Friday, September 10

Give Me Twenty

David Brooks, "The Genteel Nation". September 9

THIS summer's bike obsession--it's now nearly a year since I was first able to climb on a stationary bike and do ten minutes without six hours of screaming knee agony following, and it's the continued health improvements, not the new Giro LX LF gloves (half price!) that drive it, no matter which it is I talk about more--has included a desire for backups of everything, so I could still ride while helmet pads were drying or clothing was being washed. Or the bike was being maintained, which led me to consider a cheapo second piece of steel, vs. holding out and buying a semi-dream machine later. Which led me, for the first time in my life, to this craigslist thing the kids are all into (next stop: youTube!). Then I had to learn to translate the ads into English. Then I went out last night to look at a bike.

It was on the Southside, which nowadays means the county south of Indy where the white population that couldn't afford the Preferred North Side fled. It's the former pastureland also known as Dixie. It's an excellent gateway to somewhere else you'd rather be.

I was supposed to meet this guy by the baseball bleachers at the local high school. Being educated in a previous century, I concluded this meant he would be by the bleachers at the local high school; he, of course, meant that I should drive to someplace near the bleachers, then take the cell phone from my ear long enough to call him before returning it to its permanent location. I need to get into the habit of making it part of my basic introduction: "Hi, Jimbo Riley, No Cell Phone." So I got out and started looking for someone with a bike and a hopeful expression. There was a guy on a distant diamond who appeared to be goofing around with a child; this turned out to be a man with a girleen who was either his daughter or his mail-order bride whom he was running through a bootcamp of softball drills. Not the bike guy. Back across the field was a mass batting cage filled with mid-teen boys being given hitting instruction. I ambled up, intending to have a word with one of the two assistants who were doing nothing but watching, or standing guard; I was about fifteen yards out when the Top Kick, who was standing in the cage, launched into what no doubt was the tenth or twelfth of the evening's ass-chewing sermons. I was caught out by my momentum, it still not being a good idea, knee-wise, to stop suddenly when I don't have to. I decided to stand quietly beside henchman #1 while waiting for an opening, but the Top Kick sensed a ripple in the placid ocean of his unquestioned authority, or else merely caught the unmistakable whiff of Perpetual Wise-ass, interrupted himself. Could he help me? by which, of course, he meant Would you like to leave, or would you prefer to be carried? I said I was looking for a guy who was selling a bicycle. "Is anybody here selling a bike? he asked, doing a damn fine John Barrymore impression though there's no doubt he has no idea who John Barrymore is. It was either fairly clear to me that at the word "bicycle" he'd pegged me for homeless, or maybe I'm just too sensitive around semi-pro Nazis for my own good. At any rate, he relayed the negative response to me, though I'd already started walking away. He then told his boy harem, "Well, that wasn't what I expected," as though I'd tapped him on the shoulder during the National Anthem to ask if he happened to have a Pinochle deck on him.

Coaches: the Lt. Colonels of the athletic world.

(Incidentally, it's entirely possible I stumbled upon an illegal out-of-season practice, assuming those were school baseball players and the Commandant there was a coach. Might explain his irritation, though, like Laplace, I have no need of that hypothesis.)

Goddam, I remember when I played baseball for fun, which now seems like a Wheaties Jack Armstrong ad faded to sepia and offered on eBay by somebody who can't spell. The Third Reich routine was something you put up with in football and basketball seasons, and then only in hopes that being on the team might get you laid. Not today. My two nieces are both high school varsity athletes. They both went to pitching school. Jesus H. Fuck! Throw some ground balls. Ground balls are democratic. Strikeouts are Fascist. Swing the fucking bat like there's a brain attached to it, and like there's a good chance that brain belongs to you, and you like it that way.

I walked around looking for the guy. Tennis matches. Football practice over, but band practice on the field. Big Dad's Club or CYO football meeting across the street. I drove back home through town, which took me past Manual High School, the Grand Old Dame of the vanished pre-flight Southside community, proud home of the Van Arsdale twins, and now the poster child for the crumbling IPS system, thanks to the Racist Beacon's political reporter spending last school year there. Lights out. Nobody home.

SO then here's Brooks, this AM: the real problem with the American economy is that the middle class refuses to accept its place. Too many clerks confuse typing a letter with writing a letter, and too many should-be mechanics think they're engineers. We should learn from the Industrial Revolution, the greatest epoch in human history. Unless you had to breathe.

Funny thing, y'know: the glorious single-class Indiana High School basketball tournament, the one the Van Arsdales almost won, is toast. Their school is now a pre-penitentiary, and we seem to like it that way. Sic semper, and good riddance. We vote for Reagan, or Bush, or Palin, for fuck's sake, if they promise to keep it that way. But we're nostalgic for the British class system.

I've said it before--maybe sometime it'll convince someone, myself included--that my interest in Brooks qua Brooks begins and ends with his career arc and soft landing on the Gray Lady. My greater interest lies in Brooks as the poster boy for Lickspittle America. It's that America that demands Total Economic Freedom so it can return it humbly to its master's feet, in exchange for an all-white school district, low gas prices, and pitching instruction. It doesn't fucking care who else goes with out. If the lights are off on that Black football field across the county line, well, that's more electricity for us, right?

And it doesn't understand, and maybe is incapable of understanding, that when people like Brooks talk about all the wonderful hyper-advances of Modern Life now at risk because some people don't know their place, he's talking about them.


Christopher said...

You know, just the other day I was talking to my dad about how the situation the Huxtables found themselves in, i.e. a house big enough that no more then two people shared a room, two cars, enough savings to repair the car or roof if they broke instead of just cursing the fates, and just the general knowledge that they could weather small emergencies AND afford groceries at the same time, how this situation is now seen not as "middle class" but "obscenely, unimaginably wealthy". Like nowadays the Huxtables would be on Lifestlyes of the Rich and Famous or the Dewar's Profile or something.

And here's David Brooks, to confirm it, and explain that it's the natural way of things.

This may or may not matter, but the people I know trying to live like the Huxtables are doing it because that's how their parents lived, and it's how they remember growing up. It actually has almost nothing to do with TV.

Keifus said...

On Brooks, I admit that I also wonder how the hell he lives with himself. He doesn't seem to have the boneheadedness of so many other paid opinionators; more like the oleaginousness of the utterly unprincipled, even as he tries to talk the language of principle. It's fascinating, in a way, and depressing. At least Smithers has a romantic crush on Mr. Burns. Brooks sucks up to the idea of the boss.

Rugosa said...

But neither the Huxtables or the Kramdens were mid-level information workers. While the two-professional lifestyle may be a bit of a stretch for a couple of mid-level information workers, said M-LIWs aren't unrealistic in expecting a little more out of life than the Kramden's dingy apartment. Or rather, it wouldn't be unrealistic of them in a society where 24% of the income were not going to 1% of the population.

Or, as I usually say, David Brooks is delusional.

DocAmazing said...

Brooks is just recycling Tom Wolfe's old schtick: the working class in the US is too rich, and the rich are too democratic.

It sucked in the '70s, and it hasn't improved with age.

Anonymous said...

Republicans moan and Republicans bitch,
Our rich are too poor
And our poor are too rich.

R. Porrofatto said...

Yeah, Lickspittle America. I remember having conversations with fellow workers back in the 80's asking if they thought when Reagan said he wanted to "get government off our backs" he was talking about their backs, or later with Bush's tax cuhts, did they really think he was talking about cutting their taxes? No evidence to the contrary would ever convince them to answer no. But then, like a lot of guys, they could tell you more about the intricacies of NFL salary negotiations than what those FICA deductions on their checks were for.

Weird Dave said...

So are your brakes still broke?

Well, anyway, I just wanted to mention that if you are buying a used bicycle you really should have a very clear idea of what you want and how to recognize it when you find it. Having some mechanical skills with the two wheeled beast doesn't hurt, either.

If not, my recommendation is to find a bicycle head you can drag to your next scheduled show-and-tell to tell you how badly you're being ripped off.

And failing that, get your bike from a reputable Local Bike Shop. Yeah, it cost more but you get a warranty, and hopefully a bike that suits your needs and riding style and fits you correctly. These are important, especially if you want your knees to like you.

77south said...

I totally agree with the Weird Dave. A bike fitting, although expensive when done right will turn that assembly random bike parts into an extension of your body. I am nowhere near the bike nerd that some of my former co-workers at Trek Bikes were, but I have done my share of century rides. I got a bike fitting this year, and it made a world of difference for me. A new saddle and changing that saddle's location (forward 3/4" and up a 1/4") made that bike about a million times more comfortable, and my knees stopped hurting after a long bike ride.

HC said...

Echoing the fitting advice.

Also, a used bike may seem cheaper, but soon you'll be replacing the chain and rings and cassette (best to change as a group), then you'll start to wonder about the headset, bottom bracket, wear on the wheel walls and on it goes.

The cheapest way to buy new parts is when they're attached to a new bike.

Anonymous said...

Gotta go with Weird Dave,77south and HC. If the bike doesn't fit (or can be made to fit with MINOR tweaks), you're throwing your money away. Plus, with the "fixie conversion" and "retro-resto" craze, the price of good used steel has gone through the roof.