R.I.P., John O’Neill

September 25, 2022

Some of the Dogs take a break at Rampart Reservoir Back in the Day®. John and Cindy O’Neill are front and center, with Your Humble Narrator at right. At left, Michael Porter; behind, Herself and Michele Porter.

Our old pal John O’Neill has gone west on us. He was 69.

He’s probably already telling stories about his unscheduled departure over margaritas on the Other Side.

“I said I wanted to go doing 69, not at 69!”

That’s how John rolled. He would say anything at any time to anybody, and how you felt about that was strictly your problem.

We met John and his wife, Cindy, way Back in the Day®, after we moved to Bibleburg from Fanta Se.

They were both cyclists and runners, with side interests in the winter sports, and as he and I were both irascible potata-atin’ tosspots who had married well above our stations in life we naturally hit it off.

John and his spirit animal. Photo poached from the CRC website.

If you were in John’s orbit it was not uncommon to pick up a ringing phone and instead of the usual “Hello” getting a growling earful of “You suck.”

At least once, after he dropped by Chez Dog to find me not at home, I returned to a note on my car.

It read (wait for it): “You suck.”

A mutual friend, Michael Schenk, eventually declared that John’s Hebrew name was “Usuk.” I don’t think he consulted his rabbi on that one, but it stuck nonetheless.

John quickly became one of the mainstays of Team Mad Dog Media-Dogs at Large Velo, the storied cluster of strays too big for their bibs that rolled around the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado calendar to no particular purpose in the Nineties and Oughts.

While the rest of us double- and triple-bunked in single rooms at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic or Rage in the Sage, John and Cindy would rough it, camping in the sleet at some RV park, mostly to keep our horndog mutt-mate Bill Baughman from trying to drink Cindy’s bathwater.

John was working at Blicks Sporting Goods on Tejon when Herself lured him away to be her assistant manager at the Eagles Nest, at the Citadel Mall. As regulars know, she eventually fled retail, taking a circuitous route through office work, banking, and sports nutrition to become a Titan of Library Science.

But John stuck it out, a lifer in that vast army of people who see to it that you get what you came in for, even after Amazon started carpet-bombing customers in their homes from Sprinters dispatched via the Innertubes.

Today, John’s Buttface page lists him as “assistant janitor” at Colorado Running Company, and for sure he spent a ton of time on the floor over the past couple of decades, but not with a mop (as far as I know, anyway).

He helped Jeff Tarbert launch the shop back in 2000 and he’s been there ever since, though lately his contributions have mostly been from a distance, at a high-country condo, with a few days of each month spent in-house at CRC.

The original Colorado Running Company was at Cache la Poudre and Tejon, next to Colorado College, just a hop, skip, and jump from Chez Dog. It was a welcome bit of quality local retail, with regular group runs and holiday parties in addition to the solid product and customer service.

Now it’s way up north on Nevada, closer to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (and Trader Joe’s, Pulpit Rock, and the Pikes Peak Greenway). I didn’t visit that shop so often, especially after we moved to The Duck! City, but I have no reason to believe that a change of location affected the way John did business.

But like the rest of us he was starting to notice the mileage on his odometer and thinking about the future, or what remained of it. We chatted now and again, most recently via iMessage, and he told me he had been thinking about hanging up his jock at the end of this year. Once Cindy did likewise maybe they might roam around the country in search of someplace fresh to land. Taos? Flagstaff? Albuquerque?

He’d mentioned some health issues — fainting spells, maybe a touch of something called “orthostatic hypotension” — but we did what dudes do: talked shit about it, told Death he sucked. Anyway, he had the medicos on the job and told me just last week that he thought his health might be back on the upswing.

But that was then, and this is now. John’s gone, and we miss him terribly. When we answer the phone henceforth, the callers will just say, “Hello.” It sucks.

Tunnel vision

September 19, 2022

Miss Mia Sopaipilla is locked and loaded.

Everything old is new again.

Miss Mia Sopaipilla has rediscovered the joys of an old crinkle tube, some coarse wrapping paper, and a Wholeazon Amafoods shopping bag, all of which make fine sounds when run through, sprawled upon, or snuggled into.

Me, I likewise got back on the old hoss, metaphorically speaking, which is to say I started running again after giving my damaged toe a month of downtime.

Bikewise I hardly broke stride. Kept cranking out the 100-mile-plus weeks even with a pulverized piggie, and so far (knock on wood) I have avoided doing anything else inexplicably stupid to myself.

It’s nearly fall here in The Duck! City, but you’d hardly know it. Oh, the leaves are coming off the trees, but the weather widget says 87° in midafternoon and the hummers are still hitting the feeders like a cluster of knee-walking bog-trotters who just heard the barman call, “Time, gentlemen, time.”

Time, indeed.

A certain restlessness I ascribe to muscle memory. Come September Back In the Day® I would be in the early throes of cyclocross season, with a side of Interbike, and there would be much motoring and bicycling and running around to no particular purpose.

Your Humble Narrator at Dirt Demo circa 2005.

My Septembers are less hectic now. I did my last ’cross race in Bibleburg, way back in 2004, rocking a Steelman Eurocross but no spare bike, not even spare wheels. I rode to the course from the DogHaus, and when I flatted midrace, I simply replaced the tube and rode back home. It could be argued that I was not taking the whole thing seriously.

Thirteen years later I did my last Interbike. I lasted longer at that game because the finish-line payout was better and getting sockless drunk on the publisher’s dime was more or less a condition of employment.

But the publishers changed, and so did the game, and in January 2022 I retired, an event with all the significance of a mouse fart in a haboob.

I hadn’t expected to waltz offstage in the middle of a plague — which is over now, I understand, so, yay — but as the fella says, you go to retirement with the virology you have, not the virology you might want or wish to have at a later time.

Anyway, here it is September again and I still haven’t tapped my generous pension to buy a Peace Van and finally buckle down to the serious business of writing my great American road-trip story, “Travels with Snarly.”

Some days that Nobel Prize in Literature seems farther away than the finish line  with a slow leak and no spare. At least I’m still riding and running.

Yvonisgonia

September 14, 2022

Jeez Louise. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Double dumbstruck

September 11, 2022

Gassing up for the long commute.

“This heat’s not good for the brain. Turns out nothing much is good for the brain in the 2020s. TV rots it, the Internet turns it to jelly, the miserable climate bakes it, 90 percent of what we call ‘work’ is deliberately designed to actually erase the human brain; this has been proven. Podcasts: Now there’s a guaranteed way to reverse years of book-learning and social skills. There’s online gambling, TikTok … and then Queen Elizabeth II passed away and it was like a Bat-Signal in the sky to make everybody go extra double-dumb. … Only in Ireland did they seem to sort of be enjoying it all.” — Ken Layne, “Like a Hurricane,” Desert Oracle Radio

You said a mouthful, brother.

The news has been so relentlessly grotesque that I found myself double-dumbstruck, which is to say rendered speechless by astonishment while simultaneously catching a puck in the gob from a wildly flailing eejit.

The prospect of commenting on any of our ongoing Dumpster fires felt like pissing into the drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi — an enhancement, to be sure, but not a solution any sane person would swallow.

So I kept it zipped. Averted my eyes. Instead I watched the hummingbirds mobbing our feeders; the little buzzbombs will be leaving us shortly. Played with Miss Mia Sopaipilla, who remains extraordinarily kittenish for a 15-year-old cat. Rode the bike(s) — 130 miles last week, 140 this week.

With “Better Call Saul” in the rear view we branched out a bit in our evening TV-watching. I can recommend “Letterkenny,” (absurdly funny Canadians); “This Fool” (snarky South Central working-class vatos); “Belfast” (The Troubles through a child’s eyes); and “The Sandman,” derived, like “Watchmen,” from a high-gloss DC comic of which I had been ignorant.

• Honorable mention: “Funny Pages,” a bent coming-of-age story about a teenage cartoonist who gets an up-close-and-personal look at the subterranean bits of “underground comics.” Could be straight out of “Zap,” “Bijou,” or pretty much any other comic you read back when weed was still illegal. And yes, Your Humble Narrator recognized more than a few unsavory aspects of himself in this film.

What about literature, you ask? Check out a couple road-trippers on the ragged edge: the cabbie Lou in Lee Durkee’s “The Last Taxi Driver,” and the shaggy mercenary Will Bear in Dan Chaon’s “Sleepwalk.”

• Honorable mentions: “Night of the Living Rez” by Morgan Talty (his first book; dark tales of a Native community in Maine) and “Homesickness” by Colin Barrett (his second; darkly funny tales of the Irish at home and abroad).

If none of these diversions from the daily disaster does the trick for you, find a hummingbird to watch or a cat to play with.

When will it be Labor Day?

September 5, 2022

The late, great Gahan Wilson.

We never hear of Capital Day, not because Capital has no day, but because every day is Capital Day. The struggle in which we are now engaged will end only when every day is Labor Day.Eugene V. Debs, Labor Day 1903

It’s still Capital Day. For now, anyway.

At The Guardian, Douglas Rushkoff recounts his chat with a secretive group of super-wealthy dudes “preparing for a digital future that had less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether.”

In short, they’ve grown tired of our sniveling about their shitting in our shared sandbox and wonder whether they might be able to dispense with us altogether.

Writes Rushkoff, a self-described humanist and Marxist media theorist who writes about the impact of digital technology on our lives:

Their extreme wealth and privilege served only to make them obsessed with insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is about only one thing: escape from the rest of us.

One of the capitalists’ main concerns centered on how to control their security people after The Event — “their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, solar storm, unstoppable virus, or malicious computer hack that takes everything down.”

Yep, that could be risky. A SEAL might grow weary of barking for fish from the plump, well-manicured pinkies of a plutocrat. How to get away from it all when you need to take a few of “them” with you?

What happens when Labor Day finally comes around for real?

R.I.P., Barbara Ehrenreich

September 2, 2022

She took what they were giving ’cause she was working for a living.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the journalist, activist, and author who never lost touch with her working-class roots, has clocked out. She was 81.

Her New York Times obit draws from the introduction to “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” in which she recounts wondering with a magazine editor how the unskilled survive on the wages paid them and then blurting out something that she “had many opportunities to regret: ‘Someone ought to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism — you know, go out there and try it for themselves.'”

Which is exactly what Ehrenreich did, of course, working and living as a waitress, hotel maid, nursing-home aide, and Walmart “associate,” among other things. Then she came back and told us all about it.

And though she would be writing it up, she wasn’t phoning it in:

People knew me as a waitress, a cleaning person, a nursing home aide, or a retail clerk not because I acted like one but because that’s what I was, at least for the time I was with them. In every job, in every place I lived, the work absorbed all my energy and much of my intellect. I wasn’t kidding around. Even though I suspected from the start that the mathematics of wages and rents were working against me, I made a mighty effort to succeed.

She was not, and is not, alone. And in her Evaluation at the end of the book, Ehrenreich proposed that those of us who live in comfort while others barely scrape by should feel not just guilt, but shame.

When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life.

What a gift was Ehrenreich’s life. Peace unto her, her family, friends, and readers.

One step beyond

August 31, 2022

Your money’s no good here, and neither is anything else.

Mikhail Gorbachev has died and gone to Commie Hell, which looks a lot like Walmart.

Capitalist Hell, of course, looks more like Bed Bath & Beyond.

If I cared to visit a BB&B, which I do not, I could wander right on in with my face hanging out as in days of yore, and not just because there would be no other customers (and possibly no employees).

No, it seems that overnight Bernalillo County has switched from Condition Red on the Bug-O-Meter to Go-Anywhere Green, for reasons which elude me.

Oh, wait, just thought of one: The Labor Day Drive Far and Spend Heavily While the Gas is Still Cheap(ish) Holiday Extravaganza. Get out there and buy something, you sissies!

I suppose it beats hanging out in the castle with Prospero, waiting for the Red Death to come knocking despite the “No Solicitors” sign on the door.

And if worse came to worst one could always bunker up in a Bed Bath & Beyond, which has to be the closest thing to a sterile environment outside the Wildfire lab near Flatrock, Nevada.

But still, it all seems a bit one step beyond. Madness!

‘Are you employed, sir?’

August 26, 2022

The late, great David Huddleston as The Big Lebowski.

Employed, sir? No, I was not, despite my prestigious cowtown B.A. in journalism with a minor in political science.

And had my parents been foolish enough to borrow money to put me through college(s) — funds that were largely pounded down a noisome rathole of booze, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, cartooning, and Communism — they would’ve rejoiced to see any amount of the hellish debt forgiven and immediately invested a portion of the windfall on having me quietly killed.

Especially after they saw the homemade “colors” my bro’ Mike “Mombo” Brangoccio and I were sporting on the back of our graduation gowns:

“Mombo Club: Born To Pump Gas.”

Ay, Chihuahua. These kids today. Yesterday. Whatevs.

Your Humble Narrator, circa 1977.

Our mob flew two banners. The Mombo Club mostly free-ranged around Greeley, where we infested the University of Northern Colorado like hairy roaches. El Rancho Delux was rooted in a ramshackle house with an overloaded septic system on what must’ve been the last surviving chunk of rural land in Glendale, a stoner’s throw from the Bull & Bush, Shotgun Willie’s, and the Riviera Lounge, whose “credit manager,” Adolf Scarf, was a piranha sulking in a tank behind the bar.

But the less said about our fraternal organizations the better. I don’t know how (or if) my co-conspirators paid for their educations, but several of our Little Urban Achievers have become respectable members of their communities, and certain statutes of limitations may have yet to run their course.

A tad unfocused, not unlike the graduates.

As for me, my long-suffering parents paid for my schooling, such as it was. When I transferred to UNC they even bought me a used singlewide trailer to live in, no doubt thinking I’d need to get used to such accommodations.

I did have to raise funds for incidentals. Thus I sold drugs, drew cartoons for my college papers, delivered appliances with “Star Trek” addict Ed the Beard in a Step van dubbed “The Hawkwind,” and (with Mombo) did odd jobs for a posh trouser stain who motored around town in a right-hand-drive Bentley.

All I invested in my degree was time and a few jillion brain cells. Not even the president can get those back for me.

Toe jamb

August 19, 2022

Habitually hobbled.

Well, I’ve gone and put my foot in it again.

I was in the Reading Room the other day, thumbing through AARP the Magazine, when I stumbled across an article headlined “Good Habits That Might Age You Prematurely.”

One of them, according to author Leslie Goldman and podiatrist Emily Splichal, is wearing supportive soles and insoles. It seems swaddling your dogs in Hush Puppies all the time can take them right out of the hunt.

“Our toes need to push into the ground to maintain balance, and our foot muscles contract to maintain balance and posture,” says Splichal.

Nerves in the feet sensitive to texture, pressure, vibration and other stimuli work with the brain to help you maintain proper posture, stay balanced and avoid falling.

The more you go shod, the less your brain practices those essential skills. The solution: We should all go barefoot at home for at least a half hour daily.

Ho ho ho, I chuckled smugly to myself. I already do this, if only because I am a bog-trotting hillbilly too lazy to bend down and tie my own shoelaces. In fact, I was shoeless while reading the article.

I was not chuckling yesterday afternoon, however. Not after meandering down the hallway sans shoes and spectacles and absentmindedly stuffing my left little piggie into the bedroom doorjamb. The neighbors probably thought they were hearing a Sam Kinison-Bill Hicks doubleheader at maximum volume.

An X-ray tech and a PA agree that nothing’s broken, except my spirit. But my left foot is presently propped up on a pillow with the two portside toes buddy-taped together. So don’t expect me to kick any ass for the next couple days, barefoot or otherwise.

This bites

August 16, 2022

Glass don’t be even half full, yo.

It’s bleakly amusing that The New York Times water scribe is named Henry Fountain.

And that’s about the only giggle in the “news” that we’re draining the Colorado River like a parched gaggle of Draculas tapping a hot blonde while not doing much to answer the question, “Why does the Southwest have so many vampires working out on this one skinny gal?”

It should go without saying that when you’re long on bloodsuckers and short on arteries you’re gonna start running a deficit. Is it too late to hit the Home Depot for a shitload of wooden stakes and hammers?

My fellow Burqueño John Fleck is on the case as per usual. See “How We Got Into This Mess on the Colorado River,” and a “strongly worded letter” from John Entsminger of the Southern Nevada Water Authority about the failure to reach a deal on Colorado River cutbacks.

NPR also has a piece, from The Associated Press.

And yes, I know, having spent much of my life bouncing around four of the states that draw water from the Colorado River, that I am part of the problem. What can I tell you? I am a creature of the desert, known to howl at the moon of an evening.

The children of the night! What music they make!

Just call me Bozo Lugosi.