June 28, 2007

7 Random Things I Was Thinking About On My Bike Ride This Morning

1. The reason people say that you really discover yourself in long-distance triathlon has less to do with the effort it takes to compete and more with the incessantly boring amount of time you have to train with nothing better to think about than your stupid, silly behavior.

2. I've got to stop drinking this Iced Tea flavored Power Bar mix during morning rides. It's nauseating this early. Must stick with lemon lime. I have to remember that. Lemon lime, lemon lime, lemon lime.

3. Is that my friend Chris approaching? It is! Chris! Chris! Hi Chris!!! Chri...[woosh!!] Umm....ok. See ya later. Maybe I should ride by myself anyway.

4. I really need to learn how to relax my shoulders when I'm in the aero position. It's no wonder my neck hurts so much.

5. My place is piled high with cat hair and it sure is cramped with the three of us there, but I'm going to miss having Catherine and the little kitty around when they move back into their de-molded apartment.

6. I really need to grease this chain. I can't wait until Catherine is back in her place with her bike stand so she can clean my bike for me.

7. Is that Chris coming back?! Woohoo!! Chris! Chris! There you are! How the hell are you!?! How's the ride!? Where'd you go?!! Oh wait.... sorry... you look just like a friend of mine. Didn't mean to bother you.

June 26, 2007

Giving Back To Charity

You probably remember the UNICEF commercials as clearly as I do. They were a staple of my television consumed childhood. One nickel can save a life. That was the famous shtick that was supposed to beat us into donation submission by making us all feel like crap about our own lavish existence.

Maybe if we fat capitalistic egocentric Americans could find it in our cold cold hearts to skip having that extra Big Mac at lunch and, instead, send the money to UNICEF, well, maybe that Big Mac will have saved an entire village.

UNICEF's assertion that life could be saved at such a bargain basement price really stuck with me as a child. Back when those commercials first aired, it cost me less than a nickel to buy a piece of gum. I could save a life for the price of a Bazooka. What with inflation, that same piece of gum today costs closer to twenty-five cents. The good news in this, though, is that inflation apparently hasn't hit the life saving marketplace.

Twenty-odd years later, UNICEF is bringing back the whole nickel can save a life angle, which means either that the price of life is being ridiculously outpaced by the Dow Jones average, or that you can still buy a stick of Bazooka in Africa for a couple of pennies.

The reason I know that they have brought back the nickel can save a life slogan is because I recently got a very disturbing letter from UNICEF. You may have even received one of these yourself - I fear they may have sent out thousands.

I tend to donate to quite a few different charities throughout the year, my favorites being AIDS, MS, Alzheimer's and the Salvation Army, though I also toss a few other random ones in there as the feeling strikes. This year we've already seen some donations to Heal The Bay, Live Strong, Connections For Children and the SPCA (with a girlfriend named Cat, that one's a gimme.) I don't believe I've ever donated to UNICEF, but I could be mistaken. Either way, I'm sure I'm on some sort of "donation sucker" mailing list with big asterisks and pointy arrows next to my name.

So when I saw the UNICEF letter in my pile of mail, I figured I'd open it and see what was in store. Maybe there were some return envelope stickers with pictures of dying children on them and my name misspelled, that I could purchase for a moderate donation. What more could I want in life than to remind my mail carriers that, whilst they are serenely sorting through the days batch of envelopes, there are thousands of children slowly dying without anybody sending them any love letters.

Lo and behold, when I eagerly ripped open the envelope and pulled out the donation form, there were no return envelope stickers to be found. Instead, there was a nickel.


This is odd, I thought. Why is UNICEF sending me a nickel? Are they trying to save MY life now? Have I been over-valuing my very existence for the past twenty years? Has this all been a Truman Show-like scam where despite all my charitable giving, I'm really the one who is the charity?

I read the letter to get some answers. And answers are what I got.

Understanding their claim that a nickel can still save a life, UNICEF has decided to send a nickel to everybody on their mailing list, with the simple request that they send the nickel back to UNICEF plus whatever other donation you'd like to make on top of that.

I was flabbergasted. Here's a company that is saying a nickel can save a life and they're essentially just throwing nickels away. What with the 41 cent stamp, the cost of the printing, the envelope and the enclosed nickel, UNICEF had essentially killed no less than nine people just to get me to pay attention. Multiply that by thousands of donation letters they sent out, and I think we've got a good case for charging UNICEF with genocide.

One would think that when a charity claims that a nickel could save a person's life, yet that same charity starts giving away nickels like they were worthless, it might very well appear that said charity was acting quite inhumanely. It may even seem as if the charity were symbolically throwing lives away.

I was going to send my nickel back with a nasty note chastising UNICEF for their thoughtless, heartless behavior. I was going to yell at them in sentences that contained ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and lots of exclamation points to make sure they knew that I didn't want them letting people die in order to send me a nickel to tell me that it's not good to let people die. I was going to write the most furious note I've ever written and get myself all worked up in the process. My face was going to turn red and saliva was going to spit from my mouth when I talked. That's how angry I was going to be. And in this note, I was going to return the nickel. I was going to tape the nickel to the middle of the page and circle it with a big red Sharpie and put all sorts of asterisks and arrows around it so they got my point. That nickel return would be the coup de grace. It would scream Shame On You UNICEF! Shame shame shame on you!

Then I realized that spending another 46 cents (the nickel, plus the 41 cent stamp) does not make a valid point about wasting money to an organization who's claim is to not waste money when you can help save other people from becoming another statistic on a government chart. Two wrongs don't make a right and besides, they would most likely ignore my letter. The hypothetical statement I was going to make would be tossed away like the symbolic nickel lives they clearly had no respect for.

With UNICEF flagrantly tossing nickels every which way but loose, I also wondered where my UNICEF donation would go. Would I be sending in money simply to fund the distribution of more nickel envelopes? I want to save a life, not fund a donation drive.

I did a quick Google search and found all of the other people who are infuriated and confused with UNICEF's behavior and decided to save the money and utilize their energy for good.

So I walked outside and I gave the nickel to a homeless person. I also gave him about 70 additional cents to account for inflation.

He said Thank You and God Bless You. And he seemed genuinely happy.

I skipped buying any gum that day, just for good measure.

June 25, 2007

The Epitome of Absurdity

I've seen absurdity in many forms, but I think it has now taken the cake.

In my past I have witnessed a man run the entire NY marathon with one hand holding up a tray of martini glasses. I saw a gentleman in the Chicago Marathon run a sub-3:30, all the while dressed in a full cow costume (the damn heffer passed me at mile 13. it was completely humiliating.)

I've seen unfriendly people anger and annoy others ad infinitum, yet still get promoted to President and other senior roles of very large, public organizations. I saw every record company in America pass on the opportunity to release Alanis Morisette's first album, except the one person nobody in the business had any respect for.

I saw the Boston Red Sox win a World Series.
Will wonders never cease.

But all of that pales in comparison to what I have seen today.

I live right off of a street in Santa Monica that is known for it's coffee shops and expensive boutiques. My mother once walked down the street and counted. Ten coffee shops in eight blocks. I'd like her to come back and count again.

The eight blocks of coffee shops are kept snuggled in place by Starbucks bookends. There is a Starbucks on 7th street and not but 8 blocks away, another Starbucks on 15th. How can they possibly open two stores so close together? I know, I've asked the same thing myself.

But all of that has changed. As of this month, there are now two new coffee shops in town: A Starbucks. And another Starbucks.

What I'm trying to tell you is that within an eight block span, we have four Starbucks. As if that's not absurd enough, there are now three Starbucks in three blocks.

The 7th Street Starbucks, 8th Street Starbucks, and 9th Street Starbucks.

The moment you walk out of one Starbucks and look across the street, you feel as if your eyes are deceiving you. It's a Starbucks, you might say. Oh look, and there is yet another. A Starbucks, across from a Starbucks, across from a Starbucks.

And that, my friend, is the epitome of absurdity.

June 22, 2007

You Either Do Or You Don't. Trying Doesn't Count.

They should call it tiredathlon, not triathlon.

All triathlon means is participation in three sports. But what we do is oh so much more. Sure the actual event has us swimming, biking and running, but what of the 4am wake-up call? And the seven months of endless training? And how about trying to balance a full life, crammed to the gullet with work, family, friends, pets, must-see TV, and lots of food to be eaten at all hours of the day. This is not just a race, my friends, it is a lifestyle. It is a very f**king tiring lifestyle. Hence the new name.


So when somebody asks you what you do, you no longer say, I'm a triathlete. That's so 2006. It just doesn't represent our lifestyle any longer. Instead, what we should now say is, I'm a tiredathlete. Now THAT is much more accurate. THAT I can believe.

Who's with me on this one?!

I'm not sure why my body was so incredibly drained of all energy when I started my swim this morning. Maybe it's because I haven't slept since 2001, when I consciously decided to focus on this silly silly sport.

Catherine said that maybe I'm extra tired because I actually got 8 hours of sleep last night. After suffering from a long stretch of sleep deprivation, she told me, one good night of sleep can often make matters worse. Apparently it takes two or three nights of good sleep for the body to emerge from this state of shock and feel normal again.

Or maybe it was from the power weight lifting set I did last Friday. Catherine told me that sometimes people feel really drained for a full week after a lifting session like that. Even when you're a weak little pipsqueak like me.

I thought it could've been due to the excruciatingly difficult 20 minute uphill time trial I did on the bike yesterday. That one knocked the bejesus right out of me, until I picked up the bejesus and put it back in, only to knock the darn thing out again with the 30 second repeats. Of course, I soon realized that I don't ride a handcycle, so the bike ride is probably not the reason why my upper body is so tired. Catherine had nothing to do with that one.

Whatever the reason, neither my body nor my mind were excited for the 4000 yard pool workout this morn. Still, I drove to the YMCA and slipped into the pool. As I began the 400 yard warm-up, I questioned whether my arms would carry me to the other end of this 25 yard expanse. When I made it to other end, I turned around and questioned whether I would make it back. Somehow I did.

My arms felt like limp noodles. They had all the push of a worn-out snail. Every time I reached another side of the pool, I wanted to stop. It was a desperate struggle, mentally and physically.

And that was just the warm up.

Suddenly I could imagine what Tom Hanks felt like stranded on that island in Cast Away. WILLL-SONNN!!!!!

Miraculously, I managed to make it past the warm-up, at which point I was hypothetically supposed to be warm. I wasn't. In fact, I was very very cold. My arms didn't feel any different than they had ten paragraphs ago. But it was time to start the main set, which comprised of sixteen 200s in a row. Blech. On a good day, I'd look at that and say something profound like: awwww shit. here we go again.

Today wasn't a good day and I didn't have much profound in me. So I took a big breath - which probably was more of a sigh than anything - and began to swim.

Contrary to what you may think, the swim didn't get any better. Each lap was a vicious struggle. The moment I reached one end of the pool, I turned around and realized I really didn't want to push off from the wall. I wanted to stop and cry. And maybe eat a sausage, basil and feta omelet. Inevitably, though, I pushed forward.

It was about midway through the seventh 200 when I hit my bottom. As the saying goes, you've hit your bottom when you decide to stop digging. I suppose it was somewhere around there that I put down the shovel.

The moment I pushed off from the wall during that particular 200, was not so different from the other times I pushed off from the wall this morning. I didn't want to push. I didn't want to go. I didn't want to swim. But for some reason, when I reminded myself of my unhappiness on this push off, I also came to the realization that I was, in fact, swimming.

Despite not wanting to swim, I had already made the decision to come to the pool. I already made the decision to start my swim. I made the decision to push off from the wall time and time again. And I continued to make the decision to keep my arms rotating and my body moving forward.

Sure I kept telling myself that I didn't want to swim, but every single action that I undertook this morning pointed to the single premise that I did, in fact, want to swim. I didn't think I wanted to swim, but apparently I was wrong.

Given the fact that I had a whole bunch of swimming still left ahead of me, I started thinking about this one a little more. This training malarkey, it's not always easy physically and it certainly isn't always easy mentally. But there are times when the physical is being dragged down by the mental. I've talked about this before and I'll probably talk about it again, but it really intrigues me...

I tried to let go of my mind in the pool this morning and realize that everything I had done proved to me that I did, in fact, want to swim. Because here I was.... swimming.

So I gave in to it all, and tried to stop letting my mind drag down my body. It didn't make my body less tired or my arms less weak, but it let my mind get to a more serene place where cherubs may very well have been dancing on soft fluffy clouds.

Ya gotta love a happy ending.

June 20, 2007

The Reckless Madness of Youth

I did some pretty idiotic things when I was a kid. There was the day we assumed that garbage bags could act as parachutes. With this realization, me and my friends ran into the kitchen, each grabbed a bag and proceeded to jump off the roof. It didn't work out for us exactly as expected.

Then of course there was the rainy day in the old hotel when we decided to light candles and hold them up behind the flies on the window. You see, once the fly feels the heat, it gets scared and scampers away. Unfortunately the only way for the fly to escape is right through the lit candle. But once the fly hits the fire, its wings immediately disintegrate and you're left with a bunch of wingless flies flailing about. I still feel bad about that one. Haven't killed a fly since.

Of course I clearly remember the day when my mother walked outside the front door of our house and saw me in the walkway with a big pile of dry leaves and a handful of lit matches. The alarmed look of guilt on my face barely matched the alarmed look of anger on hers. That was during my arson stage. Fortunately, my arsonistic activities never even got beyond that pile of dry leaves. The moment my mother yelled at me I decided to let the whole fire fascination fall by the wayside.

Then there was the battery episode. I can still feel the jolt to my bones when we played with the batteries. A group of us would all link hands in a long line. Then the people on the end would each hold a piece of wire to different ends of a live 24 volt battery. You could feel the shock travel up your arm, through your spine and down the other arm. It was as if the bones were jolted out of the sockets. Unconsciously reacting, everybody would clench harder against the hands of others. It was like the pain would never stop. Freaky freaky feeling.

I bring up these little anectdotes because I've been sitting here trying to heal my calf. I ice, I stretch and I use electric stim. I just had the e-stim electrodes on my left calf - 20 minutes of electricity jolting my muscles to life.

About 10 minutes into the therapeutic masochism, one of the electrodes started peeling off of my leg. I reached down to pull it off and replace it. It was about the exact moment when my hands wrapped around the electrode and the searing fire of electricity jolted my arm like the sudden thwack of a thunderbolt that I once again became in touch with the lunacy of my childhood.

Sometimes you grow up, but you never grow old.

June 19, 2007

Like Butta

As Ironman's go, Ironman Arizona is supposed to be a pretty flat course. I believe the total elevation gain on the bike is somewhere around about 3000 ft which, if my legs remember correctly, is just about equal to the elevation gain between the swim and T1 at the Lake Placid suffer-fest.

Of course maybe I'm exaggerating a little. But just a little. Let's put it another way - if Lake Placid is Dolly Parton, Ironman Arizona is Gwyneth Paltrow. Capiche?

With all that flatness, I'm guessing there will be a lot of opportunity for clocking in some quality aero bar usage during the 112 miles of Arizona wasteland.

During Lake Placid, I wasn't hunkered down in my aero position for much time at all, primarily for a couple of reasons. First, there was so much climbing and hill rolling that aerodynamics weren't as much of a concern as, say, trying not to lie down on the side of the road and cry. But we already established that the course had many hills what with our misogynistic boobies analogy above. Secondly, my back starts to really hurt after spending too much time in the aero position.

No, no... you don't undertand. It REEEEEEA-LLLLLLLY hurts. Rambo knife dipped in acid, coated with salt, thrust into my back and twisted around. That's the type of hurt I'm talkin' about.

There's something about the aero position that I'm clearly doing wrong. But before you jump down my throat about bike fit this and top tube that, I don't think it's completely related to my riding form. I've been fit. I'm fit. I'm like a hot knife through butta. Instead, I blame my pain on Star Wars. It's George Lucas' fault.

Let me try to explain this one without completely embarrassing myself...

Since I signed up for Ironman Arizona all of nine days ago, I've been very focused in my training.
More specifically, I've been trying to overcome my aero position problems.

In true OCTD form, I realize that the only way I'm going to shave two seconds off my Ironman time, is to be a strong, fit individual who can stay crunched up for hours like an aerodynamic prisoner of war, crammed into "the box" (no, boss, not "the box"! anything but "the box" boss. anything but "the box"!) .

[Sorry about that... I sometimes randomly break into scenes from Cool Hand Luke. It's a problem I have. I clearly haven't taken my medication yet today... Better keep me away from the eggs.]

[Sorry about that again... if you haven't ever seen the movie, Cool Hand Luke, you probably don't get the egg reference. Which is fine. So I am most likely coming across as a wacko right now. You know what, maybe you should watch Cool Hand Luke. It's a long movie, but pretty good. Paul Newman at his finest. Maybe then these comments won't seem so random. Alright..I'll shut up about now....where was I.....? Aero position. We're talking about aero position. Arizona, strengthen my body... yes, that's it, ]

I really need to strengthen my body and train myself to remain in the aero position for extended periods of time. Catherine can do it. She's got this uncanny ability to stay locked in the aero position for what seems like hours. The thing is, her bike doesn't even fit her. Seriously, how crazy is that?

As if that's not enough, her body doesn't seem to fit her either - she lives her life in pain. She can't even sit on my couch for more than 15 minutes without feeling as if her spine just de-columned, and if you ask me, I've got a really comfortable couch. Yet somehow she can remain crunched over in a too-big-for-her-britches bike for hours at a time. If she could do it in that state, it would only seem logical that I could stay down there for ten minutes without needing paramedics to help me stand again.

On top of all that, I've got these really neat, far-too-pricey handle bars that I purchased last year and really want to use more effectively. At this point, the aero bars sit there practically unused. I stare at them every ride like they're a cute little Labrador puppy that I refuse to play with. But I don't like ignoring puppies. I like puppies. Especially when they're sitting there staring right back at me for hours on end with their big googly eyes begging me to play.

I'm a sucker for big googly puppy eyes, so I'm trying my damndest to spend more time in the aero bars lately, trying to play with the proverbial puppy.

While I'm down there with nothing to do, I try to analyze my body to figure out what I'm doing wrong. Again with the Obsessive Controlling Triathlon Disorder, I've shifted every part of my body every which way to see if it helps. Maybe if I slide my left butt cheek one millimeter that-a-way, scrunch my right cheek two millimeters this-a-way, and stick my tongue out at precisely a 32 degree angle for 30 second repeats, then just by chance perhaps the aero position won't hurt my back so much.

No such luck. After numerous configurations and more chafing than I really needed, I gave up on the body shifting. Pedal stroke, I thought. Let me look at my pedal stroke. Maybe that's the answer.

One thing I've realized over the past nine days is that my legs get really tired when I'm tucked in aero position. When my legs get tired, my pedal stroke is usually inefficient. When my pedal stroke is inefficient, I start pushing with my back. When I push with my back, it starts hurting a lot. So, if we apply the Transitive Property of Triathlon to this little scenario, we can deduce the following: if the legs get tired, the back hurts.

Fix the legs, fix the back.
Save the cheerleader, save the world.

Easy peasy, eh?
That's what I thought.

As I said a couple paragraphs yonder, I've been focusing on keeping an efficient pedal stroke while in the aero position, thinking that perhaps that'll keep the legs from tiring out so quickly. Again, no such luck. After all of about 5 minutes, my legs are so tired I can't pedal anymore. So I sit up in the saddle, drink some of my highly-secretive energy potion, toss out a few swear words and give up in frustration.

Amidst all that frustration, I realized that my pedal stroke is just about the same when I'm in the aero bars as when I'm not. Hmmm.... so why, pray tell, does it tire me out so quickly when I'm tucked over?

If I can figure out what's happening with the legs and how to keep them fresh, maybe I can stay aerodynamic through IMAZ. And maybe I can cut a few seconds off my bike time, and maybe that will skyrocket me up from the 59th percentile of finishers to the 58th. Middle of the pack to middler of the pack.

Believe it or not, in my never ending biking analysis, I actually figured it all out. I've figured out why my legs get so tired so quickly when I'm in aero position. As I mentioned before, it's because of Star Wars.

You see, I've got these really neat aero bars that I love and that look so cool. And when I drop down in them, I can't help but feel so incredibly aerodynamic. I feel fast and agile and unbeatable. I feel just like a Jedi fighter.

Yes, a Jedi.
Jedi J. That's me. Saving the world from the Dark Side.

Don't tell anyone, but sometimes when I'm down there flying through the streets in my aero bars and nobody else is around, I'll even make those cool Jedi laser blaster shooting sounds as I'm rounding corners (peuw!.....peuwpeuw!....peuw!peuw!peuw!).

So, being how the future of all things good relies on my success as a Jedi, I tend to move faster and push harder whenever I get into aero position. Therein lies the problem. This is why my legs tire out. When I go aero, I subconsciously push and push until I'm too pooped to pop. The thing is, I never realized I was doing this. I suppose the Force was with me.

So a couple of days ago I tried to get in the aero bars and roll along slowly, but that didn't seem to work too well. First of all, it is so ingrained in my mind and body to push, that I don't even know how to go slow and steady when I'm down there. Second of all, Jedi fighters don't go slow when we're in the heat of battle. That just looks stupid.

Perhaps in the days to come I will overcome the dark side. Maybe the force is with me after all and I'll get over this hump. Maybe the force will strengthen my bike rides and perhaps if I can find that little hairy sum-o-bitch, Yoda, maybe he can give me some pedaling tips.

After all, there's only 10 months until Arizona. Gotta get movin'.

June 16, 2007

Ironman Dreams

I remember my first triathlon. I remember the fear.

Everybody looked so serious and professional. And then there was me. I felt as if I stood out like a tone-deaf Jew going Christmas caroling. (That's another story for a different time.)

I had no clue what I was doing and was too scared to ask. Oh my God, I thought to myself as I wheeled my dodderingly pathetic mountain bike to the transition area, what have I gotten myself into?

I had no concept of how to set up my transition zone and stood there in my shorts and t-shirt, quizzically gazing at the focused fastidiousness of others in their pre-race rituals. I tried to look busy and puttered about mindlessly. I stared with fear at all the other racers in their color-coded clothing and racing gear, and I wondered if I could still sneak out of here without anybody noticing.

Of all my stupid ideas, I told myself, this was definitely near the top of the list.

Eventually I got to the starting line and eventually the gun went off. I was committed, there was no looking back.

That first race of mine was a backwards triathlon, which meant a run-bike-swim rather than the standard swim-bike-run. I'm a runner, or at least I was back in my youth before I was left with these tissue-paper excuses for calves, so a backwards tri should help me settle in. But the starting gun is not an antidote for fear. Once my legs started moving, so did my mind.

Am I running too fast? Am I biking too slow? When will my legs stop feeling so weird? Why does this hurt so much?

I didn't run too fast, I didn't bike too slow. Instead, I finished that race with a sense of accomplishment I had rarely experienced before. It was life changing.

Catherine and I volunteered this past weekend at the Redondo Beach Sprint Triathlon. We guarded the bike path area and stopped traffic to let the racers cross safely. We cheered them on as they struggled up the beach, plodding uncomfortably from the brutally cold ocean to T1 parking lot.

The Redondo Triathlon is a haven for new racers. This year there were 200 first timers. As I was walking around pre-race, preparing the area for competition, I saw the look on the faces of those 200 newbies as they came and stared at the water. I saw the fear. I remember that fear, he was at my first race too.

And when those new racers hesitantly approached me and asked about the water, or the racing process or how to get to transition, I could sense the uncertainty in their voice. I could hear the fear, their minds repeating the same words I had said to myself so many years before... What have I gotten myself into?

Last night I had a dream. I had a dream that I did an Ironman race. It was one of those dreams that seemed so real that when I opened my eyes this morning I was awash in the post-Iron feeling of elation and fully expected my body to be in post-race pain. It took a few minutes for me to realize that I was tucked safely in my bed, in my bedroom. I had not done an Ironman. It was just a dream.

And as my mind began to clear, I recognized the irony of it all. I remembered that Ironman WAS a dream for me over the course of many years. From the fear that encapsulated my first triathlon 15 years ago, was born a dream to compete in Ironman.

But Ironman is no longer a dream. I have lived that dream and experienced every minute moment of emotion that comes along with it. I have one Ironman under my belt and another on the docket. All I wished for is all I have.

I can still feel that fear from days gone by. I don't let it get too far away from me because there's a humility that comes with innocence. And though I have 15 years of triathlon experience under my belt, I'm never too old to have dreams.

June 15, 2007

Lucky Me

For years I've brought my dry cleaning to Lucky Cleaners, mostly because of the name. I figured maybe if my clothes were lucky, some of it would rub off on me. This is just about the same reason why I wash my laundry with Cheer - if I can keep my clothes happy, then maybe...

Not to perpetuate too much of a stereotype, but Lucky Cleaners is owned and operated by a nice Korean couple. Mind you, they're not the Korean couple that originally founded the fine Lucky Cleaners establishment. The founding Koreans ended up selling the business about five years ago to this new and completely separate and distinct Korean couple. I'm not going to say that all Korean couples look alike, because they don't anymore than every triathlete looks alike - but trust me, these two couples kinda do.

The original Korean founders were very nice people. Hank was the husband's name. Hank was a grade A guy. Still is, I'm sure. He was always happy (he must've washed his clothes with Cheer as well) and always friendly. It was nothing short of a pleasure to bring my clothing to Hank.

Hank remembered my name from the get go. The second time I walked in to Lucky Cleaners, I got a big personal Hank hello. It made me feel special. A little bit lucky, even. On top of that, we never had to do that quasi-uncomfortable dance where he would be forced to ask for my name every time I show up, despite the fact that I'd been a weekly customer for about 5 years.

I think of Hank and I smile. That's the reaction he arouses.

So you can probably imagine my surprise and dismay when I walked into Lucky Cleaners one day and was greeted by people I didn't know.

You're not Hank. Where's Hank? What did you do with Hank?! Hank is my Lucky Cleaner.

My shirts and slacks are quite particular, they only like being dry cleaned by Hank. Hank makes them feel lucky. I want Hank!!!

OK, maybe I didn't say all of that out loud - exceptin' for the "Where's Hank?" part. Either way, I didn't get much of a response. Which quickly led me to believe that this suddenly wasn't the Lucky Cleaners I've known and loved and felt so Lucky about.

Life had changed. I may need to start using a double scoop of Cheer.

Thing is, if you hadn't been paying close attention to the inner workings of Lucky Cleaners like I had (we'll hope you refrain from comment on that one), you probably would have never guessed that the business had been sold.

As mentioned above, the new owners are fairly decent replicas of Hank and his wife, but maybe with a bit fewer spark plugs in the ole engine block, if you know what I mean. I'm a-guessin' that they probably recognized Hank's critical role in the community and decided to capitalize on that by making people believe Hank was still around and, in so doing, trying to pull over the greatest dry cleaning con in history since that infamous "ancient Chinese secret" fiasco of the 70s.

The Lucky Cleaners store name was never changed by the new owners. Smart move, I guess, understanding the enormous equity that had been built into that name. However, the old decrepit sign that hangs on the front of the building - the one that Hank never bothered to repair - well, that still remains as well. Still decrepit.

As a matter of fact, all of the other run-down postings throughout the dry cleaners have stayed exactly the same as Hank had left them. As if owning a dry cleaner is like a 4 x 400 relay - just hand off the baton and keep running.

The well known Lucky Cleaners' hand-written signs, like "$10 minimum credit card" and "$.10 refund for return hanger," are still posted prominently throughout the waiting area. Though they are all barely legible at this point. The ink has faded like they'd been scotch taped to the wall for ten years, which they probably have been. Heaven forbid the new owners should bother to update them.

There are even a variety of other signs and notices hanging around the dry cleaning premises in the chicken scratch that any Lucky Cleaner aficionado can discern is clearly Hank's handwriting. You can't pull one over on us so easily. No siree Bob. (or, rather, No siree Hank.)

One would think that when you buy a new business, you'd at least change the handwriting on the signs. That seems to me as if it'd be in the first or second chapter of the Dry Cleaner ownership manual.

One of the more popular activities practiced by Los Angeles dry cleaners is to prominently display autographed photos on the wall. This is Hollywood, after all, where just about everybody pretends to be a celebrity, even the celebrities. More often than not, the signed headshots on dirty dry cleaning walls are of third-rate actors who few of us ever recognize.

More often than not, one or two of the headshots are of faces that look remotely familiar. And when I say remote, I mean by a long long distance. Like maybe it's a photo of an extra who was roaming the streets on the set of Schindler's List for a quick scene. And perhaps if you could just see them eighty pounds lighter, dressed in tattered rags with a gun in their face and the distinct smell of sauerkraut in the air, maybe then that'd help you remember who the hell they are.

Needless to say, the definitely-not-Hank Korean couple who recently purchased Lucky Cleaners decided to keep the same faded headshots on the wall that Hank had originally displayed decades ago. These actors are probably dead by now. Or at least waiting tables in much finer restaurants. There are only three of them on the wall at Lucky Cleaners. For the past ten years that I've been frequenting Lucky Cleaners, there have never been more nor less than these three headshots taped to the wall. They must be very important non-recognizable people. I suppose that may be why they've decided to keep the photos displayed.

Maybe one day these actors walked in to get a rush dry clean job for their shirt so they could wear it for the next day's audition. Maybe when they walked in, Hank smiled his friendly grin as he told them that he wasn't able to turn their cleaning order around so quickly. Really busy. Busy time of year.

I really really need it for my audition, the actor might've said.

Audition? You actor? You good actor? You famous actor? Give me headshot, I clean clothes.

I can imagine that is how the scene may have unfolded.

That probably wouldn't happen with the new owners though, they don't seem to care about this autographed headshot tradition. Which is perhaps why they haven't had any new photos on the wall in the years that they've owned the place. Then again, maybe it's because the new owners don't speak English, aside from three words:

Hello. Thank you.

That about covers it.
You walk in and get a happy-but-not-Hank smile and a somewhat uncomfortable "Hello!" from the wife. (It's always the wife that helps the customers. It's her job. I suppose they're old-fashioned like that.)

Somehow you mumble through your information, detailing your order... six shirts, dry cleaned please.

Thank you, she'll say as she types the information into the computer.
Thank you she says again for no apparent reason.
Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

There comes a point when it just becomes uncomfortable. How many times can I really say, "No, thank YOU" in response? You're welcome seems so darn inappropriate. So I stand in silence and look down at my hands. I tiddle-dee-wink. I look at my Blackberry and make believe there are important messages that need to be read immediately. All the while, I wonder how long it will take to hand me the ticket so I can turn and leave.

Finally she hands me the ticket. But this, my friends, is the signature dish of Lucky Cleaners. This is the reason I keep going. The Lucky ticket handoff. THIS is the coup d'grace of the dry cleaning experience.

The method in which the wife hands the ticket to customers is, well.... nothing short of brilliant. It's a three stage act - a full production that leaves you wanting to clap and cheer and demand an encore.

Like a cross between a stouthearted steward of a medieval English king who kneels in front of his liege to deliver a missive, and the dainty tenderness of a fifteenth century geisha, dutifully spending her life in the selfless service of others, the Lucky Dry Cleaners ticket is presented with such flare and panache, you can't help but feel a little flutter of specialness deep inside.

After you hand over your clothes and the order is entered into the computer, the ticket is printed. With the graceful flare of Dry Cleaners On Ice, she'll swiftly and casually rip the ticket off of the printer. For all I know, she's lifting one leg off the floor at the same time, like a Korean version of the FTD florist.

In the same balletic motion, she will wind up her arm, twisting her right shoulder back in perfect posture. When her right arm starts coming down with ticket in hand, it is as if gravity may cause it to smash right onto the countertop. And seconds before you reach out to save her dainty fingers, like Copperfields magic, her left hand miraculously appears to catch the fall. In what may very well be a deleted scene from the Nutcracker Suite, she is left standing, right arm fully supported by left hand, arms at perfect right angles, shoulders squared, eyes wide, mouth smiling and a pick-up ticket stretched out towards you.

You want to clap. Maybe even scream hurrahs. You want to cheer for the Lucky Cleaners ticket presentation.

It makes you feel like you are King. As if Lucky Cleaners is handing you the winning lottery ticket and you're life has suddenly taken a turn for the even better.

As you take the ticket and turn to walk out the door, you glance at the autographed headshots on the wall and suddenly notice that they are smiling. Were they always smiling? I don't remember them smiling. I thought it was just Hank that smiled before.

Perhaps, you realize, that something HAS changed at Lucky Cleaners. Maybe the old handwritten notes haven't been dusted off in decades and perhaps there are no plans to change the sign out front. And, yes, Hank is no longer here, gushing with his cheerful, ebullient charm. But the autographed photos on the wall know. And when she hands me that ticket with her artistic delivery, I can't help but feel it too... Life is good. I AM lucky.

June 13, 2007


Remember when we knew nothing about heart rate training, cadence, lactate threshold and such nonsense? When going for a bike ride meant going out on a bike and riding and feeling good about it? Do you remember those days? Well I don't. I've got no memory of them anymore than I can remember a life beyond TiVo or e-mail.

Since I got quote-unquote serious about this whole triathlon lifestyle crapola, my life has been a series of non-stop measurements. Heart rate this, lactate threshold that, aerobic, anaerobic, VO2 and glycogen stores. Truth be told, I don't even know what a glycogen store is and where I'd even start to find one. Perhaps it's associated with the "nugget" part of the chicken. Or maybe it's actually a store.

I went to www.glycogenstore.com thinking I can probably pick up a few packets (parcels? liters? gaggles?) of glycogen, whatever the heck that may be. But apparently there isn't really a store, despite the name. If there is, they are really bad marketers.

Anyhoo, whatever this glycogen hogwash may be, I'm sure it needs to be measured and monitored and scrutinized. Cause that's what we do in triathlon. We take one step forward, then study it from all angles in all ways to determine if we can take a more efficient step in a more effective way in order to bridge that gap of three feet in one trillionth of a second less than it took us to walk across the previous three feet.

Maybe if we had lighter shoes, or more wind resistant shorts. Perhaps if I lost a little weight and had some plastic surgery to make my body more resemble one of those swanky Cervelo frames. Maybe that'll help.

After all, over the course of 140.6 miles, that one trillionth of a second adds up to....ummm..... a bunch of one trillionths of a second. And maybe that's the difference between finishing in 1028th place and 1029th.

In the realm of things, apparently that's really really important to people like me. Though when I write it down like this, I can't quite figure out a reason why. In fact, it makes me feel like a bit of a boob.

I suppose it's about control and structure when you break it down to it's barest bones. It appears that all of this gobble-dee-gook adds more structure to an already highly structured environment. I'll admit, I like a good solid structure as much as the next guy. You can't crucify me for that.

But there comes a time in one's life when enoughs enough. When even though the rash has finally healed, you still can't bare to click that strap around your chest one more time. When you start your bike ride to notice that the heart rate number doesn't show up on your trusty watch and you suddenly realize that you really don't give a shit.

There comes a point when you realize that you are such a slave to your training numbers that it's gotten out of control. And one day down the road you just end up flipping out at a restaurant when a friend casually asks you to calculate the dinner check and the only thing you can do is to start rocking in your chair and mumbling heart rate zones, lactate threshold levels, VO2 max peaks, watt outputs, cadence averages and max zones until everybody else at the table is staring at you in bewilderment, mouths agape. Maybe shortly after that evening you'll realize that your friends don't really want to hang out with you much anymore. Whenever you call, they're busy. But that's ok, because you're too swamped with your training schedule anyway. Your doing your best to manage your Obsessive Compulsive Training Disorder.

So maybe you'll catch up with them again next week. Or maybe after the next race. Or the next season. Or the next Ironman.

Maybe I should take up a different sport.

June 08, 2007

Don't Call It A Comeback...

I was out for a bike ride with Catherine this past weekend. We did hills. Lots of them. Mostly of the "up" variety.

The ride went fairly slowly. In fact, it took us nearly 5 hours to do what was supposed to be a 4 hour ride. I suppose cramming 5 hours into a 4 hour ride is like shoving 10 pounds of crap into a 5 pound sack. And if there's a couple-a people that can get all that crap shoved into that little sack, I suppose it'd be me and Catherine. The Crap Kings. (As opposed to the King Crab... which kinda makes me hungry, now that I mention it.)

About 4 hours into our shoulda-been-a-4-hour-ride, we started talking about Ironman. I'm not exactly sure what prompted the conversation, but I know Catherine's the one that brought it up. It's her fault. Apparently she half expected me to tell her that I had decided to do an Ironman next year. Silly silly girl.

She reminded me that I'm racing the SOS in September, which consists of a 17 mile run and 2-ish mile swim. And she helped me remember that we're racing the New York Marathon in November. You're just a bit of bike training away from Ironman shape, she pointed out.

Don't be crazy, I said as we pedaled along the coast. You're crazy. Don't be crazy. Try not to be crazy. Do me a favor, and ease off the crazy.

Seriously, she may very well have responded. If you're going to do another Ironman, you might as well capitalize on this year's training. Now's the time.

Hey now, I probably didn't say but wish I had. What are you trying to make me do? Enough already with the crazy talk.

But I have to admit, the conversation got me thinking. When it comes right down to it, as of November I'll hypothetically be in pretty good shape. And if I keep up the biking, and maintain the running and swimming for a few months, then..... well...... I suppose......

My friend Chris is doing his first Ironman in April. Ironman Arizona. Catherine and I were going to fly out there to cheer him on.

But my mind started thinking and the cogs started moving and the wheels started turning and next thing you know....

I've signed up for Ironman Arizona.
Once again, it's on.

Let the games begin.

June 07, 2007

Another Page From The Story Book

It was later than usual when I got into the men's locker room at the YMCA this morning.

The day started off with a horrendously grueling speed session on the bike that included two 1o-minute rubber-leg inducing time trials up the side of a mountain. As if that alone wasn't enough to cause my previously ingested oatmeal to de-ingest, I capped off the time trials with a stomach-churning handful of two-minute repeats. Suffice to say, my cadence wasn't the only thing repeating on me.

Knowing that my calf isn't quite yet strong enough to run and that my evening was going to be busy with a conference call, I decided to do some aqua jogging in the morning. It ain't no road running, but at least it's closer to it than sitting on my couch watching endless Prefontaine videos on YouTube.

So round about 8:30am, after finishing the bike ride, eating a Clif Bar to help settle my stomach (mental note, bad idea) and cramming the day's clothes into a gym bag, I arrived at the YMCA ready to do a whole lot of nothing in the deep end of the pool.

I planned to whip out a monotonous 30 minutes of aqua boredom, but once I got going I struck up a mighty fine convo with my new friend, Andrea. Clocking in at about 67 years old, thin and fairly fit looking, Andrea became my aqua jog Muse.

What with her personalized jogging belt and sporty looking water resistant outfit, Andrea was clearly no hack at this pool jogging nonsense. When I realized that she had been aqua jogging for three years, I figured I'd struck gold. Here was my time to find out the proper method to decrease my fool-like demeanor in the slow lane. I started throwing out the questions....

Is this supposed to hurt my hamstrings so much? How much am I supposed to lift up my legs? Should I flex my feet? What do I do with my hands besides play tiddle-dee-winks? How do I stop looking like such a dork?

Andrea looked at me with a stunned silence. An aqua jogger in the headlights, if you will. It was the kind of look that displayed a deep-seeded fear while at the same time emanated questioningly, who the heck is this guy and why is he talking to me. It's the kind of look you see on the streets of New York City if you ask a random person a random question.

Ummm....., she hesitated, not knowing whether to be friendly or ferocious. I don't know.

Oh, I replied, somewhat disheartened.

I bought a book on aqua jogging, she continued, but haven't ever bothered to read it. I just get in the water and go.

Ah. So much for the Muse. Not feeling there was any learning curve to be ridden, I quickly changed the subject. How about that Scooter Libby, eh?

For some reason, Andrea didn't run away. Or did she.... After 20-odd minutes of me pool-jogging my way behind her, like a homeless (and fairly buoyant) puppy looking for a friend, she somehow managed to drop me. One minute we were moving along at about .01 mph, with me yappin' away about nothing remotely important, and the next minute she was sprinting to the other end of the pool, leaving me to suck in the exhaust of her back draft. (And, by the way, when I say "sprinting", I mean moving along at about .02 mph).

I tell ya, you don't have to slap a guy in the face for him to get a hint. I shut my mouth flappin', and continued on my lonely water jog. Looking at my watch, I realized I was nigh on 30 minutes - my give up time. Thanks to the unfailing support of my new friend Andrea, what I expected to be a soporific exercise in futility, kinda breezed on by like it ain't no thang. What the hell, I said, I'll push this baby to the limit. I kept on a-joggin.

As the watch hit 45 minutes, I had enough. I climbed out of the water, removed the jogging belt and waddled on my rubber legs into the locker room. I looked at my watch. 9:45am.

I haven't really spent a lot of time in the men's locker room, and definitely not this late in the day. I'm usually stumbling into this room pretty early in the morning. On top of that, I really try to get in and out as quick as humanly possible. You never know what type of disease may leap from the confines of this petri dish of disgust. I fear to even imagine the types of viruses emanating from the shower stalls. Truth be told, in the 10 years I've been a member of the YMCA, I have never, not once walked into the toilet area of the men's locker room. I'm too scared. But I try not to think about it. And I try not to touch anything.

I hopped into my favorite shower and quickly washed the chlorine off of my body. I went to my gym bag, grabbed my electric shaver and cautiously sauntered over to the sink to erase this stubble from my puerile face.

As I gazed into the mirror in preparation for the morning shave, I had the opportunity to scan the locker room. I suddenly realized there was a lot of old.

Of the twenty-odd folks in the room, I was without a doubt the youngest by about 30 years. It was a sea of white hair, balding heads and roly-poly paunches. There were canes leaning against walkers and geriatrics leaning against lockers.

There was the man on my right who appeared to be washing his suede shoes in the sink. He'd put one of them under the flowing water and scrub away, then reach for the other one, rinse, repeat.

There were the antiquated biddies with barely enough strength to walk. They'd shuffle into the locker room ever so slowly with masterful micro-steps like Tim Conway in his Carol Burnett days, forever searching for Mrs. a-Whiggins to make things better. Too weak to carry a gym bag, they'd pull a suitcase on wheels packed efficiently with all of their outdated exercise needs.

There was the group of Slavic men, huddled around each other in their Slavic aisle, like an ancient Russian Steam Bath, without the steam or the bath. They lounged in luxuriating pleasure, half of them with towels draped around their Slavic waists and the other half sitting on plastic stools, basking in their Slavic nudity. Slavic stomachs hung heavy, like watermelon in hairy burlap sacks, calmly resting on sturdy Slavic legs. They didn't speak to each other, just mumbled and grunted, yet somehow their meaning got translated with faultless clarity.

Brgchn mmmgn.
Bolach plusaksi.
BA-HA-HA! one of them would laugh with a rumble that would make Santa Claus jealous. The others wouldn't even crack a smile. The mumbling would commence....
Chachta. Chachta chachti chachta.

I heard a crash on the floor. I gazed beyond the Slavic conclave towards the balding loner sitting in the middle of the aisle. His hairline had receded to the conventional U shape, so prevalent atop the grandfatherly pate. The head bare and smooth as a crystal ball, with a tuft of fur to line the edges.

He sat there staring at the man who had just entered the locker room, ignoring the fact he had just dropped his hair brush onto the floor. Oblivious to the fact that he had no need for a hair brush in the first place.

Not you! he yelled. I don't like you! You shouldn't be here!

The victim was silent, moving quietly to his locker and beginning his morning preparations.

They may like you upstairs, the hostilities continued to fly. Not me. I don't like you.

It was as if he were talking to himself, nary a soul paid him mind. Nobody seemed offended. Nobody cared.

That's one thing about getting older, the outraged aged began speaking to nobody in specific but perhaps everybody in general. You don't hold you're feelings back. If I don't like something, I say it. And I don't like you.

I glanced to my right and the man who had been washing his shoes in the sink, oblivious to the miscellaneous locker room mayhem, now stood with his left foot on the ground and his bare right foot in the sink. Splashing under the running water, he rubbed and scrubbed and cleaned his previously soiled feet. In the sink.

I couldn't help but laugh at this ship of fools. A motley crew of mayhem.

I smiled a content grin and with a happy heart turned on my razor and began to cut away the meaningless little pieces of my life.

June 01, 2007

My Life As An Impala

OK, OK... if you insist, I will admit that I'm not a bad freestyle swimmer. Not great, but definitely not crappy.

I thought I was decent at the backstroke too because, after all, how hard can it really be. Yet the more I try it on for size, the more I realize I must either be deformed or doing something completely wrong. I'm kicking like a madman to stay afloat, which kinda leads me to believe that my ass is heavier underwater than on top. I don't sink when I swim freestyle, not sure why I'm fighting gravity on my back.

By the time I struggle to the end of a 50 meter backstroke, hopefully avoiding the inevitable bonk of my head against the wall, I am left gasping for air. I feel like a frail, petrified impala that just outran the growlingly hungry pack of hyena. If there's one thing I've learned from backstroke, it's that I don't want to be reincarnated as an impala.

I throw in the breaststroke every now and then during my swims, mostly because my workout plan tells me I should. I've always looked at the breaststroke as one short step up the evolutionary chain from doggie paddle. I had a good friend in college who was on the swim team. His main event was the 200 meter breaststroke. I never really understood that. I used to tell him jokingly that my main event was the 5 minute water tread.

He didn't laugh.
We're not friends anymore. Probably cause I was such a dick.

Up until recently, I thought I was good at the breaststroke. Again, how hard can it really be. Recently though, I've realized how inept I am. Somewhere within the first 25 meters, everything seems to fall apart. I don't quite feel like a run down, gasping impala when I breaststroke. Instead, the muscles in my legs get all tired and crampy and, within a few seconds, they decide to stop working. It's as if my legs had narcolepsy. One minute their breaststroking, the next they're comatose on the bottom of the pool.

I don't know what really prompted the desire in me to learn the butterfly. One would think I'd want to get the more basic strokes taken care of before I tackled the tough stuff. Unlike the breaststroke and backstroke, the butterfly just looks intimidating. Without a doubt, it is far too complicated for someone of my feeble mind. Yet every time I see this fast swimmer-guy do the butterfly at the pool I can't help but think, hey, that doesn't look too tough at all. In fact, that looks kinda fun. I think I can do that.

Mind you, I haven't actually TRIED to do the butterfly...until today.

I was sharing a lane with Catherine during our speed swim workout at the Santa Monica College pool this morning. It was about 7:55am and what with the pool closing in five minutes, there weren't a lot of people left - maybe 6 of us scattered across 20 lanes. I had already finished my workout and was just piddling around, waiting for Catherine to finish hers, or for us to get kicked out of the water - whichever came first.

I figured this was as good a time as any. Nobody to see me in my feeble attempts at the butterfly. Nobody to laugh. Nobody to judge. Nobody but me and my undoubtedly innate abilities to butterfly beautifully.

Besides, if a man tries to do the butterfly in a pool and nobody is there to watch, did he really even do the butterfly at all?

Catherine had just passed me on one of her 25 yard sprints, so she was out front and I was on the side of the lane. I had about 25 seconds before she turned around to watch. Now was the time. All's clear.

I pushed off the wall with all my might and channeled my inner dolphin. As my glide began to slow down, I reached both arms behind me in pre-butterfly pose. Then, just like I saw the fast swimmer guy do time and again, I committed. I rotated my shoulders, bringing both my arms up at once, and lifting my hands out of the water from behind me. I tucked my head down like it seemed I was supposed to do. I focused. I'm a dolphin. Probably not as fluidly as I wish I felt, I rotated my arms high above my head. And just before I should bring a smile of accomplishment to my face, I brought my hands and arms down in front of me, getting ready to arch my back then dolphin kick my legs to butterfly beautification.

With nervous anticipation, my hands approached the water and....


My right hand SLAMMED against the pool lane buoys. SHIT!!! I yelled underwater, wondering if I tore through my skin. I stopped moving and floated, not wanting to lift my head up and face the undoubtedly staring bystanders. Shit. That clearly didn't work out.

I exhaled, then came up with a plan. Breaststroke. I went directly into a breaststroke. As if that was what I was doing all along. As if that were my plan from the get go. I'm just a breaststroker. Don't mind me.

Oh, and by the way, rule number one of butterfly: make sure you're in the center of the lane.

Now why don't we just forget this whole incident ever happened.