Saturday, September 21, 2013

Drug Test

I had a drug test, which was required for a security clearance, at the Trust In Us Clinic in St. Paul today. I didn't know how long it would take because Trust In Us is a first-come, first-serve clinic. I got there a little after 2 p.m. and figured there would be plenty of time to get to SPA to pick up Jack at 3. He wasn't expecting me and was intending to ride the bus home. I thought he might prefer a drive home to the long bus ride.

The waiting room was small. The place was tacky and did not seem like a clinic at all. I studied the poster advertising the special deal on the Trust In Us paternity DNA test guaranteed 99.999999% accurate. 

I was waiting with a few ex-cons, a long haired, blank staring, bearded dude with a blue bandanna tied around his head and a chatty guy who reminded me of the drug dealer character "Black Doug" in The Hangover.

Things were moving really slowly and I didn't think I'd get out in time to get to SPA by 3:00 p.m. More people filed into the small waiting room which became standing room only. One new entrant was a very large Hmong girl, who must have been raised on the American diet, accompanied by her very tiny mother.

I got in for the urine test at twelve minutes to three.

I didn't have time for small talk but, just the same, learned that it was the nurse's mother's 81st birthday. She noted that it was also Sophia Loren's birthday. I have a story about Sophia Loren, but didn't have time to share it.

I signed the necessary papers and scratched my initials on two urine vials that were then sealed in a pouch.

I wrote my signature on the urine pouch, raced out, ran down the stairs and galloped to my car parked in the far back lot. I put the pedal to the metal and weaved in and out of slow moving traffic while I tried to call Jack. I wanted to tell him that I was on my way, and to not take the bus. He did not answer.

Jack was waiting to board a bus when I arrived. He was having great fun pushing and shoving and horsing around with a group of friends.

He was happy to see me but was having too much fun with his friends, "Dad, I kinda want to take the bus with my friends." I paused and said, okay boy, see you at home.

I hopped in the car and barreled across town to Minneapolis to pick up Lucy at her school.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lifetime Fitness Sprint Distance Triathlon

I woke at 4 am to big thunder, bright flashes, cracks and booms.

The transition area was scheduled to be open from 4:30am - 6:45am. The thunderstorm during that same time frame dumped 2.6 inches (6.7 cm) rain.

The Lifetime Fitness Triathlon twitter feed asked people to stay in their cars until the storm cleared. I was not in my car but home, four miles away, planning to ride my bike to the transition area.

6:20 AM Lifetime Fitness Triathlon Twitter:

"Lightning is cleared, transition is now open. See you there!"

I put on some rain gear, threw on my backpack with all of my gear, and hopped on my bike.  The thunder and lightning had stopped but according to NOAA the winds were from the south at 17 gusting to 28 MPH. The rain was still heavy.

The intersection in front of my house in south Minneapolis was flooded as were several others areas.  Part of my route to the transition area was along Minnehaha Creek.  Some of that same route was intended to be the Olympic distance bike course.  The creek was flooded up to and over the road in some areas.  I rode my bike through water that was deeper than my bottom bracket.  I'd say the deepest water was about ten inches. My feet were rotating through water.

As I neared the transition area, hundred of cyclists (actually 3,000 registered!) and their support crews were heading out of their cars and into the transition area.  It was still raining and I heard several "No way!" types of comments.

7:25 AM Lifetime Fitness Twitter:

"The International course is currently impassable due to flooding. The Sprint course is being evaluated. More details as they come."

The race was orginally scheduled to start at 7:00 am but due to the threat of thunderstorms and re-routing of the bike courses it was delayed.

After setting up in transition and meeting some of the other old dudes in my age group, I wandered the grounds.

During the delay I saw someone familiar. She recognized me and I recognized her but it took a moment for us to place each other because we were were out of our usual context and were wearing triathlon kits. It was Bridget, a fellow parent whom I had passed hundreds of times at our kids school. Our kids are the same age.  I hung with her and her husband, an Ironman Wisconsin veteran, during the delay.

It was announced that after studying "very sophisticated radar" the storm had cleared and we were safe to begin once the new bike route was set.  The Olympic distance was cancelled leaving only the sprint course. The pros and age groupers who came for the Olympic distance were then relegated to a sprint distance (.25 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 5k).

The pros started around 9. I was wearing a wet suit so waited in the water until it was time for my wave to go. They set us off two at a time every three seconds. I like that scheme.

The age grouper waves left by oldest first. I also like that. When it is done the opposite way, I am usually the last person out of the water and the life guards want to rescue me so they can go home.

It was windy and wavy but my swim started out pretty good. I stuck to my plan of using every stroke I know to survive. I crawled, breast stroked, back stroked, side stroked, dog paddled. I knew my swim time would be bad. I just wanted to make it.

There was a gauntlet of life guards on the swim course all of whom asked me if I was doing all right. I was going so slow I had conversations with several life guards. When one life guard complained about being hungry, I apologized for not bringing food but I was hungry, too. I hadn't planned on a two hour delay.

I had a long and slow transition but finally got out to the bike course. I passed a few dozen cyclists but then started getting passed by the younger age groupers.

I saw one woman, who must have thought the course was an out and back, cut the pylons and started returning. I thought, "Seriously?" If that was her intention, she was wrong about the route. Who knows where she ended up.

The winds were still strong, and the last portion of the bike was upwind. It was tough going but I enjoyed the ride through the beautiful parkways of Minneapolis.

The sun had come out and the temperature was now 80F (27C) and it was very humid.

I had another long, slow transition. I got out on the run. When I hit mile one I thought, "Damn, these are long miles." I walked some of the hills. There were lots of spectators out trying to tell me that I was doing great and that I was "almost there". Little did they know how not great I was doing and how "almost there" I was not.

The nicest thing about the finish was that there was a volunteer dipping towels in ice water and handing them to you. That was the best thing. I threw that ice cold towel over my head and neck.

I was handed a participant medal and began looking for apples and bananas but found none.

I wish I had pictures. Rain and mud-wise, this had been the Woodstock of triathlons.

Eventually I hopped on my bike and rode home. It is only four miles, but those were hard miles. Little inclines had turned into hills.

Three blocks from my house I saw a woman examining a downed tree. I said, "I thought all the trees that could blow down did in the last storm."  She said, "It wasn't wind. It was lightning."  That tree had been decimated by lightning earlier in the morning.

Later in the afternoon I went to the first game of my son's baseball tournament. The boys did great and won handily.

It was a good day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cliff Plunge

My friend Alex was in town from Arizona for his dad's funeral.  I spent yesterday afternoon with him.  We drove around the lakes, we had lunch, we drove around the lakes again, we had coffee, we talked about his dad and other things.

I wrote this last night and hope I got the detail and order of events correctly.  I will speak with Alex later to make any corrections and additions if necessary.

Alex is a big mountain biker and has done the Leadville 100 nine times.  This summer he will get the 1,000 mile buckle.

Alex did the Whiskey 50 in Prescott, Arizona with friends.  One friend, Dusty, was not riding but had a support role handing out water toward the top of a mountain.  Dusty's wife Kiki, Alex, and another friend Andy participated in the race.  As a side note, Andy is a chef from Salt Lake City.

Dusty was using Andy's black Toyota Forerunner and also had Andy's Husky dog Gigi with him.

Alex finished the race when he got a call from Dusty. Dusty said, "I've been in an accident but I'm okay.  I hurt my shoulder and I think my ear is ripped.  Can you come up?"

Alex said, "Where are you?"  Dusty said, "Come up the mountain, you'll find me.  There are rescue vehicles everywhere on the road.  I think I totaled Andy's Forerunner."

Alex thought, HOLY SHIT.  He discovered later that Dusty had made the calls from where he lay, half way down a cliff and was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Dusty had driven off the road.  The Forerunner rolled several times landing several hundred feet down.  Dusty and the dog were thrown free of the vehicle.  The Forerunner rolled until it hit a boulder.  Before I go on, the dog was hurt but now okay.

Alex headed up the mountain.  The rescue workers would not let him into the rescue zone even though he explained that he was Dusty's friend.  He said, "I just talked to Dusty.  He said he's okay."  They said, "Your friend is in a lot worse shape than that."

Alex told them he was coming through anyway.  At the same time, a deputy sheriff decided they needed Alex to tend to the dog who was being cared for by a woman who loves dogs.  Alex and the woman brought the dog down the mountain to a veterinary hospital.  Alex does not remember the woman’s name, only that she was a former Mormon.

Alex tried to find Dusty's wife Kiki and Andy who had finished the race but were lost in a crowd of 1700 bikers and a few hundred spectators.  Alex could not find them.  He had the finish line announcer page them but they did not hear it.

Alex finally found them somewhere in the crowd.  They were tired from the race and needed their clothes and belongings from Andy's car which now was stuck on a boulder half way down a cliff.

Alex reported what happened and said that he talked to Dusty and that Dusty said he was okay.  I'm not sure of the order of events but Kiki went to the hospital to wait for the ambulance to arrive.  Alex and Andy headed back up the mountain.  They needed Andy's and Kiki's clothes, cell phones, ID and such that had been in the SUV but were now actually strewn down the mountain.

Dusty arrived at the Prescott hospital but was soon airlifted to Phoenix. 

Alex and Andy surveyed the scene and just could not believe it.  Alex showed me photos and video from his phone of the wrecked car and of the helicopter that did the airlift.

I assumed this all happened some time ago and asked, when did this happen?  “Last Saturday.”

Sunday Alex called Dusty.  His sternum had been broken in four places, his body had been well lacerated, bloodied and bruised, he had a cracked vertebrae in his neck.  I asked, “Where was he when you called?” assuming he was in the hospital.  “He was home.”  He had been in the hospital only one day!

Last night when I got home I Googled “prescott forerunner accident” and found this:

Rescue Situation in Prescott

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wind Chimes Bells

Wind chimes bells
which wind chimes bells
what can tell
which wind chimes the bells

Tonight the wind flows through me
and past my naked face
it draws on my soul
to join its ceaseless race

The wind that cuts through rock and stone
blows hard through me tonight
The wind that gnaws me to the bone
pulls at me with its might

Tonight the wind flows through my eyes
and haunts my restless soul
to wake my mind and escape from thoughts
that hold me to this role

The wind that can be quiet to rustle a leaf
or ring a little bell
with a breath can rile an ocean wave
from a ripple to a heaving swell

Which wind is it that calls to me
to take me from my home
Which wind is it that calls to me
and makes me feel alone?

Is it the wind that fills a fledgling's wings
and gently urges it on to flight
or is it the wind that can roar like hell
and rip destruction through the night?

The wind that persuades by ringing a bell
and summons by smoke from the fire
does not have to beg to me
it knows what I desire

But is the wind that rings the bell
and tempts by smoke from the fire
a wind that gusts from hell
or the wind of God's desire?

Whether the wind is pulling me
or pushing me to go
it does not have to beg
it knows I want to go

I know the wind is calling me
I know it knows, I know
The wind does not have to beg
It knows I want to go

Wind chimes bells
which wind chimes bells?
Who can tell
which wind chimes the bells?

Friday, March 9, 2012


By Filencio Salmon

There is, essentially, one city in our country. It is a city in which everyone wears a hat, works in an office, jogs, and eats simply but elegantly; a city, above all, in which everyone covets shoes. Italian shoes, in particular. Oh, you can get by with a pair of domestically made pumps or cordovans or the supplest sheepskin, or even, in the languid days of summer, with huaraches or Chinese slippers made of silk or even nylon. There are those who claim to prefer running shoes -- Puma, Nike, Saucony -- winter and summer. But the truth is, what everyone wants -- for the status, the cachet, the charm and refinement -- are the Italian loafers and ankle boots, hand-stitched and with a grain as soft and rich as, well - is this the place to talk of the private parts of girls still in school?

My uncle -- call him Dagoberto -- imports shoes. From Italy. And yet, until recently, he himself could barely afford a pair. It's the government, of course. Our country -- the longest and leanest in the world -- is hemmed in by the ocean on one side, the desert and mountains on the other, and the government has leached and pounded it dry till sometimes I think we live atop a stupendous, three-thousand-mile-long strip of jerky. There are duties -- prohibitive duties -- on everything. Or rather, on everything we want. Cocktail napkins, band-aids, Tupperware, Crescent wrenches, and kimchi come in practically for nothing. But the things we crave -- microwaves, Lean Cuisine, CDs, leisure suits, and above all, Italian shoes -- carry a duty of two and sometimes three-hundred percent. The government is unfriendly. We are born, we die, it rains, it clears, the government is unfriendly. Facts of life.

Uncle Dagoberto is no revolutionary -- none of us are; let's face it, we manage -- but the shoe situation was killing him. He'd bring his shoes in, arrange them seductively in the windows of his three downtown shops, and there they'd languish, despite a markup so small he'd have to sell a hundred pairs just to take his shop girls out to lunch. It was intolerable. And what made it worse was that the good citizens of our city, vain and covetous as they are, paraded up and down in front of his very windows in shoes identical to those he was selling -- shoes for which they'd paid half price or less. And how were these shoes getting through customs and finding their way to the dark little no-name shops in the ill-lit vacancies of waterfront warehouses? Ask the Black Hand, Los Dedos Muertos, the fat and corrupt Minister of Commerce.

For months, poor Uncle Dagoberto brooded over the situation, while his wife (my mother's sister, Carmen, a merciless woman) and his six daughters screamed for the laser facials, cellular phones, and Fila sweats he could no longer provide for them. He is a heavyset man, my uncle, and balding, and he seemed to grow heavier and balder during those months of commercial despair. But one morning, as he came down to breakfast in the gleaming, tiled expanse of the kitchen our families share in the big venerable old mansion on La Calle Verdad, there was a spring in his step and a look on his face that, well -- there is a little shark in the waters here, capable of smelling out one part of blood in a million parts of water, and when he does smell out that impossible single molecule of blood, I imagine he must have a look like that of Uncle Dagoberto on that sun struck morning.

"Tomas" he said to me, rubbing his hands over his Bran Checks, Metamucil, and decaffeinated coffee, "we're in business."

The kitchen was deserted at that hour. My aunt and sisters were off jogging, Dagoberto's daughters at the beach, my mother busy with aerobics, and my father -- my late, lamented father -- lying in his grave. I didn't understand. I looked up at him blankly from my plate of microwave waffles.

His eyes darted around the room. There was a sheen of sweat on his massive, close-shaven jowls. He began to whistle -- a tune my mother used to sing me, by Grandmaster Flash -- and then he broke off and gave me a gold-capped smile. "The shoe business," he said. "There's fifteen hundred in it for you."

I was at the university at the time, studying semantics, hermeneutics, and the deconstruction of deconstruction. I myself owned two sleek pairs of Italian loafers, in ecru and rust. Still, I wasn't working, and I could have used the money. "I'm listening," I said.

What he wanted me to do was simple -- simple, but potentially dangerous. He wanted me to spend two days in the north, in El Puerto Libre -- Freeport. There are two free ports in our country, separated by nearly twenty-five hundred miles of terrain that looks from the air like the spine of some antediluvian monster. The southern port is called Calidad, or Quality. Both are what I imagine the great bazaars of Northern Africa and the Middle East to have been in the time of Marco Polo or Rommel, percolating caldrons of sin and plenty, where anything known to man could be had for the price of a haggle. But there was a catch, of course. While you could purchase anything you liked in El Puerto Libre or Calidad, to bring it back to the city, you had to pay duty -- the same stultifying duty merchants were obliged to pay. And why then had the government set up the free ports in the first place? In order to make digital audiotapes and microwaves available to themselves, of course, and to set up discreet banking enterprises for foreigners, by way of generating cash flow -- and ultimately, I think, to frustrate the citizenry. To remind us that the government is unfriendly.

At any rate, I was to go north on the afternoon plane, take a room under the name "Chilly Buttons," and await Uncle Dagoberto's instructions. Fine. For me, the trip was nothing. I relaxed with a Glenlivet and Derrida, the film Death Wish VII, and the flight attendants were small in front and, well, substantial behind, just the way I like them. On arriving, I checked into the hotel he'd arranged for me -- the girl behind the desk had eyes and shoulders like one of the amazons of the North American cinema, but she tittered and showed off her orthodonture when I signed "Chilly Buttons" in the register -- and I went straight up to my room to await Uncle Dagoberto's call. Oh, yes, I nearly forgot; he'd given me an attaché case in which there were five hundred huevos -- our national currency -- and a thousand black market dollars. "I don't anticipate any problems," he'd told me as he handed me onto the plane, "but you never know, eh?"

I ate veal medallions and dry spinach salad at a brasserie frequented by British rock stars and North American drug agents, and then sat up late in my room, watching a rerun of the world of cockfighting championships. I was just dozing off when the phone rang. "Bueno," I said, snatching up the receiver.

"Tomas?" It was Uncle Dagoberto.

His voice was pinched with secrecy, a whisper, a rasp. "I want you to go to the customs warehouse on La Avenida Democracia at 10:00 A.M. sharp." He was breathing heavily. I could barely hear him. "There are shoes there," he said. "Italian shoes. Thirty thousand shoes, wrapped in tissue paper. No one has claimed them and they're to be auctioned first thing in the morning." He paused and I listened to the empty hiss of the land breathing through the miles that separated us. "I want you to bid nothing for them. A hundred huevos. Two. But I want you to buy them. Buy them or die." And he hung up.

At a quarter of ten the next morning I stood outside the warehouse, the attaché case clutched in my hand. Somewhere a cock crowed. It was cold, but the sun warmed the back of my neck. Half-a-dozen hastily shaven men in sagging suits and battered domestically made oxfords gathered beside me.

I was puzzled. How did Uncle Dagoberto expect me to buy thirty thousand Italian shoes for two hundred huevos, when a single pair sold for twice that? I understood that the black-market dollars were to be offered as needed, but even so, how could I buy more than a few dozen pairs? I shrugged it off and buried my nose in Derrida.

It was past twelve when an old man in the uniform of the customs police hobbled up the street as if his legs were made of stone, produced a set of keys, and threw open the huge hammered-steel doors of the warehouse. We shuffled in, blinking against the darkness. When my eyes became accustomed to the light, the mounds of unclaimed goods piled up on pallets around me began to take on form. There were crates of Crescent wrenches, boxes of tupperware, a bin of door stoppers. I saw bicycle horns -- thousands of them, black and bulbous as the noses of monkeys -- and jars of kimchi stacked up to the steel crossbeams of the ceiling. And then I saw the shoes. They were heaped up in a small mountain, individually wrapped in tissue paper, just as Uncle Dagoberto had said. The others ignored them. They read the description the customs provided, unwrapped the odd shoe, and went on to the bins of church-key openers and chutney. I was dazed. It was like stumbling across the treasure of the Incas, the Golden City itself, and yet having no one recognize it.

With trembling fingers, I unwrapped first one shoe, then another. I saw patent leather, suede, the sensuous ripple of alligator; my nostrils filled with the rich and unmistakable bouquet of newly tanned leather. The shoes were perfect, insuperable, the very latest styles, au currant, a la mode and exciting. Why had the others turned away? It was then that I read the customs declaration: Thirty thousand leather shoes, it read, imported from the Republic of Italy, port of Livorno. Unclaimed after thirty days. To be sold at auction to the highest bidder. Beside the declaration, in a scrawl that betrayed bureaucratic impatience -- disgust, even -- of the highest order, was this further notation: Left feet only.

It took me a moment. I bent to the mountain of shoes and began tearing at the tissue paper. I tore through women's pumps, stiletto heels, tooled boots, wing tips, deck shoes, and patent-leather loafers -- and every single one, every one of those thirty thousand shoes, was half a pair. Uncle Dagoberto, I thought, you are a genius.

The auction was nothing. I waited through a dozen lots of number-two pencils, Cabbage Patch dolls, and soft-white light bulbs, and then I placed the sole bid on the thirty thousand left-footed shoes. One hundred huevos and they were mine. Later, I took the young amazon up to my room and showed her what a man with a name like Chilly buttons can do in a sphere that, well -- is this the place to gloat? We were sharing a cigarette when Uncle Dagoberto called. "Did you get them?" he shouted.

"One hundred huevos," I said.

"Good boy," he crooned. "good boy." He paused a moment to catch his breath. "And do you know where I'm calling from?" He asked, struggling to keep down the effervescence in his voice.

I reached out to stroke the amazon's breast -- her name was Linda, by the way, and she was a student of cosmetology. "I think I can guess," I said. "Calidad?"

"Funny thing," Uncle Dagoberto said, "there are some shoes here, in the customs warehouse -- fine Italian shoes, the finest, thirty thousand in a single lot -- and no one has claimed them. Can you imagine that?"

There was such joy in his tone that I couldn't resist playing out the game with him. "There must be something wrong with them," I said.

I could picture his grin. "Nothing, nothing a all. If you're one-legged."

That was two years ago.

Today, Uncle Dagoberto is the undisputed shoe king of our city. He made such a killing on that one deal that he was able to buy his way into the cartel that "advises" the government. He has a title now -- Undersecretary for International Trade -- and a vast, brightly lit office in the president’s palace.

I've changed, too, though I still live with my mother on La Calle Verdad and I still attend the university. My shoes -- I have some thirty pairs now, in every style and color those clever Italians have been able to devise -- are the envy of all, and no small attraction to the nubile and status-hungry young women of the city. I no longer study semantics, hermeneutics, and the deconstruction of deconstruction, but have instead been pursuing a degree in business. It only makes sense. After all, the government doesn't seem half so unfriendly these days.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Look Homeward Angel

A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost!

Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Thomas Wolfe

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Rat Faced Boy

Places to Eat in Northwood, North Dakota

The rat-faced boy had a dog-faced sister so we came to the conclusion that they had different daddies but that neither was fathered by the man currently married to their mother. That man looked like a weasel, and besides he was as gay and effeminate as a man can be. His was a marriage of something like convenience to the small town heiress of Larry's Restaurant. Her true love was the town's mortician.

The man and his wife ran Larry's which was one of two places to eat in Northwood, North Dakota and was frequented by farmers and townsmen for the daily breakfast and lunch specials.

The rat-faced boy's ancient, arthritic grandmama worked in the steamy scullery. She washed dishes and could always be heard clinking, clattering and banging around. I never saw anyone speak to her except in clipped commands. She muttered a constant stream obscenities that no one ever responded to.

The pancakes served at Larry's weren't poisonous like lead but did have other similarities. They were thick and heavy and served with two wide, greasy slabs of limp bacon and oily hash browns. Returning for the lunch time special didn't really give a person's stomach a chance to get the bacon fat and pancakes a chance to half-digest.

The only other place to eat in town was the drive-in which was run by a man who was as pale and wan and white-headed as a ghoul. In fact, that's what he went by, The Ghoul, a name bestowed in youth. It wasn't known whether The Ghoul was a genuine albino or not but the subject was the cause of much speculation.

The Ghoul smartly avoided the sun and drove a long white Cadillac with darkly tinted windows. He had a wife who bore no children but instead rather a dissatisfaction with existence.  Bear witness every stride she took and every word she spoke. She had once been vigorous and athletic, a cheerleader in fact, and a member of the renowned all-blond Jumpin' Go Goes gymnast group which performed at pep fest rallies and halftimes in places as big as Fargo and Minneapolis and as far away as Grand Island, Nebraska.

Mrs. Ghoul's glory days were long over. In the drive-in she snapped orders at waitresses, flipped burgers, and made malted milks.

The menu of the drive-in was on a big billboard that depicted a smiling pompom girl standing with legs crossed and pompoms in the air. The model for the billboard was Mrs. Ghoul in her younger days. She had been pretty and talented by local standards but was unpleasantly vain and arrogant. She married The Ghoul because she mistakenly thought he had money and promise.

Truck drivers and the locals called the drive-in the "Pomeranian" derived from the pompoms, the quality of the food, Mrs. Ghoul’s promiscuity and other attributes. be continued