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.
Those who know and love me, or at least friends and relatives who tolerate me, all learned long ago that they can’t take me anywhere. Scratch that. Friends and those stuck with me can take me lots of places, but leaving me behind proves to be the difficult part. Usually I show up at home or work within a day or two (or twelve. When people stop counting days is a great time to return). As I’ve often mentioned on this blog, there is a lot of embarrassing behavior that travels within my person. Since the behavior entertains me..it entertains someone. An indulgent loon, at least unto myself. One behavior that falls into this “can’t take him anywhere and drive off” pattern is my penchant for falling over. I just do it for no reason, other than for the pure joy of toppling sideways. Church is a fun place for this. Yesterday morning I was keeling over mid-service, because it’s become my go-to, poor man’s yoga. The sideways leaning shoulder flop, would be a fabulous name for this move, if only I had the desire to name it.
How I ended up married is one of the great mysteries of the universe (along with why geezers walk around beach towns wearing Speedos ). My wife was the first woman to not be fooled by the shoulder flop. During the less than magical years in which I dated, falling dead over like a tree being cut down was a way out of many awkward conversations. Sure, I got pretty bruised up falling out of restaurant booths and off of couches, but it worked. No more threatening conversation and only a little kicking from the beleaguered girl’s father. My wife Lori saw through this and would politely tell me to get my Bill Laimbeer flopping butt off the floor. The stable life is mine. All for the price of staying upright.
Sometimes within these blog posts, I’ll reference where I live. This is to give color and background to my life as a wandering mope. The town I live in is picturesque, which often prompts people to take pictures. Strange how that works. Visitors will just get out of their cars as if possessed by something that only exists in J.J. Abrams movies and take pictures of random people. And things. “Look honey! They got them weird birds that flap around on the sidewalk!” Never mind that the cameras are pointed at manhole covers. Who am I to correct tourists? It is with this welcoming spirit in mind that I don’t venture near downtown. I’ve had my picture take with enough manhole covers.
I had to sneak into town to visit our ancient music store and it’s equally ancient owner today. This isn’t ageist, but a fact based on several observations. His Social Security number is 3, and he only received that number after the Ark dropped him off on our fair shores. My daughter needed a gig bag for her guitar and the big box stores in our area don’t carry them anymore. So, after finding a parking spot (or, more accurately, running over a Smart Car with my own vehicle), I purposefully marched down to the old music pro’s lair. Sure, I had to pose for a couple of photos with lamp posts and fire hydrants, but eventually I got to the store. The wise old guru saw me from his desk in back but debated whether to get up. “Whadaya want, kid?” I explained my dilemma and the gentleman (puzzled) asked me “Fender? You mean electrified? Naw, we don’t carry that stuff ya’ hippie. Whadaya been sniffin? Glue? Ahbahahh.” I backed slowly out and onto the tourist filled sidewalk. The ancient is for real musicians, which explains the Stradivarius holding up one load bearing wall. Defeated, I called my wife who’d been smart enough to use Amazon. Then, walking a little slower, I stopped to have my picture taken with a park bench.
Over the past year, boxing’s former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson has repeated to reporters variations on a story involving his ex-wife Robin Givens and actor Brad Pitt. Apparently, he arrived home one day in 1988 to find Ms. Givens and the soon-to-be world-famous actor in bed together. Moment of pause here while I stop to ponder how Mr. Pitt lived through that situation and managed to stave off the wrath of Iron Mike. Tyson was, after all, the undisputed king of the ring at that time. If there exists a modern ten commandments, this would be right at the top of them:1.) Thou Shalt Not Sleep With Mrs. Mike Tyson. The fact that the boxing legend is still lisping out angry regrets over the affair signals that he is not completely over his grudge with Brad Pitt. I’d love to have a time machine and take some updated commandments back to Pitt and Givens in 1988 so that they’d have been warned about Mike Tyson and his penchant for holding a grudge for 24 years. This is (unfortunately) not possible, so Mr. Pitt will just have to keep looking over his shoulder for aging, face-tattooed boxers. I’ve thought of nine other commandments that rank right up there with staying out of Mrs. Tyson’s bed if you enjoy living:
2.)Thou shalt not appear in advertisements in which you demonstrate the self-lubricating pocket catheter. No matter how much money Satan and Liberty Medical offer you to do the commercials.
3.) Do not make false promises to move out of your parent’s basement while dressed as a Hobbit.
4.)Your team shalt not pay Alex Rodriguez to sit on the bench and pass notes to girls in the stands next season (unless your team is in the public school recreational league, where players are paid in gum).
5.)Thou shalt not marry any stars of Head of The Class ( except for Arvid, from whom all knowledge of good and evil came).
6.)Thou shalt (okay, I shalt) stop using Thou shalt which was lame at least five references ago. Also: stop referring to Head of The Class (because nobody remembers it).
7.) No person should take a time machine back to the 80’s. For starters, the 80’s were boring, and there are over-the-hill bloggers to fill you in on the details, anyway.
8.)Do not speak French to the servers at the International House of Pancakes. Use of multiple languages only makes them more determined microwave your waffles and bring you coffee made from scalding restroom water and gym socks.
9.)Drinking Molson does not make you a hockey player. Actually, these days neither does being signed by an NHL team. After a few Molson’s we could all be professional hockey players. Gotta go. I see a tattooed face in the shadows.
There are times when I realize the only thing worse than being a moron is living as an excitable moron. Tonight’s thing I was all geeked up to do was download a book, something I’ve never done. For weeks I’d pushed the on/off button on my record player, but no e-books came out. No, apparently books come from the magical thing that lives in the iPad. I wanted to read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, so I went to download it. Several choices appeared. I could read Crazy Love, or Crazy Love*. * was five dollars cheaper, and despite my electronic naiveté, I know that I could buy a decent sandwich with a fiver. What exactly did I lose by saving the bucks? Well, the first line of the book went “C’est avec beaucoup de joie et d’honneur que je vous presente mon ami Francis Chan.” Hmmm…cheaper and French. At least I think it’s French, but I’ve been wrong a lot lately.
I should have studied the language when I had the chance. During culinary school, I took French courses. My academic counselor thought it was a bad idea, and pointed out my grades in the course as a reference. To me it made sense, for I didn’t know my Nicoise from my Nicorette, my a la Russe from Alan Alda. What sold French was the instructor. I used to stand out on the sidewalk and watch her smoke Gauloises. She wore high leather boots, and would sort of look down on my fat little peasant self with a mixture of disdain and pity. Not that it mattered. She could browbeat me in her mother tongue for hours and I’d just nod and gibber in my made up language which was about as French as yellow mustard. She might have been giving me electronics instruction. Now that I have the *Francis Chan book, I might actually have to learn some French. Bon Appetit!
I am a man committed to the written word. Once, while taking a painting course, the instructor pleaded with me to commit to the canvas. “I’m a word man.” I said before turning on my heel and never returning to the class. Nice stand to take for one’s own natural form of artistic expression, but that was a really expensive point to try making. I love to read as much as I do write. To read a book is to get inside someone else’s skull and walk around for a while looking through their eyes. The one form of writing I neither participate in, much less choose to read is the printed instruction set. I don’t like to be instructed on anything. The Bible is a solid, divinely inspired instruction book. I take instruction from God’s word. Every other insipid set of instructions can get bent (I need to read the Bible, because I think there’s something in there about not telling people or instruction manuals to get bent).
Our basement drain backed up, just as it does every spring. No amount of plunging coupled with suckage (sounds more fun than it is) helped. Draino didn’t budge the plug. I went to the hardware store to find muriatic acid, but ended up with a product that was said to be professional grade clog killer. Professionals use it. The jug had skulls on it. Skulls usually indicate that death is involved. The package came with 9 instructions followed by 9 sub instructions. I got several wrong in the process of dumping the gallon of smoking sulfur death juice down the drain. The other problem, I was wearing my homemade haz mat suit. My personal protective equipment consists of a stocking cap, rubber gloves, cotton gloves, a fishing sweater, a flu mask and my birth control glasses from Marine boot camp. I did read the instruction that said
Throw a bowl over the drain and run like hell!
Good advice, really sound. As soon as the drain started smoking I poured the Halloween candy out of the bowl, tossed it over the hole and got out. Bubble, gurgle and…nothing. A smoky, stinky nothing. I am reconsidering reading instructions. They were meant for people like me. Stinky, smoking, bubbling, gurgling people like me. At least I can finish the Halloween candy while I dial a plumber.
On the way to becoming a thirty something (something something) year old hypochondriac and curmudgeon, I also became a father. Well not became. Babies don’t just get handed out like cheese samples. There’s a whole back story about my lovely wife seeing fatherhood potential despite the constant babbling coming from me. Now, years later, the child and I babble away at the poor woman steadily. Our daughter Anna is 9 years old we couldn’t be prouder of her. She’s been having a great time performing with a local children’s theater group in The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley this past week. Mom and dad are in tow, volunteering to run concessions while she’s performing. Anna’s got no idea what goes on at the candy table in the lobby on show day and I’m not telling her. As long as the kid has fun and learns life lessons from the theater, I’m pleased.
Several times during Flat Stanley performances, I’ve had to make a mad drive to the local wholesale outlet for candy and drinks, hustling back by intermission. While not breaking any laws with my driving, I’ve bent the laws of physics. The immutable rule that says a Honda launched into the air off of a curb will eventually plummet earthward is always in effect. I pray that a Mary Poppins effect takes hold of my car and it just Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs over solid objects, consoling myself while waiting for traffic to part that Anna is doing great at the show. That’s really what it’s all about. Skeptics might say that we have children to care for of us in old age, but I look at it as a challenge given in order to make us think about someone else. Anna greets us at the concession stand after shows and I just smile, ever the proud daddy.
I don’t eat a lot of barbecue these days. Something about having a migraine induced by beef brisket and the Technicolor painting of downtown trash cans that followed scared me away from going back to barbecue. Sigh. This is a shame because I consider pork shoulder or ribs slathered in a deep red sauce proof that God loves humans and wants them to be happy. Obviously, He has some other higher (and headache free) purpose for my life. Barbecue recipes and techniques perfected over a lifetime and carefully handed down to ensuing generations are among the great gifts that bind a family together. I can’t even commit barbecue infidelity anymore and cheat with a McRib sandwich. The venerable McDonald’s special pork sandwich doesn’t qualify as barbecue any more than Manwich does, but McRib holds its own strange appeal. McRib is just…McRib. Today, I read that most Americans probably won’t get to enjoy another tasty pork mushlet before human history ends in December. Bummer.
According to the legend of the Mayan Calendar, the world will end in some sort of cataclysmic ball of death on December 21, 2012. Conservative pundits will blame this on the 47% of Americans who are left-wing freeloaders. I am not so much worried about the end of time, as I am the fact that McDonald’s Corporation is getting set to announce that the McRib sandwich will not make a return appearance in stores until after the purported apocalypse (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/mcrib-saved-christmas-mcdonalds-delays-173538794.html). I wish this wasn’t so. My only request is to ring out this old existence with a fiery, blinding McRib migraine. There are numerous reasons to choose the McPatty as my final meal. Most self-respecting barbecue joints will probably be closed, but McDonald’s will probably stay open at least three days after the end of the world. There is also just something deeply comforting about McRib sandwiches. Maybe it’s the preservative/smoke mix used in the pork, which is composed of TBHQ, BHA, TLC, BYOB and BOGO. Mmmm…pre-embalmed by a pork sandwich. How reassuring. If you compliment the sandwich with a quart of Dr. Pepper, than you’ve also taken on the blessing of something slightly medical sounding. If the Mayan alarm is a false one, I’ll take up vegetarianism. Maybe I can perfect the McVeggie sandwich. Nah. I’ll take my chances with the mystery patty.
The thought of reaching age forty never crossed my mind until the last year. I’d always made certain vague assumptions about how life would progress. As a child, I (wrongly) figured that at 23 years old, vegetarianism would take hold of my lifestyle. It was for that reason I explained to my mother how wrong eating vegetables was. There’d be plenty of time, I reasoned, for vegetable consumption as an adult. In college, I worried about a life of wandering the streets if I failed my classes and never became employable. Of course, I still regularly failed courses. Fear should have probably made me somewhat more fearful.
On the first Thursday in August, I’ll turn forty. A mid-summer, mid-week birthday is usually calm sort of fun. There will be work, followed by the possibility of pie and a walk on the beach. The air is usually pretty heavy at that time of year, but the nights are long and meant for sitting outside doing talking about nothing in particular. I thought of all the things that might be a fun way to exact revenge on a life lived in fits and fights. Maybe some ice cream, dancing monkeys, or some combination of the two. Then I thought about what would make a good memory. I decided to run a marathon at Lake Superior. The idea of running 26.2 miles is a strange way to celebrate any milestone. The body tends to shut down and function on inertia after about the 23, or 24th mile. I start to think about nothing so complicated as dancing primates and quiescent frozen dessert foods. I can only concentrate on “right foot up, right foot down. Left foot up, left foot down. Symbolic of life really. One foot forward. Then the next one. One day you wind up forty just by running and then running some more. I plan to celebrate my last weekend as a 39.99 year-old by running in Michigan’s beautiful “up north” for suicide prevention charities and depression awareness. Now I’m glad I came this far. There’s still even time to become a vegetarian.
My 10-year-old daughter Anna is possessed with a bit of self-awareness beyond her age. She’s known that strangers stare at her for too long and speak slower in her presence than is necessary. Anna’s always shrugged this behavior off as just being another part of her daily routine. Tonight was the first time she ever sat down and talked to us about the uncomfortable feeling of having people she interacts with treat her differently. To her credit, Anna maintains herself with the two traits that I always asked God to grant her: dignity and aplomb.
Anna, as I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, lives with the lingering effects of Crouzon Syndrome, a genetic malformation of the cranium and face. She has a beautiful face, made by the Lord Himself and coaxed into its current shape with the help of surgeons. Annabanana has dual hearing aids, in colors and designs she chose herself. Often, she’ll wear her hair up and let them stand out like any other accoutrement of rebellious pre-teenage fashion. The child acts in plays, sings and is comfortable in her own skin. Maybe it’s a generalization, but a lot of adults aren’t comfortable in the body, or the life, they’ve been given. Part of her dignity and aplomb comes from that level of assurance she maintains, part from the sarcasm and sharpness she inherited from her family (hey, I never said that I was the sharpest guy in the shed. Maybe it skipped my generation). There is a quick assumption when people first meet Anna that she can’t talk. The truth is that she won’t talk to people who make her feel less than all that she already knows she is.
I often tell Anna about how her grandmother went to school with Stevie Wonder. The example is a good one, because it reminds Anna that she has several paths in life. She can choose the wide, straight highway of self-pity, or take the little road of living out all of the promise God put in front of her. I play a good old song like I Was Made To Love Her or Superstition and ask her to consider the path over obstacles that Stevie chose. Anna will. Anna knows what to do. With lots of love from us, she can stare right back at pity, shrug and ask “What are you looking at?”
Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?
When I was 14, my dad bought a copy of It’s a Wonderful Life on video tape. To this day, there are things that still make me sentimental about not only the movie itself, but that particular version of the 1946 holiday chestnut. Dad purchased a colorized edition of the picture, in part because it was severely discounted. The Jimmy Stewart classic, in gloriously grotesque shades of pale pink and aqua green, could be found in department store bargain bins due to the fact that film preservation purists had been extremely vocal in their displeasure over the colorization of bygone Hollywood screen gems. I agree with this now, but because I fell in love with the hideously over-corrected version, that’s the way the movie looks and feels right to me. Another odd personal hang-up of mine is that because Dad first had me watch Life in August, I can’t go a summer without sitting down to re-watch it. There is a moment during It’s a Wonderful Life that still tugs at my decidedly tough, normally unsentimental heartstrings. Clarence the angel, played by Henry Travers, reminds Stewart’s George Baily about the value of his life and the role his very existence has played in the lives of everyone he’s ever come in contact with. The line from Clarence that I opened this post with always rings true with me and I hold on to it during the times when depression threatens to knock me down. To say that my life reaches beyond the interior walls of my mind and touches people in good in positive ways makes all the difference to me. I can live down the cliché about life’s glass being half empty, because life is lived to the fullest potential while I cut through the clutter of doubt by being optimistic and helping others live their lives.
I never liked the whole bit about whether life is a half empty glass or one that is half full. Life is full of opportunity no matter which way we look at it. Glasses are for sipping, but you might as well drink from the fire hose (as long as we’re coining clichés here). The thing to do is take Clarence, or whomever is giving you greeting card style advice, and reach into the lives of everyone you meet. If the “glass” is truly half empty, the only thing to do is fill it all the way to the top. I have depression and one of the signs that the disease has pushed my brain into a corner is the moment when I start thinking of life as half full. One of the mighty snap outs is to stop staring into the proverbial glass and fill my life with meaning through love and service to others. Thank you, old colorized pink and green Clarence. You gave me a line to keep life’s glass full.
I’m having a week. Not necessarily a bad week. Just a week. The kind of week that reveals my true blandness and exposes all of the nerdy qualities that I’ve unintentionally cultivated over the years. For starters, there’s the issue of trying to mail video cassettes back to Netflix instead of the DVD’s they’ve sent me. I have a lot of movies on video sitting in milk crates down in my basement. That’s what I did as a young, single man back in the day. I purchased high quality motion picture entertainment on VHS tapes and displayed these purchases prominently in my apartment(s). The height of decorating panache was having tapes sitting proudly in milk crates. Now, of course, I can’t get rid of the tapes. The Titanic set is one of the worst offenders. I needed two Netflix envelopes to get rid of that. Our mail carrier caught what I was doing and left the tapeflix on my doorstep. Right before I chose to own Titanic on tape (for inexplicable reasons), a Blockbuster clerk asked if I’d like to rent the movie at a discounted fee. “No.” I said trying to be polite “I heard the boat sank. Someone gave away the ending.”
Video tapes aren’t completely useless. We pitch them like horseshoes in the summer, for instance. Some are irreplaceable relics. My colorized copy of It’s a Wonderful Life is so familiar that I can’t watch the movie in it’s original, glorious black and white. George Bailey and company are rendered in sickening shades of pink and orange. Bedford Falls takes on the appearance of Ocean Boulevard, and I feel inclined to sing “Oompa Loompa, Doopity Doo…”. I may take a crate of tapes and try to sell them. I hear there’s a thriving black market around Amish Country for VHS copies of Harrison Ford’s Witness.