15 Dec

Caga Tio

Eileen and I stumbled across a list of strange Christmas traditions recently, which introduced us to Caga Tio, or “Shit Log.” It’s a Catalonian thing, ya’ll wouldn’t understand. I know I certainly don’t.

But the ritual surrounding Caga Tio is so fascinating that I really want to understand it.

Let’s start with what I do know after some minor research: Caga Tio is a log with a face painted on it. He’s often propped up on one end with a couple of stick legs. A quick Google images search will give you all sorts of pictures. Here’s one of them:

A couple weeks before Christmas, Caga Tio shows up in the dining room of the house and the family feeds him things like oranges and crackers. I’m not quite sure how this is done, since it doesn’t appear that Caga has an actual mouth. But it’s a daily ritual.

Weeks pass, and sometime closer to Christmas day, the log is moved to the living room, where they put a blanket over him to keep him warm. On Christmas Eve, then, the parents sneak some presents under the blanket and the kids beat the log while chanting a strange incantation in Catalan, which translates as “Log, log, shit candy! If you don’t shit for Christmas, we will whack you once more!”

There are lots of YouTube videos of this sort of thing, but I can’t understand a word that’s being said since they’re either speaking Catalan or they’re talking too quickly for me. The videos usually involve just a few children surrounded by a lot of overly enthusiastic adults who are all doing their best to be amazed by the magically gift-wrapped shit that appears once the blanket covering the log’s ass has been whisked away.


Eileen and I spent a good half hour this morning watching various Spanish families beating the shit out of happy-faced logs. It’s immensely entertaining. It’s also extremely weird. But I suppose that many of our traditions are weird. Boiling unfertilized chicken eggs, painting them in pastels, and hiding them around the house (sometimes in bookshelves, where they can go for months before they’re finally discovered because they smell so bad) is just one such odd ritual that comes to mind.

Still, there is a difference between eggs and shit, isn’t there? I fully understand how funny poop is (in fact, contrary to my previous beliefs, I find poop only gets funnier with age), but to elevate it to the realms of magic, miracle, and holiness I find strange.

Such ruminations led me on a search for the origins of the phrase “Holy Shit,” which I actually couldn’t find (try Googling “Holy Shit” — not helpful). But I did come across an article about “Divine Excrement” in ancient Mexico, which begins with a very concise overview of how polar opposite to holiness poop is in Western culture.

“In Western culture today,” it explains, “‘Holy Shit’ functions as an exclamation of surprise or dismay precisely because it has no reference beyond itself; its power as a profanity derives from the paradox embedded in it. For us, excrement is never divine.” Exactly what I was trying to say.

So how is excrement possibly divine? And is such holy-making truly what’s going on in the case of Caga Tio?

The first question has an answer. According to Cecilia Klein, author of “Divine Excrement: The Significance of Holy Shit in Ancient Mexico,” various indigenous meso-american cultures had a complex relationship with poop. Filth was often associated with sinful activities like drunkenness and sexual promiscuity; such offenders were said to wallow in excrement. However, it was that same excrement that provided some purification. Consider that soil, specifically humus, is pretty literally the filth of worms and small organisms. Gods like Tlazolteotl functioned in the same way as such nutrient-rich soil and were thus the means of offsetting transgressions by “converting them into something healthy and fertile” when the transgressors confessed to her.

Another pretty cool story involves the god of syphilis, who got together with some other gods in the dark days before the sun existed and burned incense as they were trying to figure out how to light the world. Unfortunately, the god of syphilis didn’t have any incense, so he burned his own scat and then set himself on fire “in order to rise as the sun.” The Aztecs viewed gold as the excrement of the sun and as a result prescribed gold dust as a cure for syphilis.

Thus, excrement comes to be ambivalent in its associations. Sometimes it means the same as our concept of moral impurity; sometimes it’s more redemptive.

Now, whether the Caga Tio is some sort of spillover from a Catalonian pagan ritual similar to the Aztecs, I have no idea. But there’s a certain value, perhaps in including a hint of something less desireable in the Christmas tradition.

I mean, let’s face it, Christmas is a little whitewashed. It tells of Jesus’ beginnings but it doesn’t like to think about how that story ultimately reaches its ugly end. Christmas is the story of Christ made easily digestible. So why not remind ourselves that the candy that magically appears on Christmas Day arrives to us via a path that isn’t paved with pretty things exclusively?

09 May

Real Tire Part 3

Alright, so those girls in the convertible didn’t really come up to me and offer me a beer. In fact, I’ll admit the whole beer truck thing was false. It’s just that the real story kinda fell flat at that moment, so I figured I’d invent a better story.

What really happened (after the girls left) was this guy rides by fast on a fast-looking bike, and I say quickly, “hey, you got any air?” He turns around and comes back to me and we start talking as he gets out a CO2 cartridge. It comes out that I’m training for the Ironman, and he asks if I got in, and I say yes, and he says congratulations, and I say thanks, and he asks if I’m in the headhunters.

I let him operate his own CO2 cartridge inflation device on my tire, which all goes pretty smoothly, and I thank him profusely. I feel indebted to him, so I show an interest in the conversation he’s making. Turns out he knows one of the teachers at West, who did the Ironman last year; he himself is in the headhunters, but he didn’t get into the Ironman this year. I write his email down on the back of the Gum poem, and we part ways.

When I get home, the gnome is waiting for me in the driveway.

02 May

Tire Part 3

So I’m standing there with an uninflated tire and a poem in my hand when this red convertible pulls up to me. Two college girls, both wearing skimpy tank tops, are sitting in the front seats. Both have dark blond hair pulled back in pony tails and they’re both wearing sunglasses. The girl in the passenger seat lowers her sunglasses ands says, “you want a ride?”

“Uh, actually, I just need a pump.”

They look at each other like they’ve got some inside joke going on. “We could give you a pump.”

“Or two,” the driver adds. They giggle.

I begin to get a little self-conscious cuz it seems like they’re laughing at me. “Do you actually have a pump? I mean, I just fixed the tire, but I need some air.”

They look at each other again. The driver says, somewhat flirtatiously, “listen, why don’t you leave the bike and come with us?”

“Whoa!” I reply. “Do you know how much I paid for this bike? I mean, I’m just a teacher.”

“Ooh, you’re a teacher?” shotgun girl says. “Maybe you could give us a lesson.” She winks at me.

“Uh, yeah, I guess. I mean, if you’ve got some air, I could teach you all about postmodernism. I teach this science fiction class and current science fiction – well, science fiction within the past 35 years or so – really perfectly illustrates how our mediated world has so degraded the boundary between reality and fiction that in many ways the fiction is more real.”

“I know what you mean,” the driver says. “I love fantasies.” She moves her tongue slowly across her upper lip.

“Actually, we don’t read much fantasy in the class. We stick with stories that use science rather than magic to explain these unreal worlds and situations.”

“Oh,” Ms. Shotgun pouts, “you don’t like magic?”

Just then a big Budweiser tuck passes slowly and pulls over to the side in front of the convertible. A uniformed driver gets out and says, “Got a delivery here for Jenna and Stacy?”

“That’s us!” the convertible driver says, waving her hand in the air. The delivery guy opens up the back of the truck. Inside, there’s a leggy brunette in a cocktail waitress costume. She walks to the edge of the cargo bed as Rod Stewart’s “If You Think I’m Sexy” starts blasting from two speakers positioned at the rear of the cargo hold. She’s carrying a tray. The truck driver offers her hand, which she holds as she steps down; I can now see that the tray has three cans of Budweiser, sweating condensation.

“What do you say?” the shotgun girl asks. “Wanna dance?”

“Aw, I don’t know,” I say. “I’m not really a dancer, and I actually can’t stand Rod Stewart.”

“No problem,” she replies. The driver girl nods to the uniformed Budweiser guy, who hops up into the truck and fiddles with the stereo. The shotgun girl gets out of the car and struts over towards me as “Let’s Talk About Sex” starts playing from the speakers. She begins a little strut dance as she approaches me. It is kind of embarrassing, so I look down at my bike and squeeze the rear tire again.

At this point, another cyclist pulls up behind the convertible and says, “Whoa! What’ going on here!”

The shotgun girl is still dancing in front of me. The driver girl shouts, “Jenna” and indicates the other biker with a nod in his direction.

Jenna looks at him, shakes her head, and walks back to the car. The Bud guy and his cocktail waitress pack up. The music stops abruptly. They all drive off.

“Hey,” I say to the other cyclist. “You got any air?”

“Yeah,” he says, dumbfounded. “What was all that?”

“I don’t know,” I shrug. “She was pretty hot, though, huh?”

30 Apr

Tire Part 2

In the meantime, I looked down on the ground and saw a piece of paper folded four times, lying at my feet. I literally had nothing better to do than to pick it up and unfold it. It turned out to be a poem, written by a girl named Jenny, called “Gum.”

Here it is:


You watch the teacher talking
But all you hear is the smacking in your ear
Like a cow chewing on grass.
He is behind you, poking you with a pencil,
Grinning from ear to ear
Like he’s just won the lottery.
The minty smell on his breath surrounds you
And the smacking just gets louder and louder
And louder.
You turn around and glare at him,
Pounding on his desk.
“Stop it! Stop annoying me!”
The classroom is silent
Except for the smacking of the gum,

29 Apr

Tire Part 1

Did you all get that yesterday’s post was Eileen and not Tim? I haven’t ever seen this juggling dad, unfortunately, but it sounds like a cool routine (in multiple senses of the word).

Yesterday, I got my first flat tire while riding somewhere out by Middleton. I was cruising along a pretty rough road when I heard a loud hiss. I looked down and saw my rear tire rapily shrinking, so I stopped, pulled the bike off the road into someone’s front yard, and got to work. Three or four other riders went by, asking if I needed any help. “No thanks,” I said, confidently.

Recently, I’ve fixed a slough of flats on Eileen’s mountain bike. Last fall, she got one immediately after I replaced a tube, so we took it in to Michael’s Bike Shop (which no longer exists, sadly). Michael himself instructed us on how to replace a tube without any tools. The tire irons often pinch tubes and may actually cause flats themselves; so you just do “this,” he said as he effortlessly pushed the tire back onto the rim, “and you can avoid pinching the tube.” Seemed simple enough. So this spring, when Eileen got another flat, I gave it the old tool-less college try.

I ended up swearing and getting out the tire irons.

Four days later, she had another flat. I prefer to blame the tires themselves, which we replaced thanks to Eileen’s dad, who happened to have a couple of spare mountain bike tires in his basement. But you never know.

In any case, what with the new tires, I now had another opportunity to try the tool-less tube replacement since I would now have to move the old tubes to the new tires. I looked it up online to get a little refresher and then went to work on the rear wheel first. It was humanly impossible to put the damn tire on without tools.

But when it came time for the front wheel, I tried it again and violin! It worked!

So. When my tire hissed yesterday on my ride, I was looking forward to the test. After all, I’d hate to get to the Ironman and get my first flat during the competition. This was all part of the preparation. I started in on the tire removal, coaching myself through the process; it came off relatively easily. Step one, check.

I felt inside the tire for any remaining shards of tube-popping badness. Step two, check.

I got out the CO2 cartridge and the new tube. Step three would be to fill the tube with a little air, so that step four, putting it all back on the rim, would be able to happen without the tube bunching up or twisting. So, I fiddled with the CO2 cartridge, screwed on the nozzle of the “inflation device” and fumbled with it until it started squirting air into my face. I tried pressing buttons that didn’t exist. Then I held my thumb over the nozzle in an attempt to just hold back the pressurized air. Finally, I stuck the device on the tire nozzle and got some air into the tube. I pulled it off the tube’s nozzle, dropped the thing because it was starting to get freezing cold, and watched as the rest of the frosty air leaked from it. Step three, crap.

Step four, which had previously been my biggest worry, went just fine. Check.

Step five (fill the tire with remaining air): see step three.

I put the wheel back on the bike, packed up the old tube and the empty CO2 cartridge, and stood there contemplating the fact that I had just replaced a flat tire with another flat tire. I made a mental note to bring two CO2 cartridges next time.