Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Patton Warrior

I recently wrote about an ailing World War II veteran whom I met once and had a delightful conversation with. Mostly it was a mirthful conversation about how FUBAR the Army is. Even a kid can see that, because that's all he was when he was sent off to fight the Hitler killing machine.

For instance, he laughingly disclosed that he received a Normandy Campaign battle ribbon because he was at sea on June 6, 1944, even though he was a thousand miles from Omaha Beach. He was on an ocean liner in the North Atlantic, being transported from America to England for further training before being sent to the ETO. But he saw action soon enough, as a member of a tank killer unit in Patton's Third Army.

He only told me about the humorous parts though, like getting a purple heart after receiving a slight injury when he rolled his jeep. I gleaned the rest from incidental conversations with his family members. After the post, family members told me I reported some facts wrong. He did not have a buddy shot and killed while he stood next to him at the Battle of the Bulge, rather, his buddy standing beside him shot and killed a German who was aiming at my friend.

All I know is that war is about killing, and people died where he was. Rather theirs than ours, but my friend and his buddy were there doing their duty at the greatest clash of arms that American forces have ever participated in. They were only boys really, in their late teens,

He died last week. I cannot pretend to know how badly his family feels, but I am so sorry. I am also so glad that I received the opportunity to speak with him a couple of years ago, before he went. I can still see him flitting just behind my eyelids, an elderly gentleman happily telling gentle and funny war stories to a willing listener. He was an American hero, one of Patton's brave warriors, a man who did extraordinary things and now he's gone.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Race Politics

You might know that I am president of my running club. I have been on the job for four weeks now and I am exhausted.

Last night I attended a 2-hour meeting with our ten-mile training group committee. And fielded a call at 10 p.m. from a director informing me that the scheduled club race next week doesn't have a race director yet, so no work has been done on it like getting any permits or volunteers. That will be today's fire-dousing.

Wednesday night I attended a 90-minute meeting with a local race director and our training program director. And spent an hour composing a letter I sent to another club president decrying his club's arbitrary large increase in racing fees which some of our club members have complained about.

Tuesday night I attended a two-hour meeting of our club's 20-mile race committee. And spoke for 30 minutes with a club director about a club member's request for expenses in attending a race championship event in another state.

In this conversation I found myself explaining why I had used red headings to embolden the important points in a president's message I had posted on our website, which in itself took me 45 minutes to compose. Some computer savvy persons in the club, whom I am finding to be hyper critical and very intolerant of (older) persons who are not facile with technology, were lighting up their email chains with how stupid they thought this looked. I think the more polite comments went something like, Is he gonna use pink bolding the next time? The "problem" was resolved by some unknown computer savvy person just going in and removing the colored font when I didn't act upon their stinging criticism. What are you gonna do?

Sunday and Monday, aside from some light email checking and replies, I had two days off from club business.

Saturday I met with a couple of club VPs after the Saturday Long Run for a 90 minute strategy session. And so it goes. (Right: Having SmartBiked to a running store in the District early one morning last week for a scheduled meeting involving club business, I waited with club official Sasha (on the right) for a locally prominent businessman to arrive. Frequent meetings have taken up a lot of my time since I became club president on May 1st.)

Wednesday of last week I ran in the monthly noontime Tidal Basin 3K Race, normally an event I enjoy doing. You know, the race I have run practically every month since May, 2001, the monthly race that has been run unabated since the early 70s.

There was nothing much different in my effort, 13:43 (7:22), nor the outcome, bottom 30%, except that a woman beat me who had never beaten me before. For the first time, I rode the 2.5 miles to the race's starting point from my workplace on a SmartBike, saving lots of transit time.

The race has been directed for the past decade by a friend of mine who is a club member very active in running affairs. This fellow is prominent within my club, and many people have an opinion about him. Issues relating at least tangentially to him have consumed a significant portion of my time as club president. I think it's true that a club official can spend 90% of his time dealing with issues impacting 10% of the persons in the club.

At the interminably long and fractious board meeting I "ran" in the very first week of my tenure (what an eye-opener and learning experience that was!), the Board voted to terminate the club's long-standing sponsorship of this very old and venerable race, for some very good reasons that I won't get into here. It fell upon me to inform the race director, my friend, of this. He took it well and came up with several creative approaches to keep the race going in it's current form. It chilled our friendship though.

The race director held a pow-wow with the assembled runners minutes before the race to discuss the recent events and possible solutions. I found myself speaking in an impromptu manner to a group of angry 3K racers when the race director thrust a microphone into my hand and said I'd explain the club's position. For a couple of minutes I got to practice the art of political speaking as I understand it, Speak but say absolutely nothing.

I think I did that part okay, because I haven't heard any attributions or lingering recriminations about the club's action since then. This being president is not as much fun as you might think.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Her Face at First Just Ghostly

The British band Procol Harum put out an LP in 1967 that featured the song A Whiter Shade of Pale. As a young man I was listening to an FM radio station one night when this song came on and the DJ explained that this was the song that made rock gentle. Oh yeah.

And the fact that the album also contained the song Conquistador made it one of the great albums, in my top ten, of all time.

Conquistador, there is no time, I must pay my respects
And though I came to jeer at you, I leave now with regrets
And as the gloom begins to fall
I see there is no, only all
And though you came with sword held high
You did not conquer, only die

The truth is plain to see. Procol Harum, A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Memorial Day 3K

It's been a long and eventful weekend, full of running.

Friday I did eight miles of hillwork. Next month I am running Leg 2 of the DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay on a team assembled by my old running buddy, Bex. Described by her as the second toughest of the seven legs, Leg 2 is 8.4 miles long at over 6,000 feet elevation, with the last half being one long hill where the highway rises from lake level to climb 700 feet up a mountain pass.

Bex told all the team members to get busy working hills. Not Born to Run used to call Bex the L'il Dictator when she lived in DC, so I paid heed to Bex's admonishment.

Saturday I did my club's Saturday Long Run. It was a hot day and the schedule called for 12 miles on the Mall. I only ran 10K, however. I made it to Capitol Hill and ran up that incline for hillwork, but then, enervated by the humidity, I went to my nearby office and worked for awhile before taking Metro to a two-hour meeting I had scheduled with other club officials for after the run.

Sunday morning I ran ten miles on the W&OD with a friend who was in town for the weekend. She was bemoaning a 3:29 marathon she ran last month, impacted by a hamstring injury, while I was bemoaning a 4:15 marathon I ran last month, impacted by a toe injury. That shows the disparity in our running abilities.

We had a nice time catching up, although I cringed when she commented , "Eight forty-five miles are just perfect for today." I was barely holding on at that pace as the miles rolled on by.

Since we ran west from Falls Church, we traversed two pedestrian bridges over the beltway highway network. People were lining the overpass railings, waving to the scores of motorcycle riders of Rolling Thunder as they passed by underneath in a steady thrum of deep-sounding engines, heading into the District for a Memorial weekend tribute to fallen and missing American service personnel, flags snapping and popping from the back of their machines.

At church service later that morning, the priest, who had been delayed in getting to the service by traffic tie-ups associated with the hundreds of motorcyclists, tied the phenomena of Rolling Thunder to the formation of the Christian Church. Once, each movement was outside of the culture, he said, and innovative although misunderstood or even feared. Then each became institutionalized, and no longer shaped or changed society, rather, society shaped and changed it. Each movement became an institution, a very different thing, with interests to protect rather than to promote. Dare to be different, he urged.

I like this Episcopal priest and closely listen to each of his sermons. In another time, my time, he would have been termed a hippie, maybe. That's the Episcopal Church I remember growing up with, a big tent with room for all. Afterwards during communion, I reflected upon the memory of my father and my mother, who passed in 1986 and 1999 respectively, and others.

I reflected upon upon the following letter, slightly edited for length, I sent last week to the last known address of my youngest son, Danny. He no longer lives there at his Mother's old address, a house which was sold this past autumn. My ex steadfastly refuses to give me the current address of any of our children. She "won" the divorce wars, see, because my children disdain me. I no longer try to communicate with my two other sons anymore, since they are both over 21 now and have ignored all of my communications for years.

May 2009

Dear Dan,

How are you? I am fine. I hope things are well with you. How is school?

I hope you were able to get something nice with that birthday check I sent to you. Is everything going well with the pre-paid college tuition plan that I own for your benefit? Are 100% of your tuition and fees getting paid by it? If not, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

I spent a quiet birthday last month, making supper at home and opening a couple of cards I received from your aunts. A friend gave me an Obama wristwatch for my birthday, which was kind of cute. It doesn’t make a good stopwatch, though, so it’s not good for running.

A week from now is Memorial Day. Remember when we ran in the Falls Church Memorial Day 3K race together a decade ago? That was fun. With all the soccer teammates of yours we ran by that morning, I could have conducted a team practice at the finish line.

I have run that Memorial Day 3K race for the last several years. I would love to run it with you again, this year. We could go out for breakfast afterwards at the Original Pancake House in Falls Church. We can meet on my front porch on Monday at 8:45 and go over to the start line from there. Bring your UnderArmour togs!

Please call me and let me know whether or not you’d like to do this, so I can make plans. I look forward to hearing from you.

I miss you! Gosh, it’s been over half a decade since I last saw you for more than a few seconds, and over two years since I last spoke with you. I haven’t heard from you in any fashion since the summer of 2007; I hope you’ve gotten all the Christmas/birthday/special-event cards and presents I have sent to you. I remember when that divorce lawyer in Fairfax [William Reichhardt], amazingly, was taking mail I sent to you and turning it into a court exhibit! I hope you get this, perhaps your mail is still being manipulated by others, even though you are no longer a child like you were then.

I’ll fill you in on all your cousins, aunts, etc. on my side of the family when you call. There isn't a single one of them who has heard from you in over half a decade! You can’t be mad at all of my blood-relatives, having accepted the trust fund that my mother scrimped to amass and set aside to be used for your benefit.

I am enclosing some snapshots, of Uncle Jack, your room, my best marathon, and last Christmas, to help you start catching up!

Anyway, no need to thank me for that birthday check. I’m glad you received it! I just look forward to speaking with you soon.



8:45 on Monday morning came and went with an aching sameness. I went and ran the 3K race in 13:47. I scanned the collected diners at the Original Pancake House without recognizing any of them.

Then a friend called, who had just struck a deer on I-66 east of Ballston which had jumped over the fence lining the Metro tracks in the center median and into her path. She was lucky to be alive, much less unhurt.

The State Trooper on the scene had never seen a deer that close in on the busy highway before. I went to help my friend pick up the pieces and get her car to the dealership for repair. It looks totaled to me.

Happy Memorial day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Race is Done

Here's a post I sent out to the runners in the DCRRC 10K Group Training Program, which I have directed for the past three years. This year the experience was better than ever, thanks to the commitment of the participants and the dedication of the coaches. Twenty one persons signed up for the program in early February, and ten runners ran in the Capitol Hill Classic 10K/3K in late May.

After 13 long weeks, the target race is done. These 10 Program athletes ran in the Capitol Hill Classic 10K. Congratulations!

Kathleen 49:42 (2nd in her AG)
David 53:13
John 53:39
Mary Alice 57:29 (3rd in her AG)
Marc ran in the 60 minute range
Joan ran in the 70 minute range
Peter (ran the 3K course)

(Above: Week 11 in the 10K Group. Fast Kathleen is fourth from the left.) These runners, and a couple of other regular Program participants who didn’t run the target race, are in condition to progress on to the next Program offered by the club, its Ten-Mile Training Program. This year DCRRC is the exclusive training partner for the Army Ten-Miler Race, which will be held on October 4, 2009. Training starts on July 11, 2009. The option of a Saturday or a Sunday early morning long run will be offered this year. Please come prepared to run 3 miles the first day. Persons new to running might want to consider the Program’s Jump Start training, a four week program starting on June 13th designed to get each committed person ready to go three miles by July 11th. Sign-ups for the Program are being accepted on the DCRRC website.

Thanks to the 2009 DCRRC 10K Group Training Program coaches. On hand practically every week were Katie, Kathleen, Kristin and Peter. David was there every week until he aggravated an aggravated condition. Ashley, Jay and Sasha provided coaching when available.

I'm proud of you all. Peter (cell phone number).

Friday, May 22, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I find myself lately telling a lot of people I'm 57 now. As if that's an excuse for no longer having a plan in place to be able to run a sub-21 minute 5K, or a sub-46 minute 10K.

It's true that my mantra of running five times a week is harder now than it was when I was in my 40s. I find myself taking analgesics for more than their blood-thinning qualities. (I started taking aspirin to address my elevated blood pressure.)

I think back to the olden times. Last year I listed the 10 best albums (don't know what an album is?) ever on my profile page. The best of the best is Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones.

My musical taste stopped in about 1971, my sophomore year at CU-Boulder just before I dropped out of school to work as a committed 20-year old for the McGovern campaign. You probably don't know who George McGovern is.

These days, we're trying to get past the "mess" that the Decider/Bird Hunter/Rummy/Condi and Yoo-the-quaint left us with. Back in the 70s, we were stuck with getting past the mess that LBJ left us with, which gave us those crooks Nixon and Agnew. Nixon killed McGovern in 1972, which turned me into a cynic, a trait that received its vindication in 2004. (It was the Pogo comic strip which said, We have met the enemy, and they are us.)

Anyway, the Stones came out in 1969 with an album (CD), Let It Bleed, that Rolling Stone magazine described at the time as a fin-de-siecle masterpiece. At the end of the 60s, the convergence of the antiwar (Vietnam) movement and the civil rights movement promoted profound changes in American society and produced extraordinary results.

I would call Let It Bleed an era-changing masterpiece. I still listen to it all the time. It's my rock-solid mantra that you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need. That's how life goes. And the LP (CD) contains one of my favorite songs of all time, Gimme Shelter. War is just a shot away. So what do we have left from here before the next really big war happens? 20 years? 40? Did I tell you I'm a cynic?

Yeah, we all need someone we can dream on.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Capital Challenge 3-Miler Revisited

I already told you that last month my agency fielded a team at the ACLI Capital Challenge. The legislative branch challenges teams from the executive and judicial branches and the news media to a 3-Mile race. It's a free for all.

There are some drawbacks to this race. Each team has to be comprised of staff members or employees (no "friends" or guest runners), have a female and be captained by the head of the department or office. In other words, the Senator or Representative or judge or admiral . . . you get the idea. This is likely to be an older person who probably sits around a lot, except for the service teams. The admirals and generals are rarely old and never sedentary. As a matter of fact, the service teams usually kick as*, and they are in my agency's pool, the Executive Division.

No matter. We won an award for being the runner up Executive Branch team. Our agency rock star, G, kicks as*. And this year I uncovered a 20-something paralegal, A, who also kicks as*. G finished 3rd in the Executive Division (11th overall), and A finished right behind him (12th overall). It's as if we cloned G. (Right: The 2009 Federal Tread Commission team: yours truly, A, G, M, and our team captain.)

The winning Army team fielded its usual duo of ringers and they were gonna finish 2nd and 3rd, except that G and A got between 'em and caused the second Army guy to finish 5th instead. I didn't see this because I was back about a mile at the time, but it was apparently very exciting.

Our secret weapon, though, wasn't our clone, it was our Commissioner. She satisfied two requirements, captain and female. And she placed first in her category of Sub Cabinet Head, Female. Can't touch that! (Left: Our team captain, Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour, won her division.)

Can you identify the race's two honorary runners in the photo to the right?

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Virtual Capitol Hill Classic 3K

Sunday was the 30th running of the Capitol Hill Classic 10K, a race which suffered a course change last year due to concerns the U.S. Capitol Police had about the hordes of runners circling the streets encircling the U.S. Capitol during a race. The old CHC course went down Capitol Hill on Independence Avenue along the south side of the Capitol in the fifth mile, turned right to run across the front of the Capitol, and then went back up Capitol Hill on Constitution Avenue along the north side of the Capitol.

This rearing proclivity was tough because of its length, a third of a mile, and its lateness in the race, during the sixth mile. In the 2007 race, while climbing this interminable hill in a fog of fatigue, I experienced what it felt like to be "running underwater." (Right: The 2007 CHC course.)

In 2008, the course changed. The start and finish line remained in Stanton Square, but the hill climb became a down and back up on the south side of the Capitol, during the fifth mile. Climbing Capitol Hill this "early" in the race, especially right after descending it, just didn't provide the same system-shocking challenge. Last year my time improved by over a minute. (Left: The 2008 CHC course.)

Local running legend Jim Hage, two-time winner of both the MCM and the ATM, described the change for the Washington Running Report in its May 20, 2007 issue:

"For 28 years, the charge down and then up Capitol Hill in the final mile has presented the 10K's signature challenge. But the course [will] be changed next year according to the race director due to security issues; one cannot be too careful when thousands of men and women in short pants troop around the nation's legislative brain center early on a Sunday morning."

The CHC has a companion 3K race, which is run an hour after the 10K race and doesn’t involve any hill. Its course winds around the flat streets behind the Capitol. I have run the 3K race three times, twice after finishing the 10K race.

Although I wanted a unique personal challenge this year, I didn’t want to mislead any racers in either the 10K or the 3K races who might follow me by mistake if I strayed off the race course. I decided to incorporate the old charge around the Capitol into a bastardized version of the 3K run, and initiate my virtual 3K race at the start of the 10K race. I would run the 3K course, but add the old 10K version of the charge down and back up Capitol Hill which circled the Capitol. This would incorporate a hill into the 3K race and lengthen it by a mile.

I took off with the 10K racers from Stanton Park and ran down Massachusetts Avenue with them to Lincoln Park. Here the 10K race heads out further east to encircle RFK Stadium before turning back towards the Capitol, while the 3K race turns back towards the Capitol right away. I had to do a lot of sideways running that first half mile in the crush of 2,100 runners, but then less than four minutes later I was all by myself as I turned west on East Capitol Street while everyone else continued east towards RFK.

Volunteers were busy setting up water stations as I ran by without a number, trying to keep my speed up now that I was running alone. I ran to the back of the Capitol and turned left on 3rd Street SE to Independence. There I turned right, just like the 3K race does, but instead of turning right a block later to run north behind the Capitol to the finish line in Stanton Park, I kept on going straight and plunged down Capitol Hill. At the bottom, I turned right and ran across the front of the Capitol, and then headed back up towering Capitol Hill on the other side.

I was definitely focused and having fun on this solitary run. My feeling that I was in a "race" kept my speed up and I attacked the uphill. Attaining the top, I ran the last half mile to the finish line in the park. I was careful to veer off before I got there, however, so no one would mistake me for a racer.

My time was 21:47. For a 3K race that would suck, at 11:43 M/M, but for a 2.86 mile race, it wouldn’t be too bad, a 7:37 M/M solo effort with a hellacious hill thrown in.

My very own Virtual CHC 3K Plus One. I finished barely nine minutes ahead of the actual 10K winner, though.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Confusion now has made his masterpiece.

I just finished reading Macbeth again for the first time since high school. Shakespeare sets the mood of this tight, short tragedy by having the witches announce in Act 1, Scene 2 that Fair is foul, and foul is fair. In other words, nothing is as it seems in Scotland.

The valiant but murderous Macbeth gets it in the end from Macduff, who was not of woman born, but only after Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane, the castle where Macbeth holes up after the death of his scheming wife, she of the Vaulting ambition, which o'leaps itself. Act 1 Scene 7 line 27. She set the course where Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles. Act 5 Scene 1 line 80. As the Doctor notes, More needs she the divine than the physician. Act 5 Scene 1 line 82.

The play is chock-full of little thought-provoking aphorisms.

Dealing with adversity:
Come what may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day. Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 3 line 147.

For the faint of heart:
Hang those that talk of fear. Give me mine armour. Macbeth, Act 3 Scene 3 line 36.

Death puts life in proper perspective:
Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5 lines 23-28.

But perhaps the life cut short was worthy and someone dear to you:
Your cause of sorrow must not be measured by his worth, for then it hath no end. Ross, Act 5 Scene 9 lines 44-45.

On peace:
God’s benison go with you, and with those that would make good of bad, and friends of foes. Old Man, Act 2 Scene 4 line 40.

Have you ever been anxious to get the hell out of somewhere?
Therefore to horse, and let us not be dainty of leave taking. Malcolm, Act 2 Scene 3 line 150.

Did you ever tell a white lie?
False face must hide what the false heart doth know. Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 7 line 82.

Does love have you down?
The love that follows us sometime is our trouble, Which still we thank as love. Duncan, Act 1 Scene 6 line 11.

How about the immutability of life:
Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done. Lady Macbeth, Act 3 Scene 2 line 11.

Don't you just love Shakespeare?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

In Remembrance

Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there.

My Mom died in 1999, so I haven't had much association with this holiday for awhile. She met my Dad at a USO dance in 1943, during the depths of World War II.

My Mom made airplanes in California during the war. She was a hero.

My Dad was a hero too, who fought at Peleliu and Okinawa. You all know those two horrific Pacific battles, right? At Peleliu, my Dad was manning the line with 45 rounds for his carbine as a 19-year-old while his 1st Marine Division suffered 33% casualties. You all stand in line at Starbucks to special order your $4.00 lattes to be "extra hot;" the Marines stood in line at Peleliu to fill up their canteens with water from fuel drums that was oil-laced. In the 118 degree heat, they tried to drink it anyway. He died in 1986.

My Uncle was at the same battles, and others, only he was a shipboard Marine. He slept on clean sheets every night, and Japanese pilots tried to kill him every day. He's a hero.

Because these men are leaving us at such a prodigious rate, I only know one other World War II veteran currently. I only spoke with him once, and I treasure the memory of our conversation.

A soft spoken, droll man, he grew up in New York City, just like me. Although my friend was self deprecating about his World War II experience, it transformed his life. He only told me about it because I asked him directly.

At 18, he was mustered into the Army, given basic training and sent across the Atlantic to fight the Nazis. He was crossing the ocean enroute to a replacement depot in England when the Allies stormed Hitler's Fortress Europa on June 6, 1944. You all knew that date, right? D-Day was the greatest undertaking by the greatest generation.

One small town in Virginia with a population of 3,200 had half of its contingent of 38 National Guardsmen killed on that day at Omaha Beach. Go see their legacy at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford someday. Somehow, I don't think that any of you ever will. (Left: Framed by the mountains of Virginia, a Bedford Boy breaches the Atlantic Wall.)

Although my friend was a thousand miles away from Normandy, he got a D-Day Service Medal because he was at sea on that day. He laughed about this because that's just the way the Army is. He paid his dues later, serving with a tank destroyer unit in Patton's Third Army hunting Tigers. Ever hear of the Battle of the Bulge? He was there. A buddy of his was killed there, standing right next to him. It is his family lore that my friend wound up with the Luger of the German who did that.

He didn't tell me about that part though. Rather, he alerted me not to be surprised if I ever went to Europe and noticed that a lot of French girls around my age looked exactly like him. He loved that joke. He also told me about his purple heart, earned on the day when the Nazis surrendered in 1945. He happened to roll his jeep driving down the road and wound up in the hospital. He laughed that if the accident had happened one day later, no purple heart.

He's a hero. I hope you get well, my friend.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Feelin' Groovy

What will I do next weekend with my first Saturday off since before November 8th, when the Reebok SunTrust National Half-Marathon Training Program started up? On my last Saturday off, which was on November 1st, I drove to Hershey Park, stopping in the Gettysburg outlets on the way there and back, and had a weekend full of chocolate, shopping and roller coaster rides. There was no running that weekend, confirmed slackard that I am.

That was before Obama even got elected, much less inaugurated, and that other guy was still busy driving the economy off the cliff. Since then I have directed the nineteen week half-marathon Program, and am just now finishing up directing my club’s twelve week 10K Group Training Program.

There was a trace of humidity in the air this morning as nine of us ran the actual course of next week's 10K target race in about an hour. The 10K Program started off in February when 21 people signed up, and had winnowed down to 7 runners and two coaches (thanks Kathleen!) on this last training run.

Except for the week I spent sailing the Keys in March, I have been leading a small pace group for the last 27 Saturdays. So what should I do with my free morning next Saturday? I guess I’ll probably just go running. (Right: Sailing in Florida.)

Friday, May 8, 2009


I was balancing my checkbook on line when an anomaly popped up on the electronic ledger. A check seriously out of sequence. A blast from the past.

The cashed check numbering sequence read 1244, 1247, 649, 1250, 1251. I clicked into number 649, and up on the screen popped a $100 check I had made out to my youngest child for his 18th birthday.

When my ex filed for divorce eight years ago, she and her coterie of divorce lawyers etc. gamed the American domestic law system to impose an emotional and financial calamity upon me from which I will never fully recover. I'd rather be subjected to the Taliban's imposition of Islamic Sharia than be a man subjected to the modern western divorce process.

I lost my kids through PAS and my estate, modest though it was, was eviscerated by her divorce lawyers in a feeding frenzy that ended only when they reduced it to a dry empty husk. That was long after I had become financially unable to seek any remedy in court for the ceaseless extra-judicial custodial deprivations that I suffered (and by extension, that my victimized children suffered).

Though none of my children has spoken to me in years, there on the electronic page was my youngest child, waving to me. More than two years old, the vintage check was cashed just a few days ago. I stared at the signature. It was his alright.

Hiya, Danny. Enjoy spending the C-note. (Right: A portrait of Dan done in 2001 by Pam Gordimer from an image of when he was about ten. Dan is a young man now and I doubt that I would recognize him anymore.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Three-Mile Club

A little wetness didn’t stop the Navy yesterday.

A friend in the Navy Reserves, a coach in the club programs I administer, called me last week to ask me to help him certify a small group of regular Navy personnel at their bi-annual physical fitness review. He was administering the test and needed a second CPR-certified person there due to Navy regs.

I owe him lots of favors from coaching, so I said yes. Besides, I’m a little afraid of him, because he does secret stuff for the Navy, stuff that if you find out about it, you’ll disappear.

So on Sunday morning I found myself standing in the rain on the track at Bolling AFB in the District. The Air Force has a nice facility out there along the Anacostia, and sometimes they let the Navy use a little bit of it.

The group had already completed the two-minute sit-up and push-up performance tests. The number of reps required depended upon each person's age and gender. A couple of fit young men did 100 reps of each.

All of these people were fit (no swelled bellies there!), but I enjoyed watching the nuances of how each person passed his or her test. It broke down to form, basically. For sit-ups, each person had to touch their thighs with their elbows each time they rose up, but very few persons fell back to the floor after each touch. The techniques ranged from a two-inch backwards rock before returning to touch the thighs again to a full-fledged return to the floor each time.

Everyone did at least 60. My stomach muscles still hurt from just watching them.

Push-ups were also a study in form. Starting in what would be termed the plank position in yoga, each person's push-up ranged from executing a two-inch crick in the elbow before returning to a straight arm position to much more ambitious descents halfway to the floor before a straggling, struggling return.

The Navy personnel joked that at least no Marines were around to show off their obsession with physical fitness.

As they all lined up for the 1.5 mile run, I thought back to my own Navy qualification run. Awhile ago I discovered that 10:30 (7:00) is the standard for middies at Annapolis in the 1.5 mile run. As a challenge, I scoured the Internet for a 1.5 mile race so that I too could "pass" the Navy standard.

I found that each spring my club runs a series of races that equal the length of each horse race in the Triple Crown (the Derby, Preakness and Belmont). The Belmont is 1.5 miles.

One year the winners received carrots or radishes for prizes, in keeping with the equestrian theme. My club banned this quaint practice after the racing director threw the unused produce into the club van after the races and left the locked van, with a copious amount of fermenting produce inside, parked in the Southern heat for a month.

I hit the tape two years ago at the Belmont 1.5 mile race in 10:30 flat. Mission accomplished.

Yesterday, the Navy personnel insisted that the track at the Air Force base in DC is long. (Why this would be so, I have no idea.) So instead of running six full laps to equal 1.5 miles, they ran five and three quarters laps.

I held the stop watch and called out the times. I noticed that there were a few seconds lag time between the G word and the starting of the watch.

Watching the Navy personnel circle the track made me antsy to run, to be moving among the group of men vying for the lead. The fastest man finished in 10:32 (7:01), and the slowest woman finished in 16:45 (11:10). She was obviously not a runner, but the entire Navy contingent fell in beside her on her last lap to bring her home. They called out Right-Left, Right-Left in encouragement at the end. I swear the theme song from Chariots of Fire was playing as she crossed the finish line.

She has to do a do-over though. Hers was not a passing time, so on account of the rain, her attempt wasn’t deemed official. She gets to try again in June, when it might be 88 degrees and humid instead of 52 degrees with light rain. Ugh.

At work today, a friend who is married to a Navy man laughingly told me about the Navy’s "Three Mile Club." Its members are those Navy persons who run exactly three miles each year, doing their two 1.5 mile qualification runs as best they can without bothering with any training runs. No wonder they wanted a second CPR-certified person standing by, just in case.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Falls Church Assessments

Last month I complained about the good cop-bad cop routine I got in the Falls Church Real Estate Assessment Office when I went there to file my third protest in five years out that office's made-up real estate valuations (my other two protests were both successful). This time I was armed with a professional appraiser's report.

The good cop in the office, the nice woman, practically sniffed at the report. She asked if the appraiser had even used city addresses for his comps. (Yes.)

The bad cop in the office, the loud man, took that moment to converse within my earshot with his co-worker about how the office was going to turn all the sham low-ball appraisers in to the state certifying board this year for suspensions of their licenses and how, HA!, look at this! At that very moment a re-appraisal the city office did as a result of a protest had come in. The result was that the property valuation had practically doubled!

Out of the clear blue, the good cop called me at work last week to tell me her office had received my protest documents. Since I had left them in her very hand a week earlier, I already knew this. The office had never called me before during my two prior protests. Our conversation went something like this.

"Laura" at the city office: Hmm, it looks like you checked that you don't want our office to do an interior inspection.

Me: The professional appraiser did a full interior inspection.

Laura: I see you have a fireplace. You say it's "inoperable."

Me: That's right.

Laura: But you do have a fireplace.

Me: Silence.

Laura: You also claim that the basement is 100% unfinished.

Me: You mean the basement that floods practically every spring? Yes. Look, the appraiser took pictures of the entire interior, and they're all in his report.

Laura: The pictures were in color, and the copy I have only has black & white images. It's hard to see anything in them.

Me: Silence.

My thought bubble: I think that this office is trying to intimidate me and it's going to hose me in its re-appraisal. I sure don't want these folks walking around in my house.

The average city property valuation went down last year. In response, the city raised the mill levy four cents and the average homeowners' tax bill will go up by about $70 this year.