Friday, June 16, 2006


“… And as I think back makes me wonder how the smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia”
Will Smith – Summertime

I stood outside, in the cool pouring rain, looking like a complete goof. Baseball hat, sweatshirt, cargo shorts and flip flops. I had a choice of two varieties of chicken going on the grill: a tequila lime marinade or peppercorn ranch soak. I hit the rack with a blast of spray oil, as I always do. I took a sip from my pint of Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA sitting on the step as the acrid smoke billowed into the grey summer clouds.

Of course, the wind shifted and blew the plume into my face.

I was at once transported back to a cool grey foggy evening nearly thirty years before.

I was up on my uncle’s Vermont farm. It may have been a Sunday evening, but I’m not sure. The day’s activities of field clearing, brush cutting, wood chopping and rock moving had been suspended due to rain.

[a brief pause for a joke]

A tourist from the city was sitting on the porch of his Vermont bed & breakfast. He looked across the field toward the ski resort - closed for the summer – and was stunned by all the giant rocks, dotting the grassland.

“Excuse me,” he asked the proprietor, an old New Englander, “where did all these big rocks come from?”

“Glacier brung ‘em,” the Yankee replied.

“I don’t see any glacier. Where’d it go?”

“Guess it went back for more rocks.”

[ba-dum dum]

As I stood in the New Jersey rain, my mind wandered north to Vermont, Early-Summer 1977.

My uncle was on the back lawn, Weber grill smoking like a champ. Chicken, steak and ribs where on the menu.

“Randy, get yourself a beer. Get one for me, too” he said in a mild, off-hand way. Bill wasn’t usually so casual, so familiar; requests felt more like orders; questions had the flavor of interrogation. Working on the farm – even as family – I felt like a contractor. Actually, two contractors, since my day job was to work the fields; after dinner, Bill and I would venture to his design studio above the garage, where I would put on my apprentice hat (literally – I wore a Nikon baseball hat while working up there) and assist him with many phases of his graphic design / photography business. An industry that – since it allowed you to afford both a farm in Vermont, and a condo in New York City - I wanted into.

At his behest, I returned indoors and opened the refrigerator. There was a six pack of Bud – 6-packs had those flimsy plastic rings around them, then – and some foil-capped green bottles I did not recognize. I had seen green bottles before (Rolling Rock, Moosehead, Heineken) but these were unfamiliar to me. They had a girl on them, looking very much like Cinderella. Sensing they were special to my uncle, I grabbed one of each.

I walked out the side door to the cooking area; the easterly breeze blowing mesquite smoke my way. I handed Bill the green bottle and cracked open the can.

“Hey! What are you dong?” he exclaimed.

“I, uh, I thought, um, that was for you.” I always got a little panicked around my uncle, a little tongue tied.

“That’s fine but you should have one, too. It’s time for you to taste real beer.” He gave me a look that said ‘pound that truck driver beer and start over.’

I tipped my head back and chugged the contents of the All-American Beer. I tossed it into the recycle bin and went back into the house.

“We’ll need the bottle opener too!!!” Bill shouted from the yard “and, tell Maureen to get the glasses out for you.”

Okay, now I was outside my sphere of expertise. I knew what beers traveled well, which ones you could expect in what towns when on the road, which ones where held in higher esteem by the fans in the parking lot (which ones got girls drunk fastest) but I knew nothing about special glasses for beer.

My aunt found the beer glasses and handed them to me. They looked like the ones in the TV commercials for “Old Man Beer” – Schaeffer, Pabst, Ballantine – tall, slim, V-shaped, with a small base. Bill took them from me, placed them side-by-side on the picnic table and opened the first bottle. He poured just a little, and the foam surged up.

“Some people tip the glass to keep the foam down, but I find that makes you burp more,” he joked as he poured the rest. The he filled the second glass the same way and offered it to me.

We sat on the damp bench and he told me about his travels to Germany were he had “real” beer. He told me about Tecate and Presidente in Mexico; Dorado in Spain. Sure he was being a little braggadocious but one thing stuck with me … This was the first time anyone had spoken to me like a grown-up.

We finished our beverages and had dinner.

After dinner we were again out on the porch. The rain had subsided; a few errant drips fell from the roof. A fog was settling in on the field we had cleared over the past few summers at the bottom of the hill – it was now large enough for a real game of football, soccer or baseball.

Bill turned on the shortwave he kept on the porch – this being Vermont, few stations reached up there on their own, but the shortwave could pull them in. He wanted to listen to the Yankees for a while before going to bed.

My cousin had left it on his New York station, before he left for camp.

A booming bass line emerged from the small speakers

“dum dum dum dum dum dum dadadum ... dum dum dum dum dum dum dadadum ...“

I can't seem to face up to the facts
I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax
I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire
Don't touch me I'm a real live wire

“Oh, I’ve hear that,” my uncle remarked, “Billy’s girlfriend - Lisa Weymouth - her sister plays in that band.”

He looked off toward the woods. He seemed to going over a schedule in his head.

“Hey, why don’t you knock off up here a couple weeks early and end of the summer in New York with Billy?”

“I could do that; if it’s okay with you.”

“Yeah, you can stay with him and his mom on 72nd Street. I’ll let her know you’ll be there about a month from now. Deal!” We touched glasses to seal the arrangement.

A rumble of thunder brought me back to present-day New Jersey. I finished the pint and went back in the house for a refill. Something reminded me that I had the remains of a twelve-pack of St. Pauli Girl in the garage, destined for lawn duty.

“Donna, have you seen those Pilsener glasses???”

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Creepy Crawlies

“There was a time when giants roamed the Earth.

“No, not those giants, the dinosaurs that stomped and slogged their way through the Mesozoic Era. These giants crawled and crept, slithered and scurried, burrowed, slinked, skittered and, above all, flitted and fluttered millions of years before the dinosaurs arrived.

“They were the giant arthropods of the Carboniferous.

“There were extra-large mayflies, super-sized scorpions and spiders the size of a healthy spider plant. There was an array of giant flightless insects, and a five-foot-long millipede-like creature, Arthropleura, that resembled a tire tread rolled out flat.

“But perhaps the most remarkable of all were the giant dragonflies, Meganeuropsis permiana and its cousins, with wingspans that reached two and a half feet. They were the largest insects that ever lived.

“These large species thrived about 300 million years ago, when much of the land was lush and tropical and there was an explosion of vascular plants (which later formed coal, which is why the period is called the Carboniferous). But the giant species were gone by the middle to late Permian, some 50 million years later.”*

Except in New Jersey.

Well, maybe the giant dragonflies are gone, but New Jersey certainly has its share of mosquitoes, gnats, midges, fireflies, horseflies, deerflies, mayflies, lacewings, moths, crickets, grasshoppers, katykids and millions of other bothersome buzzers, that all seem to congregate along my running paths just about the time I’m coming through in the morning, now that summer is here.

There must just not be enough bats to eat them all up overnight.

Adding to the airborne threats, I’m also joined my ticks, chiggers, fleas and other ankle biters that make a post run shoe / sock / ankle / calf inspection a necessity.

It seems odd to start the day with a liberal application of bug spray while my mouth is still minty wake-up fresh; but that’s the way it has to be if I don’t want to come home as leftovers from some arthropodic breakfast buffet.

To add an added layer of protection against New Jersey’s official state malady – Lyme’s Disease – I have adopted a trick a friend of ours brought back from Gulf War I. To combat the giant sand fleas in Saudi Arabia, her company would tie flea and tick collars around their boots, as many as half a dozen per foot. My running shoes have a loop in the back to accomplish this; I weave the extra under the laces to minimize flopping and tripping.

Now if I could just rig an early warning system to keep the spider webs out of my face.

* “When Giants Had Wings and 6 Legs” By Henry Fountain – NY Times, February 3, 2004

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Two Dozen Years, Please

Today is a big anniversary. It was on this date in 1982, that I began running. To be truthful, I had run through high school and college but only as a part of soccer practice. Even after that I had tried “running” on my own but had no staying power. No, on this date, I ran with a group for the first time.

It was late on Memorial Day evening, after having many beers with the neighborhood “men” – the dads – that the four who ran – Mr. Fisler, Mr. Moran, Mr. Lodge, Mr, Tighe – challenged any and all of the “kids” – many of whom were not longer kids, but were old enough to have been drinking all day as well - to join them at 6:00 AM the next morning for a brief run.

I stayed up with the men, until midnight or so, excused myself for the evening, set my alarm, and met them at the curb in front of Mr. Fisler’s house at 6. It was a warm, humid, grey morning. One of the men described the course for me, (should I get left behind, or want to drop out) and after a quick stretch, we were off. I stayed with the quickest of them – I forget now whom – until the last couple streets, then took off for the “win”. I wasn’t breathing hard, (it wasn't a long run, maybe a couple miles) but was quite sweaty. I thanked them for inviting me – no one else showed up – and got ready for school.

I came back again the next day.

It wasn’t until this past weekend – Memorial Day – that two significant anniversaries converged in my consciousness.

The beginning of my running “career” was the most obvious, since I have celebrated that for 23 years now. But it only occurred to me Saturday that I returned from my Mexican surf adventure 25 years ago (1981), last weekend.

I never realized that I started running only ONE YEAR after coming back. It always felt like a much longer gap between them. I guess that since I started Art School only a month or so later, and spent most of the next year basically indoors – school, work, home, studio – that I didn’t notice the passage of time; making it feel so much longer. I also now see how the 12 months of work and school and the partying in between, aided me to gain nearly 25 pounds since coming back.

“I couldn’t have possibly gained twenty five pounds in only one year.”

Well, I guess I did; which is another reason that I started running. I was no longer the Surfer Randy that the girls in high school and college adored. I was regressing back into Chubby Geek Randy, and I didn’t want that. Being in Art School with dozens of cute chicks, the pudge had to go. So I vowed to get back in shape the first chance I got.

Surfer Randy retired; Runner Randy was born. June 1, 1982.

Happy Birthday, me.