Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Going swimmingly

Swimming knocked me out yesterday evening, and I’m still beat this morning...and sore. Lots of stroke work and kicking, not to mention the all-important breathing. I’ve made enough progress to begin putting all three elements together. I’ve made nowhere near enough progress, however, to put them together properly, smoothly, correctly, or anything close. Chop, chop, thrash, flail, gasp. Maddening. When I was young, learning most of my sports, this would have driven me to a kind of frustrated rage, usually unattractively expressed in a kind of monomaniacal obsession. Now, though, I’ve achieved the wisdom that descends when frustration becomes a constant, rage requires too much energy, and obsession is a distant memory. So I’m trying to just churn along doing my best and, I hope, improving slowly.

On the other hand, when my teacher was talking to me about the way I was lifting my arms out of the water during recovery, she said, “there’s a drill for that, but I don’t want to get you bogged down with drills.” I imagined all my old friends laughing. I got my drill. Of course, having achieved the wisdom of old age, I’ll do it reasonably. Pretty reasonably.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My “S” words

I have a short list of words in a file on my computer, all starting with “S” and all tending to a similar meaning. But, despite the fact that they make up a sort of family group and some are considered synonyms, each has a slightly different connotation. Probably partly because of this (and partly because my brain has started playing that wonderful trick of keeping mental objects of desire just beyond reach), I can quickly and reliably call to mind only numbers one and three.

Here they are:

Seamy—Sordid; base, corrupt, unwholesome, morally degraded.

Seedy—Worn and shabby; unkempt, Somewhat disreputable; squalid, Showing signs of wear and tear or neglect: scrubby, scruffy, shabby, shoddy, sleazy.

Sleazy—Shabby, dirty, and vulgar; tawdry. Cheap, dishonest or corrupt; disreputable.

Sordid—Filthy or dirty; foul. Depressingly squalid; wretched. Morally degraded. Exceedingly mercenary; grasping.

Squalid—Wretched, as from poverty or lack of care. Morally repulsive; sordid.

These are pretty good definitions, I think, pulled some time ago from one on-line dictionary or another. I love the fine distinctions. Seedy is merely “somewhat disreputable,” for example, while Sleazy admits of no adjective. I’m also fond of Sordid’s “depressingly squalid,” and its “morally repulsive” as opposed to Seamy’s somewhat kinder “morally degraded.” Of course, all variations have been on my mind lately as I watch what is hilariously called the “Grand Old Party” choose its candidate.

Along those lines, I can’t resist noting that the current pace-setter, often touted by silly people as an intellectual, doesn’t know the difference between “grand” (“magnificent”) and “grandiose” (“characterized by feigned or affected grandeur”). Maybe he just needs a list

Monday, January 23, 2012

What a concept!

I walk in the morning, usually with Paul, though he’s been off cosmopolizing again. Every other day, I get up early and shuffle. Tripping along slowly—my goal right now—in real cold requires more layers than actually running. A baselayer top or two under a midlayer and a windbreaker or softshell. Shorts on the bottom, maybe longjohns, and always a pair of SportHills (oddly, nearly identical to Ron Hills—I wonder if Sport and Ron are brothers). But here’s the kicker. Before I go back out to walk, most of this has to be pulled damply off and replaced if I’m not going to freeze in wet insulation while I’m walking. So yet another baselayer top, under an R1 Hoodie, under my new Mountain Hardware Compressor jacket (which is okay, by the way, but not as okay as my old Mammut Stratus). On the bottom, longjohns again, under R1 tights, under a wind layer. And I also use multiples in headgear, mitts, running flats/boots, and all that. I don’t have enough hangers or cubbies  for all this stuff, so I have piles. (Well, I don’t actually have piles, thank goodness, but I do toss things into mounds. By the time I’m finished shuffling and strolling and have stripped down to enjoy breakfast, it looks like a bomb has gone off in a Siberian haberdashery.)

Hah! But now there is a drying rack in a corner of the kitchen! Brilliant. Amazing the things some people think of.

Friday, January 20, 2012

R.I.P. Etta James

The first dance of how many marriages?

It’s actually uncharacteristic Etta, with the strings and all, but it’s got her wonderful bluesy twist.

Great artists transform the mundane.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


After a few black mornings in the single digits Fahrenheit, I thought I'd have a great shuffle today with temps in the high 30s. Instead: worst run in ages. You can usually just push through to some rhythm and comfort—sometimes even an especially great run, but today I was grumpily back inside in less than 25 minutes, tail pretty firmly tucked between legs. My fallback position at times like this is what I think of as The Full Scarlett—“Tomorrow is another day!”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Memory of a triumph

I went to a Safeway supermarket today to buy some goodies for this hotel room in Phoenix. It reminded me that our standard market for three years in the early- to mid-’70s was a Safeway in Charlottesville, Virginia. This particular store kept a few bins of wine remainders near the checkout counter—the final bottle or two of cases that needed to be moved off the shelves to make room for more recent shipments. I often rooted around, looking for a decent bottle of something at a price we could then afford. Something, in fact, approaching $0. One day, I rummaged out a bottle of Chateau Carbonnieux, marked down to $3.79. I couldn’t believe it. Virtually all of my wine knowledge in those days was theoretical. I knew everything a book could tell you, but nothing I would have liked to learn from my nose and tongue. I knew, for example, that Carbonnieux was a Graves, and considered perhaps Bordeaux’s best dry white (not quite damning with faint praise, though I’ve heard it said to be so). I also knew it was selling in the U.S. for something astronomical ... approaching $10. Therefore, I was certain it had been marked at this price, and had found its way into this bin, by mistake. I overrode any scruples on this question and was out of the Safeway in a flash, waving my treasure over my head and crowing. Hugh Johnson had nothing on me.

We drank this bottle, I think, with friends back in Connecticut. I do remember that we liked it very much. Dry and crisp, and, of course, French and fancy. A few years later ... I think it was for Paul’s birthday (or was it my birthday at Paul’s house?), we had a party on a January evening, and we chilled our half-dozen bottles of by-then $12 Carbonnieux (we were all more or less gainfully employed by then) in the snow outside his door.

Since then, we’ve enjoyed the stuff a few times, but there are now so many more wines available from all over the world, and such decent quality at moderate prices, that we seldom turn to France anymore. I just checked, and a bottle of 2007 Carbonnieux is about $40. Maybe we should give another go, just for old-times sake. I’ll see if I can scrounge it at Safeway for, say, $10.

Friday, January 6, 2012

There’s good news and there’s bad news

Had a checkup yesterday: resting pulse 60, blood pressure 120/60. So pretty good. (I warned you about this.)

On the other hand...

I went out for a run in the dark of early morning. Put on my reflective vest, my red blinking rear light (I actually wear it snugged around my neck over my Buff), my headlamp, bundled up and took off. Safety first. Nobody’s going to fail to see me chugging along that long dark stretch of Washington Avenue. Good easy shuffle. Come home, pull off the lights, unzip my jacket ... and discover my reflective vest beneath.

Thursday’s score: Body 1, Brain 0.

          “But Mommy, I thought they were on the same team.”
          “Hush, hush, sweetheart. He’s a very old man.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Splish Splash ...

... I was takin’ a bath....

Wait, wait. I was actually takin’ a swim. But all the same I was a-splishin’ and a’splashin’, reelin’ with the feelin’, movin’ and a’groovin’. In short, my first lesson was Tuesday evening, and it was terrific. As you can tell by the great legs, that’s me on the far right. I can’t remember if we were reelin’ or groovin’ at the time.

I’m still, of course, a terrible swimmer, but I learned a lot, got a great workout, and confirmed that I will eventually be able to do something that roughly resembles this, if slowly and with little grace.

Our teacher (there are four of us grown-up students (the others are easily young enough to be my children) asked me if I had a problem putting my face underwater. “Not unless I try to breath at the same time,” I told her. Which actually wasn’t a joke. She did a double take and handed me one of those little foam boards. Soon, though, I tossed the prop and was submerging, blowing bubbles, kicking, and waving my arms around. In the past, this has usually meant I was headed down for the third time, but this time it meant, delightfully, that I was engaged in some facsimile of swimming.

I bought some goggles. (As with backpacking, style is everything in natation. One of those elastic hats is next. It’ll look good on the hills, as well.) I learned about taking a shower before you get into the pool. (Incredulous look meets obvious explanation.) I was reminded by nature that my trunks would fall down if I didn’t tie the waist string.

I learned two or three basic but vital tips no one had ever bothered to tell me and I’d never managed to notice. The most helpful to me was, “Don’t take a super deep breath before you submerge. Just relax, breathe in normally, remember to blow out under water, and come up for air when you need to.” This had the effect of making me feel more easy and comfortable in the water. (The coming up for air is still inelegant, and clearly will remain so for awhile, but when I get that head-turn coordinated, I think I’ll be off to the races.)

And I got a really good workout. That wonderful feeling of muscles (the few I have left) well-used.

Great stuff, really good teacher(s), fun classmates. A cool and useful new thing to learn. And a challenging goal that’s still within the realm of possibility. I really do want to swim that mile.

Ice might not be nice

There’s an article in the New York Times this morning that furthers doubt about the efficacy of icing sore muscles. I wrote about this a little over a year ago when an earlier study came out.

Basically, this study says ice is good at numbing pain, but that it also reduces a muscle’s strength and power for up to 15 minutes after icing is ended. So using an ice pack on a strain in hopes of getting back in the game may well be counterproductive.

Getting some sort of handle on this is particularly important for those coaching kids, I think. And also for us old duffers who never know day to day if what we laughingly call our muscles are going to be friend or foe. Those prime-of-life characters can fend for themselves.

Monday, January 2, 2012


My swimming adventure begins tomorrow, and I’ve posted on Facebook about ramping up my shuffles and grudgingly returning to the regular pumping of iron. I’ve done this, obviously, to put myself on the spot. Now it wouldn’t be merely lazy, pusillanimous, and self-destructive to quit on fitness, but much, much worse: embarrassing.

But there’s one more sporting goal on the list, and this will be pure fun. (I hope: it didn’t get off to a very good start last winter.) Skiing with sweet B. I’d been thinking I might put this off until next winter, but no. She’s been pronouncing for a few weeks now that she’s planning to ski “down the hill all all by myself” this year. And who would want to miss miss that? So after some early January travels, it’s off to New Hampshire for some prime sliding. I’ll stay close so it’ll be easy for her to help me up.