Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Bronx Tale

I'm starting to get jaded- this getting up at 4:30 am to run a 1/2 marathon in the city doesn't feel as bold and exciting as it used to. Maybe I don't have the same spark for it as before because I'm not as fast as I was last year. I'm like a speed junkie (running speed, that is!) who's suffering from withdrawal symptoms, and willing to take on any race to get my fix. So off to the Bronx I went. I had my main goal, which was to beat my 1/2 marathon time from England last month, 1:38:58. That should have been an easy goal since it was a pretty hilly race. Then I had about 5 more goals in descending order of difficulty.. A runner's crutch, which I've learned from Bob Glover, my all-time running mentor and Coach of GNY, the team I proudly (but infrequently) compete for. The idea is to not put all your eggs in one basket. The last goal on your list would have to be something absolutely obtainable, even in the unlikely event that a car ran over your legs during the race and you had to roll yourself over the finish line.. Like finishing the race in 4 hours, say.. So my second goal was to not let the Coach beat me.. See, he has his own weird little accounting system, and if you've ever beaten him in a race, he puts an asterisk next to your name, and it doesn't come off til he beats you in a race.. He has a lot of rules.. Like no waving to Coach Bob during a race.. He yelled at us once after a Central Park race, went on for a full page in an email rant to all the club members about how waving to Coach Bob during a race is like giving the finger to the Pope.. It changed a lot of people's racing experiences. I loved the new somberness.. But getting back to my race.. All 3,000+ of us were mushed into the starting area, listening to the final instructions from Mary Wittenberg, the very young CEO of the New York Road Runner's club. She was trying to get everyone psyched for the NY marathon in November, and people were anxious to get started with THIS race, as the sun was already starting to bring out the sweat in us. Then just before the race starts, she announces that she's going to 'hop in', so she doesn't miss the start.. How dare she be so relaxed and casual about running in a race! I have all kinds of pre-race rituals that involve mostly working myself into a frenzy of anxiety.. So this seemed quite unfair.. The race started, and I quickly found a reasonable pace that I thought I could hold for the whole way. Reasonable to me means it's too hard to talk, but I won't pass out after 13 miles. On that day, that meant a 7:35 pace. So you can imagine my horror when I heard the idle chatter of two women coming up behind me! Good grief, man, this isn't a Sunday jog in the park.. We have people working really hard here! If this pace is so easy for you, you should be hustling your little butts a little quicker! It didn't help matters that the one that was doing most of the talking sounded exactly like that cheerleader in the Sprint Mobile commercials.. I picked up the pace a little, but could still hear diarrhea mouth.. Just then a spry woman ran right up beside me. It was the CEO! She said 'Good job' to me, and I labored to get out a 'You too' in .. At least she had the decency to be breathing very heavily.. Somehow Mary and I ran together for a whole mile.. It was exciting, but stressful, because I knew she was in my age group, and at our advanced age, even with a 'slow' 7:35 pace, there was a chance for me to be in the top 3 and get a medal.. All of a sudden chatty Cathy spies Mary.. 'Hi Mary! I hear people were complaining about the cost of that Manhattan 1/2?' Not as much as you'd hear ME complaining if I had the energy to, I thought.. Mary somehow kept a little two word reply conversation going with iron lungs.. I felt really bad for her.. That's when all my fantasies about being the CEO of this running club took flight. And then all my energy drained somewhere, and all three of my rivals whizzed ahead of me, and left me with 5 miles to contend with alone.. Me and 2,500 other tired, soaked runners.. A water stop was approaching, and I saw this young female volunteer handing cups of water to passing runners.. It must have been her first time, because clearly she wasn't aware of the potential dangers of this job.. Exhausted runners, stubbornly refusing to stop and take the cup like sensible people.. Ploughing on and grabbing the cup on the run while dodging other runners.. This naive girl was smiling and talking to some runners, and not looking where she was going.. She happened to have some very Dolly Partonesque assets too, which you really couldn't miss.. And all I could think of as I grabbed my water was, 'If we collide, she will definitely be the one in trouble'.. I missed her by about an inch, and was totally exhausted in the effort of avoiding those twins.. At some point I saw my Coach.. Coaching his team from the sidelines.. I was so disappointed! How could he drop out? He's made of steel, has run marathons two weeks after major surgery.. Was supposed to 'kick my asterisk'.. This race just wasn't one for the records for either of us.. The finish line finally arrives, I sprint in with my usual valiant effort to save face (only so much making up you can do in a tenth of a mile), and finished in a disappointing 1:39:26.. I knew it was a tough day though with the heat, since not only did my coach drop out, but so did his wife.. And she is also quite a warrior.. So I held a little hope that maybe I still got an award.. I wandered over to the results list.. Found my name.. Fourth in my age.. Sigh.. I had to see who took third.. Third female in my age went to: Mary Wittenberg. She earned it, good for her. Anyone but motor-mouth. I limped into the sunset. There'll always be another race around the 'hood..

Friday, July 21, 2006

In the Company of Strangers

She was driving down the busy road, no expectations of this date that was to be in twenty minutes. How long had it been since she last had a date? A long time, maybe a year or two. Now the cynic entered her mind. He will have nothing to say. She won't be attracted to him. What did any of it matter? He was returning to his country the next day, and who knew when or if she'd see him again? May as well just relax and have a nice evening. Besides, she was the older one here, so what was she nervous about? Nervous! The thought made her mad. Why should I be nervous? I don't have to prove anything, he's the one that asked me out! Okay, now she was starting to remember why it had been so long since she'd been on a date. It was torture, the uncomfortable feeling of spending an evening with a stranger. She reminded herself that she had met him the night before, and he was very sweet. A real gentleman, old-school chivalry, must've been the South American thing. And he had a really cute smile, reassuring, reminding her that everything was going to be okay. She was still nervous. She calmed herself thinking about how she would be like a big sister to him. Oh dear, that's not very romantic, she thought. Back to worrying. She pulled into the parking lot of Hamburger Harry's, it wasn't too full for a Friday night. Must be the rain. She left her name at the front to be called when a table opened up, and planted herself at the bar. She ordered a drink, but had no interest in drinking it. She looked up and saw an old friend who was a singer and was booked for that night to perform. She went up to her. The friend seemd angry about this establishment. She relayed a story about how she agreed to do this gig, but the last time she came here with her friends, the owner made them all pay for their drinks, so this time she refused to give them any business. She would play for them, but they all had their drinks before they arrived. Seemed strange to her, like you're going through with half of a vendetta, but it worked for the friend. Just then the restaurant hostess called her name on the loudspeaker. As she walked to greet her, her date had just walked in the front door.. Great timing. They greeted each other warmly and sat down. Somehow the topic of Americans and neurosis came up. The girl asked, 'Do you know about the great amount of mental illness that plagues this country? The majority of Americans have seen or are currently seeing a psychiatrist'.. The boy seemed very knowledgable in this, and replied, 'Yes, I know about all the cases where criminals get released by pleading insanity'.. She was impressed with his grasp of English as well as his following current affairs.. However, he missed her point. Ah, that may be more a gender difference than a cultural one. More material for the 'I hate dating' files. They discussed some stuff on training techniques, as they were both avid athletes. This was a good topic for them, neutral, no room for misinterpretion, and something tangible that they had in common. A little lull in the conversation, and the girl thought about how this boy was going to return to his relatives that evening. He didn't have a car, and she had a fear of driving up mountains in the dark, and that's exactly what she'd have to do to get him home. 'How are you going to get home?' she asked casually, though it's a tough question to sound casual about, expecially when you're only 30 minutes into the date. No matter, she thought it a good thing to know the answer to, especially since his uncle was still in the vicinity, and could therefore be of assistance here. 'That's what my uncle asked me', he said matter of factly. She laughed nervously. 'Are you worried about it?' He asked her. 'Well, no', she hedged, 'I just like to plan things'.. They both just sat there, him staring at her with a guilty look on his face, her looking down at her plate trying not to look worried. 'Are you worried? ' He asked her again, this time she conceded, 'Well, maybe a little'. 'Don't worry', he said confidently. 'But how will you get home?' she asked again. 'I'm not worried about it', he said defiantly. The girl thought to herself, 'Well then why should I?', but there were plenty of reasons for her to be alarmed by his lack of an end to this date. If he didn't have a ride home, and she wasn't going to drive him home, this date would never end! And she wasn't too fond of dating. It was then that she decided it might be a great idea to drink her entire martini, and that is what she did. She also decided that she truly was not going to worry about this strange turn of events in this date, and just have the best time that she could. They left the restaurant and drove to a spot where there would soon be a big fireworks display. She and her date walked around looking for a good spot for viewing. A corny band played songs from the '50's, and the fireworks begun. They were louder than she's ever remembered. She had to plug her ears with her fingers. A crazed-looking large man walked right over to her and started talking to her. 'Hey lady, wouldn't it be great if they didn't make so much noise? Then they wouldn't be firecrackers!' This guy seemed a few sandwiches short of a picnic, but the girl would never intentionally hurt anyone's feelings. She engaged in conversation with him. He talked about how he retired from playing music when he lost some of his hearing. He was standing too close to her, closer than the two foot comfort zone Americans require. He walked away and she was glad. She was enjoying standing with her date, watching fireworks, having a nice quiet moment where no worrying was happening. She had mentioned how she loved purple ones, and he kept pointing out all the purple ones to her as they went off. They didn't look purple to her, but she appreciated the gesture. Picnic man came back and again stood a few inches from her face. She didn't know what to do or say, but had the distinct feeling she wanted him gone. But she told herself this poor guy probably has no one in the world, and just needs a friend. So she asked him, 'Were you playing with the band?' to which he raised his voice, 'No, lady, didn't you hear me before?! I retired from music!' He looked really scary like he was going to hit her, and she felt embarassed that this stranger was yelling at her. It was so loud from the fireworks that no one else seemed to notice what was happening. She didn't like being yelled at, and yelled right back at him, 'No, I didn't hear you! Don't you remember that I had my fingers in my ears??' She started to walk away and her date followed her, and then in a sweet voice he said to the man, 'It was nice meeting you'.. What was so nice about it, she wondered? He then explained he had seen this man the night before, and knew he was crazy. The girl felt very strange, like she had over-reacted. But that guy was scary.. No, she acted appropriately, she decided. She and her date walked down some little side streets. He started asking her about why she'd never been married. This was always a topic of interest to foreigners. They think all women should be married by the age of 25. The girl was amused. Some young kids were loudly passing by, and the boy raised his hand to her face. 'Why did you do that?' she asked. 'To block your eyes, they were shining a lazer at you'.. 'Thanks', she said.
In the end the boy had called his aunt to pick him up. She had arrived and they exchanged some words, and then he walked her to her car. He gave her a little kiss on the cheek, and told her he'd like to see her again when he returned. She agreed that she would like that, and they went their separate ways. She drove home feeling pleased that everything worked out, and that she had overall had a nice evening. She marvelled at how difficult it was for her to just relax in the company of a stranger. A few hours went by, and as she played back the events of the evening, she decided this was a really nice guy. Maybe dating wasn't so horrible.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Love it or Hate it?

In the UK (and Australia) there is a very unique condiment that people form very strong opinions about. It's a dark brown, thick, vegetable spread called 'Marmite'.. It looks like molasses and tastes like syrupy bouillion cubes.. I kind of loved it for about a week.. It reminded me of a previous trip to England, and I found it very comforting spread (very thinly!) on a fresh slab of whole grain toast.. Then one day in haste for work, I made the fatal error of spreading it 1 mm too thick.. It was so offensive and salty and murky.. I had to take a little vacation from it.. Tonight, the evening before a 1/2 marathon race, I thought it might be a good idea to load up on that sodium, so I braved a tip of a teaspoon full.. And I actually felt more energetic (after gagging).. So I went to their website to see how much salt I was actually getting.. I clicked on the 'Marmite Hater' section to see how British advertising compares with American, and found this:

file:////Haters of Marmite, it's time to recoil! The spread you love to hate has just gotten worse... the monstrosity that is the new Marmite Squeeze Me.
Just when you started to forget its gruesome taste - it's back. This time it's in a plastic container, so no matter how hard you try to smash it against the wall - it keeps bouncing back. If only it would take the hint and go away..//

Friends, it's salty.. Good night, and good luck..