Sunday, February 28, 2010

Same word count, less interesting novel

I turned 48 today. Big deal, right? In the world of age-group racing, is it really a birthday if it’s not a multiple of five and you don’t age up?

In my case, it is. I use my birthdays the way other people like to use New Year’s Day, as a chance to reflect on what I accomplished and where I fell short and to look ahead and set a few goals, dream a few of those, and maybe even make a resolution or two. It’s like a performance review without the bullshit.

Most of my resolutions are nobody’s business but my own, and given how quickly I forget them they apparently don’t have a strong connection to my own business. But I think I’ve got one today that might stick. And if you keep reading my blog, it’s even kind of your business.

Before I even started having birthdays, someone made a bar bet with Ernest Hemingway that he couldn’t write a novel in six words. I’m assuming Hemingway didn’t have to pay for his beer that night (as if he ever did); he wrote, For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Smith Magazine picked that up and ran with it in more recent times and asked writers of all colors of fame to distill their own lives into a 6-word memoir. Good call. The fourth collection, “It All Changed in an Instant,” is in bookstores now.

I don’t see where it can hurt me to start each week with such a drill. I might even get better at organizing my thoughts, and God knows anything that stands a chance of teaching me to write quicker or tighter is worth a try.

Since I’m starting it on my birthday, maybe that’s the theme to run with. Something like,

48 already? I’m just getting started. Or

I bought some khaki pants voluntarily. Or

Carrot cake’s permissible once a year. Or

When did everybody else change ages? Or

The house still smells like skunk. Or

Years, days, seconds … all finite. Capitalize.

I could use up all 52 weeks’ worth on the birthday and aging theme alone. (I know the skunk one doesn’t fit the theme; it’s just hard not to think about lately for some reason.) So I’ll just pick one and move on to the next adventure, the next improvement, the next discovery. Which is why this is the one I’m going with:

Middle age: a synonym of Renaissance.

You'll recall in an earlier post titled I Heart Golden Harvest that chef Zane warmed my cholesterol-burdened heart with six words of his own: "Oh, I make a mean oatmeal." This morning I went back to make sure. Here's my 6-word review: "Mean as Dick Cheney on steroids." Yes, that good.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Social Channel

My vocation and avocation - and the line blurs - is to draw pictures and write stories and swim and bike and run and draw pictures and write stories about swimming and cycling and running. The pay is OK, but I really do it for the benefits.

The benefits include fitness, a relaxed dress code and flexible hours, though not to the extent people think. (I can count on finishing a race but not necessarily winning anything; I'm barefoot right now but otherwise clothed; and you'll recall from Wednesday's Stinky Dog blog that some days those flexible hours begin at 3 a.m.)

But my favorite part of the job is who I meet. And I don't just meet more people; I meet people who are kind of like me. Only more so.

Today's Frazz is a great example. When I drew it, I specifically had Elaine in mind. I met Elaine when she interviewed me for the NEM News, the New England Masters Swimming regional newsletter (and again for Swimmer, Masters Swimming's national magazine). Clearly she was interviewing me as a cartoonist who writes about Masters Swimming, not for anything like swimming talent. That was no secret, but I still felt a little obligated to say something impressive about my swimming, so I pulled out the only thing I had: My 2007 Straits of Mackinac crossing. Had I put more effort into learning about Elaine than I put into telling Elaine about myself, I'd have spared myself the embarrassment of using a slow, 4-mile swim in fresh water to try and impress someone who had just swum the Catalina Channel (21 miles in 10:57:44), and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (8:39:50) and was mere weeks from swimming across the English Channel in 13:55:00. At least I looked dumb in front of a person who didn't seem to see it that way, and we've been friends since.

Elaine, today's strip is for you.

But not, as it turns out, for you exclusively. Because since I drew that strip, I met Jenny when I spoke at her team's banquet. Now we're friends. And she's gearing up for a Channel swim herself.

Two great people. Two jaw-droppingly talented and ambitious athletes. Two more friends I'm thrilled to know and can't begin to keep up with, just like that. And they're but two of many. It's possible you still meet people like that if you spend your free hours at the Slug Harbor Saloon under the big neon Happy Hour sign. Who's to say? But I don't have time to find out. Not if I'm ever going to swim 500 yards at the exact same pace Elaine swam 28.5 miles around Manhattan.

Upcoming events

Friday Night with Frazz, March 5 at Century Cycles in Rocky River, Ohio, just west of Cleveland;
The Seattle Bicycle Expo, March 13-14;

In both cases, these guys know how to put on a great show, one that even I can't screw up. If you're nearby, they'll make you glad you stopped in. And if you stop in, come and talk with me a while. I'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Live frogs and stinky dogs

Supposedly Mark Twain said to eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen the rest of the day. You can find this quote attributed to him pretty much everywhere except an actual book on either Twain or quotations. So Twain may or may not have said it. Just like he may or may not have said, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and Google.”

What's important is that it’s true, and that he could have said it.

I’ll say this: Letting your dog into the yard at 3 a.m. to have it out with a skunk accomplishes pretty much the same thing.

Or so you’d think. If you could ask the dog if she preferred the skunking or the ensuing bath, she’d have to do some thinking. Although if she were capable of doing any thinking at all, the morning would have turned out much differently and today’s topic would probably be something different entirely.

I don’t know if my own day got better or not. It’s not out of line to wonder if working all day in a house filled with the remnants of Nature’s Own Teargas is a terribly big improvement on two hours of bending over a bathtub ensuring that the damn dog is the only thing in the ZIP Code that doesn’t smell. Especially if the whole point of getting up at 3 was to find a couple of hours to train between deadline and book event, not to use those couple hours to detox a dog.

The deadline was met, and the book-signing at Schuler’s was wonderful. You really couldn’t find a better bookstore, and we had a good crowd comprising loads of dear friends and family members and enough perfect strangers to make it look like some people actually showed up because they were interested in the book. But it would have been wonderful anyway, without any help from live frogs or stinky dogs.

But all’s well that ends well. And when you’re a writer, there’s no such thing as bad news – it’s all material.

William Shakespeare said the first and Garrison Keillor may or may not have said the second. What's important is that it’s true, and that he could have said it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Going Negative

My results this weekend in the Mid-Michigan Track Club’s Tombstone 10 and the Grand Haven Masters swim meet won’t set the world on fire in an absolute sense, but they were significant in that they both featured negative splits.

A negative split means simply that you performed the second half of your race or training session at a faster pace than your first. You hardly ever hear cyclists talk about negative splits; runners see it as one of many weapons in their training arsenal; swimmers obsess over them. You half suspect that at any given swim club’s year-end banquet, the Most Improved Swimmer award is more prestigious than Best Swimmer.

I met Brian and Ron at the Tombstone 10 start line Saturday morning. Brian had stated that his goal was to do the first five laps/miles at 8 minutes per, and then see about negative-splitting from there. That seemed about right to me, and Ron just wanted to make sure the three of us didn’t lose track and go to separate pastry shops for coffee afterward, so we ran together for most of the race. (I’ll note that 8:00 per mile on that course isn’t quite as leisurely as it sounds; it’s hilly, and each lap kicks off with a tenth-mile climb at about a 14% gradient.) We ran our first five miles at an 8:06/mi pace, so, mission less than accomplished. But we came home at a 7:54 pace, which gave us our negative split and a satisfying enough overall pace of 8:00 on the nose. (Actually, the more telling split was after the three of us broke apart toward the end, giving me an 8:06 pace over the first eight miles, then a 7:46 capped off by a 7;21. And what it tells us is that I probably spent too much of the run talking to Ron and Brian.

Twenty-four hours later, I was in the pool at Grand Haven High School, finishing the 1,000-yard freestyle in 15:58.77. That was good for third place in my age group, which gives you a pretty good idea how many males 45-49 showed up to swim that one. But I went out in 8:00.09 and back in 7:57.69. Ta da.

That’s the nice thing about these sports. You can define success by your own terms. I was recently talking with my friend Mike, an elite runner, cyclist and duathlete, about how being elite means you still get beat all the time; you just travel farther and farther for the privilege. Define your success in matters of things like negative splits, and you can feel triumphant right there close to home.

But still get beat. One of the friends I carpooled to Grand Haven with, Jim, seemed to be swimming pretty well, and the next thing I knew he was showered and dressed with half the meet to go. When I asked him about that on the way home, he pulled his swimsuit out of his bag and showed me where the most crucial of seams had completely and immodestly given way.

Now, that’s a negative split.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Double vision

Reminder! There's a Trizophrenia book-signing event at Schuler Books and Music in Grand Rapids this Tuesday, Feb. 23, 7 p.m. at their 28th Street location. I'd love to see you there. (Great article in Rapid Growth, 4th item)

But first, let's get this Year of the Double theme going.

While my 2010 triathlon season is not yet fully formed, I have committed to five events that have taken on their own theme. To review, I go to San Francisco in April to swim Alcatraz to San Francisco on Saturday and across the Golden Gate on Sunday. In June, I race in Lansing's own Hawk Island Tri on Sunday and help put the thing on all spring, culminating of course on Sunday. In July, I go to Geneva, NY, to race the Musselman and do the mini-Mussel on Saturday and the full Musselman half-ironman on Sunday. In August, it's off to Luray, Va., for their Olympic-distance triathlon on Saturday and sprint on Sunday; and in September, to the mountains of western Maryland and the Savageman, where I'll race an Olympic-distance tri on Saturday and the full Savageman half-iron on Sunday.

So, yeah. The Year of the Double.

So, like I said, let's get down to it. Tomorrow is the Mid-Michigan Track Club's annual Tombstone 10. It's a training run that feels like an A-priority race, and is a terrific gauge of your readiness to transition from your winter miles into the heavy training and racing spring is (really, we're promised) about to bring. What it isn't is easy. It's ten 1-mile laps of a very hilly cemetery. I'll sleep well that night, after Patty and I have dinner at the home of some good friends who probably have no idea what they're in for.

And then Sunday I'm off to Grand Haven for another Masters swim meet. I'd like to say I planned this weekend as a double-whammy test to gauge my readiness for all these two-fer weekends coming up. But in truth, I caved to a tiny amount of pressure from friend, coach, adviser and much better swimmer Tom to carpool to the race with him and a number of other, equally superior, swimmers. And appealing as the race is, I'm really looking forward to the trip home, an hour-and-a-half autopsy of my morning's efforts and my past half-year's improvements.

I should be recovered just fine for Tuesday's book signing. But if I can't lift my arms to draw, I'll just use (here it comes) lighter ink.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book, bike, bike, book

Wednesday's edition comes a day early; I'm not waiting to show this off.

What the Cervelo P3 is to time-trial and triathlon bikes, Matt Assenmacher is to framebuilders and painters: groundbreaking, among the creme of the best ever and perfectly suited to, well, me. I've been racing that P3 for six seasons now; I've been friends with Matt since the early 1980s.

Whatever it says about me, Matt has rescued more of my frames than most people own. This year, it was time to rescue the P3. Too much sweat had gotten under the original paint (that's my dubious talent; I can corrode even aluminum); it was time for some reconstructive surgery.

People who know me know that my willingness to shamelessly self-promote mysteriously stops at wearing my own gear. I love Frazz and Trizophrenia shirts, hats and the like, but I feel squeamish wearing them for some reason. So this paint job was a huge step. I wouldn't have trusted anyone but Matt, and I trust Matt tremendously. As good as he is with bikes, that's just his second level of greatness. He's that good a person, and things just turn out well whenever he's involved. And if I did still have worries, they would have evaporated when I saw the frame yesterday.

I can't wait to race it. And train on it. Lord, I'd better train on it. Because there'll sure be no hiding on it.

Bravo, Matt. And thank you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I Heart Golden Harvest

This morning will begin with my semi-regular trip to the Red Cross to donate platelets. I used to donate plain old blood, but that was problematic given all the endurance-athlete delusions I engage in. I need all the red blood cells I can get. Or keep.

Platelets are a nice way out of that. They take my blood out of one arm, centrifuge the platelets into a baggie, and then put the good stuff back in via the other arm. The only issue is that I've had a couple of instances where the return needle slipped out of my vein and made an interesting lump in once case and a full-blown mess out of my arm in the other. The problem, they say, is I lack sufficient fat to hold the vein from rolling around or something.

That shouldn't be a problem today, because yesterday after our swim workout I took Patty to The Golden Harvest for a Valentine's Day breakfast. The Golden Harvest is a Lansing treasure, a tiny little restaurant on a decidedly non-thoroughfare street that does no advertising whatsoever and always has a line trailing out the door, with people happily waiting either side of an hour to eat. Clearly, they're doing a few things right. One of them is that the atmosphere and customer service are beyond comparison. The other is that the food is just as far beyond comparison. But it is a grill-oriented kitchen, and breakfast ingredients being breakfast ingredients, we hadn't been back since my Big Bad Cholesterol Diagnosis and Change of Diet.

But it was a Valentine's Day date with Patty; I figured if she could have my heart, I could give up my arteries for the day, too.

Owner/chef Zane and his staff didn't disappoint -- they never do -- and I had no overnight cardiac incidents that I know of and I survived them if I did. We were treated like royalty, which, so is everybody, but our royal treatment included a honey-poached pear that proved what we should have already taken as given: Zane can cook artery-friendly food just as well. As we were paying our bill and trading thanks with Zane, Patty explained our medically mandated absence. Zane's reply shouldn't have come as a surprise, but it was exactly what we needed to hear:

"You know I make a mean oatmeal."

My heart skipped a beat, and I don't think it was because of my suddenly thicker blood.

About that swim workout

I think I may have nailed my winter swim goal of a 7:30 500-yard freestyle. I'm pretty sure, but I blew my chance to be certain. I did my time trial on my own while Patty and her coach, Tom, worked in the next lane over. I felt like I was flying pretty well, but when I touched the wall and hit my stopwatch, it read 8:08. Tom had been watching pretty closely and complimented me in spite of the disgusted look on my face. He asked me my time, and I told him. And his next question was why I decided to do a 550-yard time trial instead of a 500-yard one. So we can probably assume success. And I will - but only as a reference until I can prove it for sure. While also proving that I can, in fact, count to 20 laps sometimes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Time, tide, p.s.i. and P-o Rs

It's a little strong to say I enjoy pissing off certain relatives, but I sure don't seem to mind it when the cause is just. To my eye, such familial friction is not confrontation so much as a version of the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Energy seeks its own level. Perhaps a Little Too Casual About Things reacts with Perhaps a Little Too Uptight About Things and maybe each moves a little closer to rationality, or at least an equilibrium, if not a completely shared outlook.

Just like high pressure seeks low pressure, and the way high water flows downward, until everything relaxes into a flat-lined EKG. Except they don't. After all, time and tide wait for no man.

On the high-pressure low-pressure theme, and, for that matter, the time-not-waiting theme, I submit to you the background image one I finally removed from my computer screen:

Yes, those professional bike racers are taking a break to do exactly what it looks like they are doing. I love it. Pissed-off Relative, upon seeing it, reliably, briefly and I'm guessing subconsciously makes a disgusted face and accompanying noise in case I'm looking the other way. You'd think P-o R will be happy that I've finally changed the picture, but I'm doubtful. Because I've changed it to a more tidal theme:

These guys are probably peeing, too, but that's not the point. The point is that I'm looking forward to swimming those very same waters in a couple of months. P-o R is not at all big on risk-taking, and certain patches of my skin are still a little freezer-burned from the icy glare I got in 2007 when I announced I was swimming across the Straits of Mackinac. So I can't imagine a similar effort that takes place in colder, rougher water that's home to something a little more menacing than whitefish is going to seem a hell of a lot more responsible. But to steal and butcher a line from a song by the great Lyle Lovett (a kindred spirit in the risk-taking department, I'm happy to report), "if I were the man that you wanted, I would not be the man that married your daughter." The various P-o Rs will survive, because so will I. They're wonderful, and I know it. I'm ... well, I'm not sure what I am, but they ultimately seem to enjoy it. That's been our happy entropy for nearly 22 years now, whether either of us has learned anything from the other or not.

This particular familial conflict is brought to you and the rest of the world by:

My wife, Patty, who inhabits the demilitarized zone between my alleged recklessness and her parents' alleged risk-aversion with a level of grace that will never fall to a static level;
Joe Zemaitis, whose Foundation for Aquatic Safety and Training and Swim Neptune make this swim possible for so many swimmers - and whose invitation to psych up his swimmers and talk up my book were just the excuse I needed;
And, who are generously helping to cover my expenses. Because it's one thing to convince my in-laws I won't be eaten by a sea lion and another thing entirely to rationalize to Patty that I'm justifying this on business grounds if I lose money on the trip. (TriSports is not only generous but smart. While I'm a big fan of shopping locally, sometimes the locals just can't carry what the big online folks can, and TriSports has always been my go-to online source for just that kind of tri stuff -- and that's a lot of tri stuff. Meaning they'll get their money back from me, and then some, by the time the pre-season snow melts.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Live in Grand Rapids, Feb. 23

Next up on the Frazz/Trizophrenia Book Tour is Schuler Books and Music in Grand Rapids, Mich. I’ll be at the 28th Street location Tuesday, Feb. 23, starting at 7 p.m.

I’m sure it will follow my usual format: I’ll draw some pictures, read a little from my book and talk perhaps a little too much until people in the audience get smart and start asking questions so at least I’ll talk about something they’re especially curious to know. The whole thing morphs into something more like a conversation, which continues until Patty and the bookstore staff begin taking exaggerated glances at their watches when I look their way, and then I segue into individual conversations while I sign books. If I estimate that there’s enough time – which I usually do and there usually isn’t – I slow the line down by sketching little pictures in people’s book along with my signature, and, of course, talking too much. The bookstore closes late and no one seems to mind.

I hope you can make it! If you want to build up to the event, check out a very nice advance interview in the Literary Life section of Revue magazine. It's "Living Full Tilt," by Joanna Dykhuis. She makes me look good and doesn't once mention that I talk too much.

Promises, promises

Uh oh. In Monday’s blog, I promised details on Sunday’s FAST Super Swim Meet would be coming today. Two problems with such a promise: (1) The official results haven’t been posted yet anywhere except on the wall in the Brighton High School pool, and (2) I’m a little far from that wall right now, and was a little too casual about recording the results when I wasn’t. I do have something like results, though. They’re written in grease pencil on a tape-covered (the poor man’s laminate) printout of the meet schedule I brought to the race with my goal pace noted in each event. They’re in front of me now.

I entered all freestyle events from 50 to 400 meters. I’ll note that I posted personal records in every one, but all I had to do to accomplish that was count my laps correctly – this was my first race in a metric pool. But I had taken my best previous times in 25-yard-pool events and converted them to the metric equivalent. So, according to the smeared grease pencil, we have …

200 Freestyle – Goal 3:04, raced 3:03
  50 Freestyle – Goal 0:37, raced 0:37
100 Freestyle – Goal 1:22, raced 1:22
400 Freestyle – Goal 6:33, result 6:37.

We have caveats galore. First, in the 200, the clock on the wall disagreed with the stopwatches held by each of my timing officials at the starting block of my lane. I’m going with theirs because they both agreed, there were two of them and just the one wall clock, and I think they had me going faster. Second, I didn’t mess with decimals with the grease pencil, and I’m coming to realize that to be a real swimmer is to absolutely mess with the decimals. And third, my 400 freestyle goal pace was not based on my best previous time – that would have had it at 6:48 – but rather on my winter goal of swimming 500 yards in 7:30. So in one sense I barely missed my goal, but in the other sense I beat it pretty well.

It was a good and satisfying swim meet. I had a lot of fun; I won a water bottle for placing first in one of my heats, and though it seems wrong to win a prize for what I imagine was incorrectly submitting my seed time, it’s a cool water bottle and I’m keeping it; I think I won an actual event by participating in the 200 free relay with three Team FAST members who were actually competent; and finally, we have photos! Not just any photos, but good ones (especially compared to any of my running photos) by another FAST friend, Carol Feldmann. And useful photos.

I can actually see my hip in the pictures. Not that my hip is terribly photogenic, but just having it close enough to the surface to catch a glimpse of it is a streamlining triumph for the Jef of a year ago.

I can see that I’m rolling my shoulders reasonably well about the longitudinal axis, but that I need to get them more vertical on the fore/aft axis.

And I like the one where my forehead is practically touching the wall, where I should have long since dolphin-kicked myself into a flip turn instead of taking a big breath and apparently trying to do the splits. And you can’t see it in the pictures, but I’m taking as many as 25 (!) strokes per length of the pool. That’s nice for math, but bad for speed. That’s a meter per stroke; dropping it by one stroke per lap spares me 16 strokes – two thirds of a lap – in the 400. A man could figure out a better use for that energy. And that’s just one lap per length. I’m told I could shave off five. Ooh, la la!

Stuff to learn. That, and to write the results down in ink when they’re posted on the wall.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Cleveland rocks

Rich, my swim coach, was trying to help me get my hip motion right for a passable dolphin kick. He employed the phrase, "Saturday night with Sally," a visualization as memorable for Rich's deckside demonstration as for its alliteration.

Today, Century Cycles, a terrific small chain of bike shops in the Cleveland area, announces an event with similar alliteration, decidedly different visuals and a whole lot of fun :

Friday Night with Frazz

What: Friday Night with Frazz
When: Friday, March 5, 2010, at 7:00 p.m.
Where: Century Cycles, 19955 Detroit Road, Rocky River OH 44116
Why: A Century Cycles party to meet and celebrate avid cyclist Jef Mallett, creator and cartoonist of the nationally syndicated comic strip "Frazz" and author/illustrator of the triathlon lifestyle book Trizophrenia: Inside the Minds of a Triathlete. Bicyclists, triathletes, comics fans, school custodians, and everyone else are welcome to join in on the fun.
Cost: Free and open to the public. No RSVP necessary.
For more information: Go to, call 440-356-5705, or email

Friday Night With Frazz will include a talk and Q&A by Jef Mallett, book-signing, giveaways, and food and beverages. An original "Frazz" comic strip will be raffled off, with the proceeds to benefit the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association's TRAILS FOREVER Legacy Fund. Every attendee will receive a free raffle ticket for the rest of the giveaways, which will include Mallett's drawings from the evening's talk, copies of Trizophrenia: Inside the Minds of a Triathlete, and bicycling products from Century Cycles and other sponsors.

Coming Wednesday: Brighton Masters swim meet report ...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Catching up

Watch Monday for information on a very cool Jef-centric event coming up in early March. We'll give the Cleveland Plain Dealer a chance to break the news first, and then I'll fill you in. It's going to be tought to please a town that just enjoyed its first Bill Watterson interview in 21 years, but I'll try.

So many great comments, and I'm more grateful than I can say. Or have time to respond to. But I'll try.

Liz asks, “How do you do your sourdough? I'm still trying to get the hang of it.”
This may be a whole new entry, or even theme. Are you asking about making the bread, Liz, or the sourdough culture itself? Oh, I could go on. And will.

Anonymous writes, praising my 500-yard pacer, “Yeah for Jessie! Gotta love those devoted swimming friends. Where else can you get cheered for on a daily basis?!” and all I can say is, I couldn’t agree more. But I’ll add that I’ve got a ton of friends from all sorts of sports, and nobody tops swimmers for instant friendliness. It could be that since you can’t very well talk while swimming, all the friendliness gets compressed and concentrated when you do have unlimited access to air. Or that, through most of my swimming career, I really looked like I could use a friend. Either way, I’m starting to wonder why anybody doesn’t swim.

Jeremy writes, “Uh-oh, I suspect I'm in the 3/4 category. How do you pronounce your name?”
It’s Muh-LETT. Rhymes with In Jeremy’s possible defense, I sometimes get the impression that it’s my family that gets it wrong, not three-fourths of the public. Mallett isn’t a common name, but I do see it outside family reunions every now and then, and when I do, it’s pronounced to rhyme with a small rubber hammer more often than it’s pronounced to rhyme with “rides like a jet,” no matter how hard I wish.

Another Anonymous thanks Bill Watterson and then thanks me: “…thank you for almost 9 year of Frazz (which I still love)... also, hoping this is not an attempt at foreshadowing.”
No foreshadowing, sir. I’ll write Frazz as long as I’ve got readers, and if the world tires of that I’ll write something else. It’s not like I can cut hair.

Steve writes, regarding the Nice Buns entry, “The word to add to your list is "callipygia" or "Callipygian"...which is a reference perhaps to your swimming partner rather than your bread.”
Steve, that’s another blog entry (and remind me if I don’t get to it soon). But I’ve got you covered.

And that’s about as much as I’ve got time to cover this morning. Swim meet at Brighton, Mich., Sunday! Aiming to bust 6:33 for the 400-meter free, which won’t keep me from doing the other freestyle events first or running today and tomorrow. I’m enthusiastic, but I ain’t real bright.

Person of interest

One of the toughest parts of being a writer is convincing anyone that you're as special as, say, a barber. The plain truth is, text-messaging and Division 1-A revenue sports notwithstanding, anybody with any education can write.

Anybody can cut hair, too. The trick with either is to do it well, and for some reason people have a lot more confidence in their writing than their barbering. I know I do, which may have less to do with writing than it has to do with discovering a while back that I had done a fine job of shaving my head but at the cost of the outside one-fourth of one eyebrow. But I digress.

Writing well goes beyond spelling and grammar and resistance to digression (and hallelujah for that); it really comes down to having something worth writing about. Research helps with that. So does education, or a good memory, or a tendency toward brilliant insight. Since I run short on all those, I try to live as interesting a life as possible and write about that.

The other day, I learned the difference between being an interesting person and a person of interest. I was applying for a pass to use a particular institution's pool at the very generous invitation of its very cool swim coach. (I'm not naming the institution here because I have no complaints and don't want to take the chance that anyone Googling or skimming catches something out of context that makes it look like I do, when, in fact, everyone involved was terrific.)

I've attended, supported, paid money to and even guest-lectured at this institution, but I still haven't graduated, so I'm not recognized as "alumni" (other than they were more than happy to sell me a lifetime Alumni Club membership a while back). So I didn't fit into any protocol; I was just some guy dropping a name and asking for a pass. I looked like I could have been trying to scam them, which, had I been, could well have put me in a bigger group than graduating would. There was a certain amount of polite but unmistakable skepticism.

Long story short (too late!), I'll pick up my pass today when I go watch a swim meet. The staffers acted properly, were friendly and professional, and I was impressed with and grateful to each one of them … and I still felt intensely uncomfortable and a little bit insulted for a while. That's good. Not that I'm an unsympathetic person, but I am about as white and middle-aged and male as they come and thus just about the last person to worry about being profiled. If that has eroded at my sympathy for those who do get the stink-eye just for looking or dressing or being tinted a certain way, this pushed a few things back into place.

I still haven't graduated, but they continue to educate me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Last week I felt a big thud in the house with no apparent cause. This has happened before. Sometimes heavy things fall over. Sometimes Mars the Ample Cat jumps down from a counter. Or the spring on the garage door breaks. Once, it was a small earthquake.

This time, though, it was just the Earth momentarily spinning off its axis. Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, had submitted to an interview – his first since 1989.

The interview itself is more comforting than satisfying. Those of us who just want to know he’s OK, and maybe anywhere close to as happy as he’s made the rest of us, will get that. Those who had hopes that he’d suddenly turn logorrheic and go on about where he lives, what he’s up to, what deep thoughts he has about much of anything, or whether or not he’s secretly drawing a strip about a janitor and hiding behind a false name three-quarters of people mispronounce, will find it comes up short, but people who hope for such long shots have by now learned to live with disappointment.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since he quit drawing Calvin and Hobbes, that it’s been gone half again as long as it was here. On a more personal level, more and more these days, it knocks me back to see what he did in just ten years. Especially since Frazz is coming up on nine.

Anyway, thanks, Bill. I’m looking forward to knowing you’re OK in another 15 years.

Monday, February 1, 2010

whee hoo; whee hoo; wheehoodeedoodeedoo

The upside of failure marches on.

Two days after a modest tuition payment - failure to reach my winter swimming goal eight weeks early - yielded some valuable educational goods - how I can improve not only my swimming but my racing - I was back on the failure track.

Saturday night I was speaking at Team FAST's winter party and awards banquet. Team FAST stands for Ford Athletic Swim & Triathlon. So I had gone through my Frazz, Triziphrenia and Roadie archives, harvested some athletic examples, decided on the best and most appropriate, and distilled them into a Power Point presentation.

Then I went to Dearborn and began my speech this way:

"Have you ever gotten to the start of a triathlon and realized you didn't have your goggles? That you didn't have your bike, even? Have you ever gotten to a speaking engagement and discovered that somehow your cartoons never successfully made it to your laptop?"


I followed that with some comments about quick purchases or improvisations, about pushing on regardless. I had gone to a nearby arts & crafts store for some large sheets of foam-core and markers and set up an easel, so I pushed on myself.

Speaking success is a little less empirically measurable than racing success, but I have to say it took less time to forget about the laptop than it takes to get used to swimming without goggles. Watching someone actually create a drawing, whatever size and however crude, just may be more interesting as looking at projected images of reruns. (Who knew?) And either one is just a visual element added to the larger dose of me carrying on with a lot of funny stories about racing and training.

And it all worked well enough that I was there signing books until after midnight, which meant I got to spend hours with my kind of people, all gathered together in a tri club that's so good and so friendly that it's tempting to move to Detroit so I could be a part of the club myself.

And true to form, I learned something. I'm not sure exactly what, though. It was one of two things. Either to double- and triple-check my laptop to make sure the PowerPoint presentation transferred correctly, or to skip the PowerPoint altogether and stick with the live-drawing business. And that it's great fun to hang out with Team FAST, but that I already knew.

Addendum: FAST friends, cont'd.
This is the first of two Team FASTs I'll be speaking to this year. My April Alcatraz and Golden Gate swims are with a team FAST that stands for the Foundation for Aquatic Safety and Training. How interesting that my 2010 moveable feast includes two fasts.

And it's not like I'm done with the Dearborn FAST types. This Sunday, Feb. 7, I'm swimming in their Masters Meet in Brighton, Mich. Come and swim yourself if you want to mix it up with some very cool  and friendly people, many of whom swim stunningly well. Or come and watch. It's a metric pool, so no option to take another stab at my 500-yard 7:30 goal. But you can watch me flail away at a 6:33 for 400 meters. I can tilt at metric windmills, too.