Thursday, September 03, 2009

ad interim

Into the 2nd week of the semester. I've decided House of the Seven Gables is actually a very good book. Not really a patch on Moby-Dick, tho, which I'm deep into in anticipation of the next item on the syllabus. Also reading thru Deborah Meadows's lively Itinerant Men, a "writing thru" of Moby-Dick; will report shortly. And dipping around in Huizinga's Homo Ludens & Meghnad Desai's Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism & the Death of Statist Socialism. (This last is an odd fish, advertised in one of its jacket blurbs as arguing "Globalism is good, because it brings the end of capitalism nearer"; er, yes, so far as I can tell from reading ahead – but then again, Desai seems to predict the end of capitalism sometime in the next half-millennium or so, rather than just around the corner. Oddly enough, the publisher – Verso, usually staunchly leftist – have omitted identifying him as "Baron Desai.")

There's a pattern here, of course: I'm reading books in order to avoid writing, just as Danny Kaye in The Inspector General dances in order to avoid talking. But I've managed, with blood beading my forehead, to squeeze out a few lines of poetry along the way, & I keep telling myself that nothing one reads is ever really wasted. (Except of course Philip Roth's The Breast: I want that hour of my life back, Roth!)
So I went & bought a bicycle. Somewhere in the carport is a Motobecane racing bike I bought used maybe a decade ago. It got some use – but only some, since I realized after not too long that my back wouldn't stand for long periods of being hunched over the handlebars. So early this week I invested (not much) in what they call a "hybrid" bike: lots of different speeds, but upright handlebars. And it's a nice silvery-grey. Not that one uses gears too often down here; one of the few pluses for Florida bike riders is the fact that we don't really have hills. (The nearest thing to a real mountain here is the landfill down in Ft. Lauderdale, which I don't think one is allowed to bike on.)

I guess one starts thinking about safety at a certain age: every time I climb on this thing I think of Bob Archambeau & his recent – well, not so recent anymore – crack-up; and I have a colleague who flew off his mountain bike at one of the local parks maybe 8 or 9 years ago, & still hasn't fully regained the use of one of his arms. If south Florida streets are beautifully flat, they're also overpopulated with frantically texting, phoning, makeup-applying, & otherwise distracted SUV drivers, for whom one lone chubby professor on a bicycle would prove little more annoying than a MacDonald's drive-thru speedbump. But I'm wearing a helmet (unlike most motorcylists in this proudly libertarian state*), & I'm ramping myself up to put in at least 8 or 10 miles a day.

It all comes back to that pesky mortality business, which has preyed on my mind ever since my tangle with that kidney stone just this time two years ago. Yes, it's high time I did something about getting myself into shape, or at least trying to approximate the shape I was poured into back in those salad days of long afternoon runs & hours on the racketball court back in Blacksburg. And after all, if I don't do something about my body's Reich-like demands for ever-increasing Lebensraum, how will I ever, ever achieve the coveted "chili pepper" on Rate My To hell with this "brilliant," "learned," "demanding" stuff – I want the "HOT."

Or if not the "hot," at least I think I'd like to live long enough to see the girls thru college.

*I rather approve, on Darwinian grounds, of Florida's lack of helmet laws – self-purifying gene pools & all that.


Bradley said...

Must be something in the air-- I bought a bicycle this summer too, and quit smoking completely. For me, the realization came when Emily asked if I wanted to run in our town's annual 5K, and I realized that I wasn't entirely confident I would make it. When I was 18, I could smoke a pack of cigarettes, do six shots of Cuervo, and then make a mad dash downtown to pick up a pizza. Or so it seems to me now.

If you really want to scare yourself, I highly recommend David Shields's excellent book The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead. Really smart reflections on health and mortality, and beautifully-written at times, too. Emily and I both read it last year and concluded... well, that I needed to get a bike and quit smoking.

jTh. said...

Have said it before (and probably to you) and will say it again (to anyone who'd listen), but the great underestimated bike safety utility is *the rear view mirror*, pref. mounted on the left handlebar. It almost entirely eliminates the need to crane or contort the neck for any reason, and gives one a drastically enhanced perception of space all around you when riding (or even while simply waiting at an intersection).

As someone who always compulsively wore a helmet myself, I'd actually suggest that the eye in the back of my head probably saved my life more often (many times) than the helmet did (once). Hope you'll take it seriously, perhaps while recalling that I was always virtually fearless of traffic. The mirror was the reason why.

Mark Scroggins said...

Hey, I think about death plenty enough already, WB.

jTh -- excellent idea; & yes, I owe you a half-dozen emails, you know -- but thanks for watching my back, as it were.

Archambeau said...

I'll be in no shape for cycling before the snow comes (remember snow, Mark?), but I'm hopping back on the bike next spring for sure. Though one is given pause: an economist in my building and a philosopher who lives down the street both dislocated their shoulders cycling this summer...