A few weeks before the end of the school year I woke my daughter up one morning and told her we were going to see the Detroit Tigers. Who knew that this was such an effective way to get kids up for school? Sitting bolt upright, she asked without a trace of sleepiness
“No,” I answered “At Wrigley.’
“What’s a Wrigley?”
Taking my nine-year old to a ball game was part of my bucket list fatherhood plan. I figured that we’d do fun stuff that every kid should experience before adulthood. Never mind the logistics of taking a little girl into Chicago without the guiding hand of mom. We checked off quite a few bucket items on this trip. The first thing was learning to ride with drunks on the South Shore line for two hours. We had plenty of conversations the rest of the day about why people shouldn’t drink at 9:00 in the morning (let alone 3 beers before the train departs). Riding the Red Line from State Street to Addison was another lesson. Learn to embrace other people. More importantly, embrace being squashed into some stranger’s boobs (not me. I’m too tall and obvious). A lady asked me on the way down to the subway if I had a back up plan. “Yeah. I’m not going to let go of the child. Same as the original plan.” Learn to enjoy exotic restrooms. Wrigley’s best kept secret is the section 126 First Aid station and it’s locking bathroom.
The experience of going to good old Wrigley Field is lost on my daughter. As it should be. She’ll get the particulars later. I know that she’s was as awed as me by the sight of the field beyond home plate when you first walk through the gate. I don’t believe in baseball cathedrals, but Wrigley’s pretty close. Someday, the Cubs will have won numerous championships under the stellar management of Darwin Barney and the billionaire owners (the Olsen twins) will have the place leveled. She’ll look back and tell the kids how dad dragged her up to see Justin Verlander throw a five hit, two earned run game back in the good old days. A bucket list check-off for any kid, even at my age.
The other day on this blog I was griping about the local bikini moms and their penchant for wearing various stages of dress (or un) around town. Sure it’s a bit showy, but with the arrival of steady 85 and 90 degree days I’ve adopted a laissez-faire (aka, whozee-cares) attitude. It’s a non- issue when soggy heat, mosquitos and shambling masses all come together for summer. Bathing suits, wading pools of Miller High Life (official beer sponsor of resignation) and outdoor living are in season. Besides, my new muse is the cat suit.
Last night, watching the American Idol finale, I was really amused by the body hugging costumes many of the veteran guest performers trotted out in. I didn’t live blog the show, because I was busy with a running verbal commentary on the proceedings. None of the “serious” topics mattered during the two-hour program. The eventual winner, the performance by Aerosmith, the packaged montages, Phil Phillips’ facial expressions all took a back seat to the parade of evil spandex. I love and respect the curves and natural appearance of all women. God is good. When shallow man and wardrobe staffers stuff these wonderous people into outfits engineered to withstand high tensile stress, the plan goes wrong. John Fogerty, formerly of Credence Clearwater Revival, came out wearing a flannel shirt. A respectable uniform, the same we’ve seen him in since 1968. Fantasia Barrino, on the other hand, was mangled into a sequined cut-up body suit. Half Bruce Banner/half Hulk, you knew as sure as the Gospel fire coming out of her that the outfit would be shredded and she’d smash the studio audience to bits. Later, after Rihanna (who doesn’t wear anything), came Chakka Khan. She may be every woman and by golly there were at least three smuggled in her outfit. I always say that being mature means one can wear pretty much whatever they choose. Thank you skin-tight Idol outfits for setting me straight.
There are days when my mind is made up of nothing more than collections of jumbled, random thoughts. Today is one of those days. What follows is a half-coherent post made from mental scrapple.
It’s okay for Manti Te’o to have made up an imaginary girlfriend. I have an imaginary Manti Te’o.
President Obama’s upcoming swearing-in ceremony looks exciting to me. I’ve been waiting years for the President to swear at something.
There are many things I want to confess to Oprah Winfrey, but I’m afraid I’d never be able to ride a bike again. That would be a shame for paper route customers.
I never used performance enhancing drugs. Once, in a fit of hunger, I ate my Live Strong bracelet and then tried to tell Oprah everything I’d ever done wrong.
The new American Idol judging panel is not quite what I’d hoped for. The producers need to bring back Paula Abdul, because she made crazy look so classy.
The previews for the new film Jack The Giant Slayer make the movie look pretty entertaining, but I’m holding out until Humpty Dumpty 3-D hits theaters.
64% of Republicans recently polled believe that President Obama may not have been born in the United States. This percentage is made up mostly of individuals who ask where the horses are kept every time they visit the Golden Corral. This number also doesn’t account for the number of conservatives who are too busy for polls, because they’re busy looking at the sides of their TV sets trying to see where the Fox news crawl comes from and where the words go off to.
A new line of adult undergarments has hit stores and the advertisements encourage the bladder stricken to take up dancing. I often think about dancing when I’m peeing. Or vice versa. Either way, I’m the life of any party.
I’m rooting for Anne Hathaway to win the Oscar this year. As a child I dreamed of shaving my head and portraying a French prostitute. Ah, this is why we go to the movies. Dreams do come true in Hollywood.
In this episode, MT takes on the retailing of Christmas and looks back at a heartfelt Christian reading of the Christmas story by an actor who could barely read. From the tiniest of actors come the soundest of truths. Have a blessed Christmas!
My grandmother, Mrs. Dorothy Robinson, passed away a little over a year ago. She died after a lengthy bout with Alzheimer’s disease, the intense care for which led indirectly to the deaths of my grandfather and their eldest daughter. This is not a sad post, however. I rejoice in the fact that my grandparents led an honorable life and taught future generations to do likewise. Grandma wanted me to go into Christian ministry, but I broke her heart in that regard. I am, for what it’s worth a screw-up. One who was seduced by the dark side of food service work while in the pursuit of a life offered to God. Dort was partially to blame for this, without ever realizing it.
Grandma had a plate in her kitchen featuring a graphic of two rural children kissing and emblazoned with the saying “Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookery Do.” I accepted the wisdom of this plaque in stages. As a little kid I had no use for kissing or cooking. It was puzzling to look at this chachki, because I knew that the most important thing in life was to run around in circles. During grade school, when I began to eat enough to stock the training table of a football team, the kissing bit sounded lame to me. Kissing seemed irrelevant, because I really just needed Grandma to keep cooking. It was only later that I began to see the value of both. Grandma’s cooking is one of the many reasons I chose to romance the stove burners. I’ve eaten in all kinds of unique venues and learned to make plausible replicas of real food items over the years, but Dort’s cooking is what I relish most about my life in food. Nothing overly complicated, nothing out of the realm of comforting. The food was always just…perfect. The kissing part is trickier. I figured out shortly after developing a passion for simple, quality food that cooking holds a direct link to kissing. More importantly, good cooking often goes hand in hand with relationship building. When you meet the right person, one of the most sincere forms of affection is cooking for them. You might burn the food, but memories are often built over time spent eating things like scorched biscuits together. The food is not necessarily the binding agent, but the time spent at meals is. Grandma, I suspect, was on to this. She grew up during the Depression and would probably tell me to not be so frivolously emotional about the whole kissing and cooking idea. The plaque was, after all, just a plaque. Honestly, though, it was the only thing from her estate that I can imagine hanging onto. The estate was long ago sold off by a Luthern service organization, but I can still picture her kitchen in my mind. Everyone gets their start with an idea and I became a lousy kisser, amateur philosopher and culinary lifer in that kitchen. Sorry about the ministry, Grandma.
My family and I watch a lot of television. We developed the habit during the recession of watching TV in lieu of doing productive activity. Who am I kidding? I developed the “TV in lieu of a life” habit during the recession of 1979. The cheap thing to do has always been to stare at garbage like The Donny and Marie Show rather than eat in restaurants or go to the movies. So it was that the girls and I started down the path that leads to Spongebob and then eventual brain cell loss and absence of higher mental function. There have been genuine studies conducted proving the death of brain matter after massive doses of Bikini Bottom (damned government-funded research. Takes all the fun out of being poor and ignorant). A few weeks back I finally lost my cool and (after closing my slack jaw and blinking my boggled eyes) changed the channel on Spongebob Squarepants. Surfing through the channels, I found a two-hour block of Brady Bunch episodes. Turning to my daughter, I announced that we’d be watching a show that mom and me had loved back in the day. Back in the day, a reference cranky people who still get up to change the channel use to describe the time when they could mention Donny and Marie and people knew what they were talking about.
After just a few episodes of Brady wholesomeness, I began to wonder why anyone ever watched this show. I also tried desperately to change the channel, but the new TV’s don’t have buttons and I was just hitting the device. Knowing what I know, from the vantage point of many years of having the wholesomeness worn right out of me, I remembered that…gasp…Brady Bunch sucked. Very fun and endlessly entertaining, but a complete turd. I also learned that it’s not a good idea to make fun of an institution like Brady. My daughter has fallen in love with the show. Probably because she hasn’t gotten to the perm episodes. Remember late in the series when all of the characters had the perms and wannabe afro? It was like ABC studios had gotten a bulk discount on Toni home perm kits. The dialogue was cloying and unfailing patronizing. Wasn’t this show on when Americans were rioting in the streets? Then there was the issue of Robert Reed. Trained Shakespearean actor earning his paycheck as the stiff leader of the Brady clan. The bedroom scenes were funny because he looked pained trying to fake intimacy with Florence Henderson. Florence Henderson, graduate of the school of bad dialogue for hot moms. The writers might have bothered to explain why such a condescending schlub would make her Mrs. Brady in the first place.
Alas, it’s just a show. One cancelled nearly 40 years ago, at that. I console myself while my daughter watches by making all of the characters into fabulous drunks. Tonight’s episode got me kicked out of the living room, because I had Cindy asking Santa for a gallon of Johnny Walker. I left to go do productive activity (er, I mean this blog).
Like many Americans, I’ll probably make time to attend The Avengers motion picture this weekend. There are a lot of reasons, the obvious one is being that Scarlett Johansson is featured prominently in the film. The plot of the movie has something to do with how a scientist named Bruce Banner ate all of Robert Downey Junior’s illicit substances, morphed into the Jolly Green Giant and went on to become a successful judge on T.V.’s The Voice. The Avenger story sounds relatively entertaining. It has all the classic elements a modern action film needs: Samuel Jackson talks to his phone, other actors dress in patriotic tights and Scarlett Johansson. I missed the other larger than life, Spring movie opening, The Hunger Games. From what I gather, a young woman survives by shooting fast-moving targets with a bow and arrow. The film was very much told from a new-left perspective, so the heroine only shoots tofu with her cross-bow. I didn’t see it. My money was wisely spent on The Three Stooges. The Stooge movie had many ingredients a movie needs when Scarlett Johansson isn’t available: Kate Upton, singing nuns and repeated visuals of Larry David being clobbered. Somehow, I hope The Avengers writers work these three clever devices into the plot of their film.
I’m not fooling anyone by saying that I’ll go out to the movies this weekend. Reality is more likely to find me at home drinking coffee and eating vanilla ice cream. I’ll start an internet debate about which actress should have been the star of Avengers (Catherine Hepburn, Catherine Bach, Catherine Deneuve or Catherine the Great). Maybe I’ll even make a bow and arrow and run around the back yard making a hybrid sequel to Hunger games and Hungry, Hungry Hippos. This is why I go to movies. It keeps me off the streets.
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.
One of the parts about parenting that I never really get used to is the amount of structure required in children’s lives. My pre-teenage daughter is starting a second week of musical theatre camp tomorrow, an activity that follows a summer of other meaningful childhood activity. This is the case with many of my friends kids. We pay to keep them on the road, year-round, like a worn out rock band. This may have been common when I was a kid, but I have no recollection of much wholesome activity. I was a fairly unsophisticated kid. My friends and I would go outdoors and play something called “Funny People” for hours on end. The object of the game was…well there wasn’t an object, because the game was just stupid. One participant would punch the other. The puncher would fall down and writhe on the ground while the punchee would stand and laugh, while showing no effects of having been hit. There were several aspects of Funny People that puzzle me to this day:
Parents and educators would encourage us to go outdoors and punch each other in the head (“Why don’t you go find your friends and punch each other in the head?”)
For all of the blows to the skull, many of us managed to grow into responsible, caring adults. There are those in every group of friends who wind up in jail, or with uncontrollable twitching, I imagine. I’d speculate more, but my left leg keeps independently kicking the right one.
My parents would tire of all the whining about skull fractures toward mid-summer and shell out $15 dollars to send me for a week at sleep-away camp. This was about as structured as life got, because my friends and I would spend our daylight hours making wallets and license plates in a makeshift compound, deep in the north woods of Michigan. My favorite project was making knife holsters. What 8-year old boy doesn’t want a carrier for his homemade shank? Each morning started with some old geezer sidling up to me in the chow line, asking “der yer warnt ah wiskerr ruub?” My love of the marathon began right there, because I learned to run from unshaven camp geezers. Yeah, now that I’ve purged those memories, maybe driving my child around to her sophisticated activities is a good thing. Let me go get my camp wallet so I can pay whatever amount structure requires.
As of this writing, I’m down to less than 23 weeks before the marathon of my life (every marathon is called this until it’s been run and then I tag the next race with that title). There are lots of issues to consider, and I’m on something like #23 out of #120,000. Training time, nutrition, goal weight, injury prevention, gear prep. These are some of the most pressing, but the granddaddy of them all is getting to that magic number: the goal time. I want to run 3 hours and 59 minutes, or less. This will require prayer, intensity and a drive to leave it all on the trail. To quote a song of the moment,
I want to scream and shout and let it all out!
The thing is I’m off-balance. Coming out of the fog of depression, I suddenly want to do everything. I really desire to romance my wife properly, run races, work with local volunteer programs, perform exemplary work at my job. To accomplish those things means some tough days and many bad meals. There are set back days in which I eat bad because I can. In the end, though, the main thing has to remain the main thing. If I want to run a sub-four hour marathon (or even finish the marathon), then I have to achieve balance. Train right, not eat like a depressed person. Sleep. Quiet, meditative moderation with the occasional scream and shout just to feel alive. The drive to leave it all on the trail, only tempered with the contemplative spirit. The opposite has been happening lately. I cannibalized lots of Chips Ahoy! cookies on my way through the disordered past few weeks. Weeks of running around rather than running forward, or with purpose. I may not be able to everything, but if I train for and run a good race the right way, then I’ll have achieved something that will travel with me for the rest of my life. That, I can scream and shout about.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains-where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. –psalms 121:1-2
I’ve riffed on the subject of running and The Mad Monk Season many times, but the feeling is embedded so deep within my soul to get out and conquer the pavement that writing on it just seems like a natural extension. The Mad Monk Season is that time in running each summer when my focus narrows to life’s basics. Each day I give my all to family, especially my 9-year-old daughter Anna’s acting pursuits (she’s in a musical tonight. Go Anna!), to doing precedent setting work at my job and to meeting all of the strange and wonderful obligations that grown-up life has to offer. I make no bones during the summer training season, however, that my focus is honed in on three basic questions: How can I love God and give him everything each day while helping others be the best that they can be? How many games back are the Tigers? When can I go and run? There is no giving short shrift to anybody, just a paring of life down to the essentials. The idea is to lose weight spiritually and physically.
Today’s running music mix on my phone featured a completely great, but not really good for cadence song by Radiohead entitled “Subterranean Homesick Alien.” I didn’t hit fast-forward, because I love the line
Up above Aliens hover Making home movies For the folks back home,
Of all these weird creatures Who lock up their spirits, Drill holes in themselves And live for their secrets.
Do we? Sometimes, watching out for the cracks in the pavement, I do just let it all go and abandon myself to the gifts God has given me and to the joy of running itself. Sometimes, I’m only training to be human. A mad monk on no mission at all. The marathons will go fine when I get to them. (Lyrics from Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien, 1997, OK Computer. Used without permission).
A few months ago I was lamely explaining my reasons for abandoning the daily running program that had become a cornerstone of my life. The whole argument came down to barfing. Professionals turn their noses up at the term barf, seeming to prefer the more tasteful notes in the word puke, or that classic of the ancient world vomit. I, however, was spending all my free time (and many of my scheduled moments) barfing. The doctor was trying to establish how much I was “really” running. The answer was not at all, real, or otherwise. Barfing had me on a fitness program of its own, and that was about as real as things got.
I got off the barfy train a month ago thanks to medications that may kill me (but will keep my stomach contents in place) and began the task of rebuilding the runner’s body. This is not an easy gig. The inverse of living as Andrew and His Technicolor Dinner Re-runs, was that I had to eat to make up the lost energy. My body began to take on the look of Jabba jr. The way back to the solid, strong (and mercifully silent when outdoors) runner I used to be meant becoming a walker. Jabba the Shuffler is slowly being replaced by something better than the old upchuck marathoner of a year ago. To coin the cliché, whatever doesn’t make a person sick any longer, should make them mad enough to go and fight. My once full race schedule is down to one event, the aptly named Old Farts Marathon, in Lowell, Michigan at the end of summer. I have no notions of suddenly getting back into good form. The truth is that this will be a season of dirt, scrapes, hills, too-early mornings, and way-too hot afternoons. A very good trade for barfing, if I do say so myself.
First off, thanks to the Dutch spammer who sent the weird material. I had no idea you could do so much with a windmill! Man, what a strange week. I’ve put aside all of the silly little things that came with being on vacation like sleep and um…sleep. ‘Back on the chain gang. This morning I was in the restroom at work and started to fall asleep. Standing up. That’s part of being grown up. In my old college days I found myriad ways to sleep. If there had been a major in creative somnambulism, I’d have made the dean’s list. Remember 1994? I don’t. Spent that year mostly asleep. Until recently I thought Newt Gingrich had been invented by the same geniuses who gave us K-mart and underwater speed dating.
This week has been a reminder that the change of calendar really can be a sign of a magical year to come. There are marathons to train and work toward, both physical and spiritual. What is lost in sleep is made up by possibility. This is the year when I take 10 more minutes off my 26 mile time (which makes my new marathon pr 23 hours, 36 minutes), There‘s the novel I joke about writing every year. Maybe this will be the season that it gets done. So far, like this blog, it’s just a rambling 300 word mess. I have the faintest bits of plot mapped out. See, there’s this famous ex-Heisman winner and TV sports analyst who goes on a killing rampage. He can’t find gloves that fit. You know, I had that dream back in the 90’s and I always wonder if it could happen in real life. Nah, that guy would totally go to prison. That story is about as believable as Newt Gingrich.
Early in October, a medical student was filling the gaps in my chart when I visited the doctor for headache follow-up. The future of our health care system set about determining if I get any physical exercise and I gladly told her that I was running five days a week. “Yes. Thank you. Now, do you get any exercise, Andrew?” asked the inquisitor a second time and again I told her that I was running daily in preparation for an upcoming marathon. She peered over the chart and I smiled back the way a gassy baby does. A third time the student came back with “Good. So…are you getting any exercise?” I bowed my head low and wagged it in shame. “No. I don’t get any.” Which is a lie, of course, because I was busy finishing another mad monk season.
I run. What a strange thing for a phobic to do, and yet there I am for months on end cruising the sidewalk like a swiftly shuffling E.T. following a trail of Reese’s Pieces. While I possess the look of withering ham salad left too long in the sun, I am a determined runner. This determination is what I mean by the mad monk season. For several months life is simplified to it’s essentials: prayer, work, running and baseball. All those months, I eat and carry semi-literate conversations (“Klattu barada nikto”), but my focus is narrowed to running farther and faster. After the Community Health Indianapolis marathon in mid October, I rejoined humanity. Ate too much, slept in on Saturdays. Lost the micro-focus. Eventually, I went back to running. There is always something that needs to be done, some goal further up the road that keeps me from constantly looking inward. That, and I need to get some exercise.