Tag Archives: biking

Hey Donald Rumsfeld, you’re an asshole

Four or five years ago, I was riding my bike home from work one afternoon when I ran into former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. At the time, I was waiting tables at this restaurant on East 60th Street in New York. As a bike commuter, I had to do this weird loop few blocks out of my way to make it to the bicycle entrance for the Queensboro Bridge. It was annoying, because the restaurant was only like one block away. But it was against traffic, and at around five or so in the afternoon, trying to swim upstream like that is suicidal.

And so I was heading north on Third Avenue when I saw him, Donald Rumsfeld. It was definitely Donald Rumsfeld. It had to be. It was maybe a month or so after he left the Bush administration, right around when Dick Cheney was talking about how he was the greatest Secretary of Defense that had ever lived.


You think about the George W. Bush presidency, and again, I don’t want to get too political here, but those are the years that I came of age. I was a junior in high school when W got elected, I was a senior during 9/11, and I remember it was in the middle of our spring break during my freshman year of college when the President got on TV and gave Saddam Hussein that twenty-four hour ultimatum.

I had no idea what was going on back then. I didn’t read any papers or watch the news. But I remember seeing that speech and watching people’s reactions to Operation Iraqi Freedom. There were a few dissenting opinions here and there, but mostly it was stuff like, yeah, let’s get them. Let’s get those assholes. Nobody fucks with us. Stuff like that. Remember, it was like a year after 9/11. I still remembered being that senior in high school and watching the Vice President on TV telling us that it wasn’t a matter of if there’d be another attack, but when. So this stuff, to me anyway, it wasn’t anything that I thought of as being outside the realms of how the world was supposed to operate.

And then throughout the course of college, I started keeping up with current events. We weren’t out of Iraq in six months. I thought for sure, I just knew it, that Kerry was going to win the 2004 election. He didn’t. We’d be in Iraq for a while. I graduated college. I started watching documentaries about the Iraq war and what was happening overseas, why we were doing what we were doing.

A big moment that I’ll remember, something that, I hate to say cemented, because I want to have this idea of myself as being open to change, but something was firmly planted in my mind when Saddam Hussein was captured, when we handed him over to the new Iraqi government, and he was executed. Someone present at the event managed to record the act via cellphone, and for a whole weekend in February, this grainy footage was playing on repeat over every news channel.

I remember thinking, this is the culmination of American justice? This is why we went in there, we insisted that this guy get out, all so we could hand him over to his own political enemies for a good old fashioned hanging? A hanging, with a noose. It’s medieval. And we enabled that. We went over there and this big result was a hanging. It was crazy.

And throughout everything, as things got bad, then better, then bad again, as civilians got massacred, as it came to light that the administration had all but lied to the world regarding the justification of the invasion, everybody in charge, all of the real key players, every weekend they’d run around to all of these interview shows and double down on their arrogance. Even now, these idiots are still parading around the country, giving lame speeches in a pathetic attempt to defend their actions, belittling their opponents as they try to carve out a legacy that doesn’t involve the words war criminals.

Toward the end of his presidency, even Bush knew that he’d given too much power to the wrong group of people. It was too little, too late, unfortunately, but Rumsfeld resigned in disgrace, Alberto Gonzalez as well. Even Cheney’s grip on executive authority was curtailed significantly, leaving relations between the former President and his VP strained to this day. But in thinking about everything that went down, all of the lives lost and reputation squandered, yeah, these guys might have lost their jobs, but they got off easy. They’re still greeted as champions by certain sectors of the political spectrum. Their agenda, their worldview, while maybe it’s in remission, it’s hardly been defeated. It’s all a waiting game, they just bide their time utnil another like-minded President is elected, the right environment to carry out their goals. To borrow from a popular TV show, all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

But back to me, riding my bike on Third Avenue, it was definitely Donald Rumsfeld. He was at the head of his pack, surrounded by an entourage of old men in suits. I was going pretty fast, but I knew that this was a unique encounter, for me anyway. I wanted to say something. But what? I couldn’t think of anything, so I wound up shouting, “Hey Donald Rumsfeld!” and he kind of looked up, that Rumsfeld scowl, and I yelled, “You’re an asshole!” and that was it. I turned onto East 62nd, made the right onto Second Avenue, and I was over the bridge pedaling away back home.

Every once in a while I’ll think about what went down. It was a very minor interaction that I’m sure I’ve unconsciously embellished in my head over the years. Like, did he really look up at me? Was I really yelling in as strong a voice as I think I was? And I was so certain that it was him at the time, but thinking about it from four year’s distance, what was he doing over by that part of the city? Why was he in New York? Was it really him?

I’m sure it was him. And I’m pretty sure that, even though I didn’t really have anything to say, I think I said exactly what I should have said. Because seriously, what hasn’t this guy heard before? He goes to Washington, he sits at the head of whatever think-tanks and conferences, and he probably hears arguments from both side of the coin, from people more educated and up-to-date with what’s going on than I could ever hope to be. What was I going to do, stop my bike and get into a policy argument with the former Secretary of Defense?

No, a guy like Rumsfeld, I felt that it was important for him to be faced with his legacy as it is, not as how he and his buddies planned it out before they ever sent the first troops overseas. And maybe he can dismiss opposing arguments from the highest levels of government officials. Maybe he can listen to professional journalists and analysts rebuke his decisions and dismiss everything as something fundamentally flawed.

And probably, my comment didn’t register at all. I’m nobody. I’m some dude on a bike screaming out an insult. Maybe he didn’t even hear me. But that was my moment. For just a second, I had this guy’s attention, I think, and I wanted to let him know, one guy to another, hey Donald Rumsfeld, I think you’re an asshole.

Biking in the rain

I just got caught in the rain, big time. It’s one of these weeks where it’s raining every day, and if it’s not raining, it’s constantly just about to rain, the sky is gray and the wind is blowing, it’s an ever-present threat. And I guess it’s good, you know, for the environment, for my garden. Every day I try to make a point to go outside and hose down the plants, but even when I do it, I’m probably not out there for as long as I should be. I keep meaning to buy a sprinkler, but it’s been so rainy lately that, one, I don’t really have to, because nature is taking care of it, and two, I don’t want to leave the house unless I really have to, because it’s so gross out.

So today I went to meet one of my friends downtown for lunch. The sky was cloudy but for some reason I was optimistic, like come on, it already rained yesterday and the day before. Today is going to be different. I rode my bike. I love riding my bike. I always know exactly how long it’s going to take me to get anywhere. I don’t have to worry about the subway being late or not paying attention and missing my stop.

And it was fine, I made it downtown fine. But after lunch I headed out to bike back home and it was starting to rain, just a misting so far, so I was like, OK, I better book it before I get wet. And that was stupid, because I started getting wet immediately. A lot of the time I’ll travel with this emergency biking-in-the-rain outfit, some waterproof pants, a couple of plastic bags to wrap around my backpack. But I didn’t have anything with me today.

Still, I should have just gotten off of my bike and taken the subway. It’s totally acceptable to bring your bike on the train. But it’s just such a pain in the ass. First of all, if it’s raining out, everybody’s going to be looking for shelter underground. Time to get off the streets and get back inside. And so the normally crowded subway system gets even more crowded. And I have my bike with me. Do you know how difficult that is, trying to maneuver not just yourself, but also a huge bike through a crowd of wet people?

It’s like, what’s the correct way to get your bicycle through the turnstile? I have no idea, so I just pick it up and kind of shove it through which, depending on my angle, depending on how many people are simultaneously trying to come and go, it might work or it might not. It might get stuck, and then I’m causing a little traffic jam, and then people start yelling things, not the people immediately behind or in front of me, no, that would be a little too confrontational. But the people two or three back, safe enough to lob whatever insults they want without any fear of repercussion or altercation. They’re like, “Move your bike asshole!”

And also, whenever it’s really wet out, I have such a hard time getting my Metrocard out of my wallet. For anybody not familiar with the New York City subway, the Metrocard is a credit card shaped piece of plastic that holds money for passage. I don’t know if I’m the only one who experiences this problem, because I’ve never even really consciously thought about it until I started writing this out, but it’s impossible to get a grip on it when it’s wet. And my wallet, it’s like I need to use the tips of my fingers to pull the card out. And I can’t. And I have my bike. I’m just standing there at the turnstile, “Let’s move it jerkoff!” shouted at me from every direction.

Getting the bike on the train, it shouldn’t be a problem, but again, when it’s raining, the platforms are jam-packed. So even when the train eventually arrives, what am I supposed to do, push people out of the way so I can take up three spots, one for me and two for my bicycle? Everybody’s crammed in, wet, cold, and they see me standing there occupying all that space, I can just hear them screaming in their heads, “Way to go, jerk!”

So I toughed it out and rode my bike in the rain. It didn’t let up until I was like three quarters of the way home, but even if it’s not directly raining, all you need to make the ride really inconvenient is a layer of rain on the street. Your tires will constantly splash it up along your back, in your face, soaking your feet from underneath. It’s not pleasant. But whatever, I’m home. I have to leave for work in like half an hour. I guess I’ll bike, because if I wanted to take the train, I should have left like five minutes ago.

It’s getting real hot out there

I spent a fair amount of last summer complaining about the heat. I’d sit down to write something, but the sweat would be pouring out of my body, soaking my laptop, making it impossible to write anything of significance. As my fingers would slip on the keys, as the messages popped up on the screen, “Reminder, do not pour liquids onto your computer,” I’d think to myself, this sucks, I’m so hot, I’m not getting any writing done, and everything that I do wind up writing, it’s just this long whiney complaint about being hot.

heat sunset res

Then the fall came, and that was great. Even winter was a welcome relief. And it wasn’t until about March or April that I really started to get sick of the cold. This year winter wouldn’t take the hint. It was like when you have your friends over and it’s three in the morning and you’re pretending to act like you’re still having a good time, that you’re not super tired, wishing that everyone would just leave already so you could go to sleep, and just when you think somebody might make a move for the door, somebody else sinks a little deeper into the couch and asks, “Anybody feel like getting a game of Monopoly going?”

But winter’s finally over. Spring made a delayed appearance for like a week or so. And then I woke up yesterday and it was summer again. The first day came and went and I didn’t complain. It wasn’t that hot, there was a nice breeze, I got to go outside in shorts. It was pretty pleasant considering how long winter took to finally melt away into warmer weather.

But then day two. I always bike to work and, not really thinking it through, I wore jeans and a t-shirt. Come on, I thought, it’s still May. It’s totally going to be OK. It totally wasn’t OK. The humidity was reminiscent of August. I wasn’t even halfway to the restaurant and, although you might not be able to tell just by looking at me, the entire surface of my body was covered in sweat.

It’s like, I love wearing jeans, but I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable than sweating through a thick pair of denim. The pants turn to sandpaper. Every step, every pedal on the bike, it becomes an exercise in exfoliating the skin on my legs, one layer at a time, until there’s nothing left but rash and raw.

And then I got to work and I had to change into my work clothes. I took off my damp jeans, my moistened shirt. And that wasn’t even the wettest part. My undershirt, my boxers, my socks, even though I’m going to be putting on a fresh change of clothing, everything underneath is heavy with perspiration.

I changed into my uniform. You know how it is, your body takes a minute or so to cool down. I thought my jeans were restrictive, but wearing dress pants, a shirt, tie, and a giant waiter’s apron, that was downright stifling. Not only did the sweating not stop, it actually picked up a little bit. I could start to feel my freshly laundered outfit starting to absorb it’s own layer of gross.

Man, and what the fuck? Why did it feel like the heat was still on? My restaurant is at the bottom of this gigantic building in Midtown. I can only guess that, in an effort to not be surprised if winter decides to make one or two more guest appearances this early in the warm season, they’re delaying the official changing of the thermostat for as long as possible.

I’m going to try and stop complaining. There’s nothing I can do about the heat, and it’s still May. It’s only going to get hotter and hotter. But man, I’m so f’n hot. I wake up in the morning and my mouth is like sealed shut because it’s so hot out and it makes the inside of my mouth so dry and then I go and try to get my day started but I get out of the shower and I’m already soaked through with sweat again and by the time I sit down to write even though I’m telling myself not to write about being so hot I can’t help it it’s all I can think about I can’t stop writing I can’t even make commas or periods I’m so fucking hot.

Look both ways

This morning I went for a run. In an effort to keep things interesting, I have a few routes that I like to take. I was on what I guess would be Route C, and there was this one section, two blocks long, where I had to cross over from one side of the street to the other.

It’s always a challenge going for runs in the city. You want to maintain some sort of a rhythm, but it’s kind of hard with traffic, with lights that don’t always synch up with what you’re doing, your pace, plus the other eight or so million people living in this city, some of them out, some of them on the same street that you are, everybody jockeying for space, trying to just go about life with as few collisions as possible.

I ran by the first corner but the light wasn’t on my side. About halfway down I noticed that the light up ahead was good to go. But I wasn’t going to make it all the way there in time to catch it. So I figured, OK, I’ll just cross right now, right in the middle of the street. I do it all the time. It’s New York. You cross when you have to cross.

Only, and I’ve heard of stuff like this happening to other people, but I ran into the street to find myself directly in the way of a bicycle delivery guy. There was no time to react. I just stepped in the street and found myself exactly in his path. He didn’t even have time to swerve, he just kind of shouted something, I think I shouted something, although I might not have, it’s kind of a blur.

Incredibly, I was able to maneuver my torso, like a matador taunting a charging bull, in such away that I made very minimal contact with the bike as he came at me from my left. I turned to the right to see everything play out. The bike kind of wobbled, and I thought, he’s going to fall, but then he managed to correct the imbalance. For about a quarter of a second, everything looked like it was about to be OK. But then whatever grip he tentatively regained slipped away again and he tumbled off and over the bike.

It wasn’t the worst crash in the world. It was a relatively low-speed affair, but still, I’ve fallen off of my bike plenty. He was probably a little banged up. And what about his bike? What about the delivery? I went up to the guy and started apologizing immediately, “I’m so sorry,” like that’s going to do anything.

I gave him my hand to pull him up but he just kept shouting something in what I’m assuming was Chinese, just a snap judgment based on the Chinese restaurant logo on his delivery vest. Through his gesturing, I figured that he was worried about his bike, it was one of those new electric models with an engine and everything. I pulled it up, steadied everything out, turned off the motor.

Then he just kept saying stuff in that different language. I was asking the basics, “Are you OK?” telling him I was sorry. He kind of looked through his merchandise, everything seemed to be salvageable. He pulled up his pant leg but there wasn’t any noticeable damage. We made eye contact and he just kind of kept muttering something before making a gesture with his arm, like don’t worry about it, get out of here.

And then he got back on his bike and took off. I felt really bad. I felt like I should have done something else. But what? What was to be done? All of these things flashed through my mind. About how I always complain about my job, about how I hate going to work. I tried putting myself in his place, delivering takeout on a bike in the cold in a country where I don’t even speak a single word of the language. And I get hit by a runner. And maybe my leg does hurt. Maybe I have to go back to the restaurant and get new food, and the boss will chew me out for poor bike riding skills. Maybe the restaurant owns the bike, maybe the owner is a real dick and makes me pay for any scratches or superficial damage.

Man, I just try to be a good guy, so it stings especially when I make a stupid careless mistake, one that has actual ramifications on somebody else. And I had no idea what I could have done differently, you know, expect for looking both ways or waiting to cross at a corner, or just having a clue about my surroundings, not stuck in my head, unaware of the rest of the world, all of these eight million people with whom I’m trying to peacefully coexist.

You have no idea (what your body is capable of)

The other day I was out on a really long run. Halfway through, my stomach drops. Does that make sense? That’s what it felt like. It felt like everything holding my insides in place suddenly vanished, gave way, and in the span of about fifteen seconds, I went from perfectly fine to total agony. Did I mention that it was pouring rain? It was pouring rain. And when I say really long run, it’s like much longer than you’re imagining, twice as long. I hobbled along for another mile or so before coming across the most disgusting public bathroom in some park by the Williamsburg Bridge. There was a group of homeless people inside, taking cover from the rain, passing around a bottle of hooch. As soon as I open the door they all turn to me. Man, what do I do? I just kind of motioned toward the stall. It’s amazing what your body is capable of in moments of extreme duress.

Last spring I was biking to work. It was total gridlock, everywhere, all the way from my house to my job in the city. The cars were at a complete standstill. So I’m just flying in between rows of parked vehicles, weaving in and out. I get to the Queensboro Bridge. Usually I’d just stay in the bike lane, but traffic wasn’t moving in the car lane, and I figured, what the hell? Why not? It would save me a left turn going downtown. At first everything was great. The lanes are so wide on the bridge that I basically had my own lane in between lanes. And I’m just feeling fantastic, cruising past all of these cars, them totally stuck, and I’m just flying.

But then like halfway across traffic opens up, and not gradually, but all at once. Like something must have been stuck up ahead, an accident, I have no idea what, but something. And now, nothing. Traffic picks up. The cars start flying by. They’re honking at me and cursing at me out the window, and while my lane is still somewhat wide, I mean, it’s hard to stay in a perfectly straight line with cars zooming by me on both sides, fifty miles per hour. And it’s a long bridge. Finally, and I don’t know if it was my fault or the taxi’s fault, but this taxi kind of clips me, just barely. And so I kind of ricochet into the next lane, and another taxi clips me, again, just slightly. And so I’m bouncing back and force in between these two cars, like I’m in some weird pinball machine. All I’m thinking is, I’m so fucked, this is it. But it gets worse. Another car comes up and hits me, and my derailleur gets actually physically stuck in the hubcap of another car in front of me. Did I mention that it’s a police car? So I’m riding in tandem with him, but he doesn’t know it. He sees me, he thinks I’m up to something, apart from just being in the car lane, he thinks I’m up to some stunt, which I kind of am, but not this stunt. And he’s out of the window, “Slow down!” and I’m like, “I can’t!” and he’s like, “You can’t? You will! I’m the cops!” It’s crazy what your mind is able to make your body do in insane situations like that, using all of your reflexes, having a conversation with a policeman while barely maintaining control of your stuck bicycle, then getting off the bridge, dislodging your bike and making a break for it before the cop figures out what’s going on.

One time I was skydiving. Did I mention that there was a tornado warning on the same day? The pilot was crazy, like a total adrenaline junky crazy person, and as the sky blackened and the hailstones started to fall he looked me dead on, a real insane glint in his eye, and he just said, “I’m good if you’re good.” And I’m so stupid, I was just thinking, well, this guy’s a pilot, I’m sure he’s been through it all. Did I mention that there was actually a tornado on the other end of the runway? “Don’t worry!” he yelled back, “I think I can beat it!” He took off and yeah, he actually beat it. But the canvas roof of the plane got ripped off and that’s when I started to get really worried. When I wasn’t getting smacked in the head with hailstones, all I could hear was the pilot going, “Yeeeee-haw! I ain’t fraid a no tornados!” We got up to jumping altitude and I realized, shit, I totally forgot to bring my parachute. Did I mention there was a tornado? There were actually three tornadoes, and we were in the center of the tornado triangle.

Just when I make a move to tell the pilot, that we better land, that I don’t have a parachute, a huge hailstone comes out of nowhere and knocks him in the head, knocks him right out. Then the hailstone ricochets off of his head and onto the cockpit, hitting some of the airplane controls. The whole thing goes dead. My only idea is, is there some way I can get inside this guy’s skydiving outfit, lug his unconscious body out of the plane, all while it’s in a total freefall, spiraling out of control, and activate his parachute without getting eaten up by one of those tornadoes? Did I mention that the three tornadoes had since splintered off into nine tornadoes? And that there was a constant web of lightning bolts connecting all nine of them, like an octagon, but with nine sides instead of eight, and us plummeting to our doom in the middle? I mean, yeah I made it, I’m alive, right? But still, you never know what your made of until you’re looking death right in the eye, or in the gaping hole where his eye would be if he had one.