Sunday, December 22, 2013

Still an all-star

Dad had a rough transition, both physically and emotionally, to his new home. Lots of consultations with social workers and physical therapists and nurses and docs. A few days with a full-time minder, to whom he was polite, but whose presence he could not tolerate. Most memorable to me was his kicking across the room of what he wanted to make clear was not his walker. The old football player’s final punt went high and deep before crashing satisfyingly into furniture, wall, and floor.

But he gradually got squared away. Issues noted. Meds adjusted. A few key familiar items brought from home. Lots of visitors. And after a month or so, he was a new man. He still wouldn’t use the !@#$% walker everyone cleverly kept putting in front of him, he still had the occasional malfunction requiring light medical attention, and he can’t speak without great effort, and even then is often unclear. But he began to feel at home, and despite his verbal limitations he made friends. The ladies—both fellow residents and staff—love him (big surprise!). He took what the aides told me everyone seemed to agree was his appropriate place at the head of the long dining table. (He’s eating so well he told me two weeks ago that the waists of his trousers were shrinking. I patted his tummy and said, “You know, dad, I think there might be another explanation.” He got it, and laughed. ) He pulled people out of their chairs to walk the halls with him. He danced with staff.

And when I walked into his room a few weeks ago, he proudly handed me this. (We spell it “Dickie”, but that’s all right.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Plumbing the depths

The two of you may recall a post from a few years back in which I discussed a Thanksgiving notable primarily for the eccentric flow of household waste water and the delicious effect it had on our version of America’s great feast day. You will be amused to hear that fortune smiled upon us and hilarity reigned again this year.

Since our first adventure, we’ve remodeled the ancient bathroom on the second floor, which serves what we call, for obsolete but perfectly good reasons, “Weezie’s room” and “Tilly’s room,” both of which are now primarily for guests. A little rearrangement for efficiency’s sake, new fixtures, a big stand-alone shower which serves our new generation of athletes better than a tub, bright paint. It’s nice but not fancy.

During the summer, H and A competed in a big triathlon nearby. (Which produced this wonderful, slightly staged, picture.)

They brought along with them a number of New Hampshire teammates, some of whom parked campers in the back-back, and some of whom used random beds, couches and whatever they could find in the way of cozy floor space, and all of whom had been told they’d have access to a nice new shower. Fantastic! But after a few flushes and half a shower, test guest No.1 looked down to find himself ankle deep in fecal matter. This is fairly disgusting even for a triathlete, and we were soon informed we had a problem. To make a long story short, we shunted the sweaty off to our own bathroom on the third floor, the one in what was then my father's apartment over our garage, and I think perhaps Paul’s across the backyard. Others just hosed off by their RVs and used their own facilities. Virtually everyone had competed well, they were all fit and cheerful and sociable (a state I vaguely recall myself), and we had a memorable weekend party regardless of the effing effluent.

I called the Rooter man, of course, who pulled the toilet, theoretically cleared the lines, told me the plumbing seemed to have very little pitch (1/4-in. per foot is standard), and that the twists and turns required by the ancient carpentry beneath the floor were choke points. He recommended supplying less luxurious toilet paper to guests. (“Welcome! So glad you’ve come! Please use this tissue paper. And I know you won”t mind limiting yourself to two squares. See you at dinner!”)

Obviously not really satisfactory, but maybe the best I could do. Occasional guests seemed to have no problems—even with real toilet paper. But we were having a fair crew for Thanksgiving, and I wanted to be certain not to add another plumbing disaster to the menu. So I called K, former schoolmate and owner of the plumbing company we use. We hemmed, we hawed, we agreed we’d rather not pull up the floor unless we really had to, and we finally decided to try “pressure assisted technology”—a toilet that uses pressurized air to shoot the water down the pipes. The guy who installed it laughed and nodded when I asked him if it would do the trick. “Just tell whoever’s using it to stand up before they flush or they’ll go down too,” he said. So good.

But no. We clearly had Old Faithful on our hands. A group of friends ready for a good party for a few days? Predictive perfection: Merde

We managed. (We’ve had a lot of experience, after all.) And we actually had a great time.  But Monday morning, up came the floor, and in went the plumber. Bumpings of pulling out the toilet. Whine of electric screwdriver. Thumpings up and down the stairs. Growl of reciprocating saw. Holler from Wayne: “Mark, you’ve got to come up and see this.”

He points at an opening he’s had to make in the plastic piping installed during the remodel. I peer. “What is that,” I say. “A snake,” says Wayne. For a micro-second, I’m wondering how one of the local serpents could have crawled through our pipes. Then I realize Wayne means a plumbing snake, that coiled steel auger you feed through the plumbing to—theoretically—clear it of blockages. “Holy shit,” I say, displaying my grasp of this highly technical plumbing situation. “How could that be?” Wayne shrugs, clearly not yet ready to rat out the Rooter guy. “How much of that is in there?” I ask. “We’ll find out,” says Wayne direly. And he spends much of the day doing just that. Here’s how much.

The shower stall is about three feet by four. By actual measurement, the separate sections of snake come to just shy of eight feet. (One of them was spotted using a mirror and a flashlight and was pulled out by the longest pair of needle-nose pliers I’ve ever seen, a tool so scary-looking a dentist would be proud to own it.) You’ll notice that the one on the left and the one on the right had been doubled back on themselves inside the plumbing, just to make sure nothing much could squeeze by.

Wayne tested things, put everything back together, used a few little tricks to get us better pitch, screwed the floor back down, reinstalled our X-15 of a toilet, and we discussed the obvious: how had this happened? Rooter guy turns out to be the only possibility. But how can you lose that much of even a powered, super-long pro snake and not know it? And if you did know it...? So I’ll be having one of those discussions I really hate with the Roots.

But I think the bathroom might finally be all set. Come by and help us test it sometime. Bring lots of friends.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can’t we have a statute of limitations?

Because he’s such a dead-pull hitter, opposing teams have been throwing a shift at David Ortiz, in which the shortstop (sometimes the third baseman) moves into short right field. The other night Big Papi hit a looper that would normally have dropped into short right for a base hit, but it was fielded on one short hop by the shifted fielder and he was thrown out at first. This jolted me with a horrible memory flash of paleozoic teen baseball, slapping an outside pitch into roughly the same place, an easy and obvious base hit without a shifted fielder. But I loafed up the line, the right fielder charged hard...and I was thrown out at first. Oh the mortification. Thinking about it even now makes my skin crawl.

So David, just hit ’em over everybody from now on and save me further memorembarrassment.

Go Sox!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The magic of the mile

Sitting on a shelf downstairs is an audio book—already read but borrowed from the library for car trips—called, The Perfect Mile. It’s about Roger Bannister, John Landy, Wes Santee, and their quest to be the first to run four minutes. (It’s actually a bit of a stretch to include Santee, because he was busy running multiple events for his college track team. But he was American, and the U.S. is a big market....) I’ve always deeply admired Bannister, and loved Landy for his profound decency. And just try this on:

What a great, great race. At the time, they were the only two men in the world who had run four minutes, and they didn’t fool around: they both broke the barrier. Each ran to his strength and put everything he had into it. Landy actually succeeded in a way. He took the sting out of Bannister’s kick, which resulted in a mere 60-second final lap and a pretty thorough collapse at the finish. But Landy himself couldn’t quite keep up the pace. I’ve always thought the famous “Landy turned the wrong way” moment was interesting but unrelated to the result. Tremendous courage and determination from both men.

Seeing the audio book and watching this YouTube got me thinking once again about the wonderfulness—the perfection—of the mile as a competitive distance. The U.S. went fully metric on the track some years ago, but high schools (at least the high schools around here) run 1,600 meters rather than the world-standard 1,500, and although it’s about 10 yards short, it reasonably approximates the real deal, which I assume is the point. With that impulse in mind, I think it would have been much better to have raised a middle finger to the metric zealots on this particular issue and simply carried on with the classic.
The mile is special partly because its constituent parts are themselves memorable goals. Four laps on a quarter-mile track, with a minute for each being a natural and elegant (if, on laps three and four, seldom-achieved) goal. For reasonably strong runners growing into their sport, it was: 1. “A minute for a lap? Okay.” 2. “Two minutes for two laps? Well, all right.” 3. “Three minutes for three laps? Erk.” 4. Four minutes for four laps? Are you kidding me?”

Then, of course, you get old, and search for entirely different sorts of miling magic. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October 1, 1945

Today would have been my parent’s 68th anniversary. When I was little I used to insist that I was at their wedding (it was really my Uncle Bob’s, I think). They’d laugh and say maybe I had been, but they didn’t remember seeing me there. My mom, especially, laughed all the time. You know you’ve got great parents when your house is the place your friends want to be.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sooo happy

I was in Concord for a few days, mostly trying to finish up the painting in the attic conversion. (Which is looking pretty good, finally.) On Sunday, I was enticed to the hills. H chose Belknap, which has an old fire tower (B loves fire towers), and is a mountain we've wandered up before. Here I am there with B in October, 2009...

...and here we are, low on the mountain, yesterday.

She and I have a little ritual, in which I say, “I love you” She says, “No, M.” I say, “Well, maybe 12.” She says, feigning petulance, “No, M. “You love me soooo much!” I say, “Sooo much? How much is that?” To which she has been answering something like, “It’s a lot, lot, lot.” But yesterday she had a new answer: “It’s beyond any number. It’s infinity!”

Which shows you what a couple of weeks of school can do. Anyway, I love her a lot, lot, lot.

B also took a picture of me with the first little girl I loved soooo much. (I love Jasper the Wonderdog, too, but somewhere short of the end of numbers.)

And here I am almost passing out with infinite delight.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Family weekend away

We’re in Freeport, Maine, to support H and A, who are racing in the Lobsterman Tri tomorrow morning. Earlier, we were all crossing the street in slightly wet and wooly conditions when our umbrella got blown into premature decrepitude. B: “That certainly was a strong gust of wind.” Later she counted to six for us in Spanish (I think this is a Montessori thing and I know my grandfather would have been very proud indeed, though for him “cinco” was pronounced “thinco”). Of course, she also flipped out at bedtime, threw a minor fit,  pulled her jammies off and stomped around uttering maledictions. So Miss Crankypants is still in there, along with that funny smart person. By and large, though I admit to a certain empathy with Miss Crankypants, I prefer the funny smart person.

I’m pretty sure that’s who this is, doing something incisive and nuanced with numbers.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Our schoolgirl

Sweet B starts kindergarten Monday. Last weekend, we went to Massachusetts to celebrate our niece’s engagement, and B displayed the engineering gene she’s inherited from her dad. She and a grown-up helper or two constructed this elaborate set of chutes, and performed highly technical experiments to align all the elements properly. Mom was called into play solely to keep the marbles that landed in the tray from popping back out.

A brief consultation...

The marbles (three, I think) dropped into the hopper...

 Around and around they go...


And a graceful acceptance of applause from the dress circle.

So come Monday, she’s ready to roll.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Deus ex machina

Years and years ago, I often ran workouts that I called “Rockers,” pushing hard for a half-mile or so to the top of the road we then lived on, which was a well-pitched hill, recovering by jogging slowly down the other side, then turning and pushing up again, back and forth. Hill-running for me was always a sort of magic potion, and this was a way to efficiently get a good bit of it in toward the end of a shortened training run. One day, I’d just gotten to the top and had down-shifted to a little jog, when a dog—an Afghan Hound of all things, a beast I’d never seen before—appeared from behind a neighbor’s house and headed toward me. I knew immediately that he meant business. Runners learn to tell. This guy wasn’t loping toward me to bark and get scratched. He was  hunting me down. I didn’t have time to feel scared. I’d read somewhere that the thing to do when you’re attacked by a dog is to jam your arm down its throat and choke it. So I’m standing there, in my chop top and short shorts, ready to make my stand and thinking to myself, “Oh, shit, this is going to be bad.”

When, all of a sudden (isn’t that a great phrase?), the door pops open on a pickup truck parked by the side of the road, a man with a tire iron jumps out, he bashes the dog, and I’m saved. This whole event takes less than 10 seconds. The adrenaline surge hits me, I realize how terrified I’d been, and I can barely stand up long enough to say thank you and stagger away home. Bless you, Lee King.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


At bedtime when she’s here or I’m at her house, I often lie down for a snuggle with B at bedtime. She invariably asks me for a Little Peach story, an impromptu feat of imagination I no longer carry off as well as I did for her mom, so I’ve started to ask her if she’d rather hear a story about when her mother was a little girl.

One of her favorites is a story about H at a horseshow. Like a lot of little girls, H was passionate about horses. She had lessons, eventually a pony of her own, and when she was bigger, a wonderful jumper and event horse named Panache, who, early in the relationship, frankly scared the sweet bejeezus out of her mother and me. But H had an excellent teacher, learned how to control all that power, and the two of them had great fun together. One Saturday, the two of them went off to a show jumping competition in which one of H’s earlier teachers, who had done a great job teaching her the basics and a good bit more, would be riding a favorite. Panache was in his prime, H was riding joyfully, and they rode absolutely clear rounds to win. B, who has visited Panache in his Vermont retirement, loves my (much-embellished) version of this story.

Sadly Panache, died last night. He’d been a sweet, easy-going boy—except in competition, when all he wanted was to go fast and jump high, and when he demonstrated he was a terrific athlete. He’d had a very comfortable retirement. And he was a very, very old man. He was also, of course, much loved by us all.

I’ve just discovered that all our pictures of P and H flying over things are those antique paper things. But here are a few shots digitized:

A little snuggle, I think the fall H went off to college.

Early retirement in Vermont, spring 2003.

And the B has a go in 2011.

Friday, July 26, 2013


I think I’m needing a new car. I’m driving an 8-year-old Subaru Outback, a great, practical car for New England that’s lately been sending me intimations of its imminent demise. Thinking about a new car has naturally gotten me thinking about cars in general, but specifically my cars of years past.

I learned to drive on my father’s 1958 Rambler. And also on my school’s dual-control 1962-ish Chevy trainer. Both standard shift, both three on the column, and I’ve been a standard-shift guy ever since. But my mother in those days was driving a little 1959 Morris Minor convertible (four on the floor, of course), and once I got my license, this became my main ride. It was easy to winkle away from her, and it had a jaunty distinction the square old Rambler lacked.

My own first car was a gift from my father (this in itself stunned me to the point that I was almost unable to utter, “Thank you”). It was a very used, early ’60s Karmann Ghia convertible, essentially a Volkswagon in a sporty body, and I remember it fondly. It was the car I drove during my final year at college, and it was great to have at my disposal in far-from-everywhere Hanover.

The car I really wanted in those days was an Austen Healey 3000, but I was never within miles of being able to afford one. After I got my first job, though, I did find a little used Sprite in great shape,

then moved on to a truly foul used MGB-GT, by far the crappiest car I’ve ever owned. From the early ’70s, to now (except for a used MG Midget—essentially the same as the Sprite—for nearly a year when we lived in England), it’s been mostly new cars, but with economy and practicality very much in mind, and we’ve driven them until they’ve cried uncle. A 40-year automotive yawn. But now, once again, I’m being drawn by the sporty, or at least cheeky. I keep seeing restored 3000’s around,

 but that’s definitely not on. And I keep doing double takes whenever I see one of these:

And, of course, there are Miatas. And all those upscale sporty roadcars.

But realistically, there are certain inevitabilities at play here. Though I’d love to be the kind of guy who could at least keep a little MG-TD in the garage for short toodles on beautiful summer evenings...

... I have a pretty good idea of what’s going to go down here.

So it goes. Or to be a little more sporty, or at least cheeky, c’est la vie.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

“Time’s on the wing...”

My dad’s moving out of his little apartment with us, into a “senior living” facility. It’s been a tough choice to make, but I’ve pretty much come to the end of the road and can no longer do him justice here. I’ve found a great place, and I’m content with the decision. I think he will be, too.

The fact of this major change has brought to the surface more memories of moments we’ve shared over the years. Some are utterly mundane, some are pretty awful, but so many involve laughter and joy. Here’s one that popped into my head Thursday as I was driving home from a chat with the people at Maplewood.

In mid-October, 1963, when I was 15, I ran in my first large cross-country meet, sponsored by my own high school due entirely to the energy of our coach. It was the third running of an event that continues to this day. I’d been having a good season for a new runner, which had been a great surprise—to me most of all. I’d lost only once, but I’d so far run only dual meets, which have an entirely different dynamic than meets with a dozen or more teams. My dad had given me a little shake that morning, to add a “Good luck today” to the standard kiss before he left for work. We all hoped I’d do well, of course, but others were favored.

It was a two-lap course that allowed good views from a hill near its center, and the meet was big enough to attract spectators. My mother was there, and she brought her mother and, I think, one of her sisters. Schoolmates, teachers, other adults, little kids—all a real kick for us runners, who seldom performed for crowds. It was especially great for me, because it was a home crowd. It’s an indescribably wonderful feeling to have a mass of people cheering for you.

But it’s a nervous-making feeling, too. You don’t want to let people down. I took off at the gun like a scalded cat. There was no doubt who was going to win the first half mile: this inexperienced idiot in the blue singlet. But that would leave another two miles to go. A little after the mile mark, though, when I needed a bit of a boost, we came back through the starting area and that wonderful crowd, and I got energized all over again. I ran scared the whole way, but when I took my last look back with just over a quarter mile to go, I knew I had it.

Unexpected victory is pure joy, and I experienced a fantastic half-hour or so getting pummeled and congratulated. (And scolded by my grandmother: “I’m never going to watch you run again. You look like you’re going to die!”) Great stuff, for sure. But the very best moment of the day came later. My mom had had to go back to work, and I walked to my grandmother’s house to wait for my father to come through town to pick me up on his way home. He stopped on the other side of the street, and I jogged stoically out and got into the car with my gym bag. He said, “So, how did it go?” as if it didn’t really matter all that much, because he knew I hadn’t been likely to win, and he didn’t want to make me feel worse than I probably already did. I managed to keep a straight face while I fumbled with the zip on my bag. “Well,” I said, “not too bad.” And I pulled out the trophy. “You won!” he said, showing just enough amazement to confirm he thought I wouldn’t. “Of course,” I said, showing just enough irony to confirm I hadn’t thought I would either. And we laughed, both at each other and out of the pure happiness of the moment.


  by Sara Teasdale
Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And childrens's faces looking up
Holding wonder in a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstacy
Give all you have been, or could be.
- See more at:


  by Sara Teasdale
Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And childrens's faces looking up
Holding wonder in a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstacy
Give all you have been, or could be.
- See more at:


  by Sara Teasdale
Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And childrens's faces looking up
Holding wonder in a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstacy
Give all you have been, or could be.
- See more at:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hugs and kisses

Nice moments with my dad have become sadly rare. His illness often leaves him frustrated and angry. But he was exceptionally calm and happy yesterday evening, and we had a sweet little time together. He can’t really converse anymore, so I just chattered to him (mostly about H and B, but I also described this photo).

Thanksgiving, 1958-ish. That’s a whiskey sour near the turkey.
Dad’s, not mine.

We had a few laughs, and a bowl of ice cream—Neapolitan, his favorite. Then I washed up as he headed to bed, followed him in, tucked him up, and kissed him on the top of his shiny bald head (our long-running joke). He laughed, and I said good-night and left.

Something about this reminded me of the mornings of my youth. Dad always got up far earlier than my mom and I. He liked to get to work early, have a light breakfast in the company cafeteria, and ease into his day. But every morning, just before he left the house, he came into my room, bent over, and gave me a kiss. He did it when I was a small boy, and he was still doing it when I was home from college and during the months I lived at home after I graduated.

My mom once learned from dad that when he came back from the service and walked into the old apartment on Southmayd Road, his mother’s reaction was simply to look up and say, “Hi, Dick.” Not a home where he got a loving kiss every morning. Which, I suppose, is a big reason why I did.

And after years of mostly pats and hugs, we’re back to lots of kissing. I give him his smacker on the dome almost every morning and frequently before bed, and I kiss him on the cheek when tea is over and Paul begins to walk him up to his little apartment. When I head out his door, having left him with a quick peck, he often trundles across the room for a firm embrace and a kiss planted squarely on my mouth. It’s partly goodnight, it’s partly thank you, it’s mostly I love you. And it’s also, clearly, goodbye.

Great love. Great sadness.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our mountaineer

I spent the weekend in New Hampshire and Vermont with the Concordians. On Sunday afternoon, we took a walk on Mt. Kearsarge—up Winslow (1.1 mi.) and down Barlow (1.8 mi.).

Sweet B  made the ascent and descent entirely under her own power.

She loved the open slabs that form the mountain’s peak, and she and daddy had a go at the fire tower, only to find that the little house on top was locked. (Don’t know why I have no photos of this exploration, and the top and bottom photos aren’t mine, either. Thanks, A and H.)

Like all kids, B’s idea of mountain walking boils down to surmounting interesting obstacles. Up and over rather than around. Steep and leaping instead of gentle and avoiding. 

At one point, H carefully explained the best route down through some rocks and trees. B blithely ignored it all, and headed off over some interesting granite. “I kinda like going my own way,” she remarked over her shoulder. Mmm, yes, we’d already noticed that...and not on a mountain.

All natural and good, I think, though it does call for parental and grandparental self-control and reasonable anticipation of the inevitable literal or figurative misstep. Though B seems to have that covered, too. Early on she danced out ahead of us and tripped. As she got up, she noticed that we were continuing to walk along and chat, so she stood and announced, “When I fall down, everybody must pause.”

So. A four-year-old iconoclast with delusions of grandeur. But charming, charming.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Iron people

We had our houseful of glowing athletes this past weekend, but all the good pix seem to be in other peoples’ cameras. Almost everyone did well, despite high heat and humidity, on the beautiful but very tough, hilly courses. A and H were pleased to finish the International (Olympic distance) race 20th and 11th in their divisions, though A was a little disappointed in his run and H briefly suffered what she called an “anxiety attack” early in her swim.

One of our backyard campers was 3rd in his group in the much longer Half-Ironman. It was his birthday the day before, and sweet B played “Happy Birthday” on her Suzuki violin when it was time to cut the cake. It was her best attempt yet, and of course she received terrific applause from the 14 or 15 grown-ups around the table. Her grin even outdid ours.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend

Woodbury’s little Memorial Day parade (always held on Sunday, not Memorial Day itself) marches along Main Street in front of our house, so we usually have a little front-yard gathering of half of our friends, who chat, sip a little something, and wave to the other half of our friends passing by and waving back. This year, the lady who drives the miniature horses stopped (by secret pre-arrangement) to pick up the amazed B, who was lifted onto the sulky and grinned and waved her way to the South Green. Pretty nice.

A was home in New Hampshire building a fence (looks good, too—I think Jasper the Wonderdog must have helped), so it was just B and H for the weekend. Here’s the B, explaining  about the plantings she and her grandmother started some weeks ago. B helps her daddy with the vegetable garden in Concord, and she seems to really appreciate the magic of seeds becoming leaves, and flowers, and edibles.

On Memorial Day proper, the four of us took the pretty drive through Washington, to New Preston, and down Rt. 202 to Clamps, an old-fashioned roadside hamburger stand. You stand in line to order, then sit in your car or find yourself a table or bench on the grass to wait until they shout your name to come pick up your food. It’s a pretty famous place around here, and we’ve been going there for decades. It’s changed a little, but it’s still great.

It was a very warm day,  but where we were sitting under the trees it got pretty chilly, so I brought B the old fleece pullover that lives in my car.

This weekend, all four of them will be here, along with a strong crew from Capital Multisport, their Triathlon club from Concord. They’re all coming to compete in either an Olympic-length tri (Saturday) or a half tri (Sunday) at a nearby lake. So our house will be full of super-fit, enthusiastic, competitive young people. It’s been awhile. Can’t wait.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Peeved am I

Listening to the Maraniss book over the last few days I was thinking, “Boy, he’s leaving a lot of the good stuff out. Probably because he’s making a point that doesn’t require him to cover all the athletic high spots.” At the end this morning, the voice reading the credits announced the name of the person who abridged the book for audio. Abridged? The packaging makes no mention of it. If I’d wanted an abridged account, I’d have consulted my own memory with the occasional Wikipedia touch-up. I don’t feel exactly cheated. I don’t feel as if I’ve completely wasted my time. But I’m pretty sure I feel a moderately grouchy half hour coming on.

On the other hand, the reader—who is also the author—does pronounce “Cerutty” correctly. As the man himself said, “sincerity without the sin.”


Of course, I’m a Lydiard man, myself.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Rafer Reminder

I’ve just started listening to David Maraniss’ book about the 1960 Olympics. It reminded me of what a big fan I was of the great decathlete Rafer Johnson when I was a boy. I followed his battles with UCLA teammate C.K. Yang and with the Russian Vasili Kuznetsov, and had absolute confidence he’d win that Olympic title.

That in turn reminded me that when our 8th Grade class graduated from Woodbury Elementary School in 1961, I was assigned a brief oration based on the class’s favorite things. One was our favorite athlete. Despite my allegiance to baseball as the only thing in the world actually worth doing, I had voted for Rafer, and had lobbied all my friends to do the same, so I was stunned and embarrassed to learn I was going to have to announce Babe Ruth as our collective choice. This, in my mind, displayed the utter ignorance of at least a plurality of the class—probably those dopey girls. The Babe was the great transcendent name of American sports, for sure, but he had played his last baseball game in 1935. Ancient history! Come on!

I entered a dissent with my teacher.


So there I stood in my brand new suit on a set of risers in the Woodbury Elementary School auditorium one late spring evening in 1961, reporting in my brand new unreliable voice this utterly nonsensical result. I tried to roll it out in a tone that I hoped registered as ironic or incredulous or at least not my fault, but nobody noticed (who was an 8th grade graduation speech).

Ah, but we also recited Kipling’s If.  (Yes, it was a long time ago in a world far away.) And I remember that when we got to

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run (...)

I felt as if I’d personally snuck something over.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spring in Woodbury and thoughts
of Scotland

A soft couple of days on Main Street, with a little of the rain we need. Every May I think, “This is definitely the prettiest time of year.” And then October comes and I say the same thing. It’s certainly true that if you know your back roads and take a ride from here anywhere in, oh, a 20-mile arc swept from west to north, you’d be pardoned during either of these months for thinking you’d taken a detour through paradise. Of course, October has apples.

Tomorrow is the start of the TGO Challenge, the annual walk across Scotland that is responsible for this blog’s existence. Here’s hoping the weather is fine and the midgies continue their winter slumber. Very best wishes for a wonderful two weeks to all participants. I’m still holding out hope I’ll be there next year. Here’s an image of Glen Kingie from near Kinbreak Bothy, from my aborted 2008 attempt.

May looks different there. So does paradise.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rollin’, rollin’ rollin’.

Yesterday, I pulled my bike out of the garage, where it’s been cringing all winter attempting to avoid chilblains, and hooked it up to the new trainer. So now I can: 1. put the seldom visited parlor and its rather lovely bow window to use, 2. keep tabs on whoever is walking along the sidewalk, 3. appreciate the gradual greening as spring comes on, and, of course, 4. pedal away like a demented gerbil, grouchily trying to make up for not being able to run.

I do believe I’ll sneak out for a short shuffle later this week, for old times’ sake, and I’m thinking the bod should allow a return to the pool so I can renew my battle to learn to swim rather than thrash.

Gotta keep them dogies rollin’.

Though on some days I prefer Sam Cooke’s more existential approach:
   Keep movin’ on, keep movin’ on  
   Life is this way  
   Keep movin’ on, keep movin’ on

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cool Bikings

Now that I’m forced to learn a bit about bikes, I keep running into things that amaze and delight me. I’m wanting a Brompton, for example, even though it doesn't really make sense around here. I just learned about these S&S Couplers from the Bilenky Cycle Works site.

The concept is either supercool or ridiculous, and as all my friends know, for me it would be ridiculous, because with my mechanical ability I'd never get my bike back together again. But for world-traveling you....

My actual bike, as opposed to my mythical Brompton, my non-existent trans-continental tourer, and my utterly fictional Yuba Boda Boda cargo-hauler is a simple Trek FX, soon to be semi-permanently attached to a Kinetic trainer for purposes of an early-morning hour of boredom before my walk. Neither amazement nor delight, but if I get a little unsublime increase in fitness I’ll be content.

Monday, March 25, 2013

First, second, turd

Paul and I were accompanied on our walk today by Jasper the Wonderdog, who is the one constant of a slightly complicated visit by the Concordians. A was here, but left yesterday afternoon. H hasn’t been here, but will be this evening. And sweet B has sort of been here the whole time, but is out today charming the denizens of her grandmother’s workplace.

Getting suited up this morning, I felt in my jacket pockets to be sure I had a few of those plastic bags our paper-delivery person uses to keep the news dry. Jasper did his business early on. I handled it with my usual aplomb de merde, and being fortunate in our location, tossed the package into the Elementary School dumpster. Paul and I immediately got back to solving the world’s problems, and were surprised a few minutes later by Jasper making another stop for cause. I reached for another plastic bag, and came up…empty. Whatever I’d felt in there, it hadn’t been another bag. Even in the semi-countryside of our walk, I don’t like people who let their dogs leave samples, so I scrounged out a couple of old paper napkins and daintily transferred the gently steaming pile to a little hole I kicked in the not-quite-frozen turf behind a tree. Then I folded the paper as cleverly as an origami and carted it along until the next trash bin. My fault, for not checking carefully enough for multiple bags, but all set.

Mais non. As we turned the corner and headed down Main Street for home, Jasper decided his previous deposits were insufficient. On the lawn of a house one of my high school classmates used to live in, he assumed, for the third time, that weirdly furtive position, turning his head and looking over his shoulder.

I’d used the only bag I had. I’d used the scrunched up paper napkins I’d found. Now what? Paul dug deep and came up with an old paper towel. And I walked the rest of the way home with a handful of dogshit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Paint me green

Looked out my window yesterday to see someone gliding beautifully down the sidewalk with that perfect runner's swing. And flying. My teeth still hurt from the grinding. I’ve never cared if people were smarter or richer or better looking (good thing, huh?), but seeing a good runner running well really flips the switch.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Phew, glad that’s over with

I’m cleaning out my closet. Among the dustballs, I scrabbled up a small blue duffel. At one time, it held my competition kit—racing shoes and a few things to handle the usual pre- and post-race issues. Over the years, it’s become running-related dead storage: My college singlet; the heavy, old fashioned (even in 1969), and unattractive sweats they let me keep because they’d finally gotten new ones during my senior year; a singlet from the Charlottesville Track Club, which I wore in most of my post-college racing; no fewer than three pairs of SportHills of much later date; one of those ancient, scratchy Helly-Hansen polypro turtlenecks, red with the dashes up the arms, certainly older than my daughter; a pair of folding scissors; a cotton “good luck” turtleneck, now more holes than fabric, that I remember buying at The Indian Shop in Hanover in 1965; a give-away visor from an event long, long ago, and some partial rolls of adhesive tape.

I’m sentimentally attached to the uniform stuff. The folding scissors still cut. Good luck is hard to find. I think H and/or A might be able to use the SportHills. The Helly-Hanson goes in the local clothes box. I can’t make up my mind about the visor. But I’m ruthlessly disposing of the 30-year-old tape.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Check that, will you?

H and I had a brief chat the other day about getting back into the mountains this year and polishing off at least my remaining New Hampshire 4,000-footers. Maybe hers and A’s, too, though they’ve got more to go than I have. On the other hand, they’re vastly fitter.

I’ve got 10 to go, and seven of them fall into two natural groups. Cabot, the northernmost of all 48, is tucked off by itself in the Kilkenny Range, and Isolation is—not surprisingly—isolated, deep in the Dry River Wilderness, but Moriah and the Carters are a natural single walk, as are North Twin and the Bonds. Carrigain I’m saving for last, because it has a spectacular view that takes in most of the other 47. So a good clear day is mandatory. And bubbly, of course.

We want to fit in as many of H and A’s unclimbed 4,000s as we can, too, so these natural groupings may be stretched or uncoupled. And B will be 5 in July, old enough to more independently handle some easy walks to huts or special spots. That will certainly figure into our planning. Fun, funner, and funnest.

Completing this list never interested me until about 10 years ago. Checking off peaks had always seemed like exactly the wrong approach to the hills. But then I realized that I was really missing wandering around with H and that having some goal would be likely to get the three of us out there together more often. Some years it has, some years it hasn’t. But—I can’t figure out if this is counter-intuitive or not—the creakier I get (and I’ve gotten very creaky indeed), the more I want to do it.

The mountains here are quite different from the Lakes, or Scotland, or California’s Sierra, or the Pyrenees, or the Alps. Not high by international standards, they are serious all the same. The trails are rocky, rough, and steep, generally straight up the fall line. The peaks and ridges can be dangerous, because bad weather can brew up  in a flash, even in high summer. (Nineties in the valleys? You can be operating below freezing on the Presidential Traverse. With wind. I’ve been blown over up there.) On the other hand, you don’t need to develop good navigational skills (and I, to my chagrin, haven’t) because signage is good, and in most areas you’re either on the obvious trail or deep in the puckerbrush. You do need to defer gratification (pretty New Englandy in that sense, actually), because on most of these mountains you won’t see a view until you get close to the top. Maybe not even then. Frankly, there are lots of places I’d rather walk. But these are my home mountains. And I’m checking off a list.

Here’s a good site on walking the bigger Whites.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Snow day

Dad still affects to hate going to his daycare. I think he actually is fine while he’s there. The folks there certainly think he is. He’s sociable, reasonably active, chats up the ladies.... I think it’s more the idea of it than the fact of it that has him stomping in here for tea at 4:00, grumbling and complaining about his never-ending trip home on the brutal roads of rural-suburban Connecticut. This morning I got a call from the center, saying they were not opening because of the weather. When I went across to tell him, he reacted exactly as I used to when they called off school: relief and utter joy at the fact that I’d be in control of my own life for an unexpected day. Dad still wants the same thing, but these days he can only have the best illusion I can provide. My mom had early-onset Alzheimer’s, and dad retired and spent years doing the same thing for her. But he’s forgotten that now. The other day he asked me what her name was.

January 14, 2012, 88th birthday.

Monday, March 4, 2013

And fat, too

Collected my mail at the Post Office the other day, and on the way out bumped into a woman I’ve known for decades. We’ve been frequent allies in politics, and from my mid-20s to my late-50s she worked hard for me during various campaigns. I’ve had the chance to return the favor a time or two. Socially, we’ve attended dozens of parties and picnics together. We’re not bosom buddies, but we’re friends. So I gave her a smiling greeting at the PO door, and asked how she was doing. She looked at me, said “I think I recognize you,” and stared quizzically. I introduced myself—a bizarre feeling in the circumstances. She started back, gave me a shocked look, and said, “Oh, my God, you look so old.”

Exactly my reaction every morning in the mirror.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Out of the mouths of babes

We made an impromptu trip last night from Concord to Hanover to watch the Dartmouth women play Princeton in basketball. There was a big men’s hockey game going on across the street, so the college laid on shuttle busses to the med school lot (last time I parked there: 1969, in a very-used, not very reliable Karmann-Ghia convertible that always seemed to be buried in snowdrifts). After the game (league-leading Princeton won, but our girls kept it close), we all hopped on the coach and were dropped off near our car. To get out of town, we had to retrace our route, and I soon pointed out to sweet B that there, picking up another load of fans, was the very same bus that had driven us out to the parking lot. Her comment: “That was very kind of them.” She knocks me out. But you knew that.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Who? Me?

This short piece is nuanced, and it treats several issues, but among other things, it shows how thoroughly the masculine advantage in higher education (and especially professional education) has been put to rout (numerically, at least).

Along these lines, this week I’ve been reading Frank Deford’s wonderful memoir, Over Time, and he writes in several places about how things were when he came out of college in the early ’60s, at one point noting, “ 1962 it was hard for someone like me, the Ivy League Wasp, not to move to the head of the line, for certain rather prominent subgroups—notably the female gender and all racial minorities were not taken seriously at that time.” Ah, yes. I’ve often reminded myself that, way back in the pre-history that was my high school years, I won something called the Harvard Book Award. It was given to “The Outstanding Junior Boy,” and I was very pleased indeed. But if that award had been offered, as it is now, simply to the Outstanding Junior, I’d have been out of luck. Custom had conveniently removed half the competition, so the three or four or girls who made up the true pool of outstandingness in my class just sat and politely applauded.

A year or so later, I gained entry to the college of my choice, a place that was full of other outstanding junior boys, many of whom had truly first-class minds and strong work habits. But if the place had opened its doors five years earlier than it did to women like, say, the one who became my wife, I, with my good but second-class mind and unreliable work habits, would have been out of luck. Custom and prejudice, though, once again conveniently removed half the competition.

None of this, of course, was my doing. It never dawned on me in those days that I was a beneficiary of a great cheat (several great cheats, actually). But I know it now, and I think I’d be an utter cretin if I didn’t act (and vote) accordingly.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beauties and the beast

We went to a beach wedding last fall. Sweet B came along—had a fine time rockin’ out—and the bride and groom have kindly sent us this photo...

...which reminded me of this photo, circa 1986, with H, on the way to celebrate her 5th birthday at her favorite restaurant, now sadly defunct, in West Cornwall, Connecticut.

(I think it's the same pocket handkerchief. I’m swank, but cheap swank.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

The hinky

Dad had a fall the other day. Heading out with Paul to walk to the Post Office, he missed a step and went down into a pile of snow. Uninjured, he carried on down Main Street. But when they returned, they were greeted by a first responder, then soon the local ambulance. Flashing lights, bustling uniformed people, considerable confusion. (“What’s the problem?” “Huh? Are you sure you have the right address?” And so on.) These are locals. H used to work on the ambulance as an EMT before she went off to college and when she was home on vacation. We know these folks. And we also have a some medical history on-site. My aunt Helen lived in what is now my dad’s apartment for some years, and ambulance calls were unfortunately frequent. The tenant before Helen had issues, too, and emergency vehicles of various types were often screeching up at odd hours. Not to mention another tenant with health problems that sometimes require quick care. So, no, they didn’t have the wrong address. 

Gradually, we sorted it out. A few months ago, I signed Dad up for this Philips Lifeline service. He wears a gizmo around his neck so that if he falls or otherwise has a problem, he can push the button to get a helpful voice over the speaker. He can ask for help or, if he doesn’t respond, help is dispatched. I got him the fancy model, so that if he falls and loses consciousness, the sensor recognizes the gravitational trip to ground level and automatically dials in. When he fell, even at what I would consider extreme distance, that sensor did its thing. He got up, brushed himself off, and carried on, not being in the house to call off the cavalry.

No harm done, a good test of the system, and our wonderful local volunteers never seem to mind being called out for this sort of thing. They took his blood pressure (still, as always, superbly healthy) entered him into their newish electronic system, chatted briefly, and were off.

Dad, not so much. The whole thing confused and upset him. His response was to assert that was not going to wear that goddam thing around his neck anymore. These people and their strobes might show up again. I tried to explain things rationally, but no go. He no longer lives in that world. But he still likes to laugh. So I said, “Dad. Gotta wear the hinky.” No. But a smile. “Wear the hinky, Dad.” No answer. Still smiling. “The hinky, Dad. The hinky.” Big smile, and a wave as he headed home with Paul. And he’s wearing the hinky.

Picking blueberries in Vermont a few years ago.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Softball memories

That’s me, as I’m sure you can tell, all swaddled up in my dad’s arms. It’s January, 1948, probably on my trip home from the hospital. (The car, I’m pretty sure, is a mid ’30s Auburn.) He would just have turned 24, a few years after the war and the Corps, well-embarked on what was to be a 40-year career with the Southern New England Telephone Company.

He’s carried this photo in his wallet ever since, and for some reason just felt like handing it over to me a few weeks ago. (It’s in remarkably good shape, considering.)

Some of my fondest memories from a few years later involved going to Dad’s ballgames. He played fast-pitch softball for the telephone company and also in the surprisingly competitive Waterbury Church League. (He always said the church guys were much rougher and competitive than the guys in the industrial league.) I used to abscond with his glove when his team was in to bat, and people would have to find me and chase me down when the time came for him to go back to the field. On the way home after the games, we’d stop for a popsicle.

My mom used to tell a story that must have happened in the early ’50s. My dad’s SNET team had qualified for the state tournament, and he had to go off one Saturday morning to play in it. The idea was that the winning teams would keep playing all day to get to the championship game, then play the finals the same day to top things off. The winners and runners-up would have to play four games. The problem was that mom and dad were supposed to attend some sort of big bash that evening. Mom, who in those days was still home taking care of me, was really looking forward to getting all dressed up and heading out to a swank do. My dad told her not to worry, because they weren’t that good, they’d get knocked off early, and he’d be home in plenty of time.

Mom started looking for him in the late afternoon, but he didn’t show. Supper time. Didn’t show. Time to leave for the party. Didn’t show. Mom, very slow to anger, was past steaming. She’s thinking he had a few with the boys, lost track of the time, had a few more, forgot about the whole thing. She wanted to rip his head off. Finally she hears him clomping down the wooden stairway from the street to our basement apartment, then up onto the little porch. She throws the door open, ready to throttle him, and there he is, filthy, sweaty, utterly exhausted, and grinning like a fool. He looks at her, hands her the state championship trophy, and says, “We won.”

She melted.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hanging in there

My dad’s been failing for some time. About a year ago, we brought him down to live in the apartment over our garage. This wasn’t easy in let me count the ways, and it wasn’t until summer that he allowed himself to feel comfortable and moderately content.

His problems have progressed, and shortly after New Year, partly for his safety but primarily to save what’s left of my own sanity, I finally signed him up for daycare at a nearby facility. The place is big, bright, active, well-staffed, and safe. He, of course, hates it, and we’re working on that.

One of the things that bothers him is that it’s far away. Which it isn’t. He insists that it’s in New Haven. Today, I told him for the hundredth time, “Dad, it’s in Middlebury” (our next-door town). His response? An explosive, indignant “No way!” The absurdity of not being able to persuade him of a verifiable truth about an area he once knew like the back of his hand eventually drove me to prolonged hilarity somewhere just on the safe side of hysteria. I finally asked him, mostly in jest, if he thought I was kidding, was lying, or was just plain stupid. He often has trouble with his speech, so he struggled for a moment before he spat out the word he wanted.


Our slender saving grace right now is that we’re still capable of reacting the way we both did. We laughed.