Running Into a Wall

There’s that word again…  running.

And just like that I may have run out of metaphors, ways to beat a dead horse.

Where’ve I been, you ask?  OK, pretend you asked it.  Well, as you might have guessed from my most recent post of, oh, about 18 months ago now, I’ve been busy trying to get myself in shape.  One of my sisters asked on the phone the other night “Are you doing this with some kind of goal in mind?”  Actually, that’s an English translation of her original Jersey.  What she said was “What’s the fuckin’ point?”  “Well,” I said, “Trying to set goals for myself, accomplish things, get in shape for once in my life.”  And then after a long pause, realizing I was apparently making little to no sense I added, “Figured I’d run a 5K in December.”

So, truthfully, the 5K is a goal but it’s not the main reason.  Look, I’m going to be 40 in a few years.  I’ve had two major spinal surgeries.  I don’t want to sit around and wonder why I never did anything for myself and most importantly, I don’t want to get ten years into the future and stare down another fusion surgery asking “Why didn’t I just tighten up my core like they suggested?!”  I know it’s hard work.  I know it sucks.  I know I’d rather be watching reruns of the Bionic Woman and eating Fritos but I’ve got to do something.

I don’t know…  Am I progressing, snarky fitness app?

So, with the help of a very able-bodied friend (that is, a friend who is jacked and therefore knows the well guarded secret of jacked-ness) I embarked on my path.  It took me some time to ease into it.  A few months back he showed me all the movements, even gave me demonstrations.  He wrote out a detailed plan.  It took time but when I reached the summer and I had a few months off I committed to just doing it.

Most of the initial plan involved me doing these high intensity interval sets called Tabatas.  Sounds dirty, I know.  But for 14 minutes every day I would mix it up with push ups, box jumps, jumping jacks, etc. at a heart-stopping pace.  I did this for six weeks.  I started to feel better.  I thought my clothes were fitting better.  I perceived a change and I liked it.  Were other people noticing?  Not sure.  That’s tough for me because I crave attention.  That’s why I’m writing this right now.  It’s why all bloggers write.  We’re throwing crap on the internet in the hopes that millions of unknown “fans” will read, adore, and comment.  Plus, it’s easier than talking to ourselves.  Admit it, Debbi, that’s what you’d be doing if you weren’t blogging.  Secret’s safe with me.

Around the middle of August it came time to add running into the mix.  I had never seriously attempted to run before.  This time, things would be different.  Thanks to his help I started building up my endurance and my pace.  Although I’m proud of myself and what I’ve done over the most recent six weeks I feel like I’m at a dead end.  Let me explain.

Clearly diet isn’t exactly a huge component on this plan.  AKA: Sometimes I just go apeshit on wine and canned “Italian” crap.  Who are you to judge me?!

I started out running 30 second intervals interspersed with 12 seconds of walking.  “How am I ever going to run,” I though, “if I’m stopping and walking every half-minute?”  But when you do 18 sets of this without a break you realize how hard it is for a non-runner.  Fortunately I’ve remained injury free as he gradually shifted me into a slightly different program.  I moved into the ranks of elite runners who can run for 2 whole minutes at a time and only take 1 minute of walking time in between!  Hey, I was happy with that.  Well, looking forward to the 5K, I began to think “This is a true metric.”  It’s 3 miles.  I’ve never run that far.  It’s within reach.  I can do it!  Then I mentioned this to a student who promptly told me “A 5K is nothing.”  Thanks for the pin prick, kid.  Here’s your “F”.  Of course it’s nothing to you, you wiry prick.  Unfortunately, I still have some “meat” on me and did I mention that fused spine thing?  Yeah that’s right I didn’t because I hate excuses.  So I’ve been gradually increasing my intervals without paying much attention to the naysayers.

Now I’m up to a few 5 minutes intervals each time and I’m really happy with that.  My pace is improved.  Here’s the problem.  I’m impatient and I can’t avoid comparisons.  On the first front, well, there’s nothing I can do about that.  I would have hoped to see more gains by now.  I’m starting to let the fitness component (the jacked-ness aspect) fall by the wayside of the running component and I’m not thrilled by that.  Still, it’s hard on me when I still can’t discern a noticeable difference in my appearance from three months ago.  One of the reasons anyone does a program like this is with the hopes of at least looking a little better.  On the second front, man oh man is it humiliating sometimes.  As in: “Yay! I ran 2.2 miles today at an 11:15 pace!”  And then you realize how weak that sounds next to people who routinely run 6-10 miles several times a week at a 7 min. pace.  I know I can improve and I’ve been assured it takes years.  That’s what scares me.  Did I mention that I’m impatient?  Tonight, I simply gave up.  Yeah, I know I’ll be back at it tomorrow but boy did it feel good to chill out on the couch with a bag of Taco Bell.

Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you!

With all of this in mind I really appreciate where I work.  I’m a Catholic school teacher.  For the past few days we’ve had Eucharistic Adoration in our chapel and I’ve been blessed to bring my students in for an hour at a stretch several times.  I knelt before Our Lord and asked him some soul-searching questions.  “Jesus?  When will I be jacked?”  “Lord, will you give me patience and perseverance?”  And as if to remind me of what’s truly important, He showed me something very beautiful.  He showed me what I’m really capable of in His name.  For today, I brought 17 teenagers to Him in prayer.  I even taught them how to sing Holy God We Praise Thy Name — and they sang it, too!  All in all, I suppose that’s a mark of success.  And for a man who all too often feels unsuccessful, this one is pretty powerful.

I Always Feel Like… Somebody’s Watching Me. And I’m Right, Too!

A few months back my wife, our kids, my mother-in-law, and a few others headed to lunch to celebrate my late father-in-law’s death anniversary.  Toward the end of the meal, I stepped out to grab a smoke.

That’s when I saw IT.

“It” is the mysterious, darkly-tinted, and slow-rolling compact car with a sexti-chromatic color scheme and Orwellian recording devices mounted from bumper to bumper.

“It”… is the Google Car!

No, it’s not the one that supposedly drives itself.  That would have just been funny I imagine.  This is the Streetview car that takes images of every imaginable surface on the earth and publishes them for the world to see.

I grabbed my phone, not thinking anyone would believe me.  And then, inspired by those who’ve flipped off “It” in previous drive-by’s (both literally and figuratively), I waved.

And now, I’m on display for the world to see…

There “It” is…

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 6.10.37 PM
Look carefully…

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There “I” am!

Harvey Takes Flight

About a week ago, Wilma, my mother-in-law, suggested I fill out a firm online to be considered for a volunteer position at the big airport as a greeter, er, Ambassador. 

I believe her motives are pure and godly. See, she’s a greeter there for the past year. And you know that she and I have so much fun together. Why, there was the time we visited a casket factory run by Benedictine monks showroom with a backstory convicted about her (then) non-existent cancer. There was the time she and I almost got kicked out of a seniors beauty pageant because we had cocktails and yelled “fix!” when our chosen contestant lost. Yes, it’s always a good time when we get together. 

Why, you might ask, would a guy with a decent job, an young family, and a busy life want to take a volunteer job at an airport? I’m pretty sure I’d spend my weekly shift holding onto a plastered smile while directing tourists to the nearest bathroom and politely informing them that JFK did not actually die at this airport. 

The simple answer is that this whole situation would be a treasure trove of writing material! I’d do it all for you, my three readers.

Because. I. Care. 

Also, they’d give me a free Stetson and those things are worth a few hundred bucks. Oh and did I mention that I’d occasionally get to take a tour of aircraft like the A380? I’ve been fascinated with airports ever since I was five and my older sister took me to Newark Airport to pick up our dad who was returning from a business trip. Pretty sure she actually left her car running at the curb while we sauntered in to the terminal and walked right to his gate. Times have changed. 

That brings me to the real real reason I want this job. The closest Dunkin Donuts to me is at that damn airport, post-security! For four years I’ve been wondering how to get my coffee and breakfast sandwich without driving thirty miles. “Make it light and sweet, ma’am,” I’d say with a smile while tipping my Stetson. “Yee haa! Daddy’s got his coffee again.”  I think Texans talk like that. 

Anyway I haven’t even gotten the application yet so it’s not a done deal. Come to think of it, what if they don’t like me? Crap I don’t know that I could handle that kind of rejection. Last year I applied for three jobs that I didn’t get. “You mean you’re not giving me this job that pays literally nothing? You do know this is an airport, right?”

But if I do get lucky and land this gig (pun intended) I can only imagine the fun the two of us will find ourselves in…

More to come. 

Reflections on Running

I have written before about my two attempts at running. Nothing spectacular and, you see, nothing really to it. I tried getting into running and failed. True, at the time (as now) I could the humor in the situation – I believe my words were “twenty feet out from the driveway and my left lung collapsed”. But abject failures indeed were these efforts. 

And I have often almost cared enough to ask myself why. You see I don’t like to fail. In fact, I fear failure so much that I simply do not attempt things I know I cannot master. Really I don’t like to try things in which I won’t excel. 

I think the reasons for my failures lie in the reasons why I was running in the first place. To be clear I’m talking about actual running here. The first time it was to have something over which to bond with my brother. The second time it was to impress a friend of mine (and because he’s pretty cool and I like spending time with him and he’s a runner). But these are not good enough reasons to sustain a habit of running. Let’s face it. Running sucks. I hear it releases all kinds of magical LSD-like chemicals in the bloodstream and people who run have mystical experiences where they get invited to raves with dead celebrities and all. But I have my doubts. 

And now once again I am running. So what’s changed?


A year and a half ago I had my second spinal fusion. They say I can probably hold out another ten years before I find myself in the same place. This time, that’s not good enough. I never considered myself in bad shape but I knew the time had come to tackle getting in great shape now. So two months ago, with nothing much to hold me back (I’m a teacher and it was summer) I took the training advice of that cool friend I mentioned and decided to hunker down. 

OK so here’s the problem. This guy has been in phenomenal shape since his teenage years. Me? Not so much. I played tennis for a while as a youngster and lifted weights (without much guidance) for a while as an adult but had no idea what I was doing. He set me up with a routine and his patience with me (and time spent on me) have been invaluable. And thanks to a gift I have called determination I have stuck with a grueling regimen. To my surprise when this guy saw me after a month in his plan he remarked that I was looking great. Push ups, box jumps, and some sadistic thing called a burpee all played into this routine. My goal is to strengthen my core and protect the spine. 

One day a few weeks ago this guy mentioned casually how his own fitness goals have changed over the years. “I’ve had the six pack and I’m not playing that game anymore.”  Really? What’d you do with it? Is it in your closet ’cause I’ll take it off your hands if you’re not using it. See, as much as I desperately need to do this for my health I’m not going to lie and say that the coincidental side effect of looking like a rock star aren’t appealing.

But in all seriousness I’m starting to see some improvement. Parts of me are getting pretty toned while others are shrinking. It’s all good. And seeing the results definitely helps keep me motivated. 

So running…

Something I’ve noticed is that having a fitness goal has been good for me in other ways. It is taken my mind somewhat off of a stressful job situation and other small matters like infertility. I have been focused on taking care of myself. So, looking back on these past failures, I decided to set another goal. I want to be able to run 2 miles. I know to serious runners that goal sounds ridiculous. But I’m an ambler and a smoker (another goal) and I have to correct for those failures. And again, thanks to his patients and expertise, I have been able to start toward that goal. Baby steps.

I’ve been running with him several times now. Each time has been for no more than 15 minutes broken into sets of 30 seconds running and 12 seconds walking. I’m trying not to think about what my dog-like painting makes me look like on the track. And he’s been good about not sprinting too far past me or running so many extra laps that I’ve lost count. In the end though, I must let go of my innate desire to see immediate results and accept a slower timeline, trusting that results will come.

In the meantime, The original routine he gave me is going well. True, there was one humiliating moment yesterday. I have a tendency sometimes to think that I’m doing really well simply because I can do something better today than I could yesterday. The two of us found ourselves in the fitness center at work doing pull ups. Turns out, my form might be severely impaired. He corrected me as I hoped that he would. Hell, if he doesn’t give me honest feedback I will never know that I’m not doing it right. But to keep things balanced, I could not do a single pull up one month ago. And did I mention the whole double spinal fusion thing? I know, I hate excuses too. So I won’t use any.

All in all, I write this tonight to take stock of where I have been, where I am now, and where I hope to be in the near future. But I also write this as a way of saying thank you to my friend. I always knew that if I had a good personal trainer I could make an honest go of getting in shape. I’ll just put this out there, this guy’s the best.

Now I’m off to see if I can find that missing six pack. 

How Was Your Sundae?

Having just written about ice cream…

Sunday was National Ice Cream Day.  Yes, it’s a thing.  But considering there’s a “holiday” called National Stop Female Genital Mutilation Day, I think I’d take Ice Cream Day anytime.  So, enjoy.  We did…

Sharing Milestones (and Memories) With Your Kids

Well friends, last Friday my car went from this

to this

Before you say anything else, you snarky snark, yes, it really was 103 degrees.  This is Texas.  It’s July.  Fortunately, it was only the second or third such triple-digit day this summer.

But, as you can see, the odometer in our rockin’ Town & Country gently rolled from 99,999 to 100,000.  Do you know how freakin’ excited I was?  Shut your mouth.  I know it’s just an odometer.  It’s just a car.  I get that.  Here’s the deal.

My dad is a numbers guy.  As a kid I wondered what to say to friends when they’d ask what my dad did for a living.  Usually I’d just say “He’s an actuary” sort of under my breath and hope they’d let it go.  Was I embarrassed?  Hell no.  He’s a genius and that career provided a very decent living for my mom and the sixteen of us kids.  Good Lord, do I have to explain everything to you?  Yes, it’s a big family.  Another story for another day.  My point is that I simply did not know what an actuary was.  Oh I had asked him.  He’s got the most amazing sense of humor.  It’s not only a dad thing (which I’ve discovered in myself) but just his incredible mind operating with such wit and speed that half the time the recipient of his humor (which was sometimes ribald) was left with a keen feeling of bewilderment.  What he’d say would definitely make you laugh very hard.  At the same time, your own brain would still be processing the content for a while AND wondering how he’d come up with it so fast.

“Dad, what’s an actuary again?”

“Well son, it’s a place where they bury dead actors.”

That was always one of my favorites.  How about this one?

“Well m’lad [yes, he’d call me that sometimes] an actuary is the man who brings a bomb on a plane because while the chances of their being one bomb are small, the chances of their being two bombs are infinitesimal.”

Statistics.  He could have just freakin’ said, he worked with statistics.  Truth is, an actuary is a fellow (or lady) who uses statistics to figure contingency tables.  In other words, they look at data to determine useful information about different groups of people.  This kind of information might include, say, the life expectancy of Latino males who smoke cigarettes and drive red cars.  Who’d want that kind of info?  Insurance companies, anyone managing a pension fund. If I’m going to put aside money on your behalf for your retirement it might help to know how long you’re going to live, now wouldn’t it?

So factor into all this brilliance AND love of numbers the fact that the man finds certain things “neat”.  When I was about 10 and he and I had just returned from a trip to visit my sister in another part of the state he glanced at the odometer in his old Buick.  “Hmm…  99,998.7.  How far up the street do you think we’ll have to go to get it back here with exactly 100,000 miles on it, son?” he asked me.  OK, 1) I was shocked he was asking my input.  I didn’t think I was in his math league and 2) I  quickly thought it over and replied: “I don’t know Dad.  How about we go three blocks up and back?”  You see, I knew the approximate distance given the length of city blocks in Newark, NJ and knew that I’d have to halve it in order to pull back to the driveway at exactly the right point.

He disagreed.  Thought it would be shorter.  To the surprise of both of us, I was right.  As we turned into the driveway at home he shut off the engine and declared “There you go!  I know own a ten year old car with exactly 0 miles on it.”  Those old odometers didn’t include a sixth digit place so it literally rolled over back to 0.

This is the BEST ice cream parlor on earth.

This is the BEST ice cream parlor on earth.

Here’s the best part.  To celebrate – I know?  Who knew this was a cause for celebration? – he turned the car right back on and drove us to Holstein’s Ice Cream Parlor where my father treated me to a Duster Sundae.  Never had one?  Holstein’s is where the final scene in the Soprano’s was filmed, by the way.  It’s a big ice cream sundae in a tall pewter dish covered in malt powder.  And it’s Goooood.  And if you know my dad, you know exactly how he said that word good.

So as I drove my wife and kids in our bathing suits to the pool on that disgustingly hot day last week I kept my eye on my own odometer.  “Two miles, kids!” I shouted.  They didn’t seem to care.  I had to explain the whole thing to them at the next red light.  “One mile!  Daddy is so excited!!!”

And then…  the odometer rolled over.

Following in the old man’s footsteps I quickly turned into the drive-thru of the next Chic-fil-a and we all got shakes.

I love thinking back on things like that day with my dad.  Oh he’s still with us.  Almost 80 years-old now.  Being his youngest son I guess I was privileged to spend more moments like that with him than some of my brothers.  And having only two of my own (thanks, infertility) I know that I MUST share these moments with them and make every moment special.  Fortunately he wrote a pretty good blueprint.

As for the dad humor?  Let’s just say I’ve discovered that something strange happens in the act of conception.  I believe that upon reaching the target, the male gamete then sends a signal to the new father’s brain that triggers an unalterable change in his own humor receptors.  Basically, when you become a dad your sense of humor goes haywire and you can’t help yourself.  I still eke out some really good jokes but these days, most of my one-liners end in a chorus of groans.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks Dad.

Economics 101: What I’m Teaching My Kids About Money (And What They’re Teaching Me)

So last night, this happened…

Last night was a peaceful evening in our home.  I had mowed the lawn and helped my brother-in-law set some fence posts at his house.  At my home, my wife and I had straightened up from the usual kids-home-for-summer mess that seems simply to take over during July.  I was sitting at my piano, playing Prokofiev (because I can and because it adds to the serenity).  My wife was watching a movie.  Our kids were playing in their bedroom.  I was shirtless.  More on that later.

Just like that, the peace was disturbed.  My precious daughter, all of five years-old, came tearing out of her bedroom in tears.  My seven year-old son followed quickly.  My first tendency was to ask “Son, what did you do?”  To my surprise, however, he had done nothing and she, usually a bit of a dramatist, was crying real tears.  She was genuinely heartbroken.

“What happened, baby?” I said with all the tenderness a father can muster for his little girl.  By the way, she was clad in a Cinderella costume and plastic “glass” slippers.  Through her sobs she revealed that she had dropped her piggy bank and it shattered.  I looked her square in the eye and broke the cold hard truth to her.

“Angel, don’t be too sad.  Obama was just going to take it all anyway.”

She looked up at me and cried harder and louder.  I sent her to Mommy while I went in to assess the damage.

So, all those times that I have loose change in my pockets and I dump a fistful of coins onto my dresser at night before getting into bed?  Those times when I look at the accumulating silver and copper and think “What the heck.  Let me just drop this 83₵ into the kids’ piggy banks.  It’s just change…”  Yeah, those times.  On the floor of my children’s bedroom I stumbled upon a picture that looked like these two had knocked over Fort Knox rather than breaking a piggy bank.

“Sweetheart?” I called.  “Scratch that, Honey?” I said, calling to my wife.  “Did you know how much loot these two have?”  No answer.  So I walked across the house to where she was sitting.  “Did you know they’ve got serious money in there?”  She looked at me and then reminded me that a friend of ours who used to visit from Paris would drop Euro coins and bills into the banks.  “No, babe, these are American coins and bills too.”  “Heh,” she said and returned to her movie.

By now I was wondering what happened to the Prokofiev and you’re probably wondering what happened to my shirt.  OK, the music I can return to any time.  The shirt?  I told you I’d been mowing.  It’s Texas.  It’s 4 million degrees.  I sweat a lot.  Oh, and I had been working out.  Bottom line, I did NOT think I’d be stopping down to pick up shards of broken ceramics off a carpeted floor.

Being the dutiful daddy, I swept into my daughter’s room, broom in hand.  Did you like that?  Swept.  Broom.  Get it?  Whatever.  Crouched on the floor, dripping in sweat, my sinewy muscles rippling – wait, wrong story.  I got down and realized a few more things about this situation.  So I already got that my kids have more money than me.  I’m Catholic so I accept that some things are just a mystery and that’s OK.  But I also noticed that broken ceramics hurt.  When I was all through sorting cash from glass I stood up, knees bruised and bleeding, muscle still rippling (had to through that in there since it is my blog) and I wondered: Who gave this gigantic torture instrument to my child? And how’d I get broken glass in my left nipple? Turns out it was my wife’s friend Jean and she gave it to us before my daughter was even born.  No wonder my little girl was so sad.  That and the fact that it was a huge, hot pink pig wearing a crown and sash ala a beauty contest.

Then I wondered to myself if there was a recovery fee I could legitimately charge my daughter.  Surely there was enough in here for a pack of smokes or a bottle of gin.  It’s not like I didn’t “invest” in this stash anyway.  But I’m a good day (or at least I try to be) and so I left all of her assets in a large Tupperware container on her dresser.

Here’s what I learned in all of this.

  • The global distribution of money is not fair.
  • Broken ceramics hurt and cut and, quite possibly, kill.
  • Prokofiev is deceptively difficult to play.
  • I need to keep my shirt on.

Oh, one more thing I learned is that my daughter thinks I really am a superhero. When she saw me throwing the bag with the broken bank fragments away, she looked up and said “Wait, Daddy?  Aren’t you going to put it back together for me?”  Anyone know where they sell a boatload of Crazy Glue?