Friday, December 16, 2011

Is There a Santa Claus?

*Written for Robious Corridor, December 2011 
Note: The Original Editorial, written in  appearing in the September 21, 1897 edition of The (New York) Sun appears in Normal font.  The updated additions are in italics.

Dear Robious Corridor:
I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in Robious Corridor it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
VIRGINIA O’Handmeacookie
115 West Salisbury Road.


First, its not polite to refer to your friends as “little”; they are ‘vertically challenged’.  And yes, your ‘little friends’ are wrong. Totally, utterly wrong.  Like WICKED wrong.  They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. Or by the fact that they’ve never had to do laundry - theirs or anyone else’s.  They do not believe except what they see. Which is Nintendo, Wii Dance Party, Lady Gaga and texts on their mobile phone.  They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds or posted on Facebook. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little, scratch that, ‘vertically challenged’. You know why I know this?  One Sentence: DANCING WITH THE STARS.  In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, and yet there is a show that displays this intellect and insect-like movement against the canopy of music and >boom< it’s entertainment and tops the Neilson ratings…As measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge, we can only reply “SUPERSIZE IT”.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and frankly I know it because I have to pick up Santa’s socks and dirty Santa suit after his 24 hour UPS run around the Earth.  Why he insists on travelling through chimneys and getting soot ground into his suit at the sub-atomic level is beyond me.  The “North Pole Dry Cleaners” is pretty fed up too: how many “we tried as hard as we could to get the stain out but alas” notes do they have to include before Jolly Old Saint Nick realizes that red velvet and soot DO NOT MIX?  Anyway back to generosity and devotion… you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.  Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. There would also be no ‘Atkins Diet’.  Why?  The man CHOWS DOWN on cookies, milk, and hot chocolate for 24 hours – ACROSS THE GLOBE! – It’s a veritable high fructose corn syrup orgy.  When he gets back to the North Pole, his glycemic index is THROUGH. THE. GINGERBREAD. ROOF.  All of a sudden he’s yelling “Mama Claus?  I want SALAD.  Broccoli.  Tofu.  THINK GREEN.”  Green?  WE LIVE IN THE NORTH POLE.  The term “Winter White” wasn’t invented for nothing.  The daylight lasts like 35 seconds.  Is it dreary here?  It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. And for the record, Virginia ROCKS.  Especially Richmond.  Particularly south of the river James.  But no Santa?  There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. But frankly if we wouldn’t have to live through Middle School, that would be OK.  I think EVERY KID would be happy to trade a bit of poetry for skipping middle school.  But NO SANTA?  We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.  Yup, that eternal light thing.  I heard you lost it for several days after Hurricane Irene.  We had reports parents – without TV or internet in their powerless neighborhood – had to resort to the most base and savage of methods to stay alive: they had to GO TO THE LIBRARY.  They got confused by the books (no, they are not kindling) but it was a great place to charge the iPod and surf the net…but I digress…

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! Actually, there aren’t any fairies in the North Pole.  There are, however, elves.  And they are particularly demanding.  They have to make all the toys and they gripe about the hours, poor working condition, and even convinced one to become a Union Dentist.  No lie. Have you seen Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer?  Hermie is the real deal.  He does cosmetic dentistry and is working toward certification in orthodontia. Raffled off a custom whitening tray to raise money for the Island of Misfit Toys.  Did his thesis on the overbite of Bumble, the Abominable Snowman.  But back to you Virginia, and your question about Santa.  You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Honestly, it would prove nothing because – and I have this on Santa’s good opinion- most of these ‘watchman’ dive into the cookies and milk for Santa and are in a happy food coma by the time Santa is making his rounds.  Nobody sees Santa Claus, because eating excessive loads of sweet carbs brings on blissful sleep, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. As we all know, trying to prove a negative is most troublesome.  The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Typically, that involves the santa coat draped on the back of a chair instead of hung up in the closet.  And unmade beds.  And trash that needs to be taken out without being asked.  Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, because Fairies don’t live at the northpole and if they did and they were dancing on the lawn, they’d perish of frostbite.  But that's no proof that they are not there. And neither are pigs in flight.  Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. Well, Steve Jobs tried, which explains the plethora of iPads in Santa’s sack.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but if you do that, your mom is gonna be really really really mad.  She can handle the socks on the floor the garbage that needs to go out, but don’t – DO NOT- mess with the cranky infant’s toys… but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. And that’s because those big strong men would have to hoist themselves from the couch, fling the remote away and say “NO NFL TODAY!”  Yeah right, like that is gonna happen.  Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond ESPN Primetime. Is it all real? Oh for heaven’s sake yes it’s all real.  Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. But… before you get your presents, please go to a dictionary and write out a good definition of the word “abiding”, and use it in a sentence that could be used on terra firma south of the north pole.  I’m just looking out for your SAT scores, girl, NOW GO GET ‘EM!

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. However, he will make this glad heart of wifehood elated if he avoids the sooty chimney’s, uses the front door, picks up his dirty socks, and trades the cookies for the Reindeer’s carrots.

Merry Christmas Virginia and God bless us, every one.

Mrs. Claus

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Occupy Pepper

I am the 99%.  I’m just like you and citizens everywhere who pay their tab yet have limited access to an abundant resource horded by the 1%.  I’m talking about Pepper.  We’ve all been to a restaurant.  The Salt is freely available, but of course we’ve been briefed for years on the ills of too much salt.   Pepper, however, is a different matter.  When you get your salad or your entrée, the server will appear with a pepper grinder the size of a Louisville Slugger and ask “Would you like some freshly ground pepper?”  Then the pepper grinding ceremony begins.  You sit expectantly as the ground pepper appears on your dish.  The server looks at you at first expectantly waiting for you to say ‘enough’.  However the expression changes to one of abject suspicion as the grinding continues.  Any more than 3 twists of the grinder and their internal alarms go off.  After all: you’re not doing the work for the pepper; you’re just expecting something for nothing.  Personally, I feel the whole thing is a childish exercise.  I am perfectly capable of seasoning my own food.  I don’t need to sit there while someone does it for me any more than I need him or her to cut my meat into bite-sized pieces.

Why is that pepper grinder so big?  Whole peppercorns are tiny, but pepper grinders are enormous.  Why is that?  It’s not like we’re splitting an atom here, we’re smashing up a little dried dot of nothing. We recently had dinner at a restaurant in Staunton, and the pepper grinders were – of course – unavailable for us at the tables.  They were also enormous, about the size of an average arm.  They could have easily been used at batting practice, or converted into a floor lamp.  The evil pepper-hording management stored the grinders on a large rack attached to the wall, a veritable arsenal of spice-grinding majesty in full view of the pepper-deprived population.

And why are these giant pepper grinders only found in high-falutin’ bourgeois restaurants?  Restaurants that cater to those with smaller wallets have salt and pepper on the table.  Of course, the pepper is pre-ground and tastes like dirt.  The little guy always gets the shaft.

Why can’t we use them ourselves?  Is there some kind of liability attached with grinding pepper?  Is it a dangerous activity?  Has the government issued some kind of mandate rationing our access to freshly ground pepper?  Is this more big government creep? Or is it just management being stingy?  Or is it both?   I sense crony capitalism at work for sure.

Maybe it’s an industrial conspiracy to addict the consumer to salt.  It’s freely available.  The more you use it, the thirstier you get, the more drinks you order.  Salt is the cash cow.  Pepper doesn’t make you thirsty.  At best, it’ll make you sneeze.  You’ll be using more napkins and costing the restaurant money. 

We need to fight this injustice.  Why?  Because it can only get worse: the next thing to go will be the fresh parsley garnish.  OCCUPY PEPPER GRINDERS!  Demand that there be a redistribution of pepper grinders to diners across America.  When you go to a restaurant, grab that grinder out of the server’s hand and use it yourself.  Demand every table be given a grinder. Protest corporate greed at establishments with limited pepper access.  Rise up I say, Rise up!  POWER TO THE PEPPER!…Paprika! PEOPLE!  Now:  pass the salt, and order me another drink.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


9/11/11   9/11/01

I don’t remember the weather in Orchard Park, NY that day.  People in New York City remember their morning as ideal.  “Crystal clear blue” - how many times did we hear that description?  It was like that this morning in Richmond: quiet and peaceful.  Just like that day.  10 years.  I’ve just gotten up and made coffee.  I turn on the memorial at ground zero in New York.

* * *

I’m working in my home office.  I go to the kitchen for a cup of tea, and return several minutes later.  The red light on my phone is blinking.  It’s a message from Michel, it’s simple and direct: “Turn on the TV.”  I turn on the small set on a shelf above my desk that is normally off except for news.  I can’t figure out what I’m seeing: black smoke billowing out of the World Trade Centers.  I call Michel.  His admin answers and I must sound frantic.  “Don’t worry, Michel is OK, he’s not in New York today.”  I say “Yes, I know that.”  Of course I know that, I’m his wife.  It is then that it occurs to me that he frequently goes to the World Trade Centers to meet with State Tax Attorneys.  She puts me through to him.  “What is this? What am I seeing? What happened?”  He answers my question.  I don’t understand.  He says the same sentence. “Planes hit the World Trade Center”.  I can’t understand this, I can’t process it, his grammar doesn’t sound right.  It’s the word ‘Planes’ that keep tripping me up, the plural nature of it.

* * *

It’s a beautiful day there today.  8:46 am.  A single bell tolls. The families are there and I’m struck by these people and how they are dressed: some are in their Sunday best, others in more humble attire, t-shirts emblazoned with a memorial image or slogan.  Many carry photos of their smiling family.  The people in these photos died in terror; there is no hint of it in the images, they didn’t know.  They are frozen moments, hundredths of seconds in time.   The families slice across ethnic and social strata; they all occupy a common class, bound in grief in thousands of different memories.  Obama speaks, Psalm 46.   Bush speaks, Lincoln’s  letter to a grieving mother.  Giuliani, more echoes.   And then they start the heartbreaking roll call.    This never fails to break my heart.  The names, so many names.  They are read one at a time; it will take hours I think.  I wonder if it would be more poignant to have each name read at the same time as the others by thousands of those left to mourn them.  A cacophony of despair, a towering vocal babel of their loss and mourning.  These names are so varied, some are so common, dare I say American?  No, that doesn’t  fit.  The day after the attacks, a French newspaper said “Today, we are all American”.  I’m struck by the name “Adams” read over and over again.  Could they be related somehow to the Nation’s founding father?  Others have syllables and consonants that would make my tongue cramp.  Did the whole world perish that day?

* * *

My eyes are glued to the set.  The South Tower falls.  The newscasters talk about it being surreal, like something out of a Hollywood action movie, but it is horrifyingly real.  I wonder how many people are in there.  Tom Brokaw said something like “Thirty Thousand”.  The hospitals are mobilizing, every ambulance on call.  The Red Cross puts out a call for blood. Emergency rooms wait for the wounded.  Cardinal Egan is giving last rights on the sidewalk.  They switch to field reporters covered in ash and grit.  It occurs to me that I’m supposed to fly to Boston tomorrow for work.  There is no force in heaven or on earth that will get me on a plane in the near future.  I pick up the phone and call my best friend and colleague BJ.  “You’ve seen the news.”  I say this as fact.  He answers quizzically “What news?”  They’d lost their internet connection before nine that morning.  They know nothing.  I tell him about New York, about the gaping fiery hole in the Pentagon.  I’m frantic, frightened.  I tell him I will not get on a plane.  He reassures me that the safest time to fly is right after a hijacking.  He can say this with detached logic, it’s just a concept right now; he hasn’t seen the images yet.  My eyes are on the TV.  There is a report that another plane has crashed in Pennsylvania.  I gasp for air and scream into the phone “The planes are falling out of the sky!”  How many more will crash?

* * *

The network runs a piece on the firefighters, how they are asked everyday by well-wishers about that day.  It never leaves them.  “The 10 House” , “54 and 4”, nearly 400 first responders were lost, more than ten percent of that day’s death toll came from those who went to the scene to help.  The newscaster is interviewing the last survivor pulled from the rubble.  Jenelle Guzman-McMillan spent 27 hours in the rubble, her head on the body of a firefighter who perished trying to save her and others.  This is her first time back to Ground Zero.  She grips the tissue in her hand and reflects on that day and the decade since.  She has moved on, married, had children.  She finds comfort in her faith; she mentions something about a Tabernacle church.  The interviewer asks her how she feels to be back.  She hesitates, measuring her words.  “We all have to face our fears.” 

* * *
The second tower is gone.  I call my father and break down in tears.  He is quiet.  I’m sobbing, incoherent.  He asks about Michel.  I realize he thinks he was there, that something may have happened.  Reports of where the hijacked planes originate filter through.  Boston, Newark, National or Dulles?  They speculate on the fear of the passengers on board – did they know what was happening?  There are reports of Palestinians handing out candy and celebrating despite Yassir Arafat’s condemnation.  They show pictures.  I don’t understand this. What kind of a civilization is this? This is joy? 

* * *

James Taylor sings “Close Your Eyes” – a lullaby I sang to my own kids over and over and over again.  I feel the tears.  There are many children there, I wonder about the young teens who probably have little memory of the mother or father lost.  I wonder: do they remember only the faces because of photo?  Is there some imprint of them somewhere from 10 years ago?  They open the memorial to the families.   They touch the names etched in the stone.  A young girl does a pencil rubbing: ‘Patrick Qui…’.  Tears on black granite, the names are all they have left that is tangible in this sacred place.

Yesterday I had a thought: what of those working the airport security in Logan and the other airports that day? I used to tell people I was shocked more airplanes weren’t hijacked out of Logan.  I’d flown in and out of it dozens of times and I remember the security being a joke.  I’d put my bags on the x-ray belt and half the time they weren’t even looking at the monitor.   They let those madmen through, they didn’t know.  Were they paying attention?  Were they as complacent as all of us?    Do they carry unimaginable guilt at the role they played?  They were our Maginot Line.

And Bin Laden?  He's gone, dispatched with two bullets from an unnamed SEAL.  I'll admit it: I was happy when I learned he was gone.  Was it joy?  I don't think so.  I don't know.


I look at the clock.  It’s after noon.  I’ve lost 3 hours, I haven’t moved from this chair.  I don’t know what to do.  I get up, and grab my keys.  I drive to our church, Nativity, a couple minutes away.  I don’t do this, go to church in the middle of a work day.  It’s empty, dark and cool.  Light is coming through the windows.  I enter a pew and drop to my knees, cross myself, and bury my head in my hands.  “Please, God…” I don’t know how to pray for what I’m feeling.  I want to believe God can see into my heart.  I get up and walk to the memorial candles.  I light three of them, one for each site.  I kneel again and am so scared, I wonder about all we have lost and what will come.  Later that day I'm home, Madeleine and Luc arrive home from school, ages 10 and 6.  I ask Madeleine if she knows what happened.  She says some bad guys flew planes into buildings.  They watched a little on TV.  Luc doesn’t understand.  He’s 6, I explain its ok, that our military will go get the bad guys.  He asks if there will be war, I answer ‘probably’.  He starts to cry; he thinks bombs will fall in our backyard.  I run and get the globe.  I show him where we live.  Where his grandparents live.  Then I show him where the middle east is, Afghanistan.  “It’s very very far away.  You will be safe.” I’m struck at how certain I am of that statement.  Michel comes home and we look at each other and hug for a long time.  The news comes on, I have Madeleine watch.  The video replay of the plane hitting the building runs.  She says “That’s cool…” and I snap and yell at her.  She says she didn’t mean it like it was good.  I realize she doesn’t know how to respond to this, to process it. I think at 10 years old what she sees is a special effect like the movies. She’s too young and innocent to couple that image with very real terror and death.  She starts to cry, she is scared by my anger and I’m ashamed.  I hold my girl.  What have we lost?

* * *

The coverage of the 10 year anniversary runs a segment on the SEAL unit.  They interview a retired SEAL who now runs the SEAL Team Foundation.  He was fishing that day and contemplating retirement.  He didn’t retire.  The interviewer asks him if he changed his mind because of that day.  He answers “My mind was changed for me.”  When asked if he was deployed to Afghanistan he pauses, his face giving nothing away.  “I was deployed as required.”  The coverage returns to the Pentagon ceremony.  A military choral unit sings ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’… Glory glory hallelujah…Flowers are placed on the benches dedicated to those who perished.  The Pentagon is pristine, there is no evidence – beyond this memorial – of the plane that hit it.  It is unscarred.  They are at Shanksville now.  White granite in a field of grass and wildflowers.   It occurs to me that the terrorists thought to hit the symbols of Americas might: The World Trade Center was the symbol of our economic power, the Pentagon that of our military power, and that fourth plane was headed to the symbol of our government – the Capital Building.  Ironic and fitting that ‘of, by, and for the people’ fought them from achieving their evil trifecta.   And still… all that followed… how much have we lost? That day, members of Congress stood together singing “God Bless America.”  Could they do that today I wonder?

* * *

It’s days after the attacks.  No planes are allowed to fly.  I look up at the sky and it is so blue.  There are no contrails anywhere to be seen. . There were few survivors at Ground Zero, fewer bodies.  They aren’t finding much in the rubble.   Despite this attack, I don’t feel like we as a nation are paralyzed.  I feel like we are galvanized. Today though the sky is blue and American flags fly everywhere.

* * *
Madeleine is 20 and in college.  I text her about James Taylor’s song; she loves it.   She reflects today in simple words “Ten years ago, I was a scrawny little 10-year old who knew nothing of true hate, fear, or profound sadness. In an instant, I learned all three. Ten years later, I'm a not so scrawny 20-year old who knows nothing of life, but will always remember a day in which everything changed.”   Luc is 16 and pays tribute on his facebook page to the young man who worked in the South Tower – a lacrosse player and volunteer firefighter known for wearing a red bandana – who perished while helping many escape.  Jean-Marc was 4 and remembers nothing of that day.  He watches the coverage with me, and I explain – during a re-run of the actual coverage – what was happening, what I was thinking.  I’m sharing this history with him, tell him how I felt that day.  

Memory is thick sometimes.  How do you measure the time before and after that day?  How do you measure what we have lost or gained?  How can you measure the change?  How do you balance these scales?  I don’t know.  I may never know.  I may never understand, there are some things that are just too big.

Just now I look out the window, the sun is shining, the sky is so blue.  I see Luc.  10 years ago he was worried about bombs falling in our yard.  Today I see him, and he’s cutting the grass.

 God Bless America.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Field of Dreams

*Written for the August/September issue of Robious Corrior Magazine

The start of the school year is just around the corner.  We’ll head to the store to buy mountains of school supplies trailing our children who will bear a look of pitiful resignation: the summer is almost over.  However, many will take to the fields for the ritual of Friday Night Lights.  I love high school sports.  It’s a joy to see athletes who have graduated beyond the ankle biter juice box leagues, flinging themselves around the field of play, passionate about sport, really getting it. However, there is always the few who wreck it for the many, who exhibit bad behavior and ruin it for everyone else.  And it’s coming from the bleachers: “REF!  ARE YOU BLIND???? THAT’S A BLATANT FOUL!!!!!”  Yes, I’m talking about the parents.  Not all parents, just the nutty few.  You know the kind I’m talking about: they are pillars of society, hold good jobs, keep their lawns neat, help elderly ladies cross the street.  Put them anywhere near a place where their child is locked in athletic combat and they morph into a seething mass of screaming irrationality.   They know their children’s sports stats thin-sliced to the nth factor, but ask them the name of their son or daughter’s math teacher and they look at you like you’re speaking in Aramaic.  The cautionary tales abound of over-the-top sports parents – their patron saint is Marv Marinovich, who started training his son Todd to be an all-star quarterback at the tender age of one month.  His father wondered how well a kid could be developed if ‘given the perfect environment’.  So he set out to create it forgetting that his grand assumption neglected the very real fact that his kid would eventually have to inhabit a very imperfect world.  I think Todd probably woke up one day and couldn’t even ask himself “what do I want to be when I grow up?”  It was probably more like “WHO do I want to be when I grow up?”  He was just a big grand experiment, an athletic monster to his father’s Dr. Frankenstein.  The kid who was never allowed to have a Ding Dong growing up has spent most of the last 10 years in rehab.  The moral of the story is this: LET YOU KIDS HAVE A DAMN DING-DONG

The truth of the matter is that nothing kills the fun of kids sports like parents.  The remedy is simple: we need to back off and shut up.  Period.  I know whereof I speak:  My name is Monica and I’m a recovering sports parent.  The following are my own stereotypes of over-the-top parents from my years of half-wit, unscientific  and wholly undocumented soccer, football, hockey, figure skating, lacrosse, swimming, tennis, cross-country field research.  Yes, I know: several of the aforementioned sports don’t use fields.  Its allegory, get over it. 

The Early Achiever
It’s a late summer football scrimmage.  Parents are standing along the sidelines chatting, it’s a lovely late afternoon, the sun is just beginning to set.  The air is fragrant with the smell of trampled grass.  If you were to look at the field, you’d see novice football players and 4 coaches trying to coax some form of organized play out of them.  It would – to the untrained eye – look like an exercise in cat herding.  Next to you is a guy dressed in business attire.  He’s shed his suit coat and loosened his tie.  He stands there, unsmiling.  “Look at them.  It’s pathetic.  You’d think those coaches would have prepared them better.  Look – they can’t even run routes.”  You look at him with a mixture of amusement and confusion; you wonder if he’s joking…you say gently, “Yeah, but… the kids are only SIX.”  You hope you see some sense of logic enter the mind of this guy, but NOPE:  you’ve met the Early Achiever.  He (or she) is the guy (or gal) that didn’t make the cut in high school, or made the team but didn’t do anything extraordinary.  He has ‘it’ all figured out.  “It” is the reason why he/she didn’t make the team and usually heavily discounts an absence of natural athletic ability.  And he is still bitter about it.  On any given day his complaints are like a Chinese menu of excuses and the blame will fall squarely on the coaches, the athletic organization, or the mom who organizes the snacks.  This guy may never graduate to full-fledged screaming in the stands because his kid will get sick of the constant grumbling and give up sports for something that will not attract the glare of parental attention, like Accounting.

The Tennis Mom
This sports parent almost exclusively appears on girls’ tennis teams.  They are close cousins to their northern species, The Figure Skating Mom.  They themselves typically belong to tennis clubs and are active participants in the sport.  They are rarely seen out of their own jaunty tennis apparel, and are always well groomed.  They have an overwhelming need to take over the tennis program and turn it into a junior version of the country club.  They have somehow forgotten that parental participation shouldn’t extend beyond the checkbook and minivan.  Some ban their daughter’s boyfriend from attending matches because “it’s distracting”.  Their daughter’s seed on the team is inversely proportional to their mood.  If another girl challenges their daughter for their spot on the ladder, they get so fiercely protective they make Tiger Mothers look like pussycats.  They demand a buffet at each tennis match that typically includes the following list of snacks: “A sweet, a salty, Gatorade, bottled water, sandwiches, 7-layer Mexican dip” which is I believe more food than is needed for all participants in all 27 stages of the Tour de France.  When challenged on the need for a catered affair, they will icily respond “IT’S TRADITION”.  Do not – under any circumstances – reply “So is rampant obesity.”  Jaunty tennis attire is not appropriate wear for a rumble.

The Soccer Mom
Hasn’t this one been done to death?  Yeah, I think so. 

The Lemon
This parent is pretty bitter.  A close relative of the early achiever, this parent’s child somehow manages to stay with the sport.  The child can be gifted or not, a starter or not.  The complaints aren’t usually about the performance of his/her child but about other kids out there, usually those that are better/faster/stronger.  There is an inherent need to chip away at a performance.   The amount of kid-bashing that goes on would make a Child Beauty Pageant Mother proud.  Anything is fair game: their equipment, perceived dedication at practice, performance on game days, their ethnicity, shoe color, parents’ professions, suspected mental defects.  They often accuse other players of cheating.  You can spot these people from afar by simply looking a guy who is surrounded by other parents squirming to get away.  One of my son’s plays the cello, and I tried to imagine a couple of parents engaging in this behavior at an audition.  This is how I imagine it to go:

Parent A: Did you see Billy?
Parent B: Yeah.  You know he’s going to get the first chair, he’s so good.
Parent A: Pfft.  I know, pathetic.  Do you know his private instructor?  NOT EVEN EUROPEAN.
Parent B: Ok, but…
Parent A: And his parents?  They have the orchestra director WRAPPED AROUND THEIR FINGER.  He gets to leave early because of his private lessons.
Parent B: Well, yeah, but the kid is nearly a prodigy, they’re saying “Julliard”
Parent A: With that instrument?  YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.   He doesn’t even have a BELGIAN BRIDGE.
Parent B: Well the music he plays, it’s so beautiful.

You get my drift.

The Thief
When I was growing up, there were these two girls who were incredibly gifted runners.  Ridiculously so.  They were a year apart and were breaking national age-group records in middle school.  Their father was beyond intense.  I mentioned him to my dad a few weeks ago and he replied “He was a monster”.  If the girls didn’t run the time he demanded he was known to hurl empty soda cans at them and scream at the top of his lungs.  I’m not sure if the girls ran out of fear or the need to please but by the time they were seniors in high school these girls who had competed at the national level were washed up, burned out, barely able to win a local meet and rebelling hard against their dictatorial dad.  I competed against these girls and despite their handing me my rump in every single meet, I really felt sorry for them.  I’d see them out on training runs and there was no joy in their face.  They’d be out there pounding the miles with this look of – I don’t know – maybe, uncontained fury.  I always wonder what happened to them.   I couldn’t imagine running with that weight of my parents expectations on my shoulders.   

I used “Mr. G” as an example of the over-the-top parent, and we’ve all seen them out there.  Their kid isn’t necessarily a national caliber athlete – that is wholly immaterial.  What they have in common is that they’ve stolen the dream from their child.  Whatever fun their child had is long gone and has been replaced by the expectation to perform at a certain level for the benefit of the parent.  Somehow the term “extra-curricular activity” is lost in the equation.  They morph from reasonable people to thinking the balance of the earth rests in the outcome of the sporting event.  Their entire ego is wrapped up in it, and if their child (or child’s team) fails, they have failed, they lose too.  They’ve forgotten the meaning of the word ‘spectator’. 

I witnessed perhaps the worst example this at a lacrosse game this past spring when a father was thrown out of the facility for verbally harassing and threatening the referee.  I watched this man – who is probably a pretty reasonable guy – spin up and out of control the further his son’s team fell behind.  His intermittent shouts turned into a full-throttled barrage of insults at perceived missed calls, accusations of favoritism and finally – the coup de grace – threatening bodily harm on the ref.  Finally – after 30 minutes of the screaming (during which a substantial gap opened up between him and the next person) – the ref threw a yellow flag for an offense committed off the field of play.  He motioned for the coach, met him mid-field and said – very loudly – “I want THAT MAN OUT OF THIS FACILITY NOW!”   The father threw his hands up in the air and stomped away before he could be escorted out.  I felt only pity for his son, who was left to finish playing the game.  I wondered how he managed to play with the humiliatingly heavy cloak of his father’s public shame draped squarely on his padded shoulders.  For these people, there is only one cure: DUCT TAPE.

As parents, we need to recognize that our child’s best might not be THE BEST.  And while we may dream of our son or daughter reaching the highest pinnacle of sport, of imagining them standing on the top podium,  belting out the Star Spangled Banner, the camera panning to a shot of you, the weeping parent who drove him 2 HOURS A DAY TO PRACTICE!  WHAT DEDICATION TO THE CHILD!  Cue the sappy music… STOP!!!!  STOP IT RIGHT NOW.  I know, it’s hard, but there is a cure.  Be the ride, the financial sponsor, the reasonable cheerleader.  Let the coaches teach them a bit about life using the field of play as the chalkboard.  Let their teams be THEIR TEAMS; you can cry and cheer for them, not with them, because you are – I’m sorry – an outsider.  Back off, loosen the apron strings, and if you’re sitting on the side lines, for heaven’s sake put away your whistle.  Most importantly recognize your kid’s dream as theirs and theirs alone.  They should have sole dominion over them, they are entitled to it.  And you’ll see that in play – not in sleep as Shakespeare suggests – what dreams may come.

And if you can’t do that, then bring a big roll of duct tape.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ghost Stories

I recently went to Boston for a work-related day trip.  I foolishly left my phone charger behind and I'm convinced this small omission resulted in an upending of karmic forces that caused the delay – and finally – cancellation of my flight home to Richmond.  I found myself in the unenviable position of being at the airport, my iPhone running on fumes, and not even a toothbrush in my possession.   After grumbling to the USAirways representative about the weather (she unsurprisingly grumbled back.  Airline counter people are rarely known for their sunny dispositions), I made my way to the ironically named “Customer Services” desk to try and get a hotel for the evening.  The closest hotel was not exactly close, located in the town of Winthrop.  The hotel wasn’t your generic type of lodging, but an inn that the shuttle driver told me was a converted Jewish Community Center.  I was later to be told it was a converted school.  Regardless, it was a converted something and I noted wood floors throughout and very high ceilings as I made my way to my room with complementary toothpaste but no brush.  When I’d asked for both, the desk clerk went to a closet and rummaged through a small plastic basket.  Apparently they don’t often cater to stranded travelers.  I was convinced my room was a converted squash court and soon discovered that the wood floors, high ceilings, and – I swear - paper maché walls resulted in it having the effect of an echo chamber: I heard people walking overhead and down the hallway all evening.  Voices carried, heels on the floor reverberated; it was like trying to sleep at a Celtics game.

I awoke the next morning having gotten approximately 37 minutes of sleep (none of it consecutive) and felt a displacement and weariness down to my bones.  The weather didn’t help: it was overcast and sprinkling outside.  The inn was without a restaurant and the front desk clerk directed me to “walk two stop signs up the street” to a place called “The High Tide”.  The walk up the street was longer than I’d anticipated, and depressing: every house seemed gray, and trees were dropping blossoms that were mashed and tattered on the damp sidewalk.  The whole place looked tired.  I entered the small town center I saw the effects of the recession everywhere: shuttered up business, empty storefronts.  Peeling signs on stores that hadn’t had a person cross the threshold in many a moon.  One hardware store was still operating, rakes and shovels stacked against the end of one wall.  I opened the door to “The High Tide” and a bell jangled.  Every head turned and looked at me from the counter and I felt like I’d interrupted a conversation.  It was the kind of place that has disappeared from most towns and been replaced by generic chains with food as predictable and unremarkable as the clientele.  It had a long counter with stools, a large grill at one end of the counter,  a few tables, painted blue and white tin signs on the walls touting breakfast specials, the prices taped over many times.  I was clearly a stranger here and after an awkward moment of silence that felt like an hour but was probably more like 5 seconds, I shook off my self-consciousness and made my way to the counter and sat down.  I needed coffee and badly.  I ordered my food and the cook – a thin, craggy older guy dressed in a ball cap and plaid shirt and who looked like the love child of actor Steve Buscemi and Gilligan – got busy on the grill.

These were clearly locals and regulars; they knew each other and their banter easy, their regional accents thick as chowder.  Their dress reflected their blue-collar lives and I couldn’t have been more out of place in my business attire if I’d come dressed as Scarlett O’Hara.  One guy got up to pay his bill, easily chatting with and hitting on the waitress.  I guessed him to be in his 50’s, she a good 20 years younger, and he asked her to go to Vegas with him when he and his brothers take their mother for her 80th birthday.  Apparently, I found the place in the world where an appropriate birthday celebration for your elderly mother is a trip to sin city.  He was loud and standing right next to me and it was all I could do not to turn and just look at him, to see what a character like this looked like.  I somehow had the feeling that he wanted me to, so he could size up the stranger in their midst, quiz me on who I was, where I was from, what I was doing here.

As I was sipping my coffee, I looked around the room and marveled that this place, for the most part, had probably remained unchanged since it opened.  The only exception came when the waitress brought me my juice in a small plastic cup and was hit with disappointment that it wasn’t in one of those heavy contoured glasses found at diners.  The plastic was an anachronism here, a disposable item in a place that had endured the years.  The remaining patrons chatted about the murder of a young boy at the hands of his mother, his body found on a remote road in New Hampshire.  “I just don’t understand it…why didn’t she just drop him off with someone, a relative?”  “It’s like that mother in Houston who drowned her five children….” They debated the topic for a while – never once suggesting that perhaps mental illness was a factor at play in the commission of the crime – and an elderly heavy-set guy two stools down from me finally shook his head and ended the discussion with “She’s not from around here.  She’s from Texas.”  

My food arrived, my plate heaped with eggs, bacon, toast, and homefries.  I could have taken the plate and shaken it and the food would have remained stationary: this café was either unaware or unconcerned with the ill effects of saturated fat.  It tasted good.  Really, really good.  I’d bought a book at the Airport and had it on the counter next to me.  The man, who’d neatly explained the crime as a by-product of the suspect’s geography, looked over and asked “What are you reading?  Is it good?”  I explained that I’d bought it at the airport, but hadn’t started it.  He asked where I was staying and I told him about the inn, and then offered up the information about the wood floors and the noise.  He then offered up that the building was in fact a converted school… and the noise I heard?  He had an explanation for that too.  “Old buildings make noise.  I didn’t used to believe in ghosts.  But then I moved into the house of my neighbors.  She’d died of cancer.  He was so sad that he committed suicide after.”  My first thought is WHY on earth anyone would willingly want to live in a house with such a history.  But being the outsider I just nodded my head.  “So, we had a ghost in the house.  I’m sure it was him.”  He went on to explain that he was an amiable spirit who didn’t like discord.  If he started arguing with his wife or daughter-in-law, the ghost would turn on the TV or make things fall from the table.  “He liked the house peaceful.  He’s not in the house anymore though.  He left when my daughter-in-law moved out.”  He spoke so matter-of-factly, and the only thing I could manage to ask was “Do you miss him?”  He replied with quiet sadness “Yeah, I do.  He was a nice ghost.”

Another man got up and made his way to the cash register.  He saw my book and asked “Whatcha readin?  Is it good?”  This question is evidently the local icebreaker.  The cook and two guys in stools at the other end of the counter started arguing about sports.  Boston fans are passionate about their teams, and it was at this point that I noticed the cook was wearing a New York Yankees cap.  In Boston, this would be the same as wearing an “I Heart Bin Laden” shirt at ground zero.  I couldn’t believe the chutzpah of a chowderhead rooting for the Yankees.  I said – without thinking – “You’ve got a YANKEES cap on?  HERE?  IN BOSTON?  Are you nuts?”  He smiled at me and opened the buttons on his navy and white checked shirt to reveal a Yankees t-shirt underneath.  “I gave up rootin’ faw the Red Sawx in 1968.  What – I was supposed ta wait 86 yeahs?  Fahget it.”  I shook my head “Wow, you must catch a lot of flack.”  He shot back quickly “I cook ya food – no one says nothin” and laughed.  

I paid my bill – where can you get breakfast for $6.25 anymore? – and made my way on the damp streets toward the inn and the shuttle to the airport for my flight home.  During the trek back I had this thought that these were the most real people I’d met in a long time.  But later, on the flight back to Richmond, it occurred to me that maybe they weren’t, that if I were to go back to the café tomorrow, I’d find “The High Tide” long ago boarded up, it’s tin signs peeling and hanging neglected on the walls and discover that the folks I’d met weren’t in fact real, but spirits from another time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Notes on the Run - "Forces of Nature"

*Note: A piece I wrote for the April Issue of Robious Corridor Magazine.  With a few edits.

I don’t know what it is about spring that makes me become so aware of nature. Summer comes and plants grow quickly or whither in the summer sun. In Autumn, the days shorten and the trees take their cue and drop their leaves.   I’ve been through hurricane Isabel and remember feeling helpless against Mother Nature’s ultimate hissy fit and bad air day. Trees looked like a tangle of pixie sticks all over Salisbury. We get the occasional snowfall in Richmond, and on rare occasion an accumulation that causes everything slowdown and we have no choice but to go into a naturally-enforced time out. But for the most part, I tend not to be overly aware of nature. Until spring. I’m aware of it so much in my morning runs – most of which are in the dark. The first portent of the vernal equinox is the faint glow of dawn in the sky coming earlier and earlier each morning. It’s the raw scent of the warming earth and the sight of the daffodils ready for their seasonal debut. Recently at mile 14 of a long run, when my legs were tired and my fun meter near zero, I saw the first blooming tree of the season and those few simple blossoms of purple gave me a lift that carried me through the end of the run.

You can smell spring in the air. It’s the warming of the ground, the damp earthy smell that signals the awaking of it all. The bulbs push through the ground, flowers crack open the husks. Hibernating animals begin their sluggish awakening. I drive past Keswick farms and see the spring lambs. Spring is so restless, so relentless. Mother Nature is like that.  

I think of spring as this quiet awakening – the gentle warming, the patient progress of the plants, the minute or two of extra sunlight as the days pass.   I love the feeling of rebirth after the months of light-deprived sacrifice. It’s the needing only a sweater instead of a jacket, and then short sleeves instead of long. Picking up my son after lacrosse practice and not turning on the car’s headlights. Cooking dinner and still having the sunlight lighting up the kitchen. It feels like renewal, like the real promise and start to the new year.

It’s a morning at the beginning of March. Spring is a couple of weeks away and it’s just a weekend before Daylight Savings time. The sun is coming up earlier every day. I finish the run with my friends and need to run a few more miles on my own. The sky is clear and it is so quiet out but for the raucous singing of the birds. I think they’re welcoming the warming air and the change in the light that makes them start building nests. There is a pair of red finches nesting in the spotlights at the corner of my house. They define the term “spring into action” and think about the irony of the phrase. In a couple of weeks I’ll be stocking up on Swiffers to tackle the yellow-green pollen that will have invaded every crevice of the house, and pop the occasional Allegra to combat my itchy left eye. Yup: that’s the extent of my seasonal allergies: an annoyingly itchy left eye.

But Mother Nature can be volatile. She can bring floods and tornadoes. On this morning it is just before a monstrous 1-2 punch of earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Videos of the disaster show the water overpowering everything in its path, making matchsticks of buildings, picking up cars and buses and sweeping them away without slowing. This force of nature is horrifying and Mother Nature can render us dumbstruck with her ferocity and tempestuousness.   She can make us feel so very small, so very helpless.

On this morning, I don’t think of her destructive power. It’s a calm day, the morning light soft, the sky a bright blue. I hear the birds singing and the air is scented with the perfume of the warming earth. I see nothing but her quiet beauty and gentle loveliness. I keep running toward home, my shadow stretched long in the rising sun.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Notes to Self: Tobacco Road Marathon Race Report


Hey Pfitz.  
Yeah?  You ran yesterday didn’t you… how did it go?
Well Pfitz, despite doing just about every mile of your savagery cum training plan, I didn’t feel fit.  
Get out.  How can that be?
I don’t know.  I just didn’t get my ‘marathon skinny’ going. 
Well maybe if you’d put down the chardonnay and candy…
Don’t get all scientific with meI get it.  But I also think it’s because I haven’t done a marathon in 4 years.  And I was
 I was…
 I was kinda sorta scared. 
First, stop stealing my punctuation.  Second, UP. YOURS.
OK ok .  I know, you’re probably all sore and cranky today.
Meh, my quads are little sore, but I feel pretty good.
See, I told you I trained you good.
Well, you know I missed my last planned 20 with that foot thing.  And that did wonders to sprout the seeds of doubt already sown in my head.
Is this a race report or ‘The Grapes of Wrath’?
You wanna test the ‘Cranky’ part of your “sore and cranky’ theory?
Um no.
Then pipe down and listen, I’ll tell you about the race.
Oh.  OK.  Let me pull up a comfy chair.
Sure, whatever.
Should I order in some food?  You tend to ramble on.
If you wanna keep those kneecaps I’d suggest you pretend you’re mute for a bit.
Sorry.  Carry on.
Thank you your highness.  So, about a week before the race I started to kinda think ‘How am I going to get through this?’
It’s called ‘Taper Madness’, remember?
Well, it was more than that.  I didn’t have any explicit time goals, I just wanted to have a good race and not suffer badly.  I wanted to finish and want to do another one.  I didn’t want to be chanting ‘Never again….never again…never again…’ with each footfall.
I don’t think you could said ‘Never again’ 3 times with each footfall unless you’re talking really fast.
Don’t – DO NOT – make me get the duct tape.  OK, so I started to toy with the idea of Gallowaying the first half of the race.
Galloway.  Jeff Galloway.
Oh, the guy who ran the 10k in the 1972 Olympics?  The guy who is the proponent of the wussy ‘RUN-WALK-RUN’ program?
Yeah.  He was a non-medalist in the Olympics just like you.
Anyway I’d done Galloway when I’d come back from injuries.  And it was kinda fun and I thought “Why not?”  The theory is that it delays the onset of muscle fatigue.  So I made the decision to run at least the first half ‘a la’ Galloway.    I also decided that if it was warmer, it would be smart to keep me from overheating.
Is that all it takes?
You are treading on some thin ice dude.
I know, sorry.  Some days I just crack myself up.  How was the weather?  Was the forecast apocalyptic?  Your track record makes me think you pissed off Mother Nature something fierce.  What – you don’t recycle or something?
I have to agree with you on that.  But apparently, Mother Nature and I are now BFF’s because IT WAS PERFECT.  Seriously.  44 degrees at the start, maybe 52 at the finish.  And the course – THE COURSE!  - 20 miles of it was on a converted rail bed that was mostly packed earth.  So nice to run on!  And tree-lined throughout – near constant shade!  Anyway, here’s how it all shook out:
Michel and I went down the day before and I hit the tiny little expo.  The merchandise was pretty thin and we both cracked up at the guy in a booth who was selling rugs.  Oriental rugs.
Yeah.  Total non-sequitur for sure but gave us a hearty laugh.
After the expo we went to buy Gatorade and bananas.  Then we went to dinner at Bonefish Grill.
What – no pasta?
I can’t do red sauce before a marathon and knew if I got some rice and bread or something I’d be fine.  While waiting for our table we were sitting at the bar tables next to some people who turned out to be from Niagara Falls, NY.  Small world.  Then, on the other side was a mother and son who were running the race.  They were really nice, had a great chat with both of them.  By the time we got our table it was like 7:15 and I was getting itchy to just eat and get outta there.  On the way home, we saw the incredible “Super Moon” on the rise.  Nice way to end the night.

I got up the next morning at 5:00 and the thought of eating anything was nauseating;  I have such a hard time eating in the morning.  I made some coffee and then mixed some Gatorade and chia seed gel with it.  I’d bought bananas and instant grits but the only thing I could manage to eat was some of Robin’s granola bars she’d made for me and the Gatorade/chia mix.  It was not a breakfast of champions but I typically run on a mostly empty stomach.  My plan was to supplement along the way.

Michel drove me to the start at the USA Baseball facility – I got there with about half hour to spare.  It was 44 degrees out and I was wearing my bike-style CW-X shorts and a fitted tank.  20 minutes before the start, I ditched my jacket and pants giving explicit instructions to Michel to meet me at the finish with them.  The race gets two thumbs up for having ample port-a-potties for sure.  On my way there I saw the sign for the Beer Garden after the finish.  My only thought was there has to be an easier way to score a couple free beers than running 26.2.  The race does get a thumb down for starting late.  The Half was supposed to go off at 7:00, the full marathon 15 minutes later.  The half didn’t go off until 7:15 and by then I was really chilled.  When we lined up for the start of the marathon, I picked up a ‘throw away’ sweatshirt from someone in the half and put it on to stay warm.  My only thought was that Robin the germ phobe would be horrified.

The gun went off at around 7:30 and off we went.  I started easy and at eight minutes and 30 seconds my watch beeped for me to walk for a minute.  I was very self conscious and made sure I walked off the road so as to not impede runners.  I just KNEW there was someone out there sneering at me, but I just kept thinking “Yeah, and I’ll see you at mile 20.”  Ahead of me, two women stopped to walk as well.  At the two mile marker, I stopped for my minute walk as did the two women.  They were also doing walk breaks.  At this point I was looking for a darn port-o-potty with all the gatoarde I’d consumed.  At mile 3 we turned off the roads and on to the American Tobacco Trail.  It was really pretty – nice packed surface and lined with huge pine trees.  At mile 4 I finally saw 1 port-a-potty and by the grace of God a woman jumped out just as I was running up.  In and out and no wait.  I exited and 100 yards later saw Michel in the throng of spectators, gave him the thumbs up and kept going.  I looked for the two woman and saw the hot-pink top of one of them up ahead.  I passed the 4:15 pace group in which my new friend Sondra was running.  By mile 5 I’d caught up to the other two woman and we walked together.  A guy ran buy us and said grumpily “You’re impeding other runners.”  We weren’t walking 3 across at all – he was just a running snob.  We started running again and passed grumpy guy.  At our next walk break we walked single file and he went buy us.  I’m sure he was feeling a bit self-conscious that he’d said something to us and we kept passing him with reckless abandon.  About this time the lead runners had looped back and they went flying buy.  I still get a thrill seeing people run so fast with such apparent ease.  Lots of cheers from the crowd.   We hit the turnaround at mile 7.5, and I looked at my watch split of 1:10:27.  I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t faster, but I hadn’t been paying attention to the splits.  I remembered Galloways benchmark that you lose about 15 seconds a mile with the walk breaks, but the math wasn’t quite working out.  Oh well.  I kept running and at this point one of the two women – Christine – and I had separated from the other.  She asked me if I thought we could break 4:00 and I told her we might.  At this point I did glance at the average mile pace for the running portions and saw they were in the 8:40’s and 8:50’s and I thought we might have a shot to make up some ground.  We were still playing ping-pong with the grumpy guy and he was starting to look hot and sweaty.  We saw a woman who was dressed up in St. Patrick’s day gear and I noted I’d seen her pass her on the way back from the first turnaround and that we’d made up some significant ground on her.

At mile 11, we passed the spectator area and I tossed my hat, gloves, and arm warmers to Michel.  My legs still felt very good, very fresh.  At that point I made the decision to Galloway until Mile 20.  I looked forward to the rest stops and it made the miles just fly by.  In mile 12, Christine and I dusted grumpy man for good.  She was in good spirits as well and we hit the half at 2:03 and change.  I knew a sub-4 was probably out of the question but I really didn’t care.  It was here I clicked ‘stop’ on my garmin instead of ‘lap’…and I didn’t realize until a good 30 seconds later.  DAMN. 

At mile 15 there was a long incline – not steep, but there.  And then at mile 15.8, my Garmin lost its signal.  It’s amazing how easy it is to get hooked on the technology.  I didn’t know what my running pace was so I just told Christine we’d have to go on feel.  We crossed the main road to the other arm of the trail.  We saw the 22 mile marker on the other side.  I said to Christine “3 miles out, 3 miles back.”  At mile 17 I saw Michel again at the spectators section.  I hadn’t expected to see him there and it was a nice surprise.  My legs were starting to ache just a little.  It seemed like we were on a perpetual incline and I made the comment that it would be nice on the way back.  The trail was just so beautiful and we saw some spectators who had with them a very large GOAT.  Not something you see in a marathon every day for sure.  At mile 19 and change we made the turn around and hit mile 20 at 3:07 and I quietly told Christine that sub 4 was pretty much out of the question; she was on pace for a monster PR and she was totally fine with it.  My goal had been to finish anywhere between my PR of 3:48 and my PW of 4:10.

It started to get hard. I sent up a prayer for a friend’s mom who was recently diagnosed with cancer.  This mile was for her.  I put on my iPod but it was more of an annoyance and I took it off after a couple of minutes.   I was looking at my watch for the interval distance and we were both getting quiet.  I started to think I was losing it a bit because I felt like we were on a perpetual incline – I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.  I thought of my mom quite a bit, thought of when she was dying and how much harder that must have been on her than what I was feeling.  I felt her with me out there; I could imagine her voice so clearly.

 I’d been good about hydrating and taking gels, but my legs and hips were aching.  At mile 21 I heard a “Go MONICA!” from the other side of the train and saw Sondra – she was running a hell of a race!  At mile 22 I saw the lady I’d met at the Bonefish grill.  I realized I didn’t even know her name.  At the mile 23 water station I took a cup of Gatorade and my stomach rebelled.  I grabbed a cup of water and drank it down but I felt the wave of nausea rip through me.  At the turn onto the main road with 3.2 miles to go, Christine’s husband Stuart jumped in.  He’d run the half and was pumped up and chatty and said “Think of the PIZZA at the finish!!!” I thought I would vomit.   The running was now a grind.  A woman was holding a sign that made us all laugh:  Bloody nipples turn me on.  My left foot was cramping in the arch and my left hamstring felt like it was going to seize at any moment.  My thighs and hips were very sore.  We’d been shielded from the elements on the trail, and when we turned on the road we got a face full of wind followed by an uphill.  I used my arms as much as I could and made a crack to Christine “That wind wasn’t really necessary was it?”  I wasn’t even looking at my pace, just the distance left to the next mile marker and the walk break.  Christine’s husband was chattering away and she finally said “Stuart: stop talking, it’s annoying me.”  It's amazing how little tolerance you have for anything when you're uncomfortable.  After the mile 24 walk break, my legs hurt to start running, my left foot cramping even more.  I had a couple dark moments, wanting to just break into a walk and thought “Banish them, banish those thoughts.”  The nausea was irritating.  At mile 25, we did the quick walk break and that mile and a quarter seemed very long.  At 25.3 I said “less than a mile to go!”… at mile 25.6 I said “less than 3 laps of the track!”  Christine slowed just a bit and I said “Come on girlfriend, I’m not crossing that finish with anyone but you!”  We passed the mile 26 marker and kept running.  Up ahead we saw the 13 mile marker for the half marathon and a turn and I said “there it is!  A tenth to go!”  We made the turn and Christine said “Come on MONICA!” and we both ran as fast as our tired legs would carry us.  I saw 4:07 on the clock, and I had a momentary wave of disappointment: I thought I’d come in under 4:05.  It didn’t last.  I crossed the finish line and stopped and bent over.  My legs and left foot just ached.  I was so happy to be done running.  I gave Christine a big hug – she’d run close to a 50 minute PR – and got my finishers medal that I joked was the size of a hubcap.

Pfitz: So… what were your splits?
Well, I’m kind of amazed.  As much as I hurt those last 3 or 4 miles, I didn’t really slow down.  My first half was in 2:03:21, and my second half was in 2:03:53.
Well, you can’t complain about consistency.
Nope.  Now that I’ve kinda figured it out a bit, who knows?  Maybe I can run faster.   It was kinda fun.
And the beer at the finish?
It was most excellent Pfitz, most excellent.