Tweet of the Day: 80-year Old Does Everest

VERY inspiring story of oldest man to summit Mt. Everest, 80-years old, broken hip two years ago, heart surgery this past January…

…the excuses for becoming a decrepit old fart are running out.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Slow Down and Slow Bike

Originally Published: August 3, 2011

Just came across a fun piece at that introduced me to the Slow Bicycle Movement:

Copenhagenizing Has Another Name: The Slow Bike Movement

We have talked about “Copenhagenizing“, Mikael Colville-Anderson’s term for learning to ride bikes like they do in Copenhagen, in street clothes, at a comfortable pace, usually without a helmet. Andrew Sullivan points us to the American version, where it has become part of the Slow Movement, and is now called Slow Biking.

The whole blog post and the pages it links to are totally worth the time to read, and it all really resonated with me.

Often, when I tell people that I ride my bicycle to work everyday, I’m asked if I’m into road cycling or mountain biking. And, when I answer that I’m not, they seem perplexed. For some, it’s hard to understand why anyone would ride a bicycle just for purposes of transportation. For them, cycling is all about getting stronger and stronger, going farther and farther, getting faster and faster, either or all of those. For them, that kinda thing is fun, and I respect that. (I think of my friend and fellow blogger Mike McQuaide, who does things like riding up the last eight miles of Mt. Baker Highway four times in one day, at a total elevation gain of 9,200 feet. Just.Wow.)

For me, however, while I was quite the athlete and participated in numerous sports when I was younger, I’m no longer interested. I absolutely need and want exercise, I desire to be healthy and active. But, commuting to work on my bicycle or cycling around town on errands, hiking (not mountaineering) to a modest peak or ridge for a nice view, or paddling a kayak on calm or, at most, lightly-choppy water, keeping an eye out for harbor seals, is my idea of fun, and the fact that it just happens to be good fitness is merely icing on the cake, to use a terribly incongruous figure of speech.

There’s this guy I know, who also commutes by bicycle to our workplace at Western Washington University, a campus situated atop a fairly substantial hill, he’s considerably older than me, and I didn’t think it was possible to pedal as slowly as he does on the hill without gravity pulling him back down.

And yet, he doesn’t appear to be laboring at all. Rather, he seems to be completely at peace and content, no matter the weather, day in and day out, and when I occasionally see him locking up his bike on campus in the morning he’s not breathing hard and he looks like he hasn’t broken a sweat.

It seems to me that in these modern times, in this, to borrow a phrase from Douglas Coupland, accelerated culture, the slow bicycle movement can bring some balance to one’s life. You don’t have to commute to work every day, or any day for that matter. All you have to do is get on your bike and ride, slowly, and breathe normally, take in your surroundings, smile at the people you pass by, stop to say hello even, or ask them to join you.

Now, if I could only leave my house about 10 minutes earlier everyday, I could practice what I’m preaching and not have to rush to work, inevitably arriving sweaty and gasping for breath.

It really is so very Zen.

I’m A Guy, And I’m Wearing Beer

So, I’m a guy and I went to buy an aluminum-free deodorant and came across this:


Then I turned the deodorant around to read the back and I found this label:


I can just picture the scene around the conference table at the Tom’s of Maine marketing meeting:

Director of Marketing: Ok people, listen up, especially you guys. We’re having a hard time moving our men’s deodorant. Sales continue to decline, and so I need to hear ideas and solutions!

Larry & Ed, what does our market research tell us?

Larry: Well, on the bright side, we do have the name “Tom” in our brand name, which is considered by 97% of those surveyed to be a sufficiently male name.

Ed: And, when you consider that we have the “Tom’s of Maine” brand name on all of our products, including those for women…

Director of Marketing: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I know. We were founded by a guy name Tom and he’s from Maine. What else positive can you tell me.

Ed & Larry: Um, nothing, sir.

Donna: Director, if I might, the problem isn’t our name on its own. Rather, it has to do with our name in comparison to the names of our competitors. Our research shows that brands with names like “Speed Stick”, “Gillette”, “Right Guard”, “Axe” or “Old Spice” conjure images of tough, edgy, macho men, whereas “Tom’s of Maine” conjures up some hippie guy walking in the woods.

Larry: I’ve got it!

Director of Marketing: Wellllllllllllll?!!

Larry: What do guys love more than anything else?

Director & Ed: Beer?

Larry: RIGHT! So, we put beer in our deodorant…or…um…rather, we put hops in our deodorant. You see, hops smell like beer, a manly smell, so that when men sweat it will seem like they just came from the brewpub, a manly place to hang out, and even though the Wikipedia page on hops says nothing about hops having odor-fighting properties, it does say that hops are used as a natural treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia, and so guys who wear our deodorant will be so mellow and relaxed that they won’t care!

Director of Marketing: Brilliant!!!

Needless to say, I bought the beer deodorant.

Day 1: Not working very well, but I am craving an ice cold India Pale Ale.

Is That An Ice Pack In Your Underwear, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

snowballsMale infertility is a serious issue, accounting for 40% of all infertility cases.

So, you might think that it’s rather insensitive of me, via the title of this post, to joke about the new fertility-enhancement-through-refrigeration underwear by Procreativity.

But, when you consider that the folks at Procreativity have actually branded their product with the name Snowballs, you can see that they have already beaten me to the punch.

Via Mashable:

Snowballs creator Joshua Shoemake had trouble in the “fertility factory” with his wife. Too many appointments and too much money spent were taking its toll. A friend going through a similar situation was told to put some ice down below, since elevated scrotal temperature can be a major cause of infertility.

After icing for a year, Shoemake’s friend became father to a baby girl. Inspired by the idea, the two believed they could find a way to “hack fertility.”…

The specially designed underwear include SnowWedges for cooling. The wedges mold to the body and use a freezable, non-toxic gel to maintain a comfortable temperature for 30 minutes.

I think that their preemptive use of humor in naming the underwear Snowballs and the video below is brilliant marketing, recognizing that, people being people, jokes would be predictable.

And, while I shiver at the thought of ice in my underwear, having had personal experience with procreation and the incredible joy of being a parent, I can’t help hope that this product can make that experience possible for more men who want it.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Transplanting Life

Originally Published: May 17, 2011

I read an incredibly moving New York Times story this morning that’s been haunting me, and it took me a little while to think it through and figure out why.

For those who don’t have time to read the Times article, by way of summary, in the photo above, the woman in the center and her children are placing their hands on the chest of a man whom they just met.


Because when the woman’s husband, the father of those children, died a year ago of a brain hemorrhage, his heart was transplanted into that man’s body. The man had been in a hospital suffering from severe heart failure.

Mirtala Garcia laid a hand on Sebastiao Lourenco’s chest, then pressed her ear there for a moment.

“That’s my heart,” she said. “It’s still beating for me.”

I know. Wow.

If that weren’t enough, Mr. Garcia was so young and otherwise healthy that donations from his body greatly improved and/or saved the lives of a total of eight people. Mr. Lourenco received his heart, his corneas went to one or more anonymous people, his pancreas to another anonymous person, the right lobe of his liver went to an adult woman with cancer, the left lobe to a toddler with congenital liver disease, two friends of the family received a kidney each, and one lung went to a man with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Makes me think of the line from It’s A Wonderful Life — “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The first sentence is right on, but in this case, Mr. Garcia actually filled an awful lot of holes after he wasn’t around anymore.

So, a touching story for sure, but why was it haunting me?

Well, after some thought, as I mentioned, I realized that it had to do with the fact that I was adopted at birth, and I recognized that there are some similarities between adoption and organ donation.

Organ Donation: Amidst death and grief, a gift is given — a new lease on life for the organ recipients.

Adoption: Amidst the social trauma and emotional pain of an unplanned pregnancy, a gift is given — a chance for a baby to have a stable home with two parents who are ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child.

So, just like Mr. Garcia’s organs, I was transplanted.

I’ve never met my birth mother. Though I’ve contemplated a search many times, I’ve always balked because of all the uncertainty that I could ever find her, much less get a chance to meet her. (UPDATED June 2012: I have met her now!)

And yet, reading about how the organ recipients had a chance to meet the wife of the donor, to posthumously thank her husband and to thank her and her children, really stirred up my desire to find my birth mom.

She gave me life, after all. The least I can do is thank her.

Coca-Cola & Honesty

Coca-ColaThis one’s a doozy, people!

To describe the following, I’ll use a quote from Woody Allen’s Bananas:

It’s travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham!

The Coca-Cola Company is being sued on the grounds that they make false claims of health benefits from the consumption of their Vitaminwater brand of beverages.

Coca-Cola’s response? It’s one for the ages, via John Robbins via The Huffington Post:

“…no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.”

Well, given that advertisements for Vitaminwater contain claims that, “…it will keep you ‘healthy as a horse’ and will bring about a ‘healthy state of physical and mental well-being,'” I guess Coca-Cola leaves us with only one interpretation of their defense:

    Since EVERYONE knows that Coca-Cola products are bad for you, no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater is a healthy beverage!

I really don’t think Coca-Cola clearly thought this one through.

More Thanksgiving Eve Fun

Following up on my Tweet of the Day post from this morning, I thought I’d share something else I’ve come across today, a funny, entertaining piece at The Atlantic, from a seemingly unlikely source…their Health Editor.

I don’t know about you, but when I think “Health Editor” I think of dry information about diets and exercise regimens. The Atlantic‘s James Hamblin, MD, however, has a very accessible, natural writing style, peppered with just enough humor to keep the health-writing-averse engaged.

Well, in today’s piece, titled Answers to Every Possible Thanksgiving Health Question, Hamblin pulls out the comedy stops, resulting in a VERY fun read on a topic that could be a total wet blanket on the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Written like a traditional FAQ, here are some of my favorites (Be sure to read the whole thing, though!):

How bad is it that I stuff our turkey a few days in advance?

Bad — disgusting actually, don’t do that.

Is quinoa stuffing healthier than regular stuffing?

Yes. If regular white bread stuffing is what’s on the table, though, don’t let the words quinoa stuffing leave your mouth.

Tryptophan is what makes us sleepy?

Turkey has tryptophan, but not significantly more than chicken or beef. We fall asleep because we’re hypoglycemic and bored. If napping is a concern, go for a walk or ask an old person about their old love stories.

Alternatively (and hopefully not the case), sleep could be how you respond to stress.

How can I avoid talking to my family and just focus on what I really want: the f-o-o-d!

Please try to be more sincere. Some day you will spend the holidays alone, and it will suck.

How much gravy is “too much”?

Unless you have heart failure, don’t overthink it on the holiday. But then the fact that you’re asking makes me wonder if you’ve had issues with gravy in the past?

It’s my first vegetarian Thanksgiving. Should I make tofurkey?

Tofurkey is offensive, linguistically and culturally. If you want to eat turkey, eat turkey. Tofu doesn’t look or taste or smell like turkey at all. If you make tofu, own it and treat it like tofu and call it tofu.

Is pumpkin the new bacon?

Yes, but we’ll be mostly rid of pumpkin by March, and bacon is eternal. These are getting less like health questions. Well, I suppose that is a health question insofar as all of the pumpkin everywhere might be stressing us out. Like if you feel you can’t escape it. Seasonal pumpkin-related anxiety.

Do you need love to enjoy the holidays?

No, but if you have the opportunity and are on the fence about loving someone, do it.

I don’t normally smoke, but hey, it’s Thanksgiving, right?

Why are you putting me in this position?

The Paradox Of “F**K It!”

(Disclaimer: This post contains the “F Word”. I apologize to any of my readers who are made uncomfortable by it.)

I was walking across campus this morning and saw someone smoking a cigarette and the phrase “Fuck It!” just popped into my head, for it seemed to me that this is what smokers must say to themselves when — despite the indisputable truth and common knowledge that smoking kills — they choose to start smoking, and they must say it again, regularly, at least subconsciously, every time they light up.

It might sound something like this:

Fuck it! I’m gonna die someday anyway!

At least that’s what I did, when I smoked for a short time during my college years.

From that one example, you could extrapolate that “Fuck It!” is purely a bad thing. And yet, as I’ve deliberated on it, I’ve come to the conclusion that “Fuck It!” can be a force for good or bad, and it all depends on the choice it accompanies.

The Bad of “Fuck It!”
“Fuck It!” can function as a foolish and futile deferral of unpleasantness.

There’s a long list of actions we take that don’t necessarily have immediate significant negative consequences: smoking, eating poorly, eschewing exercise, cheating on your wife, cheating on your taxes, embezzling, etc.

However, inevitably, these things catch up with you. And, while I don’t have personal experience with all of those examples, based on similar experiences I have had, I think the deferral of unpleasantness expires somewhere between 45 and 50-years of age.

For instance, on the topic of health, your body can handle only so many instances of the following:

  • Fuck it! I’m going to order that sixth pint of 7+%ABV beer!
  • Fuck it! I’m going to watch the entire 4th season of Battlestar Galactica in one sitting!
  • Fuck it! One more pint of ice cream won’t hurt!
  • Fuck it! I’ll start riding my bicycle again when the rainy season ends! (Bellingham inside joke.)
  • Fuck it! I’m going to ski this Double Black Diamond run even though my knee has been bothering me.

The Good of “Fuck It!”
Sometimes “Fuck It!” moments can be liberating, usually marking the choice to feel the fear and do it anyway. Fear can be a mighty prison, within which, the longer you’re an inmate, the phrase “I can’t” becomes a knee-jerk reflex, increasingly making life smaller and smaller and less fulfilling, possibly even dangerously so.

Therefore, it’s not hard to see the possible benefits of any of these:

  • Fuck it! I’m going ask her to the prom!
  • Fuck it! Screw withdrawal symptoms, I’m going to quit smoking!
  • Fuck it! To hell with my fear of flying, I’m going to take that 15-hour flight from Seattle to Sydney, Australia!
  • Fuck it! I really don’t need that iPad and I’m cutting up my credit card!
  • Fuck it! I know it will be hard being a single mother, but I’m gonna take my kid and leave my abusive husband and go to that women’s shelter I heard about!

Now, I won’t go so far as John Parkin and Gaia Pollini and hyperbolically assert that “Fuck It!” is, “The Ultimate Spiritual Way“.

From the description of the book:

Saying Fuck It is like massage for the mind – relaxing you, releasing tension, giving up on things that aren’t working. Just starting to say Fuck It can transform your life. Saying Fuck It feels good – to stop struggling and finally do what you fancy; to ignore what everyone’s telling you and go your own way. John C. Parkin argues that saying Fuck It is a spiritual act: That it is the perfect western expression of the eastern ideas of letting go, giving up and finding real freedom by realising that things don’t matter so much (if at all). This is the Fuck It way.

Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I’m well aware of the eastern idea of non-attachment, and when I read that my mind easily rushes to the many bad manifestations of “Fuck It!”, only some of which I mention above, and I just can’t see how “Fuck It!” can even come close to being the ultimate spiritual way.

I’m totally ok with the playful, irreverent tone that Parkin and Pollini employ. It makes more accessible a great and potentially life-changing subject that might otherwise be dry and woo-woo and a big fat turnoff.

It’s just that a student of eastern philosophy understands ideas like karma, whereby bad actions we take can come back and bite us, and yin-yang, whereby bad and good coexist.

Now, I haven’t read Parkin’s and Pollini’s book, so perhaps I’m wrong and they get around to addressing the possibility of “Fuck It!” manifesting badly. In acknowledgment of that shortcoming, I hereby conclude this post with a video that they produced in order to explain their philosophy:

Eschewing The Dangerous Rock & Roll Myth

There’s a great interview out today in Rolling Stone, with Steve Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and it could not have come at a better time.

Rewind: Over the nearly three years that I’ve been writing Fish & Bicycles, I’ve mentioned my musical pursuits and aspirations a number of times, usually when something related to my longstanding dream of being in a performing Rock & Roll band was thought-provoking (e.g. Regrets Over Not Pursuing It When I Was Younger, Wrestling With The Idea Of Giving Up The Dream) or momentous (e.g. Finally In A Working Band!).

Fast Forward: In that last post, I wrote of a marathon week my current band was having — 4 gigs, 4 venues, 4 towns, in 4 days.

Sounds like a dream come true, huh?

Well, this past weekend we had two more gigs, and in order to get closer to the point of this post, let’s describe these gigs:

  • Friday night’s was an hour’s drive away, we left for the bar at 6pm, started playing at 8-ish, and I didn’t get home until 3am.
  • Saturday night’s was a half-hour’s drive away, We left for the gig at 7:30pm, started playing at 9-ish, and got home sometime after 2am.

Now, it’s no secret, in fact it’s legendary: Rock & Roll history is littered with bodies, bodies that have been beaten up, diseased, and destroyed by alcohol and drug excess.

And, I can already attest, just from this short span of time playing in a bar band, that while there have been some wonderful moments — e.g. there are very few things as fun as being on stage, making music, with a throng of people out there dancing, and the feeling is incredible when the band is really at the top of our game, when we’re all listening to each other well and hitting our cues and nailing the endings — there have also been some not so great aspects to the experience, and it’s hard, painful even, when you find that this thing you’ve dreamed of doing for so many years isn’t all fun and games.

There are the exhausting hours, and then…

…there’s the booze.

You see it’s like an atmospheric condition, it surrounds you, envelopes you, and it seems like you can’t escape it. The bar owners don’t just hire us because they like music. They hire us because good live music brings more customers, more customers means more money from the sale of booze, and bands that play music that people can dance to, like us, are particularly effective at this, since a lot of people only dance once they’ve loosened up with alcohol, and as they dance and sweat and work up a thirst they drink even more.

And so, with each new gig, as I pay closer attention to what’s really going on out there on that dance floor, even that great feeling I mentioned above, of making music that people enjoy so much that they get up and dance, feels tainted. It starts to feel less about how good our band is and more that we just manage to keep a good beat and keep it going, something any good DJ can do.

Meanwhile, though I never have more than a couple beers before or during a gig, because I can’t play well if I drink more than that, if I’m even just a little bit buzzed, I look out at the drunken world around me and I start thinking that we’re all one big mess and really lost to all the excess.

Finally, getting back to Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen, it was an incredibly inspiring treat to read this quote from the interview I mentioned:

A lot of people are surprised at [Springsteen's] physical shape. You hear people joking and whispering at shows, “He’s gotta be on HGH or something! How else can he be doing this at 62?”
There’s nobody at 22! What are you talking about? [Laughs] No … he’s the opposite of a drug-created monster. [Laughs] He’s in good shape by not doing drugs. It’s something he doesn’t have to preach about. He’s a living example of what happens when you never do drugs your whole life. [Laughs]

I mean, I’m sure he’s taken a drink or two a few times in his life, but he was never a drinker either. And he eats right and he’s in the gym. Well, that’s what happens. [Laughs] Don’t do drugs. Don’t drink, eat right, go to the gym and you can rock & roll at 62, too. [Laughs] It isn’t rocket science. This is real old fashioned common sense. [Laughs]

TRULY an amazing accomplishment, living and thriving in the rock and roll world for 40 years and never falling for that stupid, self-destructive, it’s not rock and roll without drugs and alcohol, trap, while providing air-tight proof that you don’t have to be a drunk or an addict to be a great artist.

As it happens, for the last two rehearsals, all I’ve had with me is a water bottle, and I’ve already noticed that it’s making a HUGE difference in the quality of my experience.

With that water bottle by my side, I get this quiet pleasure from making a healthier choice, I stay hydrated, which makes me ultimately more comfortable, gives me more stamina, and keeps my fingers loose and dextrous. And, most importantly, I’m better able to concentrate solely on the music, to play the very best I can, to listen closely to my bandmates and make sure that I hit my cues and remember the arrangements and remember all the lyrics.

And I suspect that, at my next gig, when I look out at the folks in the crowd in their varying stages of drunkenness, I might not be as turned off by it somehow, I just won’t allow myself to get judgmental, which I think I had been doing, because, subconsciously, I was worried that I was part of the problem.

The Continuing Adventures of a Herniated Disc

I’ve written thrice before (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3) about having been diagnosed a year and a half ago with a herniated disc (that’s an x-ray of my actual spine in the photo here, showing that my L5 vertebra has slipped forward and is making bone-to-bone contact with my sacrum), and I bring it up today partly as an excuse for the slowdown in new content here at Fish & Bicycles.

During my recent vacation, I noticed that my lower back was becoming increasingly stiff as the days passed. I wasn’t alarmed initially, given how much physical activity we engaged in — hiking, often carrying a heavy pack, boulder scrambling, jumping into cold rivers, sliding down a sandstone river bed on nothing but our butts, rafting down the Colorado River, and rock climbing — but toward the end of the trip it was getting increasingly difficult just to get in and out of our rental car.

Then, at our dinner on our last night there, I made a seemingly harmless twisting motion, reached for something that had fallen to the floor, and I experienced a piercing, sharp pain that took my breath away.

I made it through the rest of the trip without another pain incident, but this past Friday night I had one of the worst physical pain experiences of my life, and I would have ended up in the emergency room if my wife hadn’t found an old prescription of painkillers.

But painkillers only last so long, they make me feel all kinds of crappy, and so I’m back to getting seen by doctors and chiropractors, with physical therapy and massage therapy likely to follow.

All I want is to be pain-free. Stiffness and a need to stay off my bicycle for a while, that I can handle. Usually the rest works, but this time it’s not helping.

With all the bed rest I’ve had since Friday, you’d think there’d be more new posts here than ever. But, what really happens is that I’m too drowsy from the drugs or it’s too comfortable to be in any kind of position that would allow me to type, and so it will be for a while longer.

How long? I have no idea.

Stay tuned…