Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Dynamite Kid

       The Dynamite Kid used to clean my room for whatever spare change he could find.  I would lay on my stomach on the bed, hands crossed under my chin and who knows what we discussed? Imaginary girlfriends, Galaga, and what we wanted to buy from Kmart most likely.  I think my mom knew about our arrangement and had no issue with me sub-contracting. 

TDK was my best friend and technically, he never forfeited the job.  I remember the day Mr. Howard, our 5th grade teacher, asked me to stick with the new kid for his first day and help him out.  I loved Mr. Howard, but this was pushing it.  I agreed with a wishy-washy nod and gestured for the new kid to come on already and let’s go eat lunch. 

It was cold that day, at least in the 50’s and we were all bundled up in Central Florida.  The Dynamite Kid wore a Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt and elastic athletic shorts.  We all thought he was poor because he didn’t have a coat.  He was a chunky kid. His eyes were slanted, his skin was brown and he said he moved here from Alaska.  Everyone called him Eskimo. 

They didn’t call him that for long. Eskimo could fight.  I found myself the de facto best friend of a controversial 5th grader, a son of a single-parent father who was a Correctional Officer who understood the sad need for his kid to make a few trips to the office.  His Pittsburgh Steelers ball cap would tumble to the floor in the hall and I would think, here we go again, as The Dynamite Kid turned head down to tackle whomever had felt the need to test the Eskimo.  

Before much longer I became the son of two single-parents myself and The Dynamite Kid taught me a lot about negotiating the post-divorce middle school environment.  

By 10th grade I was working with him in the Chinese restaurant he adopted when he was 10.  They hired him because he wouldn’t go away.  Everyone thought the owners were his parents.  They didn’t know he was a non-Eskimo, non-Chinese, half-Thai, half Irish kid.   We would get off work and go break-dance behind Winn Dixie or K-Mart, which is when he became The Dynamite Kid.

After his father died he moved back to Alaska, where he stayed for many years.  

Last week we met in Nashville to teach a class together about Race and Culture. 

I started the class by telling everyone this story.  



In all the years I have written this blog nobody has ever asked me what a Ringcircus is, they just assume that Big and Ring go together.  Language is ambiguous though, and you can’t take the words coming out of someone’s mouth as proof of comprehension.  It’s kind of like that first psychedlic experience where the letters of your own name unravel in your mouth until they make no sense to you and therefore you make no sense to you and therefore you question the very essence of who you is, until thankfully you realize that the you having these thoughts must be who you are and therefore everything will probably be fine, unless you look in the mirror.  *disclaimer (or so I have heard.)

I’m reading the biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, and let me tell you (the real you) that being friends with that guy was no picnic.  At least I understand why Infinite Jest just sort of quietly whimpered out at the end.  That was the whole point, to have no climax.  It wasn’t anticlimactic, it was aclimactic, and supposedly there is a difference to be appreciated there.

So 23 was a really good year for me, 1993, with a discman and a Nissan Sentra a young man could rule the world.  Priorities were simple and clear- more fun, less work, don’t think about the future. I still stand by that strategy, although it wanes in popularity.

93 turned into 94 and every step took me further away from the shadow of Mt. Teewinot in the darkening light with a new pair of bootlaces the closest thing to health insurance, and the indulgent weight of a Sheaf stout reassuring against your lumbar, the snap of a twig so loud you cringe when it cracks against the silence. Oh easy times.

“Do you ever wish you were young again?” My wife asked me I suppose in response to the effortless calisthenics of watching babies do yoga.  “No honey, no way! Never do I want to be so wide-eyed and stupid again, so sure of myself when I clearly don’t know enough to close my mouth in the rain when looking up.” Young again? Ridiculous!  Honey we are young, and getting younger every day.  here we sit in the sweet spot of old enough to know better, too young to care.  In charge of our path, comfortable in our own skin, and a dependable friend on which to lean. No my darling, I do not want to be young again.

But I lie, and she knows it, and we keep that secret together.



Two years ago I had a secret.  I was about to go and see my best girl for the first time in 26 yearsI was nervous and hopeful.  I am re-posting this from the days before we met so you understand that when I write about bike rides, they are almost never really about bike rides.  That’s one of the reasons bikes are magical creatures.  

I filled my jersey pockets with big scooping handfuls of Munson sand last night so that I would not float away. I felt light, not just in heft, but light of heart as well. Worry-free, content. I pedaled into the malingering crowd a moment before departure. There is W.B. There is his enforcer, his son. There is Big Worm. I bobbed along near them, daylight blinking beneath my tires as I inhaled and exhaled.

I left the pack in the car. No tube, no pump, no patchkit. No tools, first-aid kit, spare glasses or food. Two strong legs, a water bottle, and some hope for the future- that’s all I carried. I joined the current of riders as they seeped up the trail. At the top of the hill someone said, “If you want to go fast, then go now” and everybody waited. Two guys, then Big Worm, and when nobody moved for his wheel, I took it.

We galloped along in big ground-gobbling strides, and I hung on long enough to taste what it might be to belong there. After 5 or so miles the spell was broken. Maybe I tapped a brake, or burned the last molecule of the previous day’s hamburger, but I kept on. I watched the Clydesdale on the back of Worm’s jersey slowly pull away through the trees until it was gone.

I waited for the WB, and rode it in with he and his boy, my barrel smoking and low on ammo. Too much fun, too much stupid available joy to be had, out there floating away.


Old Men and Soldiers

Sitting in the van watching the rain pour down, neither Squatch nor I were too happy to see a grim Joey B roll up to the Munson parking lot on his bike.  Standing out there in the rain, shaking his head at us, we pretended we didn’t understand his get on your bikes gestures so we shrugged and waved and called out hey bro it’s raining! through the tiniest crack of the window. 

Wisely, he slid open the bay door and joined us, slopping sweat and rainwater into the velour of my ’98 Safari.  Get out of this car and get on your bikes he ordered, as we filibustered retorts of hey man, you watch the tour today?  Crazy huh? He was having none of it, so we grimly decamped the vehicle and suited up for a grind.

The guy parked next to us made his move at the same time, remarking something like Might as well get this suckfest over with, and after a few I hear that brothers! our crew pointed due south for Twilight where we enjoyed a sandy and grit-filled spin through the carpet of ferns and pines, Joey a few hundred yard ahead most of the way while Squatch and I rode 2007 style chattering and clucking like hens.  The wet crust of sand cracking as we rode over it, the grit splattering up shins and into every crease on the bike, the pace just fast enough, yet not really fast at all.

Back at the van, with the rain relenting, Joey B asserted his prowess and passed on the free ride home, pedaling off up the St. Marks Trail to town.  Squatch and I what’s upped? the guy next to us, also just wrapping up his ride. 

Ryan, recently back from Afghanistan, glad to be done with his service, done with school and casting about for what comes next.  Ride your bike and avoid all responsibility I thought and said out loud. This younger generation though, cursed with ambition and purpose, he was leaning more towards finding work.

Bigringcircus, google it I told him.  It’s the perfect place to start this next phase of your life. 

I hope he finds this, and lets us drag him around the woods until he knows what’s next.


Little Friends

Two big fox squirrels side by side, one with a shimmery black coat, shiny as a polished nut and the other with a whiskery white shagged hide.  What, the distinction?  Male and female?  Mature and juvenile?  Both of them as big as an apricot poodle and quick, quick, quick.   Caught out, exposed on the recent charcoal burn of the forest floor, no convenient turkey oaks to hide them- the sleek-pelted one candy-caned around a pine tree shedding ticker tape bark as it tore-ass up the tree.  The sound of it’s claws like a 1950’s newsroom.   The wire-brush white one statue still, waiting in the open, concerned maybe, but not alarmed.  All of this taken in by eyes flooded with sweat, smeared by the blinking, the rubbing, the blinking, the rubbing, but not so bleary that I missed these two, away from the drey and roaming about.  I stopped, as I often do, to check them out and contemplate the heft of them, the reassuring grip of their feet wound up in the twine of my jacket as we strode out on the town, my two squirrels and me.  Or so I imagined, but it can never be, the squirrels and I as close as is likely right now.  If only, I think, they could stop by the house.  Pay a visit and enjoy a drink with me on the porch before traveling on, to the places squirrels go in the summer.

“I see you up there!” to the chattering one with the sleek, dark coat.  “Good day to you sir!” To the one on the ground with the disheveled bottle-brush tail.  I’ll be back, I think to myself before riding on.  Again, and again, and again, and again.



I asked for a beer in a tavern on the road to Mostar from Sarajevo back in 1996.  The bartender set up a glass and a warm can of beer.  I remember touching the can and correcting him, hladno pivo molim, a cold beer please.  The young man said nothing, his forelock of greasy dark hair between his eyes, and he brought me a new can, wet from a hose behind the building, the same temperature as the first.

My friend and host, momentarily distracted, missed the transaction and asked the bartender something I did not understand.  “he said that’s the last one for you” he told me.  “What did I do?” I asked, offended  and hurt.  You want a cold beer?  He says go back to America and get one.  In a country freshly ruined from war, I blunder in mincing about beer vs. a cold beer, oblivious that to drink a beer at all, in a quiet room of strangers and smoke a cigarette, was a priceless gift from God, and that the only good response is živjeli

I can taste the shame of that Lasko Pivo in the back of my throat as I write this 17  years later, and I would give anything to go back and drink that first warm can, and enjoy it, and buy another.