Bookshelf

Here is a sampling of some of my writing.

This article appeared in my column in Catalyst Magazine in 2012

GEAR IS GOOD

            Famous Wall Street bicyclist Gordon Gekko once said, “Gear is good.”  If you don’t believe Gordon, just look at any magazine rack.  The shelves are crammed with magazines telling us which of the new toys are absolutely must-have for summer 2012.

            Owning a shiny new kryptonite bicycle in deep ruby with flecks of gold that makes looking at it something akin to peering into the depths of the cosmos is a transcendent joy.  Man’s fascination with the latest gear goes back a million years or more.  Sometime after the last Ice Age ended a Neanderthal named Ralph was idly tapping at the end of a stick with a piece of flint while keeping a wary eye out for saber-tooth cave weasels.  Ralph noticed that he could shape the stick into a point.  Interesting, but not too useful until that night when he tried to pluck his piece of warthog out of the fire and burned his fingers.

            Ralph poked at the warthog with his sharpened stick and to his surprise the stick pierced the crispy meat and he pulled it easily from the fire.  After a few nights of experimentation, Ralph concluded that a longer stick meant he could sit farther from the fire and still enjoy his warthog.  But his stick’s true usefulness came a week later when a saber-tooth cave weasel, drawn by the pungent smell of roasting warthog, skulked into the cave.  As the clan hooted and threw rocks, the cave weasel advanced.  In desperation Ralph threw his eating stick.  The stick punctured the cave weasel’s heart and it dropped dead.

            Ralph was the toast of the clan for several weeks until one night another Neanderthal named Ed showed up with a spear on which he had rubbed charcoal, making it black and therefore, Ed claimed, better than Ralph’s design.  All the other clan members were impressed, even though no one understood how this made the spear better.  This is the first recorded instance of carbon-improved technology.  Now, of course, there are carbon-fiber frames, poly-carbonate tubes and all sorts of stuff based on carbon.

            Meanwhile, Ralph’s wife Alice was busy developing gear for the modern Neanderthal cave-wife.  Alice found a hollowed out log about a foot long.  After shaking out the ants she discovered she could put the cooked warthog in the log and keep it warm until Ralph got home at night.  Alice’s friend and Ed’s wife Trixie made improvements by stuffing dried moss in the ends of the log.  Soon Alice and Trixie were showing their new line of cave-ware to all the clan members and started a phenomenon that became known as the Tupperware party.  Man’s (and woman’s) quest for the latest gear was born.

            The thing that makes new gear so appealing is the status it bestows on the owner.  Sure, Ralph’s spear was useful but as soon as Ed came up with a better idea, Ed got the limelight and Ralph faded into obscurity.  So it is with the latest in bicycle gear.  There’s nothing like cruising up to the weekly club ride on your new Tritonium bike to the ohhs and ahhs of the other riders, but after a couple of weeks the envy subsides and, like a druggie looking for his next hit, a cyclist is soon prowling the bike stores and websites.  Seldom does one ask, do I really need a frame that is 32% more responsive?  What does that even mean?

            Never mind; the answer is, of course you do!  How else are you going to smoke grandma on her 1979 Raleigh pulling a bike trailer loaded with 25 lbs. of produce from the farmer’s market?  But, if perchance you wonder, is it really, in the eternal scheme of things, necessary, take this test:

            Hold your bike (Hint: if you don’t have a bike, then yes, you need new gear) by its seat and lift the rear wheel off the ground.  Does the wheel fall off?  If the answer is no, continue.

            Turn the pedals.  Does the rear wheel also turn?  If yes, continue.

            Squeeze the right brake lever.  Does the rear wheel stop turning?  If yes, continue.

            Now lift the bike’s front wheel.  Does it fall off?  If not, continue.

            Spin the front wheel.  Now squeeze the left brake lever.  Does the wheel stop?  If yes, you have a perfectly serviceable bike and don’t NEED new gear.  All you need to do is get on it and ride.  And watch out for saber-tooth cave weasels.

This is the first chapter of a novel I’ve been working on for a few years.  It has languished since 2011.

            Michael O’Donnell’s first thought upon regaining consciousness was that maybe it hadn’t happened.  Maybe it was all one of their drills they were so fond of running.  It would be like them to run a simulation without telling anyone.  He checked the LED display in front of him: Air temperature, humidity, blood sugar, respiration, heart rate – everything fine.  Well, that was a good sign.  He pushed the recycle button and heard the relays click and whir.  The panel slid back as the couch he was lying on raised slowly to a vertical position.  O’Donnell stepped out of the bio-stasis tank and looked around.

“Hey, Mac,” It came out a hoarse cough.  His chest felt like it was tied with rusty barb wire.  O’Donnell took a deep breath and this time dry wooden stakes pierced his lungs.

“Mac! Eddie!  You guys out there?”

The long hallway that held thirty-nine other bio-stasis tanks, all horizontal save his, yawned back at him.  Even Leigh’s was horizontal.  That wasn’t a good sign; if this wasn’t a drill, she was supposed to cycle out of suspended animation with him.

“Damn,” O’Donnell swore under his breath, padding over to her tank.  The heart, respiration and other vital signs monitor was flat-lined.  O’Donnell flicked it with his finger, but it didn’t change.  He pounded on it with his fist.

“C’mon, c’mon,” he implored.  The monitor stared back, an unblinking, implacable red line.

O’Donnell slid to the floor and leaned against the wall.  Leigh hadn’t made it.  This wasn’t a drill.

He didn’t know how long he sat, naked, against the wall, staring at the floor.  Time didn’t mean anything, anyway, when there was no one else to mark it.  How many others in the other centers made it out?  Surely he couldn’t be the only one.  They had estimated ten percent failure rate.  “Failure rate” — a polite term for death.  Bio-stasis wasn’t perfect yet; sometimes the tanks leaked, the nutrient systems didn’t deliver, the temperature control malfunctioned.  At least a dozen things O’Donnell knew of could go wrong and there were probably two dozen more he didn’t know of.  O’Donnell took a deep breath and stood up.  He walked down the line of tanks, one above the other like so many bunk beds, checking the monitor on each one.  Of the thirty-nine, two, Leigh’s and Carlos’, were flat-lined.  Carlos’ tank was stamped “7”, meaning he wasn’t to come out for six more cycles.  Above Carlos’ tank was Brenda’s, also marked with a “7”.  In 30 years, she’d come out alone, just like O’Donnell.  By then, if all went according to plan, O’Donnell would be nearly 60 and could well have children Brenda’s age.  If all went according to plan.  So far, it hadn’t.  There had already been a five percent failure rate at his center and this was only the first of twenty cycles.

O’Donnell walked back to Leigh’s tank.  He could see her inside, eyes closed as if she were asleep.  He bent and kissed the glass over her face.

“Goodbye, love.”

O’Donnell walked through the doors to the revival room.  The room looked like a professional athletic dressing room.  There were lockers, each with the name of the project members, showers, sinks, stalls for dressing.  Carpeting on the floor gave warmth and a sense of home. The whirlpool was bubbling, steam rising off of the water, just like it was supposed to.  He put his hand on the recognition plate.

“Good morning, Commander O’Donnell,” a mechanical female voice said.  “Today is Tuesday, January 22, 2065. The time is 10:32 a.m.”

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