Tag Archives: Magic

Good deal

I have a young neighbor of modest means.  She is almost 11 and she rides a purple bike.  The tires are fissured with cracks.  We have developed an arrangement for when her bike needs attention.  She leaves it in my carport, understanding that when I find the time I will fix it, and place it against the porch rail by her front door.  There is no risk of the bike being stolen, as her yard is wildly overgrown.  A drooping cedar tree blocks the view from the street and thorny vines as thick as her wrist twine up through shaggy Azaleas and wrap her house in a web of summertime green.

My neighbor is a good kid, and will be a fine person.  Her life is tough in ways she isn’t even aware of, and this will serve her well as an adult.  She speaks in a tiny thin voice and this is my only point of contention I have with her.  I wish for her to be able to grab life by the collar and shove it up against the wall when it crosses her. Instead, she speaks like she is apologizing.  I ask her to answer me in a big booming voice, or sometimes to yell for no reason, like “HEY! HOW ABOUT FIXING MY BIKE!”  When I do this she grins, assuming I am teasing her.  I’m not teasing her.  I am serious.

She put the bike in my carport over a week ago, and it took me that long to find time.  She doesn’t nag, or complain about it.  She goes on about her bikeless days and waits.  She calls herself a Buddhist.

Sunday morning, after my own insufferable steamy ride, I tear down her purple bike. I am careful not to separate the brittle bead from the sidewall, and I put a brand new tube in, after removing the guilty thorn.  I scrub the chain, blast it with the hose and enjoy watching the sheets of greasy black water pool in the corner of my driveway where it will then seep into the carpet in the laundry room.  I pump up the tires, then sit on the front wheel and torque the handlebars straight.  I  lube the brake cables, hubs, shifters, levers, and both derailleurs, before wiping the frame down with my dirty t-shirt.  The last thing I do is take it for a test ride, knees jacking up beside my ears as I run through the gears and kick out the back end in a power-slide.  Rock and roll ready.

The bike is delivered to the stoop– the transaction completed last night with a construction paper thank you card and a vase full of wild dandelions out of her scraggly yard.  Better compensation than one has any right to expect in this world.



The Haitian Trunk

Some years ago I finagled possession of a family heirloom, a trunk my step-father picked up in his travels in Haiti.  It is large enough to crawl inside and pull the barrel vaulted lid down on top of yourself.  I can’t say how long I have managed to hang onto it, or how I have done so without doing it any damage, or losing it in my many moves. Inside it I carry my past.  I have always believed that if I kept the thread of my stories together, I would one day unpack them and discover what my life is about, and lay out the blueprint, or the treasure map, to the story as I would like it told.

There are gaps in the narrative, and I am a shoddy record-keeper; but in the piles of notebooks, photographs, consecrated broken clocks, divine pocket knives,  fliers for bands long broken up, and letters from old girlfriends, there is a common thread-me. I picture myself at a desk, a dedicated funcionario, with an inbox on my left as high as the ceiling.  I process each item, evaluating it for its historical significance and narrative merit, then digesting it into fiction, nonfiction, or poem than placing the empty husks on my right-hand side in the outbox, where each item will be preserved, or discarded.

The Big Ring Circus, has become another Haitian trunk, full of evidence and artifacts. It is a narrative that jumps in time and space, leaving fingerprints of nearly a decade.  I found myself writing about bikes,  probably because I trust bikes to always get me where I want to go.

This is where we have arrived next, www.bigringcircus.com.



Indian Springs

I lumbered along the Dauset trail in middle Georgia wheezing from the heat, lurching through roots and rocks with my mouth hanging open, sucking soggy air that gave me nothing.  Just put your tires on the dirt and roll a little while, that was all I wanted.  95 degrees at 6 O’clock, I could blame that.  Suffocating 78% humidity, I can definitely blame that.  Consecutive weeks of road and air travel, driving in the rutted out lanes of FL Highway 20, twin tracks full of water and methed out passers over double yellow lines, that– or freefalling in my seat as the Bombardier CRJ200 thumps through billowing nimbus clouds dropping into the Atlanta airport, where more germs than an elementary school await, life on the road ain’t easy. 

I pulled up at a picnic table to sort things out.  Let’s just get real here Juancho, you feel like shit and you’re riding like a middle age traveling salesman. 

I stripped off helmet, gloves, and sweat gutter, then noticed I was not alone.  A lone doe watched me from 20 yards away in the edge of the trees, curious with ears pointed forward.  How does one call a deer?  I tried the skich,skich, skich, and the smch, smch, smch but it just watched me.  I threw some dried mango on the ground, ran the hose over my head, then geared up for the sad ride back to the van. 

I needed something, some magic, so I put off I-75 for a little bit longer and barreled down GA 42 to Indian Springs State Park.  A lead pipe trickles sulphorous water in a stone spring-house, and the locals believe it will heal you.  A couple is busy filling dozens of containers: milk jugs, jerry cans, Gatorade bottles, Coleman thermoses, two-liter Mountain Dew bottles, and more.  The woman motions me to the spigot and I fill a water bottle.  The man silently totes the full containers up the hill to his car over and over without stopping. 

I want to ask them what they think about the water, why they covet it so highly, but instead I just climb the hill back to the van.  Back on the interstate, with 8 lanes of traffic blasting north, I wrinkle my nose at the egg smell and gulp it down.


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.


Where is your salt?

A dead Canadian goose moulders against the curb on my way to work.  I noticed it freshly killed last week and today it is almost gone, dismantled and rendered for  carrion.  So sad to see it last week with soft brown feathers fluttering in the wind of annoyed traffic revving to make the light.  I wonder who hit it and how they felt, and if they cared.  Did it ruin their day? Did it cause them to reel in momentary horror, like seeing your fingernail pulled back, un-moored from the quick and fleshy before bleeding?

We rode across the forest on Saturday, early but not early enough, out to the sinkholes.  There’s been no rain for days and days so the water was settled and calm, clear and cold.  Nobody was there, and we fell into the cold water one at a time, and told stories of Darin jumping from the top of the tree and collapsing a lung, and how Germans appreciate it when you speak English with a cartoonish German accent.

We lingered as long as we could, postponing the stifling march back across the forest, battling gravity, the sun, the sand, ignoring the folly of two and a half hours in the saddle for a twenty minute swim.

I got woozy, dizzy, and wondered what happens when you really can’t turn another pedal and you are somewhere in the woods without a cold coke in sight.  I spoke up.  I gave notice.  I got help in the form of a salt capsule.  A pittance, I thought.  A kindness, a final communion, a placebo, but no solution.  It made all the difference.




Every person only gets so much steam.  It is up to each of us to decide how to use it or let it leak out of its own accord.

No pictures, just words.  Steady rain knocking fat magnolia blossoms onto the sidewalk like fried eggs slipping onto the Waffle House floor.  The smell of them so sweet it is pornographic and I blush just driving over them in the road.

A bike ride last night 20 years overdue with Joey B and an old friend who ate potato soup on a cold day while carving out the first mountain bike trail in Tallahassee that I ever knew of, sweet Grandma Munson.  Maybe it was potato soup, or maybe said he built a chicken coop, his pink bike spinning so fast I heard nothing but wind.

A fresh clean burn on the forest, setting the crest of Woodpeckers off in contrast with the matte black floor of the burned pine needles, green shoots of grass already reaching up over pedals. Long views through the missing underbrush, blueberries hidden off the trail not quite ready.

Just falling into each pedal stroke hoping to never hit the bottom, yarding the next one up around the 12 O’ clock and then hammering towards earth.  I can hear them back there, one wrong move and they will have me.  No wrong moves tonight though.  I’m all on the one and riffing on the breaks.

The way points north to Alabama tomorrow.  I’ll lay my head back and watch the sun shine down on the great south and loll away the miles while my girl pins it to the white line and cocks her foot up on the dash.


Peace Chicken


We frequently had to push-start the Peace Chicken.  It turned over with a little nudge, back-fired and roared in first gear while the pusher climbed back in the sliding bay door and said, “Hit it!”

With that, the driver would ease the clutch out and in that last inch of play the old air-cooled pancake motor would thrum us away in a coughing cloud of blue.  The Peace Chicken was an early 1970’s VW bus, brick-red with bags of stale to moldy bagels piled so high  the rear-view mirror was useless.

The bagels were cast-offs we intended to give to the poor and hungry, although I do not know what we had against those people.  We would pile in the Chicken and attend meetings around town with other noble idealists, sweat running down our backs, into the cracks of our asses, puddling on the vinyl seats before dripping out the rusty holes in the floorboards.  Boxes of STOP GENOCIDE flyers mouldered in our laps waiting to bring people down as they ate pizza, or shopped for a Bob Marley poster in the student union at FSU.  For those who needed further explanation, we carried folders of color-copied photographs depicting children murdered in the streets, old women cooking grass soup, and city parks lined with tombstones and freshly dug graves.  This was our calling card.

That winter, the Peace Chicken carried two of our emissaries to a meeting in Washington D.C.
Prior to their departure we collectively worried over the Chicken.  Those with abilities changed oil, tightened throttle cables, and checked brake pads.  Those of us without lined the floor with blankets, made peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches by the dozen and passed bottles of Dewar’s around and watched the others work.  I have pictures from that trip north of the Peace Chicken coated in clear ice so thick they couldn’t open the doors, the driver and passenger swaddled in sleeping bags as they rumbled up I-95 to join the voices for Bosnia, prosthetic stump socks on their heads to keep them warm.

Sometimes I think I see it around town.




More than once in my life I have said to myself, “That’s it.  It is time to get serious about writing.’  I have canceled the cable, bought ink for the printer, and planted a bottle of scotch at 2′ O’clock at my writing station.  Passport, Glenfiddich, Lagavulin,Laphroaig, Oban, Macallan, Highland Park, Dalwhinnie, and the ubiquitous Johnny Walker in all hues.

I have tried cigarettes as a writing aid also, and more important than the tobacco, is the right ashtray, it’s proximity to a window, and the correct relative humidity to allow the smoke to wander slowly across the room lit in just the right fashion by the setting evening sun.

I have trusted a quilted flannel shirt from Wal-mart to be my muse, a broken alarm clock given to me by a friend– set to the exact time of our parting for separate paths, a most profound and priceless gift.  Tuques, toboggans, stump socks, and watch caps have covered my balding to balded head as I courted inspiration at IBM Selectrics, Apple IIC’s and E’s, Brothers word processors lugged from month-to-month apartments in cities and towns, from mom’s house to dad’s.

I have scribbled on yellow legal pads and in so many incomplete journals I know that a 5×7 leather-bound is more of a non-fiction thing and a black 81/2 x 11 sketchbook is for poetry.  I have a wooden trunk from Haiti, intricately carved and deep enough for a body, full of incomplete stories and trying too hard.

I have at times plagiarized the voices of Henry Miller, Harry Crews, Stetson Kennedy, Tom Wolfe, J.D. Salinger, Hunter S. Thompson, Jon Krakauer, Roald Dahl, Toni Morrison, and every other author I have read and admired.  Each of those words arrived on the page DOA,  flat cold things.

What I have learned from all of this is nothing.  Every trick and and totem is pointless.  The only thing I know is that it’s like Robert Zimmerman said, all you need are three words and the truth.

I don’t know.
I am afraid.
I could not.
I will try.
I was there.





Tiny vintage trailers, broken transmissions, and the vile creeping crud that grabs us by the lungs and drags us down– it was a weekend of unexpected adversaries.

I got up early to ride on Saturday still suffering from the butter lung disease, but determined to ride it out of my system. I lurched over to the dogboy’s house straight of of the warmth of my berth in the lungers’wing. A lap around the neighborhood would have been a triumph, but every option dogboy mentioned seemed to involve crossing either the county line or a large body of water. I had not the legs to ride. I had not the lungs to ride. I had not the desire to ride. In spite of my deficits I had the one thing that matters more than all. I had the deep in the gut, sour spit taste, broken glass in the knees, fuck you and all the riders of the world combined by God will to ride.

I’m sure it was not too exciting for the dogboy, but he is a good friend and he adapted to the reality of the situation. We cut no corners and rode a hefty selection of single track, turf, mulch, sand, gutter, road and sidewalk across the east side of Tallahassee and there, in front of the hospital, a block from the end I put a foot down to wait for the sick dizzies to pass– then one slow rotation at a time, I cranked up hill to the waiting van and a hot toddy.

And it has always been such no? So many reason to not be who we wish to be, to not do what we must to become who we are. Call it what you want: Three chords and the truth, the X factor, chutzpah, balls, will, the only essential ingredient.


All the Friendly Beasts

I felt too good to be at work yesterday so with a claim of mental wellness I made a run for it. Like a kid who drags his feet to purposefully miss the school bus I let the day’s agenda ride off without me. After 11 inches of rain and two weekends off the bike my fight or ride response kicked in and I took control of my destiny. It was a friendly, helmet-less lap of Munson with this guy that led us to bump into this guy. Stopping and talking to strangers are usually not the BRC way, but it was a lovely day to be in the forest and all the gentle creatures came out to enjoy the sun.

When Leadville Eric first came around us, the People’s Republic of Jesse asked if I would normally ride as fast as he was going. Without a word I ka-chunked the Highball into the big ring and vectored in on the the disappearing wheel in front of us. I closed the gap until I was satisfied I had him if I wanted, then drifted back to my novice friend.

Yeah, I would normally chase him down and salt the earth with the dismayed sweat of his brow, but you know, I’m looking out for you, and I don’t have my helmet, and I ate a burrito for lunch and it’s riding kind of high, so I spared him this time.

Imagine my surprise when this mysterious rider pulled up at the old trailhead. We chatted bikes, tires, and tech while the People’s Republic of Jesse listened, then another rider joined us. He was a barrel-chested brother on a black Ellsworth, a reader of the BRC, and therefore a man among men. Leadville Eric told us about the adventure he and his wife are enjoying, traveling North America and hitting premiere destinations like Tallahassee, FL. A veteran of RAGBRAI and a lottery winner for the Leadville 100 I considered amending my estimation to PR of J concerning my ability to catch the young gentleman from Indiana, but as a local on my home dirt I had not the grace in my heart to grant such a concession.

Still, Holly and Eric can expect the full support of the BRC in their travels, and at Leadville.