Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"factotum" movie review

“Factotum” is one of those films I stop to watch whenever I stumble across it on cable; like rubbernecking a grisly roadside wreck. I’m a huge fan of Matt Dillon, who plays Charles Bukowski’s alter-ego, Henry Chinaski, with a dead-on, "i've survived it all" calm. The film, an adaption of Bukowski’s autobiographical novel of the same name, takes us along on the seemingly endless existentialist bender the makes up Chinaski’s down and out life.

Bukowski wrote the “Factotum” in the mid-1950s, and set it in post-war Los Angeles. The film transports the story to present day Minneapolis. The run-down inner city locales provide moody atmospherics when Chinaski isn’t inside a dead-end bar or rooming house. The time he spends employed almost seems negligible. There isn’t much a plot, instead, it’s a random string of pasted-together snapshots of his life.

The dictionary definition of factotum is two-edged: “a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities” is the primary meaning. The second, less common usage, is “a general servant.” I love Bukowski’s ironic use of that perfect term for the title. According to Chinaski’s view of himself, the less common, “general servant” sums up his world view of employment.

What plot there is consists of Chinaski’s string of short-lived jobs. Again, the job selection is hilarious, with the film opening as Chinaski jack-hammers huge blocks of ice into smaller, more manageable ice cubes! He lost the job in short order when, sent to deliver ice to a neighborhood bar, he can’t be bothered to make sure the door to the ice truck is closed. The supervisor finds him in drinking at the bar - and the ice melted outside.

Incredibly, Chinaski finds work at a pickle factory. One of my favorite scenes in the film is the job “interview.” It came out, during that quasi-surreal give and take, that Chinaski is a writer. He’s asked what the novel is about. “Everything,” he says. “Is it about cancer?” follows up the interviewer. “Yep.” “Is it about my wife?” The supervisor continued on that absurd line. “Yeah, she’s in there too.” Dead panned Chinanski.

After Chinaski is hired he finds himself sorting pickles on a conveyor belt. Then he’s invited back to the supervisor’s office to meet another employee/writer. The absolute, cigarette smoke filled silence in the office was broken only after Chinaski asks, "can i leave now?" These stilted, almost suffocating, scenes set the dismal, downbeat tone for Chinaski’s dead-end jobs.

In between the jobs, we see Chinaski with this fellow alcoholics - at first Jan (Lili Taylor) and then, briefly, Laura (Marisa Tomei). He ultimately returns to Jan, only to leave her again - finding himself, literally, out on the street. But after each job, relationship, day in the life, Chinaski survives - and ultimately finds redemption when one of his short stories is finally accepted for publication! I doubt it was intended as a sentimental ending. Although Bukowski toiled in those same dead end jobs until he was 50 - before his work was published!

“Factotum” is a great, atmospheric film. If you’re a fan of Matt Dillon, it’s a must watch. If you’re a fan of “Drugstore Cowboy” this is essential viewing. It picks up Dillon 16 years later and, now, instead of drugs - his life is consumed by drink. In fact, the two films would make a great double feature.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009 ing nyc marathon tune-up 18 miler: race report

The ING NYC Marathon Training Run was a example of my indecision. I probably wouldn’t have been in Central Park if Emmy hadn’t come by at 6:00, with my bib and chip (d tag). When she arrived the had rain stopped. But, once we were on the Hutch, it started again - and continued until we exited the FDR Drive. Things didn’t get better because it took until 6:45 to find parking - at 109th Street. Emmy jogged down to the start and arrived at the corral with time to spare. I walked - dejectedly - down to 102nd Street, with no desire whatsoever to run 3 loops of the Park.

As I approached the corrals, I heard Mary Wittenburg making pre-race comments over the loudspeaker. I cut across the first corral and jogged over to baggage check - wondering if the heavens would open and give me a half decent excuse not to run. No such luck. So when the horn went off, I bit the proverbial bullet and ran back to the start, now already underway. I was about 50 seconds late, and within 2 minutes, it started to rain again - ha!

Sorry for the extended whine! Once I committed to the run, I focused on getting the miles done. The late start had me running in a crowd for the first three miles, before it thinned out appreciably. I also stopped at mile two to tie my shoe (and retie the other one). With those distractions, my three mile split was 24:14. The remaining three miles of the first loop didn’t go much faster since I also had to deal with fogged up eyeglasses! At 48:31, it would be the slowest of the three loops.

My mood improved dramatically for the second loop. Somehow, despite the seemingly endless rain, I managed to shake off the doldrums. I picked up the pace and ran the next six miles in 45:28. That gave me a 12 mile split of 1:33:59. I ran the third loop at pretty much the same pace as the second, in 45:55. I finished in 2:19:54, a 7:47 pace.

During the entire 18 miles I didn’t see any familiar faces on the course! But, just beyond the finish line, I found Emmy. She finished in just over 2:19 - and won her age group! Despite all the agonizing over whether to run or not, I’m very glad that I did (especially since I wouldn’t have gotten in 18 miles, otherwise). But I could just have easily slept in - and not felt the least bit guilty about it.

Here are a couple of race photos.

Monday, September 28, 2009

william safire, author, pulitzer prize columnist, and expert on language, dies at 79 :(

william safire died of pancreatic cancer yesterday, september 27, 2009. he was 79 year old. i was a huge fan of the multi-talented bill safire. his "on language" column was an absolute staple of my weekend reading for decades! a man of many cerebral hats - author, columnist, political commentator, and even speech writer - i was surprised to learn he was college drop out (well, even jack kerouac had no use for a diploma - so he was in good company)!

safire's "the first dissident: the book of job in today's politics" is on my very short list of all-time favorite books (no small feat, imho). he had an eclectic career, to put in mildly. starting out as a speech writer for richard nixon, he eventually became a political columnist for the ny times. in between he found time to write novels (political fiction), books (on language and politics), and serve time as a t.v. pundit (lending the voice of moderation to the shrill monkeys of either side of the political spectrum).

he was a gentleman in all respects.

rest in peace, william safire.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

2009 ing nyc marathon tune-up 18 miler: race photos and results

horrible running conditions this morning - rain, then more rain, made for incredibly wet and soggy conditions. i finished the 18 miles in 2:19:54, a solid 5 minutes faster than my 2008 result. emmy finished just ahead of me, in 2:19:26 - and won her age group!! rob skipped the race this year.

i did the three loops in isolation - not catching site of emmy, eliot, ilana, hiro, or yuki during the entire race!

here is my race report.

here are the race results from nyrr.

from the archives: 2007 vermont 50 mile race report

here is the follow-up to yesterday's post, the 2006 vermont 50k race report. what a difference a year made, in terms of trails and ultras run since the 50k! i ran a few more trail runs and ultras since the 50k in 2006, so when i lined up for the 50 miler in 2007 - plenty of familiar faces at the start and finish of the race!

Vermont 50 Mile Endurance Run
Brownsville, Vermont
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Last year I ran the 50K version of this event while my friend Rob took on the 50 miler. This year my friend Emmy wanted to run the 50 miler, so I agreed to tag along. As it turned out, we waited until the last possible moment to our finalize plans. We arrived at the Ascutney Mountain Resort just after 6 o’clock Saturday night and registered for the race with less than 2 hours to spare. When I got inside the first person I ran into was my friend Nick, who I knew was registered for the race. Then I ran into Emmy’s friend Hugo.

The temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees from the time we got into the car at 2 p.m. and when we arrived at Ascutney that night. I was dressed in only shorts and a tee shirt. I quickly added a long-sleeved shirt and windbreaker since we had to go back to the car and prepare drop bags. Nick and Emmy were leaving bags at 12.5 and 35 miles. I opted for only one to be left at mile 35, since I expected to carry a fanny pack. Logistically, as it turned out, I could have used one at Skunk Hollow, mile 12.5, just so I could leave some extra clothes there. As for an overall time goal, I wanted to finish in ten hours.

Race morning was foggy. It made for some spooky driving conditions. Last year on my drive to the start I actually had to let a small herd of sheep cross Route 44 before I reached Ascutney! On the drive there Saturday, we caught sight of the sheep. But it was early enough on Sunday that they were still asleep. It was dark when we arrived and there was a line of cars inching its way into the parking lot. I had a drop bag with some dry clothes for the end of the race with me as I checked in. When I headed inside to leave the drop bag, Emmy was there and the first thing I noticed was that in the darkness outside she had managed to pin her number on upside down! While quickly corrected, that was priceless!

The front of the Cunningham Building was teeming with bikers. I made my way to the line for the porta-johns and spotted Meredith there. Her husband, Eddie, was in the bike race and she was doing the 50 miler. She kidded me about still wearing glasses and not contacts. The memory of having broken my glasses at the Finger Lakes was now a distant memory. Then I grabbed a couple of bagels and chit-chatted with Nick and Hugo for a while. Emmy had found her friends Jill and Kim, both of whom were about to embark on their first 50 milers. After the various bike waves set off, we made our way down to the start. Jill’s boyfriend, Joe, still in recovery mode from the injuries he sustained from a nasty spill at the Nipmuck Trail Marathon in June, took some pictures.

While some forecasts said the temperature could drop into the low 30's, it was more like the low to mid-40's. It was chilly enough for some extra layers at the start. I wore a long-sleeve tech shirt over a short-sleeve one. I also had on my windbreaker and gloves on for the first few miles. But by the first aid station I had the windbreaker tied around my waist and the gloves tucked onto my fuel belt. I wore a fanny pack that had a Starbucks expresso shot drink, some chocolate covered expresso beans (a surprise treat that Nick broke out on Saturday night), and a couple of packs of Tylenol. I had planned on taking my camera with me, but decided against it.

Along the dirt roads to the first aid station I met a nice guy from Alabama, Wren, who was planning to run the length of the state, from north to south, with his buddy next summer to raise money for a charity he’s associated with. Their plan is to alternate the days of running between the two of them; he runs one day and is off the next while his friend runs that day. What a great adventure that sounds like! I would periodically run into him along the course, until we reached the aid station at Garvin Hill, mile 20.6 - where we finally exchanged names!

I didn’t stop at the first aid station at mile 4.3, reaching it in 41 minutes. I was still full from the pre-race bagels. During that first stretch Hugo and I ran together for a while. Now during this second stretch on the trail, I found myself running with Nick. At one point we came upon three bikes just off the path, and further along we fell in behind the EMS responders taking a biker off the course in a stretcher. It was pretty sobering stuff. The EMS ambulance passed us with lights and sirens on as we made our way down the road to the second aid station.

I reached the second aid station at mile 8.6, in 46:24, now 1:27:53 into the run. The next aid station was just short of 4 miles away and I reached it in 39:59, 2:07:53 into the run. I spent some time there looking for Emmy’s drop bag so I could leave my windbreaker. Then I had some grapes and more fluids before setting off on the next leg which would be the longest stretch between aid stations on the course. For some inexplicable reason, it was 8 miles until the next aid station! Just before the aid station I drank my Starbucks doubleshot for a caffeine boost. Reaching Garvin Hill at mile 20.6 was great - not only was there great food (I loaded up on some all-natural peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) but the views were awesome.

A few miles out of Garvin Hill I suddenly felt the need make my first pit stop and that would be a preview of the ills that befell me for the next 15 or so miles! It was a pain to not only take off my fuel belt, but the fanny pack as well, to take care of that little emergency. But I bounced back pretty quickly and cruised into Cady Brook, mile 27.5, 4:37:18 into the run. However, less than I mile out of Cady Brook my troubles returned. This was a beautiful stretch along a brook, and all I could do was look for a place to stop. No sooner had I done so - and gotten back on my way - than the need to step off the trail walloped me again! It was almost laughable at this stage. But I really had no idea what was causing me this distress.

Even so, after those two back to back stops I managed to bounce back and reach the Smoke Rise aid station at mile 31.9, in 1:11:29, for a cumulative time of 5:48:48. Amazingly, that 50K+ split was an hour better than my 2006 Vermont 50K result! I thought I had my intestinal problems behind me, so to speak, because the next stretch, to Dugdale’s Aid Station at mile 35.2 went by in 44:42, for a split of 6:33:30. My ten hour target was still doable. I ran a good portion of those miles with Nick, who had caught up to me at Smoke Rise. At Dugdale’s I ate some turkey and cheese sandwich quarters, switched into a dry hat, and left my fanny pack in my drop bag. I left my remaining Starbucks doubleshots in the drop bag untouched.

Once again, however, I was found myself battling intestinal problems. After the long switchback climb out of Dugdale’s I found myself having to step off the trail a few more times, each one more demoralizing than the previous one. By the time I reached the long string of switchbacks and twisty trails, I was starting to lose it mentally. From a biomechanical point, I still felt great - but I just couldn’t keep it together intestinally?! I reached Fallon’s at mile 39.3 in 1:21:57, for a cumulative time of 7:55:27. The ten hour goal started to seem out of reach now because I was having too much trouble bouncing back from that last wave of pit stops.

Midway to Goodman’s at mile 42.5, probably at mile 41, Emmy caught up with me and we
ran the rest of the race together. I was so happy to have her company! Amazingly, the 59:12 it took to reach Goodman’s seemed like an eternity. I was probably seriously dehydrated at this point. I wolfed down nothing but watermelon, washed down by coke, before we set off on our way to the last aid station. At 8:54:39, I was getting discouraged - but wasn’t about to let the race slip away. It took us 1:29:35 to reach Johnson’s at mile 48, for a cumulative time of 10:24:14. We walked the big hills in that stretch, but we did manage to run the flats and downhills.

The most discouraging part during that interval, which was a repeat of last year for me, was seeing the “5 miles to go” sign - since I was sure we were much closer to the end than five miles. Last year, there was an unmanned aid station set up with water and gatorade just before that point. It was absent this time around. That discouragement was quickly wisked away when we ran into Joe as he waited for Jill. Each time we ran into him he was ready with a smile and encouragement. He said we were less than a quarter mile from Johnson’s - hurray. While with him, we stopped for a couple of pictures with us holding up the hand signs he had with him.

Emmy couldn’t believe that there were still 3 miles to go after Johnson’s. That would work out to 51 miles. Afterwards, as we sat around in Cunningham’s after the race, Jim Hutchison, the race director for the Vermont 100 and a volunteer at the 50 miler, would say it was exactly 50.625 miles. Aside from plucking an apple from a tree, the last miles were all business. We finished up those 3 miles in 51:50 - and I finished 20 seconds after Emmy, in 11:16. What a long day! It turned out that Nick had not only won his age group, but he won a raffle as well and netted a bike helmet in the process.

We three watched and cheered as Jill, Hugo and a handful of others finished up the run. When I noticed the food tent being taken down I went over to grab something to eat - luckily, some food was still there. No luck on the drinks, which were all gone. Emmy found the time to take a shower (despite the lack hot water available!), and we met back up at Cunningham’s. On the way back she had run into Meredith outside and learned that she had been pulled from the course at 48 miles! In fact, a few minutes later Meredith and her husband came inside and we commiserated for a bit. Apparently, 12 other runners were also pulled from the course. What a bummer. While I was a little disappointed at missing my time goal, I was very happy to have finished strong - and with my glasses intact! In fact, the entire day had been a perfect one to be outside.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

from the archives: 2006 vermont 50k race report

i ran the vermont 50k in 2006. at the time, it was only my third ultra (third of three 50ks i ran that year, capped off with the jfk 50 miler in november). i was new to both ultras - and trails! the following year, 2007, i went back and ran the vermont 50 miler (following on the heels of the vermont 100 that summer).

i haven't been back there for either the 50k or 50 miler, but thought i'd post these race reports (2007 to follow) since the 2009 edition of both races kicks off tomorrow!

this report still has some of that utterly "newbie" flavor, which i like. i knew practically no one in the race field at tht time. while rob had camped out at the site, he ran the 50 miler and we never managed to meet up. the 2007 edition was very different. aside from the distance, i knew a good number of runners and it turned into a social experience!

vermont 50k

this weekend i took part in a trail run in scenic vermont. i drove up the day before, in wet, rainy conditions - and the forecast was for more rain on race day. but, as luck would have it, no rain when i woke up the next morning. as i drove to the start i actually had to stop as a small herd of sheep crossed in front of my car on route 44 (under their own direction apparently because there was no shepherd supervision to be seen). that strange incident had me smiling all the way to the check-in. instead of rain, it was overcast and humid. considering the forecast for more rain on race day, it was a good beginning.

the vermont 50k was staged at ascutney mountain ski resort in brownsville, vermont. it was run in conjunction with a 50m mountain bike race and 50m ultra. the staggered start times (bikes first, followed by 50m, and 50k last) were intended to ease congestion on the trails. unfortunately, good intentions aside, the lesson i took away from this weekend, was that bikers and runners should not share single track trails. put into perspective, there were 650 mountain bikers (the race had been sold out for months), 125 running 50 miles and 64 doing the 50k (as of the week before the race).

but that lesson about bikers and runners was still a few hours down the road. first there was a mandatory check-in for the runners, followed by brief instructions from the race director. the most significant information i took note of: watch out for signs marked with an X, which signified a dangerous obstacle ahead. these were actually posted for the bikers, but any assistance was welcome in my book. a sign marked with a W didn't mean water; it meant you're headed in the wrong direction, turn back. another helpful tip?

the race started downhill out of ascutney, briefly onto route 44 and then a right on a dirt road which started the uphill climb that continued to the first aid station at the 4.3 mile mark. a quick left, flat for about 100 feet to the sharp right onto the trail head. the trail went uphill for almost another 4 miles when we emerged onto another dirt road where we officially parted company with the 50m course - it went right, we swung left and headed for the second aid station at the 7.6 mile mark. this was the "official shortcut" that the 50k runners took.

we continued on dirt roads until rejoining the 50m course after about 11.5 miles. it was at this junction, just before our reaching the third aid station (official station #6) that we encountered the first wave of bikers. no problem since we were on dirt roads and plenty of space for everyone. everyone was very friendly. they had pretty much biked 30+ miles by this stage of the course. now only 20 miles left to the finish:)

a brief note on the aid stations. they and the volunteers were awesome. the stations were stocked with everything from junk food (chips, fig newtons, m&m's, gummy bears, etc.) to various sandwiches pre-cut into triangles and boiled potatoes. the only weirdness here was finding the replacement drink of choice was "heed." something i had never heard of before - and reluctant to try out now. i limited myself to trail mix and gummy bears, washed down w/water-diluted defizzed coke (occasionally switching to ginger ale).

but there didn't seem to be enough aid stations given the terrain. 10 official aid stations were spaced across the 50m course, but only 7 were available on the 50k. for the first half of the 50k, stations were spaced between 3 and 4 miles apart. then, for some inexplicable reason, they were spaced further apart between miles 15-28, and the final one was located 3 miles from the finish. it was also during this middle stretch that the course ran across numerous (way too many to bother counting after the first dozen) switchbacks (many of them single track).

about a mile beyond official aid station #8 (located at mile 19), i was doing a nice bit of power walking up two nice long hills, separated mid-point, by a dirt road. there were volunteers keeping watch for any rouge traffic that could have happened by as we crossed over. then a runner passed me on the second hill (as i was walking alongside some bikers walking their bikes). he looked fresh, and not the least bit bothered by the hill. at that point the biker just ahead turned back and said that was the lead runner in the 50 miler. at that point, running hills was something well beyond me.

since i had a fuel belt (initially filled with sobe lemonade), i wasn't concerned about physically reaching the aid stations. but for the record, i went for an hour and 15 minutes between aid stations 7 and 8 (5.4m), 50 minutes between 8 and 9, and it took me 1 hour and 37 minutes to go from station 9 to station 10 (5.57m). in future races, one more aid station would easily avoid the impression of too few of them. thankfully, a woman had put out her garden hose for us around mile 18 (a mile before #8).

by mile 22 (just after station #9) the heavens opened up and the rain forecast finally came down. i had actually squeezed an ultra-lightweight rain poncho in my belt - but i didn't bother to use it. at one point it got so dark under the canopy of trees that it seemed like it was suddenly night (at noon). luckily, the rain didn't last long but the consequence was mud, mud, and more mud. conditions were so bad in spots that bikers were actually walking their bikes - not unusual for uphills, but a strange site along the flats. in addition to rain, the wind had picked up significantly during the second half of the 50k. the colorful leaves blowing across the course gave the race a real feel that autumn had arrived.

an unmanned table with ice water and gatorade (the only non -"heed" sport drink i spotted that day) was located just before reaching the final aid station (#10). at the unmanned table i used the opportunity to refill my little 6 ounce bottles with water for the final stretch. it was just after i refilled those bottles that i spotted a sign that said "only 5 miles to go." that was the most discouraging moment of the day - if only because there were no other mile markers on the course (except for the relative positions of the aid stations), and i really thought i was minutes away from the final aid station - not two full miles away - yikes. but that's all part of the experience - and onward i went.

just after i left the last aid station (w/three miles left), it started to rain again. fortunately, that shower lasted only 10 minutes, but it was long enough to refresh the muddy trails leading up mt. ascutney. the final ascent got us to the top of the ski slope, followed by a downhill finish on the main slope leading down to the base lodge. given the beating my quads had taken for most of the day, i could only wince at the prospect of that downhill. but amazingly, the sun had burned off the cloud cover and warmed things up considerably. by the time i crossed the finish (in a whopping 6:45:40, 13:02 pace) the weather was absolutely perfect for the post-race bbq and party.

had i known how difficult it would be to run this race sharing the trails with so many bikers, i doubt that i would have chosen to participate (the 50 miler is a different matter). i would probably have done the pisgah 50k the week before in southern new hampshire. having bikers share the dirt roads and the wider trails wasn't much of a problem. the real issue was competing for space on the single track. at first it was just annoying. but the cumulative effect of literally dozens of requests to step off trail to let a bike pass became a major disruption to running (much less enjoying) the race.

which leads me to conclude on this mixed note. i doubt i would return to run this race (the 50k) as long as it is run in conjunction with mountain bike race. that is unfortunate because the course itself is truly spectacular - the beautiful vistas on the mountain tops are breath-taking and nice stretches of the course run alongside streams and rivers. so despite the seemingly unrelenting uphill character of the route, given a dry day without bikes zooming by, this is a course worth experiencing.

here is the 2007 vermont 50 mile race report.

Friday, September 25, 2009

kasparov decisively wins exhibition match, 9-3, against karpov in valencia, spain

while today (friday) is the official closing ceremony, garry kasparov won the 3-day exhibition match with anatoly karpov yesterday, mid-way through the blitz game portion. kasparov won 8 of the 12 games played, karpov won 2, and they drew 2, for a final score of 9-3. the outcome was incredibly lop-sided, with karpov seemingly in time pressure during all the games (not just the 8 game blitz match on day three).

the match consisted of 4 rapid games (25 minutes, 5 second, time contol) over the first two days and 8 blitz games (5 minutes, 2 seconds, time contril) on the third day.

kasparov won both games on day one. karpov won the third game, but karpov bounced back immediately to win the fourth game. at the end of the second day of the match, kasparov had a 3-1 lead over karpov.

but on day three, karpov won the first of the blitz games, and they drew the second. it seemed, however momentary, that karpov was getting back into the match. that hope was quickly banished with 5 straight victories by kasparov! they drew the final game. kasparov won the blitz portion by an overwhelming score of 6-2, and the match with a cumulative score of 9-3.

kasparov's stunning victory is all the more impressive because he retired from competitive play in 2005, while karpov continues to play chess at a competitive level! would the outcome have been different (or perhaps closer) if regular duration games had been played instead of the 5 minute blitz games. i think so. but that doesn't take anything away from kasparov's impressive performance!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

2009 fall frolic: race report

We had some incredible weather for the 2009 Fall Frolic 30k - cool and sunny. It was one of those "no excuses" days. For a couple of reasons, but primarily because I was still a bit tentative coming off the calf muscle pull, I had a 2:30 goal. That turned out to be way too conservative, with 2:25 a much more realistic target. As it turned out, even 2:25 was a bit on the soft side - I might have snuck in under 2:20 if I had run a bit more aggressively.

I started out tentatively because of the lingering calf muscle issue. The prior weekend I jogged the Norwalk Half Marathon because I was unable to push off my right foot without pain. The minor training set-back was still in my mind. After 10 days of easy efforts, I tested my calf with a 45 minute 10k run on Thursday. The other thing on my mind was the memory of last year’s bout with anemia. I volunteered at the 2008 Fall Frolic, and ran one loop of the course as and easy effort.

After a slow, 8:02 first mile, I shook off those doldrums and sped up the pace. Mile 2 was 7:22; and I reached the 5k split at 23:24, a 7:31 pace. The first 10k loop took 46:32, a 7:29 pace. This was well below the initial 50 minutes a loop that I had toyed with in case my leg decided to give me trouble. Since it felt fine, I had no problem running the second loop at the same pace. My 10k split was 46:22, also a 7:29 pace.

At the start of the third loop I briefly considered going for the sub-2:20 - I was right on pace to hit that goal. In fact, I was still clung to that pace as late as 25k, with a 1:57:22 split, 7:33 pace. But I slowed a bit too much during the last 5k, and wasn’t in the mood to push my luck that late in the race. An 8:11 mile 17, followed by a 7:51 mile 18, was too far off the pace - but I did squeak in under 2:22, with a 2:21:58 (by my watch), 7:37 pace.

I was incredibly happy with my performance (especially since it was pain free). Except for the slow start (mile one) and finish (miles 17 and 18), I ran even splits, roughly 7:30, for the entire distance. My splits for the 3 (10k) loops; 46:32, 46:22, and 49:04, were also pretty consistent (factoring in the 1:30 slowdown in miles 17 and 18). The only (minor) disappointment was the 2:22:01 official finish time - haha! But I’ll take it, gladly!

Here are my race photos.

Next up, the NYC Long Training Run 18 miler in Central Park this weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

happy birthday bruce springsteen - 60 years old today!!

bruce springsteen, born september 23, 1949, celebrates his 60th birthday today. the above photo, from the 1984 "born in the usa" tour (and album) is alread 25 years old! bruce hardly shows any signs of age - touring and releasing albums like the good old days.

i've posted about bruce often ( his "magic" tour show at giants stadium last summer, the superbowl half-time show last winter, and the free, pre-release, live stream of his "working on a dream" album on npr, just to mention a few). his music was a huge part of my high school days in the late 70s (though my first bruce show had to wait until "the river" tour at madison square garden in 1980.

after the summer of 1984 "born in the usa" tour, almost 25 years passed before i saw him in concert again (last year's "magic" tour). despite the passage of all that time, he still rocked. so find the time to listen to some springsteen today ("greetings from asbury park" is on my ipod play list for today).

happy birthday bruce!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

25 years after their infamous first match, karpov and kasparov again face off across the chess board!

in the 1984 world chess championship, garry kasparov challenged then world champion anatoly karpov (who had assumed the title in 1975, when bobby fischer refused to defend it). the first man to win 6 games would win the title. karpov immediately jumped out to a 4-0 lead! but, unexpectedly, over the next five months the games excruciatingly continued on until, with the score 5-3 in karpov's favor, in the match was abruptly called off after the 48th game!

the organizers claimed the 1984 match was cancelled because of serious health concerns - but both players adamantly wanted it to continue. the "rematch" in 1985 was won be kasparov and he assumed the title of world champion. in subsequent matches, kasparov successfully defended the title against karpov.

despite the passage of time, the two are still rivals! while kasparov retired from competitive chess, karpov continues to play the game. karpov was, and is, a major proponent of positional chess - slowly accumulating seemingly minor advantages until they, cumulatively, overwhelm the opponent. kasporov eschewed positional ideas in favor of the direct attack.

in that way, kasparov was much closer in style and philosophy to bobby fischer. unfortunately, neither karpov or kasparov ever played against fischer. the three are generally considered the greatest players of their generations - if not the last half of the 20th century. bobby fischer died last year, so they will never meet across the board.

the exhibition match, in valencia, spain, will consist of a dozen speed, and semi-speed chess games. it begins today.

update: kasparov hasn't lost his edge in retirement! he won the both games on the first day of the match and now leads 2-0!

day two: karpov won the first game and kasparov won the second. kasparov leads 3-1!

day three (blitz match): karpov won the first game, they drew the second, kasparov won the next FIVE straight games, and the drew the last game.

kasparov wins the match 9-3!!

happy autumnal equinox!

wow, summer flew by (and one that kicked off with an incredibly wet june, and hardly gave us much good weather after that). at 5:18 p.m. (edt), fall officially arrives. while today is equal parts light and dark, we start to lose about 3 minutes of light with each passing day until the winter solstice arrives december 21 - not to mention the cooler temperatures as well.

hopefully, fall welcomes a couple of months of great running weather!

happy autumnal equinox!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

happy birthday bill murray - 59 years old today!

happy birthday bill murray - born 59 years ago today on september 21, 1950. in my opinion, bill murray is one of the great comedic actors of his generation.

a quick list of his accomplishments, just to sample a few from each decade, includes "saturday night live" (those infamous "not ready for prime-time players") in the 70s; "caddyshack" and "ghostbusters" in the 80s; "what about bob?," "groundhog day," and "rushmore" in the 90s; and, in the new millennium, "the royal tennebaums" and "lost in translation!"

my favorite bill murray movie, hands down - and probably one of my favorite comedies of all time, is "what about bob?" here is a short clip:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

2009 fall frolic 30k: photos and results

what a difference a year makes! last year i volunteered at the fall frolic because i was recovering from a bout with anemia. today, with perfect weather, i managed a 2:21:58 on the three loop course.

here is my race report.

here are the race results.

and, here are some photos:

emmy, finishing.


jim, cutting his birthday cake!

sherry and marty.

here are a few more race photos.

check out the 2008 race photos.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

anthony flint, "wrestling with moses: how jane jacobs took on new york's master builder and transformed the american city" book review

anthony flint's "wrestling with moses: how jane jacobs took on new york's master builder and transformed the american city" is one of those very short books with an insufferably long subtitle. it could easily have been shortened to "jacobs takes on the master builder," or some other "david versus goliath" moniker. there is no doubt that jane jacobs is the heroine of this new york city centered morality tale, and robert moses stars as the unmitigated force of evil. still, the book is well-worth reading!

robert moses was immortalized in robert caro's pulitzer prize winning "the power broker: robert moses and the fall of new york" in 1974. the huge, 1200+ page, tome painted moses and his work in unsparingly dark tones. to this day, almost 30 years after i first encountered it (in the fall of 1980), it remains one of the most powerful books i've ever read! amazingly, in all those pages, the name jane jacobs does not appear! for someone who thwarted the power broker not once, but three separate times, that's an incredible omission.

to caro's credit, he did write an entire chapter about jacobs and her connection to robert moses. but that material found itself on the cutting room floor when the final version of his book was assembled for publication. jane jacobs, at the time "the power broker" was published, was no longer simply an accidental (albeit successful) activist. she had achieved fame in her own right as author of the urban planning classic, "the death and life of great american cities." flint's book seeks to fill in the gap in the moses-jacobs story.

"wrestling with moses" is a breezy read. it ably covers the three urban planning battles they fought. it's little surprise that jacobs and her allies win all three. it's equally remarkable, in present day new york city, that anyone could have proposed the projects without being branded criminally insane. the first was a proposed 4 lane highway through washington square park, the second (tinged with more than a bit of revenge) sought to raze 14 blocks of greenwich village in the name of urban renewal, and the third - and most ludicrous of the trio - was the "lower manhattan expressway" (an 11 lane elevated superhighway that cut across soho, little italy, chinatown, and the lower east side).

while it's easy to cheer jacobs and hiss at moses, flint to his great credit, points out the danger of jacobs position. she and her husband were original urban pioneers, buying a rundown building and fixing it up. legions after them did the same thing, leading to gentrification and housing costs that were out of reach for middle class families. while jacobs proselytized about living, breathing neighborhoods, her prototypical "not in my backyard" ultimately lead to no development whatsoever. and, letting that gentrification run amok, would remove any and all affordable housing unless city planners took steps to make it available.

the moses legacy today, as flint points out in the epilogue, is being reexamined, in a decidedly less harsh light, by scholars. moses was undoubtedly a bully and had way too much unchecked power. but he did create the landscape of modern new york, and new york city in particular. ignoring his last two monumental achievements, the triborough bridge and the verrazana- narrows bridge, can anyone picture new york city without lincoln center? without the united nations? without (the old) shea stadium? without the central park zoo? those are a handful of the non-transportation projects moses built.

it's a complicated story... but "wrestling with moses" presents it in a fair, even-handed way.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"neal cassady" movie review

Last night I watched the Sundance Channel premiere of “Neal Cassady” - an ostensible biopic of the legendary beat generation muse, Neal Cassady. The film was an incredibly frustrating disappointment. Luckily, it was only 80 minutes long, and entirely forgettable. For a huge fan of the beat generation - in all its varied guises, watching a film so riddled with inaccuracies was a painful experience, in and of itself. As a film, “Neal Cassady” failed to capture any semblance of the seriously flawed man who was mythologized in the works of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Within seconds of the film’s start, the inaccuracies started: opening with Kerouac in the dressing room, waiting to go on what was, presumably, the Steve Allen show, he’s approached and seduced by a fan. That may have been artistic license, but seconds later he’s on the set and asked by the interviewer, presumably Steve Allen, about his new movie, “The Subterraneans” and asked to read from it. Not to carp on details, but that book hadn’t been published when he appeared on the Steve Allen show (and far from being made into a movie, which itself was a grotesque shadow of the novel - only sharing the title, in fact).

That opening sequence, so utterly ridiculous, pointedly showed how little the filmmaker, Noah Buschel - who wrote and directed the film - understood of his main characters! Kerouac appeared on the Steve Allen show and read from “On the Road.” But, more significantly, he then went on to read passages from “Visions of Cody” - surreptitiously! Kerouac, at that time, believed he had moved on from his prose style of the “Road” novel, and more intensely captured the “real” Neal Cassady in his experimental prose work (“Visions”). The symbolism of Kerouac’s actual appearance and reading could not be more apt to kick off the film!

More glaring factual mistakes are just downright carelessness - last I checked, Neal and Carolyn Cassady had THREE children, not the just two! But to revisit the road trip Keroauc and Cassady took, Buschel had Neil tentatively asking some jaded pool hall denizen if he knew Neil’s dad (an out of work alcoholic, to put it mildly). Cassady never did things that tentatively - it contradicted the very essence of his being. Watching that pitiful exchange on film was the second realization in the first 10 minutes that Buschel had no handle on his character.

The film is barely 80 minutes long. The bulk of that time is spent on Cassady’s interaction with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. By that point in Neal’s life he was a shell of his former self - and the beat generation had long since faded into history, replaced with the flower children of the 1960s. Neal Cassady is all the more interesting because he was a bridge between two generations. He found himself immersed in Kesey’s “Electric Kool Aid Acid Tests” and became the official bus driver for “Further” - on their cross country travels!

A lot was left out of this film - obviously there is not enough time in 80 minutes to tell the full story! It left out the explanation of his arrest for marijuana possession (and Kerouac’s guilt over what he believed was the intense focus on Neal brought on by his portrayal of him in “On the Road”). And there was no mention of the Grateful Dead? The Dead were the house band at Kesey’s Acid Tests, so I was very surprised at that omission. The Grateful Dead’s “Cassady” honors Neil’s memory.

This film does not (and it also prompted a deservedly bitter response from Carolyn Cassady).

for a good film on the early neal, check out "the last time i committed suicide."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

bob dylan the painter

another side of bob dylan? another performer to expand on his artist vision in another medium? whether dylan has yet to "paint his masterpiece" (forgive the pun), a sizable number of his art works will be on exhibit in norway next fall! as an aside, i just read peter falk's autobiography, "just one more thing: stories from my life," and learned that he is a passionate artist! on the running side, boston marathon legend johnny kelley was a prolific painter!

back to dylan, from "arts briefly" section in today's ny times:

"Nearly 100 paintings by Mr. Dylan, an artist better known for his throat than for his palette, will go on display next year at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, Reuters reported. ... The exhibition, to open in fall 2010, will include the premiere of 30 acrylic paintings from Mr. Dylan’s “Brazil” series,” as well as paintings from his “Drawn Blank” series that were shown in Britain and Germany. A representative for Mr. Dylan told Reuters that he did not know what the new paintings would depict or how Mr. Dylan chose the names of his series."

the above painting, "man on a bridge," is part of dylan's "drawn blank" series. dylan the painter has gone far since the self-portrait that graced the cover of his 1970 studio album of the same name!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

happy birthday peter falk, 82 years old today!!

columbo, t.v.'s greatest detective, a/k/a peter falk, was born 82 years ago today, on september 16, 1927. it hasn't been that great a year for him - with the announcement that he has alzheimer's disease, that his estranged daughter sought guardianship of him, a conservatorship was subsequently granted, and the court appointed his wife, shera, as his conservator.

all that said, peter falk is a survivor. while he's best know for his multiple emmy-winning role as lt. columbo, falk was an oscar nominated actor on the big screen and an experienced stage performer as well. i read his off beat autobiography, "just one more thing: stories from my life," this summer - and learned that in addition to the acting, he is a passionate painter!

happy birthday, peter falk!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

new york city to consider extending smoking ban to parks and beaches!

what a pleasant surprise it was to read that new york city may expand the ban on public smoking to include its parks and beaches!! the new "smoke-free" areas would significantly expand mayor bloomberg's 2002 ban on smoking in indoor public and commercial spaces.

according to the ny times, the proposal would "affect more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities, as well as the city’s seven beaches, which span 14 miles of shoreline."

hurray for all of our children! hurray for all of us non-smokers!!

update: just one day later... the mayor backtracked from his own commissioner's proposal! remarkably, the proposed ban has generated sympathy for the poor, unfortunate cigarette smoker!

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 norwalk half marathon: race report

An unpleasant surprise, a calf muscle pull, upended my plan to race the Norwalk Summer Series Half Marathon. When I drove to Norwalk on Saturday morning I thought I could either volunteer, or jog the first loop and then volunteer for the second half. Either way, I didn’t plan to the entire 13.1 miles. As it turned out, I ran the race - which may or may not have been the wisest course of action.

The parking lot at the Fox Run School was packed. Despite the borderline lousy weather (on and off rain/drizzle), there was a record turn-out for the race. The course is a somewhat hilly double loop (with the second loop a mile shorter than the first). I’ve run this race a number of times over the years and knew the layout relatively well. I did an easy loop of the parking lot to test my calf. Since it was just sore, I decided to run the first loop.

The first mile, predominately downhill, took 7:36 - and was something of a surprise. It must have been the gravity assist, because I don’t think I ran it particularly fast. I consciously slowed my pace down for the second mile. In an example of “no good deed goes unpunished,” I experienced a sharp pain in my already bruised calf - arrgh! Luckily, it was just a scare - and it would be the only one of the race.

After about quarter mile my I could run without pain again. Mile 2 took 8:36 and I slowed down even more for miles 3 and 4, 9:15 and 9:11, respectively. Those would be my slowest miles of the race. I picked up the pace slightly for the remaining miles of the first loop, 8:47, 8:55, and 8:48 - for a seven mile split of 1:01:10. As I approached mile 7, I weighed the possibility of stopping, but decided against it.

Despite that momentary scare in the second mile, the first loop was uneventful. I spent most of the that time focused on my bio-mechanics and hardly any on the course! I didn’t push the pace during the first 7 miles and sought to minimize any strain my calf. I decided to be less conservative the second time around. I wasn’t going to set any speed records, but I’d try to work in a couple of fast miles and see how the calf held up with a faster pace.

Mile 8, basically a repeat of the first (gravity assisted) mile, was a 7:29. That was followed by a string of more modestly paced miles; 8:50, 7:51, 7:55, and 8:06 - for a 12 mile split of 1:41:24. The prospect of a sub-1:50 finish prompted me to run the last mile. Not the brightest idea, but sometimes I can be stubborn in the face of conventional wisdom. I ran a 7:08 for mile 13, and 0:48 for the last one tenth of mile to finish in 1:49:20, an 8:21 pace.

Needless to say, I was incredibly pleased with finishing the distance! The negative split was an interesting bonus! But I didn't want to push my luck - so I skipped the Tuckahoe Challenge on Sunday morning. Instead, I opted for an easy training run to and from the race!

here are some race photos.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

first nyc marathon held 40 years ago today!

forty years ago today, 155 runners lined up in central park for the very first nyc marathon! the first edition of the nyc marathon, a multiple loop course of central park, was a shadow of the five borough tour it expanded to in 1976 - thanks to the imagination of fred leblow.

of the 155 starters that september 13, 1970, morning, only 55 runners crossed the finish line. the first winner, with a time of 2:31:38, was gary muhrcke. there was no woman finisher that first year - beth bonner, with a 2:55:22, was the first woman finisher in 1971.

this november, the 40th edition of the nyc marathon will have a world record starting field 0f more than 40,000 runners!!

2009 tuckahoe challenge: some race photos

i didn't run the tuckahoe challenge this morning - i ran to and from it. for the second year in a row - last year because of anemia, this year because of a calf muscle pull - i didn't run the pair of races that constitute the "challenge." instead, i ran the back and forth 3+ mile distance there, from my house, as an easy training run.

i had timed the start of my run there to arrive after the finish of the one mile race and before the start of the five miler. but the one miler got under way late and i reached the crestwood train station just as the lead runners approached the half mile turnaround! it turned out that i ran on the sidewalk as the main pack of runners did the outbound leg of the mile.

in between races i chatted with joe. amazingly, for the third straight weekend at a local race the topic of conversation included the runner restrictions imposed at rockefeller state park! i watched the start of the five miler and the lead runners complete the out and back first mile of the course before setting off on my return home.

here are the race results.

here are a few photos:

2009 scarsdale library book sale

another september, another scarsdale library book fair! yesterday afternoon the library parking lot was so crowded that i had to wait for a spot (a first for that)! i squeezed into the auditorium and exited 45 minutes later with 7 interesting books (for a grand total of $15). that should give me a couple of months of fall reading material :D

of the purchases, i'm looking forward reading "moneyball" the most (after finishing my current book, "the wilderness warrior"). second on the list has to be desmore's "riders on the storm" - a book i hadn't heard of (and should provide a decidedly alternative take on morrison and the doors). and, in a funny coincidence, this was the second year in a row i found a jimmy buffet book to add to the basket!

since the book fair runs through monday, i'm going to make an effort to return (under less crowded circumstances).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009 norwalk summer series half marathon: race photos and results

i ran the norwalk half marathon this morning. it was basically a training run because on tuesday night i pulled a calf muscle. it's not a serious injury, but it made an all out effort unrealistic under the circumstances. i finished the race in 1:49:20 :D

i'll write up a race report tomorrow

here are the race results.

here are some race photos:

here are a few more race photos.

derek jeter breaks lou gehrig's new york yankees all-time hits record!!

last night, derek jeter hit a single in the third inning of the yankee - baltimore game. it was jeter's 2,722nd hit and moved past lou gehrig to become the all-time hit leader for the new york yankees!

congratulations jeter!!

in an interesting coincidence, in 1995, cal ripken, jr., playing for baltimore, surpassed lou gehrig's then major league record of consecutive games played (2,130)!

Friday, September 11, 2009

never forget: today is the 8th anniversary of 9/11

today is the eighth anniversary of the cowardly terrorist attacks on the united states. last year, on the seventh anniversary, i posted on how important it is that we never forget what happened to our country, and the world, because of a handful of hate-filled sociopaths. there is evil in the world and it landed on our doorstep that fateful morning.

but we should always remember the fallen, the heroes, and the survivors of that horrible morning - and not the disgraceful cowards that perpetrated the evil. we should never forget how our country, and the world, came together after the attacks. we should never forget that, despite the carnage, the united states survived the attacks.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"anita o'day: the life of a jazz singer" movie review

"Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer," following on the heals of "Let’s Get Lost," the Chet Baker documentary, is the second straight riveting jazz film I’ve watched in as many weeks. If Chet Baker was a jazz great, Anita O’Day is a jazz legend. She’s a bona fide member the that select group of timeless female vocalists, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. "The Life of Jazz Singer" is a fast-paced, mesmerizing look at Anita O’Day’s equally frenetic, edgy career.

The subtitle of the film could easily have been, "That’s the way it went Down," Anita’s matter of fact response to the borderline obnoxious string of questions that a young Bryant Gumbel peppered her with during a t.v. interview. She had a practically unbelievable list of "highlights" to choose from - that included a long stretch as a heroin addict (15 years), 4 marriages, a stint in jail for marijuana possession, constantly broke (despite constantly booked), and performing well into her 80's!

That she survived that list is the real story. In the late 1960's Anita was pronounced dead, literally, in a hospital emergency room. Remarkably, she defied that somewhat premature prognosis and came back to life - to everyone’s astonishment but her own. Luckily, she took it as an omen to kick the heroin habit - which she did cold turkey! While no longer addicted to heroin, this incredible woman continued her 30+ year relationship with drummer, John Poole (a man she didn’t marry), a fellow heroin addict.

The film is hardly all about her hard times. One of my favorite parts of the documentary is Anita’s behind the scenes description of that iconic image of her in the feathered wide-brim hat and cocktail dress worn at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. When she asked her manager what time she went on, Anita was surprised (to say the least) when he said she had the afternoon slot! She went shopping that morning and picked out what she wore randomly. Together with her cool, sensuous performance of "Sweet Georgia Brown" it became an iconic career moment.

Another interesting aspect of the film it the generous use of album covers to paint the many sides on Anita O’Day over the years she recorded for Verve. And, in the same vein that the Chet Baker’s "Let’s Get Lost" juxtaposed him in present day performance against his younger self, watching a O’Day perform "The Nearness of You" in her mid-80's is powerful stuff. She was, in every definition of the word, a survivor.

This is a must-see film for any jazz fan - add it to your Netflix queue

pat and tina's night at the 2009 u.s. open: guest post

can a year have really flown by that quickly!? seems like pat and tina were at the 2008 u.s. open just yesterday! but yesterday they were at the 2009 edition!! as always, i'm very pleased to post pat's write-up of the event :D

Two Sisters at the U.S. Open: Going “Inside Tennis"

There’s nothing like a phone call from my Uncle Bill to remind me that summer’s not really over until my sister Tina and I accept his invitation to make our annual trip to a tennis match at the U.S. Open in Flushing, Queens. And that’s exactly what we did last night.

Tina and I met up at Grand Central station around 5:30 and took the #7 subway out to the “USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and Arthur Ashe Stadium,” as it is formally known. When I saw Tina, my first reaction was: Where’s the camera? Tina always brings her great telephoto camera with her and takes some amazing pictures of the players, no matter where our seats are. Alas, she had forgotten it at home and it was too late to go back and get it. That was okay, though, because Tina and I got a chance to chat most of the night, which was really wonderful, since we don’t see each other too often.

We met up with our uncle, Bill Simons, at the stadium. He's the editor and publisher of “Inside Tennis,” a magazine that has been covering regional, national, and international tennis for 28 years. After big hugs hello, Uncle Bill handed us a copy of the latest issue of Inside Tennis, which features, on the cover, a wonderful picture of Serena Williams along with the headline, “The 16 Confessions of Serena Williams.” Although I didn’t get to read the article last night, I found it today in the "archives" section on the Inside Tennis website.

I love the way my uncle writes about tennis, making it so personal and interesting. Here’s a snippet from the article:

"'Love, Lies, Depression, Death and Deliverance: Serena Williams’ Riveting New Autobiography Fills in Huge Gaps in the Compelling Tale of the Most Tumultuous Star in Women’s Sports
We’ve seen it so often: that singular expression, a roar of determination, such ferocity — raw, almost fierce.

Few other athletes drink more of that most empowering of sports tonics — will power. For, as Sue Mott told us, Serena Williams’ 'role model was less Chris Evert than Thor.'

Federer may be tennis’ prevailing icon, but Serena is the fiercest competitor in tennis and maybe even in all of sports. As one fan recently noted, 'That girl has exactly the kind of chi and chutzpah it takes to win.'

So from what deep wells of intention does Serena draw from when she unleashes her often unstoppable fighting spirit?

After reading her new autobiography Serena Williams: On the Line, you would certainly think race and heritage has more than a tad to do with it. In ‘04, Williams set off on a pilgrimage of discovery to Ghana and Senegal. There she journeyed to outback villages with their poignant mix of poverty and generosity — endearing children and wide-eyed teen moms — and then made her way to those harrowing coastal castles which shipped out generations of slaves to servitude or death."

It has occurred to me, over the years, that my mom and her siblings, especially Uncle Bill, have a flair for writing that I simply don’t. Perhaps it was the influence of their parents, both of whom were good storytellers. My parents were a good storytellers - - my mom through her writing, my dad through his talking - - but I guess I was more of a listener. Well, I digress.

The three of us had a quick bite to eat at an outdoor table in the warm late summer air, Indian food for Uncle Bill and ham-and-cheese crepes for me and Tina. We chatted a little about “Inside Tennis” and how the Internet has changed so much of what we do in life. Unfortunately, though, dinner was short, since Uncle Bill had to go back to his computer to cover the match that was to begin in a few short minutes. So we said thanks and hugged him good-bye, and headed into the Arthur Ashe stadium to watch the first night-time match, featuring . . . Serena Williams!

Tina and I found our seats and within minutes the match between Serena (seeded #2) and Flavia Pennetta (#10) began. Although I played a bit of tennis as a kid and a teenager, I never became very good. Tina, on the other hand, went to one or two tennis camps as a teenager and invariably beat me whenever we played games. She has continued to play throughout her adulthood, although less so since she moved to New York, and still really loves the game. So, it was fun listening to her color commentary, albeit delivered in whispers, since she actually knows the names of shots and the strategy behind them. Every once in a while, I’d put in my two cents about how the players were playing. From where I sat, both Serena and Flavia made it look so easy. And every time Flavia won a point, I started getting a little nervous for Serena. But, as I expected, Serena easily won the match, 6-4, 6-3.

Rivaling the thrill of watching Serena Williams play great tennis was the pure enjoyment I had spending a relaxing night talking with Tina, alone. It happens so rarely, but it was really great. As we watched the match, we chatted about Tina’s husband Piers Lawrence, his jazz quartet and the new CD they are making (it sounds like it’s going to be great!). We got caught up on family and work stuff, like all siblings do, and, of course, in between, we talked about tennis.

The tennis highlight of the night was the next match, between Rafael Nadal (#3), from Spain, and Gael Monfils (#13), from France. Tina and I were rooting for Nadal (silently, as one must do when one watches tennis), not simply because he was the favorite (or because he is cute), but also because he comes from Majorca, the island off the coast of Spain where Tina spent quite a bit of time after college. Nonetheless, we tried to stick to our rule of not applauding after Monfils made mistakes that benefited Nadal. It’s a hard rule to follow, in practice.

Monfils started by matching Nadal pretty evenly, baseline hit for baseline hit. After just a few minutes, it felt like we were watching a slugfest between two prizefighters! Some of the rallies were spectacular, making me wonder, as I always do, how athletes can play so consistently well for so long. How exciting it was to see two of the best players in the world “duking it out!”

After a few games, it looked like Monfils might actually win the first set! As it approached 10:00 p.m., the tension in the air was thick and the crowd seemed to be pulling for Monfils. I, who had planned on leaving the stadium at 10:00 to catch a commuter train, could not pull myself out of my seat. Before I knew it, they were playing a tiebreaker. Unbelievably, Monfils won, 7-6!

Shocked and riveted, I stayed to see the start of the second set. Lucky for us, Nadal won that first game, and I felt I could leave with some hope that Nadal would pull it out. Although I needed to go home, Tina decided to move to another part of the stadium and sit with a girlfriend she knew, to watch more of the match.

We got up from our seats and Tina walked me to the stairs that headed down and out of the stadium. We hugged good-bye, smiled, and parted ways. Although I don’t know how late Tina stayed, I do know that Nadal ended up winning the match, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 - - - making me realize that she and I saw the best part of the match! And, of course, I also realized, both last night and again today, that Tina and I have Uncle Bill to thank for giving us a wonderful night together. “Thanks, Uncle Bill!”

"big fan" movie review

i kicked off labor day weekend with "big fan" - perfectly spotted at the end of pre-season, lead-in to opening week, football. the film, written and directed by robert seigel (who also wrote mickey rourke's resurrection vehicle, "the wrestler") is about paul aufiero (patton oswald), a rabid ny giants fan, his one friend sal (kevin corrigan), also a rabid giant fan, his fellini-like family, and the surreal world that constitutes his life. one might imagine this independent film a comedy - and there are a couple of funny moments (the opening football game has an awesome take-away) - but it's secretly a drama (or, to perk up the tag a bit, tragi-comedy).

it's hard for me to imagine recommending (and this is a film definitely worth watching if you fancy yourself a football fan, at the very least) that inspires this string of adjectives: frustrating, claustrophobic, frightening, pathetic, pathological, and, in overwhelmingly large doses, depressing! 30 something paul works as a parking lot attendant and lives at home with his mother. any fan of "the big bang theory" will immediately recognize howard wolowitz (down to the mom's shrill voice penetrating the paper thin walls during important business). the difference is, wolowitz, despite being socially challenged - has intelligence and a life.

paul only knows football, literally. one scene, where he and sal attempt to ferret out information via the internet was painful. can a pair of young adults be that clueless? senior citizens in retirement homes w/dial up modems would make those two pecking at the keyboard look unsympathetically pathetic. even worse, when they are unable to find information about "how to end a lawsuit" they triumphantly concluded that "lawyers wouldn't want that sort of information made public!" but i've gotten ahead of the story line.

through a remarkable string of modestly absurd connections, paul and sal find themselves in strip club, plotting inanely how to introduce themselves to their favorite ny giants quarterback. he rewards their unfortunate success in finally meeting him with a brutal beat down of paul - who wakes up a couple of days later, barely alive, in a hospital bed. paul's only inquiries?! how did the giants do? what happened to the quarterback? how long will he be suspended? one inane question (under the circumstances) after another.

paul gives literal meaning to "taking one for the team" when he refuses to help the police gather evidence for an arrest; refuses to talk to the media; refuses to to let his brother (a sleazy ambulance chasing lawyer) bring suit for damages! all paul cares about is how this "incident" will affect the giants' season!! and, in that context, the second dimension of paul's otherwise empty life - sports talk radio - reemerges.

paul's claim to fame (slender the thread, but existing none the less) is his notoriety as the caller "paul from staten island" on a late night call in show. but even this is counterfeit because his "rants" are all scripted - a secret he even keeps from his best friend sal! paul write the script as he sits in his parking attendant's "box" collecting tolls. the listeners (including sal, who stays up late every night waiting to hear paul's newest rant) all believe his spiel is off the cuff stuff! and in the process, paul found a nemesis - "philadelphia phil" who call in to raze giants' fans!

i won't spoil the film's remarkable finish. it's enough to say that paul is literally driven to serious distraction (denial) from all the pressure (including the lawsuit filed on his behalf, against his wishes, by his brother - and the revelation that "paul from staten island" is none other than the paul aufiero, the beaten down fan!).

check out this film (hopefully before the seriousness of the regular season takes over) :D

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

2009 dobbs ferry 5k run: race photos and results

here are some great race photos courtesy of my friend joe. i didn't get a chance to take any photos today because of the point to point course (camera back in my car). i'm not sure if race results will be on-line. but if they're posted, i'll add a link.

check out all of joe's dobbs ferry race photos.




here is my race report.