My assumption is that Lee was cast in some celestial thriller, and needed Coleman for the soundtrack

I saw this morning that Christopher Lee, an actor whose 93-year-run included (as pointed out by Scalzi) “stabbing Nazis, making movies, and releasing heavy metal albums in [his] 90s”, has died.

That’s pretty awful in a passage-of-titans sense, but to have it followed by the news of Ornette Coleman also shuffling off this mortal coil (at an entirely respectable 85) makes for a shitty morning, my friends.

What’s in YOUR wallet?

A couple years ago, when United ruined Continental and ended the carrier’s relationship with Amex, I picked up a fancy United-branded Chase Visa in order to retain some status with United. I don’t fly much anymore, and when I do I prefer Southwest, but carrying the card gets me into the club if I need it, and just having it makes me the equivalent of their lowest elite flier tier (which is something my Amex Platinum didn’t do).

Anyway, so, fancy Visa. When I got it, I was stunned at how oddly heavy it was. I assumed they used some denser plastic for it and didn’t really give it any thought beyond that. And since I mostly just have the card for travel, I don’t pull it out of my wallet much, and so the oddness was mostly forgotten.

Yesterday I got a replacement card in the mail, as the initial one had expired (without me noticing, actually). The new one is just as heavy, which renewed my curiosity a little — but not nearly as much as what came next.

I pulled out the heavy scissors to destroy the old card, as you do, and found the card basically un-cuttable. The scissors had no shot at all. In retrospect, I’m super glad I wasn’t downstairs in my office, where I would have blithely dropped the old card into my shredder and probably ruined it in the process. I didn’t really even get very far doing the bend-it-back-and-forth thing.

What did Chase use to make this demon card? Well, the scissors WERE game enough to scratch it deeply, and this is what I found when I pulled on the top layer:

IMG 7273

The damn thing is heavy because it’s made of metal with a thin layer of plastic on either side. WTF?

Tomorrow should be a holiday

I’ve long considered celebrating anything about the Confederacy to be morally questionable if not outright obnoxious, but I could make an exception for this: Make the Confederacy’s Defeat a National Holiday.

There’s no escaping that those who fought for the South were committing treason at every turn — and were doing so in defense of slavery. They didn’t want to be part of a country where all men were created equal, and so they took up arms to attempt to force the issue. They failed. And we should celebrate their failure.

Tomorrow marks 150 years since Lee’s defeat at Appomattox. Raise a drink to the Union.

Thanks, John.

This is a good man.

IMG 2904

He was only my stepfather for something just over 19 years, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know him. It was a smallish town. He and his family lived around the corner, and his youngest was one of my brother’s earliest and best friends. We all went to the same country club on Saturdays, and the same church on Sundays. In season, we hunted the same dove fields. Dad took care of the Green animals, and Doc took care of the Farmer eyes.

Eventually, everyone got divorced, because it was the 70s and such things were mandatory. (My parents liked it so much they did it again, even.) Eventually, though, everyone was single. And then, at some point — I can’t recall exactly when — mother and John began dating. I don’t know if it was before my father died or not, but it didn’t become a serious Thing until fairly late in high school for me. They took their time with it, for sure. I think, by the time they married in 1996, they’d been dating for over a decade. The six kids all sort of assumed they’d do it as soon as the youngest two left home, but Frank and Mary Beth matriculated at their respective schools in the fall of 1993, and they waited another 2+ years. Old people, man.

John was, without a doubt, the best thing to ever happen to my mother. Frank and I were grown and gone by the time they married and combined households, so he was always more “our mother’s husband” than “father figure,” but that didn’t stop him from treating us as his own in every way. And we loved him for it, and especially for how he treated our mother.

Our mom is tough and solid and no-nonsense, because she had to be as single mother in the 70s and 80s. She was a single mom twice, really, first because of the divorce, and then in a much more serious way after dad died in 1986. She was due some easier years, and some time being taken care of, and John gave her both. He doted on her, cared for her, and made her happier than I ever remember seeing her. They traveled together — big, fancy trips! — and they loved it, but I’m not sure they didn’t love spending time on John’s tree farm more. It’s quiet there, and peaceful, and serves as a fantastic antidote to loud, chattery modern life. They knew what they wanted in a marriage, and how to do it and take care of each other. In that, they have been especially inspiring.

John turned 80 this fall — he’s a bit older than Mother. I guess we all knew that, well, 80 is getting up there. Something might claim him. On the other hand, he’s traditionally been hearty, hale, and healthy kind of guy — he split his own firewood until fairly recently, and was fond of long hikes in his woods, so even as we knew he was 80, I don’t think any of us quite accepted that he was, like all of us, a fragile human.

Last October, just before his birthday, he was diagnosed with inoperable metastatic cancer. Given the particulars, he refused any but palliative care, figuring that for him and for his family, getting the most GOOD days beat out simply living longer in a medical haze.

We had a wonderful birthday party for him the next month — there are pictures. The holidays were as rich and delighful as I ever remember them being in Mississippi. Erin and I got to spend a lot of time there, just being with him and with mother and with our shared, extended family. There are pictures of that, too.

After the holidays, he began to dwindle. Hospice care began.

This morning, about an hour ago, mother called me. John Green, one of my favorite people ever, has passed away. He was 80. We will miss him terribly.

IMG 6671

45 & a small, good thing

It’s my birthday. I’m 45.

This year has had some really good things in it — another MS150, a great summer and fall of cycling, a great cruise, wonderful visits with friends and family, and Erin got a new job! — but some pretty serious rough spots, too. Obviously, I broke my hip in November, and that’s been a long haul, but around the same time my stepfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I had thought, years ago, that this year would be one I threw a big party. 45 is a big number, and it’s one of those rare years when my birthday falls, as it did in 1970, on a Friday. Widespread uncertainty about my leg kept us from planning anything — we didn’t get the “yup, fracture’s healed & gone” report until Wednesday — so it’s turned out to be a low-key year instead, for that and lots of reasons. I’m a little bummed about that, but not a lot.

But there’s one more than that puts me in a good mood about it today, and it’s an example of a kind of enduring friendship we probably don’t give enough credit to. In elementary and middle school, one of my best friends was a guy named Paul. Paul and I were in the same scout troop, took the same smart-kid classes, and lived reasonably close to each other. In high school, we moved in somewhat different directions, but we’ve always been friends. I remember, on a whirlwind trek from Tuscaloosa to UVa one weekend in 1990 (to help a buddy see a girl), I dropped in on him to say hi. And that may be the last time I saw him in the flesh, which makes the rest of this even more remarkable.

Paul’s not on Facebook or any social media I’m aware of. We don’t email, or really communicate outside the following. But for the last 7 or 8 years, Paul has called me on my birthday every year, without fail. He’s a busy guy — so am I — and we live very different lives now. Paul’s a cardiologist, recently moved from New Orleans to Nashville, and is the father of quadruplets. Obviously Heathen Central is a nerd lair of the first order, and features cats, not kids. But he remembers, and calls, just to wish me a happy birthday.

It’s a nice thing, and it’s the sort of thing that reminds me to be grateful for the life I have, bumps and all, because it has so much joy and happiness in it even when things seem tough.

Happy birthday to me. Cheers. Know that I am insanely grateful for you all.

Seen at physical therapy: March 11

  1. A Rolls Royce. There are plenty of super fancy cars in Houston, but seeing an actual Rolls is still pretty rare. I’ve seen more Lambos than Rollses. Very shiny. Possibly related to items 2 or 4 below (or, well, 3 for all I know):

  2. Josh Hamilton. I had no idea who he was. He stopped to talk to my therapist Chris — who is, apparently, also his therapist — and they looked briefly at some footage of him batting in a cage as part of his rehab program. The hits sounded solid; I said so after he’d walked away. Chris, realizing I had no idea who he was, enlightened me once Hamilton was out of earshot.

  3. A likely Holocaust survivor. Well, either that, or a very, very old man of obvious European extraction who just randomly had a number tattooed on his forearm.

  4. Seattle Seahawk Earl Thomas, whom I also didn’t recognize. Chris pointed him out after telling me who Hamilton was.

Here’s something I wonder.

This weekend marks 50 years since Selma.

I know lots of folks from Mississippi and Alabama who are 70 or older. Every time an anniversary like this comes up, I wonder “what were YOU doing then, when these folks were beaten on the bridge?”

History is judging the anti-civil-rights crowd very harshly, but don’t those who sat it out bear some responsibility, too, for not helping? To what degree is “I was in school” or “I was busy” an excuse?

And then I wonder: what am I sitting out, or not noticing, or not helping with today, that my nieces and nephew will wonder about in 20 or 30 years?

In the interest of efficient news-spreading

  1. Yes, I’m in the hospital. I’ll probably go home tomorrow (Monday).

  2. I took an unfeasibly hard fall on my bike on Thursday night.

  3. Riding in a group, the person in front of me lost control. In an effort to avoid hitting her, I went down myself. In efforts to avoid hitting me and the first person, several other people also went down.

  4. I took the full force of the fall on my hip joint, which was apparently enough to break it. No one else, to my knowledge, required medical help, but I was a bit out of it at the time from the pain (I didn’t hit my head at all, though).

  5. Yes, this is precisely as unpleasant as it sounds.

  6. Yes, the bike is fine.

  7. In this one event, I started down a path wherein I achieved many personal firsts: first bike fall, first broken bone ever, first ambulance ride, first oxygen cannula, first IV, first experience with opiods, first actual hospital stay, first CAT scan, etc.

  8. Oh, and first surgery. You can’t just put a cast on this, so they patched me up with a plate and some pins.

  9. No, it is not clear if I’m going to be setting off metal detectors going forward. I should probably ask about that. My bet is yes.

  10. All things considered, I’m doing fine. Despite the pain of the initial injury, there’s nothing like being in the ER around people with actually no-shit life threatening problems to put your plight in perspective. Plus, most of you people are on Facebook and have been commenting and messaging me with all manner of support, so I’ll repeat what I said there: I’m a lucky, lucky man to have you all in my corner.

Top Nine Awesome Nines

9. Revolution 9, because if it’s not included some superannuated Beatlemania holdout somewhere will bitch about it.

8. 9mm, that most democratic of calibers.

7. The 9 Rings of Power given to men, and their bearers the Nazgul.

6. The number of times Ferris Bueller was absent, which should be a lesson to us all.

5. The number of planets there REALLY are, at least for old folks like me, dammit.

4. Beethoven’s Ninth, which we all know by heart.

3. The best of the appeals courts, the Ninth.

2. i, the first person pronoun, square root of negative one, and NINTH LETTER.

1. NINE YEARS WITH MRS HEATHEN. Best nine of all, ever. I love you, Erin.

Dept. of Cycling Milestones

Midway through my ride tonight, I stopped to snap this:

5000 miles

That’s total miles on my Surly, which attentive readers will recall is actually my SECOND Surly, purchased in August of 2012.

Fun fact: According to Strava, 2,575 of those miles are since April of this year.

Wisdom from Vonnegut

Found over at Merlin’s joint:

[When Vonnegut tells his wife he’s going out to buy an envelope] Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.

Dept. of Amusing Stats

Just a bit ago, my brother called to find out the amount we’d paid for taxes on our farm property this year. I didn’t know offhand, so I went to my bank to find out. Not recalling when I’d written that check, but knowing I probably wrote very few checks this year, I just asked it to give me a list of all the checks I’d written in 2014.

There were three. One to the AC guy, one to the tax guy, and one to the State of Mississippi.

(Where’s my IRS check, you wonder? Well, turns out, back in April I couldn’t find my checks, so Mrs. Heathen wrote that one.)

Sorta makes me wonder how my former employer is doing, but not really enough to check — though the fact that they don’t even have a site of their own is sort of telling.

Look. Lots of things suck. But here’s some good things.

Sure, it’s about Robin Williams, but the stories keep coming in.

First is David Letterman’s tribute is touching and wonderful, just as we’d expect. David remembers being a young performer with Williams at places like the Comedy Store, and in particular how even very early on, Robin reached out to help those around him. Case in point: he got then-unknown Letterman a guest shot on Mork & Mindy.

Dana Gould, another gifted comedy writer and standup performer, had this remembrance to share about a time when Williams was especially kind and perceptive:

Two years ago, I was performing at The Punchline in San Francisco, and Robin came to the show with our mutual friend, Dan Spencer.

This particular batch of material was the first time I had touched upon my then still-fresh divorce wounds, and big chunks of it were pretty dark. The next day, I got a text from a number I didn’t recognize. Whoever it was had obviously been to the show and knew my number, so I figured they would reveal themselves at some point and save me the embarrassment of asking who they were.

The Mystery Texter asked how I was REALLY doing. “You can’t fool me. Some of those ‘jokes’ aren’t ‘jokes.” By now I knew that whoever this was had been through what I was enduring, as no one else would know to ask, “What time of day is the hardest?”

He wanted to know how my kids were handling it, all the while assuring me that the storm, as bleak as it was, would one day pass and that I was not, as I was then convinced, a terrible father for visiting a broken home upon my children.

I am not rewriting this story in retrospect to make it dramatic. I did not know who I was texting with. Finally, my phone blipped, and I saw, in a little green square, “Okay, pal. You got my number. Call me. I’ve been there. You’re going to be okay. – Robin.”

That is what you call a human being.

It is terrible that he’s gone. It is wonderful and touching to hear these stories, though, about simple human kindnesses.

HOWTO: Blow Your Kid’s Mind

Give them a secret treasure room:

When we bought our house two years ago The Boy was not quite 2 years old. The room that was to be his had a storage room attached to it. Our roof pitch is really steep next to his room, so it forms a triangular room 7 feet by 12 feet. The door is about 2 feet by 4 feet.

The storage room, aka “The Secret Room” had an old linoleum floor, a light with a switch, some wood paneling and some exposed insulation. At the time it was certainly not fit for the kids to use. And we didn’t figure a 2-year-old needed an extra room, but we agreed it would make an awesome surprise for The Boy at some point. So the dresser was parked in front of the door and The Boy had no idea for over two years!

Click through; they outfit it for him while he’s at school, and then surprise him with a secret hideout connected to his own room.

Dept. of Silly Cycling Things

Someone has invented a new cycling “competition.” Well, let’s call it an activity, or maybe a misadventure. It’s called Everesting, and the gist is this:

  • You pick a cycling climb somewhere near you
  • Sort out its elevation gain
  • Ride repeats until you gain 8,848 meters (29,029 feet in American)
  • Claim your Everest!

Right. Very, very silly.

My first thought was “gosh, that’s absurd.”

My second was “I’ll bet you can’t do that in Houston without riding way more than a century,” and it turns out I’m right.

The tallest bridge in the area is the Kemah bridge. It’s got an elevation gain of 66 feet, an average grade of 4%, and is half a mile long.

You’d have to ride it 440 times, covering 220 miles, to claim an Everest.

Then, after my ride tonight, I noticed something disheartening. I only started using Strava in April, so I’m missing the first three months of the year, but these are my YTD stats:

Screen Shot 2014 08 07 at 8 17 15 PM

That’s right. Given that about 5,000 feet of my climbing was on the MS150, it’s entirely possible I won’t ride an Everest’s worth of climbing in the whole of 2014.

Dept. of Cycling Milestones

When I bought my Surly — well, my SECOND Surly, after the first one was stolen — in August of 2012, I had them put a simple little bike computer on it to track speed, distance, time, etc.

It includes a “life of bike” mileage counter.

Today, as I finished my ride, that counter said this:

2014 07 24 20 48 40

About 1,500 of that is since I started using Strava right before the MS150 (it keeps track, too). (For that matter, I’m working on my 8th 100-mile week in a row…)

I like biking.

Alert: Heathen Birthdays

Today is the birthday of two important Heathen: one of my very oldest friends, and one of my very newest.

This is Agent R. He and I were geeky Boy Scouts together more than 30 years ago. He had the first modem I ever saw, not to mention — years later — the first CD player. He’s pictured here with someone who I trust will become a friend, but whom I have not yet met.


And this here is the tiniest niblet o’corn ever, Miss E. I. H., late of the Glenbrook Valley area and, as of a few weeks ago, our goddaughter. As Agent R completes his forty-fifth (!) trip around the sun, this little delight finishes her first lap.


Happy birthday to both.

“Mostly snakes”

As reasonable a description of Pentecostalism’s origins as you’re likely to find:

my favorite thing about Pentecostal snake handling is that at some point somebody read the whole Bible and his one takeaway was “SNAKES”

“what did you get out of the Bible, Jim”

“mostly that we should touch snakes”

“anything else”

“there was some guy but mostly snakes”

Seen on Maud Newton’s blog, but the author is apparently this dude.

Life in the Future

I got one of those “reminder” mails from LinkedIn today, telling me to congratulate a few folks on work anniversaries.

The first reminder in this email, though, was wrong on a scale not ordinarily seen.

  • First, I know that today is not MV’s sixth anniversary at $company, because he helped found that company in 1997.
  • Second, I know that today is not his anniversary there because he left that company over two years ago.
  • Third, I know that today is not his anniversary there because he’s been dead since September of 2012.

But good try, LinkedIn. Good try.

But was the 150 FUN?

Exhibit A: GoPro footage from a teammate edited down to 2:38; look for me at about 1:05, as we roll into Austin in a giant group.

“We ride bikes. We drink beer.”

Hey Chet! How was your weekend?

Glad you asked! I had a little adventure, as I think you are aware.

Day One

We started bright and early on Saturday morning, though a little less bright and a little less early than we intended. It worked out for the best, at least for me, in that I ended up riding alone with a faster teammate (who’d also been running late) until we got to Belleville, about 45-50 miles into the 100 mile first day (link’s to the Garmin site, and contains basically all the data captured on the ride). Riding with Adrian made me faster, partly because riding with someone is just better, and partly because I could draft him (thanks, man).

Consequently, I covered the first 40 miles at a generally unheard-of for me average speed of 17 MPH. That’s not fast by serious bike standards, but it’s absolutely a personal best for me. (It would be unsporting not to note the tailwind, of course.)

Adrian and I parted ways in Belleville, as I said; he took the official lunch stop, which remains criminally awful, apparently — you get a sandwich fit for a 3rd grader and crappy pasta salad with several thousand of your closest friends. It’s no wonder many of the bigger, richer teams opt for a private lunch stop. I took a page out of their books, though, and staged refreshments with my dear pals the Acostas, who also provided lunch and a special cheering section at the edge of their Belleville ranch:


That beat the pants off the circus that was “official” lunch. I paused there for 15 or 20 minutes before riding on, refreshed and at least somewhat rested and theoretically ready to tackle the hardest miles of the ride, in my opinion: Belleville to Fayetteville. If you click through to the Garmin site on the link above, the first graph below the map is my speed plotted over a Y-axis of either time or distance. You can easily see both the wreck-mandated stop about 15 miles into the ride, and the sudden yo-yo of my velocity as I hit the hills at about mile 44; sadly, I never sustained that kind of speed again on either day, but that’s what crosswinds and hills will do for you.

Screen Shot 2014 04 14 at 4 10 53 PM

(The graph never hits zero because the Garmin autopauses if you stop; however, the deep dips at mile 51 and mile 58 are (a) me stopping to call Edgar and verify his location and (b) the actual lunch stop; other, later deep dips are also rest stops.)

To be fair, the real killer for my speed after lunch was the rolling hills. As Garmin link shows, you end up doing about 3,000 vertical feet of climbing on the day one route, which isn’t exactly trivial, and doesn’t get erased by the fact that you’re basically climbing the same few hundred feet over and over (the actual elevation difference between Houston and La Grange is only about 300 feet).

The best I can say about the rest of the ride is that it wasn’t always windy and hilly. But when it wasn’t windy, it was hilly; and when it wasn’t hilly, it was windy. And the worst winds, sadly, came on the final stretch down 2145 to La Grange’s Jefferson Street, when we turned more or less INTO the wind down a stretch of road with very little protection. That you’re almost done (maybe 7 to go?) at that point doesn’t help much when the wind hits you.

Around this point I realized that the course was slightly short, at least according to the Garmin. If you zoom into the map closely, you can see how I handled it. Once I realized I was only going to log 99.2 miles, I turned around and backtracked for 0.4 miles before heading in. Think about it: would YOU spend 7 hours in the saddle and NOT have your GPS say you rode the full century?

Screen Shot 2014 04 14 at 4 14 18 PM

The other fun thing is something Strava calculates for you. Strava, if you don’t know, is sort of a cycling Facebook that’s gaining steam largely because of the way that make it simple to compare your performance to other cyclists. One of their metrics is the Suffer Score. I knew I was miserable towards the end, and it appears I now have the metrics to prove it!

Epic suffer score, brah!

“Epic suffer score, Brah!”

Day Two

I’m pretty sure that graphic is also the punchline for day two, because I didn’t (and couldn’t) hit it nearly as hard. I felt pretty low energy, and the storm clouds brewing certainly weren’t helping my mood. I couldn’t seem to make my legs work as hard as they had on Saturday (hello, fatigue — unsurprisingly this shows up in the stats as persistently lower heart rate).

Even though day two is much shorter — “only” about 68 miles — this time around I had real trouble, and I think it was both pushing so much harder on Saturday, and then not getting fueled enough early enough on Sunday.

Fortunately, I got to address both of those after lunch. The team started trying to ride together starting at the next-to-last stop — we actually rolled out of that one in a pace line 15 or more riders long, much to the chagrin of some uptight folks on other teams — and got serious about it in the last 10-12 miles.

Here’s the line; I’m not in this shot, which means I was either further up or further back, but it gives you an idea how it was going at that point:


This process took effort, because even with the fastest guys holding back, and middle-of-the-pack guys like me, it took time for the slowest folks to catch up with us. We took long breaks at the final rest stop, and then at two different appointed “rallying points” before we rolled into Austin proper — and then held up again, super close to the finish, to make sure three more could join who’d been delayed by a flat.

The result of all this was super worth it, though. For one thing, I’d recovered enough that I could ride the hills hard in downtown Austin, and for another it meant that about sixty of us crossed the finish line in a giant blur of red and blue, and let me tell you how awesome that felt!

So, what have we learned?

  • I will say, though, again and for the record, Austin needs to just give the fuck up on the pylon thing. They’ve tried both years to sequester the cyclists into a single lane (potentially workable, on a smaller event) or even into the bike lane (absolutely impossible). There are 15,000 bikers riding into Austin on the Sunday of the 150, and we travel in packs. It’s unsafe to try to compress them too much in the last stretch, and downright absurd to put actively hazardous items in their way. The cones get hit and shoved all over the place, and you can’t see them until the last second when you’re riding in a pack.

    Both years I’ve ridden outside the pylons for a good chunk of the Austin course because it’s SAFER to be where it’s less crowded. Seriously, Austin, get a clue.

  • Energy is key. I’m still not so great about eating enough on distance rides, and that hurt me later in the day on Saturday, and for much of the day on Sunday.

  • The Garmin LiveTrack is awesome — I’m shocked at how well it worked — but it needs juice, too. Even though it was only trickling data up to the web, the phone gave up the ghost about 75 miles in on Saturday, which certain people found alarming. I rode with a backup battery on Sunday, so the LiveTrack stayed up.

  • I gotta stay on the training treadmill all year. I’d have had much faster rides both days if I were stronger, and I’d be stronger (and lighter) if I hadn’t taken like 5 months off from riding entirely. Oops.

  • Being loudest has its advantages; this is my team winning best jersey, awarded based on fan noise (video to follow):


Will you be back next year?

Oh, indeed. Karbach uber alles!

From the “we don’t care if it’s 100% true, it’s still awesome” files

Suppose you’re underage in the early 1990s, and live in Austin. Suppose you really, really want to get into shows, and suppose further than a friend of yours comes by an actual Texas drivers’ license that at least vaguely resembles you — except it’s for a slightly older person. Old enough to get into the bars.

You’ve hit the underage jackpot, for sure; FAKE IDs are risky and rarely work, unless you spend big bucks forging (which is itself illegal). But a real DL that looks like you? FLAWLESS VICTORY.

Turns out, though, the story gets better, largely because of the circumstances under which, in 1994, the ID became utterly useless to our young hero.

Curious? You know you are..