Thursday, December 31, 2009

Got debt?

I received a strange phone call yesterday. I'm home this week on annual leave.

Ms. Chisum called, and using my first name, asked how I was doing. Since I don't know any Ms. Chisum, I was immediately suspicious.

She wanted to know if had a neighbor by the name of, let's say, Juan Gonzalez. I asked why.

Instead of answering my question, she drew out the conversation. She correctly said that I lived on [street name and number], and continued, "And Mr. Gonzalez lives at, I want to say... I want to say... [street name and number], right?" That is the correct address for the house next door.

I said, "You must be a bill collector."

She said,"No." I'm pretty sure she was lying at this point, but perhaps she was denying that she "must" be a bill collector.

I said I didn't know the name of who lived next door. She asked if I would go post a note on their door.

At that house, there has been a succession of yearly tenants, usually several unrelated adults with children sometimes present. There have been a few police visits to the house over the years, with at least one being in response to an alleged shooting there.

Last year I had my garage spray painted with a gang sign, the numeric designation of an urban semi-automatic gun. I have my suspicions who did it since there was a large party going on next door on that weekend day when I drove away at noon, and the party was over and the obscene symbol was on my garage wall a few hours later when I returned.

I asked Ms. Chisum what the note would say. You like to be helpful. Perhaps the occupant's wife was in labor in Bolivia or something and he needed to call home.

Ms. Chisum said, "It would just contain my name and number, with a note asking Mr. Gonzalez to call."

I asked her if she was a bill collector. There was a long silence and then Ms. Chisum said, "I already said no to your earlier question."

I declined to undertake the requested action and the call terminated.

In my profession, I deal with the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act ("FDCPA"), a statute written by Congress which prohibits debt collectors from engaging in a laundry list of abusive practices like smearing an individual's name by calling up his or her neighbors (or employers--sometimes repeatedly) and alerting them to the supposed presence of a deadbeat in their midst. I referred to the wording of the statute and found that Ms. Chisum either did, or did not, violate the statute if she was a debt collector, which I'm pretty sure she was.

She was entitled to call me up if she was genuinely trying to locate the actual address of the deadbeat. She cannot state to an unrelated party that the purpose of the call involves an attempt to collect a debt. She has to give her name. So far Ms. Chisum complied.

If directly asked, she has to disclose the name of her employer. I asked how she was employed, not who her employer was. It would do me little good if she said to me, "I work for the ABC Company."

I consulted with a fellow lawyer who said that theoretically my question whether she was a debt collector triggered Ms. Chisum's duty under that part of the statute to truthfully respond, putting her in violation of the FDCPA. I'm not sure I agree with that, but this attorney agreed with me that neither of us would go to court to try to cite this set of facts as being clearly violative of the FDCPA.

This attorney also said that Ms. Chisum was very professional and acted correctly by not disclosing to me that Mr. Gonzalez was a deadbeat. Which would have been apparent if she had confirmed that she was a debt collector.

See how vague this statute, like many statutes, is? Ms. Chisum was lying to me, but fulfilling the spirit of the law. Where does that leave me, the innocent recipient of this legally allowable call?

I know this much. If I was naive and eager to help without first ascertaining all the facts (the "wife giving birth in Bolivia" scenario), I could go post the requested note next door and step right into the middle of an acrimonious financial dispute. This would be a great thing to unleash in a neighborhood.

Imagine this scenario. I post the supposedly innocuous note on my neighbor's door. Mr. Gonzalez comes home at midnight, having put in a hard day's work followed by a full evening of relaxation at a tavern. He's handed a note which he sees as a demand by a debt collection company to call them, which has been taped onto his door by his next-door neighbor.

I'd sure like to hear pounding on my door at midnight, forcing me to arise from bed so I could go discuss on my porch the note I'd posted hours earlier on my enraged neighbor's door in an attempt to be helpful.

Did I already say it's a vague (in parts) statute?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No Bloody Good

I tried to give blood this morning. I'm on a quest to give 100 units in my lifetime, and I'm currently at 80. But my odyssey has slowed down recently because I get turned away sometimes now, deferred, as they politely say.

Not because I've done anything fun with my life like live in Europe or visit Africa or have wild sex or get body piercings. No, it's just because of my mundane elevated blood pressure.

Today my temperature was good, the blood droplet from my finger sank in the solution indicating I have good iron, but my upper BP reading was 190. Too high. They told me to relax (yeah, right), waited ten minutes and sure enough the upper reading was down. But now the lower reading was too high, having risen to above 110. They told me I could have another reading in 10 minutes but by rule, I had to leave the office first and come back. I just left.

I'm on medication for hypertension, which I attribute wholly to my exposure to Western divorce litigation, but I must have lost a bottle of pills because earlier this month, I was suddenly down to one or two pills. I went to Kaiser for a refill but I was turned away (deferred?) because I was too early--meaning I couldn't refill my 90-day supply because the pills I had already received should have lasted through January. The earliest I could receive a refill was on January 18th. I told the Kaiser pharmacist I'd lost those pills, apparently. She shrugged, offered me two pills (which would come out of the next order), and told me to come back on the 18th or else make an appointment with my doctor. It was the rule.

I asked her if she thought I was selling blood pressure pills on the black market. She just stared at me. Next time I guess I'll claim they were stolen, but they'll probably require a police report before issuing a refill. Of blood pressure pills. There's a lot of demand for those babies, you know.

All these "rules" are leaving me feeling so helpless and disgusted that I treated myself to a meal at McDonalds. I had two double cheeseburgers off of their dollar menu. That ought to help my b/p.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Where is the one following W?

Number two has dropped off the board. I used to think, because of his folly in getting us into the quagmire in Vietnam, that LBJ was the worst US President ever. Nixon, who was also a war-mongerer, was a close number two. (He didn't create the mess.)

Somehow, Nixon has achieved stature as a strong president. I always thought he achieved his foreign policy "advances" by the world notion that he was a little crazy. Can you imagine being in a neighborhood where a neighbor is on the street waving around an AK-47? And all you have in your nightstand drawer is a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson? You're not going out there to confront the bully. Unless you're a tough North Vietnamese and you want the bully off of your block.

Then along came the Decider, with his stolen two elections, W (for Worst ever), who is by all measures the worst president ever. Remember Mission Accomplished? How's your IRA? Can you spell Katrina? Did he fix New Orleans like he promised he would? Helluva a job Dubya!

So number one is locked into place. Did you vote for him, ever? If so, you didn't do your homework, and you should be waterboarded. Like to breathe? Not being able to breathe, that's not torture? Darth Vader says it's not.

I was running with some thinking Americans awhile back before Obama's triumph (including a Vietnam era veteran) and we rated the presidents as we ran. The VN era vet said, hands down, the worst president was James Buchanan because he brought us the Civil War. (We disqualified the Decider because he was still president.)

Well, I guess the Civil War was worse than the VN War. Maybe my friend is right. Because after watching all the high drama involved in bringing America into the 21st century by giving all of its citizens access to adequate health care, as is common to the rest of the civilized world, I have to admit that LBJ bringing us Medicare in the sixties was a notable achievement.

Although they'd like to dismantle it, now the GOP defends Medicare as if they had anything to do with bringing it about. They're more than a little hypocritical. It was an accomplishment that LBJ brought us, senior serenity (the Great Society), along with the VN war. So now I insert Buchanan into position number two, as the worst ever after the Decider. Perhaps LBJ has dropped out of the bottom five list even.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I went to a school in the South which has an honor code. No lying, cheating or stealing. It's an honor code violation not to turn in anyone committing an honor violation. The single sanction is discharge from school.

I am against honor codes. They institute great uncertainty into the mores of practical folks, and institute a reign of terror, in my estimation, because they set the bar at the personal standard of the most stringent interpretation of "honor" by its most zealous advocate. Lost in this is the notion of "prosecutorial discretion."

In the realm of ordinary affairs, offenses pass a number of preliminary barriers before they appear before the ultimate arbiter, a court of law, where they become fully vetted. First, though, a policeman, or injured consumer, decide if the "offense" (jaywalking, or a dinged car door) is worth pursuing. Only then is it passed up the food chain. We all have a sliding scale of values for this--a tiny pock on the bumper earns the culprit a glare, a dent in the quarter panel elicits an exchange of insurance information (the "referral"). But no one lives in fear that their de minimis standard in ignoring a "violation" will earn them a trip before the tribunal and ultimate ejection from the system.

In honor code environments, cheaters go on cheating but take greater care not to get caught. They can actually thrive in the atmosphere of elevated, but not necessarily warrantedly so, sense of trust. Practical folks maintain a low level of anxiety that their common sense attitudes in how they go about their business, either through omissions or commissions, could come to the attention of zealots with stringent, rigid or tortured idealism, who would feel duty-bound to turn them in to the honor board for potential application of the ultimate (and only) sanction.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My team is losing.

Christmas was white. (Yes, I shoveled my sidewalk again which the snowplow driver buried under snow chunks of ice after I'd scraped it bone dry.) It rained, so now the whiteness has been washed away.

My siblings hate it that I always mail all my Christmas packages to them on the day after Thanksgiving. They tried to get me to join their cabal a few years back where some cockamamie round-robin of gift giving would allow us to take five years off of gift-giving ( I am one of six children). I refused, and this became another secret message I'm always trying to send to them, blah blah.

I garnered a bountiful haul. My WW2 uncle sent a gift card for Home Depot. My two older siblings sent me flannel PJ bottoms; and a "Maria's Pot" Navajo pottery. My friend in DC gave me a non V-neck or mock turtle-neck sweater because I had been complaining that when I recently shopped for "crew neck" sweaters, no one knew what I was talking about. Under my tree were running shoes, and a book which amazingly I was already reading, as virtual gifts from my two youngest children. (Thanks Johnny & Danny!) A running club companion (which club I will be done with when my annual membership runs out later this week) gave me a bottle of Beaujolais.

My NFL team is losing, so I guess I'll open the Beaujolais. My house is 50 degrees so I guess I'll put on my sweater. Jimmy, there was nothing under my tree for you this year because you're way over 21. To my three younger siblings, who received from me a book, DVD and $300 representing final repayment of my legal indebtness from my divorce which was finalized seven years ago; books, cards & garment; and books, I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

You Gotta Love Cable

My first cable bill arrived--$167. (That includes Internet and phone service everywhere in NA.) That's up from around $67 when I didn't have cable (only a local landline and Internet).

So what have I watched now that I'm a couch potato? Well, I get HBO "free" for 90 days but I have only found it/watched it once, when I stumbled across a riveting documentary on the Mumbai massacre, using intercepted recorded cell phone calls of the the Muslim terrorists being urged on by their handlers to go find some Jews to especially kill, because that would be even "fifty times better" than the run-of-the-mill mayhem they were perpetrating by just gunning down Indians and tourists. It just made me mad and feel like "those folks" are out to kill me. (No, I'm not Jewish.) My friends chide me to be more tolerant but I dunno.

I think I have 1999 choices (many are radio channels that play over TV). At least you have to go past "1999" to surf the listings and get back to "1." I watch football on weekends at channels 2, 4, 5 or 7. I go to ESPN on Monday nights. Other than that, when I'm up I go to the Comedy Channel at 11 pm to watch Jon Stewart, and I watch the history channel. Over and over. That's it. Nothing else is worth sitting there for an hour for.

I have learned about the two thousand year history of beer. I know a lot of things about Jesus Christ now, and several other early biblical figures like Noah. Boy, was he old. I can't wait til they get the Ark down off that mountain in Turkey where it's at. The RAF is always battling the Luftwaffe, and the Nazis are always overreaching in Europe and sealing their fate. And the Allies are always surmounting the incredible difficulties of landing in Normandy. And the battles in Korea raged back and forth with little change in the lines ultimately. Except for the beer part, and the biblical figures part, I already knew a lot of this stuff from reading books.

Is this $100 well spent?

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Holiday Greeting

Merry Christmas Johnny & Danny Lamberton, and to you too Jimmy Rogers. Sorry I'm going to miss lunch with you today, Dan (you never called, I'm in the book). I'll be at the Lost Dog Cafe in Westover at noon on New Year's Day, hoping to have lunch with you there then, my treat. Bring a friend or two, or your brothers, we have seven years worth to catch up on! Love Dad.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A year-end wish.

Peace on earth. Happy holidays, and health and well care to all. (Thanks you 60 progressives. Boo on you 40 lockstep obstructionist naysayer hypocrites.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let it snow.

Over the weekend the DC area had a record breaking snowfall. It cancelled the government on Monday. You know it's getting near the end when a friend calls you up more than once and worriedly asks if you're taking it easy while shoveling snow. Your ancient heart and all, you know.

I told my friend that if throwing a little snow around was going to do me in, I shouldn't be in the gene pool anymore. She assured me that my days of being in the gene pool anymore were long gone.

And where were my three strapping boys who I put through college (full tuition & fees--no student loans, yay!) while I was clearing twenty inches of snow off 90 feet of driveway, 90 feet of sidewalk and 24 feet of walkway? MIA as usual. I hope they were at least at their Mother's house helping shovel the driveway and walk. Her new husband is over 60, after all.

Although I doubt it, the young generation being what it is. I helped shovel out the driveway of a neighbor who is pretty incapacitated by physical ailments. A house guest of his, in her forties, had already done most of it. His twenty year-old son showed up, felt obliged to pitch in since I was there laboring away, threw about four half-shovelfuls of snow to the curb, and then brushed snow off his buried car for the last half hour I was there finishing the job. Motion without much momentum.

When I got home from that neighborliness a city snowplow had come down our street. Its driver barreled along my curb line at about 30 MPH and pushed the snow over the snowbank onto my bone dry sidewalk, covering a long stretch of it with two two feet of snow and ice chunks from the street. I had expected to shovel the end of my driveway again after it passed, but not my sidewalk all over again. Nobody else's sidewalk was similarly treated.

This annoyed me greatly. It is still unshoveled, forcing pedestrians to detour into the street to get past my house, and it's going to remain that way til it melts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A sighting.

I am a father, you know. Of three sons in their twenties, all childhood victims of Parental Alienation Syndrome. None of them has communicated with me or any relative of mine for years.

I occasionally pick up snatches of information about them from chance run-ins with local nodding acquaintances. For years I coached my sons' house soccer teams, so sometimes I run into the parents of former players of mine. I always ask about their son, and occasionally get a tidbit of information back, gleaned from a chance encounter they had with one of my children. I call these sightings.

I had a sighting last night. At the grocery store, a parent related a recent brief encounter with my oldest child. As I politely listened I was screaming inside, He's alive!

You see, unlike most parents, I don't live in dread of receiving a call that always seems to come in the middle of the night. Rather, I live in fear of never receiving such a call, that someday I'll be speaking with a casual acquaintance and hear the words, I'm so sorry!

Their Mother, a local elementary school teacher busy imparting values to impressionable young children, refuses to provide me with any information about our children, including their addresses. I send their holiday cards back to my house and toss them in a box.

It's hell not knowing whether your children are even alive, knowing you'll never know about any occurrence affecting them until far after the event and then only by chance. Only in America.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Grasshopper and Po

The phone rang yesterday and I picked it up. "Hello, this is Peter."

"You’re responsible for this, you know."

"Excuse me?"

"It’s your responsibility that this happened. I just wanted you to know."

I didn’t recognize her voice right away. In this age of emailing instead of calling, a person’s phone voice is not always immediately recognizable. I stalled for time. "What am I responsible for?"

"My BQ."

Ahh. Running. "You BQ’d? Congratulations!" I was still stalling.

"Yes, and I owe it in large part to you for getting me started down this path, coach."

A running pupil. I ran through my trainees at the recent ATM Program I completed, just before my association with my running club blew up in a generational conflict over respect, fealty, honesty (ethics) and dedication to others, or lack thereof, and I resigned. "No, I didn’t do anything. You did it all." Still stalling.

"You don’t know who this is, do you?"

"Give me a hint."

"Long runs, track training, my first coach."


"You paced me in the Marine Corps Marathon..."


"Yes! And I BQ’d yesterday in only my second marathon, with a 3:40:56."

"That’s right, you were going to run a marathon in California."

"Yes, the California International Marathon in Sacramento."

"Wow, how did it feel to make it by four seconds? Were you crazy that last mile?"

"Uh, actually, Peter, I needed a 3:45, not a 3:40."

"Wow, you crushed it!" (Right: Me and my former pupil before the 2008 9/11 5K at the Pentagon.)

I thought back to coaching she in 2006, when she first showed up midway through the program in a small group I was leading. I had the fast group and she could keep up from the start. I ran with her in track that year, too. She was dedicated.

I subsequently asked her to coach in programs I directed, and she became a valued member of my coaching staff who I came to depend on. She progressed to where in 2008, she became the first, and so far only, student of mine who has bettered me in a race. This has happened more than once.

The first time it happened, I hoped it was an anomaly. Due to the staggered start (the women started after the men), she never actually passed me during the race. But then she started showing an annoying tendency to catch up with me in the last mile of long races, and crushing me the last mile.

At last year’s MCM, her first marathon, I "helped" her out by jumping in with her at MP 11 and pacing her the last 15 miles. Me, the veteran of seventeen marathons, showing the rookie how to do it.

Shortly after we passed MP 25, she kicked up the pace by several notches during her twenty-sixth mile and my fifteenth. She left me in the dust, far behind as she burned about a seven-minute last mile to finish in 3:51. I couldn’t keep up with her. (Left: Me and my former pupil after the 2008 9/11 5K at the Pentagon. This marked the last time I finished ahead of her.)

Now she has surpassed my marathon PR by almost ten minutes. It is a poor teacher whose pupils do not surpass him.

Congratulations Sasha, my good friend.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Full circle

I remember as a little boy standing in our yard, looking up at my Dad perched precariously on the roof line of our house adjusting a television antenna. All rooftops in the fifties sported them, long upright slender rods bristling with short horizontal wires.

He was up there in his socks, turning the antenna this way and that. I worried that he might slip and fall, because all small children know that socks are slippery. I hadn't learned yet that on sloping roofs, penny loafers are even more slippery. I had this image in my head that if he fell, I would run inside, grab a mattress off a bed, drag it outside and put it under him to break his fall, before he hit the ground. Too many Saturday morning cartoons, I guess.

From his perch above the attic, my Dad called out to my Mom who was on the first floor watching TV. The windows were open.

"Barbara, is this any better?"

"Jim, it's fine! It's good! Please come down!"

"Come on Barbara, tell me if it's better or not!"

"It is, it's better, I can see the station perfectly. Now please come down!".

My Dad rotated the rod a quarter turn. "How's this? Better?"

"Jim, come down!""

"Barbara, try CBS."


I was five. I watched and listened in wonder as my parents tried to adjust our over-the-air TV.

The day I resigned from my running club, I went to Best Buy and bought a digital TV. Since I wasn't coaching anymore, I would have plenty of extra time each weekend to watch TV.

I don't have cable and my analog TV hadn't worked since the conversion to digital in June. Oh yeah, I had tried to hook up the government-sponsored conversion box I had bought with the coupon subsidy. That was a wasted 2 hours, and a squandered $10. What a scam.

I told the sales clerk over and over that all I wanted was something that I could take out of the box, plug into the wall, turn on and watch NFL football on. Lke in the olden days when you brought a TV home from the store, plugged it in and it just...worked.

Oh yeah, yeah, she kept saying. She sold me a Dynex 22-inch LCD TV HDTV 720p High Definition Multimedia Interface. I kept asking, Is it a TV and will it work right out of the box? Oh yeah, yeah.

Upon the clerk's recommendation, I also bought a TERK Amplified HDTV Indoor Antenna for seventy dollars. At home I set up the TV, plugged it in, attached the antenna to the set and turned it on. A menu came on the screen that indicated the apparently sentient being was scanning the area for channels and asked me to please wait. The clerk had told me about this procedure.

After a couple of minutes, the set came to life and presented me with a rugby channel. I had a very clear picture of a giant Australian amoeba undulating around the pitch in a scrum. It wasn't quite Tom Brady to Randy Moss but my TV set was alive again after many months of pure snow. I kept cackling, "Houston, we have liftoff!" as I clicked through the channels.

You're supposed to get all sorts or extra, extraneous over-the-air channels with HDTV. A bountiful boon from the government, upon mandating conversion, to us citizens too cheap or poor to purchase cable TV.

They were there alright. Two cooking channels. The rugby channel. A Japanese channel in Japanese with Japanese subtitles. Al Jazeera. Two weather channels. Two shopping channels. An African channel. RTV showing obscure 50s television series.

No NFL football. Round and round the channels I surfed. No CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox.

In frustration I called my bother-in-law, the college professor with an Ivy League doctorate. He can figure out anything. I spent the next hour on the phone with him while he researched TERK and Dynex on the Internet. I did exactly what he told me to do.

Yes, I had read the manual. No it was not helpful. I even read it to my brother-in-law but it was not helpful to him either.

He conjured up from the Internet a template on his computer screen with my exact remote on it. After half an hour he determined that the problem was the set was programmed to scan for channels only the first time it was activated. We had to fool the set, antenna or remote (I'm not sure which) into thinking it had to conduct another scan for available channels. I kept thinking of the Star Trek episode where Kirk and Spock destroy the supercomputer threatening the universe by tricking it into questioning itself endlessly.

My brother-in-law told me to pick up the the antenna and said, "Hold it pointing exactly north, northwest."

"Excuse me?"

"Just hold it up, pointing north, northwest until I say otherwise."

I thought of CPR protocol, to keep doing chest compressions until a qualified person tells you to stop. I've been there, doing compressions upon a dead person.

I so love the Redskins, apparently. I thrust this metal column aloft, alone in my living room. I held this short thick rod bristling with horizontal flanges pointed north, northwest. Towards Fairfax County, I guess, where the TV transmitting towers for the Washington stations are, I suppose. I'm sure my brother-in-law had already researched that information in the last hour.

A minute passed. I felt foolish, like I was engaged in a secret initiation rite during Rush Week.

The voice of NFL announcer Phil Simms suddenly came from the TV set. I looked, and Sunday Night Football was on the screen! I thanked my brother-in-law for finding NBC for me and hung up.

I discovered that when I moved the antenna even 15 degrees off the direction I had it pointed, the channel blinked out. When I lowered the antenna, the pixels broke up and the picture disintergrated into a set of herky jerky disjointed still images.

Now I watch TV with the antenna perched atop a towering contraption I have built next to the set. Atop a box resting upon a footstool which stands on a chair sits the amplified antenna, pointing exactly NNW. When I move in front of the antenna, the picture momentarily fails. If the rube goldberg device gets jostled, the picture blinks out. Then I have to pick up the antenna and rotate it just right for the picture to come back. It seems our society hasn't progressed very far in 52 years.

"Barbara, try CBS."


Personally, I have given up. I ordered cable.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Felicity or doom

Elysium is as far as to
The very nearest room,
If in that room a friend await
Felicity or doom.

What fortitude the soul contains,
That it can so endure
The accent of a coming foot,
The opening of a door!
[Emily Dickinson]

Happy Thanksgiving, Dan. I'm sorry you didn't call.

Call me or write me before Christmas, and let's get together then for lunch. We'll find a place open, even if I have to boil some spicy shrimp and bring it and some cocktail sauce down to Banneker Park at noon so we can sit on a park bench and eat overlooking the DC Waterfront. The hour would surely go swiftly, seven years is a long time to catch up on! I hope you and your two older brothers are doing well on this day of solicitude.

Love, Dad.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

That Day in Dallas

Forty-six years ago I was sitting in math class at Edwin Markham JHS 51 on Staten Island when school principal Miss Anapole came on the school intercom system and in what I now recognize was a hysterical voice announced, "The President has been shot! He's dead! President Kennedy is dead!" One student broke into a cheer and Mr. Guzio yelled at him, "You shut your mouth!" Tension and oppression immediately settled over us seventh graders and we sat in shocked silence. Those were in the days before they sent grief counselors to the schools.

We were called into the school auditorium where Miss Anapole harangued us some more about the event in a shrill voice. I remember the loudspeaker system humming as she shrieked and glared at us. Then we were turned out of the school shortly after noon and we all went home. It was a long walk home on that gray, cold November afternoon.

At home I lay on my parents' bed for awhile, listening to the radio. That was how we mostly got our news in those days. It kept replaying Walter Cronkite's intonation that it was confirmed, the president of the United States is dead. I cried for awhile, quietly and alone, because I thought that was the right thing to do.

When I visited Dallas last summer and toured the Texas School Book Depository, where the fatal shot came from, people around my age were asking each other where we were on that fateful morning. That's a reference us baby boomers can relate to, sort of like do you remember what you were doing the moment you heard that the Challenger had blown up (shopping at Target in Boulder and I saw it on a demo TV) or when you first heard about 9/11 (at Metro Center waiting for a Red Line train and Metro announced that trains were running slow due to "the attack" at the Pentagon). I was only eleven the day JFK was shot but I remember it quite clearly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The fatal shooter

On my visit to Dealey Plaza in Dallas last summer, I stood on the Grassy Knoll contemplating that terrible day forty-six years ago when President Kennedy was shot. Looking up at the corner window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, I could see that the distance the shot traveled wasn’t so great. It was easy to imagine that a sharpshooter up there with a sniper’s scope and a stable platform upon which to steady his rifle could score a head shot on an unsuspecting target sitting immobile in a car that was slowly moving away. It wasn’t shooting fish in a barrel but it wasn’t the stuff of fantasy either.

Then a number of Segways rolled up and people in a tour group dismounted and ascended the grassy knoll. I could tell from their accents that they were Brits. The tour director wore a jacket saying "Dallas Tours." I sidled over to listen so I could get the benefit of her expertise for free. (Right: The Warren Commission said the fatal shot, the Magic Bullet if you will, came from up there, the corner window one level down. From it's original velocity of traveling 2,200 feet per second upon leaving the barrel of the rifle, the bullet would be hurtling onwards at 1,800 feet per second when it arrived here six feet above street level.)

Using sweeping arm gestures, she explained how on that fateful morning the presidential limousine had just executed two awkward ninety-degree turns and was slowly traveled down the middle lane in the broad roadway below us. She pointed out the window where the shots had come from, above and behind the car. She engaged the tourists by asking them what they would expect the driver of the limousine to do when he heard the first shot.

“Get the 'ell out of there, Luv?” one ventured in Cockney.

“No, actually, he slowed down further.”


“He did, he practically came to a stop. Some people have said that was so the agents in the Secret Service car following could come forward to protect the president.”

She had me engrossed now. My thought was that the driver panicked and his reactions froze.

“Another shot rang out. Still the car crawled slowly away. The president was hit by now and bleeding.”

Everyone’s eyes were shining as they stared at the road and looked up at the window. She had us hanging on her words.

“And then,” she said, gesturing her arm in the opposite direction to the far corner of the grassy knoll where it meets the overhead railroad viaduct, “the fatal shot came from there. It entered the president’s skull through his temple. That’s the shot that killed him”

(Left: The fatal shooter was standing in the little triangle framed by the lamp post, the sloping line of grass meeting the cement wall and the bottom level of leaves on the trees, to the right of center in this photo.) Everyone’s heads snapped around to look for that phantom shooter. Forgotten was the specter of Oswald up in his sniper’s perch.


“Now the car sped up. Only now did they rush off to the hospital with the already-dead president. Meanwhile a police line advanced across the street towards the Grassy Knoll, to seal it off."

Our heads snapped back to scour the roadway for the spectral police phalanx.

“That was to give the shooter time to escape.”

Ahh! (Right: The fatal shot came from here. It looks like a difficult shot to me because the target would be moving across the shooter's front, causing him to to swivel the rifle barrel to track it.)

“It was the CIA,” she added gratuitously.

Now I know.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The fatal shot

Last summer I was in Dallas and I visited Dealey Plaza, the spot where President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. The goodness that flowed into America out of the magnitude of its effort to overcome the badness of World War II seemed to filter through that moment in time, and nothing was the same thereafter. Vietnam, Watergate, Irangate, trickle down (ketchup as a school vegetable!), Monica, W. We still don't have universal health care. (Right: Dealey Plaza. The Grassy Knoll is in the exact center of the picture. JFK had only a few seconds to live when he unsuspectingly encountered this vista.)

Driving down Elm Street in Dallas, as soon as I topped the rise leading down into the Plaza I recognized it instantly. The wide expanse of the split-roadway slope leading down to a highway underpass has been seared into the memory of every American who was a school child in the early 60s through countless published photographs of the event. Like a suddenly developed Polaroid photograph, there it all was. The Texas School Book Depository with its sixth floor sniper's perch, the broad roadway flowing past and under that window, the Grassy Knoll beyond.

I believe something more was going on that day than just a lone-wolf political-nut shooter taking out the President by a blind convergence of luck and circumstances. Additional shooters? I didn't know. My nagging doubt always centered upon the difficulty, nay, impossibility of three shots being fired with such great accuracy from a bolt-action rifle at such extreme range. The difficulty of distance was what impressed me from the numerous pictures I had seen of the place. (Left: The Texas School Book Depository is behind me. Although I am not in the roadway, imagine a sniper with a scope in the right corner window one level below the top row, trained upon me. Completely doable. A slow moving car in a parade procession would be traveling directly away from the shooter, not across his front, so he needn't swivel the barrel to track the target.)

In person I instantly saw that it was very possible. Actually seeing the site, the distances compressed. For a good shooter with a stable platform, that was a likely shot. Lee Harvey Oswald was a Marine sharpshooter.

In the next post I'll disclose the official Dallas version of the shooting, to which I am now privy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Access Denied

I had a cathartic visit this weekend with an old running buddy of mine, Bex, who moved away to California a couple of years ago. I admire her and listen to her counsel closely. She advised me to move on. (Right: Bex at the Lake Tahoe Relay.)

So I am not going to post the long memo I sent last summer to the club's director of training outlining my vision for the club's training program, the one he ignored and actively subverted with the assistance of his buddies. I am not going to relate the details of the profane late-night phone call I received, or how the president's blog was removed from the front page of the club's website, or answer the charge that I engaged in "passive-aggressive attacks on other board members." (It was a novelty to have a man accuse me of being passive-aggressive.)

Contractual information was withheld from me, I couldn't get information about who suddenly published different bylaws on the club's website, and the club veeps I asked declined to assist me in getting the president's blog restored to its traditional spot. They also refused to investigate and report to me on whether there'd been co-mingling with a club account.

My presidential authority having thus been rendered nugatory, this month's board meeting became a debacle when I had four club members openly dissing me practically to the point of a melee. I took full responsibility for the breakdown of the meeting because I was the president. I resigned.

I'll reaffirm a truism--bullies are cowards.

Everyone there made their choices that day. I'm moving on.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno.

The controversy that led me to step down from the presidency of my running club last week had its genesis in a dispute over who would direct the upcoming training program that is currently closely associated with a national marathon in the area. Briefly, the club’s director of training, one of three club veeps I inherited, chose himself to be director of this complex program. However, acting in the best interests of the club and after personally conferring with him last summer, I appraised him in a lengthy memo that I was appointing the director of the then-ongoing club 10-Miler Training Program to be the new program’s director instead. Briefly, that program director's credentials and track record were far superior to anyone else's in the club. The club's director of training had no track record.

I requested the training director to instead direct the much less complex upcoming 10K Program as his initial foray into directing club training programs. He hadn't ever directed a training program before, nor even been a site director.

Tomorrow I’ll post the memo I sent him, with names edited out for the sake of privacy, showing that I didn’t undertake the decision lightly. It’s very long. I stated several compelling reasons for the choice. I had unstated reasons also, that centered upon the director of training personally. He was inexperienced and I lacked confidence in his judgment and reliability. In my opinion, I was acting in the best interests of the club and he was acting in the best interests of himself. He absolutely ignored the memo and took actions in undercutting it that absolutely roiled the club.

Some other characters are about to enter this story. Called straight out of an Alexandre Dumas novel, three other board members (one's position is disputed and unconfirmed), all well under thirty, rode to this early-thirties veep’s rescue. (I'm approaching sixty.) Here's the crucial fact--these three amigos, all very close friends. absolutley and totally control the club's website all by themselves.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yeah, that's me.

If I write the Access Denied series explaining why I resigned last week, you’ll need to know the persons involved. Here are the qualifications I brought to the club when I became president in May.

Participant in the club’s initial 10-Mile Training Program

Volunteer Coach, 10K Training Program.
Volunteer Coach, 10-Mile Training Program.
Volunteer at some club races.

Director, 10K Training Program.
Director, 10-Mile Training Program.
Director, Reebok SunTrust Half Marathon Training Program (along with the club president, I helped create the Reebok SunTrust National Marathon Training Program).
Recipient of the Justine Peet Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award.

Club VP, Director of Training.
Director, 10K Training Program.
Director, 10-Mile Training Program.
Director, Reebok SunTrust Half Marathon Training Program (under the club president, who remained as director of the overall program).
Obtained RRCA Coaching Certification.
Club representative at the RRCA 50th Annual Convention.
Obtained CPR and 1st Aid Certification, completed additional course work in Sports Psychology and Lactate Tolerance.
Volunteer at various club races.

Winter/Spring 2009
Finished directing the Reebok SunTrust National Half Marathon Training Program.
Race Staff at the SunTrust National Marathon.
Director, 10K Training Program.
Finalized the deal bringing the ATM Training Program to the club and set up that training program’s leadership structure.

General—I conducted some hill workouts, scheduled some speakers for the training programs, participated in numerous club races and programs, developed a body of volunteer coaches and acted as the informal historian of the club’s 10K, 10M and Half Marathon Training Programs by weekly blogging. The last three years have been exceedingly busy for me. For instance, I devoted forty-seven out of fifty-two Saturday mornings last year to actively participating in the three training programs that I directed. Detailed planning and administrative work were routinely required each week.

Basically, I came from the developing training side of the club, as opposed to the traditional, long-established racing side of the club. There is a tension between the two. My training director credentials were first rate.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hey Rae, you were wonderful

In January, before I became club president, I nominated a volunteer coach in a couple of my training programs for club volunteer of the year for 2008. I am publishing the nomination I sent in to the selection committee because it shows my thinking about what was important for the club. Let’s call my choice Rae, not her real name. All names have been removed for privacy sake.

Rae’s notable accomplishments:

Volunteer Coach for the club’s 10M/10K Program, summer 2008.

In this capacity, Rae created (along with two fellow coaches) and ran the Alternate Tuesday evening track workout program at the Yorktown High School track for the 10M Program. She created the track workout schedule, sent out regular e-mail updates about it with tips and encouragement, offered rides to it and regularly led the group on its runs.

Rae also organized a mid-Program Happy Hour, reserving a gathering place at a Clarendon restaurant for it, as well as a pre-race pasta dinner at a Ballston restaurant and a post-race bash at the Clarendon restaurant, complete with a cake. She set up a schedule of three speakers for the Program, who came to address the attendees before training runs on the importance of stretching, the choice of proper equipment, and injury prevention and physical therapy. She of course led her own small group of runners, working in close coordination with another coach to prepare the runners for the ATM, which several in her group successfully finished. She sent out weekly e-mails to her participants, each one of which contained an article on or summation of some important aspect of running such as hydration, nutrition, or preventing injury and icing and heat applications.

Rae's Extraordinary Intervention:

Most importantly, when her fellow coach brought in a runner after a nine-mile run who was acting a little strangely (he had purposefully and carefully kept running by her side and rested with her before they finally returned), Rae recognized the symptoms of dehydration, even though it wasn’t a hot or humid day, and assessed the runner, eventually taking the runner (along with the other coach) to the hospital when the runner exhibited some confusion. At the hospital, the runner received an IV infusion to replenish her fluids. A potentially serious situation was averted by the dedication, awareness and acquired knowledge of Rae and the other coach.

Both coaches took First Aid and CPR certification training in preparation for becoming club volunteer coaches.

RRCA Coaching Certification, Fall 2008.

Rae participated in a two-day training session along with several other club coaches to obtain her coaching certification. Rae participated in an informal group review session two weeks afterwards where the attendees carefully went over the test to ensure that they all understood the proposed answers and collectively submitted a passing test (a recommended study-session).

Volunteer Coach for the Reebok SunTrust National Half-Marathon Training Program, powered by the club, Fall 2008 & Winter 2009.

In this capacity, Rae volunteered to go to the Fleet Feet (Adams Morgan) site, a brand new Program location, and help that site director create the Half-Marathon Program running out of there, occasionally taking Full Marathon participants along with them on their training runs.

Rae created, along with two other coaches, the Tuesday Evening Beer & Burritos Run, a mid-week recovery run for Program participants that is well attended and has the potential for being a regular offering for the club as a whole. After a four mile loop run from Iwo along the Georgetown Waterfront, the participants have the opportunity to relax at a Rosslyn restaurant, enjoying a beer and some Mexican fare. Rae sends out weekly e-mails to the Fleet Feet participants (and anyone else who wants them) chock full of advice, training recommendations and well-researched running related articles.

Administrative Assistance:

In addition, Rae interfaced on behalf of the club with the Greater Washington Sports Alliance and Reebok, the race and Program sponsors, to create the early January "Test Ride" program, which included a Friday night gathering of Program and race participants at a District restaurant where information on the club, the race and running apparel was dispensed in an informal social setting. Attendees enjoyed appetizers (chosen and budgeted by Rae) and discounted drinks as they listened to a series of speakers, including two premier runners and the club president.

Rae spent dozens of hours organizing this joint project, finding the location, meeting with race personnel, offering creative ideas and proposing itineraries. She kept club Program directors [name] and myself fully informed along the way.

Although she recently has had a reoccurrence of an old nagging injury which prevents her from currently leading a group out on training runs, she regularly attends the Saturday morning gatherings anyway and assists in any way possible. She has lately taken on the task of ensuring that all club volunteer coaches receive their full allotment of Reebok technical apparel in the correct size to wear on Program training runs, and that all participants get their Program technical training shirts, in coordination with the GWSA and Reebok.

For Rae’s uncommon, productive and inspiring dedication to volunteerism at and for club functions, and especially for Rae’s alert, correct and caring monitoring and highly competent handling of the dangerous situation a distressed runner she encountered found herself in, I nominate Rae for the club 2008 Volunteer of the Year Award.

Club VP of Training

[I thought she was worthy. She didn’t win; rather, a board member won the award, which is a pretty regular occurrence.]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Loosed from its dream of life

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell.

I send Veterans Day greetings to my Uncle Harry, who won the bronze star in the Pacific in 1944, and my brother Jack, who won a medal in Beirut in 1982. I salute the memory of the following men who performed heroic deeds sixty-five years ago, my Dad (Peleliu), Uncle Bill (Manila), Uncle Bob (the Mediterranean) and my friend's father Sig (the Bulge). I love them all.

Well, my son Danny Lamberton didn't show up for lunch today at the Lost Dog Cafe like I had invited him to, so I phoned a friend and had a perfectly wonderful lunch with her instead. Life marches on. I'm sorry for my now-adult son, whom I haven't seen for years, who had his father stripped away from him when he was a minor by the pernicious process of PAS.

The Thanksgiving holiday is next, Dan. Call me before the 26th if you'd like to have Thanksgiving dinner with me. We can catch up on the last eight years, you know? I'll tell you all the Lamberton family news, because there's not a single Lamberton who has heard from you in over six years (another classic hallmark of Parental Alienation Syndrome).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fighting Prophet

Hmm, I'll have to think about Anonymous' comment in my last post.

Meanwhile, a friend related to me that she was reading a rollicking good book that repeatedly made her laugh out loud. I thought that sounded nice, to read a passage that made you burst out laughing.

I had such a moment today. I am reading Sherman: Fighting Prophet by Lloyd Lewis, copyright 1932. It's a fascinating book about a complex military man, an American hero (sorry Southerners).

Lewis describes General William Tecumseh Sherman when he was in his nervous, distracted phase early in the Civil War as he frenetically worked out his plans for command, when some people seriously considered him to be insane. Here's what made me laugh out loud on the subway when I read it:

Sherman was now entering upon that phase of his life when people would call him "queer." Absent-minded, [Kentucky legislator] Rousseau thought him as they stood at the railroad station near Maldraugh's Hill. Sherman, who was smoking incessantly, found that his cigar was no longer burning and asked a sergeant for a light. The soldier, who had just lit a fresh cigar, handed it to the general, who used it to kindle his own cheroot, then threw it into the dirt. Rousseau broke out laughing but Sherman remained preoccupied.

Isn't that a hoot? Isn't that gorgeous writing?

Or how about this passage:

Excoriating a reporter who had written that the general's manners were like those of a Pawnee Indian, Sherman was angered still further, a few days later, to read that the correspondent had apologized not to him, but to the Pawnee Indians.

Good stuff.

Monday, November 9, 2009

But Shane, there's too many.

The last six months have not been fun. The last sixty days, when I was alone in dealing with three insubordinate board members and a fourth buddy of theirs who were actively usurping the running club, were intolerable. I lost the struggle to these Generation-Y bad-boys because I received no support from the board. So I did the honorable thing by resigning the presidency. I go home and sleep at night.

The key sentence in my resignation letter was, "The refusal of key board members to furnish me with requested information has prevented me from properly monitoring the club activities for which I am putatively responsible." Crucial information was deliberately withheld from me by a couple of the bad boys, and by other board members as well. Over a series of posts I’ll document how it all went down. Let’s call the series, "Access Denied."

During the struggle I pretty much felt like I did during the worst days of my divorce, which cost me a quarter million dollars and my kids to PAS. But these bad boys who are half my age are mere chump-change compared to the battery of unscrupulous or worse divorce lawyers and "professionals" that my ex-wife threw at me while she was "winning." The children lost, that's all I know.

So these guys "won." The club lost, that's all I know. Life goes on. Maybe I'll actually start running again.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Free at last.

You might recall that I felt honored to assume the presidency of my running club half a year ago. Here's what I sent to my club's board earlier this week.

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 5 p.m.

To the [name of club] Board,

Unfortunately, I feel that I can no longer properly discharge my
special responsibilities as President of the club, which includes
being in general charge of the business, affairs, and property of the
club. The refusal of key board members to furnish me with requested
information has prevented me from properly monitoring the club
activities for which I am putatively responsible. Therefore for
personal reasons, and in the best interests of the club, I hereby
resign, effective at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 7, 2009.

The new President will be [name], the current Vice President of
Operations. I have already spoken with her about this. [She] has
been very active in the club and on the board, and she is a past
recipient of the Justine Peet Volunteer of the Year Award. She will
be a fine and capable successor and she has my complete confidence.

I leave behind a club that is even stronger than when I assumed the presidency, with several important associations and programs either implemented or expanded during my tenure. It has been my honor and pleasure to serve both the club members and the Washington running community for the past several years as a volunteer coach, as the director for several club training programs, as a board member and as club President. I am especially proud that I am a past recipient of the Justine Peet Volunteer of the Year Award.

I will naturally support [the new President's] transition in any way I can, and I can be reached at [this email address]. Thank you for your
continued support of the club.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

We cannot walk alone.

I haven't been running much the last six months, ever since I assumed the presidency of my running club, even before I got injured at Army. (I haven't run since.) Too busy.

However, being a site director for my club's Ten-Miler Program, I did run about ten miles each Saturday with my trainees, and then about ten more the next day in support of the Sunday site director. That was like my guilty pleasure.

But as president, in addition to the public stuff I detailed in the last post that were accomplished on my watch in the last six months, along with writing the club newsletter every eight weeks, there were the hidden every-day occurrences I administered to like attending innumerable meetings with finance committees, race directors, advisory boards, etc., communicating with countless persons in endless phone calls and emails, maintaining club property such as undertaking several trips in the club van to get it fixed after a RD damaged it in an accident, driving around the beltway in my pickup to pick up 15 boxes of racing t-shirts and deliver them early the next morning, going to a race packet pickup site to restore order when no one showed up for over an hour except for five dozen increasingly angry runners, participating in the ATM Expo to answer questions about pacing, safeguarding the runners' bags in the club tent at the MCM finish line during those lonely hours when the club runners were out on the course...well, you get the idea.

And then there was one last meeting earlier today to hand over the reins of power for the last six months of my reign (I just made a series of jokes, BTW) to the club VP of Ops so she could be the adult in the sandbox for the rest of the way.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best when he said, "We cannot walk alone." He concluded that iconic speech by reciting, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

That's pretty much how I feel about it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

It was a heck of a ride

Here is the body of work I was responsible for in the six months since I became my running club's president. The club has over a thousand members and over $100K in assets. There were some further things I accomplished, such as negotiating a potential $4.5 K contract to provide training over the winter for up to three hundred registrants for a local national marathon. This agreement replaced the old understanding which paid nothing beyond brand name exposure. But...well...that's for another post.

In the actual club posting this was taken from, real names were used but the following has been slightly edited, mostly for privacy.

Spring 2009: 10K Training Program.

Ten program participants ran in the Capitol Hill Classic 10K target race, with four runners finishing in under an hour and one athlete taking second in her age group and another athlete taking third in her age group. Thanks to the Program Director [Peter] and all the volunteer coaches.

Summer 2009: Ten Mile Training Program which on my watch became the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler Race. 173 trainees registered, which potentially collected over $12K in revenues for the club, representing a six-fold increase over the program's revenues a year ago. Some Program highlights:

We provided 16 weeks of training at three different sites over two weekend days. Included for participants were three Happy Hours, one picnic, a pre-race dinner, six seminars and a weekly informative email. The Program Director had a speaking role at the ATM Expo, and there was a club Table for our racers at the race finish line.

The race administrators were so impressed with the professional job we provided that it indicated it wants the club back. In a mass emailing, under the heading "[Club Name]/ATM 10 Mile Training," the Army Ten-Miler Race reported that for "the first time ever the ATM used pace groups provided by [Club Name] and they were a success." Thanks have to go to the Program Marketer, the three Site Directors [including Peter], and all the volunteer coaches.

Summer 2009: Marathon Training Program:

About 100 trainees registered for 5 months of training. In addition to coaching, the MTP provided three seminars, social events, and a tent at the MCM Finish Line. Thanks to the Program Directors and all the volunteer coaches.

Fall 2009: Army Ten Miler Race Pace Program.

The Pace Program Director and several other club members [including Peter] led pace groups in the race, and all six led their groups to the finish line within thirty seconds of their goal times.

August 11, 2009 Bart Yasso event.

The club co-hosted, along with Saucony, a Fun Run on the Mall with noted runner Bart Yasso. At the subsequent social gathering in Georgetown, Saucony provided gait analysis while Yasso gave out free autographed copies of his autobiography. The Membership Coordinator set this up.

Other notable club events:

There were four club social gatherings, including a dinner at Generous George’s in Alexandria, two Happy Hours at Gordon Biersch in the District and a Happy Hour at Sette Bello in Arlington. Thanks to two club members for setting these up.

There was an attempt to partner with Channel 9 (WUSA) and Pacers on a charity-event 5K race in Silver Spring last month, which was cancelled in the last week by Channel 9. However, in addition to negotiating complete financial that the television station would cover all the losses, if any, the club got television exposure out of the non-event when a club member was interviewed by the local news during prime time. In addition, the club forged important new relationships with powerful local concerns. Thanks to the VP of Operations [and next club president] for doing so much work in setting up this race.

The club welcomed a new SLR Director, Membership Coordinator, and Volunteer Coordinator.

Awards were presented to the Snowball Series and Bunion Derby winners. These runners mostly ran in the normal complement of club races put on by our hard-working Race Directors and club volunteers. Notable was the complete face lift given to the Larry Noel 12K (formerly 15K) by its RD, and the 25th running of the National Capital 20-Miler and 5-Miler races under the direction of three longtime club members.

The club purchased an AED Defibrillator unit to be on hand for potential emergencies at track workouts and club races. The club provided six volunteer coaches with the opportunity to receive RRCA Coaching Certification training this fall, and negotiated that payment for all such training (including CPR/1st Aid) be paid for by the local national marathon.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hail Meb too.

You will remember my friend Ashley. She is a running buddy of mine who moved to Nashville a couple of years ago.

In 2006, Ashley paced me the last ten miles to my then-PR at the NYCM. She also enabled me to finish the infamous Chicago 26.2 mile "Fun Run" in 2007 by finding me walking disconsolately at MP 24, barely ahead of the No-More-Running Police who were out on the course, and jogging me the rest of the way in. (I was sick when I ran that marathon, which didn't help with the 90 degree heat that day.) I hated her for the 17 minutes it took us to go the last two miles, but loved her afterwards for finding me and bringing me home.

Overcoming a continuing spate of injuries, and despite a current injury, Ashley ran her first marathon last weekend at the NYCM. She threw down a 4:14 while thoroughly enjoying her run, stopping to take pictures, text, high-five people, etc. She feels she could have gone faster (she was injured) but that's a good ground floor if she continues on in marathoning.

She had a wonderful experience, and who wouldn't at the NYCM? It is my favorite marathon, bar none. But there's more to the story.

Two posts ago I indicated how excited I was to hear that an American had won at New York for the first time since 1982. An American, Meb Keflezighi, who ran shoulder-to-shoulder with the best Kenyan in the world at MP 24 and then vanquished him in Central Park. Meb won convincingly in a PR of 2:09:15.

In my post, I included a picture of me with Meb a few days after he ran a sub-2:10 at this year's London Marathon. Meb is back.

At a post-race party in New York, Ashley met Meb herself. She said it was utterly thrilling. Ashley is the one on the left.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hey Danny Lamberton

Hi youngest son Dan. As you know, you haven't spoken to me, or anyone on my side of the family, in over half a decade because you are the victim of Parental Alienation Syndrome, perpetrated upon you when you were a minor by your Mother Sharon Rogers and her coterie of "professionals," when she involved you in our divorce proceedings early this decade. You should know that some people consider PAS to be a form of child abuse, and I am sorry that I was unable to protect you from it.

In my unending (at least until you turn 21 like your two similarly-situated brothers) attempts to contact you, I am inviting you to lunch with me at 12 noon on Veterans Day next Wednesday, November 11th, at Westover's Lost Dog Cafe. Bring anyone you'd like (like Jimmy Rogers and/or Johnny Lamberton). As you undoubtedly know, your Mother knows your address but refuses to give it to me, so I must resort to these entreaties on the Internet.

We can start our brand new father-son association during that noon hour next week. It will be the first day of the rest of our lives. Quite frankly son, I'm 57 now and you and your brothers just might be running out of time.

Since it will be Veterans Day, I'll tell you everything that I know about my Dad, your grandfather, James Wilson Lamberton, who died of lung cancer when he was 61 while I sadly watched him depart from this sphere, before you were born. I wish you could have met him!

Among his many other notable achievements he was a war hero, serving during World War II with the First Marine Division at the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Both were terrible, bloody affairs.

He waded ashore at Peleliu on September 15, 1944 as a 19 year old boy and he once said to me in response to yet another wondering, inquiring little boy question that I impetuously put to my strong father about his wartime experiences, "The division had 15,000 Marines and took 5,000 casualties. Imagine, Peter, lining up all in a row and looking to the left of you, and to the right of you, and knowing that one of the three of you was going to get hit."

It was one of the few things that he ever said about that horrific battle. I was and continue to be awestruck at the sacrifices that he and others like him made for us.

Come on Veterans Day and I'll tell you everything I know about this hero that you never met.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hail Meb

There's a larger story here, that Meb Keflezighi, born in Africa, is as American as apple pie. Some people I respect grumble about his Americanism (he was born in Eritiea, and consider that tongue-twisting name) and maybe I'll get into that later.

Meb: He won the silver medal in the marathon in the Athens Olympics (2004). He sorta played it safe in the race and didn't go after Stefano Baldini for the gold. But he medaled for the USA, the first long-distance running medal for the USA in three decades.

A few weeks later, I was attending a baseball game in the Tropicana Dome in Tampa. They announced during the 7th inning stretch that there was a special American athlete in attendance that night, Meb Keflezighi. I started clapping.

The rest of the audience was silent. Who?

The announcer continued, "The silver medalist at the Olympic Marathon."

The Tropicana Dome erupted into cheers.

A few weeks later Meb ran the NYCM and finished 2d, to a Kenyan. A cash purse, don't you know. Can Americans ever seize the prize from persons whose existence is defined and controlled by the money derived from a contest?

Meb was fading. He didn't even qualify for the 2008 Olympics, His friend Ryan Shay died during that qualifying race in Central Park.

No American medaled in 2008.

I thought Meb was through. Too old, and hurt too. (He had suffered a dog attack while on a training run and had hurt his hamstring,)

Meb ran London this year and did a nice time. He was ninth in 2:09:21, first American, but nice guys finish last. Ryan Hall is the new American darling. He finished 3d at Boston at 2:09 :40. You can't equate marathon courses, both Boston and New York are considered very difficult.

I have run against Meb. A few days after London, at a 3-Miler in the District, I ran and beat him. Hooray for me.

Meb was pacing a politician. How American can you get?

I was dying to get this picture taken with an American hero. Meb WAS American long distance running.

Uh, Meb IS American long distance running. He won the NYCM today, wearing (and pointing to) an American singlet as he entered Central Park, at the spot where fellow American Ryan Shay collapsed and died in 2007.

Meb outdueled 4-time Kenyan winner of the Boston Marathon, Robert Cheruiot, in the final miles, Ryan Hall didn't make it to this closing party, finishing fourth in 2:10:36. Meb cried afterwards, knowing that he did it for a fellow American Ryan Shay.

I cried too when a friend called me and told me what Meb had done. She thought that Meb wasn't quite American but I knew. Meb has brought American long-distance running back to where Frank Shorter left it in the seventies. (I have a Frank Shorter story too, that's how old I am.)

American hero, Meb Keflezighi. Woot Meb.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stormy 'n me.

Colorado high country near Durango, October 10, 2009. I'm wearing blaze orange because it's the first day of rifle hunting season for elk.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Last month I took a trip to Texas to take in games at the baseball stadiums in Houston and Dallas. The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park in Houston was closed for the Astros game because of the threat of rain. (Left: The roof was closed in Houston.)

The next day I drove to Dallas and despite it raining 5 inches that day, the Rangers played a twi-light doubleheader at The Ballpark in Arlington that evening because the game the previous evening had been washed out. I watched both games of the twinbill but it made for a long drive back to my hotel in Houston that night (it’s 250 miles each way). (Right: Despite a deluge during the day, they played two that night in Arlington.)

I really liked Minute Maid Park in Houston, it was a fun place to watch a baseball game. There was nothing special about the baseball stadium in Arlington although it did have good barbecue. The best thing about it actually was the presence nearby of the Dallas Cowboys’ brand new one billion dollar stadium. It looked like the District 9 spaceship had settled onto the ground right there in the mega-parking lot. (Left: The new digs of America's Team.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Better than a poke in the eye

To me, the situation outlined in my last post cries out why this obscenely affluent industrialized society needs to provide basic health care to its citizens. When I spin this true story out to my Republican friends (I have a few of those), they stare blankly at me and say they have health insurance and they're not going to support any initiative that raises their premiums by one bit. Their awesome selfishness is incomprehensible to me.

There's more to the story of my family member who has a life-threatening condition she contracted from unknowingly receiving tainted blood during a necessary medical procedure. She can't get health insurance because she is approaching 60 and is unable to find any job that offers benefits. Remember, she stayed at home to raise the children and when she was in her 50s, her husband divorced her and took his work-based health insurance with him.

Republicans (including blue-dog Democrats) inexplicibly paint the Public Option as some great evil. Private market-driven forces will cure all our ailments, they say. But when I consider the health insurance industry in this country, I think collusion, monopolistic tendencies, influence-peddling, lobbying, excessive profiteering, deceptive advertising, huge executive salaries and slavish devotion to the corporate bottom line.

HMOs were going to be the answer, private organizations that found economy through efficiency. My family member also contracted shingles in her eye and wasn't referred to a specialist by her HMO until it was too late. She had to see her doctor first to get a referral to a specialist approved and he was away etc. etc. etc. One corneal transplant later, she is going blind. Hers is a typical HMO horror story.

If you read my posts, you might know that I went through half a decade of bitter divorce litigation that cost me my children through Parental Alienation Syndrome, which some people consider to be child abuse. I used to commiserate with this family member about our ongoing divorces, which were occurring at about the same time. In the desperate search for sympathy common to persons enduring divorce prceedings, we used to rate each other on the misery index.

I would say to her, But at least you still have your children. She would say to me, But at least you still have your health.

That shut me up every time.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I have a family member who contracted Hep-C from a blood transfusion she underwent when her oldest child was born, because she lost so much blood during delivery. In those days blood largely came from paid donors, including many drug addicts who sold their blood for ready cash so they could shoot up some more. For two decades afterwards she went undiagnosed although she told doctors that something was wrong with her. They merely labeled her a hypochondriac. Finally when she was in her 50s her condition was diagnosed correctly, her husband divorced her, she underwent a year of grueling chemotherapy and now, since she was a live-at-home Mom, she doesn't benefit from America's work-driven health insurance programs.

So now she has a pre-existing condition, which isn't her fault, and although she has dedicated her life since her divorce to getting a job with health insurance benefits, no employer who offers health insurance will hire her because she is approaching the age of 60. (This is the richest nation ever on earth.)

Her only practical option is to become a pauper so that when her house is gone and all her possessions are in her siblings' garages, the government can take her in and administer minimal health care to her that she can't otherwise afford til she dies.

Who in the world doesn't want the Public Option?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Watch the Sky

Last week when I was in Colorado visiting my 85 year-old uncle, I went with my cousin Liz's husband Bill and his son Jimmy, the professional bull rider, to Roswell NM where Jimmy competed in a two day bull riding event. It's a seven hour ride to Roswell for an eight-second bull ride. That is, if you're lucky (and good) and don't get bucked off.

Roswell is where the aliens landed in 1947. Or rather, crash-landed. There's been a massive government cover-up about it ever since. Just ask anyone in Roswell. They'll tell you. (Left: The UFO Museum in Roswell.)

The three of us on the long drive to Roswell decided that probably the coolest thing for Obama about winning the presidency was that on January 20th "they" took him aside and told him all the secret extra-terrestial stuff. About the autopsies of the four little green men (one was big) and the metal that never tarnishes or crumples and the technology the Air Force got from the crashed ship. Why do you think American fighter jets are so much better than everyone else's? Because we're smarter? Have you talked to a Tea Party member yet? (Right: Jimmy and Bill react to discovering the truth in the UFO Center.)

(Left: The bulls were waiting for Jimmy.) Anyway, Jimmy's been in a slump. He got bucked off of all of his bulls. But going to the Roswell UFO Research Center on Main Street was fun. Inside, the curator was telling the folks ahead of us that there had been another sighting that very morning but it was already being covered up. All of a sudden the five police cars I saw go screaming down Main Street at 7 am with lights and sirens made sense. I wondered if it was maybe another crash. Of a flying saucer.

I also liked the county fair that was at the fairgrounds in conjunction with the Professional Bull Riding Competition. There were a lot of 4-H animals being displayed there. Here's my favorite.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colorful Colorado

When I was in Colorado last week, I drove from Denver to my cousin Liz's house, which is in Bayfield, outside of Durango. It was snowing when I traveled over Wolf Creek Pass.

Here's how the mountain valley looked on the other side, pointing westbound towards Durango.

Here's the sky over Pagosa Springs.

Here's my cousin Liz, the one I went horseback riding with. She runs a program up there in the Colorado high country, a house of sobriety, where she oversees drug dependent teenagers and gets them to go straight through animal therapy. She shows them how to take care of horses as part of their treatment for their dependency, including riding the horses.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Suddenly breaking into a run, Stormy took off at a fast clip up the hillside. I held on as well as I could, bouncing up and down in the saddle while I maintained a death grip upon the pommel with one hand. I held the reins with my other.

Branches from the close-in spruce trees on both sides of the trail lashed my face. I was reviewing my life as it flashed before my eyes when I remembered the advice my cousin Liz gave to me before we left the meadow of her Colorado high-country home about turning Stormy in a circle if he started to get away from me.

You see, Stormy has attitude. He doesn't brook fools or tenderfoots. I might be a fool too, but I clearly was a novice, not having been on horseback for thirty years. As passing evergreen limbs threatened to sweep me off of Stormy's back, I pulled back on one rein.

Before the ride, Liz had saddled Stormy for me and offered to get a footstool so I could use it to mount the gelding. That's western-speak for, You're a dude, man.

I declined the stool but I did take Liz's advice about demonstrating who was in charge to Stormy. Before I climbed aboard, I spent a minute pressed in close to the big horse, leading him around in a tight circle by gently pulling his halter to one side and forcing him around with my body. Now as the hilltop loomed, I viewed that as a minute well spent.

Stormy's head came around in response to my pressure on the bit and he went into a turn. He slowed down to a walk.

Liz, who rides every day, trotted up on her horse and said, "Well done, Peter. Stormy tested you and now he respects you." I just beamed for the rest of our slow and peaceful ride through the beautiful and quiet National Forest, observing deer and wild turkeys and passing over bear scat.

Friday, October 9, 2009

More Bull

I'm on vacation in Colorado, currently in Bayfield in the high country, where it is threatening snow. I drove here yesterday from Denver through snow flurries along the front range and snow on the passes.

I am here visiting my 86 year old uncle, a hero of the Fast Carrier Strikes on Tokyo oh so many years ago. He's doing well enough. Today I'm driving to to Roswell, New Mexico with my cousin and his son to see two days of the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Tour. Us two old guys will "see" it, the son, Jimmy Anderson, will "do" it, two days of bull riding, the longest eight seconds on earth, He's 111th on the circuit.

It's a tough business. Last night Jimmy was talking matter-of-factly about his injuries; three broken noses, a broken leg, a broken elbow, strains, sprains and numerous dislocations. He happily said, "At least I still have all my teeth."

When Jimmy's balky chronically dislocated left shoulder (a bull stepped on it. or rather, stomped on it), the free, swinging arm, finally wouldn't easily pop back in for him on its own accord ("the emergency room could barely get it back in, they had to use massive amounts of muscle relaxants and hang weights from the shoulder") he had it operated on. My injured left ankle, done in by ten hard miles of running on it at Army (although not swollen, it still pains me greatly and I can't run on it) pales in comparison.

Jimmy's left shoulder is fine now. and he's ready to climb back aboard a ton of bucking, spinning raging fury tonight. We can't wait to see what happens.

His mother isn't coming with us to watch because she's out of town helping out with caring for her daughter's new-born baby. The last time she watched Jimmy ride in person, he was knocked out cold upon being thrown off the bull. He lay motionless on the ground for many long moments before stirring. How would you like to be a parent whose child did this for a living?

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Today I was the 1:30:00 (9:00) pace leader at the Army Ten-Miler. It's the first year the race has had pacers, so we're all under scrutiny.

I have a bag of frozen peas on my left ankle as I write this. It's been sore for weeks and although it doesn't restrict me from running, it prevents me from walking without a limp for days afterwards. My farewell-to-coaching run last Saturday was the only run I have done in two weeks. I figured I had one more ten-mile run in me so I wanted to make it count, on race day.

Pacing is hard. Rather, it's stressful, especially in a short race like a ten-miler where there isn't much time to make up for a bad mile or two.

A lot of people were looking to me to bring them to their goal of breaking 1:30. Although they gathered around me and my 1:30:00 sign at the start, on the course I often felt like I was running alone in the crowded race, with a sign thrust into the air.

There were runners out there watching me though. Runners I started with dropped away and caught back up. Other determined runners saw my sign and struggled up to me and passed me by in the last two miles. Some runners hung with me on the edges, keeping my sign in sight, acting like lurkers in an Internet chat room.

The first mile, about which I was the most worried because of the crush of people, went by in 9:15. Then we banked a little time in the early miles and got slightly ahead of our goal time by the fifth mile, passing it at about 44:10 instead of 45 flat. I knew that the long, visually daunting uphill expanse of the 14th Street Bridge was coming in the ninth mile, followed by the run onto slightly higher ground to the west in Virginia during the last mile.

Around the Capitol we had some personally satisfying 9:03 or 9:04 miles and then incredibly, as we approached the bridge, my system started going out of whack. Not enough food that morning, I think. With my head down (always a bad sign for me in a race) and worse, my heart racing, my body ignoring my yoga deep cleansing breaths, I desperately tried sucking down a GU to get back a feeling of control. Ah, within a few minutes I was back on a steady nine-minute rhythm. Sustenance, it really works.

I finished in 1:29:44 (8:58). Several people came up to me afterwards to say thanks. One went away ecstatic with my sweaty Army 25th Running wristband, and another thought me giving him the 1:30:00 sign was just the cat's meow. "My wife will just love this," he said.

I just smiled, having just finished a duty which turned out to be devilishly difficult.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


As I went by the Mall's World War II Memorial alongside L on my last training run as a coach for my club, I told L that carved into the wall over by the Atlantic column were two battles that the father of a close friend had fought at, the Bulge and the Rhineland. This old Patton warrior had passed on mere weeks ago, another American hero gone away. L, being a Navy veteran, was non-responsive in talk about a soldier.

Then I said that carved into the wall over by the Pacific column were two battles that my father had fought at, Peleliu and Okinawa. L suddenly became animated.

"Really?" he said, with respect in his voice. "My father was a Marine also, and was at Guam and elsewhere and fought at Iwo Jima."

"Really?" I said with respect in my voice. "Me and my brother, who was a combat Marine in Beirut when they blew up the barracks, had an argument once. I said Peleliu was the worst combat in World War II, perhaps in history, since the First Division had to dig entrenched Japanese soldiers out of fortified caves blasted into mutually-supporting steep coral ridges in 112 degree heat with no cover. But he said that Iwo was even tougher, and I had to admit that it probably was."

L is black. In World War II black Marines, who received the same training as white Marines, were kept in segregated outfits and used as supply service troops given the dangerous task of unloading ordnance and other supplies on the beaches while their white brethren fought on the front lines a few miles away. Such was the racism of America in the forties.

At a few desperate, terrible battles in the Pacific, including Peleliu and Iwo Jima, these black troops were called up into the front lines as combat replacements because the fighting was so horrific that there were no other troops available to restore the decimated units to a semblance of combat effectiveness. These Americans, who were fighting two enemies at once, the common enemy and society's prejudice, proved themselves to be worthy of the hero's mantle that cloaked all combat Marines in the Pacific.

L told me that his father is 93, well and living nearby in Maryland. He sees him daily. I asked L to pass my respects on to his father, and tell him that there are young men in our society who read books and know the terrific sacrifices that he and his friends went through. I lied about the young man part. L said that he would pass on my sentiments to his father, who would appreciate hearing them.

With our conversation finally charged, as we ran by the Pentagon near the end of our sojourn, L told me where he was on 9/11/01. He worked in the Pentagon then and lost friends there, but that morning he was on a detail at Bolling Air Force Base. He was out for a run when suddenly security at the base came alive and emergency vehicles started going everywhere. He went into the post and found out we were under attack. He said he wished then that he was at sea in a battle group, because they all would have gone to battle stations instantly and been ready to defend themselves within moments. On the base, however, there was no defense, only chaos. They could only stand by and wait to see what would materialize. It was awful, he said, we were totally unprepared for what hit us that day.

Our interesting conversation at an end, we ran up to our end point, Gotta Run, and the end of both the run and my coaching career. We had gone 8.6 miles in 1:21:59, a 9:32 pace. Mark my word, L is gonna rock his hoped-for 9:30s tomorrow at Army.