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.