My evolution of running (aka jogging)

I was talking with a good friend who is going through a rough patch on Friday night and he had just gone running and I launched into a helpful little monologue about how important exercise is to his emotional well-being – healthy body/healthy mind – and all that good stuff and it didn’t occur to me at the time that I had not done any exercise myself for months.

I’ve been a runner, which is a serious misnomer, since I was about twelve or thirteen. It’s a misnomer because what I do is not running, but jogging mostly, sometimes just glorified walking. Unless bears are chasing me, or cops (“the fuzz” as they were known then), I really don’t ever actually run. So yesterday and today I did run (jog), inspired by my own words of encouragement or embarrassment for having talked so glowingly about it while not actually practicing what I was preaching.

On my run today I was thinking about the early days and remembered the first time I set out to run for running’s sake, but it wasn’t exactly that even. You see, I had the great fortune of growing up on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, which is a lake smack dab in the middle of the city, part of a string of lakes actually that include Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and the other one, the name of which escapes me and always has for some odd reason.

Back in those days, and this would have been around 1975, very few people ran for the sake of running. Kids who ran track or cross-country in high school ran and other athletes ran but mostly on or around the field. You could sit on a Saturday in summertime and see few if any runners circling the lakes. There were certainly some, but nothing like the throngs that now pack the paths like some circuitous mass journey to Mecca.

I remember my buddy Ben Johnson, two doors down, and I deciding to “run around the lake.” I put that in quotes because we would never have said, “Let’s go running,” and then run around the lake. In the same manner, no one would have said, “Let’s go painting,” when in fact they wanted to “paint the shed.” To “go running” came about later, I don’t know when, at least within my worldview. We weren’t running for running’s sake. We were running to run around the lake.

So we put on our crappy flat-footed Converse All Stars, which at the time had not yet been inducted as the quintessential icon of alt-rock coolness by our neighbors (who lived closer to Isles than Calhoun), The Replacements. They were simply all we had. Pumas, Adidas and Nike were just about to explode onto the scene, but at this point it was the Converse, or a shoe we called Bumpers, or P.F. Flyers to choose from, as far as I can remember. And they all came in only black, white or blue. Mine were blue.

And then we ran around the lake, which set into motion a lifetime of running (jogging, glorified walking) for me. It’s cool to distinctly remember a day almost 40 years ago that was only unique at the time in that we ran around the lake, and yet profoundly changed my life.

I’m still a little old school (although I definitely wear better shoes) in that I tend to be in sweats – real sweats, gray or blue or whatever, the same style as I would have in 75, rather than any sort of tight, bright, modern, expensive running gear. I honestly cannot imagine my butt in those “pants” if that’s what you call what looks like spray-on nylon. Nor do I think anyone else should have to imagine it, let alone actually witness in real-time bouncing down the street.

I often wonder standing at a red light who looks more ridiculous: Me in my baggy sweats looking like a Rocky wanna-be on his way to sprint up a long flight of stairs punching at the air, or the tall, skinny, rainbow-ed Oompa-Loompa next to me running in place, apparently unable to stop moving lest his legs turn to ice beneath that thin veneer of elastic something or other. It’s probably a wash.

Speaking of ridiculous, I spent a month in a smaller city in Serbia, Jagodina, back in the 90’s. For some stupid reason I got it in my head to go running. Now at the time, this was a place where personal health and exercise had evolved to mostly smoking, drinking and fighting. I took off in purple shorts and a t-shirt (I had not at that time seen a single human being in shorts throughout Serbia despite the fact that it was in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit) and ran by some guys who said something in Serbian, which I did not speak and no longer remember. When I got back I told the people who I was staying with what the guys had said and they laughed. “Fucking purple underwear.” I didn’t run anymore in Jagodina.

Vladimir Hitler (okay, that’s over the top)

Kudos to the Russians for the Olympic intro. God bless ‘em, yes, it was an extravaganza, as it always is. Beautiful and poignant and then, ultimately, please make it stop, super bowl halftime style. But I think they made some recognition of their own not so perfect history, which was good. I’m not sure even we juggernaut Americans would have done so. Some recognition of a not so Pollyanna past which they’ve been prone to as Soviets and now new Russians. Something tells me we would have draped a flag over all of our own ugly past. But there’s still the 50 billion dollar price tag (what happened to that?!), which the Chinese would have parlayed into an Olympic games and then maybe Disney Beijing. Putin’s a megalomaniac, no doubt. And this is his moment. But is it enough? I don’t think so.

But let’s watch the games!

Sadly in the end, Putin will do what Putin wants to do. Shit, Hitler had the Olympic games at his peak and look how that turned out, how history sees it, Vladimir.

But let’s just watch the games!

Let’s first look and then think

Let us all stop.
pay the attention that the rest of the world deserves. travel.
puts our own life into some sort of matrix with the rest of the world.
We have our one percent, god bless em,
and then there’s the true reality of our
one world.
I once read that one in seven people on our planet is a Chinese peasant.
Think
create some semblance of equality, fairness and decency
in the most basic of all human needs – the care of ourselves,
our loved ones
and our families’
health.

Perspective from the Mini Van

I was driving the other day with my daughter in the back seat when she asked, “Papa, are we rich?

I looked around me at the cracked and worn interior of our ten-year-old rusted Mazda Protégé, glanced at the 126,000 miles on the odometer and noticed the always-on engine light. My mind wandered to our other 10-year-old mini-van, our 1,100 square foot house in need of windows, siding, and roof among other repairs and thought about the piles of debt our family had, laughed a little sarcastically, and said, “No, Olivia, we are not rich.”

Then it dawned on me and I added, “Actually, we are rich.”

“We have our own home with a roof over our heads, that we can keep 70 degrees when it’s 30 below and 68 degrees when it’s 100. We have more than a thousand square feet in there – plus the basement! We have two cars that run – with just two drivers in the house. We have a pantry, refrigerator and freezer that are bursting with food – there’s no room to put anything more! We get new clothes constantly. We have so much stuff that we get to go to the Goodwill twice a year and give a box or two away to people who are not as rich as us! We have computers, an iPad, smartphones, internet access, and cable tv.”

I was just getting started.

“We have a brand new street in front of our house, and roads to take us anywhere we want to go that are lit at night. We have free parks, schools, and libraries all around us. We have wonderful family and great friends who love us and we love back. We have amazing neighbors. We have our own business that provides six darn good jobs. We are surrounded by great little Vietnamese, Thai, East African and good old American restaurants that we have enough money to enjoy!”

“Yeah, there are a lot of people with much more than us and many with much, much more, but there are a hell of a lot more people on this planet with much, much less! We are blessed! So, hell yes, Olivia, we are rich!!

I half expected some applause to accompany my goose bumps, but when I looked in my rear-view mirror, my little girl was just gazing out the window of the van at the world passing by.

“Pretty sweet, huh?” I asked, and she turned, met my eyes in the mirror and smiled.

“Yeah.”

Fire and Flintstones

I was reading something about the ineffectiveness of various youth programs around the United States and was struck by a thought that rarely enters my mind: oh, t’were it we only had more fire and brimstone! Well-meaning liberals (and some conservatives surely) put their grand efforts into turning troubled and disadvantaged kids around at every corner. And they mostly fail, but that is not for lack of effort. There is such a giant stew of reasons – ranging from rap music to broken homes to lack of jobs to under-funded schools and missing parents – that something like after-school basketball just can’t make much of a difference. The kids spend a couple of hours a week in some well-planned utopia and then the other 165 in reality. And reality sucks for most of those we are trying to help.

But back in the day, see, religion had an iron grip on many kid’s minds. Yes, they were also more likely to be from two-parent homes, the union kept dad working, there was no such thing as thrash metal and Facebook, and watching too much Flintstones was what parents feared most about the effects of the media, but it was the Sunday sermon that often prevented the slide from good boy to juvenile delinquent. The real horror of burning in hell for lifting a pack of bubble gum held some sway back in those days. And while my own opinion is that it was (and is) tall tales long ago concocted by men wanting to control other men, women and children, Jesus man, it worked!

The Reluctant Alpha Dog

Okay, so how did this happen?

First, I never wanted a dog. I was fully aware of how much work dogs are, how much they tie you down, how much exercise they need (that is, if you care enough about them you will make certain they get, which is one of the things that so amazes me about many so-called dog lovers who let their dog sit in the house all day long and then merely open the back door when they get home so doggy-do-nothing can amble about in the 300 square feet of outside space available to them – rant complete), I was especially fully cognizant of how much they poop, and also how much the annoying little bark machines can cost you in food, dog accouterments and vet fees. So how did this happen?

It may not come as a surprise, but I don’t even really like dogs and those same dog people are always quick to say, “That’s because you never had a dog growing up!”, as if not having a dog growing up is like not having ever ascended Mount Everest growing up. I had plenty of access to dogs because pretty much everyone else had a dog and quite honestly even that was too much dog for me.

So one night, admittedly, after a few beers – and years and years and years of friends, family, and every other dog person who felt the right, telling me that I had to have a dog and that my kids needed to grow up with a dog (lest they end up a dog-hater like me – touché) – I simply caved. I walked into the living room where the kids were watching tv and my eight-year-old daughter asked again, as she had a hundred thousand times before, “When can we get a dog?”

I remember the moment. It’s visually kind of gauzy now, like one of those wax paper photo effects of yore, and I felt my strength not only ebb but drop out of me like I’d eaten a pound of resolve laxative. I paused for a split second and then said it, “We can get a dog.”

All faces turned to me, stunned, which would have been truly comic had it not simply reinforced what I suddenly realized had come out of my mouth.

I was screwed.

I followed up with something about how it had to be a rescue dog, as I’m particularly annoyed by those who concern themselves with holding one bucket of dog genes above another. You know the Nazis did that.

And, yes, I know, suddenly I was the great champion of dogs, but I do have to make that distinction: you can heartily dislike dogs as an aggregate, and yet also not want any one of them to suffer. I don’t have any particular affinity for deer but you’ll never find me hiding in a tree (dressed like a tree) punching a hole through one’s neck with a high-powered rifle. There are plenty of people we dislike passionately, but we’d still pity them their terminal cancer diagnosis, right?

My wife was on the Google and in minutes and had all sorts of printed pictures of future dogs that they all pored over screeching, “Oh, look at that one!” “Ooh, daddy, I want this one!” “I love Scout!” “Can we get Molly?”

Note that I married into a family of serious dog people. There are more dogs than people, I think. These people would shoot one another rather than withhold a biscuit for Spunky. Family get-togethers are like trips to the humane society. Imagine the stress I was under.

Fast forward to today and we have a half black lab/half Australian shepherd (we think) female dog animal named Bindi (came with that, by the way) and here’s the mystery: I’m her alpha dog. She follows me everywhere – up the stairs, down the stairs, into this room and out of that one – into the bathroom for the love of god. She lies at my feet at any opportunity. She stares at me.

The entire family can be yelling “No, Bindi! Drop that, Bindi!” and she’ll just stand there looking up at them, and then I can walk in the room and say, “Drop it.” And the ravaged shoe is on the ground.

But why me? Does she know about my past? Is she affording me this deference because I never wanted her in the first place? Is she trying to break me as they did, but this time not from non-dog-owner to dog-owner, but from dog owner to dog lover?

Restaurants consider themselves either “kid-friendly” or “kid-tolerant”. I am dog tolerant. I am a dog tolerant alpha dog.

Yes, there are fleeting moments where I look over at her and she’s staring up at me, cocks her head every so slightly, and raises an eyebrow and, yes, it’s kind of cute. But, really, did I trade my freedom (she can’t be alone for more than about 6 hours), my money (we talked about that), and my dignity (I pick up her poop, she does not pick up mine), for kind of cute?

Apparently so. And she does sit when I tell her to sit.

I'm only smiling because she's not pooping... right now.
I’m only smiling because she’s not pooping… at least, not right now.

Facebook is…

Facebook is to communication what chicken McNuggets are to haute cuisine.
Facebook is where people who don’t really like each other can stay in touch.
Facebook is to friends what 🙂 is to happiness.
Facebook is an opportunity to say “happy birthday!” (to veritable strangers).
Facebook is where real thoughts are nipped in the bud and presented as such.
Facebook is a grandmother’s dream come true.
Facebook is where you can picture yourself over and over and over…
Facebook is where people are sure to find…something.
Facebook is where bitter people blossom.
Facebook is where interesting ideas can be shared until they are no longer.
Facebook is where people who are obsessed about something obsess.
Facebook is to friendship what water is to single malt scotch.
Facebook is the bathroom wall for logorrhea sufferers.
Facebook is where you can care shallowly.
Facebook is to productivity what termites are to two-by-fours.
Facebook is for sad people to seem happy.
Facebook is where you can change your status without changing one iota.
Facebook is a kennel of barking dogs.
Facebook is the La Brea tar pits for the egregiously self-centered.
Facebook is a tower of babble.

Facebook connects human beings to bits.

the republicans have been robbed!

Part of me wants to say “Hip Hip Hooray for Rob Portman!” The republican senator from Ohio came out yesterday in support of same-sex marriage – which is gutsy in a party that generally thinks homosexuals are deviants, the earth is seven thousand years old, and all you need are bootstraps to be as fat and happy as Wall Street CEOs.

It seems Rob’s son came out to him and that is what changed his mind. This is all still laudable, but when you are unable to have empathy for any sort of person until there is one of those sorts of people in your own family you might be lacking a sufficient amount of empathy. I’m not even sure empathy is what we feel for our own children considering the absolute closeness we feel with them. The sadness and joy we feel when our own children feel sadness and joy seems closer to some sort of Vulcan mind meld than something called empathy.

Either way, I’ll go with “Hip Hip Hooray!” And add, “Welcome to the enlightenment, the 21st century, and common human decency!”