(Writer’s note: Tuesday’s ride with Jim appeared each Tuesday, published to the OBRA list starting in October of 2012.)
Brother Jim reads this Friday evening:
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2012 09:41:59 -0700
Subject: [OBRA Chat] OBRA ROCKS!
This weekend the world of OBRA has FIVE Cyclocross races around for for [sic] members and newcomers to attend. We are living in maybe the best Cyclocross environment.
Get out there and participate or support.
Jim and I are down in the basement fastening the Macalu to the Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll. Can’t recommend the Rock and Roll aspect of the Kurt Kenetic but the rest of the machine is pretty sound. There’s a bottle of wine between us half gone. Jim is a recovering alcoholic. Has been for 20 years. He’s less than a year older than I am. We’re pushing 50.
Jim arrived in Portland from Miami Beach in late July of this year. Till this weekend he’s only seen the good Northwest weather.
I’m positioning the rear wheel of the Macalu into the Kurt Kinetic.
Me: “This is it, brother. You’re not going to see the sun for another six months and the thing that worries me most about you is you’re a gun owner. And not just a gun owner, but a handgun owner… A handgun. Jim. Really?”
Jim: “Why is this such a wedge issue with you?”
There’s a pause.
Me: “This weather you’ve experienced for the past three months is Northwest Nirvana. Expect withdraws. Next time you see the sun you’re not going to like it. After crawling around in the dark like a cockroach for six months it’s going to seem overwhelmingly bright. It’s going to feel like an enormous spotlight beamed down from a prison guard’s tower.”
Jim: “True. It’ll take some getting used to but I’m sure we’ll learn to embrace it again.”
I look up at Jim blankly. Then back down at the trainer.
Jim cocks his head. I point at the beefy threads on the Kurt Kenetic that lock down the dropouts. They’re greased with Phil Wood. Jim shakes his head approvingly.
Me: “How are you so positive? Eh? Why didn’t I get any of that?”
Jim: “What did Staff Sgt. Anderson tell me when I got orders for Korea? He always said the same thing to anyone who got orders to a really bad duty station. What did he used say? ‘It’s what you make of it.’?”
Jim goes to something like the position of attention. He’s our old noncommissioned officer in charge, Staff Sgt. Anderson.
Jim (In Anderson’s slap happy Virginian drawl): “Camp Red Cloud is a great duty station, son. Just remember, it is what you make of it.”
Me (Acting like an Army grunt getting sent to Korea): “Roger that, Staff Sgt. Fuck Face.”
There’s a long pause. No talk while I tighten the Kurt Kenetic over the dropouts of the Macalu.
I look up. Jim is staring at the cracked cement floor shaking his head almost imperceptibly.
Me: “Korea: That’s where it all unraveled for you.”
Jim: “Let’s talk about something else.”
Me: “Let’s talk about how you go from being a pro-level cyclist to an alcoholic drug addict inside of two years.”
Jim: “Those were negative times.”
There’s a pause. I’m focused on tightening the resistance wheel of the Kurt Kinetic onto the rear tire.
Jim: “You should race cross.”
Me: “That’s a great idea. I really need another bike.”
Jim: “Your wife makes plenty of money. You can get a good cross bike for less than a grand off the OBRA list. People sell stuff on there at half retail sometimes still in the box.”
I take in a deep breath.
Jim grows wary. He knows how I feel about cross these days.
Me: “You wanna know what else I should do, Jim? Eh? Wanna know? I should buy a pink bra and wear it over my kit when I race. It’ll be my signature. I’ll be the Pink Bra Guy. Wouldn’t that be cool?”
There’s another pause. Jim is staring at the concrete again. He seems put off.
Jim: “You should wear it under your kit.”
Jim: “The bra. You should wear it under your kit.”
I look at Jim. He’s grinning, shaking his head still staring at the concrete.
I get it now.
Yes, yes, giggling. I see it
Me: “Of course under the kit and housing some mammoth double-Ds.”
Jim marches circles around the trainer with his hands out in front of his chest.
Jim: “Water balloons. You could use water balloons to fill the D-cups.”
Me: “Double-D cups and yes water balloons but filled with beer!”
Jim: “Papst Blue Ribbon?”
Me: “It’s Portland. Is it’s cross. Of course PBR. What else? ”
Jim: “They’re going to bounce. It’ll take a unique approach especially going over the barriers. It’ll require skill, brother.”
Me: “I’ll have to channel my inner mommy but that’s part of the deal. You can’t have it both ways.”
Jim: “Yep. You either got hooters or you don’t.”
Me (In my best Bevis voice): “Some men dream of hooters and say, ‘Why’? I dream of beer filled double-Ds and say, ‘Why not?’ ”
Jim looks at the bottle. He is worried about his brother.
Jim: “Are you going to finish that bottle?”
I put the cork back in it.
Me: “Let’s go upstairs. I’ll finish it some other time.”
Jim and I are riding on the road. We’re headed to Mt. Tabor for hill repeats. It takes about five minutes to get to the top of Tabor. Jim says this evening we’ll do six reps at 105-percent FTP. He estimates our FTP by feel since neither of us owns a power meter. Jim says a 20 minute TT on a sheltered climb yields a good working number. I have no idea what he’s talking about.
The first two reps we do side by side. Jim is talking. It’s hard for me to listen. The third time up Jim is leaving me. He climbs out of the saddle ticking over what seems an impossibly small gear. More than 30 seconds after Jim, I arrive atop Tabor. I’m out of breath. Jim is turning a tight circle waiting.
Me: “You climb in such a small gear.”
Jim: “You’re at more than 105-percent right now. You know that, right?”
Me: “I can’t climb out of the saddle in a small gear. I feel like I’m flailing. I just slow down.”
Jim: “It takes practice. You have to step outside your comfort zone.”
Me: “I guess so.”
Jim: “Over and over. You have to step outside your comfort zone.”
Me: “Okay. I get it.”
I look down at my new carbon steed. Karsten Hagen raced it last year. He’s from Bend. It’s a Specialized S-Works SL-3. It’s flashy like riding a neon sign inviting bike thieves to break into my basement but it rolls sweet like a Cadillac. It’s a huge advantage on washboard downhill sections like the right hander on Tabor just before the gate near the dog park where SE East Tabor Drive splits into SE Lincoln Street. Don’t barrel down this hill without knowing whether the gate is open or closed. If it’s closed you’ll see it about a second after you round the corner and just before you plow into it; or, if you’re real good, slide under it.
Jim and I ride side by side on the paved loop atop Tabor. We’re recovering.
Jim: “Did you finish that bottle of wine?”
Me: “Still half empty. Haven’t had a drink in five days.”
Jim shakes his head approvingly. I’ve quit drinking before to make sure I could. This time, however, it’s to put Jim’s mind at ease.
Me: “Is it just me or are you flying on the bike right now?”
Jim: “It’s just you.”
Me: “You remember that crit in Breckinridge? You said you could’ve lapped the field if you wanted but, what did you say? What got into print weeks later? It’s better for the sponsor if I ride out front alone? Damn if that ain’t cocky.”
Jim: “I remember.”
Me: “Guys would bridge and you’d work a couple laps and then start jumping through their paceline until it came apart. Guys going backwards one by one. And you just kept riding alone off the front. All night. From the gun. I was like, who is this guy? I shouted at Rich Fries, who is that guy! And he shouted back, that’s our brother, man! That’s our Florida brother!”
Jim and I slow. I stop pedaling. Then Jim does the same. I’m not ready to start back down the hill because I’m not ready to start back up it. My legs don’t feel good.
Me: “You put on a clinic that night.”
Jim says nothing.
We stop. In front of us is a view of downtown. The sun is setting behind some clouds silhouetted by the West Hills. People are aiming their iPhones at it, leaning against each other, sipping wine, taking it in. But not Jim. Jim is shaking his head almost imperceptivity, eyes locked on some imaginary hub in some imaginary bicycle race. He goes from side to side like he’s swapping left eye for right eye, left eye for right eye. I’ve seen him do this for hours on training rides growing up in Florida. Like a trance. The deeper he goes into it, the more you know, he’s on.
Me: “You never talk about those times, brother. There were a couple months there where you won every race in sight.”
Jim, still, saying nothing.
I want to look into his face and understand this but his head is hung low. He’s too deep into the trance. I lean over my bars to look up into his face and then realize that he’s not in a trance at all but instead he’s hurting, damn near crying.
There’s a long pause.
Jim: “You asked about Korea the other day. You still want know what happened?”
My mind is at attention. I’m not sure what’s coming next. I look to a big cedar standing next to me. I bet he’s more than 100-years-old but still has nothing to say on this issue. I take a deep breath. I shake my head.
Me: “Yes, brother. I really do. I’ve wanted to know for more than 25 years.”
Jim and I are at a party. It’s a warm Florida evening in 1989. I’m about to develop a lifelong fascination for a skillset Jim has that I will never attain.
We are with a dozen friends in an oak grove near the Suwannee River. The canopy is tinged by the light of a camp fire lit to keep mosquitos at bay. In the middle of the grove a cold spring flows into a white sandy bottom creek. Barefoot groups of twos and threes quietly wander to the clear water edge. Sitting there with Jim, our feet soak in the water.
Jim is holding the can of beer he’s been holding for more than an hour. I’m holding my fifth. I’m depressed. Ingrid Christensen has set a new world record for 5,000 meters. It’s almost two minutes faster than anything I’ve done. I shake my head.
Me: “Had to be a short track. No way a chick runs 5k that fast. No way. Remember Michael Hamilton’s 4:15 at Chiefland? Everyone said that track was short. You wheel measure that track and I bet you dollars to doughnuts it comes up short. No way Hamilton runs a 4:15 mile. No way.”
Jim says nothing. He knows Michael Hamilton. Even back then he would cubbyhole his friends. Hamilton was in the cubbyhole marked “high school cross-country and track meets.” Two Southern boys from opposing schools, they would wave from across the infield and casually approach, sizing each other up along the way. There to win the same races, after 10 maybe 15 minutes they are reacquainted, comfortable and finishing each other’s sentences. Like brothers.
Jim and I watch a red crawfish march across the white sandy bottom. He’s big enough to eat and I bet a baited pot could catch more like him but I want Jim’s attention focused on the Christensen/Hamilton issue. I’m not the only one who believes the Chiefland track is short. I want something like closure on this.
Jim however is on the sly, watching Sherry O’Donnell lower herself slowly past waist deep into the ever so cool spring water. She barely wears a bathing suit. Brown skin, black hair, blue eyes, she is tall, slender and stunning. Her mother, equally stunning, said something to my father once in Publix and he nearly swallowed his tongue. They are Seminoles and most of their people are gone, death marched with the rest of the Southern tribes to Oklahoma for the sake of big cotton. If there is a hell, Andrew Jackson is certainly burning in it.
Sherry is wild, fearless. She could take her clothes off at any second. As kids we played neighborhood football together. She was never picked last. Tough. In trouble with the law. Thrown out of school for fighting. Even burnt her parents’ river house down one summer.
But boy is she beautiful. Eighteen. It’s hard not to look.
My head is turned but I strain to see from the corner of my eye. The water is just above her hips. She looks down at it, hands outstretched, swaying gently, fingertips play with an imaginary hula hoop, and slowly she stops all of it. A wry smile. She lifts her head just enough and then her eyes to Jim. Her smile grows. It is only for him.
I look at Jim urgently.
Me: “Brother, this is not really… This is really not a good idea.”
Jim: “Mind your own business right now, please.”
Jim and I are at a party. It’s a warm Florida evening but this time eight months later. Jim has won the Florida state road championships earlier in the day. The party was scheduled weeks in advance but now it honors him.
There are maybe 30 people at the O’Donnell river house. It’s about a one hour drive from the race course, Sugar Loaf. A drought stricken orange grove that caught fire two years previous, it is an otherworldly sight: uniform rows of lifeless charred trees protruding from gray sandy soil stretch miles in all directions. The hills are steep here. The longest is almost a kilometer. Jim beat Rich Fries in an uphill two-man sprint. A hot day, defending champion Fries upon crossing the line leaned his bike against a car, marched through the sand, found the perfect rock and vomited on it.
I am inside the river house with Mrs. O’Donnell. Sitting at the bar in the vast living room she mixes my fourth g-and-t of the evening. I take a gulp. I did not finish the race today. Jim picked me up off the side of the road in the VW van. He looked at the dried sweat caked on my collar and said I should have diluted my Gatorade more.
Mrs. O’Donnell asks how the race went. I am ready to talk about anything else. High above me I notice a grouping of sturdy but blackened oak ceiling beams. I point.
Me: “Nice you could save some money there.”
Mrs. O’Donnell: “Oh please. Saving money was not the objective.”
Me: “What was?”
Mrs. O’Donnell: “A reminder to my daughter not to play with matches.”
Outside, the deck hums with happy times. It overlooks a row of dunes, a bonfire, some lawn chairs, people sit and beyond them the St. Johns River where during the Civil War Capt. J.J. Dickinson, the Florida Swamp Fox, became the only American Army officer to sink a battleship. It’s Florida lore. A Confederate sentinel spotted the USS Columbine steaming north loaded with cargo and Negro soldiers. He raced ahead by horse to Palatka to tell Dickinson of what he saw.
Dickinson looped around south to a point called Horse Landing with artillery, hid in the tall pines and waited. When the ship returned he sunk her. The white officers surrendered to Dickinson on the near shore. The black soldiers jumped into the St. Johns. Twenty-nine drown. They knew of Dickinson’s reputation. He routinely hung or shot Negros outside the custody of whites. Dickinson’s law was, unassigned property will be destroyed so as not to become contraband. I wonder if he was soulless before the war or if it made him that way.
On the deck Mrs. O’Donnell gazes down intently at her daughter Sherry seated by the bonfire calmly at Jim’s feet. The mother takes a deep breath. It’s as if she has passed a milestone. She has mentioned that Jim is good for Sherry and that he did what she could not: tame her.
I look at Mrs. O’Donnell. In this early part of my life, she is more attractive to me than her daughter could ever be. I understand now why my father was tongue tied.
But I am disturbed.
Me: “Doesn’t it bother you that Sherry has to confer with Jim on anything other than the most simplest of decisions?”
Mrs. O’Donnell: “Nope.”
She states it flatly but I will not let the issue drop.
Me: “I mean, aren’t you worried about her development as a person? Aren’t you afraid that one day, after Jim’s gone, she won’t be able to think for herself?”
Mrs. O’Donnell: “Lord have mercy, son. We stopped hoping Sherry would break the glass ceiling years ago. We just want her to be happy, hold down a job and stay out of trouble. Hell, even two out of three of those would suit us… Goodness. What did you expect? Harvard?”
I look at Jim. State road champion. He beat Fries. There’s talk of him racing in Spain next year with the Mapei exchange program. I look at Sherry. Out of trouble, gainfully employed (delivering newspapers) and, well, she did look happy. I begin see it now. They can make a life together as a couple. Husband and wife even. Maybe in Spain. It’s against my nature but I grow hopeful. I am hopeful. Hopeful for them.
Much later in the evening I am up off the couch looking for a toilet. It is dark. Stumbling, I find myself in the master bath of the master suite. I’ve left the light off for some reason. I think I’m pissing in the toilet but it sounds more like a garbage can. I move left but that isn’t it either. About halfway through, a familiar sound. I’ve found the target. As I trail off I hear voices in the bed room. I peak through the door ajar. There on the deck I can see Jim embrace his lover. My eyes squint. In the moonlight I see it is Jim and Mrs. O’Donnell.
Jim and I are at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church. We’re in the café part. Outside it is raining cats and dogs. It’s nine on a weekday morning. We’re not here for religious services. Instead we’re here for the lovely barista who is right now missing in action and the play area for Jim’s 3-year-old daughter who is wearing her Halloween costume. She is Ariel the mermaid. Cute.
We walk past the café counter. No one home.
Me: “Where’s she at?”
Jim shrugs. We push on. Sit. The couches are plush. Jim opens his newspaper. His daughter trots to the play area in the vestibule. I open my laptop. I’ve own Macs before but this is a Toshiba. Costs a third less. Works perfectly fine. I’ll never go back. The Internet comes up. Cyclingnews.com: “Italian court reject [sic] Ferrari agent’s appeal.”
I shake my head.
Me: “Armstrong. Guy sounds like a total jackass. Did you ever race against him?”
Jim (From behind the newspaper): “Yes. Several times. Nineteen ninety-two national road championships for one. Lieswyn should have won that race. He was the strongest.”
Me: “He always was the stronger before his injuries. Who won?”
Jim: “Eh, Lieswyn had his days… Armstrong won the race.”
Me: “So what was he like?”
Jim: “Armstrong? He was a dick but a lot of those guys are.”
Me: “Lot of dopers are dicks?”
Jim (Lowering the paper): “No. I’ve met dopers who were perfectly nice people. I’m talking about top tier athletes in general. They delude themselves in believing they can do things that otherwise they could never do. And with that admirable quality comes a lot of junk.”
Me: “So all’s you have to do is think you can win the Tour de France and you win the Tour de France? That sounds easy enough.”
Jim (Folding the paper on his lap): No. Not everyone who thinks they can win the Tour wins the Tour but everyone who has won the Tour thought that, before they ever won the Tour, they could win the Tour. Make sense?”
Me: “So there’s a lot of guys running around who thought they could win the Tour who never won the Tour.”
Jim: “Correct. The Lawyer Ride is a good example. Couple Tour non-Tour winners there.”
Me: “Really? I like that ride. I don’t see any Tour non-Tour guys there. Maybe they’re all way ahead of me.”
Jim goes back to his newspaper, the Oregonian. Some conservative talk-show hack in town calls it the Zero. The Zero. The Oregonian ain’t what she used to be but there aren’t many local newspapers anymore that are, but the Zero? Come on. It’s won five Pulitzers. I wonder how many Peabodys little miss talk-show has won? Zero?
I pull my head out of the laptop. From my vantage point Jim’s 3-year-old is the perfect angel today. She’s found a 2-year-old to boss around and so for the time being she’s not the boss of us. Gimme this. Gimme that. The number of times she’s reminded to say the word please astounds me. Clearly intelligent, but when she wants something, forget about it. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Jim tried ignoring her once hoping she would say please but the word never came out.
Me: “Days like this make you happy to be a father?”
Jim: “Every day is a good day to be a father.”
Me: “Oh Jesus, that’s right. You moved here to be a father.”
Jim: “Yes. I can work from anywhere. Her mom can’t. When she moves I move.”
Me: “She pried you out of Miami Beach. You must have gone kicking and screaming.”
Jim: “If Miami Beach wasn’t in South Florida I’d be okay with it.”
Me: “What are you talking about?”
Jim: “I liked Miami Beach. I didn’t own car there. But that part of South Florida has a Banana Republic feel that I don’t care for. It puts me on edge.”
Me: “True. Take a wrong turn in Dade County and you might find yourself in a scene from Escape from New York. I saw a car on fire down there once and people just standing around watching.”
Jim: “Snake Plissken.”
Me: “Snaaake. Loved that guy. Big Trouble in Little China. The elevator scene? Are you kidding me?”
Jim: “I liked Isaac Hayes’ gold Cadilac. Chandeliers on the hood. But okay: if I had to go back to Miami Beach I would but I wouldn’t be happy. I like Portland.”
Me: “You gotta miss the Banana Republic sometimes though. I miss spearfishing and lobstering. I miss all the warm water activities. Kayaking. Sight fishing. All that stuff. I miss the big rides too. One hundred-plus riders every weekend. That stuff was fun.”
A Portland city employee comes in wearing issued coveralls: “Portland, the city that works.” The coffee cups are stacked corkscrew waiting. Our girl is not at home. And then hits me.
Me: “The city that works. What a load horse shit. How can this be The city that works when it has one of the worse educational systems in a state with one of the worse educational systems in a nation with one of the worse educational systems on the planet? I mean, I guess you could set the bar lower.”
Jim: “There are good things happening in education here in Portland.”
Me: “Like what?”
Jim: “Google Rose Mary Anderson High School. I was at their gala the other night. Very moving.”
Me: “Okay. I’ll do it later… So, what’s the plan for Halloween tonight?”
Jim: “Well, little kid’s going back to her mom and I’m turning the porch light off.”
Me: “Really? That doesn’t sound like you. Aren’t you afraid of getting egged or TP’ed?”
Jim: “I live in the Hawthorne neighborhood. If you asked kids in my neighborhood about egging or toilet papering they wouldn’t know what you were talking about.”
Me: “Seriously? They don’t smash mail boxes with baseball bats?”
Me: “They don’t light bags of dog shit on fire, ring the doorbell and run?”
Jim: “No. Not where I live.”
Me: “What do they do?”
Jim (Pondering… smiling): “Well, my next door neighbor has a son, Jeremiah. He’s 12. He’s really into their chicken coup.”
Me: “Their chicken coup? Good Lord, what is the world coming to?”
Another guy comes in, removes his jacket and walks behind the café counter. He’s got a greased handlebar mustache the width of his face. As a kid I was a racist. I can look back on it today and think how wrong it is, and so now I like to think of myself as objective, not judging based on attributes outside a person’s control. But judging based on fashion choices? Wardrobe? Look, they’ve made a conscience decision. I know we’re supposed to keep this city weird but I saw a guy walking downtown yesterday wearing a kilt and smoking a pipe like Sherlock Holmes. Weird? I suppose. Inane? I think definitely. The pipe alone is gratuitous?
Me: “Great. Here’s our little barista. Good God, look at this jack wagon.”
Jim (Looking over his newspaper): “Doesn’t appear she’s coming in today. (Pause) Jack wagon… where does that come from?”
Me (Knowing there’s a joke in there somewhere): “Well, eh, I was curious about that too the other day so I looked into it on the Internets (Said like George W.) and it seems that (I’m stalling), well… It started in the early 80s (And then the punch lines comes) and there was an annual float in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade called the Jack Wagon.”
Jim (Shaking his head): “Oh for the love Pete.”
Me: “Did you say Pete? Because Pete is short for Peter and, well, I mean, for the sake of Peter. Certainly you see the comedy in that, right?
Jim (Still shaking his head): “Yes, of course. Of course.”