In a Past Life

Hello, do you like my hat? No, I do not. Good-bye! Good-bye!

Years ago, I stole borrowed my father’s Filson “Packer Hat” for a costume in high school.  I liked it so much, I decided that I’d get one for myself when I was older.

Years down the road, when my wife and I were finally dating, we were driving through Baltimore and I stopped at one of the more prominent sporting goods stores in the area and finally picked one up.  My wife, who I now know was humoring me, didn’t really say much about it, and I would wear it for ‘outdoor’ type activities (hiking, camping, fishing, sitting at the beach, etc).  It’s a great hat for all of that – waterproof, flexible but with a moldable brim, and it “gains character” with age/use.

(Me on the beach circa 2007, in The Hat)


So, a year or two ago, we were going on a trip somewhere, and I pulled out The Hat.  I mentioned how I thought I might have lost it somewhere, and my wife blurted out, “I wish you had.  God I hate that thing.”

Now, she had teased me about the hat in the past, but it seemed like good-natured ribbing, and not an indication of deeper feelings.  This time it hurt though, because I truly DID like The Hat, and here she was telling me that she hated it.  I wasn’t about to toss it in the Goodwill Box, but I did stop wearing it as much (around her).  After all, when I’m wearing it, she’s the one that has to look at it, right?

That said, I’ll still pull it out for trips, or when it’s raining, or when I’m going to be going for a hike somewhere.  I like The Hat and although my wife may hate it, she loves ME enough to put up with it if I’m not going to be too blatantly ostentatious about wearing it in front of her.  It’s a good thing, too, because unless I “lose” it, this thing is probably going to last me another 20 years or so of use.


RossRuns – or Does He?

14 years ago, I was a high school senior.  I was a straight-A student, a vocal-jazz singer, a bit of a nerd, but also a clearly defined runner.  Hell, my AOL account username was “RossRuns” (an affectation I have kept up through the years for nearly all of my new user accounts on various web services).  I had placed 8th in the Washington state Cross Country championship meet with my 15:24 5K time, and was seeded #1 going into the state track meet the following spring regional finish of 4:20 for the 1600m.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that running was an integral part of my life.

13 years ago, I was a walk-on to the UVA Cross Country team, qualifying with a 5 mile time of 25:25.  I had taken my running to the next level, racking up between 60-80 miles a week with the rest of the squad. I competed in a couple of invitationals but was sidelined with an injury during the winter and part of the spring – long enough to red-shirt my freshman year and leave me considering whether I wanted to continue with such a grueling training schedule in light of all the other college activities I was participating in.

10 years ago, after graduating college and beginning work in New York state, I occasionally ran on evenings/weekends, but I don’t recall it being according to any regular schedule or set training plan. I explained the “RossRuns” username to people as “Well, it’s a whole lot easier to remember than RossUsedToRun.”

8 years ago, I joined many of my coworkers in the “Corporate Challenge”, a 3.5 mile road race in NY.  I collapsed somewhere near/on/past the finish line (I don’t remember the finish to this race to this day).  Any notions of getting back into shape through regular running left me for a good while, after that.

3 years ago, while in India, I ran on the treadmill in the gym every morning before going to the factory, for 5 weeks straight.  I returned home and promptly failed to follow up with any running, whatsoever.

2 years ago, after “training” for a few months, I joined my wife in the Harrisburg NC YMCA 5K and finished 28th overall and 1st in my age group, with a 23:28 finish. My commitment to keep running ended just about the time it started to be 90 degrees and 90% humidity outdoors the following month.

Last year (Feb 2010), I ruptured my Achilles tendon and after surgery to stitch it back together, was banned from running until November 2010.  This restriction finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed to realize how much I was taking my own fitness and health for granted. I tentatively got back into training (as much as my poor leg would allow me) and started building up my endurance and strength again.

This past Saturday, I ran 5 miles (continuous) for probably the first time since my undergrad days 13 years ago.  Not only that, I ran it as part of a regular training schedule, on (or ahead of) pace and I LOVED EVERY SECOND OF IT.

Looking back on my running history above, it shocks me to see that the time I took off from running was over twice as long as the period where I had seriously considered myself a runner, prior to that (since Cross Country and Track in 8th grade).  I never realized the excuses and the inconsistency in my running history until I seriously sat down and charted my on-again, off-again habits.

I want to turn that statistic around, and proudly use the ID “RossRuns” because it is an indication that I’ve been running longer than I haven’t.  Sure, I’ll have little hurdles to overcome along the way, but I feel like I’ve revitalized my running spirit and my drive to stick with it. Only time will tell, of course, but already I’ve seen incredible benefits in my own life – everything from significantly reduced cholesterol levels to mental balance and acuity to increased energy and happiness – that make it well worth my while to try to maintain this lifestyle even if I’m feeling the running shtick on a particular afternoon.

I’m a Runner. I prove it by running. That’s all there is to it, and all I need to keep in mind.  And in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, and further into the future, I hope I can look back and do another of these posts, and be inordinately proud of what I’ve achieved and what I’ve done in my running life.

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”
-John Bingham

Everyone Should Have a Little Donkey in Their Life

Meet Donkey. Donkey is a small figurine I got out of a box of Gushers back in 2003 or so. He’s doesn’t say much, but he’s nice to look at.

Besides being a perpetual reminder of the merchandising powerhouse that was the Shrek film series, Donkey has special significance in our household.

Not long after I got him, I impulsively stuck him on the top shelf of the refrigerator, so he’d only be visible when you bent over and stuck your head into the fridge to grab something. My wife said the next day she nearly jumped out of her skin when she reached in to grab her morning Diet Coke and saw Donkey’s smug mug grinning back at her. We had a good laugh and I promptly forgot all about it.

A couple days later, bleary-eyed and yawning, even after my morning shower, I opened the medicine cabinet to grab my shaving cream and was startled at the sight inside – Donkey had been patiently waiting for me to show up that morning. My wife had gotten me just as good as I had gotten her, and it was on.

Over the subsequent years, Donkey has showed up in Dee’s makeup kit, slipped into my laptop bag, buried in her sock drawer, tucked in my nightstand drawer, snuggled in her suitcase (after she had finished packing), on top of a bottle of scotch, inside a half-finished bag of chips, on the dashboard of cars, and other various and sundry locations. He’s been “missing” for months at a time when one of us picked a poor hiding spot and the other neglected to look there for an extended period. He’s shown up at out-of-town holiday get-togethers, in the two apartments and two houses we’ve called Home since then, and even traipsed along with me on my work trip to the UK.

Donkey is our equivalent of little love notes to each other. He still sits there, smiling, every time he is chanced upon, and my wife and I can’t help but smile back when we find him. It’s hard not to be happy when you can think that somewhere out there is a little Donkey, just waiting for you to discover him.

How I Made My Wife Cry on Her Wedding Day

Seven years ago today, my wife and I stood under a chupah where the Rabbi had just married us, and I smashed a glass under my foot. We strode down the steps of the Synagogue in between crowds of friends and family who cheered as they tossed birdseed in the air around us. We rode to our reception in the back of a borrowed Rolls Royce, and danced a rhumba and a special-surprise tango in front of our guests. We boogied down on the dance floor amidst lots of loved ones and in general just had an amazing, extra-special time which still stands out so clearly in my head that I know I’ll never forget any details of our wedding day.

Of course, that means I also won’t forget how earlier that morning, I made my wife cry. Yes, cry. On her wedding day.

That morning started off inocuously enough – it was a cold, grey morning but the forecasted snow was supposed to hold off until at least the next day, so the weather was hardly a concern at all. Dee had spent the night before with her sisters at their hotel, and that morning they all drove out to the Spa at the Hotel Hershey for various and sundry spa treatments, lunch, and girltalk. I myself was having a nice relaxing morning, although not quite equal to the pampering my finacee was receiving.

I had one more task to do that day before the wedding activities commenced that late afternoon – I had to go drop off some arrangements at the country club where the reception was going to take place. Since Dee had our car, I asked to borrow my brother Ben’s car. He happily obliged me, and I grabbed the bags of stuff and headed out to his ride.

My parents’ house is on a road that runs down a fairly steep hill that dead-ends at the bottom in a cul-de-sac. My brother had parked on the street across from their house, facing downhill, so I was faced with a choice – I could either pull into the driveway and then back out and go up the hill, or I could drive down into the cul-de-sac, go around it in a little circle, and head up the hill. Since his car was a stick-shift, I decided to do the latter and save myself a little gear-switching and a sucky shift from neutral into first on a steep hill.

Unfortunately for me, the road surface, which had meltwater running down it on the way to the storm drain at the bottom of the cul-de-sac was not all as it seemed. Yes, there was running water on the road’s surface. However, it was making its way downhill under a thin sheet of completely transparent black ice. As soon as the car’s tires hit the ice, my car stopped turning and instead slid increasingly quickly down the hill towards the house at the end of the cul-de-sac. The brakes and steering did nothing to change my course or slow me down, and I remember gripping the wheel tightly with a white-knuckled grip and thinking to myself “Oh god the car’s going to jump the curb and I’m going to end up in their living room and I hope I don’t die I’m supposed to get married later today!” Then my seatbelt pulled taut as the car slammed to a halt with a loud *CRUMP*.

Turns out not only had I bent the rim of the tire that slammed into the curb (and stopped the car), I had busted the car’s axle as well. With the help of my father, we managed to get the car to limp its way back into their driveway (after copious application of rock salt to get some traction on the now-apparrent icy expanse that sheeted the entire cul-de-sac from end to end). My mother, lovely soul that she is, decided I must have been so nervous/overwrought about it being my wedding day that I was unfit to drive, and “volunteered” to take me over to drop off the decorations for the reception (despite my insistence that it was a stupid mistake and I was fine to drive).

After accomplishing the errand without further incident, my mother was driving me back home when Dee called my cell from the spa. She gushed about the spa treatments and the lunch they had, and how wonderfully relaxed she was, and asked how I was doing.

Not really thinking, and being VERY self-conscious of my mother sitting two feet away from me, I think I said something along the lines of “I’m ok. Can you call me back in about 10 minutes?” With zero explanation, and as I now know an uncomfortable “something is NOT ok” tone in my voice. Dee, puzzled and taken aback, didn’t know what to say, so we exchanged quick goodbyes over the phone and she hung up.

We pulled into the driveway about 5 minutes later and I hurried to the privacy of the guest bedroom, where I waited anxiously for Dee to phone me back, only to find her in anguished tears, wondering what the hell was going on, why I was sounding so strange, why I wouldn’t talk to her, etc. To my growing horror, I realized that I had not said one thing on the earlier call to give her any indication of what was going on or why I had been so reserved and curt on the phone. My wife was in tears, and even though it was a misunderstanding, it was all my fault.

To make a long story short (too late!), after I had managed to convince Dee that NOTHING was wrong between us, and the only reason I hadn’t wanted to talk before was because my mother was completely embarrassing me by treating me like an 1860s Southern Belle with The Vapors, she relaxed a bit and tried to put my actions behind her. She made very clear, however, that I would never live down the fact that I had made her cry on her wedding day. I never have lived that down, and I don’t expect I ever will.

Happy 7th Anniversary, my darling. Here’s to many many more together, with only tears of joy shed by either one of us…

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