At the beginning of the year, Thaumatrope creator Nathan Lilly launched Everyday Weirdness. It’s run a lot of good pieces – my recent favorite is C.J. Henderson’s “Closing Costs” – and my short story “August” is today’s publication.
You know those mornings when I’ve been treated to glorious sunrises or clean breezes over the hills or quiet rivers of mist on the fields?
Today was not one of those mornings.
Even though it was dark outside, I could hear the rain while I was getting dressed.
And with a quick check online, I saw that the showers which were suppposed to have cleared up between 6 and 7 a.m. were now scheduled to hang around until 9 or 10.
This was going to be one soppy run.
By a mile in, my brother and I were soaked to the point where more rain didn’t matter: We couldn’t get any wetter.
At least it was warm enough that we weren’t cold, but cool enough that it asn’t muggy.
It rained through our entire shared 10-mile loop.
Oh, it never hit what I ‘d consider downpour staus, where it’s blattering and difficult to see and hear, but it didn’t stop entirely, either, fluctuating the whole time between spitting drizzle and full-on showers.
Not quite six miles in, Adam asked how I was feeling about the training process; specifically, if I’m looking forward to it being over, and that first Saturday after the marathon when I’m not looking at a long run to start the day.
I was kind of surprised to find that I hadn’t really given much thought to it.
I suppose, I conceded, that I’ll be glad not to wake up on a weekend morning thinking of ten-plus miles before breakfast, but at the same time, most days I’ve run, I haven’t laced up my shoes dreading it, or seen it as something I had to do. It’s just become, four days a week, part of my day that’s less an event, and more just a thing there in the hours, like a meal or coffee: I get up, it’s Tuesday (or Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday), I run.
Maybe part of it is the training, and the progress, and charting new runs and mixing it up. Just sitting here, I think it would be much harder for me to set my own regular weekly schedule of mileage and stick to it.
All of which is to say that I find myself not really ready for it to be over, I guess.
Adam started pulling away from me in the eighth mile,and he really went ahead in the last mile-and-a-quarter of his run, getting probably a couple tenths between us as I worked on keeping my pace but not going into my final push, since I had another couple to go.
The clouds let loose one final outburst as I climbed the last real hill of the route, and the rain slowed as I descended the other side.
As I ran alongside the cornfield next to our cul-de-sac, I heard this great, deep pattering off to my left, and I realized it was the sound of the rain landing on row after row after row of broad August corn leaves. It wasn’t that it was raining hard, and it wasn’t that it was particularly loud, really, but hearing it there at the edge of the field, the sound kind of rolling out of the ends of the rows, it hinted at the volume and the breadth of the field, kind of like the way even on a calm day, an ocean surf reminds you that there’s a vastness beyond.
Adam handed off the stopwatch when I caught up to him and said, “We’re right about 8-and-a-half pace, and you’ve got cakewalk from here.”
It was a different sort of finish than I’ve had in some time, because the loop through a nearby allotment didn’t include any big hills: Those were already behind me.
The last couple miles were quiet, and I realized just how drenched I was.
I felt the weight of my waterlogged shirt tugging at my shoulders.
I imagined I could actually feel water sloshing around in my saturated shoes, from which there came a distinct, sock-muffled squish with every step.
A comfortable breeze pushed against me in the last half-mile, which helped, and I was able to maintain a nice clip running up our street.
Final time and distance: 1:42:07 for 12.1 miles – a pace of 8:27. And though I didn’t look at the stopwatch until the end, Adam said later that at the time of the handoff, it was in the 1:25 range, which means I did the last 2.2 miles in 17 minutes, for about a 7:44 pace.
I took a warm shower.
Then I dried off.
I’m a big fan of exploring how things are connected in almost unnoticeable ways, how paths turn, how events and people link, and the resulting unpredictable chains.
And among the events of 1989 is the first point on a particularly important, if convoluted, line in my life:
See, as that year began, I was just beginning to seriously date the German exchange student at our high school.
Because of that, I met my wife Jenn – almost five years later and a thousand miles away.
Here’s the deal:
In July, 1989, I stood on the observation deck at the Akron-Canton Airport and watched this girl’s plane take off as she headed back to Germany. Yes, it had been inevitable; yes, I took it hard anyway.
The next month, I began my freshman year of college at Bowling Green State University, and while that semester is full of its own 1989 mile markers, here’s the one relevant to this story: I still wasn’t over my German girlfriend.
So by the time the school year ended in spring, 1990, I was already planning my first trip overseas.
I went home from BG intending to work my ass off and save every penny for an airline ticket and funds for a month-long visit to Germany in July.
At the time, I worked at the big Children’s Palace toy store at Belden Village mall, my holdover job from the previous summer and two Christmas seasons. Mostly I stocked and straightened shelves, but I worked shifts in the warehouse now and then, and occasionally donned the Peter Panda mascot outfit during big sales. Problem was, Children’s Palace wasn’t close to a full-time job: Shifts were mostly four- or five-hour afternoon stints, maybe three or four days a week. It was all they could give me, but the paychecks I was getting weren’t going to come near to funding my trip
So I swallowed my pride and did what I swore I never would: I applied for a job at McDonald’s.
From the time I was old enough to work, I had vowed never to do fast food. Between the ages of 15 and 19, I worked as a summer camp counselor at the YMCA, did mini-golf groundskeeping and batting-cage maintenance, held two busboy jobs and then landed at Children’s Palace.
But never, I said, McDonald’s.
Yet here I was, desperate for the cash to reach Europe, and needing it now, since the summer vacation clock was already ticking.
I told them I could work as many hours as they had to throw at me, whenever they needed me, and I could start right this second.
That’s how I found myself pulling a dime past minimum wage, working mostly the opening shift, 5 a.m. to 1p.m. five days a week. I came home afternoons feeling shellacked in grease and smelling like french fries.
But I was socking away the money I needed for that trip to Germany.
I can imagine nothing else that would have gotten 19-year-old me to work at McDonald’s.
So flash forward another academic year, and now it’s April or May 1991, and my best friend Ivan and I have decided that we’re going to get an apartment and stay in Bowling Green for the summer, since I’ve got some classes I want to take.
Before we’ve even told our parents, we have gone out and found a place to rent, though neither of us has work lined up. There are enough weeks to do that, I’m guessing, before the end of the school year, and I figure my parents will be OK with the idea as long as I can find employment to support a few months’ worth of rent and utilities.
As the school year winds to a close, I am failing in this quest.
After the last day of the semester, I am heading home for a week before I have to return to BG for classes. We have signed our lease, and I have no job.
The desperation kicks in again, and I stop at the McDonald’s at the eastern edge of campus, walk in, and ask for the manager.
“I need a summer job,” I tell her. “I’ve worked at McDonald’s back home since last summer, I know grill and drive-thru and register, so you won’t have to train me. I signed a lease for an apartment this summer and I can’t go home without telling my parents I found a job, and I can start next Monday.”
She hired me.
What happened at this McDonald’s was that I met another girl. And we started dating at the end of summer, just before school resumed. This is, in fact, That Girl from the “Dark Times” chapter of Collect All 21!, and while the next few years of my life will mostly suck, the key role she plays here is that our move to Florida in March of 1993 is totally her idea.
Oh, I wanted to go someplace after I graduated in December of 1992, but never Florida.
And yet that’s where we moved in March 1993, after a weekend scouting trip to Orlando where we both got nowhere with job interviews at Walt Disney World, but she got hired at a McDonald’s where a former co-worker was managing.
I walked into another McDonald’s just down the street from the apartment we’d picked out, gave nearly the same speech I had in the BG store a couple years before, and walked out with yet another job waiting for me.
After we’d been down there a few months, I took a second job at a local buffalo wing restaurant, quit my job at McDonald’s to help a new owner run the wing place full-time, and then began a part-time job at Disney World, having landed a job as a tour operator at the Disney-MGM studios.
That’s not important to the story, really, but this is: The wing company’s new owner wasn’t able to keep his financial promises, and when I realized it wasn’t working out and that I couldn’t survive on just my two or three days week at Disney, well…
I walked into my fourth McDonald’s in as many years – just a couple miles from my previous one, to which I did not return due to some bad blood over my departure – and put myself up for hire, no training necessary.
And again, the manager brought me on board immediately.
And it was here, at the McDonald’s on Lee Road in Orlando, where I found myself working regularly with this crazy funny cute punkish girl with these shining eyes and bizarre sense of humor and a laugh that just weakened me every time she let it loose.
If I hadn’t dated that German exchange student; if I hadn’t been so driven for cash that I walked into that first McDonald’s; if I hadn’t been able to use that experience to land my next summer job and meet that girl who convinced me to move to Florida – then, how in the world would I have ever, ever EVER crossed paths with this fanastic gorgeous creature who tied her hair with a pink scarf and loaned me her coat to sweep the parking lot on a chilly morning?
Of course I married her. Life goes through all that work to make something happen, you don’t ignore it.
Seriously? I’m done with week ELEVEN?
I have run through a season. Oh, I know technically fall doesn’t start until late September, but with my brother back in Teaching Mode and my daughter starting school on Tuesday, this weekend sure feels like the end of summer.
I woke up this morning not looking forward to my scheduled 16-mile run, and with no good reason, other than that I was going to be running my least-favorite hill twice.
Adam and I ran the 10-mile loop into North Canton and back, and then I continued on for our old six-mile loop, with an extra hook thrown in to make up for the fact that I wasn’t’ running up our street and back.
The first seven miles went by pretty easily while we talked, but Adam built up a sizable lead on me in number eight. It didn’t'help that I got caught by a traffic light: I didn’t stop, but had to go about four car lengths down the intersecting street so I could cut across. He really got ahead of me after the hill climb, but I wasn’t interested in pouring it on since I was looking at another six miles to run.
After he broke off for home and passed me the stopwatch, I checked the time and saw that at 1:28:30, I was 10.28 miles in, so I was averaging about 8:37 per mile. Considering how I felt at the end of last week’s run, where I was totally drained and barely managed to keep my pace under nine minutes, I was encouraged by today’s progress. Of course, I did have six miles to go…
I wasn’t sure where the next few mile points fell, but I knew where the final three would be, since I was finishing up along the same stretch as the four-miler I did twice this week. I didn’t look at the stopwatch again until I finished up mile 13, and I was there at 1:53:03. I hit the 14-mile point at 2:01:21, making for an 8-minute, 19-second mile that I felt pretty good about.
It took me longer to do the next one, and though my lungs felt fine, this is where I really started noticing the aches and fatigue in my legs: a poke in the ankle here, a groan in my thigh there. Still, I kept it under nine minutes (8:54), and when I crossed into frontier territory, the clock read 2:10:16.
I’d already done the math: At nine minutes per mile, I would have taken 2 hours and 24 minutes. Here I was, a mile to go, and well ahead of that, and I have now run further than I ever have.
I rode this energy up that freaking hill and down the other side, and even thoubh my legs and feet were sore, I felt so much better than I did on Saturday No. 10, and my finishing stretch I felt like I was flying up our street without resorting to panting and grunting and hyperventilating.
I did my last mile in 7 minutes and 52 seconds (again, I’m pleasantly stunned, considering an 8-and-a-half fifteenth mile was beyond my reach seven days ago), finishing up at 2:18:08 – that’s 138.13 minutes, which is a pace of 8:35: That’s 24 seconds per mile better than last week!
In fact, looking back at last Saturday’s entry, I realize that even though I ran almost a mile farther today, I only added a minute and 39 seconds to my overall time – wait, can that be right? (I actually printed this out and showed it to Adam to make sure the numbers were solid – he’s the math teacher, after all.)
He backed up my calculations, and once again, I’m amazed at how these small progressions add up with the miles.
I love that this nice note about Collect All 21! focuses on a small, specifice piece of growing up in the 1980s that has little to do with Star Wars. (I also love that it’s on a blog focused on someone’s Class of ’88. Cue Night Ranger.)
Don’t get me wrong: Without Star Wars, this book doesn’t happen, but I also really wanted to recapture the mood and feel of being a kid back then, and the newness of things like VCRs (Ours had a cord-attached remote-control. I’m not kidding) and cable television with funny channel-switching boxes (I still know that 11P1 = MTV) and figuring out how to do goofy things with tape recorders and cassettes by covering up the “erase prevention” gap.
Also, the school hallway referenced in that particular section? Still in use – my daughter had art class in the same room I once did. And though it’s been a few years, the last time I was there, it still smelled the same as it had when I was a kid.
Remember the incredibly fun live performance of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that I mentioned seeing at Penguicon in May?
In early 1989, the year I graduated from high school, my dad lost one of his kidneys to cancer, which was another one of the things from that year which served as a marking post for pathways to come.
Four years later, Dad passed away due to the re-emergence of that cancer, this time in his lymphatic system. He died a week after his 46th birthday.
I was 22 years old at the time, living in Orlando, and mired in what I wrote about in Collect All 21! as The Dark Times. When I realized how sick Dad was after calling on his birthday, I made the trip back up to Ohio.
And though I didn’t manage to re-track my life overnight after his funeral, saying goodbye to Dad was a sort of two-by-four to the head that hurt like hell, but also opened my eyes and started me thinking an awful damn lot about what really matters.
Bizarre thing is, I’ve never considered it in that way until just this moment. I’d like to think that even if Dad had never gotten sick, eventually I’d have come to my senses and righted my ship, but who knows how much longer I’d have stayed stuck in those bleak, draining years? Too much longer, and maybe I’d have alienated my friends and family beyond the point of reconciliation, and my life now would be very different.
It didn’t happen immediately or easily, but in the year after Dad’s passing, I did start getting my act together and started trying to mend fences and build bridges and apologize and forgive and generally not be a self-involved stubborn jackass anymore.
All this, of course, was four years (short in some ways, bitterly long in others) distant from 1989, but that year is where the roots lie.
I remember not going to school the day of his kidney surgery, spending the time at the hospital where Mom and Dad worked, and talking to Dennis, my dad’s friend and fellow anesthetist, after the surgery.
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that Dad would be OK. I wish I could say this was some sort of deep-seated conviction or faith, but the truth is, I don’t know whether it was genuine certainty and optimism or simply a refusal to deal with the darker possibilities.
At any rate, for a few years, he was OK, and things were mostly normal.
We went to Orlando that year for Spring Break, as usual, although we stopped along the way instead of making our usual straight-through overnight run. And while we were there, another bit of fallout from Dad’s kidney cancer manifested itself. This one, though, was a good bit: Dad was Corvette shopping.
Apparently, owning a Corvette had been a longtime dream of his, so, fresh off his bout with cancer, Dad was in a buying mood. And we were looking in Florida because, he said, cars down there never had to contend with winter road salt.
He wasn’t looking at the post-1983-makover editions: Dad wanted, you know, one of the cool Corvettes, when they still had the big, swoopy front fenders and the pointed noses.
“Seriously, how freaking awesome it would be if he got one and I had to help drive it back from Florida,” I remember asking my buddy Aaron, who joined us on these trips.
That didn’t happen, but not long after that vacation, Dad got his Corvette: It was an ’82 – the last year they made them in the old-school style.
I remember the first time he let me drive it, out on State Street, on the wide-open stretch west of Alliance. Dad was encouraging me to punch it a little and I was nervous as hell and afraid to blink, but I gave it a little boost, and there was an adrenaline rush and me grinning and grinning like an idiot, Dad sitting in the passenger’s seat watching and smiling.
That year, for either his birthday or Father’s Day, I got Dad a pair of leather driving gloves.
The Corvette was so long it barely fit in our garage, and even though Dad insisted on covering it every night with an old Peanuts bedspread, he was never selfish about the car: He’d let me take it out to get ice cream, or to go pick up my brothers from one practice or another, or even to just go drive around.
Once, just barely creeping out of the driveway, I backed over a toad. I felt horrible. It’s a gorgeous night, friends and neighbors are hanging out, I’m a high school senior with Corvette keys in my hand, and I’m standing in the yard with a lump in my throat over this freaking toad.
The car had removable T-tops and a cassette player and a loud-ass speaker system, and I tell you this: There’s probably nothing you can do on any stereo setting that will ever make music sound as good to me as it did mixed with the wind whipping around while I had Radio K.A.O.S. or The Pet Shop Boys cranked, or, depending on my mood, maybe a little Moody Blues or James Taylor’s Greatest Hits. And if “The Boys of Summer” came on the radio? Hot damn.
I drove the Corvette on prom night and took spins around the block with friends the day of my graduation party. (The block in question was a five-mile route with a couple stretches out among the cornfields, so, yeah: benefits of living a bit beyond the suburbs.)
Eventually, cars became just a way for me to get from place to place, and road trips became about the journey and not the wheels. Every so often, though, I’ll see a silver early-1980s Corvette, and Jenn will notice me looking at it a little longer than I need to.
Thanks to Shawn Kemple for posting this review of “Collect All 21!” which gets bonus points for referencing Garbage Pail Kids. He also mentions his own toy-trading adventures as a kid (seems there was a Transformers Jetfire brouhaha in there) and playing Lucasarts’ “X-Wing” on a computer with no sound card. Schweet!
My favorite bit, though, is this:
I personally don’t think you even need to be a hardcore Star Wars fan to enjoy this book. Many of the memories in here can be related to anything if you were a kid growing up in the late 70’s-80’s.
That sort of thing is awfully humbling and gratifying to hear.
>runs off grinning and humming “Airwolf” theme.<
I’m still wrestling with my next piece on 1989.
Until I get it finished – and I’ve got other deadlines to meet, too – here’s the very cool sliver of moon my brother and I saw just before sunrise this morning:
There’s wider-angle version here I like, too, with more sky & clouds and some power lines and tree branches.
That’s a pretty old moon, and I feel lucky to have caught it before it disappeared.
Saturday, August 15
“It’s just distance.”
This is what my brother tells me when I admit that I’m nervous before we head out to run this morning.
But this is the 15-miler, and it’s one both he and my buddy Jeff have warned me as being a particularly trying run for first-time marathon trainees, even though, as per the training calendar pattern, it’s only two miles more than my previous frontier two weeks ago.
I’ve worked out a path which takes Adam and me over a familiar seven-mile loop, though we’re running it in the opposite direction for a couple reasons: First, it means when he veers off and heads home, I don’t have to turn around and double back over a mile I’ve just run. And second, it means I’m not doing two climbs of the hill which that mile includes.
The second loop of the run is a shortened version of our established 10-mile route into North Canton and back.
What I’m trying to do, of course, is fool myself. The first not-quite-half has now become a routine run for both of us, so that’s fine. And my thinking is that when I’m out there on the second half alone, I get to celebrate the small joy that I’ve excised two miles from the middle of it.
When I mentioned this to Adam on Thursday, he smiled. “It’s still going to suck, you know.”
It’s just distance.
It’s light but still a few minutes before sunup when we start out.
My goal is still to manage a nine-minute pace, and the first three miles pass quickly while Adam and I talk.
Around the outermost point of the loop, we’re running east and come around a bend into an absolutely jaw-dropping sunrise. There’s a haze to the sky, and just above the horizon is my favorite Red Rubber Ball sort of sun, just starting to brighten to the point where you can’t look at it and see the edges distinctly. And there’s a distant cloud bank positioned just so that from its upper reaches, high enough that they’re in a place where the sun is already yellow and bright, a ray of white light spreads and widens over our heads.
To our left are rolling, low expanses of tall, deep green corn. Bands of thick white mist stretch motionless across the fields.
“Now there’s a postcard,” Adam says, reading my mind, and we don’t speak much over the next few minutes.
At about the five-and-a-half-mile mark, I squeeze down the first of the two gels I packed for this run, and wash it down with water.
Oddly enough, I find that I don’t even remember running up the big hill that marks the beginning of mile seven, maybe because I’m already thinking ahead to the second half of the run. Adam hands off the stopwatch – I decide to just keep it in my left hand this week rather than trying to stuff it in my belt – at right around the one-hour mark, so I’m a little bit ahead of the pace I’m trying to set, but I know the next eight miles are going to be tougher.
I take my second gel just past 10 miles, and I’m feeling, well, if not spectacularly energized, then certainly at least okay with where I am. My knees and calves are starting to ache periodically, but the lungs are feeling good, and mentally I’m in the game.
In fact, I disappear into The Zone for a few minutes, and when I come out the other side, I realize I’m on a stretch of road I’ve never run before: This is the shorter route, remember? I was totally on autopilot there for a bit.
The change of scenery occupies me for another half-mile or so, and then I swing back east onto familiar paths. The sun is high and warm now, and I know the nightmare miles are coming up, so I try to make sure I’m cruising comfortably: not pushing for speed, but making sure that I’m not relaxing and slowing down too much, because I want to make good time while I still have the energy to do it.
The air is still now, and when I pass the grassy expanse between the shopping center and the drug store on the corner, I can hear the insect buzz rising like a sonic version of gentle heat waves.
Just after I hit the 12-mile mark and turn north, a couple things go through my head.
First is a familiar thought, looking at the traffic light at the next intersection: “That thing is a mile away.” (It is. We’ve checked.) This is followed by steeling myself for that mile to feel like four. (It usually does.)
Then, though, I realize that with a dozen miles behind me, I am at the same point where, two weeks ago, I was heading into the last mile of a half-marathon distance feeling utterly spent. I’m not wind-sprinting or anything here, but I know I feel better than I did a couple Saturdays back. (Later, I will wonder how much of this is actual reality and how much of it is mental, since there’s no way I can afford to feel, with three miles to go, like every step is a challenge.)
Passing that traffic light puts me over one more frontier, and with two miles to go, I start to consider how I’m doing time-wise. My goal of nine-minute miles means I’ll need to finish in two hours and fifteen minutes, and now I’m starting to think I might not make it. Although Adam and I have found that during the week we can get our final miles in well under eight minutes, I am now starting to feel these two new miles weighing on me. Time starts to pass in disturbingly large chunks for what I’m thinking should be short, quick segments from one street to another, and when I turn east and see the sun over that damn hill in the final mile, I look at the stopwatch and see 2:06:30.
I’ll have to do an eight-and-a-half minute fifteenth mile, and son, that’s just not happening.
I switch up my breathing a little just to distract myself from the climb, which is taking so much effort it actually feels like the air in front of me is pushing me back. Although I manage to keep my legs up and my strides decent, once I’m actually over the crest, I want nothing more than to just freaking stop, and this is the hardest part of the run.
And then sweat just starts to pour into my eyes, more than I’ve ever had happen before, stinging bad enough to distract me from the pain in my legs. While I’m taking my glasses off with one hand and trying to use my shirt sleeve to clear my eyes with the other, I’m still slogging along, and by the time I can blink my vision clear and get my glasses back in place, I have reached the top of the downhill stretch that ducks through a tree tunnel for few blessed moments, and the worst is behind me.
I get enough momentum for a nice little breeze and some long, freewheeling strides, but when I get to the end of our street, I look at the watch and see that 2:15 has just ticked past. My goal now is just to get up the road in an even 90 seconds.
I make it in 89.
Walking home, I finish up the last of my water and realize that there’s not much left of the 20 ounces I had with me when I set out. I drink another tall plastic mugfull as I’m filling the bathtub with the faucet on its coldest setting. I don’t know that I’m looking forward to this cold bath, but I’ve seen it recommended in training books, and Adam said he started icing his legs on runs of 15 miles or more.
I don’t have a big bag of ice on hand, so I empty our freezer’s ice bin into the tub, put on my swimsuit (come on, it’s cold) and step in.
I’m surprised at how good it actually feels on my feet, which I now realize are a little bit sore. Same thing when I ease down and get my legs stretched out. After about five minutes, as I’ve gotten used to the temperature and am, in fact, wondering if this is cold enough, my right hand dips into the water and it’s freezing. It feels like a totally different sensation than the soothing water on my knees and feet.
Later, after I’ve showered, I sit down to figure out my actual pace. Time: 2:16:29. Distance – checking again on the Gmaps Pedometer – 15.2 miles.
Fifteen point two. I’d forgotten about that little bit of distance padding, which means my actual fifteen-mile mark was somewhere at the end of our street and –
I pop open the calculator: 136.5 minutes divided by 15.2 miles.
My average works out to 8:59.