How did a deuce like me end up with an ace like Alan? This is something I think about frequently, usually on a day like yesterday, when I notice that my husband, the man who chose me to marry, is doing something like taking apart a 36-year-old bicycle drum brake and going hmm, OK, this goes here and that goes there and maybe we should clean out some of this rust, and, and…
Getting ahead of myself.
Project Tandem has reached its conclusion. After a series of coordinated phone calls, e-mails and a late-afternoon drive to Lansing, we’re the new owners of a 1971 Schwinn Deluxe Twinn, five-speed tranny, in Kool Lemon. It’s dreamy. And although it’s in excellent condition for a bike of its age, it hadn’t been ridden in decades and needed some work. Alan spent Sunday learning its mysteries.
First were the tires. How, we wondered, did such cracked and rotted tires, surely the originals, still manage to feel as full and drum-tight as they did? Whatever, they’d have to go; it was only a matter of time before they gave way. He drove a nail into one to deflate it. It not only didn’t go flat, it didn’t want to give up the nail. He tried prying the tire off the rim with a screwdriver, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, I looked up to see Alan removing the tire with, yes, a saw. The “tube,” such as it was, revealed itself to be a length of stout rubber hose suitable for beating South American political prisoners. Weighed about three pounds each. The guy at the bike shop said he’d only heard of such things; they’re a specialty item for slender rubber tires used in places where they’d go flat frequently, like the floor in a carpet-tack factory, perhaps.
Anyway, they’re gone now. Next was the brake.
I don’t know about you, but I approach most machinery with a certain wary respect. I’m not totally buffaloed by it, but I recognize that the capability of understanding precisely how things work is either beyond me or of little interest. Alan’s knowledge is harder-won; he grew up in a working-class family, where if you needed something fixed, you fixed it yourself. The idea of paying someone to do something you could do yourself was not only preposterous, but wasteful, like paying someone to scratch your back. And since Alan was a boy with a bicycle and then a minibike and then a motocross racer, in a family that owned outboard motors and lawn mowers and small electrics, he learned quickly that if you took something apart carefully, you could usually figure out what the problem was, fix it, and then reassemble it with no harm done, at a fraction of the price a repair shop would charge.
Anyway, this bike, which weighs around 60 pounds (65 with the old tires) and carries two people, needs more serious stopping power than two caliper-style brakes would provide. So the rear brake is a drum. “I really don’t know how that works,” the seller’s wife said as we were looking it over.
“It’s simple,” Alan said. “There’s a cam, and when you put on the brake, the cam rotates and presses two shoes to the outside of the drum, and stops its turning.” She nodded politely. I recognized the expression on her face.
Alan disconnected the cable from the brake, removed the wheel, removed two nuts and then a third, and lifted off the top of the drum. “Just as I suspected,” he said. “Rust.” He cleaned it out with mineral spirits and then — I still can’t believe he can do this — put it back together. Then he put it back on the frame. And then he reconnected the cable, which involved three or four different nuts and twisty things. And he drenched it all in WD-40. And now it works like aces.
I know the feeling he gets when I marvel over this; it’s the same one a woman gets when her 24-year-old boyfriend is tucking into the first home-cooked meal she’s made for him. He looks at her with love in his eyes. She has performed alchemy, just like Mom. She’s marriage material.
And then there was more WD-40, and an Unfortunate Chain Incident (quickly put right), and we were ready to take it out. I have no pictures of the shakedown cruise, but here’s the finished project:
The basket is for carrying home picturesque bags of groceries, with carrot greens and six inches of baguette protruding from the top. The lock is for current Detroit realities. (The brand’s motto: “Tough world. Tough locks.”) The rest is for fun.
Most of you aren’t journalists, so I won’t spend much time on this, but I got an e-mail from a friend last week, when the Great Los Angeles Times Guest Editor Crisis was unfolding. A short e-mail. In its entirety, it read: Is it just me, or has our profession gone completely off its rocker? I replied: It’s not just you. I was thinking the same thing. Michael Kinsley sums it up well.
Why I love This American Life: Last week’s show was “What I Learned From TV.” The last chapter has Dan Savage, gay parent, telling why he’s creeped out by “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” I was listening to it and found Kate creeping close to eavesdrop — after all, she kept hearing the names of characters she knows like siblings — and I had to say, while wiping laughter-tears from my eyes, “Look, someday you can hear this, but not yet.” (Astonishingly, she accepts this explanation.) But you, you’re a grown-up. Enjoy.
When I see a promo line reading, “George Will on anger,” I’m gonna read it. It should not surprise you to learn that George Will disapproves of anger. Why not try superciliousness, like him? The anger directed at Bush today, like that directed at Clinton during his presidency, luxuriates in its own vehemence, he writes. Funny how it didn’t bug him so much then.
Where does Ken Levine find these things? Girl is deathly afraid of pickles, so she goes on “Maury,” where people chase her around with pickles:
I like a nice crunchy garlic dill myself.