Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Hell yeah: Cheap Monday jeans.

I'll admit, I found out about these from a yahoo news ticker, but there's a new Swedish brand of jeans featuring, among other things, a skull with an upside-down cross on its forehead. Why?

Creator Bjorn Atldax says it's to thumb his nose - or whatever the Swedish equivalent of this gesture is - at organized religion. "It's an active statement against Christianity," says Atldax, who decries the religion as evil, subversive, and the cause of a disgusting number of wars and murders.

Hell, yeah.

If this were an American brand, imagine the furor. Your humble narrator thinks Mr Atldax is spot on. Whatever private faith one wants to have, I feel, is one's own business, but how so many millions can flock to a religion which has been the calling card of death, murder, and burning at the stake throughout the ages is beyond me. On campus at PSU, there's a high-rise building that's NOT part of campus housing. In Ione Plaza, a number of well-intentioned little zombie Xtian missionaries live, and they prowl campus trying to invite unsuspecting students to bible studies, preach in the park blocks, and the like.

Occasionally they will ask to "pray for you." When I'm feeling particularly bitter, I tell them that's very nice, but instead I'd prefer they pray for all of those killed in the name of their patron deity.

But I'm sure Jesus has forgiven all of those murderers -- after all, they accepted him as their savior, right?

And, if you believe that when a good person is slaughtered, they go to heaven, what's the harm in killing them?

What does this have to do with some black jeans? I have no idea.

I haven't found Cheap Monday's own homesite, since it's probably not in English, and they're not for sale yet in the You Ess of Eh, but here is a site that sells 'em. They're kinda retro-punk looking.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Q-tips: You've got some, I've got some, it seems everyone does. I just happened to glance at the package this morning, and I noticed that its listed contents were "300 safety swabs."

Wait a moment. Why is this a safety swab, why would I need a safety swab, and what types of swabs are unsafe?

As far as I know, these are regular old q-tips. I did a brief search on this matter, and was quite surprised at the wealth of information that was out there. This is the wonder if the internet age: if I were to ponder just what a "safety swab" was fifteen years ago, I'd have to go down to the library, or perhaps call one of those 1-800 numbers that every product seems to come equipped with. Questions? Comments?

But now, from the safety of your own home computer, I can look up all the q-tips information I want. First of all, I found 3 reviews on epinons.com Johnson and Johnson's safety swabs, recommending them unanimously as safe to use for your baby, and an excellent alternative to regular cotton swabs. Yes, that's right, at least three people have bothered to go online and write a product review of q-tips.

However:

  • While reviewers were satisfied that the J&J Safety Swabs wouldn't hurt their infant, none of them actually reported having done so with the ordinary kind. No post of "holy shit, I just popped my kid's eardrums with these regular cotton swabs! You'd better use them safety swabs!" could be found.
  • The reviews concerned J&J's "Safety swab," which is a new product -- this would mean that Johnson and Johnson believe there is a niche market for safety swabs. They aren't the "real" Q-tips.
  • The real Q-tip is made by Chesebrough-Ponds USA Co., which is in turn owned by consumer-products giant Unilever.
  • All Q-tips swabs seem to be "safety swabs," as opposed to the specific ones from Johnson & Johnson.
  • They have a website specificically devoted to the product, www.qtips.com, where you can learn about the history of q-tips, craft info, and more!

  • Originally, the invention of q-tips spawned an entire company devoted to the little suckers, which were at that point called baby gays. Good call on the name change.
  • So, to sum up, this means that there is plenty of competition in the market for, and a wealth of information available regarding, miniature cotton balls on paper sticks.

Welcome to postmodernism, ladies and gentlemen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Four A.M. is caught in the middle. Not really night but certainly not yet morning, it straddles the line between a very late time to go to bed and a very early wakeup call. Today, I'm awake.

I roll out of bed at three thirty, having lain in a strange state of half-sleep for the past two and a half hours. It's clear that this is all the sleep I'm getting tonight. I'm certain that my chest couldn't be a comfortable pillow for anyone else, because it's not even comfortable for me to lean my head on my own shoulder: it's all bones, muscles, and tendons. A weekend's break from riding and massive eating added two pounds back to my six-foot frame: the scale now says 139.

Considering this makes me hungrier, but it's a myth, an illusion created by a stomach that isn't sure how to take the rapid-fire dietary changes I've been subjecting it to. Today, I ate a large breakfast at 9:00, got on the bike at 11:00, and arrived home at about 3:30, when I ate some kind of compiled lunch-dinner that lasted about 90 minutes and contained some 2500 calories of cereal, pasta, toast, orange juice, and bananas. The concept of what is "dinner food" and what is "breakfast food" is completely lost upon me. My favourite meal of the day has always been breakfast, especially those at 5:00 am when you haven't been to sleep. I have a newfound love of scones. This morning, I'm planning on eating two of La Provence boulangerie's sizable scones -- a maple-walnut one and a raspberry one -- but the cafe that serves them won't open for three hours.

I make myself two slices of toast, some tea, and, with nothing else to do, start getting ready for the next day. I'm washing and filling water bottles, inflating tyres, lubricating chains, laying out various layers of stretchy black clothing.

Today's ride up Dixie mountain made me feel pretty happy to be alive: it's an 8-mile long, 4-percent gravel slope; a fairly gradual climb in my book, but steady. Sunny weather in the 40's was warm enough to unzip my jersey all the way on the trip up, but not to get all hypothermic on the way down. The ponds in the farmlands surrounding the mountain are still frozen over; it dips well below freezing at night, rare for this time of year, and the sun doesn't warm the air enough to let it really melt. Small creeks and brooks still flow, but any standing water is frozen. Climbing hills like this isn't exactly FUN, but it makes me feel alive, and I try not to take the little things for granted. The mere fact that my legs and my lungs can DO this is something to be thankful for.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I just confirmed a beautiful bit of Portland cycling arcana. My bike is a 1998 Schwinn Paramount, hand-lugged 853 steel by the now-defunct Match in Washington. It's a nice ride, pretty and classic, and though it's my first road bike and I haven't spent serious miles on anything else, I love it. I don't have any decent pictures of the thing right now, but it's glossy black with a white downtube decal featuring "Schwinn" in flowing script, and a few tasteful aluminum badges with their star logo, along with "Paramount" in small, gold ghost script on the top tube. Matching, skinny, straight-bladed steel fork, built up with Campy Chorus components (alloy -- there's no carbon fiber on the whole bike) and silver Thompson seatpost and stem.

I like classic steel bikes -- though I'm not old enough to have grown up with them or anything -- and one of the classiest of the modern era are the famous Vanilla bikes, handmade right here in Portland by local cycling hero Sacha White.

A fairly infrequent riding partner has a light blue Vanilla that's really nice, and riding side-by-side with him one cool, sunny Sunday, I noticed striking similarities between the two bikes. I mean, they looked pretty similar, from the script on the downtube to the shape of the seatstays, and we both complimented each other's bikes a few times during the ride. Then I remembered that Dean had gotten my Paramount repainted before I bought it. I thought I recalled him saying it had previously been blue.

To describe Vanilla's massive popularity in Portland, and growing fame elsewhere, know that his frames end up costing around $2,500 for a frame and fork only, and sometimes run thousands more, depending on the level of customization put into it. They are simply beautiful, and when I get better at HTML I'll put a few pictures of them in here. (For now, just go check out the pictures on his site.)

Despite their price, people are absolutely lining up to buy these things. The wait is 18-24 months, and he gets plenty of takers. I mention Vanillas to Dean, one of Bike Central's central players, and how much I liked them. "Oh, dude, didn't you know that about your Paramount?" he replies. "That was Sacha's bike."

Woah.

Pretty cool, eh? There was a discussion recently on Roadbikereview about Vanillas, and Sacha himself, not a regular poster there, showed to talk a little bit about his bikes and his process. I took the opportunity to e-mail him about the Paramount, he replied: " I did own a match made paramount. Those frames are DOPE. I am still trying to work in details from that frame into frames that I am making now...7 years after I owned it."

Man, this is like ... owning Jimi Hendrix's guitar or something. Well, not that cool. But close. And I didn't even know it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

For the first time in my sheltered life, I pointed a weapon at someone and meant it.

I haven’t updated in quite some time, but this seems distinctly deserving of it.

I’m standing in the stairwell of my apartment building, between the third and the fourth floors, and pointing this very wooden sword (I could say bo-ku-to if that would make more sense) at the door to the third floor. Out of that door is emerging a dark-haired, swarthy fellow in a hooded sweatshirt, with a very metal knife in his hand. “What the fuck, man?” I ask. I’m pretty confused, and certainly I’m not interested in getting stabbed tonight. It would be a first, too, and some first experiences are better off un-had.

I don’t expect him to reply, “somebody get me to a walk-in freezer or something, there’s blood everywhere!” He’s shouting, clearly panicked, and suddenly turns. He runs down the stairs. I look at the wooden sword, look down the stairs, and find myself more confused than where I began.

All right, let’s back this up a bit.

I’m sitting in my apartment, a little before eight o’clock in the evening. Finals are next week, and I’m attempting to get some studying done, but there’s a distracting amount of banging coming from downstairs. At first, I assume someone’s moving furniture or something, and don’t pay much attention to it. Then, there’s a crash, a grunting noise, and that draws me to the window. I squint my eyes into the rain and glare of the streetlights in the night, and see clearly the third-floor apartment that the noise is coming from. Another crash, and a bang. It’s clear at this point that this is definitely not furniture-moving noise.

Okay. This is a pretty quiet building in an occasionally loud area of campus, at its west edge. There’s no businesses, only a couple of parking garages and a freeway, out my westward-facing window, so there’s not usually that much commotion, though occasionally some drunk kids or skaters make a racket on the street. This, then, is not normal Thursday-evening noise. As I’m picking up my cell phone, debating whether to call the cops, a man’s voice shouts “Oh my god, help me!”

Fuck that. The instinct is to bolt out the door, though, to be honest, my rational side still supposes that it’s nothing serious. I realize that, if someone is in some kind of trouble, I’m not going to be any good to them with no shoes, so I grab those. The amount of time it takes to tie them seems painful as the banging and crashing continues below, but the last thing I want is to heroically fall down the stairs or something. Then it’s weapon time. I’m aware of how much of a video game this sounds like, and how painfully geeky I am for owning a few swords. I have three that are made of metal, and one that’s double-sided, a little under three feet long, sharp, balanced: functional, not decorative.

That’s not going to work. Three feet of sharp steel is pretty fucking intimidating, and likely enough to inspire more violence than it solves. Besides, weapons are expressly banned in campus housing, and worse than falling down the stairs would be being handcuffed and dragged down them. So, it’s the bokutu, which is easier to get to anyway. I took ninjutsu classes a few years back, but it’s been a while. Nonetheless, a wooden sword is a pretty decent defensive implement when it needs to be. Think of all the things you can do with a baseball bat, but make it balanced, faster to swing, and hard enough to break bones instead of shatter. It can parry and block pretty well, too, and is part of some holds and throws that I don’t think I’m talented enough to attempt.

I’ve got the thing in a “carry” position, reversed behind my left forearm, (I’m left-handed, you know) and ask myself “you’re about to rush downstairs with a wooden sword. You’re most likely to either look extremely foolish because people are playing video games and very drunk, or, less likely, get shot.”

I rush down the stairs with a wooden sword.

As I get to the third floor, there are two people in the hallway. I’m surprised. The amount of racket this unknown assault was making, I would have expected half of the building to be here, but there’s just a red-headed girl in a green Campus Parking Enforcement polo, and a short, skinny guy with bleached-blonde hair, pale skin, and a very white button up shirt with exaggerated, pointy lapels. We all exchange “what the fuck?” glances. Clearly no one knows, except to find out that the police have indeed be called, but the banging and shouting continues.

I don’t know, but I’m not going to be the guy who assumes that someone else is going to help while someone fucking dies or something.

I point the wooden sword at the door and get about two steps towards it when it clumsily is swung open by the swarthy-looking character. He’s short, stocky, and has curly black hair everywhere. Also, he has this knife in his right hand, about four inches of blade. It’s not a kitchen knife, more like a bootknife. Both of the others turn and run down the hall.

At this point, I’m a little … concerned. I’ve never been faced with a bona fide weapon that someone might attempt to use on me.

“There’s blood all over the place!” he shouts.

The nice thing about my wooden sword is that it’s a whole long longer than a knife. I figure elevation is a good advantage to add to that, this guy is clearly not in any kind of rational state. I open the door to the stairwell, back up a few steps, and point the wooden sword down them.

So, we’re back to the beginning. He runs down the stairs, I decide there’s not much benefit in following him, and walk back into the hallway. The door to the apartment has been closed, and the guy and the girl who ran down the hallway have returned, accompanied by another fairly petite girl in a stretchy, long-sleeved tee shirt. This is not the cavalry.

There’s still some noise coming from apartment 309, and the smoke alarm’s going off too. No one else is doing anything, and there’s no cops yet. Well, what the hell I think. I pound on the door with the haft of the sword. “Anyone still in there? Hello!”

Nothing. I reach out and feel the doorknob: not hot. Okay, here goes: I fling it open, point the wooden sword inside. Somehow, I do not feel at all silly pointing sticks around any longer.

While the place looks like it’s been hit by an elephant, there’s no one visible inside. It’s a studio, and I quickly confirm that it’s empty. The place is a complete disaster; there’s broken trinkets all over the floor, a face-down electric guitar, overturned amplifier, scattered CD’s, a print of a stylized naked woman. Into the kitchen, I realize the sound is the water, turned fully on, and the smoke alarm has gone off because all of the stove’s burners have been turned on full, too: they glow angrily red at me. I squint one eye at them inquiringly. Listen, burners. You don’t make any sense.

I turn them off, and then the water. Silence.

Campus public safety is the next hero on our scene, all five feet and maybe an inch of her.

The guy, it seems, ran off down the street. The police got a pretty good description from some lady down there who saw it and called the city cops.

Maybe he found a walk-in freezer.