Rununion, part 2

This was refamiliarization day. The college is a lot bigger. Stuff has changed—hard to believe, I know—since the late ’60s and early ’70s. So there was a certain amount of wandering about in amazement. (And there was this: turn a corner, and here is a space or a corridor or a doorway that had been utterly familiar during an intense part of our lives, but that we hadn’t seen or thought of in almost half a century. Boom. Right back to our college job, or English seminars, or evenings studying in a personal favorite quiet space. Or evenings goofing off when we should have been studying.)

Four of us had lived in the same house as seniors—for all of us, one of the best years of our lives—and we met up to wander over, chatted up some current residents and spent a half-hour poking around the place, loudly noting all the changes. The grandfather clock has migrated from the entrance hall to the living room. The first room on the right has been made into a small common sitting room. The attic, which we had called “the tunnel,” where the south window was never closed (“frigid” doesn’t begin to convey the winter temps), and where most of us slept in barracks-like squalor, is now a brightly-painted study-bedroom room for one or two, and actually looks fit for human habitation. The kitchen is well-equipped, bright, and probably even hygienic. There are facilities to wash and dry clothes. Amazing! Of course, the place is co-ed now, and that might have something to do with its civilized look and feel.

The two pairs of us who shared the same room one year after the other, met the current resident and decided that the space actually was pretty much the same, but that we almost certainly had had more fun in it. We (more accurately, our nearly hysterical partners, some of whom had had virtually no idea about the place) eventually found our photos among the hundred-plus group pix hanging on the walls. I believe the hilarity had to do mostly with our clothes and our hair, but admit it may have been enhanced by the supercool attitudes we were trying to project. Of course, we are super cool. Believe me.


That’s a puppy under my sweater. I was keeping it warm. Really.

We eventually headed for the early seating at a community dinner out in the gorgeous autumnal Vermont countryside. Think church supper and you have the idea. Turkey with all the fixin’s and terrific home-made pies and cider. We filled one of the long tables and continued to learn more about each other’s others. I’m not adequately conveying how enjoyable all this was.

Sunday was running day. More on that coming up.

Rununion, part 1

We were in New Hampshire this past weekend for a not-quite impromptu small reunion of college teammates who mostly hadn’t seen each other for decades. We missed friends who couldn’t make it on short notice, but five of us had a spectacular time.

Four of us appear in this 1967 shot from the college files. (The fifth thinks he’d been temporarily kicked off the team for playing intramural hockey, something the rest of us vaguely remember.) I like this photo a lot because it lets me say, “I’m Number One!,”—which I do even though the digits were assigned alphabetically. Attendees included numbers 12, 5, and 10. Along with Number One. Of course, we all still look exactly like this.


Cross-country teams can be pretty intimate groups. A relatively small number of pretty competitive people, all doing (or trying to do) exactly the same thing, all well aware of each others’ struggles, strengths, and weaknesses, all competing both with and against each other. Off the course, we even took some distributive classes together, outside of our various majors. (Competition there was intense.)

We had plenty of time over the weekend to meet each other’s significant others, learn about kids and grandkids, and to catch up on careers, interests, travels, and travails. People change, of course, but a lot of the basics don’t. Same fundamental characters, same senses of humor, same little tics. And a whole set of shared memories and common connections.

We started on Friday evening with hugs and handshakes, but progressed quickly to jokes, jests, and ancient insults placed like banderillas—all the usual. At dinner’s long table it was more family talk (lots and lots of family talk—we need to know about each other), mixed in with memories, questions about memories, arguments about memories, and, of course, laughter over memories.

Saturday began in a great old Vermont house’s cozy kitchen, with a long, casual, more or less continental breakfast, before heading off for a good look around the much-changed campus. It’s always good to stop after a donut or two, or maybe a couple of croissants if you’re a sophisticate, so I’ll do that now and pick this up tomorrow.

Goodbye, Mr. Chubby?

I’ve been going to the gym regularly since my sojourn at Mayo last fall. Six weeks in Minnesota, and now 10 months at home. I’ve been fortunate in my trainers. Especially working with J here, we’ve strengthened my lower back to the point that I can once again lift, twist, and sit up (with effort but no pain) from a supine position. I’ve gotten generally stronger and more flexible, too. So I’m very pleased with all that (except for the effing mirrors).

I had not, however, been losing weight during all this, because when I’m emotionally down, I eat. And drink. And thanks primarily to Big Lu, I’ve been emotionally down. A little less than a month ago, I weighed in at 186 (84 kg), which finally got through to me as repellant, revolting, and repulsive. Enough was enough. I went on a diet (Weight-Watchers, more or less). Ta-da! At the gym today, I was 176 (80). I can fit again into what I think of as my ”regular” jeans. I can actually run a bit, rather than rumbling and tumbling. J took a body fat measurement, made a few calculations, and told me my proximate goal should be 163 (74). So that’s what I’m shooting for now.

I carry a few weights around in my mind. I ran in high school at a lithe (or perhaps cadaverous)126 (57 kg). In college I weighed in every day for four years at 132 (60). My training diary from the late ’70s, when I was in the best shape of my life, tells me I was stable at 143 (65). Naturally, then, my theoretical goal is to get back to 143. Being realistic though, I’ll throw a big party at 163 (virtuously watching the guests eat and drink, while ostentatiously nibbling on an apple and sipping sparkling water) and be utterly thrilled if I can drive on down to, say,155.

Of course, next week I head back to Minnesota for a check-up that will include a reunion with Big Lu, so things will bog down a bit. But I think this may be my last injection. (Remember Peter Lorre in Casablanca: “Addio, Casblanca”? For me, it’s going to be a gleeful. insouciant, “Addio, Leuprolide.)

Hoping to hang in there with this.


Neville Marriner

Neville Marriner died yesterday at the age of 92. I came to classical music first, in 1965 or so, through a magical (mono) Pierre Monteux recording of the Beethoven 6th (still have it tucked away somewhere), and then, more solidly, through a slew of records by Marriner’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. My entry points were the  Mozart concertos, always with such stylish and elegant soloists. I loved the clarity and subtle precision and the space they always left for you to enter into the performance as a listener. This was a new and fresh approach at the time, and it really spoke to me. Later, I had a wonderful few years introducing our daughter to  music. Vivaldi was her special fave, and the Academy did wonders with him as well. Neville Mariner enriched our lives, for which I am profoundly grateful.


Here’s a little something. For H.


Flip side

The last post was partly about a long-ago road race that left me with a funny memory of my father. I remember one other moment of that 10K. It happened very near the finish. With a little over a quarter-mile to go, I was lying fifth. The leader, an Olympic-trials type from the University of Oregon, was long gone, and the next two guys had just crested the final hill and moved out of site, but I was reeling in Number 4, and I had the standard tactical choice to make. Tuck up on his shoulder, then try to out-kick him in the final stretch; or move by him now as strongly as possible, try to grab a substantial lead, and hope that he’d buy the false impression that I had plenty left.

If I waited and kicked, it would be a one-shot deal. He might kick stronger, and that would be that. If he tried to hold me off now, I could still give it another try. But what if he was strong enough to elevate his pace all the way in? That I didn’t think I could handle.

Delicious stuff, this part of running. I decided I had no real kick left, so I gathered myself and lifted my pace to go by, hoping he wouldn’t surge back too hard. The result took me by surprise. As I came even with him, he reached out, swatted me gently on the backside, and breathed, “Nice run.” It was a short, effective concession speech. And a great relief.

Of course, now I literally couldn’t manage 50 yards at the pace I carried in that race, and given age and issues, some of these fundamentally happy memories have occasionally begun dressing up in dark clothing and knocking at my door as metaphors of doom. Thoughts of finish lines and a comments about nice runs (or good fights), for example, take on their inevitable figurative meanings. Happy turns to sad. Or at least to wistful.

But when this happens, I’ve been thinking, “You were there. You did stuff. And you laughed a lot. Now suck it up. Go places. Take on some more challenges. Do some more stuff. Give lots of figurative pats on the behind. Laugh with people you love.

And, so far at least, I’ve been doing just that.

Zoom. Zoom.

My uncle Bob was remembered by family and friends as a baseball player and a real speedster, who could beat out bunts and run down deep flies in the outfield. My dad was remembered as a football player who especially enjoyed knocking people down. One day, 16 and feeling my oats, I was yammering on at home about my own physical magnificence, with an emphasis on the blinding speeds I could achieve afoot. I announced that I bet I could have beaten Bobby in a sprint. My dad, who was then 40, usually let this sort of nonsense pass harmlessly over his head, but on this day, he said, “You’re fast, but you’re not all that fast.” A brief flurry of comments ensued, mine grandiose and defensive, Dad’s infuriatingly humorous, meant to deflate my balloon.

In retrospect, the result (in my family, at least) was inevitable. In sneakers and long pants, we headed out to the straight stretch on Cat Swamp Road, where I had long before painted markers on the asphalt at 50, 60, and 100 yards. We agreed on 60. My mother headed to the finish line, where she would act as official starter and reluctant finish judge. We toed the line, mom dropped her arm, and we were off.

No contest. My father won by a clear stride.

My only comfort was that he could hardly walk the next day. The happiest member of the family was my mother, who hadn’t been required to adjudicate a photo finish between husband and son.

Let’s move on. It’s 15 or so years later. Dad, now in his mid-50s has started running for fitness. He’s doing great, going 4 miles most evenings, even in the freezing dark of winter, and a good bit longer on weekends with me and a group of my friends. In my early 30s, I’m by far in the best shape of my life, racing well. I’m planning to run an upcoming 10K on local roads and he decides he’d like to try it—the first non-sprint race of his life. He should handle it easily.

It’s time to assemble at the start, several hundred people jammed into a long seething snake on a country road, and I say to him. “Dad, I’m going up on the front line. You start from the back.” I point to the other end of the crowd. “Go out easy, get a feel for things, and don’t try to run hard until you get past the hills.”

When the gun goes off, the front group hammers through a very quick first mile, and I forget all about him. I’m fully committed to monitoring my own engine room for the duration. 

When I finish, I spend the usual time recovering and chatting, then I start jogging back on the course, expecting to see my father cruising in fairly soon. I shuffle along for a quarter-mile; no Dad. A half-mile; no Dad. I’m beginning to worry that he’s dropped out, which would mean he’s fallen or pulled something or sprained an ankle and really hurt himself. Finally, a mile from the finish, here he comes, plodding exhaustedly along. He could have walked faster.

“Dad, what happened?”

“Jesus Christ, you guys went out fast.”

“You were supposed to run from the back.”

“I did. I was three or four rows behind you.”

The thought of him trying to keep up with what was probably a 70-second first quarter can still make me giggle.

It wasn’t revenge, and it wasn’t sweet, but whatever it was, it was fairly tasty.


Ugh! Big Lu I could have managed, but the addition of the stunning heat of this New England summer was too much for me to handle. Running ceased. Frustration, not limited in any way by drug or climate, took over.

I think I could have plodded, groaning and murmuring imprecations, through that 5K with B, but she got a little lazy herself, and was content with a short kids’ triathlon. Here she is in transition from bike to run. (The forgotten helmet is a nice touch.)

B with Helmet

But the weather has improved, we’re into some gorgeous fall-like days, and I’m hitting the roads again. A real groaner, a mere moaner, and, today, a decent, if plodding, effort. Of course, Lu has another whack at me in late October. But it’s my last shot, I think, and I hope I can put together a stretch of regular decent shuffles.

It’s not that I want to train for anything. It’s just that running makes me feel good. I love the wonderful rhythm of pressing hard over distance, when your breathing pattern, your arm swing and your leg turnover and foot-strike all get together and create that tight jazz groove.

So. Fingers crossed.

A little update

B, of course, remains one of the great joys of life. We still see her often, though  we’d like to see her more.

She is 8 now, just beginning third grade. Reading, which we were afraid was coming slowly, has now kicked in strongly, and she’s often burying her head in the familiar family pose. She may yet become as booky as the rest of us—or whatever the equivalent is in the digital age (she is, of course, like many of her contemporaries, a whiz on electronic media of all types).

B and teeth

Sweet B, with silly Auntie Kate and Mommy in the background. You can see it’s a teeth-optional gathering

She still lets me snuggle her at bedtime and tell her Little Peach stories, some of which occasionally morph into tales of her mother’s riding triumphs. She’s about to participate in her own first horse show.


We’ll be there!



I was standing in Bradley Airport
not long ago
on a solo trip to Chicago

Just standing there
having the usual quick panicked look for my ticket
when toward me came a familiar form

It was Craig Trask
Old friend
And years far gone beyond the waning moon

He smiled his Craig Trask smile
Held out his hand and said
Long time no see pal

And an arm next to mine
thanks to the god of the muddled
and befuddled
Took it shook it and said
Hey Bob
How are things in Tampa

Lucky me

I’ve driven up and down I-91 hundreds of times since the late 1960s when I was at college in New Hampshire and the whole length of the then-new Interstate finally opened up. I was doing it again yesterday, daydreaming along about nothing special, heading south, and I remembered, as I often do on that stretch of road, one of the sweet, sweet moments of my life.

I’m a senior in college, so it has to be the spring of 1969. Late May or early June, before graduation but after I’ve finished up everything important. I’m cruising along solo in my old green two-seater, with the top down. The sun is low, but there is plenty of soft light left in the day. There’s a spot not too far south of Windsor where the southbound roadway runs high along a ridge with a long view over the winding Connecticut River and into Vermont. Everything—the water, the fields, the trees, the hills in the distance—is gold or green and fresh and perfect. And here am I, finished in style with studies I’d once thought were beyond me, sailing off with the wind in my hair to see my sweetheart, feeling higher than a kite on nothing but a kind of innocent pride, the beauty of nature, effortless youth, and true, true love.

My, it was fine.