Anhydrous Wit

Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where else can you buy three books for seventy-two cents?

I went to COAS yesterday afternoon to turn in some books for a friend. Unfortunately, I had to wait for them to tally my credit because there was a box of books in line in front of me. (Honest! It was sitting there on the counter, with no one else around.) I say "unfortunately" because the assistant said those fatal words. "This will take a while. Would you like to browse?"

I bought The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne (which Betty knows I intend to use for a particular bit of research), Happy to be Here by Garrison Keillor, and The Complete Book of Bicycle Commuting by John S. Allen. My total charge was $14.50. (I'm guessing the $0.72 was for sales tax.) I should be grateful I brought home far fewer books than I took there.

The bike commuting book is from 1981, so it doesn't have anything about the "hybrid" bike that the sales guys recommended to me, but the advice about dealing with traffic, how to dress, how to carry loads, etc. should be timeless. I also glanced at two different bicycle repair books, but since they were published in 1971 and 1973, I thought they probably wouldn't have any advice for whatever newfangled gizmo I end up buying.

Of course, I have to learn how to balance first. Maybe we won't be rained out this weekend.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere

The remnants of Hurricane Dolly (which, coincidentally, is one of my mom's nicknames) passed over this weekend. We had so much rain, for a moment I thought I was back in the Midwest in 1993. It did not rain between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday and between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday. It is not raining this morning, so I think it has passed.

As I live on the second floor, my worry was minimal. There was only one insect (that I know of) which sought shelter inside my abode. I had to dump water from the saucers beneath my pots on the veranda several times. The parking lot fared pretty well, with no more than an inch or so of water up to the first parking spot (about 75 feet from the street). I couldn't quite host a regatta, but the water was pretty widespread.

At least I don't have to water my plants (or my neighbors') any time soon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sometimes I surprise myself.

People who know me call me particular, picky, thorough, or anal-retentive, depending on their mood. (Yes, it does have a hyphen.) I freely admit it, but what's wrong about wanting things done accurately? Yesterday, I surprised myself by reaching a new level of specificity.

I was completing a landscape plan on the computer. I had, naturally, done the basic steps for any plan: including a scale and north arrow, making sure all the words run in the same direction (so that one doesn't have to turn the plan or one's head to read it), and spacing labels for a neat, concise plan. I even made the effort to keep the lines between labels and the objects they identify from overlapping or crossing. I then took it one step further, and this is where even I think I got a bit obsessive. I made all the lines on the left side of the plan point to the left, and all the lines on the right side point to the right. Unfortunately, that meant respacing or even relocating many of the lines and labels.

Hey, Boss doesn't realize I spent half a day on that alone, and the plan looks darn good, so I think it was worth the extra time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Father's Ghost

I feel a little like Hamlet this week. I have been attending Examiner Training for Quality New Mexico (QNM), who administers the annual recognition process for businesses, schools, health care facilities, government agencies, and non-profit organizations in the state of New Mexico. QNM uses the same criteria as the Baldrige National Quality Program.

My father was deeply involved in this organization, first as an corporate applicant/winner, then as a volunteer examiner, then as a judge and employee, then back to volunteering (so as not to present any conflicts with clients of his quality consulting business). In fact, he used to present the training I am attending. (No, the current presenter didn't pour poison into my father's ear to get the job.)

From the first five minutes after I walked in the room on Monday, the presenter talked about my father and his contributions to QNM, both to me during breaks or to the entire class. It's a little daunting to say the least. I imagine my father standing in the front of the room and hear his voice in my head. I struggle with the material (as I hope the other new examiners do, too) and worry about not measuring up and tarnishing his reputation. I worry that I won't or can't perform to the same level and besmirch his legacy. (He left big shoes to fill.) Through it all, I try to remain positive, and I focus on all the successes and contributions and all-over good work he did -- and not just for QNM.

Of course, I'm probably better off listening to Polonius's council, "To thine own self be true," rather than getting into a fight to the death with Laertes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Another Pleasant Valley... um, Monday?

The sun was shining. The birds were singing. It wasn't too humid. It wasn't too hot. I got out of training almost an hour early.

And it was Monday?

Monday, July 21, 2008

So organic, they don't even shave

I just received the first e-mail for the 2009 xeriscape conference. They included a link to the brochure (18 pages), which includes biographies and pictures of the expected speakers. I made two utterly useless observations about the speakers, without reading their biographies.

First, male speakers outnumber females by 3 to 1 (9 males, 3 females).

Second, males with beards outnumber clean-shaven men by 2 to 1 (6 with, 3 without).

Instantly, I wondered if men who consider themselves organic, back to nature, or closer to the planet automatically stop shaving.

Imagine the power I could wield if I put as much effort into thinking about something useful!

Supply and Demand

One of the stores I pass along "the strip" on my way to work is a chain drugstore. Recently, they started to build a stand-alone store to replace the one currently in a strip mall -- directly across the street.

I started wondering this morning if they will have to shut down as they transfer inventory from the old to the new location. The boxes in the back should be easy enough, but what about all the product on the shelves? What about the shelves themselves? Will they have everything new in the new store so they can open it and close the old one on the same day? If so, do they toss the old products or sell them at a discount?

Then I had the realization that they must sell nearly everything in the store. Sure, there are the seasonal items (like plastic figurines of whimsical frogs for your garden) that either get stored, returned, or sold on close-out, but when you think of all the medicines, health aids, school supplies, cosmetics, etc. they must sell it all to someone, or else they wouldn't stock it. Now think of the entire store full of merchandise I pass by, just to get the one item I need. Someone else in this town must buy all the other things. What a wonderful feeling of diversity I never thought about before!

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Right Old Fraud

I took a trip to the Post Office yesterday and left a letter with the Postal Inspectors. It wasn't just junk mail; it was mail fraud.

At first, it appeared to be junk mail because it didn't have a return address. Then I saw the funny stamp -- valued in Euros. (That's when the alarm in my brain started going, "Whoop! Whoop!") I even wondered if I'd become the victim of a mysterious white powder.

The letter inside claimed to be from an attorney in Madrid (Spain, not New Mexico) who had finally tracked me down as a distant relative of someone who had died, leaving any heir an estate worth millions of dollars -- and I had to pay just $200 to claim it. Sure, that sounds like a scam, but that isn't the clincher.

I post here anonymously, but a few of you know my real name. Thus, you know how unusual my name is (about as far from Smith and Jones as you can get). In fact, my grandfather invented our family name. The only people in the world who share my name are my relatives (brothers, mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins) in just a few of these United States. Therefore, it is next to impossible for me to have a long-lost relative in Madrid.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I dunno. Can you picture me as a Bam-Bam?

In the case that I do manage to balance on a bicycle and start commuting to work that way, I thought I had better see how far I would need to pedal from home to the office (3.5 miles). If I get really exuberant, I also measured how far it is from work to the gym (6.9 miles) then from the gym to home (6.0 miles). That's a total of 16.4 miles round-trip on gym days. Is that reasonable on a bike?

On the chance I end up splurging for a motorcycle, I'd want to practice a lot before I get on the road with other people. That makes me sound like this guy, from Nightshade by Susan Wittig Albert.

A deafening va-room varoooom! thundered through the alley. It was the neighborhood scourge, Bam-Bam Baxter, who is a wanna-be biker. Bam-Bam has a new motorcycle, a big one. He's riding it in the alley until he gets the nerve to take it onto the street.

What if you just call me Scourge?


Everything is connected. Remember that. It took me this long to learn it.

All right, I suspected it when I pulled a muscle in my back. (I can't remember when. If you're really curious, search through my blog yourself for the post.) Now, I have a couple other examples.

The weaker of the two examples is the scrapes on my leg. It turns out that my knees are just the right height to bump the handles on my under-sink cabinet in the bathroom, so every morning when I shave, I bang the injured spot on my knee. The scrape on my calf is just the right height to rub against my bed frame when I wake up in the morning, and against the door frame of my car when I climb out. I used to do those things every day without noticing. It was like when I strained my back, I couldn't sneeze because it hurt too much to inhale. It's just one of those things that link up that you almost never think about.

The other example is the gas lines in my condo. My neighbor informed me that I have gas again. (The plumber finally showed up yesterday.) He still doesn't know what went wrong, and he confirmed that his gas shutoff doesn't shut off my supply. He thinks air got into the line somehow. (Um, could it have happened when your el cheapo plumber screwed up?) As little as I know about home maintenance, mechanics, and general mister-fix-it-ness, I can tell him why my gas stopped, and it's exactly because of the air in the line.

Side note: when I was growing up, a bulldozer working on a highway-widening project next to our neighborhood struck a gas line. Our entire neighborhood was evacuated. My mom said, "Can't we go back in? Our house is just there at the bottom of the hill." That's when I learned from the utility guy that natural gas is heavier than air, so it sinks, so our house was the least safe place to go.

Anyhoo, the same principle applies to our gas lines. When the neighbor's plumber screwed up, he let air into the gas line. Because air is lighter than gas, the air traveled from the first-floor condo to my second-floor unit, right into my gas appliances. Whatever the plumber did yesterday, I now have gas again. Of course, it was well after I had already started reheating my frozen pot pie in the toaster oven, but at least I could boil water for my oatmeal this morning, and I'll finally grill those burgers tonight.

Ten points if you can tell me who said "superductworkivity" -- or at least in what comic strip the word appeared.

Ten more points if you can tell me who repeatedly talked about "the fundamental interconnectedness of all things".

Now, does anyone know how to relight a water heater?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cake for Breakfast

I had a line from a song stuck in my head last night, so I pulled out my cassette tape to listen to it. Another song (or three) from the same album is now on rotation in my head. In a way, it describes the upbeat attitude that is possessing me.

I'm not sure what copyright law allows, so I'll say that the song "Cake for Breakfast" was written by David Yazbek and performed by Greg Lee on the album Carmen Sandiego: Out of this World. I'll add that, on the album, Greg Lee announces before the song that it is not intended as a recommendation of healthy eating habits. Rather, it is an upbeat song about life, "which is why we chose a polka".

Cake for Breakfast

Last night I dreamed about cake for breakfast
Two big pieces just for me.
They're standing there on a paper platter
Covered with a doily.

The light inside the refrigerator
Shined a moonbeam on their heads,
On which was written a bold inscription.
This is what the icing said.

Can you live your life completely?
Can you do it wild and sweetly?
Can you dream about cake for breakfast -
Two big pieces just for me?

Bananas caught in a bowl of batter,
Wilted beets and celery,
Those candles stuck to the paper platter,
Every one was calling me.

The clock above the refrigerator
Moved her eyes from left to right.
She sang to me, and she swung her tail,
This is what she said last night.

Can you live your life completely?
Can you do it wild and sweetly?
Can you dream about cake for breakfast -
Two big pieces just for me?

When I woke up there was cake for breakfast,
Sugar roses, birthday red.
Picasso drew on the paper platter.
"Famous artist, shiny head."

So if your calendar page is turning,
Move your knees and dance away,
And call me up at my other number.
This is what I have to say.

Can you burn your candles brightly,
Radiate, then leave politely?
Here's your beautiful cake for breakfast,
Two big pieces just for you!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I can be creative at times, but I don't think I could have made up anything that happened to me on Saturday. I certainly wouldn't have imagined the following news item printed in today's Las Cruces Sun-News.

Las Cruces Man Wanted for Alleged Undergarment Theft

LAS CRUCES — A Las Cruces man is being sought for allegedly breaking into a woman's home, going through her undergarments, and using her home phone to call the woman to tell her about it.

Daniel Navarette was indicted Thursday on one count of third-degree residential burglary.

A warrant for his arrest was issued June 26.

According to court records, Navarette allegedly broke into the woman's home on May 1.

While there, Navarette allegedly placed a call to the woman's cellular phone and made comments about her undergarments that were sexual in nature. The woman told police she had received similar calls from Navarette before.

When questioned by police, Navarette admitted to taking two pairs of the woman's undergarments, according to records.

The woman also told police Navarette once lived in her home, but was asked to leave.

The Invisible Man

I tightened my belt an extra notch this morning. Considering how poorly I have adhered to sensible eating habits since my visit home for Memorial Day week, I am quite surprised. (The two pretzels I ate last night, rather than two hamburgers, couldn't have made that much of a difference so quickly. Could they?)

If I start biking to work, I might actually lose more weight and (eventually) need to buy slimmer trousers. What more motivation do I need?

Hot Wheels

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post ("Where the Rubber Meets the Road", Mon. 7/14/08) about my difficulties with wheeled conveyances.

I shared my blog with a precious few coworkers. (My pride won't let me tell the whole office about what happened on Saturday.) One of them (and I'll have to think of a good nickname for her, since I might mention her again) called me, laughing, and said she was just halfway through reading and was thoroughly enjoying it. Less than ten minutes later, she walked into my office and said, "I'll do it. I'll teach you how to ride a bike."

Her proposed method is based on the premise that some people can't learn to pedal, steer, and balance all at once, so you must separate those skills. Hence, she plans to take me to an elementary school and push me down a hill, so all I need to worry about is balancing. That idea makes sense -- if it's not a long, steep hill.

Part of my great conversation with Gym Rat (see also today's earlier post) included this topic, and he seemed more likely to let me borrow his bicycle after I learn how to ride one. That's because he doesn't believe the bike store employees and says that a mountain bike (which he has) shouldn't be that much slower on level roads, and that if I intend to bike from work to the gym, which includes up and down several hills, I would need more gears, which I could get from a 21-speed bike (21-speed?). Plus, he lives on the side of a hill, so I could practice shifting gears without taking his bike out of his own neighborhood. He also likes the idea of going to a pawn shop to look for an inexpensive bike, once I know the type and size I really need.

I kind of alluded yesterday to setting a plan of attack for my new educational endeavor. When I was being non-negative (and then positive), I managed to separate my skill challenges into concise, manageable goals. Now, I have created a fluid timeline to accomplish them.

1) Learn to ride a bicycle.
2) Buy a bicycle and practice.
3) Start bike-commuting to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
4) Reenroll in (and complete) the motorcycle safety course. Get motorcycle endorsement on driver's license.
5) Build up endurance to attempt bike-commuting to work then gym then home.
6) Keep mind open about buying a motorcycle, but just because I finish the course doesn't mean I need to buy one.

I did also get a return e-mail from the certified bicycle instructor. She'd gladly have me enroll in her course, but it's not until late October or early November, so I'm more likely to attempt learning with as-yet-unnamed coworker, because I don't want to lose any opportunity of reenrolling in the motorcycle course for less money.

So many opportunities. So much time. So little fear. (I'm almost afraid that I'm not afraid.)

It must be my turn this week. Bring it on, world!

I wish you could have heard my snarl of frustration or my sigh of resignation last night.

I was actually in a pretty good mood. A long conversation with Gym Rat resulted in me feeling downright positive, not just non-negative.

Then I got home.

I tried turning on my grill because I had defrosted some ground beef patties for burgers. Hmm, it didn't light. Oh well, I'll see if I need to clean it tomorrow, when I have more time before the sun goes down. At least I could fry them.

Or not.

My stove didn't work either.

Aha! I would check with the neighbor remodeling his condo. Oh no, he couldn't possibly be the cause. He said that he has had the gas off for two or three months so it can't be him because, even though all units are fed from one meter, there are shutoff valves for each condo. However, he also stated in the same conversation that the guy working on his condo (and he never used the words "licensed plumber") did something to the gas line that afternoon, so he'd ask him when the guy gets back -- at 2:30 p.m. today.

Well, a fat lot of good that would do me as far as dinner, since I couldn't grill, fry, or boil anything (I settled on two frozen pretzels heated in my toaster oven), and who knows if I'd be able to heat any water for my oatmeal in the morning. Note: the stove still does not work, so I took a blueberry muffin out of the freezer (Thanks, Mom!), and it's defrosting on my desk. The next logical step would be to listen to my gas water heater after my shower and hear if it reheats or not. Of course, I didn't think of it because all I wanted last night was to go to bed after my shower.

The neighbor is a nice guy, but he's going on the cheap for his remodeling. The last clue, which you might have picked up on, is that he'd rather let me go without eating than call the guy back and say he might have broken something because, if the guy isn't actually at fault, then he'd have to pay overtime for the impromptu visit. The first clue (which I don't think I have blogged about) was when the remodelers committed an oops and had to shut off the water for the entire complex. (One of the joys of communal living is a single water meter and shut-off valve for all eight condos.) The second time they shut off the water was deliberate, and they had actually alerted us in advance. The third time (insert another sigh here) I don't know if it was intentional or not, but he called to say the water would be off again -- ten minutes after I had discovered that I couldn't flush the toilet or wash my hands. The really big, red, flashing light and alarm klaxon is that the remodeling has been going on for how many months and isn't finshed yet????

Oh well, at least my electricity works. (Uh-oh! Did I say that out loud?)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

This weekend is going to stay in my memory until I die. (In the style of Douglas Adams, I will, for the sake of reducing your stress, reveal that my injuries are superficial. However, for the sake of maintaining a bit of suspense, I will not yet reveal where I was wounded.)

I should have known there would be trouble when, at the top of the first piece of paper handed out during the classroom instruction portion of the motorcycle safety course, the first statement said, "It is a prerequisite of this course that the participant is able to ride a bicycle." Yep, I should have walked out right then (and asked for my registration fee back, since they didn't mention it at all on the web registration page). You'd think the second form (promising that my heirs wouldn't sue) should have told me something, too. But no, I convinced myself that I think too much and that I didn't need to worry; I was just nervous.

The course was taught by two people. The first had to drive back to El Paso (and still be back in Las Cruces to prepare for the next day's 7 a.m. start time). The second (an off-duty Las Cruces police officer) kept us 45 minutes late (which made it 1 hr. 45 min. after my usual bedtime) because he allowed a bunch of "what if" questions and "this happened to someone I know" comments. The most confusing part for me involved the clutch and throttle and... Well, some other words I can't remember now because I know nothing about engines and because my car, even though it is far bigger, is much simpler to operate than a motorcycle.

Here's an interesting note: of the ten students, only three of us (Gym Rat, another student, and I) had absolutely no experience with motorcycles. Two students had been riding for years; one of them took the class only because he works at the White Sands Test Facility, and the government now says he needs to be certified before his motorcycle will be allowed on the site.

We didn't take the test on the classroom section until Saturday morning, at the driving instruction site. I didn't see what questions I answered incorrectly, or even learn my score. All the instructor said was that we all passed. (Whew!)

Why did I sign up for this? The answer is what you get when you cross and elephant and a rhinoceros: elephino. I have no burning desire (not even a pilot light) to ride a motorcycle. (It was Gym Rat's idea, which sounded almost fun at the time he talked me into it.) I can't ride a bicycle, a far simpler, wheeled, transportation device. (Maybe I thought motorcycles would be easier because the tires are wider.) On the brighter side, even though I was nervous and worried, there wasn't any fear in me. That kept me going for as long as I did.

The first step was to look at our assigned motorcycle (they actually had one for each of us; this was my model, as well as Gym Rat's) and locate where the controls were. The second was to practice mounting and dismounting the motorcycle. So far, so good. (If the weekend proceeded at that rate, I should be okay.) I even managed to start the motorcycle and shift it into neutral.

The Incident (note the capitalization and the use of "the definite article") happened during the next lesson. We shifted into first but stayed sitting on the motorcycles. At some point, I forgot about the clutch and the gear and those other words I can't remember, and I relaxed my grip. (I'm still confused about the clutch being "engaged" and "disengaged", and for simplicity's sake, let's just say I let go.) The result was an acceleration and movement in the forward direction. As a result of my inexperience and (let's admit it) panic, I had no idea how to stop. I didn't even think of squeezing the brake lever -- although running in to the man and his motorcycle in front of me seemed to do the trick by knocking me over. (Don't worry; he wasn't hurt at all, although I might have caused that small tear in the back of his shirt.) Both instructors hurried over and said, "Don't move." No problem there!

So, the class got an unexpected break (and a demonstration of one of the classroom instructions: "The clutch is your best friend.") as I picked myself up, received a quite reassuring talk from both instructors that it could have happened to anyone and that I was now light years ahead of most motorcyclists because I know what it's like to fall (that part wasn't quite as reassuring as they intended), took stock of any injuries, and tried to make sense of my muddled thoughts so the instructor could fill out the accident form. (Since he's a cop, I figure he's used to taking reports on accidents involving confused, worried, panicked -- and yes, he even asked me how to spell that word -- people.)

It felt like rug burn ("abrasions" was the word on the form) on both knees and, for some unknown reason yet to be explained, on the lower part of my left calf, but my jeans were not torn. (I didn't want to wear my good jeans, but the form also said that ripped jeans would not be allowed, so I couldn't wear my work jeans.) My right knee already looks healed, but it's a little tender yet. My left knee and calf have some pretty severe looking scrapes that I expect will be there for at least a week.

After a minute or two, I was calm enough to walk around the machine and see if I had damaged it. Yes, indeed, that orange plastic square back there on the ground was part of the left turn signal, and one of the instructors was bending the gear shift back to a usable position. (You mean I might have to know how to fix one of these things, too? That's exactly why I have AAA for my car and why mechanics have steady employment.) Plus, there were a couple dents in the fuel tank (one of them looked as bad as my leg), but no gas leaked out. Hey, no, those tiny dents in the front thingy over the wheel (the fender?) were already there; see the rust?

Through it all, I still wasn't afraid. I got back on the motorcycle and continued with the lesson. Go me. (Go figure.)

Next was to slowly release the clutch lever until we felt the "friction zone" when the engine would start to move the motorcycle forward, then clasp the lever again to stop the movement, then rock back to our starting point. (My friction zone was on my knees and below, but I'm sure that's not what the instructors meant.) After that, we "walked" our motorcycles in neutral to the area where we were to walk our cycles in first gear to the far end of the parking lot then ride them back to our starting points. The walking in gear was fine, other than still being unfamiliar with the amount of grip I needed on the lever. Riding back, however, was, for me, impossible. I did not trust the motorcycle (or, perhaps, my control of the motorcycle) to carry me safely, and I kept trying to drop my feet from the "footpegs" to the ground to stabilize myself. Plus, the instructor noted that I kept pushing to the left, in an odd attempt to find my balance.

He pulled me off to the side for some individual practice, which had the same results, and then he asked the fateful question, "When was the last time you rode a bicycle?" It was a direct question, "and, as I am an honest Puck," (Yakko Warner), I told him the truth, that I had never ridden a bicycle.

The instructor's look of realization (that his instinct about my balance issue was right on) and surprise (that I never learned to ride a bicycle yet signed up for this motorcycle class) was almost amusing.

I agreed with him that it would be better (and safer -- for both me and the rest of the class) for me to walk away right then. Still, I had no fear. Still worried, still nervous, now with the added fretting about having wasted my money for the course (although there's the possibility of me re-enrolling at no additional, or maybe a reduced, charge, but definitely would be prioritized to the first available opening), the embarrassment of wrecking the motorcycle (okay, yeah, it still worked with minor injuries, much like myself, but I did crash it), the embarrassment of never riding a bicycle (which was such a basic assumption that they didn't actually state it anywhere except one sentence on a piece of paper), and the shame of driving away from a group of people who could perform basic motor skills and who were probably watching me drive off rather than listening to the instructors.

The instructor said that I most definitely should learn to ride a bicycle and, in two or three weeks, I'd be ready to try the motorcycle course again. (Two to three weeks? It will take me that long just to choose a bicycle, let alone learn how to ride it.)

Gym Rat offered some consoling words before I departed -- but I noticed that he didn't offer to lend me his bicycle. I suspect that wrecking the motorcycle might have put him off the idea. (Wouldn't you feel the same way after watching me crash and burn?) He told me of a bicycle store of which I was unaware, and he knew which street it's on, but couldn't tell me where (Missouri Ave. is a long street that passes through the entire west half of town). His closest landmark was that it's in the same shopping center as a bar whose name he couldn't remember (which is okay by me, because the only times I've been to any of the bars in town was back in college, and they've all closed since then, so I don't know where any bars are any more).

I went home, realized that I didn't have any eggs for a late, second breakfast (I left the class less than two hours after it started), and had half a protein bar as I perused the yellow pages. I was delighted to discover that there now are three bicycle stores in town (two more than I thought). I decided to go to two of them right then and save the third for after a late lunch at Tiffany's, a Greek restaurant near the bike store. I figured that treating myself to gyros would be a suitable comfort food after The Incident. Plus, even though I wanted to hide in my condo the rest of the day, I would truly earn it if I faced the world and learned about yet another new (to me) mode of transport.

The first store (Outdoor Adventures) was very well stocked, and the guy behind the counter was very helpful (although I had to clarify for him that "complete beginner" means that I had never ridden a bicycle). Plus, he suggested the name of someone who teaches people how to ride bicycles. I'm also going to e-mail one of the guys I know from the BPAC. (Yeah, I'm on a bicycle advisory committee for crying out loud, and I didn't even think of asking any of them. That earns me a big smack on the forehead accompanied by a loud "Duh!") This store was the one Gym Rat told me about. I saw a grocery store in the same shopping center, a Baskin Robbins, two pizza franchises, a video rental store, and something called Wing Stop, which appears to be as popular with law enforcement officials as a donut store -- but no bar.

The second store (Chain-Driven Bikes) wasn't as helpful (and I had to redefine "beginner" here, too), but I understand that it was very small and the owner was trying to fix a bicycle and keep an eye on his son and his wife was someplace else and they couldn't find the key to the lock so he couldn't even show me a bike.... (I have no idea why those two kids in matching shirts were sitting at the counter, but at least they weren't getting in the way.)

Ride-on Sports, the third store (I'm skipping a bit of the chronology for the moment, just to keep similar subject matter together, but I'll get back to what I've missed) was also large and well-stocked, but the person who assisted me was a hyperactive college student who was stuck in the mindset that everyone else already knows as much about bikes as he does, so telling him that "absolute beginner" means no bicycle experience whatsoever was crucial. (Is there a better word for me to use than "beginner"? I haven't thought of one yet.)

On the brighter side, no one tried to sell me an expensive model that wouldn't fit my needs. Keep in mind that the one time I attempted to learn how to ride a bike was over thirty years ago, and bicycles consisted of one speed (as fast as you wanted to pedal) and braking was accomplished by pushing backward on the pedals. Stores now stock 7-speed, 10-speed, and 24-speed bikes with multiple gears and hand-controlled disc brakes or v-brakes and suspension and are designed for roads or for mountains or for trails and... I thought bicycles were supposed to be simpler than motorycles! The hyper college kid was ratcheting through gears so fast that his hand was a blur. At least they make bicycles for different sizes of people (although each of the three assistants suggested a different size bike for my 6'3", long-legged frame).

I was quite shocked by bicycle prices. All three stores recommended I go for a hybrid bicycle, a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. I have a choice of a Trek 7000-series for $420, a Schwinn Voyageur 7 (I've heard of Schwinn) for $265, or a Raleigh Mojave for $260. What about the bikes I see in the ads from Target, K-Mart, or Wal-Mart, all for less than $100? (Lower quality of parts, lower overall quality, and higher weight, for the most part.) And that's before all the add-ons, such as lights and kickstand and lock and basket or cargo rack and a helmet, not to mention the rack I'd have to hook to the trunk of my car to take the bicycle to some place (grassy and soft) where I can learn to ride it. On the brighter side (isn't it nice there are several in this story?), I don't need one of the competitive road bikes, which exceed $3,000!

Between visiting the second and third stores, I looked online at bicycles. I ended up just as confused by the possibilities and terminology as I was when I started. I did learn that there are more brands and types of bicycles than I can count.

In the afternoon, when I backed up my car to head for the third store and my special lunch, it felt as if I was dragging my front license plate holder over a concrete port-a-curb, which I have done before -- except we don't have port-a-curbs in our parking lot. Then the car didn't want to go forward either. I shut off the engine, got out of the car, and -- wouldn't you know it? -- I had a flat tire (driver's side, front). The brighter side (yay!) was that I was in my home parking lot and not alongside a busy road someplace.

The asphalt nearly burned my, well, asphalt, when I sat down, and the tires and the jack were hot, and the jack was very unwieldy, but I managed to remove the flat tire, mount the "donut" spare tire, and put the flat in the trunk. (Neither wheel seemed heavy, but I think I strained my right triceps because it was sore yesterday morning and again today.) I grabbed my credit card and drove over to the tire store (which, conveniently, is within walking distance of Tiffany's and the third bike store).

The assistant said it would take about an hour for them to replace the tire, which left plenty of time to savor my gyros (yes, Betty, I had a book to read while I ate) and consult at the bike store. However, my day was again thwarted. I walked (uphill) to the restaurant and saw a large "closed" sign in the window. (If you believe things happen in threes, does this count as the third, or am I still waiting for another incident -- or Incident -- involving a wheeled, motorized vehicle?) I headed to the last bike store then returned to the tire store with the minor consolation that the car was ready just 45 minutes after I left. I was in such a mood, though, that I forgot my lunch-plan B, which was to stop and get a red chili-meat burrito from Roberto's on the way home. I settled on popcorn, Dr. Pepper, and an ice cream sandwich as my comfort food once I got home.

So, what with The Incident and the flat tire and the closed restaurant, you'll understand perfectly well that I told the world to f--- off and shut myself inside the rest of the weekend.

Still and all, I am striving not to think negatively about the weekend. It was a learning process. I wasn't (and am not) afraid. I wasn't badly injured. The motorcycle wasn't badly injured. The other student and his motorcycle weren't injured at all. I have a new learning opportunity. I had freed up enough time to read two books. I can go back and try the course again, and I probably will -- at the very least, to get my money's worth, or maybe just so I don't feel as if I'm chickening out. (I'm not sure if that's non-negative enough, but let's try it.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dog Day Afternoon

Earlier (see "It's a dog-eat-dog world" on 6/20/08), I mentioned the running gag developing in my office about my invisible dog. Now, whenever I leave work and head for the gym, I tell my coworkers that I have to walk my dog. On the days I head straight home from work, I'm going to feed my dog.

It struck me that, since it is invisible, my dog is more likely a different species, not just a special breed. I propose that its scientific name be Canis transparensis. I suspect that this species also has different breeds, but since I haven't met anyone else who owns one, I have no basis for comparison.

Today starts the three-day motorcycle certification course. If I leave work right on time, I'll be able to get in most of my workout and dinner before this evening's session. Naturally, I'll have to tell my coworkers that I absolutely can not stay late today. Keeping with the theme, I'll be taking my invisible dog to obedience school.

It's kind of fun owning an invisible dog. Walking it gives me exercise, and there's no mess to pick up. On the down side, there's the risk of this joke going out of control because my friends are likely to be more enthusiastic than I about dog puns and jokes.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I have no idea who these people are, nor what they're doing in my blog. Honest.

Your result for The Best Thing About You Test...


Honesty is your greatest virtue.

Honesty is the human quality of communicating and acting truthfully. This includes listening, and any action in the human repertoire — as well as speaking. And you? You cannot tell a lie. Both loved ones and strangers should trust you, because you won't (1) lie, (2) lie via omission, or (3) sit there and let lies be told. (Can you even let a sleeping dog lie?) All 7 virtues are a part of you, but your honesty runs deepest.

Your biggest risk is hurting the feelings of your most sensitive friends. However, most appreciate you for your candor.

Honest famous person: George Washington, if you believe the propaganda.

Your raw relative scores follow. 0% is low, and 100% is perfect, nearly impossible. Note that I pitted the virtues against each other, so in some way these are relative scores. It's impossible to score high on all of them, and a low score on one is just relatively low compared to the other virtues.


30% Compassion

56% Intelligence

50% Humility

67% Honesty

50% Discipline

29% Courage

0% Passion

Take The Best Thing About You Test at HelloQuizzy

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Rainy Day People

It has rained almost every day for the past two weeks. This isn't like the deluges afflicting the Midwest, nor even the early evening thunderbursts that typically signify monsoon season (which, officially, is still a week or so away). Instead, it's short showers that are just enough to wet my veranda, but little enough that the veranda dries before the next shower. Plus, the rain is falling at odd hours, such as early afternoon or the middle of the night.

I can't say for certain that it rained in Las Cruces during Independence Day weekend because I was in Albuquerque, but I can say that it rained on the drive up, rained while I was there, and rained during the drive back. If not for the fact it isn't raining constantly, I'd feel like that Douglas Adams character, the truck driver who identified something like 70 types of rainfall because, no matter where he went, it was raining. I forget whether it was in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency or Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul. Of course, the guy could have finally retired after a lifetime of driving in the rain and moved to the desert in the hopes of avoiding it...

Monday, July 07, 2008

What color is your car?

From the Waste News daily e-mail:

EPA SmartWay campaign to simplify green car shopping

July 3 -- The U.S. EPA is launching its SmartWay Leaf Campaign that will certify cars and trucks to help consumers identify models that are fuel efficient and emit relatively low levels of pollution and greenhouse gases.

The national campaign features television, radio and print public service announcements that will help consumers recognize the SmartWay leaf as a symbol of cleaner and more fuel-efficient transportation choices, according to the EPA.

The campaign encourages consumers to look for the EPA SmartWay certification mark on cars and trucks when shopping for a new or used vehicle. About 20 percent of all vehicles -- covering a wide variety of makes and models -- qualify to be SmartWay-certified.

SmartWay-certified vehicles are the best environmental performers, as measured by a combination of their emission levels of greenhouse gases, hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and other pollutants.

If every light-duty vehicle in the country were SmartWay-certified, carbon dioxide emissions would decrease by 214 billion pounds annually, according to the EPA. That´s equivalent to the emissions from nearly 20 million vehicles each year.

Additional information about the SmartWay program is available online at

You heard it here first.

Well, maybe second, but I don't know how much recycling news gets to your preferred informational medium. Still, it contains a pun too good (too bad?) to pass along.

Philadelphia will go citywide with its single-stream curbside collection program on July 7th, declaring the event as "BINdepndence Day."

TerraCycle has expanded its line of repurposed consumer product packaging — last seen in backpacks made out of discarded drink pouches — to include an umbrella made out of cookie wrappers.

Finally, in the "mine is bigger than yours" category...

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (Banbury, England) has released a comprehensive study into various household recycling programs, finding that the size of a household's recycling bin is the primary determinant of how much people recycle. The study also notes that, though curbside sorting of recyclables results in better material quality than single-stream, the authors of WRAP's study are careful to note that there is "no such thing as a one-size-fits-all 'best' [program]."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Word to the Wise

For G-d's sake, if you want me to see something, do not put it in my inbox. (That's actually my "to be filed" pile.)