‘Pedal & Grunt’

November 26, 2019

Sun’s gonna shine in my back door some day.

My recent gastroinfestation kept me off the bike for a solid week, though Herself and I managed a casual jog around the neighborhood on Sunday.

Yesterday, as I checked the 10-day forecast, I was wondering whether I should’ve been riding a bike. My window of opportunity for a reasonably comfortable pre-holiday spin was rapidly spiraling down to peephole size.

I should have gone straight for the Cannondale Topstone 105, because that’s where the money is. But having just been laid low by one bug I didn’t want to risk another. 11-speed. Hydraulic brakes. Thru-axles. Tubeless-ready rims and tires, tighter than Dick’s hatband, tough on the invalid’s hands. I could feel both arthritic thumbs turning downward.

The Voodoo Wazoo’s pedal-assist unit (not pictured) fits atop the saddle.

So I took the Voodoo Wazoo down from its hook and rolled out for a gentle hour on the foothills trails.

This is not a Kool Kidz bike. Quick-releases. 7-speed. Cantilever brakes. And Mavic Open Pros wearing a pair of chunky Continental CrossRides.

In the event of a flat I could pry the offender off the rim with a stern glance. A brake goes wonky? Unhook it. And there’s only one derailleur to get the hiccups, a 105 rear that’s probably older than most of the product managers spec’ing bikes these days.

Some people enjoy navigating the intricacies of 11-speed, hydraulic brakes, thru-axles, and tubeless-ready rims and tires, and that’s fine. Some of them like a bit of electrical assist, or black-box drivetrains, and that’s OK, too.

But some of us still like to “pedal and grunt,” and Grant Petersen makes a compelling case for sweat and simplicity over at the Rivendell Blahg:

Bike makers have motor-envy. They all want to make motor vehicles. ALL. They drive the innovation in that direction, and say it’s for the good of all, because it’ll get cars off the road and help old people exercise. … Everything is going auto, like the only way to sell stuff is to make it that way. In 10 years people are going to take photos and make movies with eyeblinks. That will be sold as progress, because all animals are wired to want the easy way. That makes sense in a survival situation (cross the river where it’s slow and shallow), but when technology makes everything SUPER easy, there’s something good about holding back a bit.

Now, I won’t lie to you. There was a moment yesterday when I would have traded a healthy organ for a 20-inch granny. But it didn’t feel like I had one to offer, so I just got up out of the saddle.

Pedal and grunt.

 

A reconnaissance

November 25, 2019

“A Reconnaissance,” by Frederic Remington,
liberated from the National Gallery of Art.

Saddle up, buckaroos. We’re fixin’ to mosey into the heart of the Holiday Roundup.

As is often the case, the weather seems likely to suck come Eat the Bird. Some big-ass storm is poised to gallop from Californy right through Fort Fun, taking a giant dump on many a carefully devised travel plan. Why, we may even get a dash of the white stuff here in the Duke City.

Happily, we ain’t goin’ nowhere. The mom-in-law will be joining us here at El Rancho Pendejo for the holiday feast, but this will entail a round trip of about eight miles tops. Not like those 260-mile, stop-and-go death marches we used to endure between Bibleburg and Fort Fun, watching our fellow travelers take high-speed diggers in the median and/or ditches and then clog the breakdown lanes and/or frontage roads trying to find a workaround.

Mind you, this was on dry roads. If the weather were turble bad, why, then we might really see something.

Where are all y’all bound?

New coat of paint

November 23, 2019

“Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits,”
is available at Dualtone Music Group.

Tom Waits is an acquired taste (just ask Pat O’B), but Allison Moorer finds him delicious.

Moorer and several other female artists, working with producer Warren Zanes, have released an album of Waits covers titled “Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits.”

They lay a sweet, smooth coat of Sherwin-Williams over that weatherbeaten Waits structure, which Zanes describes with all due respect as a “trash-can aesthetic,” and it works beautifully in the cuts I’ve heard.

Roseanne Cash performs a gently reimagined “Time,” one of the Waits songs I like to play badly on guitar. Iris Dement, a frequent John Prine collaborator, takes a deep, Dolly Parton country dive into “The House Where Nobody Lives.” And Patty Griffin’s take on “Ruby’s Arms” strips the original of its instrumental fat and gets right down to the bone.

In an interview on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” Scott Simon quotes Moorer describing Waits as “a fully integrated artist who seemingly sees the whole picture at once and knows how to present it so that we do too.”

“He does seem to draw up marginal characters a lot — people who are either stuck in life or we don’t consider them people that we see,” Moorer said. “He exposes the everyday.”

Zanes hopes the album will unearth the lyrical voice that for some may be inextricable from the “grit and the growl” that characterizes Waits’s delivery.

“I think over the years he went deeper into the back of the cave, and sometimes I think people fail to see the very classic nature of the songs because of that ‘trash can’ aesthetic,” he told Simon.

“We viewed it as, ‘His 70th birthday is coming, and it’s a feast day, and we’re gonna take these songs and we’re gonna give them all the sweetness that we can.’ There’s something about the female voice that’s associated with a kind of vulnerability and a kind of emotion that we really wanted to breathe in these songs.”

Meanwhile, here’s the original “Ruby’s Arms,” the closer to 1980’s “Heartattack and Vine.” I was alone and miserable in Tucson when I trudged down Orange Grove Road to some anonymous Oracle Road music shop to buy this one. Still have it, too.

R.I.P., Gahan Wilson

November 23, 2019

My lone Gahan Wilson collection.

Gahan Wilson, whose surreal cartoons regularly appeared in National Lampoon, Playboy, and other top-shelf mags, has stepped away from the drawing board.

He died Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz. Complications of dementia, they say. He was 89.

This guy was funny. Bleak, weird, the owner and operator of left field, he kept you off balance like some psychotic judo master. There was nobody else like him working Back in the Day®, and if he has a successor, I’ve not seen him or her yet.

One of my faves? An overstuffed chair absorbing a reader. Eyeglasses and book lie on the floor. All you can see as the reader vanishes is a pair of hands, protruding from the seat.

Another depicts a gardener who has unearthed a skeleton. His employer, a stately, dessicated husk of a woman, says, “I think you would be advised to locate the new delphinium bed elsewhere, Hobbs.”

Yet another shows a soldier covered in gore, muck and God knows what all, knife in one hand and assault rifle in the other. He stands alone in a smoking hellscape that makes the “Terminator” future look like Disneyland. His eyes pop out of the murk like cue balls. And he smiles. “I think I won!” he says.

Dracula with a vampire hand puppet. Dracula with a salt shaker. (Dude liked Dracula, what can I tell you?) A woman who has stuffed her husband into the trash can outside her apartment door (“You don’t get rid of him that easy, Mrs. Jacowsky,” says a man who may be the building superintendent). A writer for “The National Confidential Weekly” who, stuck for a lively bit of the old Fake News®, finally leaves his typewriter for a while and returns to tap out, “It isn’t easy cutting the heart out of a woman with a dull knife. And it takes time. It takes a good fifteen minutes.”

Oh, Gahan Wilson was one of the greats. I hope he and Charles Addams are hoisting a tall cold one in the Beyond.

Hey, hey, my, my

November 22, 2019

Old man, look at my life, I’m a lot like you were.

Neil Young is still rockin’ in the free world.

Donny Appleseed

November 21, 2019

The new MacTrump. Noisy as hell, only runs Twitter, and costs a bazillion dollars. But it’s Made in USA®. Winning!

“Today I opened a major Apple Manufacturing plant in Texas that will bring high paying jobs back to America,” tweets the Tweeter-in-Chief.

Except he didn’t. And it won’t.

The plant, which employs about 500 workers to assemble one of Apple’s most expensive computers for its least extensive customer base, and is not even an Apple plant, has been manufacturing Mac Pros since 2013. The only reason it’s still doing so is because Apple sought — and got — waivers for Tweety’s tariffs.

But Apple didn’t get off scot-free. According to The Verge, “Apple is currently paying tariffs on a number of Mac Pro parts, which must be imported from China to Texas before the final device can be assembled.” Whether Apple receives further relief remains a matter for submission … er, negotiation.

Meanwhile, the stuff that people actually buy — iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and the Apple Watch — is made in China. So, uh, like, the winning, an’ stuff, eh, not so much.

And while Tweety sang his little song Apple honcho Tim Cook stood there like a mannequin, “stone-faced” and “silently,” according to Jack Nicas of The New York Times.

Notes John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

This is how Apple chose to unveil the packaging for the Mac Pro — in a poorly-shot overexposed propaganda video by the White House, scored with bombastic music that sounds like it came from an SNL parody of a Michael Bay film. Think about how it feels to work on that team at Apple. A low moment in Apple’s proud history, and a sadly iconic moment for Tim Cook. I hope avoiding those tariffs is worth it.

What won’t stay down, must come up

November 20, 2019

“Patrick O’Grady to the white courtesy phone. …”

Well, this has been quite the week.

Herself the Elder came to town Saturday with Beth, the eldest daughter, and the next few days were your basic whirlwind of activity: getting her settled in the assisted-living place; acquiring and configuring a TV that was too smart for anyone’s good; rounding up an adjustable bed and all the other bits that make a room a home; doing battle with the medical-industrial complex; and meeting the staff and other residents.

It was going pretty smoothly, all things considered, until Monday evening, when I contracted some variety of nuclear gut-rumbler, and the less you know about that, the better.

Then Herself got it yesterday, which meant she couldn’t go to work this morning or drive Beth to the airport at 3:30 a.m. In the rain. Because it always rains at stupid-thirty when a fella who has spent the last 36 hours cuddling the commode suddenly finds himself drafted to drive to the airport at 3:30 a.m. In the rain.

Anyway, Herself the Elder and Beth seem to have dodged whatever floored me and Herself, so, yay. We are taking light refreshment and shambling around El Rancho Pendejo like the living dead. And I finally got caught up on HBO’s “Watchmen,” if getting caught up means continuing to wonder just what in the sweet holy motherfuck this thing is about.

Now I have to catch up on the news, which likewise. Pray for me.

Preview of coming attractions

November 13, 2019

The impeachment inquiry has gone public, but I plan to resist the temptation to follow it extensively here, like a starveling coyote trailing a garbage truck.

My reasoning is that we’ll all read, watch, and hear a lot more than we care to elsewhere. Charlie Pierce is on the case, and I urge anyone who wants the bird’s-eye lowdown on this caper, whatever that means, to become a card-carrying member of his Shebeen.

Also, I imagine that we’re all mostly on the same page here — that the White House has become the Shite House, and that it’s turds all the way down. So I plan to preach to the choir only when I have some fresh take on the revelations.

Of artists and safety nets

November 13, 2019

No, your eyes do not deceive you. That is a story in the Colorado Springs Sun, mentioning President Nixon, written by Your Humble Narrator in the Year of Our Lord 1974.

Thank Cthulhu I’m not an artist like Russell Chatham. We hacks have a safety net.

Here’s mine: This past weekend, Herself signed me up to start collecting Socialist Insecurity payments beginning in March 2020. If I live that long, and assuming that Agent Orange doesn’t redirect all SS monies to his Wall or his wallet, I will receive a princely sum indeed, each and every month.

After accounting for inflation, it’s roughly equal to what I was paid as a copy boy back in 1974, when I first got into the writing racket.

I figure I can score a used Chevy Express 1500 for about 12 large. The monthly payments should take about 18 percent of my income, which sounds about right. The camping gear I’ve already got.

And parking down by the river? It’s free! Winning!

R.I.P., Russell Chatham

November 13, 2019

“Crazy Mountains in March” by Russell Chatham, 1991.

The IRS can’t get Russell Chatham now. He’s skedaddled with his paints and brushes, vamoosed to a secret place where his creditors will never find him.

His flight west hasn’t interested the big boys yet. The New York Times, once Johnny-on-the-spot when it came to obits, hasn’t uttered a peep.

But his old hometown newspaper finally got around to writing a little something, days after the San Francisco Chronicle noted his passing.

It was apparently the dementia that got him, among other things. Once a Montanan and rounder, an artist and writer whose running mates included the likes of Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane, and Rick Bass, Chatham died Nov. 10 in a memory-care facility in Marin County, Calif. He was 80.

Chatham’s landscapes adorn many a book cover, when they aren’t busy elsewhere, selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Indeed, it’s hard to find a Harrison book without one, and he dedicated “Sundog” to Chatham.

The artist also makes frequent guest appearances in Harrison’s essays. While fly-fishing for billfish off Costa Rica both men contracted bad cases of turista, but Chatham’s was by far the champeen, if you believe Harrison. In “The Tugboats of Costa Rica,” he wrote:

“I shall never forget his pathetic yelp in the night as he pooped his bed during a feverish dream about trying to eat a giant Mindanao clam that wouldn’t stop moving,” Harrison wrote. “This artist is a walking field day for a psychotherapists’ convention.”

In his essay “Seasons Through the Net” McGuane described Chatham as “a man who has ruined his life with sport,” a relentless angler and shootist “who “skulks from his home at all hours with gun or rod.”

“Russ never thought of painting as a career. It was just something he did,” said McGuane.

Bass called him “the greatest living landscape painter in America, famous for his outlandish appetites for food, wine, travel, art, music, literature, and the sporting life.”

And Chatham? He was busy doing the somethings he did, sport and art. Working without a net. Everything else would have to take care of itself.

“I’m not a businessman,” he told Charles Schultz for the Point Reyes Light. “If any money crosses my path, it is gone faster than butter in an oven. I have no savings, no retirement. I have whatever’s in my wallet. To a lot of people that would be frightening.”

He added: “The artist has absolutely no safety net.”

This didn’t mean that he was unaware of the ground down there waiting for him. In a chat with Todd Wilkinson for the Mountain Journal, Chatham said:

“Early on, I was never concerned about having a career, so I didn’t have one. And now nothing could interest me less. But I think we all have a programmed tape running inside us, and most of mine is now stored on the right hand side of the cassette. I finally feel I know enough to paint what I could only dream about in my twenties. People say it’s time to slow down, relax, go fishing. Well, I took the first forty years of my life off and went fishing, and now my tape is telling me to finish what I was put on earth to do. Before, time didn’t matter. Now it does.”

It’s fish-thirty, Russell. Time to wet a line.