Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Clone Wars Season Two, George Krstic and Star Wars Flashbacks

With this Friday’s premiere of Star Wars: The Clone Wars season two just a few days off, I’m excited to share another podcast/interview/reading with George Krstic, who wrote “Cargo of Doom,” the second episode of the one-hour season opener! “Holocron Heist,” the first half-hour, gets things started at 8 p.m. on Cartoon Network.

We chatted about the upcoming premiere and The Clone Wars in general (George also wrote season one’s “Downfall of a Droid” and “Storm over Ryloth”), and then dove into recollections of growing up as kids hooked on our Star Wars toys. I read/recalled some scenes from a chapter in Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek, while he jumped in with a bunch of fun memories of his own – including his nominee for Worst Star Wars Toy Ever (aka “How My Little Brother Wound Up in the Emergency Room”).

Grab your old plastic Darth Vader case and dump your Kenner guys on the floor: There’s some fun to be had!

The podcast runs about 30 minutes and is here in mp3 format. (Right-click and “save as” for an easy download.)

And if you missed George’s “Spaghetti Artoo” story in our first podcast, you can find that one here.

September 30, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XVI

Saturday, Sept. 26

I ran in my first marathon today.

Being part of a relay team in the Akron Marathon isn’t the same thing as Running My First Marathon, of course, but still, it was a Race Day, and that meant pre-run adrenaline and excitement, no matter how much I kept telling myself, “This is just your regularly-scheduled 12-mile run; just the normal ‘X’ through today’s box on the calendar; a distance you’ve covered eight times already.”

Even so, I wanted to run well.

Adam and I left for Akron at 5:30 a.m. – an hour-and-a-half prior to the start time – when it was still dark. I’d had a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, which was more than I usually eat before a race, but pretty much standard for my long run Saturdays.

And I decided to run with my belt, carrying my own water and gels, figuring I’d rather be in total control of when I wanted to “eat” and drink rather than having to plan the consumption around the relief courses on the route. Also, I’ve gotten used to taking the gels and drinking on the run rather than stopping completely, and I’m pretty adamant about sticking to the rituals and patterns that seem to work for me.

We parked the car around 6:15 and met up with our fellow runners about 6:30, hanging out on the fringes of the mass of people at the starting line, pinning our numbers on and talking a little about the logistics of the thing.

After Dean, our leadoff runner for the first 3.5-mile loop, headed toward the starting line, Adam and Angie and I walked to the first relay point, where I’d take over for legs two and three – 5.7 miles and 6.3 miles – and then hand things off to Angie for her 2.8 miles. Adam’s 7.9-mile finish would bring him into Canal Park where we’d meet up.

Waiting with Adam and Angie at the relay – after all, once I took off, they’d have plenty of time to get to their own spots – I really started getting race nerves, especially when the first competitors started passing through: First the wheelchair marathoners, and then a few solo runners. As the relayers arrived, they’d announce the team number over loudspeakers so we could keep our eyes open and get ready.

One minute I was standing there joking with them about the anticipation and letdown of similar numbers being called out, and then we heard “8-6-5-4” blare from the amplifiers, and I was out at the edge of the waiting crowd looking for Dean.
And then, 28 minutes or so into the race, I was taking the bright yellow relay bracelet from him and jogging south and uphill.

Because I’ve only run one race a year, those first few moments of competing feel new to me every time: The sudden change in the surrounding sounds, as the crowd around me is suddenly making noise only with its feet and not its voices; the realization of my commitment to a particular run and passing the point of no return.

Although I considered loading up my MP3 player with songs or podcasts to listen to, I’d simply run out of time last night, and at any rate, I’ve run the vast majority of my mileage without that distraction. I figured that this being a totally new experience, I wanted to really soak it in and see how my mind and body reacted.

For the first mile or so, I regretted the decision: The dozens of racers around me made it extremely difficult for me to get my mind into that “running place” of personal calm and near-detachment, and of course, like trying to fall asleep, thinking about getting to that place only made it impossible to do. That the first two-and-a-half miles were a pretty straight stretch on single street probably didn’t help things, since I couldn’t think ahead to the turns and other landmarks.

Eventually, though, I forced myself to think about maintaining a comfortable-but-not-too-relaxed pace and reminded myself that if I weren’t here, I’d still be out running this same distance on this same cool, cloudy, hovering-on-the-edge-of-rainy morning, only I’d be alone and on familiar roads instead of here in new territory with a couple thousand strangers.

And then the discomfort sort of melted away, and I was just running.

We passed Firestone Stadium, and I thought for a minute or two about when I was a sports writer covered a couple regional high school softball tournament games there, one of them, I’m pretty  sure, with Kelsey in tow on a Saturday afternoon.

And several times I found myself glimpsing parts of Akron through my eyes as a 15-year-old, when I had my first girlfriend, and she lived up here. The course didn’t go near her neighborhood, but it took us past areas I remembered, and the houses and streets and trees had a familiar feel.

All along my first 5.7-mile leg, there were spectators. Not a constant crowd, of course, but there was never a stretch where there weren’t several clusters of people on either side clapping and hollering encouragement to both specific runners and all of us in general. This wasn’t a totally new thing, since parts of the Hall of Fame 2- and 5-mile races attracted a few watchers, but somehow, it felt different. (I was wearing a Lake Track & Field T-shirt my brother gave me, and three times along the way, I heard someone yell out “Go Lake!” to which I flashed thumbs-up.)

I was feeling energized as we got to the second relay point, especially knowing I was going to run right through it, not handing off my bracelet, but keeping it for another leg. I heard my team number called as I entered the hand-off zone, and I admit I was half-hoping a volunteer would ask if I needed help finding my teammate just so I could oh-so-casually say, “Nope: Running two.”

Also, I was a bit surprised to find myself suddenly back on familiar ground: We ran past the new University of Akron football stadium, and then onto the campus itself. “Hey,” I thought, “There’s the building where I met LeBron James -” (It was for about a minute, when I caught him for a brief, shallow interview about his marketing company and advertising deals.) “- and there’s the parking garage; and there’s E.J Thomas Hall…”

And then, with a quick right turn, I saw the starting line ahead and realized I was just a couple hundred feet from where I’d been fidgeting in anticipation just an hour or so ago.

I was on the second leg now, though I had honestly forgotten the specific lengths of each one, focused as I was only on the 12-mile total. I knew the longer part of this one, though, would be on the Towpath Trail, down in the woods along the Cuyahoga River. As I ran my last few city miles, I noticed a few more landmarks: “Hey, that’s where I had lunch a month or so ago! And hey, Luigi’s pizza place is right down there!”

Just past the 11-mile mark, realizing I had less than five miles to go, I got another burst of what I’ve come to think of as “calming energy.” It’s not like a new charge, but a wave of comprehension that I just feel good and maybe I can go a little faster, or at least not slow down. (A huge, steep downhill stretch at this point helped, I’m sure.)

My own toughest stretch was probably the one between Mile Markers 12 and 13. For one thing, I had to go to the bathroom, and, not to be too indelicate, not the kind of going to the bathroom that, say, kids figure they can do unnoticed in a pool. This has happened enough for me to know I can run through it and the urge will go away, but it makes for some discomfort.

We were also on the Towpath now – the same Towpath I’ll be running, further north, in just two weeks – and so frankly, there was less going on around me to take my mind off the run. Yes, it was new territory for me, but it was also fairly repetitive: Trees; glimpses of the river to the right, a near-constant hillside to the left; a few short bridges.

Awhile back, Keith and I were discussing the pros and cons of running part of the Towpath Marathon route ahead of time, and I decided against it, in favor of keeping it an unknown to be experienced. And though I still feel strongly about that, I think I probably will make sure I have my music player stocked for that run. Not that I see myself listening for the entire 26.2 miles, but it would have been nice today to have it ready for this stretch.

I distracted myself by mentally playing songs, recreating movie speeches and generally trying to, you know, Think Inspiring Thoughts.

And around this time, I passed a relief station sponsored and staffed by the Ohio State Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and it reminded me of Dad and put a lump in my throat. Just for a second or two. But it also made me smile, seeing them there in their scrubs and surgical caps, handing out cups of water. I didn’t take a drink, but when I passed them, I felt better.

At this point, withabout three miles to go, I started drawing parallels: “If I were at home, running our usual 10-mile loop, I’d be passing Giant Eagle.” Two-and-a-half: “I’m almost to the traffic light at Applegrove.”

When I reached Mile Marker 14, with a mile-and-a-half to go, I lengthened my strides and started to kick. It’s further out than I usually start at home, but then again, at home there’s usually one big climb in the final mile, and that wasn’t the case here. I started passing runners who had been in front of me awhile, or who had recently passed me, and though I knew it meant little overall – many were full marathoners and still had many miles to go – the burst felt good, like the charge up the hill at the end of the Hall of Fame race.

At Marker 15, with a half-mile remaining, I thought, “I’ve just come down the hill near our house: I’m almost there. Pour it on.” I never went into full-on-barrelling-huffing-and-puffing, but I tried to keep my strides strong, even as my mind went, “Hey – where’s the relay point?” I couldn’t see it like I figured I would have been able to. We climbed briefly from the riverbank to the intersection of several busy roads – blocked off, of course, for the run – and I realized I knew exactly where I was: Last month I drove up here to meet with some editors about work.

But more importantly, Where’s the frakking relay point?I’m going up hill now, in danger of losing steam, and I still don’t see it, and- ”

A quick turn to the right, and I’m there.

I can’t do a dead sprint into the crowded relay corral, but I keep things quick until I’m over the timing bar – I hear the announcer call my number – and then I’m looking for Angie, and then I’m trading the relay bracelet for my car keys, and I’m saying, “All right- Go!” and she’s off, and I have ducked into the crowd and am making my way off the course, hitting my stopwatch button: 1:40, almost on the dot.

For 12 miles, I later figure out, that’s an 8:20 pace. And while I do keep telling myself this was just a part of my training, I’m still proud of having run this far with a Race Day mentality.

The shuttle bus back to the finish line inside the Canal Park baseball stadium took longer than I thought it would, and when I get there and make my way inside, I realize that Adam and Angie and I – Dean had to leave after his leg for a football game – have made no plans for meeting up afterward. I figured it would be easy enough to watch Adam cross the finish line and then catch up with him.

I went to the bathroom, then decided to wait until Adam arrived to get my post-race food. I found a front-row seat on the first-base line, with the Finish Line just a few yards off, and settled in to watch.

It was chilly and starting to mist slightly, but having never been at a marathon, I got wrapped up in the joy of watching runners complete their races. I was a little jealous of Adam, in fact, since, as our final runner, he’d get to do the final hundred yards or so, coming in the center field gate and seeing the stadium rise around him, hearing the crowd. But I was also tremendously excited to be where I was, and every so often I’d get goosebumps watching finishers and thinking of how I was going to holler my fool head off when my baby brother came running into the stadium.

A funny thing, though: I missed it.

Somehow, I had missed his entrance, and as I watched the clock run, I got more and more uncomfortable and cold and hungry, and my seat was hard, and my muscles still wouldn’t relax because at any moment, I figured Adam would come into view and I could stand up and yell and clap.

The numbers on the clock got bigger. I struggled to do the mental math figuring out whether we, as a team of semi-experienced runners, could possibly have taken this long.

By 11:15, I knew I had to have simply missed his finish, and I got up to look for him.

We ran into each other about two minutes later.

He’d come in at the 3:32:49 mark, which baffled me, since I’d been sitting there watching since the three-hours-flat point. Or had I? I’d seen the women’s champion arrive at 2:51, but then I couldn’t remember if I’d been sitting down, or if that was before I’d gone to the bathroom and walked around for a little while. Could I somehow blame the people who insisted on squeezing past me to watch other runners finish? Or maybe those obnoxious few who came and sat on the wall in front of me to see their own friends and family come in?

Not likely: Even if someone had blocked me for a few seconds, it was a long enough run across the outfield that I should have seen Adam, and I was just pissed off at myself that I hadn’t.

So Adam had finished, collected our team medals, gotten his bag of free post-race food – by the time I got mine, the sandwiches were gone – and had been wandering around looking for me for the past 45 minutes or so. Angie had caught her ride home long before.

Walking to the car, my anger dissipated, and on the drive home, we talked about our race and the runners we’d seen and where we’d been.

I ate lunch, and then I took a nap – I still felt chilly and achy, more from having sat in that damn stadium seat shivering for an hour plus – but even after waking up and taking a shower, I still felt drained. Much more so than I figured I would have after a normal 12-mile run. Again, I blamed the post-race situation.

Later, when the marathon results were finalized and posted online, Adam and I learned we’d finished 81st overall in the 970-team relay field, and 40th in our “mixed” division of 682 teams comprised of both men and women. I thought this was pretty cool.

I’m glad I did it, and grateful to Adam for roping me into it.

Two weeks until I do one on my own.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Smoke up, Johnny!” – Things I Love So Far About “Community.”

Updated 12/15/2009 – Noticing that reuglar searches for the origin of “Smoke Up, Johnny!” and other Breakfast Club lines are bringing visitors here, I figured I’d just put the link to my Breakfast Club quote piece up here at the top to make things easier. Here you go: John Hughes and The Breakfast Club – Forever Quotable.

Yes, the new NBC show‘s just one episode in, but I can tell you this: We had to pause and rewind it twice because I was laughing so hard and enjoying it so much.

Joel McHale – Jenn and I are huuuuuuge fans of “The Soup,” and Joel’s delivery and approach to the character ring familiar without feeling out-of-place in a fictional setting.

The 1980s references: Large chunks of the pilot made me warm and fuzzy and/or nearly caused some coffee-through-the-nose snortage by loudly validating my opinion of The Breakfast Club‘s lasting relevance. Also, I may now have to elevate “Smoke up, Johnny!” to an A-level quote status. (And the closing music with the dedication to John Hughes? Don’t you make me get misty-eyed again, you genius bastards.)

The writers seem well-aware of the stereotyped characters which it half-embraces and half-mocks, and so far I think they’re doing a bang-up job of creating a stand-alone show and a light spoof at the same time.

Chevy Chase. As far as the pilot went, his performance was the biggest and best surprise. He absolutely locked in on the role of a guy who clearly wants to be revered for his past accomplishments without coming off as an ACTOR who wants to be revered for his past accomplishments. It would have been very easy for NBC to blow his role out of proportion and promote this whole thing as Comedy Legend Chevy Chase’s Triumphant Return, and frankly, I half-expected his performance to have that air of “Look at me I was FLETCH for God’s sake!!!” But he pulled the whole genuinely confused thing off marvelously understated.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, Television | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XV

Saturday, Sept. 19

When I went outside this morning, it was still dark.

And not that “pre-dawn blue” kind of dark: Night dark.

It was just before 5:30, and just a shade over 50 degrees.

I’d been more or less awake since 3:45, having gone to bed just after nine p.m. in anticipation of this morning’s run: The 20-miler. My longest training run. The last frontier before race day.

Adam was running the first 10 with me, and he needed to be back home as early as possible, so he suggested the super-early start.

I had some peanut butter toast and a Power Bar while I filled up my water bottles, and actually walked out the door before Jenn, which is saying something since her day shifts start at 6 a.m.

Walking out into the street, I looked up and saw a magnificently clear, moonless sky.

Orion wheeled high – the first time I’ve seen him. I mentally marked the official end of summer.

Waiting on Adam’s front sidewalk, I looked straight up at the Pleiades, and as I did so, a yellow-orange shooting star fled west to east just past the Seven Sisters.

I think I actually said “Yesss!” out loud, and gave a mental fist-pump.

To the east, just over the treeline, Venus was startlingly bright. Brighter than I think I’ve ever seen it, maybe.

And suddenly, I was strangely psyched and excited for this run, like when I’d done the In Like A Lion midnight run with Keith back on March 1.

Adam came out put on his reflective vest and grabbed a flashlight to carry. I clipped a blinking red light to the back of my belt, and without preamble, we set off.

Except for a quarter-mile stretch of well-lit sidewalk along a nearby housing development, we ran that first mile in real darkness, between woods, then along cornfields and horse pastures, and there was a newness to it; a “sneaking out” feel, like camping in the backyard and going for a walk in the middle of the night.

It took a couple whiles for my calves to warm up: They were slightly sore after just a couple miles, but it went away, as I’ve come to expect.

In the fourth mile, we came to a traffic signal and turned left. With no cars or streetlights around, we noticed just how bright a green light really is, casting our shadows long ahead of us.

In mile six, past the well-illuminated parking lot of a shopping center and back into darkness, we passed a trio of runners heading the opposite direction on our sidewalk. After they passed, I said to Adam, “Crazy people.”

It started to get light not long after that. By the time we were at mile seven, most of the sky was pale blue and it was glowing peach on the eastern horizon.

More than a third of the way through, I thought, and it’s not even dawn yet.

Of course, I also realized I was closing in on the last of my shared miles: Just shy of the halfway point, I was going to turn north and begin another 10-mile loop, while Adam headed home.

He offered me pointers, counterbalancing my optimism with his experience.

I broke down my remaining loop for him: 4 miles north, then head east a bit, and then I’m picking up a road we’ve run regularly, and at that point, there are just four miles left. It breaks up nicely, and mentally, I’m ready – there is no longer any doubt in my mind that I can do this.

“Just remember to keep walking that fine line,” he said, “between that attitude and knowing that it’s going to suck. When you get to mile 18, it gets better because you know you’re almost there, but watch out for the ones before that.”

And then he’s off, heading home, and I’m jogging north.

It’s still a gorgeous, cloudless morning. I’m more than 12 miles into my run before the sun is high enough that I’m running in its full light, sending a shadow several dozen yards in to the field off to my left.

The route takes me past the high school I attended, and the attached middle school, where Kelsey goes. There’s a row of trees on the south side of the middle school, and they reach almost to the top of the building, blocking the third-floor classroom windows.

I remember being in those classrooms and looking down on those trees.

Turning east, I’m on a road where one of my friends was in a bad bicycle accident as a kid. Flew over his handlebars and wound up with his jaw wired shut for awhile. I wasn’t there, but our dads took us to a preseason Browns game around that time, and I remember him cheering, teeth stuck together.

And then south again, on a road that runs along the backyard of another friend’s childhood home. His parents still live there. I snuck one of my first beers – stashed behind a tree by an older brother – in that backyard.

Around this point, I was 15 miles in. Three-fourths of the way there, and feeling pretty good. Nowhere near the agony of that 18-mile run two weeks ago.

Still, Adam was right: The next couple miles weren’t painful or a real struggle, exactly, but they just seemed to pass awfully slowly.

And then, after cresting what I knew to be the next-to-last sizable climb of the morning, I realized that the next few minutes were my Frontier Zone. Somewhere between the top of that hill and the intersection I could see ahead, I would pass my long-distance mark and be in new territory, two miles from completing Saturday Number Fifteen.

When I got to that stop sign, I felt like cheering.

At this point, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve climbed the hill that marks the start of the final mile from this direction. But the climb itself differs a bit each time. There have been days when it vanished because my mind was elsewhere, and there have been days when every step felt like nine. I’ve done it with my eyes shut or glued to the roadside stripe because I didn’t want to see how far off the top was, and I’ve run at it head-on without taking my gaze from the house that sits up there.

Today, I was just plain excited, and if the hill didn’t exactly glide effortlessly beneath my shoes, neither did it leave a painful muscle memory. It was just another stretch of pavement, and then it was behind me.

Final time: 2:58:48. Distance: 20.07 miles. Pace: 8:55 per mile.

That’s slower than I want to run the marathon, but a full minute per mile – and a minute faster overall – better than the 18-miler, and enough for me to feel like I’ve finally buried that one.

I’ll spend the next couple weeks on shorter runs and working on picking up the pace. But until race day, every distance on the calendar has already been done.

One frontier to go.

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | 1 Comment

Pepper Has A Secret

I kid you not: This was totally unstaged.

Jenn’s playing Beatles Rock Band, when partway through the song, Pepper brings his “date”  (yes, it’s a stuffed cat with a bandaged paw) into the room. I guess he knows classic mood music when he hears it.

September 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, Ohio | , , , , | Leave a comment

Collecting change

quartersLast week, Kelsey was on the floor of our library, leaning forward onto her fingertips and using all her weight to push a state quarter into its spot on our collector’s map.

It was Oklahoma: the last quarter we needed to finish the 50-coin set.

Hawaii had gone in just a minute before: I’d gotten our final two quarters a couple days earlier, but the Aloha State had spent a day sitting on a bookshelf while we looked for the folder. (We hadn’t added to the collection in months, and the thing had gotten tucked into an almost-completely-hidden corner of the library shelves, taking us a day to find.)

It hasn’t been a crisp, minty-fresh folder for a long time. The edges are banged up, the front and back covers are lumpy from the mashing of coins into the circles, and there are stains on one corner that I’m pretty sure are leftovers from one of our cats spraying it years ago.

But as a map, it holds up in the important ways.

Kelsey turned two in March 1999, the year the state quarters program began. She and Jenn and I lived in Florida, and I was working in the ad dummying department at The Orlando Sentinel. We had a house with a bright blue front door and three cats.

“Wow,” I remember telling Jenn, “she’ll be almost 12 by the time we can get all these.” Picturing myself as Dad to a near-teenage daughter was pretty much impossible. (And yes, some days, it still is.)

I don’t remember when exactly we got this collector’s map, or who bought it for Kelsey, or even if we received it before July of that year, when we uprooted ourselves and moved here to Ohio and I took my first full-time writing job as a reporter in Warren.

I do remember, though, putting those first couple quarters in – Delaware, Connecticut, Pennsylvania – and thinking that there sure were a lot of spaces to fill and that 2008 was unimaginably distant.

I’m glad we built the collection on happenstance, and that it was never a full-on obsessive quest. If we happened to get a quarter we didn’t think we’d seen, we’d bring it home to check its spot on the map. We’ve never gone out to a bank and asked for a specific quarter, or gone on eBay or visited a coin shop to fill a spot. All these quarters came to us while we were just going through life and getting change.

We were always a bit behind because of that, usually completing one year’s quarter series long after the calendar had flipped to the next one, but we also never completely lost track of where we stood.

Still, even as the quarter-sized holes on the East Coast and the Midwest started to fill in, there always seemed to be an awful lot of space left.

Grades went by, jobs changed, quarters were added. But there always still seemed to be an abundance of spaces remaining.

It was only this spring, I think, when we put New Mexico in its place, that we noticed how close we were to completing the set.

My memory is not good enough to fully complete the connections of time and situations – I don’t think of Kelsey starting kindergarten the year Ohio’s quarter came out, or look at North Dakota and attach it to her last year in elementary school.

But because the coins’ states and distribution years are color-coded on this map, I do have a kind of general emotional memory of the eras: The small, irregularly-shaped patches of yellow, deep blue and dark green on the East Coast trigger a sense of a long time ago, when Kelsey was little. The turquoise and lavender and magenta in the Midwest make me think of elementary school and crayons. The wide, contrasting swaths of lighter blue, deep gold, pale green and rust red-orange out West strike me as time passing in chunks larger than I want.

We went to a high school football game Friday night, the day after we completed our quarter collection. And at this point, I know better than to expect she’s going to sit with me for more than a couple 30-second moments in between hanging out with her friends and enjoying the fall evenings under the lights.

But I also know what kids’ shows she still secretly records to watch when she’s by herself, and what goofy things I can do that still crack her up, even if she’s rolling her eyes at the same time and praying that I NEVER do/say/sing that in front of anyone we’re not related to.

There’s $12.50 in quarters pressed into that cardboard.

It’s clearly worth more.

September 14, 2009 Posted by | geek, Ohio | , , , , | Leave a comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XIV

Sept. 12

It’s bounceback Saturday. A 14-miler was on the calendar, and I’d run this distance twice before, so I knew I could do it.

I was still nervous.

I had three pretty good weekday runs in the wake of last weekend’s three-hour slog, but I still wondered if that was really a result of all the things I did wrong, or whether it was just a signal that I’d hit my body’s limit and this was the start of a downslide.

At any rate, I got back in to my preparation zone: Last night I made sure to load up on the choo-choo wheel noodles at dinner, and when I needed a little bedtime snack after 10 p.m., I had some more, just in case. (Bonus: Isn’t it fun saying “choo-choo wheels?”) I got a good night’s sleep. And when I got up in the dark this morning just after six, it wasn’t quite sixty degrees outside, so the heat wouldn’t be in the mix this time, either.

Walking across the street to Adam’s house, I was still a little uncertain about the run, though.

Fortunately, running with Adam always means we’ve got to get moving, because he needs to be home before my nephews get up and start their day. Once I’m over in his driveway, there’s not a lot of time to worry – we just start running.

It was a nice morning, too: Warm enough for short sleeves, and a little breeze. It got light pretty quickly, and the sky was blotched with clouds without being low and overcast.

I only checked the split times at miles one and two, and we were right about the eight-and-a-half minute mark on both.

Adam and I kept a conversation going through about seven miles, and even though in number eight I felt a little ache in my legs, it was nothing like last week when, at the same point, I was feeling awful and only halfway through my run.

I did have a minor first in mile ten: While opening a gel pack to eat, I dropped it and stopped to pick it up. It was only a second, but all summer, I’ve managed not to stop moving my feet on any of my runs. If I hit a traffic light or a line of cars, I’ll go off-course for a bit until I can cross; and twice I’ve had to jog in place – once while someone asked me directions, and again for just a second or two at a crosswalk near a parking lot.

The funny thing is, almost that entire thought went through my head in the second it took me to pick up the gel and start running again, but more than 24 hours later, I can still recall that peculiar sensation of stopping mid-run.

When Adam turned for home just before the ten-mile mark, I realized how different I felt compared with my 18-mile day: I was only doing four miles fewer this week, but that was a huge difference mentally, because my four-mile loop isn’t a high hurdle anymore, and when I passed the end of our street, I knew that’s all I had left to do, as opposed to last week, when I realized I had eight more miles and I was already in bad shape.

I felt better, in fact, after 12 miles this week than I did last Saturday after six.

Final numbers for Saturday Number Fourteen: 14.36 miles in 2:01:46, for a pace of 8:29, which is back in my target zone and slightly faster than the 16-mile pace I reached two weeks ago.

And while I’m glad to feel like this particular mental battle is behind me, last week is staying in my head as a reminder.

I’ve got two days off, and then the highest-mileage week  of my training gets under way: 40 miles total, in runs of 5, 10, 5 and, a week from today, 20 miles.

The Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday runs aren’t in my head.

Saturday? I already feel it out there, waiting.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | Leave a comment

The Rebellious Robot at 30

“Star Wars: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot,” one of my favorite small pieces of the ever-expanding Star Wars universe, quietly turned 30 this year. I still have the paperback copy I got when I was eight or nine, my name written inside the front cover in my newly-learned cursive handwriting.

I remember thinking that it was so utterly cool that Star Wars could look like this: These illustrations weren’t bland renditions copied from movie stills or the dramatic-but-familiar comic style like the Marvel adaptations, and there was just nothing else like them.

Back in 2004, I tracked down their creator, Mark Corcoran, for a feature I was writing on the book 25 years after its publication, which the guys at TheForce.net ran.

Mark’s a fun guy to talk pop culture with, and when I contacted him just to catch up and let him know I was planning to re-publish the feature for the book’s 30th anniversary, we wound up chatting for a long time about everything from The Beatles movies (he finds “Help!” underappreciated) to childhood comic collections (he was recently rereading some his original Jimmy Olsen issues) to the James Bond books and movies.

In a short bio on his artist’s representative page, Mark wrote, “As much as anything else, it (art) was a form of play. Whatever interested me, to draw it was to be a part of it. A cowboy, a secret agent, a super hero or a Beatle and monsters! Vocational make believe.”

I love that. And it led us down another conversational path, talking about how some pieces of your childhood take on importance beyond their original appeal, and years later, they’re more than just action figures or comics because of the emotions and recollections they stir.

So, tweaked in a few spots with updates, here’s my feature on Mark Corcoran, presented this time around as his still-unique take on Star Wars hits the 30-year milestone:

The Rebellious Robot at 30

In 1978, few things were bigger than Star Wars.

Yet with George Lucas’ big-screen return to his universe still to come, the Star Wars realm he had created remained comparatively small.

Fans were familiar with the sweltering Mos Eisley air and the jungle cries rising above the surface of the fourth moon of Yavin, but with only fleeting teases to the worlds of Alderaan and Dantooine, there seemed so much more worth seeing.

Marvel’s comics were already taking the first steps into the unexplored regions of the post-Episode IV galaxy, and Alan Dean Foster’s novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye presented a new tale of Luke and Leia stranded on an Imperial-controlled swamp planet.

It was into this world that 23-year-old New York City-born artist Mark Corcoran stepped, making his mark with one of the first forays into expanding the Star Wars universe with a story expressly aimed at younger fans.

Illustrated by Mark Corcoran

Illustrated by Mark Corcoran

“Star Wars: The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot,” published by Random House in 1979, is a tale of droids run amok, mischievous jawas, and a scientific quest to build a super vaporator on Tatooine.

That same year, Random House also released “The Maverick Moon,” illustrated by Walter Wright and another book clearly for younger readers. Neither book carries an author’s credit, and Corcoran says the publishers simply gave him the completed story to work with. (Note: According to the Wookieepedia entry on the book the author is Eleanor Ehrhardt.)

But where Wright’s illustrations take a fairly straightforward approach to the Star Wars characters and settings, Corcoran’s offered one of the earliest stylized interpretations of Lucas’ world outside of the comics: Chewbacca’s mane takes on a multicolored, zero-gravity wildness; there’s a wonderfully exaggerated Han Solo sneer coupled with a puzzlement perfectly captured in his eyes; and even in the blackness of space, a terrifically detailed Millennium Falcon is vibrantly accented with color and shadow.

From the frayed edges of jawa robes to a collapse of dust and debris onto Han, Chewie and C-3PO, there is a life and movement to Corcoran’s illustrations that fits well with Lucas’ vision of a lived-in universe.

Decades later, Star Wars fans have grown used to seeing their favorite universe through different eyes, most notably in Topps’ Star Wars Galaxy series of trading cards, and recently on the two iterations of the Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars animated series.

But even now, Corcoran feels like his work was a bit on the Outer Rim.

“The overall way the thing looks is just how (my art) looked at the time,” he reflects. “It’s a book I’ve had a little bit of anxiety about. It seemed so out of step with the usual.”

That anxiety wasn’t helped by the pressure of a quick turnaround time. The Star Wars tsunami, after all, was still in full force, and the demand for tie-ins was high.

“It was one of those cases of ridiculous deadlines, or at least what I considered ridiculous,” Corcoran admits. “I also guess I was relatively inexperienced, and it wasn’t a style (of drawing) that was conducive to speed, at least for me.”

To deal, in part, with that stress, Corcoran gave a nod toward the subtle details and sly humor he’d enjoyed so much in Star Wars, which he saw for the first time with a group of art school friends and fellow science-fiction fans.

“The visuals were all spectacular – and the humor that ran throughout, with C-3PO and the little incidentals,” he remembers. “The design of the ships and all that was wonderful. We got a tremendous kick out of it.”

Consequently, his favorite bits in “Rebellious Robot” are the ones which sneak up quietly.

One such moment depicts Chewbacca holding aloft a pair of rascally jawas. One of the diminutive creatures is

Utinni!  ("He did it!")

Utinni! ("He did it!")

pointing a finger of blame at the other, who is simply shrugging in acknowledgment. It is a very human moment captured ideally within the frame of Lucas’ alien environment.

“Chewie springing at the jawas I like,” Corcoran says, leafing through a copy of the book. “The humor and character were able to come through in that one.”

The illustrator is also proud of a picture which features several of the main characters in an animated group discussion.

“There’s a roundtable, and there’s sort of a way that Princess Leia is kind of looking at the Wookiee, who is doing a gesture, and it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, realllllly,'” Corcoran says, drawing the last bit out in a faux-British accent. “So there are certain things, gestures or what-have-you that you throw in to please yourself that are a little sly or a little amusing.”

"O RLY?"

"O RLY?"

At least one of the illustrator’s attempts went awry: a double-page spread featuring a cockpit shot of Han and Chewie on the left and the Falcon on the right may seem in order, but Corcoran says the spread was printed upside down, negating his original intention of trying to capture a sense of the freighter’s uncontrolled flips through space.

Corcoran was provided with reference photos to help maintain a level of accuracy to detail, especially on the more technical aspects of the droids and spaceships.

Probably the most familiar-feeling illustration, though – Threepio emerging from an oil bath in a room which bears a striking resemblance to the Lars’ family garage – was drawn largely from Corcoran’s memory of an identical scene in Star Wars.

“That one, oddly enough, may have been improvised,” he recalls. “I think I was sort of winging it in that one, just generally remembering what it looked like.”

Another personal favorite is an inset showing the Falcon as a reflection in a close-up shot of Luke’s visor.

Then, he admits, there are some panels that seem “lackluster.”

“Chewbacca was tricky. Sometimes he works, sometimes he doesn’t, with that watery rainbow thing going on all over him.”

Now 54, Corcoran says he was simply born to draw, and it didn’t take long for his passion and creativity to set him on an artist’s path while growing up in New York.

“As far back as I can remember, it kind of always seemed it was something I would do,” Corcoran said. “Thankfully, I was encouraged.”

He studied at the Parsons School of Design in his hometown, where his instructors included, in one special case, Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of the timeless “Where the Wild Things Are.”

In art school, Corcoran encountered like-minded artists who’d feasted on Superman comics and monster movies as kids and had gotten hooked on science fiction when they got a little older.

(True story: Corcoran sought permission to cut Sendak’s class one day to attend a Star Trek convention and show off some drawings he’d done of Spock’s ears. He got the green light.)

And then, leading up to the spring of 1977, Corcoran and his pals saw some eye-popping paintings by a guy named Ralph McQuarrie, and someone in the group had gotten hold of an advance program for Star Wars.

“My friends and I knew it was coming, being sci-fi fans and movie fans,” Corcoran says. “And off we all went, on the first day.”

Corcoran’s appearance on Lucas’ grand stage turned out to be a brief one. He worked on the book in 1978 and has only one recollection of a Star Wars connection after “The Mystery of the Rebellious Robot” was published the following year.

“Random House did send me a couple of passes to see The Empire Strikes Back,” Corcoran notes. “I remember thinking that Cloud City and Bespin would have made a very nice Krypton, because it was the way it had always been drawn in the comics.”

Corcoran has continued to work as an artist in the years since, creating illustrations for children’s textbooks and magazines like “Highlights.” He’s also working on writing and illustrating his own children’s book.

“Kids’ stuff lends itself to a sense of humor, and, oh, I don’t know, a sense of whimsy,” Corcoran says. “In many ways, I’ve hung onto the kid in me.”

And while he’s never returned, at least artistically, to that galaxy far, far away, Corcoran remains amazed at the lasting impact Star Wars, once anticipated as a sci-fi fringe work, has had on popular culture.

“It just seems like a fact of life now,” he says. “There’s so much that has been spawned in its wake.”

September 10, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Fiction, Film, geek, science fiction, writing | , , | 2 Comments

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XIII

Saturday, September 5

I swear, my hand cramped up just trying to put the ‘X’ through the box on the training schedule after today’s 18-mile run.

Today sucked. Hard.

I only had to go two miles farther than I ran a couple weeks ago, but it took me almost three freaking hours: 2:59:47. That’s a pace of 9:53 – almost TEN MINUTES – per mile. PER. MILE. I did my 16-miler in 2:18, for Pete’s sake.

Here’s the thing: I saw a tough run coming, but I didn’t know how bad it would be. Truth is, pretty much everything I could have done wrong in the 24 hours leading up to this new frontier, I did.

For months, I’ve known this one was going to require a rescheduling, since Friday night was my 20-year high school reunion at Salt Fork, and I didn’t anticipate being up for 18 miles through the park in the early morning and then driving home before noon.

So, not wanting to give up either my day of rest before or my two-day rest period after, I decided I’d just make this one an afternoon run, heading out at 4 p.m. when the day would at least be starting to cool off, but still giving me enough time to be home before sunset.

It seems a logical enough shift, but what I failed to do was adjust any of my pre-run preparation, and coupled with the reunion, at which I was up until nearly 4 a.m. and awake again at 7:30, these missteps added up to a horrible, horrible run.

Food Fail: Friday night’s dinner was excellent: Ribs and cookout fare. But I didn’t stuff myself, and other than a post-midnight slice of pizza, I really didn’t do anything to pack in a store of carbohydrates. My recent Fridays have all been about lots of pizza and pasta. Saturday’s breakfast and lunch weren’t incredibly substantial, either: A small-to-medium plate of two biscuits and sausage gravy before 9 a.m., and a stuffed pepper at around 1 p.m.

Sleep Fail: I was coming off a night of barely four hours of unsound sleep, and my post-lunch nap hoping to rest up for the run wasn’t a good one.

Basic Planning Fail: Even at 4 p.m., it was still 80 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky. Realizing I should be prepared for all sorts of weather and that’s not super hot, it’s obviously never been that warm when I’ve started a run, so I’ve never done real distance in that kind of heat.

I had a PowerBar just before heading out the door, and I took three gels and my 20 ounces of water in the belt bottles.

I could tell from the first few steps outside that I really, really didn’t want to do this, but once the running starts, stopping is essentially not an option: I have to look at it that way, and at any rate, on the occasions I feel like this, it usually passes after a mile or two.

Although the first two miles went by at normal pace, during number three, I had to fight off a slight side stitch, which I haven’t had in a long time. And this was the easiest thing I did for the next two and a half hours.

Halfway through mile six, I was actually wondering if I was going to be able to complete this run. Not even a third of the way in, and I felt just physically wiped out. I mean, I’ve been miserable on some stretches of these runs – the last mile of the first frontier back in week four comes to mind in particular – but questioning whether I had the ability to complete them hasn’t happened at all.

And I never really got a good second (or third, or fourth) wind: The whole run was just varying degrees of pain and suck, with long shadeless stretches.

I distracted myself in different ways: recalling the reunion and thinking about how to write about it; considering of what sort of tattoos I’d get if I were going to get post-marathon celebratory ink (Latin inscriptions of “It is not this day” and “time” or “memory” came to mind, as did “Look at the clock,” a line from Crossing Decembers.); staring ahead to the patches of shade and trying to soak in the slightly lower temperatures they offered on this afternoon of long, shadeless stretches.

The ten-mile mark (at which point I was already lagging, at a 9-minute pace) was near home, and running through it knowing I had another eight miles out-and-back to go actually put the thought of crying into my head.

Nothing about this second loop passed quickly. Every intersection or landmark lingered on the horizon, every hill got higher, every step felt weaker.

This was a run against doubt.

At one point, out on a narrow, isolated road between fields, I realized that while everything in my body was screaming to just stop running, where would that leave me? Still three or four miles from home, at least, and that’s a bad walk if you’re miserable, and it would only make the afternoon longer.

I wish I could say that these hours were mentally rewarding and helped me sort things out and clear the cobwebs the way they often do, but trying to draw my thoughts away from the agony was as exhausting for my brain as the run itself was for my body.

Eventually, I was a mile from home, and still jogging.

Everything hurt. Maybe even my eyelids.

Knowing I had about a two-tenths of a mile cushion, I considered pulling up short just after turning onto our street, but what would be the good? I’d still have to walk home, and I was, at this point, out of water, so I’d only be making it longer until I could get a drink.

I pushed my pace, just barely, the last 50 yards or so when I realizet that if I didn’t, I was going to actually take more than three hours on this run.

I made myself not stop completely once I hit the driveway, walking in circles for a minute, going inside and grabbing some water, then going back outside to stay upright just a bit longer.

After a bit, I tried to take my ice bath, but couldn’t stop shaking, so I just went for the hot shower, Motrin, orange juice to get my blood sugar up (I didn’t even want to freaking think about eating yet), pajamas and the couch for some Mythbusters.

Feeling just flattened and discouraged, I thought about the exchange my daughter and I had when I had half-staggered through the front door immediately after the run.

She was sitting on the couch, looked up and just said “Good job.”

“Ugh,” I replied. “It took me three hours and it was TERRIBLE.”

“Did you fall down?” she asked.

“No.”

“Did you stop running?”

“No.”

She repeated, with emphasis, “Good. Job.”

And I am reminded that some days, just finishing is enough.

September 7, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 4 Comments

Time and place, shared.

A couple weeks ago, Jenn and I were talking about my then-upcoming 20-year high school reunion.

So, she asked me, if my three or four closest Lake High School friends – and the only people from that point in my life whom she has really met – weren’t going to be there, who was I going to hang out with?

I had no answer. And this kind of sat funny in my stomach and brain the rest of the night, so I let it wander around in my head the next morning when I went running.

Why am I going, exactly, I wondered. I’ve generally stayed in touch with those closest of my high school friends, and even the ones who aren’t nearby it seems like I still get to see every couple years. Online, I’ve casually kept up with a few others and renewed a few acquaintances.

I didn’t go to the 5-year or the 10-year reunion, and the 15-year get-together was just a bring-the-kids super-casual cookout behind the old elementary school.

This one, though, I’d been looking forward to since it was announced, which I guess isn’t all that surprising, since I’m frequently nostalgic and a regular fare for the taxi drivers down on Sentimental Street. (See Ranger, Night.) And while I find it relatively easy to think generally favorably of high school the further I get from those years, I also know that many of the best moments were spent with friends who weren’t coming to the reunion. (And yes, I do vividly remember the sucktacular times as well, but they seem to matter less and less.)

Part of it, I think, is that where I grew up, the place I always called home even when I lived a thousand miles away for most of a decade, is a big part of who I am. Maybe it’s partly because once I started first grade, my family never moved from our house south of Hartville, and I spent my entire childhood in Lake Local Schools. Even as I’ve gotten older and the world has gotten bigger, the easier it seems to be to connect with those people who shared this particular corner of it for awhile.

And there were at least a couple people coming to the reunion who I knew I wanted to see, even though I had no clue whether those catch-ups would be five minutes of stilted small talk or the hours-flying-by sort of conversations that are awesome and fun.

What I wound up telling myself while I was out running that morning was this: Don’t be left wondering.

I’d much rather be there, I told myself, than not go and then wonder if I should have. If it sucks, it sucks, but I find that sort of thing far easier to put behind me than a case of the Coulda Shoulda Wouldas.

So this past Friday morning, I squeezed in one more work-week interview in the morning, and then I generally fidgeted about the house and get ready for the overnight trip to Salt Fork State Park.

Not long after lunch, I hit the road.

To get myself in the proper state of mind along the way, I’d piled the passenger seat with CDs loaded for an All-Eighties drive.

The soundtrack for the drive south (GORGEOUS afternoon), radio loud and the windows open the whole way:

Selections from Journey: Greatest Hits (Digression – Other than being fascinated by their video game, I can’t say I was actually a Journey fan in the 1980s. Yes, I knew their music, but I never owned an album or recorded a Journey song off the radio or MTV. It was only during a Spring Break trip to visit Adam in 1991 that I realized how much Journey I’d absorbed in the 1980s and how strongly it pulled me back to those years.) – Any Way You Want It, Faithfully, Ask the Lonely, Separate Ways, and (duh) Don’t Stop Believing, which was cued up for my initial acceleration onto I-77 southbound.

Selections from U2: Rattle & Hum (because I couldn’t find my Joshua Tree CD) – Desire, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Pride (In the Name of Love)

Selections from John’s Homemade Late-Night Solo-Driving CD No. 1: The Buggles: Video Killed the Radio Star, Pet Shop Boys: Always on My Mind, New Order: True Faith, The Kinks: Come Dancing, The Hooters: And We Danced.

The drive flew by, and when that last song ended, I had just exited the interstate for the two-lane state route to Salt Fork, so I just shut the soundtrack down and thought.

I got to the resort a little after 3 p.m., with not quite three hours until the reunion was scheduled to start. Put my stuff in the room, walked around a little bit, considered taking a swim, didn’t, and then plopped in a rocking chair looking out over the pool and kind of zoned and maybe half-dozed for awhile.

I never stopped wondering what to expect.

Walking back to the room, I ran into the first of my former classmates in a stairway, and the minute or two we spent saying hello eased my mind somewhat.

I went out and sat on the balcony which faced a grassy hillside and the woods just beyond. After a bit, a deer came out of the woods and was eating the grass along the treeline about 100 yards away.

A little later, people on the balcony above me started throwing corn chips and bread to a buck and two does which had come right up to the building and were close enough to my porch that I could see their ribs and whiskers and hear them crunching as they ate.

Every so often, I would walk to the exit near my room and look out at the cluster of picnic tables for the reunion and see if anyone was out there. I can’t exactly say why I was nervous, but it still seemed a very real possibility that the whole night would be a stutter-step of short, uncomfortable reintroductions and me wondering why the hell I was here anyway.

A few minutes past six, I decided to head out. There were a few people out there now, though I couldn’t recognize anyone from a distance. I made a beeline for the bar, because I knew I could use a beer here. And while I was standing there, I spotted a guy I was great friends with for a couple years coming toward me, grinning. And just like that, I got the feeling that the night was going to be OK.

And it was OK plus infinity over dinner and beer and music and drinks and the next almost nine hours. (Incidentally, I thought it was incredibly fitting for our Class of 1989 to have a “don’t-dress-up-we’re-having-ribs” kind of reunion. It just fit well.)

The specifics of these people and moments and talks are not what matters here, because nobody’s recollections will be the same, and we’ll all attach our own significance or lack thereof for better or worse.

What I’m keeping is this: Twenty years out of high school, we’re all in such different places, not just geographically, but socially, vocationally, politically, mentally, emotionally, and parentally, and yet this one slice of a single day was a great reminder that we once lived and breathed in the same time and space, and that even if we didn’t occupy specific moments in each others’ lives, having a small corner of the universe in common is not an unimportant thing.

It was after three a.m. by the time I got back to my room, and I decided to have a glass of ice water and sit on the steps outside and kind of exhale and wind down. The picnic table area was in darkness, and the place was mostly still.

Exhausted as I was, I had trouble falling asleep and staying there.

I was up and showering at 7:30 a.m., and I brewed a bland cup of room coffee to take on a walk around the lodge and scout out breakfast. I hadn’t figured on running into anyone, really, given the late night most of us had, but I bumped into a classmate and her husband, and the three of us wound up eating together in the restaurant and talking about school and life and kids and home (they still live in the same area, too). That we weren’t even close when we were growing up was wonderfully irrelevant.

After breakfast, I walked around a little more, ran into a couple more people here and there, chatted and said goodbyes.

For all the nerves I’d had less than 24 hours before, I was finding it kind of tough to leave.

I packed up my stuff, checked out, and sat back on one of the lobby couches overlooking the pool and had parting conversations with people as they came through, even spending a long time talking to a few people I hadn’t gotten a chance to say hi to the night before.

A little after 11 a.m., I walked out the side door to the parking lot, got in my car and headed home, windows down, late summer air swirling.

The plan for the drive back was to ease the mental adjustment by shifting the soundtrack back toward the present.

But you know what?

I put Journey in again and turned it up as loud as it would go.

September 7, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Music, Ohio, Travel, writing | , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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