30 Jun

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if you haven’t looked at news today.

Two depressing events took place on the not-popular-in-the-United-States sporting front today. Depressing for me, anyway.

First, a whole bunch of top cyclists were suspended from the tour de France, which starts tomorrow. The two top favorites, Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, are out, as are Oscar Sevilla, Francisco Mancebo, and Joseba Beloki. I was rooting for Jan, who would have won several tours if it weren’t for Lance. I figured this year, he deserved a victory. But now he’s out.

There are about 50 more people implicated in this scandal; it could end up leaving the field pretty up-in-the-air. As far as I know, the entire Discovery Channel Team is still in the tour, as is Floyd Landis. Most of the sprinters are also still in the race, so there will still be some good stuff to watch.

Personally, I think they’re all on drugs. The tour is just a sick event. If you take out the two or three time trials, the average distance of a ride is around 120 miles. They have a few rest days here and there, but otherwise, they’re biking hard and long for three weeks. And the average speed over the course of the three week period is somewhere around 24 or 25 miles per hour.

They’re incredible athletes to begin with, but as five-time champion Jacques Anquetil once said, “you don’t win the Tour de France on mineral water.” A German sports journalist by the name of Hans Halter, wrote that “for as long as the Tour has existed, since 1903, its participants have been doping themselves. No dope, no hope. The Tour, in fact, is only possible because, not despite the fact, there is doping.”

Speaking of German journalists, they’ll all be writing about Germany’s victory over Argentina today. It ended in a shoot-out, which is always a bad way to end a game. I wanted Argentina to go on, but it wasn’t clear that they were the better team. Neither was Germany, for that matter, but someone has to advance.

Ideally from here (according to me), Portugal goes all the way. But if it can’t be Portugal, I’m rooting for Brasil.

England plays Portugal tomorrow: Brasil plays France. The semifinals are on Tuesday and Wednesday.

29 Jun


Well, I guess that Timmas is officially over now. I made a pretty good haul: wetsuit, pillows, pie, strawberry jam, a book, just to name a few things. Unfortunately, last week at the writing retreat, I discovered that I’m gonna need a laptop, probably a MacBook. Why? Well, all these other writers there had smooth, shiny Mac laptops, which enabled them to write anywhere, even in coffee shops! Additionally, the laptop would enable me to write in more comfortable locations than the rickety chair we have planted in front of our computer right now. Indeed, since our setup is not all that ergonomic, I find it tiring to sit and type for more than an hour or so. With a laptop, I could write while sitting on the couch. Or even on the . . . no, I’m not gonna go there. Nevermind.

Last night was our anniversary, and to celebrate, we bought a laptop! Just kidding. We went out to dinner at Wasabi, which is probably the best sushi restaurant in town. We reminisced about the sushi at the Swisshotel in Quito; Wasabi doesn’t quite live up to the Swisshotel. But it was good. We ate all we could eat; then on the way home, we talked about how we should get one of those gel wrist rest things for the keyboard and maybe one for the mouse, too. It got us so excited, we went to Office Depot and got ourselves a couple anniversary gifts – three if you include the ream of printer paper.

You know, we’re well aware that we’re both losers. I think that’s part of why we married each other. The rest of why we got married is a mystery. It wasn’t easy to fall in love with each other. In fact, it was quite the opposite: awkward, difficult, emotionally draining, scary. I don’t think either one of us would like to relive the first year or two of our courtship.

But you don’t decide who you fall for. It just happens. And despite all your best efforts to avoid turning into a sentimental sap who smiles at old couples, families in minivans, and romantic comedies, one day you’re flipping through the tv channels and you come across an episode of Friends and Ross is saying to Rachel that he can’t live without her and instead of rolling your eyes like you normally do and changing the channel, you sit there and watch it. And you realize something is happening to you. There will be plenty of opportunities to roll your eyes at Ross and Rachel; there won’t be plenty of opportunities to fall in love with a true soulmate.

So you swallow your pride. Cuz the decision is obvious.

Timmas was nice. And a MacBook would be great. But once a year, it’s good to remember that you’ve got all you need.

27 Jun

Naborhood News

Today I was running with Tember and I was in the home stretch, about two minutes from our house. Up ahead, I saw a couple of 7 or 8 year-old girls with a mother, packing up what looked to be a lemonade stand. I started bracing myself to refuse their lemonade since I didn’t have any money. (Little kids that age are relentless. I once had one of them sell me a cup after she was out of lemonade. She took my money, poured a tablespoon of lemonade, which was all that remained in the pitcher, and handed me the cup.)

Instead, as I approached, one of the girls said, “You wanna paper?” She held out an edition of the “Naborhood News” for me, and just as her mother was saying, “honey, he’s running,” I grabbed it and said thanks. I don’t believe I was supposed to pay, but now that I think about it, geez. Maybe.

I started reading the paper immediately. I contained three headlines:

  • Anna is a new Baby
  • Anna Jaye Snortswen (here, the ‘a’ in Jaye is crossed out)
    She Lafs
  • Girl Brok Hand at Hiatten Green

At the bottom, it says, “thats all the news.” The headlines are encircled in yellow, blue, and pink marker. The Naborhood News title is underlined in green. And then, floating on the left side of the page is the word “stop.” It doesn’t appear to be related to anything else on the page.

I gather the following: Somewhere in this neighborhood, a new baby was born. Her name is Anna. Her last name is probably not Snortswen*. Some adult told a story about how the baby laughs. And in other news, a girl in the neighborhood broke her hand — more likely her wrist or a finger — at the neighborhood playground, which is called Hillington Green. Oh yeah, and that’s all the news.

On the one hand, I can see how this project of handing out the Naborhood News is just a matter of kids imitating adults. But I prefer to see something larger in it. I see it as an extension of our herd instinct. We’re humans. We gather together in places where there are other people. Even if we say we don’t like other people. We express, we communicate, we tell stories only because there’s a potential audience.

(There’s a PBS special on this very topic, incidentally. I haven’t seen any of it, but I should.)

Last week, I was at this Writing “retreat” all week. It was more like a one-week class or series of workshops than a retreat, but. There was this one guy there who was speaking about non-fiction writing. He turned out to be one of the less impressive speakers, actually, but he did say something interesting. He began his spiel by saying, “you should take time to write about the life you are living becuase no one else will do it. We have an obligation to pass onto our children” a record of our existence.

He echoed an Eels song I heard for the first time a couple months ago called “Things the Grandchildren Should Know,” which is a very simple song, but which struck me with the following lines:

I’m the only one who knows what it’s like
So I thought I’d better tell you
Before I leave

The speaker in the poem/song confesses to be something of a hermit:

I don’t leave the house much
I don’t like being around people
Makes me nervous and weird
I don’t like going to shows either
It’s better for me to stay home
Some might think it means i hate people
But that’s not quite right

But as you can see, there’s a hint of wanting a connection. In the next verse, he expounds on this:

I got a dog
I take him for a walk
And all the people like to say hello
I’m used to staring down at the sidewalk cracks
I’m learning how to say hello
Without too much trouble

And then he really becomes human when he mentions his strongest connection:

I’m turning out just like my father
Though i swore i never would
Now i can say that i have a love for him
I never really understood
What it must have been like for him
Living inside his head

I feel like he’s here with me now
Even though he’s dead

The song is not at all lyrical. In fact, it’s downright awkward. But I suppose that might have been part of what he was going for.

I feel silly every once in a while, writing down random observations and sticking them up in a public space that most people will never see. It’s like that guy who graffitied his life story in subway tunnels in New York. It sometimes seems pointless.

But it’s not.

*(I’m a loser. I actually looked up Snortswen in the phone book to see if any exist. I found a Sniff, a Snortum, and a Snouffer, but no Snortswen.)

22 Jun

Tri Panic Part 2

In our last episode, Tim had just begun his first triathlon ever, grossly under-equipped for the swim portion. Two minutes into the race, gasping for air, he felt like he was near drowning. Let’s see what happened next. . .

More than any other sport, swimming requires you to be aware of two very distinct visual worlds. Your face is either in the water, looking not only at the threatening depths below but also at the frantic bodies of your fellow competitors swimming alongside you; or your face is out of the water, noting the spectators on the shore, the bouys lining the course, or the pier you might start swimming towards if you have a nervous breakdown. The problem is that in the frantic first minutes of the race, when the rhythm of your strokes is a bit quick, you sustain neither view long enough. That is, you are constantly switching between these distinct visual worlds. It’s disorienting. You know how in the movies if a character is lost or overwhelmed or drugged, there’s often a crazy point of view shot where the camera looks all around? Like say the character is a little boy lost at a carnival or something. You’d get one second of the bearded lady laughing maliciously, and then another second of some large man yelling, “step right up,” and then one second of a little girl crying cuz she dropped her cotton candy, and then one second of of some other carny yelling, “the most dizzying ride ever!” and then one second of a bunch of twirling lights. You know what I mean?

This is what it was like two minutes into the race, at which point I decided that I needed to slow down a little if I was going to survive three 10-minute laps of this thing. It took another minute to calm down, however, what with the occasional hand brushing my foot or the occasional pair of kicking legs appearing in front of my face.

But a few minutes later, when I got to the final turn in the course (marked by the only yellow bouy on the water), I thought, “well that came fast,” and the whole thing felt achievable. And in fact, as we neared the shore to get out for our first beach turn-around, my feet found the bottom of the quarry sooner than most (due to my above-average height), and I found myself running through the water way faster than all the chumps around me.

Nevermind that the “chumps” around me were the 50-54 wave of men who had started two minutes behind me, I was kickin their asses!

The next two laps went literally swimmingly, though not all that fast. My wave of men were wearing gold caps. By the time I got out of the water, after approximately 31 minutes, there were no gold caps in sight.

But I felt good since I had survived, and now I had a chance to get on my bike. I’ve been biking a lot this spring/summer. And when I go out for solo rides, I beat everyone else on the road. They don’t know they’re competing with me, but I always win. And unlike the swim course, the bike course was familiar to me. I rode it once last week. Since I didn’t know how fast I’d be on the run, I decided to go pretty hard on the bike. It was fun.

Before the race, they write your race number on your biceps in permanent marker and they write your age on your calf. So as you’re biking, you can see how old everyone is as you catch up to them. I tell you, I passed so many of those 50 year-old bastards. A few times, I shouted, “How did it feel to pass me on the swim, huh? Did you like that?” And then sometimes I’d add, “Bitch.” Unless the 50 year old was a woman, then I didn’t say “bitch” (except maybe once or twice).

I passed more people than I can count. I did nothing but pass people. Two times, the guy I passed tried to fight back and pass me again, but I shouted “turbo!” and passed him.

The transition to the run was pretty uneventful. One of the officials watched me change into my running shoes. “You don’t have one of those tabs in back to just pull it on and go, huh?” I was still a little cocky from the bike portion so I replied, “Yeah, you watch me go.” A minute later, after I had my shoes on, I added, “bitch.”

I was a little sluggish at first on the run. I felt detached. I was just kind of moving forward, unaware really of how fast I was running. The first quarter mile culminates in a pretty steep uphill climb, but at the top, you actually turn around and come back down the same hill. It was then, as I was running downhill, allowing gravity to propel me forward, that I began to feel better. And then, like the idiot I am, I thought, “well, might as well run this as fast as possible.”

After the first of three laps, as I was running up the initial hill again, I approached a small man who was walking. I looked the back of his calf and saw a menacing “50.” I leaned into the hill to pass him and shouted, “on your left,” but he started running. And actually, he was a bit faster than I was. He gained about 20 yards on me, and for the next lap and a half, he gave me something to chase.

I was catching him by inches, but then on the final lap, he stopped to drink some water. I was pretty tired at this point, so I only whispered “turbo!” before I flew right by him. He gave chase, and for the final half a lap, I could hear the beeping of his heart rate monitor. I didn’t dare look back, but I could hear the beeping. I wasn’t losing him as fast as I wanted. The beeping remained loud and clear behind me. It wouldn’t go away. It was like the tell-tale heart; it was driving me insane. When I rounded the final corner, though, I could see the finish line, so I sprinted toward it with everything I had left.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results. It was a tiring feat, lasting two and a half hours. I was exhausted for the rest of the day. But the good news is I beat everyone over 50.

21 Jun

Tri Panic Part 1

So last week, I decided I better sign up for some triathlons. I figured it would be a really bad idea to have the Ironman be my first ever. So I perused the “events in my area” on the active.com website and came across three nearby, upcoming events. I signed up for all of them.

This was on Tuesday. After signing up, I realized I hadn’t really been swimming for a few months. I also figured out that the first triathlon was five days away.

Eileen had helped convince me to throw myself right into the fire. “You don’t have to win the things; you just need to get used to how they work and get some confidence.” She was right.

Still, the prospect was a bit intimidating. Thursday morning, I went to the new public pool to swim laps for an hour; and then on Friday, I put on the wetsuit and swam in my mom’s 65-degree pool for 25 minutes. The swims gave me enough confidence to know I’d at least survive the swim portion.

Come race day, however, that confidence momentarily left me soon after starting my first triathlon ever. The triathlon in question was in Verona, Wisconsin. Thirty minutes before my “wave” of the race took off, I saw the swim course for the first time. It was a little longer than I had envisioned.

The race director informed us that we’d be swimming three counter-clockwise, triangular laps. After each lap, we had to get out of the water, run around a tree on the beach, and enter the water again. As I stood around, awkwardly awaiting the start, I nervously asked the only guy I knew at the race, “so, we have to keep all the bouys to our left?”

When it finally came time to start, I felt pretty good. I took off strong, but a minute later, I was breathing once every stroke and not quite getting enough oxygen. I slowed down a little, but every time I put my face underwater and breathed out through my nose, I saw the murky water fiendishly concealing the bottom of the lake, and for a couple strokes, I was dizzy with the probability that I would drown soon.