March 30, 2007

The Story Of The Basil And The Green Onion

Once upon a time there was a boy.

Actually, once upon a time there was me. I’m the boy. Why lie.

So this boy (which is still me) didn’t have a green thumb. The kid couldn’t grow a healthy plant if his life depended on it. Unfortunately, the plants lives depended on it and that didn’t seem to work out too well for them.

Many years ago he bought a cactus because he thought that might be a nice idea. Girls like plants, he liked girls. Hence, cactus. Blah blah blah, the cactus died. Unfortunately, it died even before our protagonist could get with any of those aforementioned girls. So, naturally, he bought another cactus. This one lived on for about a year. It even grew, like young plants tend to do. As a matter of fact, the cactus continued to live for another four years. Unfortunately, within that time it stopped growing. It was supposed to grow. The guy at the plant store said it would grow quite large and be very impressive to numerous types of lady friends. It didn’t.

I tried my best to get the cactus to sprout higher but nothing seemed to spark the little bugger to reach for the stars. I gave it more water, but it browned. So I gave it less water, and it browned again. I talked to it. I played music for it. We watched TV together. We sat and contemplated life. All in all, we built up quite a lovely, primarily asexual cohabitation – this cactus and me. Yet despite all of my watering love and care, the damn thing refused to grew.

And then one day it just keeled over and died. From loneliness, I think.

I tried to live without my cactus but it wasn’t easy. I felt a sense of lonesomeness in my home. There was an ear-shattering emptiness that screamed far beyond the dusty remains of my watering can. I roamed through plant stores to make myself feel more comfortable. I wore the color green on a regular basis. I ate more lettuce. But nothing I did could bring my cactus back (mostly because I had already thrown it away).

So I decided to do what any normal person does who has suffered a great loss – I covered it up with a pathetic replacement.

I decided to buy a fichus plant because, frankly, they look like big happy plants. I think of the fichus as the Snuffalupagus of plants – they’re big, droopy, lazy and somehow always elicit smiles. Plus (and this is a big plus), they are supposed to be easy to grow. That’s what they told me at the plant store. This is the easiest thing to grow, the plant seller guy said, giving me the once over as if he knew that I killed a cactus. As if I had a scarlet C on my chest. As if I were registered in the national database of convicted cactus killers. Just water it every now and then and it’ll be happy, he mumbled and turned away.

Two months later the fichus died.

Perhaps it was from over-watering, I don’t really know. I don’t much like the fichus plant anymore.

So I gave up on plants. Maybe I’ll try racing a triathlon, I thought. That sounds quite a bit easier.

A few years later I bought a goldfish. This was partly as a means to help me feel more like a fish in the water, but mostly because I saw a TV show that had a classic goldfish in a classic goldfish bowl and it looked really cool. Chicks dig fish.

After two weeks, the goldfish died.

I went back to the store and bought an air filter for the bowl because, I realized, it seems all aquariums have air filters. Then I brought home another goldfish. That one lasted three weeks. Apparently goldfish don’t need air filters. They neglected to tell me that.

I felt like a murderer. I expected angry PETA people to show up at my door at any moment. As if being a convicted cactus killer wasn’t enough, now I had goldfish genocide on my rap sheet.

I couldn’t handle the pressure so I gave the goldfish bowl to the Salvation Army.

Fast forward a couple more years and here we are, you and me talking to each other.

A few months ago I went to the hardware-slash-lumber-slash-gardening-slash-miscellaneous-household-crap store to buy something or other for Catherine. For some silly reason I walked out of the store with two packets of seeds. I don’t really know why I bought the seeds. I’m not sure what came over me, it’s all kind of a blur. But when I got back to my car I looked in the bag and saw one packet of basil seeds and another of green onions. Somewhere within the past 10 minutes I had completely forgotten that I couldn’t even keep a cactus alive and consequently decided to grow my own herbs. I believe this is what they call a “momentary lapse of reason.”

Well, with herb seeds in hand, I couldn’t just throw them away. That would be admitting my failure. That would be avoiding the truth of my life. No, no, my friend… it’s time to face my darkest greenest fears. I went home, took my two empty plant pots, laid down some sod and put the gosh darn seeds right in ‘em.

Then I waited.

I checked on the seeds fairly frequently. Pretty much every 15 minutes.


Those 15 minutes extended into hours which stretched into days. All the while I watered those seeds like they told me to on the little packets. Every morning I’d jump out of bed and rush into my kitchen to see if the seeds had peeked their little green heads above the dirt. They didn’t. And every day my hope deflated a bit more. I suppose I recognized somewhere in the back of my mind that it’ll never happen. They’ll never grow. I’m a green failure.

You know the old saying about watching grass grow and watching water boil and watching paint dry? After about 1 week I realized that I was just watching dirt sit. Every moment of every day when I’d look into the pots, nothing but dirt. And every day I’d be there watering the dirt until it got to the point where I thought I was being punk’d. How long would I keep watering dirt until I gave in to my ineptitude?

Truth be told, I felt like I was getting very good at watering dirt. The water spread evenly, I kept a regular schedule, I drained appropriately – all the qualities you need in a competent dirt waterer.

But a couple of days longer and my questions started nagging deeper. I thought I might be watering the dirt too much. So I went online and read a little bit about growing basil and green onions. It said to keep the dirt moist. So I resumed my regular dirt watering.

Another two days went by. Then three. Four.

Just dirt.

But I never gave up. Call me persistent, call me dedicated, call me an Ironman, but I realized that I was ready to water that dirt every day for a year if that’s what it took.

Then it happened. It was an early morning and I was getting ready to head out on a bike ride with Catherine. Naturally, I walked over to water my dirt. And as the water was pouring into the pots I noticed, from the corner of my tired eyes, a wee piece of green peeking up from the brown sod.

Holy Cow! I yelled to nobody in particular as I put my nose closer to the pile of dirt, nearly snorting in a sinus-load. Yes, it is true. A wee little bit of green had popped its teeny head out to say hello. A baby plant had sprung from the ashes and begun to sprout its wings. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the dawning of the basil.

I was ecstatic. Elated. Enthralled. I wanted to run around and shove cigars into the mouths of strangers. I have grown basil! I have grown basil!!

The next day a few more basil leaves poked their heads out of the dirt and by the third day there were seven or eight little basil hatchlings sprouting into life. My heart jumped with joy.

I nurtured and cared for those basil leaves like I’d never done with any plant before. And somewhere around day four or five, as I was bottle feeding them their nutrition, I noticed a few stems of green emerging from the other pot. Goodness gracious, dear me, blow me over with a snowplow. My green onion was growing!

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve suddenly revitalized those warm feelings I had for my long lost cactus. Every day I look at my pots of basil (now over 1 foot high), green onions, rosemary and spearmint and I smile from the depths of my heart.

I check my grow light and the angle of the sun to make sure everybody is getting enough brightness. I say a little “hello” and a proud “good morning”. I dip in the organic plant food and water so preciously, from the camel-like rosemary to the water-guzzling mint.

I stand tall and proud with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Yes, they are only a few easy-to-grow herbs, but let’s remember, I am a reformed cactus killer. Today, I am a new man. I have faced my fears and conquered. I have not run from my failures but battled them head on. I have not hid from the monster that lurks in the darkest corner of our souls but, rather, invited him over for tea and crumpets. Basil crumpets and mint tea.

From my garden.

March 27, 2007

The Art Of Breathing Underwater

We don't really pay attention to breathing as much as we should. The truth is, there's an art to breathing. Sure, we've mastered the whole oxygen intake thing, but that's starting to seem so very passe these days. Antediluvian, even. We're a culture that likes to push the limits. Faster, stronger, higher, longer - every era exceeds the next in just about every aspect of humanity. So tell me, aside from creating a few random genetic abnormalities like Lance Armstrong and his lungs, I ask you, what have we really accomplished with breathing over the past four thousand years or so?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. That's what we've done. We've just taken it all for granted.
Well, my friend, as Al Gore says, it's time for change. (Or was that Motley Crue who said that? I get them confused sometimes).

It only makes sense that the next phase of breathing will bring us underwater. After all, nearly 78% of the earth is covered with water. Even our bodies are comprised of about 70% water. Wouldn't it be natural that we should be able to survive in this liquid environment?

All sorts of fish have managed to figure it out pretty effectively. Dolphins, whales and penguins aren't necessarily all there, but they're not doing such a shabby job when it comes down to it. Humans? We're clearly at the front of the retard line when it comes to this underwater breathing category.

What makes things even worse is that all us humans spent the first 9 months of our lives breathing in a big bubble of liquid inside our mother's stomach before the stork came and delivered us home. Do you see what this means? For nearly a year we were all hunky-dory breathing underwater, and then just like that - snap! - we forgot how to do it. Doesn't that seem weird to you? Maybe even like a conspiracy?

Sure there are all those freedivers and their whole Competitive Apnea thing, where some silly folks can hold their breath for nearly 9 minutes. And, yes, I'm sure we all remember the beauty of The Big Blue. But that ain't underwater breathing - it's just a lot of underwater not-breathing.

Which leads us to today.

Catherine and I went swimming this morning, just like we're supposed to do. I didn't want to go swimming today - I woke up in one of those moods. It wasn't because of my sleep, I had a great nights sleep, over 7 hours of very restful dozing. It wasn't because of my body, there was no pain, no tiredness, nothing out of wack. As a matter of fact, I felt pretty springy.

Apparently it was just one of those mornings.

As I drove to the YMCA, I was dreading every second. Maybe I'll get in a car crash, I thought. That'll help me avoid the swim. Or, better yet, perhaps a flat tire. That won't cost me as much, I probably won't die, and it will definitely cause all sorts of delays that would force me to skip the workout.

But, alas, I got to the YMCA safely. I got to the locker room without even stubbing a toe. I got to the poolside without straining a muscle. At that point, I suppose I had to at least give it a shot.

It was a 3000 yard swim and I decided to take it super slow. Every lap was mentally painful, the resolve to quit just a few inches beyond my reach. But I kept trying to relax and enjoy the moment. And then, somewhere on the north side of 1500 yards, I started to calm down and lost the tremendous urge to give in to my mood. Soon the world began to calm down and the workout took a turn for the better.

But if there's one thing I've learned in life it's that when everything seems really good, something not as good is probably about to happen.

A few months back I've talked about the French guy that swims in the YMCA pool. I always know when he's there because the water suddenly has a fresh scent of cigarettes and baguette. When I first experienced this smell I told myself I was crazy. Surely one person can't make an entire pool smell like a Parisian cafe. Who ever heard of smelling underwater anyway?! I mean, I've watched Shark Week enough times to know that they have an uncanny sense of smell, but I'm not a shark. Probably not even a guppy. Polliwog, maybe. Either way, I just assumed the human nose doesn't work in the liquid environment. If it did, I'd probably be able to breathe underwater. And, as we discussed before, I can't.

So there I am, a good 2200 yards into my workout this morning, when all of the sudden I smell perfume. And I'm not talking about lifting my head up out of the water and smelling perfume, I'm talking about me pushing off the wall and getting a waif of this as I'm gliding underwater. Underwater smelling. I definitely didn't make this one up.

I gagged. It was that type of smell.

As I continued to swim to the other end of the pool, the underwater smell got stronger and stronger, as if somebody had poured a bottle of Coco Chanel into my lane. Did my grandmother just get in the pool? I thought to myself. Have all her Bridge-playing brethren moved their over-saturated perfumery to the YMCA?

I lifted my head out of the water to see who was bringing in this smell. Lo and behold, when my nose hit the air, it felt as if I slammed my face into a vat of Eau De Givenchy that had been sitting in the sun for far too long and had long-since spoiled all of the Eau. The air was worse than the water.

I turned to Catherine in disgust and we shared a look of mutual nausea as I pushed off from the wall again. I couldn't breathe in that soiled oxygen.

Yet as I swam, every breath I took got me more disgusted. The pool water seemed permanently scented and the air was even worse. I started breathing on every 3rd stroke. Then 4th stroke. But the air just kept getting worse. I tried breathing on every 5th stroke, but that proved too much. After all, I'm no apnea competitor. Yet as I plowed through my laps, swimming in a pool of perfume, I suddenly wished I knew how to breathe underwater.

The air that surrounds me had gone sour. The planet that we thrive on is dying. The carbon monoxide levels are increasing dramatically. We're getting hotter than hot and colder than cold. Every year has more tornadoes, hurricanes, snow storms, mudslides. At the rate we're going, we'll destroy ourselves before we even fully realize what we've done. The only safe place is underwater. The water is our destiny, and the perfume lady just brought the point home.

There's an art to breathing underwater. I definitely don't consider myself an artist, but I suppose now is a damn good time to start practicing.

March 23, 2007

WARNING: Hypothetical Situation

Hypothetically speaking, let's say you have a girlfriend who tends to run or bike or walk from her car in the dark wee hours of the morning and evening. And suppose we say that you live in a city where there are sometimes random bouts of violent crime. Muggings, rape and the sort. And how about, all things being hypothetical, that you are concerned about the safety of your aforementioned girlfriend and so decide to buy her a little thingamajig of pepper spray for her to carry around in case of attack. And why don't we assume, for at least this instance, that one day the girlfriend mistakenly drops the pepper spray and a small piece of the thingamajig falls off.

Let's take this one step further and make believe that the girlfriend, knowing she had to go for a 6am run the next morning, comes to you the night before to ask if the pepper spray will still work. And perhaps, hypothetically of course, you reassemble the thingamajig, look at it from all angles, and tell your girlfriend that it will still work.

Suppose that in this particular scenario, the girlfriend asks you whether you think it will be alright if she went outside to give the pepper spray a quick test, just to make sure it works.

This is the crucial turning point. If this happens to you, I beg of you to not say "yes." I repeat, DO NOT let the girlfriend go out and test the pepper spray.

Because, if you did say yes, we can only suppose that the girlfriend may walk out to a small remote part of the patio and give the pepper spray thingamajig a little tug, all the while pointing it towards an empty part the fence. As we can guess, the spray will spritz properly and the girlfriend will probably rush back inside, safe and proud.

But what you may not have realized in this hypothetical situation, is that despite the fact the spraying was done outside, downwind and far from the door, the girlfriend's rapid movements may have whoooshed some of the spray inside. And maybe when she walks in the door she will suddenly start coughing. Maybe that mysterious coughing may even hypothetically lead to some pretty crazy nose burning. As a matter of fact, her hypothetical sinuses may even start to act up.

As if that's not enough, perhaps at the same time as she's coughing, spitting and snorting, and you're sitting idly on the couch just beginning to worry, maybe you too will start coughing and maybe your sinuses will start burning and maybe suddenly you will also feel like hacking up a lung as you try to blow the fire out of your nose.

Probably at this time you may even put the pepper spray thingamajig outside and close the patio door in hopes of doing anything to clean the air. But you'd probably soon realize that nothing you can do will stop the burning because this hypothetical pepper spray has somehow infiltrated the air around you, not to mention polluted the blood coursing through your veins.

So maybe you two quickly leave the living room area and hide far away in the bedroom. Perhaps when you are both laying in bed, blowing your noses, coughing up phlegm and guzzling water that you'll start to get really concerned for your girlfriend's cat. You may even hope that he doesn't stay out in the living room and that he sleeps in the bed that night with the two of you, even though you're allergic to cats.

At this time you may possibly even find yourself praying that you don't wake up in the morning to a violently ill kitty because somewhere along the way you have developed a sort of funny loving affection for the cute little button even though you're definitely not a cat person, no matter what anybody says.

Of course there's good news to all of this. If everything happened as I described, you'd all probably wake up just fine the next morning. And that makes for a happy ending.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

March 20, 2007

My Two Right Feet

You know those super-duper, high-tech socks that are made specifically for running? They cost a whopping $12-$15 per pair and, if you believe what you read, they apparently are about as technologically advanced as the space shuttle (minus the random explosions, of course.) They've got all sorts of padding shenanigans in the high impact areas and stretchy malarkey in the flexing zones. If that's not enough, the socks are anatomically correct - one for the left foot and one for the right.

You just can't pay enough for that type of technology.

I remember back in my pre-teen years when I was the worst player on my basketball team. That was before I dropped team sports to become the worst runner on my track team. Which led me to becoming the worst racer at my first 10k. Which brought me to where I am today. Wherever the hell that is.

But I was talking about socks. Let's get back to socks.

Back in those horrendously painful basketball days, I tried my best to sport all the latest and greatest in pre-teen basketball wear. After all, I knew I sucked at the sport, the least I could do was look cool so I wasn't the butt of every joke.

To compliment my uber-hip Converse All-Stars, I'd strap on a pair of double-ringed knee-high basketball socks; the same ones that Larry Bird used to wear. The truth was, back then you really didn't get much more high tech than those double-ring knee highs. Besides, Sir Bird was a pretty good basketball player (butt ugly, but a good player) so, by the power of association, I wasn't as much of a fool, right?

As the years went by and my sports accomplishments leaned more towards sucking at individual activities rather than sucking in a team environment, my sock length started shrinking away from the knee and closer to the ankle. As if even my socks were embarrassed to be a part of me.

As I aged and foot technology advanced, so my socks became thinner as well. Shorter and thinner. As you age, apparently men's socks take a page out of the book of men's hairlines.

When I stumbled upon the now popular Wigwam running sock, I thought I'd died and gone to the great Sock warehouse in the sky. Thin, stretchable, cool looking... what more could a guy want in life?

You can probably imagine my surprise when, shortly after, I discovered the lovely folks at Wigwam made a triathlon-specific sock. I bought a whole truckload of them on the spot.

As for the difference between the running sock and the tri- sock? Beats the hell outta me but one of them had the Ironman logo on it and that was about all the convincing I needed.

So now here we are in 2007 and we've got these new, super expensive, anatomically correct, over-teched socks that are supposed to make me run extra fast. Apparently the new socks are to Wigwam's basic sock like Wigwam's are to my old double-ringed knee highs.

Catherine swears by this new expensive running sock style. She says they're the most comfortable sock she's ever worn. She says it's like walking on pillows.

But it's fifteen dollars?! I say in my most miserly tone. It's just a friggin sock!

About a month ago I found myself the recipient of some major discounts on some great athletic clothing. As I was carrying my double-armload full of clothing to the cash register, I noticed some socks hanging on the wall. Not only socks, but they were the super-charged running socks with all the padding and flexing and everything else you'd need to break land-speed records. I did a quick calculation and realized they'd only cost me about $6 per pair with my discount. I couldn't resist. I picked up a few pairs for both Catherine and me. After all, I trust my girlfriend's opinion, I might as well give it a shot.

Fast forward a few weeks later and we'll see the protagonist waking up at the usual early morning hour to get in the day's run. I put on my super-light sweat resistant shorts, slipped on my dry-fit wickable shirt, grabbed my extra light perspiration reducing visor and reached in the drawer for a pair of socks. As I lifted my hand out, I noticed myself holding one of these new pairs of anatomically correct tech-socks.

High-tech socks, I thought with a chuckle. Like you could actually make clothing that will improve performance.

With a large amount of doubt, I threw on the socks, put on my shoes and headed out into the morning.

I expected my world to change from the first step, as if I were running on pillows. It didn't. I was running on the sidewalk and it pretty much felt that way.

A mile later I did another foot check. The feet were comfortable, but there was no major pedi-breakthrough. In all honestly, I was looking for any excuse to take this technology down. Fortunately, that happened three miles into the run.

About the time I started heading up the mile long incline, my left foot started feeling funny. As if the sock was slipping off. Within another minute my foot started hurting. And then it went numb. And that, as we all know, led quickly to calf pain. Which stopped me in my tracks.

Goddam socks! I screamed.

I pulled the sock tight to make sure it wasn't bunching in my left foot. I stretched my calf. Walked. Let the blood come back to my foot. Then I started jogging again, super slowly. And somehow managed to waddle my way home without any major injuries.

I was cursing the socks as I struggled home. I was wishing ill will upon them as I walked inside. I was screaming profanity as I removed my left shoe. And just as I was about to peel off my left sock I noticed a big black "R" on the top.

I stopped.

I ripped off my right shoe and looked at my right sock. There was the same big black "R" on the top of that one too.

I slid over to my clothing drawer, ruffled through the mess, took out my other pair of high-tech socks and pulled them apart. Big fat "L" on the top of each one.


The entire time I was running with two right socks. Which explains why it felt like the left sock was bunching up, which explains why my left foot fell asleep, which explains why I got so gosh darn hostile at this piece of clothing.

I suppose this means I need to go for another run.
Maybe I'll just go back to those wonderful knee-highs. Life was so much simpler then.

March 15, 2007

What About Bob?

It wasn't the fact that we got up at 5:15 this morning to go for a bike ride. Nor the fact that it was pitch black when we started rolling down the road. It wasn't even the 15 minutes that I spent sitting on the sidewalk, in the dark, trying to adjust Catherine's maladjusted dérailleur. No, none of those got me flustered. What really did me in was much more simple. Actually it wasn't even a "what," more of a "who". More specificially, Bob.

Here's the story. Catherine's bike went all gobbledy-gook within 15 minutes of us hitting the road. I tried to fix it, but we all knew that I had no clue what I was doing. Surprisingly, Catherine let me play around in complete ignorance with all of the levers and screws on her bike as she stood there patiently watching me, with a blinding trust that warms my heart just thinking about it. When all was said and dirty, her bike was worse off than before I began to mangle it.

After I could do no more damage, she clanked her way back home, leaving me all alone for the remaining 2 hours of the morning ride. Ugh. Double ugh. It's a long lonely bike ride at 6am on a Wednesday morning. Needless to say, the moment I saw a fellow rider rolling along at about my speed, I latched on like a mail-order bride to an ugly millionaire.

Let me introduce you to Bob.

Bob is about sixty-something with a gut that can double as a side-table. He rides just about every day and is always sporting the full cycling gear from one of LA's most notoriously bad-ass teams. I've seen Bob on the road a billion times, though I'd never talked to him.

I actually caught up to Bob today because he had to brake to avoid traffic. A pedestrian was about to walk into the crosswalk in front of him and just before their foot hit the pavement, Bob hurled out a hearty "WHOA!!" that catapulted the walker five feet back onto the grass in fear and probably caused them to soil their underoos in the process.

Maybe the scream was a little louder than necessary, I thought, but I suppose you can't be too careful at this early hour. I rolled up next to Bob and began to chat.

For the next hour we rode side by side as I listened to Bob's stories about his mountain climbing feats in the Alps, his marathon accomplishments in Boston and his triathlon expertise in places I forgot to ask about. I heard about his knee problems and hearing loss. All in all, it was just the type of meaningless conversation I needed to keep my mind preoccupied on anything but the riding.

I realized that Bob, a guy I'd passed on the road for years, is a fairly nice chap. Friendly, warm and a good conversationalist. I almost wish I'd have made the effort to meet the guy earlier. Thumbs up for Bob's social mannerisms.

Soon after giving the thumbs up, I started paying a bit more attention to the way good ole Bob dealt with traffic. Sure he was nice and friendly to me, but something seemed a bit off in the way he was dealing with others.

That whole pedestrian scare at the beginning of our ride together kept haunting me. The first couple of times in traffic following that episode, I just figured he was being a bit cautious. It's a dangerous world out there and sometimes you have to be a defensive bike rider. Perhaps that means calling out to cars before they even merge into a lane close to you. People have died for less, I reminded myself.

I soon noticed that as traffic increased, Bob began to get a bit more vocal.

There was that time when we were approaching a red light and a car about four lengths ahead merged in front of us to get into the right turning lane. I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary. In fact, I didn't even need to apply the brakes in order to avoid the car. Yet the moment we pulled up to the drivers side, Bob turned to the driver and started chastising her on her driving abilities. I had no clue what he was talking about as he raised his voice high enough to seep through the driver's side window.

The poor, scared young girl that was driving the car rolled down her window and apologized profusely. I'm so sorry, she kept repeating. I thought I had enough room. I'm so sorry.

All the while Bob kept lecturing her on driving etiquette and the rules of the road and how she needs to respect bikers and hopefully she can get to work without killing anybody.

Fortunately the light turned green and the girl drove away in fear. We began riding again. This was about the point when I realized that Bob was hard of hearing. What did she say? he asked me.

I looked at him in horrified disbelief. She was apologizing, I replied.

It got a little worse twenty minutes later. We were riding up a busy street approaching yet another intersection. The cars were lined up at the light about ten deep. Halfway into the mix there was a van slowly inching forward and gradually pulling to the side of the road. With more than enough room to pass and very little danger of getting hurt, I rode by the van. As I passed, I gently put my hand on the passenger side window, as I tend to do. If they decide to make a sudden movement to the right, I want to be able to lightly tap on the window and let them know I'm there.

Well... apparently while my hand was lightly touching the window, Bob decided to punch the van and yell at them for hogging the road. As we all can guess, when the van passengers looked over and saw my hand on their car, they immediately assumed I was the one giving their automobile the smack down while they were at a virtual stand-still in traffic.

The light turned green. Bob and I road on in front of the traffic. I cringed inside as I waited for the van to approach us from behind. I desperately prayed that it wasn't filled with those gun-toting, morning-hating people that you hear about on the 5 o'clock news. I glanced over my left shoulder to see if Bob was there and to make sure he was paying attention in case a large shotgun were suddenly shoved into his earlobe.

I saw no Bob. What?! I looked over my left shoulder again. No Bob. I looked over my right shoulder and, lo and behold, there was Bob, tail between his legs, hiding behind me like a kid that just crayoned the dining room walls. Bob, the car beater, had positioned himself as far away from the oncoming angry people as you could get. More importantly, he strategically positioned himself in a place where I would take the bullet before it even gets to him.

I'm a goddam patsy, I thought as images of Lee Harvey Oswald flashed through my mind. I didn't do it, I said to myself. I don't hit cars. I don't anger random people. I don't want to go out like this.

Within seconds the van rolled up next to me. I looked over to see three very angry people yelling words at me I couldn't understand. As I searched for the muzzle that would inevitably get me fifteen seconds on the 5 o'clock news, I watched the passengers gesticulating obscenities in my direction.

Where's Bob now, I thought to myself. Mr. Brave Man. Mr. Bob Almighty. Mr. Yell At Traffic And Hide Behind A Rock.

People in glass houses, Bob.

As the van sped off into the distance, Bob magically appeared back on my right side (his hearing side) and continued our conversation as if nothing happened. Something happened, Bob. Something most definitely happened.

About forty-five minutes later, and five more random traffic outbursts, Bob peeled off and I finished my ride in peace.

I'm alive. No thanks to Bob. Another day successfully avoiding becoming a human interest story on the local news.

[Please note, though these events really happened this morning, the real person's name is not actually Bob. The names of people have been changed to protect the innocent. Not that he was there to protect me or anything. But two wrongs don't make a right. Even though three rights make a left.]

March 10, 2007

The Proper Way To Scream

I went for a bike ride this morning. Why? Because it's on my training schedule.

But that's not my point so stop asking silly questions.

About 5 minutes into my ride I was stopped at the traffic light on the corner of Ocean Avenue and California. I know, that sounds like some sort of symbolism, as if I were to call it the corner of Paradise Boulevard and Heaven. But trust me, there really is an intersection at Ocean Avenue and California Street.

So anyway, I'm there straddled across my bike waiting for the light to turn green on this crisp new morning when all of the sudden I hear somebody yelling. I couldn't quite make out what was said, but it was just as well. You don't really want to hear random yelling in the middle of a street during the wee hours of the morning, regardless of what is uttered. Naturally, I checked out my surroundings to see if I was in danger.

As I glanced to my right I saw a gentleman, about 75 yards away, walking in my direction. He was about 45 years old and fairly rough around the edges. Bulky fellow. If he didn't play football in high school, he probably beat up football players in high school. Maybe even ate them for lunch.

He was wearing a gray sweatshirt that was fairly dirty. His shoes and pants were smeared in the same soiled ilk. It looked like this guy had just slept on the side of the road. In fact, it pretty much looked like the side of the road was where this chap lived on a regular basis.

I soon realized that he was the one yelling. At whom, I'm not sure. But yelling he was.
It didn't take me much longer to recognize what he was saying.


That's what he was yelling. And he looked fairly serious about it too, if I may add. Not exactly what you want to hear at 6:30 in the morning.

But, again, that's not my point.

Here's where my point starts. It starts with the actual words that this Crazy Homeless Guy was yelling. And, more importantly, his communication style.

I WILL KILL ANYBODY WHO TALKS TO ME! he screamed with full authority.

In fact, let's stop here for a second and do a test. I urge you to try yelling these words yourself. C'mon, give it a shot... I WILL KILL ANYBODY WHO TALKS TO ME!!

It feels a little odd, doesn't it? I mean, not so much the yelling part (which may feel odd if you're in the library or church or math class or just a quiet person overall. But, again, that's not my point.) What I mean is that it feels odd yelling that many words all at once.

Crazy Homeless Guy used far too many words to get his primary message across.

First of all, let's remember where I was - the corner of Ocean Avenue and California. As you can see, this is a fairly busy intersection in the morning hours. You've got cars zooming up and down Ocean and an equal number of cars headed every which way on California. On top of that, there are runners zipping along the running trail and bikers flying down the bike path.

There's a lot of rapid movement on the corner of Ocean Avenue and California. And just about everybody is moving far too quickly through this intersection for them to hear even a couple words from somebody down the road, much less a complete sentence.

Picture yourself driving at 30 miles as somebody yells I WILL KILL ANYBODY WHO TALKS TO ME. At best, if you get to the intersection early, you may hear "I Will Kill.." before zooming out of ear's reach. At that point, you really don't need to know anymore anyway. In fact, within a few seconds you'd already be at the next block formulating the story you'll tell over bagels and coffee at work.

If you get to the intersection a little later in the communication, on the other hand, you may just hear the end of his sentence: "...Talks To Me". If you're that certain type, upon hearing those words you may even pull your car to the side of the road to talk to the alleged, seemingly desperate and lonely person. As we now know, you'd be in for quite the fatal surprise.

So my first point here really goes to rule number one of public speaking: Know Thy Audience.

In this test, Crazy Homeless Guy failed miserably. His audience was moving at a very rapid rate with extremely limited time for conversation. Eight words are far too many to communicate effectively with the Ocean Avenue and California crowd. Unless, I suppose, you're sitting on a bike at a traffic light over-analyzing speech patterns. (But again, let's not divert the topic.)

Busy intersection aside, let me move on to my second point. To illustrate this, I will need to bring forward one of the basic rules of writing (for the sake of argument, we'll just extrapolate this one into the spoken word.) If you've ever bothered to read Strunk & White's Elements of Style, William Zinsser's On Writing Well, or any of those other books about writing (which I know you haven't, but I have, so just trust me on this one), you'll know that one of the basic rules of communication is to remove any and all unnecessary words.

Apparently one of the biggest pitfalls of new novelists is that they get a tad over-enthusiastic about creating all sorts of brilliantly exaggerated, stupendously ridiculous embellishments to try and create an overwhelming feeling, or vividly blinding image, or depressingly happy mood within the reader and what they end up with is an absurdly unprofessional and borderline illegible run-on-sentence that makes the reader want to commit hari-kari or, at the very least, stop reading and go to another blog with shorter posts.

In other words, many writers use too many words to get their point across. The great writers (me clearly not being one of them) manage to effectively create brilliant imagery and deliver complex messages with very few words.

If you're interested in knowing what this writing mastery looks like, hop on your bike and pedal your triathlon-ass down to the library and browse through a couple pockets of brilliance like Nabokov's Lolita, Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground or Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Hell, why don't you even pick up Stephen King's It for good measure (yeah, I throw Stephen King in with that illustrious group. Love him or hate him, you've gotta admit the guy is the master of manipulating words to scare the living crap out of you. Nobody does what he does as well as he does.)

So back to our Crazy Homeless Guy and his emphatic eight word threat. Clearly he did not adhere to these basic laws of effective communication. For Godsakes, it doesn't even feel normal to me to scream all those words. And, arguably, I'm not crazy or homeless. Screaming those words is about as unnatural as the swimming form of my YMCA friend, The Kicker.


Eight words. Surely there are ways to get the message across more succinctly.

The truth is, there are many ways that Crazy Homeless Guy could've gotten his point across in a much more effective, natural sounding manner. All he'd have to do is remember the movie classic Stripes. And I guarantee you, just from the looks of this fellow, that he's already seen the movie.

Remember Frances in Stripes? He was the recruit with the bad attitude. Yet underneath the anger, Frances was a tremendous communicator who got his point across very quickly:

Touch me, I'll kill you.
Look at me, I'll kill you.

Look at how simple that is. Five words. And Frances didn't even have to yell. To the contrary, his word usage was so concise, so precise, that it needed no extra embellishment.

Touch me, I'll kill you.



I ask you, which is more effective.

But don't let me stop there, cause I've got even better examples and we all know this post isn't long enough already.

Perhaps the best example of the superior communication that may have helped Crazy Homeless Guy comes from the master of simplicity, the king of concise, the great, legendary orator, Frankenstein and his immortal words:

Fire, bad.

Really now, how much more succinct can you get. Two words and you've pretty much got the point across.

When I was in Italy a few years ago, a homeless man came up to me and asked for money. When he realized I was American, he started asking me about our President and my feelings towards his political agenda. I was stunned. The homeless man started talking in great detail about the political maneuvers, strategic alliances and discreet agendas that our government was practicing. He discussed intricacies of concepts I knew very little about, despite the fact that I had seen their headlines in the paper for days.

In Europe, the homeless are sophisticated in their conversations.

In the US, we scream things like I WILL KILL ANYBODY WHO TALKS TO ME, when everybody knows that a simple "Talking, bad" will do.

March 08, 2007

The Filling Of A Blank Mind

Have you run out of things to say on your blog?

Clearly Catherine was talking to me because there were only two of us in the room and only one of us has a blog. (Besides, she couldn't possibly be talking out loud to herself because she rarely asks questions when she's doing that, it's more just statements. I'm the one who asks the questions when talking to myself out loud. Mostly things like Are you crazy?! or What the heck was that?! But I suppose that's another story entirely.)

Why do you ask? I asked.

Because you haven't updated it as often as you usually do.

Oh. Well....uhhh..... I stuttered. And then for some reason I just decided to let whatever was on my mind come out of my mouth, which is never a good idea.

I just haven't had the time lately. I mean, it's not that I haven't had the time, it's just that I've been too busy. What I'm saying is that I haven't been overly busy, I'm just doing other things. Well, um.... uh..... I suppose I haven't had any wonderfully new ideas. Yeah, I guess you're right.

Catherine went back to doing whatever she was doing on the computer and I started mulling this thought over a bit. I consider myself a fairly creative chap, able to come up with different types of ideas for different types of things. If I may say so, I also consider myself a pretty decent story teller. I'm no Aesop by any means, but I know how to link a few words together into somewhat meaningful sentences.

So why has my mind been blog-blank?

You know what I've realized? I bet you don't. I've realized that the more I exercise, the more stories I come up with. This is funny for a couple of reasons. Firstly, not all of my stories are exercise-related (though many of them are). Yet for some reason, when I get my training on, it apparently stimulates my mind to come up with interesting things to talk about. Secondly... actually, I don't have a secondly. Forget secondly. Secondly is dead to me.

The past two weeks have mostly found me recovering from surgery or a cold. Or, really, both. I spent most of my time on the couch with my hands firmly clasped around the remote control. With the way I felt and the multitude of drugs I was on, they'd have to pry that remote out of my cold dead fingers.

One would think that this image alone would bring about a few stories. But one would be wrong, nothing even came to mind. Maybe it was the drugs.

Yet the moment I got myself on the bike again and dilly-dallied into the pool, I once again started thinking of things to say. As my body became active, so did my brain.

There's clearly some link in here between exercising the body and exercising the mind. And there's clearly some philosophical cum spiritual cum anatomical insight to all of this. And clearly that insight is completely eluding me.

But right now, both my body and mind are on the road to recovery. Which I suppose means you'll be hearing from me more than you have been over the past few weeks.

Unless, of course, I get injured.
Or too busy.
Or, you know, anything else that comes to mind.

March 03, 2007

Who's The Y Wacko Now?

Today marks a milestone in my athletic career. Let's note this in our respective diaries, shall we. Saturday March 3, 2007. On this day, for the first time in the memorable past, I went swimming at the local YMCA and didn't see any crazed freaky folks in the pool with me.

I know, I thought it was impossible as well.

But alas, nary a wacko was swimming in the pool this morning. They all seemed practically normal.
Who woulda thunk.

I half expected the Scuba Diver to be there. After all, she's in the pool just about every morning. She's always decked out in her full-face mask, super snorkel and two-foot flippers - pretty much enough gear to get her across the 25 yard pool in under 2.5 seconds. When I first saw her I thought she must be starting diving lessons and wanted to get in the pool to practice. That was 2 years ago. I'm not sure what practice she still needs.

Then there's The Kicker. She's my favorite. I love when she's in the pool with me because it gives me something to stare at - like a car crash doing laps. The Kicker could be a decent swimmer if she wasn't such a spazz. Calling her The Kicker may not even be accurate because what her legs are doing is to kicking like Spam is to meat: same basic category, but way more embarrassing.

Did you ever see the Monty Python shtick about the Ministry Of Silly Walks? It's the one where they walk across the room in exaggerated steps - long, wide, and high. That's how The Kicker swims, like she's on the swim team for the Ministry of Silly Walks.

I sometimes try to emulate her kick to see what it feels like, mostly because I want to know if there's anyway in hell that it even remotely feels natural. It doesn't.

At first I thought she was just practicing stretching her legs. But it's been over a year now and I think her legs are all stretched out. Besides, she does that so-called kicking throughout her entire workout, it's not just part of a longer training session. It amazes me that somebody can swim in a pool so frequently with such a dramatically retarded kicking form and not notice the style in which every other person in the pool is kicking. I'm not one to go up and randomly teach people how to swim, but when I see her flailing out there, all I want to do is give her a kickboard, a couple of simple pointers and perhaps a thwack across the face.

Of course there's also The Doctor. Il Doctore is at the pool like clockwork at 7am every morning. He jumps into the lane (literally) and then goes about his 30-or-so minutes of lap swimming. To the layman's eye, The Doctor is a fine swimmer. But if you look a little deeper you find some wonderfully fascinating idiosyncrasies. There's the knife splitting scissor kick that'll attack you like a moray eel if you come too close. I know, I've got the black and blue marks to prove it. And then there's the dragging left arm that just can't seem to get all the way out of the water on the recovery part of the stroke. Right arm looks good, finger-tip dragging and all. The left arm is like a dead jellyfish. I hope The Doctor isn't a left-handed surgeon.

Yet perhaps my favorite part of The Doctor's swimming style happens just as he approaches the end of the lane. Throughout each lap he's got a fairly decent stroke that's not too rushed. But for some reason unbeknownst to man, whenever he's within three feet of the wall he tries to fit in four or five extra strokes in the distance where there should be no more than one. I suppose it's the swimming equivalent of Fred Flintstone's bowling form.

But, as I said before, none of my freaky swimming buddies were there during my workout today. Instead, I was joined in my lane by a woman so streamlined I mistook her for a dolphin at one point. No matter how hard I pushed, she was kicking my ass every which way but loose. And then there was the couple in the lane next to me that may very well have had a Speedo endorsement from the looks of them.

I suppose what this all means is that I was today's pool freak.
Given my recent form, that's not too far from the truth.