Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My father died suddenly last night

A blood clot killed him suddenly. My stepmother was helping him get out of bed. I think it happened around midnight. The risk was there, as he had had a few in his legs over the years.

If my memory of my early childhood is correct, he separated from my sister and me and my mother soon before I turned four. Soon after he left our home, he and my mother put a new bicycle under the Christmas tree for me. (Yes, we had Christmas in our home, as well as Jewish holidays, as my mother was raised as an Episcopalian.) That bike -- a Schwinn -- had a huge influence on me. My father had wanted a Schwinn when he was a kid, so he gave one to me.

My father came over on weekends to teach me to ride. On every lesson day, we wheeled the bike to Riverside Park which was just across the street. We used a dumbbell wrench to remove the training wheels. Then I had my lesson. Then I insisted on putting the training wheels back on after each lesson. This made my father chuckle, but but he humored me.

If you know me, you know how much I came to love cycling. My father didn't care for it much in his adult life. He liked to play tennis and squash, and he was quite good at them. We took a ride together once, when I was 19. We were going through a rough period with each other, and we saw a counselor to help us get closer. The counselor recommended we do something together that I liked to do, so I chose a bike ride. I had a spare bike to let him use. It had toe clips, which he had never used. And the end of the ride had a tough uphill, but he managed. I remember in the middle of the ride (which was in Boston), we stopped in the park by the Charles river and sat on the bench overlooking the river. It was a pleasant moment, perhaps the beginning of our getting closer.

I've ridden a lot, and I made my living as a bicycle mechanic when I was in college, and I am grateful for my father giving me that love.

Another thing he gave me was music. He used to play guitar and sing to us. I remember some songs he taught himself that he had learned from a Leon Bibb album. I remember "John Hardy" which was about the struggles of an outlaw who had a wife who still loved him. He also sang "John Henry" about the legendary railroad man who didn't care for the steam drill. He said he would beat the steam drill in a contest, and he did, but he died doing so.

I might be updating this entry of the blog, adding to it. Look for changes here or to the comments attached to it.

Email me if you want to know about the funeral arrangements. I don't yet know what day it will be.

I've already received a lot of messages of condolence. Here are some particularly touching messages:

Losing a person who has been chronically ill in body and/or mind has it's own particular emotions and conflicting feelings.

I never had the honor of meeting you dad, obviously, but considering how the "chip off the old block" turned out (you); he must have been pretty cool. Your pain is now a measure of that deep love you shared, and his memory will indeed be a blessing.

Take comfort in that he has a son who really appreciates what it is to be a father.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Story about me in the New York Times!

This is available only on the web, not in print.

It was very exciting. I can see I'm nervous in the video. My eyes are all over the place, and I'm out of breath. But I think it came off well.

Click there --> Show Me Your Basement: Tom Reingold

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bike to work!

This is Bike to Work Week. May is Bike to Work month.

I'm gradually increasing the frequency at which I go to work and home by bike. It's fun, and it makes me feel so good.

Yesterday, it was raining, but it wasn't cold, and it wasn't raining heavily, so I was perfectly comfortable.

Today, the weather is lovely.

I feel myself getting stronger. I hardly ever shift to a lower gear to climb the hills. And there are some steep climbs on my route. It's ten miles each way. It's mostly uphill to work.

Here are some really good tips for commuting by bike.

Yesterday at work, a guy who works down the hall, made a comment about my riding into work. I didn't know him, but we had a pleasant conversation. I'm encouraging him to do it soon, and he said it sounds nice. We work at the top of a very large hill, so the uphill portion is intimidating to him, understandably. But it's gotten easier for me, and it will for anyone.

I can really feel it in my tush after I pedal really hard up a hill. I know this is because I'm building muscle, so I'm glad.

I resumed commuting by bike last year, when I was working at Seton Hall University. It's only 1.5 miles from home, so it was a very easy, quick ride. I did it because it was fun but also because it took less time than driving. With driving, I had to park somewhere. I was able to lean my bike up against my desk, so riding was a clear winner. Even though I didn't push myself on that very short ride, I gained five pounds of muscle in that period. My waist didn't get bigger, and my thighs did, which is how I know it's muscle.

If you have any questions or concerns holding you back from cycling to work, please let me know. I can help. I was a bicycle mechanic when I was young, and I'm good at giving tips. Don't think of me as sophisticated. I can help people at all levels.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bike to Work Week

Did you know that it's Bike to Work Week? I encourage you to ride your bike to work. Or at least think about it. It might be hard, but it might not be. If you have reason to hesitate, let me know. I may be able to give you some tips that would allay your fears.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My year in Cambridge

Some memories come back to me.

I worked as the sole mechanic at Bicycle Workshop in Cambridge back in 1979. Then when spring of 1980 rolled in, I gained two cow-orkers. I loved working there. The customers were so varied. Some were serious recreational cyclists. Some were college students. Some were professors. Some rode bikes because it was the most practical.

I used to ride through the streets of Cambridge and see bikes locked to parking meters and say, "I fixed that bike!"

I remember one woman who wore dresses, makeup, pearls, and high heels but only got around by bike. I think she was a professor's wife. She had an old English three-speed with heavy baskets bolted on. She stood up while pedaling. Quite an anomaly! And fun!

I also had a customer who was large-framed, tall man who kept breaking spokes and just about everything on his old three-speed. He refused to believe that his mass had anything to do with it. He was convinced he was unlucky. But he was a good customer anyway.

John S Allen, famous writer of bicycle matters, was an occasional customer of mine. He taught many things to me, such as the history of Sturmey Archer hubs.

Others taught me, such as the fellow who phased into the shop as I phased out. He had just acquired a degree in mechanical engineering.

Being in Cambridge, you were not considered weird if you were part of bicycle culture!

I also used to ride alone through Harvard Square on those warm summer nights. There were really good street performers there, far better than anything you'd see in Boston.

I saw the cute couples walking, holding hands everywhere, and I longed to have a girlfriend of my own. I had no idea how to court women, so I had my bicycles to keep me happy. I was only 19/20 years old at the time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My name is Tom, and I'm a bike mechanics addict

"Hi, Tom!"

About five years ago, my daughter's bike disappeared. She swears she brought it to the basement, though I have my doubts. We called the police when we noticed it was missing. The officer came and took our report, but he was skeptical. He said he had never heard of bike theft from a house's basement. Anyway, he did take the report. He said we should come to the bike auction later that year. If my daughter's bike showed up, we could have it back at no cost.

So I showed up at the auction. Daughter's bike wasn't there, but plenty of worthy bikes were, so I figured I'd buy one. Most of them needed major repairs, but that's no big deal for me. In my senior year in high school, I started working as a bike mechanic. I continued to make a living at it in summers through college. I dropped out of college for a few years and worked full time as a mechanic. So I have the skills required.

I ended up leaving the auction with THREE bicycles, because the value was irresistible. For two bikes, I paid $45 each. They needed major repairs, but, as I said, no big deal. For the third, I paid only $22. It was ugly. But guess what -- it needed no repairs whatsoever.

Thus started my addiction. Now it's a hobby.

As a birthday present to me, about three years ago, my wife rearranged the entire basement and cleared out one room to devote as a bike shop. I've been stocking it with bike tools. I've been to several auctions. I pick up bikes at garage sales. When people are giving away old bikes, I take them if I want them.

I've given bikes to friends, my nephew, one to my wife, one to the daughter whose bike disappeared and about four to my other daughter who is, from time to time, interested in learning about bike repair.

This past Friday, I gave one away to a neighbor who is recovering from a low point in her life. She was addicted to drugs and alcohol and was in in-patient treatment for a while. She lost custody of her teenage son. As luck has it, her sister has the boy, so things are going well for everyone involved. She now has a job and is living the straight and narrow path. She mentioned she doesn't have a car, so I fixed up a very trashed auction bike and gave it to her.

Saturday morning was one of the six days of the year my town allows us to drop off bulky items at the recycling center. There were about 20 bikes there, near the metal recycling area. I picked up an ancient Schwinn Varsity in excellent condition. My friend who was there helping me said, "Put the bicycle down, Tom. You don't need another bicycle, Tom." Yeah, but it's my house, so I took it home. Not sure what I'll do with it. They're nice to work on but horrible to ride.

So I gave away one bike this past weekend and also picked up another one, leaving me with 16 bikes, if I'm counting right.

Do I need help?

fun weekend

My weekend was a blast.

I've been in some serious therapy lately, and one of the things I'm learning is to take time to do what I want rather than what others want me to do. I told Carol I planned to play bike mechanic on Saturday, and I did that for several hours.

So here's the basic outline of my weekend. I rode my bike to work Friday, and I rode it to the Maplewood train station after work. Rather than locking the bike up there and taking the train to NYC and the subway to couples therapy with Carol, I took the bike on the train and pedaled up to our appointment. Riding in NYC traffic is a blast. Stuff happens really fast, because it's crowded and busy. It takes a lot of skill and nerves of steel, because you have to be out in traffic. They have bike lanes, but they're a joke.

After the appointment, I was willing to ride back to Penn Station with Carol on the subway, but she didn't mind meeting me there, so she took the subway, and I pedaled back down. We met at a deli in the station and grabbed a quick bite. Then we jumped on the train back to Maplewood.

We got home and headed out again. We have a friend named Mary, who isn't really a close friend, but we like her. Mary was throwing a 49th birthday party for Meg who has become a local celebrity for her various recoveries. Meg mentioned a few weeks ago that she doesn't have a car, so I built (or really rebuilt) a bike for her, from a trashed police auction bike. I rode it to Mary's house. We arrived late, about 10pm, but there were tons of people we know from town there. Everyone thought it was such a nice thing of me to give Meg a bike, though I didn't really think it was so unusual. It's what I do. Some people called me a mensch.

Saturday, as I said, I played bike mechanic. Most of it was actually planning and shopping. I met my friend Peter at the bike shop. I bought some things for myself. Nick the manager was, as usual, warm and helpful. The folks there are the best.

Peter and I rode from the bike shop back to my house. I live up a hill, and we took the steepest street back up. We went about as fast as we could, and I was pedaling so hard I was grunting loudly on each pedal stroke. I push myself harder when I'm with other riders.

We're doing a big project by converting Peter's bike from multi-geared to fixed-gear. We did some measurements and then ordered some things for his bike and some for me.

In the evening, Carol and I went to Roberta's birthday party in NYC. Roberta is the wife of Carol's old college friend Rick. Roberta turned 50. Carol's circle college friends is a wonderful crew. Another in the bunch is Roz, who has been with her partner Laurie for something like 30 years. We talked about life being gay, since Julia recently came out as gay. They were happy for Julia to be comfortable enough with us, since it all went so well. The party was great fun. There was lots of singing. Roberta's 18 year old son is in a barbershop quartet, and they sang four numbers for the entire party. They were really excellent. Their singing teacher was there, and I congratulated him on such fine work.

We drove Roz and Laurie and Mel home. Mel is another in the crew. I put one of my recent favorite songs on the stereo, My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay, by Bo Burnham. I call this guy's style "Pansy Rap." Watch this video! I think it's hilarious, and so did Roz and Laurie and Mel.

Sunday, Julia had lunch with her mother for Mothers Day, so Carol and I went into NYC again to visit my mother. We brought a rose and a pre-cooked meal which we bought at Eden Gourmet, our local, excellent gourmet supermarket. We had a pleasant time. I also did some things around the house for her and Harry, like change lightbulbs, show my mother how to use her new email gadget, put felt pads on the dining chairs, move around some lamps.

Julia said she had an unusually nice time with her mother. She said she decided to try to be pleasant, and it paid off. Debi said she noticed it and appreciated it.

We went to our Harmonium rehearsal as usual, and it went very well. Our concerts will be on May 30 and 31 at 7:30pm at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, NJ. We really like the program this time, more than usual, so I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Peek email device

I bought my mother a Peek email device. She's not very interested in technology or email, but my sister and I thought it would be nice to get her connected this way, since, with her hearing loss, it's hard for her to use the phone. 

The goal of the Peek is simplicity.

Features It only does email, to keep it simple. It doesn't do web or make or receive phone calls, even though it uses a cellular network.

User interface It has a click-wheel on the side, like previous generation Blackberrys. There are very few menu choices, though I think a Palm-OS touch screen and user interface would have been nicer.

Cost I paid $50 at List price is $80. Service is $20/month, which I'm paying as a gift. No contracts, no commitments. I can cancel any time.

Setup Super easy, though I did it for her. You tell it your email address. It has to be with a major email provider, because they know all the required settings for the major providers. You have to do a confirmation, log into the web on a real computer, give your credit card information. I believe it will be easy for a relatively non-technological user. 

The computer at my mother's home is set up in an uncomfortable position for her. Plus I thought a small device she can keep in her bag would be handy.

She says she's reading her mail every day, though she hasn't replied yet. My sister and I are hopefull that she eventually start replying. Later, she may start composing her own new emails. In the meantime, we're trying to send her interesting daily gossip to develop an incentive to keep reading her mail.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

a full life

Someone read my blog today and said I have a full life. It threw me for a minute, and then I realized I'm lucky. So I feel grateful.

Tonight was the first night since Jeanne arrived that we were all able to sit down to dinner. We had two guests, too. Julia's friend Vallie came home from school with Jeanne and Julia. And a bit later, Peter came by. He brought some bike stuff to drop off so we can work on it later. Carol and I left Peter and all the girls in the house while we went our separate ways to rehearsals in different groups we belong to. Peter stayed because the agreement with the exchange student group is that we don't leave the kids alone inside with no adults.

morning commute by bicycle

I'm riding my bike to work occasionally nowadays. I really enjoy it. Today was an excellent ride in. The sky was cloudy, and it was cool and damp but not at all cold. I was well dressed for the weather, or really, slightly overdressed, but that was fine.

It's ten miles each way. The ride to work is pretty much all uphill. This morning, I found that I have reached a point where there is no stretch that feels truly difficult. Part of that is the condition I am in, which has improved over the last year. Part of it is that I just changed the bike I'm riding. I put different handlebars on it that don't require me to reach far forward, though they are quite low. I also changed the pedals to the kind that require special cycling shoes with cleats. The cleats improve my efficiency, and the shoes are very comfortable.

I rode past the row of stores near the Short Hills train station. It's a picturesque row on Chatham Rd. But there are a lot of closed storefronts, a sign of the economic times. However, my ride through Short Hills and Summit sees only very well kept homes and properties. The landscapers and improvement workers are still busy. Word has it that business is down for them, but there's no evidence of that along my route. I wonder how life will look if the economy gets much worse. Will lawn upkeep fall down in these tony towns? Will families be doubling and tripling up in these big houses? Will there be shantytowns here or anywhere?

I find I'm not really dreading any of this, for some strange reason. We were due for a change. Our society had become too comfortable. We'll relearn some skills, like growing food on our properties and reusing things rather than putting them in the garbage.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yom HaShoah

Last night began Yom HaShoah, the annual day of memorializing the Holocaust. I sang in the service at my synagogue. We joined forces with two other synagogues in Summit, NJ, Temple Sinai and Summit JCC. (Yes, the latter really is a synagogue.) The other two synagogues have paid cantors who are also choir leaders, music directors, whatever you call them, and they're both very good. So all three rabbis were there, members of the choirs sang together, and there were guest speakers and readers. The service was quite moving. I sang a solo part in a song called Herman's Nigun. A nigun is a wordless song of prayer. I don't have a lot of solo singing experience, but I got a ton of feedback from many people telling me it was beautiful and moving. I was glad that I was able to help them feel something. One person said jokingly that I'm a star, but that seems wrong. I did it to serve others, not to glorify myself. And I owe a lot to Cantor Krupnick, who explained the goal and inspired me right before the service. She said we are to reach out and invite everyone to join in, either by singing along or just by listening.

There was a slide show at the end, showing a two-week tour of concentration camps in Poland and in Israel. Very stark and moving. This tour happens at least once a year and sounds worthwhile. I'd like to do it one day.

Tonight, I'm singing with Harmonium in another Yom HaShoah service, this time at Grace Madison Church in Madison, NJ. I'm pretty sure it's an interfaith service. It should be nice, but I regret not being home for dinner with my family.

Right before last night's service, I drove Julia plus her friends to orchestra practice in Madison, which they have every Monday night. Jeanne came along for the sake of visiting. Julia's bass takes up part of the hatch in my car plus one seat. We had Julia, Jeanne, Nicole, and Vallie, so really, there were more people than available seats, and there was the typical teenage banter, this time in English and French. It was fun. On the way, we stopped and ate a rushed pizza dinner at the Trattoria in Summit. Nicole's mother drove Nicole and Jeanne and Julia home. One of Vallie's parents drove Vallie home.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jeanne and the animals

Jeanne doesn't seem enamored of our four animals, but no one can resist laughing at Booger, our very silly and personable black cat. Carol was teaching Jeanne and me some yoga in the kitchen, where she brought her yoga mat. First, Booger walked under Jeanne while she (Jeanne) was on her hands and feet. Then he settled down beyond Jeanne's feet and grabbed and bit her foot. She screamed.

Later, Booger was "fighting" with a shopping bag and got tangled in it. It was funny to see him fight with it to get free.

Our French exchange student and a bike ride

Saturday night -- very late Saturday night -- Jeanne and 10 other kids arrived together from France. There are three adult chaperones. Everyone is staying with different families from The Hudson School (in Hoboken) where Julia attends. The French students will be here for two weeks.

Jeanne is 14 years old. She's acting a bit shy, but I'm sure it's because everything is new here. She's a delight, and she's quite willing to try everything. Julia has gotten her to laugh many times. She speaks very quietly with Carol and me. Julia speaks French very well. Jeanne speaks English fairly well, but sometimes we speak in French. Carol's French sounds bad to my ears, because I'm such a darned perfectionist. Carol mixes French and English in the same sentence and pronounces some French words with a Spanish accent, and she mixes up tenses etc. But she's a more effective communicator than I am, because she's willing to try anything.

Carol and I took her to Whole Foods and helped her plan her lunches for the week. We let her try many foods, and she chose three French cheeses. We could learn a lot from her!

Julia and her girlfriend Vallie went with her to the Village Trattoria in Maplewood. They had a good time and met up with some kids who go to Columbia High School, the school Julia used to go to in Maplewood.

Then Carol and Jeanne and I took a bike ride. Jeanne said she's entering a triathlon in June.

The bike I loaned her is a really nice bike, but it's at least 30 years old, and Jeanne was too scared to try shifting the gears with the downtube shifters. Kids are spoiled, huh? So she stayed in the gear I put the bike in, which was a medium gear. At first, I wasn't impressed with her pace, but then I realized I don't know anything about 14 year old girls and what they're capable of. I thought maybe they don't go very fast. After a few miles, we headed up a long hill. That's when Jeanne began to shine. She's 5'2" (1.57m) and she probably weighs 90 lbs (41 kg), and that physique gives her a hill-climbing advantage. She just kept her pace and scooted up that hill like it was nothing. "Tu es forte et vite!" I yelled. ("You are strong and fast!")

I was hesitant to tell Julia, because Julia's heavier than she thinks she ought to be (which isn't true) and seems to feel bad about not being a fast cyclist. I told her how it went, and she was pleased to hear it.

Jeanne declined to have any toe clips on her bike. I refuse to ride without them, and she'll benefit from them (or cleats) eventually, but it's even more impressive that she climbed the hill so ably without them.

Here is the route we took. It's 11.7 miles or 18.8 km. I bet she doesn't know it's that far. I plan to tell her.

In the evening, Julia and I had a rehearsal to attend, and Carol had another rehearsal to attend, so Carol dropped Jeanne off at Donna's house. Donna's son Corey goes to Hudson School, too, and they're hosting another of the French students, so Jeanne ate at their barbecue. I hear she had a nice time, and she was able to translate for everyone, because their student, Clement, doesn't speak English as well as Jeanne does.

This morning, Jeanne and Julia left early for school, as they will do every morning. They were out of the house at 6:55.