Friday, January 30, 2009

An icy track workout

Here in DC we're wimps in the winter. The One couldn't believe it, for instance, when they shut down the school system earlier this week for "some ice," as he described it. He's from Chicago, by way of Hawaii with a layover in Indonesia. Winters in Chicago are ferocious.

Our running friends to the north just deal with it. They find indoor tracks to run on, indoor marathons to race, and venture out to run in minus degree temperatures.

Wednesday's track workout for my Half Marathon Training Program called for 4X1600 with 200M recovery jogs. That's at tempo pace or interval pace or race pace or something. I can never keep it straight. It translates loosely, with the gang I run with, to 7:55 miles or 1:58 laps.

Tuesday and Wednesday it snowed and sleeted and froze so the track was closed on Wednesday night. No school, remember? Track workout was cancelled. Yay!!

The cold temperature has been hanging around and putting a nice polished sheen of ice on the snow that is extant. It's slippery. So running out there violates my one rule of running--Be safe.

Runners aren't obsessive. The week was about to slip away without my track workout. So this afternoon I headed up to the W&OD Trail behind my house. My house providentially sits right on MP 7. Lessee, one mile thataway and back, and one mile thisaway and back, with a minute jog at the end of each mile, that sure sounds like the track workout to me.

Off I set eastbound. About a third of the trail was rutted with icy frozen snow fields but the rest was clear. There was no black ice because it had been above freezing all day (38 degrees). I booked on the clear parts and ran haltingly and gingerly, like the old man I am, on the clumpy parts.

I hit the first mile at 8:20, after passing the half mile marker at 4:00. I looped around on the trail for 40 seconds and then came back for the second mile. This was into a stiff wind and I covered the same terrain, with the same gingerly steps in the same places, in 8:40. This time I jogged around for 1:40 before I took off westbound.

It was hard to tell, but I think there were more ice-afflicted parts of the trail to the west. The wind seemed to have dropped though, and I had the hang of the exercise by now, breaking out of my periods of mincing little steps on the clotted parts of the trail with rapid bold strides on the long clear parts between the islands of ice. The third mile was 8:20. I jogged down the path aways, turned, and as I came back I hit the milepost at full speed, where I switched on my watch.

The wind was at my back for the last mile. I wanted to do at least one sub-8. And I did, with a 7:44 fourth mile. I jogged back to my house, having "checkmarked" in my head this week's track workout. It was a little different, but then us runners have to adapt.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Anatomy of a Ten-Mile Race

The Al Lewis 10 Miler in Kensington, MD, is a club 10-mile race in early January that tests a runner’s early season, or cold season, endurance. It’s free for club members, or $5 otherwise. The course is on an asphalt bike trail that runs alongside Beach Drive, which is closed to traffic on weekends. The bicyclists hold sway on the road while runners labor on the trail as it tracks alongside a small creek and wanders up and down lots of little roller hills.

The Half-Marathon Training Program I coach for was in its ninth week when we ran the race. The instructions were to run it as a supported training run, "non-competitively." It was our furthest distance up to that date.

I ran it under the same circumstances last year, except that no one else from the HM Program showed up. I was disappointed then with my 1:22:44 (8:16) finishing time, a bottom-half showing. Club races are tough.

This year was bitterly cold, just like last year. Many Program runners were there and I started the race with a couple of fast women from the Program, J and K. We passed the first mile in 8:21, which consisted of a several little downhills that were going to become uphills in the last mile.

I could tell that I was holding J back so I told her that I couldn’t keep up and to go ahead. I never saw her again and she turned in an excellent 1:18, second in her age group. (J, Matt, and another Program runner, Jo, on a recent training run. All three finished many minutes ahead of me.)

I settled in with K. She is very competitive and she hung right with me and didn’t slow me down at all. I was glad to run with her.

Club races have a predictable rhythm to them because you run against the same folks all the time. And guess what. The order of finish rarely changes.

During the second mile I went by a fellow near my age and speed that I always overtake at about this stage of a race. He dislikes me because once, when he was wearing Texas running shorts (the ones with the white star on a field of blue with red legs), I muttered "Texas sucks," as I went by him. The devil made me do it. He heard me and now he works hard at not letting me pass, so I had to go by him very quietly. He didn’t look up from his reverie when I passed so as another famous Texan once said, Mission Accomplished.

That was my fastest mile at 8:03. I logged the third and fourth miles at 8:23 and 8:17. I was following K’s lead by half a body length.

Running right on our heels was another fellow about my age and speed that I dislike because he acts so stuck up. The few times I have made an attempt to talk with him he has stared at me, responded pithily to my particular comment if it was in the form of a question, and then looked away. In races I actively try to beat him. He’s a Republican because he wears shirts with conservative slogans. I'll bet that he listens to Rush Limbaugh.

He passed me but didn’t open up any distance between us with his pass. A mile later I passed him back and powered on a short ways but couldn’t shake him. He was quickly back on my heels once more and soon passed me again. I settled in behind him six feet back.

I pointed out to K the spires of the Mormon Temple in the distance, peeking over the treetops, the course’s Kodak moment. We hit the bottom of the big hill where the course veers up a residential street to its turnaround point. As I clung to the Republican on the hill, I lost K who couldn’t take the hill in as forceful a manner. I was sorry to leave her behind but this was personal.

Laboring up the hill behind the Republican, I counted familiar faces coming back down it. Kevin, who would finish second, chasing the leader and ultimate winner. Last year’s winner, who would finish third this go around. Program coach Matt, who would finish fifth in 1:02. Program participant G, who ran a 1:31 in last year’s Half-Marathon and who would finish this 10-miler in 1:15.

Two club runners I knew ran by and said "Hi" to the Republican. I ran up alongside the Republican and smartly asked him if he thought those two club members were boycotting me by not shouting out a greeting to me also. The Republican didn’t even look at me as he ignored me. I went on by him for the last time.

A half mile up the steep hill was the blessed turnaround. I did the fifth mile in 8:23.

Coming down the hill, I checked out the competition. K was pushing up the hill gamely, not too far back. S, a very competitive Program runner, was back a quarter mile, working hard on the hill. Coach Lauren was back of her, running up the hill with two of his trainees. Another trainee, normally a strong runner, was walking up the hill with her head down.

I re-entered the trail at the bottom of the hill and tried unsuccessfully to pick up my pace. The sixth mile passed in 8:23 and the seventh mile in 8:28. Three or four male runners picked me off and went by. I told one passing runner, trying to be humorous, that there was a wise guy in every bunch, and he retorted that I looked like I was in his age group and I wouldn’t be catching him. He was right on both counts.

I heard a female runner approach and she pulled alongside. I thought it would be K but I was surprised that it was S, in the throes of a monster negative split. She had come from a long way back.

I pointed out a guy in a grey shirt 30 yards ahead who was flagging and told her that she could catch him. Pointing to my grey shirt, she said, "I already caught the guy in grey that I wanted to catch." Aww.

But S did press on, leaving me to contemplate being beaten by a runner I actively coach. It would be a first (J is coached by Matt). I passed the eighth mile in 8:34.

Then Lauren pulled up alongside. He had really made up some ground, doing 7:20s since the turnaround, he said. Whew.

Lauren ran ahead and caught up with S. I chased those two the penultimate mile, which passed by in 8:33. Lauren ran on but I started gaining on S and passed her a half mile out. In her inexperience, she had run a 9.5 mile race rather than a 10 mile race, and was finishing the last half mile on pure grit.

I ran hard up the short rollers of the last mile as best I could, doing it in 8:33. I saw the finish clock in the distance reading 1:23:50. I sprinted and thought I ran by it at 1:23:59. When my time was later listed officially as 1:24:00 (8:24), I became disproportionally disappointed. But the difference between 1:23 or 1:24 doesn’t much matter as much as that I was 76 seconds slower than the year before.

It was an interesting race, with plenty of little dramatic moments. Lauren finished almost a minute ahead of me while S finished about half a minute back and K came in a minute later. (S, Lauren, K, moi.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inauguration Blues

A week ago The One was inaugurated, and the Decider flew back to his well-deserved retirement in Texas. The Great Bird Hunter, looking much shrunken with his lopsided smirk not so smug anymore, was pushed out of town in a wheelchair, his 8-year deal with the devil apparently due and payable on that very day.

Although I was in the area, I was not in town penned into the Mall with the other 200 million people who are going to someday claim they were there on that magical but frigid day. Those masses watched the president's extraordinary speech on Jumbotrons set up around the Mall while I watched it on my TV in my dining room, perhaps the last substantive thing I will ever see on it before it goes permanently fuzzy soon in the big switch-over to digital. (I won't miss it much.)

I was in the DC area only because I had been driven out of eastern North Carolina by the weather. My college roommate Jimmy recently retired to what they call the Inner Banks down there, moving into a house on stilts by the water's edge on the Pimlico Sound in a town called Vandemere. It's not on the map.

I went down to visit with him so I could escape the Obama-Rama craziness that was engulfing DC as the Inauguration approached. I drove down, 370 miles, on the Thursday before Tuesday's Inauguration, arriving after dark. We ate a marinated steak he cooked and discussed small towns in rural Carolina, two recently divorced men in their mid-50s feeling much cast aside by the great gender movements of our times.

They apparently go to church a lot down there because on any Sunday that he doesn't, he gets a friendly call from a church member asking him how things are going. It's their way of trying to make him feel at home there. He keeps a list of handy excuses by the phone because for him, as for me, a little church goes a long way.

He retired there so he could go sailing, his passion. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway passes by near his home and at the end of his dock is water deep enough and calm enough to take him, so long as he pays proper attention to weather forecasts, safely all the way to Florida or Maine in a small craft.

Even though it was January, I had this fantasy that it would be warm along the water in North Carolina. Not so. They were in the midst of the coldest snap they'd had there in seven years. Friday when we woke up it was 15 degrees out. Jimmy had drained his water the night before because down there, with the houses built on stilts or cinder blocks to raise them above storm (or more properly, wind) surges, the pipes are often outside and exposed.

Jimmy is a cheap guy (he would be beaming to read this) so he keeps his water heater shut off except for the twenty minutes before he takes a shower, and as for heat in the house, well, what are coats, hats and gloves for? Saturday morning when we woke up prior to embarking on a two-day car trip to the Outer Banks, it had warmed up outside to 19 degrees, but it was only 49 degrees in the house.

Then on Monday the local newsstations started talking about a seven-year record snowfall due to start later that night at around midnight, supposed to be very localized due to the unusual cold conditions. Something about eight inches or more of snow possible on Tuesday, primarily along my exact route out of there.

We got back to Jimmy's house from the Outer Banks at 8 pm on Monday. Twenty minutes later I had said goodbye and was driving pell-mell west and then north. Exactly at midnight I hit snow at the Virginia border and for twenty five minutes I drove into a blinding panorama of big fat snowflakes coming horizontally into the cone of light cast out by my headlights. But then I drove out of the storm and the way was clear.

At 1:20 am as I drove through Richmond on Interstate 95, 100 miles from DC, I passed a highway sign announcing that due to the Inauguration later that day, I-95 would be closed down at 3 am. I had 100 minutes to go 100 miles.

I joined a mad horde of truckers barreling northbound in a convoy at, well, a considerable speed in order to get past the bottleneck of DC before the authorities pinched off the highway there. Fast as this Mad Max moving phalanx was going, several State Trooper cruisers passed us enroute to their Inauguration posts throughout DC.

I made it home with a few minutes to spare. It did snow down in eastern Carolina most of Tuesday. Jimmy sent me this picture he took of his dock in the snow.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dad, I hardly knew ye

Happy birthday, Dad. Winona born, Lawrenceville class of '42 (Raymond), WWII vet (Fifth Marines, Peleliu at age 19, Okinawa at age 20, post-war duty in China), Carleton grad, Yale Law School, husband for 43 years, father of six, ethical and activist lawyer. I have missed you ever since 1986 when I was a mere pup of 34 and you were only 61.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Profiling Movies, Deux

I click into the profiles of bloggers I read because I like to think their choices there give me an insight into their personalities. For instance, favorite movies. I don't go to movies much, so I can't discern much about the movies most (younger) bloggers choose. Consider the screamingly funny twenty-something Kelly in Chicago. Fight Club. Sin City. Donnie Darko. Never seen any of 'em. The title of her triathlete's blog offers me more insight into how purposefully humorous she is, This is a horrible idea...

My local tri friend DC Rainmaker is so busy with his interests, bicycling, running, swimming, technology, food, travel, writing, photography, etc. that he doesn't even list movies. Who's got two hours to spare? Old School Runner, another local blogger who writes excellent posts (his review of The Joshua Tree upon its twenty year anniversary kicked-started my static musical tastes all the way from the Stones' Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out into the eighties) doesn't list anything on his profile. He's very serious, I surmise.

For 2007, I listed my favorite movies as Shane (You talkin' to me?), 2001 (Open the door, HAL), Alien (Here, kitty, kitty), Platoon (I like it here), Fargo (Funny lookin', huh?) and Chicago (Pop, six, squish, uh uh, cicero, lipschitz). One for each decade of my life, see? The fifties to the ohs. I thought they said a lot about me. I fantasize that Shane was the first movie my Dad ever took me to (the small boy in me just remembers that it was some western with an incredible shootout). I'll never forget the night on Staten Island in 1969 when I saw the incredible 2001, nor the afternoon in Greenwich Village in 1972 when I saw it again and figured out, with a little help, that HAL sounds so soothing and otherworldly because the stereo tracks of its voice are very slightly out of sync. All of those movies are special to me for some reason or another.

For 2008, I listed Forbidden Planet, Dr. Strangelove, The Conversation, Blade Runner, Saving Private Ryan and Sideways as my favorite movies. I remember watching Forbidden Planet, which is really The Tempest set in space, over and over again on TV as a boy because it was often on Million Dollar Movie, a space-filler in early TV programing that repeated itself all weekend long. The terrible (invisible) creature would come walking up to the perimeter of the space colony, depicted as a series of advancing deep footprints, while the colonists inside quaked with fear and fought amongst themselves. Monsters from the id! I had no idea what that meant but it sure was a powerful force to be overcome.

Dr. Strangelove, what a movie! After Slim Pickens leaves James Earl Jones and goes off to final combat with the Russkies riding atop an A-bomb, Peter Sellers is left to contemplate life in the bottom of a missile silo for 150 years with certain other select superior beings, bringing along of course some animals to slaughter! This follows his admonition to George C. Scott that there is no fighting in the war room and precedes his witnessing the miracle of Peter Sellers walking again for his fuhrer! Those paranoid times have returned, by the way, thanks to W's constant harping upon how we all cravenly covet our safety above even our ideals.

The Conversation is about paranoia, created by the false reliance upon and worship of technology. The hunter gets trapped. Technology overpowers its users. Gene Hackman sitting alone at the end, playing his saxophone in his torn-apart empty apartment, confirms for me the suspicion and mistrust with which I view our technological advances. Who is not now a slave to his or her blackberry, ipod or cell phone?

Blade Runner is a beautiful sci-fi movie. Gripping, suspenseful, and mysterious. Harrison Ford drives off into the sunset at the end with the girl, but does he really? Are any problems ever finally resolved?

Saving Private Ryan is the best WWII combat movie, bar none. Watching Tom Hanks overcoming his hidden fears while offering up the final sacrifice as he does what is right, not merely what is expedient, is like watching a primer on where we as a society came from and hope to return to. I will never forget the spectacle of all those brave men walking ashore onto Omaha Beach as devastation and horror whirled all around them, or the American sniper beseeching the aid of his deity as he sought to be a surer, straighter and swifter shot than the German sniper taking simultaneous aim at him. When he took out the Nazi, I felt glad!

Sideways is to me a very funny movie. I understand that many women aren't impressed by it because really, both men are such cads. But I love the moment when Thomas Haden Church, having sat through Paul Giamatti's interminable pomposity in describing a glass of wine with all its colors, scents, swirling legs etc., asks, glass poised at his lips, Can we drink it now? Life is imperfect. Life is complicated. This movie reflects that

As soon as I think up six more movies very important to me, each covering a decade that I have lived in, I'll post them on my profile, for their relegation to anonymity there.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I started blogging in February 2007. I had hoped to tie running to life in our nation's capital (not that I get out socially ever), or vice-versa, and sort of be a casual observer. Many running blogs are purist-oriented, and apologize for any postings that don't strictly entail running. I don't. I like running, but running is not life, life is life. I run a lot, because it is to a large degree how I drive my self-worth (you know, the running-is-life fiction that can describe reality), so I largely post about running, but I post about other things too. Other things just take longer to weave into a coherent essay.

I like to think I'm interesting, but I doubt that I am, particularly. Blogging has made my writing a lot better, however. I am opinionated, and I sometimes voice my opinions, which are liberal and cynical. I was raised to stand up and fight for what I believe in.

My divorce, final in in 2002 (although the litigation went on for years afterwards), was shocking to me because it cost me my three then-minor sons through, in my opinion, their total parental alienation by their Mother and her coterie. This was entirely abetted by the "system;" lazy harassed judges, scum-bag money-driven divorce lawyers, jaded mental health personnel who tilt dramatically towards the woman (Mother knows best!), especially if she plays the "victim" card, whore psychologists who put out for whoever pays their bill (and the man rarely has the children long enough to pack them off to several secret sessions with his own hand-picked whore), and other system "professionals." They are the great enablers of the family-destroying system called domestic law.

I talk about it sometimes in my blog because I'm still working out the complete extra-judicial loss of my children (not a one of them has communicated with me or a single relative of mine in years and their Mother won't even give me their current address), although most people don't want to hear about this stuff. But I think the tragic travesty of parental alienation syndrome (PAS) needs exposure in our society in order to eradicate it. Read Alec Baldwin's book, A Promise to Ourselves.

Anyway, I posted 184 times last year, a little test to see if I could post more than once every other day. I could, but my constant drivel cost me readership, I'm sure. Perhaps my blogging urge or interest is dying down now, we'll see, but I had planned to sum up 2008, much as I summed up 2007 last January in several posts (I posted every single day in January, another little test). 2008 was a momentous year for me for several reasons, which I hope to get into in a few subsequent posts.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wednesday was Ugly!

Wednesday was a hard day. After not running for a week due to frigid temperatures, travel and Inauguration restrictions and closures, Wednesday was the day of the 420th running of the monthly noontime Tidal Basin 3K race. It was my 92nd running of it (out of the last 102).

My agency’s rock star, G, ran the two and a half miles to the race’s start with me, at a 7:45 pace. So at the start, I was already dying, with my glasses so steamed from my perspiration that I had to put them in my pocket.

Off we went. My legs were feeling tired so I hoped that if I went out fast, the speed might come. I caught up with my doppelganger Peter early in the race and ran by him, elbowing him out of the way as he tried to pinch me off into a curbside bus as I passed him on the inside. A quarter mile later I heard his familiar shuffle coming up behind me and he ran by me, for good.

I entertained my familiar I-should-just-walk-now thoughts as I passed over the inlet bridge across the water from the Jefferson Memorial. The septuagenarian who always beats me passed me there.

I passed the mile mark in 7:28, well off the pace of most of last year’s runs, which tended to be around 7:00 or better at the mile mark. Running along the serpentine walkway by the Memorial, I felt sluggish and slow. I knew the only two women in the race, a sexagenarian and a septuagenarian, were behind me but I wondered how close. I successfully fought off the urge to turn and look because that is a sure sign of a struggling runner.

I passed the 2K mark at 9:08, a 7:21 pace, so I had picked it up a bit. That didn’t last long. Coming down the long last quarter mile straightaway, the wind hit me just as I was having a fantasy that I was making up time on the runner 30 meters ahead of me. All I had to do was summon a burst–from where?–and pass him, I thought. What are you, weak? I asked myself. And 10 yards further up was Peter. I could pass them both!

We finished in the same order. The strong arctic wind blowing in off the Potomac on the straightaway stayed our speed. My normal goal in this race is to break 13 minutes, something I did twice last year, but I had to hustle to break 14 minutes this race. I finished in 13:58 (7:29), my slowest time in well over a year, 51 seconds slower than last month.

I was 19/24, finishing just ahead of the first woman, and ahead of only two other men who were younger than me. A nice 79% showing for the race, or 86% for my gender. This race can suck.

My booby prize for being so slow was running the two and a half miles back to work with G, who finished fifth in 11:14 (6:01). He had mercy on me though, and trotted back alongside me at a leisurely 8:58 pace.

And then at 7 pm I went off to lead the weekly track workout for my Half Marathon Training Group. We did 5X1000 at 1:51 laps (7:27 pace), with 200M recovery jogs. Yeah, Wednesdays can really suck alright.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes We Did

Keepers of our own legacy again. Yea. Thank the Lord that the long dark winter is over. Yes we can. Yes we will.

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more." President Obama

Monday, January 12, 2009

Leaden Skies Allowed Me to Soar

You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever

Last month I posted about spending twenty-five minutes in a full body MRI machine. I coped with the claustrophobic nature of it by imagining that I was on one of my most familiar runs, a two and a half mile out-and-back to the school yard a mile and a quarter up the way. If I'm on my game, it should take me twenty minutes, ten minutes out and ten minutes back, an 8:00 pace. It was a dreamy run, one which I unfolded in my head in real time as best as I could gauge it, as I lay within the confining chamber.

In my dream I passed the first mile in 8:10; and after making the turnaround in the school parking lot, I brought the virtual run home in 19:50 (7:55), utilizing the downhill nature of the return to make up those lost seconds. I encountered all the real-world things I expected to, running by the cemetery, over the creek at the bottom of the route, and up the big hill just before the mile marker.

In late December I actually ran the route again, a run during which I was thinking about a dream where I was running the run I was running. Leaden walls enclosed me then, leaden skies were my boundary now.

I started out from in front of my house on the grey day and rapidly rounded the corner at the end of the block. To keep under an 8:00 pace I have to get moving quickly. I ran by the road undulations the first half mile that lead past St. James Cemetery and down to the creek. At about two minutes into the run I was at my maximum discomfort in terms of oxygen deprivation as I struggled to acclimate myself to the fast pace, and I wished for a second that I was lying back in the metal tube in a dreamy state instead of outside laboring on a run for real. Then I glanced up at the limitless sky overhead, surveyed the wide open spaces around me, and thought, No way!

My breathing became more normal as I started up the big hill. Glancing at the sign on the bridge over the creek, I noticed that in my dream I had inserted an extraneous apostrophe in the creek's name, Tripps Run. Just up from the base of the hill, the yapping dog that has always accompanied me along his house's fence line again did not come out, just as in the dream, and I suspect that the littler feller is not alright.

I pushed up the hill in real life, knowing this was where I had fallen off my 8:00 pace in my dream. Past the steep first part, past the more gentle incline of the middle part, past the steepest grade of the last part, past the white-columned house near the top, over the crest and down into the little hollow below, where the mile marker is. I passed the first mile in 7:48, well ahead of my pace in my dream run. Around the further turn, I hit the turnaround at 9:30 for the first mile and a quarter. I knew my sub-8:00 pace (twenty minutes for the run) was assured now; because of the upcoming big downhill, the second half of the run is always faster on this run unless I dawdle.

I hit my driveway ending the two and a half mile run at 18:52 (7:33), a particulalrly fast run for me. I had pushed it throughout, delighted to be in the great outdoors on the run rather than inside a small metal coffin during it. I rarely go sub-19:30 on this fast run. Although I ran a negative split, it was only by eight seconds for the last mile and a quarter, which showed, given the benefit of the long downhill, that I was tiring near the end.

Running, be it in a dream or in actuality, is liberating.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Johnny, I hardly knew ye

My middle child recently had his 21st birthday. Although I won full joint custody and plain vanilla visitation back in 2002, I haven't seen him since 2003 due, in my opinion, to the thorough parental alienation syndrome ("PAS") that his Mother and her coterie inflicted upon him as a minor (some call PAS a form of child abuse). Until recently he lived two miles away but last fall his Mother disconnected the phone (I used to leave voice-mails for him at that number), sold the house and moved away. She refuses to give me Johnny's (or any of my children's) address. So it goes.

I sent Johnny a birthday card addressed to the old house inviting him to the Lost Dog Cafe for lunch on his birthday on me, took the day off from work, and sat at the restaurant that day like a grinning fool from noon to 1 pm, "enjoying" my solo meal of pizza for two. I had plenty of leftover pizza to eat cold the next morning.

I am sorry about this. Although all of my then-minor sons pointedly disdained my company from the outset, and absolutely refused (with her and her coterie's enabling) to cooperate in visitation since 2003, I have always been there for them ever since she filed for divorce in 2001. Now that he's over 21, I guess the next move for contact will have to come from Johnny. I could always change my mind on that, but you see, they accuse you of abandonment if you give up and of a desperate attempt at dominance, personality driven of course, if you persist. Nice to know ya, Johnny.

Before I go out for a run to clear my head of this Goodbye to Johnny post, I'm going to leave you with this slightly-edited (for clarity and privacy) piece I wrote as a parent on a prep school application that was submitted for Johnny in January of 2000. Moreover, I'm going to say one more time what's in my heart. I love you Johnny.

Important Aspects of Johnny's Life I Want You to Know About.

Johnny has dutifully done organized recreational sports since he was five, playing house soccer as many suburban kids do. He did well enough, making a Division One Select Soccer Team when he was ten, although I don't think he was in love with soccer. Too many 1-0 games. Johnny once drolly explained their prevalence to me, "You see Dad, when one team gets the ball to a guy in open space, everyone on the other team runs in front of their goal to defend."

His inner self was best revealed in house soccer. He was the guy his coach always put on defense on his high-octane team, while the other guys vied for time on the line. Although he actually had a good kick, he never scored, always passing the ball off to others to score. His proudest moment came when, as a fullback, he kicked away a sure goal on his own goal line which had gotten by his prone goalie. Johnny had anticipated the worst thing that might happen when the goalie went out to try to make a play, and he was in position to stop the score when the goalie missed and the ball was going in.

In Select Soccer, there was a game when his team was down by a goal late in the game and as a stopper, Johnny was pressing forward because his team needed a score. Someone took an errant shot and Johnny controlled the rebound twenty yards out. He looked at three or four strikers to pass the ball to, but they were all offsides. He thereupon took the shot himself, a rare occurrence for Johnny, and put the ball in the goal. Unfortunately a teammate rushed over as the ball was in the air and allowed the ball to graze his chest before it went in, even though the goalie was in no position to make the save, thereby invoking the off-sides rule. Although the tying goal was invalidated, Johnny had looked at all other options first, then did what was absolutely necessary and put the ball in, both a heady and a technically competent play.

Johnny played football in the fall of 1999 for the first time and he seemed to like it (although with Johnny it's hard to be sure). He clearly enjoyed the greater participation of every player on every play in football, and the higher scoring. Typically, Johnny was used in every unglamorous position that his team needed help in at that moment--defensive or offensive tackle, inside linebacker or nose guard. He never complained about not being tried at running back or receiver, and I think he took secret delight in the bruises that covered his forearms from the physical play on the line. Again his understated personality peeked through. He always stood by his coach's side whenever he was out of the game. The most prescient comment about Johnny was made by this coach at the season's end banquet. The coach said, obviously with fondness, "Johnny had a question for every play I ran, and an answer for every question I asked."

Fare thee well, son, and stay safe in these uncertain times.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's about over

It's been happening a lot lately.

I go in to donate blood, they take my blood pressure, whistle, and either thereupon wink, take my b/p manually ten minutes later and take my blood, or they take my b/p again ten minutes later as a courtesy and immediately usher me out the door. Depends on which Nurse Ratched is running the donation center that day.

Today the machine read 182/106. I knew that wasn't going to fly. The head nurse was perplexed though. She said, "I don't think the machine is reading right. It has your pulse too low. I don't think it got your pulse."

She said she'd take my b/p "manually" in ten minutes and I thought I was going to get a pass and be able to donate. You know, maybe a b/p of 160/99. The lower number cutoff, I have learned, is 100. So the second time, manually, it often comes in at 99. Amazing.

But this Nurse Ratched lied. She sent another nurse over in ten minutes to hook me up to the machine again.

I asked her if she had had a nice New Year's. "No," she said. I guess I looked crestfallen because then she offered that her favorite Uncle had died that day, of a massive heart attack. At age 37. Oh.

I don't think my numbers changed. This nurse was also curious about my anomalous pulse reading. She asked if I "bothered" to exercise.

"Sure," I said, miffed that I don't look buff. "I run 30 miles a week."

"Oh, I see. That explains your very low pulse. What's going on in the rest of your life?" She meant my sky-high b/p.

"You get divorced and see what happens to you," I said a little defensively. That's the two-second version of a four-hour epic.

"Haven't been there but I hear ya," she said as she showed me the door. I assured her on my way out that her chances of "being there" were one in two.

I think my silly, compulsive goal of donating blood 100 times is about over, stalled at 77. This is about the twelfth consecutive time that I have had a troublesome reading, and I've actually been declined about three of the last five times. It's not worth the gas to go to the blood center every eight weeks anymore. Looking around the center, you'd think they need the business though. All I saw in there this morning donating were a few old men. Nobody else is eligible, I guess. The list of exclusions is vast and daunting. And if they come up with anything that you have, they report you to the health department. Good luck getting health insurance ever again in our wonderful society then, Mr. or Ms. Good Samaritan.

Oh yeah, I'm on medication for it. Been on different meds for it for a few years now. But you know, every mediation has a side effect. That's a whole 'nother story. The current witches' brew gives me a dry rasping cough that bedevils me in racing. You can hear me a long way off in races. It really bothers me. The last mixture had a completely different, but worse, side effect.

I left the blood center feeling furtive, like I'd done something wrong. So it goes.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Adding Up the Damage

I will not be sorry to see Dubya leave office next week. That's capital "W" as in "Worst ever."

I was amazed recently to read Bob Herbert's op-ed in the NYT describing the Decider as "the man who gave us the war in Iraq and Guantanamo and torture and rendition; who turned Clinton's economy and the budget surplus into fool's gold; who dithered while New Orleans drowned; who trampled our civil liberties at home and ruined our reputation abroad; who let [the Great Bird Hunter] run hog wild and thought Brownie was doing a heckuva job." Once the piece got warmed up by this spot-on characterization, it really got critical.

He has been ruinous in every way. Well over four thousand Americans dead in a war he started to avenge a slight to his daddy. Tens of thousands more grievously wounded and receiving inadequate care for their injuries. The economy in shambles.

This is the man who said he was going to work towards privatization of social security with his political "capital" from his second stolen election. Fortunately, "saner heads prevailed." I know fellow workers who have lost $150,000 or more in only a few months from their Federal TSP (401K) plans.

I looked at my private portfolio, containing all those little IRAs I have assiduously paid the maximum into every year since the eighties. On June 30th it was worth $62K. On September 30th it was worth $49K. On December 30th it was worth $32K. I put it all into government securities on that day. I should have been putting those contributions all those years into a mattress, because then I would have been ahead of where I am now.

You could probably guess my political orientation. When our children were growing up, Sharon and I tried to teach them to be good little Democrats. After all, when you're young, you're supposed to have a heart, right?

You know how kids fight. When they were all in grade school, my oldest son was once teasing my youngest son. He hurled the ultimate insult at him, "You're a Republican woman!"

My youngest shook with rage at this terrible slur. He was so furious that he was incapable of refuting this dastardly characterization all at once, so he flung off the worst part first. He shouted, "I am not! I'm no Republican!"