Bright Spark Grounds Out: Conrad is No More

Conrad the river rat in NYC ready to self-launch

Conrad! Peel me an orange!

I just got word this morning that Rad-Sri-Baba-Mechanical-Pir-O-Mahatma- I-LooZy-ISECKE-I-Findee-Hari-Krishna-Rizbumpomoloid–Vitamin-C-Ascorbate-Kickstand-Dass died alone in his garret. He was found two days after falling off his chair.  Gravity, time and Mother Earth herself finally won the lifelong debate Conrad conducted about how to be Eternal.
As it happens, he was in the middle of re-packaging another year’s worth of Life Extension Mix.

With Conrad, you didn’t really win an argument, you just hoped he’d get tired of ‘debating’. But that never happened.

We met in 1983. He  came to my very first bicycle parts swap up in S.F.  Ever since then he’s been member of Wacky Jacquie’s Elective Phamily.

Eccentric,  Aspie-brilliant and impossibly  slow-talking, Conrad challenged me. I needed a half hour to slow my tommy-gun speech style in order to accommodate his slow-mo conversation. He chose his words carefully. Nevertheless,  I ‘d find myself carrying him up the hill of communication because then I’d get there faster.

It wasn’t long before Conrad helped in Charlie’s shop (there are about a dozen guys who claimed they apprenticed with CC but only two actually did: Scot Nicol and Conrad). Conrad was the only person Charlie trusted for servicing his bikes. He got it fastidiously right–who cares if it took forever? Conrad’s clients were people that didn’t mind paying an hourly wage to a fellow like this, and got good value for their $500 tune-ups.

What’s with the long name? you may  ask.

It was a constantly evolving verbal co-creation of Charlie and Conrad during the time Conrad worked here. Probably seeded by Charlie ‘s obsessive habit of fiddling with words and names.

Isecke is his family name.
“Ice-ekky” didn’t suit him…so it became OHO: “Optimal Health Optimists”. A club of one whose central belief was that if you did everything right, you could extend life. He hoovered up Life Extension Mix by the  ton. We called it ‘Life Extinction Mix”.

Without a doubt, the symmetry of the name OHO pleased him enormously. Not just forward backward, but up, down, and inside out. OHO is orthogonally perfect.

Rigorously pursuing one panacea after another,  he mainlined (joke alert) vitamin C by the gram, the last couple years it was vitamin D.  He expected to live a hundred and sixty years. It was just a matter of cracking the dietary code….He even found an M.D. that would let him operate (without anaesthetic of course)  the  hernia that had bothered him for months. He didn’t believe in hospitals or western medicine. Or eastern. His was the Conradical Code. But the doctor proved to be useful as a back-up. Within two minutes Conrad handed the scalpel over before passing out.

The “Rad-Shri”Baba Mechanical business:

Rad=hey, the dude’s radical, to the bone.  Sri= the a guru of  Mechanical Things. (And the  low-rent lifestyle. I doubt he ever paid more than two hundred dollars per month in rent in the last twenty five years.  He never had heat or a bathroom.  He was as happy as a clam  just crouching over a hole for a year or two, then covering that one up, then “fertilizing” a new spot. Need I tell  you the vegetables from his garden were pretty impressive? Hello County of Marin? You’ll never find those deposits, heh heh.)

Then the “I Loozy-Isecke-I Findee” abbreviates one of the worst days in his life. He was at Aquatic Park on Earth Day around  1986 and the usual environmental mob was there.    Standing over his  highly customized Cunningham lying in the grass at his feet he became engrossed in conversation–and (two hours later, probably) when he looked down, the bike wasn’t there.

We were astonished when, through incredible diligence,  he managed to recover it.  A detailed drawing of his bike listing all the distinguishing features was plastered all over the Bay Area and put it in every bike shop. He might have even offered a reward. Miraculously, the bike came back.

We tried similar tactics when Charlie’s personal bike was stolen from that ‘museum’ exhibit at United Airlines terminal, but I digress and no luck).

Wanna know what those features  were?

a)an insanely wide gear ratio that actually worked with index shifting

b)racks

c) kickstand, lights, and an Amish triangular reflector

Then, risbumpomiloid came from R.S.B.M.P.O.M.I. get it? (See long name above). Here at Taj Mahovel we sing that name out loud, in unison. In later years Conrad prefered either O Wise One, Conradical or Colonel Radish.
He was a staunch advocate of the recumbent cycler’s order. A consummate mechanic, but so obsessive that a client  might end up with a four hundred dollar bicycle overhaul. Wealthier folk unblinkingly retained him as their personal mechanic;  there is no one who can match his combination of  expertise and deftness of (grimy) hand.

He told stories that enthralled me during a (suddenly very short) 9- hour trip (in his ToyOHOta CorOHOlla) to the Las Vegas Bike Dealer’s Show.  All I had to do was ask, and I got:   disquisitions about the IRS,  past jobs, nutrition,  and cannibal philosophy. Conrad was a card-carrying member of an anthrophagous cult. “If someone died, we’d distract the authorities long enough to saw a limb off, to carry back to the Cannibal Clubhouse, so everyone could return him or her to life’s big recycling bin”.  Adding a new level of meaning to the word “membership”.

In the mid-60′s he had got in on the porn craze. First as an actor, then–since the productions were so crappy– as a director! Let your mind boggle.

Impecunious but brazen, he once stowed away on a cruise ship and sailed halfway around the world for free.   He moved up and down the different decks all day, then burrow under a pile of poolside deck pads to sleep. Lived on candy from the gift shop since he knew he couldn’t pass the strict sartorial rules for dinner. As he put it: “It was a British company…and their manners were so impeccable that, rather than outright accusing me of not being on the passenger list, the steward invited me to the weekly swim match…adding ” by the way , which room are you staying in, so we can mark you down? “.

The jig was up.

Belowdecks, he was allowed his freedom among the sweaty guys with the long oars or whoever hangs in the engine room. But when they transferred him to an American boat he was locked in the brig, then dumped in a Hawaiian jail. I believe he had to come up with a little dough to get out, not sure, though.
His excessive (to me desirably excessive) tidyness was the result of having grown up on a very cramped little  boat on the Hudson. Four kids, two adults.
I wish I had a good modern picture of him, but all mine feature him with a toothbrush in his mouth, savagely attacking dental caries (about three decades too late, alas, just like Charlie). He was a fixture at CC & my 8-8-88  wedding…

mealtime on the houseboat--con's the redhead on the right. Nearest the viewer.

Conrad came from an amazing family of leftist peaceniks,  the third of four–read this story.

My last visits were weekly grocery drop-offs (which he dismissed, but I left the bags there for him to eat in secret, cuz he really was starving).  His standards were very high; stuff had to be organic. And yet: he had about two year’s worth of canned whole chickens (I never heard of such a thing before I met him), which were of course not organic, they were purchased in the 1950′s. Mackerel by the case lined up on the shelves.

Stickers pasted (neatly) on every vertical surface. I shall make a flicker catalogue some day..

Sayonara, old friend. No more fretting about that ruined hip of yours, or World War III. I’m pretty sure you’ll be bumping into my hero Carla Zilbersmith on your way to eternity.

~ by jacquiephelan on May 7, 2010.

22 Responses to “Bright Spark Grounds Out: Conrad is No More”

  1. Well….I guess you should give eulogies. I suppose you also could say that you collect friends. Those people that collect friends have a few like Rad-Sri-Baba-Mechanical-Pir-O-Mahatma- I-LooZy-ISECKE-I-Findee-Hari-Krishna-Rizbumpomoloid–Vitamin-C-Ascorbate-Kickstand-Dass. I have collected a few over the years myself.

  2. I would not have guessed that Conrad was 67 years of age.

  3. He’ll surely be missed… Thankful to have had one of those trips to the Vegas Bike Show with Conradical. So much still to learn from him…

    • Jacquie, this loving tribute made me laugh and cry. Thank you

      To see or to post photos and stories of Conrad, Len and Tamara Rubin have created the Oho Memorial Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Conrad-Oho-Memorial-Page/125959004084593?ref=ts . I put the recent Christmas and Thanksgiving photos there.

      The day he died, I visited Conrad for about two and a half hours. He was putting finishing touches on Zach’s customer’s recumbent trike. He was looking very well. His clicking Geiger counter was monitoring background radiation. His tools and cans of mackerel were lined up with precision. He had just received a carton of Life Extension food supplements. He told a story about his Optimal Health Optimists days in San Francisco flat and offered to share his photo album which I had last viewed 25 years ago. I was cold in the shop in my bike shorts so I said I’d come back. I returned Tuesday, the next day, with a gift of cheese. When he did not answer his door or his phone, I put the cheese in his outdoor fridge. I got the news on Thursday.

      Conrad chose his words and lived his life with strong, clear intentions and frugal economy. Soon after we met, he told me that his name means “teacher”. I learned so many unforgettable lessons from C. Onra Dish, our dearest friend!

  4. I read the cannibal site last night – barf

    I knew CO only from reputation – for a lot of people his name was synonymous with top level bike wrenching. I wish I’d met him.

  5. Your memorial for him here makes a person really wish she’d known the fellow. He sounds like he was a heck of a guy who’ll have left an awful big empty space.

  6. Hey Jacquie, I never noticed he talked slow … but he did talk and when I visited him for even the smallest reason I allowed at lest an hour and a half before I could leave.
    It was unhandy having to pay cash for his work but not paying taxes was part of his lifestyle. (the sacrifices one has to make to be a through and through libertarian)
    They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

  7. I only met Conrad a couple of times at Interbike over the years. I’m not even sure how we ended up talking there, but I’m happy to meet characters like him with their fresh perspectives and their enthusiasm for their craft. From one of those meetings, I recall the custom XL derailleur cage that Jacquie alluded to above. That appealed to my inner gearing-techie. Thanks for the write-up Jacquie

  8. Thank you Jacquie for writing about my mysterious uncle Conrad. I’ve been learning more about him and I wish I would have gotten to know him better. I’m glad he had you for a friend.

  9. In the 70s(?) Conrad lived in the house next door to us in San Francisco on Belvedere St. Actually he lived in a sort of back yard cabin of the house next door. The space was very much like that of his most recent place.
    He was very unusual but had convincing arguments about big issues. Global financial disaster was a topic then and Conrad had some good arguments for getting into gold coins. I ran out and got some gold coins after hearing his well spoken arguments. Finally the coins are worth several times what I paid for them. You just have to wait for it.
    I meet up with Conrad 30+ years later when I purchased my first recumbent bike. Only a few weeks ago he did a complete maintenance job on my trike. He did the job even with his hip problem. In conversation with him I found he was still a convincing proponent of non mainstream ideas and a great source of technical information.
    I will miss him.
    Thanks for your enlightening piece, Jacquie.

  10. When was the photo with the orange taken? That’s pretty much how I remember him looking when I last saw him about 15 years ago. I can see my dad in him too.

    • Dorie, I forward this to you from Thyme who took the photos in 2002. “These photos of Conrad were taken in Lake County just south of Middletown, when Conrad and I were searching for a country community in 2002. We were picnicing on the grass near the Mirabel Springs sign. Thyme S Siegal”

  11. Conrad was most certainly one of the very most unique friends I ever had. Soneone uncoutably standard deviations toward the edges of any number of bell curves, yet at the same time completely genuine and un-assuming. Not a posturer or a pretender. I had the pleasure of watching him during part of his seemingly endlessly deliberate, patient work assembling and fine tuning (including installing ultra wide gear ratios) on my Gold Rush and Titanium Aero… and later purchased (from a responder to this remarkable and loving obituary) a second “spare” Ti Aero nearly idencially customized by Conrad. We prowled a thrift shop local to me together quite a few times. Early in our acquaintance we got into some FIERCE political arguments, and it’s a tribute to Conrad that he could aruge issues and reasoning, and not get mired in the personal ire that so often goes with heated arguments. We butted heads quite a few times, tho in more recent years settled down to quite a respectful friendship.

    Through all our political differences, what came through in every discussion was his fierce desire for social justice, and for a rational and wise relationship between humans and animate and inanimate beauty and resources of this fragile world we live on.

    A truly remarkable fellow.

    Perhaps awareness of the circumstances of his death (so clearly provided in the obituary above) will help some learn to abandon belief in pseudo-science and voodoo medicine and dietary and other quackery (such as homeopathy and acupuncture)… and rejection of evidence-based scientific medicine… that sadly contributed to Conrad’s immobility toward the end of his life, and MAY have been a factor in the event that took his life.

    Still, it is a tribute to the man that he “did it his way”, simply and determinedly, to a far greater extent than nearly anyone else I have ever known.

    His 67 years were a celebration of the most unique individuality, and trueness to his own nature.

    Oblivion has claimed him. He exists no more in any concrete form. But he touched the lives of many. And those will touch the lives of others. In that sense, if not any other, parts of him will, I suspect, live as long as people walk the earth.

    —————-

    Tribe follows tribe,
    and nation follows nation
    like the waves of the sea.
    It is the very order of nature,
    and regret is therefore useless.
    Tho your time of decay may be distant,
    it will surely come.
    Even the white man,
    who claims to have walked and talked with his god,
    cannot in the end escape the final destiny.
    Perhaps in this respect, we can all still be brothers.
    We will see.

    —Chief Seattle

    —————–

    “The dignity that we seek in dying must be found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives. The art of dying is the art of living. The honesty and grace of the years of life that are ending is the real measure of how we die. It is not in the last weeks or days that we compose the message that will be remembered, but in all the decades that preceded them. Who has lived in dignity, dies in dignity. ”

    —Sherwin Nuland, from “How We Die”

    ——————

    —marty

    Martin H. Goodman MD

  12. We’ll certainly miss Conradish. I’ll certainly post pix I took of him when I come across them on the FaceBook page eh. I got to go to Interbike with him and Zach a couple of times, watch him eat spinach and mackerel from cans, brush his teeth at the internet kiosk at the show and tear the head off (verbally) of a guy in the new company section at IB, marketing a conical sidewall generator system for a front light kit, and how the cones shape was all wrong and supremely inefficient. Also loved his modern interpretation of the Chinese hat that he would wear with pride at the IB demo days…and elsewhere. He did one complete mtb build up for me, that was divine of course and some misc. projects. I tried to pick his brain in his shop space about his ultimate do-it-all bike design, that was in some ways related to some step-through frames he had hanging from the ceiling for future use and prototyping to see if I could use my influence with Randy at RANS to migrate some of his philosophies into the new crank forward models that intrigued him. He was the Bike-o-pedia before Wikipedia, and I gleaned as much I could on our wrenching sessions. Wonder if he kept a journal of shop tips or other resolutions he discovered through his experiences? I still take time to grind cable ends perpendicularly flat because he said bad cable prep will make high zoot parts work like crap, and secure the front derailleur cable to the side for FD upper mech. with a small zip tie, trimmed with flush cutters of course. In the hotel room we shared on our IB trips he would sleep in some simple cycling base layers, on his side (through the whole night) with just a sheet…made me jealous that he could achieve such peace at night, and put all his thoughts on a shelf till the sun came up. I loved little Geo Metro and gas sipping mind set. On the final down grade coming into Vegas we’d had to put my Hondy Ody into Neutral “mexican overdrive” and see how fast it would coast while the tach. rested at 1k rpm…think we hit 78mph and smiled…efficiently :) I was a good listener, and he was a great teacher. Fortunately we got to see him one last time at Zach and Michi’s wedding. That day I didn’t feel that his energy level was the same, but he still wore a smile playing a wooden jungle drum, and conversing over hummus and veggies. Bon voyage my friend. I will never eat a radish again without thinking of you, or your creative fertilizing methods, peak oii, 911 conspiracy…well you know…

  13. In the photo of the Isecke kids around the table, Conrad is on the far right, a redhead even then. Check out the Conradish smile. The blond behind him is John.

  14. oh my gosh Jaquie, first Janice, whom I really only knew through racing, but now Colonel Radish.

    My my my god. I first learned of his techinical prowness through Michael Waughtel and Marilyn Price. I was one of the shop rats when the shop was in Corte Madera off of Sunrise Avenue…..Jesus fing Christ…he did a job for me only a year ago. How time flys…..my how I miss the endless arguments about OHO health systems and alternative living. Live long my brother….your spirit and dedication to your craft will live on.

  15. It was with shock but not surprise that I learned of my brother Conrad’s death. He was 51 weeks older then me and as kids we were very close. As young adults we went in different directions. I have long known that he had removed himself from what to me is “mainstream” society. In recent history we had occasional e-mail or phone contact that was sometimes contentious. I have come to learn and am sincerely gratified that that while he left a world that’s normal to me he found something that was far more comfortable and right for him.
    This past weekend in a hectic trip from East to West and back I was lucky enough to meet and enjoy the hospitality and recollections of many of his friends. I thank all of you for being part of his world.

  16. “..with the rising of the sun and with it’s setting, we will remember ..”

  17. Dear Charlie and Jacquie,

    Thank you again for sharing your memories of Conrad and for the good visit at your house.

    Jacquie, you have a gift – your writing about Conrad shares clarity, insight, joy; it’s balm for the heart.

    Charlie, if Conrad criticized your “housekeeping” it was only to be able to find a flaw so that he could keep from idolizing you, the best employer and companion in work he could ever have hoped to have. My mind still wanders in your workshop which has joined my happy memories of a handful of perfect places.

    I wanted to send a card, but I don’t have your mailing address so I’ve attached it instead.

    If you send a mailing address, I will send some of Bob’s stickers.

    See you at the Solstice Party.—Carol Goodwin Blick

  18. Jacquie, just read your Conrad tribute. So sorry to hear of his passing. Back in 1998, Conrad built-up and dialed-in my Cunningham bike from the frame and parts. On that first day I met him, there he was sleeping up in his little loft. After looking through his impressive stash of parts (and listening to him discuss the virtues of his numerous NOS Biopace cranksets) he said he was in a rush because he was going to ride the San Rafael Bridge over to the East Bay once it got dark. A few weeks later, along with my complete bike, he gave me a handwritten built sheet-cum-invoice that went on for 2 pages. From custom-profiling the cluster teeth to improving the grip between the tire bead and the rim, I can certainly see how Charlie recommended him.

  19. Jacquie, thanks for the memories of Conrad and the link to the story of his childhood and family in NYC. I just heard of his death today–sometimes news travels slowly, even in these accelerated times.
    Conrad appeared at one of the IHPVA events, perhaps at Indy in the mid-1980′s, and we were friends almost instantly. While we had limited contact the rest of the year, we always picked up where we left off at the next event.
    The story that I’ve told many times was Conrad’s tale of unsupported bike touring in Japan, staying at a rural monastery… and his unannounced appearance at the Shimano factory, on Sunday no less. After considerable negotiation with security, someone of very high stature in the company appeared and he was given a red carpet tour!
    The story that I’ve never passed on (until now) is one I remember almost daily. I built up an Alex Moulton AM7 with drops and bmx brake levers mounted low, designed to fit inside one of my prototype front fairings. Nearly from the start, both brake cable outers kinked where they left the adjuster screws. While Conrad was taking in the rest of the bike, I clearly saw a look of silent disdain cross his face–that cable routing just wasn’t right. I had to agree with him, it looked bad. However, over 20 years later and many, many thousands of miles on that bike (on mostly flat terrain), the same cables are working fine, just inspected the inners a couple of weeks ago. They will remind me of Conrad for a long time to come.

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