Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Going down, going down now, going down.

When I started blogging in 2007 I listed my favorite songs on my Profile. The ten I selected were all produced between 1965 and 1971. Hmm. Last year I listed my favorite albums on my Profile. I've already discussed one by the Beatles and one by the Stones, and one by Procol Harum, leaving seven LPs. The seven remaining represent the core of rock and rolldom. You'll notice that they're all productions of the late sixties, a cultural phenomenon that I experienced as a young man.

I recently read an article that the generational gap so prevalent then is back. I wouldn't be surprised or dismayed. But this is nothing new. The young should question authority and strive to change things, as we did back then. There was a war then, and there's a war now. Undoubtedly it's not a coincidence. For 2009, I'm going back to listing just songs again on my Profile.

Who's Next by the Who (1971). I dropped out of college in 1972 and went to work on the McGovern campaign in an attempt to defeat Richard Nixon's re-election bid and end the amoral Vietnam war. I used to come home during that summer bone-tired after yet another 15/7 day at the campaign headquarters of Staten Islanders for McGovern and put this album on the turntable to unwind before I went to sleep. My favorite cut was Won't Get Fooled Again. Roger Daltry told me all summer long that the shotgun sings the song. McGovern got crushed so badly that I swore off ever again working in a political campaign. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

The Doors by the Doors (1967). An incredible debut album. Beyond the seminal Light My Fire, my favorite groove was Back Door Man. You men eat your dinner, eat your pork and beans, I eat more chicken than any man ever seen, yeah, yeah. I'm a back door man, the men don't know but the little girls understand. All eleven cuts by Jim Morrison are truly classic. Jim Morrison, dead at an early age.

Man With Sticks by Led Zeppelin (1971). Led Zeppelin was good. This untitled album, known colloquially, by me at least, as Man With Sticks, is great. When I saw the perfect photo from my trip last summer down the Grand Canyon, photo by Barry Sevett, I instantly named it after the most famous song on the album, Stairway to Heaven. Your stairway lies on the whispering wind. All the cuts are great. How about When the Levee Breaks. Little did I know as I listened to this driving hip hop riff that the wailing Robert Plant was portending the disastrous tenure of the Decider and his ruination of a great American city three decades early. All for the want of 400 votes in Florida. Going down, going down now, going down.

The rest:

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Eric Clapton (1970). Like a fool, I fell in love with you, turned my whole world upside down.

Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix (1967). We'll hold hands and then we'll watch the sunrise from the bottom of the sea. But first, are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have. Jimi Hendrix, dead at an early age.

If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears by the Mamas and the Papas (1966). Another incredible debut album. California Dreamin' might be the most famous rock and roll song of all time. Its opening chords are instantly recognizable by anyone. This album was on when I kissed a girl for the first time, at a party. It was a long kiss, and I was in la la land for the rest of the weekend. Mama Cass, dead at an early age.

Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane (1967). The San Francisco scene, man. You better find somebody to love. I saw Jefferson Starship, sans Grace Slick, a year ago in Falls Church. Some things are better left strictly in the memory banks.

You come up with your favorite half dozen albums, excepting the Beatles and Stones. It's hard to do.

Monday, June 29, 2009

King of Pop

MJ is dead. What a tragedy. There was a strange guy, but what an artist!

I feel a special connection to his Thriller album because my first born was colicky. For ninety days Jimmy cried. Mysteriously on the ninety-first day he stopped crying and became a delightful baby. But this is a common tale among old wives.

The album Thriller had recently come out, with its long rendition of the suspense-laden, building story line of the single, Thriller. Vincent Price's voice-over in the song is masterful, exciting and very grabbing. Him laughing at the end is a perfect climax.

The boy's Mother, bless her for these parenting efforts, used to put the needle of the turntable on the Thriller track of the LP when Jimmy would cry and as the song slowly built to its shattering end, dance with the balling Jimmy in her arms. Mysteriously, or miraculously, Jimmy would soon stop crying, smile, start to coo and then laugh as Sharon moved around the room dancing while Michael's voice issued from the stereo speakers.

All too soon it would be over, Jimmy would look around, his chin would tremble, and his Mother would drop the needle on the well-worn beginning of the song's groove again and the joyous whirlwind would start all over again for Jimmy.

Those are some of the good memories I have of those two.

The Thriller album is, along with U2's The Joshua Tree, the only album created after 1980 that I regularly listen to. It's not on a par with the best, most influential album of all time, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles, but it's close.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The street beggar

Ever since I started glacially moving forward in my personal life about a year ago from the total loss several years earlier of all of my children through PAS, thanks to the concept I started finally figuring out of forgiveness, I have been going to church once a month. Whenever I attend, I sit there stonily but I get all weepy inside thinking about all the departed ones in my life, the relationships I don't have, and the people I know who I wish could be better, for their own sakes.

Today's sermon was on pain and suffering. Pain is obligatory, the priest intoned, suffering is optional. He challenged us as Christians who supposedly look to ameliorate suffering in the world to go out and lay our hand upon someone we don't know who is in pain, and find out about their suffering. "But it starts with one simple action. Touch," he said.

After church I drove to the busy intersection where I always see an African-American beggar wearing a sign saying, "Combat Veteran. Always Faithful." Whenever I drive by, I always give him a dollar coin, but I don't know him. When the light is green and traffic is pressing behind me, I pitch the dollar coin so it rolls to the curb near him as I drive past. He always waves and shouts out, "Thank you!"

Today I stood on his street corner for half an hour and spoke with him. His name is Trevor and he's no beggar. Our conversation started easily enough, I told him my name, asked him what his was, and shook his hand. Touch. This is his story.

Younger than I imagined from my "drivebys," he is a combat veteran, having been deployed twice to Iraq with his parachute division. I didn't press on his story too much, but he was injured in a night jump, in combat, and has had three operations on his right leg since. The first was terribly botched by Army surgeons and left him permanently disabled.

His leg is stiff and unbending. He hobbles around on his little corner with the aid of a four-footed steel cane. He receives 20% disability currently (a little over $400 per month) from the Army, and his lawyer is "95%" sure he will win his appeal and within the next six months receive 70% disability. Retroactively. Trevor looked me in the eye and said, "That's going to be around $57,000 in arrears. You won't see me here come next winter."

Trevor says combat situations taught him to hold no rancor. "The most country redneck, and the most inner-city guy who hates whites, they all become fast friends in combat. They get past our addiction to racial prejudice in a hurry and learn the ways of the world, how to get along together. That's the way it is when you see combat together."

That's the way Trevor talked. He's 36 hour shy of his undergraduate degree in psychology, having taken classes in the Army from the University of Maryland while in Europe.

He was young and fit looking, except for his neglected (broken) teeth and bum leg. "I ran 10 miles every other day, no matter what. Rain, snow, high-up in Colorado, low-down in Massachusetts, didn't matter. I ran every two days. Ten miles. I did five marathons, Boston twice, Marine Corps twice, Baltimore. That's what I miss the most, being active every single day."

He held up his cane and said, "I'm going to get off of this. I am. I go to therapy every week at GW [George Washington University], and I'm off a walker now and down to this."

He is also on mood medication and pain pills, all prescribed in massive doses by the VA. "That's how they justify themselves," he said, "by the amount of pills they prescribe, and the number of canes they give out. I came in with a shattered leg, and they sent me to see a shrink before anything else. There's nothing wrong with my mind, but I couldn't receive treatment until I saw a psychologist first. That's the way the Army is now."

I asked him where he stayed each night. "At Courthouse Metro [in Arlington, sleeping outside]."

I asked him if the Arlington cops bothered him there. "At night? No. They bother me here, during the day," he said, tapping the little square of sidewalk with his cane. Apparently he's been given three loitering summonses, each of which has been tossed out by the same judge.

"My lawyer says I can stand here, wearing my sign. I'm not asking for money. I'm just here, on the public sidewalk. But people slow down and give me money, or stop at the red light and talk to me, and don't get away quick enough when the light turns green, and people behind them use their cells to call the cops on me. But nothing they say or do affects me. I'm poor and happy. I could steal at CVS, or rob folks, instead of standing here all day waiting for money, but that's not the way I am. I've been in combat and seen the way things are. None of this on this corner matters. I'm just doing this til my appeal comes through."

While I stood there, a man four lanes over shouted out, "Where's the expressway?" Upon being told the proper directions by Trevor, he dangerously drove across all four lanes of traffic in front of the other waiting cars so he wouldn't miss his turn. "See, they'll blame that on me. Maybe someone back there with a cell phone . . . ," he said, pointing with his cane at the traffic backup.

Another man drove by with an open window, his fist clutching a fiver. He seemed embarrassed and was staring straight ahead as he turned the corner while extending the money towards us, almost driving up on the sidewalk. The exchange was not made, and the bill fluttered away in the breeze. "I lose a lot of money that way," Trevor sighed. "I can't chase down dollar bills that are moving." I retrieved it for him. Around the corner there was a single lying on the sidewalk which I brought back too. "See?" Trevor said.

Another man drove up to the red light and hailed Trevor. "I brought this for you," he said, and handed over a box-set hand grooming kit. While the motorist waited for the light to turn, Trevor opened the gift with real or feigned delight and shouted, "Thanks! This is great!" He showed me his dirty fingernails. "I can't take care of my hands properly, living out here. This will come in handy. Nautica," he said, reading the brand, "they make clothes. Is this a good kit?" I looked at the fingernail clippers, the file, and other implements and allowed that it looked pretty good. It was brand new. Re-gifting from Father's Day? I wondered.

Another man stopped at the red light, handed over some singles, and asked Trevor how his appeal was faring. He seemed chagrined to hear that the "window" for the decision to come down was 180 days. He lingered as the light turned green, expressing his remorse, and this provoked a long and hearty blast of horn from behind him. After the benefactor drove away, Trevor said, "See, that's my fault, they say. I'm just standing here though."

Trevor on his corner, only temporarily, I hope. Now I know his name. There are many other "corner dwellers" on the streets in our nation's capital. I try to give them each a dollar coin whenever I pass by them. Undoubtedly they all have stories, which maybe involve suffering.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Leg Two at the DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay knocked the stuffing out of me. Literally. I ran it two weeks ago and it destroyed my running until today, when I finally ran a decent 9 miles on the Mall in about 1:20. I was exhausted at the end but I made it and I feel good about it.

I have been exhausted ever since the Relay, and mostly not running. On Wednesday, June 17th, I did the monthly noontime Tidal Basin 3K Run I always do, in 14:13 (7:38). The last time I was over 14 minutes for this short, fast and furious race was over three years ago. ‘Nuff said. (After finishing Leg Two at the Relay, I was not feeling well . . .)

On Saturday, June 20th, I ran a club 4-miler race on the flat C&O Canal Towpath, in 33:47 (8:27). My only other two 4-milers were both run in under 30 minutes. This race was mental agony for me as my legs felt like mush the last three miles. (. . . and when I bent over and noisily barfed . . .)

I asked an Ironman I know if he thought eight miles at altitude, with the last four miles being up one big hill, could take so much out of me that I needed a long time to recover, like after a marathon. Oh yeah, he said.

But now, two weeks later, I feel more normal. It took a long time. (. . . my teammates all did their best to politely ignore me. L-r: Ashley who killed Leg Seven, Bex who did a good job on Leg Four, the longest one, and John, an excellent bicyclist who discovered that those skills don't necessarily transfer straight over to running during a rough Leg Five.)

I’ll tell you about my hardest run ever, perhaps in my next post. Consider this image in the meantime, running hard for 38 minutes to a stadium and then immediately running up its stairs for forty more minutes without ever stopping or getting to the top.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Okay in DC, thanks!

DC has suffered a terrible tragedy, a Metro train plowing into the rear of a stopped train during the evening rush hour today, and violently coming to rest on top of the stopped train. At least six are dead, and scores injured. Rescue work is underway.

This isn't about me but I am okay, thanks for any expression of concern. My heart goes out to those affected.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Delight, Detroit, and DeCelle

I have been traveling. I went to Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando late last month. It was a lot of fun. The Spiderman ride was super, with stunning visual images and very modern 3-D images that come right into your cart. Spidey perches right beside you at one point, and they even sprinkle a little water on you, waft some odors past your nose, and blast air past you at opportunistic and appropriate moments. ( Right: I'm guessing that Wolverine is a Universal franchise.)

Then I went to Detroit, where I took a leisurely early morning run along the waterfront by the Joe Louis Arena. I was saddened to see numerous sleeping homeless persons along the outside corridors under the structure. The Decider’s economic blight has staggered Michigan. The people I met in Detroit were super though.

Since the partial stands behind home plate at old abandoned Tiger Stadium, the only part of the venerable structure still standing, were due to be fully demolished within the week, I took a taxi there from my hotel to see it.

The taxi driver acted as a tour guide for me. A tool-and-die operator in the automotive industry for twenty years with six kids, he was laid off this year. He groaned when I climbed into his cab outside my hotel after asking how far away the stadium was. It was only a short ways down Michigan Avenue from there.

"A four dollar fare, man. I was at the head of the taxi line for the next guest going to the airport for $45."

It was rotten luck for him. He had six kids to support. I started to climb out.

"No, no," he insisted, all traces of his bitterness instantly dispelled. "You’re a guest to Detroit. We treat you right!" He meant it too.

He slowly drove me around the ball park on the encircling streets while I craned my neck and watched spectral images flit across the open field and heard roaring crowds from decades past. We looked for a place in the anchor fence surrounding the field where I could slip inside to wander the confines where the ghost of Mickey Cochrane and the athletic Al Kaline and Kirk Gibson restlessly roam.

Regrettably, there was no break in the fence. My thoughts of climbing the eight foot tall barrier were stymied by a security guard’s car idling inside. (Left: My taxi driver points to where Alan Trammel went to work every day on his way to a Hall of Fame career. This taxi driver is a hero, an ambassador for his town while doing what he has to do to provide for his family. I love these great everyday Americans.)

He drove me around the old abandoned train station with its thousand broken windows. It stood tall, hulking and deserted, another symbol signifying that Detroit’s industrial dominance had passed. (Right: Once this structure held sway worldwide. Chevys were shipped from here.)

I gave him $20 for the twenty-minute tour and hoped it was enough for him losing his place in the hotel taxi line. He just smiled inscrutably and warmly wished me well.

Meanwhile, I was trying to get ready for leg two of the DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay in Nevada. Have you ever run a seriously hilly four-mile race at high altitude that leads you directly into a monster four-mile hill climb? I never had either, until Saturday.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stephen Johns.

Rest in peace, brother.

When I was a state trooper trainee in Colorado in 1980, the instructors had me pegged for a closet liberal. In the class on Response, the teacher asked me what I would do if I was walking up on a 7-11 and a man burst forth out the door with an automatic rifle.

I said, I'd shoot him immediately with my pistol, if I could. Before he leveled his rapid-fire weapon at me and blew me away.

Then I equivocated when the instructor gave me a shocked (Shocked!) stare and said, I'd yell, Drop it! and give him a nano-second to comply. Then I'd shoot him dead.

Ah come on, the teacher said, you wouldn't order him to drop his weapon, draw down on him and wait for him to comply?

No, I said, I'd shoot him. I'd kill him.

This would be a mismatch, rifle versus pistol. If he killed me first, an armed, uniformed authority figure, there'd be no protection for anyone around. I'd kill him quickly if I could.

We had a saying in the state patrol, Better to be judged by 12 (the jury) than carried by 6 (the pall bearers).

The teacher acted disappointed in me, because of my reputation for upholding individual rights. But it was the right answer from the wrong person. He said, Yeah, you waste this guy.

Today where I live, at a place where I sometimes run (down the footpath alongside the Halocaust Museum), a lunatic, a racist Holocaust denier, walked into the museum with a rifle and opened fire. From what I have heard, the security officers inside immediately shot him down.

He killed a guard before he was shot down, a young man named Stephen Johns. God bless you officer Johns. And thank you, fellow officers for immediately acting to subdue this 88 year old American nut job.

Anne Frank would have been 80 if the Nazis hadn't killed her when she was a teenager.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Information please

A few years back when I was in the throes of divorce litigation, whenever a child of mine reached majority, the divorce lawyers would negotiate a new child support order at a cost of many thousands of dollars. Each new order that got entered into the public record carried my full name, address, date of birth and social security number. When I balked at signing such a privacy-wrecking document, I was told that unless the order contained this information, the desk clerk wouldn't accept it for filing. Then I wouldn't "benefit" from having my child support payments reduced by about a hundred dollars per month. (It's not smart to spend thousands to save hundreds. That's part of the estate-wrecking "game" of divorce that dispirits men.)

In Virginia that has changed and now social security numbers are contained in another court document which is filed under seal. But there are states that are more backwards than Virginia.

I know a person who recently ordered a copy of a marriage certificate from another state, a public record readily available to anyone. It was an outrageous treasure trove of personal information.

It listed the full name of the man and woman, along with each one's date and place of birth, social security number, current address, status (divorced or not and what month and year), and full mother's and father's names and status (dead or alive). It listed the full name and address of each witness.


Monday, June 1, 2009

At last a good long run

My club has a Saturday Long Run (SLR), which I rarely go to because I am usually busy with coaching duties on Saturdays. The hard-core SLRers speak reverentially about it though, almost like it's a mystical experience. I know of several runners who have taken apartments near its starting point at the Iwo Jima statue in Arlington, so important is it to them. There must be something liberating about a long run through the nation's capital early on a Saturday as the city is starting to stir, followed by twenty minutes of conversation with tired, sweaty and happy like-minded people before getting on with the rest of the weekend's activities. I know its a place where enduring friendships are forged.

Because I am between training programs currently, I went to it on Saturday. The schedule called for 13 miles, the Piney Branch Route, up north through the District from Arlington past George Washington University, through Dupont Circle and up by the Scottish Rite Temple near McMillian Reservoir before turning back down Rock Creek Park to achieve Arlington again via the soft dirt track of the C&O Canal Towpath in Georgetown and a different bridge. (Right: 13 miles of meandering delight.)

It was 1:48 of magical running all right. I ran with tall T for awhile talking about club people we both knew, until he donked himself on a low lying tree branch and dropped back (he was alright). We ran by the cascading fountain in Meridian Hill Park and the statue of Joan of Arc in Malcolm X Park up on 16th Street, which I hadn't seen for years. I chatted up B, recently moved here with her husband, who recently ran a 4:00:20 marathon. Diplomatically, I asked how that felt. She had gone through the various stages of grief (shock, disbelief, denial, anger, acceptance) at just missing breaking four hours for the marathon, but now she was cool with it. She repeated a wise aphorism that tomorrow is always another day. She lost at least three minutes waiting on a port-potty line late in the race. Use the bushes next time, I counseled. (Left: The Scottish Rite Temple on 16th Street.)

(Right: Joan of Arc provides inspiration for weary SLRers.) I ran the last five miles on my own, pushing the pace, running by people. It felt good, my best long run since February, when I hurt my toe on a 12 mile run and my running fell off a cliff as a result. Maybe my base is finally back to something decent again. I bonked the last mile and ran it very slowly, although I saved enough energy in reserve to turn and wave back to a trucker who unnecessarily gave me a long blast of his air horn (and sped up) when I dashed across an intersection as the light turned red for me and green for him. Territorial imperative, I guess, and his rig started to slow after my return salute to him but, in traffic, he then kept on going onto the highway. I watched out for his truck the rest of the way, though, so as not to be surprised.

Afterwards I spoke with a person from work whom I didn't know and who was at her first SLR, and a few other people. Then it was off to the office to spend the rest of the day editing the club newsletter, a duty that fell to me when nobody else would take it on. Yesterday was a day of travel and preparation for work, for a deposition in Florida later this morning. Yep, it was a good start to the weekend all right. (Left: Running by the fountain in Meridian Hill Park provides stairwork.)