Thursday, November 29, 2007

That Reminds Me of a Story.

Once a few year ago, on my lunch hour, I went to a sandwich place, Au Bon Pain. I'm very international, you see. As I ordered my sandwich (au jus) the woman behind the counter said, "You know who you look like? You look like that one opera guy."

"Opera guy?" I asked, hesitantly.

"Yeah," she said, "you know, that one. Sings loud."

"Pavarotti," I smiled, certain she meant someone else.

"Yes! That's it, Pavarotti! You look just like Pavarotti!"

Several years before that glorious moment, I worked for a summer at a small grocery store near an apartment building where a lot of elderly people lived. The same few would show up in the market at the same time every day and buy just a couple of items because, I suppose, they couldn't carry much. (Too bad they didn't think to get an old lady cart like this one.) There was one tiny woman who, like clockwork, arrived at 3:15 every afternoon. One day, she studied me quizzically for a few minutes before walking to the counter.

"Do you know who you look like?" she asked.

In that moment, I wondered who it could be. Some Golden Age film star -- Erroll Flynn, maybe? Or hey, I thought, how about a Cool Hand Luke-era Paul Newman?

"Who?" I said.

"Sylvester Stallone!"

I must have looked a tad disappointed, perhaps even crestfallen. "What's the matter," she asked, "don't you like Sly?"

"No, not really . . . "

"That's okay," she said. "I think he's real ugly."

So when I got an email recently from an acquaintance who said she saw a guy who looked just like me, what else could I think but, "That lucky bastard!"

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Grabbed My Hat and I Began to Run.

Last week, a friend called to suggest that we train for the Flying Pig Marathon together. It's in May '08, and because I've run some marathons before, I know I have plenty of time to train if I get busy now, but it's been two years since my last one, and I've never felt so out of shape. My girlish figure is gone, and my physique is Pavarotti-esque (from when he was alive, that is). I just finished a 3-mile run; my lungs are searing and my legs feel like lead. I have a long, long way to go.

The last marathon I ran was New York in November '05. Here's that harrowing tale, which I wrote a day or two later.

Looking Back in Self-flagellation: NYC Marathon 2005

My best marathon time ever was 3:55, and it took me over an hour more than that to finish NYC last Sunday. And now I can't find my hair shirt anywhere!

Of course, that p.r. was thirteen years and eight or ten kids ago, so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself . . . okay, yeah, I should be. I'd had a pretty good training season -- my legs felt strong and I'd run two twenty-milers that made me think I could finish in 4:15 or 4:30. Perhaps it's time to admit I'm not Ethiopian.

The day started off well. I'd had a fairly good night of sleep in the world's smallest hotel room and when I left at about 5:30 to meet a friend at his hotel, I found the morning dawning free of rain, if a bit warm. We trekked with thousands of others to the New York Public Library where the buses to the start awaited us. The line snaked all over the place but things moved quickly; the New York Road Runners and city officials really do an amazing job.

The ride out to the start on Staten Island was interminable. That's really my only complaint (other than that I think it's a tad unfair that so many beautiful women live in one city). I'd run NY six times before, and the ride to the start had never taken more than 40 or 45 minutes. I thought we were in for a revolt as our bus inched across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Aching bladders do tend to put people on edge, don't they?

The Marathon starts on the Verrazano. It almost defies description, the feeling of being out there, looking out into the harbor and, beyond that, to the Manhattan skyline. Even on a hazy day, it was amazing, and everyone out there, all 35,000 plus, were shot full of adrenaline because of it.

I wasn't actually on the bridge for the official start but that was cool. I heard the cannon go off and burst out of my portolet; it took me about thirteen or fourteen minutes to get to the starting line, not bad, considering. I was an orange start, meaning my group started on the bridge's upper deck. (Note to future NYCers who start on the lower deck: run in the middle of the road until you get to Brooklyn. Men will pee anywhere, including from a bridge at the start of a 26.2 mile race and, well, anything that comes down from the top has to go somewhere. It can get windy up there, let me tell you.)

Once into Brooklyn, I quickly advanced and joined the front runners. I found the police escorts a bit annoying, since the motorcycle engines' noise almost drowned out the cheers of the thrilled onlookers. Almost. But I could hear you, my friends . . . oh yes, I could hear you! To run through your borough is to take a quick trip around the world, getting high-fives all the while.

Pop quiz time! Something I wrote in the last paragraph was a lie. Can you spot it?

Eleven miles or so in Brooklyn, then a short trip through Queens. Saw some friends there, all of whom were drinking cold beer -- definitely activity prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

Then on to the 59th Street Bridge which, for me, was the second great adrenaline rush of the Marathon. Watching the Manhattan skyline approach, hearing the music and the crowd get louder and louder -- really remarkable. Off the bridge, around the bend and up the long First Avenue stretch, and that's when it starts. You see an attractive woman and think, "Wow, she's the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen." But then, seconds later, "No, she's the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen."

And so on and so on for about 45 city blocks. Sure, some may say I'm shallow, noticing the dark-haired girls in all their NY sexiness at a time like that, but you know what I say? I say it's heroic, being true to biology even as my legs felt like lead.

At the 20-mile mark, on the narrow bridge from Manhattan to the Bronx, so many people were walking that running was impossible. It was right about then that my body really started to feel ancient, and I never really picked up the pace after that.

Limping back into Manhattan, I was so far behind my projected time that my fan club had left Marcus Garvey Park by the time I arrived. When your fan club includes little kids, I guess you need to expect the occasional impatience-related meltdown.

Fifth Avenue was kind of tease, especially at the north end of Central Park, but the crowd support was phenomenal, and the avenue and Park were beautiful.

Finally, mercifully, I turned into the Park. Running with a gait not unlike that of Frankenstein's monster, I navigated those last, rolling hills, thinking how good a Coke -- a real one -- would taste after I crossed the finish line, if I could live that long.

Miraculously, I lived to cross that line and collect my medal. I might have been foaming at the mouth a bit when my wife took this photo but, fortunately, that wonderful autumn, late afternoon lighting in Central Park worked in my favor. Shortly after that, I tearfully announced my retirement from the sport.

But you never know.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

He's Eatin' Pizza.

My family and I spent the Thanksgiving weekend near Chicago with my wife's family. Evidence that I am old: my legs ache from playing football on Friday morning. Other than my wife's brother-in-law and me, the game's oldest participant was eleven. That kid can move, though.

On Saturday, we left my sister-in-law's house and headed downtown. I used Priceline to get a hotel room that was inexpensive and very close to Michigan Ave. and although our room was vaguely grimy ("I'm not showering in that dirty place!" said my 6-year-old son) a good time was had by all. The area was jammed with doughy tourists and suburbanites, and I did my part Doughboy pride by taking my family to Gino's East. I did this despite the facts that: a) it's probably the single biggest tourist-magnet restaurant in town; b) if there are no tables available, they make you wait in line outside in the cold, even though the bar is wide-open; and c) the signature dish, deep dish pizza is not, in fact, pizza, but rather a casserole with thick crust (there oughta be a law).

Nevertheless, we had a good time. The walls at Gino's are covered with graffiti, which my 6-year-old enjoyed immensely, since he can now spell "fart." I wondered if I ever wrote my name on the walls anywhere in the place when I lived in Chicago, but chances are, I guess, that they paint over everything more than once every 15 or 20 years.

Certain areas of the restaurant, however, are off-limits to graffiti.

I used a camera phone to take this pic in the men's room just before I got arrested. And look what else:

That's right, it reads, "Dylan '07." Bob Dylan wrote his name over the urinal at Gino's East! He did exactly what the sign told him not to do! He pulled the cap off his Sharpie*, looked in the eyes of the Man and said, Take that, Man!

Zimmy, you're the man. Not the man, but the man. You know what I mean, man.

*I realize there's an anatomical joke to be made here. See you in comments!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Set Me Down on a Television Floor.

I guess this has been what the young kids with their blogs and their face books and their my spaces call a "light blogging" week. I traveled for a few days, had a million things to do over the weekend, and now seem to be having trouble thinking of anything to post about. (Did you notice how I just ended a sentence with a preposition? I've always been a rebel.) Is this writer's block?

Let me tell you what I just did. I lugged an old television set out to the curb. It's out there now, sadly awaiting its fate. Does it have regrets? Is it sorry for having sucked me into hours of mesmerizing trash, when I could have been doing better things, like surfing for porn? I have a feeling it will be rescued by a kindly, if misguided, TV addict who will soon be disappointed to realize that he needs to smack the side of it every three minutes to keep the picture from vanishing. Good luck to you, my trash-picking neighbor friend!

My wife bought the TV twenty years ago; it was black and clutter free and at the time, it seemed quite high-tech. As I hauled it outside, though, it felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds, a big, crappy antique.

The first TV set I remember was my parents', way back in the middle of the last century, when I was a little kid. It only received three channels -- it didn't even have UHF. I know what you're thinking: Why didn't the child welfare people intervene? All I can say in response is that things were different in those days.

I would get home from school at about 3:00 and watch Dark Shadows, a vampire soap opera. That's right, you heard me -- a vampire soap opera. Barnabas Collins was the main vampire's name, and I'm sure there were all kinds of not-so-subtle sexual references, what with the biting of the necks and all, but I just wanted to see the guy turn into a bat. Now, as I look at a photo of him, I realize why I thought he was so cool -- he was played by George Harrison, badly in need of a gig as his band disintegrated. You go, Quiet Beatle!

Once or twice a week, I'd walk down the street to a friend's house, a rich kid who had a TV that pulled in five channels. Five! That was living! One of the extra stations was channel 19, WXIX, the home of Larry Smith's Puppets. Larry and his gang would cut up between cartoons. His cast included Snarfy the Dog and, I think, something called Nasty Old Thing who, as far as I can recall, did not wear a stained trench coat and reveal himself to unsuspecting passersby. I could be wrong about that.

The puppet I recollect most vividly was Hattie the Witch, aka Batty Hattie from Cincinnati (not to be confused with the Cool Ghoul). That's Hattie on the far right in the picture below. I remember her being wartier. In retrospect, she reminds me of my old boss, only less ill-tempered.

Funny I'd think of all this now, when it hasn't crossed my mind in years. It makes me wonder a little if this the kind of thing I'll obsess over when I'm eighty-five. I guess there are worse things to remember.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Live on Tour.

On Monday afternoon, I flew to Atlanta for an evening dinner and all-day Tuesday meeting with some of my new colleagues. (See photo to the left for an example of typical Atlanta architecture.)

I don't do that well in cocktail party situations, when I don't know the other guests. Ever since my teen years, I've never liked going to big parties unless I'm in the company of my friends. So, the drinks before dinner on Monday were awkward, but dinner was another story. Dinner parties are easy, because you're there, sitting at table, everyone thrown together. There's none of this having to march up to a group of strangers and interjecting yourself into their conversation. I guess not everyone sees it that way, huh?

The next day's meeting went well, although I can't shake the feeling that I have no clue what's going on. There were moments when I thought, "You people might as well be speaking Chinese, for all I understand." I'll get over that, though -- eventually.

From Atlanta, I flew to Orlando, where I am now. I'm here at Disney World for a department conference. My family and I visited a couple of years ago, and before that, I'd never had any desire to come here. In fact, I'd actively resisted the idea for a long time. Once we got here, of course, a good time was had by all, but it's weird being here solo. It just makes me miss my kids.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Everyone's Gone to the Movies.

There are a lot of movies out right now that I'd like to see -- No Country for Old Men and American Gangster, to name just two -- plus the upcoming trip into Bob Dylan's secret life, I'm Not There. Last night, though, I saw Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie. Why? Because I have kids, lots and lots of kids, and my wife would be pissed if I took them to an R-rated blood-fest, or the story of womanizing, drug abusing rock star. She's old-fashioned that way.

So, we saw the animated Bee Movie. I have a lot of residual affection for Seinfeld, based on the glory days of his tv show, and the movie isn't bad, exactly, but it's forgettable. I'm virtually certain I laughed once or twice, but as I sit here today, I couldn't tell you much about the plot, and I couldn't come up with any lines worth quoting. That's what's really a shame about the movie: the guy who was Seinfeld doesn't say one thing worth remembering in a 90-minute film.

I love movies, and always have. These days, I see so few that when I watch something mediocre like this that could have been so much better, I'm really disappointed. I read reviews and keep a list of films I want to see, but I just can't get to them like I used to. Maybe my New Year's resolution will be to see more movies in 2008. I realize that's not exactly up there with "give more time to my favorite charity" or "put aside old resentments," but -- oh, just stop judging me, damn it.

There was a time when I'd say I wanted to be a film critic. Needless to say, I never actually pursued it, but I realize now that if I had, I would have found that criticism is a lot more difficult than I'd imagined. In my mind, I saw myself watching two or three movies during the day, then heading home to dash of my insightful, witty and often withering reviews before a martini or two with other critics who were secretly jealous of me. See, I'd managed to become popular and wealthy without compromising my aesthetic principles. They hated me for that -- hated me, even as they wanted to be me or sleep with me or both.

The reality is that I don't have the kind of mind that can come up with any true insight about a movie. I probably would have ended up as a small town, local news, "this movie has too much sex!" plot-recapper who doubled as the weekend non-meteorologist weather guy who dresses in a hot dog costume for church cookoffs. And they still would have wanted to sleep with me.

I still try my hand at the occasional review, though. If I ever get out to a movie again, I'll write another. In the meantime, here's one I wrote a while back.

Grizzly Man

I finally saw Grizzly Man, the fascinating, harrowing story of Timothy Treadwell, a true headcase who marched off into the Alaskan wilderness every summer, to live among the grizzly bears. This went on for thirteen years, until one of his ursine friends got too hungry to resist the temptation of Treadwell and his girlfriend.

Werner Herzog directed the film, using beautiful footage shot by Treadwell himself. It begins with a great scene, a couple of bears just walking through an open field in the vast landscape of Alaska. I began to tense up almost immediately after that, when Treadwell comes into the frame, starts talking to and about the bears, and when one gets close, sticks his hand out and touches its snout.

Dude! Don’t you see the teeth on that thing?

Treadwell was a self-styled “protector” of grizzlies, although the “protecting” seems largely to have been a figment of his imagination. Herzog, narrating, notes that the bears live in a huge national park and so are already well protected. In fact, if Treadwell knew much about the animals, there’s not a lot of evidence of that in the footage Herzog used. At one point, Treadwell says, (paraphrased) “Until I came up here, no one knew about these bears. No one knew they could decapitate! No one knew they could bite!”

I’m no naturalist, but I’m pretty sure people knew grizzly bears could bite. (As I was walking my dog the other night, another guy made a huge arc to my right as he passed us. When he said he was afraid of dogs, I told him mine wouldn’t hurt anybody. “Hey,” he said, “if has teeth, it can bite.”) So the film begins with that glimpse of Treadwell’s state of mind, and documents his growing self-delusion. For whatever reason, I was particularly unnerved when, after one of his favorite bears relieves herself on a rock and moves on, he walks to the pile she left behind and lovingly places his hand on it.

“You might think it’s weird that I’m doing this,” he says (paraphrasing), “touching her poop like this. But it was in her, it was part of her, and she’s so beautiful.” Yikes.

It’s really a sad story. In Treadwell’s mind, he was doing good things for the animals, but from outside his head it’s hard to believe someone so clueless and self-absorbed managed to make it through thirteen summers up there. He admits to alcohol problems in his past, and friends and family report drug abuse and unmedicated manic depression. I guess I pity him and dislike him at the same time.

Grizzly Man reminded me of a book by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild, the true story of a promising recent college graduate, a star student and athlete, who abandoned his possessions, changed his name to “Alexander Supertramp” and walked off into the Alaskan wilderness, where he ultimately died after getting lost, injuring himself and eating poisoned berries. He was reckless, he was a fool, and just the pseudonym he chose for himself was enough for me to dislike him. Yet there was something likeable about him.

Treadwell’s delusions of grandeur got two people killed. Periodically throughout the movie, a coroner describes the remains he examined and, more disturbingly, the audio recording of Treadwell and his girlfriend being attacked by the bear. He talks about how the recording helped him determine exactly how the pair died; it’s beyond brutal. His girlfriend, who was afraid of bears, must have been there strictly out of loyalty to Treadwell. She didn’t have to die.

Why don’t I completely hate him?


Special Hidden Bonus Track

For my brief review of Brokeback Mountain, click here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'm at the Apple Store . . .

. . . playing around with Photobooth.

I believe I'm willing to pay $2,000 for a new iMac, just so I can get this software.

uh oh, here comes the sales guy . . . I mean, here comes the Apple iPod Leopard OS X iPhone iGenius from the Genius Bar . . . gotta go, bye.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Japanese Woman in Her Underwear.

This is not porn! No, this young, half-naked Japanese woman is helping save the environment by wearing a specially designed bra that contains a pocket to hold compact chopsticks, thereby reducing the use of disposable chopsticks. Thank you, young, half-naked Japanese woman!

Al Gore, if you're reading this -- and I know you are -- you'll want watch this important video of the young, half-naked Japanese woman doing her part to combat climate change:

Now, that's Nobel Prize-worthy.

In other news, site traffic here at Dodging Lions has increased dramatically. I will investigate this surge once the young, half-naked Japanese woman story blows over.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Life, art, etc.

A comment by Misplaced to one of my earlier posts reminded me of a true tale, which I will present in the form of one-act play.

The scene: LDP toils in the fields beneath a blazing Cincinnati sun. His broad back strains as he labors and he sweats the sweat of a working man. Buzzards circle menacingly overhead. Somewhere, a phone rings, and LDP turns his square-jawed face toward the sound. Reluctantly, he drops his tools and paces across the estate and through the back door of his house.

He picks up the phone.

LDP: Hello?

Misp*: Hey! What are you doing?

LDP: I'm cleaning dog crap out of my back yard. What are you doing?

Misp: I'm at the beach.

LDP: The what?

Misp: The beach?

LDP: You're at a waterpark?

Misp: No, a real beach. In Nice!

LDP: What's Neaps?

Misp: No, Nice -- in France.

LDP: Wait, you're in the south of France?

Misp: Yeah!

LDP: (bewildered silence)

Misp: And guess who I just met!

LDP: I -- uh --

Misp: Pete Townshend! I just met Pete Townshend!

LDP: I have to go now. (He gently places the phone handset in its cradle as a single tear rolls down his cheek.)


*Back then, Misplaced was still known as Misp, which is what we called him on the rough-and-tumble streets of our childhood, when we attended the school of hard knocks.

Monday, November 5, 2007

I Can't Explain.

In the late 1970s, when I was a teenager, I listened to the Doors a lot. That's right, when I could have been discovering the Ramones, the Clash, Elvis Costello and Talking Heads, I was listening to the Lizard King and his sidemen. (Sample lyric: Ride the snake . . . to the lake . . . the snake is old . . . and his skin is cold.) I am not proud of this.

On the other hand, I also loved the Who. Loved them. They were pretty well past their prime, but I didn't care. I had a photo of Pete Townshend in my locker and and for I'd go for weeks listening to nothing but his band's music. A few weeks ago, I listened to Quadrophenia for the first time in years and was surprised to realize that I knew the all the lyrics to every song. Man, those guys were good.

I'm thinking of the Who now because I'm watching a documentary called Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who. It has all the usual VH-1 rock-doc elements: tension among the band members; drug abuse; cheating managers; the whole bit. But it also has rare footage, insightful commentary and incredibly powerful music. I'm kind of rocking back and forth right now as I listen to "A Quick One While He's Away," and I remember doing the same thing years ago, in a movie theatre at a midnight showing of The Kids are Alright, except then I managed to break the chair I was sitting in.

Of course, there's the sad stuff: 45 minutes into the show and we've already seen Keith Moon's now-ancient mother saying, "He was always a good boy, always did what I asked him. That's what I don't understand." It won't be long, I'm sure, until we get to the band's infamous 1979 concert in Cincinnati, when 11 people died.

Right now, though, it's "Happy Jack" and "I Can See for Miles." I look forward to "Baba O'Riley," when, undoubtedly I'll reminisce about the time I was visiting a friend in college and he leapt up in a picture-perfect Townshend imitation and hit his head on a door frame, resulting in a hurried trip to the emergency room for stitches in his gashed head. That's called sacrificing for your art.

I'm trying to do real work right now, but the music is drawing me in, and I can't think of anything else. I suppose I should have grown out of this by now, but in a way, I'm glad I haven't.

In Which I Summarize My Thoughts from My First Two Weeks on the Job.

Don't fuck up . . . don't fuck up . . . do NOT fuck up!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Well, the Moral of This Story . . .

A Texas town is for sale, exclusively on eBay. I'd write a fictional story about that, but who'd believe anyone would ever pay for a piece of that state? The other thing is, it's already been written. There's a Donald Barthelme short story called, "I Bought a Little City," and I listened to a reading of it in a New Yorker podcast on my way home from Chicago last weekend. It's an odd, wry piece, the kind of writing that a part of me feels as if I might have inside myself somewhere, although the rest of me realizes that's just wishful thinking. It's a funny story, but with a little bit of menace. Listen to it here.

I've always had it somewhere in the back of my mind that I'd like to be a writer. I never really did anything about it, and although I enjoy working on this blog, I doubt one or two silly posts per week will ever get me anywhere. I heard "I Bought a Little City," then read it, and it seemed so easy, as if I could just come home, sit down at my laptop, and knock out something just as good. I guess that's what the pros do, though -- they make it all look simple.

And that brings me to another New Yorker podcast I heard on the same trip: Richard Ford reading John Cheever's "Reunion." It's an amazing story, "economical," as they say in the podcast commentary. And talk about making it look easy.

Writing like that is inspiring and discouraging at the same time. Know what I mean? I guess I'll keep plugging away at this blog, knowing what my limits are, but allowing myself the occasional delusion.