Righteous riffs

Periodic reminder ….

On a Saturday morning last September, I went across the street to the high school track for a run. 

It was my birthday. 

“Run” is a generous term for the act. I prefer the more accurate “periodic reminder of how out of shape I am.” 

I enjoy going to the track at the high school, its rubberized surface forgiving on the knees. I’ve been periodically reminding myself for years now, long enough to recognize some of the track’s recurring characters. There’s Gray-Bearded Yellow Hoodie Guy, who runs leaning forward with just the smoothest gait … and just smokes me. There’s Power-Walking Curly Headed Lady (very intense), who, over months, seemed to be re-habbing a hip injury and now bears little trace of favoring her one side. There’s Elite High School Cross Country Star, who’s always there with her Dad. She flat out fuh-lies. I’ve literally jumped when she passes me because she comes up so fast.  Last winter when the track was snow covered, I saw her running laps around the school’s parking lot, which had been plowed clear. Inspired by her example, I took a few of those laps myself instead of returning home.

I am not religious about the days and times that I visit. But when I go on Saturday mornings, there is often an older gentleman already there when I arrive. I’m awful at guessing ages, but I assumed he had a good 5-10 years on me (he shaves his head, so there are fewer clues). He takes his time doing laps, his gait slow but knowing. I figure he paces himself only because that’s just part of his workout. After he does his laps, he moves to the infield, where he does a separate regimen of squats, push-ups and stretches. His approach is disciplined, methodical. It’s all I can do to lug my keister around the loop a few times, so I steal a glance occasionally when my tank is running low. Makes me want to push a little harder.

On the Saturday morning of my birthday he was there when I arrived, doing his thing. Had just wrapped his laps and was doing push ups on the side. He finished as I was slow-lapping around the track. Even though I’d seen him numerous times, we’d never spoken. But, for some reason I couldn’t resist calling out to him. Call it birthday courage. 

 “Sir … excuse me…,” I called out. I never talk to anybody, so am not sure of proper track etiquette. 

He paused and turned around.

“I just wanted to say … you inspire me.” 

He couldn’t resist a smile as he replied, “Well, I’m 82 years old.” 

Stopped me cold in my tracks.  

Note: it wasn’t like it broke me out of a full sprint or anything. Rather, imagine a bumper car easing to a stop after they turn the juice off. 

“Your are kidding me.” Again, I thought the guy had, like, 10 years at the MOST on me. 

“Yep, had my birthday in April.”

OK, I said. Thirty years his junior and having to play mind tricks to coax my keister another half lap around the track, I had questions. 

“So, what’s your secret?” 

His smile was as knowing as his routine. 

“Well, I’ve always just tried to take care of myself,” he began.

“I’ve worked out all my life. Was an athlete when I was younger. Try to get plenty of sleep. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink …” 

“ … except for a beer on Sundays if I’m watching the Steelers.” 

Understandable. The Steelers will make a person drink, I said. 

He laughed, then continued…. 

“You watch the NFL, huh? My grandson plays for the Colts.” 

What? 

“Yeah, Rodney Thomas.” 

Told me he was a second year player, working his way up the depth chart. I asked him where his grandson went to college. 

“Yale,” he said. 

Whoa.  

“Number 25,” he said. “Keep an eye on him.”

We exchanged names, shook hands. 

I thanked him for the conversation. Told him it was my birthday and that he’d already made it memorable. 

__

Couple months later. Another Saturday morning. Forecast called for rain. I checked my phone, which indicated that the weather was only gonna get worse as the day wore on. So I pulled on my hoodie and lugged myself over to the track. Mr. Thomas was already there, getting after it. We waved to each other as I broke into my slow jog. After a couple miles I opted to walk and stretch a bit. Whenever I do this I turn around and go the opposite direction of the one I’m running.  As I passed Mr. Thomas he asked me how I was doing. I stopped so we could chat for a minute. It was raining by this point.

He couldn’t resist sharing the big news. 

“My grandson’s making his first start this Sunday night … against the Steelers.” 

Me: “No way.” 

“Yeah, the starting cornerback is a Pro-Bowler. My grandson was fifth on the depth chart as a rookie. He made second string this year. And this week in practice, the starter had an ankle injury. 

“Rodney called me this week and said, ‘Pops, make sure you tune in, I’m starting.’ I’m so proud of him.” 

I’d been meaning to ask Mr. Thomas about another Thomas I remember covering years ago when I worked for the local newspaper — Travis Thomas, who I remember went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship. Any relation? 

Mr. Thomas said he and Travis’ dad are first cousins. Travis got injured at Notre Dame, which slowed down his football career, but is doing well in Indiana these days. Talked to him just last month. Said Travis was just so proud of Rodney, remembering when Rodney was little and running all over the fields at the Brownson House (a venerable sports facility here in Washington, PA). How, even at that young age, he had his sights on the NFL. 

“Travis said he was just so proud of how hard Rodney’s worked his whole life.”

“The key is just getting after it,” I say to the 82-year-old taking Saturday morning December laps in the rain. 

Mr. Thomas smiled. “Doesn’t matter what it is. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” 

I wished him well. Thanked him for the conversation. Thanked him again for the inspiring example. Told him I’ll be watching. 

“Keep an eye on him,” he said to me again, as he had in our first encounter. 

Monday morning I scanned the box score of the game, saw a couple tackles next to Rodney’s name. 

I couldn’t help but imagine how good Proud Grandfather beer must taste. 

__ 

Couple weeks ago, my wife sends me a text, along with a link. “You see this?”

Rodney Thomas driving 100 miles in the middle of the night to be at the side of his good friend. 

“I had a goal,” Thomas said Jan. 4, via Colts.com. “I knew where I was going, so I just got on the road and I just went. Laser-focused.”

colts.com

He could’ve easily been talking about his path from the Brownson House to the NFL.

Reading his quote, I couldn’t help but picture the image of his 82-year-old Pops and his Saturday regimen.

This past Monday morning, I steal a glance at my phone looking for some beginning of the week inspiration. 

Like on the track, I steal the occasional glance when my tank is running low. 

Found this

Rodney Thomas working hard at his craft, and working harder to make sure it counts.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

“Keep an eye on him,” his grandfather said to me in the birthday gift of our first conversation.

I now realize he wasn’t referring to any stat line in a box score.  

__ 

I’ve learned a lot over the years lugging my keister over to the track.

Primarily, I’ve learned the importance of stealing a glance around us for inspiration when our tanks are running low. Doesn’t matter what shape you’re in.

And that inspiration is everywhere and can come from anywhere. 

From those faster than us … who give us something to chase. 

From those slower than us … who remind us that the important thing, if not the only thing, is just getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other. 

From those younger than us … who remind us that time is precious and sneaks up on you fast when you’re not paying attention.

And from those older than us … who have logged miles and miles (and miles) of experience and wisdom. And who carry stories that none of us can even begin to imagine… 

… unless we take the occasional breath … muster up a little birthday courage when needed … thank them for their example … and periodically remind ourselves that we’re all just momentarily sharing the same track. 

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Fathers and Sons

Talking Cats ….

For the first 95% of my time to date wandering, mostly lost, around my very teensy patch of this planet, I’ve abided an unwavering animosity towards cats. 

For the most recent 5%, which I’ve spent in a complicated reexamination of my lifelong animosity, I’ve exercised a monk-like restraint to not be The Guy Who Talks About His Cats … at least while I’m in, you know, complicated reexamination mode. 

While I can’t say I’m on the other side of that process, I am here, this day, to be The Guy Who Talks About His Cats. 

This is Viktor. 

This is Viktor in the act of practicing mind control on weaker species.

Viktor is my dude. 

Even though he can be a major a-hole. Even though I’m not entirely convinced he’s not secretly plotting my demise, although I can’t technically prove it in a court of law … yet. (Sorry for all the negatives there … an unfortunate side effect of the complicated reexamination process). 

And by “my Dude,” I, of course, mean that he deems me his dim-witted, servile underling barely worthy of the honor of catering to his every whim.

Viktor along with his brother Roman are the ‘cats who live in our house.’ While I’ve done almost a complete 180 on my cat stance (let’s call it a ‘178’), I still stop short of calling them ‘my cats,’ … since I was not involved, or, technically speaking, consulted, in the circumstances that resulted in them taking up residency in my house. And since my own residency here is, shall we say, vaguely tenuous, I abide a general strategy of not rocking the boat wherever possible. 

I’ve come to appreciate Viktor over the course of our cohabitation because he’s the only member of the household who will indulge me in long conversation. 

Everyone else seems to be, you know, pretty busy. 

But Viktor and I … we are kindred spirts. Cut from the same cloth.  We’re what the historians call ’deep thinkers.’ We feel the weight of the world, sense the shifting of the cosmic sands. We know what the Powers That Be are up to. We call out the bullshit when we see it. We know when the forecast calls for melancholy. We like it when human beings scratch our heads. 

I’ll often find Viktor sitting in the dining room, staring out into the backyard, and can sense his mood.

A typical exchange: 

Me: How’s it going, Viktor? 

Viktor: (continuing to look straight ahead) Reeeeuhhhhrrrr! (“The universe is a meaningless void.”) 

Me: Yeah, I know. Things are f*cked. 

Viktor: (turning to address me directly) Reeeeeeeeeahhhhhrrrrrrrr! (“We must find those responsible and make them pay.”)

Me: Yeah, what can you do, though? 

Viktor: Reeauh! (“Exercise my plan for world domination and reign in power with The Queen Who Gives Me The Special Snacks.”)

Me: Oh, there is that, I suppose. 

Viktor: (turning back to the window) Urrrrrreeeeeeuhhh! (“Make no mistake, you will be the first to be eliminated, Sparkle Fart. Leave my sight for now Viktor must scratch things and nap.” 

Me:  OK, sounds like a plan. Good talk. 

I’m the only one he talks to like this. We chat all the time.  Actually makes Karry jealous.  

That said, our relationship is not all unicorns and world domination.

Viktor can be a real a-hole.

Case in point. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he shows zero interest in physical exertion. 

Until I’m working from home and he knows I’m on a call. 

Then, he’ll bat the tinkly ball down the steps and work on his ball handling. Smacks it off the walls, chases it down, launches it back across the room, whacks it into the corner. Whines incessantly when it goes under the shelves just out of his reach. Until I hit the mute button, and be like, “Viktor, what the f*ck?”

He pretends he doesn’t hear me.

And when he knows I’m on a video call? It’s like he’s training for the goddamn Tinkly Ball Olympics. Speed drills and sh*t. 

Oh, and there’s this other thing. Despite the fact that Karry has placed multiple cat accommodations of every type (blankets, pillows, beds, etc.) in front of virtually every window in every room in the house, Viktor insists on sleeping in my chair. 

Because he is a passive aggressive motherf*cker. 

When I call him out on it, sometimes he’ll open only one eye for a couple seconds, then close it again while I’m still yelling. I’m convinced that sometimes he hops in the chair when he hears me coming, and only pretends to sleep. I swear I can see him chuckling to himself. Karry tells me, oh no, he’s just ‘dreaming’ and to leave him be.

VikTurd.

Eventually, though, his conscience gets to him, and he’ll apologize later … bowing his head and rubbing it against my shoulder.  (translation: he gets hungry and knows he needs my opposable thumbs to open his adorably tiny can of cat food).

Of course, I forgive him, which is probably due to his mind control over inferior beings, but in my head is due to my unwavering support of his career aspirations. It’s Viktor’s dream (right after the World Domination thing) to become a calendar model. He puts in the work, has logged the 1,000 hours, practices his poses all the time. He’s a natural. Like the all-time greats, when he’s on his game, the captions just write themselves.

You think this is impressive? He knitted the goddamn scarf himself.

All he needs is representation. But in the cutthroat, big business world of cat calendars, it’s all who you know, evidently.

And Viktor’s not one to kiss anyone’s ass to climb the ladder of success. Not interested in playing The Game. He does not truck with The Machine. He is a master of the long game. I think he knows that once he subjects the universe to his will and reigns supreme over time, space and dimension, he can, you know, get some head shots taken … shop ‘em around, etc.

That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned from him. 

Never give up on your dreams. 

Sincerely, 



T.G.W.T.A.H.C.

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Righteous riffs

Hey Mister, Mister DJ ….

One of the sweet bits of sanity and humanity I look forward to this week between the holidays is lunch with a friend I met our freshman year in college. 

No matter how long it’s been since the last time, it always seems like yesterday. The timing is never not perfect. 

He leads the kind of life I hold in the highest esteem. Centered on family, simplicity, love, and music.

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Righteous riffs

Colophon: Nov. 15-18

When my Wired Magazine comes in the mail each month, I immediately flip to the back to the Colophon, where the parties responsible list the sacred little things that helped them lug that issue to press (a wonderful reminder that the end result’s best stories reside in all that comes before ….)

Saturday mornings being a perfect time for caffeinated reflection, here’s what got me through the cold, gray week, in no particular order … 

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Letters for Maggie

Such is 26 ….

I remember we were sitting around the kitchen table … Mom, my older brother, I think my sister Missy was there, too. I may have still been in high school. Seventeen, maybe? 

Mom was reading the local newspaper, and had flipped to the classifieds in the back where they parked the memorials. Where folks would send in pictures and tributes, often poems, always heartfelt, honoring the memory of loved ones in the wake, or on the anniversary, of their passing.

Mom found the idea of publishing these in the newspaper the funniest thing in the world.

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Letters for Maggie

The Return

So the day started with a trip to a doctor about this thing that has overstayed its welcome on my person, though I’ve given it several months to politely excuse itself (rude). When the doctor took a look at the thing, she pointed to these other things that were in the same general area code and asked me, “What about these?” In my head, I said something like, “Oh, those? Old friends of mine. Been around for a long time. Don’t worry about those. I’m here to talk about this relatively new thing.” She then broadly waved her hand. “These are all the same thing,” and then said the multi-syllable, multi-word medical term for the collective thing.

“Really?” I said, taken aback.

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Righteous riffs

Meeting My Brother For Saturday Lunch ….

I’d like to thank Billy Collins for writing Aimless Love (you should totally look it up) and Ben Folds for saying, “At its most basic, making art is about following what’s luminous to you and putting it in a jar, to share with others. ”

Meeting My Brother For Saturday Lunch

I choose the scenic route along Route 40,

though the interstate toll road is so much quicker,

because slow driving the small towns along the National Road is worth a savor,

passing the new donut shop at the light in Beallsville that’s supposed to be really good

and that I will probably never stop at 

because I think sometimes the wishing is better

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