Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Messing with masterpieces

For anyone who didn’t read Monday’s post, I’m still not Jef—I’m his wife, Patty. (For further explanation, please read Monday’s post.) For anyone who did read Monday’s post and commented on it, well—that was certainly gratifying. Thanks!

So Chria asked: What it’s like to letter Frazz?

Jef pencils out a week’s worth of daily strips at a time, which means I letter six strips in a single sitting. (Sundays are usually penciled—and lettered—on a different day.) Jef has the advantage (or sometimes, the disadvantage) of being married to a writer/editor. That means I ask questions.

Sometimes my questions are simple and focused on making the lettering fit in the space he’s provided for it: “You said X. Can I shorten it to Y?” (The answer’s almost always yes.)

Sometimes they’re a little more complicated: “How did you come up with the number for the mileage estimate Caulfield’s using? I did the math, and it doesn’t make sense to me.” Or: “You have Mrs. Olsen talking about her hollyhocks being in bloom, but they don’t bloom in the spring here. Can I change them to something else?”

And sometimes, yes, I have to ask him what the strip means. I suspect that one of the things Jef most hates to hear from me when I’m lettering is, “I don’t get it.”

It doesn’t happen often. But it does happen.

When it does, Jef patiently explains the strip to me. His favorite response from me is something along the lines of, “Oh. Duh. I’m a little slow today.” His least favorite?

“I still don’t get it.”

Depending on the proximity of his deadline, his impression of my general intelligence that day and his confidence in his writing, Jef may choose to leave the strip as is. But just as often, he’ll re-work the writing until it works for both of us.

Because the goal, ultimately, is to make it work for you.

Time to get some sleep…

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jef (Not Jef)

Hey, I’m not Jef – I’m Patty, Jef’s wife, copy editor, comic-strip letterer and general cheerleader. I’m also his (wholly inadequate) guest blogger for a yet-undetermined time period while he works to get his schedule back under control.

One of the biggest reasons Jef’s schedule is so out of control is because of our move back in June, which was entirely my fault – I’m the one who took a job on the other side of the state. I figured the least I could do is take a little work off his overloaded plate. I can’t take over his Detroit Free Press Marathon training for him, which is another big reason his schedule’s so out of control. (Besides, I wouldn’t want to keep him from working out. Because, just between us, he gets really cranky when he doesn’t exercise.)

So here I am.

I won’t have much to say about triathlons – I’ve done exactly one. I finished second-to-last in that race (Lansing’s 2009 Hawk Island Triathlon, a sprint) in 3:47:52, ahead of only Jef’s 71-year-old mother, who won her age group in 3:50:35 while finishing last. I also spent the most time in transition of the race’s finishers, with my leisurely 15:11 in T2 causing one of Jef’s closest racing buddies (Hi, Brian!) to speculate that perhaps I stepped out for a sandwich before hitting the trail for the 5K. Ah, well. I still beat all the DNFs, along with everyone who didn’t bother to sign up in the first place.

Honestly? I’m not sure WHAT I’m going to write about. I’ll let you know what Jef’s up to (right now, he’s finishing making us dinner, but I can tell he had a productive Frazz day because I have lettering to do), but I’ll mostly figure it out as I go along.

Let me know how I’m doing, OK?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Beaten by my own gear

If I'm slow enough to get beat by my own equipment, it's no wonder I'm a week behind with my race report.

The Savageman, with 5,900 feet of climbing on its 56-mile bike course and a not-exactly-flat-either run course (you climb a two-track that goes to a fire tower, OK?), is not really a race you do for time. It's not really a race you'd do twice in once weekend, either, or so you'd think. But I signed up for the "True Savage" double and raced their Olympic-distance race on Saturday and the big one on Sunday. "Savage" and "genius" are not synonyms.

Saturday I was 33rd overall out of 367 finishers and 5th of 34 in my age group (45-49). I finished in 2:32:09, just 31 minutes after my goggles (more on that in a bit).

Sunday I was 136th overall (364 finishers) and 14th of 42 in my age group. I finished in 6:23:37. I did not get my brick, but my jersey did (more about that coming up with the goggles story).

I don't know exactly how many people attempted the double - seems I heard 24 - nor how many completed it. I know they called us all up during the awards ceremony and gave us very cool plaques, and there seemed to be maybe 10 of us, but that could hinge on (let's just say) around 14 different reasons.

And yes, my equipment did better than I did. Back at the Chicago Triathlon, I met and raced against a new friend, Lars. I saw him again at Savageman; he had left his swim goggles in his car or something and needed a new pair quick before the race. Did I have a spare pair? Yes, I did. Happy to help. Lars never told me he was, you know, elite. He won the whole race that day. My goggles now have a PR I'll never be able to touch.

And my jersey beat me, too. Except it's not really my jersey now. One of the key features of the Savageman is the Westernport Wall, a 31% pitch (that's right; three feet forward, one foot upward) on some pretty sketchy pavement. If you can make it up that segment without falling or putting a foot down, and go on to complete the race, they'll engrave your name in a brick and pave the road with it. I got my brick in 2008, but not this year. More to explain the nature of the Wall than to make excuses, luck plays a little part. You need a clear path. Once you get lucky, it's all skill and power, but I didn't quite have enough of the former to test the latter. I got caught behind pileup that went like dominoes from curb to curb, and that was that. So it goes. Thank goodness (again) for Ron. I met Ron last year when we trained together for Ironman Louisville and we became fast friends. He was an especially good friend during this year's change-of-address stressfest, and I had given him my favorite cycling jersey. He wore that jersey for the cycling leg of the race, and he had the luck and the skill and the power and now the bragging rights for the year, and I couldn't be happier.

Except now my triathlon season is over, so maybe I could be happier. But not much happier. I've got the Capital City River Run half-marathon coming up Sunday and the Detroit Marathon coming up Oct. 17, with high hopes for the latter and expectations of a lot of fun in the former (I'll be selling and signing books at the finish). And a 2011 season to look for where I might have my act under control enough for something like real training. Because I can't count on Lars and Ron for everything.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Frost in the air

I know where I was a year ago because of where I wasn't a day ago.

Yesterday was Ironman Wisconsin, and I wasn't there. I wasn't there because the race is so popular that online registration opens 364 days before race day and closes within minutes, and I didn't even try. That's because I was sitting outside a coffee shop in Manistee, Mich., unwilling to broadcast my credit card information over their free Wi-Fi connection.

I was on vacation. I had finished my book on Saturday and had finished Ironman Louisville the previous Sunday, which completed a year of off-the-charts stress, sub-par training, infinite spousal patience and dreadfully habitual sleep deprivation. I sipped my espresso and stared into space, feeling happy with what I'd accomplished (if not ecstatic with my 12-hour-plus in Louisville) and promising myself that I wouldn't put myself through another year like that ever again.

Robert Frost wrote a quick and not nearly widely enough distributed poem that goes,

Lord, forgive my little jokes on thee,
And I'll forgive thy great big one on me.

Well, don't blame me if God's overworked. I seem to be pretty self-sufficient in the great-big-one-on-me department.

Friday, September 10, 2010

That's rough

"Could be worse. Could be raining," Igor says in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, just before it starts to rain.

We Midwestern cyclists could have a similar Pollyanna refrain: "Could be worse. Could be chip-sealed."

Chip-seal is a pavement-maintenance material and technique that, to my untrained sensibilities, works like mopping your floor with mud. Yeah, I don't get it, either. What they do - again, I'm not a highway engineer, but if I get a few details wrong, trust me, I've got the feel for it - is take gravel about the size of ball bearings only with sharper edges, mix it with a little bit of tar, and then apply it to a paved road. There's little enough tar in it so that it can be scattered, rather than poured, all over the road. And there's enough tar in it so that the heat of the sun and the weight of car tires eventually mush it down until it hardens into an additional layer of pavement. More specifically, an additional layer that follows the same beat-up contours of the old surface, but with a new texture that turns the road into one long Magic Fingers mattress, no quarters needed.

From a cyclist's standpoint, there's just enough tar in the mixture to give the stones free rein to fulfill their ball-bearing destiny while sticking to your tires so that if the lack of friction doesn't dump you, there's always the chance of a flat tire. The closest thing to an upside is that you're not terribly to crash, because you know what that gravel will feel like embedded in your hip, so you ride with all the carefree nature of a bomb-squad detective with a cluster migraine.

This weekend is the Rev3 Sandusky, a 140.6-mile triathlon (what is generically known as the full Ironman distance, except that the Ironman folks who own the trademark are not too thrilled with the idea of something that valuable becoming generic) in Ohio. I was toying with the idea of racing it when I was planning this season out, but I couldn't do both that and the exquisitely accurately named Savageman* in western Maryland a week later. I decided on the latter and I don't regret it.

I will regret it at some point, as will anyone who's trying hard enough on what Triathlete magazine deemed the toughest triathlon course in the world. And that's when I will remind myself what I heard from my bike mechanic earlier today: The road commission down there reportedly chip-sealed the Cedar Point course this week.

My heart goes out to the racers, and just as much to the organizers.

At least it's not supposed to rain. That would be worse.
* Do click on this link if you've got time to kill; it is, in my opinion, the most appealing, well-done Web page in the triathlon world

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Something two of my favorite David Foster Wallace essays have in common*

I have a lot of theories that people don't much care for, and here comes one of them right now:

Pro sports is pornography.

Take any morals squeamishness out of it and you'll find there's very little difference. What you have in either case is a segment of the entertainment industry staffed by performers who use and sometimes abuse their bodies to make a career of doing something most of us participate in occasionally and like to picture ourselves doing better. Those performers tend to differ from us through some combination of talent, genetic gifts, practice time and the will to take it a step beyond anything the rest of us are willing to consider. And experts seem to think it's fine to watch either as long as you don't get to the point where you prefer being a fan to being a player.

That's not to say pro sports and porn are 100 percent the same. I've watched pro sports with my mother-in-law.

Just the other day I was watching the U.S. Open tennis tournament with her and enjoying it very much. I've always wondered why tennis doesn't get more play than it does. The athletes are simply amazing, covering a lot of court chasing a ball that goes faster than a major-league fastball and over a much bigger strike zone, a lot tighter area to hit it back into, and with minimal time between whacks. Sure, it gets boring after a while. There's that. But that never stopped any of the other heavily televised sports.

Anyway, I like the U.S. Open because it's in New York, and it was going on the first time Patty and I went there together. It was one of those perfect weekends and New York is one of those perfect places, and there's a million things to like about the city, and one of them on that one particular weekend was tennis, and now every time I see the U.S. Open on television I feel a wave of happiness and I want to go back to New York, where I will forget all about tennis.

I realize that means I'm watching sports all wrong, like watching a porn flick and being inspired, "hey, that reminds me, I have pizzas to deliver, too."

We'll go back to New York later this fall. Arthur Ashe Stadium and the Museum of Sex are within 10 miles of each other, which gives us at least one answer to what separates pornography from pro sports.

"Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness," in the collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and "Big Red Son" from the collection Consider the Lobster. Read them both, thank me later.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chicago Triple Challenge update

Ooh! The results are in for the Chicago Triathlon Triple Challenge!

I finished 17 overall, out of 72 finishers. Got beat by one woman, by one man over 40 (and by two seconds!) and no one over 45.

Just as with the Double Mussel, those last two categories are entirely of my own manufacture, but they make me feel good anyway.

Famous dead guys

Laurent Fignon died the other day. It made me think of a funny song.

No disrespect to Fignon. I have great respect for him. I liked him a lot. He was a professional bicycle racer through the 1980s, when I was doing a lot of very amateur racing myself. He wore glasses, unusual for a bike racer back then, and so did I. I guess he could alternate between charmer and immature head case at times, and there I am again. He died at 50 this week. I am very much alive at 48.

Fignon won Milan-San Remo twice. Winning it once would alone make a career. He won la Fleche-Wallonne, one of my favorite races. He won a lot of races. He won the Tour de France twice, but he was best known for losing it by 8 seconds to Greg LeMond in 1989. That hardly seems fair. Kind of like dying at 50. But he sure did a lot in those 50 years.

The song is by the exquisite comedian Heywood Banks. It's called "Dead Guys," and in it he ponders how he's older than a lot of famous, well, dead guys. And how he's accomplished less but had more time to accomplish it in. I think Heywood is a little older than I am, and he's certainly accomplished more than I did just now in doing that song funny justice.

So now I have two years to win two Tours de France. Or somehow become famous for not winning one (lack of win, check. Fame as a result, still missing). And then check out if I want to be in Heywood's song. I love Heywood, but I think he's got enough material.

Epilog of sorts: I actually have been in some of Heywood's material, and he's been encased in mine. I've illustrated a few CD covers for Bob and Tom Show collections, and Heywood's a Bob and Tom staple. And years ago, I asked him if I could buy a signed CD from him as a birthday gift for my niece, who is a huge fan of his. He instead invited my whole extended family to one of his shows, after which he gave her the CD in person. But during which he went on a 2-minute riff (in stand-up comedy terms, that's forever) of hernia jokes, shooting knowing looks the whole time at my dad and me, who between the two of us had, in a quirk of family timing, had three of them repaired in the past month. Heywood may not be more famous than every dead guy, but he's classier than most live ones.