Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Sofy Cloth

My fifteen dollar made-in-China Aspen Sports Watch came with some pretty specific instructions about its “funtion.” Yesterday I shared with you how its insurance card said “this product would be insuranced all functions well” by the company. The owner’s manual grabbed your attention right away. (Below: My Aspen Watch still going strong at 3:37 during the NYCM, even if I'm not.)


. Becatse the electron meter made by precise electron spares, so you can’t dismantle sillfully, except appoint expert.
. It can’t be pushed button underwater while you swimming.
. It must be repaired right now by the appoint expert while there have some water vapor.
. The electron meter can bear the generalshake. But it must be avoid within strong collide. Strong shake. Used rudely and falled on the spolit place.
. It can’t be used in extremely hot or bitter cold weather.

. It can’t be washed in chemistry matters. Soap. Otherwise it will corroded the rubber sheet of the surface. So it can only be cleaned in sofy cloth.
. It can’t be carried in strong electric field and static electricity cytle etc.

. Lot electricity will be lossed if long using cool light crystal.
. Cool light is not to be seen under sunlight.

I have enjoyed this little instruction booklet even more than the watch, which I don’t use anymore. The timepiece sits on a shelf fifteen months after my 2006 NYCM, still showing that marathon’s net time of 3:52:34, with its “alarum” going off at 7 am every morning.

But from reading these delightful directions, I know the Aspen Sports Watch can “bear the generalshake” so long as the “strong collide” is avoided. If you invented this watch, you would want it to bear your name too, and you certainly would be appalled if it was “used rudely.”

I think General Shake created the “sofy cloth” too, with which you can clean “the rubber sheet of the surface” without having to resort to washing it “in chemistry matters.” I’ll bet the sofy cloth could clean anything. (Right: Is that a beauty on my right wrist or what?)

That’s what I would like to obtain the franchise for, the sofy cloth. Anybody know how I can contact General Shake?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

General Shake

Before the 2006 NYCM I bought an Aspen "running" watch at a drug store counter for $15. It was single function stopwatch/wristwatch and it took me through the five boroughs, exactly recording my time of 3:52:34. Manufactured in China, I call it my General Shake watch, imagining him to be the inventor of the timing device as well as the brother of the more famous General Tso, creator of the tasty chicken dish. The timer's instructions are as hilarious as they are incomprehensible. I am not making this up.

The instructions are a half page of written text and a page and a half of schematics with brief explanations accompanying each diagram. They are a little hard to follow, despite the lavish illustrations. For instance:



It identies the power source as

(Bettery: Cr2016)

The really funny stuff is in the written instruction section:



This product would be insuranced all functions well by our company, since you buy it within one year. If the product malfunction, our company would injust or repair it free.
But when following conditions happened, you should pay the ray material fee.
. When you didn't obey the pay attention matters lead to the product damage.
, Battary were used up and appearance fade, scar etc. You must show the insutance card when it repaired.
Date buyed:
the retail dealer's seal:
(The card will effective after sealed by te retail dealer.)

Next Up:


...electron meter can bear the generalshake. But it must be avoid within strong collide. Strong shake. Used rudely and falled...

General Shake wrote this section, I'm guessing. Wait til you read about the sofy cloth.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fantasy Football

Is Tom Terrific going to complete his dream season in Super Bowl XLII on Sunday? Or are Osi, Justin, Michael, and Fred going to rain on his parade? (Left: Working on the Brady Bunch. Tom's ex, Bridget Moynahan.)

I already completed my dream season. I won my Fantasy Football league's championship. My team was (ahem) the DC Spinsters.

Two years ago I was a novice at it and lacked savvy. I got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, but I won the shadow playoffs, made up of the first-round losers, and came in fifth.

Last year I made the championship game but the opposing QB, a guy named Marc Bulger, had a hall-of-fame week and I lost. Marc who? Exactly.

This year I won it all.

My secret was to let the computer draft my team. It strictly applies a formula to the needs of your team versus players available when your turn comes up, while everyone else is playing hunches and using rank favoritism to pick players.

Then I made big trades and scoured the waiver wire for pickups. Before the season started I traded my starting WR and RB, two big name players, for Randy Moss and Clinton Portis. Neither Moss nor Portis had done much the year before so they were a gamble. They both turned out to be scorers who had banner years and paid terrific dividends. (Right: Tom's current, Gisele Bundchen.)

You have to give value to get value. Late in the season I traded the best tight end, Antonio Gates, for a productive RB coming back from a mid-season injury. I was able to do this because I picked up the Redskins' TE, Chris Cooley, on waivers. He was very productive and had his best year, and the RB I acquired was prolific as well.

Lastly I did not change my lineup at all during the final five weeks. This drove league members batty, who were playing weekly match-ups (essentially, game-time hunches).

Fantasy Football is a godsend for the NFL, a marketing dream. In recent years I had fallen away from devoting my Sundays to watching football on TV. All the regular season games seemed to be the same. I could name only four or five NFL players. Suddenly I found myself watching the Tennessee Titans play the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if Reggie Williams would catch a ten-yard pass and pick up a Fantasy Football point. I was delirious if he scored a TD (six points). Reggie who? Exactly. (Below: My man Reggie.)

Some people in the league subscribed to NFL services and got live feeds. They’d be watching two games on two TVs, listening to a third on the radio, keeping track of yet another game in the corner of their computer and be getting live information on players in the red zone at that exact moment streaming across the top of their laptop screens. Can you spell revenue bonanza?

If the NFL ran its games back-to-back-to-back all day Saturday and Sunday, half the men in America would not emerge from their houses during weekends in the fall. Ever.

Fantasy Football. A football fan's dream and a football widow's nightmare.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Half Done

The Reebok Wirefly National Half-Marathon Training Group Program I run with on Saturdays is half over. We had our eighth long run on Saturday. (Left: Jeannie's group forming up outside Gotta Run,)

Jeannie was back from her travels (Germany, India, Egypt, Jordan and Israel, the Pakistan segment was cancelled because of the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Bhutto) so she took the novice group on a nine-mile tour of the heart of DC (Iwo, Key Bridge, the Georgetown Waterfront, Rock Creek Park, the Mall, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon). This is a woman who gets around!

(Right: Wintertime on the Mall.) Sasha was out of town so I took over her intermediate group. We attached ourselves to Matt's advanced group and ran twelve miles through South Arlington at a 9:30 pace.

The area is a warren of raised highways down there and Matt showed us how to get from the north-south Mt. Vernon Bike Trail which runs along the Potomac to the east-west W&OD Bike Trail which runs forty miles out past Leesburg. The W&OD maddeningly stops a mile short of the Potomac and is a veritable dead-end.

(Left: Wintertime on the Tidal Basin.) Making your way from the Mt. Vernon Trail to the W&OD involves obscure twists and turns along the city streets of Alexandria to a pedestrian bridge over twelve lanes of I-395 at Shirlington, a charming section of Arlington comprised of restaurants and shops. This route is known for the most part only to bicyclists, who are usually the only fit people in the area who know how to get from Virginia to DC without taking the hilly Custis Trail in North Arlington. After years of talk, money has finally been appropriated to extend the W&OD one more mile to the Potomac.

Coming back we ran the eleventh mile up Ridge Road, a long steep hill in South Arlington infamous to local runners. I was leading at what I thought was a strong pace, but as I huffed and puffed up the hill looking desperately for the crest, I could hear Matt and his group members casually chatting while following along right behind me. After the run Jeannie and Not Born To Run made time to go out for coffee with me so the morning provided an excellent start to the weekend. (Right: Matt's fast group made me an honorary member last week,)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Uh, whatever

I got in a little family hot water last fall when I received an email from one of my sisters saying that my nephew had become engaged to some woman he'd met on some trip he'd taken. I didn't know the woman but that sounded nice. When they set a wedding date, I supposed I'd focus on it and see if I could go.

My sister was outraged. None of her siblings sent her son a congratulatory email. She definitely had a check list going. I asked when the wedding was taking place so that I could circle the date on my calendar.

She said that it was going to be sometime during the summer. Of 2009. In Canada.

Ahh! I don't have a 2009 calendar yet, but I sure do have plenty of time to get a passport.

More recently I received a call from my sister inquiring whether I was likely to attend. For a week. In Canada. On some indeterminate date in the summer of 2009. And would I be bringing a S.O?

I'm not even dating currently. But at least my sister didn't ask if any of my three estranged sons, who haven't spoken to anybody on my side of the family for five years, would be coming.

It sounded like some list was being created. Some talk was evidently underfoot about renting a family compound so that all of the future in-laws from the states could gather together to bond or commune on the celebrated union or something. For a week. In Canada. On some indeterminate date in the summer of 2009.

Without hesitation I said to put me down as a yes on all counts.

What would you have done?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad

My father was born on this day during the roaring twenties. I was present when he died in 1986 after a courageous battle with lung cancer. I remember my mother standing over him weeping quietly, my brother sitting next to him with a long, set face, and my father obviously choosing that exact moment to leave us because it was time.

He was the most influential person in my life. Father, husband, lawyer, scholar, soldier, leader, doer, ethical man.

He just got things done with no fanfare. In WW2 he was a radioman in the Marines. At the battle of Okinawa he was atop a ridgeline during a torrential downpour when his aerial was struck by lightning.

This was one of the few war stories he ever told, none of which involved "combat." It came up in relation to another family member's description of a close encounter with lightning.

He said he was alone on a hilltop transmitting in the rain when suddenly there was a brilliant flash and a terrific sound. He was dazed and looked down to see sparks shooting from his fingertips. Then it got quiet and he realized that a lightning bolt had struck his extended antenna.

That was all he said about it but I asked him what he did next. I had visions of the forties equivalent of dialing 911 to get medical attention there fast, at least to look him over.

He said, "Oh, I got up, ambled around for a minute, decided I was okay and so I went back to transmitting."

Those were the days. That's the type of man he was. That's how he spoke. He was a hero to me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

More beginnings

Yesterday I tole you about the single best inspiration I got when I first started running in 2000, the comment to go longer.

Today I’ll tell you what was the single best advice I received at that time, the suggestion to run early. I consider these two conversations, both so different, to be the linchpins of whatever success I have enjoyed as a runner, I really do. I can relive both conversations in my mind’s eye as if they occurred eight days ago instead of eight years ago.

I was talking with a colleague at work about my effort to lose weight by running and dieting. She said simply, "Run in the morning. That way you’ll never have an excuse not to run."

So simple and yet so...true. Her advice immediately took hold in me and I developed the habit of arising from bed, donning my running apparel, going to the curb and beginning my run in about 3-4 minutes. I would run 2.1 miles out and back at a swift pace and be back in under twenty minutes. I would head inside and enter the shower in about 2-3 minutes. That was it. I went from lying in bed to entering the shower, my run already done, in twenty-five minutes.

I stayed with this routine for at least three years until it became ingrained. I developed a liking for running alone. It gave me time to reflect, to sort things out. When my wife filed for divorce, thus initiating five years of nuclear litigation, running kept me sane. Because divorce litigation is insane.

My routines have changed somewhat, to be sure. I like running with people now. I don’t run so fast. I run longer (further). Sometimes I run on the Mall at noon.

But whenever I need to jump start my running, I return to 6:30 a.m. runs of short and fast duration. My old standby route is 2.5 miles out and back on a nearby secondary road that cuts through the warren of subdivisions around where I live. This run includes a pretty nice hill and has a large school parking lot at its furthest point, which I use for running backwards while pretending to be an NFL cornerback. There are a few steps there too which I pound up and down whenever nobody is around.

If I hit the turnaround point at right around ten minutes, I’m running well and will finish with sub-eight minute miles (it’s downhill on the way back). Those are morning runs worth remembering. Evening runs just aren’t the same.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

In the beginning

It was around this time eight years ago that I crawled into the very back of my closest and found an old pair of tennis sneakers that were fifteen years old. I slipped on some droopy white cotton socks, a pair of cotton summer shorts, a white t-shirt and a sweatshirt that said "Colorado" and went outside to the curb. I took some deep breaths while I swung my arms around. I pointed myself up the street and took off.

Gasping, I reached the top of the block, a quarter mile up. Gratified to have successfully navigated this foray into the unknown, I stopped and walked back to my house in the January chill, huffing and puffing. I was on my way to fitness after decades of sloth.

I was positively glowing. I had started dieting a few days earlier and I was determined that the pounds would drop away. I was already planning to make this three minute dash a daily occurrence. Diet and exercise.

At home my wife watched me come in and offered up her insight. "Two weeks. That's how long these new phases of yours last, two weeks." I showered and went to work.

At the office, my radiant state of exercise bliss returned. I was unusually voluble. I encountered a co-worker and unhesitatingly told her, "I ran today."

She looked at me curiously. "Oh really?"

"Yeah," I said casually. "I put on my shorts and sweat shirt and ran to the end of my block. I'm doing that every morning now."

She looked at me even more curiously. "And do you live on the world's longest block?"

I already didn't like the way this was going. First my wife's two weeks comment, now this. Where was the supportive gush, the effusive praise?

"No," I said a little defensively. "It's just an ordinary block."

"Did you run back?"

"No but there's a little hill at the end."

She laughed witheringly. "You put your shorts on for that?"

This was a valuable observation for me, one that I have always appreciated and adhered to since that day. Go longer (do more). The intention isn't the actualization. The beginning isn't the consummation.

In fact, thanks in large part to this starkly critical appraisal from a neutral source upon my first effort, I was soon up to running two miles a day. I was soon down to wearing size 33 pants.

I am still in those size 33 pants, and have long since given away those stacks of size 38 tent material I used to wear.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We are free at last.

Monday was a federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work in promoting racial equality through non-violent means. On August 28, 1963, Dr. King cried out these words from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to a gathering of a quarter million onlookers and supporters.

We have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Today in honor of Dr. King, the weekly running group I lead at noon from my agency ran down to the spot on the Tidal Basin where the future Martin Luther King Memorial will be constructed, next to the FDR Memorial. It will have a full view of the Jefferson Memorial across the water and be within sight of the Washington Monument through the trees.

In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

From a moment’s reflection at this quiet spot, we ran on down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, from which steps Dr. King spoke his famous words on that portentous day.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.

The group climbed the high steps of this temple of freedom and looked out over the hallowed plain of equality containing its oases of sacrifice manifested by the Vietnam Wall, the Korean War Memorial, the WWI Memorial, the WW2 Memorial and in the far away distance, the Civil War Memorial shimmering in front of the Capitol. Then we ran back along the Reflecting Pool to work, having travelled four miles immersing ourselves in history and having spent forty minutes basking in greatness.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bag of Dreams

HO is for scale (1:72), not Christmas.

I was in the toy section of a thrift store over the weekend when I found a bulging bag of small WW2 soldiers, HO scale, with some little vehicles and supply-train items in there too. Among the infantrymen, machine gunners and tanks in the bag were rubber rafts (for the commandos to paddle across rivers in), pontoon bridges (to lay across the Rhine River when Germany was reached) and blasted storefronts (so the tiny soldiers could lay ambushes). (Below: British Commandos on the job.)

There were hundreds of lilliputian-sized combatants in various poses of combat, wielding automatic and semi-automatic weapons suitable for clearing any street during an intense firefight. The bag was priced at $2.50. Some volunteer store clerk had taken this clear gallon baggie loaded with a boy's dreams and put it out to the uncaring public for a song.

This treasure trove represented scores of dollars (for the soldiers when new) and hundreds of hours (of memories for the boy who played with them). Put out for...anyone.

These soldiers were of a type I played with as a boy. Purchased at hobby outlets and stored in raisinette candy boxes in my room according to their nationality, these servicemen were always ready to stem the tide, hold the line, not let them pass, take the fight to the enemy. The Germans (gray) were there to provide opposition and the Tommies (tan) and Yanks (olive drab) were there to win the war. I never had any use for Russians (bluish green), after all, what did they do in the war besides partition Poland with the Germans in the first place and get it started? (Left: The Opposition. Germans.)

This bag had Russian soldiers in it though, and even some Union (blue) and Confederate (gray) Civil War troops. With this supply a boy could conduct a century's worth of pivotal campaigns from Gettysburg to Tet in one long weekend of play, alone in his bedroom with armies waxing and waning across the floor.

I felt bad for the boy whose Mother (or the decedent whose estate) had so cavalierly packaged up all of these memories and sent them down to the local secondary retail outlet. I purchased the bag full of soldiers and put it on a shelf in the empty bedroom of my son who used to play with toy soldiers. (Last summer I came across three decrepit green plastic armymen embedded in the dirt behind the garage, at an old battle site of his obviously, and I near to cried.) Although I examined the tiny soldiers in their various poses through the clear bag, I didn’t have the heart to open it and paw through it. (Below: The wages of war. A Barclay Podfoot Dimestore Lead Soldier (bigger than HO scale) sporting a wound and perambulating about on crutches.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Professional Bull Riders

I have a cousin first removed from Colorado who is a professional bull rider on the PBR circuit. He is 20, being close to the age of my oldest son and having the same first name of James. Both boys were named in part for my father who died around the time they were born. They also shared my last name, with my cousin having it as his middle name, until my son changed his last name on his 21st birthday. Let's call my oldest son Jim, and leave him out of the rest of this post. (Left: Jimmy riding a bull at a high school meet.)

Jimmy placed third nationally as a bull rider in high school. My understanding of bull riding is that it is the longest eight seconds in sport. You have to ride a rip-snorting bull tearing around a ring for that long, bareback, holding on with one hand to a rope cinched around the bull's middle, keeping the free hand up so it doesn't touch the bull. If you haven't been bucked off in eight seconds, then you have to dismount this frenzied 2,000 pound bucking and spinning behemoth and get away from him before he gores or tramples you. Rodeo clowns help out by darting past the bull to distract him when you let go and go flying. (Right: Jimmy aboard another bull at a high school meet.)

You get stylistic points and the bull is also rated, the more frenetic he is the better. You get zero points for any ride under 8.0 seconds.

Jimmy has earned $12,842.20 in two seasons on the professional circuit. Over the years he has broken his leg, elbow and nose and separated his shoulder while riding bulls. I heard that he was coming to Fairfax later this month to a PBR event at the Patriot Center (GMU).

You may know that my three sons have been estranged from me ever since the courts sanctioned and assessed costs of almost $50,000 against their Mother for inserting them as minors into the middle of our bitter divorce litigation (some persons view actions such as hers to be a form of child abuse called PAS). Anyway, weeks ago I wrote to my two adult sons under 21 and invited them to go with me to watch Jimmy perform his eight seconds.

I never heard back from the lads, which doesn't surprise me because no child of mine has communicated with anyone on my side of the family in five years. (That's a hallmark of PAS.) When Jimmy comes to Virginia, I'm going to go see him. Yeeha!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Winter running

It's cold! Frigid even, 23 degrees with a gusting wind. Treadmill weather? Not necessarily.

I never run inside, so that makes it easy for me. Unless it's icy-treacherous underfoot, I'll be running outside.

The secret to running in the cold is thin layering. Compression shorts and polyester warm-up pants take care of your lowers, along with polyester socks and good running shoes of course. Tights and long trunks work too.

The uppers should be all-polyester items (a little nylon or spandex for "grab ability" is okay). Go to Target and stock up for under $20 per item. Or Walmart for a dollar or two less. These are not pretty running togs, just cheap and effective.

Today I wore a tank top, a short sleeve t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt and a nylon wind shirt. I took off the wind-shirt and tied it around my waist when I got hot.

I also wore polyester gloves and a stretchy thin polyester headband that I pulled down around my neck for a loose neck warmer when my ears got hot. I wore my small waist pack with my camera, money, a fare card, a GU packet and a small tube of Vaseline stuffed inside. I carried my half-liter water bottle. When my hands got hot, I hung my gloves on my waist pack belt.

I would have added a polyester scarf (go to Old Navy), a polyester fleece zip-up (22 bucks at Target) and a polyester mesh ball cap if it had been really frigid and windy.

What I have described is actually not that much stuff. I keep it all isolated on a shelf on which I keep only running gear. I also have a yard-sale dresser dedicated to my various sizes and types of running shirts, shorts, leggings, sox etc. I call it the Polyesser. I can be out the door in 5 minutes with a stop at my Polyesser and shelf.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Halves

I ran my fourth race of the new year this morning, the JFK 20K, an out and back on the Capitol Crescent Trail (CCT), which starts out underneath the Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown and runs to Bethesda. This club race was offered up as an alternative to a 12-mile training run from Gotta Run in Arlington for the Half Program I direct getting runners ready for the Wirefly National Half-Marathon on March 29th.

Overall Director Ed, two coaches and everyone from the Marathon Training Program were there. From the Half Program, Matt, who coaches the fast group, and his two runners showed up. Everyone else in the Program ran 8-10 miles on the Mall with Sasha, Jeannie and NBTR, feeling their mileage base wasn't suitable yet for a 12.4 mile run in the seventh week.

At 9 am we were off. It snowed yesterday but the trail was mostly clear with a few icy spots. There's not much to say about an unvaried out-and-back course. The CCT runs upriver through the woods. I ran 52:47 going out (8:30) and 49:47 coming back (8:00) for an overall time of 1:42:35 (8:15), good for 62nd place out of perhaps 100 runners.

Matt won Program honors, placing, I believe, in the top ten or so (he's modest and won't say). Ed was next, followed I guess by his two coaches, but I don't know their names and really don't know where they placed. Matt's two runners kicked my ass, with Gene turning in a 1:34 and Rita reeling off a 1:40. I beat all the Marathon trainees. (Left: Rita and Gene with me after one of the Program's Wednesday evening track workouts. Their speed work was apparent in their excellent race times.)

I was running alone after the turnaround but four runners overhauled me in the last three miles. I kept ahead of the the guy from Texas at least, and a woman friend of mine who beat me by over a minute at the club 10-miler two weeks ago. My pace was a second per mile faster than that shorter race, so I guess I'm slowly improving. My time was eight minutes slower than the last 20K I did eighteen months ago.

I was exactly three minutes faster on the return than I was going out. I rarely do negative splits. Good race execution, you say? Nah. Ed with his 305 put it in perspective afterwards as we relaxed at the Georgetown Running Company. He reported that his Garmin indicated we'd climbed 265 feet by the turnaround at Bethesda. It was all downhill from there.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Anatomy of a 3K race

I've written about G before. He's my agency's rock star runner. He won the Capitol Hill Classic 3K last year. He did this after finishing the 10K race a few minutes earlier.

Wednesday he was mad at me, I could tell. We were heading to the monthly noontime club 3K race around the Tidal Basin and I was late in meeting up with him. We had only twenty minutes in which to run the 2.6 miles there.

He kept asking me if I thought we'd make it. I kept asking him how fast we were going. My answer was always, Yeah sure, they always start late. His answer was always, Oh, seven something.

As in a sub-eight minute per mile pace, according to his Garmin. My tongue was hanging out. A two and a half mile warmup at a 7:40 pace, for a 1.8 mile race that I would probably run at a 7:20 pace. That's not warm, that's hot. As in not. Not wishing I was making this run with the rock star.

And I was wrong also. My good friend Jay Wind, the race director, started the race on time for the first time since whenever because it was cold. We ran up as all the racers ran off.

G immediately ran right after them, but I stopped to peel off my windshirt. It was already sodden with sweat from the warmup.

I crossed the start line having given a significant head start to the sprinkling of octogenarians who always run this race. These are the guys I gun for in this uber competitive club race.

I'm joshing a little here, but I was behind by a few seconds. G was already out of sight chasing the leaders. Meanwhile I was knocking off women and boys and the elderly (ahem) right and left as we passed by the FDR Memorial and the nearby site of the future MLK Memorial.

I ran by another runner from my agency. I clapped him on the shoulder as I passed him and he grunted in acknowledgement. He doesn't usually come to this race. He's older and slightly slower than me so I'm always glad to see him there.

Now I was up among familiar faces. We ran up the hill on the course and I passed Jay. He's faster than me but I beat him occasionally. I settled down to a long pursuit of a young man ahead of me and the third-place woman ahead of him. I always overtake this woman in the last mile.

We passed the mile mark and I went by both of them. I drew the fellow along with me past the woman. Ahead was a racing doppelganger of mine, a good friend named Peter. He's about my age and although he is slightly faster than me, I beat him sometimes.

Peter is my yardstick in any race we're in together. We have a routine, like an old couple. I always pass him early, and then he comes up and passes me late with a sprint which I can't match.

Peter goes postal in the last 200 meters in those instances. I think he guns for me. But sometimes he doesn't come and I beat him. He's always very gracious, win or lose. He's got a great young daughter who occasionally runs with him.

There Peter was, 30 meters in front of me as we ran by the backside of the Jefferson Memorial. The last half-mile straightaway section was coming up. This is the awful time of this race, a time of reflection when you mull over what you're made of.

There he is. Go get him. No I'm tired. I can't.

Jay went by me. I drafted off him and went by Peter. I heard a charge from behind. The young man I had passed a quarter mile back was going postal and he sprinted by me. I let him go. I kept watching Peter behind me. With 30 meters to go he charged. He's definitely faster than me in this familiar routine. But in this race I dug deep. So close to the end! I booked.

Jay 13:51
Young Fellow 13:52
Me 13:52 (7:26), 33/53 overall
Peter 13:53

G finished 13th, whereas he usually finishes in the top ten. I hope he's still speaking to me.

Even though I was solidly in the bottom half of the field, as usual, I felt good about this run. I beat my doppelganger this time. Someday I'll tell you about the first age-group medal I ever won, which involved holding off Peter by 4 seconds, way before I ever knew he was my "odd couple partner," in some obscure race 70 miles from DC in the third race I ever ran. I thought at the time as I collected my medal, Oh, this is easy. It was five years before I ever won a medal again.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Off it came

It fell off.

The first of my five toenails blackened by October's infamous Chicago Fun Run, that 100 degree (dew point rating), 4:34:06, 26.2-mile cancelled-race nightmare, came off. It was a stark reminder of how little I enjoyed that accursed run. (Left: At the Expo. The anticipation!)

Chicago occupies dead-last on my "favorites" list of the 15 marathons I've run. It is listed below the one in Dublin, Ohio in January 2004 (4:28:13) that started at zero degrees and warmed all the way up to eight degrees by the time I finished. It is listed below the one in Frederick, MD in March 2003 (4:19:42) run during a 6-inch snowfall. It is listed below the one in Sparks, MD in November 2003 (4:44:13) that I caught pneumonia from.

(Right: Triage in the battle zone. A MASH tent at MP 16.) Last fall I had a draft post going that recounted it, running north and being so affected by my antibiotic treatment for a terrible sloppy cold that I stopped after 8 miles and considered DNFing (I was running for a charity so how could I DNF?), looking for Comiskey Park while running south and never seeing it (I think we ran right by it but I dunno), hearing a wild rumor in the fourth hour that the race was cancelled (and thinking, Yeah, Right), being rescued by A in the last two miles (who ran me in to the finish line just ahead of the No Running Police), but the memory was such a downer that I forgot about it. But Chicago wasn't all bad. Enjoy these glimpses of the good times.

( Left: A enjoys the view from the Sears Tower.)

(Right: Finally meeting Audrey of One More Mile Running Apparel at the Expo. I had dealt with her on a large order I placed with OMM for Program t-shirts for the 10-Mile Training Group I directed for my club. Those runners were to suffer equally brutal conditions at Army on the same day as Chicago.)

(Left: There was a RBF meet-up after the fun run. With Running Jayhawk, who organized it.)

(Right: Boy was it good to get home from this marathon.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Down it came

It was time. I finally took down my Christmas tree. This year I set the artificial tree up in the bedroom of my 18-year old who attends college in Richmond. (Left: The 2007 Christmas tree as seen from the bedroom across the hall.)

I live in a little one and a half storey workman's home built in the 1930s. When I sell it, they'll tear it down and McMansion the lot with a million-plus dollar house. The mansion being built across the street from me, replacing a little one-level ranch, is so big it practically blots out the sun. This is the way of the neighborhood because it is within walking distance of Metro and is in the village of Falls Church with its reportedly superior public school system.

The 2d floor of my cottage has low ceilings so the tree couldn't be fully set up because it's too tall. I left the middle pole out and balanced the upper part on the lower part. It worked. (Right: The tree took up practically the entire bedroom.)

I try to never set up the tree in the same spot as the prior Christmas. Last year the tree was in the 19-year old's bedroom across the hall. (Below: My stocking was hung by the chimney with care.)

He attends the same college in Richmond as my youngest son. I know this because I recently received a statement from the institution indicating how much of their tuition has been paid (I provide for both boys' full tuition and all fees). My oldest boy hasn't ever asked for me to provide for his tuition and fees so I don't think he has ever attended college.

I ran a race down in Richmond awhile back and poked around their campus a little. It looked like a nice place. I hope those two are happy there. (Right: The most famous tourist spot in Falls Church, the farmer feeding slop to his hogs outside Don Beyer Volvo on Route 7. Look at the winter sky that sometimes greets me on early morning runs.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I live in the suburbs

It was 8 years ago this month that my life underwent a sea-change. Inspired by the millennium, I dropped from 220 to 170 by drastically changing my eating habits and starting running. I was 48. I thought, If not now, when?

Diet and exercise. Gotta have both, otherwise it'll be transitory with the yo-yo effect. I try to maintain at 180 now, exercising at least 5 times a week. My diet sucks though, the function of cooking, or not, for one. I could do a lot better in both diet (plan ahead more and eat better) and exercise (train smarter and add weight training).

I wouldn't go back to where I came from eight years ago for anything. Not even if you removed those searing five years of fortune-wrecking and health-ruining nuclear divorce litigation, not even if my three now-adult sons started talking to me again, not even if all my old suburban "friends" came back. (I wouldn't want the men sitting down in my house and breaking all the chairs, nor could I stand to listen to the bossy banter of the women as they engaged in their apparent lifelong goal of obsessively sheltering their children from every possible real or imagined harm.)

Suburbia. Where I live is a great running venue (my yard borders the 40-mile long W&OD Running Trail) but none of my neighbors speak to me because I guess my lifestyle is so different from theirs. (Left: People walking on the W&OD Trail as seen from my driveway.) Whenever I run by, their backs always seem to be turned towards me as they do whatever it is they do in taking care of their yards or their children or their dogs. Actually, that's not entirely true. The town mayor lives about eight houses up from me. If I call out, "Hi Robin" as I run by, she'll always say "Hi" in return. That must be the pol in her.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Those pesky miles

I'm getting slower. It's a fact.

2001 and 2006 were my good years. I guess good years come every half-decade or so.

In 2001 I set my 5K and 10K PRs, 21:58 and 46:01. I wasn't much good at longer distances then (my marathon PR was 5:05:20) because I didn't train "long." Most mornings I would just sprint helter-skelter for 2.1 miles and that would be it. Done for the day in 16 to 18 minutes. 12 miles was a big week for me. It kept my weight down and my speed up.

Then I turned 50 and started focusing on longer distances. I ran more miles. I threw 4-mile runs into the mix as my concession to going long, and in 2003 my marathon PR dropped to 4:16. My "speed" suffered though as my 5Ks crept into the 25 minute range. But then all of my times stagnated.

In 2006 I got serious. My long runs started having a base of at least 10 miles. No longer did a scheduled ten mile training run seem like a date that I had to circle on my calendar and watch with dread as it approached. I started track work. I did hills. I brought my marathon time down to 3:52:34. Even my 5Ks and 10Ks revved up as I came within 24 seconds and 48 seconds respectively of my old PRs. But after 10 months of hard training, I crashed and burned. I haven't been the same conscientious runner since returning from setting my then-marathon PR at the NYCM in November, 2006.

My 10-milers tell the story. From my 1:14:34 PR at Army in 2006, I slipped to a 1:16:05 GW Parkway Classic last year. This year I fell to a 1:22:44 at the Al Lewis club 10-miler.

I will tell you this, I don't think administering club training programs, which I have been doing for a year now, helps your own running much. But that's my choice, my notion of helping the community and "giving back."

I still run 5 times a week. That has always been my one constant, my interjection of discipline into my running routine. Some days it's only a mile, but at my age each mile counts. I feel each run the next day now, especially as I descend the stairs on those mornings after.

Solitary miles seem labored nowadays, even beyond the burning lungs. You know, leaden legs, feeling like I'm running underwater, the dreamlike flow of the landscape passing slowly by.

I keep at it. Yesterday I did a new mile-route around my neighborhood that involved a hill. I labored to bring it home in 8:58. Huh! My standard of a "good" solitary mile used to be a sub-seven.

Today I went back to a more familiar mile-route in the 'hood. I arrived huffing and puffing at my driveway in 7:22. Better, but I still have work to do.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Al Lewis 10-Mile Race

A week ago, rather than showing up at Gotta Run in Arlington for Saturday's long run, I went to Kensington, MD for a 10-Mile club race so I could be on hand for any Program member who wanted to run a supported 10-mile distance as we get ready for the Wirefly National Half-Marathon on March 29th. Although overall director Ed Grant and several members of the Marathon training group showed up at the race, no one from the Program came out. Instead, back on Pentagon Row, Matt and Sasha took out two Program members apiece on a ten-mile training run.

The race in Kensington was free ($5 for non-club members). At 9 am we lined up on the 8-foot wide bike path in the bitter 28 degree temperature and off we went on the hilly and windy blacktop trail. (Above: Another S curve. That's ice along the banks of the stream to the right,)

We ran into the rising sun the first half of the out-and-back course, along the creek bed that Beach Drive follows. This road is through parklands and a haven for groups of bicyclists, who stick to the road. Much of the creek was frozen over and the early morning sun glinted off the ice. The footpath was cracked and buckled by frost-heaves along much of its path and little up-and-down hills abounded.

A year ago I ran a major ten-mile race in 1:16:05. This low-key race was going to be very different and I lost over six-and-a-half minutes somehow in only a year.

The first mile went down in 8:06 and I knew my recent string of sub-1:20 ten-milers was in jeopardy. Speed up? How about an 8:11 second mile. I turned in my only sub-8-minute mile in the third mile (7:43), then fell off to an 8:07 fourth mile. By now I was running by myself in this sparse race run along a trail comprised of an endless series of little S turns. It was terrific for practicing running a straight line through opposing turns to shave distance off a route. (Above: The tall pointed spires of DC's "Magic Castle.")

The fifth mile (8:25) left the trail and ran uphill on city streets by the Mormon Temple and I hit the turnaround at 40:33, an 8:07 pace. It didn't get any better. (Right: This hillock is a daunting protuberance by the ninth mile.)

The second half of the race went like this. 8:01 running downhill back to the trail, 8:30, 8:36, 8:27 and 8:35 for a 1:22:44 finish (8:16 overall pace) as I tired and half a dozen runners went by me the last three miles. Only the race winner broke sixty minutes, by 18 seconds, and Ed Grant had a great time of 1:13:33 to take "Program" honors.

I finished 62/110, 52/81 among males, both rock-solid bottom-half finishes. I think I beat all the trainees though, at least one of whom captured an age group award. This was a hilly, curvy and nasty course, albeit pastoral and scenic too with its glimpses of the spires of the Mormon Church above the treetops. (Above: Race is done.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The National Marathon Training Program

This morning was the sixth week for the Reebok Training Program for the Wirefly National Marathon and Half-Marathon, to be run on March 29, 2008. On Saturday mornings we run long, and on Wednesday evenings, the participants have the opportunity to do a track workout in the presence of coaches.
My running club, DCRRC, is "powering" the training by supplying the coaching and expertise for the sixteen week program. It is directed by club president Ed Grant, who runs the Marathon training portion of it out of the Georgetown Running Company store in DC. I run the Half-Marathon portion ("Program") of it out of the Gotta Run store in Arlington. (Above: Gene and Rita smile as they wait for Matt to be ready, while the two Stephanies stretch.)

Today Matt took out two athletes of the advanced group on a fast eleven mile run through Old Town. Sasha trailed behind him with another athlete from the intermediate group on a ten mile run, cutting a little bit of Matt's route off down by the Torpedo Factory along the waterfront.

I took out eight runners in the beginners group the other way, north past the Pentagon, over the Memorial Bridge, down the Mall, up Capitol Hill and back, a run of ten miles in a little under two hours. Half the group, just starting out their training, turned around at the Washington Monument and returned together, making it a six mile run. Everyone who made it to the Capitol looked swell powering up Capitol Hill, a steep obstacle. (Above: Sasha leads the two Stephanies out.)

It was a terrific run for me. The weather was cooperative, 45 degrees with no wind, but that wasn't why I enjoyed it so much. Since the only male trainee in the Program, who is a terrific guy to be sure, went off with Matt, that left only me to run with eight women. Well, somebody had to do it. (Above: The sun rises on a Saturday morning in the Program. Photo credit SL.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gifts with Messages?

Ha ha. I already tole you all that I was photographed last summer running past the Jefferson Memorial with another runner one Saturday morning. This picture, by someone I supposed was a tourist, wound up on page 75 of the October issue of Cooking Light as part of its feature on DC as the 3d best city in the US, based on whatever criteria Cooking Light uses for such lists. The two anonymous runners illustrated DC's "walkability" (we weren't going that slow). (Photo credit Douglas Merriam.)
Anyway, I have five siblings, and three sons who don't speak to me. So that was eight Christmas presents I sent out "cold," a wrapped October issue of Cooking Light for each one of them. No note of explanation. I loved my three-week fantasy of all those bouts of head-scratching on Christmas day. (They all think my presents carry messages.)

One sister thought it heralded a gift subscription. Another thought I was going batty. Another thought that I was implying she was a bad cook. My brother thought he received the wrong present. My three boys, I don't know what they thought about it but it probably wasn't nice.

The jig's up. My sister from Ohio called.

She thought I had sent it to her because we had recently discussed soup-making. The magazine has a picture of a bowl of soup on its cover. Last weekend she was actually making soup and flipping through the periodical for ideas. As she was fanning through the magazine glancing at the pictures, she suddenly thought, Hey, I know that guy. She went back to the photo and scrutinized it. Who? Oh wow, it's Peter!

Ha ha. She wins the prize!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Wonderful Winter Workweek Run

The weather in DC has been glorious this week with a series of dry, sunny sixty degree days. On Tuesday I took advantage of it by taking an extended “lunch” break and going on a long mid-day run, 14-miles, running the bridges plus Haines Point. It took me 2:06:50 (9:04) to go the distance.

Clad only in a technical shirt, shorts and shoes, I ran from my building near Union Station to the Mall, about a mile. Running to the Lincoln Memorial, I passed by the Washington Monument on my left and the White House on my right. Traveling up Rock Creek Park a short way, I ducked down along the Georgetown Waterfront, passing by lunch hour diners enjoying outdoor seating with a view of the Potomac. Making my way up to M Street, I ran down the bustling center of shopping for Georgetown, being forced to stop several times by traffic at street corners or gaggles of students on the sidewalk.

Loping over the Key Bridge into Virginia at an easy pace, I was passed by another runner. I kicked it up a gear with reluctance, passed her back and turned south down the open stretch of parkland along the Potomac.

I made my way past the Roosevelt Bridge and Memorial Bridge to the 14th Street Bridge, using mile markers 13 and 12 on the Mt. Vernon Trail to run a “tempo” mile at 8:20. I caught and passed 4 other joggers along this section and was passed by a multitude of bicyclists. I used the 14th Street Bridge to regain DC near the Jefferson Memorial.

I circled remote, windswept Haines Point, running through the middle of The Awakening statue at the tip of the peninsula. Here I came the closest I have come in years to getting hit by a car when a reckless driver came barreling down the roadway with his car’s wheels a mere 18 inches off the curb. Being forced to jump out of the roadway as he passed by so closely that a nearby bicyclist shouted out in alarm, I gave the driver an appropriate angry salute and paused to see if he would stop. He didn't. The age-old conflict between motorist and runner. Fortunately the car had been coming at me and not up behind me. (Above: Arghhh!)

Now thoroughly tired and starting to get sore, I left Haines Point by the Case bridge which allows you to look down upon the Washington Waterfront. I was wearing brand new Asic Evolution II shoes which I was not happy with, as they were too big despite being my exact size (13). They were causing my left heel to hurt.

Attaining L’Enfant Plaza Promenade at Benjamin Banneker Park, I passed by government workers out on the Plaza wasting time taking smoke breaks. They were being more efficient in their work day than I was though, because they weren't playing hookey like I was as my watch sounded its second hourly chime during the run. (Above: The Bartholdi Park Fountain at the U.S. Botanic Garden.)

I passed the Air and Space Museum, the new American Indian Museum and the U.S. Botanic Garden. Tourists abounded on the sidewalks along here. Turning north on 1st Street I ran by the Capitol, passing statues of presidents Garfield and Grant on my left. A charge up Capitol Hill, a daunting obstacle this deep into a run, brought me to Stanton Square with its statue of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene. (Above: Who is it, Garfield, Grant or Greene?)

Heading back to Union Station, I sprinted past harassed travelers wrestling with baggage and ended my run at the great hall’s front door amidst the queue of jostling taxicabs. I had made a huge circle around the heart of downtown DC, encountering many different types of people along the way.

I rewarded myself by purchasing lunch amongst throngs of schoolchildren still on break in the food court and took it back to my office to eat. Sometimes working for the gumint has its advantages. This had been a January workday run to remember for many years to come.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hi Danny, or Kokomo

Here's something I wrote in 2000. It is taken from a scrapbook I created later of my youngest son, Danny, and "gave" to him for his 16th birthday in mid-decade. (I was the only one in attendance at this pizza, cake and soda party at my house, although it was my year for him to be with me on his birthday.) By then it had already been two years since I had last seen him. The scrapbook resides in a desk in his room in my house, and has a dedication on its title page from a Mary Chapin Carpenter song. "Caught up in our little lives, there's not a lot left over." Danny has never seen any of this.

McLean Bowl vs. Southwest at McLean High School on Saturday, November 4, 2000.

Fullback Danny scored the first TD of the game on a 6-yard run up the middle in the first half. He received the handoff on the PAT try but was tackled at the half-yard line. Then SW scored to go up 7-6 at the end of the half.

In the 3d period, Danny went off right tackle, burst past the line, ran into their backfield, shook off a diving LB, outjuked a DB then outran everyone for a 50 yard TD run. He took it in on the PAT to make it 13-7.

In the 4th quarter, SW started moving the ball with a series of sweeps. On 1st and 10 at the 20, the HB swept around right end and headed for the corner TD marker. Right linebacker Danny came from the other side of the field and after a long run, lowered his shoulder and knocked the ballcarrier out of bounds at the one. McLean held for 3 downs but SW scored on 4th and goal on a burst up the middle and scored the PAT for a 14-13 win.

Danny's run was nice (good balance, and he chose a good angle to the goal line to outrun every pursuer to the end zone), but his defensive stop at the one-yard line was sterling, and was the play he made that almost won the game for his team, not the runs.

Danny was chosen game MVP.

This is the coach's eye in me. I coached Danny for four years in recreational soccer and was his club manager for another year in travel soccer.

At the subsequent custody trial during my divorce, I was accused of belittling Danny's individual accomplishments. This pre-teen reported to "their" charlatan therapist (I think with a little coaching) that I "crushed his spirit in sports," I guess by loving observations like this one which emphasized his terrific unheralded defensive play while only noting his splashy 50-yard run. As the late Kurt Vonnegut said, So it goes.

When Danny was born, Kokomo, the Beach Boys' song about the easy life in the Islands, was current and always on the air. Whenever I hear it, or see the movie Cocktail starring Tom Cruise which featured it, I think of Danny. Hi Danny, I hope you're doing well as you attend college in Richmond.

You'll be happy to know that I am done updating my Profile. See you next year on it!

We'll perfect our chemistry.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Running inside the Coliseum

Did you know that once a week, anyone can run laps inside the Coliseum? That’s the massive circular-bowl stadium in LA with an oval Olympic-standard track around its playing field. The home field for the USC football team, it housed the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. The Brooklyn Dodgers played there when they moved out west. It hosted Super Bowls I and VII. It is a National Historic Landmark.

Every Tuesday morning they open it to runners. I have spent the last couple of days posting about "fixing" my Profile for the new year, but I haven’t told you where I have been. This morning I was running laps in the Coliseum at an RBF reunion set up by Bex, who now lives in LA. Also there were David, Rich and Jeanne. It was an unbelievable feeling to be inside the huge historic structure, standing on the broad composition orange-brown track with the bright white lines separating the eight lanes. I looked up and all I saw was the majestic sweep of stands rearing back all around me, except for one open end of the stadium where there were columns inside an arch housing two larger-than-life-size statues of semi-clad perfect Olympian athletes, a male and a female.

I was running fast laps with David. Rich, because he has a marathon next week, was taking it easy. Jeanne was running with Bex, but they appeared to be doing more talking than running. They used to work together and I guess they were catching up. Besides, Bex has a marathon in two weeks. David and I seemed to have some sort of competitive thing going, and we were passing the other RBFers practically every lap. David is doing a marathon in a few weeks, and he seems to be in tip-top form. He was almost impossible to keep ahead of.

It was warm and light at 7 am. This was a special workout and I was so appreciative of Bex for arranging this, and glad that the other RBFers could respond to the special invitation also. Despite the early hour, the stadium was alive. Several runners were circling the track. Other athletes were pounding up and down the stairs in the stands.

Because our laps seemed to be a little slow despite our hard running, David and I decided that the venerable old Coliseum track was a quarter mile in length, like all American tracks used to be, not the slightly shorter 400M, which is the length on almost all tracks today. We had done several repeats and were lining up to start another one. Bex and Jeanne were coming around the last curve towards us. I didn’t know where Rich was, I think he might have been sitting over by our bags, quaffing water. At that moment the alarm went off and I woke up. I have to tell you, I just hate it when that happens.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Take Ten

When I started blogging last year, I filled out the Favorite Music part of my Profile by listing my ten favorite songs (plus three more, one each that reminds me of each of my sons) . This was hard! This year I'm going to list albums instead of songs.

A Day in the Life (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967) by the Beatles. I read the news today, oh boy.

Sympathy for the Devil (Beggar's Banquet, 1968) by the Rolling Stones. I rode a tank with a general's rank and the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank. Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.

Won't Get Fooled Again (Who's Next, 1971) by the Who. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

When the Music's Over (Strange Days, 1967) by the Doors. For the music is your special friend, dance on fire as it intends, music is your only friend until the end.

Badge (Goodbye, 1969) by Cream. Thinking about the times that you drove in my car, thinking that I might have drove you too far.

Time Has Come Today (The Time Has Come, 1968) by the Chambers Brothers. I've been loved and put aside, I've been crushed by the tumbling tide, and my soul has been psychedelicized. Now the time has come, there are things to realize, time has come today.

Purple Haze (Are You Experienced? 1967) by Jimi Hendrix. Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?

California Dreamin' (If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, 1965) by the Mamas and the Papas. California dreamin' on such a winter's day.

Get Together (The Youngbloods, 1967) by the Youngbloods. We are but a moment's sunlight, fading in the grass.

Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf, 1968) by Steppenwolf. Head out on the highway, looking for adventure and whatever comes our way.

Bet you couldn't do just ten.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Wassup Johnny, or Father Figure

My middle child Johnny was born while I was in my first semester of law school in Charlottesville. Since I was embarking upon a second career, I was the oldest student in my small section, by a lot. I became a hit at our small section parties because I would attend for a couple of hours, bringing the baby to give my wife a break, and then go home. My presence enabled the younger students to "practice" at having children. They'd hold the baby for awhile, beaming, and then hand him back to me when he turned fussy. There's nothing better than playing with babies and being able to unload them as soon as they start to fidget. Just ask any grandparent. (No, I'm not that old.)

The song that was being played endlessly on popular radio while we were busy with newborn Johnny was Father Figure by George Michael. It's a fine song all right, but the real reason it is listed in my Favorite Music section is because whenever I hear the lush and beseeching tune, I think of Johnny, who I haven't spoken with in two years nor seen in four. (Johnny a long time ago.)

What a fine boy Johnny was! Somber, industrious, responsible, determined, stubborn in a good sense, very intelligent, an award-winning science team member and a crafty and analytical sweeper on his select soccer team. I know from providing full tuition that he attends college in Richmond. Wassup Johnny? And happy birthday!

I will be the one who loves you til the end of time.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

How Dumb Am I

In this new year, I have run two races already. The first one was a New Year's Day 5K in Arlington, on the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac near Key Bridge. The results aren't posted yet, but I ran the out-and-back course in about 23:28. That's only 66 seconds slower than the last time I ran the race two years ago. I'm being sarcastic here.

There's not much to report on it except I spent the entire race chasing a fellow I know, who is about my age, that normally I am faster than. I never caught him.

I think he's from Texas because when I went by him in a race last summer, about a mile in which is where I usually catch him, he was wearing those thoroughly obnoxious I-am-from-Texas shorts. You know, the red and blue vertically striped ones with a big white lone star on them. He's a prickly guy who is notorious in our running club for arguing with everyone about everything (I think he's a lawyer). When I went by him, I said under my breath, "Texas sucks." Because it does. Texas gave us both LBJ and W, our two worst presidents ever.

Usually I'm supportive of any runner I pass or who passes me in a race, I swear it. But I must not have gotten this unkind statement quite under my breath enough, because he looked at me sharply as I passed. As if he were memorizing my face.

So last Tuesday, at about milepost one I cruised on by this fellow as usual. Only he promptly passed me back. And he kept in front of me the rest of the way, no matter what I did. I hung back and then charged. I rode his shoulder. I gunned for him on the last hill. Nothing worked. He put me away. How dumb am I to have given him that motivation?

Today I ran a ten-mile race, which I'll tell you about in another post. I was only six and a half minutes slower than the last time I ran a 10-mile race, on another course a year ago. I'm being sarcastic here. One good thing came out of the race this morning though. Point apparently proved, this fellow let me pass him today per usual at about milepost one. I went by him very quietly. I also made a point of exchanging a non-descript pleasantry with him after the race.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Hello Jimmy, or Thriller

You all could tell, by reviewing the Favorite Music section on my Profile, that I seem to be stuck in the 60s. You do review Profiles, right?

A lot of my listed music is from the late 60s, Purple Haze by Hendrix and Badge by Cream and all that, but I was growing up then, so I can't be stuck there. Rather than perpetually be an adolescent with raging hormones and all that, I prefer to be stuck in time as a young man. There is some 80s stuff listed there. Three songs out of the baker's dozen. Let me tell you about that.

Thriller by Michal Jackson is a great song, very well put together with the Vincent Price voice-over and all that. To watch the Michael Jackson Thriller video is stunning. Jackson has some talent. But it resides on my first list of Favorite Music for the memories it evokes in me. Jimmy, my first-born, was colicky. For ninety days he cried all the time, practically. His Mother was great with him. She would hold him, swing him about, dance with him. To Thriller. That was back in the day of the turntable and the LP. We had the album and Thriller was a long song on it. Sharon would dance with Jimmy as Thriller bellowed forth, holding him in her arms, and his grimaces would turn to grins, his cries to coos. When the song was over, we'd place the needle on the start of the song and they'd have another go-round.

What an elegant boy Jimmy was! Kind-hearted, unafraid, a battler, a lights-out scorer and shutdown goalkeeper in recreational soccer, a fast striker with a hard shot in travel soccer, a championship calibre guard in the city basketball league, smart, creative. I've lost Jimmy now to PAS (I recently found out that last winter, on his 21st birthday he legally changed his last name to her maiden name), and Sharon is my least favorite person ever, but her careering around the room with Jimmy in her arms, him laughing hysterically as Thriller played, is still a precious memory. Hello Jimmy. Great job back then, Mom. Next up, Father Figure by George Michael, or the Johnny in JJ&D.

Thriller as performed recently by Filipino inmates.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

So many books, so little time.

As I re-work my Profile for this new year, I note that I created five categories in my Favorite Books section. This is in addition to listing, at the end, the most recent books I read in fiction (Red Planet by Heinlein), biography or history (Grant As Military Commander by Marshall-Cornwall) and poly sci or general (Salt by Kurlansky). The permanent categories are drama (Othello, discussed in an earlier post), American classic (The Scarlet Letter), enduring classic (L'Etranger, discussed in my last post), history (Hell In a Very Small Place) and biography (Growing Up).

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is my favorite American classic, bar none. What a tale of morality so richly told! The hypocrites it describes (the world is filled with hypocrites), especially the Reverend Dimsdale, are timeless and endless. Hester Prynne is the very dignified "sinner" who puts them all to shame with the beauty of her character (her inner self). Her life is heroic.

Hell In a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall is the best war book ever written, bar none. It is about the siege of Dien Bien Phu, where the arrogant French got their asses handed to them in 1954 by the Viet Minh (forerunners to the Viet Cong and the NVA). This battle, which ended with the surrender of a large French garrison in a fortified valley west of Hanoi, ended French colonialism in Indochina. Extraordinary bravery was exhibited on both sides during the contest. This book was a must-read for all American officers during the long NVA siege of the Marine fortified base at Khe Sanh in 1968. The outcome wasn't the same for the Americans in their battle, but American preoccupation with the besieged Marines (where the use of tactical nuclear weapons was considered) provided the diversion North Vietnam needed to have such success with its Tet Offensive.

Growing Up, the Pulitzer Prize (1983) winning autobiography of the early life in Baltimore of New York Times columnist Russell Baker, is a gem. Read it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Since I was a young man, I have read Camus' The Stranger at least once every single decade. It's a great little existential story about the meaninglessness of life--if we allow ourselves to drift through it.

The little man protagonist floats through his existence living in Algiers, making dinner, sitting on his balcony smoking cigarettes and watching life flow by on the street below, making love to his girlfriend Marie. Here is sex in Camus.

Toward the end of the show I kissed her, but rather clumsily. Afterward she came back with me to my place. When I woke up, Marie had gone. She'd told me her aunt had expected her first thing in the morning.

Does it get any better than that? Everything's left to your imagination. What lovemaking they had that night! Probably after a long evening of romance and foreplay. Here is love in Camus.

She was wearing one of my pajama suits and had the sleeves rolled up. When she laughed I wanted her again. A moment later she asked me if I loved her. I said that sort of question had no meaning, really; but I supposed I didn't. She looked sad for a bit, but when we were getting our lunch ready she brightened up and started laughing, and when she laughs, I always want to kiss her.

This little man is in love.

But the story moves inexorably to its conclusion, the extinguishing of this man's life, the end of the world, really. Where does the world go when we die? Camus provides the answer through his protagonist. Other men and women will continue living, and the world will go on as before. Oh.

The narrator's Mother has recently died and he is working through his grief without knowing that's what's going on. He finds himself on a beach with a friend, confronting some local toughs, holding his friend's gun. He shoots one the the thugs in cold blood, without a moment's thought about the enormity of the deed.

He is put on trial and offers practically no coherent defense. He is sentenced to die and all the pleasant little vignettes of his life come to an end.

While his appeal process plays out, our little hero gets used to prison life. He describes his new life of confinement in my favorite passage.

Afterwards I had prisoner's thoughts. I waited for the daily walk in the courtyard or a visit from my lawyer. As for the rest of the time, I managed quite well, really. I've often thought that had I been compelled to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but gaze up at the patch of sky just overhead, I'd have gotten used to it by degrees, I'd have learned to watch for the passing of birds or drifting clouds, as I had come to watch for my lawyer's odd neckties, or, in another world, to wait patiently till Sunday for a spell of love-making with Marie. Well, here anyway, I wasn't penned in a hollow tree trunk. There were others in the world worse off than I.

Then one morning they come at dawn to take him to the guillotine. In his last moments he rebukes the attending priest in a fit of pique and sends him away. Here is death in Camus.

It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.

I love this little classic.

How does it relate to me now? I am so glad I took up running several years ago and changed my little life--do you hear that, Sharon? But I am heartbroken that you and your coterie of "professionals" wrecked, in my opinion, the childhoods of the three minor boys in the half-decade of divorce litigation that followed, by immersing them in it.