Local food: Fresh Fork Market

I'd like to give a shout-out to Fresh Fork Market, a local business embodying a great idea. They're essentially distributors, acting as go-betweens to connect small local food growers with restaurants that are in search of the freshest ingredients.

There are several benefits to this arrangement. First, and most personal for me as a foodie, fresher vegetables taste better. One reason is that the varietals we're sold in supermarkets have been bred for durability in shipping, not for taste or nutrition. If you've ever tasted a tomato that you personally brushed the dirt off of, then you know that today's reddish softballs are literally a pale imitation of the real thing. Are you going to make tortilla soup with that?

I had a garden at my last house. I tried growing all kinds of stuff with varying degrees of success. The tomatoes went crazy:The brussels sprouts never got bigger than my thumbnail and the green beans didn't bear much. But the jalapeno plants groaned with fruit; the broccoli tasted like the very definition of broccoli. A neighbor became so smitten with our cucumbers that he took home bushels of them and ate salads all summer. But I digress.

Second, buying locally keeps your money in the northeast ohio economy. Fresh Fork will tell you that NEO spends a staggering amount of money on food that comes from other places. The region earns all it can by offering manufacturing, engineering, and other goods and services to other regions; let's keep expenses down by not mail-ordering food.

Third, it's a very effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. Getting your celery from Chile burns an awful lot of dinosaur juice. You can do your part against global warming, and make the region less dependent on transportation, by buying locally.

Fourth, you'll taste things you didn't know existed. I was introduced to Fresh Fork at an event at Molinari's (excellent restaurant, with wine only $5 over retail). They served us ground cherries, which taste exotic and unearthly and brilliant, and come in a neat little puffy wrapper. There are heritage pears, berries, and all kinds of stuff here that will shake up your taste buds.

Fifth, resist acricultural monocultures. This region might be a great place to grow corn, but covering Ohio with a single strain of it carries a multitude of dangers. The economy is vulnerable to damage if a disease hits that strain. It flogs the soil relentlessly by depleting it of the same nutrients again and again. Lots of other things grow well here, albeit not perfectly. Eat them!

My contact at Fresh Fork is Bob Gavlak. His email is bob at freshforkmarket dot com. Spread the word!

The professionalization of entertainment

Alice was talking to a coworker recently about dancing (specifically, why he refused to). He said when he's on the dance floor, he feels like everybody's looking at him, thinking he's not good enough and he should stop. I have to admit I feel much the same way when it comes to the dances where you're actually supposed to be coordinated with your partner, as opposed to just getting exercise with music. Alice asked her coworker if he'd be embarrassed to stand in front of everybody and try, and fail, to hit a baseball. He said no. Why?

Is it something about masculinity - that baseball is a manly pursuit and it's OK for any guy to try it, but dancing isn't?

Here's my theory. When someone sings in public, it's common to cringe a little and wish they'd stop. You're embarrassed for them because they don't sound as good as the artists we hear on the radio. Mediocre dancing arouses the same feelings: the cringe, the embarrassment. Do we compare ordinary couples' dancing to some kind of professional ideal?

Our mastery over nature - our technologies, the specialization of our skills - is a blessing and a curse. It fixes a lot of problems (disease, malnutrition) but robs us of some subtle pleasures. Once we know what a Snickers bar tastes like, eating a ripe apple is practically a chore. We won't cook because the salt, fat, and refined sugar we've succeeded in putting in processed food makes our own dining rooms dreary. We won't sing because we don't have pitch correction software in our throats.

Participatory culture is a popular blogging topic. Doing it yourself, whether it's painting portraits or painting walls, is the opposite of the sterile consumerist transaction. It makes you feel alive. You learn by doing - you learn nothing by buying.

I say this, but I'm still too self-conscious to dance salsa. It's easier said than done.

Metals trivia of the day: tungsten darts

Maybe you've thrown darts before. It's an old sport, and technology doesn't have much to offer it, unlike, say, bicycling or Formula One racing. Traditionally, darts have been made of brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) and weigh 20 grams. However, more expensive darts are made mostly of tungsten. If darts can't weigh more than 20 grams in a tournament ... why make them out of a material that weighs more?The photo above shows a brass dart and a tungsten dart. The tungsten dart's barrel is smaller; its 20 grams weight takes up less space. Aha, you say: less aerodynamic drag. But no. If you're really accurate--better than I am--then you might be able to get two darts into a very small space ... like the bullseye.

And there's your metals trivia of the day.

Songs that haunt you

In the first 30 years of my life I had maybe two or three of these songs--they were the ones that I suddenly heard echoing in my head when I was sad, or under stress, and sometimes even when I was happy. Eventually I came up with a theory about it.

When I took my seat on the Hormone Rollercoaster in high school, I had just discovered Pink Floyd, and 'Wish You Were Here' became my invisible friend. Because of the timing of my first hearing the song, I had always associated it with my first real girlfriend in high school, and the way we broke up. I'd made an ass of myself hounding after her, and I thought the song was a simple analogy to unrequited love.

But ten years later the song was still with me, through many changes in my surroundings and circumstances, visiting me when I was working late yet again, floating past when I felt rejected. I didn't need to play the song--though I often chose to soon after it came to me. I came to realize that I didn't always think of that old girlfriend with the song. It was about something else.

Gradually, its presence in my life receded. The song lost some of its power over me, too. Another song started to haunt me--oddly, one I'd bought years before and listened to regularly. It's Paul Simon's 'The Cool, Cool River' from The Rhythm of the Saints. I find myself singing this passage:
I believe in the future
We shall suffer no more
Maybe not in my lifetime
But in yours, I feel sure.
Song dogs barking at the break of dawn
Lightning pushes the edges of a thunderstorm
And these streets
Quiet as a sleeping army
Send their battered dreams to heaven, to heaven
For the mother's restless son
Who is a witness to, who is a warrior
Who denies his urge to break and run
Who says: Hard times?
I'm used to them
The speeding planet burns
I'm used to that
My life's so common it disappears
And sometimes even music
Cannot substitute for tears
One day my curiosity overcame me, and instead of letting my brain do what came naturally, I actually looked up the lyrics in the CD booklet. When I saw these:
Song dogs barking at the break of dawn
Lightning pushes the edge of a thunderstorm
And these old hopes and fears
Still at my side
I recognized something:
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl, year after year
Running over the same old ground, what have we found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
How about that? Old fears. It wasn't any girlfriend, it was the whole package of psychological abuse most of us took in high school--the ridicule and backstabbing and exclusion. I guess I still hadn't recovered. But at least I understood a little better.

In recent years there have been others. The Talking Heads' "Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place)" - a strange choice, but then, I didn't choose it; it chose me. Sun Kil Moon's "Duk Koo Kim", which I posted about recently. Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Life By The Drop", too.

Do you have any songs that come to you uninvited? I'm not asking for psychoanalysis. But I think it would be interesting to talk about what songs we find ourselves thinking about, and when.

Duk Koo Kim

Duk Koo Kim is a song by Sun Kil Moon (aka Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters). I'll put the lyrics at the end of this post. I wrote about this elsewhere some time ago, but since I'm on a music tangent, I'll repost it.

In the lyrics, the chronological order of events in the first three stanzas is reversed. First (in the third stanza), he describes having watched a movie where a boxer named Duk Koo Kim died; an angel observed but didn't save him. The narrator switches from past tense to present tense, and he says, you could die any day. In the second stanza he says that night he'd had a nightmare about dying in a war, but an angel saved him. Back in present tense again, he thinks, *I* could die any day--and I'd rather die than not improve my life. In the first stanza, he describes the final events: after waking up from the dream, he'd looked out the window and seen the storm that prevented him from leaving his lover. He thinks, I still don't want to leave yet.

Then the sound of the song changes, the distorted guitars go away and the feel becomes very open and airy. Some of the lyrics are happy and some sad, but it's all more abstract than the beginning.

For a while this song would play itself in my head even when other music was playing on the radio. It's incredibly powerful. Lyrically I think it's as interesting a construction as many short stories I've read, but I'll let you be the judge.

Duk Koo Kim
Looking out on my roof last night
woken up from a dream
I saw a typhoon coming in close
bringing the clouds down to the sea
Making the world look gray and alone
taking all light from my view
keeping everyone in
and keeping me here with you

Around you now, i can't sleep no more baby
Around you still, don't want to leave yet

Woken up from a dream last night
somewhere lost in war
I couldn't feel my feet or hands
I didn't feel right anymore
I knew there I'd die alone
with no one to reach to
But an angel came down
and brought me back to you

I'd rather leave this world forever baby
than let life go the way it's going

Watching an old fight film last night
Ray Mancini vs. Duk Koo Kim
The boy from Seoul was hanging in good
but the pounding took to him
And there in the square he lay alone
without face without crown
And the angel who looked upon
never came down

You never know what day could pick you baby
out of the air, out of nowhere

Come to me once more my love
Show me love I've never known
Sing to me once more my love
Words from your younger years
Sing to me once more my love
Songs that i love to hear

Birds gather 'round my window
Fly with everything i love about the day
Flowers, blue and gold and orange
Rise with everything i love about the day

Walk with me down these strange streets
How have we come to be here
So kind are all these people
How have we come to know them

The 25 Worst Possible Rock Band Names

The Abominable Showmen
Carnation Instant Breakdance
Garage a Trois
Need-To-Know Bassist
Male Pattern Badness
Gig Reflex
Refraining Order
Stormtroopers of Indifference
Dismissal Silo
Twisted Sysop
The Merchant of Menace
The Heavy Metal Parking Lot All-Stars
Mutually Assured Distraction
The Kings of Anarchy
Minivan Halen
Misled Zeppelin
The Preoccupied Pipers
Forsaking Profundities For Shaking Pro-Fun Ditties
Shake Your Moneylender
The Simpletones
Brother, Can You Paradigm?
Donuts Is Why

It's been years and this list never fails to crack me up. I winnowed it down to 25 from, I kid you not, over 25,000. It was several years of posts on an internet forum full of hilarious, demented people. Ahh, I miss that.

Peacetime is the greatest enemy

The title of this post is a paradox I've understood since I was pretty young. I always related it to the challenges of being in a relationship, but it has some applciation to an individual's life as well.

It's pretty simple, really. When a couple is working together towards a goal or trying to fight a common battle, they're a team. They support each other, thank and congratulate each other. They are focused on externalities. But when there are no externalities, there is nothing to fight but each other. There are no goals but their own individual ones. They become competitors. There is nothing to blame for their unhappiness but each other. An external conflict masks an internal void.

For an individual, it's similar. A life of misfortune - starvation, armed conflict - seems to teach people to focus on the good. It suggests that the very contrast between beauty and wretchedness makes beauty all the more powerful. A person with every advantage has no such touchstones. They can only blame whatever discontent they feel, whether large or small, on themselves. In this case, though, I want to say that an external conflict fills an internal void, letting in both the good and the bad, making a home for the whole world inside a person.

To feel love is to feel pain, perhaps.

If you can handle peace, I think you can handle anything.

Drive-By Truckers, "World of Hurt", at KEXP

The song starts with guitars, bass, and drums, a walking rhythm with nondescript jangling laid over it. Then a man begins to slowly speak.
I was 27 years old when I figured out that blowing my brains out wasn't the answer
So I set out to find a way to make this mean old world work out for me
And my good friend Paul was 83 years old when he told me "To love is to feel pain"
I thought about that a lot back then and I think about that again and again
He's not singing, but the drums line up with the important syllables. It's like being talked to by a friend, a friend who figured something out and wants to save you the trouble.
No, it's a wonderful world, if you can put aside the sadness and hang on to every ounce of beauty upon you
Better take the time to know it there ain't no way around it
If you feel anything at all
This is a poetry reading set to music. This is a singer deciding that notes are beside the point.
So if what you've got is working for you or you think it might stand a reasonable chance
If what's broke seems fixable (ain't nothing lasts forever)
If you still look at each other and you smile before you remember how screwed up it's gotten or maybe you still dream of a time less rotten
Remember, it ain't too late to take a deep breath and throw yourself into it with everything you got
When I heard this, I cried. When I played it for my wife, she cried. I've heard the song twice now.
It's really great to be alive
It's really great to be alive
It's really great to be alive
It's really great to be alive
Emily Dickinson said, "if I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." This song made me feel physically like my chest had been opened up. My heart struggled for freedom.

Kudos, guys.

Take me out to the ballgame

I'm not a huge sports fan. (Actually, I like watching the Red Wings when they're good. That's a safe way for a geek to lay claim to some man-cred, because he'll never be challenged on it. America has forgotten hockey exists.) I don't make time to watch sports on TV and I've never been tempted to go to games in person. In fact, I went to two Big Ten schools without ever going to one of their football games.

Fast forward 20 years. I've recently been to professional hockey (Chicago Blackhawks), basketball (Cleveland Cavaliers), and baseball games (Cleveland Indians). I'm beginning to see the appeal. At last night's Indians game, the weather was cool and clear, the stands were full enough to feel like you had company but not so full that you couldn't move, and people were relaxed and in a good mood. I could hear conversations all around me and I had an unobstructed view of pretty much everything. I felt, in a word, connected.

One of the walking vendors had a loud schtick that went like this: "Beer guy. Ice cold beer. Beer guy. Ice cold beer. Bottled water. Beer guy. Ice cold beer. Beer guy. Ice cold beer." He did this enough times for it to become familiar. Just when I was beginning to tune him out, he said: "Not the mail guy. Not the tax guy. Not the police guy. The beer guy." That got some laughs. Everybody for two sections around turned to look at the guy. The little boys behind us thought it was hysterical. For the rest of the game, they faked his craggy voice and once in a while I'd hear them croaking, "not the business guy..." It was funnier than most SNL skits.

The game was boring. The Twins got a total of maybe four hits, and didn't score until a fluke homer with the bases empty in their second-to-last out. The Indians were better but still not particularly good. On TV, baseball is as boring as Congress. But it wasn't about the game. In the ballpark, there are cheerleaders, prizes being tossed into the stands, cameras showing the fans up on the big screen ... it works. There are all kinds of people there, there's enough room and time to interact, and all kinds of distractions to talk about. It's public.

Aviator's Cocktail

Juice of half a lemon (about 3/4 oz)
Same amount of Stock maraschino liqueur
Bombay Sapphire gin, about 1.5oz
Twist of peel from the lemon I just squeezed, without the pulp hangers-on
Shaken with ice and strained into a chilled glass

Nothing here overpowers. The lemon is reined in, the gin detectable but doesn't do that *gack* thing that too much juniper does, and the maraschino, well, it's kind of inscrutable. The maraschino has sugar in it which probably keeps the lemon at bay. Its flavors may be mellowing the gin too, but I'm not sure. And of course a twisted lemon peel dusts the top of the whole thing with those aromatic oils I love.

Nice. I'd make it again. The soundtrack: internet radio station Dinner Jazz Excursion. Currently playing Benny Carter. Life is good.

Metallurgical curiosities, continued

This machine is sick. Its metal skin has big metal boils. Since I have a doctorate in materials, I am trying to cure it. I think I'll try hammer therapy.

Well, no, not really. The five warts on the machine are nickel "slugs". Basically they are relatively pure nickel that was spooged molten out of a nozzle onto a cold surface, where they solidified. They're made this way so they'll be easier for human beings to scoop up and carry around. I like them because they have a vaguely biological look to them, even though they're metal. It's an interesting contrast.

This is a lead airplane. Not a zeppelin, nor a paper airplane. It's made of lead (Pb) about a sixteenth of an inch thick, which I folded into the shape of a paper airplane by bending it across the edge of a desk. Lead is really soft and this wasn't too difficult to do. I was using the lead as radiation shielding for an X-ray machine I was building, and I had some extra left over.

Yeah, I like metal.

Response to Metrosexuality comment

I want to respond more fully to the comments about Metro Men.

In no way do I believe that Metro Men are any more in touch with their feelings than their neanderthal brethren. However, I think they are keenly aware of their bodies, how they feel as members of attractive society. This allows for an entirely new set of men to stand up and be noticed.

So he's not 6'1", but he's got great skin, a fantastic haircut, 4% body fat and a thin, athletic body to hang his size 30-inch waist designer jeans on. He walks around noticing his body which, in turn, helps him notice and respond to the external stimuli.

In my opinion, this makes him more responsive - he understands - he primped and preened and sweat and looked at his ass in the mirror 50 times before he came out - so now, when he's got your attention, he stays with you, not feeling the need to flit from woman to woman, determining which eggs he must fertilize.

He's aware physically and as a result, mentally, emotionally, connected. He's the 5'7" guy weighing in at 175, with the confidence of any James Bond (who, might be the first Metro IMO). His physical awareness makes him more masculine, he feels the partner next to him, moves when she does, touches her when she leans in, notices the small adjustments she makes to indicate "hold the door for me".

He responds because of his physical presence, presence made possible by his investment in being metro. Men who play physical sports feel this - no one ever thinks of them as Metro - but the keen intuitiveness to their own bodies makes them respond.

Recently I had dinner with a very tall man who plays both football and basketball. Armed with my new metro thoughts, I noted that every time I moved, he adjusted, even putting his arm around me when the man to my left got too close - protecting me. In no way is he metro, but I took my simple test and findings to the test.

A very metro man did the same. Manicured nails, ironed shirt, a moisturized face that was neatly shaven and after dinner he indiscreetly applied lip balm - not chapstick but an expensive brand I recognized from Aveda. At the bar, he behaved the same - keen to my feelings and listening. He even engaged in the same protective arm-bondage.

Then my third subject - missed every move. He was clean and had gel in his hair, but in no way aware of his own body, let alone mine. He stared at the tv in the bar, barely aware that a woman was sitting with him. In his own lack of awareness, he was missing the feminine mystic, the touch of soft skin, and the feel of a woman's breasts innocently touching him.

Metro men are not pussies who get pedicures, they are real men who get pedicures because they like how their soft feet touch a woman's when they are laying in bed naked. They are not the cantaloupe-totting body-builders who try to make up for how short they are by making themselves wide, they are the naturally developed men who get cut because their bodies move better when they've lifted this week. They get facials and massages because it gives them time to relax from the stresses of their week so they can focus on a good conversation, the taste of a good Cabernet and the pleasurable feel of their hand in the small of a woman's back.

It's not feelings they are in touch with, that is a by-product, it is their bodies and in turn, they become much more intuitive and manly.

Phantom-limb syndrome and the empirical scientific method

This post will be somewhat abstract, and somewhat concrete. For the first time in a long time, I've reappraised the foundations of my personal philosophy, which for the moment we'll call empiricism. The occasion was a coincidence. On the one hand, I got into one of those postmodernist discussions about how what appears to be real depends on the observer, with some people arguing that there is no absolute reality. (I'm afraid I didn't respond as respectfully as I should have.) And on the other hand, I heard what medical science has recently learned about sensory perception. Read on.

The scientific way of looking at life

Empiricism is the view that observation is truth; it's the careful editing of all statements to make sure that a distinction is made between what is directly sensed (fact) and what is inferred (theory). In my personal shorthand, I call this epistemology--the practice of asking 'how do you know what you know'. Wikipedia quotes Charles Pierce about the reconciliation of empiricism and rationalism (the latter convinced us to stop trying to make predictions based on superstition):

(1) the objects of knowledge are real things, (2) the characters (properties) of real things do not depend on our perceptions of them, and (3) everyone who has sufficient experience of real things will agree on the truth about them. According to Peirce's doctrine of fallibilism, the conclusions of science are always tentative. The rationality of the scientific method does not depend on the certainty of its conclusions, but on its self-corrective character: by continued application of the method science can detect and correct its own mistakes, and thus eventually lead to the discovery of truth".

When Peirce says "science" in the above, you can read in "life": just as the general public as a whole reaches self-corrective conclusions about the likelihood of rain, so does science (that is, researchers who publish) reach self-corrective conclusions about global warming. How much corrective power your individual views have depends on how much expertise people think you have in that area.

The monkey wrench that medicine threw into the works

An article by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker about phantom-limb syndrome has given me serious doubts about the absolute nature of observation. I used to take it for granted that what we sense is real. The sky is blue, end of story. However, brain scans have revealed that when we have the experience of seeing something, the amount of communication between our eyes and the thinking parts of our brain isn't nearly enough to carry all the necessary information. Instead, there's a lot of extra information coming to our thinking parts from our *memory*. When you see a dog running behind a slatted fence, you don't imagine that the dog is cut into pieces; you perceive a dog, even though you can never see the whole thing at once. Your brain fills in the gaps from its memory. The medical community now agrees that experience is something like 10% direct sensory perception and 90% memory.

Most of the taste of that cheeseburger you had for lunch was just your brain's best guess. Makes you wonder if it's worth the calories, doesn't it?

What does this have to do with anything?

OK, but I still get hungry. There's no sense in making Jean-Paul Sartre's tuna casserole for dinner. We have to get through the day. Well, at some level we have to have some reason (or perhaps 'motivation' is a less loaded word) for believing what we believe. Or at least I have to have that, or I get to feeling a bit unmoored.

I believe that if we observe things, and make up a theory to explain them, and then test the predictions of that theory, then we can understand the natural world and gain mastery over our surroundings. This is the scientific method, and one kind of mastery it gives us is technology. I like technology. I'm a geek.

I'm also a working scientist. How do I know what I know? When I say I observed something, like for example a number on the screen of a voltmeter, am I still 100% sure? Or, given the above discussion, am I only 10% sure?

Scientists do blind and double-blind tests for a reason: if the test administrator, or, worse, the test subject, knows anything about the stimulus they're being asked to respond to, there is a very strong chance that the results will be steered by their expectations. It's tough enough when the question is which philodendron is most attractive. In medical research, the control group's placebos are a matter of life and death. Even physicists get irrationally optimistic once in a while and fall for some cold fusion thing or another, though eventually science corrects itself when researchers come along who don't have a vested interest in a particular result.

I'm pretty sure about the voltmeter. If I blink, the reading doesn't change. If I do the experiment again tomorrow, I'll get the same result, unless the janitor unplugs something important. I'll bank on the consistency of my observations. And I'll try not to stress about it too much. The philosophers, though, will probably feel a good bit more threatened by it.

The Pros and Cons of Metrosexuality

A recent post on Return to Manliness came out strongly against metrosexuality. For me, I've always read metro as "how to be mistaken for a gay man." The classic example is one of the five hosts of "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy", who turned out to be, oddly, not gay.

I'll do my best to sum up Kevin's argument as follows. The trend of metrosexuality is one of men being asked to be like women and forsake what makes men different. Men accomodated it because they wanted a better understanding of what women are thinking and what they want. And also because they found they got more sex from women who were flattered by the imitation. Problems arose when men, in their efforts to identify with women, rejected the good aspects of manliness. The result was men who were easily intimidated, wouldn't take the initiative or speak plainly, shirked physical exertion and risk, etc. I hope I've done Kevin's line of reasoning justice.

Understanding the opposite sex is good, and being passive and conflict-avoidant and all those other things is bad. It's possible to have one without the other. I'm not sure how many of the men I deal with on a daily basis qualify as metrosexuals (a lot of them are slobs) but I do see a lot of these negative traits. Maybe there is some kind of societal trend where men are given an excuse not to man up, in the name of empathizing with women. If so, I doubt women got anything out of the deal.

I brought up the subject with my wife. She was a little surprised; for her, the archetypal metro is David Beckham. He's a guy who isn't afraid to use women's tools to make himself look better than other men, and nobody mistakes his sexual orientation. The way Alice sees it, a metrosexual man is one who tries to look better, but not necessarily less masculine. He tries to be more aware of his body, his physiology, so he's literally more "in touch" with his feelings. His gut reactions tell him his emotional state, making it possible for him to deal with people in a more up-front and honest way. (Note the importance of the word "possible". This takes effort.)

Preferably, men could be men--they could use their physical strength and be protective and competitive--and still understand women well enough. There are two sides to this: making yourself understood, and being receptive to what you're being told. This goes for both men and women. Men need to understand and communicate their feelings, and be willing to accept constructive criticism and hear a woman's complaints without belittling them or rationalizing them away. Women need to ditch the old mysteries of feminine mystique and intuition if they want both themselves and their men to be happy. That means explaining what they want in a way that a man can understand it, and not discouraging mens' disclosures by saying it hurts to hear them (which keys into his instinct to protect her - from himself).

It can be a better world. I'm not sure if the superficial aspects of metrosexuality are a problem, but if it's used as a cop-out, it's bad. Man up.

Bikepsycho, strike 2

As you know, I bought a bike and got a flat tire. Fast forward two weeks. I replaced the tube and brought a pump along for a second try. Alice and I got to the trailhead and put the bikes on the ground ... clunk. I didn't just have a flat--my tire was blown completely off the rim, and the inner tube had a six-inch split. I had inflated them and left the bike in my car outside for 24 hours. The heat must have overpressurized it. I should have known better, but frankly, I was eager to get on with it.

I don't remember bike ownership being this much of a pain in the ass. When I was in high school and college, I routinely did 20-mile rides and hardly ever did any maintenance besides cleaning and oiling the chain. I rode a bike to my classes several times a day every day all through undergrad and grad school. What gives?

Of course, where I live now, I can't just put on a helmet and hit the road on two wheels. The curbs, potholes, intersections, and general pedestrian-unfriendliness all make it necessary for me to drive my bike somewhere from my home or office before I can ride. This is less convenient and makes it less likely I'll do it regularly. For the same reasons, I prefer to lift weights at home rather than go to a gym.

I think I have to fight this demon on my own. I'm not going to take Alice on another wild goose chase until I've got it working.

Guest blogger

I've invited my wife, Alice, to post here. She's primarily interested in restaurant reviewing, night life, cooking, and wine. Alice has a very sharp eye for quality service, so look for her posts.

Hello, Officer

Our doorbell rang. After the second ring, we looked out the window and saw a cop car in our driveway. I put on a bathrobe and opened the front door. The officer said our mother-in-law, in Indianapolis, hadn't been able to get in touch with us for several days.



I said, sorry for your trouble, officer. OK, Judy, we were fucking. I have not abducted your daughter. We pulled weeds today, watched a movie out on the patio, drank wine, and gratified our urges. That's all: fucking. OK?

Luxury materials

Since I was young, I've had a sense, not really qualifying as a theory, of what makes something luxury. In a nutshell, it was that luxury goods are things you have to maintain: leather has to be moisturized, silver has to be polished, stained wood has to be waxed. If you spend time on it, it must be good.

I tried to describe this to a friend recently and found the old explanation inadequate. A diamond is certainly luxury, but all you have to do is clean it once in a while. What's closer to the truth is that if you own something that requires maintenance, you'll only do it if it's necessary (like scooping a litterbox) or beautiful (like silver).

Moisturizing leather calms me and improves my surroundings. Polishing silver makes me feel wealthy, and connects me to my grandmother through her tea service. There is a certain welcome ritual to these chores. Music used to mean more to me, too, when I had to use a microfiber brush and an antistatic gun to clean vinyl LPs. I miss that.

Right now the family silver is in an abominable state. I'll polish it and post a pic.