Between rain showers on


Between rain showers on Saturday, I changed the oil on my motorcycle. In fact, I changed the oil filter, too, which is a rung up the ladder, and helped me begin to fulfill Airheads Beemer Club Canon number 6: “Airheads maintain their own motorcycles.”


An oil filter change is right up at the front of the
Chilton manual (“Chapter 1: easy stuff for jerks”.) However, it still involves taking bits off the engine and seeing the greasy, shiny insides. For which I got to use my new Craftsman socket set, which as it turns out is markedly superior to my old Krzygistani five-dollar tools.



I also got a chance to hang out at the local motorcycle shop, where I picked up the new oil filter and heard lots of stories about Kate’s dad. “Say, did you know I have a picture of Snuffy hanging in my living room?” the owner, Dan Maychak, says to the tall, rawboned Supercross acolyte leaning on the counter. “Yeah, that’s a trophy of his right up there!” I tell a story about practicing the Austin-Healy with Bob Smith in the passenger’s seat, Bob not grimacing every time I grind the transmission because that’s the kind of guy he is, and they nod and whistle sympathetically.


Then it’s back to the bike and my chance to make my first newbie mistake — I replace the old O-ring on the oil filter panel cover, instead of using the new one, and as a result I leave a rainbow-colored Pac-Man trail of oil droplets on the wet roads all the way across town. Which is embarassing, because the oil gets on the rear tire so I slow to a crawl to keep from sliding out, and now the Pac-Man dots lead glaringly down the center of the road straight to our driveway. Well, the good news is that the rain washes away the evidence of my thumb-fingered work, but the bad news is that it keeps me from making a second attempt at the filter cover, so the bike’s in the driveway now with a styrofoam cup under it.



I had better luck with the kitchen; in a rare freak of fate, the new vinyl floor installers made an installation appointment on the same day as the new refrigerator delivery (maybe it was my witty banter with Mohan.) So I worked from home on Friday and watched as a parade of men in Immaculata sweatshirts banged on the floor and sent the cat to a government-in-exile under the bed. Friday evening, and we had most of a shiny new kitchen, except for the ragged strips where the baseboards used to be. So I get a Google master’s degree in baseboard installation (“Quarter-round molding — the bold alternative to shoe molding!”), and Kate and I are off to Home Depot, where we buy a miter box and some freaky, extruded-polystyrene structural foam baseboard material ’cause that’s the only stuff in the right width. Cutting this stuff in the miter box is weird, like sawing at some sort of nanotech cheese, so I go back to rent a powered compound miter saw, which also has problems, but they’re easier to deal with and also more interesting (cut too slowly, and the baseboard starts to melt and run!) I fix my smaller mistakes with spackle, my larger mistakes with some structural caulk, and after two coats of paint it actually looks okay.



Meanwhile, Kate was hurrying to finish knitting a 6-12-month-sized baby sweater for a good friend in Seattle before the intended recipient outgrew his 6-12 month sweater window. I’ve been told that knitting is a binary hobby: knit=1, perl=0, and that all the cabling and popcorn stitches are the result of fairly simple (if long) recombinations of even simpler patterns. Whatever: it still looks like magic to me.


Then Kate’s parents and her maternal grandmother came over to have tea and ooh-and-aah over the new housework. Kate baked lemon squares, and Bob reassured me by telling me some of the dumb mistakes he’s still making after fifty years of working on motorcycles. So, all in all, a craft-y weekend for both of us, and as soon as I get the oil filter cover back on my bike, all will be right with the world.

Between rain showers on

We must speak with one

We must speak with one voice against Saddam Hussein’s failure to allow opposing voices to be heard.

This has been posted many places by now, but I thought I’d mirror this commentary from NPR:


“All right, let me see if I understand the logic of this correctly. We are going to ignore the United Nations in order to make clear to Saddam Hussein that the United Nations cannot be ignored. We’re going to wage war to preserve the UN’s ability to avert war. The paramount principle is that the UN’s word must be taken seriously, and if we have to subvert its word to guarantee that it is, then by gum, we will. Peace is too important not to take up arms to defend. Am I getting this right?


Further, if the only way to bring democracy to Iraq is to vitiate the democracy of the Security Council, then we are honor-bound to do that too, because democracy, as we define it, is too important to be stopped by a little thing like democracy as they define it.


Also, in dealing with a man who brooks no dissension at home, we cannot afford dissension among ourselves. We must speak with one voice against Saddam Hussein’s failure to allow opposing voices to be heard. We are sending our gathered might to the Persian Gulf to make the point that might does not make right, as Saddam Hussein seems to think it does. And we are twisting the arms of the opposition until it agrees to let us oust a regime that twists the arms of the opposition. We cannot leave in power a dictator who ignores his own people. And if our people, and people elsewhere in the world, fail to understand that, then we have no choice but to ignore them.


Listen. Don’t misunderstand. I think it is a good thing that the members of the Bush administration seem to have been reading Lewis Carroll. I only wish someone had pointed out that “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are meditations on paradox and puzzle and illogic and on the strangeness of things, not templates for foreign policy. It is amusing for the Mad Hatter to say something like, `We must make war on him because he is a threat to peace,’ but not amusing for someone who actually commands an army to say that. As a collector of laughable arguments, I’d be enjoying all this were it not for the fact that I know–we all know–that lives are going to be lost in what amounts to a freak, circular reasoning accident.”
— Peter Freundlich / National Public Radio / 13.03.03

We must speak with one

Zen and the art of

Zen and the art of SPENDING LOTS OF CIZZ-ASH!

I took my motorcycle out from under its cover last weekend, and started getting it ready to ride. Like many other things in life, owning a bike can be a source of guilt if you’re inclined that way. I *did* put my motorcycle under a cover, but I *didn’t* pull the battery and attach it to a trickle charger over the winter. Nor did I, as one site suggests, drop the carbuerator float bowl and empty the gasoline inside. Nor did I drain the fluids, put molybdenum lubrication grease on the real axle bearing, or disassemble the bike into its constituent parts, pack each part into a velvet-lined jewel case, and store the cases in a climate-controlled environment, cleaning occasionaly with a wooden-handled pig bristle brush.


My challenge now is to keep from feeling guilty about that, and at the same time to keep my aggressive not-feeling-guilty agenda from bleeding into other parts of my life, as I have a dentist appointment soon. “No, I DON’T floss after every meal! You got a problem with that, Doctor bee-yotch?”



I am, however, going to change the oil this weekend, for which I need a couple of new tools. My old toolbox, with my crappy old five-dollar socket set, seems to have mercifully vanished some time in the past five years, so I’m going to pick up a new 3/8″ drive metric socket set. “Buy the best tools you can afford!” say the experts, and boy, am I ever ready to agree. So I start out by stopping by the hardware store on the way to Penn Station after work: “do you have a three-eighths-inch metric socket set?” I ask, and am presented with a twenty-dollar shrink-wrapped package of uncertain ancestry with Engrish on the label. Turning up my nose, I go to Sears the next day: forty dollars for a Craftsman set, but it comes in a twee plastic case with a little window on the top. Humph! Surely someone like me, someone who really appreciates the importance of good tools (when working on your bike twice a year) should look for something just a little more… you know…



…yeah, I know, too. Expensive. Heavy, with, like, better knurling on the handles or something. So I go to Snap-On ’cause that’s what I hear everybody drools over, and I find the socket set I’m looking for, pictured at right a “set, general service, metric, 6-point), for FOUR HUNDRED ELEVEN DOLLARS AND NINETY-FIVE CENTS.


What’s that, Doctor? Floss after every meal? Yes, I’m very sorry. I will, I promise. Excuse me, I have to go to Sears and pick up my new tools.

Zen and the art of

Okay, I admit it:


Okay, I admit it: I started listening to punk rock in high school because of the cool T-shirts. Nate Robb and Ferdie Zogbaum* would shamble down to breakfast at Westtown school wearing exquisitely faded Minor Threat shirts (the one with the sheep on it), or a big-skull Misfits shirt in the last stages of falling apart. The best T-shirt I had was a 1986 Black Dog T-shirt, which was pretty cool, but only to some people that you might not want to impress anyway. At this point, I was only a couple of years away from Members Only jackets (size small) and knee-high crew socks (size exx-tra long.)


So, saving my allowance, I bought the album corresponding to the coolest T-shirt at Westtown:
Meat Puppets II. I listened to that album all through the summer after 10th grade, when I was working at Carlucci’s Italian Meat Market in Paoli, PA. “Meat Puppets II” was my primer for the punk-rock attitude, and under its influence, I tried to be as punk-rock as possible:


  • I’d roll up the door on the loading dock and blast the pimply Acme stockboys across the alley with the hot-water hose.
  • I removed the rubber bands from all the lobsters in the live lobster tank, in order to give them a fighting chance.
  • I made four-dollar hoagies with ten dollars’ worth of prime prosciutto, and handed them to customers with what I thought was a knowing, conspiritorial wink.

Okay, I was making an ass of myself, but there was some precedent — my first job at Carlucci’s was to cross out all the expiration dates on the egg cartons with a black magic marker. When I did it and kept my mouth shut, I was promoted to the deli counter.


When I was the only one in the store, I’d play the Meat Puppets album on the store’s PA system. Domenick Carlucci, a nice, middle-aged man with two sons my age, would visit the store in the afternoons, and the sound of Curt Kirkwood’s warbly, off-key voice would bring a worried, puzzled look to his face. Actually, a lot of things I did would bring a worried look to Mr. Carlucci’s face, including the perfectly-aged Nike Air Pegasus shoes I wore. In the middle of July, Mr. Carpani presented me with a pair of brand-new, shiny white leather Nikes, a half-size too large. To my teenage imagination, the shoes looked like giant glowing banana boats, but I was so pleased at actually being mistaken for a glamorous, hard-luck streetster** that I didn’t mind wearing the shoes. In the store, that is — I’d carry them in my backpack and change into them around the corner from Carlucci’s. While keeping an eye out for scalded Acme stockboys.


So, the reason I brought it up is, I just picked up my old Westtown tuck box from my dad’s storage space, and I discovered my old Meat Puppets II tape inside. I played “Lake of Fire” for Kate, who knew the song from Nirvana’s cover on MTV Unplugged. Kate was working at the Experience Music Project in Seattle when Nirvana was big, so she had a bootleg tape of the show. She knew that Kurt was always talking about the Meat Puppets as an influence, but she had never heard the song. So we compared them:


Lake of Fire, Meat Puppets version (1984) — Curt Kirkwood really can’t sing, he wanders all over the place in a plaintive, lost manner. This is what I liked about punk and hardcore, anyhow. There’s some teenager screeching off-key about how all they wanted was a Pepsi, and their thin voice is lost in a thundering swell of fast guitar and fast drums. It’s a good aural description of the surging hormonal teenage condition. Not all punk is like that: Henry Rollins probably never sounded plaintive or lost in his life, but when you hear the Meat Puppets wandering in and out of key on “Lost on the Freeway Again”, you get the feeling that, like you, this band doesn’t really know what the hell they’re doing, either.


Lake of Fire, Nirvana (1993) — Okay, Kurt Cobain is a way better singer that Curt Kirkwood. For the first time, I could hear the damn lyrics “…they go to the lake of fire and fry…” “Oh, THAT’s how the song goes!” Plus, Kurt is good at melody. So overall, the song is way more assured, and Kurt even preserves some of the Meat Puppets psychedelic tripped-out sundazed Arizona vibe with little ky-yi yips at the end of each line. It’s grunge rock, now, not punk rock. Where the Meat puppets sound like unlicenced drivers put at the helm of powerful, gas-guzzling death machines (again, metaphor for being a teenager), Kurt’s fully in control. The song is more controlled, more angry, and more sarcastic, and it’s easier to listen to.


So, if punk spoke to the teenagers of the 1980s, did grunge speak to the teenagers of the 1990s? It’d be easy to make an argument that it did: “1980s:1990s::confused angst:assured sarcasm”, but I wonder.


Next time: how my cooler sister showed me Repo Man and changed my life forever.


* A name like “Ferdie Zogbaum” cuts both ways; if you’re cool, it makes you cooler. If you’re not, it’s an albatross around your neck. Fortunately, Ferdie was, like, Zaphod Beeblebrox cool.
** I realize now that I exuded about as much street cred as Martin Prince from the Simpsons, but hey — if the clean Jersey kids panhandling on St. Mark’s place can pretend they’re dirty, rawboned punks, then so could I. Anyhow, Mr. Carpani was really nice to me, even though he couldn’t understand where I was coming from at all. He was a heck of a guy, even if he did sell expired eggs.

Okay, I admit it:

Spring continues to, er,


Spring continues to, er, spring in Chester County, in all its chilly, wet, muddy splendor. The Wyeths love to paint this area — the starker, muddier, and more ramshackle, the better. In another couple of weeks, though, the grass will be up, the trees will be bursting with fragrant verdure, and the number of West Chester University students running down High street in cutoff Abercrombie and Fitch shirts, sweating off their winter beer guts, will have more than trebled.


Kate and I raked up all the leaves that had blown onto the lawn over the winter and mulched the front beds. Mulch is a wonderful thing, a panacea for all ills. After twenty minutes of spreading it carefully around the bushes and the daffodils, you can stand back and admire a patch of ground that suddenly looks professional: you know, like a dentist’s office or something. I’m being completely serious: I love the way mulched beds look. I’d better watch out, or before you know it I’m going to own a two-stroke string trimmer and be edging the beds with a pair of sharp scissors. Funny how all those god-awful activities — weeding, edging, placing little garden gnomes — become suddenly fresh and alluring when it’s your patch of ground.



For a break, we took a walk on the Chester Valley Trail, a rails-to-trails project that will eventually connect Downingtown’s Struble Trail (about 5 miles west of us) all the way to Philly (about 20 miles east of us.) It’s pictured, somewhat Wyeth-ily, at right. Only about one and a half miles have been paved, but we got an early-adopter thrill in searching out the likely spot for the trailhead on a Russian satellite photo, plotting the coordinates into the GPS, then bushwhacking until we found it. The fact that there were several other couples on mountain bikes, plus two park rangers in a green SUV, only damped my thrill of discovery somewhat. Hell, I can get lost in my back yard, so I suppose it’s easy for me to get my Stanley Livingstone jollies.


I hear from Kate that, in Seattle, many folks use the rails-to-trails parks to commute. After reading the RTT press release for the Chester Valley trail, I understand that’s one of the purposes of this trail system. Philly is about 20 miles, as the crow flies, and the trail runs fairly straight — first along 202, then along the Schuykill river — so I don’t think it will add too much to the mileage. If and when I get a job in Philly (note to co-workers: sometime in the medium-to-distant future) , I wonder if it would be feasible to commute on a bike. Will I have to become super-hard-core, or only mild-core?

Spring continues to, er,

“Join the Boxer rebellion



“Join the Boxer rebellion with the non-profit Airheads Beemer Club”

If you’ve ever checked out my essay on Snuffy Smith’s Thanksgiving motorcycle rally, you know that picking your motorcycle clique is a serious business — like choosing which area of the cafeteria you’re going to sit in throughout college. As the Salvation Army worker sang to the drunk, lying next to a pig in the gutter, “You’re measured in life by the company you keep,”* and so it’s important to choose your alliances carefully.


Actually, I discovered this morning, it’s much easier than that: the motorcycle clique picks you. For one thing, you have to pick a motorcycle that looks like you. My friend and colleague Kieran Downes will look fine crouched on top of a wasp-shaped Ducati. For my part, I don’t aspire to the ZZ Top vibe that you need to ride a bright red Indian. I’ve always thought that the boxy, black BMWs of the 1970s were the sharpest bikes ever — from the Tonka-toy rubber boots on the forks to the Messerschmidt biscuit logo on the back of the seat. What’s more, airhead BMWs are great long-distance touring bikes, and they’re reliable as dirt.


The only problem with owning a BMW is that people are always asking you where the cappucino maker plugs in. If the stereotype of the Harley rider is a beer-bellied bruiser who works down at the stamping factory (or a proctologist with a shiny Sportster trailer queen in the garage), the stereotype of the Beemer rider is of the guy who goes camping with a satellite phone and an Ortlieb dry bag full of self-heating meals.


Since I am that guy, I accept the stereotype. Also, I found a really cool BMW club on the internet, at www.airheads.org. Things in favor of it:


  • It’s got a hip URL in the .org domain.
  • It’s written in PHP. Ergo, there are geeks on the staff.
  • It uses text breadcrumb navigation (“Home > Join“) Ergo, there are enlightened geeks on the staff.
  • It’s packed with FAQ information for the newbie.
  • The logo has a kind of skull-and-crossbones thing going on, which I’m a a huge sucker for.

The club’s Canons include the tenet “Airheads believe that the simplest engineering solutions are best”, which is going to be a challenge for me, but it’s something to aspire to. Also, I don’t fulfill one of the most important prerequisites for membership, as I don’t yet actually own an airhead Boxer. But I soon will, and you can follow my progress in the thermometer to the right. Until I reach my goal, I’ve asked them if I can join on spec, so that I can commute to work on my starter bike wearing an Airheads sticker on my helmet. I’ll let you know what they say.


* From (once again) a song my mom used to sing me as a kid. The last line goes “…and the pig got up and slow-ly walked away!”

“Join the Boxer rebellion

I am ashamed of my

I am ashamed of my president, and I am ashamed of my country.


History speaks clearly: violence leads to violence, and war leads to more war. I’m disgusted with America’s foreign policy over the past eighteen months, and I’m disgusted with the way the crimes of September 11th were hijacked by the Bush administration and used as an excuse for promoting an aggressive, imperialistic agenda both at home and abroad. I’m saddened at the US’s decision to violate another country’s sovereignty, especially without UN support — damaging the slow and difficult progress towards a real world polity. I’m disgusted at the childish and jingoistic responses to our allies’ dissent — if I hear one more reference to “Freedom Fries”, I’m going to put on a beret, carry the French flag, and march up and down Park Avenue singing Le Marsellaise at the top of my lungs, as one scrappy Frenchman was doing on St. Patrick’s day outside the Lexington Avenue Armory.


I believe deeply in the freedoms that this country represents, and (though you can’t know until you are faced with the choice), I would be willing to sacrifice my life in the defense of those freedoms. But war isn’t about dying for your country: as Patton said, war is about “making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country”, and that is never justified, at any time, in any place, for any reason.


Whether there is ever such a thing as a “just war” is debatable, but it is at least certain to me that this is not a “just war.” We will achieve nothing in this war that could not have been achieved through a longer, messier, more frustrating, and more uncertain process of diplomacy.


I will support our troops in any way I can: by wishing them a safe and speedy return, and by letting them know that I, as a citizen, care deeply about their well-being. I will not, however, support my government in this lazy, misdirected, and destructive choice.

I am ashamed of my