Sunday, January 31, 2010

Walkin’ cold

I wrote a little while ago about the things I wear for running in New England’s winter temps. Irresistibly fascinating stuff, I know, but nowhere near as thrilling as listing what I wander in on mornings like yesterday and today. It was about 2°F (about -16°C) when we headed out yesterday morning, and our hysterical weather broadcasters had led us to expect winds in the 20 MPH range, gusting into the 40s. Yikes. That would be some serious wind chill.

On my torso, I went with my usual GoLite DriMove baselayer, topped for low-output exercise by the Patagonia R1 Hoody I also mentioned in the earlier post. It’s too warm for running, even in temps like this, but its weight makes it a great walking layer for cold, windy days, and the hood helps guarantee cozy ears. I wear my Buff under the hood, extending up onto my sensitive yet manly jaw for comfort, then pull on the usual OR Peruvian Hat/Turtle Fur neck gaiter combo.

Over this, I zipped the Patagonia down jacket you can see in the photo above. It’s one of two that has served several of us very well indeed since I bought them on sale in the early 1980s. It’s very light and remains wonderfully warm. Its fabric is stiffer and a fraction heavier than modern stuff would be, and its pockets have single snaps instead of zips, but otherwise it seems to me to be about as good as anything available out there today, despite having suffered a few slings and arrows over the years. It’s not even slightly waterproof, but I think it’s madness to expect that of any down garment. No plans to replace this puppy, that’s for sure.

The mitts are, like the jacket, ancient Patagonia sale gear. They are shells with synthetic inserts. Pretty good, though far surpassed by modern offerings. But they are the repositories of wonderful H memories, do fine walking these mean streets, and won’t be replaced short of my heading off on a Himalayan expedition.

Layers below the waist are pretty, uh, pedestrian: Patagonia Silkweight (now called Capilene 1) long johns ; the excellent Patagonia R1 Pants I bought for the 2008 TGOC; and a cheap pair of full-zip Red Ledge Thunderlight rain pants (now apparently discontinued) as a wind layer. Good, semi-thick REI Hiker socks, the Keen Targhees I also wore on the Challenge, and that’s it.

Unlike on a run, none of this stuff came off, despite a somewhat lower wind factor than advertised. There is, however, a comic aspect to this outfit. I am not, shall we say, adept at pulling the R1 pants—which are essentially tights—on over the long johns—which are essentially tights. The contortions I go through to keep the longies down while pulling the R1’s up are horizontal, vertical, often extreme, and invariably the first invective-producing event of the day. The second occurs the moment—why do I do this every day?—I realize I’ve put my boots on before my wind layer. Even with the full zips open, this entails an awkward and unseemly hopping dance around the kitchen, bouncing between stove and stool to a rhythm no musician would recognize.

Paul has his own theories about dressing for the cold. I have no idea what he crams on underneath—probably something electric, to match his personality—but on the surface, he always tries to emulate famous actors of the past. For summer, Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe, in singlet and shorts; for late fall and early spring, a trench-coated and fedora-topped Humphrey Bogart; and so on. He wouldn’t tell me what he was after yesterday morning, but I’m pretty sure it was either Cary Grant or Fred Astaire.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


After some wrong-address faffing about (I’m actually not in Rochester, Minnesota this winter), I received a couple of new pairs of running shoes yesterday. I mentioned some time ago that I’ve stopped regularly patronizing the two more-or-less local running shops I had sequentially given my business to. One began taking me for granted; its service became perfunctory. The other had assumed from the start that this chubby old guy must be entirely ignorant of the sport. I’m not sure which was more annoying. At any rate, I am now a satisfied customer of RoadRunner Sports.

With this order, I took two steps forward and one step back (in time, at least). First, along with the shoes, I ordered a new reflective vest for early-morning shuffling. This Nathan Streak is vastly better than the ancient, stiff old thing from the ’70s that I’ve been using.

It’s got velcro attachments instead of tie cords (which inevitably came untied), and it’s really light and flexible. I won’t even know I’m wearing it. Cars, I hope, will.

I’m on something of a shoe quest. I’m hoping to find something a little less elderly-feeling that still protects my aging dogs (and ankles, and knees, and legs, and hips, and back...). My second step forward, the Asics Speedstar 4 is a lighter, less padded, trainer that may turn out to be more shoe (or should I say less shoe?) than I can handle at this stage of life. But, although red and black is not exactly me (though I’ve worn worse), I want to try something a little lighter and firmer on my feet. We’ll see.

The step back is a pair of Asics’ obsolete but decent (for me) GT 2110, an earlier, somehow less ploddy-feeling model of the 2030s I’m wearing, but not enjoying, now. One of the good things about RoadRunner is that they seem to maintain a large supply of runners’ former favorites.

So now it’s on to the usual new-shoe ritual: stripping out the cheap supplied innersoles; replacing them with simple Spenco slip-ins (to be topped by my orthotics at shuffle time); lacing up a pair of LockLaces, the gimmick that ain’t; and shuffling the whole package out to the nearest mud puddle or pile of mung to anoint them.

The best thing of all is that H will be here by the middle of this coming week, and I’ll be able to test these new platforms out with her. Even a disaster will be a joy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The joke’s on us...Not!

I just dug this out of one of the digital piles of detritus cluttering up my computer. It’s still moderately amusing, but I especially like it because the punch line has been obsolete since 2004.

Three weeks to pitchers and catchers! It’s snowing like crazy out there today, but balmy zephyrs, green grass, and radio nights with the Sox are just around the corner.

  • 60° F: Southern Californians shiver uncontrollably. People in New England sunbathe.
  • 50° F: New Yorkers try to turn on the heat. People in New England plant gardens.
  • 40° F: Italian and English cars won’t start. New Englanders drive with the windows down.
  • 32° F: Distilled water freezes. Maine’s Moosehead Lake’s thickens.
  • 20° F: Floridians don fur coats, thermal underwear, gloves, and wool hats. New Englanders wear unbuttoned flannel shirts.
  • 15° F: New York landlords finally turn up the heat. People in New England have the last cookout before it gets cold.
  • 0° F: All the people in Miami die. New Englanders close the windows.
  • 10° below zero: Californians fly away to Mexico. New England Girl Scouts are selling cookies door to door.
  • 25° below zero: Hollywood disintegrates. People in New England get out their winter coats.
  • 40° below zero: Washington DC runs out of hot air. People in New England let the dogs sleep indoors.
  • 100° below zero: Santa Claus abandons the North Pole. New Englanders get frustrated because they can’t start their “kahs.”
  • 460° below zero: Absolute zero on the Kelvin scale. All atomic motion stops. People in New England start saying...“Cold ’nuff for ya?”
  • 500° below zero: Hell freezes over. The Red Sox win the World Series.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Up a tree

D the painter, one of my old scoutmates, came by today to paint two flashing patches we had to apply to the house because the place has recently become a woodpecker magnet. He finished them off in no time, then showed me two more holes high on the other side of the house. Imprecations followed, along with wild plans to get rid of the damn birds, despite government protection that keeps me from lining them up in the sites of my trusty Red Ryder BB gun. (Could I “accidentally” deal with them with a thrown tennis ball? Could we net them and file down their, uh, peckers?) The utterly legal and high-minded determination, though, was for him to put up more flashing and paint it. The peckerheads will no doubt simply attack one of the two hole-free sides of the house, and we will continue this merry clapboard dance until the whole place is aluminum-clad. (Actually, I’m trying to think of ways to make my neighbor’s house more attractive than mine to these avian home-wreckers. Maybe some late-night smearing of peanut butter high under the eaves...?)

But ... some good came of all this. In the stretch of trees separating our back yard from our back-back yard is a once-lovely holly tree. A few years back, the dead top of a taller tree snapped off, and a fork of it mated forcefully with some large receptive branches perhaps 20 feet up in the holly. I’ve been wrestling unsuccessfully with the mess since I started the reclamation project back there last summer. Too big, too high, too well stuck. This morning though, we took one of D’s long ladders and headed back there to deal with the issue once and for all. One or two strong words, a few more-or-less serious safety warnings, a short balancing act, a worn-out saw arm, a few firm tugs, and the job was done. The holly, though somewhat the worse for wear, should look much better this summer.

I must say, though, that all of this makes that condo look pretty attractive.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lassies, come home

I’m missing the New Hampshire contingent a lot these days. It’s been a month since I’ve seen them. Fortunately, H and B will be here in a week and A will later arrive for a couple of days before they all head back north. In the meantime, I continue to bless whoever invented iChat.

Sweet B continues to build towers of Legos and blocks, during which she exhibits the unusually long attention span that’s characteristic of both of her parents. She is learning her colors (though many of them do seem to be green). She has lots of words now, loves books, and can name most of the animals she finds in them. (Her father is currently trying to stress the difference between a monkey and an ape. We may be waiting a while on that one, but she can differentiate between hippos and rhinos, which I think is brilliant, don’t you?) And, she’s a wonderfully sunny and happy little person. So things are going well.

But, studying the situation with absolute objectivity, I feel that she needs to see a great deal more of her maternal grandfather to round out her education. (I’m sure her parents agree. “Watch M, dear, and be polite, but then do the other.”)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pick a number

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my father lately (86 on January 14...happy birthday, Dad!), and our conversation the other day somehow turned to numbers. He reeled off his parents’ ancient phone number (PLaza 3-2611). I saw him with my mother’s parents’ 4-2501, and raised him with his 1950s work number: 3-2501, extension 377. We then spun off into our own early-’50s 5-6688, and my Aunt Helen’s 3-0777. (When we moved to Woodbury in 1955, shifting exchanges from PLaza to COngress, reaching all these numbers required operator assistance, despite the fact that we were all of 12 or 13 miles away.)

We had a high old numeric time, eventually expanding to street addresses and license plates. The conversation didn’t start going downhill until I, inevitably but illicitly, got going on baseball batting averages.

Most of us can do these sorts of things with these kinds of numbers. They’re short, of course, and linked to something of personal importance. Many also also present a cadence or rhythm that can be fun to play with. But the other day was really just an enjoyable, increasingly precious, exercise in oddball nostalgia between a father and son.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Super-saver birthday

I was at the grocery store yesterday, and the checkout woman asked me if I qualified for a senior discount. (How could she tell?)

I said, “What does it take?”

“You have to be 62.”

“Nope. Wait! Tomorrow! I’ll be 62 tomorrow!”

“Good enough,” she said. “You get 10 percent off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”

So I saved $1.24.

She was packing my bag and smiling. “Don’t spend it all in one place,” she said.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


You know how you sometimes get a tune stuck in your head, and you go around humming—or God forbid, singing—“Bésame Mucho” all day? (“Hold me my darling and say that you'll always be mine ... The rapture of love makes me want all your kisses each night.” Oh, please shoot me now.)

The pro-active version of this, which I think most of us also share, is occasionally wanting to hear something over and over. Not just a lot. Truly over and over.

My passion for Beatles ’65 subsided some time ago, and this sort of urgent encore listening has ranged from classical (I spent a summer once with Carlos Kleiber’s VPO Beethoven 7th) through what now seems to be called “roots music” (old blues, country, and folk), to jazz (Count Basie’s “Jumpin at the Woodside” is by far the most played song in my iTunes list). Weirdly, I’m now back to the Beatles. “Twist and Shout” has been doing an almost endless loop on my desktop for nearly a week. Maybe this isn’t so weird. I just saw Ferris Beuhler again, and Matthew Broderick’s lip-sync tour de force is hard to resist. The song itself is backed by two of the simplest possible guitar riffs, and I could do without those goofy early-Beatles ooohhs, but with John Lennon doing the shouting in that cold-wrecked raw voice, it’s a terrific rocker. I probably shouldn’t be listening to it. Might strain that left achilles again.

I think this is my 400th post. Not sure what to make of that, but there it is.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ethics and style

A decade or so ago, Yvon Chouinard famously laid out the difference between climbing ethics and climbing style. “Ethics,” he said, “are so that you don’t screw it up for the next guy; and style is so you don’t delude yourself into thinking you are so hot.”

This made quick sense to me. And it made me feel virtuous, since there was never any danger of my thinking I was so hot, struggling as I usually was up a 5.1 with a top rope. And the only way I ever screwed it up for the next guy was to get stuck two pitches up and block the climb until I was reeled in from above.

I ponder, on and off, the rough application of the Chouinard formulation to areas of life other than climbing, but realize applying it would require pounding the round peg of concept into the square hole of definition.

Now I’ve just read some of the other seriously amusing things he said at the same time:

  • “I don’t care if Everest is climbed by an expedition of a hundred Rotary Club members all sucking O’s from a hookah connected to a giant oxygen tank at Base Camp—as long as the mountain is not altered, and the style of the climb does not mar the other climbers’ experience on the mountain. That means no leaving 30 ladders in place, no 10,000 feet of fixed ropes, no helicopters buzzing, no garbage everywhere.”
Bad, bad style, but good ethics. Go you chubby crazed Rotary guys!
  • “Perfect style would be a naked human being soloing a new route on sight. Anything other than that is of lesser stylistic value: If you put on shoes, you get docked one point; extra sticky rubber-two points; previewing or reading a topo—another point—and so on ad infinitum. The farther you get away from perfect style, the less proud you should be of yourself.”
Being a born judgmental Calvinist at heart, I go for this, but only as Puritan magical realism. I want neither to be nor to see that naked climber. (College doesn’t count, right?)

Of course, being a born judgmental Calvinist at heart is spectacularly bad style in itself. On the other hand, it means that my ethics are impeccable.

Doesn’t it?

I’m going for a walk.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Working it out

I’m not going to New Zealand in February. Other issues have arisen, and I won’t be able to accept a place even if one opens up. I was all packed, too, like a kid anticipating summer camp. But other exciting mountainous options decorate the horizon, and despite the recent dents and dings, I’m working to make sure all physical systems will be go.

I can breathlessly reveal that I’m finally back up to 4-mile run/staggers, and tomorrow I also restart the profoundly boring but unarguably effective Total Gym workout every other day after morning pedestrianism. This will keep my back tuned up, my wretched shoulders as loose as they’ll ever get, and will help me toward the ever-receding goal of quads of steel and nice loose hammies rather than the reverse. I also keep one of these little deals in the kitchen and gently stretch these treacherous achilles tendons in random moments while filleting rutabagas. It’s remarkably helpful remarkably quickly.

I just wish there was a ProStretch for the aging brain. Twang.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Boxing Day

Dressed and ready, puttering around the unnatural clean neatness, minor anxiety. Early bird awkwardness liquidly dispelled. Kitchen fills, overflows, guests arriving through three different doors, coats piling up, wine or beer, spiced cider yes as always. Rising tide of sound, pushing through to welcome singles, couples, families, friends of. Oh, I didn’t see you come in have a drink. Bouncing like a bee from friend to friend. Thanks and farewell. Don’t go just yet have another drink we haven’t had a chance. But others go. A little more space to move. Longer conversations, lower volumes. Down to a few, quietly rehashing, catching up. Then the family alone, wonderfully if temporarily expanded for the holiday. A quick clean-up, the annual search for uneaten potato chips—usually forbidden—and a long, easy, bottle of beer. Great party.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Houston, we have no problem

I’m in Concord, spending time with my favorite 17-month-old. Residents work 80 hours a week, and H is currently on night float. A also needs to work extended hours these days, though centered on a standard 8-hour day. They literally haven’t seen each other since the weekend. Sweet B has wonderful daycare, but all this parental striving leaves short periods uncovered morning and evening. That’s me.

B’s actually outgrown her Bumbo, but she’s taken to squeezing back into into it, chanting her version of “three, two, one,” and expecting to be blasted off and rocketed around the house, usually trailing this now flabby New Year’s balloon. I exist to serve.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Harlem on my mind

The Harlem of my imagination is the one full of great African-American artists doing their things: writers, dancers, musicians, painters...the whole glorious mix of the Harlem Renaissance. Who with my musical interests wouldn’t love to go back in time to the Savoy Ballroom or a hoppin’ rent party?

On the other hand, my English-Irish grandmother—the farthest thing from either black or artistic—was born there in 1888.

And it began as a little Dutch farming village, miles and miles north of New Amsterdam.

Now it’s again changing fundamentally.

An interesting article in this morning’s New York Times

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 17-month birthday, sweet B ...

... and Happy New Year, too! (Water! It was water!)

An iChat kiss good-bye.

I’m heading north on Sunday for five days in Concord. Lots of time for real hugs and kisses, though B’s way too active these days for snuggles. My job is to fill in next week’s unique interstices among mommy, daddy, and daycare, so I’ll have the days free. I’d originally planned to hit the mountains, but realized that in the winter there was no time for the round trip and the climb. Plan B is downhill skiing, which I haven’t done in somewhere between 15 and 20 years. This may, in fact, make no sense, given the achilles issue (much better but a little dicey). So I may have to develop a Plan C. Whatever the plan, it will be wonderful to be with the New Hampshire branch of the family for a while.