Doesn’t the towel get cleaner

Doesn’t the towel get cleaner every time I use it?


I came home with a box filled with bike parts yesterday: everything on my desk, in fact, except for the gallon of BMW Sucker Lube, which will require a separate trip. When I pulled into the driveway, the sun was still shining, the birds were still singing, and I dove into an old T-shirt to replace my fuel petcocks. Kate, who has more experience with after-hours bike restorations than I do, expressed some concern about my coming to bed reeking of gasoline. I swore some dark and bloody oaths that I would de-reek myself thoroughly when finished, stepped outside, and proceeded to pull the fuel tank.


Motorcycles, especially old motorcycles, are a kind of sponge made of aluminum and gasoline. Warner brothers would have had no problem making a cartoon of me, the Hapless Wrencher Trying Not To Get Smelly, as I promptly managed to dump a tablespoon of gas from the left float bowl onto my shoe. And dribbled a stream of gas down my forearm to my elbow, as I pulled the fuel line. And bathed my hands in a cold, greasy bath as I emptied the contents of the tank into a red plastic Jerry can. (Speaking of Jerry, our neighbor came and added to the excitement by standing nearby, calmly chatting and smoking a cigarette, causing cartoony beads of sweat to leap from my forehead.)


I managed to change the rubber sleeves connecting the carburetor to the air intake, and the cylinder head to the carburetor, which was very satisfying — the old rubber sleeves were old and busted, and crunched audibly when distorted. I also installed an inline fuel filter, which will help protect from trip-ending problems due to rust in the gas tank. Having had enough excitement, I put the dripping tank back on the frame (giving Jerry a wide berth), covered the bike against rain, and walked back into the house. At this point, visible stink rays were emanating from every part of my body. Kate and I have a very small house, and it only takes one or two stink rays to make a BIG difference in the internal atmosphere. Hands in pockets (to reduce the amount of surface exposure), I turned the bathroom fan on “high” and commenced emergency decontamination.


Here are the steps I took to try to de-stench myself:


  • Scrubbed entire body twice with Dove moisturizing soap. Effect: none.
  • Re-scrubbed using some kind of tea soap discovered in the hall closet. Effect: small reduction in gas smell, addition of tea scent.
  • Washed hands and hair using smelliest shampoo in bathroom. Problem: household lifestyle choices do not include especially smelly shampoo. Effect: negligible.
  • Exited shower, evaluated results. Problem: remains. Hands still gloved with hydrocarbons.
  • Getting desparate, rinsed hands twice with Listerine mouthwash. Effect: bizarre.
  • Washed hands four times with anti-bacterial liquid bathroom soap. Effect: even worse. Unrelated consumer product fragrances are beginning to interact, creating new and unsuspected smell possibilities.
  • Grasping at straws, now. Used odd-smelling lanolin skin cream, purchased as an experiment and rarely used. Effect: bordering on theatrical.
  • Further four washes with liquid bathroom soap. Effect: unchanged.

I walked to the living room (slowly, so as not to create telltalle air currents), and gingerly seated myself on the sofa. The cat, seated nearby, gave me a long, injured look and withdrew to the other end of the house. Kate, a longtime connosieur of garage stinks, conceded that the smell I had managed to come up with was, at least, new. Somewhere between mosquito repellent and Stilton cheese.


In future, I think that I had better confine my gasoline wading to mornings and weekends. And I’ll investigate heavily gendered barrier cream.

Doesn’t the towel get cleaner

Spring is Sprung/The Grass is

Spring is Sprung/The Grass is Riz/I Wonder Where My Latté Is?

The sun is shining in Philadelphia this morning for the first time in what seems like weeks (refer to Kate’s blog for a more thorough familiarity with misty weather), and all the garmentos on the train are in good spirits. Pulling into Thirtieth Street station from Ardmore, a pack of wholesale buyers were heckling a rumpled surgeon in the vestibule, feeling the fabric of his sweatpants judiciously between thumb and forefinger. “Are these domestic?” “You know, you really should wear a blue belt to match the back of your T-shirt.” Nearby, a woman who I recognized as a buyer for Forman Mills was joking about an upcoming wedding in the family. “I’m not losing a daughter, I’m gaining a closet!”

Today also marks an extremely important milestone: just minutes ago, the woman behind the counter at the Cookie Cafe in Thirtieth Street station ASKED ME IF I WANTED THE USUAL for the first time. Just like the Velveteen Rabbit, this means that I have now become “real.” You can’t rush breakfast-counter relationships. Some misguided gringos in Manhattan, for example, try to speak spanish to the guys behind the grill. “Gracias!” they’ll say, with an ingratiating smile, unaware that they have just made the transition to Giant Nine-Hundred-Foot Gringo. The last time I saw this happen, the guy behind the counter smiled back and waved. “De nada, bendejo!” he replied: “No problem, asshole!” and the six-foot blond guy picked up his bagel and left the store, humming a happy tune.


Overhearing this, I snorted my latte out my nose, which when noticed was my initiation into the twenty-sixth street deli VIP club (privilege of membership: able to nod at the counter staff over everyone’s head and get expedited service.) But that took two years. Now, I have a Breakfast Counter Relationship in philly (her name is Sinta), and the sun is shining and all’s right with the world.


Link of the day: X-Entertainment’s tribute to the Johnson-Smith Company

Spring is Sprung/The Grass is

I’ve currently got the following

I’ve currently got the following on my white, kidney-shaped Herman Miller dotcom desk:


  • Four quarts of 20W-50 BMW Engine Lubricant
  • One quart of ‘Special Performance’ 80W-90 Hypoid Gear Oil
  • One BMW hinged oil filter kit, in a white box marked “ein satz/made in Austria”
  • One K&N High-Flow air filter

This particular collection of parts (UPSed from Bob’s BMW) marks me as a newbie, especially since I checked the back of the BMW-brand oil and it’s made by Spectro, so I’m paying extra to get my regular oil in a blue-and-white container. But I’ll know for next time, and meanwhile the collection of stuff on my desk is a welcome change from Matrix action figures and other standard-issue cube accoutrements. It’s nice to have a reminder that it’s actually possible to do things in the real world, like with your hands.


I’ve been invited by Snuffy Smith to ride out to the Ephrata meet this Sunday morning and meet a local Eastern European motorcycle guru, who cooks pastry. It’s something of a command performance, actually: Bob usually is politely reticent with the invitations, but this time the request was straightforward, and I understand that I’m to appear on time with new petcocks installed to stop the fuel leak from my left-side float bowl. If I want to hold my head up straight, that is.

I’ve currently got the following

Stalled Blog Posting The following

Stalled Blog Posting

The following Blog posting has been sitting in my “draft” folder for a week. It’s a Blog post about getting a wart removed. I’m not going to apologize for it, though I should: I’m just going to go ahead and push “publish”, and we can all get on with our lives. Kate’s Blog posting is much more interesting, and has fewer grossnesess.


I went to the dermatologist and had a wart removed yesterday. The wart was on my right forearm, and wasn’t very nasty, but it’s been on my to-do list ever since I noticed it three years ago, and I finally got around to finding a dermatologist, checking the insurance, and making the appointment.


I should have gone sooner: it was REALLY cool. Doctor Drew McCausland, in the West Chester Medical Building, turned out to be a pleasant, white-haired guy. He told me he “liked to kibbutz” with his new patients, and was struggling to find some stuff to talk to me about — then launched into a pretty interesting description of the shortcomings of his software, which will tell him how many pimples he’s seen by zip code, but won’t tell him which patients are the ones who have a history of canceling at the last minute. Every industry has its experts who make specialized software: Kate worked for Past Perfect, the most popular museum database, written in FoxPro by a retired telecommunications executive and his anthropologist wife. I just bought a copy of FTWO (For Two Wheels Only), which is basically a cushy Access database set up by a motorcycle rider to organize all your paperwork. Funny that doctors’ software overlooked such a big need.


Anyhow, Dr. McCausland shot a gob of novocain onto my arm using a little French pneumatic spitter. That was the coolest part: it was like a penlight with a piston, that shot globs of Novocain at high speed, so he doesn’t have to use a needle. Then he put my arm on top of my head and…

[Snip! Okay, that’s enough of that.]

Stalled Blog Posting The following

What the world really needs:

What the world really needs: another rambling philosophy-and-motorcycles rant

There are a couple of basic questions around which philosophy is organized: epistemology, teleology, cosmology, being-a-loser-wearing-tweed-in-Barnes-and-Noble-and-trying-to-pick-up-college-sophomores-ology. The one I was most interested in was, and is, epistemology. “Episteme” was a Greek word for ‘knowledge’, but it also meant ‘message’ (like “epistle”.) Epistemology is the study of the philosophical question of “What can we know, and how do we know that we know it?” Solipsism is one of the topics of epistemology (“How do I know that I’m not the only person that exists, imagining everyone else?” “How do I know that the TV doesn’t stop when I turn it off?”) So is the brain-in-a-vat problem, cf. Keanu.


In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, epistemology was the problem that philosophers had to deal with. Descartes tried to fix things by backing up to the only thing he could trust: “well, if I’m doubting reality, somebody’s doing the doubting, so there’s a me, at least.”) Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza — the rationalists — tried to climb out of the hole by building structures of thought, making beautiful and well-organized frameworks to ground reality. Locke, Berkely, Hume &#151 the empiricists — took the other tack, working from the outside in and trying to connect the dots between percieved reality and our thinking minds. “THUS do I refute Descartes!” Berkeley is supposed to have exclaimed through gritted teeth after savagely kicking a boulder.


Things got better with Kant, who was able to synthesize the rationalists and the empiricists into a unified whole. But it was the German philosophers of the twentieth century that came up with the strategy that I like the most. Husserl, Heidegger and Gadamer approached the corrosive problems of knowledge through phenomenology — the study of what we percieve, the stance we take towards what we percieve, and the way we act about the possibility that we are wrong or mistaken. Heidegger, in particular, cautioned us about ever becoming too complacent about the objects of our perceptions. As humans, we overlay the things that are with our expectations of what we think they are, and we have to be ready for the object of our perceptions to suddenly reveal itself as something totally else.


An object lesson: buying a motorcycle. Kate and I drove to Lansdowne on Sunday to deliver my starter bike to the winning eBay bidder. The buyer turned out to be a pleasant young guy named Dan, who just graduated high school and is working in a banquet hall over the summer. Dan came to the door sleepy: he’d been up late working the night before. He woke up quickly when he saw the bike, and he was excited. It was clearly obvious, that Dan was seeing the bike in the same way that I’d been looking at my new BMW while it was in the seller’s yard three weeks ago: it was a silhouette, a vaguely motorcycle-shaped outline sitting on its centerstand and exerting a strong gravitational but completely opaque pull. There were twin UJM-shaped outlines glowing in his retinas as he looked at the bike, and he confessed that he had completely forgotten all the stuff he was going to ask me about the bike.


Showing the bike to Dan, a first-time rider, was my first experience as a motorcyle guru. Watching him struggle to get the bike up on the centerstand (easy when you get the knack; awkward and embarassing until then), I recognized myself only five days before, as I stared at the BMW’s exhaust ports, my mind filled with New Motorcycle Fog, while Kate’s dad waved his hands in mystical patterns, looking for “air leaks in the headers.” And as I will be in three days, when I pick the bike up from the mechanic after a safety inspection, and try to look like I understand what the mechanic is saying when he talks about not using emery paper to clean the points. So I tried to fulfill my obligations by showing him enough to roll the bike around in his garage, but not enough to start tearing up the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (Dan, if you are reading this, GO TO MOTORCYCLE SAFETY SCHOOL!


So, anyhow, I learned again this weekend that the mental envelope we live in is malleable, and subject to strong molding forces. Some things — like new motorcycles — pull on our perceptions like black holes pull on the green grid lines in computer animations. Only later does the object of desire resolve itself into a real thing, with flecks of rust on the handlebars and a hard-to-polish spot on the exhaust where the previous owner (that’s me) kept burning his boot heel.


I got out of there as quickly as I could, so Dan can enjoy his new bike, not the bike-shaped silhuouette in his garage. And so if he drops the bike, he can do so in privacy. Dan said that he would email me the questions he forgot, and I urged him to go to motorcycle safety school. And now I’m going to go grapple with my own Teutonic phenomenological challenge: Das Bike.

What the world really needs:

I washed my hands first,

I washed my hands first, so the dogs don’t smell like gasoline (much.)


For Mother’s day, I filled two previously-placed gift orders and made sock dogs for my mom and Kate’s mom. They turned out pretty well; that is to say, they all have the correct number of legs and tails, and I only drew blood once during the process. I made them out of some expensive-but-deeply-marked-down socks I found in a Nolita boutique in January. Which is about the first time I’ve ever found anything useful for me in one of those stores: the women’s clothes are always really cool, but the men’s shirts are usually only for tiny hipsters with forward-combed hair.



Other news from a suburban lifestyle: I raked out the moss in the shady areas of the front lawn, overseeded with fresh grass, and put down a bed of granulated Scott’s fertilizer. Before that, I mowed the lawn while wearing a set of turf aerator sandals, which have two-inch spikes attached to them, making me look like some sort of GWAR golfer. I had a good time stomping around the lawn on those.


Kate’s dad came back from France on Saturday with lots of good stories, including major surgery on his bike in the watertight hold of the Channel ferry, in which he had to reassemble his Triumph Bonneville from parts in time to drive it down the ramp when the boat arrived.) He was enthusiastic about my new BMW, which was a great relief, and he and I caravaned to Main Line BMW Motorcycles, in Devon, where Joe the local airhead mechanic will tell me what’s going on with the bike’s innards. Fingers crossed for no bad news.



We also visited the “Vassar Show House”, which felt a little bit like when Captain Haddock returns to Marlinspike and finds a road rally parked in the front yard. I kept trying to fight feelings of possessiveness, though: while I may have spent a lot of time at Ivy Cottage, I never lived there, and I’m very glad that Vassar seems to have stabilized a lot of the past ten years’ neglect. Kate and I seemed to have missed the Valley’s heyday by about fifty years: when we knew the big houses, they were already dark and relatively empty, not filled with revelling fox-hunters and madcap adventuresses in sheepskin flying helmets. Pictures here.

I washed my hands first,

I’m selling my starter



I’m selling my starter bike to (among other things) buy the black-and-silver, or maybe black-and-blue Aerostich suit that I’m gonna wear. I started the bidding at $75.00, and it’s been climbing slowly every day. Bidding has now surpassed the Kelly Blue Book value for the bike, which makes me realllly realllly happy. (Note to bidders who are reading this: it’s still a bargain.)


link to the auction


…and, when you’re done looking at the auction, check out the BEST SCOOTER VIDEO EVER MADE. Seriously, go watch it. Stop reading this, click the link already.

I’m selling my starter

Yellow card! Yellow card



Yellow card! Yellow card for the husband!

Kate took me to the Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale at Christie’s last night. I’ve been to one evening sale before, which are the main event of a particular auction: that’s when all the highest-value lots are offered. The people-watching is fantastic at Christies, because it’s a rich art crowd. You get to see all the sartorial nuances of the privileged classes. I’ll list all the types of which I saw at least three representations:


  • Art professionals, male: Skinny; tight, double-vented suits; windowpane-check shirts in yellow or celadon; white handkerchief in the lapel; large, vulpine heads, big artistic hair.
  • Art professionals, female, under 40: Tall; long, flowing dresses; expensively coiffed long hair; dominatrix heels.
  • Art professionals, female, over 40: Short; tailored suits that cost as much as a German sports car; bobbed haircuts that cost as much as an Italian sports car.
  • Rich clients, both genders, employed: Blue or gray suit; standard-issue business tie or scarf, somewhat bewildered
  • Rich clients, male, independently wealthy: short gray hair, square black nylon windbreaker, European man purse.
  • Rich clients, female, independently wealthy: Boxy shantung Mandarin jackets; chiseled artificial jaws. Tiny cell phone in a tinier purse.
  • Art students, female: Ripped jeans, tight Old Navy shirt with plunging V-cut neckline, large cell phone in large purse.


  • Finally, Christie’s professionals, female, under 40 (NY Office): Alert, conservatively dressed, deployed in a hoplite phalanx in the center of the main lobby. Duties: to scan the crowd for VIPs and alert the specialists of their presence (see art professionals, over 40 above.)
  • Christie’s professionals, female, under 40 (Philadelphia Office): Elegant, intelligent, funny, blindingly beautiful, good-natured about picking you up at the train station when your motorcycle won’t start. Duties: pass along tidbits of information to clients that give the auction an insider frisson. “The same group of Giacomettis was offered at Sotheby’s last night, but it didn’t sell. This one is painted bronze, so it’s rarer.”*

I had a great time seeing the art. When a famous Cezanne is presented at the far end of a room filled with hundreds of people who regard it as an object of desire, there’s a movie-star thrill to seeing the painting in person that you don’t get in a museum. And it was entertaining to see the art go for millions: A Degas Petite Danseuse sold for approximately ten point two bazillion dollars. The auctioneer, Christopher Burge, was tall and impeccably elegant, and owned the room with his plummy British accent. “Two million two hundred fifty thousand? Well, since you asked so nicely…”


We drove home, getting to West Chester about midnight, so I left my car at the train station. Bringing my total number of vehicles at the station to two, or 66% of my available vehicular inventory. Kate set the alarm with enough time to get up and give me a ride to the station, but I committed a husband foul this morning: I neglected to set my own alarm, getting up at her scheduled time and blocking the bathroom with lots of gargling and yodeling. Ach, du lieber! That’s a marital yellow card, I believe.


* Duties the other 98% of the time: fill out paperwork, arrange shipping, and politely field any number of inquiries from sellers who would like to consign the “genuine Picasso” they discovered at a garage sale.

Yellow card! Yellow card

Mein Motorrad ist ein Teufel-Rad.

Mein Motorrad ist ein Teufel-Rad.

My big, black, Teutonic motorcycle wouldn’t start last night when I got home to the train station. That’s partly my fault, as the bike is so new to me that I don’t have any twistgrip mojo yet. More gas? Less gas? Goose it when it catches, or after? Mostly, though, I suspect the big, white, Teutonic battery that seems to be original — that is, 25 years old.



Kate cheerfully picked me up at the station, and we went off to have dinner with my dad and my aunt, who was in town to visit this year’s Vassar Show House. Until several years ago, the house belonged to my great aunt Ann Chandler. Aunt Ann was my paternal grandmother’s sister, and a great favorite of mine. Kate and I met at her funeral, in fact.


The Vassar Show House web site mentions nothing about the coolest feature of the house: a convoluted attic that seemed to be to be the spiritual twin to the big, rambling country house in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. In fact, there was a suit of scowling samurai armor on a stand thot would scare the bejeezus out of you if you came around a corner at dusk. Plus all sorts of other dark, cavernous furniture that clearly led to other worlds. I’m glad that the house has been restored, though I have mixed feelings about all the peach throw pillows lining the wainscoting.


After dinner I drove back to the Exton train station and pulled the battery. I put a rain cover over the bike and left, though now I’m plagued with visions of German bike thieves, chattering to each other about Kraftwerk as they load my beloved R100 into a black Unimog.


The battery is in Bob Smith’s garage right now, on a 2-amp trickle charger. He’s in France, so I’m kind of winging it. In fact, I had to get out of bed to make another trip to his garage when the Haynes manual belatedly warned against “…a risk of explosion if the cell cap covers are not loosened.” Yikes!


I’ve put a plea out for advice to the Airheads Beemer Club mailing list, so I should have a good recommendation on a new battery before the blond bike thieves can get me. Careful, Hans! Don’t get motor oil on your black turtleneck!

Mein Motorrad ist ein Teufel-Rad.