The Art of Experience


Cropped K on Bike 2015-12-10 at 2.05.37 PM

Calm down. Yes, I ride with a helmet, as seen in gif below.

If there’s an age limit for obsessing over a new bike, I’ve probably overshot by…oh, let’s round it off to half a century. 

That didn’t stop me from developing a bike crush last summer. The object of my affection: “Abbey” from the Pure City line of Pure Fix Cycles. At the outset, let me say this is not a paid blog post. But it was sweet of you to let that thought cross your mind. Also hilarious. It would mean their marketing department targets the old lady demo. Are you drinking? To underscore the point, here’s a Pure City video demonstrating a style of biking for which I lack both the youth and the right underwear. Also, the mom in me screams, “Put your helmets on!”

In the tradition of 21st century romance, I found Abbey online. I wasn’t looking for a bike when I spotted her, hadn’t ridden in years, but it was bike love at first sight. I just knew we were meant to be together. In the parlance of Marie Kondo, that grand duchess of decluttering, I knew Abbey would “bring me joy.”

Maybe it was her cheery yellow paint job and minty-fresh turquoise tire walls.

Or the step-through design that promised, “Hey, Old Lady, with any luck you won’t crack your pelvis getting on and off.”

Or the comfy-looking leather seat that beckoned, “Come sit, Old Lady Fanny.” 

Have I mentioned I’m really old?

Abbey played hard to get until I whipped out my credit card. Things moved fast from there, and within two weeks she’d moved in with me. Well, into my garage. The single rough spot of our union was that Pure City demanded Abbey be assembled professionally to activate the warranty. Cheap, cranky old ladies don’t shell out when we have cheap, cranky old husbands with perfectly fine mechanical skills.

REduxbikesave

From mid-July through mid-November, Abbey and I cruised our neighborhood nearly every day. I was recreating the fun of bike riding as a kid and realized a huge part of that was riding upright. The only other bike I’d owned as an adult was a Peugeot 10-speed purchased in my twenties. It had those ridiculous curled-under handlebars. (Attention serious bikers about to lecture on aerodynamics: I don’t care. Really, I don’t. Save your breath for the uphill.)

Abbey and I tool around at a leisurely pace on paved trails in a nearby park and on residential streets with almost no traffic. She’s a three-speed, but we’re not about speed or how many miles we cover in a day. We are about the quiet joy of pedaling in the fresh air in an increasingly unquiet world. That and the irrepressible, childish pleasure of dinging the bell to warn pedestrians we’re about to pass.

great Bike w: snow

A friend gave me this oh-so-French-movie basket for Christmas. Now for the baguette.

As the days grow longer, I’ve begun estimating how soon Abbey and I can reasonably hope to ride again. With luck, gloves, hat, scarf and a warm jacket, we’re thinking April 1.

That’s right. A fool in bike love.

The other day I was browsing gmail emoji—could we pretend I didn’t admit that?—and was struck by this little number  , which reminded me of the way my dad greeted other drivers in North Dakota. keep 50%-fingerwave

Index finger lifted from the steering wheel. That was it. No turn of the head. Smile optional.

Driver’s Finger was a simple, dignified gesture. It was a manly alternative to waving, which tends to make other drivers think you’re alerting them to a problem, say, dragging a fire hydrant from their rear bumper.

I still see Driver’s Finger in rural areas. Maybe it’s used in cities and I just haven’t noticed. I can imagine situations in which the move could prove troublesome unless you’re up on your gang signs. (“Hell, yes, I shot him. Dude flashed me his index finger from the steering wheel and it was on.”)

At sports events a comically oversized index finger delivers a message: “Look, I’m waving a big piece of foam at you.” In contrast, Driver’s Finger never goes out of its way to draw attention to itself. It’s understood without screams or body spasms.

I have no idea how Driver’s Finger originated. Perhaps it dates back to when farm trucks and cars were harder to steer and keep on the road. This minimalist gesture was polite and safe. Whatever its beginnings, I like Driver’s Finger. It’s well-mannered. Never crude or overwrought like its neighbor, middle finger, aka The Finger.

I call Driver’s Finger a “manly alternative” because women drivers who recognized their friends in an oncoming vehicle, then as now, usually eschewed Driver’s Finger for a friendly smile accompanied by an upward tilt of the jaw. Also subtle but, well, ladylike. 50%-head+tilt

Both Driver’s Finger and Head Tilt + Smile are soft, noninvasive pleasantries. These gestures don’t demand we “get together soon.” They’re not invitations to “like my driving on Facebook.” All they do is recognize another driver as a human being—which may be anachronistic soon enough with driverless cars. Meanwhile, Driver’s Finger and Head Tilt + Smile express civility. That’s always worth pointing out, or in the case of Driver’s Finger, pointing up.

 

 

Photo on 1-4-14 at 3.00 PM #2

Over the holidays, I got hooked on the glossy South Korean family drama “Hundred Year Inheritance,” becoming irrationally invested in the star-crossed relationship of adorable Min Chae Won and hunky Lee Se Yoon. Don’t even start me on what I’ve learned about monkey business in the noodle business.

Let’s get it out there: I have watched 32 of the 50 episodes on Netflix. They’re also on Hulu. Online, this show goes by a confusing array of titles including “A Hundred Years’ Inheritance,” “A Hundred Year Legacy” and “Third Generation Noodle House.”

By any title, the storytelling is a delicious mix of classic soap opera, complete with overwrought musical score, and screwball comedy. When three sisters-in-law show up at the cafe owned by their brother-in-law’s girlfriend, ready to rumble, well, you’d have to go back to Lucy and Ethel for more exquisitely executed physical comedy. Lean in? Push and shove, sisters. Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 9.50.36 AM

Beautifully shot and paced—with wardrobe, hair and makeup to swoon over—the show proves that greed, jealousy, pride, prejudice and eavesdropping make the TV world go round, around the world. (Does nobody in TV world ever check to see who might be lurking behind a door?)

In the best tradition of soaps, “Hundred Year Inheritance” focuses on personal relationships and tunes out world events. No jabs at North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. No “ripped from the headlines” plots that increasingly sully American TV dramas.

In the first episode, Chae Won and Se Yoon have their meet-cute in a mental hospital where perfectly sane Chae Won has been committed by her fire-breathing mother-in-law. Don’t bother me with your questions like, Hmmm, can you do that in South Korea? Just believe that the mother-in-law, Bang Young-Ja—arguably the scariest woman in the history of television—gets it done, whatever it is, whatever it takes. Big checks. Threats. Shrieks. Her shrieks don’t require translation, but the subtitles for this show are excellent. The sole snafu I’ve noticed is “My innocent son-in-law has been bewitched by this wrench’s butt.” To my disappointment, “wrench” was corrected to “wench” a few subtitles later.

If this show were on American TV, it would belong on the Food Network. Nearly all the characters are in the food biz. Working in a family noodle factory. Running a food megacorp. Operating a small cafe. Scenes become visual feasts as the camera lingers on rows of noodles drying on lines outdoors or trays of scrumptious-looking food products in development. “Inheritance” in the title refers to the noodle factory, which nobody in the family wants, until everybody does. The ongoing competition, devised by the endearing family patriarch, owes debts to both “Top Chef” and “The Apprentice.” Note to Food Network: Consider developing “So You Want to Run a Noodle Factory.”

 Why I need Korean TV Etiquette for Dummies  

Lee Se Yoon, our hero. Formal manners rule on this show, but nobody wants to miss a text.

Lee Se Yoon, our hero. Formal manners may rule on this show, but nobody ever wants to miss a text.

A big part of my fun in watching the show is trying to wrap my head around Korean etiquette, or at least Korean TV etiquette. Who steps away first after a social interaction seems to be a big deal. Even a conversation on a street corner can require negotiations about who moves on. I sometimes lose track of the plot as I try to make sense of who’s gone first. Showing up without phoning or texting ahead can be met with a pointed “Why are you here without calling?” Oops.

Also, I’d like to understand the self-effacing conversational opener “I lack a lot, but…” and why it’s okay to introduce someone near and dear with “She lacks a lot, but…” I’d love to know the origin of “I’m going to bite my tongue and die,” though given how casually the expression is delivered, it seems more cliché than credible threat. Easier to understand is the admonition to “Shut that mouth before I sew it up.”

Then there’s the manner of characters addressing each other, which jumps from extreme formality, even among family members at home, to a jarring bluntness in which people’s jobs or roles morph into a form of address. I’m now used to hearing a mother routinely addressed as “Bo Rheum’s Mom” instead of by her own name. But I still blink at hearing someone in a shop called back to the counter with “Hey, customer.” And then there are the two guys, romantic rivals, one a member of the noodle factory family who happens to be an electrician, the other a singer who lives over a cafe. Even I now call them “Utility Pole” and “Rooftop.”

Obviously I lack a lot, but have to end this now and go watch episode 33.

Thank you for your time, Blog Reader.

Yo, AARP

Hold the surveys. Here’s how you find out what’s on the minds of boomers.

1. Go directly to YouTube.

2. Do not tap on cats playing bagpipes, dancing the Hustle or performing laser surgery.

3. Do not click on Taylor Swift. She’s already told you “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

4. Do click or tap on songs from the 60s or 70s and read the comments. Tip: You’ve found a boomer if profanity is amateurish by today’s standards but better spelled.   

Boomer commenters on YouTube tend to fall into one of three categories:

Activist Investigator “What the hell happened to the Pips?”

Arts Critic “This is real music!!!! Not the *#%&ing trash from today’s no-talents.”

Oversharing Nostalgist “OMG this song came out the summer before senior year when I was dating (insert: Brenda, Joanne, Carol Lee). We listened to it on the radio in my dad’s (blue LTD wagon, red Chevy Impala, black Ford pickup). In September she moved to (North Carolina, East Lansing, West Fargo) and I never saw her again. I still miss (Brenda, Joanne, Carol Lee)…”

And there it is. I always interpret the ellipsis to mean the commenter has abandoned YouTube for Google Search or Facebook and a pinot-fueled hunt for (Brenda, Joanne, Carol Lee). Suddenly he’s Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” banging on a church window, screaming “Elaine! Elaine! Elaine! Elaine!”

Moving on. Boomers on YouTube love sharing backstory about which artist ripped off another artist and trivia about songwriters—and everybody misses Marvin Gaye.

There’s obsessive discussion of who’s dead and general dismay it can be true of anyone under the age of 120. Perhaps the stages of grief need to be expanded for boomers. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. And coming in at the No. 5 spot before Acceptance: Midnight Train to YouTube.

Some songs elicit comments that cover the wide expanse of human experience.

Vietnam veterans talk about Iron Butterfly’s hypnotic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” blaring from helicopters during the war.

More mundanely, another commenter recalls a night when he and a buddy were driving and got separated from the rest of their group traveling in another car. He says it took “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and a couple other songs to regroup, adding that the 17-minute rock classic “really reduced the tension.” Boomers take the point. There’s both a long and short version of the song. If the DJ had played the puny 2:53 “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” our travelers could have ended up in (North Carolina, East Lansing, West Fargo).

Mostly, I guess, we boomers on YouTube like knowing that other boomers remember what we remember, miss what we miss, including our younger selves.

That’s it, AARP. You’re welcome.

Play us out, Butterfly.

My friend and neighbor Ed died two days into the New Year, exactly one month short of his 85th birthday. A widower living alone, Ed knew how to cook but preferred his four-times-a-day ritual of climbing into his Dodge van and driving off to breakfast, lunch, an afternoon beer break (one bottle only) and dinner. He’d leave on each of these expeditions at the same time each day, to the minute. Compared to Ed, atomic clocks are capricious.

If you invited Ed to a meal, his response was, “What are you having?” To take that as anything but impolite you had to know Ed and, let’s face it, you’re coming a little late to that party.

Shortly before Ed died, I became the custodian of one of his most cherished possessions, a red Martha Stewart enameled cast iron casserole, 2.75-quart size.

A year earlier, around the holidays, Ed had spotted the “pot,” as he called it, in a Macy’s ad and bought it immediately. He had long wanted such a cooking pot, he explained. Why he had waited to indulge this fancy was unclear. Almost as baffling as why he never once used the pot. One day I suggested we make soup in it and he looked at me as if I were deranged.

Ed kept the red pot out "just to look at," first in his kitchen, then in his bedroom.

When Ed moved to a hospice care center late last fall, Ed’s Red Pot moved to my house. I was touched and pleased to have it, as I told him one December afternoon as we sat visiting in his room. “Use it in the next couple days,” he said suddenly. “Cook something in it.” Cook in the pot? I was stunned. He couldn’t eat, so there was no question of bringing him a dish cooked in the casserole.

But the next day I made risotto and reported back that his pot was, indeed, a fine piece of cookware. How did it clean up? he wanted to know. Nice, very easy. Stain? Discolor? Nope. As he sat hunched in his chair, a big smile of satisfaction spread across his face. It was one of the last real conversations we had. He grew weaker and sicker, more impatient to be done with life. A couple weeks later Ed died peacefully in his sleep.

This story would end there, a sweet little reminiscence, except that shortly after his death I learned that Ed’s Red Pot was part of a Macy’s recall. Although no one had been injured, there were reports the enamel coat could “crack and fly off as a projectile, posing a risk of laceration or burn hazard to the user or bystanders.” Attached as I am to my skin, eyes, and most bystanders, I knew I would never again cook with Ed’s Red Pot.

I spent two weeks mulling the pot’s fate. Perhaps it could be repurposed, say, into an herb container? No, Ed would have scoffed at that. And what if someday someone re-repurposed the pot back into cookware and was maimed by my misguided sentimentality?

For a week I stewed in the Ed’s Red Pot issue. Friends and family found any disposition of the pot more palatable than listening to me drone on about it. Even I was getting annoyed by my indecision.

Finally, I settled on a plan that satisfied both my conscience and my anxiety-prone nature.

I turned in the pot at Macy’s, where it was eagerly received, in keeping with the store’s Let’s-Not-Have-Our-Customers-Cooking-With-Enamel-That-Breaks-Off-and-Turns-Into-Projectiles policy. Then I purchased a Bella red enameled cast iron casserole, also 2.75 quarts, slightly different in styling and less orange-y red, but definitely in the spirit of Ed’s Red Pot.

Red Pot Redux sits on an open shelf in my kitchen, emanating good cheer and functionality, a daily reminder of Ed. I think that as a practical man given to neither flights of sentimentality nor reckless endangerment, he would approve.

Yes, Red Pot Redux is more apple-y red than Ed's Red Pot. We do what we can.

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Mourner No. 78, with a drawn hood lifting his right hand and holding a book in his left hand, within a fold of his cloak. Courtesy themourners.org

 

Mourner No. 26, on iPhone tweeting, “OMG, almost @cathedral steps. Is that Snooki?”

Actual descriptors for The Mourners, 38 French medieval tomb sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, on exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, read more decorously.

Mourner No. 52, with drawn hood drying his eyes with a fold of his cloak held in his right hand, his left hand on his chest

Mourner No. 73, mourner with hood folded back, both hands at his belt, a dagger at his left side

These exquisite figures in alabaster, only 16 inches tall, portraying individual expressions of grief, are touring the U.S. while their home at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon is renovated. At the Art Institute, they are displayed in single-file procession on a long, narrow, runway-like pedestal. Entering the gallery, you feel as if the procession of Mourners is moving toward you. It’s a little disconcerting, like the experience of realizing you have barged into a line of cars in a modern-day funeral procession. (No, of course you haven’t.)

I’m entranced by the quiet dignity of these figures. Not that this keeps me from irreverently spinning their 3D images at themourners.org, a gem of a website where you can manipulate each figure 360 degrees for closer inspection.

The individual mourners beg contemplation: What is the book carried by Mourner No. 63, with hood folded back, pointing with his right hand to a wrapped book held in his left hand? How does Mourner No. 53, hood drawn, hands clasped at his waist see where he’s going?

Sculpted in our age of social media, The Mourners would, undoubtedly, leave us less to mull.

Mourner No. 12, texting about the slow progress of the procession

Mourner No. 25, with cell phone, cursing poor coverage

Mourner No. 18, uploading photo of herself and Mourner No. 19 to Facebook

Mourner No. 34, shooting YouTube video of himself  whispering, “Winning!”

We live in indecorous times.

Perhaps that’s worth mourning.

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