PT 2005-2006

Postwar Propaganda

May 4th, 2006

Monday night I was flying to JFK from Heathrow and exhausted my reading material before we passed Newfoundland. I found Caddyshack listed on the in-flight movie menu, but everytime I looked for it on the assigned channel I got a mid-80s Molly Ringwald turkey instead. And I’d already seen the Narnia movie and the documentary about the German submarine. So I idly scrolled through the channels and came to rest at I Love Lucy.

It was an old episode. No, I mean really old, one of the early ones from the first (1951-52) season…Lucy and Ricky (and Fred and Ethel) as the broadest of broad comic characters, before they got backstory and nuance and visited Hollywood and Europe.

In fact, it was THE classic episode, the first one that pops into your mind, the one where the men and women “switch jobs.” They don’t literally switch jobs (Ricky was the only character who had real employment anyway), rather they switch breadwinner-homemaker roles. Ricky and Fred cook in the kitchen while Lucy and Ethel get assembly-line jobs in a candy factory. I’d seen this a million times–well, a dozen–but this time was utterly fascinated by all the details and subtexts and social propaganda.

1. The appliances in the Ricardos’ kitchen are bright and obtrusive. They aren’t just mute background furniture (like the succession of Macintosh computers you see in Jerry Seinfeld’s place). There’s a matched washer-dryer pair, and neither looks ever to have been used. There’s the distinct air of a TV commercial for Maytag or RCA Whirlpool. Message: “If your kitchen doesn’t look like this, well for heaven’s sake make it so. You can buy them now, you know. War production’s been over for six or seven years.”

2. Elsewhere there’s a real postwar look to the whole thing. Everybody’s fifteen or twenty pounds overweight, and they’re all over-upholstered. Wide lapels, big shoulders and skirts. Showing off one’s bounty, you know. Now that the war’s over we can do that.

3. The effects of war on social roles are much in evidence. A man wears a suit and brings home the bacon, a woman wears frilly clothes and hangs out at home. Anything else is eccentric and laughable.

candy episode4. Women getting jobs means putting on waitress uniforms (like Mildred Pierce) and working on an assembly line (like Rosie the Riveter). Roz Russell career girls? Never heard of ‘em. If Ethel and Lucy got decent jobs, that would undercut the premise of the humor, which is that women in the workplace are pitiable fish out of water.

MY GAWD—It’s a GIRL!; or, J.T. Leroy Mystery Finally Solved if not Shattered” or, J.T. Leroy Mystery Finally Solved if not Shattered

miss j t leroyJanuary 14th, 2006

Well, I could have told you J. T. Leroy was a girl. She looks exactly like half the girls I went to prep school with. Slightly stocky, roundfaced, blond, about 5′5″, fifteen pounds overweight and given to wearing baggy clothes that accentuate rather than conceal the baby fat.

I suspect this revelation will kill off J.T.’s literary career, based as it was on the thrilling kinkiness of his/her childhood. Supposedly J. T.’s mother dressed “him” up as a girl and taught him to whore around truckstops. Not too much cachet there if “he” really was a girl anyway.

jt in drag, except he is really a girl anywayI mean, like, half the girls I went to school were lot-lizards. Or had been. Or they said they’d been. Which is equally boring.

Five years ago I sent ol’ J.T. an e-mail, saying simply, “Yer cute!” Which, gawd knows, he or she was.

J.T. responded with a “Thanks” and a smiley-face emoticon.

My follow-up correspondence got down to brass tacks. J.T. and I had written for a couple of the same publications. I wanted to know what his impressions were of certain editorial types.

This time I got no reply. So immediately I began to suspect fraud.

You see, no genuine freelance journo can resist the opportunity to gossip and namedrop. Perhaps, I decided, J. T. Leroy was some drunken publisher’s fiction. You know—like Penelope Ashe (author of Naked Came the Stranger, and if you don’t remember that, go to bed while us grownups stay up late and drink and smoke).

Garbo by Edward SteichenThe J. T. Leroy hoax reminds me of my own three degrees of separation from Greta Garbo. Please—everyone move back three feet so I have room to tell this story.

Yes, it seems a friend of a friend of mine knew Garbo slightly, back when she trod the pavement of the East 50s. Once she was dragged to some screaming queen’s Park Avenue birthday beano. She didn’t get out much. Like all such people she now quickly grew bored. So she started to pass the time with the framed photographs atop the lowboy at the end of the room.

One of these pictures was nearly identical to the famous Steichen close-up of Garbo, in which she pulls back her hair, tightly framing her face with hands and forearms. Greta studied this portrait of the faux-Garbo and compared it to the other pictures nearby. Then she looked at the faux-Garbo again. Finally, with a shudder: “My gawd! It’s a boy!”

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“Hitler Grandnephews on Long Island” Hoax Solved

January 4th, 2006

At long last we learn that those Hitler boys on Long Island do not exist. Or, more precisely, they are not on Long Island and are not truly grandnephews of Der Fuehrer. How could The New Yorker and CNN have been so foolish to push this balderdash a few years back?

yearbook photosThe more I contemplate it, the more I see the holes and stuffing. Not a shred of evidence was ever offered, beyond a handful of fuzzy yearbook photos that could have been of just about anyone. “They want to keep their privacy,” we were told by author David Gardner, who was flogging a thick tome about the American Hitlers. “They are very ashamed of their connection to Uncle Adolf.”

Well if I were ashamed of Uncle Adolf, I certainly wouldn’t be identifying myself by handing out yearbook photos of me and my siblings. There are only so many high schools and colleges, after all. Sooner or later someone is bound to notice that young Johnny Q. Hitler, circa 1970, bears an uncanny resemblance to Craig Derryberry of Lima, Ohio.

These hoaxes, once begun, can ruin reputations for years. Think of poor Mr. Derryberry’s grandchildren some years hence, coming across his photo in a bound library copy of The New Yorker. “Granddad was the grandnephew of a monster, and he hid the truth from us! He swore he wouldn’t have any children, and then he broke his word!”

And so the children dash down to the railroad tracks, hoping to throw themelves under the wheels of a locomotive and thereby salvage the family honor. Only at the last moment do they decide that there is no honor to salvage, and anyway the trains haven’t run through Lima since 1982.

You can see why no one trusts the mainstream media anymore.

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“Pinafore” Mystery Solved

September 15th, 2005

Rumbling-bumbling in the back of my brain, some tags of poesy and foggy images leap up and nag at me every so often.

I was about seven years old when I came across a short poem about a girl who was worried about having a dirty frock. The accompanying illustration, vaguely Tenniel-ish, showed a rather mature young lady (about 14, I might have thought) in Alice band and frilly 19th-century dress. She was looking down at the folds of her frock with a mildly perturbed expression.
I scarcely read the poem, but the last line jumped up and grabbed me: “Nor on my Pinafore.”

Pinafore! How I hated this aspect of children’s anthologies: the preciousness of so many of their selections, their cultish obsession with mid-Victoriana! I had the vague but distinct sense that such pieces reflected the taste of perverse old people who didn’t really like children at all: old maids with cats and tea cosies, strange men who dreamt about petticoats.

This, I fumed inwardly, is what is wrong with putting adults in charge of children’s literature!

I should note I was very down on Victoriana and pinafores anyway, having recently seen bits of H.M.S. Pinafore on the tube and finding it disgusting.

my own pinafore drawing

Anyway, here we are, thirty-odd or maybe forty years later, and the memory of the irritating poem and illustration comes back to me. I go to Google and find that the offending lines were an Edward Lear nonsense verse, called “Spots of Greece”:

Papa once went to Greece,
And there I understand
He saw no end of lovely spots
About that lovely land.
He talks about these spots of Greece
To both Mama and me
Yet spots of Greece upon my dress
They can’t abear to see!
I cannot make it out at all–
If ever on my Frock
They see the smallest Spot of Greece
It gives them quite a shock!
Henceforth, therefore–to please them both
These spots of Greece no more
Shall be upon my frock at all–
Nor on my Pinafore.

Haw-haw! A real knee-slapper, eh? I probably noticed that it was Edward Lear, but this wouldn’t have impressed me awfully. So far as I was concerned he was a drooling quaintsy, self-satisfied, with a low-wattage sense of humor.

Lear’s stuff was all over those treasuries and anthologies of “children’s literature,” and constituted fully one-fourth of the contents of my edition of Ditties for the Nursery (so delightfully contrived that they may be either sung or said, by nurse or baby).

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  1. 2005-12-13 @ 6:12:46 pm [ EditDeleteUnapprove ]
    npetrikov ( npetrikov@hotmail.com / http://mysite.verizon.net/vze1q1d3/id85.html ) (IP: 65.206.107.67 )Nice illustration. Even without motion lines, I sense that the girl is rocking back and forth at the hips, in a way that makes everyone present (except, of course, her doting Ma and Pa) want to kick her in the stomach.I know from my own experience that the temptation to foist the favorite stories of one’s childhood on the Next Generation is hard to resist. Much of what my parents tried to force-feed me I couldn’t keep down, though I’ve managsed to read some of it since reaching years of discretion. So I wonder whether this would be a generally valid proposition: Most children’s literature is good for one generation of fry; after that, it either fades away or becomes adult literature. One can find exceptions to this proposition–the “Alice” books amused the children of more than one generation–but generally speaking, what do you think?
  2. 2005-12-14 @ 8:12:12 am [ EditDeleteUnapprove ]
    swiftie parker ( / ) (IP: 72.227.156.178 )I wonder if there’s really that much passing-down of literary tastes on the family level. My own experience suggests that this inculcation, where successful, is mostly passive. We had three copies, editions from 1880 to 1925, of A Child’s Garden of Verses; and I thumbed through these often enough that I can still recite half the poems. But if someone had tried to impose this stuff on me I would have found it awfully cloying, this business about living entirely on animal crackers and cocoa. And I think this is what I was reacting to in the Edward Lear ditty discussed above. Some grownup had gathered it into an anthology (or maybe it was reprinted in ‘Jack and Jill’?) and I thought it inappropriate and got really huffy that someone had misjudged my (or my generation’s) taste. And then there’s the familiarity factor. I could enjoy Stevenson or nursery rhymes or Little Black Sambo because so far as I was concerned they’d always been around. I can’t remember ever being introduced to them. But I didn’t like things that seemed to reflect a culty taste of grownups. I hated seeing references to Billie Holiday. I wasn’t sure who she was, but apparently she meant a lot to some people, and those people were dead-determined to tell us about this tragic negress every time we turned around. In the same way I sensed an obscure private agenda on the part of the people who were pushing poems about pinafores.

The George W. Bush You Never Knew

July 20th, 2005

young WToday the Associated Press posted this photograph, without explanatory comment, on its website. If it truly is a photo of President Bush as he looked (say) thirty years ago, then his years of drink and drugs took much more of a toll than anyone has hitherto suspected.

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This Sporting Life

July 20th, 2005

As the whole world knows by now, the USATF club championships took place last Friday and Saturday, in the sweltering, fetid wilderness of Randall’s Island. Overall champions were the Greater Boston Track Club. You could have predicted that from the outset. GBTC brought more members to the Icahn Stadium than any other club (I counted 35 bodies when I was there on Saturday) and moreover boasted a few members who knew how to do such quaint things as discus-hurling and pole-vaulting.
My own club—let us call them the Tiswas Trotters—didn’t enter anyone in the field events, and wound up in fourth or fifth place. But the TTs had plenty of heart. We entered five women in the 3000k steeplechase, and most of them had never even seen the event before. The charming Alice Ampersand sprained her ankle climbing the first hurdle, but kept on going through the next seven laps of sawhorses and waterhazards, collapsing at the end in a state of shock and delirium.

There were supposed to be paramedics on duty for the USATF meet. However, when I went over to the medical tent to see how Alice was doing, on-duty staff consisted of one large, feebleminded noggy in a navy-blue jumpsuit. No medical supplies on hand. When I gave the suffering Alice a Vicodin from my bag, the uniformed simian objected. “Givin’ somebody else sumpin’ from YO’ prescribshun? I doan t’ink dat good idea.” Something he’d seen on TV, no doubt.

A friend and I put bags of ice on Alice’s foot and elevated her ankle for a few minutes. Just as she was becoming lucid again, an enormously obese bouncer*—nearly as wide as he was tall, and weighted down by a three-pound tangle of security fetishes and IDs hanging from his neck—wandered into view. Charmlessly he informed us we’d have to move, since we were treating Alice ourselves rather than putting her under the care of the on-site medical personnel.

“B-b-but there ARE no on-site medical personnel,” I laughed, more or less.

Recovering quickly, thanks to the Vicodin and ice, Alice leaned on my friend’s shoulder and mine, and hopped an eighth of a mile to the other end of the stadium. We sat in the shade for two hours, then the shade moved out of our way and I helped Alice to hop into the stands. By then her swelling had shrunk from grapefruit- to pear-sized (see photo).
Alice's Ankle, getting betterEvery few minutes Alice would apologize for not having shaved her legs recently. At first this seemed to be part of her delirium. Any hair on her legs was invisible to the naked eye. But then as Alice came down to earth, she kept telling us how embarrassed she was about her legs. Several times she reached into her torn carryall and pulled out a safety razor–not a plastic throwaway but one of those new swivel-head jobs–and gave each leg a few more strokes.

Alice is a chatty, open soul. She told us this obsession with leg hair began when she was living in Latin America. “Where in Latin America?” I asked. “Costa Rica.” For two years right after college. She was on a triathlon team there. The triathlete girls gave her hell if she showed a hint of body hair. And that’s not all. “You’re going to pluck your eyebrows for the triathlon, aren’t you?” one asked her.
It’s a strange culture, says Alice. No real sense of individuality among people. Instead, you belong to a set, a caste (and not too many choices there). Everybody in the set acts alike and dresses alike and nobody goes off the rails.

*Erratum: Some months after writing this, I discovered that this grotesque fellow was not a bouncer at all but a prominent senior officer of the athletics chapter hosting the meet.

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Circular Research

June 29th, 2005

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times ran a fluffy review of sports watches and heart-rate monitors. I was interviewed for the article and—no, let me correct that: I put a good two hours’ worth of work into the article, though the NYT writer boiled away all but two or three of my comments… Anyway, this got me hankering for a nifty new accessory. Every couple of days I idly research my desideratum on the internet, but learn nothing new about it, as I am now the World’s Leading Expert on heart-rate monitors. At least I am according to Google, which quotes me eight times in three pages.

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That’s Enough Running, Thank You So Much

June 6th, 2005

ottawa finishStructuralistically my recent running habit is not difficult to parse. I’ve suffered most of my life from free-floating anxiety, which so far as I can see is the result of jangled dendrites. (“What are you anxious ABOUT?” the average booby asks when I mention my anxiety problem, much in the same way that a three-year-old looks out the window and says “What is raining FOR?”) But there’s only so much nervous energy available in my day (1642 cwt., more or less), and shunting much of it off into running—and obsessing about running—means there’s only a small dollop left over for free-floating around: a gnat buzzing about my head every now and again rather than endless swarms of malarial mosquitoes. However, the nervous energy, the mantra-repeating-obsessiveness, has not gone away; it’s just been stored up safely in a big milk bottle, where I can study it in my leisure, should I ever have any. It is immediately apparent to me that the running obsession is a very monotonous and unproductive one, once you get beyond its immediate, self-reinforcing “achievements”. No news here; this plain fact is one of the reasons why I’ve never been able to maintain an interest in running for more than a few months. However, I think the latest cycle has helped me figure out one of the secrets of the universe. Namely, what people are talking about when they say they are are “focused” on something. “If you want to achieve something, you gotta be focused on a goal.” This always seemed a boneheaded remark, conjuring up an image of a poor delusional sap staring at a brick wall upon which he’s tacked a fortune-cookie slip of paper, and against which he beats his head at frequent intervals. “I WILL be a famous screenwriter! [Thump.] I WILL be a famous screenwriter! [Thump.] I YAM focused on my goal!” My observation has always been that these sorts of “focused” people never achieve any “goals” at all…unless they jigger the game by reducing the desired objective to a preposterously achieveable level, e.g., getting a job as a computer programmer or closing on a house purchase. But running a lot of races in a short period of time has given me a different notion of this “focused” business. In order to maintain any sort of speed in a race, I have to keep thinking about it—must maintain pace! keep steady rhythm! now push just a little harder for the next half-mile! If I don’t, I slow down. Not drastically at first, but after a minute I sink into a daydream and find that I’m rather annoyed that I have to exert myself when I’d rather woolgather. Oh! Oh! Why can’t the race be over? I think I’ll slow down. This speed is good enough. And so I do. And I let my mind dissociate and wander, time drags on.

It is very hard to pull myself out of this frame of mind. Easier, therefore, to keep oneself from slipping into it.

Surely…this can’t be whatthe fools are talking about when they are beating their heads against their brick walls? Can it?

The picture shows me finishing the Ottawa Marathon on May 29th. Actual time was 3:53. Might have been 3:30 if I’d not let my mind wander…

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A Low Dishonest Decade

May 23rd, 2005

I really did not intend this blog to be a public accounting of my road races and negative splits, it’s just that most of my idle thoughts—you might say chewing-gum ruminations or CGRs—are about running. Not long ago most of my CGRs were about all my personal failures and deficiencies, except in the early morning, when I raged and muttered about other people’s. Since I can’t do anything about my own failures and deficiencies, let alone other people’s, I am experiencing far less frustration these days as I go about my woolgathering.

crazylegs 1972Moreover, the running thing is as good a peephole as any other when you seek to make cultural criticism. The stuff you notice! The stuff you discover!

Take a good look at the accompanying image for the “Crazylegs Marathon” in 1972, which I just found on the NYRR website. In sheer repellent ugliness, this poster or flyer surpasses anything I’ve seen from that era. Note the “Deco”-style Letraset presstype used for the arching logotype—heavy influence from theatrical posters for “Dames at Sea,” “No, No, Nanette!” and “Follies.”

But that’s relatively minor, compared to the rich sociological ore to be dug up here. Look at those photos! Now this is 1972, remember, the high-tide mark of feminism. Ms. magazine had just been launched (“Jane O’Reilly on the Housewife’s Moment of Truth”). But there was no visual vocabulary for portraying a women-only road race. No toned bodies here, no high-fashion workout gear. My impression from the photos is that this event is some kind of a fun-run for flabby gals in Gussie Moran panties.

We are going back here to a forgotten mindset: an era before people commonly spoke of “jogging” (c. 1977) or “jogbras” (c. 1979), and when any run longer than a dash around the block might be called a marathon. Or maybe it’s not really a forgotten mindset at all, just a rather weirdly unexamined one. I know so many people, age 40 on up, who still look upon distance running, especially distance running by women, as a marginal and eccentric activity. The world’s moved on but the calendar in their heads is still dated 1972.

And what was the “Crazylegs Marathon”? Well it wasn’t a marathon, it was a 6-mile run, sponsored by Johnson’s Wax, which was launching a new leg-shave cream for women called Crazylegs. Originally they wanted to sponsor a marathon, then discovered there were no female marathoners—well, almost none. Crazylegs the shave cream vanished without a trace, thanks to a trademark-infringement suit. But the race itself survived, evolving into an annual 10k that reappeared every June, often with a new name and sponsor.

When I first became aware of it in the early 80s, it was called the “L’Eggs Mini Marathon” and all its branding was in hot pink. Not that big a leap, really, from leg-shave-gel to pantyhose. This in an era when the stereotypical workout wear for gym-bound gals was a stretchy striped leotard and leg-warmers.

Now it’s called the “Circle of Friends NY Mini 10K,” which if you ask me is even more confusing than “Crazylegs Marathon.” It’s not a mini-10k at all, and all Circle of Friends means to me is a bad Minnie Driver movie.

However, its ads and promotional materials are beautiful.

For more on this fascinating artefact, see this link:
http://www.mini10k.org/history.php#

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I Always Wanted to Do That

May 21st, 2005

smokinI ran the Junior League Half-Marathon on May 8th and the Queens Half-Marathon on May 14th, coming in both times at just over 1hr 51 minutes. After the Queens, I got in queue for the Brightroom photographer and held a rolled-up dollar bill to my lips when my turn came.

Oh! But that’s not funny! My grandmother died of emphysema! You can’t believe how awful it was, her dragging that can of oxygen around after her for forty years, and then finally having to be popped into an iron lung for the last seventeen years of her life! “Nana! Nana! Happy birthday! Look what we brought you! A new ashtray we made in arts and crafts! Why don’t you try it out right now?”
“Bless you, dears [gasp]. Bring me my King Sanos. They’re hidden behind the Lanvin perfume on my dressing table. I don’t want nursie to see me. She’s got me [gasp] on a strict diet of three a day.”
Oh Nana! Oh boo-hoo!

Cigarette smoking is the worst! I don’t mind miscegenation and pedophilia, and tattooed hindquarters are kinda cool, but if you’re going to joke about cigarettes then I am sooo not on board.
finishing q half-marathonVery well then; here’s a dull shot of me finishing the Queens race last Saturday. As you can see, the crowds were cheering and welcoming, and I was pretty darn excited myself.

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I Really Hate This

May 21st, 2005

‘Hate what?’ ask the deaf-and-blind people who are cruising this site through telepathy. What I hate is this bit of outdoor advertising, possibly a one-off, on display outside my back door for the past three months. I hate the picture, I hate the product, I hate the fact that it’s taken me three months to figure out what these people are selling.

“You’ve Changed in the Last 25 Years. So Has Spot Cable.”

dorkThe visual, as you can see, is a school-type portrait of a spotty Middle-Eastern-looking boy of about 18, with a haircut so dumb it must the 1970s or just beyond. Lawrence Tehrani-Ami (for he is so identified) is now a hotshot in some advertising enterprise. The point of the ad is that, just as Tehrani-Ami no longer looks like this dork of a quarter-century ago, so Mutual of Omaha will help your family understand why spot cable from Comcast is no longer what it was during the waning days of the Carter administratin.

I don’t know what Tehrani-Ami looks like now, and I don’t know what spot cable was like 25 years ago, so I am completely lost here. Perhaps the message should be simply, “We know local advertising on national cable in spot markets sounds low-rent and loserish like this guy (in fact we’re having trouble keeping awake just telling you about it) but actually it’s not as bad as all that. Although, yeah, maybe it was dorky back when you first heard of it 25 years ago, if you are one of the few people in advertising who can remember back that far. But trust us, it’s not like that anymore.”

But the greater sin—worse even than the lazy impenetrability of the ad’s message— is the exotic ugliness of the portrait. What kind of name is Tehrani-Ami, anyway? Is it Persian? Is this one of those people who left with the Shah and went to school in Beverly Hills? Or is he Israeli, some kind of Sephardic Jew, perhaps? What’s he doing in America anyway? And even if he’s here, why couldn’t Comcast’s spot-cable department find a nice all-American face to put up on this billboard?

Would you trust your daughter with this person? Okay, so he doesn’t look like that anymore. Imagine what he does look like. Hairy, bald, fake-tanned, black silk shirt open to the waist, gold medallions and silver shark’s teeth hanging in his chest hair…

Did anyone at Comcast approve this thing?

Ten bucks says Tehrani-Ami designed the ad himself. Any takers?

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Guess Who Else Ran the Paris Marathon?

April 29th, 2005

berlinski glamorshotYou’ll never guess. Claire Berlinski! And who’s Claire Berlinski, you might well ask. According to her publicist, this is her on the right. She was born in California in 1968, went to Balliol, and wrote that (dashed clever!) CIA novel, ‘Loose Lips.’ Okay, you’re still lost, and so am I. Makes you feel really out of it, doesn’t it?
Maybe she’s a celebrity only in cyberspace. That is where I met her, on a message board where she posts under the name of Selena (her protagonist in the novel). She posted several pictures of herself completing the marathon, wherein she appears a bit equine and levantine, but pleasant-looking enough; but she does not in the least resemble our accompanying headshot.

I observed she was toting a noise apparatus and headphones, which made me wonder how she did in the race. (Side note: serious runners do not generally carry music systems on their heads.) She finished an hour after me and this was NOT her first mari.

Gloating? Me? Little Swiftie Parker?

And since you ask, the 3rd rewrite of the novel is coming along swimmingly. We have the Piscine Pontoise to thank for that.

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We Maintain a Discreet Silence on Paula Radcliffe

April 24th, 2005

paula radcliffe in grauniadPaula Radcliffe takes a lot of abuse from the London press: she runs funny, bobs her head, and drops out of races whenever she has a hangnail. The press was kinder to her last Sunday when she finished the London Marathon in 2:17, which is some kind of record. But the papers reminded us—in the same breath, as it were—that Paula had made “an unscheduled toilet break” 22 miles into the race. She dashed to the side of the road, and squatted. No further details or revealing photos were forthcoming. However, in an immediate post-race interview Paula explained that she’d been suffering from stomach cramps, probably from eating too much pasta and salmon the night before. Oh dear! Clearly she’s being euphemistic; the pasta and salmon of Saturday evening had traveled well beyond her pyloric valve, and anyway the stomach doesn’t cramp. She was a victim of the ghastly RIBS, Runner’s Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Nevertheless TV and the press maintained the polite fiction that Paula Radcliffe’s dive to the side of the road in Wapping was to take a little pee. Very kind and tasteful treatment…but alas, it diminished the gross and distressing facts of the case. By Wednesday some voices were once more calling her a spoiled whinger. Quoth a hack columnist in The Evening Standard:

Paula Radcliffe is a national heroine and to criticise her is a bit like criticising Princess Diana—a heresy bordering on treason. But I really don’t buy all this Saint Paula nonsense. Real sporting heroes don’t quit when the going gets tough, as she did twice at the Olympics. Nor do they relieve themselves in the street as she did during the London marathon. She’s a good runner, but her guts—in every sense—leave a lot to be desired.

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Meg Drops Out

April 16th, 2005

Some weeks back we discussed the matter of Meg Hourihan, Blogger createuse and sometime Nantucket chef, who was on track to run to run the Brooklyn Half-Marathon and the Paris Marathon, and whom I expected to run into in one venue or another. Well, I have not run into her yet. I dropped her a note or two (e-mail) in Paris, but received no reply. I looked her name up in the results for the Paris Marathon, and she is not listed among the finishers. Finally I check her blog site (megnut.com) and see that as of April 5 she had decided to drop out of the race. And was feeling very relieved about it. This does not quite explain why she snubbed my e-mails, but it helps me to feel very very superior. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?

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Ease is the Enemy of Excellence

April 14th, 2005

my paris running kit post-torture in the orange anorakMake no mistake about it, the Brooklyn Half on March 19 was a notch more difficult than the the Paris Marathon three weeks later. I staggered and shuffled for a day or two after Brooklyn, whereas all Paris did was leave me with a bit of stiffness and soreness around the quads. And herein lies my fatal error: I’d so well prepared for Paris that when stiffness and fatigue started to set in, around mile 18-20, I quickly resigned myself to a poor finish. I was paced to finish around 3:55, but slowed down so much in the last few miles I ended at 4:20. (That’s net. Official time is fifteen minutes longer, because it took me that long to reach the starting gate. Which is another minor mistake I made: getting to the Champs-Elysées too late to find a place in the front half of the pack.)

At right we see me post-torture in my complimentary orange anorak. The other picture shows me a minute later, looking a bit more cheerful with the anorak off. I offer these descriptions so you don’t think they’re before-and-after.

I’m dying to do it again. Really, truly.

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POPE DEAD (News of the World)

April 6th, 2005

Hats off to you, News of the World! While all the Best-Selling Quality Broadsheets and Lesser-Quality, Better-Selling Tabloids mourn the Holy Father’s departure from the earthly sphere (promising a Kalahari-size news void after this coming weekend), NOTW has the good sense of tradition to keep its hed sweet and pithy, and properly sites John Paul II’s obit in the bottom half of the cover, below a posh floozy’s suspected sex scandal.

(Just something I noticed when I went to buy a paper and yoghurt in the Waitrose in Swiss Cottage on Sunday, the 3rd.)

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Grand Inquisitor Tipped for Pope Slot

March 31st, 2005

our next popeSome say it’s time for an Italian again, but Nino Scalia has not taken orders, so the likeliest candidate for the Papacy is none other than Cardinal Ratzinger (see cut), head of what is now called the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which used to be known as the Office for the Propagation of the Faith, and before that, the Office of the Holy Inquisition.

This will provide a rich field of Monty Pythonish humor, since few people nowadays know the difference between the Holy Inquisition (which was run by the Church) and the Spanish Inquisition (which was run by the State, and we all know what that means). The Holy Inquisition was a mainly a publishing house for holy cards and coloring books, with the occasional crusade against Albigensians, if you go far enough back.

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‘Tis the Sausage Lady

March 26th, 2005

A vile and mean-streaky harridan whom we used to call the Sausage Lady has published a “memoir” (quotations here suggesting a high degree of self-aggrandizing fictionalization) that tells how she was abused and victimized when she was a fat ugly little whelp. She keeps popping up in my occasional political cartoons, including this throwaway from 2003. Oh, yes—she’s the one with the bag of mail.

Postscript, May 2008. Not long after writing the above, I learned that the Sausage Lady was dead. Yes, even as her Fat Girl made her a bestselling author in her 60s, she was wasting away with many different forms of cancer (including pineapple cancer, which Harold liked best). Well lots of us get cancer from time to time, so there’s no gloating here. However, there was a time when I called upon the mischevious sprites of the world to fill her with tumors, and this was the first thing I thought of when I heard she was dead. This was about 15 years ago. Sausage Lady and some friends of hers were waging a campaign of horrific pranks at my expense. Everything from harassing phone calls to anonymous smears to physical threats. I hadn’t done anything against them, other than occasionally complain or fight back (feebly), though at long last I did engage an attorney to send threatening folderol to Sausage Lady’s employer. More decisive action was called for, I felt. So I built a Devil Doll of the Sausage Lady, shaped it out of Sculpey and froze it upside down in the fridge. Then I tied a miniature noose about its neck and hung it from the arched entrance to my kitchen. Finally I took it out into the alley and smashed it on the cobblestones. I put pieces into an envelope and addressed it to Sausage Lady, along with an anonymous note saying how sorry we all were to hear she was dying of colonic cancer.

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Welcome to Randall’s Island

March 26th, 2005

First, the travelogue.

For most of the last three hundred years Randall’s Island has served as an outbuilding to Manhattan, providing the distasteful municipal functions we associate with islands in the East River and Hellgate: potter’s fields, poorhouses and workhouses, insane asylums, disease quarantines, reform schools, prisons.

Currently the island is a city park, host to summer concerts, Cirque du Soleil marquees, and negro schoolchildren from Harlem who come to taste the wild swampwater. It’s recently been provided with a rubberized running track and a steel-and-concrete viewing stand that proclaims itself Icahn Stadium. I presume Icahn is none other than Carl Icahn, the leveraged-buyout sleazeball who liquidated TWA some years back.

Today I made my first visit, via borrowed schoolbus, for an 8am NYRR race. The running course, which circled the island and ended on the running track, was “flat and fast,” according to the NYRR webpage.

Fair enough. There were a couple of small hills, but nothing like the 8% grade we had in Prospect Park during last Saturday’s half-marathon. I finished in under 24 minutes, net, with an astounding pace of 7:42.

This is about one minute faster than my pace in the half-marathon, and tempts me to make a stab at extrapolating my average pace in the upcoming Paris Marathon. I drop one full avg-pace-minute per ten miles, therefore my average pace for 26.2 miles will be about ten minutes per mile, meaning a net marathon time of 4 hours 22 minutes. I shall endeavoure to improve.

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Diarrhea; or, The Runs

March 19th, 2005

Saturday, March 19th: Feast of St. Joseph, the swallows come back to Capistrano and I run the Brooklyn Half-Marathon.

I finished 376th of 1374 women (1462nd of 3325 overall, 11 for my age and sex), but those statistics lie. I saw thousands pass me by in the last five miles.

By then my attention was mainly focused on keeping continent. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or maybe just indigestion from bad eating (see below) has struck again. Imagine me running three miles on the Coney Island Boardwalk, then six miles up Ocean Parkway (a thoroughfare I’d never seen before, but which was exactly as I’d imagined), finally up Park Circle and into Prospect Park, all the while looking for a porta-potty (or Royal Flush, to use the concession’s actual name).

Funny how few people are noticeably ill at these events. Though I did see a girl with the dry heaves, just before the Park Circle turnoff.

In 1999, on a relay race in New Hampshire, I ate Olestra-laced potato chips and got a severe case of trots. There I was, running through the center of Laconia, NH at 2 in the morning, hoping desperately to reach the finish before I soiled myself. Today’s race was nearly that bad. Not coicidentally, I ate potato chips yesterday, too, though they did not have Olestra. Also ate assorted sushi and some cheese. And a big chocolate-chip cookie and bowl of hot chocolate with cube-shaped marshmallow at the City Bakery on 18th Street. That’s my diverse diet, folks. I shall be more careful in the two or three days leading up to the Paris Marathon, and subsist entirely on yoghurt, fruit, and modest amounts of soup and pasta.

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George Kennan Dead. A Grand Guy.

March 18th, 2005

Good ol' GeorgeSo farewell then, George Kennan. Seems to me I’ve been hearing your obituary in my dreams for about ten days. How delightful to read in the Times that you were a gloomy, complicated and morose person, who despaired of conveying fine nuance in a world of political hackery. Whenever I thought of a foreign-service career for myself, you were always there in my mind as one of the Big Names. Somebody who’d hung around for decades—from the first delegation to the Soviet Hell in the early thirties, to an active career as an elder sage that ended only with his death at 101. I suppose now I shall have to think seriously about that graduate education in global whatsit and foreign relations. The baton passes.

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Gimme a Nail

March 13th, 2005

Can I switch from being a pack-a-week smoker to being a (temporary) nonsmoker? This would be just to help my wind a little over the next few weeks. Devil’s Advocate arguments arise: I didn’t smoke at all 15 years ago–well, hardly ever–and I didn’t run any better. In fact I ran rather worse, consistently. And there is no conclusive proof of long-term damage from light cigarette smoking.

Furthermore there is the moral argument. By keeping my Smoker’s Union Card active, I am helping to fight the good fight against the neo-Stalinist gang who endeavor to persuade us that pedophilia, miscegenation, and frottage parties on the town green are all perfectly fine; but people who enjoy traditional and moderate pleasures must be hounded like criminals.

So while I may shelve the minor pleasures for a little while–a useful discipline, in these last days of Lent–I don’t really see the point of doing it forever. I don’t propose to look down the long corridor of eternity and see nothing but No Smoking signs.

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Slowing Down

March 13th, 2005

Yesterday I decided to run a leisurely 8-mile fartlek, mostly around the reservoir. This did not come off as planned. The reservoir track was soggy with slush and mud. So I took a series of alternate routes, on the paved road and horse trails, pausing after ninety minutes to pick up my number from NYRRC on 89th Street. Then back to the park and another leisurely two miles, then back home. Felt great. I calculated I’d run somewhere between 12 and 13 miles in the course of two hours. But alas! It was too wearing on me, and when I ran the Pfizer 4-mile race today I clocked a shabby 8:05 pace. Which I would have thought quite wonderful a few weeks ago, but now I realize I was made for better things. In spite of running gently and stretching afterwards, I was just too stiff to make a full-out effort. And I was stiff in places I’d never been stiff before—upper thighs and glutes. What is this all about?

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Harry in Chicago

March 6th, 2005

Shortly before I go to swim and shower at the gym, Harry phones up from Chicago. He’s on his Sprint mobile phone. He barks through a tincan in a windtunnel for three minutes, then disappears, phones back. I tell him to phone me on the landline. He says he can’t because he’s outside, and he doesn’t have long-distance on his regular phone and it’s cheaper for him to call on the cell. I don’t quite follow. The connection fogs out again. Finally, third time around, I explain that I meant he should phone me on my landline.

Harry is one of those people who like to talk on the phone, and like most of that ilk, he likes to say the same thing over and over, which makes it doubly difficult for me because I don’t like to talk on the phone and I have a low boredom threshold. He keeps telling me how wonderful Chicago is and how glad he is he’s there, because he could find an affordable place to live, which he never could in New York. (Subtext: New York will not dote on me and I don’t have the money or connections to live there, so pooh on New York.)
Harry is now in his early 50s, but he got frozen into the mindset of a 20-something actor/waiter of the Nixon/Ford/Carter era. I could give you a laundry list of examples of this attitude, but then I’d be halfway into a novel. Suffice it to say that he sneers and carps at young people—I guess that would be anyone under 40—especially young gay men, who are far less cool and brilliant than Harry’s young peers were thirty years ago.

Harry’s been an offstage presence in my life since I was a kid. I first heard of him 32 years ago from a crazy girl from Chicago, daughter of a Sun-Times editor, who’d been in the nuthouse with him in Evanston, circa 1971. Harry’s story, in brief, was that he was very messed up. He and his younger sister went through a series of foster homes when small children, finally becoming adopted by a well-to-do childless couple in their forties. Harry worked as a child model and commercial actor, playing teenagers till he was about 25. Then he found he could earn oodles of money as a waiter and maitre d’, and that discovery shaped the next fifteen years of his life. Some people become accountants and lawyers, some turn to crime, others work in restaurants.

In the 80s Harry was a part-owner of a restaurant near South Street Seaport. Somehow his investment came to grief, so he parted ways with his partners and used his remaining capital to start a gay bookstore in Ft. Lauderdale. This failed and he went bankrupt. He then went to Vietnam and Bangkok to promote himself as a restaurant consultant. He was right in time for the economic downturn of ‘98-99. He wound up teaching English in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.

He’d come armed with a presentation binder filled with encomia from restaurant associates, as well as headshots of himself as a young man when he appeared in ads for Strawbridge & Clothier and Seven-Up. The headshots greatly impressed the boys in old Sai-Gon, who made the intended inference that Harry was a bigtime American movie actor. Thus Harry, who likes oriental boys, had a grand old time in the Far East. But then there were visa and legal problems, and he washed up again on American shores, where he begged his semi-wealthy parents for a small stipend that would enable him to reestablish himself as an expert in the wine and food trade.

It was around this time, the year 2000, that I finally encountered Harry in the flesh. He’d taken a share in a nasty hi-rise apartment in Flushing, living with a half-Jewish woman many years his senior. The flatmate tried to seduce him sexually, then turned on him, finally calling the cops and accusing him of having beaten her up. Harry got hauled off to the pokey and spent the next six months in a horrendous legal maze, dividing his time between attending court-ordered Anger Management classes and asking his parents for enough money to pay for two hair-weave pieces. (His signature blond thatch had started going thin after 35.)

That whole year, 2000, was a hellacious time for poor Harry. Fortune kept tossing him nuggets that turned into fools’ gold. Dorothy Sarnoff, the public-speaking guru, flattered him and encouraged him to write a book and set up a successor business to her own. But then it turned out Dorothy was senile and apparently was under the impression that Harry was her nephew. Suddenly she wouldn’t see him anymore, because (he said) either her mind briefly cleared and she realized the mistaken identity, or maybe she’d found out he’d been arrested for beating up an old woman. Other promising jobs and prospects would pop up, then suddenly be withdrawn. Still an undischarged bankrupt from his Florida days, Harry now decided he was unemployable because his arrest and bankruptcy kept showing up on his records. Toward the end of the year, when he was still attending Anger Management sessions, he got a few months’ work demonstrating recipes at an upscale grocery chain in Manhattan. He lived in a room in the Greenpoint YMCA.

Finally, in early 2001, he cadged enough money from his parents to move back to Vietnam.

Last time I saw him he was back in Manhattan for a few days, preparing for a move to Ecuador, again as a teacher of English. Oh boy, I thought.

Now he’s back in America because he never finished his BA, and he needs a minimal degree to continue in his TOEFL career.

He’s the only person who’s had a career as chequered and scary as mine. But my life has not been as bleak. I’d like to keep it that way.

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Another 5K

March 6th, 2005

And today, Sunday morn, I showed up for the preposterously named Coogan’s Salsa Blues & Shamrocks 5K in Washington Heights, the 553rd finisher out of 2160. Pace time was 7:55, which is unremarkable in the great scheme of things, but a Personal Best for me. This pace will be impossible to approach in the Brooklyn Half-Marathon on the 19th, where my goal is simply to keep it under nine minutes, or about 1 hr 50 minutes. I really must quit smoking in the next few days. The Paris Marathon is one month away.

As usual, the first mile seemed to go on for fifteen minutes. Bagpipers, steel drums, and mulatto girls in cheerleader outfits appeared at odd intervals, serenading us and cheering us on. The course was mostly a straightaway with two or three long hills: up Fort Washington Avenue, then into Fort Tryon Park for a half mile and the turnaround. I sped up when passing the 3-mile sign, determined to stay under an 8-minute pace this time.
My tummy is acting up. I have just eaten chunks of chorizo after returning from the gym where I Jacuzzi’d and swam a few laps.

Moki clips out Thomas Friedman’s column and gives it to me. It is better than usual, this time framing the Bush administration’s opposition to the EU’s sale of arms to Red China. The problem is not arms sale per se, Friedman explains, but rather that the EU countries aren’t selling arms to each other. And they don’t sell arms to each other because they are protected by America’s defense umbrella, which used to protect them from the Soviet Union and now defends them from dangerous countries in the Middle East. Furthermore, the main reason they’re selling military hardware to Red China is that they really hope to sell more Airbuses, which the Chinese will be more inclined to buy if war materiel is part of the package.

What a bunch of greedy no-goods! Don’t they realize the Western World is being besieged by Moslem terrorists? Why can’t they be more like us and take all their foreign policy and defense directives from Tel Aviv, the way we do?

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A little po’d about blogs and links

March 5th, 2005

I keep eight or ten blogs, mainly for experimental purposes. Their content is often diary entries. This is purely a matter of convenience. It is is easier to crank out a few lines of personal musings than to lay in “Lorem ipset”; moreover the diary leaves a little flag about my mood and activities during the last update.

Diaries, not coincidentally, were the main purpose of weblogs when they first sprang out of the slagheap seven or eight years ago. But many blogs today are really e-zines, created to promote one’s business or hobbies or social interests. Nothing wrong with that, but when you open your diary to the public, it ceases to be useful as a diary. You can’t be honest in it anymore. You must leave out your notes on personal hygiene and bathroom habits, avoid divulging any opinion that would upset the bien-pensants and the mattoids, and softpedal your criticisms of others, lest they become hurt or cross.

It is not just a matter of being tactful. You have to LIE. And lying is sooo tedious.

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A favicon, at last

February 26th, 2005

Annoying but enviable, those favicons that IE began to implement a few years ago. I don’t know when I first noticed them, but they seem to have been around for seven or eight years. I don’t intend to add one to any of my seven or eight blogs, but I created one from an old self-caricature and added it to the pages of my new personal site. When I get tired of the bug-eyed face staring at me from the address bar I’ll build one from scratch.

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The Way We Live Today

February 26th, 2005

The NYRR Snowflake 4-mile run, split up into men’s and women’s races, was this morning. I treated it casually. It didn’t bother me when everybody was passing me for the last mile and a half. This included a tall girl in an ungainly straw sombrero decorated with small toothpick models of The Gates. ‘Great hat!’ I heard when she was a few paces behind, and ‘great hat!’ again when she was twenty paces ahead. This sort of attention would turn my stomach. Maybe if you ask for attention you can deal with it. All I know is it distresses me mightily when goofballs stand by the side of the road, give the thumbs-up sign, and bellow, ‘All right! Looking good!’
After all that, my pace was 8:01 or a net of 32:07.
In other words, if I’d just goosed it a bit for the last quarter-mile, I could have broken the 8-minute barrier again, with room to spare.

To lunch with KP and Sylvia at Seppi’s. Seppi’s now offers their famous Alsatian tarte flambée rolled up with meat or fish, served with fries and soup and salad and bacon. I did not see the bacon, but I was very full. Sylvia had a regular tarte flambée, followed by a hot chocolate torte. I snapped a picture of her with my miniature Air France digital. SylviaWe talked a bit of blogs. ‘Oh Sylvia,’ said I,’you ought to have a blog.’ She may be interested. A schoolmate was wearing a cap that said Blogger, and didn’t know what it was.

Then to The Container Store with Moki. Moki is in a refurbishing mood, and dreams of redoing the apartment with wire shelves and brackets. ‘No standards!’ I tell him. I’ve had lots more experience with wiry things and molly bolts than he has. Cleverly organized closets look really swell in the store, but they don’t work unless they’re made of solid materials. Moki plans to buy me a tall wiry mesh-drawer unit to keep my clothes in. That is a Margot classic. I’ve kept my clothes in things like that most of my life. Someday someone will give me a Biedermeier chest.

Back home I do a quick Google for Paris Marathon attendees and find Meg Hourihan. She’s not only doing the Paris, she’ll be running with me in the Brooklyn Half-Marathon on March 19th. I dropped her a note. I’d come across her site before. She is, coicidentally enough, the creator of Blogger, and quite famous in that little world. The New Yorker did a story on her a few years ago. If she writes back I’ll have a new friend in Paris for a few days, though I can’t imagine what we’d talk about.

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The Corrections

February 24th, 2005

My pace time for the NYC2012 run was 7:59, and I was number 8 in my age class, which makes me feel awfully old. I can’t understand how I ran under an 8-minute mile; I thought that was a virtual impossibility for me. The key I suppose is to start out with a fast cohort, which I did by huddling by the “7″ banner.

Dawn’s Manhattan Project drinkeroo is not a salon, as I’d thought, but a strange mix of East Europeans, lit agents, and media catfish. I had two gimlets and that was quite enough. Took the card of one Janet Rosen, who works for a small lit agency on East (West?) 36th Street, and will send her Teentime, aka Educational Television, if the others snort contemptuously. A fellow named Todd, a self-described libertarian with economic, atheistic and anarchic leanings, chatted with me for a half-hour. When he went to the men’s room I looked through his Southwestern Review, which had an intriguing Arthur Miller story, supposedly his last.

I am scratching around now for any kind of work that comes my way. Have heard of two or three minor opportunities to do layout or web work, and pitched the woo. Pathetic. I am sure they are winding up my department at work so there is no reason so dig my heels in. However, a G5 was installed this evening, and that should be a novelty for the closing weeks.

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NYC 2012 5K, The Frozen Monkey, and the start of an itinerary

February 22nd, 2005

Back to the Frozen Monkey today for a delightful hour or so with Dawn Eden. She stammers—as do I—which makes for amusing conversation. There are other points in common (she first met David Chelsea nearly as long ago as I did).

I have a theory about female stammerers vs. male ones. Supposedly there are a lot more male ones. I don’t see why this should be the case, unless there’s a sex-linked gene involved. I suspect the truth is that girls are more inclined to cover up speech impediments with affectations, or simply strive harder in other ways to mask them, than boys do. If more men seem to stutter and stammer, it’s probably because they’re less self-conscious about it at an early age.

To NYRRC for the second time today to pick upup my number for the 5k NYC 2012 Olympics. I have since discovered the event was fully booked, and many were turned away. The run at 7:30 was quite a media event, with a cop band playing, square 2012 flags handed out (I didn’t get one, but the idea was that you were supposed to wave them as you trotted along), and FOX and other news vans lining the access roads behind the Central Park Zoo. I squeezed in among the 7-minute milers and found myself in a faster cohort than I’m used to, with the result that I ran faster than usual. I finished in under 26 minutes, which is a record for me (a bit over an 8-minute mile average). Well, it was only a 5k.

Back home, while preparing to rush off to the gym to shower and sauna, I decided to cut bait and book an airline ticket to London or Paris. If I fly directly to Paris, I’ll be spending most of my post-marathon time in Devon and Oxford, so I may have not have much chance to go to the Tate Modern and the British Library. I hate feeling rushed on the day before I fly back. So bought a ticket on Continental for Saturday evening, April 2nd. I’ll probably stay at the Swiss Cottage on the 3rd and 4th, Eurostar it down on the 5th, take a train to Roscoff on the 12th, ferry across on the 13th. Andrew will pick me up in Plymouth. Then three days in Kingswear, two in Oxfordshire, maybe two back in London.

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