Saturday, October 31, 2009

Slaughterhouse 44

END TIME: 12:00 AM

“What makes a woman fascinating?”

Wow. On with the klieg lights again. Buy the ticket, take the ride…

What makes a woman fascinating to men? Wow, I could probably fill this up with a whole bunch of really shallow anatomical descriptions and call it a night, but I think that would cheat the enterprise.

The rationale that I always use when people are explaining relationship difficulties to me, (and what I try to keep in mind as I’ve had one or two of those along the journey myself) is not that women are treacherous and men are scum; the problem is that both genders are entirely human. Horrifically flawed, ruled by varying ratios of logic and emotion, capable of horrible behavior, callous insensitivity, occasionally distracted by something shiny, or something curvy, or something forbidden.

I mean, fascinating can take on a number of definitions, and if your eyes are open wide enough, you’ll never be bored. We as human beings invented jumping rope, lava lamps and Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm. But women, specifically – a smart woman and a certain glance can make you feel like you can cure cancer and win the Boston Marathon before lunch and maybe take the afternoon to sort out this cold fusion thing. (She can also glare at you a certain way or laugh at you at the wrong moment and shrivel your heart to the size of a caraway seed, but the adrenaline rush is worth the risk.)

But I don’t think I’m describing anything outside of the realm of human interaction. There’s nothing in that description above that would be any less true if the genders were reversed, and maybe I’m doing a better job of describing friendship regardless of gender. I’m fortunate to have a number of people in my life, both men and women, who could probably finish my sentences for me if in the middle of one of them I were smacked by a bus.

But yes, there’s an acuity about smart, attractive, talented women, that does me no good in my quest to live a distraction-free life. I do find it fascinating that I could decipher weird network problems, pair a wine, identify artists, recall salient details from a book I read 20 years ago and run until other people want to fall to the ground sobbing and hyperventilating – but alongside the right woman, time, reason, 80 IQ points, and my ability to speak polysyllabically – they all disappear. Among some of my most prominent memories are the times when I opened my mouth to speak and no sound came out. I like to believe that through age, experience, repetition, and wry detachment, this will go away. I like to joke with people that “I could be on a date with a woman with two heads, and I’d know how to look at the one on the left and sigh, ‘You have the most incredible smile, and you ‘“- glancing quickly to the right – “have the most intoxicating sparkle in your eyes.” The terrifying part is, by now I know better. I shrug my shoulders and begrudgingly acknowledge that I’m far too reticent in some situations, in addition to being a really crazy, jumpy bastard.

So I guess what makes a woman fascinating is not unique to gender, because again, I don’t think you need a Y chromosome to feel any of what I described, but merely the idea that even someone like me, whose whole life is cut from logic, sautéed with logic, and served alongside logic after simmering in a logic sauce – can look up and find that same life governed by emotion. Like anything worthwhile, there’s a balance. If anyone finds it, I’d love to know.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 800. Many of them will never see the light of day. You may refer to this as laziness. I'll call it preoccupation.

Responses to last week's topic: 1, but it got me thinking about something bigger. Win/win.

This week's entries: 3 (Ken, Ken, JoLynn)

This week's question from JoLynn McCully: “What makes a woman fascinating?”

Buckle up, everybody.

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 10/30-10/31 (that's 46 minutes! Yipes!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Slaughterhouse 43

END TIME: 10:34 PM

“If someone were starting a diet, what advice would you give them?”

(I have some background in this; if you’re not aware of my back story, I’ve lost 120 pounds over the last four years. Check out for further details.)

I’m going to take the liberty of addressing this individual directly.

The good news is, you’ve decided to make a choice today that’s going to make the rest of your life better. The bad news is, you’ve chosen something that has a 95 percent failure rate. The good news is, there’s one simple secret that you need to follow, and it’s something that you already know.

What is it?

You’re a human being. This means that you are prone to making mistakes, prone to making unbelievably stupid decisions, stopping on a dime and quitting after putting in days or weeks or months of work. You are a fallible creature. And as long as you accept this part – that there’s going to be a time where you’re going to screw up and eat the slice of birthday cake at the party, or want the peanut butter, or would rather participate in a chicken fight with sumo wrestler Akebono riding on your shoulders than eat another salad.

I get that. I’ve been there myself. Dieting is not about making every right choice every single time; it’s about making the best choice a solid majority of the time. In your case, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and you, like any other person who can wear the mantel of humanity can attest, are not perfect.

Maybe you’re expecting you will be. Maybe you think that’s the only way through this entire situation, to eat only what’s on one sheet of paper, or stick with something like NutriSystem or Jenny Craig or SlimFast and swear off Actual Real Live Food forever and ever until you’re at a certain number, one worth all kinds of culinary sacrifice and suffering.

No. You’ll fail. Without question.

You’re not going on a diet, which reminds me of the scene in Trainspotting where Mark Renton’s trying to kick heroin. He nails the door shut with two by fours and prepares to go cold turkey. He allots himself nothing but cans of soup for nutrition and buckets for facilities. He fails miserably. The difference between heroin and food is, strictly speaking, you can live without heroin. If you find yourself addicted to smack, and you break the addiction and move on, and even if your days consist of shuffling down the street mumbling to yourself, “no heroin today…no heroin today…” you’ll still need to eat. But if you mismanage food, you’ll feel just as miserable.

So what you’re going to do is, eat the ice cream when it’s starting to follow you around the room, not just because you need a snack while you’re watching people exercise on “The Biggest Loser.” If the temptation for something grows overwhelming, have a manageable portion of it and move along. You aren’t looking to be perfect; you’re just looking for small improvements, stop the bleeding, make a few small repairs. Baby steps. You’ll be fine.

Writing Project Update

WORDS WRITTEN THIS WEEK: 1100. Lots of training, plus my mind isn't engaged. The gears are slipping. Besides, I was all sociable and stuff. Does it count if I talked about Slaughterhouse?

Responses to last week's topic: 4, all of them very encouraging. Thank you again for your patience.

This week's entries: 2 (Ken, Ken)

This week's question from Ken Faikus: If someone were starting a diet, what advice would you give them?

OK, I think I can do this. Catch you before tomorrow.

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 10/24-10/25

Friday, October 16, 2009

Slaughterhouse 42 - Pumpkinman Edition

WORDS WRITTEN: 3500, and you read most of them.

Responses to last week's topic: 3, from varied and diverse sources. It was fun.

This week's entries: 2, and one was a little unorthodox...

This week's question:

"You're going to write tonight? Why? You have a race tomorrow! You don't need to be thinking about how many words to write before midnight! Who's going to make you do this? You have got to learn to chill! Dude, you're not going to slit your wrists or something if this doesn't get done, are you? Aren't people going to understand that you've got other priorities to deal with right now?" - Michelle Kmetz

In order:

1. I was thinking about it, yes.
2. Because I always do.
3. Me, my own worst critic and my own worst enemy.
4. No, absolutely not, I have a lot of practice at self-loathing and it would never get that far.
5. I sure hope so. See you next week. Thanks for your patience. Normal production schedule resumes next Friday.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Slaughterhouse 41

END TIME: 5:37 10/11

“Write a recap of your two races, including what you did well and what you could've done better.”

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve been doing these recaps for years and send many of them out as “Idiocy Updates” to a small group of email recipients. Many of the old recaps are on my website. While I merely summarized the running race – there’s not a lot of fun in repeating “then I ran by myself through the desert some more” – the bike leg had some intrigue, so I thought I’d share it with all of you. Apologies for the Slaughterhouse delays this weekend; I hope this makes up for it.)

Today I was proud to be a participant in the 22nd Annual LVMPD Brass Challenge, an event that pits different substations and bureaus of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department against each other in a 10-person relay race through the Valley of Fire, a mountainous state park across scrub desert, then ending in the town of Overton. The course legs range anywhere from a 3 mile leg that’s nice and flat to a 5.1 mile leg with two climbs of 120 and 60 feet, with 700 feet of elevation overall.

Brass Challenge was the first endurance event I ever did. I’d signed up for a sprint triathlon, my first, later that spring, and I knew I hated running. By signing on for this, I would be forcing myself to run when I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to let my coworkers down. I followed one simple rule: I wouldn’t let myself walk for more than ten steps. That happened a few times. I fought through it.

Fast forward five years, to today.

It’s my sixth Brass Challenge, my third as a team captain. I’m the guy who hears people mention working out and show up out of the ether, wondering if they’ve done any running. And this year, we had enough runners to field two teams. I got people’s estimated times and put together two rosters, accounted for injuries, matched everything up to make the two teams as close as possible. And I realized that I wasn’t about to make anyone do the most difficult leg. There was only one man who was qualified for that sort of suffering; it’s the one I see in the mirror.

The other Leg 3 participant, Johnny Lopez, had done it for the past three years, and had gone from someone who ran casually to an accomplished distance runner. His first event was the Brass Challenge, and he’d gone on to do half-marathons, all sorts of distances, age group contender ribbons, and running became a major part of his life. We trained together and had the team as an avocation. So I had to share my brilliant concept.

“We’re going to promote this like a prize fight. The Duel in the Darkness.” He laughed and so did I. The battle was on – posters, Facebook commenters choosing up sides, trash talk on the dry erase board, photo sessions – it was crazy.

And today was race day.

The first two runners for both sides were great examples of the ITB running story. Leading off for my team was co-captain Lisa Zelazny, who’d gotten interested in running, took on a leg of the Brass Challenge, and then wanted to see what this triathlon thing was all about. She’s now done a bunch of those and just completed the Disneyland Half Marathon. (As did Johnny.) She would be handing off to Leslie Bitryk, who I’d never met, but who would be handing me the baton. She was a dispatcher at Metrocomm who ran on the side. On the other team we had John Quitano and Johanna Aqui, both new runners when they started with us who were now experienced competitors in distance events. Johanna did her first half-marathon in March. John has always been so fast that I called him “Speck” as in, that’s all the space he took up in your field of vision five minutes after the start.

John and Johanna turned in very impressive times, and by the start of Leg 3, Johnny had gotten the baton with a lead of four minutes and change, so he wasn’t even in sight when I got the baton.

What I did right was, I made sure to run my pace as we went through. Whether Johnny was three miles or three feet in front of me, I couldn’t push my legs past what they were already doing. I also had my usual good time running people down like I was at the gym; I was able to pass three people who’d received the baton earlier than me. (The first one was 15 yards in front of me when Lisa pulled up as a spotter vehicle; this guy was shadowboxing at the start. I switched the baton to my left hand, and with the full car of my teammates on my left, pointed at him, turned my hand over and beckoned with a “come here” gesture with two fingers. I didn’t see him again until after the finish line.)

What I didn’t do right was failing to put on enough distance in the weeks leading up to the race. I was running some very quick three-and four-mile options, but wasn’t putting in the really long miles needed to treat 5-plus miles as no sweat. I mean, I was counting more on muscle memory to get me though this, spending some time relaxing and training for triathlon stuff, knowing that there was a long season ahead. If I said I’m getting up north to run every two weeks, doing wind sprints in the morning and re-jiggering my training, I may have made up some time.

Besides, Leg 3 requires a hell of a lot of hill work, which doesn’t jibe with the rest of my training. I need to use the hill-climbing muscles to push pedals up a hill with zero impact on my feet, then run/shuffle across a slightly more forgiving incline. My legs look at hill running and start shouting at me right off the bat. And I can trust the computer on my bicycle to say that Leg 3 is almost all uphill. If I want to break 40 minutes on this thing I’ve got to get lighter and put in some time on the leg press machine over the winter – and my legs can already juggle barrels. It’s like everything else – time that I don’t spend getting better is time that I’m falling behind. I can close the book on this year’s running performance by being happy with my overall result. I am disappointed that I lost the challenge I’d set for myself but I am happy that I gave it my best shot.

The next few minutes consisted of drinking a bottle of Gatorade, a bottle of Nuun electrolyte solution, frantically popping Advil and rubbing Biofreeze analgesic on my legs, because my day had two parts.

The Brass Challenge has two components: first, the relay race, and second, the Hammer the Valley cycling competition. Now for the past two years, I run because I’m better qualified to run than most of the other people within my bureau (I’m a network systems analyst). It is, however, one of my year-in and year-out desires to not run and only ride the first leg of the cycling course, which consists of legs 1-5 of the relay race; a ride that I describe as “all vegetables, all dessert.” The ride is 20.7 miles long, and it started an hour and 45 minutes after my running leg. This means I have to abandon my running teams, get driven back to the start, change clothes into cycling stuff and get my shoes and riding gear on. Then I ride over 12 miles of uphill (including the very same hills I’d just run on Leg 3) and then seven miles that are mostly a plummet into the park, where I’m able to reach speeds of 40 miles an hour.

There’s another luxury I get in this race: a follow vehicle with a timer. In my mind, of course, my follow vehicle is this:

But this race I had something better, in that the kids were with me. I’ll never have a follow vehicle with me in a triathlon; it’s far too dangerous. The other thing that’s illegal in triathlon is headphones. Since I have an extremely heavy SUV with hazard lights ensuring that passing motorists will look for something out of the ordinary, like a large bald angry man in a yellow shirt, I like to wear headphones on this ride.

I got back to the smoke shop, changed, loaded water bottles, and got to the starting line. There were four of us riding; one guy who I saw every year with an aero helmet (a teardrop shape like what you see above), an older gentleman riding for a team entitled ‘Age Before Beauty”, and the entrant from the Detention Center, who have won the combined running/cycling competition for the past eight years. The jail rider went first; I went thirty seconds after. Age before beauty and aero helmet were third and fourth, respectively. I hit the Start button on my MP3 player, which launched into “California Love” by Tupac and Dr. Dre; it’s practically the perfect cycling song. It’s got a fast pace on the piano line so my feet keep a good cadence, and I was reeling in the jail’s rider. By the end of Leg 1 I had passed him and became acutely aware of one fact: I was leading the race. Quibble about the time deltas all you want. Every other rider was behind me.

I knew I was riding a very aggressive pace at the start, particularly considering the hills ahead, but I wasn’t trying to do anything heroic with the gears. I knew it wasn’t time to prove I could mash my legs so I focused on holding a cadence rather than speed. Right as I got to the end of leg 2, beginning the Leg 3 hill climb, aero helmet passed me, never to be seen again, and the jail rider passed me as well. He did better in the climbs and got ahead of me by about 100 yards, but remained in sight.

And I started thinking, he had to use a good bit of energy if he was going to pace in front of me that far on the climbs, just as I had to use some energy to get out front on the gradual uphills to get there. I knew that the downhill portion of the course was coming, so if I was going to have a chance at catching him, it would have to be there. I geared down as I went through the rest of the leg 3 climbing and saw he was about 200 yards in front at the “God Hates You” rock (a 60-foot climb 5 miles into Leg 3 and the last climb before its finish line) which made me think he was catchable, but not there. Then he hit the first of the downhills and was practically gone, jumping out about a quarter-mile in front of me.

And I started thinking about all of those hours on the Computrainer, which does a few things. One, it allows me to train indoors. Secondly, it makes me a faster rider going downhill. You aren’t allowed to coast on the Computrainer, because it’ll just stop. So a two hour ride is two hours of pedaling, no stopping or breaks. What this does, whether you know it or not (and it took me years to figure it out) is you figure out how to pedal with an upstroke when you’re going downhill, so even when your legs are moving like an eggbeater, you can change the angle a little bit and generate power to go just a little bit faster. And if I was going to catch this guy, I had a few miles in which I could do it.

I got to within 20 yards of him, and before we got to the first curve of the final leg, he looked back over his shoulder and saw me. Tucked down in the aerobars, I shook my head in an exaggerated nod. I’m right here; you haven’t lost me yet. And once I did that, another thought flashed through my head: there was no way I was going to lose to this guy. I didn’t care if they carted me off in an ambulance.

By now my legs were incandescent with pain, and I could feel the back of my left calf cramping if I turned my foot a certain way. I was grunting during some of the slight uphills but wasn’t going to shift out of top gear. I knew what I looked like as I was gritting my teeth and pedaling with everything I had left, and I didn’t care. I’m not losing this. Not today.

With a mile and a half to go I was eight feet behind him.

Now I had to start wondering. I could draft for a bit, stay where I was and make the move once I was sure he wouldn’t have the space to recover from it. There was a slight uphill around the next turn and that would be my last chance. But drafting is dangerous, and in triathlon it’s illegal, so even though I’ve read about how you can still ride if you touch tires without wrecking, I didn’t feel like learning about it right then. So I stayed there, at eight feet, and figured I’d try to grab him at the last hill.

Then he ducked his head down quickly, nodding down at his top tube for a second, like he was exhaling.

My eyes widened.

He did it again.

He’s tired.


I jump out into the left side of the lane and make the pass; I’m now in front for the second time. I don’t look over at him, don’t say anything, just go, and realize now that I’m in an even worse position, because if he’s got something extra, he’s got to go to it right this second and I can’t see if he’s going to do it. There’s a quarter-mile to go and I don’t dare look over my shoulder; what if he nodded back?

The last hill is murder as I’m trying to hold the cadence and pedal my ass off before the 100-foot plummet right at the end of the leg, but I won’t need my thighs for another six days so anything goes. I can see Lisa waiting at the top of the hill for the exchange; the finish line is at the bottom of the hill, but the riders start up there to gather momentum before the first climbs.

I make it through the climb somehow and get into the plummet. Lisa’s moving faster than I am, and I see my truck and the kids cheering and yelling as I start flying down the hill. I smile and point at them while staying tucked in; I have to pedal like crazy to catch up to Lisa before the sign or it’s an illegal exchange. I get parallel to her 25 feet in front of the marker and shout, “Go get ‘em, kid! We’re in second place!” She moves faster ahead and I sit up and pump my right fist as I cross the line.

As I’m coasting, I look over my shoulder and see my opponent back about 50 feet. “Nice race, man,” I yell. He nods. Finally I come to a stop and unclip my feet. My coworker Mike and his wife Barb, who were taking pictures, pull up to the side of the road. The kids are a hundred yards away at the bottom of the short hill.

Mike smiles. “Looks like the tires are still sizzling.”
I shake my head in amazement and grinned, muttering under my breath when they’re in earshot, “Absolutely smoked that motherfucker.”

I wound up winning 2nd place in my leg (Aero helmet took first) and our team got third place (Aero helmet’s team had a two-time Ironman finisher on their bike leg, and the jail caught Lisa pretty quickly, and she took third in her leg) I’ve never won an individual award in any of the 37 races I’ve done, until right now.

As I rolled back down the hill to my kids, Jarren’s eyes were wide when I got there. “You were going FAST.” As you can imagine, in our family, that’s the highest of praise. Next race is next Saturday.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Writing Project Update

OTBE'd, kids. (Overtaken by events.) I have to be awake for a race in less than 5 hours. I'll write two for you tomorrow night to make up for it. I remain committed to writing, but these Saturday gigs are tough. Catch you tomorrow.


Friday, October 02, 2009

Slaughterhouse 40

END TIME: 10:46 PM

“Write a travel essay about somewhere you haven't visited in at least ten years.”

OK, this one’s tricky. But not for the reasons you might think.

I was (and am) fortunate to have family in a very nice community just outside of Wisconsin. As a result, we didn’t travel anyplace but there for vacations when I was a kid. They had beach access to a private lake, excellent parties, rooms to read in and be quiet and giant hills to exhaust yourself on. I really could never ask for anything more as a place to go. My whole family got along a lot better when we were there and it was a terrific respite in so many ways. (Not to mention the best frozen custard on Earth was about six miles away; one night our crew had grown bored with our state so we loaded our CDs and drove for turtle sundaes for four hours, roundtrip.)

So considering it’s ten years, I have a few places I can write about. But it has to be someplace I haven’t visited in ten years – and I was very lucky to take my kids back up there about six years ago, so it doesn’t count. That leaves – where? That leaves here, where I’ve lived for the past ten years, and leaves Washington, DC, which I visited again four years ago, and…hmm.

I think I’ve got it.

Egg Harbor, WI
Last visited June 27-30, 1997

“Where are we going?”
“Don’t care. We’ll just head up there and find someplace.”
“We should bring the bicycles.”

I know those sentences were said. I haven’t the slightest idea which one of us said them.

There are preposterously cool things about falling in love. Among them is the idea that no matter what you’re doing, as long as someone you’re in love with is alongside of you, it’s going to be a good day, it’s going to be a great night, you know that you aren’t going to have any sort of lull in the conversation because even if you do, you’re just glad to be there.

We rode the brand-new bicycles she’d just bought us for my birthday for preposterous distances, something like 20 miles through the peninsula, despite my being in no shape to ride like that (little did I know this would be the same ride I would use in my first seven triathlons years later) and got to behave like city escapees.

We cooked for ourselves instead of eating out and drank champagne and ate strawberries. (The champagne was Etoile, I hadn’t learned about Veuve yet, though that would come soon.) We gave a room to the bikes and woke up when the sun beckoned and smiled at the light glowing through the maple trees when we were on the porch.

We grilled food and specialty ingredients that we found at the quaint little market across the street and enjoyed the novelty that came from being city ingénues in a rural place that wasn’t really rural, as most of the vacation enclave’s occupants weren’t (Egg Harbor is a city in Door County, WI and I was just as much of a Fucking Illinois Bastard, or FIB, as the hundreds of people in town with us).

We found the Egg Harbor Inn sometime a little bit before twilight, it being the right combination of isolated and nice, not too hotelish and not too rustic, and not about to cost us an arm and a leg. And they could accommodate the bicycles.

The next morning we started early to ride, attempting to get to a lighthouse on the northern part of the peninsula that took us all morning to find out was inaccessible by roads. We hid the bicycles in some shrubbery and watched a movie playing in a metal corrugated shed the shape of an airplane hangar. I think Julia Roberts was in it.

I remember her smile. (Not Julia’s.) I remember walking around town right around twilight, looking at all of the little shops, and getting that feeling as we compared design aesthetics of what we were looking at. The idea that you are at the very beginning of something and in the middle of it at the same time, the knowledge that you aren’t going to get your feet and legs beneath you anytime soon, and it really doesn’t matter. The feeling that what you feel isn’t just better than being alone, but it’s better than anything you could ever have hoped it would be, and with that arrived the knowledge that I’d tried to convince myself of after so many nights of being brushed off – you were right to want this. This is why.

I remember an intense sunburn, a ride that changed my mind about bicycles for the rest of my life, and being hopelessly, unrecoverably in love. Like every great vacation, I wish I could go back.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 1600. I know, I know, it was pathetic. I did get some actual work done on "You've Got Right Now" and I've certainly been out having plenty of Implosion-worthy life experiences, not to mention a triathlon this weekend. But there are times when one man's limbo contest is another man's high jump, and that's what 1600 words was this week.

Responses to last week's topic: 2, from one of the participants and someone else.

This week's entries: 6 (Brian, Ken, Ken, and three from Beth)

This week's question from Ken Faikus: Write a travel essay about somewhere you haven't visited in at least ten years.

Not a problem...wait, ten years? Uh-oh.

RESPONSE DUE BY: Midnight 10/2-10/3