Thursday, November 28, 2002

Compared to the Bicycle

My friend and internist, Dr. Roy, has promised to take me along on his annual cycling tour next year; if I can get in shape. I am sure he thinks it’s good motivation for me to shed a few unwanted pounds. What he doesn’t realize is that I long ago discovered that I can eat and cycle at the same time.

The Bike

Based upon Roy’s commitment, I dusted off the old road bike and have been working on my cycling conditioning this summer. This particular morning I dragged myself out of bed, strapped on the cycling shoes and hit the road. Thinking of the early days of my cycling career, when every ounce cost me precious time, I left the socks in the drawer and put those shoes directly on my bare feet. I briefly thought about shaving my legs to make myself more aerodynamic, but decided that would take too long. Shaving a few cookies from my diet may be more effective.

It was about 7:00 a.m. when I finally got everything in order. The sun was up, but the air was cool. I rode west from Bluff, towards Monument Valley. As I turned to make the return trip into town, the sunlit cliffs reminded me why I love this naturally walled village in the San Juan River Valley so much. The sandstone bluffs, for which the community is named, were glowing a misty pink, and the various formations faded into shades of gray and black as they receded into the distance. I searched the eastern horizon for the Sleeping Ute and finally noticed his nose protruding just above the southeastern cliffs. The valley was coming alive with light.

My bicycle is about 18 years old, which makes it a veritable dinosaur in terms of modern bicycling technology. In its time, it was a marvel of cycling engineering; but things have changed. The gum wall tires are fraying and the tubes tend to lose a little air. I kept watching the tires to ensure that they were remaining inflated, and began to consider the parallels between the old bicycle and me. That started me thinking about how I tend to lose a little air myself, which can be somewhat embarrassing.

When I first moved back to San Juan County, the trading post was still under construction, so I was living in Blanding. Every day Duke and I would drive to Bluff with the bicycle in back of the truck. After working all day with the building contractor, digging trenches and pounding nails, I would climb on the bike and ride to Blanding. The bike and I were like a well oiled machine, working in perfect unison. We would make the 25 mile, 2000 foot climb, in just over an hour. The bicycle was tuned to perfection, and my legs were like pistons, pumping those pedals up and down.

Family, the family business and a new daughter distracted me over the next few years. Then one day I was diagnosed with a terrible illness - the dreaded furniture disease. It was my father, Duke, who first noticed the symptoms. That tire around my waist began to inflate, and Duke, who is a renowned expert in the field of furniture disease, pointed it out to me. Of course I knew all along, but was in denial. I attempted to hide it and stay its effects with protein concoctions, but nothing worked. For a time I considered wearing moo moos, but couldn’t find patterns or shades that complimented my skin color.

In the more progressive medical texts, furniture disease is described as the condition where, “[O]ne’s chest falls into one’s drawers”. As in my case, the onset generally begins in one’s mid-twenties or early thirties. Serious disfigurement can occur. Once trim bodies begin to bag and sag, and cycling performance drops in direct proportion to the sagging and bagging. It becomes hard to work the pedals with all that weight pushing down on your thighs. Actually, the downstroke is fairly easy. It’s the upstroke, which requires lifting all those extra pounds, that can be difficult. Balance is also greatly affected. Shifting cellulite results in a less aerodynamic configuration and airflow is interrupted, resulting in significantly slower speeds.

So there I was, wrestling the bike back into this beautiful little community. The slow progress gave me time to notice the small indentation on the bicycle’s top tube, which resulted when my friend Greg was teaching me to draft. As we wheeled along at great speed, I became distracted, impacted his back wheel and careened off the trail. My inattention netted me several abrasions and the dent. The scars on my face result from similar distractions.

The slight grinding of the gears reminded me how I often wear on the residents of this small town. A little lubricant may be in order. As I pedaled up to the trading post, I realized that the old bike and I were lucky to be functioning at current levels. Neither the tires nor I had lost any air, which was a relief, since the bicycle pump doesn’t perform the way it once did either.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Bad Boy

Consider the benefits of being born into the grandeur of Monument Valley. This spell binding locality in the heart of Navajoland is one of the most magnificent natural wonders of the world. The idea of witnessing such a idyllic setting upon first opening your eyes is the stuff of dreams. Growing up in complete freedom, and feeling the shifting, rippled, sand and undulating red rock beneath your feet are but a few of the benefits. It is a blissful existence, and an appealing lifestyle to be sure.

Bad Boy

Ponder the possibilities, and let your mind wander to a high slanted, deep purple, mesa top. There proudly stands a jet black three year old stallion, bathed in the warm, rich golden glow of morning light. High, scattered, full bodied cloud formations blush rosily in the refracted light. The stallion's posture can only be termed "cavalier". On a sandstone ledge, at the edge of a three hundred foot drop overlooking a rugged landscape, he appraises his surroundings. High, jutting pinnacles of rock; darkened, mysterious canyon depths; and rolling hillsides dotted with juniper and sage spread out before his eyes. The cool night air is blowing him full in the face as it hurriedly tries to outrun the rising sun's rapidly lengthening rays. The horse deeply breathes in the smells of the land, which are carried by the turbulent breeze, and exalts in the rich, natural fragrance..

Unbridled emotion and independence swell in the stallion's breast as he lets rip a hearty "Neigh!" The sound rumbles across the countryside like thunder from a summer lightning storm. The magnificent animal shakes his head and snorts, his long thick mane and tail whip and flow in the wind. He stamps his hooves on the hard rock. As the horse turns to make its way down the boulder strewn path, he hears a whirring noise, something strong and tight grips his neck and chokes his breath. Confusion, frustration and anger flood his senses as he catches sight of a bronzed skinned human wearing a big black hat. This human sits astride one of the horse's tamed and humbled brothers; life, as the mustang knows it, is about to alter course.

Jan first saw the now six year old mustang as he stood unhappily tethered to the corral at Ed Black's Monument Valley Tours. She was on a National Geographic tour provided by Crow Canyon Archeological Center, and fell in love with him that first moment. Why is it that nice girls consistently fall for "Bad Boys"? She asked to ride the magnificent beast, and was quickly discouraged by his handlers. They explained that this horse could display an extremely nasty attitude when he chose to, and that he was called "Bad Boy" for a very good reason. It seems the stallion had strenuously resisted being broken, dumping a number of respectable "bronc busters" on their noggins, and damaging several once spotless Stetson hats. Jan assured Ed and his crew that she was an experienced rider, and could certainly handle this fiery beast. They reluctantly agreed to let her ride the horse.

For whatever reason Bad Boy behaved beautifully that day; he was a perfect gentleman. Whether it was Jan's gentle, assuring, nonassertive hand, or just that the horse was grateful to be back in his beloved home, nobody knew. He was almost free to roam at will, to breathe in the freshness of the valley, to smell its rich fragrance and feel the texture of the earth beneath his hooves. It was a fantastic day for both horse and rider; memorable because the ride went so well and the scenery was, well, monumental! An idea began to develop in Jan's mind, one that was to overwhelm her and haunt her dreams.

Not being one to act on impulse, Jan kept her blossoming notion to herself. She patted Bad Boy on the nose, whispered secretly in his ear, and after thanking the confused tour operators for their superior services, left the valley. Two weeks later she was on the phone to Ed Black with an offer to relieve him of his most offensive critter and export the steed to OshKosh Wisconsin. Ed flatly refused, stating that Monument Valley was Bad Boy's home, and that it would be a mistake to take him from it. Jan could not get the black stallion off her mind, and decided to write a letter to the Blacks in another attempt to acquire the horse. It worked! Whatever Jan said in the letter prompted the Blacks to sell Bad Boy to her. Ed's wife, Maybelle, called Jan and made arrangements for the black stallion to be picked up the end of September 2002.

Jan was ecstatic, and began preparing a place for Bad Boy at Wind Ridge Farm. When she drove down to collect the stallion, Jan thought it a good idea to make sure the horse was healthy and travelworthy, so she scheduled an appointment with "Doc Watkins," the local veterinarian. Now Doc has been around a while, and has an abundance of "horse sense". He looked the mustang over carefully, poked and prodded, then gave the animal a bill of good health. Just before Jan pulled away on the long journey home, the vet looked at her, shook his head and asked, "What do you want with a horse like that?" Jan just smiled, thanked the man for his services and headed north with her prize.

Bad Boy must have thought he had stepped into the promised land as he exited the horse trailer in Wisconsin. There before him was a broad field of alfalfa hay. Dispersed about the field were a number of well fed, thoroughly contented horses, acting as if this was an everyday occurrence. There was running water, moderate temperatures and an attentive human to make his stay comfortable and happy. To a creature raised on the sparse vegetation and infrequent watering holes of Navajoland, this was paradise to be sure.

As the black stallion grew comfortable, and settled into his new home, he may have become a little lazy and, possibly, more self centered.
Jan worked the horse easily, giving him a chance to become acclimated to his new surroundings, and also gave him plenty of opportunity to understand what was expected. Jan wanted to share her world with Bad Boy; to provide him with a good life and pleasant lifestyle. She wanted him to know the pleasure of a compatible relationship, where both horse and rider enjoyed the riding experience. Jan was accustomed to domesticated horses, and had known this experience before; she hoped the stallion would feel the same.

One crisp fall day, Jan decided it was time to take Bad Boy for a ride. All went well until the horse elected to introduce this new owner to his more cantankerous side. Jan said that the horse "just went ballistic." "It was like riding a tornado; a twisting, turning, bucking fit that thoroughly beat me up." Jan came out of the ordeal with body whiplash, a torn hamstring, a concussion and a short stint in the local emergency room. She was hurt badly, both physically and emotionally.

The mustang's serious breach of etiquette caused Jan to rethink her earlier position. She recalled the not so subtle warnings of Ed Black and Doc Watkins about the differences between wild animals and those bred into the civilized world. Jan made calls to some horse trainers she knew to get their opinions. Each told her that it was useless to even try to tame Bad Boy. He had grown up wild, and a part of him would always remain so. The freedom he had experienced as a colt was an indelible part of his being, it could not be pushed aside.

Jan reluctantly called Ed and Maybelle to tell them that Bad Boy needed to return home. Ed's first remark was, "Did you get that horse fat?" Jan agreed that she must have done so; he was fat and sassy to be sure. Jan knows now that she had made a mistake, she was enamored with the thought of providing a better life for an animal she believed deserved one. The truth is that the black mustang stallion is, again, where he is supposed to be. The moral of this story is: You can take the boy out of the country, but you better leave Bad Boy where he is.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

A Psychological Profile

I have always been interested in psychology; the human mind and its behavioral patterns fascinate me. So when my friend, Jon, recently gave me the book Choice Theory, by William Glasser, M.D., I began reading with great relish. The book discusses the intricacies of relationships, and how to develop them into successful endeavors that nourish and strengthen us and those we love. Since I am a skeptic at heart, I am generally cynical when it comes to the thoughts and ideas of others. Over the years, I have convinced myself that I know pretty much everything I need to function well in my personal world. As you may guess, that conclusion has put me in a few compromising and uncomfortable situations. My family has often also expressed severe criticism of my all knowing attitude.

In fact, I seem to have lost my touch. My ability to coerce, compel, manipulate or strong-arm others into my way of thinking has been fading. It is time to replace my destructive behavior with supportive, caring, nurturing and constructive conduct. I can no longer get away with being a wise guy. Up to this point, I have chosen not to evaluate my own psyche or critically explore my individual behavior. Deep down in the unused portion of my brain, I must have known there was a problem. I guess I thought it was possible to ignore my own shortcomings, and simply bluff my way through life. Jon must have anticipated my fall from grace, and has most likely saved me many years of ongoing problems.

The book is not overly complicated; it simply states that YOU must make positive, thoughtful choices in developing those relationships important to human survival. Snide remarks, rude comments and personal attacks are not acceptable. I have always believed that I have a well developed sense of humor; jokes come naturally to me, usually at the expense of others. I now know that this type of mockery jeopardizes associations key to my emotional survival, Belly laughs and snorts are simply not acceptable.

I have to say that by giving up my tendency to try and control others, thereby gaining personal power over them, my social skills have improved. My wife and children seem to appreciate my efforts, and there is a more peaceful aura around our home these days. Here at the trading post I have also noticed an atmospheric conversion. Most of the women on the premises have genial natures and have always been easy to get along with, so they also appreciate my conversion. Since I have adopted Choice Theory, there have been fewer emotional outbursts and crying fits. In my opinion this is a good thing. If we can just get Steve to buy into the new deal, we will have it made.

One method of problem solving Dr. Glasser suggests is "the solving circle". The process involves outlining a circle on the floor of your home or business, placing two chairs inside the ring and envisioning this area as an inescapable containment arena. Both you and the individual you are having relationship troubles with agree to enter the ring and not leave until an equitable agreement is reached. I explained this practice to Steve, suggesting that we use it when we have a disagreement with one of our artists. I told him this would assure a calm, thoughtful and peaceful conclusion to the transaction. My dear brother snorted, gave a hearty belly laugh and said, "Are you aware that the number one rated television show on the Navajo Reservation is The World Wrestling Federation? If you put a ring and two folding chairs in the center of this store you better be prepared to defend your title!" My wise guy brother walked away with tears in his eyes, nearly bent double from laughing at his own joke.

For some people there is just no hope. I for one will continue my quest to improve myself, and the relationships that are so important to my emotional well being. I will take responsibility for my actions and the reactions I provoke in others. I take heart in Dr. Glasser's notion that it is okay when I fall off the truck and briefly revert to my old ways. My only hope is that I don't get run over by that same truck. It is terribly hard to get tire tracks off of your Carhart's, or egg off your face. Onward and upward!

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, November 7, 2002

A New Marketing Strategy

Several months ago in our weekly musings, Barry and I lamented our lack of image within the Indian Trader community. All the other traders seem to have very distinctive personalities, and we have none. In the recently published book, The Weavers Way, by Carter and Dodie Allen, I am included in the section on traders. The problem is that they put me on the page opposite Jed Foutz. Jed comes from a long line of traders, and is young and attractive besides. That only made matters worse. When I complained to Carter and Dodie, they just laughed. My insecurity was exacerbated. Since that time Barry and I have mulled over several alternatives, but nothing really workable has presented itself. All that changed during my recent trip to Salt Lake City.

Stephanie Unger's depiction of Barry and Steve, BEFORE THE MAKE-OVER

Kira, Grange and I had decided we needed to visit Dacia, so Friday evening we packed the truck and headed north. We picked up Dacia Saturday morning and made our way to the Utah State Fair. At the fair the kids rode all the twisty, whirling rides they could find, while I remained firmly on the ground. Dacia is well aware that I have a real problem with motion sickness, and is very conscientious about keeping me away from such entertainment; lest I lose the contents of my stomach.

As we wandered back toward the parking lot, I spotted a “Giant Pig” booth. The kids were not very excited about seeing the gigantic swine, but I just had to have a look. The exhibit gave me some insight into what my wife must think after she realizes that I have eaten all the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I have thought about getting stock in Mrs. Fields, since I can keep the company financially secure all by myself.

I was still thinking of that big pig as we started back to Bluff Sunday afternoon. Traffic on the freeway was light as we approached a slight uphill section of the road. That particular stretch made me think of an urban forest. The concrete path sloped gently up and to the left, obscuring any view of the city. No cars were visible, and the tall, thin street lamp posts lining the road looked like abstract versions of lodge pole pines. I began to feel somewhat peaceful, as though I was in an isolated part of the mountains. In its own way, the freeway was every bit as beautiful as the pine forests we have just north of us on the Blue Mountains.

Barry and Steve.... AFTER

As we crested the hill, my mind was flowing in a stream of consciousness mode, jumping from one thought to the next. As the traffic increased, I watched the cars responding to the movements of other vehicles. A large truck blinked and moved to the left, and the entire flow changed. I thought of how that is somewhat similar to the marketing plan we needed at the trading post. If we were able to do something novel, maybe the entire atmosphere would change; resulting in a new flow. Then I saw it, the billboard sign advertising a modeling program, and guaranteeing results. It started me thinking about how Barry and I had searched in vain for the right solution, and it had been right in front of us all the time. He and I needed a fresh look.

A few weeks earlier, one of our customers had mentioned that Abercrombie and Fitch long ago decided that all their sales clerks must be young and attractive. When I saw those billboard models, I knew why we weren’t getting results; Barry and I are just too ugly. I’m tempted to blame it all on Barry, but realize I probably can’t actually convince anyone that it is exclusively his fault.

In the past we had been able to overcome the ugly with creative baskets, rugs and jewelry, but as we have aged, that strategy has become less and less effective. Before Barry started coming to Bluff, I had a nice looking woman who helped me in the store. She and I used the ugly cop, pretty cop routine with great results. People would walk into the store, see me and immediately gravitate to Susie. It was almost as though they were thinking, “Wow, that’s a face not even a mother could love. Oh, there’s someone attractive; let’s go talk to her.” Susie got lots of sales, and from time to time I got the sympathy purchase. Altogether, it worked pretty well.

Then Susie left, Barry arrived and all we had was ugly cop, ugly cop. That hasn’t worked very well. It’s just too unsightly. So Barry and I have decided that cosmetic surgery and liposuction are what is needed. Fortunately we have a friend who is one of the top plastic surgeons in the country. From now on the trading post will have a new, attractive staff.

Let the chicks fall where they may.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post