The Mutter Masquerade passed. It did as it has every year since it started but this was the first year where I learned that I had “just missed it”. I open my calendar and write a note for September 15, 2017 to look into getting tickets. May this is the last year where I will have missed it. Oh tenses. I note an entry to the left four squares “Ashley D’s Birthday”. Again, tenses. September 11, 2017 would have been her birthday. She’s no longer with us.

Death or at least its pronouncements can form a kind of morbid metronome that hastens as you age but the last half decade has been a respite. In the 2000s I attended about one Boy Scout funeral a year for around a decade. The spread of ages results in no only a steady march of new sons but also the unwinding of fathers. After moving to the city I lost touch with those families and by extension their joys and tragedies. Then earlier this year a friend departed our company. She will be sorely missed.
I don’t want to see that little notifier, a barbed reminder of the arrow of time but there’s no simple way to remove it. I can turn off all birthdays but not just one. I could remove her from my contacts and after a few minutes of staring blankly and bits of information that tie to someone who isn’t there anymore I hit the delete key. I spam F5 and still her name persists. Staring at my screen, I issued a sad little laugh as I went through the indecorous process of posthumously unfollowing her on Google+. So this is where we are now. To Google, she still exists and I’ve simply chosen to not pay attention. She’s probably not sent or received any emails, IMs, Google+ posts, map queries, or made any Play Store transactions. Google doesn’t know if we just had a break up, a large argument, or she’s dropped off the grid. So wise yet so blind. This is a problem that will only build over time. At some point, more users of a given service will have departed than those who use it without appropriate vital hygiene. I guess it’s good for me to get used to this now.

Goodbye, Ashley.

I’ve been biking to work for about four months and all and all it’s been wonderful. I’ve used a total of six subway tokens since then which pleases me greatly.

The Bike/Bus lane on Walnut is usually treated as another traffic lane and this morning, I came to a red with bumper to bumper traffic, hopped off my bike, walked it across the street, hopped back on at the other side while the flow of traffic still had a red and resumed riding in the Bike/Bus lane. The light turned green and the driver behind me started honking and yelling “get out of the lane”. This is when my knee-jerk contrarianism kicked in and I brought my bike to a complete stop, counted to four, and turned around yelling “This is a bike and bus lane, you are neither of those”.

When I turned back around, hiding my embarrassment as having yelling at a car in traffic, I saw that traffic was at a complete stop some 2 car lengths ahead of me. I lifted my bike onto the side walk, crossed the street on foot, and rode off to work.

This is the first time I purposefully turned myself in a road hazard to prove a point. I’m curious if I choose to do so again.

Sam’s Club sells a lovely fruit salad.  It’s six pounds for like 9 dollars and the juice from it has this melony flavor the fancies up mixed drinks in a way that makes grenadine seem a methadone-like substitute.  Knowing this, I avoid consuming the fruit salad juice and bottle it when I’m done in a latch-top bottle from Ikea and store it until it’s cocktail time.

I polished off a container of fruit salad a few weeks ago and decanted the juice.  Then about a week ago, I popped the top to try some and noticed it fizzed.  I couldn’t remember if I had mixed half a left-over bottle of sparkling wine and the taste suggested I had so I recapped it and left it again.  Today I returned home after work and knocked a bottle of Mountain Dew off the top of my fridge.  It hit the ground and I looked down and saw a yellow/green puddle thinking the bottle had opened.  I picked up the bottle and saw it was intact.  I opened the fridge and saw what I can only describe as carnage.  The bottle contained the apparently fermented fruit juice had exploded with enough force to embed shards  of glass in the door.  A fact I found out while wiping the door down and the wash rag being stopped repeated by jagged shards poking out.  Bottles on the second shelf of my fridge had been knocked over and the top rear of my fridge was even hit by the blast.  I threw out some things that were in open containers as they may have received glass spall.  On the plus side, my fridge has never been cleaner.

Part of me wants to science it and see if it’ll happen again.

The garbage truck was to my left, comfortably scissored such that there was no way to go around it on the street.  Behind it was a van, waiting for the truck to move.  I dipped right to take advantage of the dip in the curb from the parking lot entrance and my angle of attack was too narrow.  My tire slipped and I went over sideways.  I didn’t really hurt.  At all.  To the point where I gave the Buddy Christ thumbs up to the fellow in the van who watched me go down.  He smiled.  The rest of my ride felt strange and I saw why when I parked my bike: My right pedal had been completely mangled.  In addition, my seat had bent and my keys tore through my pant leg in the pocket.  All told, the spill cost me about $100 in pants, pedals, and seat cushions.

Falling off of a unicycle was much more painful than falling off of a bike.  Mind you, in this case I bit it somewhat gently, but the failure modes are different.  On a bike, you’re falling over sideways, which is short, or going over the handlebars which again has some sort of arresting motion.  On a unicycle, there’s almost nothing to slow down your fall.  The one benefit of a unicycle fall is how it looks.  Either you can skid to a stop and maybe roll or the unicycle, for whatever reason, is no longer under you, and for a brief moment you look like you’re riding an invisible unicycle.  Win-Win….until you get road rash…from falling off of a unicycle.

Thanksgiving and Christmas in my family is a small affair. There aren’t many of us in the area. I enjoy entertaining but am used to having between three and five courses for 18 to 30 people. So a family get together is small compared to what I’m used to. Then again, it’s family.

I asked my mother to bring cheese and crackers and she asked not to as she didn’t want people to fill up ahead of time. Ok. She provided cranberry sauce and my brother and his wife brought potatoes.

I arrived about 90 minutes before the target plating time and set to work. Much of it was simply waiting as two dishes needed to finished in the oven, one had to be brought to temperature in a water bath, and two needed to chill. Everyone asked if there was anything they could do to help. Everything went out within about five minutes of one another and I was pleased. Normally my timing isn’t quite so tight.

The first course was the noodle salad which my dad eyed suspiciously. He may not encounter eggplant and mango often nor does he probably like toasted sesame seed. He had a forkful, noted that it wasn’t for him, and went on to the other courses. My heart sank a little but in short order the bread was demolished followed by a healthy portions of everything else.

At the end of the meal my uncle looked at me and said “I’ve never eaten so much”. This wasn’t a casual observation so much as I felt like he was sharing a secret. My brother commented “the food was all good”. There’s two ways to take this phrase, indicating that each food item were good or that the food was sufficient. If the former, that marks the first time my brother has ever complimented my food. Unlike after most holidays, my uncle, father, mother, and brother each volunteered to take something home with them. I hadn’t seen this before.

This wasn’t the first family holiday meal I’d done but it was the first to receive such a positive response. My mother once commented “I can see how people like your baking but it doesn’t really do much for me”. My dad has commented on how entrees “weren’t dry enough for my me”. I don’t know if this marks some progress in my cooking abilities or something else. This was my nephew’s second Thanksgiving, but the first where he had the same food as us. I think that somehow made things tastier.

My interest in a self-balancing unicycle started out as an interest in other ways of getting around. I had taken a Segway tour of Chicago and was enamored with the simplicity, speed, mobility, and delight of the Segway. During a three hour tour, we covered probaby 12 miles and saw most of the waterfront. The Segway inverted the calculus of touring making the tedious inter-location trip a delight and making the site itself a place to rest before bounding off again. I looked like an idiot, sure, but damn if it didn’t get the job done.

A few weeks later, I found myself chewing on the idea of getting a used Segway. It was $2000 off MSRP bringing to a mere $2700 but still I couldn’t pull the trigger. I live in a 3rd story walk-up and its 100 lbs didn’t seem to mesh well with that arrangement. Also, the Segway is kind of the acme of dork. It’s a PPD, a pregnancy prevention device, and while Segwaying around Chicago seemed great, I don’t know how I’d feel about rocking it on my home turf. That dismissed, I looked about for other devices in the burgeoning field of electronic vehicles (EVs) and chewed on a few options, almost all ruled out by the maximum weight. 260 lbs seemed to be the universal maximum for things one could tote around and losing 80 lbs wasn’t quite on 60 timeline. My heart lept when I found the SBU v3. 12.5 MPH max speed, a 10 mile range, and the glory of operating a unicycle. A unicycle isn’t exactly a chick magnet but I’d be comfortable being labeled as quirky. After a quick survey checking that my idiotic idea detector wasn’t broken I hit “buy” and told my boss I’d be working from home in two days.

The box arrived, I tore into it, and immediately set it to charging. This was my way of buying time to stave off having to actually ride the unicycle and all the potential failure that could represent. After waiting 90 minutes, I hopped on, hiked the seat as high as I could comfortably get it and started dicking around with it. The unicycle self-balances forward/backward but not side to side. To go forward, one leans forward and the device, in an attempt to get under you, spins forward and moves you along with it. By maintaining this balance you can get up to a fair clip. To stop, you simply lean back a little. The internet told me that learning to ride a self-balancing unicycle would take about 30 minutes and I made my doubty face and said “two hours, minimum”. The first step to learning was to hold myself in a doorway and just lean forward and back to get a feel for how the unicycle would catch me. The second step was to kick off and drift a little. Maybe going 3-5 feet before stomping my foot down and pushing off again. After 20 minutes of this there were brief moments where I’d glide for 6-8 feet and I felt like I was flying. This wasn’t without cost to my apartment. When you lift the SBU, the wheel spins like hell still trying to keep perfectly upright, but without a floor beneath it, the wheel can work up to a fair clip. Putting it back down has resulted in a few spots of burnt rubber on the floor of my living room. Luckily, I could remove these with the scrubby part of a sponge.

You can make a pretty good runway in a row home apartment. By clearing away extraneous furniture and pulling your limbs in through doors you can go a good 40 feet without having to turn around. My path during this 40 feet was straight as a corkscrew, but still. After a day of tooling around like this. I figured my next step was to find a parking lot and see if I could get some distance. Just west of me there’s an often empty church parking lot with a gentle slope to it and late the next evening I went over. I tooled around there for about an hour trying to increase the distance I could drift with each kick and making slow process. During that time, a fellow tried to give me advice on how to unicycle. I asked him if he’d ever unicycled before and he said “no, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help”. After five minutes of him telling me I needed to “get low” he started muttering about no one would give him a job and he puttered away. After about 90 minutes of puttering, I was sweating a lot, sore as hell, and had answered a bunch of questions from passersby about the mechanics of a unicycle. I had hit my two hour mark and was by no means a unicyclist.

The next night I felt like I had no more success and god did it hurt. Night 4 marked my fourth or fifth hour of trying with little success and it hurt. Not only physically but emotionally. I’ve failed my last two actuarial exam sittings, put on a considerable amount of weight in the last two years, had little relationship success and now a self-balancing unicycle that the internet told me would take 30 minutes “tops” was destroying me. I stared at the ceiling a lot that night.

The night after, Matt came over and we took turns. Matt noted that maybe a slanted parking lot was too much so we tried the garage below an outpatient facility and that proved helpful. In that 45 minutes, I felt I made more progress than I had in the last two nights. Matt took to the unicycle quickly and was able to do an entire loop around the basement parking lot without needing to recenter.

I gave it a rest for the next two days and one week after purchase tried to return the same underground parking lot. It was locked, as was the church lot and this somehow redoubled my efforts. I took my chances and started puttering around the dimly lit CVS across the street. After 30 minutes I was sweaty and sore but didn’t feel spent as I had other nights. So I kept at it, this time doing three things differently.

1) Look up
2) Tilting into turns when I felt I was going to lose my balance
3) Absolutely planting one foot on the balancing peg but not giving up the other didn’t quite land where I wanted it

The CVS was ringed by CCTV cameras and hope they had active IR because whatever security guard watched that store would see an obese white man seemingly learn to ride the unicycle over the next two hours. When I was done, I could a lap around the CVS without having to recenter myself or put my foot down and it simply felt magical but the kind of magical where everything hurts and you want to die a little. Midway through the evening when I was able to get about 30 foot stretches down without falling a giant black man on a bicycle rode by and yelled “DOOOO IIIIIT”. I took that as a sign. I was giddy at the end of the evening. My knees hurt like hell and I thought I was going to die before I went up my apartment steps but dammit I had ridden a self-balancing unicycle around a CVS and I was king of the fucking world.

The next day I couldn’t walk. I hobbled to work, sat for four hours, got lunch avoiding any fluids for fear of me needing to use the restroom, sat for four hours, and slowly went home trying to find ways of minimizing the amount of vertical movement I’d need to make that would require functional knees. That night, the unicycle bug bit me and I mustered the will to do a few loops around the block. 40th street has a nice bike lane so I stuck to that. The response to the device seemed to break down on racial lines. White people would consciously not look, Asian folks seemed to look and sometimes even smile while black onlookers were perfectly comfortable staring and asking me what it was, where I got it, how much it cost, and could they ride it. One exception, I would later learn, is that that drunk white people are curious about it but seem more interested in riding it. I don’t know if this is a function of dishibition or idiocy but damn did drunk frat boys really like my wheel.

The next day I brought it into the office. After hours I let some coworkers ping-pong around the office on it and they found it fascinating. Some were hesitant, some were macho, others just avoided it but the event ended in the CAO giving me permission to unicycle in the workplace. Awesome. We’d be in this building for another week, but I could tear up some…carpet in that time. That night I went for my first proper distance ride. I followed the bike paths in the city and was trailed by a group of kids who thought I was the world’s coolest man. They were going about 50% faster than me so cheer for me as they passed and ask a question, make 4 rights or 4 lefts, pass me again and ask another question. Pedestrians also riddled me with giggles an inquiries while waiting next to them at traffic lights. I was really hesitant about taking off from a dead start and wouldn’t so much as take a rolling stop at a 4-way intersection. After two miles, a former professional soccer player named Thorn started following me. He found professional sports too controlling so he had become a personal trainer. He said he thought I could use his services and I tried not to read into that statement too much. On the way back I was chased by a dog outrunning it around 22nd street. I got cocky and decided to overshoot 40th street and somewhere around the restaurant school the battery died and I had to walk the unicycle home.

The dead battery mode on the unicycle is that it severely curtails forward movement. I’ve never felt more impotent than I did sitting on a self-balancing unicycle as it actively resisted my attempts at going forward and just kind of sat there.

For the next few days, I took it out each night getting a little bit better. The unicycle did not enjoy trolley tracks, pot holes, sidewalk breaks, pedestrians, dogs, traffic lights, curbs, or other things that aren’t perfectly flat unobstructed pavement but each of these I learned to deal with in turn a little bit better. At the two week mark I decided to unicycle home which went well. It took me about 14 minutes to go two miles, putting my average speed at about 8.5 MPH. Not bad, but still slower than the subway. I also started noticing patterns. During weekdays, people asked few questions, but at nights and on weekends everyone was curious. A fair number of pedestrians, mostly women, saluted my effort and men largely seemed to think it qualified as cool. The unicycle was kind of working. At this point a few observations:

I could go about 7 miles on a charge.
I could comfortably go 9.5 to 11 MPH on good terrain.
I loved sidewalks but had little maneuverability on them.
I was constantly passed by bikes.
It was heavy to lug around.
It did not fail gracefully and I have the scars to prove it.

I took me about 8 hours to get the point where I felt comfortable unicycling somewhere and after that I felt I made considerable progress in becoming more efficient. My first non-stop loop around my block ended with my knees nearly buckling, now I could go two miles without much difficulty if I kept shifting my weight.

Then the honeymoon started wearing off. During a sample run to my workplace’s new office, I had the unicycle fly out form under me twice due to relatively small irregularities in the road surface. Falling off a unicycle must be comical to see. Unlike a bicycle or a motorcycle, while you’re falling, the unicycle isn’t often under you. You are a free-floating entity that gravity is taking down while moment takes you forward. You don’t fall so much as you slide. Here’s the part I didn’t think I’d ever say: I got road rash falling off a unicycle. As I write this, my right arm is ending a week-long period of being gauzed up to nurse the weeping wound that I received when a 3/4″ gnash in the road did me in while in view of some 20 college students. No one laughed and half the onlookers said “That was awesome” while most others asked if I was OK. Strangers can be so kind. That was the second fall of the day and came after a few days of feeling the unicycle was acting erratically.

Between injury, erratic performance, expense, and the realization that a unicycle wasn’t the key to infinite mobility I decided to send it back. I wrote a nice note to the firm, they agreed to let me return it for a full refund and it went back in the same giant cardboard box I had received it in. A few days later I signed up for Philly’s bike share service and haven’t looked back.

A few closing thoughts:
The unicycle demands you take ownership of what you’re doing. I felt compelled to wave at people who stared at me and loved answering questions. Cops were fascinated by it and had no problem with me riding it damn near anywhere I pleased. Drunk white college students always wanted to try it to the point where one followed me across UPenn’s campus for four blocks which was somewhat surreal when I think back on it. I was a pied piper for bros.

On smooth terrain in good weather riding simply felt magical. Moving felt absolutely effortless and I can think of nothing that gave the sense of mobility and freedom without necessarily granting it.

You turn with your hips.

Yet I have trouble coming up with a real use case. At 25 lbs in its compact frame it’s quite dense. Part of me wanted to use it as a last-mile solution when taking regional rail but I feel a folding bicycle would work just as well.

$1200 is a lot of money. I have no idea what the margin is for the maker, but I feel it’s a very expensive toy outside the few niches where I feel it has a real value proposition.

30 minutes to learn is horseshit. No one I showed it to was able to get to anything like extended riding in a time shorter than a few hours. This one makes me angry as the website says under an hour but the documentation says 2-5.

In other news, I constantly underestimate how long it will take to learn something but after that, I constantly overestimate the amount of time. My initial guess was 2 hours, but once two hours passed I assumed it’d be 200 not the 8 it proved to be. You’re not that bad Terry.

I’m going to miss it as a conversation piece. I hope it goes to someone for whom it makes sense.

I went to bed at 6:30 am. I don’t have a particularly good reason for this as I mostly rebeat the video game Bastion. My day then started around 1:00pm which was equally idiotic as that was late enough to guarantee I’d waste the day but early enough that I wouldn’t be too awake for my day wasting. My frustration led me to start cleaning out my gmail inbox. So I started replying to outstanding requests, caught up with replies to long-standing email threads and formally recognized the failures and oversights that come with ignoring a message for a few months.

The last message I addressed was regarding a recipe exchange I had signed up for in September that I couldn’t bring myself to opt out of. My reply became oddly personal, and I’ve included it below. It started out as an apology and morphed into a meditation on my current life.

I’m a terrible person. Where a normal person would probably have just dropped it or maybe apologized or phoned it in, I’m trying to fix something I’ve left broken for months. I hope it proves to be more akin a broken piece of furniture where time doesn’t exacerbate the failure as opposed to say dropping an egg where failure to attend to it tends to be more problematic the longer it’s left to sit. I fully recognize I’ve fundamentally mis-understood this recipe exchange.

In 5th grade I opted out of a Pollyanna at Christmas but the teacher assumed I had just failed to sign up so I was assigned to give someone a gift. Everyone got something but that person and I felt absolutely mortified by the injustice of it. The teacher swooped in and gave the person a gift on my behalf saying something about it being lost in the closet. Normally adults aren’t so naked in their willingness to save face for children but Mrs. Newton was. I miss her.

I bake. It rewards repetition in a way that other types of cooking doesn’t seem to and this recipe is up near the top in terms of total batches done. I made the mistake of tripling the batch size once thinking a six quart stand mixer would take it. All was going well until, like Icarus I realized I had reached too far and my dreams melted away at 2am in a darkened kitchen as I scraped bits of cookie dough from a thousand kitchen surfaces. Such hubris.

Recipes have a provenance to them, or at least can. My mother would punish my brother and I with authentic Irish cooking so I had little to start from. After she and my father split up, we took on boarders at the house and this cookie recipe was my housemate’s girlfriend’s mother’s, or so she told me (the girlfriend). She was Mormon and I was tickled to be added to a lineage of some sort but the ingredients suggest either substitutions of a much more recent vintage (although the idea of an octogenarian homemaker seizing up pudding as the silver bullet for chocolate chip cookies would be a lovely master stroke). I was later looking up cookie recipes and I found that the recipe below was actually first published by Good Housekeeping in the late 90s. A shorter lineage than I even suspected.

The usage of vanilla pudding adds a toothsomeness to the crumb that lets the cookie coat the mouth and it does so without being cloyingly sweet.

The recipe:

Cream these together

2 sticks butter
227g brown sugar
2 3.4 oz packages of instant vanilla pudding

Then mix this in until the mix has lightened a bit
2 eggs

Then slowly mix these in
287g flour
6g baking soda

Then fold in these
285g chocolate chips
5g vanilla

Preheat to 375 degrees F (this should have come up first)

The pudding makes so these cookies don’t spread too much. I tend to also chill the dough before dishing onto cookie sheets. Also, I recommend a relatively small dough ball. Maybe between the side of a walnut up to maybe the size of a quail egg.

5.5 minutes on each side (if you do two sheets at once, remove tray, rotate top and bottom tray, and rotate each 180 degrees, tiny cookies can cook unevenly)

I hope you’re well and have received recipes from people who’ve proven to be less of a lackwit than myself.

Hit “send + archive” left me with an empty inbox.  This feels nice.

I hopped onto the subway and saw a woman with several reusable shopping bags clutched tightly around her. Her hair was thin and her face was framed with large brown glasses like a destitute Ayn Rand stunt double. The bags had cats on them. A white man with complicated hair and beard, a salmon shirt and lime shorts walked by her and this woman started screaming at the man as he took a seat. She didn’t appear to have teeth so her yelling was frantic and non-nonsensical but contained obvious vitriol. Another lean fellow walked on in pastel tank top partly covered in tattoos and sat next to the hirsute watermelon. He too was yelled at by the doppleganger of the materfamilias of objectivism. Other people entered and exited but only those two fellows were accosted. I was somewhat angered by the fact that this crone was yelling at what appeared to be gay men. But she was toothless (literally) and was almost a physical symbol of the depravity that comes from hatred. The couple later left the train after some affectionate handplay and was again targeted by a volley of glossolalia. They furrowed their brows at her as she stewed in her portable squalor. I hope she was secretly yelling “you’re well dressed and I wish I had your sense of style!” but got angered at her lack of annunciation or possibly “is that an ironic tattoo of a cat dressed as a pharaoh or possibly something deeper of a pharaoh dressed as a cat?” and she was vexed by knowing that she’d never know.

I doubt that’s the case. I wish the march of progress didn’t so often feel like a funeral procession.

I related the story about the half-eaten bread pudding to my supervisor who replied with. “I was just fine. I saw it told everyone to take it. Is quite good.” This made me wince a little and I saw that she had a cup of it behind her. “Can you at least microwave it a little?” and she agreed to. Later I got an IM from her: Microwave melted chocolate. Even better. You are genius.

I suppose I’ve received worse news.

This incident made me step back and realize that I’ve been dealing with coworkers that have terrible taste in baked goods for nearly a decade. Do none of these people have grandmothers? Do none of them bake? Even on the days where I phone it in and use brownie mix people are agog over it. On my last day I should pull a Wizard of Oz and tell everyone “the power to bake was within you the whole time” before disappearing.

Maybe it is time to get Blackout Baking up and running.

Last Wednesday my work group went on a canoe trip and followed it up with a barbecue at a coworker’s house. I had baked a key lime cheesecake and half baked a bread pudding (thinking I’d serve it warm at the barbecue) and asked my boss to bring them. He was coming later and I had no place to store the baked goods while we canoed. He arrived, I asked him about the cakes and his reply was “aaaaah, shit”. So they waited in the work fridge for my return after Colossalcon.

I came in Monday, checked their status and found the bread pudding was half gone and the key lime cheesecake was completely gone. The cheesecake doesn’t surprise me but the bread pudding? It was only half-baked. Underdone bread pudding has the texture and appearance of croutons covered in chocolate chips and baby snot which never struck me as toothsome.

This rivals the time my coworkers at my previous employer ate 2.5 lbs of seized fudge which had the taste and texture of chocolate chalk.