Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Few Of My Randomest Things

I should have known better than to pull her pigtails with a snarky comment. In return, she has tagged me. So, ever the respecter of the tag, here are five random things about me:

1. Unlike she who shall not be named, I have no piercings and yet am unafraid of needles. I took allergy shots every week when I was a kid and sold my plasma while in music school so I could buy more recordings.

2. I used to think piercings and tatoos were gross, but having since met some athletes with very comely features, I have modified my stance. It's all about context.

3. Bringing forward the Anne Frank theme from she who shall not be named, we named our first cat Audrey because we got her after a UNICEF tour in which Audrey Hepburn recited selections from The Diary of Anne Frank to music composed by our music director, Michael Tilson Thomas. (Every entry begins, "Dear, Kitty.")

4. Mrs. Greyhound had to wear flats at our wedding so as not to make me look like a total midget. She is 5'8". I am not.

5. I dated a girl in college, a former basketball player, who was 6'2". I am not.

6. I can no longer remember the names of the girls I took to the junior and senior prom, who were both taller than me as well.

What's that you say? That was six? Well, one of them is false. You get to pick which one is not true and and tell me what portion(s) is false in the comment section.

I tag Bigun and Momo, my CdA posse.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful Heart

This Thanksgiving, his eyes fluttered open only at intervals when he had the energy to struggle for consciousness and for breath. Even when they were closed, one eye was only half closed, drooping and no longer controlled by his will, as his chest rose and fell with difficulty. Notwithstanding constant care, his lips were cracked and dry, his skin thinner and more fragile than the pages of his old bible. He is still there though, behind the eyes, trapped in a body that will no longer respond to his commands.

He knows this is the end, but he shows no fear, only peace. My brother, my cousin and I received telephone calls all that week as he gave away the remaining articles in the senior living apartment to which he knew he would never return. Then, earlier this week he met with his long-time pastor. The younger man, long retired now, took notes as my grandfather planned his funeral--the scriptures he wanted read and the old hymns of The Faith that he wanted sung.

I remember past Thanksgivings, when we would gather around the tables strung end-to-end. Before the meal, Grandaddy’s voice would say our collective prayer of thanks. Several years ago, my father took over the duties, not because Grandaddy stopped praying, but because his voice faltered and broke whenever a prayer was said over a holiday table. Grandaddy felt too keenly the empty chairs at each holiday. As my father would pray in his stead, Grandaddy’s shoulders would heave and shake beneath his bowed head as he sobbed, almost quietly enough that he could suppose we did not hear.

My grandfather feels the empty chairs because he is the kind of man to whom people flock as if to the warmth of the village fire on a cold night. There are three generations of kids in his church who have never known a fifth grade Sunday School teacher other than my grandparents. Child, parent and grandparent, they all learned, gently and sweetly, from the same tender man. In recent years, whenever he attended his church on his scooter, those three generations of people would all gravitate to him in the hallway, and even the little kids would hug his neck like he was their own grandfather. The Sunday School wing of that Church bears his name, permanent imprints to a lifetime of giving not only money but himself.

But there is a cost to be paid in giving oneself away. In 90 years of giving his heart away, my grandfather has lost all the friends who were his contemporaries. Of course he has buried his parents, but also his younger sister. He buried his wife more than 5 years ago, the girl that he met in the high school musical and eloped with when they were both teenagers. He has buried a teenage grandson, dead before his time after falling asleep at the wheel on Memorial Day weekend. He has buried 3 great grandchildren, my cousins, who were killed in a fit of domestic rage. That same day he buried their father, the murderer, my first cousin, who turned the gun on himself.

Grandaddy knows well the cost of love and life, and knows well the pain of continuing with each breath. Yet, he counted the cost and found it worth paying. In fact, it is the heart he always gives away that buoys and sustains him. He would tell you that all the giving is a bargain at twice the price. Once this week, his eyes fluttered open, and seeing the familiar face of my mother, his daughter and faithful caregiver, his lips moved. After several attempts, the words finally came out.

“I am so thankful to be alive.”

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I've spent nearly every morning the last month with a bunch of teenagers in their pajamas. Shocking you say? More awe-inspiring if you ask me.

You see, I've been trying to improve my swimming the last four weeks; showing up every morning to the Woodlands Athletic Center (known as "the WAC" to us locals) and standing in line, huddled against the morning chill, and waiting for the doors to open at 0530. All around me are teenagers, members of the three area high school swim teams. Inside, on the walls, are the momentos of championships they have won--district championships, state championships, and even national championships. Alongside those are the school records set by these kids and their predecessors. Those times are elite by any standard.

I see these kids up close every day for a few minutes before they become superheros in swimsuits. They stagger and shuffle up the steps to the WAC in their flannel pajama pants, their flip flops, their fuzzy slippers, girls with their hair all tied and piled high, boys with unruly bed heads. Look closer. You don't even have to see them swim to tell that these are not average, early-21st century teens.

Look around at the hoodies worn against the cold morning air. Written on the fronts and backs are things like "Long Course Championships" or "State Championships" or even "Olympic Traning Center." These are not ordinary kids.

Then look at the shape of the kids underneath the hoodies and pajama pants. An alarming percentage of American teens are overweight or obese, and statistics tell us that if one is obese at this age, it is almost certain you will be obese as an adult and will die or be disabled before your time. These swimmer kids may eat pizza and burgers like many of their classmates, but 0% of these kids are obese. Every inch of them bespeaks power and every movement is that of an athlete.

Then look even closer. Look at their behavior and you might see what I (as the father of a daughter) see. Sure, there is a certain amount of the normal teenage tomfoolery or flirtation. But there's something else going on. These swimmer girls aren't crawling into their shells or taking any crap off the boys like many of their classmates do. You can tell by their actions that these girls are not governing their every action and thought by worrying about what the boys will think. It may seem obvious, but they did not fix their hair before coming to swim practice and they do not appear to be concerned that a boy will see them in a swimsuit. Beyond the obvious, the very way they act communicates that they are confident with their power, their strength, and their shape. In this they are very unlike many of their peers.

And the boys, they too are different. I'm sure it is not lost on them that these creatures in the pajamas are girls. After all, the boys are not dead and they are teenage boys. But maybe they know these are not young women to be trifled with. At least their actions say that they know. They talk with each other across gender lines, sometimes about things that actually matter. They treat each other as team mates. There is a certain amount of common dignity between the genders that often doesn't exist in other places in the adolescent life or even afterwards.

Oh, but then watch them swim and you will be astounded. They swim like they were born to it, and indeed most of them have been doing this together since they were in first grade. They live and move and breathe in the water with an ease I cannot even imagine. And what's more, they do it every day, in the dark and in the cold. Through talent, but even more through dedication and practice, they have developed a level of excellence at this that probably exceeds the level of quality or effort that I have achieved at anything in my over-achieving life.

I will say it frankly. I admire them, these kids in the pajamas. I am in awe. Sometimes I wish I could tell them that, but I know that no one wants creepy old ironman guy walking up to one in one's pajamas and waxing poetic about something one does as a matter of routine. But if I can't tell them they are to be admired, I hope they hear it somewhere, especially from their parents. So, I just silently admired them nearly every morning this past month.

This Friday, it was particularly cold, about 35 degrees farenheit, and one of the younger swimmer-girls was hoping that the coach might let them swim inside with "the old people." She said something along the lines of how slow some of them are, but she "gives them their props" for showing up and working out.

She may or may not have been talking about me specifically. There are swimmers far older and far slower than me. But there is a strong possibility that, Ironman finisher's gear or not, I was just patronized by a 15-year-old girl.

Nice. Love that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Speedo Pictures

OK, let it never be said that this blog isn't all about you, the reader. Also let it never be said that I'm not a sucker for female persuasion. By popular demand, I give you a red Speedo picture. Be forewarned: I'm not my usual 9% body fat self. It is the off season after all.

So, click here and enjoy, ladies.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Humility--Or The Tangled Tale Wherein I Make A Triathlon Related Purchase That May Never Be Used

I come from humble people.

Part of that humility was just the ethos of the family. Many's the time as children that my brother and I would receive the dire warnings concerning the wickedness of pride, about how the mighty would be humbled, and how the meek would inherit the earth.

Part of that humility was probably just self-preservation. You see, we are genetically tiny people. At 5'4" I tower over my mother, her mother, my dad's dad, and lots of the relatives on both sides of the stunted family tree. Like most hobbits and tiny prey animals, we rely upon the camoflage of humility to avoid being detected by the larger, predator animals like athenas, clydesdales, and Iron Superfreaks. (I have since come to find out that many of these larger animals are quite friendly and kind, but that was later.)

As a kid, this humble, camoflage-seeking behaviour was probably one of the reasons I never became involved in varsity team sports. In my high school in Oklahoma, it was all about the football and wrestling. A little guy like me would have been killed even trying to go out for a 5A football team, and while I probably would have been a formidable wrestler, there's this other barrier that humility throws in the way.


I was completely intimidated by athletes. The intimidation in the locker room was even worse. You footballers and uber athletic types may have no idea what this feels like, but when you are a hobbit, you have a deep, instinctive and abiding fear of situations like the locker room. Junior high and high school locker rooms are even worse because they are filled with junior high and high school boys in a giant tiled room with shower heads around the walls. Such places are filled with the large, scary alpha dogs. Hobbits and other prey animals lose all their camoflage when the clothing comes off. The more you will yourself to be invisible, the more you believe that everyone is looking at you.

Now that I am older, I know that I am not the only guy who worried about such things, but when you're a kid, you think you're the only one ever to experience adolescent angst. In that type of environment, I figured I had a lot to be humble about . . . or more precisely maybe, . . . a little to be humble about. I mean, I"m only 5'4" and . . . well. . . . never mind.

Such experiences imprint the instincts of the prey animal, and every step along the triathlon jounney involved some little battle.

Well, running came first, and that was not too bad. It was perfectly acceptable to run in baggy shorts that gave no clue concerning how "proud" or humble the wearer was or ought to be. And if I ran early in the morning, the showers were essentially empty.

But then, what of cycling? In cycling on must wear these skin tight shorts. If the color or the lighting is wrong, little is left to the imagination. Even the casual observer can tell one's state of "pride," and maybe even what religion one was born into:


The first time I put them on, it was a real "men in tights" kind of moment. But all the other men were in tights too, and at least I wasn't "rolly polly dude in tights". Besides, bike shorts with the right padding can be the equivalent of the wonder bra for guys. A little artificial help never hurt anyone.

Ah, but then there's the pool. There's no padding involved here, and the nylon is much thinner than bike shorts. I did not just jump in with the Speedo crowd. Before tri-swim lessons, I was definitely a board shorts or swim trunks kind of guy. I operated under the theory that humble people keep their trunks to themselves. Plus, I could only benefit if I left a little (or a lot) to the imagination.

But then there was TI swim lessons and learning about hydrodynamics and joining a masters swim group. As I got progressively more confident and progressively fitter, I went from jammers to square cut brief to a practice suit brief. I even had two black "brief" swimsuits made by TYR. VERY racey for a humble hobbit.

Then there was what has come to be known as "the purchase."

I've been doing a swim block in which I have swum every day for about the last three weeks. But in starting the block, I noticed that some of my old suits and jammers were getting too threadbare to continue being used with proper humility. So, I went to my favorite online swim store to order some new suits. I liked the price of the suits by "Club Swim" so I ordered four briefs and one jammer. But, I started thinking.

That's always the problem. I start thinking.

All my suits are black. "How about a little variety?" I says to myself. So I ordered two black briefs (no surprise), one navy brief (no big deal) and one . . .

wait for it . . . .


RED--Lifeguard red.

Then they arrived on Monday, and I guess I was generally pleased. The fabric of the briefs was nice, even nicer than the TYR or Speedo suits I have purchased. They are made of heavy nylon and lycra, not flimsy, see thru or too clingy when wet if you get my meaning. The 32 inch waist fit great and the leg holes aren't too tight for my cyclist quads. But I gotta say. They were very . . . .

Very . . .

uhm . . .


Not much fabric on the sides, sitting low, slightly below the hip bones, and only just covering the bum in back and the . . . uhm. . . . recreational equipment in front.


I managed to swim without embarassment or unseemly exposure in the black and navy suits this week. But there's something about that red suit. The color just asks people to look at it. And if they look at it, they might look at . . . . "it."

Humble people don't wear skimpy, red swimsuits. It may never come out of the drawer.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Chicks Dig It


Today it finally happened. A swimmer chick commented on my tatoo.

All in all you could tell it was going to be a great day. It was cool and clear this morning, and I was on the roads doing my long run by the time the sun was coming up. I loped easily through 8 miles and went immediately to the Woodlands Athletic Center to get a swim.

I was doing form work, bilateral breathing and drills today after a hard swim yesterday, and I was slicing through the water in my black Speedo with the efficiency and ease of an ocean predator.

Two lanes over, she was doing all four strokes and flip turning in her pink one piece swimsuit and pink goggles. She had a butterfly tatooed on her shoulder.

As she finished her set she asked about my tatoo.

"Is it real or did they put it on with water? Is it permanent?"

She is six.

She got her butterfly tatoo at a birthday party yesterday.

Her older sister, maybe an eigth grader, was being coached four lanes over and would have kicked my trash all over the pool.

Her mom has the 0% body fat, technical clothing, Ironman look about her and could undoubtedly break me in half, even if she was recovering from an injury.

Oh, well. Pink gurl thought my tat was da' bomb.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

That's Just Wrong

1. An elementary aged kid whose parents have permitted him or her to slide into obesity.

2. Elementary aged, obese kids begging for candy.

3. Answering the door and giving obese kids candy.

4. Trick-or-treating over the age of 14.

5. Parents who allow their 14+ year old girls to trick-or-treat in low-cut/short skirt costumes intended for adult (REALLY ADULT) parties.

6. Giving candy to a 15-year-old Naughty Nurse in fishnet stockings. (I kid you not. Very disturbing).

7. Giving candy to a 15-year-old French Maid in heels. (Again, very disturbing).

8. Turning trick-or-treating into a mechanized infantry assault by carting around the Naughty Nurse, the French Maid, several of their naughty friends and about a dozen younger children in the back of a pickup truck towing a trailer for more passengers. (Yo, dad. Do you think the 15 year old pimp and axe murdere and football player you are carrying around are interested in actually befriending your daughter, or perhaps are they more into the lady lumps? hmm? ya think?)

9. Eating nerds . . . again and again and again.

10. Waking from a sugar coma and trying to swim.

Maybe I can wash these images out of my head with a good sharp run this afternoon.