Monday, September 24, 2007

Cycle of Life

I am in that phase of life where all things are equally likely. Think of, for example, "Alumni Notes." When one is a recent graduate, the notes are all about jobs and graduate school. Evenutally the stories move into family-making. Later, some deaths begin to occur. Looking ahead at the remaining alumni from the '30s (the '20s are...done), all messages that are not about death are of the "no news is good news" variety.

I am of the age where all the icons of my life are passing. Marcel Marceau died yesterday. While I did not like his work (I prefer his teacher, Etienne Decroux), I respected the man (and his penchant for cognac and cigars). Maleine L'Engle died a couple of weeks ago. Ed Bradley (who was only a SECONDARY icon, a relatively recent addition to 60 Minutes). Lots of "personalities" I "grew up with." I had better start replacing them or the world will become foreign.

At the other end of the spectrum, one of my close friends just had his first child (well, his wife did, but you know what I mean). She (the baby) is beautiful, and likely to be a runner some day. Of course, his daughter will have to outrun mine: good luck!

Friday, September 21, 2007


My alarm went off as usual, cutting into my dreams at 5:15.

Sometimes I have to reconstruct events: my placement, my reactions, my mid-night reasoning. This morning I awoke wedged between Daughters A and B, with Daughter B snuggled up tight in the crook of my arm and Daughter A hogging the covers, her back to mine. Why was I here?

Bits resolved: Daughter B's nighttime shrieks had resulted, it seemed, from Daughter A's refusal to cede any bedcovers. A cup of water cooled the frustration, diverted attention. Then the grasping arms, the snuggle request. It all came back to me, and I fell asleep once again.

Daughter A was poking me. "Papa. Papa, wake up. Papa. Papa, will you take me running with you today?" It was now quarter to six. "Hold on." I had planned to run to my office. My latest route was a perfect half-marathon, taking me through several city squares and then in along the river. Beautiful. I was wondering whether the ROTC boys would be out again. "Hoo-ah," I was thinking to myself. I was practically to the office.

"Papa, wake up!” It was now 5:46, and I was still in bed. Dilemma. It was Friday, after all, one of the two days I allow my eldest to join me and, as she calls them, my "running-friends." But that would not get me to work.

"It's too late," I tried. "They've already started running. Besides, I was thinking of running to work today."

"But Papa, it's Friday. You are supposed to take me with you on Fridays."

"But it's too late."

"I don't care. We can go on our own, just you and me."

I could not make this stuff up. Who am I to squelch a pre-dawn request for PT? Other parents cannot get their young fatties off the couch; my offspring fail to grasp the concept of fatigue. And, after all, I live to serve. Why am I here? I am here to direct, guide, and train the next generation of leaders, to


"Okay, okay. Give me a minute. Go get dressed."

Prepping in the a.m. is not a problem for me: a pair of socks, a pair of shoes, a pair of shorts, a single singlet. How much more elemental can one get? Daughter A returned in a pink terry ensemble with a purple feather-knit boa, pink Crocs and a blue bicycle helmet (indeed, she does not per se run with the group, instead she rides one of her several dump-sourced bicycles; however, she completes the full six miles and never complains, is unfailingly cheery, and chirps "hello!" to all passers-by). She explained that the scarf was to keep her neck warm, but that she did not really like the color as she did not think it went well with her outfit. Have I mentioned that she is seven? Have I mentioned that she often states an intention to become an entomologist?

I attach various reflectors and blinker things to her various limbs. She began to twirl, "Look, I'm a siren." I was going to explain that the siren is an audio device, but perhaps she meant siren in the Greek sense. And I knew what she meant, and she was accurate.

It was too late to chase down our running-friends (who fawn over Daughter A's determination and goodwill). We headed for the river, starting downhill toward Main.

"Stop. Stop. Hit the brakes. Stop! Stop stop stop stop stop stop STOP!" My daughter whizzed down the hill and across Main Street, blinking like an aircraft coming in for a landing. I sprinted after her, ordered her to the side of the road, and grabbed her bicycle.

"Why did you not stop? Why did you disobey me?"

"I tried to stop. The brakes wouldn't work. There were no cars."

What followed was a brief, reasonably logical discussion, a test for faulty equipment. The beginnings of a lecture concerning my fear and anger were cast aside for straight out admonition:

"And what am I supposed to do if you get squished? If you get squished, I am hurt many times over: first, because you are squished, and that in itself would kill me; second, third, fourth, and fifth because Mama would kill me, probably literally, and worse, do so rightly. Do you hear me?"

"Yes, Papa."

"Test your brakes first thing, and now and again as you go. Maybe it was the dew." (Or maybe it was that my daughter weighs about as much as my leg.)

"Yes, Papa."

We ran along the river for a bit, then into some of the nicer neighborhoods. I was silent, but Daughter A, a reasonably proxy for Chatty Cathy, kept up a stream of commentary. "Crummy" is her new pejorative, as in "these houses are nicer than our crummy house. I guess they hired the good painters, not our crummy ones who smoke and leave cigarettes in the driveway and yell and do crummy work."

"Their work isn't crummy, actually."

"Yeah, well, their cigarettes are crummy. And they leave juice boxes all over the place. And they're loud."

What she says is true: I have recently had my understanding of the need for US immigration broadened. It is not so much that immigrants will do the jobs that Americans no longer want to do, it is also that they do them better, and more cheaply. And more quietly. And sober.

Given that we had started late, we only went about four miles, finishing just in time to have departing running-friends beep their horns and wave.

"Papa, did you bring your credit card."

My seven-year-old understands cash, credit, and savings. Sometimes, a bit too much. She likes to end our morning runs with a hot chocolate and, if she can wear me down sufficiently, a sticky bun. I send her in with the card; she stands in line with grownups, assertive and unself-conscious. She can almost see over the counter.

The weather is cooler now as we head into autumn, but often folks hustling off to their jobs cast a questioning eye on a fine-featured child--delicately nibbling at a sticky bun held in but two, maybe three fingers--perched next to a still-huffing man adrip with sweat. Tough. My child; my life.

Later we play "Go Fish" (she wins). Daughter B is awake now, and complains that I never take her running, and that if she is asleep I should just bundle her into the jogging stroller and push her while she sleeps. She and I play "Chutes and Ladders, Jr." (not enough time for the more honest "Snakes and Ladders"). Daughter B gets my cereal while Daughter A makes my coffee. Daughter C is by now in my lap, trying to squeeze all the air out of me. She is very strong. It is eight o'clock.

By the time I leave the house, Rocko is removing some old concrete; the other workmen are yelling at each other; one is puffing a cigarette. Across the street, the Brazilians are hard at work, quietly. Down the street, a huge crew of Greeks has arrived; they will have my neighbor's entire house scraped by the end of the day. One of my workmen heads off to get coffee.

My daughters trail me to the end of the driveway, then line up in descending order for their kisses. I am late to work today. So what.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lonely as a Cloud

Celebrating the bicentenary year of its publication, Cumbria Tourism has, uh, "updated" Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."

In the words of MC Nuts, "Check it!"

Monday, September 10, 2007


For those unfamiliar, please recall Icarus, son of Daedalus, who flew too close to the sun and, as the wax securing his feathered wings melted, plunged into the sea below. Icarus' legs can be seen in the lower right of the painting, just before the waters close over him forever.

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
--W.H. Auden

I have been thinking quite a bit about the recent deaths in my area of operations, deaths which, in some ways, have affected more than some that should have been closer (e.g., the death of my father). But my father, as I knew him, died ten years before the shell of his body gave out.

The men struck down recently were, well, other versions of me, that is, they belonged to my age/education/goals/position/outlook cohort. And they are gone. Could have been me; indeed, might be me.

As I was leaving the wake for one of the passed fellows, I was wondering where Death was that night; had he seen me? Had the bullet that was to end my life been cast? Was it now in someone's box of ammo, just, well, waiting? Was the part that was to fail in the plane in which I would be flying into the ground already on a warehouse shelf? Had my bout with pneumonia ten years ago gone about calcifying my aorta yet? Was the cancer already there?

Is it really that Les Jeux Sont Faits (A 1947 Sartre novel in which Pierre and Eve were predestined to be soulmates, but their premature deaths delay their meeting until their passing into the afterlife where, despite being allowed a second chance, they remain powerless to escape, avoid, or otherwise change the consequences of their choices in life and they die once again, unfilled)? I do not think so.

The first instance of the irrepeatability (a term which somehow better conveys the concept better than the more grammatical "unrepeatable") of action had to do with a supercomputer being forced to reproduce a weather system. Despite all factors being the same, some minute variable was off, eventually leading to an entirely different weather system (Sorry for the vagueness here, I forget the reference: I was in high school when it happened, although I believe it was at MIT). The point is that dynamic interactions (and their outcomes) are not always predictable and, more importantly, not always the same. That is, if you could go back in time, time very likely would not repeat itself.

My point? Even if I could find the bullet with my name on it, I could not stop the (real) bullet with my name on it. Or, said differently, although we have greater influence over our destinies than Sartre believed, we likely have far, far less than we, as individuals, generally believe.

"Live for today" does not work because the mortgage still comes due, the children still get hungry or need their faces washed. The catbox needs cleaning.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More Mortality

A guy I run with had a heart attack; still in a coma; five children + a wife.

Life can be so

brief, so utterly, painfully, destructively brief.

Why am I here? Where am I going? What am I supposed to be doing?

My eldest asked today, "do you like going to work?"

Good question.

What is the best use of my time? What is my highest purpose. If Death calls me tomorrow, am I ready? Am I done? Have I accomplished...anything?

[Addendum: I wrote the above early this morning; just now, word has reached me that the husband of one of my co-workers suffered an aneurysm this morning and died. I will be busy doing what I can, but the untimely death of yet another seemingly healthy, definitely fit father of young children is hair-raising. I am speechless.]

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Well, THAT was Amusing!

Re-reading last night's lonely post. Fellows, don't drink and blog! I will let the post stand, however.

Wine, by the way, was Oxford Landing GSM (grenache, 56%; shiraz, 33%; mourvedre, 11%). More reviews here and here. Some folks love it, others seem to hate it (one equated it with "vomit sprinkled with Strawberry Quik").

At $8, it was a good value: peppery, fruity, with some tannins. Over time, though, it began to wear on the palate, with some of the black/sour cherry getting on my nerves, seeming a little harsh. Good with pizza, though.

And I was still able to get up and put in a hard run in the a.m.

In other news, Mike Nifong will be spending at least one day in jail. I wonder what the eventual compensation for the falsely accused Duke Lacrosse Players will be..?

Addendum: what I wrote last night was true, i.e., I no longer no what to do with myself when the family are not around. Raising a family weakens a man, makes him vulnerable, mortal (with mortality being something I think about quite a bit lately). I absolutely understand how family-making reduces a country's propensity to make war; indeed, it puts further light on my increasingly conservative response to the sexual revolution, ubiquitous birth control, easy access to abortion, etc.

Freedomnomics, a direct (and intellectually angry) response to one of my favorite books of late, Freakonomics, puts a whole different spin on the effects of easy access to abortion.

Freakonomics correlates increased abortion rates with lower crime (because, in a form of localized eugenics, "unwanted" babies--of the sort that would have worse financial, educational, and medical outcomes if they had lived--get aborted, so they are not around to do crimes).

Freedomnomics, on the other hand, correlates easy abortion with higher crime rates, the thinking being that women became less risk-averse, hence pregnancy rates are higher and, thus, while some women terminate their pregnancies, some (for a variety of reasons) who otherwise would not have gotten pregnant at all now bring their babies to term. Freedomnomics puts the stats out there in all their socio-economic gory glory.

I do find it interesting that Liberals, in pursuit of equality for all, favor policies whose meta-outcomes lean toward ethnic cleansing (e.g., African American abortion rates are triple that of other groups). Of course, I have always found the Liberal view toward certain groups to be condescending in any case (John Edwards admonishing Americans to forego their SUVs, while driving one, is just one simple example; affirmative action, which assumes that certain individuals, by the mere fact of their melanin, cannot compete academically is one of the worst cases).

In any case, my point here is that the joys of family are subtle, and take a long time to ferment. The way society treats men, women, and relationships does not seem conducive to the amount of time and effort required to build a really strong, really stable relationship. Easy divorce, long cohabitation (which, for men, is absolutely not the same as marriage; different thought process altogether), sexual access, acceptance of unwed mothers, all lead to a further fracturing of the male/female complementarity (a distinct goal of capital-F Feminism).

D-mn I sound like a fogey. And all this from a clear beneficiary of all the things about which I now complain... I guess, fundamentally, while it seemed worth it (i.e., fun) at the time, looking back I am saddened by the waste. I met my wife at age 16 (and I knew at the time that she was...important; indeed, her effects colored my cravings and relationships forever after); we married at 30. In between I, uh, "benefited" from several long-term cohabitations. Now, to me, that time seems, well, wasted and unproductive, time that could have been spent (seriously, it could have) with my wife. Some of the adventures I have had--most of which cannot be reproduced--are not part of our ongoing conversation.

But hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 (unless, of course, it has to do with recognizing, acknowledging, and undoing all the damage wrought by "progressive" social policy over the last 40 years). Praise be that I have time forward to spend with my growing family. Can't wait 'til they get back here!