Blessing of the Bikes

I just had a bizarre epiphany about a traumatic childhood experience. I was waking up from a dream. The dream had ended with a scene of some adult men unloading gear from a car full of boys. One of the men found a backpack and asked mockingly who it belonged to. (I don’t remember the graphics, but it was something deemed unmanly.) I was an adult me standing nearby. He made an off-handed comment wondering if I as a child had been bullied for such things. As I began to answer, one of the boys asked about my current experience and I replied, “Adults are much nicer”, meaning that I no longer feel bullied by peers. In retrospect, that seems ironic, as it was an adult mocking and bullying one of the boys for his perceived femininity.

The dream took me back to one of my childhood experiences of bullying. I ran into three or four of my friends down by the lake, on my way to make collection rounds for my paper route. The guys saw me coming and thought it would be funny to throw me in the lake. They picked me up, carried me to the water’s edge, counted “one…two…three” as they swung me back and forth. On “three”, as they threw, I grabbed one of them tightly. I got one foot wet.

They dispersed and I made my way home, feeling humiliated, and feeling the squish of my waterlogged tennis shoe with each step. Collections would wait for another day. I thought these were my friends, and they had ganged up on me. On the way home, the gravity of the situation built in me. I then began to fear that my parents wouldn’t take my experience seriously. I took off my glasses and broke a temple piece, where it had previously (not that day) cracked. Now they’d take me seriously! These kids broke my glasses!

I got home and told my story. Because of the glasses I was taken seriously – mostly because of the expense (minimal, in retrospect) of fixing them. My father demanded to know who these bullies were. I wouldn’t tell. He didn’t push very hard. I think he admired my unwillingness to rat the kids out.

Until this morning I experienced this as bullying. I rejected the “boys will be boys” argument. I woke up this morning with a different experience. Was I bullied for being me? Or was it a spur of the moment thing? Had one of those four been the one walking along, would they have done the same to him? (One might ask, “would that make it better?”) Under other circumstances, would I have found it funny? 

At any rate, this morning I realized that “bullying” may not be an objective thing; that it may be in the eye of the beholder. It was clearly my experience that afternoon. I felt betrayed. People I thought were my friends no longer felt like my friends.

I felt powerless, but was that “their fault”? What was so terrifying? I was not afraid of the water. I lived on and in the water. They weren’t trying to hurt me (nor did they); they were goofing around. (Does the concept of “goofing around” include the experience of the victim? Did they consider whether it would be “fun” for him?) What made that moment an experience of terror? Was it because I felt powerless in my family and, at that moment, the one place that felt safe felt safe no longer? How were they to know?

The today me (I hesitate to say “grownup me”, as it just changed today, at age 66) feels very differently than the 12 year old me (or even the yesterday me). It feels much more complex today. When I felt betrayed by friends, I turned to family for support – the very family in which I felt powerless and unseen; and which was the source of much bullying.

Now that is bullying.

It seems to come back to the obvious(?) If we are going to label, we label the behavior, not the person. Were those boys “bullies”? I don’t think so. Was their behavior “bullying”? Yes, though it did not start that way. It was a “boys will be boys” moment until I reacted in terror and they did not stop. Was my terror about them, or about me? What might have happened had I named names and those boys been called out? Would they have been branded as bullies? Would my dramatization of the incident been brought out? Would I be victim or liar? Could I be both? Is our world big enough to accept both of those truths and deal with them?

Today’s ride

I woke up this morning and checked the weather – thunderstorms blowing in around 10 and sticking around through mid-afternoon. The ride to Vermont Church for the Blessing of the Bikes looked unlikely. I wrote the post above, did a few loads of laundry, and prepared to settle in for a day at home. I checked the weather again and there was a big red blotch on the forecast map, blooming from the little green area moving up from Illinois. I did some other stuff but couldn’t resist checking the map one more time before it was too late – the big red blotch was now a bunch of scattered spots – scattered showers and thundershowers…what the hell, let’s go!

Vermont Church (in better weather)

I headed to the starting point, thinking I was nearly ½ hour early – plenty of time to chat with the other riders and think about what we’d do about the weather. Surprise! surprise! The start time was ½ hour earlier than the website said. They were just heading out of town. I told them I’d catch up. The next surprise was that the road out of town was closed. They took a shortcut so I didn’t catch them until about 8 miles out.

We ran into scattered showers – chilly enough that I was glad I had shoe covers and a rain jacket on, warm enough that I was glad the rainpants were in the jacket pocket. We shortened the route to get to the pancakes faster. The folks of Vermont Valley Lutheran Church were waiting with a spread that included pancakes with choices: maple syrup, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb sauce – I guess someone out there has a sunnier rhubarb patch than mine. They had sausages for those of the meat persuasion, as well as OJ and church basement coffee. After we ate, the minister blessed our bikes. It was no hurried blessing – he blessed our gears for crisp shifting, our tires for smooth rolling with no flats, and our brakes for quick stopping, too. He asked for some sunshine, which arrived after about 15 miles.

After the blessing we retreated to the basement, as the worst of the weather was just arriving. We waited out the thunderstorm and I was glad to have rainpants for the trip home. At the edge of town, the sun appeared as a tailwind blew us home.

Dear Curtis:

Spring may have arrived today [Monday, May 13]. Two weeks ago I cleaned snow off the windshield. Today it was pollen. [Is that what I get for not driving for two weeks?] Nothing says “new life” more irrefutably than pollen. The sun is shining. It is 65 degrees (18 Celsius).

Our annual Mother’s Day walk through the lilac gardens at the arboretum was a bit anti-climactic. While the lilacs are behind schedule, the redbuds are in bloom, as are irises, tulips, and grape hyacinths. Apples are beginning to bloom.

It is Stevie Wonder’s 69th birthday. My sister introduced me to him when I was ten (Stevie had just turned 13 when the single, recorded when he was 12, was released), with this song:

In honor of Stevie’s birthday I saw the Aretha Franklin movie “Amazing Grace” today. Almost enough to give a non-theist religion. It is also the birthday of Professor Craig Werner. Who’da thought a guy who wrote his dissertation on James Joyce would end up as a professor of Afro-American studies and write numerous books on African American music, including the seminal “A Change is Gonna Come“?

While Stevie started as a prodigy, he really came of age with “Songs in the Key of Life”, an album which showed his breadth and depth as a songwriter and a musician. No single song can encompass that, but one of my favorites is “Sir Duke”:

Time flies and it is now Thursday. Last night’s ride began the warmup for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, the midwest’s answer to The Death Ride – but on a midwestern scale – instead of five passes, you climb “40 significant rises” in the words of the organizers.

Our warmup included the (in)famous Mounds Park Road. The third of four climbs for the evening, it starts with a 5½ mile lead-in through a slowly rising valley. It’s mostly flat, but you don’t stop pedaling the whole time. With a tailwind, it might be a way to warm up your legs. With a headwind, you might wonder if you’ll have jellylegs before you even start climbing. For those of you in Alpine County, CA, it’s sort of like climbing up through Woodford’s before you even get to the climbs to Carson or Luther Pass.

You finally turn off the county highway and get teased by a brief downhill, then a few gently rolling hills and you wonder what all the fuss is about. Someone was nice enough to spray grade markers on the road. You approach the first and see “6%”. Not bad, just your average mountain road and a whole lot shorter. Then you see the ramp ahead and the “13%” painted on the road. You ride through various 12 and 13% markings and see a spot where it “levels out”. A rest, you think. A mere “9%” is painted on the road. Now you know why people talk about this road. The respites are the single-digit sections, and “single digit” means “9%”.

Still, it’s fun…and then you remember that the Horribly Hilly climbs it once at 6.5 miles, and again at 120 miles. No sweat; today is only a 30 mile ride, and there is only the final and beautiful climb to Brigham County Park after this. You never actually reach the top on this ride – when you get near the top, you turn left onto Ryan Road. If you were thinking about sitting up, catching your breath, and taking a drink of water – think again (or do it fast). Before you know it, you are screaming down a 40 mph curving and shaded road. You better pay attention.

It was also the first post-ride potluck of the season. Like everything else, the rhubarb is behind schedule. Luckily I froze some last year so I was still able to make a rhubarb pie – 4 cups of frozen fruit from last year, and a cup of fresh was all I could muster from this year.

By the way, the rest of you can read this. Curtis was a friend in LA; the last person with whom I kept up a snail mail correspondence. Were he still alive, I’d have written something like this as a letter to him. Since he’s not around to read my letters, that falls to the rest of you.

I can’t get away without acknowledging that this is posting on Syttende Mai (17th of May), Norwegian Constitution Day.

A Tale of Two Sundays

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. When I went to bed the last Saturday night in April, it was snowing. I awoke to fresh snow for my Sunday morning ride. We rode east (a rarity in these parts – folks generally ride any other direction – though there are some great places to ride to the east). The sun was bright, the air was crisp. I had just the right mix of clothing, though a few times I wished I hadn’t left the shoe covers behind.

Pre-ride snow removal April 28

Tulips and irises were peeking out through the snow. Trees were beginning to bloom; the greens stark against the new-fallen snow. By noon the snow had melted in all except the deepest shadows. We followed the ride with a concert by the Choral Arts Society Chorale. The concert was “Water: A Celebration in Song“, and included works from the 16th to the 21st century, from multiple continents, and featured a newly-commissioned work. The 2018-19 “Go Big Read” for the university this year is “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” and copies were provided to concert-goers. Keep an eye on this group if you’re in or around Madison WI. Concerts are built around social justice themes (the last one was immigration). They are thematically linked and musically diverse.

The first Sunday in May dawned bright and clear, with the temperature rising through the 60s already by 8 AM. Morning came early, as I had heard and seen Mahler’s 8th Symphony (“The Symphony of a Thousand“) the night before. The work got its nickname from the number of musicians involved. This presentation featured a mere 500 including an enlarged symphony orchestra and three choral groups. Five hundred musicians (including a magnificent organ) make for a spectacular sound. The day was especially long, as I had worked from 6 AM – 1:30 PM and gone to a retirement party after that. The party was for the retirement of the long-time director of one of the great day care centers in the world, Red Caboose, featured in the 1998 book “The Goodbye Window” by Harriet Brown. (Disclosure: Both of my kids went to Red Caboose and are in the book. I was once the treasurer.)

But as for the ride: I arrived at the meet-up point with the sky darkening and the wind rising. It looked like a squall that would blow through quickly. After standing around waiting for that to happen, we headed out. The sky was getting lighter but the wind stronger. About ten minutes into the ride it began to sprinkle lightly. It rained just enough to make the sun’s warmth welcome when it reappeared, and to make us look like Saturday’s Kentucky Derby riders, splattered with mud – but I didn’t have spare goggles to toss aside when it got hard to see. By noon it was warm enough to remove my jacket.

The week between rides meant the alfalfa and grasses were now a brilliant green. The delicate spring green of blooming trees (including maples and willows) made a stunning contrast with the deeper greens of the grasses and the browns of the dormant cornfields. By the end of the ride the sky was a brilliant blue and, when I got home, the laundry I’d hung out before the ride was dry.

So I was lying about the worst of times. While one ride included snow and the other rain, both were great rides. And today I set up my espresso machine and brewed my first espresso, after an hour-long meditation in an MRI machine.

First espresso

Happy Birthday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (belated due to technical difficulties)

New Directions Publishing

I still remember the first time poetry made an impact on me. I was probably a high school freshman. I was reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Today (March 24, 2019), Mr Ferlinghetti turned 100. (If my mom were alive, she’d be a couple of months older than he…beyond that, I can’t think of anything they’d have in common.) He is not only a great poet, but runs one of the world’s great bookstores – City Lights, in San Francisco.

It was the day I learned of the power of language and the economy of words. The poem also became the climax of my best radio show: a 3.5 hour program called “Music and Poetry of San Francisco”. I showed up at the studio with a stack of books and records, a loose outline in mind. Each piece led to the next. I found the momentum building. Songs and poems started to choose themselves. The show ended with the Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” and Ferlinghetti’s “Tentative Description of a Dinner Given to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower”. As usual, the show wasn’t recorded, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

tentative

Try as I might, I can’t manage to upload the poem in a legible manner. The link above will take you to the poem. As for the Airplane, I already linked to that song in https://halffastcyclingclub.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/

You can go back there to hear it again. To recreate that experience from 1977 or so, pull up the poem link, read, and fade from one to the other.

And I think we just had our last snow of the season; five months after our first snow of the season in this odd, split polar vortex year. I was in La Crosse, WI for the weekend. There was snow on the ground and on the roofs up there. As we entered Madison, flurries welcomed us home. Crocus poking up through the snow look like spring. Daffodils through the snow just look sad.