Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Road warriors and other species

I rode my bike in to the job today for the first time this year.

This massive expenditure of energy occurred for a lot of reasons including fact the job is no longer done alone on the dining room table, and while hell is other people, super-sized hell is the subway during morning rush hour with its chewers, groomers,  farters, slacksleepers, “there’s always room for one more!” door crashers and kids who missed the rave but want to hear all about it. You may not know this, but we really can see, hear and smell you. Yup. This is a small moving room full of a lot of other people. And given the unpleasant assault at what is not my best time of day, it seems prudent to get to where I'm going under my own steam.

Thus I have turned to the bike and as a result have observed afresh the many species of bike riders that get in the way of a good journey. It’s an anthropological exercise as much as a physical one.  As I see it, cyclists fall into these discrete groups:

Team Grand Prix – These tend to be men with steely legs in full Tour de France kit including lots of wicking fabrics unknown to nature and aerodynamic helmets, very narrow deceptively delicate-looking bikes and a certain gritty grimace to mark their effort.  These road warriors whiz along shouting “watch left” meaning that’s where they are streaming past you, though one alarmed me greatly by passing on the right where he could have been killed if I’d swerved as I’d intended. Well, the road is theirs after all and who am I to take up space.

Les Bicyclettes  These are women, often quite soft and portly in vintage dresses or something in a cheery print who sit bolt upright on well upholstered club-sandwich-like seats of yesteryear, on bikes that are more a statement of earthy values than actual function. Many of these vintage bikes for the vintage dressers don’t seem to have any gears or speeds other than the stately pace the  ladies achieve all on their own.  Les Bicyclettes meander along their way and are very observant of hand signals, letting you know blocks in advance that a turn is coming up. Well, it's the right thing to do. Gracious to the end, they do take up an annoying amount of room when you’re in a hurry to get by.

The Thudders – This is the team I’m on. In fact maybe I’m the captain of the team.  Deeply unfit and on a cheap, heavy, gets-the-job-done-eventually bike, we are known for our gasping and sweating with thunder-thighs shuddering as we make our way painfully while trying not to be too freaked out by garbage trucks, The Grand Prix or city buses careening into our left legs.

Good Daddy – He’s in a button- down shirt and khakis and has never seen anything in an Eddie Bauer store he didn’t like. He has a a bicycle clip on one leg, a satchel-like brief case in a carrier or strapped to  his back and a very dorky helmet, maybe even a hockey helmet if his wife wasn’t looking. And lunch in a brown bag or one of those recyclable ones with the Velcro and a company logo on it. He’s heading to the cubicle poor man, but at least he’s getting a bit of fresh air. Exhaust-tinged as it may be. The carbon footprint is not his, not today anyway, never mind the van in the driveway at home. 

The Family Plan – You usually see these on weekends but depending on the neighbourhood and school schedule they can in fact be found any time. Be wary. Like ducks heading to the pond there is generally a larger one, a grown up, in the lead (sometimes from Team Good Daddy), well helmeted and cycling slowly, shouting helpful instructions over a shoulder to the oblivious ducklings behind who are not listening and who weave their way along without much focus and thus are often urged to ride on the sidewalk where they can alarm, or actually crash into pedestrians (how did you not make way for my glorious offspring, you dolt?) but where they fall prey to equally oblivious dog-walkers who have strung the tripwire of a leash across the way.  Ha-ha-ha is all I have to say about that.

It is to be among these groups that I have forsaken the subway. All good thus far, it was a downhill road to get here, and I am not speaking metaphorically. I’m already dreading the uphill climb home on my aged and weighty steed. Anyone who says it’s not the destination but the journey is a lying liar, or someone with better lung capacity than I have.

With any luck at all I will go outside later and discover that my bike has been stolen. Who would want it even for free is a question, but hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Not getting away with it"

This is not a morality story. This is about grooming.

I walked behind a woman today who had old lady hair -- the colour being somewhere between ash blonde and ashes (which might be what they mean by "dishwater blonde") in an indeterminate cut. I judged her harshly in my morning mind, but then looked in the mirror and alas. Aghast. Same thing on this head -- a kind of fuzzy mess of not quite right. My hair looks like it was chewed off by rats in the night. Horrors indeed.

I am at the age now when you don't get away with much. A night of poor sleep does not result in an elegantly wasted look of ravishment but rather simply haggard. Going that extra week between haircuts is a week of bad hair. Much as I love makeup, it does sort of sit on the wrinkles in a rather obvious way. But none, especially no lipstick, is to smack of the ICU. And if someone takes a second look it may not be so much that you're having a good ass day as there's a ribbon of toilet paper attached to your heel.

There is little room for error in quality of clothing. Fit is king. H&M is for kids and no it does not look "just like" Celine. Shoes are especially unforgiving at this age. Not only do expensive shoes (especially, MOST especially heels) fit and wear better, they are far more comfortable. A jacket is especially key, this is not a place to cheap-out. To look the money, you have to spend the money.

Is it good to look the money? Well, that's an existential question and something between you and your god. I'm just hoping to look and feel like I haven't given up yet.

Am calling my hairdresser guy now. He has some 'splainin' to do.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The true purpose and real meaning of magazines

I am in a caffeinated twist about a story I just read in my beloved NYT, about a 14-year old New York girl's vendetta (my word) against sweet little Seventeen magazine. The "real girl", Julia Bluhm, started a petition against it for retouching or photoshopping its fashion spreads and for using actual gorgeous models in same. She calls for Seventeen to do one spread a month using "real" girls.

The impulse to protest Seventeen's publishing policies arose, apparently, in ballet class where Bluhm was weary of hearing would-be ballerinas complaining of having a "fat day", or lamenting blemishes, or pronouncing themselves disgusting which may in fact say more about ballet and the endless mirrors these girls face but never mind. Instead we take on a fashion magazine.

Now, in fairness to Seventeen, and you can tell I'm going to be very fair, there is a monthly column called Body Peace, illustrated with a peace sign to go with a story of a girl's acceptance of a body part she's now okay with. As a very aged woman who has yet to make peace with her thighs I find this a stroke of editorial genius.

As well an article in the current issue is illustrated with photos of girls' melanoma scars, and the editor claims the magazine makes a point of celebrating all kinds of beauty in any colour, shape and size.

I am reminded of my brother's diatribe in what had to be the 1970's, long before Bluhm was born, when Sears catalogue got inclusive and included pictures of people in wheelchairs, maybe people who were less than perfect in some way and not just on the "husky sizes" pages. He went off the deep end, sweet thing, howling "no one wants to look at that!" Now, set aside the deep political incorrectness but his follow up argument was this showing of the less than perfectly lovely was exactly not the point. "It would be like me going to a record company and saying give me a contract. But you can't sing they'd say, and I would be like, hey, equal opportunity. Support my disability in singing."

If this point isn't enitrely clear let me make a related one. Magazines are actually NOT real life, dear Ms. Bluhm. They are intended to be inspiration, not reality; they are meant to tell you what could be in the same way novels do, and movies do, and television does. They are escape, they are eye candy and sometimes there's an article or two that will tell you something useful that you didn't know already.

We live in a highly fragmented world, media-wise. We have lots and lots of options other than Seventeen, we can create our own media if we want, at the very least through Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Youtube. You can read Rookie, for that matter, which is an excellent and most real online magazine for your age group, written by your peers. My observation is kids today rely on each other for media and distraction far more than they ever read magazines like Seventeen, and your friends, surely, look and act pretty much just like you do. So if Seventeen over-burdens your imagination and forces you into body dysmorphia I would suggest you simply put it down and read something else until you feel better. It is not the ubiquitous Bible it once was. In fact, I bet it is struggling for survival and grasping to get your attention.

And guess what? People didn't actually look the way they do in oil paintings no matter how figurative. Photos are taken in a split second and that image, even un-retouched, didn't exist as long as it takes to look at it on a page. It was fleeting. This is a world of images, not reality, and it's good to keep that straight.

Stop blaming magazines for being anything but what they are, collections of pretty pictures, some of people who hit the gorgeous lottery whose images touched up by someone gifted a Photoshop. No more and no less.

Don't let me do all the talking. Here's the story of Julia Bluhm's stand against flawlessness: