Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year Just Past

This summer I finally fulfilled my long-held desire to make it out to the Custer battlefield in Montana, driving there 900 miles from Minneapolis and back again in a rented car. There is no good way to get this remote battlefield, as it is about equidistant from Seattle, Denver or Minneapolis. (Right: Driving to Montana allowed me to see the magnificent waterworks in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.)

Going the way I did allowed me to visit my sister, who lives and owns a yarn shop in St. Paul, and see a game at Target Field, the new stadium of the Minnesota Twins. I am on a quest to see a game at every major league baseball stadium, and I have two stadiums to go (Seattle and new Yankee Stadium).

In Minnesota I also paid my last respects to the Greatest Generation as my Uncle, the very last World War II veteran I personally knew, was laid to rest in a cemetery bordering on the Mississippi River in Winona, the town where he and my father grew up. My Uncle was a hero in the Pacific War (bronze star recipient), as was my father who fought at Peleliu and Okinawa.

In the spring I had stomach surgery, a whiff of mortality. I also returned to running after a year-long layoff due to a chronic injury, and shed half the extra poundage I had gained. (Left: A welcome return to running. Photo courtesy of Leah Frazier.)

In the fall I spent a week in a small town on the Pamlico Sound in North Carolina helping my college roommate clean up his property there after the storm surge of a devastating hurricane flooded the town. Talk about a hardscrabble existence, the folks in towns like that have a life that exists otherwise in John Steinbeck novels. (Right: Cleaning up after the hurricane. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Sherwood.)

This winter I attended a two-week trial in Dallas, getting to know a great bunch of folks in my agency's regional office there as a result. I have only had two other actual trials in over twenty years of Federal work as a lawyer, and as usual the trial was intense, exhausting and stimulating.

The trial allowed me to do a lot of running in a different and unknown city, Dallas, and I compared it favorably to running in the District. Running on the Katy Trail there is every bit as rewarding as running on the Capital Crescent Trail or the W&OD in the Washington area, and running through Dealey Plaza or past the first Hilton hotel or by the original Neiman Marcus store is every bit as historic and rewarding as running on the National Mall. (Left: The Dallas trial team. Lead trial counsel is on the far left, the trial expert, an economist, is on the far right. Photo courtesy of Erez Yoeli.)

It was a good year. I won't tell you my resolutions for the coming year but I hope to make the next year even better.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

So Long...

On the day after Christmas, 2001, I took my kids to Ollender's across the street and purchased a seven-foot artificial fir Christmas tree at half price for our future Christmas holidays together. My wife had filed a stealth divorce that spring, immediately immersing our minor children in the litigation, and things had started becoming very strange between me and my three sons.

I paid $155.74 for the tree and although my three boys enjoyed setting it up at my house in 2002, around that time their Mother filed another stealth lawsuit that named my juvenile children as parties against me in a "fiduciary" matter. My children never came over to my house again after it was thrown out of court in 2003, and the litigation finally ended years later after she was sanctioned and assessed costs of almost $50,000 for filing her "harassment petition."

I can only suppose that boys love their Mother, as well they should, but I'd just like to know how my boys have fared since 2003 and indeed, if they are still alive and well. In my opinion it is unbelievably inhumane for this woman, a first grade teacher here in Falls Church, to keep me totally uninformed about our children's very well being.

Anyway, I set up this monstrous tree every Christmas although no family member ever came over to my house to see it despite copious invitations, and it took up a lot of room to put up and also to store. I bought its replacement recently, a five-foot hardware store floor model, after deciding that I would get ten years use out of the seven-foot monstrosity to make it worthwhile.

This being the tenth year, I set the tree up on Christmas Eve, having been out of town for work until then, and tore it down on the day after Christmas. Then I hauled it over to the local thrift store and donated it.

Boy, do I feel great that it's outta here. And Jimmy, Johnny and Danny, I love you and miss you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I've been in Dallas for the last 12 days on assignment and there's no better way to see a city than to run through it. Every other morning I leave the Magnolia Hotel where I'm staying and go for a short run, usually down Main Street to Dealey Plaza and back.

Dallas has a lot of homeless people and they are moving around early in the morning when I run. I feel like I'm on the set of a zombie movie with a multitude of shambling, shuffling people moving around on the sidewalks as I run by.

This morning I ran with a co-worker down to the Cattle Drive statue in a park outside the convention center, then we stopped at a diner on Elm Street where we ate a breakfast of eggs, sausage, home fries and toast (and coffee) for less than $4 each. The patron next to us at the counter looked incredulously (disgustedly?) at the two of us sitting there in sweaty clothes and asked, "You been running?" (Right: Round 'em up.)

My friend is from Israel and on our run I took him past the Confederate war memorial also, which is near the convention center as well. As we inspected this towering monument to the Lost Cause, with five life-size figures each on their own column (Jeff Davis, Lee, Stonewall, A.S. Johnston and an ordinary Rebel soldier), I was able to give him the Yankee version of the Civil War as I explained each historical figure in turn. (Left: Guess who won?)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Associations, forty years later.

Facebook is quite a phenomenon, now I spill short drivel onto my FB page every day while I neglect any reflective writing I might do in my blog. But through facebook in the last year, I have been contacted by three of my best friends growing up, after decades of non-contact.

None of them are old female friends. How much better a friend I could be now for them.

We were young then, we're old now and either wrinkled or fat or wrinkled and fat. The Republicans inadvertently coined a motto for us when they advanced a health care plan for folks like us to Just Die.

My BFF in ninth grade reached out to me this past summer and I eagerly accepted his Friend-Me bid. It had been 40 years since I last heard from him.

How does that happen to BFFs? Very easily, at least up until the advent of the electronic age, which is very recent. (I'm the fat & wrinkled one on the left.)

We spent a lunch hour catching up recently at a restaurant in Minnesota, of all places. He told me about his alienated child (divorce situation) whom he had just recently heard from and then seen for thirty minutes for the first time in almost a decade, and I told him about my three alienated children (divorce situation) whom I have not seen nor heard from in almost a decade.

Once we were past our mutual modern male-parent maudlin stories, I told him about my very last memory of him. Sitting around the kitchen table of my parents' house on Staten Island, he was regaling my family with his first-year-in-college tales of life in the frat house at a college in the south.

You see, I chose to go to school in Boulder in 1970, and I had a much different attitude from him about schools and classmates. I said I remembered chiding him for his affinity for having 40 close frat brothers by asking, when he said that if you needed to go somewhere that 40 car keys would be tossed at you, if all 40 brothers would also put on blue shirts if he donned one before going out in the borrowed car.

Forty years later I still remembered how clear it had been to me how ridiculous his portrayal of frat life was. Although he had forgotten until then our last encounter, forty years later he remembered how merciless I had been in my chiding and how silly he had felt.

Life sucks sometimes. I suck sometimes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Mile

I'm about to embark upon two weeks of travel with only one night's return to home so I'm kind of busy preparing for that. No time today for my customary Monday noontime run on the Mall.

So I ran a mile this morning in my neighborhood, to save time, get a run in and see where I'm at. In August I ran my neighborhood mile in 8:01 and I was satisfied with that then.

Today it was hard, as I think my ninety minutes of Bikram (hot) Yoga yesterday still has me wiped out. I brought my run home in 7:55, which I'm happy with since I wanted to do it in under eight.

That's not much progress since August as I return from my year's layoff due to injury and it's almost a minute off my old standard (break seven) but it's where I'm at. As I close in fast on 60, at least I'm out there, sucking the cool morning air into my aching lungs, legs burning, chest heaving, body alive and pushing, watching the canopy of autumn leaves with their brilliant fall colors pass by overhead.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleven Eleven Eleven.

Today at 11:00 am, the WWI Memorial on the National Mall honoring the 499 DC residents killed in World War One will be re-dedicated after being restored (it literally lay in the weeds and brush unnoticed for decades). Almost a century ago The Greatest War ended, presaging an even greater war the sons of its participants fought which would catapult America out of the depression and usher in a half-century of American dominance. Paul Fussell's great 1975 book, The Great War and Modern Memory, describes how World War I still resonates today. My grandfather fought in that conflict. (Left: The DC WWI Memorial.)

The greatest novel of the First World War is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (the basis for the 1930 Academy Award winning film by Lewis Milestone) and the greatest film is Paths of Glory by Stanley Kubrick (based upon Humphrey Cobb's 1935 novel). The greatest explanation of the complex run-up to the war is Laurence Lafore's The Long Fuse (1971), the greatest military history is B.H. Liddell Hart's The Real War (1930), the greatest short work is A Short History of World War I (1981) by James Stokesbury and the greatest battle depiction is The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 (1962) by Alastair Horne. The greatest anti-war novel is Johnny Got His Gun (1939) by Dalton Trumbo. (Right: Grandfather Lamberton.)

Some fine also-rans, reflective of the Great War's relegation to mere second place disaster of the 20th Century by the Second World War, are One of Ours (novel) by Willa Cather, winner of the 1923 Pulitzer Prize, The Blue Max (1966 film), The Guns of August (also called August 1914, Pulitzer Prize winner for 1963) by Barbara Tuchman, The Great War (1959) by Cyril Falls, A Concise History of World War I (1964) by Ernest Esposito, In Flanders Field: Passchendaele 1917 (1958) by Leon Wolff and The Good Soldier Schweik (1930) by Jaroslav Hasek.

As an aside, Ladislas Farago's 1963 biography of World War Two's old blood and guts general, Patton: Ordeal and Triumph, has a great section on this legendary warrior's baptism in battle in World War One. Also great at showing how the impersonal nature of war destroys individuality are Ernest Hemingway's 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms and its 1932 film adaptation starring Gary Cooper.

There's a lot to learn about and from The War to End All Wars. As British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey said on the eve of the destructive European self-conflagration, "The lamps are going out all over Europe and I doubt we shall see them lit again in our lifetime." England was the world's premier economic power in 1914, by 1918 London had been replaced as the world's financial center by New York, where the tail still wags the dog.

The opening stanza of John McCrae's 1915 poem In Flanders Field is portentous:

In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The New Norm

While having lunch at a restaurant yesterday with my running buddy John, he asked me how my business trip was to Dallas. I told him it went fine, except that I'd had a lifetime moment that was truly startling to me.

"You know my three sons haven't communicated with me for years," I said. "In the office late one night preparing for a hearing the next day, a co-worker asked if I had any kids and I just said, 'No.'"

John knows of my heartache for the last decade due to the estrangement that came out of my divorce, when my three precious then-adolescent boys had their malleable young wills overborne by a willing cadre of "professionals" headed by their Mother and they were turned against me. It's called Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS, and it's thriving in the West.

"Yep," I went on, "I just said 'Nope, I don't have any children.'" Telling me that I was finally truly healing, John extended his knuckles across the table for a fist bump.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Encounter, Part 3

Running with John last weekend in Rosslyn, I saw the bright future of my old running club. I was president of the club in 2009 before I was forced out in a coup engineered by the head of the IT department along with his hi-tek posse (all grossly disruptive grotesquely disrespectful 20-something board members) in collusion with a diminutive rogue VP.

Last month I saw the past of the club when I ran into the person who succeeded me, lets-call-her-Carol, and had a nice chat with her. The club was in terrific shape when I left and also when Carol ended her term, but I was sad to hear about club races which had recently been cancelled such as its former flagship 20-miler.

Also last month I saw the present when the current president, let's call him Bryan, ran right by me in Arlington. Although he saw me, he rigorously averted his eyes the entire 40 feet it took for him to run past me as I stood on the same sidewalk looking at him (maybe the guy is shy, or afraid). When I was president I had heard comments about his creepiness because allegedly he could track consumers' visits to the website and allegedly he would occasionally ask a female visitor if he could assist her in finding anything.

But Saturday the current Vice President for Training, my old post before I became president, ran by me and stopped to chat. This former coach who I elevated to the board gave me confidence via a warm and animated conversation that the club was undergoing a great revival in its training programs after an unfortunate period of stagnancy under the last training director (the lilliputian rogue former VP who was a total slackard in my opinion). This committed, compassionate and competent current VP represents the club's bright future, and I couldn't be more glad for it. (The club's bright future is on the right, wearing a shirt I designed for the 10-Miler program. Photo credit John.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The New Normal

Today at noon on the Mall was our new normal, 5.8 miles in 51:35, an 8:54 pace. Our running has revved up since we added R (for Rabbit) to our little group.

We leave our work near Union Station, run down to the Mall by the Capitol, go down to the Lincoln Memorial and return by running up Capitol Hill (a significant incline a third of a mile long) in the fifth mile. L, who has never before ran sub-9s, is showing a fierce competitive streak and chases down every runner who passes us.

Today as we ran by the Capitol, a Capital Police squad car came up from underground parking and approached the sidewalk we were running on to cross it to drive onto the street. L pulled up for it while R and I continued by on the sidewalk, oblivious.

The cop actually yelled out his open driver's window at R and I that we had run through a red light (on the sidewalk). There's no profit in arguing with a policeman but give me a break, jerk.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who's Idea Was This?

I have been running with L two or three times a week at noon on the Mall since I returned to running in January. I used to be faster than her but I got slower, she got faster, she's smart and interesting to talk to and presto, running buddy.

I was coming back from injury and she was coming back from surgery and oh, we were pathetic back then. Three miles would leave us running ragged and sometimes walking, and we ran eleven minute miles, but by August we were up to five miles and down to ten minute miles.

Then in September we threw in running up Capitol Hill at the end to make it 5.5 miles and we got our pace down to 9:20s and we became full of ourselves. What is it that goeth before the fall?

It was L who invited R to run with us at noon. She came along today and to encourage her to continue, we cut our run down to 4 1/2 miles to see how she'd do.

Something was wrong from the outset of the run. R had lied to us and she didn't run "nine minute miles at best," oh no, we were running sub-nines from the start and trailing her.

I used to be able to do that, and L apparently can do that now, but my breathing was ragged and so was L's conversation and we were definitely out of our comfort zone. The beauty of running on the Mall however is that incessant traffic forces you to stop at the cross streets so you can catch a blow.

R did slow down in the latter half of the run. We also ran up Capitol Hill at the end, although I was DFL in that third of a mile uphill stretch.

Our pace for the 4.57 miles was 8:42.5. R is good for L and I, right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What a Cool Diss

I have fallen into social running, and like to talk to runners on trails as I fall in with them. But I'm also 59.

I was doing nine miles on the hilly Custis Trail with John who was getting ready to run the ATM when we ran up on a thirty-something woman running the trail with her headsets on. She was wearing a shirt I absolutely recognized, the gray long sleeved tech shirt from the 2006 NYCM, which is my favorite marathon ever! Yeah, I did that race.

I overtook her and asked, "Did you run that race?"

She ignored me. I said, louder, "Your shirt. Did you run the 2006 New York City Marathon?"

Looking annoyed, she cast a glance in my direction and ripped out an ear bud. "Yes," she said.

I was abreast of her now. "I ran that race too," I said. "It was my favorite marathon."

She coolly said, without missing a beat, "I thought I recognized you."

I said, "Have a nice run," and pressed on. John caught up with me a minute later.

Her put-down was perfectly delivered and unanswerable. We had to stay ahead of her for the rest of our run.

She wasn't the greatest looker and I'll bet I beat her but she had a classic retort. I should have remembered that I never talk to runners I pass when they're wearing headphones.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Running Through History

I went to Dallas on business last week and asked the concierge at the downtown Sheraton for a 3-mile running route. She pulled out a map and traced a route with a marker.

"Go out the north door and turn left, follow the tracks down Pacific Avenue and go a mile, loop down around the Grassy Knoll here . . ."

I interrupted her. "Excuse me, the Grassy Knoll? You mean the site of the JFK assassination?"

"Yes," she said.

At 5 a.m. the next morning, in perfect weather for running, I altered her route slightly and ran through history. I went out the north door, ran west a block to Harwood, turned left and ran by the magnificent Majestic Theatre on Elm Street and continued on to Main Street. Turning right, I ran through the stillness of the early morning thinking about November 22, 1963 and President Kennedy's last few minutes of life.

Perhaps I was running down Main Street at the same speed as his open-air limousine was travelling along the same roadway as his presidential motorcade crawled towards its history-altering meeting with fate at Dealey Plaza, still half a mile ahead of me. I had no noontime sunlight or cheering crowds to spur me on, only my somber thoughts in the early morning darkness and the presence of little groups of silently moving homeless people on the sidewalks.

I passed over Griffin, Lamar, Austin and Market Streets. I ran by Founders Plaza on my right as Houston Street loomed ahead, on the corner where the motorcade made a torturous right turn and passed by the very building which housed the jail where assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was supposed to have been taken when he was executed in the basement of the courthouse a few blocks behind me.

I made the same right turn. Forty-eight years ago the unsuspecting President Kennedy had less than a minute to live.

I ran a short block and yawed left onto Elm Street, right under a tall fortress of a building, the Texas School Book Depository. I ran down the hill directly away from the Depository and entered the killing zone.

An X painted on the roadway in the middle lane marked the spot where the first bullet struck President Kennedy. This "magic bullet" fired from the corner sixth-storey window of the Depository by Oswald using a twelve-dollar mail-order rifle passed through both President Kennedy and Governor Connolly and inflicted seven wounds upon the two men.

I stopped and looked back. I instantly saw that a man with a rifle in that window could easily kill me, even if I was desperately darting about.

Ten yards further down there is another X painted in the roadway, the site of the fatal head shot. I looked back and the window still seemed so close.

That spot is directly in line with the magic-bullet shot, leaving the shooter to only have to train the rifle barrel slightly downward without any side-to-side movement. The assassination spot was obviously carefully chosen and previously sited in.

I glanced to the north thirty feet and surveyed the infamous grassy knoll. I could see no obvious place for a shooter to hide over there, and it would be a much harder shot since the target would be passing across the shooter's sights and not merely away from him.

I ran the rest of the way down the hill and under the triple underpass where the vehicle bearing the mortally stricken president went. Now I had gone too far on my run and I got lost within a maze of elevated restricted-access highways.

After fifteen minutes of adventuring which included a trip through a homeless camp, a climb up a steep hillside and a trek along an elevated railroad track, I found my way back to the hotel. Inside I went by the workout room and glanced in to see half a dozen guests toiling away in place on dreadmills, ellipticals and stair masters, a mere mile away from a run through momentous history.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Encounter, Part Two

I was at the post office on Friday when I saw a woman in line ahead of me looking at me. It was Carol, past president of the DC Road Runners Club, whom I hadn't seen since I stepped down as president two autumns ago and she assumed the presidency.

Part of my decision to resign as president back then had been made based upon the fact that she was a capable, grownup person who could take over the club and keep it prospering. A significant part of the board then was very young and in league with a reckless board member who had set out to destroy my presidency for his own advancement and who controlled the club's IT department, the club's Pay Pal account and much of the club's equipment such as its timing system.

This rebellious contingent actively disrupted the board meetings I conducted, changed and removed my president's posts from its traditional place on the club's website, engaged in suspicious transactions and undertook important club business without my knowledge or approval. One of this youthful band of plotters, a dishonest sycophant (he was a vice president so he gave this posse quite a bit of clout) even called me one night and unloaded a profanity-laced tirade upon me, drunkenly telling me that I had "stepped into it" by opposing their actions and assuring me, correctly it turned out, that I would be a one-term president. Shortly thereafter the posted club bylaws on the website changed without notice in a way that greatly weakened my position during this power struggle.

None of the rest of the board was interested in dealing with the ambitious Iago leading this usurping gang and the two adult vice presidents declined to support me when I requested their assistance in looking into and dealing with the activities of this independent brigade. Although it was a great disappointment to me personally, especially after all the tremendous things I had done for the club both as president and over the years as its training director, I shortly thereafter resigned rather than be powerless as president to control these miscreants. It was a volunteer gig, after all.

It is the ultimate irony that the henchman of these ferocious young turks is now club president and the little drunken liar in their pocket was cast aside and is no longer even a board member. All of this unpleasantness dropped away on Friday as I called out a greeting to Carol and she came over to speak with me. We had a delightful chat, catching up on each other and she filled me in on what's new with the club. President to president, you know?

I was gratified to hear that responsible, good people, persons I had largely cultivated on the training side of the club, had been put into important board positions such as treasurer and VP of training. Although I no longer belong to the club, I wish it well.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Encounter, Part One

I was president of my local running club in 2009, being forced by circumstances to resign when my presidency was deliberately wrecked by a young contingent on the board (all 20-somethings except for one 30-something) that was made up of the IT department of the club plus a sad-sack lackey VP who was in their pocket. These young men, led by the head IT guy whom I'll call Bryan, loathed me personally and disrupted my administration of the club by doing things like unilaterally removing my president's post from its traditional spot on the club's website and conducting important club business without my knowledge or approval.

This posse of four miscreants took to actively disrupting the board meetings I conducted by sitting in a group and noisily acting like muttering, smirking school children in an out-of-control classroom. When they voted and seconded among themselves to "end" my last board meeting before business was concluded, personally affronting a friend of mine whom I was trying to present to the board as the next newsletter editor, the other board members fled the restaurant to escape the contentious scene and I found myself standing confronting Bryan, the henchman of this gang, while his three juvenile friends pressed in behind him in support. My friend interposed and led me away from this tense impasse before it degenerated into fisticuffs, and I tendered my resignation to the non-supportive board the next day and quit the club.

This was a great disappointment in my life because I had worked hard in a volunteer capacity for years to develop the club's training programs and I did some wonderful things in my six month tenure like overseeing its lucrative association with the country's premiere ten-mile race by becoming the race's official training partner. I wasn't able to properly develop my vision for the club of making it more inclusive of runners of all types by developing more programs and activities, but who ever said life was fair? The VP who took over the presidency, whom I'll call Carol, is a grownup and she stepped down this year whereupon Bryan, now barely thirty, fulfilled his consuming ambition by becoming president.

One Saturday morning last month I was standing on a sidewalk in downtown Arlington after a six mile run when the current president of my former club ran by. He was running alongside a woman as he approached and he caught my eye from thirty feet away. Bryan instantly looked away and, only having a woman for support this time around rather than three strapping young men (well, two strapping men, the rogue VP is a pathetic pint-sized little guy), he found something of absorbing interest to look at in the curb on the other side from me until he was past me even as I looked directly at him the entire time. One president passing right by another, you know?

I have heard that Bryan has said slanderous things about me since I stepped down, for instance to the management of the premiere running store in the area. That conversation with Bryan will have to wait for a time when he doesn't run away from me.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Canadian Woman

She seemed so unapproachable. A beautiful woman wearing headphones passing by us on the Mount Vernon Trail as John and I ran our weekend 10K, she ignored our salutary comments and slightly outdistanced us.

She was run/walking so we passed her back on the wicked uphill switchback leading to the hilly Custis Trail near where the Key Bridge connects Arlington to Georgetown. John urged her on as we went by, and she broke out of her desultory walk to join our trotting run up the steep incline.

Noticing my Garmin, she asked how fast we were running to which I answered, "9:40s." She seemed stunned and, one earbud out, evinced that she had been hoping that she had been running at a 5:30 pace.

It turned out that she was Canadian and had taken my pace retort to mean minutes per kilometer instead of minutes per mile. Apparently 9:40s would be just-shoot-me slow north of the border.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Eight-Miler

Last Saturday I met John at 7:30 a.m. at Bluemont on the W&OD Trail to run 8 miles before I drove down to NC to visit a friend who was impacted by the visit of Hurricane Irene a week earlier. Eight miles was the longest either John or I had run in two years.

John was bothered by a hip injury he's been dealing with so we ran slowly, enjoying the time we were out there. We set out westbound on the trail so that we could do the last half downhill after we turned around.

The local high school was conducting its first cross country training run so a steady progression of skinny young runners ran by opposing us and then shortly, they all overtook us and passed us from behind. We passed a few of them back because we'd catch up with them at street crossings where they were patiently waiting for the green light and we'd run the red and get ahead for a short while.

We turned around at the 42 minute mark and ran a negative split of 40 minutes coming back. Afterwards I stopped in at the INOVA Health Center in Merrifield to give my 89th blood donation lifetime before tackling the seven hour drive to NC.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene was an annoyance in DC the weekend before last, the source of much rain and wind, lots of hours spent watching the weather channel and the subject of plans for hurricane parties. I called up a friend in the District to tell her that I was out of milk and ask her what should I do (I never drink milk) and to see if she thought 4 rolls of toilet paper would be enough to get me past Irene's passage.

But I have another friend for whom it was not a funny joke. He lives in Vandemere, NC, on the edge of the water, and Pamlico County, where tiny Vandemere is (it's near Oriental, NC) was the hardest hit county in this top-ten disaster storm.

Hurricane Isabel in 2003 was popularly known to be the storm of the century down here because of the unprecedented devastation it inflicted when it came ashore, he explained to me, but the storm surge when Irene came ashore in the region was higher than Isabel's. By two and a half feet.

My friend estimates Vandemere has 120 houses, and that probably 80 of them were breached by seawater. Houses in town were flooded that never took in water before, not even during Isabel. My friend's house is on stilts and the water came to within two feet of invading his floorboards.

As usual during hurricanes, townsfolk parked their cars at the firehouse, which had always remained dry in every storm. All the cars were flooded with seawater up to their dashboards and totaled.

His house high atop its stilts became like a stationary ark on storm-tossed seas, with the ocean rolling around just under it and waves lashing the pilings. The thick trunks of the trees in his yard emerged from the wind-whipped waters and rode out the storm alongside the house.

I came down this past weekend to help my friend clean up because he lost everything he had stored in his outer buildings, which constituted many of his lifelong treasures like old books, his parents' furniture, photographs and old construction-paper cards to him from his school-age children on special occasions. He sadly explained that he thought they were all stored on shelves high enough to remain dry even during the worst storm, as we surveyed the sodden mess. For the past two days while he carefully separates stuck-together pages of photo albums which have recorded his life hoping to salvage ruined remembrances, I plow through the treasures-turned-trash and dump most of them in garbage bags.

In town the scenes of disaster are worse as practically every house has mountainous piles of water-stained mattresses, warped wood, ruined carpeting, soggy insulation and waterlogged furniture heaped on the curb. But everyone down here is working at recovery, thankful for what remains rather than despondent over what's lost, and the spirit imbuing this town is indomitable.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Leaden Skies

The phone rang yesterday at 7 a.m. It was John who asked, "Do you still want to do it?"

I looked outside at gray skies and low light but no rain. "Let's do it," I said.

Thirty minutes later we were underway on a seven mile run from Bluemont Park to Shirlington and back on the W&OD Trail under ominous skies and moisture-laden air. Hurricane Irene was offshore to the south somewhere, working her way north.

We did 9:45s going down and ten-somethings on the way back which is slightly uphill. It was the furthest I've run since Army 2009, at which 10-mile race I suffered a debilitating over-use injury to the tendon in my left ankle.

It was a joy to be out there, knocking off the miles, talking with a friend, nodding to passing runners, knowing the whole weekend would be stretching out luxuriously before me when we finished well before 9 a.m.

We threw in a long exhilarating sprint at the end trying to overtake a runner in the distance pushing a running stroller. One of us passed her just before the end, one of us fell just short. Breathing hard, sweating profusely, we exchanged high-fives at the end of our perfect seventy-one minute run under leaden skies.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A once in a hundred years earthquake

This week I was in my 3d floor office in the District when the floor shook. I looked out the window to see if a heavy truck was passing by, or if there was a flash and a blast noise out there, or if the trees were whipping about.

Nope. Earthquake!

A minute later the floor rocked and rolled under me for 45 seconds. It felt like liquid jelly underfoot.

I got the hell out of the building before the upper six storeys had a chance to collapse on me. Wrong thing to do, say all my left coast friends.

What was wrong was that my work-force marshaled across the street, to take names and check them off, under a six storey building with a four foot overhang around its upper level. Those cascading chunks of concrete could have killed me for sure if there had been an aftershock of magnitude.

So I sit here today and consider my three lovely sons, Jimmy Rogers (he changed his name on his 21st birthday he loves his Mother so), Johnny Lamberton and Danny Lamberton, whom I haven't heard from since 2003 (they were minors then when they were enlisted by her for offensive use in the divorce proceeding, they're adults now).

I paid every cent of child support for all those years, and have paid or guaranteed their full college tuition and fees in Virginia state schools. I thought they might have called to see if I was alright after the historic earthquake.

Nope, and their Mother, Sharon Rogers Lightbourne of Fairfax City, a first grade schoolteacher (!) in Falls Church, refuses to give me their addresses (or indeed any information at all about them, even if they're well or, well, dead). There's a saying, Jimmy Johnny and Danny, see ya wouldn't want to be ya!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Speed Work?

I been running this summer, combating the other-worldly heat this summer ("feels like 117"), trying to build my base back up after a year and a half off due to injury. With my co-worker L, I have been running three times a week at noon on the Mall five miles each run, with a "long" run on Saturday morning with John on the W&OD Trail.

My bum left ankle feels tweaked from the twenty-mile weeks I have been putting on it, despite the cortisone shot it received awhile ago. But I dutifully pull on my ankle brace each run and make sure I get out four times a week. I used to run five times a week at 9:00 miles 35-40 miles each week, but times have changed. (L keeps me honest on our runs. Her husband is a hero who returned recently from deployment in Afghanistan.)

Now I trundle about at 17-21 miles each week at 10:00 miles and love its effect upon my out-of-shape conditioning, having dropped to 205 pounds in the last half-year, halfway yo the return to my former "ideal" weight. My running buddy L is coming back from C-section surgery while I am rebounding from hernia surgery. I keep my mouth shut, as this woman who used to be considerably slower than me now pulls me along. I satisfy myself with the thought that I have made her faster.

So this morning, I resisted running "long" as I lay in my bed, content that L was on vacation so I didn't have to look forward to five miles with her on the Mall. I decided to do a "speed"workout.

Without pulling on my brace, I went to the curb to run my neighborhood mile to see what my speed had become (or dropped to). I used to be able to pull these runs off in 6:50s. (Mein John.)

Off I went, running on feel. Although I set my watch, I determined not to look at it, even once, during the mile. I didn't want to hurry up my run to meet a goal or slow it down due to despair if I was fading badly midway.

I felt good running uphill the first part, feeling like I was moving with alacrity. My labored breathing didn't hinder me as I was able to manage my discomfort of being out of breath during my exertion. Half a year ago this would have been crippling.

Coming back on the out-and-back, I resisted several times checking my progress on my stop-watch and came into the zone of a placed radar-zone display for approaching traffic to dampen speeding in residential areas. I ran full on directly into its sweet zone and couldn't generate a reading for my speed. Huh!

At my driveway, the ending point, I hit my stopwatch and saw 8:01. If I had been monitoring my time I would have busted the eight minute mark. I am very happy with my current speed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The 16 ouncer

I ran 10K on the C&O Canal Towpath yesterday in 60:54, jumping in with my friend Ashley while she did 14 miles getting ready for the MCM in October. For the first time in a long time the running came easy, just like in the olden days, abetted by the company of a good friend and the forgiving surface of the towpath.

When I let go of Ashley after five miles to return to my car while she finished her much longer run, I even practiced picking people off the last mile. Team in Training was out there ahead of me and the last quarter mile I ran hard to overtake three runners who were a hundred yards ahead of me. It was fun and I felt good.

Then I went to the Steak 'N Egg Kitchen on Wisconsin Avenue for an artery-clogging breakfast, ordering the Old South Sunday, a meal of biscuits & gravy, 2 eggs, hash browns, bacon and sausage (but I eschewed the extra cheese). While I ate I marveled at the clockwork-like efficiency of the eight persons working in the narrow space behind the counter, three cooking on the grill, three more waiting on the counter diners, and one worker each busing and dish washing. A ninth person handled the outside patio from the other side of the counter and she obviously knew everything that was going on with all the orders.

One patron ordered a T-bone steak with his eggs and seemed disappointed when the steaming meat slab with juices dripping off it was put in front of him. "Is this 16 ounces?" he asked. When assured that it was, he proceeded to eat it with relish. The place was packed and it never closes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

You know there's an Italy, right?

I have been running this summer, fighting the brutal heat of July while I go on 3-5 mile runs three times a week at noon with my co-worker running buddy L, the two of us egging each other on. It seems that every other run one or the other of us has to break our run down to a one-mile recuperation walk somewhere in the last half, but as our conditioning improves, those interludes are getting fewer. One day the air temperature reportedly "felt like" it was 117. The office dreadmill runners regard the two of us as crazy to be running outside but hey, we're only doing 10-minute miles, and we always bring water. I also "go long," run 6 miles, every Saturday.

Last week I ran 23 miles. I have shed half of the excess weight that I put on in my year and a half of inactivity while I nursed my ankle injury. Or should I say that I have only shed half of the excess weight I put on while inactive all that time?

Last month I took my summer vacation, flying to Minnesota to see my sister and attend the memorial service for my uncle who died in the spring. From there I drove across the Dakotas to Montana and back, visiting a number of Indian Wars (Sioux War) battlefields, drove around the Badlands and walked around the Devils Tower in Wyoming. The Sioux kicked the Americans' ass twice, at the Fetterman massacre in 1866 in Wyoming and the Custer massacre in 1876 in Montana. Not a single trooper with the engaged U.S. detachments survived either of those battles. (Right: Custer, two of his brothers, a nephew and about forty of his remaining men died on this hillside while trying to reach the Little Big Horn River marked by the green strip of cottonwood trees in the background so that they could assault an Indian encampment on the other bank that contained ten times as many well armed fighters as they had in their entire initial assaulting force.)

When I got back, a friend who had been following my trip thanks to my FB posts and who knows that I have never been outside of North America said it sounded like a great trip, especially since I was a history major in college and I read military accounts for relaxation. Then he asked if I had ever, uh, like, considered going to Europe or Asia or Africa? It's a big world out there he added, just in case I missed the point.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The day I almost died.

A friend of mine chastised me recently for having a "thin" profile pix on my blog, that comes from 2009. Since then I have been out of running b/c of an injury, and I have put on a lot of weight. So here is a 2010 pix for my blog, which I shall make my blog profile pix, taken the day I came w/in a few seconds of drowning under a wrapped boat in a rapids on the Dolores River in Utah. It changed my life; obviously I didn't die. I no longer fear death.

Friday, July 22, 2011

WW2 Heroes

I ran on the Mall at noon today when it was 97 degrees and the heat index made it feel like 117 degrees because of the humidity. The temperature was in triple digits by the time I finished over an hour later.

I ran from my office near Union Station intending to go to Lincoln and back but I only made it to WWI before I turned back near the half-hour mark. I did a lot of walking on the way back. I lost 4 pounds during the outing.

As I ran, I thought of my Dad who fought at Peleliu in WW2 when the temperatures often rose above 115 degrees. Those Marines were tough. I could (and did) quit anytime I wanted. He couldn't. Of course he was 19 then, not 59.

I also thought of my Uncle who passed in April. He was a Marine in the Pacific too, a shipboard gunnery officer. I will be attending his grave side service in his hometown of Winona Minnesota next week, the last of my father's and mother's generation related to me to pass. They're all gone now.

Every man I knew, practically, when I was growing up was a WW2 veteran. The Dads of all my friends had been over there somewhere.

In this frame of mind, on my way back I stopped at the WW2 Memorial. I wanted to tell my cousin, my Uncle's daughter, next week that I stopped in and saw her father's battles etched in stone upon the memorial. When her Dad died she started reading all of his contemporaneous WW2 handwritten notes and sometimes she asks me for context as she knows I know history. He won a bronze star for heroism.

I was glad to take a break from my sweltering run and walk respectfully through the imposing memorial. I asked the ranger why the Pacific column was on the south side and the Atlantic column was on the north side. He didn't know, saying I was the first person who had asked him that question.

I went to the Pacific column and read the battle names carved into the base of the fronting pool. I traced the Peleliu and the Okinawa inscriptions, the two battles where my father fought, and thought of him. I lost him a quarter century ago today, to lung cancer. During WW2 they included three cigarettes in each K-ration pack.

I traced the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Japan Carrier Air Strikes inscriptions and thought of my Uncle.

I traced the Manila inscription and thought of my Uncle Bill.

I went over to the Atlantic column. I traced the Sicily inscription and remembered my Uncle Bob.

I traced the Battle of the Bulge carving and thought of my friend's father, a laughing man whom I met once before he passed recently. This veteran told a story with a twinkle in his eye of getting a coveted D-Day pin because he was at sea on June 6, 1944, a raw rookie on a troop transport who happened to be going from America to England on that day. He saw the elephant later that year with Patton's Third Army at the biggest battle in history.

Then I ran/walked back to the office. I mostly walked so did I consider my run to be unsuccessful? Not at all, it was a very satisfying, successful run.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Major Reno

I'm going to be at the battlefield of the Little Big Horn in just a few days. Custer's Last Stand, this battle involved a thousand or two combatants, in which a few hundred died, stands in the top three most famous battles in North America, along with Yorktown (world turned upside down) and Gettysburg (the last best hope of mankind). Heady company.

Little Big Horn has it all, a villain, Major Reno (his men survived), a savior, Captain Benteen (he disobeyed orders and left the doomed men under Custer to their fate by joining Reno and saving his command) and an enigma, General Custer (the greatest Indian fighter of the day who got all of his men killed). Their ferocious opponents, the Sioux and Cheyenne, were protecting their children, women and elderly and their way of life, with Crazy Horse as their tactical leader and Sitting Bull as their spiritual leader.

I have always been a Reno fan and a Custer detractor. Lately, research has "shown" that Reno was drunk throughout the battle and that maybe, Custer could have won and destroyed the Indian village if Reno had been steadfast when his 110 troopers charged the village containing 1,500 or more warriors, allowing Custer and his doomed 210 troopers to swing around and strike a hammer blow upon Reno's anvil.

Here's how Mari Sandoz in 1966 in her book The Battle of the Little Bighorn explained Reno's bizarre behavior on the field of battle against overwhelming odds when, in the white hot heat of battle he issued confusing orders that ultimately saved two thirds of his command:

"The major [Reno] stopped beside the Ree [Indian scout Bloody Knife] to ask by sign where the Indians would concentrate their thrust, to help [Reno] plan the run for the river and the heights beyond. Before the scout could answer, a new burst of bullets ripped though the torn foliage. One of them struck Bloody Knife, blowing his skull open and spattering the handsome black kerchief with blue stars that Custer had given to his once-favorite scout--spatterings that reached Major Reno standing beside the Ree. For a moment the hardened campaigner was as sickened as the rawest recruit. Plainly the Indians were everywhere, penetrating everywhere ... ."

The horrified Reno issued a series of contradictory commands that led to the salvation of most of his command (something akin to, Every Man for Himself!]. What would you have done?

Meanwhile, according to recent research, Custer watched Reno's desperate battle from the heights across the river and commented that Reno must fight his own battle. He didn't ride to Reno's aid, rather Custer rode in the other direction seeking glory and finding it, but at a high price for everyone else.

Whatever Custer did led to his command's complete annihilation. Perhaps Custer, a teetotaler, should have drunk of the same cup as Reno.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Running will do that for you

It's another sweltering July in DC; running on the Mall during the noon hour leaves me literally reeling from the soupy heat by the fifth mile. This morning I got up a 4:30 A.M. to run 5 1/2 miles and although it went better, still for an hour afterwards I left behind little pools of sweat wherever I paused for moment.

But I'm glad to be back to running, although my troublesome ankle is still giving me trouble despite the cortisone shot a few months ago. I guess its effect is wearing off, leaving me with only the surgical option if my chronic tendinitis disables my running again.

This week I finally hit 20 miles, running my new-normal four times a week (I used to run five times a week). Although I am much slower than I used to be, running 10:10 miles now instead of 8:50s, and my conditioning (endurance) still sucks, miles is miles as I tell my running buddy at work as we jog down the Mall getting passed by everybody.

Next week I'll be in Minnesota attending a grave side service for my uncle who passed away a few months back, and I'm sure the many cousins who will be present will be checking each other out to see how we're all weathering our fifties. Fortunately I'm not as roly-poly as I was at the beginning of the year, as I have dropped 26 pounds in the last 13 weeks thanks to my return to running.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Big Sky

On June 25, 1876, Custer, having brought his isolated column of 660 Seventh Cavalry troopers over a divide into the Big Horn Valley in a night march, intended to lay up all day under cover and attack the large Indian village in the distance below them along the Little Big Horn River the next day after rest and proper reconnaissance by his 40 Crow and Arikara scouts.

These Indian scouts had already seen that the faraway hillside of greasy grass beyond the river was alive with the slow undulating movement of a huge pony herd, indicating thousands of warriors. To the unseeing white officers training their spyglasses on the far distant bank in the morning haze they urged, "Look for the worms crawling on the grass."

Behind them, smoke from the troopers' breakfast fires curled into the air, giving away the soldiers' presence. Custer's encampment was soon spotted by some hunters from the Sioux and Cheyenne village and Custer decided to attack immediately, counting on the adrenaline of battle to offset the fatigue of his sleepless troopers and give his attack the proper esprit de corps.

First he divided his force into four unequal parts and dispersed them on their separate tasks. One part he assigned to guard the slow-moving pack train bringing forward the reserve ammunition, another 150 men under Captain Benteen went to reconnoiter the southwest and prevent any Indians from fleeing in that direction, three companies under Major Reno were to charge the lower end of the village and provoke panic and confusion, while he took the lion's share, 250 men in six companies, across the river bluffs to approach the upper end of the huge encampment.

A world famous battle would unfold over the next two days, highlighted by a thirty-minute whirlwind of death for all of Custer's troopers that afternoon, a half hour that also sounded the death knell for the old way of life for the battle's free roaming Native American participants. I'll be walking those very grounds where heroes tread under the Big Sky next week.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Next week I am visiting the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana. On June 25, 1876, on the bluffs leading down to the Little Big Horn River, General George Armstrong Custer and all 210 troopers under his command from the Seventh Cavalry were annihilated by an overwhelming number of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors from a huge Indian encampment they were trying to attack.

Custer split his forces four ways in the face of a superior enemy, a fatal mistake. The other three parts of the Seventh, about 450 men, eventually coalesced around his second in command, Major Marcus Reno, on a hilltop about four miles away in a separate fight and survived after two days of battle.

There is no good way to get to the battlefield as it is about 800 miles from Denver, Seattle or Minneapolis, so I am flying to Minneapolis and driving across the northern plains in a rented car to the national monument. Along the way there and back, I plan to visit my sister's yarn store, travel through two states I have never been in (North Dakota and Montana), attend a baseball game at the Minnesota Twins new ballpark, see minor league baseball games in St. Paul and Sioux Falls, go to Wall Drug Store, determine whether the 5-8 Club or Matt's Bar makes a better Jucy Lucy (Juicy Lucy), visit my best friend from freshman year in high school whom I haven't seen in four decades (he contacted me this month on Facebook), see many cousins, attend my Uncle's memorial service and visit my parents' graves.

I have been boning up on Custer history in preparation for the trip and I recommend these half-dozen books on the subject in the order I enjoyed them or found them informative: The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick (Custer came close to winning); A Terrible Glory by James Donovan (a good portrayal of the last chaotic hour of the "massacre," relying on often-ignored Native American sources); Son of the Morning Star by Evan Connell (outstanding literature, pure and simple); The Battle of the Little Bighorn by Mari Sandoz (despite having read it decades ago, I still remember her description of Reno becoming unnerved by being spattered with the blood and brain matter of the Indian scout he was talking to at the instant the scout was shot dead early in Reno's fight); Troopers With Custer by E.A. Brininstool (a terrific series of Indian-fighting accounts from participants of the battle); and Custer by Jay Monaghan (an excellent biography of this vainglorious soldier who got all of his men killed).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Buried Treasures

The earth yielded up its treasures readily on Father's Day, for some reason. I was weeding a long-neglected garden in my yard on Sunday, yanking out unwanted growth by the fistfuls, when I saw the first object lying half-buried.

Glittering in the freshly-exposed dirt like fool's gold was a medium-sized yellow Leggo block. I pulled it out and set it aside, a relic from the days long ago when my yard rang with the happy cries of three boys at play, long before the divorce wars started and the permanent estrangement from them all ensued.

Next to be encountered was a toy soldier lying on his back embedded in the earth. This would be the playground of my middle son, I smilingly mused, the only one of my three sons that used to actively set up battle lines with opposing armies of toy soldiers.

Last up was a pint-sized green plastic toy grenade that I could easily enclose in my hand. I imagined Johnny's chubby little boy's fist holding it, looking for the best spot to toss it into the enemy camp.

Memories. Treasures.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Four Miles in Forty Minutes

A local running store, Pacers, puts on a series of road races throughout the DC region, and they were sponsoring a 4-mile Dad's Day race in South Arlington this morning. It started and ended at the old Gotta Run store I used to use as the home base for the training programs I formerly conducted for my former running club. I love running down there, by the Pentagon.

I wanted to run the race, although I knew I wouldn't have a good time given my overweight condition and lack of a base. An hour before the start it was threatening to rain and since nobody I knew was going to be there, I decided to run a virtual 4-miler on the W&OD Trail behind my house instead and save the entry fee.

The trail is mostly flat and has half-mile markers, so it's easy to keep track of your time. I walked out my door and within a minute and a half was at mile marker 7.

I punched my Timex Ironman and ran east to mile marker 6 in 9:36. The morning was overcast and deceptively humid. Turning around and running westbound, I was passed by a runner and I passed another runner. Just like a race! my mind enthused to my tiring body.

I passed mile marker 7 at 19:45, halfway through the "race." I seriously considered making this a 2-mile race instead as I looked longingly at the back of my house when I passed it (coffee inside! food! McDonald coupons!)

However I soldiered on, slowing considerably. I arrived at mile marker 8 and turned around at 31:58, an ugly mile but now three quarters done. It had started raining and I was drenched.

As I shuffled my way back eastbound, I mused about my coaching days. Oftentimes when I encountered a runner plodding along in a fatigued rut, I would suggest varying the pace to break the painful mental monotony the runner's tiredness had induced. Speed it up a little, in other words, because it's rejuvenating plus you "get there" sooner.

I picked it up and felt better. The last mile was my best mile except for the first mile.

I diverted from the trail half a mile from mile marker 7, onto residential streets so I could finish the "race" right at my house. My watch showed 38 minutes and change with three blocks to go. I ran faster. Turnover! my mind told my body.

Silly delineations matter to runners. I certainly wanted to break 40 minutes for the "race."

I was closely monitoring my watch as my house came into view. I stepped onto the sidewalk of the block my house is on and punched my Ironman. 39:59:51. Made it!

Who could say that just because I hadn't reached my driveway yet that the 4-mile point wasn't somewhere on that block. I'm putting this sub-40 virtual 4-miler into the books.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dad's Day

Tomorrow is Father's Day. Although I have three sons, it's not much of a day for me since they are all estranged from me due to their Mother's active overbearing of their wills (Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS) when they were minors during a nuclear divorce and they haven't spoken with me in years.

Those four took every cent in court-ordered child support though, even as they were active scofflaws in ignoring the visitation and joint-custody orders for years. Court orders only applied to me, see.

I have moved on and put them out of my heart, although not out of my mind, through forgiveness, which I actively work on through my faith as practiced at the Falls Church--Episcopal congregation. It's been a return to church for me after decades of absence, even as I leave my fatherhood behind due to being deprived of my children through the actions of the alienating parent (some people consider PAS to be a form of child abuse).

Nobody knows or cares about this scourge upon Western society except those to whom it has happened (mostly fathers), and then it is like your children died and you are thereby grievously deprived of the rest of your normal, humdrum life. Research indicates that the afflicted children (victims) tend to develop a lifelong inability to form close relationships and are frequently emotionally unstable.

Friday, June 10, 2011

You Can Start Next Week

A Memorial Day twenty-minute 3K race time while in recovery mode after surgery is fine, but I want to get back to running! I laid off any further running til the following Monday when I ran 2 1/2 miles around the Capitol at noon with a co-worker L, at a sedentary 12-minute pace. Still in recovery mode, you know?

Tuesday we went 3 miles around Capitol Hill at a 10-minute pace with a brief pause to listen to comments Senator Barbara Boxer made to a professional nursing association assembled in a nearby park, about keeping the government's hands off our Medicare as we know it (think Paul Ryan's impoverishing Vouchercare). Only in DC can a casual noontime jog be so elucidating.

Oppressive heat enveloped DC on Wednesday when 99 degree heat settled in accompanied by humidity. I just had to run in such a challenging environment so at noon I ran 2 1/2 miles around the Capitol at a 9-minute pace before I left work early to keep a 2-week post-op appointment with the operating surgeon. That run felt great!

The doc examined the incision on my stomach, said it was healing nicely and gave me the okay to start running again in another week. I celebrated my imminent return to running by running 5K in 102 degree heat with L the next day and 3.2 miles in 99 degree humidity at lunchtime today. I gotta be honest though, I had to walk in the last mile each day because, apparently, I'm not enough used to such brutal running conditions yet. But I hope I'll get there real soon.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Falls Church Memorial Day 3K Fun Run.

My second race of the year is in the books. My city has a Memorial Day 3K Fun Run which I run every year.

It's flat, and fast for reasons which I'll disclose later. I walked to the race's starting point, about a mile from my house, and settled into the back half of the pack because I wasn't intending to run very fast out of deference to my umbilical hernia repair operation five days earlier.

I couldn't even break into a trot for the first five minutes of the race due to the congestion caused by thousands of participants and dozens of running strollers crowding onto the two-lane roadway which comprised the first half-mile of the course. The hundreds of walkers and many walking stroller pushers who had lined up in the first half of the pack made it impossible to penetrate into the race course for several blocks.

The roadway broadened after the first turn and sideways darting movement from curb to curb finally made running possible. I moved very slowly and settled into a slow plod.

Ten minutes into the race I was running unencumbered and I jogged along, focusing on my body. I could feel a dull pain where the incision on my stomach was but so long as I ran very slowly and didn't get too out of breath, I felt fine except for the tenderness and some general fatigue.

It was hot though, with the temperature in in the eighties and the humidity high. As sweat started to soak my shirt, I could see the finish line a couple of blocks away.

My watch had just rolled past 19 minutes but I resisted the urge to pick up my pace and dash to it. Although I wanted to break twenty, I didn't want to hurt myself.

My watch read 20:36 when I passed the finish clock of this self-timed fun run. The race clock, however, read 19:47.

I decided to record the sub-twenty time in my personal race ledger, as that was the "official" time. I felt good about completing this twenty minute jog, and used the run to show myself that I shall shortly be back to running after last week's surgery.

Now for the reasons why this 3K race is so fast. I have always known that the course is about a tenth of a mile short, but now I also think that the race clock isn't even turned on until about a minute into the race.

A race with a course that is flat, short and which has favorable time mismanagement. How sweet is that?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Trevor's OK

On this day before Memorial Day, the priest of my congregation mentioned in her sermon that we should consider the homeless around us as many of them are veterans who have come home to difficult circumstances, whether it is because of PTS Disorder or suffering from Agent Orange exposure or being wrongly discharged from the Army due to a mental illness designation after suffering from Traumatic Brain Disorder due to a close-by powerful IED explosion. You see them everywhere in our warlike society if you look, often on street corners begging for dollars.

At church today I gave thanks for the successful passage out of six hours of spinal surgery on Monday by a former running buddy of mine, the strength I found to deal with two hours of successful stomach surgery on Wednesday, the sacrifices of my father and three uncles who all answered the call in WW2, the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan last fall of a former running acquaintance and the sacrifices of all those nameless service members who keep us safe. I thought of Trevor, about whom I have posted before, on his traffic corner wearing his sign, "Combat Veteran, Always Faithful."

I parked nearby and walked up upon him after church, noting that he was watching me closely as I approached. He knows me and calls me "Lawyer."

After giving him five dollar coins, I spent about twenty minutes with him on his street corner as he spoke animatedly. He is a powerful man who has a habit of emphasizing his points by flicking out backhand taps to your body.

I was gratified to listen to him explain that he has reduced his prescribed narcotic pain medication intake from his service-related disability from over a hundred a month to about thirty. "You know I also take mood medication," he added, which apparently in conjunction with his powerful pain medication gives him unpredictable emotional swings.

Keeping my hands discretely in front of my four-day old surgery incision in position to ward off any inadvertent taps to my stomach, I discussed his health, rehabilitation and future with him. Rolling Thunder is in town per usual this Memorial Day weekend, and he apparently took his buddies from the 82d Airborne Division out on the town last night.

Then he tired of chatting with me and chased me away by saying he had to "make some money" from passing motorists on his street corner before the day was done. In fact, beyond my five dollars, he had collected only a single dollar in all the time I was speaking with him.

We shook hands repeatedly as I took my leave from him. I wish him continued wellness, this representative of America's huge and faceless homeless population.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Everthing's A-OK.

My umbilical hernia repair went well and I am on the mend. I have been walking every day since the surgery, and I still think I could have walked home after it.

I don't know whether they merely stitched the hole in my abdomen or inserted a mesh. There is an incision below my belly button that looks like the grin on a smiley face.

I talk to the doctor in two weeks and hopefully he will clear me for a rapid return to running. In the meantime, I've been grabbing plenty of bed rest which means reading.

I read Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. What a fabulous little book, so rich with fascinating dialogue.

It had a passage in it depicting David Balfour being washed overboard in a raging sea that reminded me of my involuntary swim down the rapids in the Dolores River in Utah a year ago.

I went down, and drank my fill, and then came up and got a blink of the moon, and then down again. They say a man sinks the third time for good. I cannot be made like other folk, then; for I would not like to write how often I went down, or how often I came up again. All the while I was being hurled along, and beaten upon and choked, and then swallowed whole; and the thing was so distracting to my wits, that I was neither sorry nor afraid. ... And then all of a sudden I was in quiet water and began to come to myself.

That's pretty much how it went for me, too.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Oh Yeah

Well, I'm going to miss this latest version (the fourth iteration) of the bucket trip due to recent stomach surgery. That leaves my college roommate Jimmy, Barry (I listen to him closely when he talks), Guy (who arrived at age 60 somehow without ever having held a job) and Todd (whom I respect immensely) as the only ones who will have attended all four.

Todd nearly died of natural causes a few years ago, and has the surgery scars to show for it. He is a poster boy for the life-sustaining value of calling 911, and I ran a few miles with him before the first bucket trip while he told me the heroic actions he undertook to save his own life (his wife was away) when things turned bad for him.

I'm having some troubles with my own family, as my three adult children have nothing to do with me and two of my five siblings have demanded that I never mention them in my blog. This hurts as I don't believe in any form of censorship and in the age of google, such a demand seems senseless to me.

Maybe it is my fault. All those things I denied during my oppressive divorce litigation, perhaps they would seem right to an observer given the attitudes my siblings have expressed towards me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good News

I am happy to report that my running buddy of days past had successful spinal surgery yesterday to restore normal functions in his perambulation that have been disrupted for the past couple of years by two degenerated disks, a condition which was only diagnosed a few weeks ago by a neurosurgeon. See my post two postings ago.

After years of doctors having no answers to my friend's debilitating, life-changing ailments and pain, he was referred to a neurosurgeon by a physical trainer. Neurosurgery ensued mere weeks later, with hopefully fully effective results.

He's already home, although he's in a lot of pain. They cut open the back of his neck, in effect, and snaked implements down his throat as they worked.

It sounds awful, but he's already been walking about a little, carefully, and he reports that his leg pains are gone. Maybe it's only a result of the pain medication, but he is very upbeat. (Right: My past running buddy & friend is looking forward to a full recovery after serious spinal surgery.)

He's already graciously wishing me success in my much-more-minor surgery scheduled tomorrow. We're both ready to get to the recovery!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


As I await surgery later this week, which recovery from will knock my return to running back to near its starting point in January, I am taking my current conditioning, as it were, up to the very day of surgery. I had just arrived at running four days a week, four miles each time, four forty-minute outings.

Thursday I ran four miles on the Mall at noon, plodding along alone, greedily partaking of the full length of every red-light I came to on the cross streets. That completed last week's four workouts.

Friday I threw in a "long" run of five miles, barely breaking an hour on a long loop around my greater neighborhood that I always used to complete in under forty-five minutes before. It was my longest run since October 2009.

Yesterday and today I ran my four-mile "hills" route in my home town, running it in reverse on Saturday and the regular way this morning. Today I ran all the outside stairs at the school on the hill, which made my time over two minutes longer today than yesterday.

Tomorrow at noon I'll run four miles on the Mall with a workmate, and then all that will be left is to walk the mile from my house to the medical center two days later at noon on Wednesday. Weeks from now, after recovery, I'll start all over again.

I won't lie to you, I'm bummed. I'm also terribly worried about my former running buddy's serious neck surgery tomorrow (see my previous post), but I have hopes that he and I will be doing slow 3-mile geriatric runs together down the W&OD Trail in the August heat.

Friday, May 20, 2011

True Love

I am stunned by the outpouring of love expressed to me as a result of my last post about my upcoming surgery. Thank you all, especially you-who-you-know-who-you-are.

Good folks from my workplace, and my old running friends, have reached out to me. I only wish that my own children had been taught some love for others when they were impressionable minors by those responsible for the way they are now. You know who you are.

I shouldn't complain about my outpatient surgery, which is next Wednesday afternoon. Below is a message of love I received from an old running buddy of mine. Back in 2007 we ran Riley's Rumble together, a local legendary hilly half marathon in July that separates runners from pretenders, he in 1:49 and me in 1:51. The race was notable that year because a deer ran over a runner.

Hi Peter,

This Monday morning, the 23rd, I will be having spinal surgery at Georgetown. The neurologist figured out that the source of my injuries (resulting from all the [ultra-running] falls I've had) is a severe degeneration of the C5 and C6 disk/vertebrae (I still don’t understand the jargon). This is causing undue compression on my spinal cord with loss of balance being the greatest symptom. Communication to and from the brain/limbs gets scrambled. It also triggers some sort of “Pain syndrome” that caused old injuries to burn like fire.

He is going to rebuild the bone structures from donated cadaver bone then tie it all together with metal plates and screws. I will be home then counting down the days until I can walk and start basic core work. I weighed in last week at 220. A PR and about 45lbs > than my marathon weight.

I’ll keep you updated my dear friend,

[Running Buddy & Friend].

God be with you my friend, and I'll see you soon and often as you recover.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

All the Love Money Can Buy

I went to my doctor for the first time in over a year, saying I needed drugs. She said my symptoms, fatigue, chest congestion and a runny nose, were just allergies.

I insisted that I had an enervating summer cold. "It's interfering with my comeback to running," I said.

So she prescribed five days of antibiotics. "And also, as long as I'm here . . . ," I continued, and showed her a tender part on my stomach that I have been ignoring for months.

She gave me an appointment to see the surgeon the next morning. That doctor scheduled surgery for me next week, saying that although the condition wasn't serious, if an incarceration occurred that developed into a strangulation, that would be serious indeed.

"Just a two-hour outpatient procedure," he said, smiling reassuringly. "We'll give you a local anaesthetic and a relaxant, and after a couple of hours in the recovery room, you'll be ready to go home."

"Of course someone will have to pick you up afterwards. You won't be able to drive because of the medication."

I live alone. Everyone I know works, and I can't ask any of them to take hours off from work just to drive me home ten blocks.

"I only live a mile away so I'll walk home," I told the doctor. His smile vanished.

"No you won't walk home after the operation, or drive home yourself, or get into a taxi. Someone we can turn responsibility for you over to will come to pick you up or I'll cancel the surgery."

I do have family members in the area. Three sons, all in their twenties now, for whom I paid tens of thousands of dollars in child support after the divorce while they ignored court-ordered visitation.

Furthermore, each child upon his eighteenth birthday came into a trust fund, set up by my Mother before she died to be used for their benefit and worth almost a hundred thousand dollars. I have also provided for full payment of each child's college tuition and fees.

None of these lads has communicated with me in years. Their Mother, a local first grade teacher, refuses to provide me with their addresses, or give me any news at all about them.

My adult children aren't an option for me in my moment of need. Maybe I can hire the neighborhood kid who dropped out of college to come pick me up after the operation and drop me off in front of my house.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Marathon Charity Corporation

My Couch to 5K Training Program is over. In January, after a year of inactivity due to injury, I joined a 5K program for beginning runners put on by the Marathon Charity Corporation in Arlington.

It was kind of boring, actually. We met outside a locked Mall every Saturday morning and ran/walked 4 miles around the same huge block that girdled the commercial establishment, each complete passage constituting a mile. By the time we finished our four laps, the Mall was open and we'd go inside for coffee.

After a couple of weeks of pure walking, our walk/run ratio started at four minutes walking followed by one minute running. Sixteen weeks later we finished up at one minute walking followed by four minutes of running. It was sort of like a NASCAR race, except that we were always run/walking turn-right whereas race-car drivers are always zoom/braking turn-left.

Midweek we were supposed to run/walk the same routine two or three other times. I always just jogged the damned distance three other times each week on the Mall with a coworker at a 10:10 pace.

The coach, an RRCA-certified trainer (as am I) who is also a five-hour marathoner, ascertained that I was in fact an experienced runner who was fast (relatively speaking). After awhile, I fell into running on Saturdays with Nick, the most fit and competitive of the inveterate group of seven athletes who kept showing up, and we'd leave everyone else behind and try to lap them. We never could, a mile is too much to make up in only four miles, especially when you walk part of the distance (everyone pretty much walks at the same pace so you make no headway then).

In March, I ran my target 5K race in Falls Church (the route went by my back door twice) in twenty-nine minutes and change (about a 9:25 pace). Finishing under thirty minutes was a huge relief since I used to break twenty-three regularly in 5K races. Everyone else ran/walked their target 5K race in April on a hilly course in Fairfax, with Nick and a few others bringing it home in forty-one minutes and the coach and the rest finishing in about forty-eight minutes. (Right: Me with my coach, John, in the vest, after my 5K race.)

About that time, the stress of the faster pace in the race and doing sixteen miles a week caused my lingering injury to flare up again and I went back to my specialist to insist that we had to try a more aggressive treatment than merely taking time off and wearing a brace. This led to a cortisone shot in my ankle (an instantaneous cure) with the promise of surgery to come if/when the pain comes back.

So after a few weeks of severely reduced running following the shot, now I'm back to running four miles four times each week. My ankle doesn't hurt anymore, but I can't say that things don't feel "suspicious" down there. Meanwhile, I'm trying to improve my conditioning/motivation. I cannot believe that I used to run training runs at an 8:30 pace, and although I love being back to running, it's hard to get out the door these days. I'm also trying to shed the ton of extra weight I put on during my year-plus of inactivity. I'm a third of the way there.

Thanks for getting me back in the game, MCC.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Polly's Run

I recently found out that the last grandparent of my children died last year. My children haven't communicated with me in years due to PAS, and their Mother has repeatedly refused to give me their addresses or any news at all about them.

She was 82. I first met her in 1975, the same year I met my children's Mother, who was engaged at the time, and started living with her.

We got divorced in 2002. My three sons were "involved in [the] divorce up to their armpits" by one parent, an adult who did not act in the best interests of these minors.

I remember my divorce attorney at the time telling me a truism: You want to know what your wife will be like in twenty years? Go talk to your Mother-In-Law.

I went for a plodding 4-mile hill run in my town yesterday as part of my laborious return to running after a long layoff due to injury, jogging past the school on the hill where I went to kindergarten and then traversing the same hill via Highland Avenue. Ascending its steepest part from yet another direction, I put Polly squarely in my mind as I toiled up Mt. Daniel Drive.

My lungs burning, sweat rolling into my eyes, my breathing tortured, I made my peace with her memory during that painful quarter-mile. I am sorry for my children that the last of that generation of blood-relatives has departed, and I hope they are well.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A year ago...

It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play

A year ago today, I found myself in a cold and lonely water-filled place. Trapped underwater beneath an overturned boat wrapped around a rock in a rapids, I instantly knew I was in the last minute of my life.

Well, I didn't die, Providence granted me a continuation of life. What have I done with my life since then?

  • I won the first trial I ever conducted, my second trial in twenty years.

  • I took a car trip to the Mississippi River, seeing a professional baseball game in a different stadium each day and visiting the Federal Courthouse in St. Louis where the first Dred Scott trials were conducted, the Flood Memorial in Johnstown and the Flight 93 memorial under construction in Shanksville.

  • I read a couple of very good books, Collapse by Jared Diamond and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and re-read a couple of excellent books, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger and Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger.

  • I started jogging again after a layoff of a year and a half due to injury, after consenting to a cortisone shot in my ankle.

  • I celebrated Thanksgiving with my sister's family in Columbus, speaking with my brother for the first time in several years thanks to her, and Christmas with my cousin's family in Newport News.

  • I celebrated the graduation from college of my middle child, a fact I surmised when the statements for his tuition and fees for which I had provided full payment stopped coming, since I haven't heard from Johnny since 2006.

  • I stopped actively attempting to reach out to my three children who were estranged from me as minors due to PAS upon the passage of the twenty-second birthday of my youngest child, since I haven't heard from Danny since 2007.

  • I mourned the passing of my uncle, the last of the generation represented by my parents, members of the Greatest Generation.

  • I started attending church services on most Sundays, working on forgiveness and a better understanding of why fairness does not exist in the world.
I have to step it up.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Where were you when...

Shortly after lunch on Friday, November 22, 1963, I was a seventh grader sitting in study hall when Miss Annapole, Principal of JHS 51, New York City, came on the intercom and announced in an angry, accusatory tone that President Kennedy had been shot, killed, and we would be having auditorium in 15 minutes. After a further harangue about the murder in the auditorium from Miss Annapole (I remember she was shrieking into the mike so much it went on permanent shrill buzz) we were discharged out the doors and sent home, shocked and bewildered.

On Tuesday morning, January 28, 1986, I had awakened from a fitful four hour slumber after returning home from a graveyard shift as a Colorado State Patrolman and I was wondering through the Target store shopping aimlessly in Boulder when my attention was drawn to the active TV sets in the electronics department. They all showed continuous re-runs of the 73-second ill-fated Challenger space shuttle flight which culminated in its fiery destruction in sub orbit with its devestating loss of everyone aboard (I'll always remember the Houston Control announcer saying dryly as the pieces of rocket scattered to smithereens in a huge trail of smoke, "Obviously a major malfunction.").

On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, I was on a Metro platform going to work when the PA system came on and the announcer informed us that the Pentagon station was closed due to the "terrorist attack" there. My imagination conjured up an image of some zealots boiling out of the station there and assaulting the Pentagon building with some AK-47s. When I arrived at work in downtown DC a few minutes later pandemonium was reigning in the hallways of my workplace as people were running around looking for "shelter" within the building and reports were coming in that more planes were on their way to bomb us and car bombs were going off in the street. Welcome to the world that Osama bin Laden introduced us unsuspecting Americans to on that day.

Late on Sunday evening, May 2, 2011, I was checking my email account on the netbook which was open on my chest as I lay in bed. Automatic news alerts in the account informed me that Osama bin Laden had been "killed" and that President Obama was addressing the nation in a few minutes. I went downstairs to watch his speech wherein he announced the death of this mass-murderer, the result of a completely successful American special operations raid in Pakistan, ordered by the president. When President Obama stated that following a firefight, Osama bin Laden had been shot in the head and killed, I knew right away that this was a euphemism for the fact that the bloodstained polygamous zealot had been summarily executed.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Where's Your Husband?

The sweat rolled off my brow as I struck my shovel into the rocky ground and threw out a spadeful of dirt. For 30 minutes Cecila, David and myself had been digging a hole in a front yard into which we would soon drop a tree, which was sitting a few feet away, its root system wrapped within an earthen ball confined in a burlap bag.

The city's "green department" had dropped the free tree off onto the homeowner's property two weeks earlier. Five days ago a city crew had marked the exact spot where the balled tree would be planted by spraying a circle onto the homeowner's lawn with white paint.

This was a Saturday morning volunteer effort for the three of us diggers. We were tree huggers, do-gooders, giving back to our community.

It was time to roll the tree into the hole and cut away the wire holding its burlapped root ball together. The homeowner's door opened and a woman came out.

"Hey, thanks for coming, it's so nice that you're here to put the tree in," she said as she walked up to us. I thought maybe she might offer us green-earth do-gooders who couldn't figure out anything better to do on a Saturday morning some ice-tea or water, and I was thirsty.

"Lissen, we were thinking and we decided we don't want the tree after all. I'm sorry, but we've just changed our minds."

Dave spoke up, because he's the city employee. "Okay, ma'am, we can just pick the tree up on Monday."

The hole we'd spent thirty minutes digging was between us and the homeowner. I turned my back on her and leaned on my shovel.

"Oh thanks." She went back inside her house and closed the door.

I turned to Dave and said, "He didn't even have the balls to come out and tell us; he sent his wife out instead." Cecila laughed knowingly.

We filled the hole back in, placed the scalped turf back on top and left. I made sure that every toaster-sized rock we'd laboriously dug out of that hole made it back in there.

I think Republicans live in that nice house on the southeast corner of Hillwood Avenue and Brook Drive in Falls Church. They coulda told us little folks to stop before we had finished digging that hole.