Thursday, September 16, 2021

Pedal pushers


I have a snazzy new bike, which runs on photons (it's electric "pedal assist" and we are solar powered at home, and I'm ultimately solar powered, too, all those plants soaking up photons to power their metabolism). I've commuted by bike when I can since my grad school days. On a mango ten-speed, uphill to the science building at UCI, eventually on a blue internal hub bike, uphill both ways (I have to cross a saddle point) to Bryn Mawr. Now with a supercharged ebike. Those uphills are a bit easier!

I'm a bike commuter going short distances and so I'm not interested in have to change in and out of bike gear for each trip. So a chain guard is key to my use of the bike. But "real" bikes aren't supposed to have them and unlike the last one, my new ride does not. 

Yesterday my (argh, new) pants got caught in the drive belt (no chain on this bike, actually), then wrapped themselves so tightly around the pedal mechanism I couldn't free myself or get my foot on the pedal or down to the ground. There I was, balanced like a stork on the side of the road, my foot slowly turning blue.  A passing dog walker and his energetic Doberman puppy stopped to help. We couldn't get me untangled. I called Math Man to bring me a pair of scissors to cut me free. In the meantime a woman from across the street came out to see if she could help. She brought scissors. Not sharp enough to cut the durable black linen, she went back for another pair.  This pair did the trick. "Now these are pedal pushers," she said, and we laughed. The dog walker was perplexed, we explained that in the 60s, pedal pushers were a style of pants. Ones that wouldn't get caught in your pedals.

I am so grateful for the calm help of these strangers. The world can be a good place.

Math Man appeared a couple of minutes later, bringing scissors and the ever helpful bike garters. And off I pedaled to work, no time yesterday to go home and change. I taught and met with colleagues and students in my torn pants. 

I've ordered gaiters to gather up my pants and queried the bike company about a guard, and ordered new pants, grateful that I'm uninjured (aside from my pride) and that none of this is a financial strain. When I was finishing my PhD I rode my bike down the ramp at the back  of the building after a rain storm. As I turned out into the parking lot, my bike slipped in an oil slick. I went down, slid across the pavement and ruined a brand new pair of soft pale yellow corduroy pants. And scraped up arm and knee pretty majorly. There was nothing in the budget to replace them with.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Young widows

9/11/2001. It was  such a beautiful day. Those clear, blue skies that cried autumn, with its new beginnings, an unimpeded line into the future. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, there were so many young widows. 

In those first days after Tom died,  I remember my mother lamenting her inability to give me any advice to help with what I was going through. (I note my mother was steadfast and wonderful through it all.) She and her friends were still too young, none of them had lost spouses, let alone had children who had. I remember, too, her thought that in other eras, I might have been less alone in such grief. She grew up in the shadow of WW II, which rent young families in so many ways.

I remember walking near John Wayne airport that afternoon — I was stranded in California on a business trip — seeing the planes parked across the runways to block them, and thought of all the times I’d driven past there with Tom when we were at UCI. And thought of the shock that had overturned my life 14 years before. How I could not wrap my mind around what the cardiologist on call was trying to tell me, how desperate I was to have one more chance to tell Tom how much I loved him. How excruciating the wait to know for certain what was coming next. And the avalanche of decisions that would descend. And I thought of all those living rooms and kitchens and offices where this scene was playing again, not in the privacy of a dark hallway in a local hospital, but under the unrelenting glare of a national tragedy. And I prayed for them all.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Miscreant and mellifluous

I have some of those magnetic poetry words on the file sorter screwed to my wall. They have been there such a long time, I no longer recall why I pulled these specific words out of box. I love mellifluous words, odd words, obscure words, clever words. I've spent so much of the last year in my domicile, at this desk, worried that my words are banal, hoping they're salient or perhaps droll.

Why did I not notice until this morning that the word Kafkaesque is hovering just over the top of my monitor? Perhaps because in the midst of this Kafkaesque time I have spent too much time looking at the screen and not enough time staring at the walls. Or maybe it's because the kerning is so poor on this rendition, that my eye refuses to stay on it for any length of time.

As I move into the real writing I need to do this morning I'm hoping not to be opaque, or obscure, or obtuse. Just productive.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Squid, skunks and Jesuits

I'm working on an essay for Nature Chemistry about weird pandemic cooking, prompted by my experiments with ikasumi (squid ink). The Boy and I modified my dad's recipe for seeded rolls to bake charcoal black versions. They looked burned, are black through and through and taste...just fine. 

And shades of the Food Babe, who was all about the beaver butt that definitely isn't in your vanilla ice cream. Squid ink (which doesn't come from squids, but from their relatives the cuttlefish) is basically melanin rich snot that the cuttlefish squirts out its behind. 

It's richly ironic that the chef Jamie Oliver went on Colbert and said there's beaver butt excretions (i.e. castoreum) in vanilla ice cream (again there's not) but who has recipes for black ink pasta on his web site. Are you really going to eat something with squid snot in it?  Castoreum has always been expensive and rare -  in Roman times you had to be careful not to buy counterfeit castoreum. 

Fun fact of the day, one of the smellier components of skunk spray is an approved food flavoring in both the US and the EU. Vile at high concentrations, at low concentrations it tastes and smells of onion and garlic. 

Also - a 17th century Jesuit wrote home after an encounter with a couple of skunks that he thought he knew what Catherine of Siena's stench of sin might smell like.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Beach tunes

We’re down the shore for a few days. The weather has been great and I’ve spent hours and hours on the beach and in the water. Beach space is so tight they have all sorts of regulations about umbrella size and shape and sun shelters and playing games and throwing things… but there’s no regulation on music. Lots of people have brought small speakers and are playing their beach lists. Lots of families with young kids, so the music has leaned to classic rock and pop. It was a bit of the sound track of my California teen-aged beach days, where it was radios playing up and down the beach. 

Yesterday a group of young adults set up camp next to me and brought out their tunes. Some K-pop and Spanish rock and then rap with lyrics that might not be appropriate for the younger set digging nearby. Suddenly they switched to Fleetwood Mac. What?? Then their playlist leaned way into the 60s and 70s. The lady who’d laboriously crossed the sand with her cane leaned over to say, “I’m really enjoying the music.” To which the young woman running the show replied, “I looked around and curated the music to the demographic.” “Can you play some Queen?” asked one of her companions. She could and did.