Friday, April 29, 2011

next thursday, i'm still in love

Bike commute group gets canceled but I show up anyway. A couple shows up too - let's call them David and Sigrid. Sigrid is not as fit as David, so while I ride up with the latter, he curses the former, telling me she lacks motivation and prefers to sit on her ass. "Just follow my wheel!" he says, exasperated. As the sun warms up the bay so too does David shine upon Sigrid, eventually giving her a sweaty peck at a stop light. Still they bicker. "The bike fitter will measure the power output in each leg," she says. "No, don't be ridiculous, that's not what he's doing," he says. Eventually I shout, "I'm never riding with a couple again!" It's light enough to be said with a smile, but passive aggressive enough to make them sheepishly stop the quarreling. Sigrid tells me how her bike seat relieves pressure on her "soft tissue" and I complain that marketing around women's bike seats is so euphemistic that I can't tell what's supposed to be happening to which portions of one's beef flaps.

Then work. Pull on the spandex again to run Thursday errands - walk Boo, date with Grandma to shop at Costco. Back into business casual for three more hours of work, then back into spandex for the train ride home.

I'm exhausted and all I want is 6 oz. of beef flaps ground up into a burger with blue cheese, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, honey dijon sauce, lettuce, tomato, and a crisp plank of pickle. While I eat alone at the bar, I take great pleasure in a local IPA and an article about Hollywood's lessening disinterest in a raunchy blond comedienne.

I finish the magazine an hour after I finish the food, then wander out drunk (one beer! blame it on the bike fatigue). I follow the sound of coronets to the corner of Valencia and 22nd Street, where ten musicians all on brass are playing Balkan folk music as they move down the street. Like many others, first I ogle then I join, walking slowly with a growing pack of people right behind the band. Diners in the restaurants look mesmerized. Hippies (dreads) and hipsters (tattoos) pour out of one particular bar and soon there are clouds in the air and people dancing along. A woman in a red boatneck shirt and leggings appears to be having the time of her life. A younger Asian woman named Kim in a crocheted hat and a crocheted waist-length poncho smiles at me and we chat about the experience. One of Kim's friends randomly bikes by and she convinces him to join. We follow until the band turns inside a venue and sets up on the stage. Another of Kim's friends joins. Kim takes out a beaten-up soup thermos and sets it on a table, and turns to me and says, "We're going to go smoke pot!" I demur, and they smoke outside the bar and while I keep watch on the companionate thermos. It stays with me like a quiet friend. Kim returns with a third friend and says, "Let's dance!" And then I am dancing, awkwardly, hands nowhere, feet out of time with the incomprehensible 5/4 or 9/8 or whatever it is Balkan rhythm, and Kim's second friend is doing that dancing thing where you hunch up your shoulders, keep your fists near your chest and make a motion with them like you're turning a crank, with your brow furrowed and lips pursed all the while. It's charming. Then she cranks over to me and rubs her shoulder against mine to indicate that I should be dancing more zealously, and I should be having more fun. After the Macedonian love song, I say, "It was so nice to meet you all," and leave. Half an hour after seeing the band on Valencia and 22nd Street, I'm right back where I started, except there is a sharpie mark on my hand and $5 less in my wallet, and I have been hugged by four strangers.

Nurse texts to ask can I meet at Tartine for coffee at 7am? She gets off the night shift then. I am not sleepy and I am not ready to go home, so I buy a 24-pack of Ferrero Rochers from the drugstore - she says that nurses on the night shift need two things: chocolate and coffee - and walk the mile to the hospital. Halfway there I get bored of walking and pick up my bag and run. I show up at the emergency room and there is a man shaking on a gurney and vomiting into a bed pan, and a girl holding a steady wail in the waiting room, and dozens of other people in states of disrepair. I find my nurse in a low-ceilinged, well-lit room partitioned by curtains and filled with unwell, unconscious people. Chocolate hand off. We sit in her car while she takes her break and she shows me the tools she keeps in her pockets. Stethoscope, scissors, pen, pill pushing thing. Half hour later she texts to say the chocolates are almost gone.

At home, Z.'s meeting ends and she and the attendees play around on my gymnastics rings and talk about a contortionist friend who teaches "extreme stretching" at a local acrobatics gym. Z. shows me the paltry, unlovable responses to her w4w Craigslist ad, and I bully her into responding to one promising ad and she dutifully drafts an email until we realize that the promising ad belongs to our roommate A. A. comes down the hall and we have a laugh about this most awkward of situations. Thursday is starting to be my favorite day of the week.

Friday, April 22, 2011

thursday i'm in love

The alarm sounds at 5:45. I'm face down in my pillow for five more minutes, debating if I should get up for the ride or sleep for another two hours. The ride wins, but I'm so groggy that I list into a wall while climbing into my armor: spandex bike shorts, running capris, bike socks, bike shoes (the clipping kind), spandex bike jersey, spandex arm warmers, Oakland Half Marathon 2011 plastic long-sleeve shirt, generic gloves, watermelon helmet, running backpack with extra tube, pump, tire levers, phone, wallet, keys, and two Power Gels.

(The bike looks pretty tired in the mornings too. Yes, N., that is your Thomas Jefferson wig in the background.)

Meet up is 6:15 at a cafe down the block. I bring my bike inside and ask for an espresso in a cappuccino cup, which I pour two fingers of half and half into and gulp down with a blackberry scone. Fuel for the next three hours and 42 miles of biking.

(Dawn roll-out on Cesar Chavez Blvd. Photos are someone else's from other rides.)

My companions today are six Googlers and one Oracle engineer, all male, ranging from the 23 year-old marketer who keeps a single flip flop strapped to his seat and brakes erratically in the pace line to the 60 year-old who teases me for pulling the pack at 20 mph. I don't actually go that fast. He's just being nice.

The craziest rider hauls a baby trailer behind his bike. Only it's not a baby in the trailer, it's a 50 pound goldendoodle named Muppet. Bryan has shared dogsitting duty, so if he bikes to work, Muppet must bike too. I ride behind Muppet for ten miles or so. He stands, looks seasick, and spends the rest of the ride curled in a ball.

(Muppet wants to hurl. Photo credit: dgolds)

Our shepherd is a broad-shouldered 6'4" Teuton perched on a featherweight Specialized Roubaix. He wears a traditional wool jersey with "craigslist" emblazoned all over it, and sweeps behind periodically to make sure his wooly creatures don't wander from the path.

Sometimes I keep my eyes on the jersey four feet in front of me, sometimes I fall two hundred yards behind the last rider, sometimes I drift into a conversation with another rider. Topics today include: the Boston seaport, a mutual friend (my Lawyering TA!), Target's collection of consumer data (the 23 year-old marketer says, "If they know your age and race, they know what color boxers you wear"), Texas topography, what a user experience design engineer does, and how to dress like a watermelon. The answer is pink top, green bottom, and seeds. Everybody is so nice.

The route is becoming more familiar on my fourth ride. Notable passages are (1) a quick, breathy climb up Cortland Street; (2) a terrifying, clenched descent down Cortland Street; (3) a man-sized pothole on a awful stretch of half-paved zombie-flesh asphalt in front of South San Francisco auto repair stores with the most stunning view of the green behemoth, Mt. San Bruno; (4) the road through San Francisco International Airport; (5) the bike path just past the airport, on the bay, with jumbo jets touching down just to the left:

(6) the dart through the Marriott parking lot; (7) a good for nothing bridge where I took a 0 mph tumble a month ago; (8) and too many other beautiful instant vistas to name.

Waking up at dawn is the hardest part. But then this is how you start the work day.

My telephone tells me which way I came and how fast I went, and then it draws this picture:

After the last stretch through the East Palo Alto salt marshes, I turn off on the Oregon Expressway overpass. The route passes right by my parents' house. I go home. Boo greets me ecstatically at the door, literally leaping with happiness. We collapse on the ground and I scratch him for ten minutes while Dad dresses for work in the other room. Dad says hello and leaves. I shower, and still naked I eat a ramen-sized bowl full of lotus root and mushroom stir fry, celery and carrot stir fry, beef and potatoes, and brown rice, get in bed and play half a round of solitaire Scrabble on my phone before pulling on the eye mask and shutting down immediately.

An hour later, I wake, check my email, pull on my sweaty plastic clothes, and take Boo out to play soccer. At the field I run into an older woman with a corgi. I say, "Can they meet?," and she says, "Oh sure!" and I squint and look into her face and say, "Mrs. Warren?" I do not recognize the aged face of my AP US History teacher but her Marblehead, MA accent remains as distinct as ever. We chat. She's forgotten me, and then when we part I forget to tell her that she was one of the best teachers I've had.

(You taught me all about this man, but now all I know of him is his hair.)

I stop by Grandma's house on the walk back and sit with her and rub her creaky knee while she eats tofu and vegetables and watches a Chinese language program about scabies. Somebody has given my 89 year-old grandmother a Kate Gosselin haircut, so I tease her and compliment her stylishness. I ask how she has been and she says she is the same. Nothing changes because nobody takes her out. I tell her I have to go to work.

Work by noon. Here is a fire, put it out. There is a fire, put it out. This fire we lit ourselves - put that one out too. Text S. romantic thoughts and safe travels. Relearn the parol evidence rule. Eat more: grilled chicken, spinach salad, brown rice, two bowls of cereal, apple, three slices of supreme pizza. Spend even more money on bike shit online: click, click, fifty dollars gone?! Type out claptrap in easy-to-digest, numbered list form. Rush out at 7:49pm to catch the 7:53 train, which comes at 8:03.
(Caltrain bike car, go multimodal transportation! I prefer the ground level seats, so I can hover over my bike when drunk SF Giants hooligans threaten to crush it.)

The conductor is horn-crazy tonight. He lays it down like its a musical instrument so that we toot all the way back up the Peninsula to San Francisco. Infuriating, because the bike car is the engine car, and I am trying to talk to S., who can hear nothing. I say, "Sorry for the noise, I'll just text you what I want to say," and she says, "What??" We repeat this comedy three times over the bleating horns until I catch the tail end of her sentence - " . . . meaningless expressions anyway" - what does she mean?? - and then the spirit leaves me and I deflate. The conditions just never seem right for this. The noise, the fatigue, the travel. Maybe its better to talk when there is quiet and spirit and peace. I exit 22nd Street, bike two more miles through Potrero and the Inner Mission until I open the gate on Guerrero, pick up my bike, and walk it up the stairs.

N. and Z. are stretching on the carpet on the landing. N. is a parkour trainer and Z. is a dancer. Z. begins stories, "I was doing a back handspring when . . . " N. does elbow stands and Z. stretches against the banister.

I join them, alternating between uninspired toe touches and corpse pose. I insist they eat slices of my orange, and have to explain to Z. how Chinese people are pushy as a way of expressing love. We talk about dating versus being in a relationship. Z. laughs at me for saying I have accepted the "partnership model of social structuring" because I guess it is total nonsense no matter how you slice it - as language or as an idea. N. shows me the PVC parallettes he made to practice gymnastics skills. I do handstands against a wall, reinjuring my wrist. Z. explains the advantages of an all-glass dildo. (Mostly thermal conductivity, turns out.) We play with N.'s Hypercolor shirts, wrapping them around our faces and exhaling.

Z. is showing me her OKCupid photos when S.K. rings the doorbell. He is just in from New York and is staying with me for just ten hours. I force him to look at OKCupid as a condition for giving him a glass of water, and then force him to talk to me about his life plans before finally releasing him to sleep at 3 a.m. EST. Then I shower again, finish the half-played game of Scrabble, and read one page of Red Badge of Courage before closing my eyes and shutting down instantly.