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Four-Stroke Dreams

Sometimes, a song spontaneously pops into my head when I am moving around in the world. What I miss most about motorcycling these days is hitting the right resonance to fill the inside of my helmet with noise, that there were certain songs I could gently hum to fill the spaces left by a spluttering, inconsistent engine. Sometimes, I'm belting song lyrics at the top of my lungs while flying down the street, and I don't realize that I'm audibly singing until I pass a group of people waiting for a bus and they all turn their heads to stare.

There's one motorcycle I have in my sights, and the production numbers were so low last year that by the time I decided it was okay to drop six grand on a personal transportation device, there were none left. I sweated through the entire winter waiting for Honda to make the right call with their 2014 lineup, that they would realize the number of people who maintain a love for dinky little bikes outstrips the number of bikes that are on the road. But that bike's coming up again, and when I feel like suppressing the horrendous taste in my mouth that comes from talking to dealerships, maybe I'll have a bike again.

28 February 2014 15:09


If I rotate my shoulders just right, I can tuck the entire top half of my body into one of the tall gym lockers; then, I can lean on my arms so my upper body is comfortably supported in a warm, cozy box where I can check in with my phone things and update the various lists I maintain for keeping track of my workouts.

I was shivering when I cam inside, dizzy and bumping into things, and needed a quiet moment to relax. When I pried my body out of the locker, the cleaning lady was staring at me, and she burst out in a big belly laugh.

"I was about to ask if you were okay, and then I saw you texting in there."

"Aw, yeah, if I had just passed out standing inside my locker, I've got bigger problems in life."

Earlier, a police officer blew into the building in a gust of icy wind as I was leaving. She was bundled head to toe, and I was carrying my jacket over my arm and only wearing a flannel shirt and jeans.

"You're gonna need way more clothing than that, dear," she chided as I passed her.

I'm practically breaking my teeth while chomping down on uncooked ramen in my lab, and idly wonder if somewhere, somehow, my mother is flinching and doesn't know why.

27 February 2014 17:06


My breath catches inside my balaclava and fills my hood; all I can hear is synthetic fibers rubbing against my head and the wind that whips by me. Others pass me in a blur, but I'm following a training plan that has me alternate between being cold and being colder, and I idly wonder if giving myself mild hypothermia three times a week is actually good for me.

I can run faster than this if I want.

26 February 2014 19:57


It's rare to see any of the workmen take the stairs; even when they're empty-handed, they'll take the elevator down one floor no matter how long they have to wait. I was surprised, then, to walk past an electrician who stood in front of the elevator doors for no more than two seconds before rolling his eyes and walking towards the stairwell.

I carried a load of packages and walked slowly behind him, not even pausing to see what the elevator wait might be. He looked over his shoulder once he heard my footfalls on the stairs.

"You need a hand with those?"

"Nah, I got it. But thanks."

He outstripped me fairly quickly, and I still can't get over the novelty of it.


Years ago, after one of the summer floods, we hired movers to bring all of the equipment out of the area so the labs could get rebuilt. I found a bottleneck at the elevator, where a line of enlargers had to wait to get sent upstairs. There was one mover standing at the elevator, not moving anything.

"What's up?" I asked him, while trying not to tap my foot too visibly. I wanted to keep the operation on a tight schedule, since I knew that the sooner we cleared out the equipment, the sooner we'd start reconstruction.

"I need to wait for my supervisor. These might be more than fifty pounds and I don't want to touch them."

"Oh. Well, I'm not under any weight restrictions," I said, before shoving four of them into the elevator and sending them upstairs. Since there wasn't room in the elevator for me, I sprinted up the stairwell and caught them as they reached the first floor.

This went on through the entire week of moving, that I would find places where movers twice my size would decide against moving something, and I'd move things myself rather than wait for the entire crew to rearrange itself. Partway through the week, I was scolded by the movers for taking away their work, that I was acting disrespectful to their jobs, and violating their safety regulations.

We finished the moving phase before their complaints got very far.

25 February 2014 13:07

Practical Responses

The reading included an anecdote illustrating how the differences between ethnic groups in Xinjiang are often not immediately visible, despite attempts to maintain clear ideological boundaries. As the story went, children at play accidentally kicked a ball into the street, and called to a passing student, "Hey Han, would you get the ball?" but the student simply responded with "I am a Tungan," and moved on.1

At this point, the professor called attention to the anecdote, attempting to elicit an explanation from the class. There came an expected chorus of mumbled about indistinct features separating each group, a morality tale about not making assumptions about a stranger's backgrounds, maintained ethnic pride, until I pointed out that the Tungans are Muslim, therefore the Tungan child was unlikely to touch a ball that might have been an inflated pig's bladder.

When living in an environment of celebrated integration, it becomes easy to forget that separations of groups exist as more than just names.

1. Rudelson, Justin; Oasis Identities

24 February 2014 19:06

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