26 September 2010

"Pander to their Gomorrahan vices."

This latest section of Ulysses was written like the script of a play, in dialog with acting instructions and scenery descriptions. It ran from page 422 to page 593 of my ancient Random House hardcover, by far the longest episode, but also the easiest to read. It certainly wasn't any easier to understand than the rest of the book, but it was once again engaging and intriguing. A drunk Stephen Dedalus takes off for the red-light district of the city and winds up in a brothel. Leopold Bloom, protectively, hurries off to keep an eye on him. The episode ends with Stephen getting punched out by a soldier and Bloom intervening with the local cops to avoid an arrest for a public disturbance. In the middle of it all, Bloom goes on trial and faces his entire lifetime of fears, neuroses, and hang-ups in a series of interrogations in front of various hostile audiences. He even sees a vision of his dead son Rudy immediately after rescuing Stephen. The whole crazy, hallucinatory adventure is something of a critique of society's sexual mores. The immoral behavior Bloom is chastised for is nothing more than the natural impulses of the body and the free-running fantasy of the mind. He's helpless to defend himself, as any of us would be against arbitrary and hypocritical standards imposed by narrow-minded, fearful people. Bloom becomes something of a mirror for all of us to examine how we would be seen by others if they knew our innermost thoughts and feelings. No one wants that, of course, the very idea makes us squeamish, and Bloom's ordeal is indeed unsettling. He survives and carries on, not triumphantly, but doggedly, enduring his humiliations without rage or despair. Joyce assembles a little of everything into these narratives--history, language, politics, social satire, music, theology, evolution, melodrama, and the base instincts of everyday people. It's like you are riding on a sea of the collective unconscious and picking up and examining the flotsam. I hope my barely-adequate grasp of this extraordinary book does it some justice.

16 September 2010

Wham! Bam! No thanks, man.

I took a spill on my mountain bike yesterday. My buddy Brian and I were on the Hawkinsville Ditch, riding home from Long Gulch. It's a place I've been many times--it's a great ride in the woods just on the edge of town. The fall gave me some raspberries and bruises the size of small nations and they hurt like hell. I also hit my head, cracking my helmet at the left temple and sustaining a concussion. Brian had to walk me and my bike out--I don't remember any of it. Did I mention Brian is an all-around great guy and a real mensch? Anyway, Sue and I spent a long evening at the ER. I was examined and given a CT scan. The good news is they found nothing. The brain did not show up on the pictures, meaning I'm going to be OK! Seriously, I have to consider that I'm lacking a brain. I pursue two sports--alpine skiing and mountain biking--which routinely cause me to injure myself. I do these things with other fellows who are natural athletes. They carry themselves with an enviable, relaxed grace that I strive to imitate. They are sure-footed, nimble, and unselfconscious. I am none of those things. I have two left feet on some days and two right feet on others. I huff, puff, grunt, groan, grimace, and sweat in equal measures while these guys cruise around effortlessly. I'm fifty years old and I'm still pursuing a chimerical childhood playground dream. Alas, I do manage to have quite a bit of fun in between the stints on the DL. I suppose that's what keeps me going. Plus all the other ways that people stay in shape are, to my mind, wretchedly dull. Jogging? Lap swimming? Elliptical machines? Good god, I'd be crazy with boredom! After this latest episode, though, I'm beginning to see why these other pursuits are so appealing. They are safe! You aren't going to hurt yourself. Not much in the adventure/adrenaline department, but no trips to the hospital, either.

This "brain bruise" has been a sobering experience, and not just because the doctor told me to lay off the sauce for the next few days. When I torqued my rotator cuff skiing several years ago, I told myself I would learn to be a better, smarter, safer skier. For the most part, I have been. I've torn skin off my hide many times on my bike, but I've never had a serious injury. Nothing, at least, that ice packs and TLC couldn't cure. This time, though, I gave myself a serious whack on the noggin. The ER doc told me I must "absolutely not sustain another concussion for at least three months." The first thing I did was count the months on my fingers: October, November, December . . . and then asked him "you mean I can go skiing in January?" What the hell is wrong with me? I sat there on the table, not remembering how the hell I got there (I still don't), and the only thing I was concerned about was using my ski pass!

I make a living with my brain. Not only that, my mind is where I keep all those things that mean the most to me. The people I love and have loved. Memories, feelings, hopes, and dreams. Forgetting most of an afternoon in which I was pedaling through a forest over a rock-strewn trail on my beloved Specialized Stumpjumper is, frankly, a scary experience. I don't forget anything. I've got a mind like flypaper--crap sticks to it without me hardly trying. Yet much of yesterday is gone. The doctor said my injury "erased the tape." Tape--what an anachronism! C'mon doc, you meant to say "deleted the file." Either way, I don't like it. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful it was a relatively minor thing. People get concussions and they get over them. I didn't do anything that can't be undone with time and care. But I still don't like it. And I particularly don't like the bruise to my ego. I feel like a klutz. I mean, I chose this activity and inflicted this damage to myself entirely of my own volition. I don't have to risk life and limb in order to have fun and stay fit. I could take up square-dancing or something. On second thought, that involves rhythm and timing and coordination and even grace, so forget it. Maybe one of those Richard Simmons workout videos would be more my speed. There's always the stationary bike. I could ingest hallucinogens and watch Pink Floyd videos or something to fight off the tedium. Or maybe the NordicTrack. I'd be in better shape and it's about the same price as my Rossignol Phantoms.

Forget that. "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam." I'm going to have to take it easy, though, I know that. And I'm going to have to be more attentive and more measured when I head for the mountains. If I want to be an athlete, I'm going to have to know my limits, and to play my game and not chase after someone else's. I'm going to be good. I promise. I'm going to follow doctor's orders and I'm going to take care of my head.

See you on the slopes.