Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bad Kitty

I woke up this morning to Conor Oberst’s song “I Don’t Want to Die in the Hospital.” This would be an amazing, significant coincidence if it were on a clock radio, not a CD that I’d cued up myself a few hours earlier. Instead, it’s just significant.

Our oldest cat died in her sleep the night before last. Fiona. Fiona the Terrible, the one with the “Bad Kitty” pendant dangling from her collar like a combat medal from her own personal war with the world. The cat who lived 12 years with me describing her as a stroke waiting to happen and one moment letting me be right for once.

I don’t think Fiona hated the world as much as she felt a need to control it, and lacking opposable thumbs, language or a business degree, did what she could with hissing, spitting, growling and swatting. If it didn’t gain her control – other pets and guests were forever taking it as an invitation to tease, which, in turn, was my invitation to be ready the next 24 hours with the paper towels and Urine-Off – it seemed to give her a measure of satisfaction. Real control came when the house emptied and she settled down and turned into a purring, affectionate, even loving Dr. Jekyll with just enough Hyde to remember the physics of two solids occupying the same space at the same time. The control that she never achieved via tantrum was hers to be had through kindness, robbing the bed, the chair at the drawing board, the newspaper on the table, of their most useful real estate and equally excising our desire to move her and enjoy any measure of comfort or efficiency or control of our own.

There’s probably a lesson there, but not one that any of us ought to be learning. The better lesson is not one of how she gained control, but that she seemed to need it so badly and then threw a clot when she was roughly the cat equivalent of my own age.

She did maintain one crucial, final measure of autonomy. She hated her veterinarian along with the rest of the world, and she didn’t die in the hospital.

Me, I’ve finally got control of my drawing-board chair. My emotions, not so much. 24 hours out, and I miss the little shit terribly.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Steps and stumbles and cross-channel somnambulism

What's that line about the longest journey starting with a single step? In my case, it's a bit of a stretch, that's what it is. Replace "step" with "series of stumbles" and you're getting closer. I just don't have a talent for bolting strong out of the gate. Good thing I'm in it for the long run.
This week officially began the training program for my Martian Marathon, April 10. It was hardly my first week of running, but there's something significant about the first week of the plan.

Significantly disappointing. I was swamped with early holiday deadlines and barely made the first run -- an easy 4-miler -- before I went fully under and missed the second run, another 4-miler. Then I was good until Sunday, when a deep cough and an unprecedented spasm of perspective had me calling off a 12-miler with good friends on a lovely day. Oy. We'll see how Week 2 goes. Today's task is another easy 4-miler, supposedly to recover from the run I didn't do yesterday, but just as useful for seeing if taking the day off nipped the cough in the bronchial bud.
So let's catch up on returning a few comments.

I got a lot of support for my eagerness to set goals, which tells me I'm writing to the right crowd. It's also interesting to see that no one really cares too much what my goals are -- a 7:30 500 freestyle and a 3:30 marathon fall, after all, within an enormous field. And that field is the one between two fields that are impossibly small (elite) and impossibly vast (people who would rather make excuses than efforts). This week I'm closer to the latter group than ever, but it's rare to butt heads with a deep cough and come out on top.

Matt suggests I find a documentary called "Gizmo" (this one?) to put my goals into perspective. I shall. La Professora suggests even shorter films from the "Simon's Cat" series for when I'm busy ignoring my goals. I am familiar with Simon's Cat, and hereby forward the recommendation on to everyone -- it is truly extraordinary animation.

And I got some truly brilliant feedback on my lack of sleep and lack of desire TO sleep. Brilliant, in this case, defined at least in part as "agreeing with jef." First, La Professora cites an article that supports my theory that not all sleep is created equal -- that if you can sleep more intensely, maybe you don't need to spend as much time in bed. And then Elaine mentions that SHE doesn't get enough sleep, either. This is significant because Elaine is hampered by her sleep issues so much that she SWAM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL this summer. After warming up by doing the Catalina Channel swim AND the around-Manhattan swim. This is one piece of unscientific, anecdotal evidence I'm clinging to with all my sleepy might. (And Elaine's own blog is worth skipping a little sleep over yourself, if I may recommend so.)

And, oh, just in case anyone is looking for gaps in my logic (Patty), I'll reiterate that I opted not to run yesterday. And that I slept 9 hours Saturday night and 8:30 last night. "I'll sleep when I'm dead," say the neurotic. "I'll sleep when I need it," says Jef.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No gifts, please. Especially not that one, Uncle Bonehead

Patty and I are forgoing Christmas gifts this year. We wrote a check to the Food Bank instead. I’d love to say somehow it’s our higher morals and self-denial for the greater good, but the motive is just as likely to be the polar opposite. If, closing in on 22 years of marriage, we have trouble knowing what to get each other, the choice of causes is troubling. Either we’ve quit paying each other as much attention as we should, or we’ve paid such good attention over the years that there’s nothing left to get, let alone a place to put it. An even less attractive possibility is a dwindling talent for self-restraint and deferred gratification such that few needs or wants remain vacant by the end of Advent.

Between my own bad habits and decadent coincidence – can I be held responsible if I pre-ordered a nifty aero helmet in August and it arrived somewhere between the lords-a-leaping and the maids-a-milking? – I’m going to give myself credit for higher morals purely out of need to save what dignity remains.

What dignity remains, that is, after I broke the gift embargo at a cookies-only Christmas celebration at my parents’ house Saturday. I received and I gave. I received a sore throat from who knows who, and I gave a boxed set of nightmares to my 4-year-old nephew.

My older sister was taking family portraits, and a 6-year-old nephew was too tired to cooperate. A smile was roundly unprofferred. Some weird-uncle clowning around was in order. My mother had interpreted her own cookies-only edict somewhat loosely and filled the house with the inventory of a small arts&crafts chain. Part of the make-a-reindeer-out-of-candy-canes station featured a stock of those self-adhesive googly eyes – exactly what I needed. I grabbed a couple eyes, peeled off the backing, stuck them to my closed eyelids and pointed my nose in the direction of the Stubborn One. Giggles ensued, the shutter was tripped, the younger nephew ran into the room to see what was so funny, and you could hear the scream as far as at least three of the Great Lakes.

Patty and I will probably continue our gift-free theme for future Christmases. Still not because of any high moral standing; rather, because psychiatrists are expensive, and I owe somebody a good one.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A man's reach should exceed his gasp

Saturday was early Christmas at my parents' house. The place was packed with family and friends, and two in particular were telling stories on me. Patty, who married me 21 years ago, was talking to Kristi, who baby-sat me 21 years before that.

Kristi was explaining that she asked me back then what I wanted to be when I grew up, and that I had had it narrowed down to two options:

Either a cartoonist or a Harlem Globetrotter.

So I've never been terribly realistic. But hope trumps reality half the time, apparently, and that's enough.

I'm still setting goals in pairs. Triathlon training 2010 begins today. Not that I've been loafing all fall. I've been cycling for fun, running for maintenance and fun, and swimming for maintenance and fun and dramatic improvement of my form and speed. But if we want to assign it some official date, today is as good as any. It's the first day of my 16-week build-up to my spring marathon, the Martian Marathon in Dearborn. And that's one of my two goals for this winter: I'd like to finish in 3:30, which would qualify me for the Boston Marathon. It could be as pointless as wanting to be a Harlem Globetrotter -- this year's Boston is full, and I have no idea if it qualifying in April 2010 would get me into the race for May 2011 -- and probably as realistic.

My other goal for the winter we've already discussed, which is to swim the 500-yard freestyle in 7:30. There's a Masters meet in Grand Haven, a couple hours away, on Feb. 21 that ought to time out about right.

I don't know if there's any kind of a parallel here. Will I meet those goals? Will I meet half of them, the way I became a cartoonist but not a Globetrotter? Will anyone be talking about it 21 years from now?

I don't know. But I suspect after I told Kristi my plans, I wandered off either to dribble a basketball or draw pictures, and now I'm off to go for a swim and a run.


Friday, December 18, 2009

These woods are lovely, dark and deep

I don’t sleep enough. I’m told this. I know this. There will always be some dispute between what I’m told and what I know in terms of just how much I’m in arrears. When I do sleep, I sleep deeply, continuously and instantly, a talent that can be, and is, viewed just as easily as efficiency or desperation. Advocates of the two accounts don’t concede much ground to the other, but I notice we both tend to fade during the occasional mid-afternoon at similar rates.

I’ve read the articles. I’ve seen and read Fight Club. I know the science. I know that sleeping more will make me race faster at this point than training more will. I want to sleep. I don’t like to sleep. I feel like crap all day after I get what people deem enough sleep. Is it because I need less sleep? Or because I wait until I’m exhausted before I sleep that long?

One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. One of his best lines is from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, a line I adore because I surely interpret it all wrong:

“… I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.”

It’s the central paradox of my life, it seems. Or at least my nights. The three – promises kept, miles logged* and sleep enjoyed – are not mutually exclusive, not at all. But I have yet to reconcile them.

And that’s probably why I just now found myself following a friend’s link to a very interesting e-book called What Matters Now and reading a page by Arianna Huffington on the importance of sleep, at four o’clock in the morning, laughing out loud a little and hoping it didn’t wake Patty up in the middle of her longer hours of shallower sleep.
* The logo on Frazz's shirt in today's strip (the one about my promises to keep): Training Peaks, the program I use to log the miles I go.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Taunt the gods Monday, get a good smiting Wednesday

As the solstice nears and days get shorter, time compresses and expands in other, less galactic ways. This morning I spent four hours making a 20-minute speech and took two seconds to learn a public-speaking tip I hope to remember for a lifetime.

I was speaking to the winter all-staff meeting of the Michigan Department of Education. The crowd was not only standing-room, it was overflow; my presentation was simulcast into other rooms. (A secondary, kind of warm-up lesson: If you want to pack the house, you can't beat mandatory attendance during work hours.) First I drew a picture while people watched -- I draw pictures all the time, and it still looks like a magic trick when I watch somebody else do it -- and then I unleashed my PowerPoint. Or PowerPoint Lite, I suppose. I don't do spinning letters or fade-ins or anything. I just project comic strips up on the screen and let them build one frame at a time. That way, I can read the strip aloud without people skipping ahead and wondering if it's OK to laugh yet because Mister Slow Narrator is still two balloons away from the punch line.

Hey. These are all educators, it dawned on me. So I did something I've been wanting to do since first grade. I forced the teachers to take turns reciting the material. Each frame I opened, I'd point to a new member of the audience, and they'd read it in the same tentative tone, with the ever so slightly exaggerated diction I remember using when I was called on to do the same thing. It was novel, it brought an interactive touch to the speech, and I dare say I noticed a little excited "pick me, no, pick her, oh, please don't pick me I'm lost" vibe. It was fun. It worked great, until it didn't. So here's your lesson:

If you're going to point to people and command them to read aloud, learn in advance where the delegates from the Michigan School for the Deaf are sitting.

Huge thanks to my friends in the Department of Education; the ones who put on a great program, the ones who enlighten and entertain with their own presentations, and the ones who graciously suffer certain fools. The guy I called on didn't miss a beat. He signed the dialogue flawlessly.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Exit 93, to Hell in a handbasket, recalculating

Patty and I saw an old friend yesterday. We were headed home from the Trizophrenia book-signing at Kinetic Systems (it was wonderful, thanks), on I-75 just this side of where it crosses over Dixie Highway, and there He was: No-Pest-Strip Jesus. It’s a giant portrait, the familiar version of him, all Aryan and earth tones and neatly trimmed beard and long, flowing hair, as if he were modeling for an advertisement promoting the new, myrrh-scented product from Bath & Body Works. The portrait is suspended from a curiously Islamic-looking arch, below a glowing, red, elongated cube that’s probably supposed to be a lamp but looks for all the world like a No-Pest-Strip; and above the neatly lettered, sans serif (and ironically Roman) boldface query, “Are you on the right road?”.

It’s a legitimate question. Sure, you’re viewing it from one of the busiest, best-marked stretches of limited-access Interstate in the Midwest, but you’re also a half-hour from Flint, so you can’t be blamed for having your doubts. And as far as evangelism goes, it’s refreshingly non-pushy. Note that the sign frames it as a polite question, compared to the vaguely bitchy “recalculating” remark I’m forever hearing from the GPS navigator on my dashboard. If the owners of the sign were to ask me for advice – and I’m a little insulted by how rarely the religious world does – I’d suggest they update their technology just a little and replace that lowermost sign with the kind that lets you change the message, so that “Are you on the right road?” might alternate airtime with “Should you really be on the phone right now?” and, say, “What’s with the tailgating, there, Dr. Procto?”.

If this author-cartoonist-illustrator thing doesn’t work out, I might have to think about the evangelism consulting business. I wouldn’t need to put my address on my business card. Prospective clients would need only to follow the lightning bolt.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Odds and ends and underpants

Let's see if I can actually be quick for once, and then get some dreadfully overdue books signed and ready to ship before the mailman gets here. The plan is to catch up on some commentary (that's part #1) and finish with a funny story that's almost as overdue as those books (that's #2, and that was enough of an excuse to link to today's Frazz -- which, you'll notice, is now readable without clicking).

To all the kind folks who encouraged me to print a poster of the strip that was cited by Brian in his Carnegie Teacher of the Year acceptance speech, efforts are under way at United Feature Syndicate to do just that. So now the strip itself will be a product.

Speaking of flattering mentions by impressive people, don't miss the interview and review of Trizophrenia in the RunnerDude blog. Then read more of his blog. It's very good stuff.

VeloBen and La Professora  assure me that I'm on reasonably safe legal ground by borrowing St. Lawrence University's seal for Frazz's shirt. I don't know if any jokes that begin with "A librarian, a professor and a cartoonist walk into a legal briefing," but one needs to.

Because this weekend's book-signings at Great Lakes Books in Big Rapids (Saturday) and Kinetic Systems in Clarkston (Sunday) can only accommodate so many people, we have Helen asking if I'm going to be signing books in Ann Arbor soon and PurpleState asking something similar about the Washington, DC area while Noel offers to get me into the pool at George Mason University. Noel has a good radar, because I'm in talks, as they say, with the director of a triathlon just west of DC. And I'm also pretty much confirmed to be a part of an Ann Arbor event in late March. I'm being all cagey and secretive because I don't want to usurp the promoters' right to have a little control over information about their own events. I'll update you as things become official.

Jim Smith II adds to the pile of much-needed and gratefully accepted swim encouragement. Let's lay it out in the open right here and now: My I hereby declare my goal for this offseason (can an off-season have goals? Is that fair?) is to hit that 7:30 500-yd freestyle, a feat experienced swimmers like to call "warming up." I did it at practice just this morning, but I don't think it counts when you do it in 100-yard pieces with generous rest intervals. But it's a start.

Which brings us to the part you've been waiting for, the funny story. After last Saturday's swim meet, I was talking with friend who had had a pretty good day in the water himself, breaking several records, personal, pool and otherwise. I don't remember the exact events, records, or even the guy's name, if only for his dignity's sake. In fact, the only detail I was able to pay much attention to at all is that as he was telling me about all this, he was wearing his towel and blotting the water out of his ears with his underpants. Good to know I'm not the only one affected by cerebral oxygen deprivation after a hard swim.

Okay. That'll do it. Circling tidily to the Frazz episode we led off with: Gotta go.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

One bright Frazz episode

Today’s Frazz comes from real life, and it’s not what you think. Sure, I get as annoyed as the next guy by drivers who seem determined to get their money’s worth out of their bright lights – it seems so selfish, like their ability to drive employing functional vision trumps your ability to drive employing functional vision – but I try to the very wise credo, "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” (This supposedly coined by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, though it sounds an awful lot like Goethe’s "...misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent." I’m tempted to say he stole it, but I’m kind of locked into considering that he probably just thought he made it up and didn’t get around to checking it out.)

No, this came from my friendship with Eric, who is way faster and smarter than I am in spite of (he claims) the world’s worst training and study habits. Maybe he’s right; at least he stands to have inherited some very good genes. I know his mother and she’s brilliant, and his father or uncle or somebody worked with the NIH and was one of the early pioneers in light therapy for seasonal affective disorder. The research timed out such that when Eric was in college at St. Lawrence University, which is as far north as it sounds, he made it through the long, dark winters with the aid of one of those super-bright therapy lights. Unconfirmed reports from NASA suggest you could see his dorm room from space.

So that’s the inspiration for today’s Frazz, and why Frazz’s t-shirt is sporting the St. Lawrence University seal. I hope they don't mind. I didn't mean anything by it. I'm just really incompetent at checking whether there might be any restrictions.

Comment catch-up, the Swim Meet Edition

Many thanks to those – there are tons of you, enough that I have to rudely condense it here (though Anonymous has been oddly silent as of late) – for the encouragement before, and mix of encouragement and sympathy after, my Masters Swim Meet Saturday, particularly my come-up-short 500 freestyle. I’m sad to say I settled no scores in this morning’s time trial during swim practice, coming in at a sorry 8:02. I wore a little timer under my swim cap that beeped at 45-second intervals to remind me to stay on a 1:30 per 100 pace, though what it really did was point out that I can hold that pace easily – and I truly do mean easily – for 200 yards, at which point things get ugly. Maybe it’s lactate, maybe it’s focus, but however murky the causes, the results are pretty cut and dried. So, then, is the plan for much of this winter’s pool training: Lots of short repeats focusing on the form that makes the first 200 go easy, and regular 500-yd time trials to force my brain to learn to concentrate and my blood to clear lactate.

I do owe one commenter a more specific answer, though. Nöel asks about the cat in the photo atop Monday’s entry “Old Doo-Dee-Doo-Dee-Dooteronomy goes swimming.” Something about suspicions of irrelevance and kitty porn. That’s actually one of my own cats, Mars, who sits that way a lot. Who pretty much just sits a lot, if you couldn’t tell from his figure. I needed a cat photo because of the T.S. Eliot references. Eliot wrote "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" -- the musical was based on it -- and Old Deuteronomy was one of the key cats in the poetry collection and the play. And Mars had just the gratuitous “What are you looking at?” visage I needed. As far as porn goes, I'm not sure what neutering or obesity or furriness or alternate speciesness do to one's prospects as an actor in that profession. Word is there's something out there for everybody. And a hyperlink for no one, at least not on this blog.

Trizophrenia book tour information

The Trizophrenia Book Tour is coming together. This weekend I’ll be at Great Lakes Book & Supply in my hometown of Big Rapids, Mich., Saturday from 1:00 to 3:00. And in Clarkston, north of Detroit, at Kinetic Systems on Sunday at 3:00.

I’ll be speaking right here in Lansing again at the Tri-County Bicycle Association meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

At Schuler Books Feb. 25 at their 28th Street location in Grand Rapids.

And scheduled, with details to come, we’ll have a grand old party at Century Cycles in Cleveland on March 5, and I’ll be speaking at the Seattle Bicycle Expo March 13 and 14.

More information as it comes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Old Doo-De-Doo-De-Doo-teronomy goes swimming

I began my racing season, swim phase, Saturday. Before we go any further, let's note the wording of that. "... began my swim season" is a world apart from my previous approach of simply going to the Masters Swim meet near my home as a one-shot deal.

Results were mixed. I can't remember my times specifically, because they only post them on the scoreboard for a few seconds until the next heat starts, so by the time you're done in the cool-down lane, you have to rely on your oxygen- (and in my case, congenitally competence-in-general-) deprived brain to remember it until they post the results online, which they haven't yet. I was hoping for a breakthrough showing so my coach -- who was there, of course -- would know beyond a doubt how much impact his coaching had made, but it was something short of that. Something well ahead of disappointing, though. To borrow from T.S. Eliot in a way I'm sure he never dreamed of, far short of a bang but well short of a whimper.

I can't remember my 200 time, other than it brings to mind an earlier section of that same Eliot poem: "Paralysed force, gesture without motion". Especially during the final lap, when the pool somehow lengthened by 20 yards. I got some great advice from a couple of my heroes in the sport immediately, though(this is where you really get your money's worth out of Masters swimming). I had a better plan for my next event, the 100, and I wasn't even done dripping.

My 100 was 1:15.something, which I think is a personal best, and it felt pretty good. My deckside coaches told me I looked a million times better in the 100 than the 200, until of course it fell apart in the last lap or so, right on schedule. Actually, one of them told me I fell apart on the last lap. Then the other one told me my first half of the race looked great. Then Rich, my coach, congratulated me on my first lap. Fortunately, I ran out of coaches before I ran out of good laps. Also, in general, word was that my body positioning is good -- a huge improvement from my sinking, dragging cyclist's legs as recently as summer.

 My 50 was also a PR, about 33 seconds, but of course in that one my technique was mostly just thrashing. Rich seemed very pleased by that one, mostly that my splits were pretty even. I was surprised to see the improvement in the sprints after stinking up the middle-distance event. And yet to come was the longest one, the event that mattered most to me.

And my 500 saw me come in at 7:50, which was 2 seconds off my best but still disappointing, partly because I was aiming for a 7:45 minimum and a 7:30 as celebration-worthy, but mostly because I finished feeling like I didn't swim hard enough. I can point to a couple of key causes, but they're boring and sound like foolishness or whining or both, so to hell with that. I'll just keep going to more swim meets and see if my typical pattern of stinking up the first race of the season before getting into a groove holds true. At swim practice this morning, Rich said I'm doing a time trial Wednesday. 500 yards. Cool. I've got a score to settle with myself. The groove begins day after tomorrow. Bang.

Side note: My swim-team affiliation, C.A.T.S. (Capital Area Triathlon and Swimming), joined forces this year with the Grand Rapids-area Rays to become the Stray Cats. I didn't have a Stray Cats t-shirt, but between events I wore a fleece from the Humane Society. I hope that was close enough. Thank you very much. I'll be here all week.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Suspense? Oh, THAT suspense.

Tomorrow is my annual butt-kicking at the Masters Swim Meet just up the road in Dewitt. Generally, that meet is a complete no-pressure sort of thing. Suspense? What suspense? I get my butt kicked. I can hold my own in the water against other triathletes, at least on a local or regional age-group level (have I hedged enough yet?), but against people who swim first and foremost, forget about it. Until this year. Now there’s pressure. I've been coached all fall by a guy I've really been happy with. And I should be. If I’ve got my facts right (that’s optional in the blogosphere, right?), he's on the varsity coaching staff for Michigan State University after retiring as head coach at Lansing Community College, where he’s been national coach of the year. He has three sons, all of whom were (I believe) collegiate All-Americans, one of which (I know) is an Olympian, another of whom holds records in Masters Swimming on the national level. He knows swimming. He’s a great guy on top of all that. We click, which is hardly a guarantee with any coach/client combination, and he’s worked very hard with my limited talent. I know I’ve made serious progress in that it’s a whole lot easier to swim the same speed. Tomorrow, we’ll see how well I can suffer and swim faster. I don't want to let him down.

I'll just swim the freestyle events -- any effort at another stroke makes people laugh out loud, really. So, the order is 200 yards, 50, 100 and then 500. I care most about the 500, since there aren’t a whole lot of triathlons where you swim 200 yards or less. My previous best in the 500 is 8 minutes and two seconds. I think I can break 8:00. I already have, during practice. I would love to break 7:30. Mostly, I would like my goggles to stay on when I dive into the water. Pressure. But happy pressure. We'll see how I do.

When I’ve gone under 8 minutes for 500 yards during practice, it was after not having swum 200, 50 and 100 yards flat-out. We’ll see how much of a difference that makes. For the record, and logically, in those events I look like even more of a triathlete who earns most of his goody bag on the bike. My seed times are 2:52 for the 200, 1:17 for the 100, and 35 seconds for the 50.

What’s all that mean? To put my 50 into perspective, at the last meet I raced, Alec Mull – one of said coach’s sons and one of my heroes in this sport – took 10 seconds longer to go twice as far.

To put my 500 into perspective, at that same meet only a few of us did that event. (Seems like more, but that's what's on the results sheet.) One of them finished two minutes faster than me, or, put another way, when I was still only three-quarters of the way done. The other one finished four seconds faster than me, and she was 65. Sure, she skipped the freestyle sprints, but I don't think she was hustling me since she also showed up early and raced the 1000.

So that's what I'm doing tomorrow morning. And that's why I own running shoes and a bike. And a very tiny ego that is nonetheless feeling a little bit of pressure this time.

Catching up on comments

TriGirl Kate O writes that she didn’t have to wait until middle age to live out the happy Saturday morning I had last week: “My uncle was chief of the Dearborn, MI firefighters. Following the remodel of the firehouse, he installed the brass pole in his own house and my cousins and I would have such fun sliding from the second floor to the basement!” Now, that’s cool. Dearborn, huh? I wonder if I’ve raced against Kate. Or if I will. I’m looking forward to meeting in person.

Maybe next weekend! I’ll be signing books at Kinetic Systems in Clarkston Sunday, Dec. 13 at 3 p.m.

VeloBen not only was part of my target audience for this month’s cartoon in VeloNews, he was my quintessential audience. Ben is a cyclist and a librarian. He said more of his fellow cyclists got it than did his fellow librarians. I’d like to assure Ben’s co-workers that I’m equal opportunity. I make all sorts of jokes that nobody gets.

In the education department, David adds to the chorus calling for me to reach for the sky and print up the strip from Brian’s Professor-of-the-year acceptance speech, while Anonymous, a retired teacher with a suddenly lower net worth, thanks me for going after the low-hanging fruit that is Wall Street. I’ll try to do the former, and was happy to do the latter.

Noel writes that I’m not just about gear and races with Frazz’s t-shirts, reminding me that I’ve dressed Frazz in a few shirts promoting non-profits, like his favorite cause, the American Diabetes Association. I also have a tendency to tout some favorite musicians, which I suppose doesn’t stray too far from the non-profit category sometimes.

Jim Smith and Jacob reassure me that sometimes inside jokes are more inclusive than exclusive. Nobody doesn’t get a Frazz joke because they don’t get the t-shirt, but if you put in the miles, or at least look at the right ads in the right magazines, there’s a little extra bonus for you on Frazz’s shirt.

So I’m feeling pretty good right now. Fortunately, we have La Professora to bring me back to Earth. I wrote about La Prof a previous entry, “I think I’d love taking his classes. Wouldn’t be easy. But I tend to screw up the easy stuff anyway." To which La Prof replies: “Like gender?”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The product-placement edition

First things first: There's another great interview with me out there. This one is on the delightfully named "Steve in a Speedo" blog. Not only is it chock-full of great questions - I'll let you judge the answers - it features a contest. Comment on the interview and/or sign up to follow my Twitter tweets (which, note to self, probably time to start sending out some of those tweets) and you're in the raffle hopper to win a signed copy of Trizophrenia.

Onward from there:

Frazz is a triathlete. Readers of my comic strip know this because - duh - I make triathlon jokes from time to time. Readers who are triathletes, or runners, or swimmers or cyclists themselves, are in tune with a more subtle and yet just as solid clue: Frazz's t-shirts. People who pay good money to get up early, drive somewhere and go race under their own power tend to amass t-shirts like the pizza guy amasses parking tickets. We're unlikely to be seen in a t-shirt that doesn't tout an event or a product. Thus whatever shirt Frazz is wearing under his coveralls is likely to have some kind of logo on it.

What started as mere attention to detail has become a fun sideline for me and a lot of dedicated Frazz fans. Those shirts are a great way to nudge friends, indulge in a lame visual pun, or both. Or neither. Readers love to scratch their heads trying to figure out what shirt is wearing. And, given the fact that there's a certain gap between drawing and publication and a similar chasm between my short-term and long-term memory, I'll confess to occasional puzzlement myself. I'll try and remember some of my recent ones, and then I'll try to use this blog with future t-shirts to confirm your guesses, correct your errors or broadcast my own bad memory.

The series on Gourmet magazine coming a cropper had Frazz wearing - fuzzy enough that I'm probably the only one who knows this - a Zingerman's shirt. Zingerman's is a deli in Ann Arbor that must be visited to be believed. Belief, hell. It simply must be visited. New Yorkers travel to Ann Arbor to visit this deli.

Jane's running jacket says "ARC," which is A Runner's Circle, which is a store in Los Angeles. While my cramps and I were hobbling through the last few miles of Ironman Louisville, I met Derek, one of the owners, who was having similar issues. Instant friends. Sure hope his store is as cool as he is, or I'm going to feel silly. Somehow I'm not worried. Frazz is wearing a vest from Schwab Cycles. I met Bruce not limping in Louisville but riding in Italy, and we've been friends since. And I know for a fact his store rocks.

This features no t-shirt, but it's worth posting because it appeared the same day I got to slide down the fire pole (see previous post). I love it when things just fall into place.

53x11 is a brand of coffee AND a bicycle thing. Double whammy! Cycling and coffee have long been intertwined, and 53x11 (the numbers refer to what's the top gear on most road bikes, meaning the chainring with 53 teeth on it and the rear cog with 11 teeth; trust me, it takes some drumsticks to get that ratio up to speed) continues that tradition in style - they sponsor a strong racing team - and deliciously. Also, they have the good sense to hire a friend of mine to do some very fun illustration work for them.

And I don't know why Frazz is wearing a Speedo shirt in today's. Sometimes you just grab what's in the top of the drawer. Or maybe I had a premonition about Steve-in-a-Speedo's interview.

One last series of notes on Frazz's shirts: Yes, I've met some great people after I've nudged them via shirt. Yes, some of those have developed into lasting friendships. Everybody should have a job as good as mine. Yes, most shirts could be an endorsement of sorts; I likely have used, own, have raced in or would love to have owned or raced in whatever shows up there. No, the absence of a logo is not a condemnation of any given product. It may simply be the wrong shape for the opening in Frazz's coveralls. (For example, my longest-running favorite bike shop is called Assenmacher's. I do occasionally fit it into the strip, but I have to wait until I can put it on a bike jersey or jacket.) And while gifts of art and swag have been known to change hands - that's one thing friends do, after all - I never use the strip to troll for favors. Much to the dismay of my father-in-law, who thinks I ought to dress Frazz in sailboat and sports-car shirts until something works. I mean, I'm no Bill Watterson, but neither am I any given pro golfer.

Also, I'm a lousy driver and a little scared of boats.