More Things I learned this week, December 28, 2021

Outside the Mojo Lounge, New Orleans, Louisiana

How to know what you really want

From career choices to new purchases, use René Girard’s mimetic theory to resist the herd and forge your own path in life

(click to enlarge) Book With Wings Anselm Kiefer Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Burdened by Books

With the quickening cascade of political, social, and natural crises in our country, the faith in progress—the belief that good will and steady work leads to a better world—is a difficult faith to maintain. There have been times when the arc of history seemed to bend toward justice. But lately it’s snapped back the other way. It’s as if we’ve heaved a great boulder toward the mountain top, and we’re now watching it, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, as it careens back to the ground below. It feels that there is something absurd, in fact literally Sisyphean, to our predicament.  

Strains—not species—of gut microbes hold key to health and disease

Every day, the billions of bacteria that inhabit your digestive system change; the food you eat, medications you take, and germs you’re exposed to make some bacteria flourish more than others. Scientists know that this ever-shifting balance of gut microbes is linked to your health and disease, but have struggled to pin down what makes one microbial balance better than another.

Running of the bulls, New Orleans, Louisiana

It Turns Out That Everything We Know About The Runner’s High Could Be Wrong

Many people have experienced reductions in stress, pain, and anxiety, and sometimes even euphoria after exercise. What’s behind this so-called ‘runner’s high’? New research on the neuroscience of exercise may surprise you.

Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.

Why Does This Indonesian Volcano Burn Bright Blue?

Olivier Grunewald’s dramatic photos showcase blue flames—not blue lava—that result from burning sulfur

The Race to Find ‘Green’ Helium

Helium is a critical—and finite—resource. The future of our most indispensable technologies depends on a new supply.

The Problem with “Distemper”

Perhaps it is the word distemper that causes the most confusion. Few are aware that this is a generic term encompassing several different coatings. There really is only one type that is of relevance to historical buildings – or any building for that matter.

Trail on the West Bank Levee

“Just as the Mediterranean separated France from the country Algiers, so did the Mississippi separate New Orleans proper from Algiers Point. The neighborhood had a strange mix. It looked seedier and more laid-back all at the same time. Many artists lived on the peninsula, with greenery everywhere and the most beautiful and exotic plants. The French influence was heavy in Algiers, as if the air above the water had carried as much ambience as it could across to the little neighborhood. There were more dilapidated buildings in the community, but Jackson and Buddy passed homes with completely manicured properties, too, and wild ferns growing out of baskets on the porches, as if they were a part of the architecture. Many of the buildings had rich, ornamental detail, wood trim hand-carved by craftsmen and artisans years ago. The community almost had the look of an ailing beach town on some forgotten coast.”

― Hunter Murphy, Imogene in New Orleans

My Xootr Folding bike on the West Bank Levee Trail

My son lives in a high-rise in downtown New Orleans. He works two blocks away. He doesn’t need a car and has gone without one for several years now.

One reason I drove there was he needed to send a painting back to Dallas, one that barely fit in the back of my Toyota Matrix… I was hoping there would be room back there alongside my Xootr Swift folding bike (there was – no problem).

Lee had to exchange an expensive video game controller at Best Buy and the closest store to where he lived was in Gretna, across the Mississippi on the West Bank. That’s a fifty dollar Uber round-trip so we decided to take my car over there. We could then eat lunch in Gretna after a long run (for him) and bike ride (for me).

I knew there was a nice trail along the top of the Levee from Gretna on past Algiers point. I had ridden the trail two years earlier, during a Writer’s Marathon. That day I had ridden across the river on the Ferry with a group of poets and we wrote poetry in a succession of restaurants and coffee spots in Algiers.

On the way back, I spotted a blue rental bike at the Algiers Point Ferry station – rented it – and rode back and forth along the levee. The only problem was that was July and it was unbelievably hot. I wrote that it was like cycling through a blast furnace.

New Orleans Bike Share Bike along the levee on the West Bank from two years ago.

This was November, though, and the weather was perfect. It was a blast. I cycled down to Algiers point and stopped to take a photo of my folding bike with the river and New Orleans in the background (see top of the entry).

While I was stopped, Lee ran by. We agreed that he would run a bit more then turn around and I’d ride a couple miles to the end of the train and also turn around. That would put us back at the car at about the same time.

My son, Lee running along the West Bank Levee Trail, Algiers Point, New Orleans

The problem was that when I reached what I thought was the end of the trail I discovered a strip of fresh asphalt stretching into the distance. This was brand new trail – and judging by the oil and marking flags it had been laid down less that a week ago.

And that is irresistible to me. Although I knew I should turn around or I would leave Lee waiting at the car (I had the keys) I kept going. And going. And going. I didn’t get to the end before I felt guilty and turned around – but I was close… maybe four more miles. I justified myself by saying, “I know he’s waiting – but over the last almost three decades I have had to wait on him a minute or two.” I ended up riding about fifteen miles – which is a good distance on the inefficient folding bike.

He was hungry and frustrated when I got there – but the restaurant had half-price burgers and cold beer and soon everything was right with the world.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Men With a Bow Saw by Bill Chance

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#83) Getting closer! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Men With a Bow Saw

Lucas spent a lot of time running on the Crosstown Trail. It was isolated and ran through some sketchy neighborhoods and that scared Lucas sometimes. One day it was cold and drizzly, with a thick fog rolling in, when he was out there by himself and he came around that bend, you know where it is, where it runs through all that thick brush. It’s like a green tunnel and even though it’s in the middle of the city, it is so quiet and dark it feels like you are out in the middle of nowhere. That’s why he liked it so much. But that day…

There were these two guys walking along. They were young and fit, muscular, and menacing. Lucas immediately saw them, before they saw him. They were walking off the trail and when he came across them they were looking into the woods and gesturing. They were looking intently, like they were seeking something or someone. But what really caught his eye is that one of them was carrying a bow saw – a big, heavy one. It looked like an odd but effective weapon and Lucas realized they were going after something they had spotted in the brush.

His heart skiped and a knot leaped into his belly and Lucas immediately jumped off of the trail and slid down into this little ditch where they could not see him. He had left his phone to charge and didn’t have it with him so he was on his own. He hugged the damp, cold earth on the side of the ditch, hoping the two men didn’t see him.

He could hear them talking excitedly, but the fog damped the sound and he couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then, Lucas heard the sawing. It was loud and hollow sounding and his heart kept beating faster and faster. He didn’t hear any screams, so their victim must be dead already. His mind raced with horror as the awful sound kept going. There would be a pause every now and then, and he could hear the men babbling, then it would start back up.

Lucas was about to go crazy with panic when the sawing finally stopped. But then, to his horror, he could hear the footsteps of the men as they walked off and he realized they were going down the trail right towards his hiding spot. When they reached his location, they could look down into the ditch right at him.

As they approached Lucas gathered his feet underneath and tried to brace his crouch. His only hope of escape if they saw him was to spring up onto the trail and bolt away as fast as he could. Lucas was a strong runner and hopefully, with the element of surprise, he could escape.

The second he completed his preparations, they were upon him. Now that they were closer, he could understand what they were saying and as he tensed, Lucas heard.

“Oh, these are just perfect.”

“Yes, we can coat them with urethane, not the glossy stuff, it’ll look cheap.”

“And they’ll support the shelves and will have just the look we want.”

He looked up at the two men. One still had his saw and the other was carrying a load of bamboo under his arms. Lucas remembered, there was a grove of bamboo around the corner… they were cutting bamboo for bookshelves.

There was a loud clatter as the bamboo hit the concrete trail. They had seen him. Lucas was covered with mud and loose leaves from his slide down and it must had scared the two men to death to find him crouched in the ditch like that.

There was nothing for Lucas to do but to go on with his plan. He sprung out, stumbled a bit, then picked up speed. He could hear one man screaming as he ran as fast as he could. He looked over his shoulder and saw the other one sprinting to the blue-lighted emergency phone a few feet back down the trail. Lucas realized he should have thought about that.

Lucas doubled his speed. Now, instead of racing the two men with the saw, he was trying to get out of there before the cops arrived. He didn’t want to have to explain about all that.

He did make a mental note to come back with a saw of his own. That bamboo was a great idea for bookshelves.

Crew Practice

“How often have I watched, and longed to imitate when I should be free to live as I chose, a rower who had shipped his oars and lay flat on his back in the bottom of the boat, letting it drift with the current, seeing nothing but the sky gliding slowly by above him, his face aglow with a foretaste of happiness and peace!”
Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

Bachman Lake at dawn, Dallas, Texas

Out of bed at five AM out of the house at five-thirty. My son Lee was running a 5K – four laps around Bachman Lake at dawn. I enjoyed sitting by the lake, watching the sky brighten and the sun rise, the early morning planes lifting off from Love Field, the ducks coming to check if I’d give them something to eat, and the early morning crews rowing on the smooth lake. There was no wind – the only disturbance was from the ducks and the boats.

Lee wanted to run a fast time on the flat and open course. He did succeed in a personal best, beating a time he ran years ago, in high school.

Like All the Light In the World

Then out of all the darkness I see Mother’s white hands rising from her lap like they were powered and lit from inside. Like all the light in the world has been poured out to shape those hands. She’s reaching over for the steering wheel, locking onto it with her knuckles tight. The car jumps to the side and skips up onto the sidewalk. She’s trying to take us over the edge. There’s no doubt this time.
—–Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club: A Memoir

Mockingbird Pedestrian Bridge

There is the Katy trail – built along the old abandoned railroad bed – crossing the city right north of Downtown Dallas. And there was the new trail system running from Mockingbird to White Rock, with its trail ecosystem noosing the lake and branches running north in two directions and south back to downtown.

The final obstacle in this maze of human-powered transportation system was Mockingbird Lane – eight or so deadly lanes of speeding steel. I mean, you could cross at a light… after walking along a cracked and narrow sidewalk and waiting for the little white-light man – only to still have to dodge left-turners and other blind killers.

But there had to be a better way.

It was way too expensive and took way too long but they finally built this huge, over-engineered cable stay monstrosity right there at Mockingbird station. It took years.

But finally, a bit over a year ago they finished the Mockingbird Pedestrian (and bicycle) bridge. And… I guess it was worth waiting for.

The Terrain of the Bull

“In bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger. Belmonte, in his best days, worked always in the terrain of the bull. This way he gave the sensation of coming tragedy.”
—- The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Running of the Bulls, New Orleans

From The Running of the Bulls

Pikachu runs the Turkey Trot

For years now our family tradition has been for our sons to run the Turkey Trot in downtown Dallas on Thanksgiving morning.


This is Nick and Lee after the race ten years ago, in 2003, Dallas City Hall in the background – not a very good photograph, sorry.

Photos of Lee running in 2008:

Lee at the Turkey Trot, Downtown Dallas, 2008

Lee in front of the same tree five years later, at the Turkey Trot, Downtown Dallas, 2008

I always wait for the kids at this tough uphill spot, right before the finish.

I always wait for the kids at this tough uphill spot, right before the finish.

I wrote blog entries, with lots of photos, on the run in 2011 and 2012.

Near the end of the eight mile race, there is a steep hill to torture the runners. I always wait there to see my kids run by. Here is Lee a hundred yards from the finish.

Near the end of the eight mile race, there is a steep hill to torture the runners. I always wait there to see my kids run by. Here is Lee a hundred yards from the finish.

Lee near the finish of the eight mile course. Mardi Gras shirt and Tulane Boxers - worn on the outside.

Lee near the finish of the eight mile course. Mardi Gras shirt and Tulane Boxers – worn on the outside.

This year, Lee flew in from New Orleans (he’s finished up his last semester at Tulane now) for Thanksgiving and ran the Turkey Trot again (Nick was in New York with friends).

He said with finals, work, and graduation job hunting he didn’t have time to train, so he was going to take his time this year and not try and run too fast. For some reason he ran in a Pikachu costume. He said that slowed him down even more, because people (especially kids) wanted him to stop and get their photo with him.

Lee said that he really enjoyed himself, not trying for such a fast time. It wasn’t all that slow, anyway.



Running up that hill at the end.

Running up that hill at the end.

You can see the same sign that was there in 2008.

You can see the same sign that was there in 2008.

Pikachu, goofing around.

Pikachu, goofing around.

Turkey Trot 2012

Every Thanksgiving for about a decade now Nick and Lee have run in the Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot. I’d love to run the thing some day – but somebody has to drive the car and keep track of everybody’s stuff.

It’s a massive event – this year about 45,000 runners. There are two courses – the 5K fun run around downtown, and the eight mile timed course which goes from city hall into Deep Ellum then across the bridges into Oak Cliff and back. The kids run the eight mile course.

This makes for a very early morning on Thanksgiving – driving downtown, finding parking, walking to the start. It’s an amazing crowd – with that many runners it takes twenty minutes for everybody to get going. The fastest 5K runners are back before the end of the crowd starts the race.

Last year was cold and foggy, but the weather this time was gorgeous. We know the drill, I wait at the hill near the end to try and see the kids finish (I saw Lee, but missed Nick – with that big a crowd going by, it’s easy to miss a runner). You have to have a pre-planned meeting place (again, with that size of a crowd, cell phone service is very spotty) – most folks agree to meet at the giant inflatable turkey next to the Henry Moore sculpture… but that’s too popular – the crowd there was huge and everyone looked lost.

The crowd is massive, filling the area between City Hall and the Library, and stretching for blocks down the road.

Why is everyone looking at me? Oh, it’s the National Anthem and I’m standing under the flag.

Raise your hand if you have to use the porta-potty.

It’s a long wait at the start for everyone to get moving.

Lee took this shot on his cell phone camera of the race running out of downtown over the Trinity River Viaduct.

5K runners finishing.

Lee near the finish of the eight mile course. Mardi Gras shirt and Tulane Boxers – worn on the outside. Style is important at the Turkey Trot.

Turkey Trot

Everyone has their Thanksgiving traditions, most of them involve massive amounts of food and televised football. Ours involves eight miles of running. Lee was running the Turkey Trot in Downtown Dallas this year.

I would love to do the run, even the short 5K jog – but my job is to get everybody to City Hall on time and to carry all the extra crap.

A six AM alarm on a holiday is an early alarm. I was more than a little stressed about driving down there (we’ve taken the DART train before and that doesn’t work too well – the trains are all packed full) and finding a place to park. It didn’t help when I walked out to start the car and realized the entire city was socked in tight with a pea-soup thick fog.

Not to worry, after thirty-odd years I’ve learned my way around downtown (the key is to use Good-Latimer Expressway and sneak in from the east) and found a ten dollar parking spot on Wood street across from the Presbyterian Church. We had to step over the sleeping homeless folks in the fog, but the walk wasn’t too far.

As we walked past the closer-in lots I noticed a lot of people putting on turkey costumes. I had not read the notice – the race organizers had a representative from the Guinness Book of Records for the most people dressed as turkeys in one place. They did set the record – 616. There sure seemed to be a lot more turkeys than that wandering around.

Everybody said it seemed a little less crowded this year. I think the thick fog had something to do with that. They announced thirty eight thousand runners (including 616 dressed as turkeys) with another 15 thousand spectators (the folks that had to drive and carry all the crap).

City Hall Plaza is packed with runners until the race starts. Then, suddenly, it is almost empty – a very strange conversion. That doesn’t last long – there is an eight mile race (which Lee runs) and a 5K run/walk. The first 5K runners show up in less than twenty minutes, and it takes longer than that to get everybody going at the start. In other words, the fastest runners are finishing before the slower ones start.

Lee has not had enough time to train properly, but he finished about five minutes before he had estimated – a pretty good time if you ask me. He said the whole course was foggy and there is one leg that goes across the Trinity River on a causeway. He said that the ends of the bridge were lost in the fog but he was crossing as the fastest runners were coming back. All there was were runners going in both directions coming in from and disappearing into the dense fog.

We walked back to the car and slipped out, missing the bad traffic.

What about all the food? We stopped at the Boston Market on Forest Lane on the way home where Candy had pre-ordered everything. A ten minute wait in line and we had Turkey and all the fixins. Ready for all the football games.

The fog was thick at the start of the race on Dallas City Hall Plaza

To set the world record, all the turkeys had to be "cooped up" for ten minutes.

There was live music at the start.

A turkey dancing to the band

A Henry Moore sculpture and an Inflatable Turkey.

Lee dancing before the run

The runners lined up at the start. This picture was taken about a half mile from the actual start.

The starting line. Thirty eight thousand is a lot of runners.

And the turkeys are off. I don't know how anyone could run in those costumes.

Near the end of the eight mile race, there is a steep hill to torture the runners. I always wait there to see my kids run by. Here is Lee a hundred yards from the finish.