Most days when I’m out running my goal is to spend time thinking about the beauty of nature and to ponder our place in the universe. Yesterday, I really concentrated on ham. The consumption of a pig leg and Easter seem married to one another, albeit a complacent marriage at that. I don’t know why ham is the official entrée of Easter. Certainly the disciples of Jesus didn’t go and prepare a ham when they found His tomb was empty on that first, glorious Easter morning. Owing to their religious and societal bonds, the followers probably did a lot of shrugging before finally going out for Dim Sum. That was when the ham shrug was born. “What do you want for Easter?” I dunno. How about ham?
Why is there an Easter bunny, but no egg hiding pig? The cute, fuzzy rabbit leaves candy and gets to appear on cards and become immortalized in chocolate sculptures. The ham gets stuck with cloves, covered in drippy glaze and baked for several hours. In some circles this is considered fetish behavior. I would like to see more pigs on greeting cards and story books trotting down Ham Shank Lane, with baskets full of truffles. Pigs are purported to be somewhat intelligent animals who devise games in the their pens. They can’t be that smart, though, because somehow they became the go-to food of Easter. If they had just a bit more sense, pigs might think outside the pen. They’d grow up, become restless and ask each other “You know, I want to break free of this town. It smells like hogs. I’d like to be in some pea soup or some hot dog nachos.” Oh well. I’m going to several Easter weekend get-togethers featuring ham, and I will salute the noble swine. Without ham, we might still be standing around waiting for the first ice-cream truck of Spring to roll by.
Grace is kind of a zen savant. She sits stock still, focused on some distant point, trying to figure out it’s deeper meaning. She’s can’t form the words for fried chicken, but she’s laser focused on the good smelling food that occupies my plate. Grace is our addle brained, ancient beagle. She is definitely my dog in that she’s perpetually nervous, smelly, and runs around in circles most of the time, grunting all the while. My daughter named her Grace, and I realized the first time that I chased her off the kitchen counter that the name is fitting. It is but for grace that she has made it this far in life.
There has been an undercurrent of gossip during the last few days about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s late dog Seamus and a 12 hour car trip he took on the roof of the family vehicle in 1983. Conventional wisdom would say that the stories are being kept alive by opponents, but this is the kind of story that bites back because it’s true and terrible. Seamus was ill in his carrier and Romney has defended his decision to keep the animal up there by pointing out that the car was too crowded. This becomes less political and more human failing the more that it comes up.
A few years ago I got called about a blog mentioning Grace’s penchant for sitting under the dryer vent in back of the house. My defense was that I get a good smelling dog and she has a warm zen moment in the lavender breeze. It’s the same as Seamus, though. We really do have to consider the animal’s needs before our own, because they can’t do it themselves. Call me a bleeding heart liberal, but my doctor hasn’t mentioned heart defect. I’m just developing the heart of a smelly old soul dog. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lanny-davis/-romneys-dog-on-car-roof-_b_1202883.html
There are times during married life when mistakes are inevitably unearthed. The ever-changing seasons wash away dirt covering up indiscretions and the past has to face postmortem analysis in the light of a new day. My wife Lori and I have been leading a couples study based on a movie of a few years ago called Fireproof. The premise of the film, which starred Kirk Cameron, involved a couple going through the stages of pre-divorce and the motions of marriage. Caleb, the fire fighting protagonist played by Cameron, tries to rebuild his failed marriage using his own strength. Unfortunately, he hasn’t figured out that he needs to rebuild his own life first. While going through the class materials, Lori and I started talking about a time in our marriage when we lived together separately. I was in my own zone at that moment. Cooking all night followed by drowning any memory of cooking all night. I always got home somehow, woke up with a head made of lead and wandered through nothingland until it was time to go cook again. Maybe I’d surf the internet for things no man should obsess over, married or not. Most days I’d play video games and vegetate.Many late nights, I’d hang around with a fellow cook who always had something nice to say. Nothing happened, but I was still in the wrong place. Stupid, inebriated and listening to all the pretty words. That was my under-married, empty existence.
Lori knew some of the details, others I talked about at length. I talked about what brought us back together and would eventually fireproof our marriage. One night while in the throes of a good time, a grown up I hold in the highest regard grabbed hold of me and it saved my life:
Go home. You’re better than this.
So, I did. That and re-learned to run…and lost 40 pounds. Started to think about what God expected and Lori needed. In the process, I began actually talking to Lori instead of continuing to just pass in the hall between the bedroom and bathroom. We agreed on trying to have a marriage together rather than ending up with nothing separately. I found a way to cook and pay the bills in a way that involved coming home each night to see my family. Was it as sexy, or as much down and dirty fun? No, but every teenage rebellion that starts at age 32 either ends in heartbreak or personal redemption. I chose to be married, because Lori and I had started the journey together. Years later, Lori and I ended up being able to have a conversation about that time and then walk away still married. We were able to have the conversation, because I’d gone home and became better for it.
When I was seven years old the neighbor kid fell out of his upstairs window while in the throes of laughter about something long forgotten. He survived, and went on to a full life of falling down. To be sure, there was some bouncing around on the sidewalk. Tests couldn’t determine head injury, but his intelligence was negligible to start. I often wonder if he made it out of childhood. Those who did can look back and say “Wow. We dodged a lot of open windows.”
My wife Lori turns 40 on Sunday, and the family threw an upbeat surprise party for her. There were none of the standard “over the hill” jokes trotted out, and I’m glad. Making it to her advanced age (I’m a younger man still in his 30’s) has nothing to do with being on the decline, or over the hill. It’s a campaign medal of sorts, earned by staying away from windows. Lori has lived through the end of the Apollo program and of the Vietnam War, Watergate, 5 recessions, Disco, the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the AIDS epidemic, ethnic genocide, 9/11…the more stuff I list, the more I risk sounding like Billy Joel. The reality is what old folks always used to warn us about: One day you wake up and you’re 40. I’m glad to have the opportunity, though. Sure, you blink and miss a lot of excitement as you’re busy living. All that trying to dodge neighbor kids falling from the sky doesn’t leave time to savor life. A lot of my reminiscing about the life I’ve led is about stuff that was as unimportant then as is now (“I remember the Jackson’s Victory Tour. ‘Even got the poster”). It’s just enough to have beaten circumstance and be around to tell about it. Congratulations, Love and Best Wishes, Lori.
Now I sit by my window And I watch the cars I fear I’ll do some damage One fine day But I would not be convicted By a jury of my peers Still crazy after all these years-Paul Simon Still Crazy After All These Years
My New Year’s resolution is to stop writing this blog…and it’s broken. Promising to modify behavioral malfunctions with the change of calendar year’s is always tough to make real. I resolve, however, to live the sane and moderate life I enjoyed until the first week of November. It was then that I saw the specialist for my chronic headaches. Like going to the old junk shop and buying a Mogwai, I was given modern miracles of chemistry along with specific instructions on how to use them. The specialist warned that no amount of pharmaceuticals would make me less of a jackass and that some might even enhance that facet of my personality. I went home, took the pills and watched the results in wonder. If my life has been an ongoing war between strict dietary restrictions and migraines, then the pills were like Jimmy Carter being dropped into the middle of peace talks and bringing both sides to the table. Eventually, both parties came to the border and shook hands. One- Term Jimmy found a bag of peanuts and watched peace break out. So I ate. Ate some more. Ate some more.
The old specialist was right. Even good pharmaceuticals are no match for stupidity. The first sign was when my Levi’s 501’s needed to be traded for a loose gunny sack. The 501’s are my last stand of rebellion against age, indifference and looking like the smiling doofus in a Sears ad. Then there was the epic, Technicolor esophageal explosion in my driveway on Christmas night, following a migraine that made my head feel like a kettle ball. In the quiet that follows misery and minor humiliation, I prayed and pondered. By week’s end, I’d gotten right with body, although mind lags behind. Carefully, I resolve to take the meds and eat right, watching the borders between food and headaches for skirmishes all the while.
Yesterday was supposed to be one of those grand and glorious half-marathon days. I’d run the summer out and planned to enter fall with a PR for the half. It never happened. Two weeks ago arthritis and age kicked me to the curb to the point that I called it a season. Whiffed and missed. I awoke to the sound of crappy weather and thought about all of those times that I’d relished running in rain and muck. As I got up and started moving, my swollen knees told me “Thanks, you old fart. Let’s go have some eggs and toast.”
I brooded for a few minutes by watching some TV. ESPN’s 30 for 30: Jordan Rides The Bus was playing. I continued to mope until I caught the message within the short film depicting Michael Jordan’s early retirement in 1994 from the Chicago Bulls, and his brief stint as a minor league baseball player. One of the central tenants of his decision to leave basketball and play for the White Sox farm club was that he wanted to live the life of no regrets. Had he not taken the opportunity to pursue baseball, Jordan might have forever regretted what might have been. Life is full of might of “might have beens.” I am at least temporarily sidelined from running, but now is the time to live without regrets. I don’t regret running marathons. I want to see what else there is to pursue and conquer in life. The possibilities are varied and endless. Jordan read a great statement in a 1997 Nike advertisement, which I wrote in my journal as I waited for a plane in Charlotte, North Carolina after my left knee failed me during Marine boot camp that same year. I don’t ever regret going to boot camp, but consider it one of life’s great adventures. The statement from the commercial?
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
No regrets. Life is good. If I can’t run, I’ll find a new way to challenge myself. Success is in getting up when you’re not able to run and walking to the next challenge.
I recently went on a journey of the soul. Call it a search for substance. After two weeks I gave up, having not found anything. Oh well. This is what I get for sloughing around the house, laughing like Jabba the Hutt the entire time. At least I had work to keep me sane and focused during the last few weeks. Maybe sane, or focused. Having both would be too much to ask for.
There is a reason I never get out of the basement at work. Socially, I’m about as awkward as a person can be. My general demeanor is like President Obama having a debate with his note cards. I try to think of it as an advantage during moments of foolhardiness. Awkward, mumbly, focused on the floor when I talk. Little jokes come out every now and then. Good jokes at times, but you’d miss them through the downward mumbling. Every once in a while, I do get out of the basement and have some fun. Flu shot day was a good example of awkwardness in action.
Monday, I went to get my annual flu shot at work. This meant going all the way to the third floor of my building and experiencing daylight. You know, that part was okay. The daylight dwellers have good cookies. When I came out of the health office, having gotten my shot and neon orange bandage, some of the nurses still in line asked how it went. “Oh gosh, it was like The Hunger Games in there.” The nurses, who’ve seen all manner of barf and death, just groaned. Yep, awkward. I put my head down and went back to the basement. Not before getting coffee and cookies, though. One of the benefits of looking up and confidently joking with people is that there is usually food and beverage involved. Having said that, I do really want to put a coffee maker and a package of Oreos in my basement cubicle. At least until I overcome awkward shyness. Or retire. Whichever comes first.
Today is a rarity for me. A Wednesday at home. I don’t do well with days off, because of the need for structure and having a calendar always in front of me with a list of tasks. Not that I don’t have a lengthy line of tasks awaiting completion at home, but who is going to tell me to finish them? I start moving toward my home improvement goals, but then get distracted. The world of Wednesday is full of bagels that need to be eaten, further adventures of Katniss calling to be read, and blog posts that don’t need to be published. This is a problem.
I am an introvert by nature, which is not necessarily bad in and of itself. The issue is that when left to my own devices, I’d rather learn about new things or run in the woods without companions. The structure of work and social obligations keeps me engaged with the world and forces me to use my words. Verbally. The worst thing for me would be to win the lottery, because I’d retreat into the esoteric life. The Fall before I met my wife Lori, I visited a monastery and become fascinated with the life of study and prayer. The monks had normal human interactions and in-jokes with one another. They read publications like Maclean’s and Rolling Stone. I noticed that their daily bread of physical life was a lot of boxed pasta. In essence, the brothers were really dedicated college students who fortified their minds while subsisting on oodles of noodles. They discouraged me from eschewing the outside world for their higher calling, knowing that as much as I enjoyed prayer, reading and macaroni, society needed me in some small way. In many respects, when I have the rare free day, I still live out that ideal. In the solitude of a day to myself, I consider the universe while (eventually) cleaning the house and eating starchy spinach noodles. Which reminds me. I’d better put in a six-mile solitude run. Those monks were seriously out of shape.
The first paragraph of this bit of material has been sitting in the draft bin since 4/9/13. In response to a Cheri Lucas challenge at dailypost.wordpress.com, I decided to finish the thought and send this piece of lingering sarcasm on its way. Also, I finally get to admit my lifelong crush on Jane Goodall. No wonder this post has been in the bin so long.
This post is called is titled “Doing.” Now, if you’d rather, go ahead and think of it as doing! and crack yourself up by making that sound. Onomatopoeia in action. The great, arch-enemy in my life, the nameless nemesis of my existence, has always been things that do other things. Slippers are a good example of this. There isn’t any earthly need for slippers, but they serve a purpose beyond necessity. They are simple foot covering that keeps out the chill and allows dumbbells like me to maintain slightly dry feet while travelling to and from the mailbox. Tonight I saw an ad for children’s slippers that do things not called for by ordinary slippers. The new slippers talk, wink, flap, burp, sing lullabies. Sleep with them, cuddle them, light up the evil darkness with their delightful slippery-ness. What a pleasant idea! Do they function as slippers? It doesn’t matter, because the products are busy with so many other functions. Flap away, oh slippers of joy, because keeping out the cold is so old-fashioned and secondary on the hierarchy of footwear needs.
Chimpanzees have the worst of the lot as far as doing non-essential functions is concerned. The chimps lived their lives with chimp families and chimp jobs for eons, before the industrious upright dorks tried to mold their species into smaller upright dorks. Daddy would go out each day and work at the anthill. He’d collect tasty bugs on a stick. Good ‘Ol Jane Goodall taught us this, because she was content to live among the chimpanzees and remain observant. This of course is not so satisfying to the ever-industrious upright dorks. Our species, full of commercially opportune wisdom, thought chimps might look better with hats. Hence, a greeting card sub-industry all its own was born. Monkeys that do things, it seems, are far more interesting than wild, happy, ants-on-a-log gathering monkeys. I’m guilty of patronizing the dressed up chimpanzee culture. My avatar on numerous sites was a chimp seated at a typewriter. Never once did I consider that behind the chimp’s eyes was the spark of sentient feeling directing him in the primal desire to bring a stick full of ants home to the family. He doesn’t like wearing a tie any more than I do. Now that I think about it, I may drop off of the grid and leave upright dork culture behind. I can dig the idea of not doing anything but what natural instinct tells me. I may let my fur grow and eat Eskimo Pies. The ants are a little too much wild freedom for me.
The other night I attended a semi-mandatory outdoor meet and greet at my daughter’s elementary school. The trick is that in return for attending this event, each participant is given an ice cream bar and the chance to meet the child’s new teacher. These events are excruciating for me. While the ice cream social is always well executed and expertly put together, I find myself shuffling and stamping my feet. The kids in attendance have this kind of cool to them. They’ve met this year’s teacher, who is usually a rested looking woman full of the kind of energy that is reserved for amped up pageant contestants. The students themselves are a bit indifferent to the whole ordeal. They speak casually to each other, smile at their new teacher’s jokes and then inexplicably go and swing from tree branches. Within two weeks, they’ll be staring wistfully out the windows at those same branches and dreading the fact that they were yet again sucked in by the parade smiles of teaching professionals. During the social, though, the kids cling to a last bit of late summer casual and effortlessly mingle in a blase fashion while eating melted ice cream sandwiches in the schoolhouse courtyard.
As a parent, there is no cool, even from drippy Eskimo Pies. We have no casual attitude. Much of what we do is competitive parenting and semi-professional eye rolling. Mom’s and dad’s have a way of overdressing for these events. Yeah, I think the sequined halter tops and shirt/tie combos are neat, but unnecessary. I have no such desire to be a fancy dad. I can sort of manage to stand around and look like a schlub, before some ancient Miss America teacher slaps my wrist and tells me to stop picking my nose. We’ve spent every day since college looking out the door’s and windows of our workplaces wistfully for a tree to climb. Eventually, as often happens, my blissfully calm daughter will give me some ice cream, tell me to shut up and then smile beatifcally. Future teacher in the making, I suppose.