Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I hate it when this happens

The ground dispensed a tan plastic army man outside in the back yard by the garage, a radio operator, after it rained for two solid days, a hard rain that dug into the ground as it pelted down.  This caused things to surface, a roofing nail, a gutter spike, a toy soldier lying facedown.

I knew that things often come up from below the surface in pairs and sure enough, around the corner of the garage I found another toy soldier, a green army man wielding a BAR, also lying facedown, washed up from the deep by the deluge.  These tiny toys clinging to the earth were the product of my middle son's playing in the yard with his bag of plastic army men and his leaving a few behind when the battle concluded.

Twenty years had passed since the sounds of the backyard battle faded away, the last ten years in deafening silence from all three little boys, now grown men living somewhere, perhaps with little boys of their own playing in backyards with little green army men, the divorce you know.  It makes me so sad to encounter such sudden, crushing remembrances of a past so long dead and so resoundingly buried, ripped out of the earth by elemental forces.

The two plastic soldiers are washed and dried now, and reverentially placed upon upon a shelf in a little boy's room.  A cry from the past given up to an adult long past crying about his unremitting loss.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Christmas tree run...

…is fun; (Police Officer's Tree)

To do it twice, (the tree at Union Station)

is yet more nice; (at the Botanical Gardens, with Thomas the Engine chugging around a track at its base)

But thrice is best, (the National Tree)

of all the rest. (the Capitol Tree, and below, O Canada!)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Age of Innocence

I'm reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton about decadent highbrow New York society in the 1870s.  It won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for literature.  It's  a great book.

I knew from the start that the book wouldn't end well for its protagonist, Newland Archer, a young man who resists the hypocrisy and self-absorbed nature of upper-crust haughty society even as he is caught up in it.  He is enmeshed in a chaste but cloying love triangle which he hastily thinks he solves by marrying his fiancee, May Welland, quickly at its onset, when the exciting but very bohemian Countess Olenska shows up from Europe to tempt him, from whence she has fled her husband.

Newland thinks he's ahead of his time by wishing for and ascribing to women independence, hence his attraction to May's cousin, Ellen Olenska, the countess who has the audacity to leave her husband and live independently, frequenting gathering places of writers and actors, the lessor people of society who have to toil for their daily bread.  But Newland has proposed to May, whom he considers to be a blank slate to be filled up with knowledge he imparts to her from his vast, eclectic reading.

Newland, an attorney, is assigned to Ellen's case as she seeks to file for divorce.  Following his firm's orders and against his better judgment, he advises her not to pursue the matter since proper people don't divorce and she is a part of the highfalutin society even though she is different.  There is mutual attraction between them, the married lady and the engaged man, and here is the author's description of their first chaste moment of almost irresistible physical desire.  Ellen, "dressed as if for a ball," is inspecting herself in a mirror by the mantelpiece in the drawing room when Newland re-enters, having seen Ellen's aunt off to her waiting carriage, which will soon return for the countess.

"Madame Olenska did not move when he came up behind her, and for a second their eyes met in the mirror; then she turned, threw herself into her sofa-corner and sighed out: 'There's time for a cigarette.'

"He handed her the box and lit a spill for her; and as the flame flashed up into her face she glanced at him with laughing eyes and said: 'What do you think of me in a temper?'

"Archer paused a moment; then he answered her with sudden resolution: 'It makes me understand what your Aunt has been saying about you.'

"'I knew she'd been talking about me.  Well?'

  ""She said you were used to all kinds of things--splendours and amusements and excitements--that we could never hope to give you here.'

"Madame Olenska smiled faintly into the circle of smoke about her lips.

"'Medora is incorrigibly romantic.  It has made up to her for so many things!'

"Archer hesitated again, and again took his risk.  'Is your aunt's romanticism always consistent with accuracy?'

"'You mean: Does she always speak the truth?'  Her niece considered.  'Well, I'll tell you: in almost everything she says, there's something true and something untrue.  But why do you ask?  What has she been telling you?'

"He looked into the fire, and then back at her shining presence.  His heart tightened with the thought that this was their last evening by that fireside, and that in a moment the carriage would come to carry her away."

So short, so suggestive, that magic moment in the mirror when their eyes locked.  This weekend I cheated and watched the Martin Scorsese movie, filmed in 1993, even though I'm 100 pages from the end of the book.  The film was mostly faithful to the book, and was filled with actual quotes from the book.  Now I know how the story ends, with its devastating consequences for Newland.  In the movie, Scorsese has the two clench and kiss in this scene, which as you can see, didn't happen in the book at this moment, but perhaps that was to have a scene that enlivens up an otherwise dreary and dull movie up to that point.  The movie picked up steam from this point onwards.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dead right or dead wrong

You're acutely aware of the rules of the road when you're running, because it's a safety issue.  You have to know what an approaching car is likely to do, and you have to make eye contact with the driver before you exert your right of way as a pedestrian when, say, you're on the sidewalk crossing a driveway with a car coming out.

Today I was running up a sidewalk to a controlled intersection just as the light turned green for me to cross.  However, a steady stream of cars were coming up to the red light (for them) and making a right-hand turn at speed without stopping first (the rule for right-turn-on-red) and physically cutting off my absolute right-of-way to cross the street on my green light.  They were coming around the corner so fast and steadily that I couldn't make eye contact with any driver.

Was I invisible?  I didn't notice particularly that the cars had their lights on during the day because many cars have their lights on all the time now and it was grey and looked like inclement weather was imminent.

I tried to impose myself into the crosswalk and start across the street but those turning cars weren't stopping or slowing no matter how poised I was to take that final step off the curb into the street.  If I stepped into the crosswalk, it was clear that the next car was likely to hit me.  As I stood on the curb, unable got enforce my right of way, I threw my hands up in frustration and muttered something profane.  (I was on a run!  I had the right of way!)

The driver in the lead car which was stopped in the left through lane at the red light rolled down his passenger window and yelled something at me that I didn't hear clearly because of all the traffic noise created by the cars cutting right around me as I stood poised on the curb.  My first impression was that he had yelled, "You're really obsessive!"  In trying to cross the street on green, had I stumbled upon an entire band of runner-haters?

The situation wasn't making sense.  I could not cross the street due to the steady interference of turning cars blocking my path and now this man was yelling at me.  Then as my brain tried to process the situation I belatedly recognized what he had yelled at me, "Funeral procession!"

The steady stream of turning cars exhausted itself, without a single one slowing down a bit despite my proximity to nearly being in their way, and the man who had shouted at me turned his car down the street I had run up from his far lane and started chasing the procession of cars.

I crossed the street on the waning green light and continued my run, now off to a bad start.  I was annoyed with myself for not immediately recognizing what was happening.  If I had, I would have respectfully waited for the procession to pass before trying to cross the street.  There's a funeral home mid-block on the busy street I was trying to cross on the green light, and a cemetery down a mile on the street I was running alongside of.

Experience had just taught me one more thing about running on the roads, to keep in mind that a peculiar traffic anomaly might be something as unpredictable as a funeral procession.  If I had tried to force my right of way, not recognizing what I was dealing with, I would have been dead right, but also dead wrong.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Down by the river.

In Buffalo last week after an exhausting day of work in DC followed by a six-hour layover at Dulles trying to get there, I arose at 6 am the next morning for a four-mile run, starting off in the dark by going down Main Street to the Buffalo River.

I ran by a Tim Horton's coffee shop, a Canadian Dunkin' Donuts knock-off, which I came back to to complete my run and grab an early morning coffee.

Buffalo is a mixture of old grand buildings, parking lots where buildings have been torn down and restored facades of older buildings with new tall buildings arising behind the facades.

It was daylight by the time I finished my ramble, another core downtown of a city best viewed by a sixty-minute run.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Buffalo, or Global Warming

I went to Buffalo last week on business, in December!  Up there they were complaining that they'd had no measurable snowfall this season yet, which set a centuries-old record.

Buffalo is a great old town, I understand once it was the fourth largest town in the country, an American president was killed there and now, despite its nasty weather, it is a hotbed of regulatory enforcement because it has an underemployed, underutilized educated population coupled with a good phone network which leads to this.  Think commission sales.

I was there in January for a week (!) when there was no running because of their record snowfall then.  Too much ice and snow around which violates my first rule of running, Be Safe.

This time there was no snow or ice underfoot and though it was cold in the morning, it was not inhospitable.  I had a great four mile run running down Main Street, by the river, back up the other way and past the old being-restored great buildings from the 1910s.  Check out the pictures.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The magic mile.

I haven't timed myself in a mile in a long time.  Last decade, when I was in my fifties, I used to run my neighborhood mile and try to keep it under 7 minutes, usually finishing it in the 6:40s or 6:50s.  But that was before my injury in 2009, which laid me up for two years.

It took a long time, and a lot of weight coming off, to get back under nine minute miles.  Then when I got the weight off, I could do a sub-eight again, but I can't approach 7 minutes in the mile anymore.  I know that in my 3-mile race last spring, I did a 7:30 first mile before I tired and struggled to finish in 24:29 (8:10).

Recently I ran a timed mile in my neighborhood, without looking at my watch during it, to see where I was at in non-competitive conditions.  As usual, I started in front of my house, and ran up the block, slightly uphill, for the first quarter mile.  Then I gained level ground and ran down the side street to Railroad Avenue, which parallels the flat W&OD Trail, thinking the whole time, now that the incline was behind me, about turnover.

I burned down Railroad Avenue and back, traversed the side street again, and turned down my block, which was now a slight, but welcome, downhill.  I was tempted to look at my watch but I eschewed it, not wanting to be demoralized as I feared, now that I was approaching the end stretch, that it would show that I would be mired in the eights somewhere at the finish.  I kicked as much as I could, reached the dumpster marking the finish line in the strip mall parking lot one house past my house, and clicked my watch . . .  at 7:4668, which I rounded down to 7:46.

I was delighted.  It's a start.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The twenty-sixth mile was the crucible...

My friend, work mate and running buddy Leah was in her twenty-first mile in her attempt to break four hours in the marathon at last month's MCM as we slogged our way over the Potomac on the Fourteenth Street Bridge towards Virginia.  I was running with her the last seven miles to give her support and at the top of the span, the last uphill until the nasty quarter-mile hill leading up to the Iwo Jima Statue at the race's end, I had settled into my own groove after two miles of matching her stride for stride, and it was time to get down to work and throw down five more nine-minute miles to help her try to attain her goal of 3:59, which requires a 9:09 pace.

I moved slightly ahead of her and ran nines by feel, and we steadily moved past other runners.  My head swiveled around on a stick as I looked back to see where Leah was, and she was always five yards back, doggedly following.  We turned left off the bridge and burned through the Crystal City out and back, with Leah ingesting an orange slice and drinking some water but eschewing taking any more of the energy-inducing jellied sports beans that she clutched in a bag in her right hand throughout the race; she had complained of stomach unrest but fortunately not shown its effects in her steady smooth stride.

We passed by runners that I had noticed passing by me many minutes before Leah arrived at MP 19, where I jumped in with her, but there was no sight of the four-hour pace group which I had seen pass by eight minutes ahead of her.  Perhaps she couldn't break four hours today, I thought, but she was going to be close and establish a huge PR of forty or fifty minutes.  Still, I didn't know what her actual (chip) time for the race was, as I surmised that she had started many minutes late.

Leah faltered noticeably as we ran the last mile, dropping back twenty or thirty yards a few times due to obvious mind-numbing fatigue, and I had to circle back once or twice to get closer to her in support, but she revived the last half-mile due to her pure grit, and at the bottom of the final hill, with a quarter-mile to go, I dropped away.  She was greatly encouraged and uplifted at that point by running past a circle of cheering friends and, with this last bit of a little help from her friends, Leah toughed out the last steep incline and finished at . . . 3:59:05.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

I woke up at 3 a.m. yesterday for my 7:25 a.m. flight and got up and went out for a 4-mile run, there wouldn't be time for it later.  It was a bracing (it was cold), slowish (I didn't want to stumble in the dark) jaunt around the 'hood and down the W&OD Trail to Arlington and back, a mind-clearing shamble and the full moon really helped with my mood and my seeing.

Two days earlier I had found a last-minute $118 round trip fare to Denver from National Airport; I had always heard fantastic bargains could be had if you had the nerve to wait until the eleventh hour and fifty-eighth minute, and now I'm a believer.  The flight was efficient, we were crammed in like sardines and we made DIA ahead of schedule, and I was at my sister's house before noon.

After I borrowed her car and went out to do some work, I returned and we had a delicious dinner she made of cod with cumin sauce, and we spent a nice evening together.  It's cold in Denver but that's not unusual, and snow is expected, which is also characteristic enough.

A traditional holiday fare at Buca di Beppo in Broomfield was found through the magic of Google (I typed in "Denver restaurants open Thanksgiving 2016" and found at least 28), and it's wonderful to be with family on this day of thanksgiving.  I would wish this for anyone.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

One year ago...

A year ago, as Thanksgiving approached, I had a chance encounter on a public street with the mother of my three children, none of whom has spoken to me, or any Lamberton, in over seven years. They were ripped away from us extra-judicially by their mother, Sharon Rogers Lightbourne, who engaged in parental alienation syndrome ("PAS") and overbore their wills as minors, given her dominant position with them in terms of time of physical custody, since the Plain-Jane visitation the court imposed gave them to her 81% of the time.

My lawyer wryly characterized the sexist attitude of the domestic law court in Virginia as Mother Knows Best.  Oh, the untold number of secret visits to psychologists my three sons were subjected to in those hours, unbeknownst to me, which induced in their juvenile brains a frenzy of excitement and side-taking as they were caught up in the adult drama of a couple splitting asunder, expensively and publicly (lotsa hearings, lotsa costs)!

When I encountered Sharon a year ago just before our national day of thanks, I asked her five questions about each child.  Is he alive?  Is he well?  Is he married?  Does he have children?  Where does he live?

I received in return only stony silence, a true glimpse into her cold, flinty heart, because those are things that any parent would tell the other parent, no matter what.  JJ&D, I'll have Thanksgiving dinner with your Aunt Melissa this year, give us a call or stop by, she's in the book.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On to the infamous bridge

I jumped into the MCM at MP 19 when I spotted my running buddy Leah, she of the 4:51 PR, to pace her during her last 7 miles in her quixotic quest to break 4 hours with very minimal training. That would necessitate a 9:09 pace.

As I settled into running alongside Leah, I told her I was going to sprint ahead 50 yards so that I could get in front of her far enough to stop and turn and get an action shot of her running towards me that would "take" on a digital camera, and since she'd just run 19 miles, she shouldn't speed up to follow me.  She nodded in agreement and I ran ahead and turned, but as I brought my camera up she was still practically right behind me.  I got the shot but I thought to myself that she appeared fresh enough after 19 miles to be able to do a short burst of speed work, and I wondered just what her possibilities were for a 3:59 marathon.

In any case, I now started running alongside her and we conversed for two miles, and she discoursed readily enough and didn't seem either excessively fatigued or particularly out of breath.  We ran at what I thought were 9-minute miles and she kept up with me well enough, with me continuously going literally from side to side of the course to find a space to dart through clumps of runners, what I call sideways running on crowded courses, which seemed odd to be necessary at such a far distance from the start line.

The MCM is a huge race, with many scores of thousands of runners, but to still be sideways running twenty miles into a race suggested that for whatever reason, Leah was among the slowpokes of the race, because with the oddball exception of solitary runners blazing by us occasionally at a fast pace, we were steadily moving up amongst the racers and we steadily started passing runners I recognized as having passed by me while I waited for Leah before she came by.  We turned left at 14th Street and started over the long bridge over the Potomac, which represented a major uphill for the weary runners in their twentieth mile as the Pentagon on the Virginia shore comes into sight off to the right.  I now assumed a path breaking spot five yards in front of Leah and she doggedly followed wherever I went as we worked our way through runners at about a nine-minute pace, with me wondering how close she actually was to the magic four hour mark, knowing as I did that the four-hour pace group was still several minutes ahead of us.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seven More Miles.

Early on the morning of the Marine Corps Marathon, I lay in bed figuring out what time my running buddy Leah might be passing by milepost 19 if everything went just right for her in her quest to break four hours.  That requires a 9:09 pace so I figured that nineteen 8:30 miles, if she passed the start line right when the race started at 8 a.m., would have her running by Seventh Street on Jefferson Avenue in the District on the Mall at the earliest at about 10:42 a.m.
At 10:35 that morning I was in running clothes at the agreed upon spot on the Mall at the nineteenth mile marker of the race, anxiously scanning the faces of an endless stream of runners going by.  It's hard to pick out an individual runner in such conditions because you can't stand in the roadway and let them stream around you, you have to pick one curb or the other and watch the entire street from the side.

The four hour pace group went by, a little clump of about thirty runners following two runners holding up signs saying 4:00.  No Leah, and as the minutes passed, I began to worry that I'd missed her.
It had been raining earlier but it was now dry and the day was heating up, with the temperature climbing through the fifties and the humidity starting to rise.  I discarded a cotton t-shirt I'd been wearing to keep warm while I waited but I was still overdressed with a long sleeve running shirt and a light vest.
About eight minutes after the four hour pace group went by I spotted Leah, running steadily at a good pace, by herself amongst a horde of runners.  She looked good for someone who had just run nineteen miles, but then she still had seven miles to go.

I jumped into the race and fell in beside her.  For me it was showtime, because for weeks at noon I'd been practicing running six-milers at what I perceived to be a nine-minute per mile pace.

I had practiced running fifty-four minute six-milers diligently because I sure didn't want to let Leah down and falter as the miles rolled by at a nine-minute pace and perhaps have to drop out earlier than at the last quarter-mile-to-go spot at the base of the last hill rising to the MCM finish line at the Iwo Jima statue in Arlington.  I lied a little to Leah right off the bat by telling her that the four-hour pace group was only about four minutes ahead of her, but she seemed completely uninterested in that and we didn't discuss it further.

I didn't want to discourage her by making it seem like the four-hour group was too far ahead to catch but she knew something that I didn't, that because of the crush of people at the start, she didn't even pass the start line until twenty minutes into the race.  And Leah knows that the steady pace wins the race.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Time for a change.

To my three sons, from your Dad.
At 12 noon on Veteran's Day I was at the Lost Dog Cafe in Westover for lunch, as is my custom on holidays, where I ordered an Italian pizza pie.  I ate it with pleasure and had plenty left over to take home.

I also ordered two beers.  I could have ordered one, or two, more if necessary.

It was a solitary lunch where I stared at an empty chair.  I actually didn't enjoy it all that much, although the pizza was delicious and my beer was refreshing.

Jimmy, Johnny and Danny, let's flip this decade-long attempt at making myself available to you on its ear.  Suppose you start going there to have lunch at noon on holidays, and maybe I'll come by and we can start catching up and making a new familial relationship a day at a time.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Leading up to the MCM.

The build up:  My running buddy Leah, she of the 4:51 marathon PR, wanted to break four hours at this year's MCM.  With eight weeks of training.

But do not believe that Leah cannot do what she sets out to do.  For long runs during those weeks I think she ran a 14, a 16, an 18, a 20 and a 14, and then she pretty much took the last three weeks off.

Resting her legs, she said, which indeed does have value when near a marathon.  She did run a six-miler with me early in the week leading up to it and I ran it hard, because I had been practicing my six-milers for weeks leading up to me jumping in with her during the last six miles of the marathon to help her out.

She had no problem keeping up, I was the one who had a problem keeping up with her.  We ran a slow three miler later in the week, and I told her to do a couple of fast miles on Friday and that I'd see her at MP 19 on Sunday.