Jan 29, 2009

Birds Of A Feather

I was going to post a long, whiny rant about my new burglar alarm installation that went horribly awry today, but I figure I'm a leetle close to the (edit) edge right now to be talking about it with any sort of clarity, so instead, how about I flip you the bird?

Or maybe five of 'em?

The photo is a little oddly coloured because I was shooting through my office window just after dawn on a very cold and overcast day. That's the front yard at work, you see. It was right around freezing, and there was an 85% humidity level or so, along with a completely solid cloud cover, so I decided that discretion was the better part of not freezing my harbles off so I stayed inside and shot through my front window.

Every morning I ride in, crack the ice off my visor and head inside to the warmth of the pre-dawn office. Every morning my co-workers trickle in over the next hour, and as the sun finally rises my three friends arrive. They glide silently in on wide, outstretched wings and alight nimbly in the dun-coloured grass out front. They fan out slowly in that curiously slow walk that birds who are used to feeding in water or tall grass use, and they begin to eat the feast of nearly frozen bugs that the night has left them.

There's always three. Never less than three and often as many as five, but the core group, that three, always arrive each morning. They make me think of a trio of young men who always hang out at the same lamp post on the same busy street. They've got no jobs, and have no place to be and all day to get there so they all meet up every morning and smoke cigarettes and talk and watch the pretty girls walk by in their high heels and hose.

Those birds give me a lift. When someone decides to park the Crazy Bus out front of the office and the driver starts to send in the lunatics two and three at a time
with the hissed instructions "Go find Irrelephant and give him hell" it's nice to know that I can stop for a moment, peer out the front window and see those white bodies slowly working their way around the yard, just...living. No more, no less. I know that if I were alive or dead they'd still be there, doing what they have to. If I worked somewhere else they'd still be there. When I'm long dead and buried there will still be cowbirds somewhere, walking around the grass in that slow, stilted gait.

They're not out there worrying about how cold it is, even though once in a while one will pick a foot up and tuck it in to warm it (look carefully at the photo again, count legs and divide by two.) They're not fretting over the burglar alarm installer guy alone in their house, nor are they wondering if they're going to get laid off from work. No, they just look for the next little frozen morsel in the grass, make sure to keep their heads more or less pointed into the wind (cold gusts blowing underneath feathers makes for a hell of a chilblain) and they just keep going. They're just standing around smoking cigarettes, talking in low voices, admiring the pretty girls.

And occasionally some schmuck manages to take a photo right before one of the boys takes off and it looks like he's straining to take a really huge dump.

Jan 22, 2009


That's what a friend of mine used to call all the things that surround motorcycling, from the swag to the bike to the specialized lingo to the shop you bought it from. He also used words like "Ducatisti," which is the nose-in-the-air term that Ducati owners call themselves by. It's easier to say than "Stuck Up Snobbish Italian Superbike Riding Barstard." But I digress. Mi scuzi.

I got to delve back into motoculture some today, as I brought Sally up to Natchitoches (about a 45 minute ride) to get her pipes put on. I knew I'd end up staying there for the time it took to do the work, so I asked for an open-ended morning off and headed out.

Now, it's been cold here, or coldish. Yesterday it was close to freezing. This morning it was more in the high 30's range, but the humidity was hovering at 100% (read: fog.) So, I dressed warm--thick socks, winter gloves, thermal shirt, jacket and jeans, balaclava. All in all I thought for certain I was ready for the cold. Well, I was wrong. I know, shocker, but it happens. I didn't take into account the wet, and I made it about fifteen minutes from my house before I realised that I couldn't feel my fingertips anymore. The wind rushing across them had simply numbed them, so I pulled over and took care of the problem. My core temperature was fine, my chest was, well, not warm but not cold, it was just that damp, cold wind passing at 60mph over my fingertips that was killing me.

I've ridden in cold weather before. I've ridden in NUMBINGLY cold weather before, temperatures below this morning's, but the dampness beat me. So, I did the best I could do. I dug in my saddlebag and pulled out my summer weight (medium thickness) leather gloves and slipped them on. Then I pulled my winter gauntlets on OVER my summer gloves. Then I held my hands down by the engine for a few minutes until the feeling came back and I drove out. Oddly enough, it worked. :)

I got to the bike shop with ample time to spare, time for the pipes to cool down before my appointment to have them replaced. Damn I'm thoughtful! I happily endured the jokes from the two salesmen because I knew it was done from grudging respect--both of them ride, and both of them were in their trucks this morning. It sometimes takes a rider to understand what a real rider willingly endures with a smile. I warmed up, heard my girl fire up and drive into the shop, and of course that was when I heard the train pass, the only train I was to see all day--with my camera gear still strapped to the bike that was now in the shop on a lift.

I don't think I gritted my teeth too loudly.

After the temptation to race in there and seize my camera passed I set about spending two hours waiting. I did so by immersing myself in motoculture. I walked around the showroom. I looked at bikes. Crotch rockets, cruisers, dressers, the works. I looked at features, tires, seats, rims and paint. I remembered with sad fondness the days when I worked in a bike showroom, when I could read the manufacturer's press releases when they arrived. I'd pore over them, learning displacements and weights and colours of the next model year months before they were on the floor. I knew every brand, marquis and model, and loved every minute of it. Today I was surprised to see models from Honda I'd never even heard of.

I looked at swag, too. I peered into the visors of helmets, tried on gloves, and examined leathers. When I got tired of that I wandered into the storage area of the shop and looked at bikes still in their crates, looked at old used bikes parked in corners gathering dust, running quietly to ruin. I ran my hands over a whole wall of stock exhaust systems removed and subsequently abandoned by customers going to custom pipes over the years, and spent some time trying to guess the make and model of the bike from each chrome setup. After a while I even wandered into the front of the shop itself, a place where I discovered something important and wonderful.

I've always encountered some bit of every bike I own, a nut or fastener or bolt that seems to have been designed to be serviced by some extraordinary Special Tool. Some left-handed propane-fired driver that the manufacturer specially designed to do the job perfectly, but I only have a socket set so I have to make do. Well, I finally had proof. Fourteen square pegboard sections lay in front of me, each with a manufacturer's logo splashed proudly across the top and screen-printed photos of dozens of Special Tools and their purpose carefully printed thereon, each fitted with Special Hangers from which the Special Tools hung. Odd things hung there, weird tools that looked like they might take an eye out along with that Yamaha Special Design Sprantenbranger Washer. Hand tools that looked like they required more than the usual number of hands to operate. Delicate instruments that looked like they could remove the seeds from a cucumber without disturbing the peel. Tools that required other Special Tools to be attached before operation. It was a banner moment.

Plus I got to watch Mike (yes, Mike the Mechanic) put the finishing touches on Sally's new pipes--tightening the last few bolts, reattaching her floorboard that had been removed to facilitate the removal and subsequent installation, and cleaning the new chrome down with cleanser and a shop towel. I got to hear the first sharp bark of those new pipes as he test-started her, pumping the rear brake pedal to make sure he'd not unhooked an important cable in the process. Then she was lowered to the cold concrete floor, I was slipping my gear back on and ready to return home.

This time the trip was taken sans most of the winter gear--the temperature, you see, had raced up to 70 in the intervening two hours. A few miles from the shop I had to stop on a quiet side-road off the highway to take my T-shirt off so I could get rid of my thermal shirt and open up all the zippered vents on my jacket to keep from sweating straight through my leathers.

The best part? After a quick lunch here I returned to work, letting the myriad images and sensations of the morning sink in. The glorious hour and a half spent on the open road. The sound of Sally, the extra horsepower and the spryness brought on by the shaving of some twenty pounds of OEM steel off the exhaust. The smells of new rubber and cosmoline that haunt even the cleanest showroom. The ring of the phone, the softly spoken words of a deal being made. The smells of metal and oil and dirt of a shop, and the noises of air wrench and compressor, tool and metal. The pleasant soreness in back and buttocks, hands and arms that said "You haven't ridden in a while and you've just spent a fair chunk of time in the saddle."

The best part? Smelling the soft brown scent of new leather on my skin, mixed with the warm green bite of Outside air, reminding me I'd been out riding.

Jan 21, 2009


Today was one of Those Days. One of those days that starts out fairly good (for a Hump Day, I mean, when you have to go to work and haven't won the Publisher's Clearing House Prize) and where the hell was I going with that thought?

Today started out nice enough, then as it went on it went, as the Brits so aptly put it, "all pear-shaped."

I wish I could point to the problem so I could then point something large caliber at it and make said problem go 'way, but I can't. I'm hoping a nice long sleep (not the Big Sleep, just a Nice Long Sleep) will help me hit the big master Reset button in my skull.

Granted, tomorrow is already shaping up to be better because I shan't be at work for a while. Hopefully a LONG while. I'm taking Sally up to Natchitoches (say that properly and three times fast) to have her drag pipes installed, removing the massive weight of that chrome cannon she carries now as an exhaust. Well-designed, I'll say that right out, but still and all a giant and heavy chrome cannon. So I've got a nice leisurely hour ride north to look forward to, along a winding state road which parallels the Union Pacific rail line for quite a ways, so perhaps I'll get astoundingly lucky and see a train, too.

When I get there I'm going to stick around while they swap out exhaust mechanisms and get in some photography time. Let's all hope for nice weather, yes please? And maybe a train? Since the lines are RIGHT THERE by the shop? Then when all the bolts are torqued (what a nice word) to their proper OEM specifications and all the fingerprints wiped off I'll ride her back home (in what is supposed to be a high temp of 70) for another leisurely hour and I guess thence to work.

Work. Part of me wants to gripe, whine and rant. Most of me knows better. See, I can rant and gripe a little bit, but if I go too far it'll make me feel worse, and set me upon that slippery downward spiral that I've come to know and hate so much. I've already griped and whined today, so I know that much more will just push me down that slope. If you want to know one of the major reasons, just read the posts about three months back concerning inventory. Or just click the "work-related grief" label. As the t-shirts so aptly put it, Same Shit, Different Day.

I'm also let down with myself because when I get angry/depressed/aggravated I tend to curse, and using the language like this is a sign of a weak mind. If I can only phrase my disgust with a four-letter explicative then I need to be back in school learning my vocabulary words.

And damnit I just remembered I've not secured the chickens for the night nor gathered eggs. BLAST. But I digress. Be right back.

Jesse is part of it, too. You remember Jesse, right?

Jesse is the dog who got me into Borzoi some five or six years ago; a complete fluke, a coincidental, serendipitous meeting. Before then I'd no idea what a Borzoi was, much less what elegant, powerful, wonderful dogs they are. Rita (our breeder, owner of Aria Borzoi) has been trying for some time now to get us to adopt Jesse. He's retiring, you see. Retiring from hunting and from lure coursing and from the confirmation ring after ringing up a trophy-case full of awards, championships and merits. He's been fixed (having sired one beautiful litter) and he has spent the last month here with us while Belle has lived with Rita and Havoc (the Australian dual champion who barks with an accent and goes down the drain counter-clockwise.)

I know Rita a little bit by now. Rita doesn't do anything without a plan. She WANTS me to have him. She KNOWS I'll love and nurture him and give him the best life any dog could ask for. Rita isn't stupid--she loves that dog too but needs her space for the rest of her up-and-coming champions. Space is at a premium, and if a dog isn't producing any more it needs to move along and make way for one or more that will. Simple business, really, and Rita is in the business of Borzoi with both feet. So, Jesse needs a new home. She's hoping it's with me.

The original concern with Jesse, the reason I didn't just say "Sure!" months ago when the subject was first breached is that he's a REAL Borzoi. That is to say he's a hunting dog. He has confirmed kills on jack rabbits on sanctioned hunts, he's decimated the squirrel, 'possum, raccoon and small varmint population at his home kennel, and we have cats. Six of them. And a yard full of squirrels. You begin to see our concerns. He is a prey-driven dog, and we've a house-full of prey. I was terrified that he'd have at least one squirrel and my mother's free-roaming cat dead the first week he was here.

I couldn't have been more wrong, it turns out. Jesse is frighteningly well-trained. He responds at a word, minds his manners and at worst stuck his nose quite a ways under my bravest cat's tail for a big whiff. No biting. No chasing. Yes a little stalking but nothing a sharp word hasn't been able to stop. And no dead animals outside. None. Well, none that I've found.

He's also a cuddle bug.

Borzoi by nature are solitary critters. They don't crave human companionship the way most other dogs do. They're fine with the occasional treat, a walk, and a nice couch to lie on. Jesse CRAVES attention. I can't tell you how often I found myself standing in the yard resting after some exertion to find a foot of Borzoi nose inserted in my hand. Standing anywhere in the house when he's inside will result in a yard of very thin, very athletic dog leaning on your thighs. When I sit on the couch he will watch me with those wise, intelligent eyes, walk languidly over as if he were going elsewhere and then in one long sinuous movement, like a very furry dragon he's climbed up on the couch, rolled his bony self into a ball and planted his chin on my leg. Then he utters one of those deeeeep, contented sighs that only a dog with a ribcage that big can manage, and my heart melts more.

My concern is room. We've got plenty of acreage but not the capital for fencing, and a dog like Jesse cannot be left unfenced or we'll find him two weeks later in northern California. We're starting a kennel (two puppies now and a litter upwards of fourteen strong due in March if Belle's mating took) and right now our limited space has to be for dogs that will be producing for us, just like Rita, and Jesse now is, in essence, a yard dog. No more coursing, no more showing. He's being put out to pasture. I just wish I could afford to fence my pasture in FOR him. I love that wall-eyed, slab-sided three-feet-long and three-inches-wide dog.

So yes, that's been preying on my mind, too. A beautiful, titled, exquisite creature, my first love in the breed, and I've got the chance to own him. I have Rita's trust that I could and would give him a leisurely, easy life, and I simply can't afford to.

To add insult to injury, Jennifer Connelly didn't respond to my very cordial invite to stand in my luxuriously-appointed glass box and display my camera collection. *pained sigh*

Jan 20, 2009

Kodak Brownie - Posed!

Per several very politely worded requests, and because I've been planning on doing something like this since before I brought it home*--

Gordo was fretting a mite because he has a Brownie collection (not the food nor the little girls, the camera) and hasn't a good way to display them. So, in the spirit of internet brotherhood I'll share my intent:

First, you need a sizeable glass enclosure, with various wooden boxes artfully covered in some neutral-coloured cloth. Then, you pose your collection of Brownies here and there around Jennifer Connelly, dressed as she did in either Dark City or The Rocketeer, tho the 30's Rocketeer look is a shade too old.

The trick, naturally, would lie in making sure Ms. Connelly is a) accustomed to showing off the quality features of the various Kodak Brownie models and b) is at least a little bit okay with being locked in a glass box in someone's house.

Nothing but a puddle to a high stepper, I say.

* Before you ask, "Yes, that is my fedora," and "Yes, I do wear it, but usually only with a suit or at very least a shirt and tie." Also, "Yes, that is my pipe," and "Yes, I do smoke it, but only in the quiet comfort of my home and only when I want to smoke in excess of two hours--that bowl is a lot larger than it appears."

Jan 19, 2009

Holiday Snaps

This weekend turned up some surprises, the worst being that after a week of stunningly beautiful skies and moderate temps Saturday turned into winter again--overcast, cold and windy. But! Sunday recovered nicely, including a trip to Mrs. I's paternal grandfather's house, also known as The Heaven Where Rummage Sales Go.

You see, Grandpa S. was a collector's collector. He didn't so much collect things as collect collections. He had a collection of most everything, from tools to brass figurines to vases to coins to wildlife-print throw pillows. I kid you not. The best part of it is that his house was packed literally floor to ceiling with this stuff, so that there was a single path through to each room, but every item in the vast plethora of things was placed "just so." It looked like a museum curator's basement, full of the things that may one day go back on display, just not right now. It was all clean and neat and tidy and organized with a gentle obsessiveness that I envy.

The three siblings have been slowly letting the worthwhile items trickle out to family members. The countless and quite valuable coin collections were carefully divided up. Likewise his guns, and of course various mementos mori were given to those who requested them. This last weekend was Round Two, sort of a second visiting to make sure there's nothing that anyone really really wants before the remainder goes into the Mother of All Garage Sales.

Now me, being of an opportunistic bent, wanted to go see just to see. I hate the idea of taking his things, but the family has been literally pushing items to me--a brand new cordless drill set. A thousand piece multi-tool set, also unopened. One of several dozen toolboxes full of household tools and such. I asked for (with great embarrassment) and was given a beautiful old nylon shaving brush that probably dates to the mid 50's and a moustache cup the first visit. I was then given the tools and three LSU polo shirts that still bore their tags.

This trip over I resigned myself to asking for something I'd been thinking about since I first saw them: oscillating fans. Yeah, I'm a freak. Grandpa S., you see, collected those beautiful old oscillating fans in the Art Deco style. You know, the ones made of solid steel, with the barely-protected metal blades and the cannon-shell nacelles over the motors. Those kind. Bakelike control knobs and a certain "you should know better than stick your finger in here you dolt" mentality to safety.

Upon arriving the family had already picked out for me a beautiful little saki serving set--eight tiny thimble-cups, a smallish matching plate to hold the set and the elegant little serving bottle. I asked for and was given three of the thirty pound fans (it seemed they were given over with a look of gratitude, quite frankly) and I stopped, content to wander around the house and just touch the occasional tchotchke. More fun than a church rummage sale since all of this stuff began at one step up from cheap knock-offs.

What genuinely struck me this time was how you could FEEL the love radiating off the items. I could see him carefully picking, pricing, setting each item back on the shelf until it went on sale or until a place was found for it in the collection. I could hear him laugh as he carefully counted just quarters or just dimes into each of dozens of authentic piggy banks, the sort you have to destroy to get your money back. I could almost sense the story behind each little brass animal, each lovely vase filled with silk floral arrangements. Then I saw it. An unmistakable shape, almost hidden in a bookshelf.

A Kodak box camera.

Squat and square, a dull black that shouted "Bakelite plastic!" it sat there watching me with a lens so small a dime could cover it. At first I thought it was fake; even after picking it up I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a toy. A flash was attached to the side, the simple handle held on with a broad-headed screw. With its half-globe aluminum flash shield, the comically huge grey buttons and single round film advance knob in the corner all looked like some cleverly-contrived but inexpensive toy. The astonishingly light heft, the childlike simplicity--it couldn't be real, but sure enough the metal plate at the front stated it clearly enough: "Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Model Flash Camera." I brought it reverently to the back patio and stared straight down into the viewfinder until a perfectly-reproduced upside-down image of the back yard, the fence, and the house behind swam into view. It was real.

I was laughingly given this little prize by the siblings, along with a beautifully cared-for Pentax H2 35mm manual camera with leather wrap-around case and a promise to give me the 'telephoto lens and tripod' that went with it, which were still somewhere hidden in the house. It was for the Brownie, though, that I itched all afternoon for. I couldn't wait to get it home and start disassembling and cleaning and oiling it. A search of the internet tubes turned up millions of hits--apparently a Kodak Brownie box camera was issued to every suburban family in America circa 1950 in the same manner that a copy of "Frampton Comes Alive" would later be issued to every family in North America in the 1970's. You can buy a working one in surprisingly good condition on eBay for a ten spot plus S&H. Buy some C620 film, respool it backwards, thread it into the plastic (and often missing, as mine is) take-up reel and you're ready to go out shooting, 1950's style.

You, that is, and a cadre of several hundred thousand other retro shutterbugs who also shoot with lovingly restored Kodak Brownie cameras. Go figure.

I sat down at the kitchen table with a mound of soft rags, a can of Brasso and a tube of jeweler's rouge and broke out my lens cleaning gear from my camera bag. An easy half hour of rouging the body brought back a lustrous black sheen from the Bakelite and even the badly spotted and corroded aluminum flash shield cleaned up a little bit with the Brasso. (And if you have a sure-fire way to get those black corrosion spots off aluminum PLEASE let me know?) I fondled and fiddled and played, cleaning the vinyl strap on top, working the two pleasantly clunky buttons, peering through the viewfinder, trying to imagine taking a photo with a camera that even with film and a pair of "C" cell batteries in the flash's body might only have weighed a pound.

I tried to envision my parents unwrapping their first Kodak Brownie camera, awed at its state of the art spring-release shutter, marveling at the clarity of its tiny lens and the compact size of the flash. I imagined folks at the beach, at weddings, at picnics happily pointing their little Bakelite black Kodaks at smiling family and friends, exposing negatives measured in inches, not recording shots on flash cards measured in megabytes.

I doubt I'll ever take it out, to be quite honest. The film itself is fairly expensive, as would trying to find someone to develop it. I doubt I'll carefully alter it, as the internet instructions direct, so I can fit it to a standard tripod and a remote shutter release. I don't think I'll drag it out, stare down into its little square viewfinder and peer at any subject, upside down and in living colour, with the intention of making a record of the event. I won't try to fit new batteries in the flash's plastic handle because I don't want to fire the unused flash bulb that nestles there, a glass egg packed tight with a nest of hair-fine filaments.

No, I'll finish cleaning it and set it on my shelf of Good Things, a magpie who has found some special new shiny. What I will do is, on occasion, sit and wonder at it. I'll wonder at its marvelous simplicity and its place in history. Hopefully one day soon I'll take it down and set it up with a fountain pen perhaps, or my fedora, and take some photographs of it with a camera that uses, for all I know, pixie dust and magic to make images appear on my computer instead of simple rolls of chemical-coated celluloid. I'll wonder at its stories, wonder who carried it and why.

I'll also smile over it, probably just like Grandpa S. did when he first clapped eyes on it on a flea market table or at an estate sale lot. I'll smile like he did when he payed a few dollars for so he could set it on HIS bookshelf and smile over it.

Jan 14, 2009

Moving On Is Hard To Do

I'm not a huge fan of change. I was crushed when M*A*S*H was canceled. The idea of repainting the walls in the house a different colour makes me break out. Heck, I don't even like to carry coins in my pocket. But, change is, like farting, inevitable. The best you can hope for is to be somewhat in control when it happens.

I like my motorcycle jacket. It's one of those old standards, the classic 1950's police-style jacket with the offset zipper and the big belt with the square chrome buckle. Black leather, naturally, lots of zippers on pockets and sleeves and such, and snaps on the lapels and collar. I've worn it for more years than I can count, and it's lasted me so long I'm wearing it on my fourth bike now. Needless to say it's seen some miles.

(Here it is fairly new, back in 1996 when I was riding Betsey, the first "Strawberry Bitch." That's my first Arai helmet in my proud hands. And yes, that's a Scooby Doo stuffed animal stuffed in there. I think I was bringing it home for Weerelephant for a present. It also might have been for some other girl. It's been a while. Anyway.)

One of the things that always makes me laugh about the weekend Harley guys is their leathers. Always perfect, always clean, you can tell they're doctors or lawyers or tax accountants in real life who unpack this Harley persona on weekends. Not a speck on those leathers, not a single raindrop has fallen on them, not a bug speck. Heck, there's barely even creases.

My jacket? My jacket has more creases than Phyllis Diller's face. It carries bug spatters that are so ground in that not even repeated applications of saddle soap can get them out. It's got scuffs and bumps and imperfections abounding. It has been worn through a dozen freezing cold winters and worn in rainstorms too numerous to count, including one rather memorable hail storm.

It's even got a bomb, a lipsticky kiss and a mostly naked girl on the back.

Here's the original, a WWII-era B-24 Liberator bomber.

I love my jacket. Thirteen years of wearing it have made it as much a part of my body as my hands and feet. People ask me about the jacket, about the girl, about all of it, and I often give them the whole story, or as much of it as I think they'll want to hear. It's FUN. It's different. It's personal. And now I've got to put it aside. Change has come.

Two reasons forced this change:

1) The wreck
2) My job.

The wreck, as you remember, left Black Betty in pieces and left several rather large scuffs across the back, collar and elbow of my jacket. Now that in itself isn't anything at all. I'd just as soon leave them on there, pale grey reminders of how fast things can change when you think you're in control. Also, nothing says 'well-traveled' like scars. If I grew weary of them I could always get out the black Kiki polish and some Neet's Foot oil and make them disappear too, except for some residual roughness.

The job, however, isn't as easy to get around. Back when The Demon Bitch From Hell was running the joint she said to me one day that 'someone' in the office was offended by my jacket, and I had to stop wearing it. Instead, I just folded it up carefully and made sure nothing showed when I went inside. I had figured out, you see, about an hour after she spoke to me that it was SHE who was offended, not another employee.

Well, things have changed again. No longer am I one of three men in the office on a daily basis. Now I am ONE man in an office suddenly filled with women. Granted there's two more male employees but they're field staff, and the office staff contains even more women than usual. Plus we went one better and hired about six MORE women to fill the field staff roster out further. I'm trapped in an estrogen-based world.

I guess it had to happen--someone spoke to our new director about it. I know our new director--she laughed out loud the first time she saw it, back when she was still a field nurse and said nothing more. She, you see, has a sense of humour and understands why I wear it. One of the multitude we hired, however, doesn't share that sense of humour and this being a P. C. world, I had to put her aside. Today, actually, having begged three more days of wear out of The Boss while my new jacket came in.

My new jacket. What dreadful words those are. Don't get me wrong, it's a NICE jacket. It's even got armour where my old one didn't (spine, elbows and shoulders) and has a full-length zip-out quilted liner which will extend it's wear-time. It's thicker than the old jacket, 1.1 to 1.3mm leather. It even zips onto my riding pants at the back.

But it's new.

It's shiny. It's slick. It still smells like the factory from whence it came. It came on a shiny new hanger wrapped in a plastic bag. I don't recall my old jacket coming in a plastic bag. When I bought it it'd already somehow had several thousand miles on it and smelled of saddle soap and Neet's Foot oil. It creaked like an old house and it fit like a lover's embrace.

Oh, I know in time this new jacket will pick up bug spots that go liner-deep. I know it'll start breaking in at some point, and will need oiling and saddle soaping. I even know one day it will creak with that delicious sound of an old chair being settled into. It might even one day fit me as well as my old jacket. Who knows, it might even one day sport a PG-rated pin-up girl, with "Sally" painted across the shoulders and "Miss Behavin'" across the tailpiece.

But damnit, it's not my old jacket.*

* For those of you who are about to say "But Irrelephant, why don't you just wear the old one when you aren't at work?" I say "But I shall, but those times are few and far between." Plus, I guess a little change can be good for you.

Nah, who am I kidding?

Jan 12, 2009

A Brief Respite

From the quiet, as it were.

I need to be blogging. I have many things knocking around in my head that I really want to express, including Sunday's marathon hot air balloon recovery ("Now with more MUD!") but today has gone a little pear-shaped, mentally speaking, for some reason which I cannot quite put my finger on. Nevertheless I want to share a little neat thing from this morning with you.

The temps dropped (drastically, for here) into the high 20's last night. The city reported it at 29, so it might have been 27 or 28 here in The Sticks, about as rock-bottom cold as it ever gets. The chicken coop shutters were frosted lightly this morning just before dawn, sparkling in the full Moon light, and I bundled up warm and rode in to work as always, dreading another Monday.

Now, keep in mind it didn't FEEL all that cold. It wasn't particularly damp, and that makes or breaks a man, weather-wise. Or perhaps I'm finally starting to acclimatize. Either way, the ride wasn't bad at all. The only dampness I encountered was halfway to work, in the form of a thick, low-hanging fog bank right around a little creek that meanders under a small bridge in the road. This fog drift couldn't have been more than a mile thick, and I was in and out of it before my visor got very damp.

When I got to work I put Sally on her kickstand, thumbed the ignition switch to "Off" and turned the key off and went to swing a leg over the saddle. As I did I noticed what looked like white crystals on the forefingers of my gloves. I stood up and flexed my fingers inside their GoreTex-lined gauntlets, wondering where I'd gotten into salt. When I straightened my fingers out I realised what it was--ice.

Seems I'd had just a tiny bit of fog cling on the material of my gloves when I passed through the fog bank. As I continued on in the below-freezing temps the wind must have been just enough to freeze the water into a very fine layer, which, when I flexed my fingers, clumped and broke and formed tiny snowflake blobs which fell as I moved my hands, and which sadly melted instantly the moment I got inside.

Interestingly enough the thin ice-rind on the front of my camera bag and on the strap lasted for all of fifteen seconds or so.

Jan 9, 2009

iPhotography @ Work

Sun Drenched

What is it about certain moments?

The office is cold this morning, leftovers from last night. Not terribly, but to (childishly) prove a point I left the thermostat off on the A/C, and no one has bothered to touch either of them, but bitch? Whoo.

Everyone has a comment, but not a hand touches a thermostat. Man's work?

I'm enjoying it, me. I was standing in front of the smaller window in my office sorting papers and the morning light was pouring in over my work. I hadn't noticed it at first but after a few moments I realized just how much I was enjoying the simple pleasure of that warmth on my arms and face. Not the overpowering, sweaty heat of mid summer but a gentle carress of warmth, like holding hands.

Simple pleasures at work. Who would have seen THAT coming?

Jan 7, 2009

That New Helmet Smell

In Louisiana, motorcycle helmets are the law. Again. They used to be required by law back when I first started riding, then we got a governor who loved motorcycles and equally loved to feel the wind across his fat, bald head so the law was repealed. Then Kathleen “New Orleans Can Float” Blanco came along and re-instated the law. I guess she doesn’t ride anything other than drowning poor people. No matter the vagarities of the law I still wear a helmet. I like my brains on the inside, thanks. Having just successfully walked away from a wreck in which my helmet prevented my head from being cracked open I'm FURTHER leaning toward wearing a helmet. Always.

Having worn one for all of my riding life I really mean it when I say a motorcycle helmet is a lot like a pair of really well-made boxers. If they fit well you don’t notice them, they’re a nice bit of extra protection between you and the roughness of the outside world and if you don’t clean them often enough they can get a bit rank. Plus, as they age they get more comfortable up to a point but then they start to decline in quality until it’s time for a change.

The decline point came for one of my helmets three Xmases ago. When I bought my first Arai helmet a decade ago it was with the sure and certain knowledge, quite unexpected in a mook as young as I that shouldn’t scrimp on it (again with the self-preservation.) I laid out almost $500 for that helmet and never regretted it for a moment. As with a lot of things, when you buy a helmet you really get what you pay for, above and beyond the simple aspect of personal safety in the event of an unplanned get off. That Arai fit like a dream. Like a really good hug from a really enthusiastic but thoughtful lover it was snug in all the right places but didn’t constrict. Looking out of the visor when it was clean was like staring through a window—-the edges of the helmet were just past the periphery of vision so there was never any feeling of being hemmed in, or of having your vision limited.

The chinstrap had a soft flannel lining on the skin side and leather on the business end, so that when the strap was threaded through the steel D-rings there was security without pain. And vents—-there were more vents and cleverly designed air channels through the inside of the helmet that you could shake a windsock at. With a few simple adjustments you could have any amount of air moving through there and across your scalp. The soft padding around the neck was close without being choking, and the whole effect was light and silent.

Seven years later it was time for a new one. The useful lifespan of a helmet is five years, and mine was showing its years of hard use. Oh, I’d kept it clean and mostly free of scratches and dings, but seven years of nearly daily use has a way of doing in anything. So that Xmas I asked for and received a brand new Arai helmet, same style and model, different colours and seven years more advanced.

Bliss! Comfort! Joy!

I was astounded at how much further an already excellent design had come. Lighter, better air flow from a different variety and shape of vents, and the padding design inside made the helmet fit even better. A year and a month later one of the side covers that conceals and protects the visor mechanism broke off, leaving me with a visor that wouldn't lock in place. No big deal. I simply requested warranty work on it (five year warranty!) and in no time I had the free part, installed it, and was back riding in comfort.

Then I fell down went boom one October afternoon.

Actually the sound was less of a boom and more of a muffled thump, but we're splitting hairs here (and not skulls.) The manufacturer says that helmets, like car seats, must be inspected by the manufacturer before you use it again for safety's sake. Now, I'm no moron, so I started worrying and ordered a new one. Which promptly backordered. Since the other guy's insurance was paying, I bought another (my third) Arai. This time the price had climbed a bit, but again, this is my brains we're talking about, not a pair of socks. I ponied up happily. It arrived yesterday evening, and I unpacked it and took a deep, meditative breath of that marvelous New Helmet Smell--fresh material, new foam, the faint whiff of long-chain polymers...mmmmmm...smells safe AND sexy. Then I slipped it on.

Showers of golden light and angels farting rainbows, this one is even better that the last two!

It's hard for me to believe that in three short years a company can advance THIS FAR with something as basic as a motorcycle helmet's design, but they did. My gawd did they. Noticeably lighter, vastly improved airflow (with a sort of wing across the back to create negative pressure on the outside of the vent, drawing air through) and quiet, far quieter than the old designs, which goes a LONG way toward rider comfort. Wind roar can leave your ears ringing. This helmet is quiet as a tomb. Plus it matches Sally to a tee.

So yeah, I'm smiling. I'm safe, I'm comfortable, I can't wait to NOT sweat in my helmet this summer, and I've got a silver mirror-finish visor so I can be Just. That. Much. Cooler.

We're talking State of The Badass Art here, kids.

Arai "Vector" Helmet

This morning at work I got a clever idea, which I found out this evening is a LOT harder to pull off with a real camera, and a cellular phone camera hides a lot of evils. Since I'm no whiz with Photoshop (can't actually AFFORD it, wot?) you get to see me, the camera, my aquarium and a fair bit of the corner of my office. Bonus!

And remember kids, like the man says--keep the shiny side up.

Jan 3, 2009

Fists In The Wind

Tho I've never really cared for that expression--it makes motorcycling sound...angry, somehow.

"Sally." Still no 'official' name yet, but I'm narrowing the choices down. The sun finally came and stayed a few days ago, so the driveway dried out and I felt safe rolling her out, dusting her off with a soft cloth and snapping a few pics.



She's still not 100%; my saddlebags and passenger floorboards and exhaust are still on order at the dealership, and my helmet that does an astounding job of matching the paint scheme won't be here until Tuesday, but she's coming together. We're still like a new couple at times--I know how this thing is supposed to go, but we're firmly stuck in that 'fumbling around with the bra' stage. I've not dragged a floorboard yet, and I find that my reflexes and my skills are, well, 7 weeks rusty. With the weather being like it has been (rain and damp) I've been afraid to really push her, plus of course we're still in the break in period. *sigh* Ah, young love. Hopefully the weather will dry out for an extended time and I can get some serious riding in, re-hone the dull blade that is my riding skills.

It tickles me no end, though, that the exact same people who were never really interested or moved by Black Betty are suddenly overcome by how pretty Sally is. They go on and on, somehow not recognizing that this is the Same Bike, one year newer, with the addition of a lot of chrome. They say this one looks bigger, this one is cooler, etc. etc. (Remember, Black Betty was a Midnight edition bike, so all the chrome was black painted or powder-coated, which I rather liked.) But, she's growing on me.

The New Year is here, and I'm happy to say I've not made any resolutions. That isn't to say that I've nothing to improve (ye gods, farther from the truth you could not be,) and it's not that I'm not resolute, because I can be, its just that I don't see the point of making "X" day the only day you can change yourself, or worse, a day that you're EXPECTED to change yourself.

So me, I'm going to keep on like I have been for some time now--trying to exercise more, stay more physically active, eating better when I can, and trying to get my mental muscles equally toned and in line.

I was thinking, while we're on the new year thing, that it strikes me as odd that we end the year and such where we do, and make such a thing over it. Oh, I know, we're human, we set our lives by a clock's tick, but why put New Years here? Why not put it at the end of winter, when all is new and bright and full of new life and new promise? Why do we insist on binding and strapping the lovely female body of a full year on this planet into an uncompromising garment, something that changes her elegant curves into something more suited to a day planner or a wall calendar?

Yeah, I know, I'm a fruitcake. I think I'll go joust some windmills now.