Sunday, February 19, 2012

Overthinking Pinterest

Okay, I get it. Pinterest is really not a guys’ thing. And I’m okay with that. I also acknowledge that I find myself checking to see what’s new about every month or so. And I find it entertaining.

Looking on Pinterest is kind of like staring into the not-so-secret world of women. Not like in an I’m-going-to-spy-on-sorrority-sisters-in-their-unmentionables, but a more public kind of secret world. What I find is not entirely surprising: Women have conflicting messages.

I’ve often assumed this was just a facet of my personal life reflecting my inability to properly interact with the finer sex. However, the patterns I see on Pinterest confirm my notions that females are confusing.

For those unfamiliar with the workings of pinterest, I don’t think there’s a whole lot to get. From my limited interations it works as follows: people post stuff they like. The result is a page of rectangular pictures consisting largely of the following categories: (1) Inspirational quotes regarding weight (2) Pictures of food meant to sabatoge #1 (3) Pictures of guys with their shirts off and airbrushed twelve-pack abdomens(4) Ryan Gosling. See #3(5) Hair in strange formations (6) Things pertaining to wedding ideas (7) Cute animals (8) Crafts (9) Babies (10) Flowers (11) Showers/pools (12) Pictures with text in the vein of a snarky comic

Personally, I think my main reason for checking on the page is number 12. However, the contrasts between items #1 and #2 is always unnerving. Especially given the borderline anorexial nature of some of the “inspirational quotes.” Also in the umbrella of #1 are not-as-thought-out ideas for weight loss including drink ice cold water 99 times a day and do 10,000 jumping jacks daily. Obviously, I’m a man who understands both the delights of aesthetically pleasing deserts and recently discovered the need for working out to get fit. However, I do find the juxtaposition of the “snickers brownie” next to the “Shrink your waist” exercise plan a bit counterproductive. However, when the exercise plan begins to involve excessive caloric restriction and exercise, the page carries bulimic overtones.

Generally, I think a few deranged people usually post the anorexic plans and most people, like me, have a fine appreciation for both (however, the boost your buttox workout is not for me). I do take delight in the new medium of “make-your-own” brand comics. Raging through facebook right now is the (insert career here) and insert pictures of what five different individuals/groups think about what you do and end with the fact that you actually are literally surrounded by a mound of paper every day. The first few were enjoyable, the rest are becoming trite and most are an excessive stretch.

Yet, I digress, the point is pinterest has a lot of these type of graphics. Particularly pervasive are the pictures of Victorian era women saying something snarky about society, each other, or their alcohol consumption. I find these comical. The next type of comic is an extension of the LOLer cat and faux motivational posters of years gone by. Really, these are why I log on occasionally.

Not to overanalyze things (but what’s the point of this post anyways) but these “comics” generally seem predicated on a two part process. Number one: The picture establishes a point of familiarity and context with a picture of something/one recognizable (i.e. a sitcom character). The comment above their head is some sort of lead in to the punch-line, which is written in small letters bellow the top. So, in essence, step two is reading the punchline. It’s a remarkably dichotomized process to simulate the anticipation of telling a live joke. Let’s just say, pinterest users, I’m impressed with the creation of a new joke telling medium, if the content is quite occasionally lacking. The other similar joke is the picture of iPhone text conversations which proves likewise enjoyable.

Well, I suppose all I really wanted to do was justify my perusal of pinterest. However, I find myself enjoying it as a minor sociological experience into what women (en masse) find pinteresting (I know, I cringed too). Especially since I can’t seem to figure them out as individuals.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Livin' the Dream

Note: In an effort to stick with the title, I'm attempting to be more daily with the blog

This year, a big year, I’ll turn 28. I’m not sure if that’s a milestone or not, but just about everything else in my life is. I finished school. At least, one leg of it. I’m now onto the part of school in which poor decisions affect myself and others. I received a title at the end of my name. Unfortunately, I have to use it to sign certain documents, and occasionally I forget what I’m signing, and sign a friendly letter, MD—to which I either look like a jerk or that I temporarily forgot that my first name starts with a B and not an M.

The biggest changes, however, involve how many documents I’ve signed that set myself up to owe somebody else a favor. You know that suitcase full of money that Lloyd and Harry turn into a suitcase full of IOUs in Dumb and Dumber. Well, I never had any money, but somehow I have a suitcase full of IOUs now.

I bought a house. Or that is to say, a few months ago, I walked into a building, signed a couple documents, actually received a check for a few thousand dollars, and obtained some keys to something owned by a corporation somewhere. However, I do have the right (or so it seems) to paint the inside and landscape the outside as I see fit. All I pay for this right is a check that automatically exits my savings account every month.

I replaced my aged 1998 Buick Century with a much more modern, but still thrifty, 2012 Ford Focus. And I’ll be honest, I love my new car. Or at least, I love the car that coincidentally the same bank that owns my house technically owns.

I’m not sure exactly who possesses my education rights, but I obtained a degree, and now all I have to do is pay back an exorbitant sum of money it took to finance the last eight* years of my education (*I suppose technically its nine, but I like to consider my freshman year at Michigan State a redshirt season. Unfortunately, it still counts financially). Either way, I have people in the hospital call me doctor, which believe me, is as unsettling to me as it could be. I have, however, resisted the urge to turn my head and look for someone more, say, bonafide.

And finally, I officially signed away my rights to make any sort of large scale decisions in my life between the years 2014-2018. I am officially locked in to serve in the United States Air Force. Technically, I suppose I’m a captain in reserves at present, but much like the piece of paper affirming my title as doctor, that makes me slightly uncomfortable.

The point of all this is to say that a mere three months ago, none of the aforementioned items were true. I was a care free medical student. Sure, I was tens of thousands of dollars in debt then too, but I’m sure I’ve at least quadrupled the amount since then, and the difference in perceived responsibility is mind numbing.

I was not aware that so many acute life changes could occur in such a short amount of time. The amazing thing is, that nothing really changes all that much. In truth, I enjoy my work and feel challenged but competent at it. I’m glad to serve my country in the future and look forward to honoring the commitment I made, as the Air Force assists me financially at present. The car and the house are nice, and help to ensure that I’m not worried about lodging/transportation at present.

In the brief pauses, however, the situation change kind of astounds me. The lyrics of Talking Heads, “You may ask yourself, how did I get here?” become strangely poignant. The answer is, I’m not really sure.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Country's Trope

Maybe it’s my recent relocation to Indiana, but I find myself listening to a lot of country music these days. I find myself consistently surprised by, well, first the fact that I’m enjoying it, and second, by the pervasive use of an almost rhetorical tactic in the songs.

At first I thought I may just be rediscovering the chorus in a different genre, but I soon realized that there was more to the phenomenon than that. The first experience I had with this phenomenon was with Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl.” The song’s central themes were to which are common to country music, including fishing, true love, and loved ones dying. Initially, as a young whippersnapper, Johnny does not want his father to take “the girl” fishing with them. He expresses the sentiment in what turns out to be a near-chorus singing:

“Take Jimmy Johnson/Take Tommy Tomphson/Take anybody you want as/long as she don’t go/Take any boy in the world, Daddy please, don’t take the girl”

In the second verse, however, the chorus-meaning changes as Johnny, as an 18 year-old is held-up at gunpoint. This time, he begs the thief not to take the girl. The meaning is altered from “don’t take the girl” meaning “don’t bring her with us” to “don’t take the girl” meaning “don’t kidnap her.” A more literal contextual meaning to be sure, however the first verse had already set-up the expressions meaning.

Rather than another about face, the third verse leaves the meaning essentially unchanged, but tugs heavy on the heart strings. This time, Johnny’s “girl” has given birth, and we soon find out it was traumatic “momma’s fading fast” and Johnny pleads with his heavenly father “God, please don’t take the girl.”

Wrapping things up, Tim McGraw, or his sly songwriters, begin with the opening lines “Johnny’s daddy, was taking him fishin, when he was eight years old,” reminding the listener that this young couple started early, lived a full life of excitement (high school, muggings, marriage—assumed because it’s a good country song, and childbirth) all before Johnny lost the love of his life.

Now, many of country music’s gambits are at work here, but the ironic twist of a phrase, is the one that is most striking. And that twist of phrase seems to becoming more and more popular in the country music I listen to.

The tactic is repeated almost in an emotionally reversed sense in Dierks Bentley’s “How Am I Doin.” He expresses his emotion by stating variously that “I sometimes cry . . . I keep my friends with me . . stay busy . . don’t get much sleep.” Later, however we learn he is crying tears of joy, friends take him out, and doesn’t get much sleep because of the “sweet” female he meets. This time, the emotional pace is revved rather than slowed by the accompanying-tempoed music.

Dierks uses a slightly different tactic in his “Am I the Only One.” The emotional timbre remains the same throughout the song, but the chorus extensive chorus “Am I the only one who wants to have fun tonight? Is there any body out there who wants to have a cold beer, kick it ‘til the morning light. If I have to raise hell all by myself I will, but y’all, that ain’t right. It’s time to get it on, Am I the only one who wants to have fun tonight.” Is alternatively sung by Dierks, and his newfound complementary partying “country cutie” (who has a rock and roll bootie, which it would seem to be at odds with the rest of her country-cutie complexion. Alas, I digress).

Thompson Square uses essentially the same tactic in “Are you Gonna Kiss Me or Not” (just as an aside here, country music may give rap a battle for music with titles that make Word’s spellchecker red-lining crazy). The timid lover is variously the recipient of and undertaker of dialogue recreating the song’s namesake. Some similarities here can be seen to Tim McGraw’s kiss the girl, as a series of life events are marked with the exact same phrase. That is, a first kiss, marriage proposal, and matrimony ceremony where all marked by the chorus, beginning with “are you gonna kiss me or not”

A third variation on the theme is undertaken by Eric Church in “Homeboy.” This song accomplishes the country trifecta of simultaneously exalting pastoral small-town life and “hating-on” the urban, pant-sagging culture. The reason that this is great interest for us, of course, is because it is the harbringer of country taking the iconic play on words one step farther. That is, “homeboy” is used simultaneously in the noun sense as in “one who is a close acquaintance or brah” (Doyle’s definition).

Church uses an almost apostrophe like “Home boy,” when calling out to his long lost brother. Other times, church simply says “come on home, boy.” The emphasis of the comma is amplified because of the audible contrast to the more aggressive sounding “homeboy.” This plays into Church as the champion of a simpler, purer life “blue colloar forty, little house, little kid, little small town story.” His calling is friend, “home, boy” amplifies the slow pace of life changing the use of a slang term back into a sort of more well known phrase.

Of course, there are a few country songs that use tangential approaches to a similar theme. Tim McGraw’s “I Miss Back When,” laments the fact that words are used differently than they were “back when.” My personal favorite is when he mentions that, “when you said I’m down with that, well it meant you had the flu.” So while other artists use the same phrase to mean different things, McGraw uses common phrases to call back a more nostalgic meaning. Apparently there were lots of collaborations about having the flu “back when.”

Perhaps the most heavy-handed example of the country music trope described here is Joe Nichol’s “Take it off.” The phrase is used no less than twenty times throughout the duration of the song. Its amazing utility is used metaphorically to describe the weight off the world being lifted off one’s shoulders, as well as the more literal and classic uses describing ones beer cap, convertible top, and of course, pants. Here the phrase means essentially the same thing every time, but the amazing dexterity of the phrase is put on display. As are the clever innuendos one can use it for in myriad situations.

My foreign ear may be more astutely tuned to this device in country music because I am largely an outsider to the genre, but it appears to me that the gambit is used more in country music than any other I listen to. This could be because I have trouble deciphering what rappers, rockers, and emo-mumblers are saying at all. The clear, crisp, annunciation of country singers (in comparison only, of course) may allow for a new perspective on music.

More likely, however, is that the country music populous has an affinity for things that don’t change in an ever changing world. McGraw’s “Back When,” most clearly illustrates this, but “Homeboy” and virtually all the others lament a changing world. Country may be trying to reclaim phrases like “homeboy,” “down with that,” while other artists merely celebrate the party, in their own country way (i.e. “Take it Off”). Either way, the next time you tune in to a country music station—which if you live in Indiana, is more often than you may intend—listen for the word-meaning-switcheroo trope and I think you’ll find another level of enjoyment. Or at least, intellectualization can help me hid the fact that I’m becoming more “down” with country.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Part II: Thank you for not screwing me big time (seven thousand, I was just going to say I hope to pay seven thousand-ish)

See Part I below for the beginning.

Part II: Thank you for not screwing me big time

Alas, determined not to let the utility companies get a cut of my financial pie, I attempted to deal directly with the cable companies. I looked into Comcast again, because I had forgotten my previous experience when they rammed ridiculous monthly charges down my throat, and also because they were cleaver and changed their service name to something like x-finity. They almost had me too. Wait, these guys must be different, they have a tendy-ish name now, and I’m not sure what it means. Please, let me sign up for more ambiguity with a cable company.

I ended up attempting to sign on with AT&T, but successfully convincing them to let me pay them an exorbitant amount of money for a monthly service proved miraculously difficult. First of all, somehow, there is a waiting list eons long to get someone to install the service. If I’m president of one of these companies, the first thing I do is make it easy for people to pull an impulse sign-on. So you’re telling me you want to agree to pay me 80 bucks a month, starting today, and be locked in for a year? Great, I’ll have someone out there in a jiffy. If the pizza guys can pull it off, and they have to craft a delicious moon-shaped pie, before they leave, surely the cable company can figure out a way to have someone show up to install cable.

Alas, logic is futile in dealing with institutions of such size (partly because I think its in the hiring criteria that the employee be devoid of any common sense. Also, devoid of humor. Although, its possible they just have a ridiculously dry sense of humor and are skilled at using the hold button to mess with you. I think I like that running theory, I’m going to go with it. Makes me feel better about shelling out a fraction of my paycheck to those clowns). So, I was informed that I would have to wait about a month to have someone come out and install my internet/cable. I obliged, knowing that there was a fifty-fifty chance I’d have to work during the eight-hour window they gave me for arrival.

And I did. I found out definitively that I would not be able to be home when the cable guy came the day before he was slated to arrive and so I called to reschedule. Ha. If only. I was first admonished just to get a neighbor to be around and let them in. I attempted to inform the voice on the line that I knew very few neighbors, and much like your cable man, they all worked during business hours. She then advised me that it would be a great way to meet neighbors by asking by a favor such as this. I advised her that it was also a great way to lose your electronics, thus defeating the purpose of said service.

We finally agreed upon a date, a Sunday afternoon, long in the future that I would be home. I marked the date on my calendar, circled it with a big red marker, and promptly searched for a neighbor with unsecured wi-fi.

Cable Guy (Part I: Welcome Back, Sucker)

About one week ago, I finally obtained internet access for my new domicile. The experience was not without the usual round of frustration, which like a refreshing spring rain, is surprising in the extent of its ability to penetrate the soul, and the newness of the sensation after a profound absence.

I’d like to limit the frustration to the actual experience of calling the cable company, phone company, or satellite provider, but unfortunately the tentacles of the communications industry’s quest to leave consumers dumbfounded, annoyed, and exhausted extend beyond any comprehensible boundaries. To begin with, I called the two utility companies (the real life versions of Monopoly’s Electric Company and Water Works, who may very well calculate my monthly bill by multiplying the number on a die). This would seem like a rather innocuous procedure, but it rapidly transformed into imprisonment-by-telemarketer.

The exchanges went something along the lines of thefollowing:

“Hi, I’d like to switch the (insert utility name here) into my name.”

A pause on the other end, and then a sort of shocked response: “Oh, wow, okay, are you moving there?”

(I fight the urge to respond that I am in fact a good Samaritan and want to pay random people’s water/electric bills) and say simply “Yes.”

“Okay, well it looks like the current owners have decided to stop their service on (x date).”

“Great, can I pick it up then?”

“So, you want to prevent the service from being shut-off?”

(Again, resisting the urge to make a smarmy comment in the vein of David Spade in Tommy Boy).

Finally after nailing down the nuts and bolts of why I want to pay for electricity, the fact that I am moving into the residence, and that I do not in fact want to move into a dark, dry house I am under the mistaken belief that I am on the home stretch. I am then informed that he/she must transfer me to another agent to complete the process. I may have imagined it, but I’m pretty sure the tree outside my window just grew a few feet, because I can literally feel it getting shadier .

I am greeted by a friendly voice amidst the background of other friendly voices in nearby cubicles. Gary informs me that he is processing my request as we speak, and we may as well talk about my other utilities. The first time this occurred, I bought in hook, line and sinker. I thought great, I won’t have to call Water Works now, what a time saver. I quickly realized, however, that Gary cannot keep my water flowing. Instead, he can merely take a cut from whatever deal he gets me to agree to with the behemoth telecommunications companies. Really, I’m just amazed that they can farm out the operation of screwing someone over.

I like Gary though, and I don’t want to be rude. He informs me that we are going to be neighbors because he lives in Chicago and I will be living in South Bend. Immediately, I’m excited because I didn’t realize that the entire 2-hour driving radius will now be considered my neighbors. What a friendly area. I bet block parties are off-the-hook.

However, soon I begin to suspect that Gary may be trying to pull a fast one. He informs me that the best deal out there is a hybrid internet with AT&T, cable with Dish Networks, and a home security system with ADT. Now I can get all of these services for under two hundred dollars a month. I attempt to inform Gary that I made exactly zero dollars for the last four years and that $200 a month so I can watch the Brazilian soccer leagues practices live every day might not be worth it. He assures me that I can afford it. I assure him that the State of Michigan would believe otherwise. In fact, last year I was denied my tax refund because my filing was impossible. The state felt because I paid more in taxes than I took in income, my form must’ve been made in error. I attempted to argue that I was merely doing what the government did daily, that is, spending what I don’t have (hey-o, first political pot-shot of the Daily Doyle). Yet, I digress.

The point is that Gary wanted to be my friend. He was licensed to sell cable packages in South Bend. He probably had a laminated card in his wallet to prove it. I, however, was cross-checking each price he gave me online and recognized a theme. Namely, he was charging more for his services. To ensure that I wouldn’t have to go through the charade again, I ensured that my power would be turned on when I moved in, and promptly hung up.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quick Hit: Epic going the way of Random

-The term “epic” may soon challenge “random” as the term my generation uses most frequently in order to outstrip it of any meaning. For example, “I had an epic night last night.” Really? Pizza, beer, and watching Jersey Shore re-runs is now on par with Homer? Odysseus is gonna be pissed.

PS: long live uber who was previously held this post

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why I Drink Coffee at Work

I’ve developed the relatively poor habit of having some sort of beverage in my hands at all times. I’m currently working my sub-I at a hospital in suburban Detroit which means two things: (1) I am physically present in the hospital for long hours every day and (2) I have virtually unlimited access to food and drink.

The consequences of this on my BMI are immediately evident. Lurking in my subconscious, however, I have discovered a desire to always be holding some kind of beverage. I’m not sure if the desire stems from some unconscious urge to be holding a counterweight developed whilst playing cornhole, or from a general physiological disposition towards dehydration.
My best guess, in fact, is that much like a leather jacket, a beverage makes one look more casual. Do I look distinguished in a shirt and tie? Perhaps, but only until I slip on my suede jacket from the eighties. Much like the tuxedo t-shirt, it says, “I’m formal but I like to party” (see Talledega Nights for more information).

Similarly, at the hospital I am dressed in business dress apparel topped with a white coat which give a misrepresentative air of knowledge and/or authority. However, when I’m holding a cup of “seasonal roast: French Toast Coffee” in my hand, it says “I might look like I’m all business—but you and the delightful smell of syrupy French pressed goodness says otherwise. In fact, we may as well be listening to Michael Bubble and paying $6 for a latte right now.”

And I think that’s why I like it. If I’m going to be in the friendly confines of this palace of sickness, I need a little buffer. In the afternoons, to avoid running to the bathroom as frequently in the morning, I generally hold on to some clear fountain beverage in a colorful cup provided by the dining lounge. Now, instead of the relaxing atmosphere the carbo-laden French toast scent provides, my beverage says: “I may be at work, but I could’ve just as easily stepped out of a matinee showing of True Grit and be holding a bucket of popcorn behind my back.”

Some may think this is disrespectful in a hospital setting, and I would tend to partially agree. Of note, I refrain from bringing my beverage into the actual patients room with me, but that’s not to say I’ve never looked a little silly fumbling for a paper in my pockets on rounds because I can only use one hand without spilling syrupy smelling aribica bean-based caffeine goodness on my white coat.

I also think that I function at a much higher level because on some level I feel more relaxed. The closest analogy here is that to people taking a smoking break at work. When I feel stressed I can enjoy a delicious taste of fountain Sprite soda, imagine an amc preview or two, and then go on with my day (which, by the way, can’t be too stressful because I’m typing this at work).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I (sadly) like that boom boom pow.

So, I really don't want to take the full blame for the information I'm about to disclose. Naturally, there have been many people along the way that have sort of thrust this reality upon me. But recently, I have to admit, I've succumbed to listening to pop radio. And not just when I'm working out. And not just the occasional radio song.

The whole episode started when I began tiring of listening to books on tape, or This American Life(which is still about as entertaining as one hour of audio can be), and started listening to the local radio station with the peppiest music.

Naturally, this meant that it also had the stupidest lyrics. I've discovered the law of "pep" in a song. That is, the peppier the song, the less intelligence the lyrics. For example, one of the peppier songs I've heard in a while featured this ingenious exchange:

You like to drink
So do we
Get more bottles
Bring 'em to me

The sad part is, the song is so catchy that it took me weeks to realize this exchange took place. The songs are the equivalent of the schmoozer salesman who is really good at what he does(or the entire Wall Street district). You're never quite sure what is being sold, but you know that you want it.

Lyrics aside, its still a hard transition to swallow. The past times that I found it acceptable to listen to the likes of the Black Eyed Peas were limited to situations in which I was forced to listen (i.e. a friends car) or the Superbowl (where someone forgot to mention that an actual live performance would be a part of the gig . . . there are some situations when lip syncing is not only acceptable, but a favor to the non-deaf world. Honestly, I kept waiting for Fox's audio people to fix a cord that got unplugged for the entire show). Nonetheless, I now have two pop stations programmed on my car radio(sure they've only made it to FM2 but still).

I like to blame circumstances for my problems. First, when working out peppier music has been proven to make you run faster(read the convoluted abstract here). Also, since I now have to depart for work at five am, caffeine isn't the only boast I require.

Anyways, in what is becoming an alarming trend, I am enjoying that at which I once scoffed. In the words of the ever eloquent Ke$ha: We R Who We R.

Lord help me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to eat strawberries

Strawberries were on sale this week. Naturally, being the selective shopper that I am I picked up a pint (bushel, quart, peck, whatever it is) and slipped them into my cart. Getting home, being the intelligent refrigeration connoisseur I am I put them into the fridge.

And there they remained. Days went by and I did not touch the—even days when I had a craving for fruit, looked at my banana tree, saw no bananas and opened the fridge. I looked in the fridge saw no apples, no oranges, no peaches, and even the oft-ignored ruby red grapefruit was gone. I settled on a tiny glass of orange juice just to take the edge off.

And today I realized that after days of fruit hunting I had ignored the strawberries. Never mind that they were sitting right in front of my eyes the whole time. I mentally blocked them out. And I could not figure out why. More on this later.

About twenty minutes ago I realized that strange feeling I had in my stomach was the end result of a strawberry binge. The same strawberries I had previously ignored were now irresistible to me and I consumed the batch voraciously and without remorse.

The difference, of course, was location and convenience. This second set of strawberries were pre-washed, set on the counter pleasantly displayed in a sharp, black, trendy Ikea bowl. At the risk of sounding irreverent, they would be hard to resist on a hunger strike.

And in contemplating this dichotomy, I realized that the only reason I ignored them before was because deep down I did not want to go through the labor of washing the strawberries. Apparently I was prepared to let them rot in the fridge because I could not fathom washing them.

I don’t really have enough time here to delve into all the other considerations. Should I have proverbially pitted them of their green turnip-kin top? Would that have enhanced their sex appeal (answer: I hope not, because as it stands I cannot resist them). What is that top for? Can I eat them without any harm except for the bitterness? Is that the same stuff lettuce is made from? These are the things I spend my time wondering but not making the effort to answer.

So, I realized, that if I want to get my fill of fruits and I am out of the single serve variety (apples, peaches, pears, plums, mango, etc) or the pre-made bite size ones (raisins, dried apricots, etc) just wash something and set it on the counter. Pretty soon it will be irresistible.

In a way, my kitchen served to illustrate Malcom Gladwell’s tipping point theory (or the feigned principles of groupon . . . both of which I highly recommend). Only the only action required of me was to wash them and set them on the counter.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bikes, fixies, and post-modernism

Oh, man. I bought a bike this week. Unlike my past purchases—a biannual parade of Huffys (yeah, I think that’s how you pluralize that . . . and I am referring to the every two years, not twice a year, form)—I got a real bike. Not a new bike, but a real bike.

I am the proud owner of a 1987 Trek 560 Pro Series. I have no idea what it means, but all I know is that the tires are skinnier than my ring finger, and I had no idea I could go that fast without my quadriceps going up in flames.

The guy I bought it from, of course, knew way more about bikes than me and was really talking it up. In fact, the only reason I knew it was a good bike was because my buddy (and proud owner of several quality road bikes) was on the lookout for good bikes on craigslist.

The seller wanted to know if I wanted to make it into a fixie. And as fate would have it, I learned the meaning of that word just in time to have an informed conversation about it. “Oh, a fixed gear?” I asked, feigning contemplation. “Naw I just wanted a retro bike. I will probably keep the derailleur.” Read: I need a bike that I can actually ride decent distances before I drop my car off to the collision shop for an indefinite period of time.

In order to appreciate the bike, I think you may need to take a glance at the craigslist ad. Just know that the handlebars you can barely make out actually reconnect at the top. They are like a pair of bike antlers, apparently made to impress other road bikes, or appear on the wall of a biker’s mountain lodge someday. They are ridiculous.

Another nuance I had not prepared for as well as my fixie and derailleur vocabulary were the petals. I don’t know how to describe them, except that instead of placing my feet on top of a pair of friendly black pads like most bikes I have known, I had to slide my feet inside these metal sort of U-cup things.

Needless to say, when I took the bike for a test drive, I could not fit my feet inside of these things. To make things worse, in order to put your feet in these things you need to be moving at the time the second foot enters. So, instead of riding the bike down the street, I Fred Flintstone-ed it until I got out of sight and just jammed the second foot in. Note to self: in order to ride I will need to be wearing aqua socks.

I am digressing from what I originally intended to write about, and that is the phenomenon of the “fixie.” For those of you who don’t know, there is a recent trend to convert a standard ten-speed bike into a bike where there is only one-speed. This is done by extracting the derailleur and shifters. The result is a bike that is a single gear and in order for the wheel to turn, the pedals must turn. This also allows for the rider to brake merely by pedaling backwards (yeah, my first huffy had that feature as well). Apparently this appeals to the PBR, skinny jean wearing, subculture known generally as hipsters.

If you are like me, your first reaction is why? I mean, I would conceivably argue that every bike is a fixed gear if one can resist the temptation to shift. I mean, I know this allows for coasting down hills without pedaling, but I am still not sure how there is a downside to that part. Nevertheless, I have heard some theories about their advantages: less maintenance, better feel for the road, and the like.

However, I believe this microcosm phenomenon can serve to illustrate a greater rebellion against a post-modern world. Rather than be forced to take part in an ever changing series of speeds and resistances, why not just turn to one absolute and eliminate some choices. That way, when I pedal, I know how far one turn will take me (exactly the circumference of my rear wheel).

Rather than be subjected to some arbitrary reality where once pedal cycle is converted by a complex series of pulleys and levers—leave those simple machines behind and just ride. I may be extrapolating a bit too much here, but I do think there is something to the concept of limiting ones options.

I once came across an interesting book on the topic as well. The Paradox of Choice essentially argued that less is more when it comes to options and that by overwhelming ourselves with options we walk away less satisfied (I would go into more detail but by “came across” I mean, I took it home from the library for three weeks, read the jacket multiple times, and started the introduction).

All that to say, I am not converting my bike into a fixie. Mainly because I like having the options there, but also because that seems like an awful lot of work. And I'm still trying to figure out how to get my feet in the pedals.