Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not Running as I see it...

So it's not secret that I hang out with some odd ducks. And that is true through out the course of the day. Any given day, I can find myself in rather unique conversations regarding the existence of Birdmen (part bird part man), 1970s Playgirl models, and what unicorns sound like when they are being intimate... and that's just this week.

But it is also true that I have learned, to a degree, how to avoid some of the more bizarre conversations that I used to get sucked into.

The first lesson I learned was given to me by an old friend, who imparted the often repeated wisdom that, you should never ask a question that you aren't prepared to hear the answer to. This one was learned from hard won experience, none more so than the time I asked a male co-worker how their summer was. The question was innocent, the answer was not. I'll spare you the gory details, but I will say this, that you don't know awkward work conversations until you've heard a man you barely know tell you all about his wife's fallopian tubes, and use words like "ureteroscopy".

Needless to say, on the first day back to school this year, I stuck with the succinct and polite, "Good to see you" greeting.

The second lesson, aside from asking questions you may end up regretting, is that there is such a thing as being too honest.

And while the other lesson became clear over the course of the grossest fifteen minutes of my life, this one took all of fifteen seconds.

I was standing outside my car in Center City one night, that time of night where everyone is driving around in search of the one parking spot still available in the city. I was standing there waiting to move my car, though I had agreed to let my brother move his car into the spot I was soon to vacate. I was positioned over by the driver's door when a man pulled up in a car, rolled down his window, and asked if I was leaving. For whatever reason, I decided to be honest.

"I am leaving, but I'm sorry I promised my brother he could have this spot."

I gave an apologetic smile... he did not.

"Well fuck you then!"

But I bring up these stories for one reason, that it's one thing to learn a lesson... it's another thing to remember them.

Cause you see for the last two weeks, I think I have violated both of them quite a few times.

You see, in my place of work and elsewhere, people really know me as a runner to the point where it becomes that default question everyone asks, but no one actually cares about.

You the know the question I mean...

Yes, you do.

Either way, I've found myself violating these two rules over the past week, both by answering the question people don't care about, and also by being too honest.

"So Dan, how's your running going?"

"Eh, not so great. I hurt my knee."

And it's in that response that the mistake occurs. You see, I should just say, "Fine.", or "It's going well". But I don't. Instead they realize they will be forced to ask a follow up question, and I watch as their face changes to the same one you made when you realized that the 7th grade volleyball game you agreed to see just went into overtime.

But because I've spent a good amount of time talking about being injured, and subsequently unable to run, I've also been doing quite a bit of thinking about it.

So here are the things that, ironically, I've learned while not running.

1. Laundry-

I guess this should have been painfully obvious, but it seems as though without running, my laundry experience has gotten infinitely easier... It turns out that not everyone has to do their laundry in the middle of the night to avoid the judgement of roommates or neighbors within a 20 mile radius.

2. Free Time Ain't Free-

It seems that one of the byproducts of being busy running every afternoon is that it keeps you from having too much time to buy shit you don't need. Nothing is says "manly" like pumpkin scented plug-ins.

3. Walk and Chew Gum-

So instead of running I've taken to swimming, which is great... and by great, I mean not great. I guess I've taken for granted how easy it actually is to run. I mean, literally, how easy it is to put one foot in front of the other. And because it's so easy, and requires so little concentration, it allows for a certain amount thought to occur on it's own. Not the case while swimming. It seems it's quite a bit harder to think through Obama's election strategy while doing laps. Turns out all it takes to derail my train of thought is require me to remember to breathe.

(Insert joke from my father here...)

4. I Hate Runners-

Okay, maybe I don't hate runners. I just hate them between the hours of 5pm and 7pm, when they are running and I can't. I hate them all, especially at red lights on my way home from a long day at work, as they jog by the front of my car, and my foot fights the urge to fly off the brake and hit the gas.... HAHA, just kidding... but no, seriously, I would avoid the Graduate Hospital area between that time for the next few weeks... haha...

5. Running Isn't Just About Running-

I guess I took for granted that running, as it exists in my life, is actually more than the act of running. And I don't mean that in the existential sense. I mean it in the literal way. It's where I see my friends. It's the way I start my mornings. It's the place I find a small kernel of faith in the human spirit. Okay... maybe that is a little existential.

And lastly...

6. Running Away-

I guess more than anything, I've learned a little bit more about maybe not what I am running for, but what I am running away from.

Cause while I use quite a bit of space on this blog attempting to define what I or, as I would hope, we all are running for, it seems that may only tell half of the story. Cause, as I see it today, it might be just as important to define what I am running away from. And if I had to answer that question, the answer would seem to be rather simple.

Myself.

But not necessarily in the way I would have guessed a few years ago. I would imagine that if you asked me a few years ago what it would mean to run away from myself I would answer with words like "demons" or "past", though today I'm not sure thats true.

Today it's not nearly as complicated. Today it's just a simple as running away, or taking a small break from whatever is going on in my life, from whatever happened in the preceding hours of the day, good or bad.

And it's not even that I need time to think about my problems or how to solve them. Quite the opposite actually, it's time for me to think about nothing, to think about anything.

And that's what I miss most of all.

Not the hills. The training. The speedwork. The fall breeze. The sneakers. The sweat. The races. The showers. The routes. The green lights. The pace. The headphones. The streetlights. The car horns. The exhaustion. The mileage.

No, what I miss most of all is the freedom.

The freedom from the one thing I need to get away from the most.

The freedom from myself.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Titanic Thompson and the Tale of Faith

As the story goes, his name was given to him back in 1912, roughly around the same time that the Titanic sunk. He had just finished beating another man at a game of pool, when he allegedly offered to let the gentleman win it back. A man by the name of Snow Clark, quickly accepted the opportunity to win back his $500 dollars. Clark bet the man that he couldn't leap over the pool table without touching, the man agreed to the terms and the deal was on. The man laid down a mattress at the end one end of the table, and took a running start. He cleared the table head first, rolling onto the expertly placed mattress.

And, as legend goes, as he was counting his money, Clark asked the man was his name was. The man ignored him, leaving Clark to mutter this line on his way out.

"Must be Titanic, cause he sinks everyone."

And so, as the story goes, Titanic Thompson got his name.

But I won't be surprised if you have never heard of him, though in my opinion you should have. Because if there was ever a man who's life deserved to be in the movies, surely it was this man.

The story reads like an over the top gangster film, like Boardwalk Empire meets Diehard 3, a story so outrageous that Jason Statham would pass on it. A story that seems to absurd to be true, except that it is... well, at least the legend is.

It winds along with all the hallmarks that we look for in Hollywood dramas, murder, sex, intrigue, set against the landscape of prohibition and the Great Depression, an era romanticized by so many.

Titanic Thompson, or Alvin Clarence Thomas was born into his profession. Gambling. His father was a professional hustler, a trade that would soon be passed down to his oldest son, who in his early teens would leave his tumultuous home life behind to set out on his own.

After bouncing around for a bit, an extremely gifted athletic and coordinated individual, Thompson settled into his first hustle. He would travel from country club to country club betting the wealthy men who frequented them beating them handily at their own game, golf. It was said that he could have turned pro if he had wanted, and was known to bring in $30,000 a year, a very large sum for this period in history. Ben Hogan, the famed golfer, once referred to Titanic as the best shotmaker he had ever seen.

Thompson was so skilled at playing golf, and athletically gifted that his go to hustle involved beating the opposing golfer using his right hand, and then offering to play them double or nothing, playing left handed.

Trick being, Thompson WAS left handed.

It was said that he was a master of calculating the odds, regardless of the game, whether it was a goldf match, or a card game.

The later of which would eventually lead him into some trouble.

And true to it's hollywoodesque script, Thompson's life would not be without violent intrigue. As the legend goes, Thompson killed five men. Two after a poker game, when they attempted to rob his winnings. Two more in a similar fashion on the streets of St. Louis. And one more taking place after a dice game aboard a boat owned by Titanic.

But not all of the violence surrounding him, included him. He was also famously involved the night that Arnold Rothstein was killed. Rothstein came to fame after being an integral part of the Black Sox Cheating Scandal, where the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. Rothstein played the role of mastermind, and bank roller.

Rothstein was also known to be a big time gambler, so naturally the two men overlapped for one night in 1928. Rothstein was murdered after a poker game after refusing to play his debts, claiming that the game had been rigged. After attempting to leave he was shot, allegedly, by George McManus, who would later be acquitted. The game itself had been organized by another man, a man who in conjunction with Titanic Thompson, had, in fact, rigged the game.

Which also happens the be the reason that I bore you all with the story of this man's life, it's in this last portion of the tale that I find worth noting. Cause you see, for all the gambling Titanic Thompson did, he was famous for only betting on the sure thing. Whether it was his knowledge of the odds, his superior athleticism or just plain old cheating, he only bet when he knew he could win.

He never risked anything, or needed to have faith in the outcome, cause he already knew the outcome.

And, in some ways, that's where I've been for the last week or so.

Cause, I guess, I pride myself, specifically on this blog, for being a pretty optimistic person. But, if I'm honest, for the last week, I haven't really been to optimistic about certain outlooks. And it's in these moments that I found myself, not only getting down on myself for not doing so well, but additionally beating myself up for having a lack of faith.

But I guess that's the lesson of Titanic Thompson.

Cause I think, in some ways, faith gets an unfair definition. That faith should always exist no matter what, that we should always have a deep, stalwart faith in something.

But I'm not sure that's right. I'm not sure that we don't get faith and belief confused sometimes. Cause to me, as I sit here now, I'm not sure they are exactly the same thing. I think faith is something we have in the absence of belief. I think it's something we have when we really don't know. It's what we need when we don't believe.

Cause it's easy to believe that everything is going to work out, when we already know the outcome. It's harder to summon the faith when we don't.

It's what we need when we don't know if we can stop hurting ourselves, when we don't know if we should send in that resume, when we don't know if that pain in our knee is going to get better in time.

And that's where I am, if I'm honest. Dealing with the harsh realities of trying to have faith, when I really don't know the outcome.

But it was in the course of writing this that I remembered one other thing about faith. Something that an old friend once told me, something that he taught me about faith, something important.

That while it's true, that faith may be hard to come by, the one thing about it that sets it apart from so many other things is this simple truth.

That sometimes, even the tiniest bit of faith is all you need.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Shit I'm Feeling

I'm feeling like writing a blog that will probably make no sense.

I'm feeling the lyric "With this pen I thee wed..."

I'm feeling the anticipation of driving in a car with the heat on.

I'm feeling the way friday nights used to feel when I had no one to call.

I'm feeling 4th and 5th period counseling sessions.

I'm feeling the pain in my left knee.

I'm feeling the effect of the words I chose not to say.

I'm feeling the complexities associated with checking a bag.

I'm feeling like myself today.

I'm feeling the early morning breeze.

I'm feeling a pen behind my ear again.

I'm feeling friends who send me shit to read.

I'm feeling like I use the word "fuck" too much.

I'm feeling like I shouldn't stop typing.

I'm feeling the advil, and the co-workers who walk to their car to get it for me.

I'm feeling too old for this shit, and feeling too young to feel that way.

I'm feeling a small cut on the inside of my cheek.

I'm feeling rolled up sleeves.

I'm feeling a sadness, like the silence that comes after the siren speeding outside your bedroom window, and one that I'm not sure I ever want to go away.

I'm feeling the weight of good decisions.

I'm feeling like making some shit up.

I'm feeling a trip to the airport.

I'm feeling like a cliche.

I'm feeling like I don't know where all my socks went.

I'm feeling self diagnosis.

I'm feeling not that far way off from the days when my dad drove me to soccer games.

I'm feeling like I want to go home.

I'm feeling the image of the homeless man sleeping on the pavement I walked by this morning as our eyes met.

I'm feeling speaker phone.

I'm feeling open windows.

I'm feeling like the battery in an alarm clock that's currently plugged in.

I'm feeling road rage.

I'm feeling Luther Vandross.

I'm feeling the glow of street lights on the long walk home.

I'm feeling Jewish holidays.

I'm feeling like buying stock in pumpkin scented shit.

I'm feeling like using the word "ephemera".

I'm feeling the stories that were once embarrassing to tell.

I'm feeling that awareness is the first step, and also the most painful.

I'm feeling wireless internet on the toilet.

I'm feeling the T.V. on mute.

I'm feeling like I've got too many stories to tell.

I'm feeling the cinnamon challenge.

I'm feeling picture frames that never seem even.

I'm feeling the sadness of throwing away old underwear.

I'm feeling the wisdom of my mother "it is what is it", in the times it helped, and the times it didn't.

I'm feeling the hatred of the sound of a blender.

I'm feeling like I don't know how I got so many keys.
 
I'm feeling like I spend too much time worrying about how I am feeling.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Four Stories... One Lesson

He was telling me the story. And I was listening to his words, trying to pick up on the ones he wasn't saying.

"Yeah, well you know... it was good", he says through a half-cocked grin.

"That's it?"

"What?"

"That's all you have to say?"

"Yeah, I mean, what you do want from me? It was good." His mouth curls into a wider smile, sucking each ounce of enjoyment out of my growing frustration. I shake my head. Our eyes meet again, and I decide to take an alternate approach.

"Fine, fine. Well what do they have you doing?"

"Ya know? Stuff."

He breaks into a burst of laughter, the one that creeps down deep into his chest, forcing him to relinquish the control over his tempered smile. My head cocks to one side, eyebrows furrow in his direction, which seems to serve as the sign that he has hit his mark, and finally he begins to tell the story.

His words drip with experience, as he recounts his first two days on the job, describing the tasks as though he has been doing them for years. He takes me through his first day, and somewhere between talk of keys and food cupboards I catch a flash of something that leaves as quickly as it came. It came in the moment he looked away from me, his friend for whom he has been messing with for the past five minutes, and peered over at the other member of the conversation. I glance over at the twenty seven year old kid, nearly half Ron's age. And suddenly we're not three friends spouting jokes and ragging on each other as we've been for the past eighteen months.

Suddenly we aren't three guys.

Suddenly we are three men.

And before I know it, like a knee jerk reaction, for a reason I cannot place, I snatch away the moment.

"So what you are saying is that they haven't fired you yet?"

--------------------------------------------------

 "How'd it go, brotha?"

The car door shuts behind him as he plops down into the seat. He lets out a quick moan, his body slinks over itself in a curvature that almost looks painful.

"I came in 8th."

He drops his tennis racket down around his feet, sending the butt of it bouncing against the side of the door.

"8th isn't bad at all!"

"Are you kidding me? It's like second to last place!"

His nine year old apoplexy echoes through out the car. I turn down the radio, getting the sense of the conversation that seems to be about to cascade over the top of the waterfall.

"Buddy, I'm sure you played your best."

He dodges my attempt, and launches into the story. His account paints a tale, tinted with the colors of his age, of unfairness, and cheating. His description putters out between staggered breaths, as it dances on the knives edge of tears.

My mind searches through it's filing cabinets, attempting to locate any magic words of advice from my own childhood that I can use in this moment. Panic starts to rise within me, as none come to mind. And moments before I utter some continued platitude, he cuts me off.

"I can't wait until next week. I'm gonna win." his tone morphs all at once, sadness replaced by resolve with a hint of anger.

And as the shock of his change in attitude washes off, I resist the grown-up urge to temper his expectations, to prepare him for a softer landing.

"I know you will."

-------------------------------------------------------------

The last syllables come trickling out. I let in a deep breath, and let it exhale out, fluttering against the post sub rhythm.

I brace myself amidst the silence that hangs in the air above my dark bedroom. My head lays still against the pillow beneath it. I wait patiently, as the echo of the words I've just said, bounce about the room, expelling their energy of being locked inside for far too long.

The quiet lingers. I prepare myself for the response that surely will follow from the one who lays along side me. I rehearse the phrase, absolving her for not knowing the right thing to say. I breathe once more, awaiting the response.

And then it comes.

No words.

Just a hand that creeps over and squeezes mine. And a soft forehead that lowers itself into my shoulder.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

My eyes peek open. Through the tiny cracks I notice the sky outside my bedroom window seems brighter than expected. I roll over, and fumble around for my cell phone.

"5:18"

"Fuck", I think to myself. My brain launches into a tirade of anger at the injustice of waking up naturally, a mere twenty minutes before the alarm.

Twenty minutes later I am awoke by the irritating sound that some asshole decided to call "Strum". My hand again searches around for my cell phone, and as is always the case, I resume yet another in the daily series of the debate to wake up, or snooze. I weigh the options to sleep in and skip Back on My Feet, or get up now and make it in time for the closing circle, as the lingering soreness reminds me I still cannot run.

I sit up and turn the light on, realizing the ridiculous nature of debating so seriously whether to sleep a whopping twelve more minutes.

A few moments later I am in my car, headed north.

I pull along onto Race Street, briefly cursing the "do not park" posters they've hung along my usual spots. I park and exit my car, hobbling my way over the group at the other end of the block. "Fuck", I think again upon reviewing the schedule for my day at school.

"Fucking Wednesdays"

I say my hello's the group, and pretend to be invested in a quick conversation about when is the best time to take energy gels during your long runs. All the while, I am checking my watch, wondering if I am going to be late to work.

I hear a couple of voices congratulated the final round of runners from completing the morning route, and I turn to see the faces of the men coming back. And taking a step towards them, I suddenly find the spirit to talk.

"Hey, how was your first day at work?"

---------------------------------------------------------

So these were four very quick stories. Four of many, thousands probably, that I could have picked from. Stories that seemed appropriate for me on this particular day.

They are stories that have certain things in common, and certain things that are different. And they are probably stories that mean very little to you, but they do to me.

Cause you see, I can spend a lot of time making things very complicated. I can spend a lot of time worrying, and overthinking some of the easiest things out there. I can spend a lot of time trapped in the fear of what comes next, whether its the first day on the job, a tennis tournament, telling the truth, signing up for a race that kicked your or just waking up in the morning.

But on this particular morning, as I was driving to school, I found myself recalling the words of a wise man.

That no matter how complicated, the first step is always the same.

That the first step to any challenge is to show up.

Happy Boston Marathon Registration Day!




Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

So today was the first day of school, or at least the first day that students returned to the halls of the high school where I work. And this, combined with Labor Day, seems to signify the end of summer. So naturally, I found myself standing and talking with other teachers. We discussed the back to school assembly, the weather, and with a few female teachers we pondered whether the kids were actually growing bigger, or they just seemed to be cause their clothing was, seemingly, growing smaller.

But for the most part, our conversations revolved around the same topic that seemed to dominate so many first day assignments from when we were in school.

"What we learned on our summer vacation."

So below is a recap, a quick review of the things I learned, remembered, and in some cases forgot over the past ten weeks.

I learned that chlorine doesn't do wonders for your hair.

I learned that if you are 100% certain of where you are, chances are you already lost.

I forgot that it's important to check the expiration dates on the back of GU packets.

I remembered that home is where your friends are, and the rest of the time, it's where you keep your TV.

I learned that flip flops may provide you comfort, but your black toenails do not.

I forgot that the only thing worse than running a marathon is training for a marathon.

I remembered that mountains, even ones you've already climbed over, can look dangerously small in a rear view mirror if you drive far enough away.

I learned that it's less about learning than it is about remembering not to forget.

I forgot how much I like the color orange.

I remembered that sometimes it's harder to run downhill than it is to run up.

I learned that winning is better with friends.

I learned that the first rule of gun safety is to not give Dan a gun.

I remembered that running in the rain is nice, and I learned that running in hail is not.

I forgot the importance of dry socks.

I remembered why I love swedish fish.

I learned that it's worth waiting on the East Falls Bridge.

I learned that colored corn starch is hard to get out of your clothes, and even harder to get out of your sinuses.

I forgot that the goal isn't stop making mistakes, but to stop making the same mistake.

I learned that the only thing worse than observing senior citizens lounging in their bathing suits, is observing them in their bathing suits reading "Fifty Shades of Grey".

I learned that the only thing better than getting the baton, is being able to give it to someone else.

I remembered that while I may not always remember that I chose this, it's important never to forget why I did.

And...

I learned that there are moments, moments where you feel as though you are standing atop the thin edge of a page in your life's story as it slowly gets turned. A moment where you feel the end of one chapter, before starting another. 

A rare moment where you are afforded the ability to feel the gratitude for the words that have been written up to that point, and also for the blank page that lies just ahead of you.