18 November 2012

Archival Footage: Concrete is an aggregate

The following post was originally published at FlagstaffBiking.org on September 27, 2003.




Each ride brings revelation; this ride brings two.

“Concrete is an aggregate,” my father would say. “Cement is an ingredient.”

It took me years to learn to recall this correctly.

To this day: refer to concrete as cement in my father’s presence, and prepare to be corrected. Likewise, when hanging around his workshop, don’t call a motor an engine; know the difference.

My dad suffered-long my childish mechanical ineptitudes. He tried to teach me to be a Man. I remember being instructed in the use of hammers, saws, lawn- and power-tools. I remember participating along side him on dozens of projects. But I also remember him saying, “Here, give me that; just do it like this,” and then sighing “John, that’s not how I showed you how to do it.”  He was patient while coping with my innate inabilities, but he was also, by training, compelled to make sure the task got done right.


So when my row of shingles was crooked, he redid it.

When my nails bent, he pulled and re-sunk them.

I was a pest. I was the constant threat of a do-over for him. But, still, he never begrudged me the opportunity to try.

Only my genetics got in the way. Those genes, I believe, belonged originally to my grandfather, my mother’s father, who believed anything worth fixing could be fixed with either wire or black electrical tape. I have often found myself, in lieu of finding and mastering the correct tool, likewise strangely predisposed toward this sort of repair, though personally I am inclined more towards the glue-gun than any other means.

Nevertheless, despite my liabilities, my father always trusted me with two tools:
  • the wide, short-handled paint brush, with which I painted white the trunks of the 17 grapefruit trees in our yard at least two dozen times during my childhood. At the established rate of one dollar per tree, that effort netted me about $400 total, spread out over many, many years. I sunk that windfall into games for my Atari and parts for my awesome all-black-and-chrome 20” BMX bike. 
  • and the tire lever, with which I became more and more skillfully adept over time while I was still young. Even before my tenth birthday I had mastered the use of the tire lever (or the screwdriver when necessary) and could and often did fix my own flats. 
Did my father actually trust me with these small-but-real tools, did he sense the pride with which I used them, or did he just get tired of helping me fix my flats? Who knows. Point is: when it came to tire fixing, early on I was fully independent, no longer a pest.

This all occurs to me as I’m riding up Lower Oldham because I’ve got the linger bugs all around me. Pests. They swarm around me because I am slow, unable to climb faster than their meager flight speed.

And they mete out my father’s subtle revenge upon me. To-date, I have no children of my own to pester me; instead I have these bugs. They invade my eyes, perch on my nose, park themselves briefly in the vents of my helmet.

They gawk in small groups of two or three, hovering in front of me, just out of reach. I gaze back at them, muttering my frustrations, through the lenses of my bug-eyed sunglasses. I blow them away temporarily with carefully aimed, futile puffs of breath. Like Eve and her snake, there is perpetual enmity between us.

Cursed linger bugs! 

But the hill will go downward soon, albeit too briefly. And, as my speed increases, the linger bugs will tumble away behind me, tossed haphazardly by my deepening draft, like so much harassing, winged flotsam.

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