Burying Demons, Honoring the Fallen and Being the Black Swan: Labor Drops a Vee at Portapottyville*

June 2002

Will tomorrow be better than today?

The question has troubled Max Kash of late. On Wall Street, the interval between cataclysmic events is shortening, leading rational thinkers to examine the premise that investors behave with something akin to statistical orderliness. Humans fly airplanes into buildings. We blow each other up. Whether from malice or sheer stupidity, we burn down forests, poison rivers and eat too much High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) factory food. Yet we are extolled to “have faith, the markets will bounce back, they always do,” as if the Markets and God were synonymous.

I don’t know about God, but it seems obvious to me that to have faith in the Markets one must have faith in humans. Can humans be trusted to do the right thing? Does anyone believe -- that is anyone who is not a rat, or a roach, or maybe a poodle -- that the world would be worse off without so many humans? Is it possible for humans to behave according to a set of principles which if applied universally by all humans, all the time, and everywhere, would necessarily create a better place? So, for example, should we condemn the Chinese for banning bikes in Beijing (to make way for more US made automobiles) if here in Smell-A the only reason we don’t ban bikes outright is because we’ve made it so perilous to ride that few people are willing to take the risk anyway? Is what’s good for General Motors good for the World?

Are we better off? If the Earth were a person, how would you describe it’s health? Call me a cynic, but I think the world is analagous to a cancer patient. The only issue is staging. How many organs have ceased to function? How bulky is the neoplastic crust? How distant have the tumors spread? Is the Earth-Patient beyond repair? And does anyone really believe we will act now -- for example, by signing the Kyoto Protocol -- to prevent forseeable disaster? Or, like most cancer patients, will we wait until we’re on life support before deciding to fight back?

The evidence is all around. And it’s making MKA crazy. Huge SUVs with eco-system friendly names like “Yukon” and “Tundra” (which is like calling a nuclear warhead a “peacemaker”) thunder through my neighborhood, disregarding school zone warnings. We seldom see kids on bikes. Baby Beach remains closed due to high fecal coliform counts, and is expected to remain a health hazard as long as humans along the San Juan Creek continue to flush their toilets. Across the street at the public school, where they recently banned the game of “tag” during recess because studies showed with alarming frequency the “it” is usually overweight and thus susceptible to low self-esteem, Carl’s Jr is sponsoring a “Physical Fitness” summer camp. Shaq’s on the television boasting that real men aren’t afraid of triglycerides, diabetes or heart attacks and the other day I saw a bundle of plump kids at the condiment bar over at Fatburgers scraping off those pesky pickles, tomatoes and lettuce to make room for more mayonnaise. Meanwhile, the mortuaries can’t find enough giant sized coffins.

Enough already. MKA needs a colonic. A purge. Heading solo to Portapottyville* (metro-slander courtesy of God’s Gift) where MKA hopes to reverse the rising tide of negativity. On the way to the I-5, I pass a coffee bar with a line of SUV’s idling at the express window and calculate that the untraded social cost of that $1.25 cup of joe was about $68. Get on the interstate and am immediately swarmed by a mob of throttle-happy crotch rockets with names like Firebolt, Superhawk, Interceptor, Bandit, Ninja and Hayabusha (means peregrine falcon in Japanese). It’s all well and good, watching the real live Power Rangers pop wheelies, slice and dice in their formidable pack, but then I notice something. Most of the motorists nervously hit their breaks or change lanes as the herd passes. But a few drivers - uniformly behind the wheel of a trucks--get embarrassingly hostile. One truck driver chases down his quarry and tailgates dangerously close, as if to establish territory and “send a message” that highways are for four wheels.

And then it occurs to Max Kash that the mere act of owning and using a two wheeled vehicle in Orange County is an act of rebellion. Like in Animal Farm, two wheels bad, four wheels good, more than four wheels (with twin cab and gobs of unused cargo space) gooder. If the trucks are threatened by sleek and brawny sportbikes, which seldom operate in a manner that requires anyone to alter their speed, imagine how angry they are when coming up on a slower, much “needier” cyclist. They are forced to share the road with the weak, a painful act of charity that forces them to actually operate their massive beast with something approaching finesse. It would be so much easier to run the two wheeled menace off the road, or ban them (like in Bejiing).

By the time MKA reaches Oildale, on the outskirts of Bakersfield, the temples are throbbing. To my right several oil wells are burning out of control and a clutch of locusts has just splattered against my windshield as I’m driving over the bones of a million dead squirrels. This is where the USCF will hold nationals. Lovely. I switch on the AM radio and listen with interest as a caller blasts Rush Limbaugh for being “too liberal.” Rush apparently started the rumor that he had been invited to a party in Malibu hosted by Barbara Streisand and David Geffen, which of course he declined. The caller was deeply concerned that his “Rock of Conservatism” would wither under this kind of seductive pressure. But don’t worry, says Rush, I’ll always be your rock, I’ll always be here to spread the gospel, even though nobody seems to want to buy the “Rush for Czar” coffee mugs, t-shirts, bobble-heads or golf hats available on my website.

Listening to such gluttonous self-promotion makes MKA hungry so I reach for my Playmate where Darling Wife has packed my lunch. Sure could use an avocado on wheat, with a fresh nectarine, and a handful of raw trail mix. Instead I get Yoplait Portable Go-Gurts with a coupon for free Yoda ear extenders and a carton of Oscar Meyer “Lunchables”, an Americanized version of the Bento Box which consists of 1 part plastic, 1 part cardboard, 2 parts processed food constituents and 4 parts Scooby Snack. Both products contain ample amounts of HFCS. No brain it seems is safe from the cunning persuasion of the Madison Avenue marketing mavens, not even that of Wisconsin bred and cornfed DW. But now my brain is starting to swell with guilt since I read the other day that the recent farm bill will subsidize billionaires to grow more corn from which HFCS is made which is replacing sugar as the most ubiquitous additive to snack foods which of course is behind the rampant obesity epidemic. So far, I conclude, today’s not going to be any better than yesterday. As I approach the outskirts of Delano, population 2,259 (not including the intermittent pickers), I notice on the roadside a shack with a painted sign that reads “Strictly Sunglasses.” The building’s windows are boarded up. How can a serious capitalist hope to make money selling only sunglasses in this tiny market I wonder. Wait a minute. Why is there smoke coming out of the chimney on a triple digit day? Why the stack of drums on which scary words like “corrosive” and “flammable” are pasted? Or that strange chemical odor and those pit bulls guarding that old pick up truck? And those dirty children, with the bleeding feet from the broken glass and the full-body tatoos?

Distressing, yes, but also mildly intoxicating, like Darwin must have felt as he inched closer to his grand theory. The burning tires, the rusty old dinosaur wells sucking up the black gold where it will eventually be converted to airborne black carbon which in turn will find its way into my lungs, the vast supply of fatty fast food dispensaries, the crystal meth labs -- all the poison and perdition begin to take their toll, pursuit of scientific truth be damned. The temples continue to throb. Oddly, my throat goes dry while a film of greasy sweat emulsifies on my fingers. MKA pulls into Portapottyville just in time to witness Labor’s Butch Stinton nearly single-handedly out-muscle and outsmart the entire Simple Green team for the 45+ state criterium championship. A ray of sunshine breaks through the gathering gloom.

As we line up for the 35 plus state championships, MKA contemplates “faith in action.” About 110 jacked-up rebels -- because ultimately all bike racers are rebels--will be forced to respect each other’s space and body parts on a tight 4 corner crit course. We will be forced to trust the nimrod next to us or behind us. We will be forced to have faith that the rapacious beast next to us will stifle his predatorial instinct and behave in a civil manner, with class and honor. MKA shakes his head. What am I doing here? MKA feels like a chicken at a coyote convention.

The game plan is for Labor to latch on to the Vampire, who was seen before the race filling his bottle with white sand from a canister marked “Gobi Desert.” Rumors had been circulating that the Vampire had been logging a buck and a quarter everyday between Goleta and Lompoc, working on his time trialing, having already mastered the deviant art of mutant mountain climbing. Up close, he didn’t look that scary. No, with the skin resembling crispy bacon, the sharp joints, and the marsupial eyeballs, he looked almost fragile. I brought a mirror, but didn’t have the heart to flash it at him, and DW forced me to give up the garlic. Anyway, we know the Vampire’s going to break out sure as pimples, it’s just a matter of when.

“When” occurs at about lap 20 of the 50 lap race. Genghis Hahn hesitated a split second, and the Vampire had flown the coop. A few laps later, a $20 prime was announced, and that’s when the Devil Dawg reared it’s ugly head and bared it’s yellow fangs. We’re on the backstretch. MKA heads into turn 3 when McFiddy roars by with another idiot in tow. MKA heard a crash behind him, and kept going, secretly hoping the field would split. The next lap, MKA saw a crew of medics attending to a Laborite. Uh - oh, looks bad, real bad. Woodchuck rides up and says it was Genghis. You could almost see the wind leave Labor’s sails. Our best rider down for the count. For the remainder of the race, Labor rode apathetically, longing for it to end. MKA seemed to be suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Every corner, every curb, every hacker was a bomb waiting to explode, blowing me all to Hell.

Genghis had been ambulated by the time we regrouped in a very solemn post-race Labor camp. The working diagnosis was broken scapula, collarbone and wrist, plus third degree burns. On a lighter note, it took him only 10 minutes to ask a volunteer to fetch his rollers so he could work the lactic acid out -- dreams die hard for hard core Laborites. We were wondering how the crash happened. After the prime Woodchuck enlightened McFiddy that his attack set off a chain of events that resulted in Genghis’ crash, to which the sport’s champion ambassador replied: “Good: one down, nine to go.” On hearing this, I asked Velocity’s Prince of Pigs, the soft-spoken Mr. Blood Clotts to invite McFiddy over so we could learn what he meant with the body-count reference.

A few minutes later, MKA is piddling about when up rides McFiddy with his posse, guns blazing, tossing F-Bombs in the general direction of Woodchuck. No show of sympathy for our fallen comrade, no show of respect for Labor’s mourning, no apology for his ill-conceived and ill-timed smack. So MKA’s mood shifted from black to red and I bolted over to McFiddy and, yes, I must say it, I got into his grill. I also must confess that I’ve repeated the italicized words both live and to myself many times since then because, quite frankly, I like the way it sounds, plus the image of two trucks colliding gives me a testosterone boost the likes of which I haven’t felt since I copped my first feel on a pair of double dees belonging to Donna Gunther behind the chemistry lab at Cheldelin Junior High.

Many spittle-laced profanities ensued. Gums and dental hygiene critically examined. That’s not important. What’s important are two things: One, Labor will stand up for its own, and Two, cooler heads did eventually prevail and thermonuclear war was averted. McFiddy conceded the “one down, nine to go” gloat was abominable and thus Labor harbors zero residual retaliatory sourness. MKA spent the next 5 hours at the ER with Genghis, who looked like he got pushed off a truck going 90 mph. Comminuted fracture of the right collarbone, what looked like an egregious AC separation, and a huge hematomatic hump over his scapula. In between much howling and repeated morphine shots, Genghis related that when McFiddy jumped for the $20, the skillet head in his wake chopped Genghis’ front wheel, sending the latter airborne. In classic warrior fashion, Genghis blamed himself for “letting” the Vampire get away, and seemed to accept his gross disfigurement as just punishment.

But let it be known: MKA will gladly grease any knucklehead who may be inclined to sacrifice any Laborite to the Asphalt Gods in the pursuit of any prime in an amount not to exceed the present market value of said prime as consideration for NOT choosing to engage in such small-minded barbarism and general treachery.

MKA could go on and on about the quality of life inside an ER in Portapottyville, where it was difficult to distinguish the heart attack patients from their pre-heart attack care givers. Suffice to say MKA was not fired up about the prospects of raging against the Vampire et al in the road race the next day. The day’s events seemed to confirm that MKA will wind up diapers sooner than the mortality tables predicted, that we cannot live together, that our lifeboat is sinking under the weight of expanding human waste, and that as long as there remained an economic incentive - no matter how minuscule -- to take “goods”, whether it’s oil, land, food, air, a traffic lane, a token prime or the bike wheel in front of you, without regard for the consequences, we are destined for the kind of escalating misery described by Garret Hardin in that seminal little paradigm-buster aptly titled “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968) (“Freedom is the recognition of necessity” and we must recognize limitations on our freedom to breed).

But the sun did come up the next day, and Labor did make the start line, so theoretically something wonderful, something “magical” was at least possible. 35+ Road Race, 69 miles. Stiff cross wind. Two steady climbs. It happened like this: within the first 8 miles, a break formed consisting of the Vampire, Bugs Bunny, Mighty Joe Davis, Ricky “What’s My Mother F’n Name” Squeaker, Kiwi Rouse, Donovan, Noble and MKA. Full commitment. Within 20 miles our break blew past the 30 plus field which started 5 minutes ahead of us. Over time and distance, the wind, speed, and thorns conspired to whittle the break down to three (3): Vampire, Bugs and MKA.

During the last 20 miles, MKA was fixated on: (1) seeking redemption from Spokane (at which the Vampire and Bugs sucked me dry and left me for dead), (2) honoring Genghis, who I know trained hard physically and mentally for a showdown with the Vampire (read: dabbled with the idea of mixing Mojave sand with his morning soy-corn gruel), and (3) preventing eternal damnation from the Hipp Star, who ordered me to “sit on” like a trainer sternly commanding a hyperactive dog. As we approached the finish line, another thought occurred to me: MKA has the rare opportunity to make today better than yesterday. The legs felt good, the heat tolerable, the kidneys hydrated and the risks of a crash-banger sprint were manageably low.

MKA continues to question whether tomorrow will be better than today, or whether the world is becoming a better habitat, or whether humans can be trusted. But one thing I do know: for MKA anyway, Sunday, June 9th was much better than the day before.

The California Golden Bear Bored:

1. Max Kash Agro, Labor Power (Lady Luck shed her grace on thee)

2. Ronnie “Bugs” Bunny, Taylor Made (the inscrutable one continues to mystify: was he hurting or playing possum?)

3. Moon Walker, aka, The Vampire, Zombies (knew I had him when he reached for his bottle which thankfully contained H20 and not the imported sand from Transylvania which he’s saving for Natz).


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