Stop the press! BMW Airhead found.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Mexican Forklift story to bring you this important update:

I found a bike that looks good, and that I think I’ll buy if the in-person inspection is commensurate with the condition and price:

1977 R100/7 on

Things in the bike’s favor:

  • It’s in the area. Most other bikes I’ve seen are in Seattle, Texas, or Florida. It’s possible to ship, but that costs about $500.00.
  • It hasn’t been lovingly restored by a famous expert, which would add one bazillion dollars to the price, and make me cry when I (inevitably) tip the bike over in the driveway.
  • It doesn’t have a bloody great fairing that I’d have to take off before I’d be seen outside of the house on the bike. I’m sure that fairings are great on the highway and in the rain, but I’m young enough that the fashion/function equation still is waaaaay in favor of style. Removing a fairing means you have to mess with 1970s German electrics, and I read on the Airheads mailing list that this is not the most fun way to spend three consecutive Sundays.
  • It’s all stock, without “improvements” added by previous owners. BMW owners tend to be engineers with a high opinion of their own abilities. Old Airhead bikes have often been frankensteined: dual plugs, shaved valve covers, or a flux capacitor. Usually, these mods are a tradeoff, swapping an improvement here for a pain-in-the-ass problem there. I like the idea of making my own “previous owner” mistakes.
  • It’s black. And it has fork boots. Those black rubber boots on the front fork are (I’m embarassed to admit) enormously important to me. Without fork boots, it’s just an old bike. With fork boots, it’s a badass Tonka toy. I know, I know: you can put fork boots on any bike. But you’ll get raised eyebrows if you put fork boots on a model that didn’t have them originally.

Todd Byrum, the coordinator (“Airmarshal”) of the Airheads Beemer Club in Pennsylvania, has been really helpful, and even knows Kate’s dad. He gave me some assigned reading to take to the bike inspection on Friday:

“Used Motorcycle Pre-Purchase Checklist”, or

“How To Spend Two Hours Grunting and Shaking Your Head Over the Motorcycle,
Which May Reduce The Price.”

Stop the press! BMW Airhead found.

The Mexican Forklift Story, Part One

I spent the summer after my sophomore year at college in Brownsville, Texas, spending the summer working with World Servants. World Servants is a Christian organization that put together packaged service camps for American church youth groups. I was on the “Holy Sweat” team, having missed the cooler “SWAT” team appellation by a year. World Servants was the best-run not-for-profit organization I’ve ever worked with, before or since: new groups were instructed to arrive at the airport wearing easily identified green World Servants T-shirts, and with all their luggage packed in easily identified green World Servants duffel bags. One driver had a clipboard, and would shepherd the chattering teens from South Carolina into the vans; another driver would corral the correct number of duffel bags from the luggage carousel and sling them into a separate van.

The actual work was pretty well-organized, too: we were building small houses (very small houses, from toolshed plans) in the ghettoes of Reynosa, Mexico. The colonias were built in garbage dumps, on floodplains, so having a place to live — even an 8×12 shed — with a wooden floor off the ground meant that babies had a much reduced sickness rate. The houses were about the right size for a group of ten kids to build during a one-week work session. Any given week, we had about three hundred kids from a dozen church groups, thirty youth group leaders from those chuches, and five volunteer West Texas contractors on site. Every morning at sunrise, everyone would pile in to school buses for the ride across the border into Mexico. After a blistering day of work, we’d drive back to Texas for swimming and relaxation.

During the weekends, we did all the bits that required power tools: we ripped the plywood sheathing to width, we cut notches in the fascia boards, and cut window headers. We then (and I’m very proud of this) color-coded all the lumber, and gave out illustrated instructions to all the teams. A contractor might think “nail the pre-cuts to the sill plate on fifteen-inch centers”, but he could look at the plans and say, in a drawling Texan accent, “okay, son, get five yellow boards and nail them to the blue board where the pencil marks are.”

The toughest part of the job, frankly, was getting all this brand-new lumber across the border. It was worth a lot of money, and it was all donated. Fortunately, World Servants had a liaison in Reynosa in the person of Dr. Rommel Kott Cuellar, a 24-year-old plastic surgeon who was dating the mayor’s daughter and drove a white Mercury Tracer with tinted windows and nitrous injection. Rommel’s dad was German, and he did something with the Mexican government. I’m not sure what it was, but Rommel lived with his family in a walled compound with satellite dishes in it and armed guards at the gate.

(more to come.)

The Mexican Forklift Story, Part One

Kate’s dad and I

Kate’s dad and I went to see a preview day at the William Bunch Vintage Motorcycle Auction in Chadds Ford. The organizer of the auction, John Lawless, is trying to get a “Philadelphia bike week” together, with lots of motorcycle events — like Sturgis or Daytona.

Anyhow, the motorcycles were really cool, and I met a lot of Important Motorcycle Guys, like David Kirby, who started selling Honda motorcycles in West Chester in 1968. Back then, the only motorcycle dealers work black leather all the time, and were always working on bikes. If you came into the store, you were interrupting them, and they’d glare hot, contemptuous, oily glares at you. David started actually (what a concept!) welcoming people into the store, and sold bikes as fast as Honda could make them. It was a struggle to get his franchise, though — he had to drive the Honda representative to the neighboring franchise the long way, so the contractual limitations governing franchise spacing were met.

See the pictures

Kate’s dad and I

You’re gonna rule the world,

You’re gonna rule the world, eh?

I had a dream last night that Canadian scientists in the future had succesfully developed time travel, so they were traveling back in time to give important agricultural and industrial developments to people in order to avoid famines, plagues and war. And also to increase the importance of Canada. “Use this technique, and you’ll quadruple your farm output”, they’d say to a North African farmer in 150 CE. “And when you make an empire, don’t forget to call it Canada, okay?”

For some reason, I stole a slip-joint wrench from them, because it was made of a “Ganadium alloy” that could be printed on a CAD prototyper, but that, once printed, was strong, tough, indestructible, light, et cetera, and would completely revolutionize industry, making high-tensile devices as easy as pushing the “print” button on your computer. (I was impressed by Bruce Stirling’s ideas for the future of foamed aluminum a couple of weeks ago.)

Anyhow, looking at the wrench and imagining the future of “Ganadium alloy“, I was wondering what I was gonna name my empire. Do the polite thing and name it “Canada”, or just make up my own name?

You’re gonna rule the world,

Sometimes a buzz saw is

Sometimes a buzz saw is just a goddamn buzz saw.

Also: Insane Japanese Miniature Knitting

There was a train derailment south of Trenton last night, which meant that I and all the other Amtrak Keystone commuters “got SEPTA-ed”; we missed our Philadelphia connection, and had to take the local train home. Like many minor hardships, I suppose, it had its bright spots: I talked to several other commuters for the first time. One woman with whom I’ve been on a nodding acquaintance for a year turns out to have a thick French accent!

So I relaxed this morning by going for a run in the morning and taking a later train into work. I’d like to run regularly in the mornings, but I’m going to have to cut down on the amount of time it takes me to get out the door. Today, there was fifteen minutes of sleepy, half-speed moping, in which I slowly dragged on polypro underwear, took long, spiteful looks at the outdoor thermometer, and heaved rueful sighs.

Once out the door with all my electronics strapped on, though, um… it wasn’t much better. Until I warmed up and noticed all the spring buds. All the trees in West Chester are surrounded by a transparent nimbus of bright yellow-green. Except for the Norwegian oaks, which are hazed with maroon. It’s really, really beautiful, and as the sun climbed over the hill, I tried to remember the lines of “Nature’s first green is gold”, without much success. Then, I reached home and looked at the lesser Ranunculus that I gave ZE TREATMENT to over the weekend. It’s still there, but it’s not looking as robust as it was. Its saucy, devil-may-care grin looks a little strained, as though it’s regretting hitting the Mexican cocktail weenies so hard at the beginning of the party.


Anyway, to the point: I looked up the poem, which I now remember is called “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, and found that since I last read Frost ten years ago, my opinion of him has changed. Here’s the page I found from a quick Google search. It’s a little hard to ignore the icons, and the “Catcher in the Rye” discussion questions are ham-handed (Schoolteachers of the world: there are OTHER THEMES IN THE WORLD besides the progression from innocence to experience.) But I read “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, liking it less than I remembered, and then I read “Out, Out-.” Which I really didn’t like at all.

I still like Frost’s strict use of rhyme and meter, especially at a time when blank verse and experimentation were popular. That experimentation was necessary, I guess, but I don’t find it enjoyable. I’ve always liked Frost’s assertion that meaning is found in the tension between a restrictive technique and the pressure of language’s limitless expression. There’s a quote I seem to remember about the meter being the tension in the violin string, or the splutter in the skillet, or something, but I can’t remember it now. If you can find it, I’d be much obliged.

What I didn’t remember about Frost, though, was the heavy payload of Christian-style animistic and fall-of-the-material-world themes. Nature’s first green is gold (but it’s doomed!) Material objects are invested with animistic meaning! Watch out for the buzz-saw, it’s EEEE-VIL!

When I was last reading Frost ten or twelve years ago, I also was freighted with a heavy payload of Christian “the world you see isn’t the real, REAL world” themes, too: spiritual warfare was a big theme in the missions groups I worked with, and in that company it’s natural to invest the material world with some kind of animistic importance. I once asked a pastor if God had an opinion about EVERY choice I made—did god care if I read the Newsweek instead of the Time magazine? Does God care, even a little bit, if I have the rye instead of the pumpernickel? Did each and every one of my choices have a good or bad repercussion?

I eventually managed to slow my spiritual record player down to 33RPM, and I’m now drawn to thinkers and writers that let the material world be what it is (whatever that is.) In his book Young Men and Fire, for example, Norman MacLean does a wonderful job of describing a highly-charged and emotional event—the accidental and avoidable death of thirteen bright young men in a forest fire. MacLean does it in a way that is compassionate, that respects the depth of pain and loss involved, but does not make the fire a parable, nor does he try to tell the story behind the story. The story is the story: what happened, happened, and we can take our own meaning, or no meaning, from it.

And so, back to spring. My own feeling is that nature’s first green is gold, but it doesn’t fade away: it gets stronger incrementally, until one day in early June, spring has turned into a seven hundred pound gorilla sitting on your chest, looking soulfully into your face and breathing hot, muggy breath on you. And sowing lesser ranunculus all over your lawn.

This article from the Atlantic Monthly in 1951 counteracted my new opinion of Frost somewhat, though it seems to have its own Cold War agenda (it mentions strife as a good thing an awful lot, doesn’t it?)

Okay, that was what Alejandro’s sister would call an “unfunny essay entry.” As an antidote, go look at fisheye pictures of Moab, or INSANE JAPANESE MINIATURE KNITTING! Wow!

Sometimes a buzz saw is

It’s like matching your bag

It’s like matching your bag to your shoes, except different, because…

…okay, it’s like matching your bag to your shoes.

I have a five-day road trip window in July. Also, Kate’s dad and I are going to ride up to a family wedding in Bar Harbor this August. So, obviously, it’s time to purchase the highest-quality, most bombproof, so-much-Cordura-and-Goretex-you’re-practically-an-astronaut-in-this-suit riding gear out there. That’s right, ladies, and gentlemen, I’m talking about the Hasselbad of motorcycle gear, the Aerostich Roadcrafter suit.

So, your thoughts about colors, please. I pinched the excellent Aerostich color selector from their site — roll over the colors below, then hit the “comments” button and let me know what you think. Remember, I’m going to be riding it on a teutonic black uber-bike with (hopefully) white pinstriping.

function name(name1, name2) {
this.name1 = name1;
this.name2 = name2;
myname = new name(‘b’,’s’);
if (document.images) {
rsbon = new Image(); rsbon.src = “”;
blsbon = new Image(); blsbon.src = “”;
ysbon = new Image(); ysbon.src = “”;
bsbon = new Image(); bsbon.src = “”;
gsbon = new Image(); gsbon.src = “”;
ssbon = new Image(); ssbon.src = “”;
function imgOn(imgName, imgName2) {
if (document.images) {
myname = new name(imgName,imgName2);
if ( == bsbon.src) { = “”; }
if ( == rsbon.src) { = “”; }
if (document.images.ys.src == ysbon.src) {
document.images.ys.src = “”; }
if ( == gsbon.src) { = “”; }
if (document.images.bls.src == blsbon.src) {
document.images.bls.src = “”; }
document.images[imgName + “s”].src = eval(imgName + “sbon.src”);
changer(‘menu’,”” + myname.name1 + myname.name2 + “.jpg”)
function imgOn2(imgName, imgName2) {
if (document.images) {
myname = new name(imgName,imgName2);
if (document.images.b.src == bsbon.src) {
document.images.b.src = “”; }
if (document.images.r.src == rsbon.src) {
document.images.r.src = “”; }
if (document.images.s.src == ssbon.src) {
document.images.s.src = “”; }
if (document.images.g.src == gsbon.src) {
document.images.g.src = “”; }
if ( == blsbon.src) { = “”; }
document.images[imgName2].src = eval(imgName2 + “sbon.src”);
changer(‘menu’,”” + myname.name1 + myname.name2 + “.jpg”)
/* Function that swaps images. */
// (id = the src/name for image, newSrc=name of image
function changer(id, newSrc) {
var theImage = FWFindImage(document, id, 0);
if (theImage) {
theImage.src = newSrc;
/* Functions that track and set toggle group button states. */
function FWFindImage(doc, name, j) {
var theImage = false;
if (doc.images) {
theImage = doc.images[name];
if (theImage) {
return theImage;
if (doc.layers) {
for (j = 0; j < doc.layers.length; j++) {
theImage = FWFindImage(doc.layers[j].document, name, 0);
if (theImage) {
return (theImage);
return (false);

Roadcrafter Suit Colors

(move cursor over
color to view)

Suit Colors

Ballistic Colors













Standard suit colors: Mix
& Match a red, black, gray, Hi-Viz yellow or cobalt blue shell
with either red, black, gray, silver or cobalt blue set of ballistics patches.

Custom Ballistic Patch Colors [are available]

Color Viewer

It’s like matching your bag

Like a Tom Clancy

Like a Tom Clancy novel, but all the details are about suburban life:

I am now the proud owner of a Scotts SpeedyGreen®1000 Broadcast Spreader, which I used on Sunday morning to distribute 20 pounds of Agway Greenlawn 31-3-5 Weed Control and Fertilizer.
In order to combat an outbreak of Ranunculus Ficaria L. Which is rather pretty, but our neighbor Jerry is rabid on the subject of Ranunculus (“That damn stuff’ll take over! I’ll get rid of it if I have to kill the whole lawn!”), and we have to be seen doing our part in the Coalition of Willing Weedkillers.

The spreader was a lot of fun to operate, sending pretty cascades of waxy white pellets in every direction. Though it’s going to take up a much-begrugded couple of square feet in the shed.

Like a Tom Clancy

Mister Kurtz Barnes, he dead

Mister Kurtz Barnes, he dead

A few weeks ago, Kate suggested that we visit the
Barnes Foundation
before it closes, moves, sells its collection, or otherwise ceases to be the cloistered entity it is today.

Things I knew about the Barnes (which wasn’t much):

  • It was founded by an eccentric visionary who believed that his gallery walls should be crammed with art and sculpture, all mixed together;
  • He collected an incredible breadth and depth of Impressionist paintings;
  • He had a *huge* chip on his shoulder (he was constantly snubbed by the established art world),
  • He wanted the gallery to be used by “the common man”, and not by all those damn toffs in beaver hats, and
  • The gallery is harder to get into than a Catholic dormitory.

I also knew that the foundation is in serious financial trouble, after having fought intense litigious disputes over parking in their rich, residential neighborhood, and installing a bazillion-dollar climate control system. And that the board may, in the next few years, decide to break the will — sell some pieces, move the collection, or re-hang the art. They’ve done it before; a traveling exhibition of Barnes pieces was organized in 1993, which was explicitly against the terms of the foundation. Many are watching the board’s decisions carefully, as it will set a precedent for other oddball billionaires who wish to lock up their art with byzantine, restrictive clauses in perpetuity.

So the little history I knew, combined with the rules Kate and I received after her three-step faxback “Mother may I” gallery reservation procedure, were (to say the least) somewhat off-putting. No heels with diameters less than two inches. No bulky jackets. Visitors will be searched at the door. No photographs, sketching, or drawing. Whew!

When Kate and I finally got through the three gatehouses at the Foundation’s estate, after we’d been commanded to strip, don Tyvek jumpsuits and lock all our clothes in a locker, after we’d been through the de-lousing and had our heads shaved, the impression we got actually wasn’t that eccentric. Or, if it was eccentric, you could see where Barnes was going with his vision.

Think of the Appalachian Trail, an ambitious idea begun roughly at the same time as the Barnes. THe Trail’s titular founder, Benton MacKaye, was an oddball who envisioned a series of mountaintop enclaves populated with philosophers, artisans, and intelligentsia; each bastion connected to each other with footpaths. Sure, it was a little grandiose. Now imagine that MacKaye had enough money to buy all the land, build all the mountaintop retreats, and endow the trail with operating capital and rules that kept hoi polloi away. Substitute Impressionist art for footpaths, and cast the art establishment in the role of the riff-raff, and there you have the Barnes: an educational institution meant for those “who toil with their hands”, and in which each room is organized by an educational theme.

In the master gallery, for example, one wall is devoted to the use of complementary colors in the French color system of the thirties. Yellows are paired with violets in two Renoir nudes, a Cezanne still-life, three landscapes, and assorted other drawings and sketches. The paintings are all hung together on a burlap wall, none with cards showing their title or date. Bits of bright ironwork are hung between the paintings, echoing the themes presented.

Frankly, it works. I quickly stopped looking for titles, and almost as quickly stopped missing the dates and other information. Barnes was self-taught, and some of his arrangements didn’t click. Plus, his infatuation with Soutine was misplaced. But some were real eye-openers: there was a display on the influence of El Greco on both Renoir and Modigliani that got a real “a-ha!” from me. And, jeez, how can you argue with 180 Renoirs and a stack of Van Goghs?

Kate and I left the Barnes feeling much more positive about it. So Barnes was an eccentric; it was his money, and his paintings, and ever since the state of Pennsylvania threatened to revoke the foundation’s not-for-profit status, the access rules have been relaxed. The collection is magnificent, though it contains a lot of dreck. The cluttered walls weren’t as off-putting as I’d thought they’d be, and I actually liked the absence of informational cards. Kate and I will go back in the fall, and I’m looking forward to spending more time in front of the Van Goghs. Next time, though, we’ll wear skintight unitards with no pockets, in order to smooth out relations with the guards.

Mister Kurtz Barnes, he dead

The devil finds work for

The devil finds work for all hands

It’s been slower than usual at [My employer], with Passover and Easter: many of our clients took off early on Wednesday, and won’t be returning until Monday morning. So, naturally, my cube-neighbor Jeremy Fain decided to put on his bunny suit and distribute candy around the office. Jeremy didn’t participate in Mustaches for Kids; he usually sticks to the activities when he can be sure that he’ll have the women in the office eating out of his hand. At which he invariably succeeds, and today was no exception. (Kieran took the pictures.)

Meanwhile, new [My employer] hire Todd Bender was bursting with ideas on how to make piles of money using The Ultimate Water Gun. Todd’s immortal soul is in danger, I’m afraid: he was babbling on about how to create synergy and generate piles of money using “brand awareness.” We politely explained the flaws in that business model using the example of the “Underpants Gnome” scheme, then politely and firmly convinced him to appear at the Ed Sullivan Theater this summer wearing the UWG and a shiny, padded pair of Boy Wonder tights.

The results of Todd’s screen test are encouraging. Also, you can see the wireless helmet-cam now mounted to the UWG; it’s the blue box on top of the nozzle. Ideas for deploying the helmet cam are welcome.

The devil finds work for