Monday, May 31, 2010

The Knuckle Princess

Anne Chadwick Williams for The New York Times

Here’s an article in the New York Times this morning about an 18-year-old, 5-foot-1 Japanese girl pitching in an independent baseball league in California. She’s apparently known as the “Knuckle Princess” in her homeland. The knuckler is held with the nails of the index and middle fingers dug into the ball’s laces and is really more pushed off than thrown. The object is to keep the ball from spinning, which results in air pressure making it “dance” unpredictably. It can be very effective, especially on humid, heavy days. (Catchers hate it, though. It fools them as much as it fools the batter. Hence Bob Uecker’s famous advice on how to catch one: “Wait ’til it stops rolling, and pick it up.”)

Good luck, Eri!

(From the photo I at first thought she might be the only sidearm knuckleballer in captivity. But when you look carefully you can see the photographer caught her throwing a breaking ball. I’d stick with the knuckler, kid.)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Apples down under

If you’re an Aussie, you could have bought an iPad Friday, but if you’re a Kiwi, you have to wait until July. What’s that all about?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I guess I’ve been called worse

A few years back, Alan Sloman memorably blogged this Spike Milligan phrase of description: “his legs hung from his underpants like two pieces of knotted string.”

Along those lines, Paul and I were strolling along the other morning, when a dog-walking lady we occasionally pass called to us from the other side of the road, “Hey, it’s the long pants guy and the short pants guy!” Guess which one I am.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Congratulations all!

My friends who walked this year’s TGO Challenge have all finished their walks across Scotland in the last few days. I've been avidly and enviously following those who’ve been blogging from moor and mountain. (Among these, special congrats to Martin Banfield on his Route of the Year award.) And now I’m looking forward to the tales and pix of those who wait until they get home. Congratulations also to the supreme commander of this wonderful event, Roger Smith, and those who helped staff the war room at Montrose.

This blog began, as it says over there on the side, as a way for me to make some friends and gain some tips before my Challenge in 2008, from which I retired after a mere four days. (I’m not sure which was worse, the depression or the embarrassment.) I couldn’t make it back last year or this, but I’m still determined that this space’s original aim not become obsolete. My personal route of the year will simply be one completed.

Cheers, Challengers!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Balm in Gilead, chilled

“There’s nothing like a cracking cold Sancerre,” said Hemingway, and he was almost right.

It reached 99°F (37°C) in Connecticut yesterday, an all-time record for the month of May, and humid with it. Naturally, after our walk, I chose the day for yardwork, first cutting the pasture-high grass in the back yard, then wrestling with rakes, hoses, and bags of seed to combat the crabgrass infestation in the front. I then went inside, sat down in a puddle of sweat, put my feet up, and killed two quarts of iced tea that some angel had made and left in the fridge.

This morning was much cooler, and I headed out for my scheduled four miles with short-hill repeats. Things felt mighty fine—loose, rhythmic, smooth, light—until just about three miles, when I felt the tiniest twinge in my right achilles. The brakes went on pretty fast. A few gentle stretches, a little walk, and a second attempt. Nope. Mind you, this was the merest hint of a problem, the shallowest possible breath of an ouch, but I’ve become the ultimate wuss. I really, really, really don’t want to run myself out of running. I don’t think it’s anything serious, but I’ll find out Saturday, and either carry merrily on or jump off a cliff. In the meantime, more iced tea, tart with lemon and redolent of mint and memory, is indicated.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Antipodean anticipation

Well, if all goes as planned, I’m off for New Zealand in February. It’s an Appalachian Mountain Club trip—same itinerary as last year’s offering, which I spent on the waiting list—of 12-15 people, including the two AMC first-among-equals-style leaders, who sound terrific. A few days each of hut-to-hut on the Abel Tasman, the Kepler, and the Routeburn tracks. Generally leery of group trips, I’m really looking forward to this one, and expect it to be cheerfully social and stunningly beautiful. As a book distributor I briefly worked for used to say, I can get down with that! I’m especially looking forward to the early-morning haka.

I’m thinking of buying new kit. All black, of course.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tomatomania! And more!

 We drove a big, beautiful circle yesterday. From Woodbury up through Bethlehem, and into Morris, to White Flower Farm, where a big crowd was enjoying the gardens and checking out the gazillion tomato varieties on sale. (Americans generally say, “Tomayto.” I certainly do. But as Cole Porter reminds us, a significant minority says “Tomahto.” We tomayto people generally feel the tomahto crowd are either putting on the dog or suffered a wealthy and socially prominent childhood.* We bought neither tomayto nor tomahto, but only tomatillo and basil, which we, of course, pronounce bayzil.)

We took in an excellent short talk on planting veggies in containers and raised beds, then continued north through prosperous countryside to Litchfield, where Chris was holding a few cases for us at his excellent wine shop, Casa Bacchus.

Litchfield has become something of a scene on warm Saturdays, and the restaurants and shops seemed to have been doing a good business. But, setting our face against conspicuous consumption, we headed west on Route 202 through Bantam and New Preston to the first of what will likely be two or three summer visits to Clamps, a tiny, old-fashioned, and deservedly popular hamburger stand in Marbledale. (For me, at least, Clamps is the Hamburger equivalent of Blackie’s, whose hotdogs—five or six of them at least, with the house relish only—lots of relish— will be my choice when the warden asks me what I’d like as a final meal.)

A short return north, then east, past our favorite orchard, to pick up Route 47 in Washington Depot, up the hill to Washington Green, and then home, where I quickly chilled a bottle of that wine and dawdled away the rest of a fine New England spring day.

* There are ways to pronounce the word that Porter’s song ignores. The great baseball player, Joe DiMaggio, had a sharp eye for attractive women (he was once married to Marilyn Monroe). He’d spot one, elbow a teammate, and say, “Wow, just look at that tamaytah!”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Outside the range of normality

I meant to note this great short, personal, article about Emily Dickinson by Holland Carter in last Tuesday’s (May 11) New York Times.

Just a couple of quotes to whet your appetite:

I ... discovered there a dynamic I had sensed but hadn’t been able to name: fluidity of gender. She spoke as a woman, a man, a little girl, a little boy, a lover active and passive. Suddenly she was throwing out a power-of-example lifeline. Not only was she an outsider, she was also, so it seemed, an outlaw, on the margins, where I felt I was too.

She was well aware that she was putting herself outside the range of normality. But I never had the impression that she yearned to be inside it. Just the opposite. When once asked whether she didn’t miss going out, seeing friends, living the life everyone else lived, she answered, “I never thought of conceiving that I could ever have the slightest approach to such a want in all future time.” Then she added, “I feel that I have not expressed myself strongly enough.”
I’ve mentioned before that my poetry reading is as close as I get to wrestling, and that I find Dickinson especially difficult. Carter has made me dig out my little volume and have another go, with a more open mind.

A wonderful piece.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Up, up, up, up. Down, down, down, down.

This is one of sweet B’s little chants when she’s lifting and bending with some stuffed animal or plaything. Today it also describes what I spent a bit of time doing during my run. There’s a short hill—only 70 meters or so, but nicely pitched—in the cemetery. Depending on my route for the day, it’s usually just a grunt up or a glide down, but today I did a half-dozen repeats at reasonable effort. I’ve definitely accepted the challenge those New Hampshire hills delivered last weekend. (And, of course, results could be transferred to a different Challenge.)

Decent form is even more important on an incline than on the flat. My action could never have been described as metronomic perfection, but I’ve worked on a few things over the years to make it as efficient as possible. The key thing for me on hills is to rotate my palms from facing essentially down to facing essentially up. This brings my elbows in closer to my body and makes it easier to drive the arms strongly forward and back, rather than in the more swinging motion that works on flat ground. For me, this adjustment also has a psychological effect. It clicks me in and makes me focus on working this tougher terrain. There’s a whole, wonderfully enjoyable, entirely attainable, art and science to running hills.
My favorite hill, the sweetheart of all local sweethearts, is a couple of miles out of town, and right now I’d have to drive (weak, weak, weak), or bike (currently broken) if I wanted to run a workout on it. I’m probably a month or so away from comfort at 6-7 miles, but then it’s once a week on Mill Road for me. In the meantime, it’s up, up, up, up, down, down, down, down.

Just to make this post pretty, here’s B last week playing with what remains one of her great interests: a Fastex buckle. She now buckles herself into her own highchair, backpack, and—partly—this car seat. Of course, she can buckle herself out, too, which can make things interesting.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Now here’s cool

It flashes by fast, but I think I had a cheap repro of one of the Braques (Braqueses?) hanging on my wall at college. Commenters ID the music as “Mad Rush” by Philip Glass.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A little X-C

H and I had a wonderful run Saturday morning. It was a very hilly course, largely over grassy meadow, often uneven underfoot, with significant stretches of wooded single-track where passing (or being passed) was virtually impossible. In other words, a wonderful cross-country 5K.

The day was gorgeously green and briskly sunny, with a few hundred cheerful runners (it’s so pleasant not to be nervous at a race). The many spectators included sweet B, who shouted “Run! Run!” at the competitors when she wasn’t singing the ABC Song at the top of her voice. There was a really good bluegrass band at the start/finish, and a piper and a pair of fiddlers at strategic spots. There were also big plow horses (“Horsies!”, with a tug at the hair that is the equine sign).

The hills drove me to my knees, and I could feel them in my quads all day yesterday, but all in all, the event left me optimistic. And, of course, it was a run with H (who kindly stayed with me throughout), which automatically made it one of the year’s best days.

If I’m not in Scotland next year, I’ll be here again. Those hills require a little payback.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fast times in Concord

B, A, and H were in Woodbury last weekend, and we had a wonderful time. B, aka the Venus of Urbino in Jammies, got better and better at please (“peetz”) and thank-you (“ank-doo”). “Mango, peetz.”

Now we’re all in New Hampshire, and yesterday morning she was popped into her little pod for the bike trip to daycare. Her first ride this spring was a disaster due to bumpy roads and a sore behind, but now, well padded, she loves it, singing along or chortling as dada pumps along.

Her mama and dada and I have been out for a few easy shuffles, and H has asked me if I’d like to run with her this morning in a little 5K at Canterbury Shaker Village. Well, yes, you bet, as long as she doesn’t mean I really have to race (the mind boggles). So we’re just going to run through it together, and then see what we can do over the last kilometer, also together. Could she have thought of something I’d enjoy more? No.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Top of the heap...or pile

I had a friend, now sadly deceased, who worked for years more or less as a writer. He did straight PR, sponsored articles for businesses, position papers for politicians, opinion pieces, some real journalism, and occasionally straight non-fiction. He was good, quick, and reliable, and if his prose didn’t exactly sing, it hummed along nicely. We had, for a while, a writer-editor relationship (always dangerous between friends, but we managed) and one day, at lunch, I told him that his last piece had been especially good. He looked at me with a conspiratorial smile. “Ah, well,” he said, “I’ve made my whole living just shoveling bullshit.”

Leaving aside all the ways you could react to that statement as a summary of someone’s life, and all the ways you could see  professional writing through its prism, because of my friend’s character and personality it’s stuck in my mind all these years mostly as a fond example of jaded, self-effacing, humor.

I thought of it again this afternoon, as I slit open three 40-lb. bags of Agway Premium Cow Manure to mix with vermiculite and peat moss to create good growing soil for A and H’s new raised beds. It’s not often I simply stand in place and watch my little round belly shake when I laugh, like a bowlful of jelly, but today I did. It was the “premium” that got me. Oh, how Jack would have loved that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

58 Minutes!

The shuffling (touch wood) has been going well. Still a bit creaky and stiff, but if I can keep a few noisy and troublesome body parts (my own personal Tea Party) from causing trouble, I think that good rhythm should be kicking in soon. Along these lines, I’ve begun dabbling again in the occasional incline.

I’ve always liked hills. I was known as a great hill runner in high school, discovered in college that I wasn’t, and a decade later built lots and lots of long hills into my training. Around town, I’ve got two catalogues: sweethearts and bastards. The sweethearts, by and large are long and seven percent or so. The bastards are often shorter and sometimes also less steep, but they’ve got something ornery about them—a blind turn, a reverse banked surface, a bad intersection, something like that. What I love is a hill that lets me maintain some sort of cadence and technique, while challenging leg strength and turnover rate over some worthwhile distance.

My all-time favorite hill, though, is in France and has nothing to do with running (not for me, anyway!). It’s the climb up to the Col de Tricot on the Tour du Mont Blanc. H and I had stopped to fill our water bottles at the Refuge de Miage on our “backwards” tour, while we looked at what the guidebook called the “sobering view” of the path switchbacking up 1,800 feet to the coll. The book said it would take an hour and a half. The French signpost called for two. Feeling very fit, we pressed on to crest in 58 minutes. This became our battle-cry, and we crowed “58 minutes!” at appropriate—and inappropriate—moments for the rest of the trip. And occasionally since.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Best of luck to all Challengers

I just got what has become my annual TGO Challenge haircut, which makes me look more or less like this fellow—the one on the left, not the handsome devil on the right—rather than the shaggy scruffian I’d developed into over the winter. I’m not on the Challenge this year, mind you, but the memories are fond, the hope is alive, and I've never been immune to a little juju.

Very best wishes to the fortunate 300-odd who are tramping across the Highlands beginning in just about a week. I’ll be enviously  tracking those who blog the walk and also looking forward to the detailed after-action reports.

Here’s to good weather, good walking, and good fellowship. The good whisky is a given.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Who’s this Godot guy, anyway?

There’s been lots of nattering over here about Nick Clegg’s appreciation of Samuel Beckett and how no American politician could survive a statement like the one Clegg gave to the Guardian. This is the bit American bloggers and columnists are talking about:

“The unsettling idea, most explicit in Godot, that life is habit—that it is all just a series of motions devoid of meaning—never gets any easier.

“It’s that willingness to question the things the rest of us take for granted that I admire most about Beckett; the courage to ask questions that are dangerous because, if the traditions and meanings we hold so dear turn out to be false, what do we do then?”

But Matthew Yglesias, in a nice, concise post, wonders.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Balmy zephyrs

As Mr. Rogers would say, it’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood. Warm, freshly leafed-out, and full of sunny promise. On my shuffle this morning, I stopped for a chat with a high school classmate who, with a little help from his playful yellow Lab, was rigging his fishing rod for a go at the Nonnewaug’s trout. We agreed that, on balance, young is better than old. Tough noogies for us.

A little later, R and I cut down a tree, or rather a 15-foot cedar stump (can it still be a stump at that height?), and I “fixed” M’s malfunctioning printer by putting to use the highly technical procedure of picking it up off one table and putting down on another. Digital genius!

Then I went home and drank a luxurious mug of tea.

And it’s been pretty perfect the rest of the day, too.

But I do miss our Concordians, H, A, and sweet B, here appearing with her mama in last night’s iChat.