Archive for August 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010 ~ 8:00am ~ Sturtevant, WI
Results: 25:15; 6th out of 12 male 40-49 age division; 68th of 258 overall
Bounty to date: 22 bottles of water, 20 protein shakes, 20 bananas, 3 apples, 3 nutrition bars, 4 bottles of Gatorade, 4 containers of yogurt.
Check that time, Suckas! That’s right… I knocked almost a full minute off my best time!
I drove north of the border for a race for the first time this summer. I had to dig the name of this one, too: “Iron Horse” sounds badass (Sturtevant marks the intersection of the Western Union and Chicago, and Milwaukee and St. Paul railroads; there is a rich railroad history there dating back to 1872). I wasn’t so much interested in the history when I considered the race, though… the name got me to thinking about one of my all-time favorite prints from The Far Side wherein a few Indians are watching a steam train, and one turns to the group and asks, “Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Iron Horse?”
My time was completely unexpected because I had enough concerns going into the race to think that it wasn’t going to be my best: it was humid, I hadn’t slept well last night, I hadn’t had a day of rest since Tuesday this week, and it was going to be my last race before I go back to school. Would I run tough, or fade away into the school year when I won’t be as rested and fit as I am right now?
My pace was excellent, and I felt it from the start. I hit mile 1 in 8:01, mile 2 in 8:14, and mile 3 in 8:06; that last tenth of a mile (a 5K is 3.1 miles) took me 54 seconds. Having learned from my mistake in Palatine 2 weeks ago, I didn’t go for water. That made a big difference as far as me being able to maintain my breathing. But my pace! I don’t think I can run any faster than this without first losing another 15 pounds. And I actually got faster after mile 2, which is unusual for me. But I’ll take it.
There’s a lot to be said for finishing strong. Too many times I’ve straggled across the finish line. Not this morning. I reeled in 7 runners the last half mile, but couldn’t catch the one who reeled me in before that. I was completely gassed by the time I did finish, and because of the humidity I was still sweating for some time to follow. I am most likely going to be sore tomorrow.
This race makes me happy. All told, I’ve knocked off 2:11 from my run time since Mother’s Day, bested myself 6 times in 8 races this summer, and feel better about running than I have for years. It’s a good day. There’s more of this serial to come, too, though things will be different now that school is starting up. I have a twilight race scheduled over Labor Day, and know of several more throughout the fall. We’ll see how it goes.
continued from yesterday…
9:45pm – bottom of the 8th inning
Jeff Frazier cranks a homer over the left field wall. It’s enough to pull the Tigers within one run of the Rays and for us to hope we’ll be in for an exciting finish to what has been a pretty decent game.
10:05pm – top of the 9th inning
The Rays score two runs on four straight hits. The game is now out of the Tigers’ reach. They fall 6-3.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
12:30am – 15 miles east of Benton Harbor, MI
I think my Saturn can go 400 miles on the tank of gas we bought yesterday morning near New Buffalo. I’m not sure, but I’m interested in trying because I like to test limits. Joel isn’t as excited about this as I am. He suggests several places to stop and refuel. I ignore him.
The odometer reads 394 when a Michigan state trooper pulls us over. As he approaches the car, Joel quickly informs me, “He can’t search your car unless he has a warrant or if you give him permission. Don’t let him tell you he’s going to search it; he doesn’t have that right.”
The trooper taps on my window with his flashlight. I roll it down a few inches. He stoops, makes eye contact, and asks, “Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?”
“Do you know what the speed limit is?”
“What is it?”
“It’s 70. It’s not 91.” I don’t react. He’s waiting for me to comment or agree or apologize or I don’t know what. This is true to cop form when they nail you for speeding– they try to get you to incriminate yourself. He wants an angle or an excuse or something more that he can act on, but I don’t budge.
He takes my license and registration back to his car. I tell Joel I’m probably going to get a ticket since I’m out of state. Joel suggests that I roll my window down all the way because not doing so is disrespectful and is pissing off the cop. I don’t think the cop is particularly pissed; nor would I say he is happy. I don’t move the window.
The cop returns. “Have you guys been drinking tonight?” His tone of voice tells me he’s mastered what I suppose is a critical skill for a cop– making an accusation sound like a question.
“Roll your window down some more.” I roll it down more than half way. “Are you trying to hide something?” Again, an accusation.
“No. Nothing to hide.”
He hands me my license and registration. “Let’s slow it down.”
We stop six miles later and fill up. There was still a gallon and a half of gas in the tank. We could have gone 450. I smile and laugh, “I just got out of a huge speeding ticket!”
A flat smile breaks across Joel’s face. He shakes his head, turns the engine over, and we start the final leg of the trip.
Before we got pulled over, we had spent an hour and a half talking about relationships, responsibilities, missed opportunities, and rare but satisfying victories. Those conversations are half the purpose behind these trips; the other half is to experience the freedoms of life that sometimes fall in our laps. Our karma gets jacked up, and sometimes crazy good things happen. We’ll remember what we did as much as what we said within in the confines of my Saturn. This is how men do it; not with cosmos while watching Steel Magnolias or while sipping a latte at Starbucks after a day of shopping, but in the wee hours on a dark highway after we’ve gnawed off a big raw hunk of life, while our hands are grimy and the juices are still running down our chins.
3:15am – Gurnee, IL
I collapse on my bed, no worse for the wear of the day other than being extraordinarily tired. My cat nuzzles me and purrs. It’s nice to know I was missed.
The deed is done. Joel and I will still talk about this in ten years. He’ll add it to his list of obsessions, below the chili and Mars Cheese Castle—his cerebral experiences will never outrank the physical sensations of food in his mind. He’s a bit unusual, but a good friend. As for me, I can wrap up summer and head back to school confident that I scored a substantive last hurrah. Right now, I need sleep.
Monday, August 9, 2010
11:10am – New Buffalo, MI (approximately)
I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my silver 2002 Saturn SL. Joel Hutson is driving. We just switched places, and he’ll drive until we get to Detroit. Signage indicates we are 240 miles away and closing.
When Joel drives, he sits closer to the wheel than anybody I ever met. I’m not sure why. He sits straight up, too, but I do know why: He’s had back problems the last few years, and sitting like that helps his back. He looks rather intense as he’s driving, even though he’s pretty laid back right now.
I drove out of Libertyville this morning starting at 9am, until we hit Michigan and stopped to refuel. We’re heading to Detroit for the ballgame tonight, and we’ll head back to Chicago afterwards. It’s a ways to go to see a sub-.500 team (almost 700 miles round trip), but this is what you do when summer is packing in its tents in a mere two weeks and you’re heading back to school (in my case), or when your wife and daughter head to Minnesota to visit family for the week and you’re left with nothing to do but hit the gym and study for the GRE (in Joel’s case).
Joel is from Michigan and has never been to Comerica Park, even though he’s a lifelong Tigers fan. I’ve sold him on the idea that it is the best park in baseball, and we need to make the trip to see it. This will be my fourth time.
12:12pm – Comstock Township
Joel wants salsa with the chips we’ve opened and put on the dash. I can’t find a good place for the jar, so I tell him to put it between his legs. He hesitates, “Is the jar cold?”
“Why does it matter? Are you planning on having kids and you gotta keep your nuts within range of some mean temperature?”
He holds the jar in one hand and dips his chips with the other. As he drives. In the rain.
We’re listening to Feelin’ Alright: The Very Best of Traffic on the stereo. I’m lost in taking some notes on what we’re doing. A few songs play, and then Joel comments, “It’s always good to reach climax.” I look up from my journal and see him smirking. He points to a road sign, and I see that we’re passing the exit for Climax, MI. He’s amused with himself. I don’t feel anything.
It’s raining hard. I’m worried that the game might get rained out. I’ve been to over 75 baseball games and never had a rainout. I wonder if luck is catching up to me.
Joel and I used to work together. He used to teach Science at ZBTHS, where I’m still a Reading Specialist. We’ve been friends since 2004, at least. My first memory of our friendship is him showing up at the pub crawl I host. My second memory is the first time we went to a ballgame. The Brewers were hosting the Mariners. Ichiro went on to break George Sisler’s single-season hits record that year. It was easy to see how he did it: He laid down a bunt in the 7th inning, and was half way to first before the ball hit the ground.
I can’t remember how or why Joel and I became friends. My best guess is that when he started teaching, we got into a conversation about something; saw each other around school a bunch of times. Maybe we were with a bunch of other teachers for drinks after work and started palling around. Most of my work friendships start that way.
12:45pm – east of Battle Creek
We make a pit stop at a Love’s gas station / convenience store. I see a Lindt Black Currant chocolate bar, which I’ve never seen before. I buy it. It’s pretty damn good.
We’ll arrive in Detroit far ahead of the 7pm game time, which means we can walk around the stadium and Joel can take it all in. I keep telling him that he’s going to be stunned when he witnesses the awesomeness of Comerica. I guarantee it. We can also watch batting practice, which I haven’t done for I don’t know how long.
Each summer, Plan A is always to take in a good deal of ballgames in Milwaukee and Chicago. I usually manage 8-10, but those numbers have fallen since I’ve been saddled with a mortgage the last four years. Plan A is still in effect, but I’m feeling stale. I haven’t made it to Wrigley yet this year, and I may well not given how god-awful the Cubs are playing. I refuse to patronize the park, though if tickets happen my way, I’ll probably take them. As for Milwaukee, I’ve just burned out. They still have a hearbeat this season, but I’ve been to Miller Park five times already and need a change of pace. So why not coax one of my buds into making a roadtrip to Detroit? I call it Plan B.
Since we’ll get to Detroit so early, I think it will be a good idea to hit the casino. Some winnings might pay for our tickets and more. Otherwise, we’ll scalp some tickets. If the game is cancelled because of rain, we hope that tomorrow is a double-header. We’ll get a hotel room for tonight and go to both games tomorrow.
4:30pm – MGM Grand Casino, downtown Detroit
It takes me a half hour to lose $60 playing penny slots.
6:30pm – between Hockeytown Cafe and Comerica Park
I’ve done little more than aggravate most of the scalpers around the ballpark for the past ninety minutes. They’re looking for more tickets, and we’re looking for any tickets. We try to stay ahead of them as we walk around and see who has anything they want to get rid of. They keep soliciting me; I keep waving them off. One scalper offers us some super-cheap seats, “just so you’ll get outta my way,” he grumbles, but I refuse his deal when he changes his price as I reach for some cash. Eventually, we settle for a pair of cheap seats in the 300s.
7:30pm – section 337, row 12, seats 3 and 4, Comerica Park
Joel just finished an entire 14” cheese pizza, minus one piece I ate. I am never short of amazed at how dude can pack away the food. I had to tempt him to even try the chocolate—“I don’t eat sweets”—but he inhales an entire pizza?
It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed Joel’s power-eating skills. If you ever make it to my Casmir Pulaski Memorial Poker Game, be sure you eat some chili first thing, because once Joel starts on it, it will be disappear like water down a drain. A few years ago, Joel busted early in one round and went for some food. When I walked into the kitchen a little later, he was licking chili off the insides of the crock pot. He looked up when he heard me enter. His eyes were glazed. Bits of tomato and onion were stuck to his face. Beef juice ran down his neck. I told him I had a snorkel he could use if he thought it would help him.
Since then, he has never stopped obsessing about that chili. His wife says he brings it up at least every week. His other obsessions include Mars Cheese Castle and digging up dinosaur bones. You might say he’s a bit unusual, but that doesn’t get in the way of him being a good friend.
What continues to amaze me about Joel is that he is the most physically fit person I know– he’s 5’9”, 150 lbs, and has a chiseled six pack; even the most hulking muscle heads at the gym eye him with envy. He still wears clothes he bought when he was in high school. Yet he inhales food in a way that most of us would regret if we tried it.
It’s time to blow out another cybercandle! Two year ago today, I sat in Scott Webb’s basement garage in Nashville and got this blog rolling. Some quick numbers:
– this is the 143rd posting on The Seeker; something is posted every 5 days on average
– The Seeker has hosted 6 different guest bloggers
– since moving to WordPress on April 17 of this year, The Seeker has been viewed 906 times (Blogspot stats unavailable); the single-day record for viewings is 53 on July 15 when Disembarkation Blues debuted
– 10 people currently subscribe to The Seeker by email
It’s been a great year for The Seeker; it has included some of my best blogging to date and a significant move. The move came in April when I switched over to WordPress. Blogspot had grown stale to me, and there were things I wanted to do that were just too hard to do on Blogspot, like import custom graphics and post audio clips. It has also been a lot easier to post comments since the move, so commenting on the blog has shot up quite a bit. WordPress has proven more flexible with editing, as well, and I think the overall design is more professional. An unlimited number of readers can also subscribe to the blog and get it on email, which I see as a great option.
As far as quality of writing, I think I hit my peak here last October when I started Cheating On My Girlfriend, which bled out to a total of 17 episodes over the course of 5 weeks. I found a legitimate excuse to serialize my writing to include my love of baseball, and was able to find an angle with my frustrations with dating and relationships. Along the way, I tied in a few other things and even found a way to include parts of an old piece of writing that I still hold close to my heart. I looked forward to blogging for the entire month, and thought that the my content improved in direct proportion to how candid I was about “personal things” (a few friends called a TMI on me– too much information; but only a minor TMI). If nothing else, the title of the serial got people to tune in at the start.
I vowed last year at this time to write more about teaching. I accomplished that, but not by a great stretch. More than anything, I talked about how certain issues affect my job (Big Ben, et al), or I talked about how my teaching influences my writing. There are plenty of things to write about in regard to teaching, but still, at the end of most days I welcome the chance to focus my attention away from my job.
And speaking of writing… this remains, overall, a metacognitive journal about writing. My mid-winter serial about writing fiction was a great aid to my actual writing of fiction, and turned out to be the most metacognition I did about writing since Thesis Blues. It was a great benefit as I felt my way around in the darkness that to me is fiction. But as you can tell, the blog is not just about thinking about what I’m thinking about as I write. Baseball is still a frequent topic here, as is running, and I was able to branch out to new genres– poetry, fiction, and music all debuted on The Seeker this year. I have welcomed the diversity of content, and can’t think of any reason why it shouldn’t continue as I find ways to include different types of writing.
So what does the future of The Seeker look like? Mainly, more serials. I’m always trying to find things that I can split into episodes, though I’m aware that not everything makes a good serial (thank god Carlos Zambrano melted down early this year… I would have gotten tired of writing about him twice a week, and I don’t think many people were too excited about the few episodes I did write). I want to take on more guest bloggers (drop me a line!), and I want to get back to writing about movies more often– that notion has taken a backseat somewhere along the way. Also, I want to write more lists. They’re a ton of fun to work on, and I should write more– the two most-viewed blogs on The Seeker have been lists! (Six Reasons Why Men Love Dirty Harry, and the aforementioned Disembarkation Blues)
Finally, thanks for reading. I’m grateful to have an audience. Many of you have no idea how much you inspire my writing.
Sunday, August 8, 2010 ~ 7:30am ~ Palatine, IL
Results: 26:11; 11th out of 36 male 40-49 age division; 90th of 630 overall
Bounty to date: 14 bottles of water, 20 protein shakes, 12 bananas, 3 apples, 3 nutrition bars, 4 bottles of Gatorade.
This one was a perfect storm of circumstances: I was well-rested (haven’t raced for 3 weeks, slept real well last night), well-hydrated, and the weather was perfect for a run. It was 71 and overcast when the gun went off; there was a bit of a breeze most of the race. If there was ever going to be a chance to improve my time from July 3, this was it.
I felt outstanding the first mile. I knew I had set a strong pace, my breathing was deep and steady (if a bit more accelerated than normal), and I was in a good spot in the pack overall. There were no mile splits on the course, so I don’t know how fast I was at the mile mark or any mark thereafter, but I felt fast. I wasn’t familiar with the course, and was kinda out of it as far as where I was for the last 1/2 of the race until I turned onto the 1/4 mile home stretch.
I kicked my pace up a bit once I saw the finish line, having targeted 3 people I wanted to catch. I caught them, then thought I could coast. A guy came barrelling up behind me, and thankfully I heard him before he passed me. We sprinted all-out for about 2 blocks until he faded at the end. I ended up finishing 2 seconds faster than my record from July 3, which was also set in Palatine.
This was an outstanding race overall. The only mistake I think I made was going for water after the first mile mark. I didn’t necessarily need water , and stopping for 2-3 seconds to take a gulp wrecked my pace. I couldn’t seem to recapture it after that, though I ran strong enough to sprint hard at the end and break my record, even if by 2 seconds.
This race was the best-organized one I’ve run all summer. They had everything runners love: a solid t-shirt, a goody bag overflowing with more stuff than you could want (I have enough gum to last me the rest of summer), a huge crowd, post-race massages, solid competition, and a post-race party and free breakfast at a local brewpub. I’m glad I responded with my best race of the summer, and that I bounced back from the Vernon Hills mess.
I look forward to summer as a time to catch up on films I’ve missed or otherwise have been meaning to watch. This summer, I’ve been motivated to watch new stuff and explore in ways I usually wouldn’t courtesy of the 99¢ rentals on iTunes; they’ve come up with a some gems that I’ve enjoyed. As I thought about them recently, I realized that a few have been the first films from reputable directors. This started with Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972). Subsequently, I watched John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)and Richard Linklater’s Slacker.
I can’t say that I particularly liked Linklater’s attempt, though I’m definitely in the minority as far as devotees of the cult classic are concerned. I grew tired of the disjointed, monologue-driven nature of the film. Some of it was funny, some of it annoying, and some of it little more than a clever conceit on Linklater’s part. It brought to mind something more along the lines of a Robert Altman film. Research showed that the film claimed some reputable awards, including the Grand Jury prize (drama) at Sundance. Besides which, the film is the cornerstone in the slacker movement. Maybe my misgivings about it stem from my job, where I see all too many unmotivated lazybones filter through my classes and the hallways on a daily basis, many convinced convince of their own wisdom. I’ve heard the monologues and processed the misinformation and shallow understandings that usually accompany them, so much of what the characters spewed in the film felt stale. Despite that, it’s easy to see that the director is establishing his style and using a very naturalistic approach. Most directors would try harder to leave an impression, but in this case less is more. It’s fairest to say that I appreciated the craft here, but not the content. It doesn’t matter who thought what about the film, though, because ultimately Linklater used it to establish his name. He followed up with other films that were successful and acclaimed, if derivative (his best-known effort, Dazed and Confused, feels like a remake of American Grafitti shot with an overly shiny and gleaming film stock, making the take on the 70s high school experience little more than nostalgic).
It’s interesting that my other two selections came from directors who both went on to become masters of the horror genre. Wes Craven scored big with the Nightmare on Elm Street films in the mid-1980s, shortly after John Carpenter had scored with the Halloween films. The original films in each series are considered landmarks of horror, and justifiably so. What I loved about their first attempts, though, was all they were able to do with small budgets, tight studio riens, and no-name actors, all while tailoring their own scripts, editing, producing, and doing various and sundry other production tasks (Carpenter frequently scored his own films; he came up with the eerie piano riffs from Halloween).
When he set off to make Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter originally had in mind a remake of the Howard Hawkes / John Wayne classic Rio Lobo mashed up with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Both are pretty heady targets, but what’s the harm in aiming so high when you’re trying to establish your name? Something must have gone right; not only has Assault gone on to claim a spot as a cult classic, but it was remade in 2005. Whatever else went right was enough to establish Carpenter’s name and allow him enough latitude to follow up with the genre-busting Halloween. That in turn ignited a hot streak in which he directed Escape From New York, The Fog, Halloween II, and The Thing within the next five years, each of which lives on as an exemplar in its genre or as a cult classic.
The real gem amongst these first films, though, has been Last House on the Left. It’s not been far from my mind since I watched it. Craven managed to not only score a classic horror film using the mere trappings of human psychology, but one that got banned in England because of its vile content. In the end, he made some excellent commentary on the stratas of American society and the war in Viet Nam. In the last sense, it’s not much different than John Boorman’s Deliverance, but that LHOTL was less conciliatory with its violence than Boorman’s vision of James Dickey’s book. Both films were released in 1972; Deliverance went on to be acclaimed by the Nation Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” LHOTL went on to be heavily edited and fingered as an example of what is wrong with horror and why films in that genre are rarely taken seriously. But I’ve said before in these pages that horror and science fiction work best when they get away from the philosophy of “look at these cool effects” and stick closer to making substantial social commentary. Craven has commentary in spades in his film, but you have to look beyond the lesbian rape scene, disembowelment, recreational drug use, torture, suicide, fellatio, the lampooning of The Establishment (the police, and thus the military-industrial complex), and ultimately, the shoving of a chainsaw into the gut of the film’s antagonist (by comparison, this makes the infamous sodomy scene in Deliverance appear minor-league). But LHOTL isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Craven tips his hand toward satire, mostly through the hyperbolic violence and his use of counterpoint with some of the upbeat folksy music he uses throughout the film. In short, Craven says that we need only look at ourselves and our respected upper classes to see horror and savagery; our social and intellectual elite are every bit as capable of horrors against humankind as the “savages” in the jungles of Viet Nam.
But I didn’t watch these films for the sake of watching any old movie. I knew each film was reputable in some way, and that’s what captured my attention when they appeared in the iTunes bargain bin. As I often do, I look at other artists in other mediums as a means by which to explore my own efforts with writing. These three films reminded me how important it is to be ambitious and unafraid to imitate; besides which you’ve got to be innovative or outrageous (or both) to establish your name as an artist. These films got me to thinking, too, about why we seem to be better as artists depending on how hungry we are. Carpenter and Craven had their heydays, but their visions seemed to wane the further they got into the studio system and the more money they had at their disposal. Is there a correlation between comfort and cash and the quality of your art? A professor of mine once advised the class that as writers, you’re best bet is to keep your feet on the ground. That’s where the best stories can be found, and that’s where you’ll do your best work. I agree.