Cycle Perspective

“I used to love my bike more than life when I was a kid,” I said.

“Then why don’t you have one now?” she asked.

Good question. I thought of that feeling I used to get as a child, zooming down the street on my blue banana seat bicycle with the extended handlebars. No doubt I was on a mission.

I’d be going as fast as I could, feeling the wind in my hair. I’d let out a triumphant whoop. It was freedom. It was speed. It was distance from my stepfather and my family dysfunction. It was the closest thing I had to control over my life. I was calling all the shots. It was pure joy.

I would do figure eights in the street. I’d ride around the speed bumps as fast as I could. I’d wave at people as I passed, but I wouldn’t stop.

One time I was riding barefoot (stupid) and I somehow got my pinky toe caught in the bike chain. I nearly ripped it off. I came home bleeding and crying, and my stepfather decided to take the bike away. (Wouldn’t “wear shoes” have been sufficient?)

My solution was to steal my own bike and hide it and still use it. It’s not like anyone knew or cared where I went or what I did anyway. And that’s what I did for a good month until everybody forgot I wasn’t supposed to have a bike in the first place. I lived in a world without consequences. I’m amazed I didn’t misbehave even more than I did.

One time my bike actually was stolen by a kid from down the street. (That family would steal bikes, repaint them, and then sell them at flea markets, so it was hard to keep a bike in my neighborhood.) But as quiet as the experienced little thief tried to be, I still happened to see him. I ran screaming after him as he tried to cut across a field with my beloved bike. I wouldn’t give up. I just kept running and screaming for my freedom, and shouting, “I know who you ARE!” He finally dumped the bike and ran away.

It’s never a good idea to underestimate me. Especially when I know I’m in the right. And to think that I rode the school bus with that little sh** every day.

My childhood was strictly about survival, and in that, my bike was my best friend. It gave me superpowers. It allowed me to be alone and yet active. My bike was everything.

When I got older and got a used car, I dropped my bike like a hot rock. I don’t even recall what became of it. Maybe I gave it away. Maybe I just let it rot. Children rarely pay the proper homage to the people or things that were once important to them.

I didn’t have another bike until I was in my 40’s and living in Vero Beach, Florida. It was a nice way to cruise my neighborhood in the evenings. I brought that bike with me to Seattle, but I was shocked to find out that the place had hills. The bike went quickly to the Goodwill.

Bicycles no longer represent freedom to me. If I want to get away, I just drive now. Besides, my house is on a highway, so it’s not suited to doing figure eights. And I’d look a little silly doing those at my age. That, and I don’t really enjoy sweating anymore. All my exercise these days is in the swimming pool of the YWCA.

But every once in a while, I close my eyes and picture myself zooming down the street, the wind in my hair, triumphantly whooping. And it’s good.

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Bonsai Drama

I have always loved bonsai. This is where nature meets sculpture. It is the careful cultivation of miniature trees so that they draw you in to their magical world. Bonsai tell silent stories. They make you hear wind and water even if it is not there.

They also carry with them a history of love and care. Many are extremely old and have been doted upon for decades. They have a way of creating a universe of their own, and they allow you to visit, provided you behave respectfully. Bonsai make you want to whisper as you walk carefully among them.

So I was delighted to discover that the Pacific Bonsai Museum is not far from me, and I plan to visit very soon. It will no doubt be the subject of another blog post. But I am heartbroken by the reason that this museum has come to my attention.

Bonsai are not about drama. They’re subtle. They’re peaceful. They’re quiet. But sometimes drama is visited upon them.

Recently two bonsai were stolen from the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, Washington. (Read more about it here.) They were more than 70 years old, and each worth thousands of dollars. One of them had been cultivated from a seed, in a tin can, by a man who was held in an internment camp during World War II.

There is shadowy footage of two individuals walking in and just taking them in the early morning hours. It’s tantamount to an abduction. It’s horrifying. These trees require special care, and they’re not meant to be hidden away beneath a cloak of shame.

Fortunately, the thieves seem to have figured that out, because they left them on the road leading to the museum two days later, and they were discovered by security guards. One of them had been transplanted and had suffered some damage. The other one, thank goodness, was unharmed.

I don’t understand the instinct that some humans have when they see something beautiful and fragile and defenseless and can’t resist taking that thing and trying to possess it and ultimately ruining it for everyone. It happens all the time, and it defies logic.

We all should make space for quiet, tiny, beautiful things, and we need to share these things, gently and respectfully, with the wider world in a spirit of grace and generosity. To do anything less is uncivilized.

Bonsai

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Dirty Tricks

On the day I wrote this, I was driving to work, and as I exited the interstate I observed a white guy in a dark grey Infiniti who had pulled off the side of the road and was pulling up the yard sign of a controversial woman who is running for election to Seattle city council. When he saw me on the exit ramp, he pulled away.

As I followed him down the street, I saw him circle back to get another one. I gave him a dirty look, and later reported it to the Facebook page for the campaign. I wish I’d gotten his license plate number, as this is illegal as well as immoral. Are dirty dealings how you got your Infiniti, man? Shame on you.

I’m not a resident of Seattle, so I won’t be voting for or against this councilwoman. I have no skin in the game, so to speak. It’s just that these types of political dirty tricks make me really angry.

If the only way your candidate can win an election is through lies, criminality, or dirty tricks, then you may want to rethink your support of that person. Clearly under those circumstances, the only motivation is greed and power for that individual, and that won’t do a thing for you in the end.

I know I’m being idealistic, but I’d like to vote for people who bring integrity and dedication to the public to the table. I’d like to vote for the person I feel has the most moral fiber. It would be nice to believe that there were candidates that ran a clean race and had nothing to be held accountable for.

Just me wishing for unicorns again.

political sign

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Package Thieves

When I arrived in Seattle 3 ½ years ago, I was shocked to discover that you could pretty much count on your packages getting stolen off your doorstep out here. That never, ever happened to me in Florida. I had no idea what a fool’s paradise I had been living in.

Based on conversations with friends, though, I’m sorry to report that it isn’t just a West Coast thing anymore. Jacksonville, Florida has gotten just as bad as Seattle. Now, if you’re a package, there’s nowhere to hide, unless you are deposited inside an Amazon Drop Box.

This situation makes me really sad. It grieves me that our level of desperation is causing us to prey upon each other in such a cold manner. I know it’s getting more and more difficult to survive in this capitalist hell we’ve created for ourselves, but when we start turning on one another, nothing good can come of it. It’s as if we’ve all been let loose in the Colosseum to either kill or be killed, as the emperor looks on, smiling.

When you steal someone else’s package, you could be depriving them of the very medication they need to survive. You could be taking something that will mean absolutely nothing to you, but it could be a treasured family remembrance. Some desperately lonely housebound person may be counting on a package to feel connected to the world, and because of your greed it will never arrive. Someone might have been saving for years to make a purchase, and you’ve taken that from them. You could be holding in your hands a care package for a sick child.

I really can’t imagine being that selfish and despicable, that heartless and cruel. I suspect that this behavior is here to stay, though. We really are devolving as a species. As competition becomes stiffer, people keep stepping farther past the boundaries of common decency.

While I don’t condone vigilante justice, I totally get why people are starting to booby-trap packages. After a certain point, people get sick and tired of being robbed. Eventually someone is going to get hurt, though, either from a poorly designed trap, or by being caught in the act and beaten within an inch of their lives. Or shot. Or attacked by a dog. However it goes down, it’s not going to be pretty.

What it will be is tragically predictable.

package

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Death by a Thousand Cuts

I absolutely hate being told that I’m overreacting. Unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, you don’t even know what I’m reacting to, Buddy-Roo. You have no freakin’ idea.

That’s why it’s so annoying to hear men downplay the whole #MeToo movement. “It was JUST a little slip of the hand. You can’t even be sure it was intentional. What’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that it’s one of the thousands of slippery hands most women have been forced to endure throughout the course of their lives. Just like that Chinese torture called “Death by a Thousand Cuts”, one may not seem so bad, but eventually, the accumulation is what kills you. (Incidentally, that torture wasn’t outlawed in China until 1905. That gives me the chills.)

Men can downplay their bad behavior by thinking that they’ve “only done it to her once”, but to the victim, it is cumulative. (And, by the by, how many women have you “only” done it to once, hmmm? Shame on you.)

Maybe you guys will get it if I put it in a different context. Let’s remove the female body from the scenario. There. Now you can concentrate on what I’m saying.

I came home the other day to find that some jackass had entered my yard and cut all the rose hips off my rose bushes. That person is damned lucky I hadn’t caught them in the act, because I was furious. I had plans for those rose hips.

But they’re “just” rose hips, right? What’s the big deal? The big deal is that someone came into my yard. Someone invaded my space. Someone took something that belonged to me. Just like so many other people have done.

I hate thieves. I hate being taken advantage of. I hate being screwed over by the government, by employers, by people who think they’re stronger or more powerful than me. I especially hate it when people think they have a right to help themselves to what I’ve nurtured and cultivated and looked forward to harvesting for months. Sometimes I feel as though opportunistic buzzards are pecking at my very flesh. It gets old. Just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean you should.

So, am I overreacting? Well, to that I say, keep your hands to yourself and grow your own damned rose hips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Root Causes

Scene: Shoppers witness a security guard wrestling a man to the ground for attempting to steal some lunch meat. They are glad that this criminal got caught. Serves him right. Justice prevails.

One lone voice offers to buy the lunch meat for the man, and is the subject of ridicule.

Meanwhile, no one has asked the guy why he was stealing the lunch meat in the first place. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he was just laid off, and he has a hungry 6 year old at home. There’s generally a good reason behind desperation. It’s a rare adult who steals just for the pure hell of it.

It’s much easier to make snap judgments and rely on swift justice, isn’t it? It takes a lot more sophistication to look at actions, and try to root out the cause of those actions. Prevention takes more effort than revenge, but it’s a great deal more effective.

Good parents know that if their child is acting out, it’s worthwhile to find out what’s going on with him, rather than beating the bad behavior out of him. And if morale is low in the workplace, it may be that you need to increase communication to determine the source of the problem, rather than saying, “If you don’t like it, quit.”

So much easier to build a wall, or lock her up, or decrease the surplus population…

It’s time that we as a society become more sophisticated. We need to look further down the road. We need to see the forest, not just the trees. These short term solutions and swift reckonings may feel satisfying, but we are truly shackling ourselves. We’re all in this together.

handcuffs

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Music Sampling

I have a long-standing debate with a friend of mine about music sampling. He contends that it’s nothing but theft, and that it shows no artistic ability whatsoever. I, on the other hand, think that in this modern age, a snippet of digital code can be a musical instrument every bit as much as a violin is. You’re still manipulating sound, just as you would when you run a bow across strings. I know that I personally couldn’t take a music sample and turn it into anything melodious, so I believe there’s talent there.

Granted, if you’re stealing huge chunks of some other artist’s work, you should be paying them for it and giving them some credit, but a lot of minor sampling is an homage to the original artist and should be taken as such. It also probably drives listeners to the original composition, thus generating revenue.

I couldn’t even begin to tell you when you’ve crossed that fine line and taken too much, however. I don’t know when your composition stops being yours and starts being someone else’s. I don’t think anyone has come up with a clear distinction. I’ll let the brilliant legal minds out there conduct the copyright debates, and a simple Google search will pull up thousands of articles on that very subject.

But as I keep telling my friend, I once saw Stomp in concert. They make percussive music using everything from trash cans to buckets to cigarette lighters, and no one who sees them will ever dispute their musical talent. Why should that be any different for people whose music is electronic? You’re still creating, and to make this creation you are compiling a lot of sounds. There are no sounds on earth that haven’t been heard before. It’s how you combine those sounds that constitutes creativity.

So, no, I’m not opposed to music sampling. I look forward to hearing what people can do with what already exists. I’m a strong proponent of recycling in all its forms, so more power to them.

[Image credit: wired.com]
[Image credit: wired.com]

Sleazy Little Punk

At a time when I can ill afford it, I’m going to have to go buy a locked mailbox. The other day I opened mine to find a bunch of bills I had left for the postman had been ripped open, wadded up, and thrown back in the box. Nice.

And then I started calling around and discovered several things that I have mailed never reached their destination. And that mangled envelope that was supposed to contain my new library card, which I had blamed on the post office, was probably the fault of this little scumbag, too.

I say little scumbag because this is almost certainly the work of a neighborhood kid. Most adults realize that they’re not going to be able to cash checks made out to someone else, or use credit cards that haven’t been authenticated. The Hope Diamond isn’t going to be shipped through the US Postal Service. But I sure would have liked to have gotten those fun Washington State travel books I ordered on Amazon.com. I suspect he won’t be reading them.

What really ticks me off is some little jerk who can’t even shave yet is now causing me to change my life. I’ll have to drop all mail at the post office now, and buy that locked mailbox. And the sad part about it is he’ll never get caught, even though it’s a federal offense and I did file a report. I can’t afford to buy a video camera on top of everything else.

The worst part about it is that he’ll grow up and move on to cars and houses and God only knows what else, and he lives in my neighborhood, which suddenly doesn’t feel as safe as it did a few days ago. It doesn’t have to be this way. If I knew who it was, after I beat the ever-living shit out of him, I’d say, “You know, you have entrepreneurial instincts. You could really be a success in life if you turned from the dark side.”

You stupid little punk.

Punk

Could we give Black Men a Break, Please?

One of my coworkers had to drive to work the other day with a shattered passenger side window, courtesy of his son and a baseball. Kids will be kids.

He had only been at work on the bridge for a few hours when he got a phone call from the police, asking him to come down to his car. He walked down to the foot of the bridge to find a police officer standing there with an African American man.

You can probably guess where this is going. “What seems to be the problem, officer?” my coworker said. It seems that a woman in the neighborhood had seen this man breaking the window of my coworker’s car.

“Uh, no…” He explained to the officer that in fact his son was the culprit.

When the woman who had called in the report was questioned more closely, she admitted that no, she hadn’t actually seen the man breaking into the car. She had just seen the broken window, and this man who had “no good reason” for being in this exclusive neighborhood, and had drawn the “inevitable” conclusion from there.

For the love of GOD, can we please look around and realize this is not 1950?

Sometimes I’m embarrassed to be white.

Chaos: The New Normal?

A coworker of mine was describing a situation in which he and his brother were watching TV and they got into an argument which then escalated into a fist fight, and the police had to be called. Just a regular Tuesday night at Chez Coworker, apparently. I remember thinking, “Huh. My whole life, the police have never been called to my house. Am I normal, or is he?”

Someone else I know regularly shouts and makes intimidating gestures, causing tension, fear and anxiety in his household. He says that he’s of Mediterranean descent, so he can’t help it. That made me wonder about all the Italians and Greeks and Turks that I’ve passed on the street who have managed to behave themselves and act with courtesy and respect. Who’s the stereotype?

And then there’s the girl whose husband tried to choke her. But she’s still with him, because she loves him. I tried to imagine sleeping under the same roof with someone, even for one night, who had tried to kill me. I’m not getting any pictures.

Another story: this guy left his car keys on the counter and went to sleep. One of his relatives took the car without permission and got into an accident. The guy wakes up, sees the damage to the car, asks who was responsible, and no one admits to it. And they all (every one of them is an adult) still live with him. Oh no. Not me. Not even for a second. I’d have gathered them all in one room and said, “Either someone confesses and makes arrangements to pay for damages, or every single one of you is out on the street.”

Another woman racked up thousands of dollars in phone bills by calling her boyfriend who was in the military overseas. She was the only one in the house who even knew someone overseas, so there was no doubt who was responsible. Not only did she not pay the bills, but since the phone was in her parent’s name, their service got cut off, and they haven’t been able to have a house phone for years because of it. Not to mention the fact that their credit is ruined. It’s the great unspoken thing in the family, but apparently she has no remorse whatsoever. That same girl’s sister stole her own 10 year old child’s birthday money.

All of these things have me wondering, who is living a life outside the norm? Me, for being shocked by all of the above, or them? Are most of the people on the planet just animals with no moral compass whatsoever? Should the Jerry Springer Show be considered a documentary? And to think there are people out there who still refuse to believe we’re related to primates. Sheesh.

chimp