Sunday, November 30, 2008

How I feel

On Thanksgiving morning, I called the only phone number I have for any of my three now-adult children who are thoroughly estranged from me due to my seven years of survival divorce litigation against my ex-wife (and them--she had them sue me as minors during the litigation, and they haven't spoken to me since the day "their" case got tossed). It was disconnected. So I drove by my ex's former house two miles away, the last address I have for them. I knocked on the door but received no answer. I could see through the barren porch window that the interior was empty and the house was being gutted.

I knew the ex had moved away, having remarried this summer. She has been hiding her new address from me and thereby any contact I might have with any of my children through her. I posit this for you: Have all of your children VANISH forever in the next moment, and see how you feel for the next half-decade.

So then I went to work the finish line at my club's 5-mile Turkey Trot in Alexandria,. Do-good work to generate a feel-good glow on a holiday. Later that day I went to a tofurkey dinner at my girlfriend's house that turned out to be a very short evening as she gave me my walking papers. I'd been with her for awhile. She's a non-runner and always resented this part of my separateness from her. Beyond that factual observation, I have nothing bad to say about her. I miss her.

This year just keeps getting more and more momentous.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Anatomy of a group training run

This morning my Reebok SunTrust National Half-Marathon Training Group met up at Gotta Run as usual and ran the same hilly 7.5 mile route we reconnoitered two weeks earlier. Only this time, to throw in the element of surprise, we ran it backwards.

Because it was the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we had a low turnout. The Full Marathon training group wasn't meeting at Georgetown Running Company, so we picked up a runner from it plus another runner who had importuned the Program Director to get into the sold-out Program, and been told to come join our group.

Coaches Jeannie and Ellen mounted up four troops and went to the north on a 6.5 mile run past Memorial Bridge and Roosevelt Bridge to Key Bridge before returning. The area up there was secure and they got back intact.

Eleven of us, with Coach Lauren leading the way with the main group, went west on Army-Navy Drive towards the barrier of the elevated highways penning in Pentagon Row and then south up Ridge Road. Coach John, who had been late in saddling up, joined us on this climb up the ridge line. Coach Matt and J, both dressed lightly in shorts and technical shirts on this chilly morn, the better to move fast, split off on a secondary route on the ridge line and vanished.

The main group pushed on, huffing and puffing from the exertion of running up a tall ridge so early in the run. We were moving swiftly at the onset, to preserve the element of speed and surprise.

Atop the crest, the air was still and afforded a clear view deep into the city of Washington. No unusual activity was noted there on this holiday weekend early morning.

Pressing on, we attained the high point where, two weeks earlier, we had continued straight and came down off ridge to the creek far below it. This time we took a sharp left turn and ran down Restaurant Row, which we had previously come back up on upon the return two weeks ago. This foray into a populated commercial center was uneventful as the businesses were shuttered due to the early hour and nobody was about.

I took advantage of the quiet to find out about the two new members of the squad. The marathon trainee was an experienced runner and was loping along easily. She had glowing things to say about how the Full Marathon program was being run. They had been on several successful runs in the Georgetown area with no mishaps.

I asked her about Coach Katie, whom I had sent over there when the Director had asked me to send some experienced reinforcements over to that location. They loved her over there! The one good thing about losing such a valuable veteran was that I now occasionally pick up some valuable intel from her about how things are going across the river. You learn to pick up information however you can get it.

The other newbie was a raw rookie, new to running and brimming with hope. He was running well but I worried about how he would hold up when we encountered the ridge for a second time after being out for an hour.

Joi, a reliable member of the squad, was listening to headphones, as were several other members. I had run with Joi in other Programs. I sidled up to her and asked her if she was being antisocial today.

"I can hear fine," she said. "I have the volume turned down low."

I whispered, "How was your Thanksgiving?"

She ignored me. I whispered it again, a little louder.

"It's Beyonce, and I don't know the name of the song."

The squad burst out laughing. It's good to keep things loose on a difficult run.

We ducked through the pedestrian tunnel off Crystal Drive and ran over to the underpass under the GW Parkway. The trail looped around a hillock and up to the Mount Vernon Trail but I ran straight up the hillside so I could see how the runners were progressing. The roar of jets waiting for takeoff at nearby National Airport was deafening.

Matt and J were gone, off far ahead scouting somewhere. Matt is my most experienced coach and he had specially picked J to run with him. I was sure they were alright. Lauren was leading the main group, switching the point person at regular intervals, which is good form. The back pack was starting to straggle, however. John was with the far-back runner, subtly exhorting her on to a faster pace. The rookie was between the packs, slowing down a bit. In the secondary pack were three runners, one of whom was starting to struggle.

I dropped back with her and John and his charge swept on by. S was experienced, but she was developing blisters. She had new orthotics and they weren't right. I gently suggested to her that she turn back before her condition became disabling. She knew the terrain we were in, having been with us there several times before. She was a veteran. The route from here would only take her further from our base before we finally turned for home. I was afraid she might become a liability to the run.

She asked for the most direct route back. I outlined it for her, and she understood. The tricky part was going through the pedestrian tunnel, a little-known contrivance, but we had just passed through it. Salvation for her, at Gotta Run, lay a mere three-quarters of a mile away by the most direct route back. "I'll come find you if you're not back by the time we return," I told her. "Walk if you need to."

She turned back. Her being experienced, I trusted her to get back okay.

I caught up with the rest and ran on to the front group, informing the other two coaches of S's departure. Then I fell in with the secondary pack and we settled in for the long haul. Although they were getting ahead of us now, we could still easily see Lauren's group.

Turning inland away from the Potomac, we ran up the trail along Four Mile Run. We ran by the sewage plant, an olefactory landmark that everyone recognizes. Soon we came to the bottom of Ridge Road again, at the base of its steep, long side. Two weeks ago we ran down this part. Now, after six miles, we were running up it.

Everyone did well. I shuttled between the main group and the secondary group, which was starting to really spread out. I was gratified to see that the rookie had started pushing the pace again, and determined that he could join the squad at this late date since he obviously had conditioning and motivation. At the top I doubled back and ran downhill past half the secondary group, who were running well enough up the hill. This was good training, I told them, since our target half marathon in March has its big hill at the seventh mile, although they didn't seem gratified at the moment for this good news. But John and the marathon trainee were AWOL on the big hill.

I found them down around a further corner, toiling slowly upwards. The marathon trainee was injured. She was wearing short shoetop socks and had somehow banged the unprotected inner knobby bones of her ankles together. They were bleeding slightly.

The three of us made it to the top and took a breather. She seemed okay so we proceeded back at a trot to Gotta Run by the most direct route, saving a half-mile by cutting off a serpentine series of cutbacks coming down off Ridge Road. Recovered, the marathon trainee engaged John and I in a footrace down the hill during the last quarter mile. Hmm, she won. We arrived back ahead of everyone else except for Matt and J, who had already returned, and S, who was inside the store getting fitted by Andre for new shoes.

Moments later, Lauren's group returned, wondering how we got past them. The secondary group also arrived back, and then shortly afterwards, Jeannie's group came back from their foray up north past the bridges.

A successful sixty-eight minute outing for the Program.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Wednesday at noon I ran five miles on the Mall with my work running group. We talked presidents as we trotted past the statues of Grant and Garfield below the Capitol, by the FDR and Jefferson Memorials over on the Tidal Basin, past the Washington Monument and up to the Lincoln Memorial, with the Kennedy Center visible off to our right.

Between the four of us, we all agreed on the Worst President ever. That's spelled with a capital W. Did anyone ever vote for this guy? Twice?

Being federal workers, we all have a personal stake in this administration's performance, in that the centerpiece of our retirement plan is our TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) account, along with social security. I know many federal workers who have lost over $100,000 out of their TSP plans since the end of the summer. Some accounts have diminished by 40% or more in a few short months, after years of assiduous buildup. Hello Social Security!

It is unbelievable to me that the current guy thought he had "political capital" immediately after stealing the 2004 election in Ohio and he was going to spend it by privatizing social security. Events overtook him and he never got this cherished Republican agenda done. Imagine if he had! The financial carnage these looters foisted upon us through their lax enforcement and reckless deregulation could have impoverished all of us for the rest of our lives.

What amazes me is that as we impatiently wait for the Decider and his crowd to leave, mainstream pundits speak blithely about their vast shortfalls as if they are absolute givens. Joe Klein of Time writes of this administration's "stupefying ineptitude." Bob Herbert of the New York Times writes that we "lionized dimwits." I don't know why these columnists thought it was necessary to sugarcoat the situation.

What was interesting to me, being a history major, was how quickly the running group dispensed with their unanimous judgment on the Worst ever and started squabbling about the next Worst. There was no consensus here. One had it for Buchanan, for leading us up to the Civil War through his astonishing inaction. One had it for LBJ for giving us Vietnam in his astonishing arrogance. Another had it for Hoover for giving us the Great Depression. The last one argued for Nixon for leaving us with a legacy of duplicitous crookedness and meanness in modern politics.

It's apparently a toss up between Buchanan, Hoover, Johnson and Nixon for the second-worst president ever. W has clearly separated himself from this pack.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The way it was in 1978

My most memorable Thanksgiving? It was a long time and a lifetime ago.

Back then, Sharon wasn't yet an even "better" version of her Mother. Newly married, we were both working in the Boulder County Jail as Corrections Specialists (not deputies, which is what we were, or jailers or screws, which is what the "residents" called us), shortly after graduating from college. Boulder's jail was the first one certified by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) and its staff was young, enthusiastic and awash in liberalism.

We didn't want to hurt the feelings of these low-level criminals (we housed a few murderers, child molesters and rapists too). At the time I ran the medium security unit and Sharon was the intake processor. The townsfolk called the jail the Boulder County Hilton. Even the cops would alert their dispatchers that they were enroute with their prisoners to the "Hilton."

It was a high stress job. Some of these people were very dangerous. Most were needy for sure. We got it into our do-gooding heads that we could help out both the skeleton staff that day and the residents by cooking the Thanksgiving mid-day repast. So we signed up for that all-day duty.

What did I know about cooking turkeys? Not much but I called my Mom and mined her wisdom about oven temperatures and cooking times, weighing and rubbing the birds, and what to do with the giblets. (We made the gravy from scratch.) At 4 a.m. Sharon and I stumbled into the jail's kitchen and fired up the ovens. We got all the turkeys situated in their roasting pans amongst yards of aluminium foil and quartered onions, carrots and potatoes, and got the roux going for the gravy mix. We washed cranberries and made stuffing. We basted and basted, and even made breakfast for the residents along the way.

Around one o'clock, I started carving and Sharon and a few trusteys started serving. It was a glorious though riotous hour and a half. Three units (high, medium and minimum security) had to be trooped through the dining hall in waves for their holiday meal. We had to prepare and wrap several meals for the forlorn souls in intake. The trusteys had to eat too, and the diminished staff partook in the food on that day as well, if I remember correctly. The satisfied looks afterwards on the faces of many or most of these angry inmates (holidays in jail are very depressing) said it all to Sharon and I. What a team we were back then!

Then it was clean, clean and clean. Finally leaving behind fifty or sixty wrapped turkey sandwiches (or p&j sandwiches for the vegetarians) to be served for for dinner, we stumbled out at 5 p.m. exhausted but fulfilled after a thirteen-hour stint, the day dark again just as it had been when we entered the jail early that morning.

(You don't want to hear about my worst Thanksgiving--the first year of my divorce when Sharon Rogers took our kids out of town for almost a week without a word and left me to contemplate their empty house from the curb each day and wonder when, or if, they'd return.)

That's they way it was thirty years ago!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Bridges, Beer & Burrito Run

Tuesday evening I went for a beautiful run in the dark of 4.5 miles along the Potomac across the Washington waterfront after sundown. Forty-eight minutes of serene running by the ebony waters of the river after a busy day at work.

The run is a recurring weekly event created by Rachel and other coaches of the Reebok SunTrust National Half Marathon Program that I direct. Reebok sponsors the twenty-week Program and my running club powers it, meaning that we supply the coaches and fashion the workouts as we get ready for the late-March race in the District.

We met at the Iwo Jima Statue in Arlington shortly after nightfall. The weather was temperate enough, albeit in the low forties and breezy. Rachel couldn't come so Lauren, Sasha, Ben (a marathon coach) and myself stepped up to escort the incipient runners on the midweek nighttime jaunt. Eleven of us set off at 7:15 pm at about a ten-minute pace.

Winding our way past the gigantic statue of several Marines straining to plant an American flag on hostile shores, a tribute to The Greatest Generation in one of their Greatest Tests, we ran silently by the rows of headstones at Arlington Cemetery, an attestation of The Price. Soon we attained Memorial Bridge, which we traversed as the dark river waters lapped quietly below us.

Running past the two giant equestrian statues on the eastern end of the bridge, our group wheeled north and ran upriver past the Kennedy Center. It was ablaze in light. Soon we reached Thompson's Boathouse and turned left to gain the Georgetown waterfront along the river's edge. Running through the new park Washington has completed underneath the Whitehurst Expressway, we were treated to a view of the Arlington skyline across the way to our left lit up in a blaze of lights. The Christmas lights in Georgetown off to our right were already up and blazing also. (Above left: Sacrifice.)

Using narrow stone stairs to surmount Key Bridge without having to cross the C&O Canal, we ran across the north side of that high structure to gain Virginia and Arlington once again. It was windy up there.

Another five minutes of running through the sheltered streets of Rosslyn led us back to our starting point, where half of the assembled runners retired to a nearby Mexican restaurant for a beer and a burrito to cap the run. A wonderful ninety minutes well spent with friends.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. (Above right: The desolate area below the elevated Whitehurst Expressway has recently been converted into parkland by the city.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This isn't like getting tagged in blogland

I saw it as soon as I started backing into my driveway. It sprang out at me in the rear view mirror. Thirty feet back, on the white cinder block wall of my garage, was an oblong black blob about two feet tall and eight inches wide. What the...?!!

Graffiti spray painted on and running down in messy drips. I couldn't read it but the cop I summoned to take the report (in case there's a pattern of such vandalism in my neighborhood) could. MS13. When he said it, I too could read the hurried, messy lettering.

My house marked by a violent Latino gang. Here in the 'burbs. At the head of my driveway. Some crazy punk stood at the exact spot deep in my yard where I always park my unlocked car for the night, six feet away from the rear door that I always use exclusively and often leave unlocked when I sleep at night or go for a run.

No more.

"It's a lousy job," said the cop. "Maybe it's just a local kid wannabee. Usually it's much more artistic. But I'd get it off right away."

I thought darker thoughts about the Section-Eight house next door, between me and the strip mall bordering my neighborhood. The house at which there was a shooting a couple of years ago. The house at which there is a constantly shifting influx of people.

There had been a large gathering with many cars there on Saturday morning when I drove away to join my running group, perhaps evidencing a large Friday night party. No cars were left by the time I got back after noon to find the monstrosity spray-painted on my garage.

"I haven't seen this on a neighborhood house in the city before," continued the cop. "Usually this is confined to Fairfax [further to the west]. Over there on the brick wall of that strip mall across the way is painted 'SSL,' which just showed up. That stands for 'South Side Locos.' If there were a war, they'd be allies."

"Little bastards," I kept muttering the next day as I scrubbed the offending mark off my cinder block wall, having coated it first with graffiti removal [sold at Home Depot for about seven dollars].

Monday, November 24, 2008

Last Wednesday was a big day

Last Wednesday sat on my monthly calendar like an albatross. It was the November noontime Tidal Basin 3K Race. I hadn’t run this furious little race since September. I’ve been busy at work so I haven’t been running. I didn’t race at all in October. My base, and speed, are shot.

It is a 2.6 mile run from my place of work to the race. I was late and showed up just as the other runners set off. No rest for the weary I thought as I launched right into the race. The race itself was nondescript, just a fast 1.86 mile run around the Tidal Basin, much like the almost 100 other ones I have done. I was almost a minute slower than in September, finishing in 13:52 (7:26). I couldn’t catch my alter-ego Peter in this race. The only good thing was that I hit the milepost at 7:27, and maintained that pace to the end without falling off.

My agency’s rock star, G, was also late to the race, doing 6:15s to get there just as the runners set off, he said. Since he didn’t arrive in time to get a blow himself before the race, he did an 11:27 (6:09) instead of his typical 11:17 or so. Too bad. We were both counting on the race starting five minutes late per usual, but since it was cold out, they set off right at noon.

But what was worse, I had to run the 2.6 miles back with G. He mercifully slowed down for me and we did mere sub-eights going back. I was dying. So by 1 pm I had seven miles in, with most of them fast.

But my day wasn’t through. Oh no. Wednesday evening was week two of track workouts for the half-marathon training group I direct. I’m pretty much expected to show up since my training group is sponsored by Reebok. A light workout of 5X800 at 10K race pace was scheduled. That would be 1:55 laps for me. Me and two other runners huffed and puffed our way around the track for five double laps, burning 1:50s or 1:52s. There were two other coaches there, conducting the slower runners in 2:20s or 2:30s. I eyed them covetously every time we passed by them. I was glad when the day was finally over.

However, it’s all good.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The One or That One

I could tell it was gone as I drove up in the dark tonight, shivering in the thirty-degree weather. My headlights shone across the large pile of leaves at his curbside.

I have been hoping that the cutting-knife icy wind that has been blowing all day today dies down before my eight-mile run with my training group tomorrow morning. But it hadn't disturbed the roundness of the leaf pile at his curb.

Leaf collection must be this week, I thought when I saw it. I was glad my headlights hadn't swept over my disordered leaf-littered yard to remind me of my slackard ways. Actually, I think fallen leaves are a good nutrient for the soil, which gives me an excuse not to rake.

I'm a terrible suburbanite. Not being a slave to my yard nor my kids and adhering to no woman's directives, I only still live here in the 'burbs because my back yard lot line abuts the 40-mile W&OD running trail at MP 7. The W&OD Trail is the premiere blacktop running path in the country. Let's see you top that!

Earlier this month, my neighbor raked his leaves into five large ordered piles in his back yard, spelling O B A M A. He restored the piles' integrity every morning. He was showboating for the W&OD Trail runners behind our houses. Runners are all democrats and believe in diversity, right?

He's from South America and is a fabulous guy. Previously I thought he spoke better English than he did, and he thought I spoke better Spanish then I did, and now we pantomime a lot. So much for worldwide high school language classes. But he was pleased to confirm for me that his piles said, "Obama."

I hate change. I liked his piles. When I drove into my driveway tonight , I could see that his orderly piles had been dragged to his curb and lumped into a single large refuse mound. Did The One become "that one?"

I should rake my lawn before all my leaves blow over to his place. Or maybe I won't.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The next Program

Week 2 of the twenty-week 2009 Reebok SunTrust National Marathon and Half Marathon Training Program, powered by volunteer coaches from my running club, is done. Or at least the long Saturday run is over. I have to run the track workout Wednesday evening.

Last week we all met at the Georgetown Running Company, normally the hook-up point for the marathon runners. After we listened to elite athlete Samia Akbar speak about running, we went out for a 6 mile run on the C&O Canal Towpath. It took an hour and the run was along the Potomac on nice soft dirt. I created the route. Yes, it was nice.

I direct the HM Program. Today we met at Gotta Run, our normal starting point. The fast coach wasn't there so I took out the rabbits. We went 7.45 miles running up to Ridge Road, down to Four-Mile Run Creek, over to the Potomac and on to National Airport, back up to Ridge Road and home. Do you get the idea that we ran up a ridge twice? I created the route. No, it was not nice.

We did it in 1:05:02. The four runners I was running with politely let me lead and set the pace. They didn't know where to go anyway. During the sixth mile, going up 23rd Street, which I call Restaurant Row, to get onto S. Arlington Ridge Road the second time, D, who ran a 1:32 Half in Baltimore last month, pulled even. He looked at me and smiled. "Go on, go on," I gasped as I feebly waved him on. His face brightened and he lit out up the hill, surmounted it, trotted back down and came up it a second time with me. Evidently the other three didn't feel like showing off because they stayed put behind me.

Last Wednesday was the Program's first track workout night. All these fasties showed up then too. The routine was 6X400 at tempo pace. I was the fastest of the three coaches there so I dutifully fell in with the fast group. Three guys rocketed off to a series of splits in the mid-80s, and I hung with the rest of the faster group many meters back. I did 90-92-96-98-92-93. I didn't lay a glove on those three students way up in front.

Man is this stuff great or what?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The way it was

Today is Veteran's Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, they finally stopped the bloodshed in World War One, the War To End All Wars. My grandfather fought in that war.

But the fates were just getting warmed up. World War Two, the Big One, came next.

I rode a tank
Held a general's rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

My father fought in that war.

At a place called Peleliu. Never heard of it? Then you're obviously not either a former Marine or the descendant of someone who was there. Because no one else knows a thing about it.

On that island in 1944, the First Marine Division, 15,000 strong, locked itself in a struggle with 13,000 Japanese defenders in a fight to the death. Strategically it was insignificant, but the enemy garrison was wiped out entirely while 5,000 Marines went down. You do the math.

The Marines fought for three months amidst razor-sharp coral hills in places with names like Bloody Nose Ridge and the Valley of Death, in temperatures soaring to 118 degrees. It was hell on earth.

As a young boy, I wanted to hear war stories. My Dad was a likely source, because he had seen the elephant. But he only told funny stories. Like the time he wandered down to the river alone on Peleliu to bathe, naked, with only a towel in his hand. Nineteen year-olds obviously don't always make the best choices. He encountered an enemy platoon in full combat gear.

What happened? As my Dad related it, deadpan, they all got away.

Anyway, he had another story he thought was funny. About the time he was crawling along a trench when he encountered two riflemen and a flamethrower hunkered down trying to deal with an enemy machine gun nest some thirty yards away. The flamethrower didn't want to stick his head up and draw fire so he stuck the nozzle of his weapon over the lip of the trench and, moving it around blindly, asked the other two Marines, "Over here? Is that the direction?"

Those Marines assented that he seemed to have the nozzle pointing about right and he discharged his full load without ever looking. Those heavy flamethrowers only had about an eight-second capacity.

My Dad thought this image of a flamethrower firing blindly, one-handed, was funny. This was the end of the story, and it was always told with a twinkle in his eye.

But I was a persistent young boy. One day I insisted on knowing what happened to the machine gun nest.

"Why, we got it."

I wouldn't let it go. "But how do you know, Dad?"

I remember my Dad's voice tightening and his eyes losing their lustre. His look became distant and detached.

"Well, because we got up and charged them, and they were burning so we shot them."

He never told the story again.

You can't imagine how much I miss my Dad. He was a hale and hearty 60 year-old before he fell ill with lung cancer and died the next year, in 1986. I was only thirty-four. I regret that only one of my three children was ever held in his strong hands.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An election-morning harbinger

A blizzard of blowing leaves was cascading to the sidewalk, courtesy of a gentle November wind loosening a torrent of dried leaves from the overhead branches of a stand of trees. This was Tuesday morning.

Leaves blowing by on the breeze are hard to snatch, they move so unpredictably on the changing air currents as they drop. In eight years of running, I can only remember catching two of them before, even though I make a game of it as I run each fall. One of them I caught during a race because it happened to lodge between my bib and shirt somehow as it swirled by. The other I actually snatched with one hand as I ran along, and I was so proud of the feat that I keep this pressed leaf atop my dresser. I consider it a good luck charm.

Yesterday morning I caught a falling leaf as it went by. I considered this a good omen, a harbinger of Change. My belief and faith in the positive nature of this symbol was fulfilled last night when the left coast presidential election returns came in and the 44th President was declared.

Soon afterwards, a true American Hero issued a gracious, conciliatory concession speech, reinforcing the positive image he had created when he corrected an ignorant follower of his on the campaign trail by saying that Barack Obama was a decent American like the rest of us, not a foreigner as she had just claimed that he was.

I am hopeful for the future.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The perfect gift

There it lay abandoned in the street, a small leather case. I went by it and tapped it with my foot, just to make sure that it didn't encase something. But it did. Inside was a cellphone/palm pilot.

No one was around so I picked it up. I thereby assumed responsibility over it, albeit temporarily.

I confirmed to myself how little I knew about modern gadgetry. I think the keypad was locked, because I couldn't make the menu work. I couldn't call anyone listed on a speed dial on the device, and ask them if they knew anyone who might have lost a cellphone. Then I started worrying that the phone would lose power and become forever silent. I would never find out who it belonged to. I showed it to a friend, who noted that the phone used Sprint service.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Because it's a Sprint phone," she said.

"Oh." I decided I could take it to a Sprint Store, if I could find one, and they could locate the owner.

A little bit later this friend said, "I think the trunk of my car has been ringing. There it is again."

She pulled over and I hurriedly dug the cellphone out of my bag in the rear of her car. After pushing a green button on it, I said, "Hello?"

Talk about an awkward beginning to a conversation! It was worse than any fumbling pickup line I have ever tried. But soon we established our identities and respective interests in the dialogue.

He was Paul from McLean, the cellphone's owner, and he had been calling his phone over and over. I told him who I was, and said that he could pick it up the next day at my work.

He seemed relieved. He rang off saying, "That phone has all of my phone numbers and schedules on it. You have the frontal and rear lobes of my brain in your hand."

Then I started worrying about a potential reward. I certainly didn't want nor expect one. I had merely picked up something off the street, is all. But I knew the anxious owner would be very grateful, and I hoped that in his relief at getting his phone back, he wouldn't try to compensate me for my troubles, which were none.

What if he offered me money? Should I tell him to donate it to charity? Should I take a nominal amount and thank him? What was the etiquette here?

Paul turned out to be a pleasant man about my age with a full white beard, bearing gifts. Or a gift, to be more accurate. Paul was indeed very grateful to get his cellphone back, and he pressed upon me a bag containing a small, heavy parcel. Not money, I was relieved to note. It struck me that he might have been in a quandary himself about what to do for a "reward" for me.

In my embarrassment, after giving him the phone I took the bag, exchanged a casual pleasantry and hurried back to my office. I hope my actions didn't seem brusque, and that he didn't take offense at my abruptness.

Back in my office I unwrapped the parcel. Paul had given me the perfect gift to express his thanks. Inside was an 8-ounce bottle of liquefied amber gel with a label proclaiming it, "Paul's Honey--2008 Harvest, McLean, Virginia." The label even contained a Shakespeare quote from Henry V about the ordered work of honey-bees. This especially delighted me, an English major.

Thanks, Paul! I can't wait to try your honey.