the discreet charm

On our way into the parking lot shuttle on the way back from DC to Columbus, a woman was muttering to her companion. She had a pretty loud mutter and she was right behind me.

"The thing was solid gold. What kind of idiot...?"

I knew she must be talking about the gold lunar module model that was stolen from the Armstrong Air and Space Museum a couple of days earlier. I was pretty sure I knew how this rhetorical question was going to end but I was wrong.

"What kind of idiot donates a thing like that? Solid gold! I tell you."

I took a seat on the bench with my bag on my lap. She sat next to me and kept quiet while the man who sat beside her—pretty sure it was her husband—told the driver which lane he had parked in. She started a new topic.

"That trip was the right length. Just long enough." I thought I heard a grunt of assent from the man. "Left right before the political talk started. But Debra was getting into it yesterday, she was really starting to wind up!"

"Did you notice I ignored it?" The way he said it made me think that he was sure Debra could have learned a lot had he elected to enlighten her.

"Did you notice I ignored it?" The way she said it made me think she was sure she'd won that ignoring contest. "And I changed the subject." Sounded like she was awarding herself a bonus point.

Silence for a few beats. Then, "I think I've had enough grandchildren for a while."

The husband, whose mutter did not carry as well as hers did, started to describe a relationship involving a sibling, an in-law, someone who lived somewhere and did a thing. I missed a lot, but then my seatmate summed it all up for him: "Basically a low-life. Yes." Another yes-grunt from the man and they were quiet until the shuttle got near their car.

I'm wondering what the other participants in that visit had to say about it.


What you learn on summer vacation

Early in the season—single digit days of June, say—the PNW rivers are higher and faster than they will be during prime float season. The sandy edges where you might stop to hang out are covered over with water and only brush and fallen trees line the sides. So if you rent three tubes from a bunch of kids in a trailer and they drive you and two of your precious children up a road and you set off hurtling downstream, your trip might be more harrowing than relaxing. You will look on the bright side and be glad you emerged alive and breathing your favorite thing: air.

Mere weeks later you will find yourself somewhat more eastward and rafting down another damned river, but with a competent guide and you'll think this is survivable and you'll be fine and you are. Which contributes to the regrettable decision of allowing yourself to be lured into an inflatable boat with only immediate family members and soon you'll be hurtling down another fucking river into a bunch of terrible things, most of which are trees and dead trees and some particularly malevolent trees. Trees along a river are just a bad idea, right up there with big rocks in a river.

Have you learned something? Yes, but there's more. You'll then find yourself mountain biking, which can only be good. You know this because you bike a lot and you love biking because it is always fun. Except when it is entirely analogous to whitewater whatevering. Which this is. Your bike is a raft, a tube, a kayak. The river is dirt and it is full of rocks and the aforementioned trees. There are people having fun doing this and you can be happy for them, but your main happiness springs from the knowledge that you will not be tempted to contribute any time, money, or effort into acquiring a mountain bike for your future use.

Air and asphalt, ah!

What I did pre-summer vacation

bottom of my unofficial transcript
  1. They call it Spring but it's mostly Winter.

  2. This designation is for people who want to take classes but are not in a degree program. These people are just drains on the system at an institution with graduation rate goals. I think that's why they came up with a term with this particular acronym.

  3. You might not guess from the title, but this is a statistics class. It asks the question, "Which is better, R or SPSS?" Turns out the question can be answered with another question: "Which is easier to spell?"

  4. This was a history, art, and philosophy class about the nature of bookness. It was SO MUCH FUN!

  5. I am always disappointed by how happy I am to get a good grade. I truly believe what you learn is more important than the mark you get on a report card, but then I feel like such a winner when I see a stack of A's by my name. A+'s, even more so.

  6. I guess GPA only includes degree-bound grades.


c&p from email

1) What is ColeCycle?

ColeCycle is where you trudge up to the top floor of Cole Field House
and ride a stationary bike following suggestions from a student
instructor. Classes are held in a low-ceilinged cinderblock room with
windows that really open and a couple of floor fans. It does not smell
like grapefruit.

The moves vary from riding seated to riding standing up. The
instructor will indicate an intensity at which you should be riding
and you may take his or her suggestion or not. I usually do.

Here is a brief, basic look at a ColeCycle class:

Show up before the class starts. Sometimes they fill up, and if you
don't get a bike there's not much point in sticking around. But
getting up those stairs is a workout, too, so at least you got
something. Change clothes in the bathroom at the end of the hall. It's
a gross old bathroom and the only places to sit are toilets. Oh well.
If you forgot to fill your waterbottle before coming upstairs, you can
use the sinks for that but it's awkward and you're going to be
drinking gross bathroom water. So plan ahead.

The instructor arrives about 15 minutes before class starts. That's
when the door is unlocked, so follow the instructor in and pick out a
bike.There are two kinds and only the white ones have RPM monitors so
try to get one of those. You can clip in to the pedals if you're so
equipped shoe-wise, otherwise use the toe-baskets on the other side.
Start pedalling because why not.

Your instructor will ask you if the music is loud enough and then will
start telling you when to pedal fast or slow and when to adjust the
resistance knob. When the pedalling part is over, everybody stretches
and then you're done.

2) What is a Cole, and how is it important to ColeCycle?

William Purington Cole, Jr. (May 11, 1889 – September 22, 1957) was an
American jurist and politician. From 1927 to 1929 and from 1931 to
1942, Cole was a U.S. Congressman who represented the second district
of Maryland. He later served as a Judge for the United States Customs
Court and the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals.

Cole served as a member of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian
Institution from 1940 to 1943, and was named a member of the Board of
Regents of the University of Maryland, College Park in 1931, becoming
chairman of the board in 1944.

Originally constructed in 1955, the Student Activities Building was
renamed the William P. Cole, Jr. Student Activities Building in 1956
after Judge William P. Cole, Jr. It's called a field house because
there's a field in it. Something to do with sports.

Apparently when the huge new recreation center was built on campus
they forgot to include room for a couple dozen stationary bikes.
That's why Cole is important--because it is Thornfield Hall to those
mad cycles.

3) Does that make any sense?

No, and apparently they're moving the bikes soon because of
renovations to Cole Field House. Rumor is they'll be in the DOTS
building. DOTSCycle. I don't know.

4) Why do people like ColeCycle?

Such a great question. I ask myself this a couple of times a week.
You're not going anywhere. The room is uninspiring. It definitely does
NOT smell like grapefruit. I guess it's just a way to feel like you're
riding fast or hard without having to worry about getting hit by a
minivan or running over a wayward pug or toddler. Whenever you finish
a session at ColeCycle, you think, simultaneously, "That was fun!" and
"Why was that fun?"

5) What happens if I like ColeCycle?

You are going to hear some awful, awful, terrible music. It's
indescribably bad. Even if it's a song that's tolerable on the radio
(and it probably isn't) it will be a wompwompwomp ridiculous dance mix
version of it.

6) How successful is ColeCycle?

It does ok.

7) What makes ColeCycle more successful than other indoor cycling classes?

ColeCyle is within walking distance of my office.

8) What does "almost there, 30-45 seconds to go" mean?

It's instructor lingo. It means you've been riding at a high intensity
for a few minutes and there are 45 more seconds to go. Maybe 50.

9) I want to try ColeCycle. Where do I start?

You should have a RecWell membership but no one checks so just show
up, look like you belong there, and have at.

On Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 12:43 PM, J wrote:
> I think it was Garrett. We are trend setters....
> But if I am being honest, I mostly remember the life-saving Chipotle after
> our ride.
> On Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 6:47 AM Koralleen wrote:
>> Kinda dumb piece but if you read to the bottom Alex mentions favorite
>> instructors and Garrett is the DC pick. That's our guy, right?
>> Resistance is our friend?
>> Maybe I'll write a listicle about Cole Cycle. Except I will never
>> write a listicle. I can't even believe I typed that word. Twice.

Class - The Book, Past & Future: Final Project Proposal (excerpts)

Every library children’s room I’ve ever visited has displayed at least one poster asserting that books will help you discover new worlds. With my project I hope to expand upon offering text that describes a different world by allowing readers to experience some aspects of the discovery process beyond our familiar vocabulary.

David Eagleman’s work developing alternative sensing systems and devices to share another’s umwelt are agile, real-time investigations into what I hope to produce as a static work. “The idea that because their senses pick up on different things, different animals in the same ecosystem actually live in very different worlds” is a great definition for the term umwelt, an ideal concept for describing the environment that one must enter to read Transformation, my book about moles.

I would like to present a story that relates to the dedicated reader some information about the burrowing, insectivorous mammal. Ideally, this book would be presented as a tunnel the reader crawls through, encountering large pages that contain a short story about a mole paired with related mole facts. The title, transformation, refers to the process of normalizing data to make it fit an evaluative system : we can’t ever adequately appropriate another’s umwelt and the experience of reading this book emphasizes the chasm that exists between different creatures’ abilities to process their experiences.

The first hardship one encounters is the unfamiliar access method. We are used to holding books, not traveling through them. My ideal form of this book is a tunnel about five feet high and wide (I would like my book to be difficult but not inaccessible in the ADA sense) one enters through a vestibule that allows prospective readers to collect the tools they might need to effectively read the book. Upon entering the tunnel, the reader sees pages hinged on the extreme left and right, which may be passed through like saloon doors once read.

Although most of the illustrations, illuminations, and “mole facts” are visible in natural light, there is little natural light available in the tunnel. Moreover, the text of the story is written in ink that is only visible under UV-light. Fortunately, a UV flashlight is one of the tools that can be brought from the vestibule. It is still a bit difficult to read only what appears beneath the little circle of light.

Still, there is another obstacle to understanding the story because it is encrypted. It’s a simple substitution cipher for the English-language text but it will require more effort than the average book. Note-taking tools are supplied.

This particular book is beyond my abilities to produce for a final project but I am working on a half-size model. I have already discovered many frustrating details in the reduced size (and requirement of portability) of the model. I have adjusted the text so that it is a short poem rather than a fully-developed story. I do, however, anticipate something approximating success. If it turns out this model is simply unworkable I will first cry for days but then will submit drawings instead, most likely using SketchUp.

rainy am

The weather channel website advised that I should watch for occasional rain beginning at 7:15 this morning. I was dragging the trashcan to the curb at 7:03 when I noticed a few rainspots on the asphalt. Twelve minutes early.

Woke up with a headache. Ate a couple of aspirin, drank some coffee, headed to work. On the bus, a guy who had his choice of at least 10 other seats decided to share mine. Then he started eating a banana. Until this morning I did not realize that banana-smell and headaches do not play well together. I invented a shallow mouth-breathing exercise to help me survive and then he got up and threw the peel away in the trashcan at the front of the bus. He returned to our seat. I thought my troubles were over.

They were not over. For the remainder of the ride, he sang in a wandering falsetto just loud enough to make me wonder, "Is he still doing it?" and listen a little harder. Yes, he was, each time. Really looking forward to losing this headache.


Learned that the tenant upstairs was unable to get hot water this morning. No further info. Can't return to house until after class tonight. Trying to reassure myself that the basement drain is very near the hot water heater so damage should be minimal. Probably not going to lose this headache for a while. Dammit.


The 30-year anniversary of the Challenger disaster has some people remembering the day on you-know-where but I don't feel like whingeing my piece to that bunch. However, I do remember standing in the little store between Taliaferro and Francis Scott Key halls, looking up at the TV in the corner and seeing the big puffy Y in the sky onscreen. I couldn't hear what had happened but it didn't look good. I went to my next class. The professor walked in and explained that no one would be able to discuss Modern British Literature adequately after what had just happened, so class was cancelled. I wasn't going to argue with him although this terrible thing had almost no effect on me. I was a full time student with a part-time job that required almost three hours of commuting (drive to babysitter, bus to subway, walk to office - repeat in reverse to get home) and I was still—something I did not recognize at the time—a fairly callow human, self-centered af. So I took my bonus hour and caught up on some reading and didn't really consider the event's significance until the o-ring story showed up in the newspapers. I do remember the day, though.

Update - back in Maryland

I start a new job on Monday. A somewhat new job, since it's the same position title with the same department that I left when I tottered off to try something completely different nine years ago. I'm really happy about it, since I liked it way back then and a lot of the people I liked are still there while the Things To Be Done have only grown more elaborate and fun.

The less delightful part is that V has no interest in remaining here. She has a great group of friends in Ohio and likes her school there (much of it) so she is determined to stay. We found a person who is going to live at the Cbus house so that B can travel without leaving V abandoned, but the arrangement is very new and unproven. So I could be happier.

However, one of the truly awesome parts of this job is the schedule: summers off. So I'm still pretty darned happy.

Short! Pointless! True!

A few days ago a lamp appeared on our driveway. It was the multi-armed Doc Ock type of floor lamp with the remains of a busted-off cfl bulb in one socket (?!) and the whole thing was pretty much coated in cat hair. I have a theory as to why it showed up where it did: our trash cans stayed out one Friday because we left town before the trucks came by to collect trash. Someone kindly moved them up the driveway by Sunday night when we returned, but as they sat near the street for hours and hours they must have impressed upon a passerby the idea that our driveway is a great place for trash.

It is a lovely place for trash. We added a couple of decorative birds and planned to wait for the end of the week when we would add our own trash to the display. But yesterday, following a downpour that probably washed off a fair amount of cat hair but could not have improved the condition of our ornamental fowl, someone drove off with it.


Things to do in Los Angeles

J lives in Marina del Rey, which is close to LAX and Venice Beach. She picked us up at the former and then we walked to the latter via the Canal District, which is very fun for gawkers. B strode purposefully through the place without commenting on a single garden or house because he is not a gawker. Nonetheless, the rest of us enjoyed looking at everybody’s stuff. Then we walked up the beach and watched people at Muscle Beach and the Skate Park. B can stop and enjoy a skate park because he is a spectator. I can stop and enjoy a skate park because there are places to sit and I brought a book. We walked along the strand, where there are shops and artists and performers—a mixture that appeals to both gawkers and spectators.

The next day we went to Topanga State Park and hiked to Eagle Rock. This is a broad clear trail that is not too tough to negotiate. We saw a bunch of cool wildlife and views. We hiked to Eagle Rock and then turned around and came back the same way, but once we returned I noticed that there’s a loop trail as well. We returned to J’s apartment to clean up a bit and then went to eat at Egg Slut, which is in a public market downtown. Short menu, long line, really delicious. We walked past the civic center area to get to Little Tokyo, where we looked around and found dessert and sunglasses. We came home by way of Rodeo Drive and walked around looking at shops for a while. Then we made a withdrawal at the cupcake ATM and ate a gelato rose. That night we started our vacation tradition of watching California movies; first up: Chinatown.

Friday we walked up the steps in Culver City. It’s 0.16 miles of not-to-code steps of varying tall rises. Up at the top there’s a great view of the land below as well as all the crazy fitness people up at the top. Having scaled the steps (multiple times, some of them) they use the viewing area to do squats and sit-ups and burpees and what-have-you. There’s a visitors’ center nearby with some good exhibits and a 1-mile trail winding down in case you’ve had it with steps. We stopped at In-n-Out for lunch on the way back to clean up, then we went to the Getty Villa. This is a pretty sweet museum and garden; it’s free but you’re supposed to get your tickets in advance. We had J with us, so we got around that requirement. Next we drove up to Malibu and hung out on the beach for a little while. The sand there is coarser and pebbly. We found a few sea hares washed up on the shore there but at the time we didn’t know what they were. Then we went across the highway to a shopping place next to a park. Some of us walked around the park while some of us looked in Urban Outfitters. The park walkers saw cool mosaic sculptures of local wildlife. The shoppers bought a hat. We had dinner at a Greek restaurant and everyone’s meal was delicious. That night we watched McFarland, USA.

Saturday J and I needed to run 4 miles so we went to UCLA and ran around the campus. B came, too, to check the place out. While we were there we bought a volleyball because we planned to spend the rest of the day at the beach. We did: we strolled from Venice to Santa Monica and saw all the stuff going on (including a VB tournament) and we went in the ocean some and hit the volleyball around some and several of us discovered areas of incomplete sunscreen coverage as the day progressed. That night we did not watch a California movie because it was the 40th anniversary of Jaws and it would have been foolish to watch anything else.

Sunday was Fathers Day so we bought a folding chair. B had been sitting on the floor for four days so there was that, plus it would be nice to take to the beach. We also bought cold-pressed juice from the juice bar (it was ok, but pricy) and something called a Brazilian bowl. Since the juice bar is immediately adjacent to a salon advertising Brazilian waxing I questioned the choice of the name, but it was a yogurt, coconut, and fruit thing that was delicious. This place is right across the street from J’s apartment—if you go, I suggest you get this and just use J’s juicer for juice. I know she has a good one because it used to be mine. We went to Griffith Park next and we knew it would be crowded but I think we got there at the most crowded time of the day. We parked a million miles away, walked to the observatory, and then got freaked out by the crowds and walked back to the car. Oh well. We went back to J’s neighborhood and walked down Abbot Kinney, which is a street of hipster stores and restaurants. That night we decided to concentrate on L.A. movies exclusively for the rest of the vacation. We watched The Fast and the Furious.

Monday we planned to hike Runyon Canyon, the hiking trail of the stars. To prepare, we first hung out in the apartment’s hot tub for a couple of hours. We met Petal, a congenial 7yo who has been on 32 hikes and knows Runyon Canyon well. She advised us not to step in any holes because that’s where the snakes live. She also assured us that we would see plenty of dogs. In addition, don’t wear heavy clothes. Finally, take two things of water. Once Petal went to Runyon Canyon with only a small jug of water and it was not good. We went to the Venice Whaler for lunch first and it looked like a fun place to get a drink, but we didn’t want to do that before hiking. The roasted brussels sprouts were really good, anyway. When we got to Runyon Canyon we learned that Petal was absolutely correct about everything. This is a fun and strenuous path up a couple of hills with fabulous views far and near, including quite a few dogs. On the way back we rushed to the beach to try to get a sunset photo, but we missed it by minutes. I tried to console myself by returning to the restaurant for that drink, but it was crowded and loud and we went back home instead to watch Beverly Hills Cop.

On the last day we drove to Palos Verde to hike on a coastal trail at the Terranea Resort. This was a mostly rocky beach with kelp beds near the shore that attracted dolphins. We also saw another sea hare and this one was alive. There was also a photogenic seal. We were planning to spend most of the day at Venice Beach again, so we just walked the short trail along the resort property, but it connects to the Vicente Bluffs trail to the north and looks like a fun walk. On the drive back we stopped at Randy’s Donuts. Then we got another chair and a boogie board and did our beach thing until sunset. I got a sunset picture, then we went back to the apartment and watched Speed.

We had a great time, but there were some things we had hoped to do that did not fit into our days. Next time, we’ll have to:
  • Visit the Grammy Museum
  • See the planetarium at the observatory, and hike to the Hollywood sign
  • Visit Exposition Park Rose Garden
  • See a comedy show (we got a tip to check out Upright Citizens Brigade)
  • See a sports thing
  • See an outdoor movie
  • Also, I think B would happily go on one of the TMZ tours where a bus takes you around to spots where stars have behaved badly. Just a hunch.