One Fine, Agro Moment: the Bird, Bend, and Cathartic Badness
January 23, 2006
A few years ago before the Cascade Classic masters race turned pro MKA was on his way to a victory when he got relegated by the Blue Coats. I don't recall why at the moment but I'm sure on reflection I was probably guilty. Anyhow, in the final event, a road race, with a few meters before the finish line MKA slungshot around the last challenger. Without thinking too much about it, as MKA crossed the line, he raised his freak flag in the general direction of the officials.
The Labor Love-Hate Flick-Finger Salute
Max Kash Agro demonstrates the proper technique, honed by hours of weight training and field testing. Kids, don't try this at home.
Note: Californians advised to don Beaver headgear when racing in Oregon for self-protection. Logging boots optional.
The locals of course were offended mightily. Several eyewitnesses, most of them racers, complained indignantly that MKA was simply a blight on the race and should be permanently excused. The officials huddled around the video tape monitor. They freeze-framed the moment of glory but, alas or unfortunately, I'm not sure, the results were inconclusive. The Chief Ref sternly reprimanded my boorish behavior but, in a show of agonizing judicial restraint, decided against banning me for all times.
MKA never confessed to the crime, nor did he deny it, choosing instead to react with enchanted befuddlement. It might have happened, or it might not have, MKA is just not sure, what with so many radical and pernicious alter egos banging around in there. When pushed to account for his behavior, MKA took the Fifth, but suggested, off the record, that temporary insanity was a state of mind with which he was not exactly uncomfortable.
Silence, until now. MKA today admits that on that sunny summer day in Bend he did indeed flip the bird at the BlueCoats. The truth is, MKA enjoyed it then, and he still does, on occasion, when the spirit moves. Which brings me to that "one fine, Agro moment" in 2005.
It was another road race. The third stage of the Cascade Classic. It's too simple to say that MKA was having a "good" or a "bad" day. In race G.C. terms, it was a bad day - after a deplorable time trial and lackluster 2nd stage road race, MKA was never a contender, itself a cause for black armbands and nationwide mourning. In neuro-muscular terms, however, the day was shaping up nicely -MKA had awoken that morning with a rediscovered fervor to leave a footprint, to make a difference, for better or worse.
And so MKA shook off the calcified conservatism and went on the offensive early. MKA attacked, chased and chastised with all the enthusiasm of a juvenile dog retrieving a Frisbee from the Deschutes River. On one canyon climb, for no particular reason, other than it felt good, MKA bolted, fully loaded with generous squirts of the precious testosterone. Steve Larsinator joined up and for roughly 64 seconds MKA caressed and fondled the swell fantasy of a two-man break, climaxing with a stunning MKA win thanks to the goodwill and prudent business sense of Mr. Larsen, to whom MKA had become dear on account of several handsome real estate transactions from which he had earned above average commissions.
Needless to say the warm and fuzzy fantasy ended on the 65th second as the pack came ripping by, leaving MKA both agog and bereft. The penalty for self-delusion in road racing can be harsh. Having wasted his legs in a vain attempt to outmuscle his foes, MKA now summoned the wisdom of years of racing, which guided him to find the widest rump and cling like a limpet. One debilitating circuit later, MKA was a mere shadow of his former self. On the very same climb where a lap before he entertained visions of wine and roses, he was now holding on for dear life, clunky, chunky, without spunky, getting stomped on by the Big Monkey. By this time, Larsen, the Mullet (Willet), Vampire and Hutchinson, along with local hero and clubfooted warhorse Mark King, had scurried up the road with a only a few miles to go.
O.K. Five up the road. Holding on for dear life. Out of contention. Nothing to show for a hard day in the saddle. So where's the "one fine, Agro moment?" Patience. One more tangent, and please forgive the pseudo-intellectual sermon, but if nothing else law school hardwired me to lay an exhaustive foundation before reaching any glib conclusions on matters of such meaty consequence.
Just as romantic love tends to fade, so does a bike racer's passion for the sport. Married couples often ask, how do we keep the romance alive? How do we recapture the excitement generated during courtship? Scientists have weighed in on the grand question. The theory is during courtship the brains of young lovers teem with dopamine. The dopamine allows the lover to do dopey dangerous things, like run naked through a barbed wire fence, or drink an entire keg of beer, or break in the boss man's antique desk proper, if you know what I mean. After marriage, a mortgage and kids, the dopamine tends to evaporate, replaced by another hormone called oxytocin. This usually takes about 7 years.
In this second stage, the mature lovers are less inclined chemically to want to rut in airplane lavatories, the upper decks of baseball stadiums, or in the front bucket seat of a VW beetle. Instead, thanks to the slow and steady secretions of oxytocin, they come to regard each other as they would a warm and comfy terry cloth bathrobe.
You can see the analogy to bike racing. We start off gangbusters. We are driven by dreams of glory. Fueled by jolts of adrenaline-o-plenty. We yearn to submerge in the warm bath of dopamine, which washes away any regrets we are supposed to harbor over our tactical stupidity. We defy convention, we thumb our noses at the rules, we attack when we're supposed to sit, we ride 100 miles when we should ride 50, we do intervals on days we're supposed to rest, and we talk smack because peace might be cool but war is what get's you noticed.
And then it starts to fade. Chores around the house begin to preempt that interval work out. Climbing hills no longer seems to make sense. The wisdom of resting gets fully embraced. We begin to alter our training regimen, exalting quality over quantity, but settling for a decent, fun ride. Vanquishing (punishing, pummeling, pounding) adversaries seems less important; regulating one's own rapacious ego seems the better route.
That was the sermon part, and frankly it's bullshit, whether true or not. Look, MKA's not a battery, he doesn't have a shelf-life, his gums are just fine and he's going to live forever. None of this "winding down," "out to pasture," "smell the roses" sappy clappytrap. MKA will not retreat quietly into the fight, at least not quietly.
And so, suffused with a renewed sense of defiance, MKA decided it was time to fight back, on his own terms. The front of the pack began to flatten as we approached a right turn to the final steep climb up Archie Briggs Road. All that horsepower, all that vigor, all that suppressed bitterness - wasted. "These peckers have given up. Racing for 6th. A lesson must be taught." Or at least an opportunity seized. MKA willed the acid pooling in his legs up to his brain and put it to work. He found a slice of daylight and shot through the gap like a popcorn fart from a greased pig and cut loose half-crazy with happy rage.
A few twitchy idiots actually sounded the alarm: "Left! Left!", as if a moment's hesitation and all of this, this - this magnificent and prudent investment of strength and spirit would be lost. MKA could hear the collective Ka-chinks as the chains began dropping down the rear cluster like rifles cocking. "Don't they get it? MKA is toast. A relic from the archives. This attack is but a wake up, a cold slap, meant simply to mock all forms of conservatism - but if it should somehow bolster's MKA's place as a bad boy icon, so be it."
MKA did not look back. He knew they were throttling down like a pack of calf ropers. He could feel it, and it made him mad. Mad, not as in upset or displeased, but mad as in what Billy calls "Bat f-ing crazy"mad. Instantaneously and old friend from Back In The Day paid a long overdue visit (MKA's namesake actually) and like flames rising from a fire bomb the right arm shot up, middle finger unfurled in all of its bony glory. The head stayed down, the back flat, the eyes straight ahead, like he was taught. And he held it. He held it there. Robotically. Ten full seconds.
For those ten seconds, MKA beheld a state of pure, crystalline clarity. MKA could hear everything - the way they used to scream bloody murder at him when he ran red lights at Fred Park. The way they used to whisper "there's that Labor asshole" when he pedaled by. The way when challenged with fisticuffs he'd break out his best Cassius Clay imitation and offer to "cave in skulls." All those soothing angry voices from yesteryear, fueling a sense of mission, suddenly pierced by the unmistakable cackling from my dear friend and one-time nemesis, Mr. Ed Beamon.
"Get on that Wheel! Get on that wheel," he hollered, in mock desperation.
Ten seconds, it turns out, is too long to be taken seriously. The boiling rage had simmered. A bronze statue symbolizing revolutionary suicide had become a caricature of self-indulgent idiocy. MKA wanted to hold the anger, but he had to let it go. It was funny. He'd like to say it was meant to be funny, but in truth he had wanted to manufacture the brain chemicals which manifest as "anger," a state which we know and love to mother all things epic.
And yet the show was not without survival value. The rebellious Labor Love-Hate salute had stirred the pot. MKA felt invigorated. No tire tracks all across my back. MKA didn't just want to stir the pot, or fan the flames, he wanted to take a flamethrower to the peckerheads, but in a nice, respectful and sportsmanlike manner. In the end, MKA emptied barrels he didn't even have but was nudged in the uphill field sprint, nipped appropriately by a fellow warrior who also has quite a name to live up to: Jeff Angerman.
PS: Song lyrics don't play well in black 'n white. The reader can hardly relate. The reader may not hear the words the same way. Or, in most cases, the reader has never heard the song. In that case the words don't come close to capturing the impact, the rhythm, the way the beat takes control of your spinal chord and fills your brain with inspiration. So quoting song lyrics is the height of self-indulgence. It's intimately personal.
And yet this is MKA's journal, and for now, these are the lyrics that put those enviable "one, fine Agro" moments within reach.
From "The Outsiders" by REM, Around the Sun.
Uh, it's time to breathe, time to believe
Let it go and run towards the sea
They don't teach that, they don't know what you mean
They don't understand, they don't know what you mean
They don't get it, I wanna scream
I wanna breathe again, I wanna dream
I wanna float a quote from Martin Luther King
I am not afraid
I am not afraid
I am not afraid
I am not afraid
I am not afraid
I am not afraid
I am not afraid