Thursday, December 29, 2005

Storm Riding

Just before midnight some recent Saturday a complex root system of lightning lit down the western sky as I drove up the 580. I howled and beat the steering wheel when I saw it, gave her a little more gas. The free electricity let me know that Mama Natural be grinnin’ at me.

Next morning rain fell in sodden down comforters stitched to wall breathing gusts with a steady 25-mph concubine dancing with fallen autumn-painted leaves. Awoke to the music of it and began congratulating myself for having had the pre-destinarian sense to arrange a mountain bike ride for the ante meridian. Not everyone possesses my tolerance, nay lust, for wetness from the sky, so companionship cancelled. Wife did all in her power to prevent this solo mission, but missions like these either gratify or disappoint me, and unless something on the level of a vehicle with flashing lights intrudes, they tend to remain high priority. Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland, being by far the most ride-in-the-rain friendly park around here, made the destination detail easy.

Pick-em-up truck started without resistance despite the rain all over the floors; must fix leak[s] sometime when drier weather prevails. Less then a mile from home the first flipped car came into view, CHP waiting without emotion in the patrol car; passed the rest of the emergency team racing to the scene a couple miles later. My truck used to be a California Dept. of Forestry fire fighting truck, so her grille smiled at the passing kinfolk.

The road through Orinda was flooded in a spot and when I hit it at ~30-mph the combination of rapid deceleration and projectile water caused some part of the exhaust system to disconnect. The engine noise immediately increased five-fold, and it's loud to start with. Of course, concern dominated my thoughts for the first minute or so, but when we didn’t stall at the lights and nothing started scraping I made the call to go ahead and hit the Hwy 24 onramp and head for the tunnel without pulling over to check the undercarriage. Mudslides on the north side of the highway had spilled into the lanes in a couple places and people were getting sideways and braking hard, driving crappy. By this time the music of the now “fully aspirated” 345 cubic inches under the hood had me fukengruven, like the engine had a 600-watt woofer. Shifting from fourth to third brought the Taiko drummers in with 4th of July flare, spooking the already jittery fellow storm drivers. Focus, focus, don’t join those miscreants all dented up on the shoulder. The tunnel just amplified the engine noise, and I started to doubt that this little muffler issue would ever be “fixed”. We’ll see what it does to the plugs, or if I get pulled over.

Got a little excited on one of the Skyline hairpins and got to experience the remarkably balanced four-wheel drift of the old IHC wonder truck. Mid-engine single-seaters got shit on me. Hoot, howl, pound dash, bounce in seat, howl mean, howl happy, howl funny, clap hands loud as I can once and we’re parked. Only one other vehicle parked at the trailhead where a sunny day would see tens; just you, I & I bambina. The drumming of the rain got louder shortly after I killed engine, right on cue. King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare. A quick change into my padded pants the guys make fun of because they make me look like a superhero (they're just jealous), a sip off the old, and I do mean old, hydration nipple and soft-tail #1 & I leave the petroleum residuum hard top for the root laced Sunset trail. The eyeglasses had to be pocketed within the first five minutes due the mist; visibility only ~30’ anyhow.

Flipped the switch at the top of Cinderella to add an extra 20-mm of travel in the front, dropped the seat a couple inches and hee-haw that old motorcycle chute felt fine as frog’s hair. Like most roller coaster rides it ended fair soon, dumping me onto the lower part of Sunset Trail. Woods got quite dark in that valley, almost night at noon, and of course right before each steep section the clouds would let loose with a little extra to help me along. From there a short steep uphill stint with only a minute or two of hike-a-bike got me back to the top, rain feeling good on my engine.

As I considered making the next loop the last one a woman jogged by, looked me in the eye, and said “You’re even crazier”, which brought the 12-year old me out to play, the me once called a “crazy asshole” by some 16-year old suburban outlaw after he saw me catch some wicked air on a pile of dirt at a construction site. That older outlaw revved me up then, possibly for years, and this blessed rain jogger’s comment bequeathed no lesser kindness. A third loop would now be mandatory.

The Chapparal trail opened up its maw of madness and commenced to chewing. To preserve trail from erosion 12x12 railroad ties are placed every 10-20' on this steep and rocky trail, which become slick in wet conditions, which led to a sudden unexpected dismount. No damage worthy of mention, but my knees had that post-fall quiver that I blame for me picking an untenable line for the hardest section. No one was around to see me freeze up and walk for a minute, so what the shit. Got back in the groove for the last twenty or thirty railroad ties and had a rousing finish. Took the meadow trail back to the hike-a-bike section, usually filled with families having pic-nics or whatnot, but today just me and little birdies telling me the coolest things.

Big Trees trail is the traditional finisher for this ride, so Big Trees it was. Big Trees is mostly redwoods and the floor glowed wet red that day. Took a break at the corner of Fern Ravine and Orchard where two creeks come together. One creek has a regular bridge and the little one a half-log bridge. I hopped out on the log bridge and studied the streams, waterfalls, and mist for a long minute before proceeding to manage to get as lost as possible in the grove. Mini-forests of 8" across mushrooms flourished in several places and I didn't mind not knowing where I was for a few minutes. The final descent came into view soon enough and visions of hot showers steamed into my peripheral thinking.

The rain's been here long enough that it doesn't always appetize me anymore, but trips like this one remind me that the discomfort is more than worth it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bonsai Siren Song

Being a strong believer in the strength and luck of the triad, I figured that there had to be at least one more cool lunch spot near my office. One of my grad school pursuits other than academia was cool spot dowsing, best performed without a map. There isn't a turnout with a hole in a fence between SF and Shallow Alto that I haven't traipsed down in search of idyllic glens and friendly wildlife. The more one practices this kind of dowsing the easier one recognizes the signs: barely visible trails, inviting trees, hidden hollows, birds pointing the way, frogs chirping, nostalgic odors.

The shores of Lake Merritt seemed a good bet so I circumnavigated it and found coolness beyond expectation in the form of the Lakeside Horticultural Center which humbly hosts a Japanese Garden complete with squirrels, egrets, bridges, and a bonsai section. Highlights include a crashing waterfall, a giant monkey tree, big mossy boulders, a pebble pond, and views of the shimmering lake & downtown Oakland skyscrapers through the foliage. The spot exudes a very peaceful vibration, just unkempt enough to make me feel at home. The "666" address doesn't hurt either.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Stone on Pryor

Jennifer Stone packed an amazing breadth of content into today’s “Stone’s Throw”, her Thursday morning 10-minute spot on KPFA. Her main topic was the recently deceased Richard Pryor, beyond deep, stuff the CBS morning news couldn't imagine.

Notable quotes included:

“Honesty is the work of a lifetime”,

“...palpable vulnerability”,

“Where there is silence there is sadism”, and

“No church lasts where you can’t laugh, and my church is of course the Church of the Last Laugh”.

Found out his dad was a pimp. Jennifer noted that, in many ways Richard stood up where Lenny Bruce fell down. Lenny's status as a police informer always made me despise him despite his great works. Pryor had favorite actor status for years of my childhood, and was much funnier than Lenny anyway. I have a pre-recorded cassette tape by him called Supernigger, with the famous (to me) “hit you in the head with a brick” skit. The most personal is the most universal, and the more painful the funnier. I like it how he died right on in time accordance with the original German standard, the age by which they figured most people would have croaked, 65. That age is of course now a well known relic, the standard retirement age. The fact that he spent his last years battling MS with a mostly cheerful disposition inspires me. Not as rock and roll a departure as Hunter S., but Hunter wasn't one to be outdone. I have until 49 according to , and I even fudged a little trying to squeeze a few more years. Long live Richard Pryor.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Krampus the Austrian Anti-Santa

I'm still finding more out about Krampus the Austrian Anti-Santa. Here is a papercut rendition by Steve Walker , scary enough for me. Posted by Picasa

Crucible Christmas

Fired up the old pick-em-up truck around dusk on Saturday, loaded up the boy and raced the half-mile or so down to the Christmas tree lot. There were still lots of trees, so we got to appreciate the maziness of it, more so from his height I'm sure. The Noble spruces and Douglas firs were interesting, but he stopped in his tracks when he found the flokking tent with white, pink, and blue flokked trees standing around. Like me as a child he wanted a flokked one, but like my mom's boyfriend in 1974 I told him no, natural is better. We selected a friendly looking ~6' tall Noble and had it loaded in short order. The boy convinced me that it couldn't possibly be time to leave the lot yet, so we took another tour. He performed a public service by advising everybody in a sing-song voice to "Loooook out!" as they rounded blind corners in the pine maze. I had told him the same during tour 1. When he got fascinated with the power saw I decided that the time for departure had arrived. The boy still did not agree with that assessment and proceeded to throw a classic fit, arching his back to make carseat insertion a challenge, especially with those screams that could indeed curdle blood. He had some clodhoppers on which he kicked the Christmas out of the dashboard with (he gets to ride up front in the pick-up, usually a fun thing). The tree stands in our living room untrimmed; the devil loves details.

Went to the Crucible holiday sale Sunday. Still want to take the bike frame building class there; maybe someday. They had Santa flying from one end of the old warehouse to the other, flames shooting 10+ feet out the back of his sled, suspended from a track. All his (human) deer's antlers also shot fire. The boy was scared and ended up hiding his head under a blanket. The art was exceptional and the people very friendly and knowledgeable. We bought a photo album with a thick steel & leather cover, as well as a lamp that Maira had made from a gourd and added colored glass marbles and stuff to let the light out. Got in trouble for subconsciously flirting with the custom dog collar woman but such is life.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Genuine Interest

The wonder of taking his first photograph still apparent moments later. That's the last of the Lake Malawi cichlids I've had 10+ years in the lower right hand side of the tank. We still call it the cichlid tank, but he's now outnumbered by a couple foot-long plecostomi. Yes, that tank is too small (39.5-gallons). I have a 125-gallon tank gathering algae in the side yard while the wife & I debate what conditioning the funky homemade stand will require before introduction to our sanctum. Posted by Picasa

Novermber Sunrise

Here's the view from my cube looking more towards the north, sunrise colors a perquisite of arriving pre-dawn. Tam constantly reminds me that a ride on the quintuple micro-climate loop at Camp Tamarancho, a pay-to-ride mountain bike wunder park run by the boy scouts is way overdue. Yeah, I know, the boy scouts are fascists, but the sweetness of their trails handily outweighs my ethics.  Posted by Picasa

2-year old Ansel's 1st piece - Happy Dad

The boy brought my carelessly placed camera to me last night, so I let him snap a few. This is the very first picture he took (ever), which turned out best of the lot. Posted by Picasa

Pigeons and Shafts of Sunlight

Here's the view from my cube, 880 southbound in the foreground. Yes, those cranes to the left of the lower shaft of light are the same ones I eat lunch by.

Despite the pokey wire strips on the ledges, a good number of those pigeons end up inside the building flying about, looking at a loss. Sometimes it seems like an aviary in here. I wonder what becomes of them, and what wild pigeon thoughts they think while separated from the flock. Wonder what flying with the flock feels like. In my dreams I generally fly solo, maybe once in a great while with a friend. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Hunting The Elusive and Transitory State of Fun

Friday at 15:00 my hands and feet began to sweat, attention span grew short. The feeling I call anticipatory delight had begun to wash over me, the expected future fun so strong & close it seeped backwards in time. DJ Spinner & DJ Bobbito's tribute to the wonder of Stevie Wonder at Mighty in SF, doors at 21:00. Plans had just all been confirmed, so the present grew less well lit while the missing light fell on the night before me. Mama always played plenty of Stevie, and some of his albums have worked as guaranteed blues breakers for me, at least for a time. You don't need Rock Med, just Talking Book in many circumstances. I figured we couldn't go wrong, and we didn't. The club was on the just OK side, not very big with not enough sofas, but not all bad with no front door search, an excellent crystal chandelier, and some killer art. The DJs ending up kind of sucking, dropping the needle in the wrong spot more than once, and when they'd get what they were trying to do right, what they were trying to do sounded corny and just messed with my groove. We'd expected a more hip-hop and electronica kind of mixing; dudes weren't even scratching. That said, we danced our asses off and had a plenty good time for a couple hours; when you start with Stevie it's hard to completely fuck up. At some point though, they played Loves in Need of Love Today; great song but a sadness came over me, kind of a nostalgia or complex association. By 00:30 the dance floor crowded us so we split. Companionship, being tired, opted to go directly home. I felt the night attempting to end too early, wanted food or something, but while I considered my options the vehicle drove itself onto the bridge. Once on the east side of the bay the water's edge at Oakland's Middle Harbor Shoreline park called to me from the right, the rocky side of Lake Anza in Tilden Park from the left, but I recalled the curfews & the claws of the law and so didn't get the wee hours waterside itch scratched. The homestead loomed in the windshield around 1:30, suburban and well lit. An impressive array of spiders busied themselves around the porch light, munching insect blood. Chocolate cake, feeding the hungry mutts, and a few pages of Gravity's Rainbow sent me to sleep.

Next day the wife went to work, leaving me with the boy and a long list of chores. The sadness I'd let start eight or so hours before lingered like a noxious odor, started to piss me off. The tea had no zap, stereo didn't go loud enough, sunlight cold. The boy and I worked with the chalk for a good while, but my focus lacked. Heard it a thousand and one times before, stop obsessing on yourself and help someone else, a proven method, so I called someone I could bet felt shittier than me, a sick friend that knows me well. Shared some knowledge, lent my ear to her troubles, practiced the art of listening without interrupting, learned a thing or two, steered toward overstanding & gratitude, laughed some, got inertia going for a mood shift. When I hung up I suspected something closeby could fully disspell the remainder of the funk. Running down options the stereo seemed potentially fixable. Yup. You know how on some volume controls these days the numbers go down as the volume goes up, but you max out at 30 or so? Well, I figured ours was like that, but turns out it goes to 00! Wow, very loud, and the little subwoofer Doug gave us booms pretty good all revved up. Within a few seconds of discovering the 00 level and backing off to a reasonable 07 the compumetric randomizer spit out a Johnny Cash song the name of which the ensuing excitement erased. I do recall that my Lab/Rottie made a request to go yard and out she went. The thunder muddled my mind but the feet knew what to do, started skipping around the house in a brisk oval. The boy knew too, so we started skipping and running, family room to hallway, around foyer curve, past the kitty condo in the living room, down dining alcove alley, into the kitchen, back through the family room and again, again, again, that boy runs pretty quick. Somewhere along the line I grabbed the rarely used rainstick and spun it like a baton as I skipped. We both were feeling hell of good when the stereo went silent. The boy, naturally ignoring the possibly serious silence, continued to run full tilt and soon stubbed his right big toe fair hard on the caster for the giant Vietnamese Money Tree. I nursed and examined the toe, intermittently pushing various stereo buttons to no avail. After he calmed down I figured out that I could still play CDs, just no computer connection, and so got back to rocking out. Investigation determined that the bass had caused an aging purple rubber band to snap, the rubber band we used to keep the wireless broadcast device together after the boy smashed it a few months ago. One small fat white rubber band later we were good to go. The boy worked his clay while I made the lunch, did the chores, and let the good mood ride.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Krampus the Austrian Anti-Santa gets my vote. The good gifts can't be found in stores. Photo courtesy of Martin Schalk/AP. Posted by Picasa

One of my favorite lunch spots, <2-miles from my cube. Wonder how many of those colorful cargo containers have people in them.  Posted by Picasa

Fire breathing sculpture from Saturday Night on the Town Posted by Picasa