Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Swami Dearest at Venice Beach

When relatives visit from out-of-state I always take them to Venice Beach. The sights and sounds fulfill all Southern California stereotypes: The guitar-playing swami on rollerskates; gang members with more tattoos than an old sailors' home; fortune tellers, sleeping bums, artists and street performers, motorcycle hoods; hot-looking chicks on roller blades, conspiracy theorists ("Bush Killed My Turtles!"), pumped-up weight lifters, blaring rap music, Tibetan gongs and sea gulls wheeling overhead..

At least that's the way it used to be.

I hadn't been to Venice in many years. That gives you some idea how often we're visited by out-of-state relatives. Nevertheless, my niece came out and we took her down to the beach. Everything seemed pretty much the same, but a lot more orderly. Even the sleeping bums appeared to have been arranged by a landscaper. But I really wanted to see the guitar-playing swami. I'd promised my niece. My wife grew up in nearby Santa Monica and said the swami mostly works there nowadays, rollerblading along the fashionable 3rd Street Promenade.

Perhaps I should've checked with his agent first.

He has one.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Inkling Charles S. Williams

Somewhere I read that March 25 corresponds to the Shire calendar day when Gollum and the Ring of Power toppled into Mount Doom, thereby unmaking Sauron and freeing Middle Earth. Sauron's kingdom was later auctioned off, becoming the Mordor Pitch and Putt. (For a proper Trilogy send-up, I suggest the Harvard Lampoon's 1969 "Bored of the Rings.")

In any case, I've had Tolkien and his peers on my mind for the last two weeks, ever since a member of my writing group lent me a book on "The Inklings." The Inklings were a mid-20th Century literary group in Oxford. Very distinguished. Among others, the Inklings featured J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles S. Williams. Novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, though not a member, hung with the Inklings and is said to have dogged Charles S. Williams until he explained Dante and Beatrice to her. Zany cut-ups, these English writers.

Tolkien, of course, wrote "The Hobbit" and the "The Lord of the Rings." C.S. Lewis wrote "The Chronicles of Narnia." And Charles S. Williams wrote some strange spooky fiction. (He also wrote numerous plays, poems, and critiques, but they weren't all that strange and spooky.) Williams took genres such as detective fiction and wove in heavy metaphysical elements. For example, "War in Heaven" opens like a murder mystery but we learn the Holy Grail has been discovered in a small English church. A race is on as various parties seek the Grail for its supernatural powers. (A bit like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" only 51 years earlier.)

Williams' books are dense as a neutron star. But there is something eerie and compelling in his work, as if he were able to part the veil and render events beyond our temporal senses. The closest comparison I can make is to the film, "The Others." Charles S. Williams leaves you convinced there's more to life — and death — than you'd normally care to dwell on.

His novels never really sold. But they're still in print. Williams, who worked as an editor for Oxford Press and taught classes in literature, died in 1945 at age 57. If I get through more of his books, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Notes on Nuts 5K

A teammate running the LA Marathon, Jerry, posted a time a shade over 5 hours. Jerry said he'd probably have finished in the 4-hour range but for three bathroom breaks. The 5K port-o-potty lines were long. The marathon facilities must have been epic. (And ghastly, as only a marathon port-o-potty can be.)

A few teammates hung around to cheer Jerry and TNT marathoner Phil. They waited at the 20 mile mark. Seeing a marathoner at 20 miles is like seeing your parents naked — not pretty. You can run the last mile and look cool for the finish line camera. But at mile 20, the bloom is definitely off the rose. Runners struggling, walking, pulling themselves along on injured legs. Someone remarked that only finishing makes all the pain worthwhile. Having hobbled the last seven miles in Huntington Beach, I agree.

2776 runners finished the Emerald Nuts 5K. Coach Kate ran second in her age division (18-24) running the 3.1 miles in 21 minutes. That's a pace of 6 minutes and 46 seconds per mile. I can't think that fast.

Teammate Gionne snapped a few photos. From right to left, Jay, Ernesto, Melinda, myself and Chad perfect our "hanging-out-aimlessly-before-the-race" look.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

5K Nuts to Me

My Team in Training chapter ran the Emerald Nuts 5K this morning. With all the training I've missed, I did better than expected: 27:22 - an 8:49 per minute pace for the 3.1 miles. One of our coaches, Kate, placed second in her age group.

Most of the team took the Gold Line from Pasadena to Union Station in downtown LA, then transferred to the Red Line for a three-stop jaunt to Flower St. From there we walked over to the Staples Center and the start line. Very easy, stress free arrival - unlike the nerve-jangling chaos of Pacific Shoreline parking back in February. This was only the second time I've been on the Metro Rail. I'm guessing there must be some invisible ray that scans all passengers, identifying those without tickets and giving them kidney stones. Because no human being ever asked to see my ticket. I saw a bum conked out in a subway car. More were sleeping in the station. I grew nostalgic for Chicago.

I would love to run the LA Marathon next year. After the Chicago Marathon in October. And, of course, the San Diego Marathon in June.

Not that I'm looking ahead or anything.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Health Club Hunt

Saw a very good health club today: a clean, well-lit establishment with up-to-date machines, a generous two-hour parking validation, and a great locker room with a glassed-in jacuzzi, faux wood lockers and carpeting that didn't appear to be Astro Turf.

The sales rep, a young guy named Reynaldo, pressed hard for me to sign up this very day. He overcame objections like nobody's business. I was offered a one-day discount, a money back guarantee, and a girl. (Not really, but if Reynaldo thought it would help him close he might've hinted at it.) I have one more health club to check out, so I declined. I told Reynaldo he'd probably end up owning the club very soon. But all Reynaldo wanted to hear was that I'd sign up this very day.

On the swimming fashion front, I noticed today that I am "overtrunked." My swim trunks are long, boxer style, and decorated with garish flowers, and Hawaiian words like "Mahalo." They are perfect for pool parties, vacations, and trips to Hawaii where they pass unnoticed. However the pool I frequent mostly attracts competitive swimming types. The guys wear smaller brief-style trunks. But I will not be stampeded. Big, baggy trunks are just fine for aqua running.

A further note on aqua running. I mentioned the chill/warm contrast. There is also a hot/warm difference. On bright sunny days, my head bakes. Today I put on sun screen. As a result, my pasty white Irish skin now has a head with movie star tan.

It appears as if I could only afford to send my head on vacation and it had a great time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Emerald Nuts in a Bind

On Sunday, San Gabriel Valley Team in Training will run the Emerald Nuts 5K. This 3.1 mile race follows in the wake of the L.A. Marathon down Figueroa and back to the Staples Center.

Traffic promises to be such a madhouse, that many of us will take the Metro Rail from Pasadena downtown to Union Station.

Nothing else really to say.

I just had to come up with something to justify the title.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Cross Training News

Interesting note on aqua jogging. Wearing a flotation belt, only your head and topmost shoulders extend out of the water. The local aquatic center features heated outdoor pools. Last week was cold. Thus my exposed head was chilled while the rest of my body stayed warm underwater.

Was birth like that?

Hill training begins tonight. Alas, I have a commitment that will keep me from joining my teammates. I learned so much last fall about my form and how I tend to run with my back and shoulders tight.

Health club shopping continues. Another update this week.

Parking is the key.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Indochina History Break

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the Viet Minh attack on the French garrison at Dienbienphu — a remote valley in northern Vietnam near the border with Laos. The Viet Minh were an umbrella group of Vietnamese nationalists under the leadership of communist Ho Chi Minh. They had been fighting the colonial French, and other Vietnamese nationalist groups, since 1946.

The French viewed their position in a flat valley surrounded by hills as an offensive base. From there they would venture out and cut the Viet Minh supply lines, preempting an attack on Laos. As a result of this outlook, the garrison never outposted the hills. They'd be attacking and, besides, it was impossible for the Vietnamese to haul any significantt artillery up there.

Unaware of French opinion, the Vietnameses went ahead and hauled heavy artillery up onto the hills along with daunting amounts of anti-aircraft guns. On March 13, they let loose a barrage, followed by a human wave attack that engulfed a French strongpoint manned by crack Foreign Legionnaires. The fight was on.

For the next several months, while peace talks droned on in Geneva, the Vietnamese strangled the French. All French supplies had to come by parachute. The planes—many flown by American contract pilots— braved intense flak dropping their cargo. As the garrison was compressed, the drop zone grew smaller. Food and ammunition ran short. Meanwhile, generous supplies from nearby communist China—including American ordinance captured in Korea— enabled the Viet Minh to bombard their opponents at will.

Despite horrendous casualties, the Viet Minh seized one French strongpoint after another. Finally, on May 7, 1954, it ended. The French surrendered. Over 10,000 men marched into captivity, many of whom died in Viet Minh prison camps. French colonial rule in Vietnam and Laos ended. In 1955, Vietnam was partitioned into a communist north and a non-communist south along the 17th parallel.

Now back to running and writing stuff.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Storm Running

Finished a ten mile run today with Team in Training. This is the first time I've run with my Summer pace group. It's also the last since pace groups will be reshuffled following next week's 5K.

Stormy yesterday and today. Snowline crept way down the mountain. Through breaks in the mist you could see the San Gabriels covered in green and white. They looked moldy.

Lots of zig-zag running on trails covered by wide puddles or strewn with washed-down rocks and debris. Chilly rain fell now and again with a hail storm thrown in for seasoning. Many runners wore black, plastic trash bags. Jeff, a seasoned TNT veteran, recommends 55 gal. generic brands that tear easily. In addition to low-tech water-proofing, the bags are warm.

After practice, I was very greatful for a working car heater.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hard Luck Harufa

Popped in the The 7th Voyage of Sinbad DVD the other night. Here's a film I love; seen it dozens of times, but I'm always catching something new. For instance, Sinbad's loyal 1st Mate, Harufa, played by Alfred Brown, takes a real pasting for three quarters of the film.

He's kicked by a Cyclops, locked up by mutineers, roasted and almost eaten by the same Cyclops, fights a giant roc, saves the magic lamp from the evil magician who then kills him.

On top of that, he was comic relief.

He wore a lot of turbans, that Harufa.

Scrappy guy, but very unlucky.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Resting Today

A tough training week. Ran two miles Tuesday; strength training on Wednesday; ran two more miles Thursday, worked out on a cardio machine at Club #1 on Friday; then ran eight miles with TNT on Saturday. My calves feel like limestone bricks.

There's 90 minutes free parking for Club #1. However their policy mandates that guests be logged out of the computer by a sales rep. This gives them an opportunity to sign you up every visit. This policy also squanders time so that you must hustle out the door, down two blocks to the parking garage, up the stairs to your car, drive down to the gate. By now 90 minutes have passed and you're out a couple bucks for parking. I'm souring on #1.
Continuing on my health club tour, I checked out an aquatic facility last week. The young woman showing me around seemed to think I'd grown up there and was familiar with the jargon. ('Comp pool, 50 meters, Wed. Family Night, busy rec pool; no float.')

Still, I may go test swim tomorrow morning when most people are at their jobs.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rejection Spam

One of my short-stories was turned down by an undergrad publication. I received the standard email rejection: "not selected, try again, etc." However the staffer sending out the notice hit reply-all. Myself and about fourteen other writers got the same rejection as well as each other's email addresses.

After discreetly notifying the publication of their goof, I checked my inbox. Two of the rejected writers were now squabbling, with one threatening to "bitch slap" the other — in reply-all mode.

To top it off, the name of the publication was something like "Silly Brain Magazine."

"By their works, ye shall know them."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Every Picture Doesn't Tell A Story

Summer TNT started on Feb. 4 and I have yet to run with my pace group. However, my injured tendon and knee feel much improved. This Saturday we run eight miles on trails above the Rose Bowl. I'll be running solo once again. Perhaps I'll join them next week for ten.

Visited my old land lady. She's in a nursing home out in the San Gabriel Valley. Her bones are like popsicle sticks and she weighs 87 pounds. I pushed her outside in a wheelchair so she could have a couple of smokes. The nursing home is her last stop before Judgment Day and she knows it. Tough old gal.

Got work on a new animated show. It's developed from a well-drawn picture book. Alas, the well-drawn pictures need a story propelling them forward and there is precious little. The main characters don't really want anything and there are no consequences if they stay in this slothful state. In addition, there is no antagonist standing in the way of their anti-goals. It's just characters and a setting.

However, it pays decently and right now that covers a lot of absentee elements.