Just Like the Sting of a Bee

Having recently explored in depth the range of Benny Goodman’s music—the “heyday” stuff from the mid ‘30s to mid 40’s—I’ve found myself musing over the implications of a simile in one of his big band vocal hits, “You Turned the Tables on Me,” from 1936 and featuring Helen Ward as vocalist.  The song is about a reversal in love, in which the protagonist was blasé about her suitor, but ironically finds herself in love after the suitor has rejected her.  The song ends with the lines:

Just like the sting of a bee
You turned the tables on me.

What I find myself pondering is just how a reversal in love is comparable to being stung by an insect.  Yes, a sting hurts physically just as unrequited love hurts emotionally.  But is a bee sting a reversal, with the stinger having been the one being stung before?  No.  I have to chalk it up to the lyricist Sidney D. Mitchell needing a rhyme for “me” in the next to the last line and using the best thing he could think of.

But I’m about ready to take some kind of vengeance, having been stung during my bike rides twice in the last seven or eight days.  Trouble is, I don’t have a clear concept of my attacker.  Having been a beekeeper, I doubt these were honeybees.  For one thing, hive collapse has radically reduced the number of such bees in the air, and for another, honeybees are not very aggressive.  In fact, they are docile unless severely aggravated.  What stung me were probably hornets, wasps, or bumblebees.  Luckily, I think my beekeeping years built up my resistance to the kinds of toxins in bee stings.  That doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, but it does mean that my body can deal with the pain short-term, and that there are no real long-term issues.

The earlier hit was a classic insect-in-the-helmet incident.  Riding along, I hear a “smack” as something hits the plastic headgear and enters through one of the large vent holes.  It could be a leaf or some other tree debris, it could be a June Bug or some other harmless critter, or it could be a stinger.  This time, after feeling it crawl for a couple of seconds, I feel the sting, a hard one, right on top of my head.  For a few seconds it hurts a little bit, then its hurt a whole bloody lot for about five minutes, and then the pain dissipates.

Later in the ride my neck and upper shoulders ached unusually, and I assumed that was probably the toxins dissipating.  Somewhere along the way I stopped and got the helmet off, but as usual there was nothing there; the culprit had flown.  About three days later a welt forms where the stinger went in, and my body rids itself of the tiny bit of infection.

Then today, less than two miles into my ride, I approach the hill that goes up to the overpass bridge crossing I-66.  In olden times my family and I liked to walk out there on winter nights during freezing rain storms and watch the hapless commuters trying to fight their way home through frozen slush.  Today, though, it’s sunny and warm.  A small object darts downward toward my left hand, which is on the shift lever.  As it hits, I flick it aside with my thumb, sending it across my body.  Apparently there is just enough of a trajectory so that, combined with the forward motion of the bike, the object lands right in the tiny space between the nose of the saddle and my right upper thigh.  A second later the sharp, burning pain confirms that the object is some kind of stinging insect.  This time the trajectory of pain was much the same except the intense hurt started immediately.  Again, however, it was gone by the time I was halfway to my turn-around point.  Right now there is a small red welt there, but no pain, not even with pressure.  Much more flesh to dissipate the toxin in, as opposed to the top of my skull.

So I think I have paid my dues to the stinging insect clan.  It was never my intention to hurt them, but they hurt me, and they may well have lived to hurt again, since only honeybees die when they sting a victim.  Their stingers are uniquely barbed, and stay in the victim, usually along with part of the bee’s abdominal contents, when the bee pulls away.   Not so wasps, hornets, and their ilk.  I beg all such insects to take their aggression elsewhere and let me henceforth ride sting free.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.

Stealth Bike

My favorite local bike emporium, Spokes Etc., just put up on Facebook a shot of a brand new Trek Madone, one of the top-of-the-line Trek cycles.  The bike frame has no markings, and the other components only minimal ones, most notably the wheels, with their “Bontrager” lettering.  Pretty much everything on the bike—bar tape, cranks, saddle, rear derailleur—is the same color: black.

Trek u5

New Trek Madone in U5 Paint at Spokes, Etc.

This is a trend I have noted in high-end bikes for 2014 (it’s the beginning of the new model year).  Black is the color that prevails.  The August Velo News reviews “Bikes of the Tour de France.”  We won’t debate here whether “Podium Girls of the Tour de France” would have raised circulation (the magazine’s, not the reader’s).  Bike freaks read Velo News, and they know what we like.  There’s a range of brands from Cervélo to Felt, and every one of these babies, ranging up to $17,655 as tested, is black.  The same magazine’s full-page adverts for top level bikes show more of the “dark side.”  Even the Bianchi Sempre pro is black!  That’s heresy, given the traditional Bianchi Celeste (turquoise) color that is the elite Italian brand’s most famous trademark.  About the only colorful bike in the issue is a silver job that Bernard Hinault is shown riding while wearing the yellow jersey in the mid-‘80s.

Spokes Etc.’s Trek Madone on Facebook has the “U5” frame paint job, meaning that it’s “U(nder) 5” grams.  The average paint job apparently weighs 100 grams.  There are 28.3 grams to an ounce, so this paint job weighs 1/6 of an ounce, while most bikes haul around the crushing load of about 3 ½ ounces of finish paint.  That’s 3 1/3 ounces more.  I can look downward toward my beltline and figure out where I could easily drop more than that much weight without resorting to a U5 paint job.

My theory is that the black hue in bikes is inspired by military aircraft.  In fact, the Madone’s paint is matte black, touted as “Stealth Mode.”  Why do we find that desirable?  Partly, I think, because it suggests the “tough guy” attitude.  That trend began with Lance Armstrong’s socks about 2004, and various Livestrong gear shortly thereafter.  Soon some pro teams had a significant amount of black on their kit, though black is not a good color for hot weather riding.  These days Radio Shack and Sky seem to be the darkest by that criterion.

But why everyday riders?  We all like to think we’re tougher than we are, don’t we?  And what’s faster and more dangerous than a billion-dollar matte black bomber?  Instead of merely pretending that we’re some swift pro rider on the bike, we can pretend we’re bomber pilots.  And the potential is endless.  Why not elite Castelli jerseys and bibs in camo patterns?  Or Bell matte camo “IED” helmets?  And of course we could get Camelbaks in “Army Knapsack” configuration, to harmonize with our Pearl Izumi “Marching Boot” road shoes.  We’d be dressed fit to kill.

And that’s why I am so happy with my 5-year-old Trek, which features white and blue, but not just “blue,” rather blues that subtly and smoothly modulate from midnight blue to turquoise, much like the sky itself.  It’s elegant, it’s cool, it’s happy.  And it’s not matte.  And it’s not black.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.

Out to the Ball Game

August is the prime month for baseball.  Forget April, when ballparks are still chilly and damp in many places; forget November, when the “October Classic” is now concluded, often amid threats of below-freezing temperatures and snowfall, in a travesty of conditions for arguably the most important games of the season.

But for the true fan the most important games are the ones he or she attends, usually on bright sunlit afternoons or balmy, gentle evenings.   These are typically home games of the local team (as the classic baseball anthem proclaims, “if they don’t win it’s a shame”).  And in that spirit, having not been to a game in a couple of seasons (!), I went online as a Washington Post PostPoints member last week and snagged a discount ticket to last night’s Nationals vs. Braves game.  It was the perfect choice, because I knew I’d not return disappointed.  The Nationals are a club I’ve been following for several seasons, but especially last year, when they muscled into the pennant race by virtue of getting one young star pitcher back after Tommy John surgery, bring up the sensational teenage hitter Bryce Harper, and molding a young roster peppered with just enough veterans into a confident, skilled unit.  The luxury of being surrounded by local media information about “my” team is something I’d not enjoyed for years, when my exile from Boston found me a long-time long-distance Sox fan, after the Braves’ exile from Boston had already left me to follow their exploits via the occasional Milwaukee Journal picked up that the out-of-town newsstand in Harvard Square, and then via the Atlanta Constitution.  Even all the current media information does not compensate for not being around where talk about the local team is everywhere “in the air.”  But I still root for the Braves, albeit somewhat less intensely than I do for the Sox.  So last night I knew I’d be happy with either winner.

The Metro ride, thanks in no small part to Jane’s willingness to chauffeur me to and from the station (her willingness did not extend to wanting to pay good money to sit in a ball park for the three-plus hours that games now consume, never mind watch batting practice), was a breeze.  A somewhat costly breeze, but still . . . it seriously beats the minimum $30 parking lot slot plus gas that driving entails.  The walk from Metro Navy Yard station to Nationals Ballpark entry gate is 2 ½ long blocks, but I made it by five minutes after the gates opened.  I was determined to make the most of this.

Marjorie Phillips, Night Baseball  Phillips Collection

Marjorie Phillips, Night Baseball Phillips Collection

When I arrived the Braves had just begun taking batting practice.  I was wearing no logo apparel from either team, in my aspiration for neutrality, but instead had donned my “Night Baseball” golf shirt from the Phillips Collection.  Appropriately Midnight Blue, it refers to a painting by Marjorie Phillips, wife of Duncan Phillips, founder of the Phillips Collection gallery here in DC.  The art depicts a scene from the early era of night baseball at Griffith Stadium, where the old Washington Senators played.  People are allowed to go down to the front of the seats, right behind the dugouts, to watch batting practice, and so I did. The way it works is that the batter stands in a cage around home plate so that mis-hit balls don’t go far.  The batting practice pitcher stands behind a protective screen in front of the pitcher’s mound and lobs balls at about ¾ speed (still probably faster and more accurately than most of us “civilians” could throw) so the hitters can get in some good practice swings.  Each hitter gets five swings at a time.  The way the Braves work it is that separate contingents of about four players take “BP” one at a time.  Each player gets five or six units of five balls each, in rotation.  Then the next group takes over.  The eight starters comprise the first two groups.  Then the subs get their swats, maybe only three or four units of five balls.  The atmosphere is relaxed, and lots is going on at the same time.  Players and coaches chat near the cage.  The bullpen pitchers and coaches jog or shag flies in the outfield.  PR people are setting up the pregame ceremonies.  VIPs are walking around near the dugouts talking to players and coaches.  Ex-closer for the Braves and Sox, Billy Wagner, signs a few balls and shirts for fans; he came up for the day from his home in Crozet, VA with his two sons to watch the game.

I have entered the stadium at the main gate, a large plaza with open access to the left field seats.  Unlike older stadiums such as the sacred Fenway Park, the entry is not through a kind of “lobby” under the stands, then up a runway into the bright green rectangle of light that lands you in the grandstands.  Here it’s all open until you decide to walk through the wide, well-lit concourse that sits at the level of the outside ground.  You don’t have to climb if you have grandstand seats.  The field itself is below the outside grade.  Eventually I decide to cruise the concourse, gravitating toward my seat, which is on the first base side.  There are many food vendors, offering a wide array of fairly good food, albeit at the usual high prices.  The beer stands sell premium draft (even Sam Adams is available) as well as the usual Bud Lite and Miller Lite and Heineken.  Past my section down the right field line is another open plaza where ribs and barbecue are being smoked.  The smell of the charcoal and the meat is mouthwatering, very tempting.  However, I’ve eaten at home, and limit myself to a large serving of soft ice cream, which is mysteriously called “two scoops” although it spirals right out of the machine as usual, no scooping involved.  I thought of the old ballpark ice cream in Boston (“Hey ice cream here!”) , a Neapolitan brick of real H. P. Hood and Sons ice cream, frozen very hard, with a little double-ended wooden spoon in a box.  You had to let it soften for a while or that spoon would crack into pieces along the grain.

When I entered the park, proffering my printed-out ticket for its bar code to be scanned, I picked up a free “scorecard” booklet with the lineups, numbers, and chart to score the game.  I bet not one fan in a hundred does that any more.  I used to score games that I listened to on the radio in a big scorebook, as well as the ones I saw in person.  I’d take the scorecard home, erase the scoring marks, and re-use the card to score a game or two on the radio.  They had names like Danny Litwhiler, Sibbi Sisti, Phil Masi, Birdie Tebbets, Rudy York, Sam Mele.  This night, I don’t even need the scorecard, because the new huge digital scoreboard informs me of all the stats, all the nuances of each play.  The Post will summarize the game in a box score and recount each at bat in every half-inning in which a run was scored.

When I find my seat I am very pleased.  It’s in row U, which is surprisingly far down toward the field.  The section (135) is about halfway between first base and the point at which the right field line begins to run parallel to the wall of the stands.  The section is angled in slightly, so that when I look straight ahead from my seat I am looking at the pitcher’s mound sort of over the first baseman’s shoulder.  It’s way too close to the field to be under cover, and there are tropical looking rainclouds, but I feel only 3 or 4 drops all night.

The game begins.  The Nationals’ best pitcher of 2013, Jordan Zimmermann, is on the mound.  For the Braves it’s Kris Medlen.  A year ago he was the hottest pitcher in baseball; inserted into the starting rotation after the All-Star break, he went 10-1, with a 1.57 ERA.  Going into tonight’s game this year he has pitched the same number of innings but is 8-10 with a 3.85 ERA.  Nevertheless, he’s been effective lately, and shows it by getting the first eleven Nationals he faces out.  Meanwhile, Zimmermann is uncharacteristically uncertain of his pitch location.  He falls behind the count with many hitters, puts the leadoff runner on base every inning for the first four (double, double, single, walk).  He gets ahead of batters 0-2 and then lets them wiggle out to 2-2 or 3-2.  Nevertheless, he only pays for it in the first and fourth innings.  In the first Freddy Freeman, a guy who looks like the archetypal power hitter at the plate, singles to right to convert Jason Heyward’s double.  In the fourth, Medlen himself comes up with three on and none out, and on the first pitch cracks a drive that ends up being a sac fly, caught at the warning track.  After a strikeout and another single Freddie Freeman comes up again, sacks jammed, two out.  He whiffs on a breaking pitch set up by Zimmerman’s mid-90s fastball, and is so frustrated by having looked for the wrong pitch that he slams both helmet and bat to the ground in a fury.

Medlen, meanwhile, dispatches hitters rapidly and economically.  Everything about him is concise: he has a short, easy delivery, he works quickly, he gets ahead of hitters and tries to finish them off, he changes speeds well (he struck out Harper in the first with a 75-mph curve after setting him up with a 91 mph fastball, about as fast as he gets).  But with two out in the fourth his command changes as suddenly as if somebody threw a switch.  He walks Harper on five pitches, and then falls behind Werth 2-0.  Werth deposits the next pitch, a fastball out over the middle, several rows deep in the right-center field stands.  The line score now reads ATL 2-7-0; WAS 2-1-0.

Such an imbalance surely offends the Baseball Gods.  While the Braves have racked up seven hits, and the Nats have just broken up a perfect game, each team has two runs.  The fourth inning, however, turns out to be Zimmermann’s last.  He throws 88 pitches in that time, and is done.  Medlen goes on for three more, and only needs 96 to get that far.  The Braves, however, fail to execute a difficult inning-ending double play in the seventh, and a Nats run scores on the FC to balance Justin Upton’s dinger in the top of the frame.  Medlen seems destined for a no-decision when the seventh inning ends with the game tied at three and the hit totals standing 10-3 Atlanta.

In the eighth, however, Davy Johnson gives the Baseball Gods a chance.  He keeps in Ryan Mattheus, a reliever seeking redemption after a mediocre year and injuries.  Mattheus gets the first two guys, but then gives up a double and a walk.  Two on, two out, and Johnson brings in rookie Ian Krol (2.66 ERA, 20.1 IP, 16K, 1-0), leaves Tyler Cipppard (1.99 ERA, 49.2 IP, 53K, 6-2) in the pen.  Krol takes four batters to get that last out.  A single plates a run and leaves runners on first and third.  Justin Upton smashes one of those nasty doubles that screams down the foul line, hits fair, bounces into the corner, and makes the left fielder chase it a little after he finally arrives on the scene.  Both runners score.  Jason Heyward, using the huge stride of his impossibly long legs, hoofs it all the way home from first and wouldn’t even have needed to slide, though he does.   Suddenly the Braves have 13 hits and enough runs to justify them.

Craig Kimbrel, possessor of the best K/IP ratio in the history of baseball, makes it a little more interesting than he has to in the ninth, but the game ends 6-3.  Braves fans have a happy Metro ride home; Nationals fans wonder what happened to last year’s promise, and start thinking about next year’s needed revival.   I find myself doing a bit of each.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013