsibility. (Okay, I don't actually tremble, I was being literary there, not literal)

Mumbo Jumbo
Recently, I pulled a book from the shelves at stratum 001.9. It was authored by a Canadian, but I read it anyway. It dealt with the rampant conspiracy theorism going on since the violent upheaval in American placidity caused by the felling of the Twin Towers and the election of the first black President. You all know what I mean: Illuminati, Trilateral Commission, Born In Kenya, Muslim this, Muslim that...WTC was an inside job, Dick Chaney (yikes!) and Wolfowitz, Katrina was a plot to wipe out the poor blacks in the 9th ward...Halliburton and black helicopters, stolen elections, on and on.

Alien lizard overlords rule the world, Area 54, the Moon landings were fake, Who Shot JR? (I mean JFK.) The Protocols of Zion...Masons and Templars and Sarah Palin.

Me? I believe all of it. The rational side of my brain says that it is all nonsense, but how often do I listen to the rational side of my brain?

Not often enough.

“Not now, Voice. This is serious business. I have to get the word out.”

Word up, dawg. Voice said you was whack. And check it out, we don't say “black” no more, it's “African American.”

“What? Who was that?”

My cousin Earl. I told you he was coming for a visit, remember? Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to tell you anything.

“You're kidding. There's two of you now?”

Only for a few days.

'Well, both of you be quiet. I'm working.” Not good. Not good at all...

Behind the Curtain
So, using my unique powers of mind control, I silence the rational part of my brain (or at least try to) and instead cavort wildly about, dancing in the field of poppies that is conspiratorial thinking. “They” really are screwing up the planet. It's just more fun to think that way. It makes for a wild ride. Like a reality roller coaster, it is simpler to believe that there are in fact evil geniuses, supermen behind the scenes making all this stuff happen. It is far more comforting than believing that We the People are so fucking stupid that we are somehow responsible, us our ownselves.

But the author of this book took the rational road. No roller coaster for him. He's Canadian, after all, and proud of it. There is a moment when he more or less says it required a Canuck to write the book because Americans are all so obviously bat-shit crazy. I agreed with him on that point and merrily did I read along, nodding my head sagely to signify my understanding of all he had to say. It wasn't that entertaining of a read, unfortunately. I had hoped he would spend some time explaining away the various silly notions we conspirators like to ramble endlessly on about during late night internet slumber parties, but he didn't do that. He didn't even try. He just pointed out how silly it all was and said “paranoia,” and “mid-life crisis” and “pajama journalism” and “birther” and “truther”and gently, kindly gave us all some literary warm milk and cookies and put us to bed.

Almost literally, in fact. I fell asleep a couple times reading it but I plowed on through because I am, after all, the Trailer Park Cyclist and painful research and clarification is my duty. And something was nagging at me while I was reading: if there really are vast networks of manipulative evil-doers out there, wouldn't they naturally publish books all over the place pointing out how foolish such thinking is? It made me tremble with excitement (okay, okay; again: I didn't actually tremble, I just like typing that word: Tremble.) It was like creeping up the steepest incline on the reality roller coaster, anticipating, knowing that in just moments we would be roaring down the other side, wind in our hair, g- forces rearranging our internal organs as we rushed to the truth: the book in my hands that I am reading is hard evidence of a cover up!

Not really. Maybe. That's the thing about all this stuff: you can make a case either way. But while in my head I always like to play peek-a-boo with what's real, in my other head I would put my actual money down on the side of rationality. So I found myself, of course, setting aside my adventurism of the mind and settling into a more Canadian way of thinking, proud of my maturity. I mean, after all, the book has an index. So it must be bona fide.

Wait!  There's More!
But then, out of nowhere, I came across a sentence saying no way would the government monitor our phone calls. Certainly not ALL of them. He wrote that it would be akin to one man sitting alone in a stadium trying to eavesdrop on all the conversations of several thousand people. ( I would give this reference in direct quotes but this morning when I sat down to type this tell-all post, I couldn't find the passage. I then spent two hours (conspiricists are obsessive) going page by page but the passage was gone. Yet more evidence of a cover up!)

The guy is wrong! The government IS watching our phone calls! All of them! And our Internet traffic! (I have to wonder what they make of this particular blog) Big Brother is waking up! But don't worry: Our Muslim Space-Lizard Kenyan-born leader is promising us that they aren't actually listening in...yet.

It's exhausting, really, but rest assured that yer ol' pal the TPC is on the case. While I may not be a main stream media monger from North of the border, at least I'm not publishing blatant lies.

Next: Lance Found Innocent After All! America's Cycling Hero A  Victim Of Canadian Propaganda! Oprah To Be Publicly Hanged On Tuesday! Mexico!

Why Mexico?

“I don't know, Voice. It's fun to type and always goes good with an exclamation mark. Mexico!”

Dude is whack.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Bureau of Truth.

Monday, June 10, 2013

On Human Kindness

Squirrels Are People Too
The big buck squirrel that represents the bushy-tailed members of the local free food co-op is railing loudly at the manager of the place (me) concerning the recent shortage of cheap cheerios. As loud railing goes, it ain't much, squirrels being what they are: little. They're the Little People of the trailer park and as such, deserving, I think, of a handout now and then; as the hander-outer I feel bad that I have run out of cheap cheerios but there is not much I can do about it, this shortage of manna.

There are all manner of churches and charitable organizations around the area that assuage their rich man's guilt, I suppose, by occasionally coming by the park to distribute fishes and loaves. Well, it is never exactly fishes and loaves, generally it is those odd brands of canned goods that you never heard of and the kind of peanut butter that may or may not have Korean origins; who can tell? But always there are these huge bags of generic cheerios that are fairly inedible and I don't eat even the good cheerios, the Cheerios brand cheerios, so in my munificence (and not through any guilt) instead of throwing it away I one day tried feeding it to the squirrels and they went crazy for the stuff.

White Squirrels?

Mysterious Stranger
A while back I was fiddling with something at the front of my trailer when I heard a scuffling of feet in the gravel parking lot behind me. Turning around, I saw a nervous-looking stranger standing there with a stuffed brown paper grocery bag.

“Hey,” I said. “What's up?”

“I want to give you this,” he said, holding up the bag. It looked heavy.

“Are you from the church?” This question didn't seem to sit right with him. I sensed a bit of offense taken. He was a small man, wearing thick black-rimmed glasses, the kind that never seem to sit exactly straight on some people's faces; this guy was one of those people. His hair also had that vaguely odd cut associated with mental institutions and correctional facilities. But he had ventured into the Whispering Pines on a mission of charity, and now here I was rapidly robbing him of his warm glow. He was working from a script, I think, and ever am I off-book when encountering strangers bearing gifts. I had a vision of him, sitting in a cell or on a lonely bed in some halfway house, making promises to God about what he would do if he ever got out of here...

“No, I just wanted to help,” he said. Yeah. I had done it wrong. He was definitely on the defensive, now. I wasn't getting my lines right and I was messing up his movie. I don't feel good about it.

Another Fine Mess

Once, Long Ago...
My mother was a foundling. She was literally left at the door of the Cloister of the Sisters of Mercy in our rowdy old riverboat town on the Ohio River. Never knowing her parents, she spent a few years in the orphanage on the hill overlooking the river before finally being adopted and taken into the loving arms of my maternal grandparents. When she was a young girl in high school, she could see that orphanage across the way from her classroom window and she made herself a promise: one day she would marry a handsome, noble man of wealth and she would do great things for orphans all the world over, starting right here in her hometown.

It didn't exactly work out the way she planned. I think my Dad was handsome enough, in his sailor-on-leave kind of way, but the wealth part wasn't in it. He was a fireman, a good one, too, when sober, but firemen are not notoriously wealthy. But, luckily for the orphans, my parent's marriage soon broke up and she remarried: this time to an electrician who was also without substantial means; but this husband seemed to her to be, I think, a little more trainable than the sailor/fireman/hell-raiser that had been her first choice. She pushed and pulled and cajoled and coerced my new dad until he was quite a rare sight around the house, what with all the extra jobs and night school classes and employer-sponsored seminars and after a dozen years or so the house was big, the cars were new and the orphans on the hill were, every Christmas, treated to a grand feast and piles of presents.

Charitable Chores
We privileged sons of the wealthy were required to suit up and mingle with those lost children, a task that grew more and more uncomfortable for me each year. These kids were...different. The littlest ones were cute and lovable but also clingy; it was heartbreaking to see. But the older kids were clearly angry and resentful of this act of kindness and as for myself, I just wanted clear of the whole deal. I didn't like it. It felt like lying.

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha stoopid Yankees

OPEC to the Rescue
But again, luckily for both me and I like to think, also for the orphans, the OPEC-induced oil embargo of the early '70's wiped out the family business and my parents entered Chapter Eleven and I entered the Air Force. It was the end of being on the giving side of things; it signaled a depressing change for my Mom and her dreams of being the Queen of the Orphans, (something she never quite seemed to forgive my step-dad and the Arabs for doing to her) and yet, she survived the fall. We all seemed to muddle through somehow and charity was something I didn't have to think about anymore.

The Reluctant Receiver
But then I renounced, well, everything, it would seem...wiped out my ownself in my past-middle-aged years by forces I only pretend to understand, although once again it seemed to have some vague connection to Arabs. I commenced to riding my bicycle and doing without and waiting for someone to complain about it; but that never happened. I cautiously peeked around every corner, looking for guilt or some kind of approbation for my new-found lack of ambition and gradually, after a year or so, I realized that I was getting away with it, that I might get away with being a bum and enjoying the handful of years I have left, enjoying the free stuff, the sunlight on my back on a crisp winter's day as I pedal Way Out There, alone on a country road. The free stuff, or the stuff that should be free, like time: time to look back on the mess, the wild dash that is the American Way of spending your brief allotment of years. Now, instead of my life flashing before my eyes at the edge of the abyss, it is scrolling by in a leisurely fashion down through the years and I have been able, a little, to reconcile myself with my families and with those orphans and even, after a fashion, with the Arabs. Well, not so much with the Arabs.

stoopid Arabs

Jesus Is Just All Right With Me
Why does it make people feel good to give things to the poor? Jesus, probably. Do other religions practice charitable giving? I don't know. When I was a beach bum in Ft. Lauderdale we used to work a kind of Jesus hustle. Those were the days of the Jesus Freaks, God bless 'em, and every couple miles there would be a shabby storefront advertising Christ on the windows and free peanut butter (with maybe jelly) sandwiches and kool-aid inside. With proper scheduling and a little slight of hand one could obtain fair sustenance and the Word on any given afternoon before heading back to the beach where we worshiped the One True God, His Majesty the Sun. On Sunday afternoons there were free kegs of beer and wet T-shirt competitions at the Button Lounge and really, as I scroll back through the years those were the days I would like the scroll to get stuck on.

We All Are, Buddy

Gratitude the Best I Can
So I put on my best humble/grateful face and say “Hey man, thank you so much! My goodness, the missus (Daisy the Yellow Dog) and the kids (squirrels) will sure be grateful for this. God bless you!” It doesn't work. He can tell I'm not really grateful. He knows that this wretched orphan could care less and I have robbed him of whatever reward in Heaven Here On Earth he is seeking. And you know what?  The squirrels won't be grateful either, later, when I dump a bowl of stale cheerios into the squirrel feeder. They figure it is their due, as the Royal Squirrels of the Whispering Pines Trailer Park. They have no idea that I am secretly fattening them up just in case. Miss Daisy? She is an aging yellow lab and a whole jar of Korean peanut butter is indeed a gift from heaven, and in fact she is effusive with gratitude and wiggling and dog kisses as she endeavors to ascertain if there might not be more.


But Daisy is a dog, and dogs are of a higher spiritual nature than humans.

A Varmint On the Porch
And now, in a brusque show of not gratitude but rather outrage at the dearth of cheerios in the feeder, I am being berated by a fat squirrel-boss for my sloth.

We want those Cheerios, dammit!  Now!

And also am I thinking of Jesus. Didn't he hook everyone up with a little wine? If those store-front Jesus Freaks had put out a little Mad Dog or Boone's Farm instead of dixie cups of kool-aid they would have had a far larger turn out, rest assured. In fact, I now feel a little like Boss Squirrel (who if he don't shut up and get off the porch is in for a rude surprise: I'm trying to type here)...I find myself feeling a little resentment. If an odd little man with bad vision and a questionable haircut were to show up with a brown bag containing a jug of the squeezings of Ernest and Julio, my gratitude would be real indeed and we might even share a glass or two, embracing each other in the warm glow of human fellowship and kindness. Isn't that what He would have wanted?

I Love You, Man...

The Orphans?
I don't know what those orphans wanted. We never shared a glass and got to know each other properly. I am fairly sure, as I scroll back to those days, that what they didn't want was to be reminded by the Queen and the young Prince about how bad things would be the other 364 days of the year. You could see it in their faces. So could my Mom. It broke her heart and she never understood. But then, like most people, my poor Mom never had the time to sort things out, to scroll back and take another look.

Wrap It Up (I'll Take It)
That noisy squirrel, sensing my gentle malevolence concerning his making of such a racket, has gone off in search of charity elsewhere. I wish him luck in his quest. As for myself, His Highness the Sun is out and it is time for the Old Prince to take his bicycle down from the wall and venture forth. I seem to be, these days, on a quest myself, if not in search of charity, then perhaps...

I think what I am looking for is to reach a place where I can find in my heart a feeling of honest gratitude. I'm not there just yet. In fact, there is a lot that I'm a bit pissed about, just like that squirrel who didn't get his cheerios this morning. For whatever reason, I have time, at this odd juncture of my life, to take a break and sort things out. I am taking that time as a gift and using it the best way that I know how. I'm riding my bike. I pause and listen to conversations that I am not a part of, but that I hear all the same. I'm working the Jesus hustle, taking whatever bits I get and wondering why I don't love my fellow man all that much. But I'm working on it. I go around penniless, but that part doesn't seem to matter. In fact, it may be what makes this work possible. Money ain't in it.

As though working a broken Rubik's Cube or playing out a hopeless hand of Solitaire, what I am up to is reconciliation, a twisting and sorting and working toward that place where, as I close my eyes the final time, it will not be for the coming of cold-hearted night but instead it will herald the rising of the sun. I think that is it. Maybe...Yeah, that's it.

Workin' On It

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Squirrel Sanctuary.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: Dragonfly

Hey Guys,  it's a Rainy Saturday and I'm bored and maybe you are too  so I thought I would share a chapter from the book I never wrote called Smiling In the Sunshine.  TJ

One Lazy Summer Day
It was late in the season when Phil thought up the idea for the flying catamarans and that about did it for the summer, for the drinking and hell raising and womanizing and practical jokes and everything else important to the boys on Flagler.  Phil moved out to his family’s old farm outside of Ruby Beach and started inventing. Well, the inventing part was pretty much complete. What Phil was doing out in that stinky old  barn was cutting the hell out of two or three perfectly serviceable but extremely used Hobies and trying to figure out a way to put together the articulating wing-form he had developed. The necessary light construction of the wings conflicted with the need to build a machine that would stay together long enough to lift the boat clear of the water. Those little beach cats practically fly, anyway, and what Phil was after was not true flying but the skipping glide of the flying fish. The wings would fold into the sides of the hulls when the boat was being operated as a regular catamaran, then fold out like the wings of a dragonfly when the flying was to begin.

Sea Trials
The initial test runs were at first quite dismal, but then Phil got hold of some old mainsail cloth from one of those big 21 foot Stiletto cats and a pair of carbon-fiber spars from who knows where and then the fur began to did the boat, after a fashion.

Captain Dave
It was Cromwell, of course, who was to serve as test-pilot due to his greater skill with a sailboat. They decided to take her out on a day when the wind was particularly strong, from the East. As the boys unloaded the boat from the trailer a crowd of curious beachgoers began to gather. The launch area was right there in front of the Crooked Angel Saloon at the end of Flagler Avenue and so the strange little boat was getting more than a small amount of attention from the boisterous Happy Hour crowd. When Phil stretched out the fifteen foot wide rainbow-hued starboard batwing, an actual murmur of skeptical and boozy derision could be heard developing from the drinkers on the Saloon’s huge front porch overlooking the beach. This negative attention did nothing to dissuade Phil and Cromwell. They were well accustomed to an audience as they perpetrated their various sailing exploits, and readily welcomed the hoots and applause from the Angel’s deck crowd. (It was no coincidence that it was happy hour that time when Crazy Captain Dave blew by fast on board his 18 footer, trapezed way out to windward, butt-naked with a long yellow “Police Crime Scene” ribbon tied to his penis.)

The Maiden Flight
Once rigged the cat slipped sweetly into the surf. There was only the slightest onshore break. Phil was to ride along to the outside of the surf, then drop off and swim back to shore. They had decided that light weight was more important than extra crew for the maiden flight, besides the fact that Phil wanted to videotape the event for prosperity.

Crazy Captain Cromwell
Cromwell got her out on a beam reach to build up speed, hiking way out to stabilize her, and that damn boat just screeched off, barely in the water as it was. He reached down and cranked hard on the little winch that pulled out the windward wing, and this additional lift leveled the boat  enough to clear space for the leeward wing to be deployed. Cromwell looked like a manic marionette, mainsheet in his teeth, cranking one winch with his foot, steering by jamming the tiller extension into the waistband of his trunks. That enabled him to steer by moving his butt around, freeing his hands and feet for operation of the additional winches that opened the wings.

The Miracle of Flight
Suddenly, just like that, he shifted his ass down hard to the center of the trampoline, causing the boat to turn sharply straight into the wind, and it flew. The damn thing gently lifted clear of the ocean and flew, rising quickly some three feet out of the water. A great cheer rose up from the onlookers on the beach.

Uh Oh
Then she jibed hard to leeward and the tip of one hull caught the top of a wave and dug in, causing the boat to lurch sickeningly sideways. Instantly Cromwell found himself driving a four-sailed pinwheel, or rather hanging on to a giant four-sailed pinwheel because that was all there was left to do, as the crazy little boat alternated from flying to sailing to cart wheeling to basically hauling ass across the surface of the water at a high rate of speed that made it obvious that it was definitely coming onto the beach. Exactly where was impossible to say, so bizarre and erratic were the motions of this crazed jabberwock, and Phil and the other spectators on the beach scrambled first this way, then that, trying to guess where the inevitable wreck would occur, doing their best to not be there when it did.

Never Waste An Audience
The crowd at the saloon was going crazy, shouting encouragement and “I told you so” and thoroughly enjoying the whole spectacle. Phil was all the while shouting frantic instructions and curses and trying to film the whole mess and then, with one great righting motion, (a noble indication of Cromwell’s cool head and sailorly skills), the strange little vessel leveled off gracefully and sailed, no, flew the last twenty yards up the beach, straight downwind, wing and wing and wing and wing at what later was estimated to be twenty or thirty miles per hour, crashing delicately, like a dragonfly into a windshield, directly into the huge old log-timbered Lifeguard Tower.

All's Well That Ends Well
This was a fortuitous landing spot, (as Phil commented later), because there was already an Ambulance there, and skilled first aid help, which Cromwell definitely would be needing.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Publishing House