Thursday, December 23, 2010

Patty's made a little progress

Regarding my previous post:

• Wrapping paper and gift bags have been found in basement rubble (and supplemented with a couple of new purchases from the nearby dollar store—mostly tissue paper) and gifts have been wrapped.

• An appointment has been made with one local doctor, and a Post-it® Note with the name and phone number of the other doctor is sitting on my desk at work. (I'll even give myself credit—I called that doctor, too, but his office was closed.)

• has been checked out per JC Dill's instructions. I hope to spend a little more time with FlyLady this weekend.

It's small progress, but it's progress. Thanks for your help—I’ll keep you posted!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Patty needs help. (Please? Pretty please?)

I'm done with the grumpy mood, more or less. Now I’m just feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I want or need to do.

Unfortunately, I’m a big believer in productive procrastination. When I was finishing grad school, for example, our house always became much cleaner when I had a paper to write or an exam to study for. Closets were de-junked. Drawers were organized. Files were purged. And perhaps now you’re beginning to understand why you’re reading my third consecutive blog entry when I have a laundry list of stuff to do (including, as it turns out, laundry).

So here’s the deal: While I've never been one to make New Year's resolutions, I've always set goals for myself and, more importantly, told other people about them so they could help to keep me moving in the right direction instead of getting derailed by the contents of my sock drawer.

In other words, I need you guys. So if I tell you about my to-do list, will you help to keep me working on it instead of alphabetizing our spice rack?

Here’s my to-do list at the moment:

By December 24:
  • Find wrapping paper/gift bags in basement rubble and wrap Christmas gifts
By January 1, 2011:
  • Back up the contacts on my personal cell phone so I can finally reset it so it will stop trying to sync me with an office where I haven’t worked since March
  • Make appointments with local doctors who have been recommended to me
  • Take the box of books we’re donating to the library to the library
  • Write “Christmas” letter
By February 1, 2011:
  • Mail "Christmas" letter
First quarter 2011:
  • Start swimming again—at least one swim a week in January, two a week in February and (stretch goal!) three a week in March
  • Unpack at least one box a week of the stuff remaining in the basement and either put the contents where it belongs or donate it to charity
There’s more, but I’m also trying to get in bed on time, so I better quit.

Can you guys hold me to this much, at least?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Patty ponders whether Fate is, in fact, a parent

Show of hands: How many of you, when you cried as a child, were told by your parents, "Quit crying or I'll give you something to cry about"?

I now believe Fate is a parent who, when I was grumpy a few days ago, said, "Quit being grumpy or I'll give you something to be grumpy about." The giving came in the form of a sudden and seemingly unprovoked lower back twinge that has prevented me from walking upright for two and a half days now. Said twinge will also keep me from writing much more tonight, as I need to go prop myself against an icepack.

Give me something to be grumpy about, indeed...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Patty's grumpy

I haven't had much to say, which is why I haven't said very much in the past couple of weeks. But it occurs to me that, if I'm a professional blogger (is there such a thing?) I need to write even when I have nothing to say. So here I am.

I've been grumpy today, in part because our first major snowstorm of the season led me to cancel a scheduled (and eagerly anticipated) massage this morning. Instead, I stayed home and tackled a small portion of the mess that is our basement, which is to say the mess that is all the stuff we still haven't unpacked from our move in, um, June. This might have lifted my spirits but for the realization that we'll be lucky to have it all unpacked in another six months.

I'm grumpy because there are just two stinkin' weeks left until Christmas and I'm not even close to ready. Not a single gift has been purchased; not a single cookie has been baked; not a single card has been mailed. (Hell, we still have friends who don't know that we moved in June. If any of them have tried to call us, they're now wondering why our phone's been disconnected. We were hoping to let everyone know when we mailed our annual Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice letter, but it hasn't been so annual in the past few years, which also makes me grumpy.)

I'm grumpy because I've been slacking on the blog, and I have higher standards for myself than that.

I'm grumpy because I've gained a little weight since the move and my work clothes mostly don't fit me, and I'm grumpy because I haven't managed a regular workout since early April which is WHY I've gained weight and my work clothes mostly don't fit me. (I'm also grumpy because I have to go to work every day in pants that are a bit snug in the waist, which would make anybody grumpy.)

I'm grumpy because Jef works too hard. (Although I'm not grumpy about the extra time he spent putting together the special Frazz holiday series, A Mall and the Right Visitor, that's currently running online ( because he put that time in years ago. It's a rerun, and a good one.)

I'm grumpy because I have bills to pay and bank accounts to reconcile and I didn't get to any of it this weekend because I was too grumpy.

I'm grumpy because I have to go to bed now and leave you with this grumpy blog entry.

Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day...


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jef does his best Einstein

One staple of science fiction is time travel, and I don't get it. Doing something in a different location of the time-space continuum than it was originally scheduled is one of my specialties, although when I do it the term more commonly used is "procrastination," or perhaps "poor planning." When I get to name it, I prefer the word "flexibility."

I'm doing it now, writing Thursday's blog on Saturday morning, an insignificant shift when you consider the human race has been around anywhere from hundreds of thousands of years* to a couple of months†. Far from procrastination, this benefits you, the reader, in that instead reading a short piece of crap I hammered out when I had no time, you get to read something longer and closer to mediocre.

We athletes-with-real-jobs types time-shift a lot, too. The same Thursday I was not putting out a blog entry, I was also too busy to do my scheduled 10-mile run. But I did, barely, have time to squeeze in the 6-miler scheduled for Friday, so I swapped. Of course, bending the time-space continuum is not without consequence. It's like lying - you do it once, you have to keep doing it a while to cover for the original alteration.

Today the schedule calls for a 14-mile run, and even at the prescribed easy pace, I'm not likely to get the full benefit if I don't allow myself a day to adapt to yesterday's 10, even at that run's prescribed easy pace (man, I hate the early stages of a training program). So today it will be another easy 6, and the 14 tomorrow, and then Monday we're back to another easy 6 anyway, so I'll resume the originally planned schedule from there.

It works out well anyway. I need to go shoe shopping (this happens a lot in the runner's time-space-financial continuum), and even here in the land of plenty with regard to running specialty shops (Hanson's and Running Fit are among the best in the country and I love them), my go-to running store remains Playmakers, an hour or so away (and named, just this week, THE best running store in the country). Many of my Lansing running friends are running tomorrow morning near the store, so I'll run with them, have a coffee with them, then go visit some other friends and buy some shoes. And more than shoes, because I'm not always the one who gets to mess with time and space.

As I type this, my ears are ringing with the buzz of the clearly dying Garmin on the desk next to me. The Garmin is the GPS device that I wear to see that I'm going the proper distance at the proper pace and heartbeat/effort, and then load it onto my Internet-based training log so that my coach can see I'm not getting carried away. It's a wonderful tool, with more features than anybody needs but lacking the one that everybody would like, i.e., longevity. So until I can spend even more at Playmakers, I'll have to gauge my distance and pace the way the ancients‡ did: with a 100-lap Timex wrist/stopwatch and Google Maps. If I waited until after Christmas, the price might go down. But a man can only shift time so much.

* According to science or at least Wikipedia
† According to some religion somewhere
‡ According to teen-agers

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Patty hasn't been doing her fair share of blogging...

...and it's a weeknight, and it's around midnight (earworm alert!), so I'm still not going to do my fair share because I should have been in bed more than an hour ago. But I'll offer this: I've spent the past few days, for reasons I don't feel like explaining, pondering collective nounsnouns that refer to a group of people or things. You know, like "gaggle of geese" or the less well-known "crash of rhinoceroses" and "murder of crows." Anyway, on my way home from work Thursday, I came up with at least four good collective nouns:
  • Curtsy of debutantes
  • Ditz of sorority girls (or blonds, or whatever group you care to stereotype)
  • Entitlement of Baby Boomers
  • Hallucination of hippies
So I was wondering: How do I get in on the official creation of collective nouns? Because I think I've got potential, man... 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jef relates a tale of two revelations, with a beastly epilogue

It wasn't the best of times nor the worst, but I spent Thursday afternoon enjoying a couple of twin revelations while trying to learn something else.

I was, as I often am, trying to find out what I'm made of. This time I was looking for more empirical information in the form of my anaerobic threshold and VO2 max. So I was running on a treadmill, my left arm wrapped in a blood-pressure cuff, a heart-rate monitor belt around my chest, and most significantly, a mask over my mouth and nose connected to a tube with a valve that fed me fresh air one way and sent my expelled breath another. My job was simply to keep up with the slowly accelerating treadmill until I had reached the absolute limit of my ability.
  • Revelation 1: Somebody actually found a way to make running indoors on a treadmill more miserable.
  • Revelation 2: Tony Venticinque, the staff exercise physiologist at Fraser Bicycle and Fitness' sports performance lab, found a way to make it less miserable.

I've been worried ever since that I gave up too soon or too easily (just like after a race; it's automatic). My heart rate maxed out at 172 beats per minute, a rate I'll normally hold for 30 minutes to an hour on a training run. I'll usually top out in the low 180s. But that's without a big, heavy mask pinching my nose and rationing my oxygen through its valve somewhat more slowly than it arrives via the atmosphere. And really, it's just a weird way to run. Luke, my coach, says these tests are very uncomfortable the first time you do them and it's almost impossible for that not to have an effect. At any rate, we got the information we needed, and I'll re-test in six weeks or so anyway to gauge how my training is coming along. So maybe I've just set myself up for big-time improvement.

Still, after a Thursday run like that, I was ready for an easy Friday effort. I opted to run through the Detroit Zoo. It's about a mile and a half from my house; I'm a member, so I only have to disrupt my run long enough to flash a card instead of digging out cash for admission; and on a wintry weekday, you've just about got the place to yourself. And a lot of the animals are a good deal more active in the colder weather.

It was a nice, low-stress run - for me. Like I said, I just about had the place to myself. Just about. I think I ran across maybe four people. Unfortunately, I scared the bejesus out of two of them. They heard me coming up behind them and thought I was an escaped animal, which I'll bet raised their heart rate a good deal above 172 bpm.

I was so sorry. Yet vain. Sympathetic as I was, I still hoped, for at least a moment or two, they thought I was some kind of gazelle.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Patty has something to say that you might be interested in reading if you don't have anything really important to do right now

Call me a cynic, but I've found that most things hyped as the Biggest! the Best! the Unforgettable! tend to be not so great, or at least not nearly as great as billed.

A noteworthy example: The movie "Howard the Duck". Based on a Marvel Comics character, produced by George Lucas, using Industrial Light & Magic special effects and starring the red-hot Lea Thompson, the movie received extensive pre-release hype.

Have you seen "Howard the Duck"? Probably not, actually—it was a box office failure, grossing about $15 million on a $35 million budget. Critic Leonard Maltin described it as a "hopeless mess...a gargantuan production which produces a gargantuan headache". In other words, it was bad. It was really, really bad.

It was also the movie Jef selected for our first date in 1986.

So much for the hype.

More recently (two days ago), I needed to be in Frankenmuth, Michigan's Little Bavaria, for work. Because I was spending the night there, I felt compelled to try one of world-famous chicken dinners offered by one of Frankenmuth's two world-famous chicken-dinner purveyors (The Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Zehnder's of Frankenmuth).

Because I was dining solo, I missed out on the "family" aspect of the family-style chicken dinners. But I ordered a two-piece white-meat dinner and got 1) one large split chicken breast half that had been cut in half to make two "pieces" before it was batter-dipped and fried, 2) an ice-cream scoop's worth of mashed potatoes and an ice-cream scoop's worth of stuffing (think high-school cafeteria) covered in turkey gravy, 3) some overcooked green beans, yellow beans and carrots and 4) a white-bread dinner roll, all served by a friendly but mildly demoralized-looking high-school girl in a dirndl.

I wasn't impressed. I ordered dessert and called that dinner after picking at my famous  but mediocre chicken.

So much for the hype.

I've always liked the business advice, "Under-promise and over-deliver." "Howard the Duck" wouldn't have been a better movie without the hype, and my famous chicken dinner wouldn't have been any less mediocre without the hype. But maybe I wouldn't feel quite as ripped off by the whole experience...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jef supports solipsism solidly

I was a little dismayed this week to read a column ripping Joel Stein. The fact that it was written by the same Joel Stein didn’t help matters any, especially since he’s one of my favorites, placing me in the curious position of raving about a column that was illuminating me as a sucker for doing so. Further ruining and saving the day simultaneously was the fact that he was kind of coming out as a narcissist, which naturally meant that the column was about himself instead of about me, but it could have been about me if he were the obscure Internet blogger and I were the Time Magazine columnist.

I’ve always believed that good writing was personal, no matter what the style or subject. Whether it’s a novel, nonfiction, a comic strip or the school lunch menu, it’s all autobiography at some level, and the writer just needs to decide how many levels to cloak it beneath. With Frazz, with Trizophrenia, with this blog, I made the decision not to cloak it beneath very much at all. I’d write about my own life, which sounds like the easy way out until you realize that it behooves you as much as it frees you to go out and have a life interesting enough to bother writing about.

Then Stein goes and makes narcissism sound like a bad thing. Or if not bad, at least unoriginal. “All bloggers write in the first person,” he wrote in the third person, “spending hours each day chronicling their anger at their kids for taking away their free time.” Okay, I don’t have kids, but I do spend a lot of time writing about how much time I don’t have. I can withstand that semi-direct hit, but I can’t abide by the suggestion that I got that way following his lead. Self-absorbed behavior and infantile behavior go hand in hand, and infantile suggests we’ve been this way since we were in diapers. Stein was born in 1971, meaning I’ve been self-absorbed nearly a decade longer than he has. I win!

That assumes we had similar diaper histories, but I don’t think that aspect of my life is interesting enough to write about. Stein may feel differently. He may write about his life in Huggies someday. And then … well, I don’t know if that makes him the winner or me the winner. All I know is, God help me, I’ll read it and be a sucker for doing so, and it will cost me precious minutes I’m supposed to be out there doing interesting things. Perhaps I will complain about it on my blog in the first person.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Food for thought from Patty

As we move into an increasingly food-oriented time of year, I find myself marvelling that one of the things I miss most about our former city of residence is its restaurants. Lansing, Michigan, has a number of fine qualities, but it's really not known for its dining establishments. (On the west side of town where we lived, there were a couple of little ethnic spots we liked, but there were mostly chain restaurants like Cracker Barrel and Steak 'n Shake. Things have been improving, but Lansing's still not known for its restaurants.)

Here in metro Detroit, we've already found a bunch of places we like a lot. We don't have to travel far to eat well—there are terrific bagels not far from here, and there are really good Chinese, Ethiopian, Hungarian, Indian, Italian, Lebanese and Thai restaurants (as well as an array of less ethnically classifiable spots) practically within walking distance of our house. I don't think we've stepped foot in a national chain restaurant here since shortly after we moved, when we used the Olive Garden gift cards I was given when I left my job in Lansing.

But I miss the Great Lakes mochas at Great Lakes Chocolate & Coffee, where Jared still greets me by name and asks about Jef when I stop in.

We haven't found a replacement for El Azteco, the East Lansing/Lansing restaurants I patronized as an MSU student 25 years ago and where the Lansing waitstaff knew our usual order (Chicken fajitas, cooked crispy, all rice, no frijoles [Jef's gotta watch his cholesterol]) and asked only whether we wanted cheese dip or not.

And we won't find a replacement for Golden Harvest, Lansing's north-end hole-in-the-wall where we happily helped ourselves to coffee and waited in line up to an hour for the best breakfasts I've ever eaten, cooked by the charming, talented, tattooed and sometimes mohawked Zane Vicknair (and often served by his charming, talented, tattooed but not mohawked wife Vanessa).


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jef recommends a stroke of genius

Before I created "Frazz" - mostly before, anyway; there was some crossover - I was art director for the capitol bureau of Booth Newspapers, a chain of Michigan dailies. The last few years I did that job, a very happy and stressful part of it was to draw editorial cartoons for the eight papers.

I loved that job, but it wasn't perfect. For one, some people thought I wasn't very good at it. (That happens to every editorial cartoonist, and it's not that hard to get used to when it's random crackpots. When it's the editor of the largest paper, it's a little problematic.)

But for another, it was apparently making me stupid. In one editorial-cartoonists convention alone (so maybe it was just Minneapolis that made me stupid), I (1) asked Walter Mondale which newspaper he drew cartoons for, and (2) listened to Garrison Keillor speak, and with all honesty thought to myself, "Damn, if he weren't already such a prolific writer, he could make a good living in something like radio."

I guess it wasn't quite that bad, but I still had it backward. I was a huge fan of his writing and had never heard "A Prairie Home Companion." I still avoid the show, mostly because of the guy who makes sound effects with his mouth. I know radio doesn't work this way, but any time I hear that guy, I find myself looking down to see how much spit he's gotten on me. But if I stumble across the show and it's just Keillor talking, I leave it on and enjoy it a lot.

To hear Keillor speak is as infuriating as it is enjoyable. His writing flows in a very conversational, seemingly random and very natural style. I try to make my own writing do that, and it takes me forever. I'd like to think Keillor suffers as much, not out of any animosity toward Keillor, but because it would comfort me to know my own frustration was an integral part of the process instead of a profound lack of Keillor-caliber genius. And maybe he does strain at it, but when he spits it out orally, with no "undo" key or other hack editing functions, in real time, it's harder to ignore the difference between us. At least I can draw pictures. Between that and never hiring a sound-effects guy, it may be a wash.

I'm thinking about Keillor now because he's in the current issue of Men's Health. He had a stroke a little over a year ago, and he's written an account of it that's beautiful, informative and funny. There's even a sex scene of sorts. When your brain is a vault like his, and there's been a security breach, you want to see how much of the treasure is still there. Keillor's audit of the Bureau of Sexual Memories turned up enough currency to be either a testament in stark contrast to the abs-like-this-get-you-laid ethic that the rest of Men's Health magazine seems to push, or to suggest that a stroke can insert surrogate memories as readily as it vaporizes real ones.

There's no reason to suspect the latter, but either way, I'm happy for him. I always have been. Keillor has always struck me as someone who finds joy not because his life is easy, but because he is at peace with his turmoil. I myself am at peace with Keillor's sexual memories. Visual thinker though I am, I could read his accounts without any unwelcome images coming into focus unbidden. My own life and vault are full enough to ward off any hint of envy.

But most of all, the sound-effects guy was nowhere to be found.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jef sings "oo-bee-doo" in his best Louis Prima

I know, in a realistic and pragmatic sense, that one of the last things I want as a homeowner is a monkey running through my yard. But I can’t help thinking that it must have been pretty cool back in the good old days when the Detroit Zoo was a little more primitive with its simian security and my house in Huntington Woods was within easy brachiating distance of the freedom side of the Monkey Island moat.

No worries. It’s not much longer a trip for me than it was for the occasional liberated monkey (unlike King Louie, I bought a zoo membership instead of hopping the fence), and I enjoy seeing the animals in their own neighborhood. I especially enjoy the signs that tell me what I’m looking at and some interesting, pertinent facts about that animal: Where they’re from, what they eat, how big they get, and why their buns get enormous and red every so often to such an extent that all the chocolate in the world would not make them feel better were they not lady chimpanzees who appeared not to give much of a damn anyway.

This (the signage, not the chimpanzee PMS-o-rama) was on my mind yesterday while I ran through Mayberry, RFM. I had an 8-miler on the schedule and some errands to run a little west of home, happily near a gym that would let me change into my running clothes and explore some new territory. I love to explore. I got lost almost immediately in what at first appeared to be the Community College District. It was just one big campus-sized building after another. They were not community colleges, of course; they were personal residences, and they were jaw-dropping. Some were jaw-dropping gorgeous, some were jaw-dropping tacky. Just about all of them were jaw-dropping big, and it goes without saying that all of them were jaw-dropping expensive.

And I thought to myself, these houses should have signs in front of them like the ones in front of the habitats at the zoo. They could tell us who lives there, what they do for work and fun, what they eat, and of course where all their money comes from. It would be tremendous fun, but it might also serve a purpose. I know William Jennings Bryan (again with the monkeys!) said that it’s impossible to earn a million dollars honestly, and Balzac said that behind every great fortune there is a crime. I don’t think either guy was 100 percent correct, but I’m sure both of them were close enough. Such signage might promote a little more honesty, though the more likely result would be that the biggest of the big houses would belong to the most gifted public-relations wordsmiths.

But there were no such signs to be had. Indeed, there wasn’t that much evidence of any actual human habitation. It was pretty quiet. If it were a zoo, I’d have asked for my money back. Which is when it hit me. Of course it wasn’t the zoo literally, but it wasn’t even the zoo figuratively. No. Figuratively, it was Huntington Woods, and I was Curious George on the loose.

I checked my watch; six miles to run. I looked over my shoulder; no Man In The Yellow Hat. So far, so good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Patty likes enthusiasm, but...

Jef doesn't do anything halfway—he's an "anything worth doing is worth overdoing" kind of guy. If you didn't know this before you started reading this blog, you certainly know it by now—it's not enough for him simply to run a marathon, he has to run it fast enough to qualify for Boston.
I appreciate that sort of enthusiasm—I really do. I even admire it. But the guy even sleeps enthusiastically, which has this tendency to get in the way of my ability to sleep, um, at all.

Jef's enthusiastic sleeping may have something to do with the fact that he is (Attention Tim R.! Minor dirt alert!) chronically sleep deprived, which may have something to do with the fact that he doesn't do anything halfway and therefore cannot possibly accomplish everything he wants or needs to in a given 24-hour day without sacrificing a little bit—or a lot—of sleep. It's a vicious cycle, and it's one that causes the man who despises multi-tasking to multi-task in his sleep.

Hasn't had much time to spend with me lately? Something in Jef's subconscious will spur him to try to converse with me while he's still sleeping. Sometimes this leads to him rolling over when I'm awake, reading quietly next to him, and saying, sincerely, "I'm sorry. I sort of blanked there. What did you just say?" And sometimes this leads to truly inexplicable utterances, like the time he sat up, cleared his throat, and said, "Moo. Moo."

Not enough time to train? Jef's subconscious thinks training while sleeping is an excellent idea. I learned early in our marriage that an extra bed in the house is a necessity, not a luxury. Jef swims, bikes and runs in his sleep. (On one particularly memorable night a few years ago, he played hockey—goalie!—in his sleep.)

I just move to another room and leave the dog and cats to deal with his thrashing.

When we first got married, I'd sometimes awaken in the middle of the night to find Jef getting ready for work—rummaging in the closet for his clothes or heading into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. And more than once, I woke to the sound of the shower running, stumbled into the bathroom to see what was going on and found him, asleep, in the bathtub.

Both of us are relieved that Jef no longer sleepwalks—we were both a little concerned the night he woke up outside our apartment building. But 20+ years later, he's still an active sleeper.

I wouldn't trade Jef for anyone, and I love his enthusiasm. But, man. We'd both be better rested with a little less of it...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jef pays the price

One of my smarter friends and readers (which is like the Pope saying "one of my more pious cardinals and bishops") just sent me this article from the San Jose Mercury News about the high price of competition in the endurance-sports department.

It's a really interesting story. They all are. And I don't know what this says about the once (or allegedly) simple and cheap sports I love, but it's one of many articles pointing out that they've become about as simple and cheap as golf (which, come to think of it, was probably once simple and cheap). At least I don't have to pay to practice. Unless you count the health club with the pool. Um. Er. (Or with the stationary bicycles and treadmills, which I avoid until I don't.) Or the coach. Gee, this is uncomfortable.

What cracks me up is that, when asked why these events cost so much, no one gives the Occam's Razor-simple and Occam's Razor-accurate answer: Because people will pay it. Exhibit A: Cheap, simple me. I'll be racing the Boston Marathon this year. I wasted a full morning trying to register, and I was one of the lucky ones who got in before the race filled -- eight hours after registration opened six months before race day. Registration fee was $130 plus God knows what service charges. (Which, at about 25,000 racers, nets the promoters $3.25 million before sponsors get involved, rather squishing the argument that it's all those lifeguards, most of them volunteers, who make triathlons expensive.) But that will barely show up as a blip on the next Visa statement, buried under the hotel reservation (imagine what 25,000 runners and their entourages do to hotel rates on Patriots Day weekend) and airfare (ditto). This is seriously going to eat into my ability to purchase the overpriced "Look At Me I Qualified" Boston Marathon windbreaker I will absolutely, positively be buying at the race expo.

Two weeks before Boston is the Martian Marathon in Dearborn, Mich. The Martian, like Boston, is exactly 26.2 miles long. It will be impeccably, professionally organized, accurately timed and luxuriously supported with fluids along the course, food at the finish line and a high-quality, if a bit loudly designed, shirt. The start/finish is less than a half-hour drive from the house -- mine, as it happens -- where I'll be staying. The entry fee is $69, and nobody has to blow a morning of work time trying to register before it fills.

I could have signed up for that one. In fact, I did sign up for it the past three years and things came up (hernia surgery; USO tour; Alcatraz swim). I could have signed up for it this year instead of Boston, but instead I opted to be one of those guys I used to think I could snort at. I'd love to think I'm choosing to pay the big bucks to be a part of a grand tradition, to be part of arguably the greatest footrace in American history. And I am. But that's hardly the whole story. What I'm doing is joining a club I once thought would never have me.

I can't wait to feel the buzz on the starting line. I can't wait to pass those hallowed landmarks, and I can't wait to cross the finish line. But I also can't wait to show up at a group run with my Boston Marathon jacket. To picture some of my friends and peers accepting me as, well, not elite, but perhaps competent. And maybe to inspire some other runners to eat right, train hard, focus, persevere and catch some lucky breaks until they, too, can blow many hundreds of dollars on a race they could do for the price of a nice dinner out.

It's lunacy. The problem is, it's worth it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Patty and her earworms had a busy week

You ever have one of those weeks? I just had one of those weeks, which is why I neglected my blogging duties on Tuesday. (Sorry about that.)

It was also one of those weeks for my earwormsthey apparently believed that they could relieve some of my stress with Bobby Goldsboro's "Me and the Elephants."

When that didn't work, they opted to devolve further and dredge up a little more Bobby Goldsboro ("Watching Scotty Grow"), throw in some Gilbert O'Sullivan ("Alone Again (Naturally)"), pile on with England Dan and John Ford Coley ("I'd Really Love to See You Tonight") and then yak up Randy VanWarmer's "Just When I Needed You Most" for good measure.

I apologize to anyone reading this who actually likes these songs, but I don't. I know how they got into my brain in the first place (WOOD AM and WGRD FM in Grand Rapids, the radio stations of my childhood and early adolescense), but I don't understand why they insist on hanging around where they're no longer welcome.

When I was a student at MSU, my brain would sometimes cough up a long-forgotten bit of information when I was studying for an exam, as though it needed to jettison something from the past to make room for whatever I was learning. I had to turn to a dictionary to figure out where "syncline" and "anticline" came from (Mr. Lovett's 9th grade earth science class at West Middle School, as it turns out).

So. A couple of questions: Did my brain cough up moldy songs this week to try to make more room for work information? Or were my earworms just amusing themselves at my expense?

And the BIGGEST question: When the exterminator comes back to our house next week, can he do anything about my earworms? Because I'm not sure next week's going to be any easier. And I know David Soul's "Don't Give Up On Us" is stored in there somewhere...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jef says There's something in the air

It's been a fragrant week here at the Huntington Woods cartoon and writing studios. Two things demanded attention immediately and concurrently: First, the surface of our bathtub started peeling off in big sheets. One of our house's previous owners had tried a do-it-yourself kit, lending credence to my home-repair approach. I have a policy that says don't do something complicated yourself if you don't anticipate doing it more than once; no point in learning on the job for a task you'll never do again, except to fix what you screwed up. (There's a modified version of that rule that applies to all plumbing no matter how simple or repetitious.) So in comes the tub re-glazing guy with his tub re-glazing chemicals. I'm still a little high.

And somehow we ended up with fleas on one of the pets, and thus in the house and thus on all of the pets. How the fleas survived the tub re-glazing fumes, I don't know, but they did. We'll presume they won't survive the flea-specific stuff.

But there's something a little embarrassing about having an exterminator's van parked in your driveway, broadcasting a big "we have vermin" beacon to the neighborhood. (Geez, why not just put it out there on the Internet?) Fortunately, you can always trust the world to put these things into perspective. Patty and I were driving somewhere that evening when we were passed by another commercial van, and this van's driver specialized in biohazard cleanup. Anticipating observers lacking either vocabulary or imagination, the van painter had thoughtfully lettered examples of biohazards that typically need cleaning up, including but not limited to suicide, unattended death and, my new favorite redundancy, "gross filth."

Puts the flea guy right into perspective, it does. Actually, the flea guy himself did a pretty good job of that. He started his own pest control business -- bugs and vermin, plus larger problems as well, with glands that spray, teeth that bite and claws that claw -- after a tiring of a career in the mortgage business. Now, that's upward mobility.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jef says, Take my advice: Don't take my advice

People generally don’t like unsolicited advice. I’m not sure why, even though I’m one of those people sometimes. Nobody seems to mind it when they stumble across an unsolicited $20 bill. But unsolicited advice, however valuable, is unwelcome advice.

This is a problem for writers, since good writing has a point of view, good writers have passion, and good entertainers have a need to enlighten as they amuse. All those things can come off as advice. What to do? Bullying and demagoguery seem to get people to listen, but not the kind of people I want listening to me. Being a celebrity helps, too, but who has time to do that and still think? And I don’t think I’m cut out for law school.

Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors (yes, that’s why my comic strip’s setting is Bryson Elementary School), said that writing is like showing people your vacation slides. Nobody wants to see your vacation slides, even if they’re good vacation slides. So you kind of have to lure them in with something else. Bryson said he likes to promise readers that there might be a laugh or two in it for them, and then once they’re laughing and comfortable he can haul out the metaphorical slide projector.

Good advice.

I’m thinking about advice today because of another Bill’s advice. This is Bill McGann, a good friend I met through our two oddly compatible businesses, bicycles and comics. In this particular case, it was more of an observation. Maybe that’s what made it so palatable – Bill stopped just short of actual advice. He more or less set the medicine on the bathroom counter and let me decide whether to take it.

Bill’s a very good cyclist. I’m a pretty good one. I’m only now getting to be an OK runner, and Bill tells me he’s a lousy one. But he knows about my quest for competence, and one day he had something to tell me.

“I’ve been watching the really good Kenyan and Ethiopian runners,” Bill said, “and I’ve figured out what you need to do to run like them.”

Do tell.

“First,” he said, “you need to weigh 135 pounds.”

It was a little like the old Steve Martin “How to Be a Millionaire” routine. “First,” the line goes, “get a million dollars. Then …” But you couldn’t argue Bill was on to something. Like I said, he stopped short of committing advice. He didn’t tell me to overhaul my diet. I did that on my own, and I’m happy to give Bill some of the credit in spite of – maybe because of – his restraint.

Better yet, he can’t be held responsible when the advice he didn’t actually give me turns out to be a lot of crap.

The newer, lighter Jef went running yesterday morning with (by which I mean “on the same road as”) members of the Brooks Hansons Distance Project, after which we all retired to the Hansons Running Shop’s second floor lounge for a New York Marathon-watching party. I didn’t waste a lot of time finding the food. For one, I was a little hungry (eight easy miles is still eight miles). But I also wanted to see what all these 135-pound greyhounds ran on.

Here is the menu: Dunkin’ Donuts. Lots of Dunkin’ Donuts. And only Dunkin’ Donuts.

I couldn’t believe it. I guess the premiere way to weigh 135 pounds is not much different from the premiere way to get a million dollars: through fortuitous inheritance.

I didn’t have a donut, but I didn’t mind everybody else eating them. They earned their speed and they earned their donuts.

It’s one thing to inherit a million dollars and an entirely different thing to turn it into a billion. I could twist that around into something about running, but I don’t believe I will. I know what it would sound like.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Patty on not-so-stupid pet tricks

A couple of months ago, Jef introduced you to Sparky, the cat who needed a new home right when we needed a new cat.

Sparky is named after Sparky Anderson*, the delightful former manager of the Detroit Tigers who was almost as well known as Yogi Berra for his ability to mangle the English language. One of Sparky Anderson's best quotes was "Pain don't hurt," and it was because of that quote that we graced Sparky the cat with her name.

One of our vet's clients found Sparky when she was camping up north. The little cat with the big personality wandered out of the woods on a badly broken leg, and the cat-loving camper couldn't leave her there. She brought her home and delivered her to Dr. Kimball with one question: "You can fix her, can't you?"

Dr. Kimball was in the process of doing just that when we made our last trip to Lansing to see Mars before he died. Fixing her was taking a little longer than expected: Dr. Kimball couldn't splint Sparky's leg because there was a large wound on the surface that needed attending to, and Sparky hadn't gotten the memo about staying off her broken leg so it could heal. Pain don't hurt.

When Mars died a few days later, we let Dr. Kimball know her foundling had a home once she had healed. And a week later, we drove to Lansing to pick up two cats: Mars' ashes, and the five pounds of feline ferocity we named Sparky.

While we were under orders to keep Sparky as quiet as possible, Sparky had other ideas. She turned every object in the house into a cat toy, and she made friends with our dog and cat by jumping on them until she couldn't be ignored. Within a few weeks, she was fully healedand completely unstoppable.

Jef took her back to Dr. Kimball's office on Monday to be spayed, and I picked her up on Tuesday. "What a sweetheart!" Dr. Kimball said to me as I was leaving. "Just bring her back in 7 to 10 days to have the stitches removed." Jef scheduled a return trip for this coming Monday.

Sparkynow six and a half pounds of feline ferocitybarrelled back into our lives at warp speed, not slowed in the slightest by her major abdominal surgery. She had paused long enough for a tummy rub yesterday morning when Jef called to me.

"Is it just me," Jef asked, "or are her stitches gone?"

They were. Sparky removed them herself.

Pain don't hurt.

*Sparky Anderson died November 4 from complications related to dementia. R.I.P., Sparky.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jef says something with a lot of consonants in a row

I've always envied people who could identify with their heritage, even while recognizing that, taken to its logical extreme near anyone else who's doing the same, that sort of thing can get unproductive and violent.

I don't deal a lot with my ancestry. It's not my nature to dwell on the past, and that's where all my ancestors seem to be. But once in a while I do pay attention, mostly to sort through my genetic code (forgive the flowery language, but to "pick through my genes" has a vaguely vulgar tone to it) hoping that somewhere I can find the aerobic capacity that gave Norway so many great cross country skiers and, currently, a world champion road cyclist.

I don't know if I have good Nordic erythrocytes or not, and I'm not sure I'd be flattered if I did know. Either my endurance genes got watered down by my German and Welsh ancestors, or my desire to overcome pain was diluted with something a little more interesting distilled by my Scottish ancestors.

But now I see that if I'm in a mood to complain about my Norwegian ancestors, I can start with the ones who got on a boat to the United States. Because the United Nations just released their 2010 list of best and worst countries to live in, and Norway is at the top of the list - for the eighth time since 2001.

I'm not really too pissed at Great-great-grandpa Stafford anyway, given that the United States came in fourth. And three places can't provide a whole lot of difference, especially when it's not clear that I'd be able to draw cartoons for a living in Norway or find good espresso. Plus I'd get my butt kicked in ski races by everyone whose people didn't run off and mingle with the people who gave the world (or at least me) Prince Charles' ears.

So you know, Australia and New Zealand were second and third, and Ireland rounded out the top five.

Ireland? Only fifth? A good friend just spent a year's sabbatical in Ireland and described the country this way: "It's a place where arguing is considered conversation, beer is considered food and bicycles are considered transportation." How any country managed to place ahead of that, I don't know. So maybe the list isn't so reliable after all.

And maybe, in spite of all the griping we heard during election season, we don't have it so bad ourselves. I mean, maybe I can't sprint on a bike like Thor Hushovd or ski like … um … okay, I can't name any of those great Nordic skiers, so maybe aerobic invincibility is an overrated route to immortality. But I can spend the weekend pouting just a little bit because I've got friends racing the New York Marathon and The Iceman Cometh mountain-bike race. And if that's the worst I have it, I don't need to go to Scandinavia to be happy.

Although if I did, I'd be sure to bring enough money for a Team Norway cycling jersey. I don't need any United Nations to tell me that's one of the five best.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Patty says: At least it's not Przybysz*

My maiden name is Charles, so I spent almost 22 years of my life having my last name pronounced correctly the vast majority of the time. (There was always someone creative who could manage to screw up "Charles," usually by putting a French spin on the pronunciation and coming up with something like "Shar-LAY." To be honest, I kind of admired the effort.)

That ended when I married Jef.

Despite its straightforward spelling, "Mallett" is not pronounced "MAL-it," like the tool. Nor is it "Ma-LAY," like the start of the southeast Asian country. It's not "MULL-it," like the fish (or the business-in-front, party-in-back haircut that was at the peak of its somewhat inexplicable popularity around the time Jef and I met).

It's also not "Ma-LOT," which is, if I'm remembering correctly, the pronunciation selected by the minister who married us when introducing us for the first time to those who witnessed our wedding. Nor is it "MAL-erd," like the duck, despite what the seniors in the high-school English class I student-taught in the early 1990s wanted to pretend they believed.

Nope. One of the inscrutable Norwegians high in the Mallett family tree decided it was "Ma-LET," and so it is.

Jef once told someone who was trying very hard to fix the correct pronunciation of his last name in her mind before introducing him at an event (an event that that took place while we all were still blissfully unaware of Sarah Palin's existence) that Mallett rhymed with "You bet."

He was introduced as "Jef Ma-LETcha." 

I've found that "rhymes with 'Gillette'" works as well as anything. (Also, it explains why I occasionally break into a chorus of, "Mallett! The best a man can get..." when Jef's around.)

But you know what? It's just not that big a deal either way. If you're friendly, neither Jef nor I is particularly inclined to care how you pronounce our last name. (And if you're not friendly, neither of us is particularly inclined to care how you do much of anything. So there.)

*Pronunciation of Przybysz—one of my very favorite Polish names because it looks so completely unpronounceable to a native English speaker—tends to vary by family. I've most often heard  "P'SHI-bish," "SHI-bish," "PRI-bish" and "PRIZ-bee."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jef says: Keeping abreast of politics

“All politics is local.”

You know the quote. Do you know who said it? It was Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill. He was a U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts from 1952 to 1987, the last 20 years of which he was Speaker of the House. Everybody everywhere remembers that quote, even if they’re not from Massachusetts and even though he said it after the first time he ran for political office.

Proving that politics isn’t necessarily local or even current.

Is that bad? Of course it is! ALL politics is bad! Which isn’t any more true than all politics being local.

Whether politics is good or bad, it sure doesn’t seem too local anymore. Blame it on a 24-hour news hole to fill among 30 gazillion cable TV and talk-radio stations, blame it on big anonymous corporate money, blame it on party politics trumping the individual, or blame it on the lazy voter, but I’d say it’s a safe bet that more people know about races from Delaware to California than know who their own Congressman is, let alone state rep.

Me, I blame it on laziness. (I blame a lot on laziness. It’s easy to do so, which makes me strangely uncomfortable.) The candidates and their backers and handlers invite us to be, assume us to be, the democratic equivalent of a three-toed sloth on a tryptophan bender. Issues are painted as black or white. Candidates are painted as purely good or purely bad. One guy, party or issue is the cause of all the trouble and one guy, party or referendum can solve it.

Come on. The world isn’t that simple, and we know it. Anyone who tells you it is can’t be trusted as a reliable source of information. Or, frankly, as anybody I care to listen to. Back when I was in school or had a real job, I had enough of acknowledging people who thought I was an indolent moron. I don’t want to hear it now.

So please, do what I’m doing. There’s still time: Find a paper, station or other source of information that tries to tell you as much as possible about all of the issues and candidates and actually bothers to acknowledge that it’s a tough choice. Then, however enlightened you are, go vote. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve got a complete grasp of it all, vote anyway. Your incomplete grasp will mix with everyone else’s incomplete grasp and it will all shake out into something useful. But if you don’t vote, you add ignorance to ignorance and get what you deserve.

With all due respect to Tip O’Neill, the best political advice I ever heard came from a guy who tended bar at a strip club, and he wasn’t even talking about politics. He said, “They do their best to get you worked up, but after a while all the boobs look pretty much the same.

“All you gotta know is the easy ones are the ones you end up paying the most for.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Patty says: Poetry in motion is overrated

It likely will never be determined whether I am, in fact, the inevitable evolutionary result of a long line of uncoordinated beings who still managed somehow to breed. I am at the very least the product of a short line of klutzes headed by my mom, who hasmore than onceentered a party by falling down a flight of stairs into it.

In other words, I come by my klutziness honestly.

As I write this, I'm nursing a sore shoulder from an unfortunate incident that took place this morning, when I fell out of our back door and into our driveway as I was leaving for work.

I don't know what happened. (I hardly ever know what happened.) I do know that Jef, who witnessed my display of gracelessness (as he often doesperhaps he really does sweep me off my feet) asked me if I was OK before he started giggling.

This is noteworthy.

When Jef and I had been dating for maybe six months, I slipped on a patch of ice at the top of the stairs as I was leaving his second-story apartment and bounced emphatically down to the driveway. While I have no doubt the sight was an entertaining onepratfalls are a comedy staple for good reasonI was highly unamused that my boyfriend was giggling as he extended his hand to help me up.

After words were exchanged, Jef and I agreed on a rule: Giggling's OK, but only after you're sure no one's hurt.

We've been together almost 25 years now, and Jef has witnessed countless incidents of spousal gracelessness. And since that night 24 years ago, he's lived up to our agreement: He asks first. Then he giggles. (I can recall a single exception: The Sunday afternoon four years ago when I lost my balance going down concrete steps in my parents' backyard and landed face-first on their deck, breaking off one of my front teeth. There were no giggles—at least not until I got my first look at my damaged smile in a mirror and started cracking redneck jokes. Jef spent 3+ hours with me at my dentist's office that afternoon, and later gave that dentist [Michael S. Palaszek, D.D.S., of Lake Michigan Dental in Grand Rapids, a true gentleman and highly skilled clinician] a Frazz original as a thank-you for giving up a substantial portion of his weekend to put my mouth back together.)

I'm looking forward to many more years of Jef sweeping me off my feetand giggling when I fall. I just hope I never break a hip.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jef's a little bummed, but Nevermind

My sport is disappointing me. The triathlon-promotion organization that owns the Ironman trademark is behaving badly. To their credit, they run a very smooth, if businesslike, race -- I've certainly enjoyed the ones I've raced in -- and made no bones about their businesslike motives. Many of their races are notoriously hard to get into. Now they're addressing the issue, not by necessarily making it easy to get into those races, but by making it easier for people who give them a lot more money to get into those races. Which is their right, but they may have jumped the shark on this one. That's disappointment No. 2.

It's nice that the sport is getting popular enough to have problems like this. Or is it? I wrote a column on just that question for Triathlete Magazine, which turns out to be disappointment No. 1. Triathlete's editors redesigned the magazine and redesigned my column right out of it (hey, it happens). That column was lined up and ready to go into the current issue, but instead won the distinction of being the first casualty. So it's all yours, my friends. Enjoy. It would be a shame to waste it.

Smells like tri spirit

Catching the scary scent of success

I was Grunge before Grunge was cool.

Actually, I was just a slob before Seattle musicians and record companies gave it another name. I wasn’t nihilistic, seething with rage or even in possession of more than the normal recommended adolescent allowance of Vitamin Angst. And I genuinely (as opposed to deliberately) couldn’t play the guitar or bass or drums.

I bought all my clothing at thrift stores because I couldn’t afford the red-tag Levi’s 501 jeans that all my cool high-school classmates seemed to have, and I was having none of the theory that Lees, or Wranglers, or, God forbid, JCPenneys or Sears were just as good. I grew my hair long and freaky because a humiliating experience with a perm (it was the 1970s, all right?) and a long list of better things to do convinced me that the longer I could stay away from the barbers and stylists, the better.

However circumstantial the genesis, the style sense was a 100 percent conscious decision: If a thing is in no danger of being in style, then it’s in no danger of going out of style.

It was a pretty advanced theory for a teen-aged nerd, if I may say so. But I won’t say so, because within 10 years Soundgarden released “Ultramega OK.” Four years after that, Nirvana gave the world “Nevermind” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and everybody was walking around in the same flannel shirts and unidentifiably filthy jeans and embarrassing haircuts I pioneered in a small town 2,000 miles away. Within five years, the box sets were coming out, musicians were dropping like dehydrated marathoners and bands were breaking up left and right. The music was better than ever, but Grunge was over, out of style, and in the cruelest of ironies, I had to keep my hair trimmed so people would know I was a slob and not a post-dated fashion victim trying to hang on to my youth.

In fact, I was distancing myself from my youth and its clothing budget. I was growing up and making a little more money and could finally afford a pair or two of those Levis, but I had picked up on this new sport called triathlon and a very old one called bicycle racing, and 501s aren’t at all tailored for thighs like that.

But I didn’t mind, because I was deep into another counterculture. It took me the better part of 20 years to make up my mind between triathlon and bike racing, but both suited me well. I could manage long streaks of competence with, by God, the occasional burst of goodness. Good streak or not, I loved the speed, the fitness, the guts and the gear. And I won’t lie: I loved that neither one was in fashion.

Competing in a sport on the fringes, I could convince myself I was a little bit special. When my good days brought me a spot on the age-group podium or a local time-trial course record, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t Andy Hampsten any more than the local beer-league softball home-run king was Ken Griffey, Jr., but if I didn’t want to admit it, no one was going to force me to. There was less evidence available, and even fewer people who understood or cared about the sports enough to call me on my delusions.

But look around now. Cycling and triathlon are huge and getting huger, and I’ve got mixed feelings. Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France championships and subsequent exposure showed America that cycling could be legitimate. A bicycle wasn’t a child’s toy after all; it was a genuine, serious, manly tool, like a hockey stick. Triathlon seems to be on the verge of an explosion, too, and it’s not Lance Armstrong or any other pro driving it there. It’s your neighbor, your co-worker. Your wife. My mother.

The upside is undeniable. When Armstrong was knocking down Tour victories, I swear drivers were willing to give the rest of us a few inches more road. To ride a bicycle any speed at all, dressed in real cycling clothing, was to hear kids yell, “Hey! Are you Lance Armstrong?”

Every new triathlete stands to be the first triathlete somebody knows, and that’s another ally. The SUV driver who brushed you onto the shoulder last year because you were one of those freaks gives you a little more room this year because you might be somebody like his sister. More triathletes means more races. More stores that carry triathlon gear with staff who know something about it. More triathletes means …

Well, more triathletes means more races, but it’s near-impossible to get into some of them. It means a greater chance that Elwood in accounting will be legitimately impressed by what you accomplished in that race Sunday, but it means a greater chance that he accomplished it, too. It means that when you place in the top 10 in your division, you beat twice as many people as you did two years ago … when you placed in the top 5.

When I finally give it more thought and less worry, I see more opportunities but less convenience; more respect but less vanity. And if that leaves me with fewer reasons to love my sport, they’re the reasons I love it most anyway.

I started wearing baggy jeans and flannel shirts to soothe my ego, but the ensemble was too comfortable to ditch when it became Grunge and it was still that comfortable when it became old. I started racing because I loved it, and it went on to stroke my ego. If triathlon becomes commonplace – or, dare I say it, passé – I doubt I’ll miss my ego much while I get reacquainted with the fitness, guts and speed that were there all along.

Soundgarden has come and gone and returned, but L.L. Bean never left us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jef says: How Fast Does That Old Pony Run

I was going to be smart about training for the Boston Marathon and hit it hard when it’s time to, but not a day sooner than it’s time to. Now through about Thanksgiving is the off-season, and the plan was to relax and train by feel and by fun and put no pressure on myself until 16 or 20 weeks out and then start fresh.

Curse that National Public Radio.

Weekend Edition just interviewed Ben Rapoport, who, it has to be said, is a little too impressive for the rest of us anyway. He’s a sub-3:00 marathoner who’s simultaneously working on a Ph.D in electrical engineering at M.I.T. and attending Harvard Medical School. And he’s worked up a calculator to assess, essentially, the scope of any given runner’s fuel needs, and thus the amount of glycogen that runner needs to make it through that marathon without hitting the proverbial wall.

NPR posted that calculator online, and according to the data I plugged in about myself, I coasted through Detroit last weekend about an hour slower than I was capable of finishing. What a slacker!

The data: I weigh 145 pounds (conservatively), and my resting pulse is 48 (again, that’s a conservative figure) and I’m 48 years old (that one is, alas, accurate). The conclusion: My “conservative best marathon,” with normal glycogen loading, should be about 3:29. That seems fine. My “aggressive best marathon,” with optimum glycogen loading, is 2:23. Two Twenty-three! We’ll note that 2:23 was good for 30th overall in the 2010 Boston Marathon, and I’m guessing it probably wasn’t that guy’s fourth marathon.

Obviously the calculator is simplified a little bit for the NPR listeners Web site (imagine what the version posted on the All Iron Butterfly All The Time station’s Web site must look like); there's no place to plug in the runner's VO max, even though it was mentioned prominently in the story and is crucial to performance prediction in the sense that, say, wheels are crucial to bicycle riding. And neither the calculator nor the story mentioned anything about lactate threshold (another key indicator that you can actually do something about), let alone whether a person has anything to do with their life besides train, eat and sleep. And, I guess, go to med school while getting one of the toughest Ph.Ds in existence.

But I don't care. If it says I can run a marathon at a 5:28/mile pace, why, I'll set up my training program with that in mind. First step: Work my way up to being able to run 400 meters at a 5:28/mile pace. It should all come together from there. And then I will positively blitz Boston, provided I don’t have a horrible collision with Lyle Lovett or Todd Snider while they team up to serenade the racers as the race course weaves its way through the Lingerie Model District. Which shouldn’t be a problem. How many wild-ass fantasies can one race accommodate?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jef says: Bundundu Tower, we have a problem

I don’t know which was weirder: The headline, “Crocodile blamed for Congo air crash,”

Or: The fact that the story was listed under “local news.”

Reading the details didn’t make anything any less strange. Apparently, yeah, that’s exactly what happened. A regional airliner crashed in the middle of Africa, and it was a crocodile’s fault. More or less. One of the passengers had zipped the animal into a duffel bag, apparently to smuggle it into the destination city and sell it.

I imagine things a lot – it’s not only my nature but my job description – but I have to confess to conducting through my entire life until today without ever imagining myself smuggling crocodiles inside carry-on luggage. But I also have to confess that once I did imagine such a thing, one of the earlier thoughts on the agenda had something to do with a duffel bag not being my first choice of container. It’s possible the smuggler came around to a similar conclusion after it was too late to do much about it. The story didn't say.

Here’s another thing I have to confess, though: The luggage-selection issue wasn’t the very first thing I imagined myself doing differently. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a smuggler of prehistoric reptiles while I have been a journalist (speaking of prehistoric), but the very first thing I thought of doing differently was to not bother with the phrase, “pandemonium ensued.”

When an airliner is on its final approach and a crocodile chews its way out of somebody’s carry-on and follows the passengers and the flight crew into the cockpit, it’s really only news if pandemonium doesn’t ensue.

But that’s fine. I really try not to make it my business to second-guess. I’d rather try and take what lessons I can from every experience, be it my experience, your experience or a passenger on the rare flight that was even worse than flying Northwest Airlines during the 1990s. So here goes:
  1. It’s tough to feel like you’ve got it rough when you read that 20 other people not only had a day in which a crocodile crashed their plane, but it was their very last day. But any writer of any kind of fiction can be excused for feeling a little sorry for himself when he reads a line like “The crocodile reportedly survived the crash but was killed by a blow from a machete” and grasps just how daunting it is to compete with reality.
  2. While I don’t spend a lot of time concerning myself with whether there’s an afterlife, I find myself certain that if there is one, there needs to be beer and they need to charge for it. Because if any of those 20 victims is any kind of storyteller at all, how is every other angel going to buy him a beer if it’s free? 
  3. In the future, I will either get more worked up or less worked up over other people’s ridiculous carry-on luggage, but never again the same amount. 
  4. Same with bad days in general. 
I hope that helps.