The Tough Business of Our Mortality and the Legend of Super Stu – Redux

My father died on December 11, 2014. I want to get that out of the way. The post below was originally published on August 19, 2014. (His obituary can be found here for anyone who cares to read it. I wanted to re-post this for four reasons:

  1. It’s been nearly five and a half years since the original post, and I feel the age difference. I feel more vulnerable with each passing year.
  2. Despite its brevity, I think it is a serious post with a funny story in it worth sharing again.
  3. I’m trying to become a better writer, and looking over some of my older work frustrates me. I’m not claiming this a significant literary work, but it is an improvement over the original 2014 post. By the way, feel free to comment on my writing. Seriously!
  4. I haven’t posted anything in a while, and I occasionally re-post just to add activity.

Recently, my father spent a night in the hospital. His illness is not uncommon for a man his age. My brother had surgery a day or two before that. Then there’s me with some weird strain of chronic vertigo and skin cancer. It always comes in threes–or wait, is that fours? That’s dark. Still, when this stuff happens to you and the people, you love it reminds you how we are not invincible. It also reminds me of my youth. While I was so afraid of baseballs traveling in my direction in what I believed to be at a lethal velocity or riding my bicycle or trail bike faster than a crawl for fear that a limb would tear off, some kids I knew were fearless.

Enter Stewart, the next-door neighbor who held the record for most trashcans, successfully jumped with a bicycle (at least in our neighborhood). Stewart wore an old-fashioned “brain bucket”-style helmet he got from my father who no longer used it. After my dad tore up his ear while racing in an enduro or a scramble, he moved to a three-quarter Bell helmet. Stewart re-painted it and, using a magic marker, created his new personae right on the side of the helmet, “Super Stu” with a four-leaf clover for luck. As far as I could tell, he needed that charm. It scared the shit out of me seeing him start in the street, peddle like a madman jump the gutter with only a split-second to re-gain his form before his front wheel hit the ramp.

The passing of this helmet and this trashcan jumping is relevant to the hospital story. My father raced cars, boats, and motorcycles. He found enjoyment in pushing his body. He almost died in a boat racing accident years before he got into racing dirt bikes. He wasn’t a daredevil, but he had injured himself enough to know his body had limits, but that’s about as far as it went. Super Stu was just crazy, but I like to think there is poetry in the passing down of a helmet even if it is not to his son, who, let’s face it, was a pussy.

I don’t know why we set up the ramp in the area we did. While the landing zone was on grass, that’s about where the OSHA-mindfulness stopped. There was a precious little real estate at the end of the last trashcan before Super Stu’s family fence (and surely the Grim Reaper) stood. Super Stu had to hit the breaks the second his back wheel gained purchase. He only had one contender (read: someone stupid enough to try to match his record). But Dan didn’t ride a Schwinn Stingray like Super Stu and everyone else, for that matter except for Dave, who had a Huffy. (Poor Dave, always the one with colored socks when everyone else had Adidas and Puma white sweat socks, green cords when everyone else had blue jeans, loner parents whereas everyone else’s parents were social.)

Dan had a route bike. Basically, a beach cruiser with a significantly longer wheelbase than a Stingray and heavy racks in the back and on the handlebars for his newspaper sacks. I suppose Dan could have used one of the stingrays that we were all sitting on in kind of a “festival banana seating” fashion, but then again, I doubt anybody would have agreed: “No man, I’d be in Dutch if you died on my bike. I’d be grounded forever and ever.”

Dan had plenty of room for his approach, but he mistimed his peddling—hitting the gutter with one peddle down, creating a rooster-tail of sparks behind him! The gutter/peddle business made him lose his balance, and one foot and hand slipped off his bike. He shot by the ramp, missing it by only an inch, and hit my parent’s Albizia tree carving a large chunk out of the trunk. In my later years–when Dan had moved down to SoCal, and he was now only a memory to me (to manipulate in my mind at will) I used to fantasize about him not missing the ramp, but hitting it—launching him with one hand and leg flailing—into what would be the closest thing I would ever see in-person to the remarkable footage of Evel Knievel’s legendary 1967 Caesar’s Palace jump and wipe-out landing.

Here is Knievel’s jump and two other attempts others made at Caesar’s. Interesting side note: Knievel’s wife, Linda Evans, filmed the slow-mo crash segment of the film. She would go on be a successful TV actress known best for her role in the popular 1980’s evening soap “Dynasty.”

Super Stu once told me that he thought he was immortal, that he couldn’t die (unlike Dan or my mother’s poor silk tree, or me and my skin cancer and vertigo, or my father with his medical condition). I don’t know if Super Stu was joking or if it was pure hubris, but when he decided to do some urban skiing behind my brother’s Kawasaki 80, he found out that at least he could bruise. His crash and resulting rash were spectacular! I only wish I could have seen it up close and not from down the street.

Which brings me back to how we all are mortal—even Super Stu, whether he believed it or not. Sitting in my father’s hospital room hearing about his ailment and how he has had problems over the last few years or so and has just adapted to them rather than ask a doctor about them, I am reminded of how growing old is a tough business. My father has adapted, but there will be a point when his body finally fails. I don’t like to think about that. My family is taking it very well including me though I had broken down and cried a couple of times when I was alone. When that time comes, we will be left with precious memories, clear images that will stay with us the rest of our own moral lives, just like Super Stu’s record trashcan jump and Dan’s near-colossal fail!

The Best Books I Read in 2019

I listen to most books these days, but some of the books to the right of Frosty I actually read.

I eagerly anticipate this time of the year when the year’s best reads are published. I don’t compare the books I read with the writers/editors choices since most of the books I read (or listen to) in a calendar year are published in other years, I use these lists as books to consider reading next year or later.

With that said, here are my favorite reads of 2019, with only four of the titles published in the last twelve months (and one of them originally released about 1000 years ago). The list is in no specific order except for separating nonfiction from fiction; however, the first three or four titles in Nonfiction are my top reads of the year.

NONFICTION

Most books I read/listen to in a given year are nonfiction and of these titles, my favorite are political. It is a hangup of mine that I wish I could shake, but to repeat a popular term, I am a political junkie.

We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement by Ryan Grim, 2019

This should be essential reading for all progressives. The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim tells the 30-year story of a popular movement that started with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Collision and has culminated in the rise of Bernie Sanders into the national conscience and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s meteoric rise into American politics (who may have coined the name of the book: “We’ve got people. They’ve got money”). Grim expertly shows how Ocasio-Cortez did not grow out of a vacuum but is part of a movement that’s time may have come. If I had to pick my favorite read of the year (regardless of when it was published), it would be this one! Note to audio book listeners: Chapter 16 is a mess, but after I contacted the author via Twitter, he sent me a clean recording of the problem chapter. For audio book enthusiasts, note that reader, Sean W. Stewart must have recorded the book on his back porch—you can hear birds tweeting in the background!

Ryan Grim talks about the genesis his book.

Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World by Rutger Bregman, 2017

If Grim’s book is my favorite read of 2019, “Utopia for Realists” comes in a close second. The same goes for the authors: Grim is as gracious as he is knowledgeable. Equally, Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, journalist, and author is a brilliant thinker who is not afraid to tell it like it is, even when surrounded by multimillionaires and billionaires. If you haven’t seen him dressing down of the elite during the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, click here. It is a thing to behold! He has become one of the champions of universal basic income or UBI. Check out his 2017 Ted Talk. His book–that came out the same year–tackles that idea in detail as well as the 15-hour workweek, and open borders. He wasn’t convincing about the 15-hour workweek. I vaguely remember him writing about how John Maynard Keynes brought it up in the depths of the Great Depression, but reducing the workweek (without reducing pay) in America is an idea which time has come.

On Fire: The Case for the Green New Deal by Naomi Klein, 2019

Naomi Klein is quite possibly the most significant thinker of our times. I once read someone saying Klein is the next Noam Chomsky. An absurd statement. Chomsky is Chomsky, and Klein is Klein. Still, the idea that the Canadian author, journalist, and activist has risen to the heights of a Chomsky is an achievement. She is absolutely essential.

“On Fire” is a continuation of one of her masterpieces, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.” It reports from the front lines of the people and ideas that are looking for solutions like The Green New Deal. It is not as thorough and as in-depth as “This Changes Everything,” but I think it is meant to be a companion piece to it. Worth a read!

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by William Pollan, 2008

Pollan’s manifesto is: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Of course, when he says “food,” he is not referring to Twinkies, Snickers, all processed foods. There are 64 Food Rules in the book. Each rule is simple, and its explanation is only about a page long. For being a tiny book, it is deceptively dense in wisdom. I’ve been trying to lose weight, and this book has helped, though “Food Rules” is not, by definition a diet book, but rather a guide on how to eat right.

What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States by Dave Zirin, 2005

For some time now, my son has been trying to get my wife and I to read “Welcome to the Terrordome” written by someone named “Check D,” a wrapper myFor some time now, my son has been trying to get my wife and me to read “Welcome to the Terrordome,” written by someone named “Check D,” a wrapper my son apparently likes. He hasn’t been successful, but on a long car trip, he had me cornered. I finally looked up the title and found out the book is actually written by The Nation Magazine‘s sports editor Dave Zirin. (Chuck D, turned out to write the Forward.) As a long-time reader of The Nation and a one-time listener to Zirin’s podcast, “The Edge of Sports,” I knew and appreciated Zirin. So I ended up ordering the book, and in the meantime, Zirin’s previous book, “What’s My Name, Fool?” was available in audio, so I started listening to that. I was not disappointed.

“What’s My Name, Fool?” (a refrain Muhammad Ali asked his competitors who insisted on calling him by his “slave” name, Cassius Clay) is about the confluence of sports and politics. The book’s main topics are Ali and his fight for dignity against a white establishment, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ expression of Black Power and racism 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and how the two continued to fight after the blowback. Zirin also compassionately expressed the other side of when George Foreman waved a small U.S. flag after winning his gold medal in boxing during those same Olympic Games. Zirin covers Jackie Robinson and the racism he had to face every day when playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the long-term effect that had on the ballplayer’s life. Other topics include the plantation mentality of the multi-billion-dollar NCAA, the Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs match, and other issues. I’m glad my son, indirectly pointed me to this book. Perhaps n 2020, I’ll read “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which, if the critics are correct, is a sequel to “What’s My Name, Fool?”

Lightly: How to Live a Simple, Sceren, Stress-Free Life by Francine Jay, 2019

I don’t read very many self-help books, but I have read a couple of books on minimalism: the elegant “Goodbye Things” by Fumio Sasaki, and my first book on the subject, “Everything That Remains” by Joshua Fields Millburn, but “Lightly” is the first book that doubles as a field guide. That is, it is part theory, part “how-to” manual that someone like Marie Kondo might appreciate. It has been a while since reading the Sasaki and Millburn books, but I believe what I really love about Jay’s beautiful book is how she addresses global issues. While the other authors focus mostly on personal issues, Jay also talks about the importance of reducing your carbon footprint.

The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future by Andrew Yang, 2018

I like Yang, even if he is against minimum wage (a deal-breaker if he wants my vote). He has some good ideas: his “Freedom Dividend” (read: UBI. No better yet, read Rutger Bregman’s “Utopia for Realists,” mentioned above). His idea on how to pay for the $1k a month to every adult American is refreshing, but I prefer Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s better. Yang doesn’t seem to want to ruffle the elite’s feathers—he believes the Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming like a runaway train, and there’s nothing we can do about it, but take the $1k and deal with it. He does a great job here explaining how the Fourth Industrial Revolution (automation and artificial intelligence (AI)) is going to make a lot of blue-collar and even some white-collar jobs obsolete, but, as I recall, he offers few solutions besides a monthly check to remove some of the sting and the way he will pay for his “Freedom Dividend”—implementing a European-style Value Added Tax. (A tax that is placed on all products whenever value is added at each stage of the supply chain.)

Since I’m a socialist, I don’t think we should just roll over and let Big Tech and corporations steal all these jobs. AI and automation should be for the benefit of labor, not for the board of directors and shareholders. AI and automation should work to reduce the workweek, not the paycheck. Still, there are a lot of great ideas in this book. It’s worth a read.

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean, 2017

Just when I thought how the radical right took control of America, my friend at work handed me this hardbound bomb. I was ignorant enough to think the attack on the liberal gains of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society started with the Powell Memorandum in 1972. The Powell Memo was indeed destructive, but that was only one volley and Powell played a minor roll in the rise of neoliberalism in America. There was a far bigger player in this successful dismantling of the social programs and institutions that even Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon accepted as established. His name was James McGill Buchanan Jr.

“Democracy in Chains” is an explosive expose of the radical right’s most successful attempt at destroying labor unions replacing them with Right to Work laws, privatizing public education, privatizing the prison systems, hobbling health care, replacing pensions with 401k plans, launching multiple attempts to privatize Social Security, keeping as many of us as possible out of the voting booth, and, in general, disenfranchising the middle class. MacLean does an excellent job of revealing the hidden political establishment behind far-right foundations thought to be started by billionaires like the Koch Brothers. Buchanan stands head and shoulders above highly visible thinkers like Milton Friedman, Richard Fink, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises.

The most fascinating thing I found about this book is Buchanan, and his like-minded thinkers attack “democracy” in favor of “freedom.” I’ve never heard of democracy referred to as a dirty word in America until reading this book. Too, the term “freedom” has the convenient definition as something that benefits wealthy white men–a greater opportunity for the rich to get richer and for everyone else (especially poor people of color) to remain disenfranchised. The Nation awarded “Democracy in Chains” Most Valuable Book of 2017. It deserves the accolade.

Nancy MacLean talks about how she came up with “Democracy in Chains.”

Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn, 2019

I should take it easy on the political books and podcasts. I didn’t know who to kill after reading “Democracy in Chains”–maybe start with me? I always feel better reading/listening to works like “Revolution of the Soul.” Seane Corn is a singular yoga teacher and this is an excellent read for being her first–part memoir, part the kind of instruction Corn’s followers have come to expect from her.

Her publisher, Sounds True writes, “Seane’s real purpose is to guide us into a deep, gut-level understanding of our highest Self through yoga philosophy and other tools for emotional healing – not just as abstract ideas but as embodied, fully felt wisdom. Why? To spark a ‘revolution of the soul’ in each of us so we can awaken to our purpose and become true agents of change. Seane writes, ‘When we heal the fractured parts of ourselves and learn to love who we are and the journey we’ve embarked upon we will see that same tender humanity in all souls. This is the revolution of the soul.'”

Each chapter of this memoir includes practical tools from the author: instructions on the chakra system, pranayamas, healing, forgiveness, the subtle body, and more. Not into yoga? Perhaps this book isn’t for you. What can I say? It’s my blog.

Heart of a Lion: A Lone Cat’s Walk Across America by William Stolzenburg, 2016

The author traces the steps of an embattled mountain lion from the Black Hills of North Dakota, across the Great Plains, through the Midwest to Connecticut’s Gold Coast–a two-year odyssey. It’s a fascinating and, at least for me, tragic tale of how we are slowing killing off some of our most majestic mammals due to human encroachment and misunderstanding. Goodreads.com calls it “a testament to the resilience of nature, and a test of humanity’s willingness to live again beside the ultimate symbol of wildness.” I couldn’t have said it better.

The Hidden Life of Wolves by Jim Dutcher, Jamie Dutcher, James Manfill, 2013 and The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Sawtooth Pack by Jim Dutcher, Jamie Dutcher, James Manfill, 2018

This was the first year I ever started reading about wild cats and dogs. First, I read “Heart of a Lion” then I read “The Hidden Life of Wolves” followed by the he beautiful pictorial “The Wisdom of Wolves.” I came away with a similar feeling had had when a read books on sharks after seeing the film “Jaws”: how misunderstood these predators are.

What was especially fascinating about the Dutcher books is how the couple and Manfill were able to become accepted in the Sawtooth Pack in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. (At one point Jamie Dutcher is allowed into a she-wolf’s den after after she has given birth to pups!) The products of this kind of acceptance is an excellent study on how wolves live and some absolutely stunning photography.

America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis, 2016

“Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wallis writes, “America’s problem with race has deep roots, with the country’s foundation tied to the near extermination of one race of people and the enslavement of another. Racism is truly our nation’s original sin. It’s time we right this unacceptable wrong.” I have read Wallis’ books and editorials for years in his Sojourners Magazine–a Christian progressive monthly.

In “America’s Original Sin,” Wallis tells of how he was driven away from his faith by a church that didn’t want to address the problems of racism in the 1960’s. He turned to working with civil rights groups. He returned to the church when he found a faith that commands racial justice. “Yet as recent tragedies confirm” he writes, “we continue to suffer from the legacy of racism. The old patterns of white privilege are colliding with the changing demographics of a diverse nation.”

Jim Wallis on his 2016 book.

FICTION

I probably read one book of fiction for every three nonfiction books, but after reading each of these books I felt I was missing out.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth, 1987

Roth won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for this masterful work of loss and distrust recounted by a family friend during a high school reunion and spans about fifty years, starting in the early 20th century where Seymour “Swede” Levov’s father starts a profitable glove manufacturing business and continues through the idyllic 50’s when the son, All-American college star, Swede Levov, and his trophy wife, Dawn, watch their seemingly perfect life, with their daughter, slowly unravel through the tumultuous ’60s. For me, it is one of the most heartbreaking yet compelling books I have ever read, and the first book I have read by the lauded Philip Roth.

Ohio by Stephen Markley, 2018

Shortly after Philip Roth, one of the most significant figures in American letters died, Stephen Markley publishes his first novel. I’m not trying to claim Markley has taken Roth’s mantle, I’m only saying “Ohio” is worthy of a master’s offspring. “Ohio” is a brutally vivid story of a community in the rust belt where the American Dream is all but dead, and the opioid epidemic is in full swing. Told from the perspective of four former classmates who return home after the untimely death of a friend in Iraq. The four return on the same night, with different motives and none of their homecomings, go as planned. The novel ends with a terrifying act of violence, the culmination of a set of lives that have been destroyed by abuse, drug addiction, hatred, war and poverty.

Vox by Christina Dalcher, 2018

Something like a fundamental Christian theocracy takes over the U.S. government and begins to roll back liberties–especially for women and young girls. On the day, the government decrees that women are allowed to speak no more than 100 words a day. At first, Dr. Jean McClellan thinks this will pass, but it doesn’t. She, her daughter, and all females have a counter fascinated to their wrists to monitor and govern their speech. Soon, women lose their jobs, girls are no longer taught to read or write in school. A moment comes when McClellan can step up and do something about this injustice. This is no “Handmaiden’s Tale,” one reader commented, but “Vox” is clearly not trying to be that story. It is more subtle and, in a way, that makes “Vox” more terrifying.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, 2014

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.…”

Nope, that wasn’t a spoiler, that’s how the book starts, and it is because of this setup that everything that follows so tragic. Lydia is torn between the demands of her mother and the different expectations of her father while her own desires ans aspirations are ignored. Thus paving the way to the established climax.

The structure, while not completely novel, is executed expertly. “Everything I Never Told You” is a moving story of a Chinese American family living in a small town in 1970’s Ohio. It is a moving story about a family divided by cultures, gender, and generations.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen, 2015

Pip (Purity) Tyler, a young woman, straddled with college debt and a burning question: who is her father. Her eccentric mother knows but won’t tell her. She fled from him before Pip was born, changed her name, and retired to live in anonymity in the woods of Northern California. Pip begins an internship with the Sunlight Project, the organization founded by the famous and charismatic German leaker, Andreas Wolf (fashioned after Julian Assange). Pip moves to Bolivia, where the Sunlight Project is based, with the hope of being able to use hacker technology to discover her father’s identity.

I enjoyed the odd sexual tension between Pip and Andreas, the dark secrets revealed in intimacy, and the betrail. Like Franzen’s previous book, “Freedom,” the pacing might be slow at first, but the story picks up momentum and is well worth sticking with it.

Jonathan Franzen talks about his latest novel “Purity.”

Beowulf by Unknown, between the 8th and the early 11th century (Okay, the version I read was transcribed by Francis Barton Gummere and translated by Seamus Heaney)

I try to read a piece of classic literature a year. I’ve been meaning to read Beowulf for years. In the meantime I have seen the The Lord of the Rings, based on J.R.R. I try to read a piece of classic literature a year. I’ve been meaning to read Beowulf for years. In the meantime, I have seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Reading Beowulf, I see where he got his inspiration. It is one of the most essential works in old English literature and can take credit for a lot of European works from Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” operas to “Game of Thrones.”

The story is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid The story is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, who has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel, and much gallantry is displayed. After reading the epic poem, I bought and enjoyed Santiago Garcia and David Rubin’s large-format graphic novel version of the seminal piece of Old English lit. It was a nice encore.

Burger Patch and Scooter Parts

Burger Patch and my perpetual (failing) diet

This blog started out in part to investigate hamburgers from Sacramento restaurants, bar & grills, and food trucks. That part didn’t last–dieting got in the way. I’ve been trying to lose weight and to cut back (way back) on beef and dairy. This is in part for my health and also for ecological reasons. “Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. It contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss acid rain, and deforestation. Nowhere is the impact more apparent than climate change—livestock farming contributes 18 percent of humans produce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” (Source: “Five Ways the Meat on Your Plate is Killing the Planet” from The Conversation.com) The other part of the original project—checking out local scooter culture, scooter clubs, and run and rallies–was actually a much bigger failure. I’m a reclusive guy, so I didn’t know what I was thinking trying to rub elbows with fellow scooterists. I always ended up in the corner alone during meetups, rallies, and runs. Anyway, scooterists drink like fish–I’m, for the most part, a teetotaler. In the end, I guess I was just excited I had a scooter and initially, couldn’t be happy with just the ride.

Anyway, I don’t miss Royal Bastard Scooter Club events, and I especially don’t mind riding clear of the Vespa Club of Sacramento. The dieting part is far more challenging. And as far as beef and dairy goes–I’ve been far more successful in cutting back on beef than avoiding dairy. (Me likey Half & Half in the morning joe and cheese on just about everything.) One little victory on the cutting back on beef and all other animal-based food, for that matter, is drinking Huel shakes for weekday lunches. I started out drinking the environmentally-friendly shakes for both breakfast and lunch at work. I wrote about it here. Alas, that didn’t last long, but I am back on track, when it comes to most lunches during the work week. I am also interested in vegetarian and vegan alternatives to dairy and all kinds of meat. I still love hamburgers, but often choose a restaurant’s veggie burger alternative to the beef burger. (I know it’s blasphemy from the guy who started this blog writing about Squeezeburgers and Fatboys.) When I started seeing ads for a place called Burger Patch, I wrote down the address without reading the whole advertisement. A week later, I had my poor vegetarian-curious son driving me around Midtown Sacramento, trying to find the phantom place. As it turned out, Burger Patch had no established address at that time but had pop-up events in different locations for about the first two years. I didn’t know that at the time and just gave up–until recently. Last August, Burger Patch opened a brick & mortar joint at 2301 K Street. It took me a while, but I finally checked this place out.

Patch Burger alternative hamburger offers are “Patch Burger,” “Double Patch Burger,” and the “BBQ Patch Burger.” (I know, they’ve got to do something with those names. In that context, they sound less to do with a garden and more to do with how you fix a flat on your bike.) They also offer three alternative chicken items called “Chick’n”: “The Ranch,” the “Crispy BBQ Ranch” (I’ll be back to check out that last one.) and “chick’n” tenders option called “A Bunch.” I ordered the “Patch Burger” and added “Hickory Smoked Strips”–there alternative to bacon. (As if there ever could be an alternative to bacon.)

But I digress.

I also switched out their standard bun for “Pushkin’s GF Bun,” just because I was curious what gluten-free bread tastes like. The bun is from the locally famous Pushkin’s Bakery, a wheat/gluten and dairy-free bakery here in the Sacramento Area. When I asked for the Pushkin’s GF Bun, the young woman taking my order asked if I had an intolerance to gluten. When I said, “Alas, I can eat anything, and that’s my problem,” she laughed, but I followed with why she asked. She said something to do with cross-contamination. Presumably, my order would have been handled with special care if I would have answered in the affirmative, but I didn’t need the special treatment and there was a line forming behind me, anyway.

The instance reminded me of when I used to take my dinner breaks with my work partner, Dawna, at the nearby McDonald’s back in the mid-1980s. I initially thought she agreed with my and our co-worker, Bobby, on Mickey Dee’s because it was the fastest place to get our food. (We only had 30-minute find a restaurant, order, eat, and get back to the grind.) Dawna would order her Big Mac without ketchup and her fries without salt. The kitchen–designed to make food in advance to serve more customers in less time–came to a screeching halt to make a fresh Big Mac and drop a special basket of fries in the fryer just for Dawna. She would watch the minimum-wage workers like a hawk preparing her food special to ensure they made it to her specifications and made them fresh. This alone was annoying–it’s fast food, for fucks sake, Dawna! But after she got her dinner, she proceeded to salt up her fries and squirted ketchup on her burger. I suppose I could have had the folks at Burger Patch dawn their hazmat suits to make my burger special, while the line behind me got longer, but I only wanted to find out what a gluten-free hamburger bun tastes like. I liked it.

I also ordered a “Shovel of Spuds.” One hundred percent vegan, fried in non-GMO rice oil. The “house blend” of herbs they finish the fries off with making this one of the best orders of fries I have had in quite a while. Vegan or not, fries are fries, fatso, but I can’t help myself. Speaking of fatso, I had a Vanilla Bean, “Earth Quake Shake.” This vegan shake is made with cashew, soy, and almond kinds of alternative milk, and is the equal to most dairy-based shakes I have had. It is also 100 percent vegan and also not a low-calorie item, just a feel-good-about-yourself-and-the-planet shake. And that’s the thing about vegetarian and vegan foods–just a walk through the isles of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op and you can see this shit isn’t exactly Jenny Craig.

But how did the burger taste, Jockomo?

I thought the tomato, and the lettuce tasted fresh, the grilled onions and the melted cheese also added to the burger’s good taste, but the Hickory Smoked Strips simply do not replace bacon, but what are you going to do? I’m trying to live a little cleaner and reduce my carbon footprint. I’m trying, Greta, really I am, but it is hard. The Hickory Smoked Strips are optional, so I suggest you skip them. The Patch Burger also comes with “Patch Sauce”–a slightly spicy version of Thousand Island Dressing. The little bit of heat gives it the burger a distinctive taste. Strangely, the Beyond Burger patty was dry.

What should I expect, the patty to have the consistency of a beef patty? I guess so, I’m at a hamburger joint, right? The only other beef (eh-hm) I had with the burger is how the whole thing fell apart about halfway into eating it. I’m not talking about how a bun will disintegrate while you’re eating a burger due to a combination of a poor bun, too much sauce, and a juicy patty. There weren’t any juices, and the Patch Sauce and the melted cheese didn’t seem to contribute to the breakdown. Was this an end-user issue? Maybe. Only a return visit will determine that. I think it was the patty’s dryness that was the main reason for the breakdown.

How does the Patch Burger compare to Burger King’s “Impossible Whopper”?

Well, aside from all the elements around the Impossible Foods patty, I liked it over the Patch Burger’s Beyond Meat patty, but everything else about the Patch Burger was superior to Burger King’s meatless offering. Too, Burger Patch’s Shovel of Spuds and milkshake were better than Burger King’s, by far. Also, if you check out head-to-head taste tests on YouTube, you’ll see it is–for the most part–a tossup when it comes to taste and juiciness, so I’m betting someone was asleep at the grill when my burger was being prepared.

A final note about the Burger Patch. Make sure to check out their excellent website: https://www.theburgerpatch.com/ They have promising items, not on the limited take-out menu. Also, if you’re a progressive like me, you’ll appreciate their commitment to sustainability. Also, take a look at their Patch Match page where each month, Burger Patch selects a charity and donates a portion of every burger sold. Another reason to patronize this burger joint. If I was rating burgers like I used to, I would give them a pass and try a Patch Burger a second time. Who knows, maybe they will have changed the burger’s name by then!

scooter repairs

It was tune-up time for my Vespa GT 200 L. Which means taking my ride into the shop. I have no idea how to work on engines short of filling them up with gas and adding/changing the oil. This job required more work, so I took my Vespino to Scooter City. Mike, the mechanic, said it would take an afternoon to complete, but when I told him to check a growling noise I experience most times I accelerate from an idle that put a question mark at the end of the estimated time of completion.

This sound was not consistent: I would hear it, and then it faded away, and other times, I wouldn’t hear it at all. I reported this to my old mechanic. He slapped a strip of duct tape across the front of the frame and the center panel because I assumed the sound was coming from the front of the scooter instead of the engine. The tape didn’t stop the growling. I put up with that sound for a few years—crossing my fingers all the way.

Me working on my ride with a torque wrench. Ha! Just kidding! I lifted this from the good folks at ScooterWest.com, but the scooter is my model and my Portofino green color. Check out the drive belt. I’ve seen one of those up close! What or where the “Bellville nut” nut is, is a complete mystery to me.

The source of the growling (or what might have been the source) ended up being significant, and I was glad I told Mike about it. When he opened up the crankcase, he found dust, rust, and severe wear. Ultimately, the drive belt, rollers, guides, the o ring, the Bellville nut, idler pulley, and pulley bolt had to be replaced. What are these parts, and how do they work in the Vespa GT 200’s Leader engine? Short of the drive belt, I don’t know. That’s why I pay a mechanic. As per law, the shop gave me the replaced parts, and I could tell there was some serious wear—the drive belt looked like it would snap at any time and the idler pulley (I think that’s what it was) sounded as if it was the primary noisemaker, and when I tried to spin it with my fingers, the sound it made was as if it would break any moment. The bag of worn parts was a photo op missed, but, as usual, whenever a mechanic gives me the replaced parts, I always play with the shit as if I have some idea how the stuff works, then leave it on the counter asking the shop to dispose of the bag of junk.

Out of the garage, my Vespa felt tight and smooth, but a day later, the growling came back, but it was a faint sound, and it wasn’t as frequent. I have no idea what all of this means. Maybe I should have been a master mechanic like my old man, or the late venerated Vespa sage, Rolf Soltau. Nah, I am sure it will be alright. Anyway, I’ve mastered the art of operating my Vespino with fingers crossed on both hands!

Ha, what do you know! I went to ScooterWest.com and this was on their home page–my drive belt!

Observations from the Mat #5: Practicing with a hot yoga teacher

I’ve been practicing yoga for over five years. At that time I started, I am happy to report I was not one of those guys who “checked out” women while practicing yoga. I was too busy trying to nail my asanas (yoga poses) to think about nailing the pretty lady in front of me. Anyway, at my old age, just the thought now makes me cringe; the attractive fellow students with the leggings are young enough to be my daughter. Unfortunately, there’s a first for everything.

I was starting a new class with a teacher of whom I have never worked. When she walked into the studio, the first thing I noticed besides the standard leggings many women wear in yoga classes was her top. She wore something similar to a camisole rather than the conventional crop top or other types of exercise shirt that revealed more of her dark skin the most tops. I’m guessing there was a camisole under the thing that looked like a camisole since there were two sets of spaghetti straps on her shoulders. One would expect a thicker bra strap, but it wasn’t. Jesus! Stop looking at the teacher’s brown shoulders, Jack! Okay, I don’t know what to call the outer camisole thingy. I felt creepy skulking around Forever 21, Spanx, and Saks of Fifth Avenue websites getting the proper names for “leggings” and “crop top” but never see the kind of top this 40ish-year-old woman was wearing. Just know that it looked like a camisole, okay, and it was delicate–not the kind of stuff you usually see women in during practice.

So, she’s got this exotic name to go with the dark bare shoulders. Another thing, she walks in with her hair down–way down. Black, curly hair that she wears in front of her. She smiles a toothy, but a cute smile that betrays the name, the top, and now hair. She walks over to one of the mirrored walls and puts her hair up. I could use this time to meditate like Patrick across from me. Frickin’ perfect Patrick with his perfect young body and his superior asanas. Must he roll out his mat across the room from mine and remind me how he can stick a pose better than me? Why does that bother me now–that kind of comparison crap hasn’t bugged me for years?

She turns to the few people in the class and introduces herself. Soledad. Damn, even the name is sexy or at least exotic. We all say, hi. She asks me if I attend other yoga classes here. I say two, with Heather. I then babble on about why the few early birds have our mats in this current configuration–an idea Heather started. She gives me that cute if incongruous smile and says something like she might be changing this up later. I feel like an ass. She didn’t ask about how the mats were set up, so why did I offer up this worthless piece of information. I look down and notice her feet. Can feet be sexy, or am I now attributing everything (sans the smile) to her general sexiness? I Check her left finger. Not married. (Be advised, I do this to everyone: women and men/attractive and not so attractive. It’s a weird tic, and no, I’m not bi.)

She rolls out her mat in the center of the room close to mine. From a standing position, she crosses her feet, then bends her legs until her rear quietly lands on her mat in Easy Pose without the use of her hands–they have been in Namaste the whole time. (Challenge and explanation to any readers who didn’t get that last sentence: While standing, cross your feet. Now sit on the ground while keeping the palms of your hands together as if you were praying, “Please God, preserve my tailbone!) I didn’t notice this graceful move until she was on the mat. I was too busy looking at her hair and shoulders. Damn it, Jack! You’re not here to check out females. She then starts to talk to us about what she hopes we will get out of this class. It seems like she is looking at me a lot as she tries to make eye contact with everyone. I doubt she spends a second longer looking at me and my lazy eye more than anyone else, including Perfect Patrick, it’s just that she has these big, beautiful, dark eyes.

When she’s looking and someone besides me, I can help but fixate on her top. I don’t mean her bust, I mean the thing she’s wearing. I examine the delicate straps until she swings her face towards mine again. Then I look away, embarrassed. This is horrible! I never do this shit in yoga. My other two teachers–Heather and Brenda–are both attractive, but besides that observation, I am all business with them–none of this stealing glances shit. I have quickly become one of the guys women talk about in funny YouTube videos–the guys who attend classes only to check out attractive women and their tight yoga clothes. I swear that is not me, at least not until now.

There was that one yoga teacher I practiced under for a short time. I forgot her name. She was also beautiful in an exotic way, but I didn’t get all worked up over her looks. It was a good class. She taught Yin yoga (a type of yoga where postures are held for a more extended time than most yoga practices). Even during Savasana, when she would walk around during this cool-down period and administered shoulder massages and finish us off with aromatherapy–a delicate rub of eucalyptus oil between the eyes–the Ajna chakra, I couldn’t say I was aroused only emotionally stimulated. Soledad is a different story, and it’s distracting and embarrassing.

I like to come to my yoga classes early. I have a spot, and I want to claim it. I roll out my mat, set up my blocks, and place a blanket at the back of the carpet where I sit and attempt to meditate until the teacher arrives. I am not as early for Soledad’s class as I am for Heather’s due to church on Sundays, but on one day, we skipped service, and I got to the club about as early as I do on the other days. When I got to the studio, I noticed the double doors were closed, and music was coming from the studio; it sounded like–Astor Piazzolla? When I opened the door a crack, Soledad was dancing an Argentine tango with a man. She was wearing the same top she practices in during our yoga classes, but she was also wearing a flowing skirt.

Before I could think up some romantic engagement between the two, Soledad stopped the music coming from her phone, gently criticized the man–who seemed about ten years her minor, then re-started the tango. I tried my hand at tango, but I wasn’t very good at it, and I knew it. Suddenly, a woman came into my narrow view. She gently cuts in, leaving the man out. At this point, Soledad and woman embraced in a salon-style dance pose, and after Soledad restarts the music, the new couple begins to dance. At the time, I realized my yoga teacher was instructing a couple in Argentine tango. Just then, as I’m starting to feel like a peeping Tom, I heard someone say from behind me, “Excuse me.” I backed up, embarrassed, and a fellow yoga student walked through the door. Soledad smiled at the woman who walked into the studio and rolled out her mat. Soledad then saw me, smiled, and said welcome. She then told the couple whom she was dancing with that she was about to teach a yoga class and that they would talk soon.

Before the yoga class started, Soledad removed her skirt (or is that thing called a wrap? I’m not looking that up!) revealing her leggings and explained to the class that she was teaching a couple how to tango for their wedding reception. The next Sunday, my exotic yoga teacher wore regular yoga clothes. Presumably, the young couple completed their lessons. My teacher’s clothes were more typical. Unfortunately, my web search results are anything, but. Thanks, Google Search Engine Marketing! Now every time I perform a Google search, I get ads for camisoles on the sidebar!

Maybe it was the change of clothing, or I just got used to the new teacher and her natural sexiness. She still comes to class with all that beautiful black curly hair draped over her chest, but after she puts it up in a Marge Simpson bun, it is no longer obtrusive. Still, I felt pretty creepy over my thoughts when I was recently reminded of Bikram Choudhury. Choudhury is the infamous hot yoga guru who, in 2013, was hit with several lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, sexual assault. Some of these allegations are explained–at times–painfully in the Netflix documentary “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.” See the trailer below.

For those who don’t have Netflix, but do have HBO there was an article from the previously aired sports show “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” Check out Choudhury doing his best Donald Trump impression!

How clueless the privileged are

I like David Doel’s The Rational National. It is my favorite channel on YouTube.com. (Though I have to admit, lately I am watching more and more of The Hill’s Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti insightful Rising.especially as the Democratic Primaries approach. The clip below is from TYT’s No Filter with the excellent Ana Kasparian. Here she interviews Doel about a recent piece he did on Meghan McCain’s foolish criticism of the Medicare for All issue. I know it seems better to ignore McCain and The View, but as long as nearly three million people tune in to the show every weekday, these kinds of stupid comments–especially coming from someone of privilege–need to be exposed.

Imagine Trump, but without the money

I ran across this the trailer to the film “Mister America” while reading Louis Proyect’s blog and was fascinated with this satirical performance piece by the actor/comedian/writer/musician Tim Heidecker. Heidecker plays a variation of himself, eschewing a character name. Proyect likens the performance to something similar to the late Andy Kaufman and it is easy to see the similarities.

Heidecker (I’m referring to the character) decides to run for District Attorney in San Bernardino County, California, though he isn’t a lawyer, doesn’t live in the county, and was prosecuted for the murder of 18 people who bought toxic e-cigarettes from him at a music festival he organized. He’s not in jail due to a mistrial. Still, he wants to get back at the DA that almost sent him to prison by challenging him in an election.

Flash Fiction: Planet-Cancelling Headphones

I discovered an interesting site a few days ago. Carrot Ranch Literary Community is a boon to the writer. The site is a place to submit work and see other writers’ work as well. I entered the recent Flash Fiction competition and had it published here, though you can read it below.

Ethan was walking to the office and was listening to a podcast: “Global Meltdown.” He loved his new noise-cancelling headphones. They made everything around him seem insignificant. The world is coming to an end! That Swedish girl is right, and no one is listening to her, except Ethan, Ethan was all ears. Behind him, a driver was unloading Red Bull from a truck when he fell off the ramp, spilling cases of the drink all over the street. Ethan didn’t hear the crash nor the sound of the exploding cans as the carbon dioxide gas released into the atmosphere.