His Finest Hour

My Dad was a man of few words.  Despite having read thousands of books and having written hundreds of pieces of correspondence (in addition to keeping a journal for over thirty years), he kept his speaking to a minimum.  Perhaps it was because of all of his reading and writing that he developed an economy for words.  When I was growing up, a lot of his talking, that I remember, occurred when he’d fall asleep on the couch after dinner and he’d begin a somnioquoy about people and things at work.  Being good and respectful children, we’d inevitably start making fun of him and try to wake him up, asking, “Who’s Randy?”  More than that, Dad’s words were almost never foul.  Not to say he never cussed, but it was a nearly unique experience that he cussed at home.  I can probably count on one hand how many times I ever heard him utter “shit” or “damn.”  I never heard him use the Queen Mother Of All Dirty Words.  The words he used were almost always well chosen and articulate.

When it came to our schooling, Dad spoke even less.  I don’t remember him ever going to any parent/teacher conferences, much less getting involved in our homework.  Neither of these things are a knock on Dad, per se, he took his role as breadwinner for a family of twelve kids very seriously but generally left school matters to Mom (which she obliged) as part of their separation of duties.  It was because of an incident at school, involving me, however, that led not only to him going full-on into school business but also into him uttering the greatest nine words I ever heard emerge from his mouth:

“I’m going to have her ass on a plate!”

It was my eighth grade year at St. Martha School in Louisville.  I was, by and large, an underachieving student.  I did pretty well in most of my classes (Reading, Spelling, Civics, Science) without having to really try, but Math was not my friend (and wouldn’t be for several more years when I discovered that you really do use the stuff in real life).  Art and music were easy and generally involved staying awake in order to score the much-sought-after “OP.”*  At this particular time, music class actually was a little more involved than usual.  We were in the early stages of readying ourselves for the school play, a musical version of Alice In Wonderland.  I was excited, probably the most excited I ever was in all of eighth grade, because I really, really liked Alice’s surreal adventures down the rabbit hole and through the mirror.

I need to backtrack for a second and tell you about our music teacher, Mrs. Byrd.  St. Martha was a middle-class, mostly white, suburban Catholic parish in Louisville, and the associated school was made up of middle-class, mostly white kids who grew up in the suburbs.  Mrs. Byrd was the antithesis of this.  She was a black woman who had grown up in the South (the real South, not Louisville “south”)and a, gasp, Baptist!  Whether it was mostly perceived or reality, culturally, she was worlds away from her students.  She single-handedly introduced bongo drums and a rollicking piano into our weekly school Masses, dispensing with the traditional organ notes.  She brought the kids of St. Martha from traditional, pre-Vatican II hymns to, essentially, rock music anthems for songs at Mass.  Ask any alum from the time about the “Our Father” or “Ho-oh-oly” and they will be able to immediately pick up up and start singing (and bongoing).  Guaranteed.  Back to Mrs. Byrd, it’s possible (and trust me, I’m stretching here, even thirty years later) that her non-white, non-suburban, non-Catholic background is what led to a such a glorious, er, misunderstanding.

So….  Alice in Wonderland:  Love it.  Even then, it was one of my favorite books and Disney movies.  The absurdity of it all never gets old.  And it’s a nice and fitting coincidence that it relates to this particular episode in my life.

In preparation for performing the play, we watched the movie as well as read the script or excerpts from the book in music class.  Afterwards, we were asked to complete a worksheet where we were asked to describe some of the characters.  In addition to Alice, White Rabbit, and Mad Hatter, the worksheet also delved into some of the minor characters from the stories within the story, notably, the Walrus, the Carpenter, and the Oysters.**  Like I said, I was excited that this was going to be our play, so I wanted to show my excitement (and demonstrate how I really was paying attention in class), so I completed my worksheet with some simple, straightforward, and accurate answers:

  • OYSTERS–suckers
  • CARPENTER–sucker
  • WALRUS–P.T. Barnum

In my mind, I had aced this assignment.  I had blown it out of the water with my direct answers, as well as throwing in the P.T. Barnum name-drop for good measure, demonstrating a cultural reference to go along with my first two.  I was sure I had nailed it, and I couldn’t wait for Mrs. Byrd to see how truly engaged I was in the assignment and the upcoming theatrical extravaganza.

My pride and excitement lasted all the way through to our next music class, where I received my paper back.

Covered in angry red ink.

And violent circles.

And accusatory question marks.

And, in a breach of protocol, a damning F.

Somehow, something had gone horribly wrong.

And I was being accused of making crude sexual references on my worksheet.

Shocked, I walked home in a daze and showed Mom my paper, as well as the note sent home with it for parental signature.  I couldn’t believe it.  Mrs. Byrd, who had also contacted and received agreement from our first-year principal, Sister Johnette, believed that I was making a mockery of the assignment, saying that said Messrs. Carpenter and Oysters “sucked.”  I was devastated.  Mom didn’t doubt my sincerity for a second.  My tear-filled eyes told her I was telling the truth.  She sent me along to do my homework and chores, although I probably just spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in my room, wondering how Mrs. Byrd and Sister Johnette could have misinterpreted my answers.  And my thoughts were also on how Dad would react.  Just because Mom (rightfully) believed me and I was sure that she’d be the one to sign the paper and send it back to school and that she’d be certain I’d try to choose my words more carefully, even if I was right, there was a part of me that was worried, scared, of his reaction.  Writing dirty words, or words that could be construed as dirty, might just be an egregious enough offense that he’d cross over into the realm of school matters and threaten to punish me.

I don’t remember him getting home that night. Or what dinner was.  But I do know that there would be no dreams of Randy that evening.  Mom must have given him the background info, and pleaded my innocence in the matter.  From there, I think, he retreated up to their bedroom, and to one of three corded telephones in the house and called Sister Johnette.  Afterwards, he came downstairs, calmly irate, and asked me what happened.  I explained it to him honestly:  the Carpenter and the Oysters were suckers, fools.  They were tricked by the Walrus.  In the case of the Carpenter, it led to his hunger, for the Oysters, their demise.  The Walrus, I continued, was proving the P.T. Barnum axiom that “there’s a sucker born every minute.”  That was it.  Nothing subversive or obscene intended (that hadn’t even entered my mind until the whole controversy started).  The more I explained, earnestly, my thoughts, Dad became more and more angry.  Sister Johnette had told Dad that she and Mrs. Byrd were convinced that I was deeply involved in a insubordinate and offensive conspiracy (I, apparently, wasn’t the only one who thought the characters were “suckers”).  After grilling me under a bare lightbulb (or so it seemed) for an eternity, Dad was  fuming.  Yeah, his boy was being railroaded by a witch-hunting nun and a Baptist.  And he wasn’t going to let it go by the wayside.  And that’s when it happened.  The glorious phrase.  You could almost hear Ride Of The Valkyries in the background.  Dad was going to call Sister Johnette back.  He was going to let this nun know exactly what he thought of her and her accusations.

“I’m going to have her ass on a plate!”

This time, Dad didn’t go upstairs to use the phone, he used the one in the kitchen, where all of us could listen and admire this soft-spoken, smallish man tear into this Tipper Gore precusor.  “Sucker!  What’s a sucker?  Look in the thesaurus!  Sucker!  Patsy!  Chump!  Oh!  Schmuck!  That’s a Jewish word for penis!”

It.  Was.  Glorious.

All of us who were at home were in awe.  Ears and eyes wide open.  Up on our knees and leaning over the back of the couch toward the kitchen.  Hanging on every word.  The man who rarely uttered more than three words at a time was firing off a tirade for the ages.  The phone call went on, but by the time Mom heard talk of Jewish penises, she’d had enough and sent everybody off to finish their chores and to get ready for bed.  The entire household was electric.  I was stunned.  My heart was racing and my pride in Dad had never been stronger.  This was his moment.  This was his finest hour.

The next day at school, Sister Johnette and Mrs. Byrd called me out into the hallway.  They said they hoped I understood how they could have misinterpreted what I had written.  Smugly, I responded, “yeah.”  In my mind I added, “because the two of you are complete dumbasses.”  They didn’t apologize, a point that didn’t sit too well with Dad when I reported home to him that evening.  Still, he had made his point and Sister Johnette learned not to mess with Bob Barnett.  For my part, I learned that teachers weren’t always right, and it was okay to stand up to them when they are wrong.  And I learned that Dad, even though he’d rarely say it, had my back.

And in the end, I got the part of the March Hare in our production of Alice In Wonderland.  And life was just beginning to become curiouser and curiouser.

*Our grading scale at the time, no doubt in an effort to not hurt feelings was based on three marks:  OP (Outstanding Progress), EP (Expected Progress), and LP (Little Progress).  Mom despised these, seeing them as arbitrary.  For example, a kid that was cruising along and would ordinarily receive an A or B might, theoretically, receive the same OP as a kid who had struggled from F to low-C.  Or, that same A or B kid should, theoretically, receive an EP, because they were keeping up and doing their work.  I’m pretty sure they ditched that grading scale not long after.

**If you haven’t read Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, and don’t know who these characters are, shame on you.  Read that (or at least Google it, for crying out loud) and then come back here.

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To All The Gear I’ve Loved Before

As a runner, I’ve gone through lots of different shoes (though not as many as a lot of my fellow runners).  In my pre-running days, yeah, I owned some “running shoes” and even actually ran in some of them (in the few token 5k’s I did through the years).  Since 2004, though, I’ve been buying shoes that are dedicated to running (at least for a time).  Most I’ve liked, a few I’ve loved, and one I’ve basically hated.  Here are all of those shoes, with approximately how much I paid for them.

Asics Cumulus (around $40)—I bought these when I started training in earnest for my first marathon.  I remember buying them at Kohl’s.  I had no idea what I was doing:  I’d only ever bought shoes based on comfort alone.  Terms like “neutral cushioned” and “stability” were a foreign language.  I t was between these and a pair of Avia’s, and although I thought those were a little softer, I worried about their durability.  As it turned out, the Asics did pretty well for me:  they held up through all of my training and my marathon and the scattered runs I did during my marathon hangover.  When I finally got around to replacing them, they enjoyed a fruitful retirement as yard shoes and paint shoes.

Asics 2130 (around $80)—My first foray into the “big time” of shoes.  When I rededicated myself to running and my Cumulus (Cumuli?) were starting to show their age, I did some research (primarily through Runner’s World, but also online) and settled on this shoe.  When I bought them at Runners Plus, I also entered the “big time” of socks when I bought my first pair of Wigwam Ironman no-shows.  The shoes and socks were a great match for one another and they remain one of my favorite pair of running shoes (and I still wear the socks around, even though their functionality for “running” is pretty much gone.  These shoes, too, enjoyed a wear-around shoe/yard shoe retirement.

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus (around $100)—After I loved my 2130’s so much, why I ever wanted to try something different is a mystery to me now, but back then, it seemed like the thing to do.  I went to Runners Plus, again, and explained my thinking and asked for help in picking some new shoes.  I remember trying on several pair (including some Mizuno’s) but decided on this pair because they had more cushioning around my ankles.  I’ve been paranoid (sometimes rightfully so) about my right ankle, in particular, since I broke it when I was in high school and it’s been susceptible to twists and sprains ever since.  I don’t remember a time when I’ve ever been a fan of Nike, but I loved the way these shoes fit in the store and for the first several runs I took in them.  After that, I really started to hate them.  They started hurting the top of my feet and I had to constantly readjust the laces.  Even though these shoes saw me through my best season of racing, these remain my least favorite running shoes.  I couldn’t wait to turn these into yard shoes.

Asics 1150 (around $70)—After my failed Nike experiment, I returned to Asics and attempted to do so on a tighter budget.  Instead of the contemporary 2150, which were priced around $100, I opted for the lower-tier 1150 which were priced around $30 less.  This was also an experiment for me in that I bought them online, without having tried them on before (from Zappo’s).  Overall, they were a decent pair of shoes.  They seemed to lose their padding sooner than some of my previous pairs, but my biggest mistake in not trying them on ahead of ordering them online was that I bought a pair half a size too small (and, yeah, it’s my fault for not returning them and ordering the right size).  A decent pair of yard shoes.

Mizuno Wave Precision 11 (around $100)—To date, my favorite pair of shoes.  I first learned about them via a review in Runner’s World and I was intrigued:  the weight of a racing shoe with the support of an everyday trainer.  Plus, they were white with really cool blue and neon yellow trim.  I continued my research and shopping of these for several months before I bit the bullet and dropped down a C-note for them at Runners Plus.  They have been worth every penny.  Instantly comfortable, ridiculously light, and enough support to ease my ankle paranoia.  Great shoes.  I wore them for well over two years before I retired them from active duty, but since retirement, they’ve been called into service (and performed admirably) when I’ve forgotten to bring my current shoes to the YMCA.  Now my every day wear-arounds.

Mizuno Wave Precision 13 (around $5)—So enamored I was with my Wave Precision 11’s that I knew my next pair of shoes had to be their successor, the Wave Precision 12.  Again, I shopped around a lot and did my due diligence in researching them, even trying on a pair at Runners Plus.  I loved the fit and the lightness and I loved the color:  neon yellow with neon green and black trim.  Yowza!  Sadly (or maybe fortuitously), Runners Plus only had the white version in my size, so I took a pass on buying them, checking back with the store to see if they got any neon ones in.  It was during this waiting and checking period that I discovered I’d won a $100 gift card from Body Glide for a Facebook contest that I didn’t even know I’d entered.  When I went to activate the card, I discovered that the balance had been whittled down to around $80 due to non-usage fees or some other bullshit.  Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, I really didn’t care: eighty bucks is a lot more than zero.  I immediately knew what I wanted to do with it, so I went about some online price comparing and found a pair of neon, size 8 Precision 12’s on clearance for, I think, $80.  I jumped on the deal and used my gift card, but had to pay the balance of the shipping and tax with my own money.  Five dollars for a pair of shoes with an MSRP of $100?  Sweet.  While they don’t have quite the same magic as my Precision 11’s, I still really like these shoes and they have served me well over most of this past year.  Sadly, Mizuno has discontinued the Precision series, so I don’t know where I’ll go next.

Sometimes, I’ve wanted to get muddy, though….

Adidas Trail Shoes (around $40)—I can’t remember exactly what model these were, but they were some non-descript, entry level Adidas.  About two years into my running, I started to overcome my ankle paranoia that had kept me from running trails.  For my first few trail races, I wore whatever my older pair of road shoes were and, overall, they did okay.  I decided though, as I started to like trail running more and more, I should probably get a “real” pair of trail shoes.  While not actively “shopping” for a pair, I found these on the clearance rack at DSW.  A little heavier than my road shoes (I think I was still wearing my Asics 1150’s at the time), but they offered more grip and support than what I was used to when training and racing off-road.  They did start to fall apart relatively quickly (blew a hole in the top near the outside and the soles started to peel away), but I was able to still use them for yard shoes for another year.

New Balance 520 (around $35)—Another pair I found at DSW.  Completely disregarding my ankle paranoia, I bought these minimal shoes mostly as an experiment, but also because the price was right.  I was really surprised how much I liked these shoes.  They performed great on the trail and, due to their minimal nature, gave me a great feel for the off-road.  I wore these for several trail races and runs plus they were on my feet when I ran the Tough Mudder in the fall of 2012.  My only criticism of them is that they tend to be slick on smooth surfaces (sometimes on the road, a lot more often on linoleum floors).  This summer, they’ve been my wear-arounds of choice.

New Balance Minimus (around $55)—One afternoon earlier this year, I was shopping and killing time with my younger son and we stopped by Runners Plus during their annual 50% off sale.  We went in and I was looking around for anything that looked interesting and available in size 8.  I took the opportunity to try on a few pairs of toe shoes (which, like I was afraid I would, I hated) and some other trail and road shoes when I saw this pair in my size at the bottom of a stack of shoes.  I pulled them out and tried them on.  Wow.  They were even more form fitting and comfortable than my 520’s.  Looking down at my feet, they looked kind of weird (made me look like I was pigeon toed), but they fit so well and at half-off their $110 price tag, I couldn’t turn them down.  I experimented with them a few times on the treadmill and with socks on and I was a little worried.  The initial fit I felt in the store was lacking and my legs seemed to tire quickly.  That all changed when I pulled off the socks and hit the trails.  From that point on, they performed even better than any of my previous trail shoes and some of my road shoes.  Since I’ve had them and learned to love them, I’ve run with them on trails, on the beach, and in last weekend’s Mud Ninja.  Each time, they’ve answered the bell (and they’ve cleaned up pretty good afterwards).

Enter: The Mud Ninja

ninja

This past Saturday, I successfully added another obstacle course completion to my resume with the Mud Ninja.  Located on a farm in south central Ohio (about twenty miles west of Chillicothe), Mud Ninja advertises itself as an “Extreme Challenge” and “5K of Insane Muddy Fun.”  For me, personally, the second tagline was more appropriate, but it was still a really good challenge that left me very tired and VERY sore.  This year was the (I believe) third year for the event.

I first heard about it from a friend of ours who was preparing for the 2012 running (I think the inaugural event), while I was preparing (sort of) for the Tough Mudder.  Her description of its billing and the fact that it was really inexpensive (around $25, thanks to a Groupon) made it very tempting for me, but with a big question about my calendar for that weekend, I had to pass.  Afterwards, she told me how great a time she had and, after I completed Tough Mudder later that fall, we were able to trade stories and compare notes.  Last year, my wife was able to convince her sister and some of her friends to take it on.  They trained for about three or four months leading up to it, and made it through: with lots of scrapes and bruises, one injured back, but still with enough excitement to want to try it again this year.  As my wife regaled me with her adventures in mud, there was one particular anecdote that instantly had me wanting to take part in this year’s event.  One of the obstacles involves springboarding onto a cargo net, which needs to be climbed to reach an elevated platform.  If you miss the cargo net, you will fall into waist-deep muddy water.  Neither my wife nor any of her teammates reached the cargo net and they were also unable to pull themselves out of the water with ropes that hung below the cargo net.  One of the girls, my nephew’s girlfriend, completely missed the cargo net and ended up getting completely submerged, catching a big mouthful of the stinky, mucky water on the way.  After gathering themselves back together, they began jogging off toward the next obstacle.  They didn’t get far before they all stopped to watch the girl who had gone under doubled over and puking mud!  As soon as I heard this, my eyes widened and I said, “That is totally badass!  I’ve got to do it next year!”

Another Groupon email back in November led us to register and despite our team being in some serious flux in the weeks and days before the event, my wife, two of her friends, and I headed east yesterday morning to try to conquer the Mud Ninja.  After we arrived, and not really knowing what to expect myself, my wife and one of her friends (who had competed last year as well) surveyed the visible obstacles and recounted how hard they had been before.  They also noticed that it seemed a lot more crowded than last year.  A probable reason for this is that while the 2012 debut was a one-day event, it was expanded to both Saturday and Sunday last year, before contracting back to Saturday only this year (my wife and her peeps participated on Sunday).  Last year’s race dates were also pretty rainy, and at least one obstacle was shut down from early Saturday morning on because it was becoming too dangerous.  This year, the weather was fantastic:  sunny, temperature probably in the mid-60’s early before rising into the low/mid 80’s by afternoon.  Check-in was pretty straightforward.  An emailed “ticket” and a signed waiver were all that were needed.  A bib number was given out that had absolutely no connection to the participant, other than to identify them to the photographers and as a receipt for the baggage drop.  No personal/medical information was included.   The baggage drop was also pretty easy.  Each participant was asked to write their bib number on themselves with a Sharpie and then attach the bottom of said bib to their bag to act as a claim ticket (and beer ticket!) before placing bags in a barn (remember, this is on a farm).  The only disappointment of the whole check-in process was that the t-shirts were a disappointment.  I don’t really care that it was a white T and not a technical shirt.  I don’t even care too much that it was a one-color printing.  I do care that it was the exact same shirt as the one from last year’s event, with not even a year listed.  After registering and dropping our bags, we started surveying the course.  The bulk of the obstacles were visible from the registration/starting/after-party area in a huge, open field.  This was a pretty neat feature, actually.  The (what would be) the final ups-and-downs over hills and into the mud were right next to the check-in, and the aforementioned, diabolical springboard/cargo net combo was also immediately visible (and bordered by the starting corral).  Also visible, and notable, was a giant wall climb, a half-buried sheet metal tube with a water slide on half of it. My newbie teammate and I were getting excited.  My wife and her Mud Ninja veteran friend were feeling dread.  In the end, all four of us had a great dose of good, muddy fun.

The race (?) began with a jog/walk through the meadow and into some woods, where the first obstacle an up and over “ladder climb” awaited.  A pretty innocuous start, and certainly no mud involved, but a good way to stretch out and get the blood flowing.  After that, we headed deeper into the woods and toward the first of many mud obstacles: a stinky, clay filled, mud pit.  My wife and her friend began comparing it already to last year’s course:  much longer stretches of ascending and descending hills through the woods.  They also commented that the hills were much easier to manage (dry weather will do that for you).  I was comparing it, both vocally and in my mind, to the Tough Mudder course I faced in Maysville, KY a year and a half ago.  The hills were shorter, but still not a cinch to tame.  Had I been alone, I would have tried to run this portion of the course:  it alone would have made for a great trail race.  I confess, most of the obstacles in this portion of the course were pretty unremarkable.  Some logs that needed climbed over, some hill climbs with (and without) ropes.  My bib number took some damage:  I was down to it being held on by one safety pin after about the third obstacle.

The real fun started when we re-entered the meadow.  I honestly can’t remember the exact order of a lot of the obstacles, but this is where the course really hit pay dirt, er, mud.  One of obstacles, the “Shaky Shimmy”  has you shimmying upside down on a rope over, well, mud.  A good obstacle, to be sure, and one that made me ditch my mud-covered gloves in favor of better, natural grip from my own skin.  Following this was a leap into a muddy pit of wildly varying depths from which you had to climb out of with knotted ropes.  A lot harder than what it seems, largely because people trying to use the ropes were having a really hard time of it, which left you waiting, sinking in the mud.  Immediately following was an obstacle where you had to straddle a pair of nylon tie-downs to cross a pool of water.  I think it was about then that I realized the only thing left of my bib number was one, lone safety pin.  The “Gorilla Bars” were another highlight, and the one I’m most impressed with myself for completing: parallel sets of two by fours are set up longways over another pool of muddy water.  Another obstacle that I had a lot of fun with was the wall climb.  To me, obstacles like it exemplify the best of events like this:  it would be virtually impossible to complete this event without any help.  Before going over the wall ourselves, we boosted our teammates and some others up into the arms of some guys that were at the top, and helping them over.  After we got a boost up, we stayed at the top and helped others over, including some guy that was probably 250lbs of solid muscle!  I felt so macho….  From that, we headed to the corrugated metal tube that we’d seen from the start, which has to be climbed (again, assistance is almost mandatory) and then a waterslide waits on the other side, dumping into a pool.  The cargo net monstrosity was next.  It’s probably the signature obstacle for Mud Ninja and a stout challenge, the only obstacle I failed on.  When we arrived, we kind of looked at the position of each of the six or so springboards and tried to determine which one was sitting highest up and with the best and easiest access to the cargo net.  I chose one toward the middle and ran toward the board.  I jumped onto the board and launched myself toward the net, amazing myself a little that I actually grabbed hold.  I tried to pull myself up, first with my arms only, then by trying to get a foothold onto one of the knots on the adjacent rope.  It was here, and only here, that my footwear decision didn’t work out so well.  I was wearing my New Balance Minimus shoes and with their form fit across the arch, I couldn’t get my feet to grab so I could lift up.  I tried and failed several times, before I turned to my teammate (who had already bailed into the water below) and said, “I can’t do it. I’m coming in,” dropping down into the water, only to be forced to pull myself onto a heavily padded piece of artificial turf.  My wife and her friend congratulated me on the effort, and, eh, giving it a good try was good enough for me on this day.

Next (I think), we headed back out of the meadow for another series of hill climbs/descents and a tunnel crawl named the “Midnight Snake Bite” featuring (and the volunteers insisted they were) fake, rubber snakes throughout.  This was probably the hardest obstacle on my knees and elbows because the depth of the tunnel varied quite a bit and there were a lot of exposed rocks in the mud.  After climbing out of this one, it was off to another down and up, this time the uphill was through a web of ankle and knee high bungee cords and back to the meadow where the the finish line beckoned.  In order to finish, we had to cross another water pit via tie-downs (with a different method, at least) and do a series of increasingly brutal up and overs into deep, thick mud.  When we finally pulled ourselves out of the final mud pit and trotted toward the finish line, we collected our well-deserved ninja-star medals and could almost taste the ice-cold refreshment of our awaiting free beer.

ninjastar

The skinny:  Mud Ninja was a lot of fun and well worth the entry fee ($21 Groupon rate + $7 mandatory insurance “contribution” + around $3 for “handling fees”).  Some of it was very challenging, some not so much.  Good overall camaraderie, which is the best part of an event like this.  The t-shirt was disappointing, but the medal was cool.  The post-race party was a lot of fun.  Overall a great time and a mud race/obstacle course I’d gladly do again and recommend to anyone.  Even if nobody pukes mud.

Paging Mr. Mellencamp

I’m a city boy and I’m proud of it.  I grew up completely accustomed to noise all around me.  Even though I grew up in suburban Louisville, sounds from the city surrounded me.  At home, I could hear the nightly trains (from roughly a mile away) while I lay in bed.  I could always hear someone’s dog barking, or someone working in their yard, or kids (when I wasn’t one of them) playing in the street.  I could hear the church bells from St. Michael’s every hour.  I could even hear the PA from St. Martha every Sunday afternoon during football season.  Through circumstance, however, I’ve found myself living in rural, southwestern Ohio.  Oh, it’s still noisy, mind you, but the noises are from different sources.  I hear a lot more trucks, cars, and motorcycles going down the road FAST all hours of the night.  I hear people mowing their grass with lawn tractors.  I hear a lot more noisy birds (woodpeckers and hawks, in particular). And, occasionally before, but now every day going on two weeks, I hear my neighbors from across the street playing their stereo AS LOUDLY AS THEY CAN FROM EARLY IN THE MORNING UNTIL LATE AT NIGHT.  

Over the past few summers, yeah, they’ve had some weekend parties where they’ve cranked up a heavy batch of classic rawk or country, and even though the music and their laughter had gotten louder as the parties went longer, it was largely tolerable and, honestly, amusing.  There would even be a smattering of days where they would blare their music through the afternoon, but again: no big deal.  This year, beginning right around the first of July, they’ve upped the ante by turning on their stereo up to eleven right around eight in the morning.  I suspect (but I have absolutely no evidence of this) that they are trying to annoy the people who live directly across from them (next to me).  Again, I don’t have any evidence and I don’t know why they’d want to annoy them:  just my opinion.

In the grand scheme of things, I know, there are worse things to hear in the morning than “Ring Of Fire,” but even The Man In Black himself probably didn’t feel the need to get up and sing it as the rooster crowed every morning for over two weeks straight.  Almost with alarm clock precision, music fills the air, humoring me and completely irritating my wife.  I get more annoyed at the type of music they play rather than the volume (in both senses).  After the almost obligatory “Ring Of Fire,” the playlist often veers into some less, shall we say, palatable examples of country music (David Allen Coe, I’m looking in your direction).  Still, it’s largely and absurdly laughable.

Yesterday, they decided to REALLY fire things up by kicking off the tunes at SEVEN A.M.  Yesterday’s lead-off anthem was “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”  It was a bit of a departure in both the earlier hour and that they usually reserve the classic rock (Guns N Roses “classic’?) for Friday and Saturday late nights.  Again, I shouldn’t complain too much, because they did take a break from the action in the mid-afternoon, but cranked it back up last night (complete with campfire and loud laughter).  Again this morning, our noisy neighbors brought the noise around 7:00.  Back to the standard country to get things started, but by 9:00 they were playing Chumbawamba?!?! Wow….  That one really took me aback.  The morning serenade from across the road continued from a TOP 40 STATION!  Now I’m starting to get annoyed.  Thankfully, the music went away by late morning, and I haven’t heard a peep.  But the night is still young and the weekend is just around the corner.

 

UPDATE:  When I pulled in my driveway last night, the party was on and they were back listening to Hank Senior singing “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”  Whew!  Back to normalcy!

A Mid-Year Crisis

As of last Wednesday, the year 2014 is half over. Not such a good thing when I look at all I’ve wanted to (read as: NEEDED to) accomplish and all the things I haven’t done. First on that front would be attending to this blog. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve gone to bed thinking to myself, “I’ve got to write something tomorrow” or even mornings I’ve woken up and thought the same thing, in a more imperative manner: “WRITE SOMETHING TODAY!”
It’s not from lack of anything to write about. Within the past month, I could have (and should have) very easily written about the World Cup and its impact. I could have written about Johnny Manziel and my excitement of him coming to Cleveland. I could have written about a tragedy that struck our community and hit very close to home. Or, heaven forbid, I could have written about running.
So let me quickly sum up today: our A/C is broken, our family is on the edge, I’m job hunting and becoming quite overwhelmed with how pathetically unqualified I am for a lot of jobs, I am sick to death of this Frozen “thing”, and I’m not even close to reaching my running goals.
But at least I wrote today….

Driving Dad, Crazy

To label me a “stay-at-home dad” would be a bit of a misnomer. True, I don’t earn a regular paycheck and I do spend quite a bit of time washing, cleaning, and cooking around our suburban Germantown, Ohio home. I also take the lead in getting kids out of bed, packing lunches, and making sure that everyone is out the door before the bus comes (well, most of the time on that one….). What defines my day, mostly though, are not the times when I’m around the house playing June Cleaver in a sweatshirt and shorts. Rather, it’s the times that I spend playing Ralph Kramden as I deliver our four kids to and from all of their activities. Currently my kids’ activity docket includes football, soccer, gymnastics, soccer, Taekwondo, and….um, soccer. In addition, I have my “ordinary” running around to the store, the bank, and wherever else my childless errands lead me. Over the course of a single week, I navigate our minivan around four hundred miles without leaving a twelve mile radius of our house. And only precious few of those miles are quiet.
From, literally, the minute the kids get off the bus and walk in the door, the rush hours begin. As they hurriedly rush to drop their book bags and grab a snack, I’m fixing waters and grabbing my keys and wallet and trying to get them back out the door and into their seats in the van. Now, even though we’ve been doing, roughly, the same routine for the past few years, getting in and out the door seldom goes off without a hitch. A “standard” glitch involves around my older daughter, Elizabeth—the one who we’re doing all the immediate rushing around for—taking a few minutes (or more) to check messages on her iPod. When I finally get everyone in their seats and seatbelts fastened, it’s off to begin the seemingly endless journeys up and down Routes 123 and 4.
The drive generally begins with an innocuous, “how was school” question from me. The generally innocuous response is “fine.” I test my luck and probe further, “did anything exciting happen today?” Mostly I’ll get a “no,” but sometimes I am able to pry a smidgen of information from them about how they’ve spent the past six hours. On occasion, however, the “how was your day” formalities are skipped over and I’ll immediately break into a parental scolding over some disobedience that they’ve managed to get themselves into in the fifteen minutes between getting off the bus and getting into the van. If this involves Elizabeth, she’ll usually go immediately into defense mode, which does nothing to take away my irritation. If it involves Joseph, our younger son, he’ll generally opt for the tears route which, again, doesn’t do much for my souring mood. Our youngest, Claire, is mostly just along for the ride and her in-car scolding usually involves something that they’ve all collectively done (or haven’t done, in the case of chores). Our oldest, Ian, usually isn’t in the car at this point (because he’s either at his own practice or he asks to stay at home—a wise move, as he knows how they generally go, especially if Dad is in a bad mood).
After the initial interrogation, we get into our car ride routine: Elizabeth either listens to music on her iPod (and sings along, loudly) or, if it’s a carpool day, she’ll be showing off for her friend. Joseph’s eyes are glued to either his iPod or his DS. I asked him one time why he doesn’t bring his homework or a book, and he says that they make him carsick. Claire, the sweet, innocent youngest of the brood, has sat quietly and listened to her older siblings, biding her time until she could strike.
Lately, Elizabeth and Joseph, and (sometimes) Claire have been playing “Tweeter,” an apparent variation of the once popular “Pee Wee Punch” game I used to play with my brothers and sisters. No wonder my parents rarely took all of us on long car rides together. The game involves, from what I’ve seen from the rearview mirror and overheard, yelling “Tweeter!” at the top of their lungs and slapping the person next to them whenever they see a yellow car (and they’ve since added more car colors into the mix, yelling “Strawberry!,” “Cloudy!” “Blueberry!” in case they weren’t being loud enough already). When the slapping begins, I step in and remind them that somebody is going to end up crying and if that happens, I’m going to be very unhappy. The response I get is, usually, “Okay, Daddy” followed by hushed conspiring between them, hoping they can avert my wrath.
On the days when I’m able to dump one (or more) of them at their activities and Claire gets the pleasure of being in the van only with me, she takes full advantage of my parental knowledge and wisdom and proceeds to ask me approximately thirty questions for every quarter mile I drive (which works out to about six million questions per week_. Some of these, such as “does ‘cat’ rhyme with ‘car’?” are easy to answer and explain. Others, like, “why is the sky blue?” take more cognitive negotiation on my part. More often than not, when the questions become more obtuse and existential, I’ll finally relent and say, “Okay, Claire, I don’t know.”
Another fun thing they like to do is sing. Elizabeth, the ringleader, went out of her way last year to teach Claire a song about a pet turtle named Tiny Tim. Now, Elizabeth had intended this to be a means of, let’s not be coy, irritating me and her brothers. What she didn’t account for was Claire’s ability to learn it quickly and sing it loudly enough so that it annoyed not only Ian and Joseph, but Elizabeth too: her earbuds being no match for Claire’s voluminous voice. Claire, being the astute observer of her older sister’s musical leanings, has gone one better than “Tiny Tim” and now sings, as loud as her five year old lungs can muster, “Shimmy down, and I won’t fall, I am tie day knee yum!” Her siblings are annoyed. I just laugh.

A Step In Time

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01. Fly On The Wall/XTC

02. Sacred Cow/CROWDED HOUSE

03. Black Balloons/LOCAL NATIVES

04. Open Sesame/IAN BALL

05. Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls/PELLE CARLBERG

06. Argonauts/THE LITTLE ONES

07. Psychic Beginner/JOHNNY MARR

08. Temporary/WHITE RABBITS

09. Goodnight Tonight/PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS

10. Interesting Drug/MORRISSEY

11. I’m A Cuckoo/BELLE & SEBASTIAN

12. Bold As Brass/SPLIT ENZ

13. The Village/TUNNG

14. The Puritan/BLUR

15. Shine The Light/REVEREND & THE MAKERS

16. Let My Love Open The Door/PETE TOWNSEND

17. Can’t Get High/LIBRA ACCORD

18. Orange & Mango/THE PHOENIX FOUNDATION

A Step In Time by Runner812 on Mixcloud

No Feudin’ Just Runnin’

I first heard about the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion Marathon in 2005.  It was shortly after my first marathon and was in thethroes of a post-race funk.  I had zero inspiration to run or race and spent most of that summer sitting around, finding any excuse I could find to not get out and run.  I was at a family party and was talking about my marathon experience with my wife’s aunts, who live in Southeastern Kentucky.  They mentioned that this race (which was in it’s infancy) is one that I should consider, adding that one of the water stations was situated at the end of their driveway.  Intriguing, to be sure, but my response of, “yeah, that sounds like fun” was more lip service than anything.  Still, I kept it in the back of my mind….

After I rebounded from my post-race blues and got back to actual training, building up to what would be my best series of racing from the Fall of 2007 through the Spring of 2008, I decided to make good on the aunts’ offer of housing and hospitality and signed up for the race.  Long story short:  my calves unbearably cramped around Mile 19 and I sadly withdrew from the race, barely able to walk.  The following year (after recovering from an ankle broken through my own idiocy), I registered again, this time with vengeance on my mind against the course that had vanquished me.  And this time I was victorious (well, relatively speaking), finishing 71st overall in an honest 4:21:18.

My marathoning went on a hiatus after that.  Due (in no small part) to the increasing demands of time (and gas money) running four kids around, I decided to focus my racing efforts on mostly local 5K’s plus an annual pilgrimage to the mini-Marathon in Louisville.  Perhaps because of my experience last October in the Tough Mudder Kentucky, I made the fool’s decision and asked my in-laws and wife’s aunts for money to register for the Hatfield-McCoy.  The plan was that by registering for the race, I could give myself a carrot that would inspire me to go hardcore into training.  Well, we all know about best laid plans….  My “training” ended up consisting of running two or three times a week (or less), going no longer than eight miles on a single run.  And just for an added bonus, the week before the marathon was ridiculously busy and stressful at home and I got, oh, about three good hours of sleep the night before the race.  My time-goal, never getting beyond abstraction, became a goal of simply finishing.  I didn’t have any expectations other than to cross the finish line–and if I were able to somehow pull it off in under five hours, all the better.  Somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to convert my training plan into a best seller….

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When the morning of the race arrived (seemingly about two seconds after I finally was able to doze off), I felt good.  I was excited, but I was also very, very relaxed.  I don’t ever remember being so relaxed the morning of a race before.  Usually I’m at least somewhat nervous about my performance or strategy, but not this time.  My only real “concern” performance-wise was that I avoided the temptation to run out with the front of the pack and cook a sub eight-minute first mile.  When I arrived the the race start, the parking lot of the local Food City–about as unpretentious a start as possible, my relaxed excitement (?) was in full swing.  I could tell immediately that there were a lot more people around than in ’09 (that year less than 400 people competed in the full marathon and half marathon combined, this year nearly 450 competed in the marathon alone).  I always forget how much fun it is before a race starts.  Seeing people milling around and stretching, the ubiquitous lines for the Port-A-Cans, the almost palpable jitters on the faces of obvious marathon virgins.  I especially relished joining in a conversation with another Hatfield-McCoy veteran and some rookies.  He warned them about the descent from Blackberry Mountain, I warned them about the perils of the Swingin’ Bridge.  I wonder if they heeded the advice from either of us….  Also a great thing to see around the parking lot were a slew of yellow singlets, announcing the presence of Marathon Maniacs, a group whose camaraderie is only matched by their masochism.

The playlist I’d assembled for the day (yeah, I’m one of those runners who listens to music almost all the time) was appropriately eclectic for a day when I wasn’t racing against the clock.  Whereas for most races, I’ll either line up some up-tempo indie-rock or techno (with a minimum 100 BPM), for this race I led off with a healthy dose of New Order (fulfilling, I guess, the indie or techno bills, but I had some slower songs thrown in as well).  Next up was the rough draft of my mix for my family’s vacation to Kentucky Lake later this month (part mellow cover versions, part seventies weirdness, part 90’s and 00’s indie rock).  Next up was Kiss’ Destroyer (the first album I ever owned, and one that I pulled out specifically because I was in the mood).  After that, another mix rough draft, this one featuring some new(ish) songs that will form a slightly trippy, not-what-you’d-hear-on-the-radio CD once laid down on disc.  Beyond that, I had lined up three albums:  Bring It On from Gomez, History Never Repeats by Split Enz, and Blur’s Parklife.  Musically, all over the place, but I felt confident that it would be more than enough to carry me through the day (though, I confess, I put the whole thing on repeat, just in case).

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Stay tuned for Part 2 (where I’ll actually talk about the race)….