Monday, June 29, 2009

Kiwi winter (summer?)—maybe

I’ve gotten serious about tramping in New Zealand this February. The Appalachian Mountain Club is running what looks like a terrific “Major Excursion” (the Abel Tasman and Routeburn tracks, and most of the Kepler). The only drawback is that it filled up so fast that I didn’t make the cut. I’m on the waiting list. It sounds a little like the TGOC, doesn’t it? But unlike the Challenge, the AMC is trying to put together another section to meet demand. So I have two reasons to remain hopeful.

I’ve always loved walking with friends and family, but it wasn’t long ago that I would have drilled my own teeth before going on a group trip of this kind. I’m fundamentally shy, and I’ve also been certain there would be at least one person along who would drive me insane and spoil the whole experience. But I don’t much enjoy walking solo, and recent experiences and reports have changed my mind about groups. I had a fantastic time meeting and walking with new friends on the Challenge last year. I’ve had old friends tell me how great AMC and similar trips have gone for them. I’ve also discovered that two of the very few advantages of growing older have been a lessening reserve and more easy going attitude.

So I’m sitting here in my jandals, nursing a jug, and hoping this whole thing doesn’t go down the gurgler.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Back to the flannel

June has been way cooler, grayer, and wetter than usual. The last few days have remained gray and wet, but it’s been getting hotter. It was steamy enough even early yesterday morning that I broke out the old washcloth. I’ve always run with one of these in the humid summer, soaked, wrung out, folded in half, and tucked in the back of my waistband. So here we all are, having complained for a month about the rain, about to complain for the rest of the summer about the heat and humidity.

I’m just happy to be regularly back on the roads. Drip, drip, sting, wipe.


I’ve written before about how much I love these sessions. Concord, New Hampshire isn’t Minnesota, but it’s still almost 4 hours away from us here in Woodbury, and having left my little lovey cold turkey, I’m grateful for these digital fixes. Here’s a moment from yesterday evening.

These days, B is standing and balancing unaided, and is clearly mere days away from walking—and I think also very close to that first meaningful “mama” moment. She is also regularly using hand signals for “milk,” and “all done,” and sometimes a few others. Not a single tooth, yet, though. She has wonderful care during the day (a big sigh of relief from all of us), and seems to be naturally sweet and cheerful like her mother, as opposed to naturally crabby and hypercritical like that miserable old geezer, her maternal grandfather,

H is finishing up two weeks of orientation at the hospital, and begins her first shift as an MD on Sunday night.

So my girls are good, and so good to see.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It ain’t the Sox and the Yanks

Yes, the U.S. beat Spain in soccer. Those of us who noticed are delighted.

Inevitably, one more “A”

And so another “family value” pol bites the dust—after apologizing to a long, long list, including “people of faith.” It’s not the adultery but the moralizing, psalm-singing, holier-than-thou hypocrisy that drives me nuts. I wish I could train myself to think of it as mere farce, but it gets up my nose every time.

And that’s the last you’ll hear from me about South Carolina Governor, now former chair of the Republican Governors Association, and utter phony Mark Sanford. Best wishes to his shattered family.

Well, they both start with “A”

Now-returned South Carolina Governor Sanford wasn’t on the Appalachian Trail. He was in Argentina. Before he was “escorted away by an aide,” he said he had been thinking of the AT, but “wanted to do something exotic.”

Sometimes the gods just need a laugh. If he’d stuck with the trail, today he’d be huffing and puffing through Bull Gap.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hugging the extreme right of the footpath

The famously moronic governor of South Carolina went “missing” over the weekend. Nobody, including his wife, knew where he was. After offering multiple statements, his staff now says he’s walking the Appalachian Trail. That, of course, takes in a lot of territory, so the people of his state still don’t really know where he is.

It would, of course, be great in many ways if more pols would get out for a walk now and then. These Southern creationist types, though, should just take a hike.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lyrics and those who attack them

I’ve been dipping into Gary Giddins again. In today’s episode, he declares “the manifest adultness of great lyrics,” which I think is true, and not entirely limited to the so-called “Great American Songbook” of ’20s-’40s standards that he happens to be discussing. He also comments that, “[f]or some reason, few postrock singers can mine the meaning of prerock songs. Is it the often literary and metaphorical language that is alien to them or the rhythms on which the songs are dependent or the required subtlety in phrasing? Those with a theatrical background tend to overemote in a nonswinging Streisandarian bellow, as if determined to clobber the songs before they can clobber them back.”

I think he’s right on all counts here, too. I find it difficult to listen to, say, Rod Stewart either searching for or faking the right kind of sophistication to inhabit these songs. To say he hasn’t got it in him is to be kind. But, of course, the “nonswinging Streisandarian bellow,” so often mistaken for great singing is much, much worse. The song may not always get in the first punch, but it does always defeat these clowns

As we all know, if it ain’t got that swing, it don’t mean a thing.

[Along these musically judgmental lines, I used to love the way that the editors of the Penguin Guide to Classical Music used the word “suave” as a dismissive pejorative, being somehow foreign, and dangerously ingratiating. (You know what these foreigners are.) In my memory, at least, good English performances were “bright,” “open,” and “direct,” sometimes “lyrical” or “luminescent.” And, you know? They are.]

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I forgot that school was still in session, so I haven’t been able to go throw a ball against its wall in the mornings. The weather’s been bad enough to make it silly in the evening, too, so I’ve only had one good session. The good news is that things aren’t quite as bad as I’d thought.

Catchers, because they have to get rid of the ball so quickly, and are constrained by their position, crouching behind the batter and in front of the umpire, are taught to make quick snap throws from the ear. This kind of toss I seem still to be able to make with reasonable accuracy and at least some feeling of remembered normality. Not great, but not ridiculous.

Second basemen have to get rid of the ball quickly, too, but they often have to do it on the move, and their throw, more often than not, is to first base. So they are taught a quick, sidearm flip across their bodies. In my youth, this was my “normal” throw, the one I defaulted to when I was just tossing a ball back and forth with a friend. But now, I can’t throw the damn ball straight this way, and everything feels all out of whack. This may be due to a shoulder injury, but I’m not ready to buy that explanation yet. I think the problem has more to do with wrist motion than lack of range in the shoulder. At any rate, I’m going to stick with it until I find out. If it’s the wrist, I can fix it.

This is, I know, a slightly pathetic obsession in someone my age. There’s a line in The Philadelphia Story where the somewhat creepy father of the bride claims that older men have affairs because of their sense of mortality. I don’t know about chasing chorus girls, but throwing a baseball? Absolutely. I know my Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should snap and flip at close of day....
Throw, throw with the left hand or the right.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

“I get the blues ’bout every night...

... since I fell for you.”

The wonderful Nina Simone.

This one’s on all the playlists I listen to most often, and every time it pops up, I hit repeat a few times. It happened again just now.

Soul? Jazz? Blues? Precisely.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I once wrote the introduction for a baseball publication, using the iconic ball itself to help carry the load. I chose to begin talking about it by describing the different ways in which it’s typically thrown by the different position players:
Pick it up. With your eyes closed, on the darkest night, you know what it is. Grip it in your fingers. Feel the seams. Throw it your way. Catchers snap from the ear. Second basemen flip sidearm. The big motion is for pitchers. Outfielders take their crow-hop and come straight over the top.

This weekend we went to a picnic where I had a catch for the first time in over 10 years. I was embarrassed and dismayed to discover that I can no longer snap it, flip it, or toss it in any way whatsoever. I might as well have been French.

I was a boy who understood that baseball was a key to life. I bought, borrowed, and pilfered baseballs as needed. (I was once handed a brand new official American League ball by an umpire friend of my grandfather, as the three of us walked through right field on the way to the parking lot after a men’s game, thereby receiving stolen goods from the ultimate American authority figure.) I tossed and caught with friends and family all summer, and when no one was around, I threw tennis balls or spaldeens against the house (my mother loved the game, too), or the garage, or off the basketball backboard. When the weather was too wet or cold, I fired the old pill into pillows, suspended blankets, or upended mattresses. Throwing was like breathing, but more urgent.

Yesterday’s sad display was an utter shock. So here’s the deal. I don’t think they make spaldeens, those pink rubber balls once produced by the Spalding company, anymore, but I’ve got a tube of tennis balls upstairs (I use them after I wash my sleeping bag, to break up clumps of down in the dryer). I’m going to take one over to the school every morning after my run, tape an X on one of the blank brick walls, and throw against it for ten minutes. If I’m not snapping, flipping, and tossing like an American boy again in a week, I’ll take up p├ętanque.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Koko Taylor, R.I.P.

I’m a woman,
I’m a rushin’ wind,
I can cut stone with a pin.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Short, slow, and conversational

It’s gray and rainy now, but we had a lovely blue and sunny morning. Paul and I ambled our usual conversational three miles, and I followed up with a little shuffle on my own, interrupted mid-way by a chance meeting with an old teammate, during which we cracked each other up with stories (some nearly true) of running and racing in the early ’60s. Talking about being 16 is a wonderful way to become speedy again.

Coincidentally, the New York Times told me yesterday that these little halts have become quite fashionable among especially new and older marathoners. Jeff Galloway has actually been writing about the benefits of walk-run training for years. I, however, am not training for a marathon. I’m not training for anything beyond achieving the shred of basic fitness that would allow me to begin training for something. So I’m at least a modified temporary Gallowist. No speed, build the mileage slowly. And stop to chat whenever chuckles seem likely.

Monday, June 1, 2009

We had a great weekend in New Hampshire. H and A were competing in their first triathlon, a “sprint” event with a 1/3 mi. swim, 12 mi. ride, and 3 mi. run. We were there in support. (Actually, it was primarily a great excuse to hang out again with sweet B after not seeing her for a whole, sadly deprived, week.)

The event was impressively organized, and seemed to go off without a hitch. H, who essentially learned how to really swim over the past few months, found the water segment challenging, but she and A both did fine, and are planning to do another in three weeks. We will once again provide support ... and get in some good snuggles.

The tri was at a small resort and ski area in East Madison, but we stayed a half-hour north near the fleshpots of North Conway, which over the last few decades has become one huge strip mall of outlet shops. It manages to retain some charm, though, including its remarkable and nicely restored 19th century railroad station.

The area also offers two legitimately excellent independent outdoor stores and the Limmer shop (best custom boots in the world), not to mention—once away from the frenzied shopping along Rt. 16—superb walking and climbing. It’s an outdoor mecca, close to the heart of the part of the country we all love most. It was wonderful to be back.

The moose? No problem.