Moving On: Red Valiant

Andrew Wyeth - Sea Boots 1976When the last long week of August bled its way into September and green flies along the beach outnumbered all the worthwhile prey, when hotel balconies ran checkered and weekend vendors closed their kiosks, when short sleeves gave way to lozenges and northern trade winds curled the ocean, when the meters blinked at zero and all the street lights flashed bright yellow, when the sand began to snake its way from coastline back to inlet, that was when my girlfriend finally left North Wildwood for good.

Meghan was gone now, living in a dorm room at Immaculata, where she was campaigning for class president. We had spent the summer working apart, Meghan managing an ice cream parlor on Magnolia while I did my thing on Surfside Pier. Most evenings, Meghan would close up short of midnight, waving arms as she passed by along the strand. On a good night, she might wait for me along a bench, enabling the two of us to walk and talk toward 19th Street. We rarely spent days off together, and we never spent full nights. Come September, the entire thing had worn me down to an extent I scarcely ate or changed my clothes.

Bill Salerno arranged for me to rent a car throughout the final weeks of summer, a red sedan I used to hustle back and forth to school. I’d attend classes in Delaware County every morning before driving east to Wildwood at night – two hours, both ways, with a six-hour work shift starting the moment I arrived. Before long a lack of sleep took hold, causing me to drift away one night behind the wheel. I came to on a front lawn in Cape May Courthouse, the rental car still idling, a bulldozed post across the yard.

The weekend after Labor Day, I withdrew my summer savings – $1,300 set aside to buy or lease a nice used car. I put that money in an envelope, which I carried by my side. At some point while I was at work, that envelope disappeared. It was discovered the following morning by a 31-year old named Brian Polhamus. Polhamus, a Surfside Pier employee, noticed the envelope sticking up between two planks next to the Tilt-a-Whirl. He turned it in and I rewarded him …with a $16 bird from Bill’s Concessions.

Whenever possible, I’d drive past Meghan’s father’s house on East 19th, slowing down as I ran even with the porch. That porch reminded me of simpler times, February afternoons when Meghan and I would drive out west toward the inlet, watching waves crash on the jetty after we made out in the car. It was gone now, almost all of it, with Meghan barreling head-first into a world that I abhorred. Penn State, Delaware County, moving back into my parents’ house – day after day, I told myself new stories in order to live. I wanted to be here, I equivocated. It had always been my plan to re-enroll.

Meghan, meanwhile, remained headstrong, entering a period during which she’d be encountering new people at an astronomical clip. Assuming our relationship fell through, it was my belief I’d never meet someone like her again. Throughout our two-plus years together, I had marketed myself as a monogamous boyfriend – a loyal sword who’d never hurt Meghan or take advantage of her feelings. And yet, the majority of my behavior found its roots in insecurity. I would put down Meghan’s friends incessantly, going out of my way to reassess their minor flaws. Come the Fall of 1995, my negativity had become such it began to feel more like a tourniquet, constricting Meghan’s ability to mold and blend into a new environment.

The third week in September, I purchased a rust-red 1987 Escort for $800 at auction. I called Meghan’s dorm room the following morning, insisting she let me take her for a ride. No chance, Meghan protested. She had just been elected class president and she had too much on her mind. I was persistent, and, eventually, Meghan relented, agreeing to let me come out “for a minute.”

“After that,” Meghan was adamant, “you really need to go.”

Come one o’clock my tiny Escort made the turn onto Immaculata Drive, a busted brake light overshadowed by the screech of grinding belts. Meghan wandered over outside Villa Maria Hall. She came flanked on either side by classmates, one of whom kept staring at my temporary tags. I remained inside the vehicle, both hands at 10 and two. My body began to hyperventilate, responding to some urge to cut the conversation short.

Minutes later, I sat driving south toward the exit, a series of oak trees scrolling back across my car. Jagged shadows threw dark weight upon a sticker on my windshield, the word “REJECTED” printed on it in big, black, Antique font. I’ve gotta get this thing inspected, I thought unto myself. Meghan’s classmates must’ve thought that goddamn sticker looked absurd.

Day 985

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill

Running: How I Went From 0 to 70 In Six Weeks (& Medaled In a 5K One Week Later)

DSC03546SNAP! That is how it sounded, much more like the snapping of a car belt than the friction between fingers. I was sprinting, in mid-stride, and the jolt, it sent me tumbling, a spasm so intense I barely noticed fractured ribs. I’d pulled a hamstring, the only major running injury I’d sustained in more than 14 years. It occurred on the morning of December 8th, 2013, a month and one week after my 40th birthday.

The first week in January I was able to put significant weight on both legs. The first week in February I was able to manage a slight jog. The first week in March I pulled a muscle in my left calf; the first week in April, I pulled a muscle in my quad. The first week in May, I felt completely uninspired. I had yet to stitch together one continuous month of training. To compensate, I began reading. I read Agee and Hemingway; George Plimpton, Jesmyn Ward. At some point I even got around to reading Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, a best-seller that introduced me to ultra-marathoner Jenn Shelton. Shelton, who has since disputed the way she is portrayed in the book, holds the women’s world record for 100-mile trail running. At 31, her tiny frame seems custom-made for uncooperative terrain. Shelton celebrates the inherent lightness in her sport, providing no sign whatsoever of the pain that she’s enduring.

Appearing in slight contrast is U.S. distance runner Shalane Flanagan. Flanagan finished second among women at the 2010 New York City Marathon (the first time she had competed at that distance). I happened to be on-hand that morning, applauding as Flanagan entered the final turn – head narrowed, legs pumping, concrete abs mirroring her form. She was wearing a midriff shirt over knee socks, every limb covered in fabric to keep the rest of her warm. Flanagan discussed her approach to running on 60 Minutes this past April – a native daughter of Massachusetts, she had come home to aid the Boston Marathon’s return.

Shelton and Flanagan commanded my attention, yet they paled in comparison to 17-year old Alana Hadley – a high school marathon runner who I’d originally become aware of as a result of The New York Times. Hadley was – and is – training for a shot at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials, cataloging her workouts by way of a personal blog. I gravitated toward Hadley, particularly because her adolescent willingness to accept both triumphs and setbacks with equanimity seemed antithetical to mine.

As a child, my father was my coach, and – for a time – this proved to be an advantage. Day after day, he harnessed my ability, eventually leading me to a 32nd-place finish at the AAU cross country championships – the fourth man on a state team that took home the national title. I was 13 when that happened, and while I would continue to enjoy a certain modicum of success, it would never be like that again. By the time I entered high school, competitive running began to consume me, almost none of it occurring by choice. I was a pint-sized freshman making inroads with the varsity, but I was increasingly despondent, unmotivated to do what I’d been told. I spent summers lost in training, I slipped from cross country into indoor. I was forbidden from other physical activities, a cycle of running without pause.

By sophomore year, my father was more invested than I. Every night, he’d encourage me to talk about practice, mining for some touchstone via the only source he owned. The further I withdrew, the more my father assumed his goals should be my own. The combination of anxiety and depression became such I would wake up every morning with a churning in my stomach, one that grew as I moved closer to that day’s practice after school.

There were incidents, a lot of them. On one occasion my father flew into a rage after I asked him if we could talk about something other than running. On another, he turned petrifyingly cold when I approached him to ask if it’d be OK for me to quit. He was sitting in the living room, on a couch next to the end table where he liked to stack his Chips Ahoy. Upon hearing my question, his eyes narrowed and he told me: “You go ahead. You go ahead and you quit, and you ruin every dream I ever had for you.”

One year later, I finally did, setting off an in-house struggle that eventually forced me out of his home.

I mention all of this by way of explaining why Alana Hadley had such an impact. After weeks spent scrolling through her posts – weeks during which I also learned more about Jenn Shelton and Shalane Flanagan – I decided it might be time for me to exorcise old demons; to set focus on new goals.

I laid out a six-week training program, the thrust of which would be a slow and steady ramp toward 60 miles in one week. There would be speed, and hills, and intervals with slight periods of adjustment. There would be changes in diet and curbing of habits. There would be monastic devotion to an agenda all my own.

What follows is my training log, written in real-time, with reflections on the highs and lows, as well as everything that happened in between.

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Joyce Carol Oates on Boxing & Pornography (1987)

“The spectacle of human beings fighting each other for whatever reason, including, at certain well-publicized times, staggering sums of money, is enormously disturbing because it violates a taboo of our civilization. Many men and women, however they steel themselves, cannot watch a boxing match because they cannot allow themselves to see what it is they are seeing. One thinks helplessly, This can’t be happening, even as, and usually quite routinely, it is happening. In this way boxing as a public spectacle is akin to pornography: in each case the spectator is made a voyeur, distanced, yet presumably intimately involved, in an event that is not supposed to be happening as it is happening. The pornographic ‘drama,’ though as fraudulent as professional wrestling, makes a claim for being about something absolutely serious, if not humanly profound: it is not so much about itself as about the violation of a taboo. That the taboo is spiritual rather than physical, or sexual – that our most valuable human experience, love, is being is being desecrated, parodied, mocked – is surely at the core of our culture’s fascination with pornography. In another culture, undefined by spiritual-emotional values, pornography could not exist, for who would pay to see it?”

(Excerpted from On Boxing)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Ira Glass’s Advice For Aspiring Writers (2014)

“I’d just say to aspiring journalists or writers – who I meet a lot of – do it now. Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.”

(Excerpted from the Lifehacker Interview.)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Film Capsule: Child of God

When I originally saw the trailer for James Franco’s Child of God, I thought, Wow! They just might need to nominate that film for an Academy Award. Six months later, having seen the film, I think they just might need to nominate the guy who made that trailer. This is not to say that Child of God is awful so much as it is to say that James Franco’s adaptation is slow, laborious, and relentlessly vulgar about more than it needs to be.

An outlaw shitting in the woods, then wiping his ass with a twig? James Franco’ll throw that at you during the film’s first 15 minutes. That same man jerking off, then blowing his load onto a car? James Franco’ll edit the sound to make you feel the slap of jizz.

On The Colbert Report, Franco explained his goal as such: “I wanted to take this on – this guy, who is doing some of the worst things possible – and make a watchable movie; make a movie where the audience is not repelled.” While there are several terms one might apply to Child of God, “watchable” is not any of them. What Franco – and the movie – are after is a stark portrayal of the everyday atrocities American culture glazes over, ignoring human trespass until it eventually becomes them.

Like most Cormac McCarthy adaptations, this one features an open canvas, bleak horizons, and dried-out remnants of a world gone wrong. The lead acting is phenomenal, and James Franco – a fantastic actor and equally intriguing human being – has come a long way in a short time as a director. But Child of God proves his films still don’t feature any real form of engagement, which is fine in terms of thesis, yet weak in terms of drama.

(Child of God opens in limited release today.)

Greil Marcus on The Desperation of Road Movies (1989)

“We’re all familiar with road movies: not Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in Two For the Road, but two men on the lam from this or that, lots of chase scenes. The geography of the country is always a good setup, good visuals, you can fill an hour and a half without trouble. The fact is, I can’t remember the title of the last road movie I saw, the one with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, the one where all the money runs out but in the end the rich guy pulls a few hundred thousand out of his secret money belt and gives it to the poor guy. That isn’t what road movies were like in the 30s. As the road song was being invented, the ‘road’ in road movies went nowhere, as in The Grapes of Wrath or Wild Boys of The Road, a Warner Brothers film about scared teenagers looking for comradeship when they had no reason to expect anything but death. That’s why the road songs of the prewar period always carry a sense of going down – not exactly of failure, because success is not even a possibility, but of disaster, or surrender, an acceptance of the fact that you can’t do whatever it is that you want to do, that you can’t be whatever you want to be. You can’t even begin to imagine what you’d really like to be, where you’d really like to go. On that road, with no money, no family, no one to meet, every place is just like the last place, and the last place is just like the place you’ll be next.”

(Excerpted from Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings, 1968-2010)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Moving On: 42 Out-of-Context Comments Regarding My Binge-Drinking That Regularly Come Back to Haunt Me

  1. otis“As of this morning, your missing card’s run up a little over $3,300 in new charges, leaving you with an available balance of negative 36.”
  2. “Do you ever think you’ll go back to drinking?”
  3. “Do you remember telling my sister to go fuck herself last night?”
  4. “I don’t get you. You claim you’ve quit drinking because you don’t like who you’ve become, and yet you’re really not that interesting, otherwise.”
  5. “I don’t understand why you pay tuition to do this.”
  6. “I don’t want to be with you this weekend.”
  7. “I guess I’ll just go kill myself.”
  8. “I just don’t think I want to be with a clown for the rest of my life.”
  9. “I just don’t understand what was going on inside your head.”
  10. “I think the two of us are fucking each other up.”
  11. “I’m not a woman.”
  12. “I’m not used to seeing you when you don’t reek like a puddle of piss.”
  13. “I’m pregnant.”
  14. “I’m sorry. I can’t think of someone who would break into my house, then steal my last six-pack as a person who I’d want to call my friend.”
  15. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out. Could you please refrain from calling me? It’s really disrupting.”
  16. “It’s possible you still behave like a child because you’ve never felt accepted for any of your choices as an adult. It’s also possible you’ve never taken accountability for any of those choices.”
  17. “Maybe Santa’ll bring you a new tooth this year.”
  18. “Mike said he found you stark naked, ass-up, lying on the bathroom tiles earlier this morning.”
  19. “Mr. Hill, is it is my opinion after hearing the officer’s account and witnessing your behavior in this courtroom that you may have potential for a problem.”
  20. “No offense, but you’re really not wanted around here anymore.”
  21. “OK. But we’re only gonna be friends, alright?”
  22. “Please delete this number. Not kidding.”
  23. “She had a miscarriage.”
  24. “Somebody told me you were dead.”
  25. “Ten pounds worth of potatoes inside a five-pound sack.”
  26. “To sum up – and I’m going to be blunt here – you are an ass and your excuses are lame.”
  27. “The system won’t allow me to charge any more drinks using this card. It’s saying that you’re overdrawn.”
  28. “We don’t care that you peed yourself. We care that you did it on our sofa.”
  29. “We don’t serve you … ever.”
  30. “Well, there’s fun drunk and then there’s Bob-Hill drunk. Nobody wants to be the latter.”
  31. “When you’re in a relationship, nothing good happens in a bar after 1 AM.”
  32. “Who are you and what are you doing naked in my apartment?”
  33. “Will you be OK if we end up hanging out in a bar?”
  34. “Yeah, well, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning, and this isn’t the first time you’ve shown up drunk, knocking on my door.”
  35. “Y’know, everybody wants to make fun of the spics. But the spics show up for work on time. Otherwise, what do I got? I got asshole kids like you who call out sick then wander up here drunk three hours later. And you wonder why I fired you.”
  36. “You try to run, I’ll shoot you.”
  37. “You’re a loser. You’ll always be a loser.”
  38. “You’re a rebel without a clue.”
  39. “You’re going to jail.”
  40. “You’re just a punk. That’s all you’ll ever be is a punk.”
  41. “You’re not in Virginia. You’re at my parents’ house in Long Island.”
  42. “You’re under arrest.”

Day 958

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill

The Top 10 Things ‘4 Minute Mile’ Gets Absolutely Wrong About Running

4 Minute Mile
is a silly movie, despite the benefit of some worthwhile acting. Richard Jenkins is fantastic (I mean, when he is not?) and (male lead) Kelly Blatz has got some Christian-Bale thing going on. Yet, alas, these two are playing on a largely hobbled squad. 4 Minute Mile wants to be Karate Kid, only its aging mentor behaves more like an old buzzard. It labors to be Rocky, despite not having the guts or inspiration. 4 Minute Mile struggles to overcome poor writing, if not the white-trash-house-marm legacy of Kim Bassinger. In the end what it amounts to is frustration, the majority of which is driven by an utter lack of charm. As if to demonstrate, here are the top 10 things 4 Minute Mile gets absolutely wrong in terms of running, the primary thrust behind its story:

  1. No runner cranks out 5-minute miles back-to-back-to-back-to-back while wearing a full duffle bag, loose shirt, thermal hoodie, wool cap and cotton sweatpants.
  2. No coach – stable or otherwise – would initiate training by encouraging a minor from a broken home to completely water-log his only pair of sneakers.
  3. Forcing an athlete to high-step back and forth across a woody creek is more likely to produce a broken ankle than it is the proper form.
  4. There is NO way a high school senior who struggles to run a 67-second quarter is going to train for a few months, then stitch together a four-minute mile.
  5. As a coach, you do not achieve stellar results by consistently mind-fucking star athletes.
  6. No public indoor facility is going to allow a manically-depressed, aging alcoholic to dump a radial tire into its swimming pool for the sole purpose of having a minor carry it back and forth across the bottom 20 times (without a break).
  7. No regional high school meet in history has ever produced 10 or more athletes who can complete the 1600 in under 4:19.
  8. The goal of resistance training is not to sprint until you spontaneously lose consciousness on the street.
  9. No high school athlete has ever run a 3:57 mile in a pair of knee-length polyester basketball shorts.
  10. A 4-minute mile does not look like this. A 4-minute mile looks like this.

(4 Minute Mile opens in limited release this Friday.)