Age, Agility and National Stamina

It is a little known but verifiable fact that this writer is a graduate of Circus 101. Well, I completed the course, that is, some five or six decadespast my turning-cartwheels-in-the-backyard days.

The author and sister Mimi, circa 1940

The author and sister Mimi, circa 1940

This comes to mind because of all the recent stamina talk. At the time of my circus experience I was several years younger than the current candidates for president of the United States. I am still the age of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and frankly, Justice Ginsberg and I (I am not officially authorized to speak for my 1933-babe sister) resent the stamina talk. She, of course, is making her debut (speaking only, opening night) with the Washington National Opera this year; I’m afraid opera performance is not on my bucket list. But still.

Stamina-wise there is at least the circus thing. As I recall, my late-life circus experience began with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a class offered by the San Francisco School of Circus Arts (now Circus Center) titled Circus 101. It sounded interesting, and at least worth undertaking for a good story. So I called the Circus School.

“Could a reasonably flexible 60-something woman be eligible to take your Circus 101 class,” I asked the nice lady at the other end of the line? She replied, essentially, if you’ve got the money we can work you in. “You can set your own limits,” she said.

So I showed up for the first class, raising the median age by two or three decades, and quickly learned my limits: upside-down is not for 60-somethings. Oh, I could still do upside-down, headstands with my feet on the wall or the occasional cartwheel; but then I tended to get dizzy and throw up, which is not in the curriculum. I found I was very good, though, at balancing the peacock feather on my chin and at being part of the human pyramid; I always got to be the top of the pyramid because nobody wanted to step on the little old lady. I was also quite good at the Ooze – a sort of backward roll-over with a collapse at the end.

In my class was a lovely Chinese-American girl named Yvonne, who measured approximately 24-18-24 and could juggle three balls before we even started. By the second class her husband Ken had been talked into joining. Ken and Kit, another husky young man who showed up at the same time, could perform great feats of strength and skill, but because they had all those muscles getting in the way I could beat them at grabbing my ankles and doing bend-overs and such that they couldn’t even approximate – which made me feel initially quite superior.

Rola-bola performer, not the author

Rola-bola performer, not the author

All feelings of superiority quickly disappeared. We learned the egg roll, the diablo and the rola-bola, that last being a balancing act on a board set on a large pipe, which when circus people do it looks easy as pie. It is not. (Nor is juggling four balls.)

I did discover that I really shone at the human caterpillar. This begins with a base person on all fours (hands and feet, not knees.) The next person rests on top of the base person, feet crossed, hands on the floor, and additional caterpillar people are similarly arranged. The rear legs and all hands move in unison, theoretically, until somebody giggles.

Is any of this relevant to today’s world, nearly two decades later? Well, it provides food for thought and some great metaphors.

One can only hope that everyone on the political spectrum will have the stamina – not to mention agility – required for running the country at all levels and branches of government. And that our collective community can master the rola-bola without turning into one great Ooze.

 

Vin Scully Leaves Us With a Smile

Vin Scully

Vin Scully

What’s not to love about Vin Scully?

Born and raised in the Bronx, where he delivered beer and mail, pushed garment racks, and cleaned silver in the basement of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City. Lost his first wife – of 15 years – to an accidental medical overdose. A year or so later, married Sandra, to whom he remains married 40+ years later. At the age of 8 – this would’ve been in 1935 – he decided he wanted to be a sports broadcaster. And in 67 seasons of broadcasting Dodgers baseball games he has accumulated a long list of awards – without ever being profane, boorish, self-serving or fodder for the scandal mills.

This writer cannot claim to be any reputable sort of baseball fan. But admirable public figures are in short enough supply that one has to be grateful for Vin Scully.

Giants fans loved having Scully wind up his illustrious career in San Francisco recently, in a stadium with more “Thank You Vin!” signs than orange rally flags. Several signs in the stands read “This Once We’ll Be Blue” – in honor of Scully’s beloved Dodgers. (The Giants went on to win the game.) But it was up to the New York Times to publish the entire transcript of his narration of the top of the ninth inning – his final words to the listening baseball public, headlined Vin Scully’s Final Call: I Have Said Enough for a Lifetime. Enough to include a few nuggets in between the calls (“And the strike . . .”)

“There was another great line that a great sportswriter wrote, oh, way back in the twenties,” Scully ruminated on air. “A. J. Liebling. And it said, ‘The world isn’t going backward, if you can just stay young enough to remember what it was like when you were really young.’ How about that one?

“Ground ball foul. 0 and 2 the count to Yasiel Puig . . .”  And later –

“That was awfully nice. The umpire just stood up and said goodbye, as I am saying goodbye. Seven runs, sixteen hits for the winning Giants, 1-4-1 for the Dodgers. …I have said enough for a lifetime, and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon.”

It was an elegant departure for a good man, ending a long and distinguished career. But this writer’s favorite snippet, among all the short tales and one-liners that wound through the reportage, was this:

“I’ve always thought it was attributed to Dr. Seuss, but apparently not. It’s still a good line, and it’s one certainly I’ve been holding onto for, oh, I think most of the year. … ‘Don’t be sad that it’s over. Smile because it happened.’”

What a treat to have something – someone – to smile about on the national stage today.

Sailing as Metaphor

Sailing under Bay Bridge 4.11.15Life. Play it safe – or risk everything? Avoid conflict or seize the day?

At the end of a long-anticipated visit from across the country, this writer’s family – west coast grandmother, east coast son and daughter-in-law, granddaughters 11 and 13 – was invited to go sailing on San Francisco Bay with a close friend who owns (and carefully operates) a 36-foot sailboat. After showing us around – it sleeps seven, with almost all the comforts of home – our captain delivered a safety lecture, explaining things like where the life jackets are, and the way the boom can swing quite suddenly and one is advised to stay out of its way. He went into some detail about what to do if he fell overboard: a safety device attached to the stern contains rope and flotation collar, so all that’s required is to keep circling until the man overboard can grab the line. He then issued life jackets to the girls and offered them (this boat has life jackets for about a dozen) to the grownups. I declined, knowing full well that I would last about five minutes max in the chilly waters of the Bay; go figure.

Skip & Georg 4.11.15For the next several hours we had a glorious sail, under the Bay Bridge, around the back of Alcatraz, nearing Angel Island, swinging parallel to the Golden Gate and heading back to meander homeward along the city’s edge. Picnicking in the sunshine and taking advantage of spectacular photo ops. I had one scary moment on the turnaround; it’s been a long time since I last sailed. Almost home we were stopped by the bay patrol and told not to sail back below the bridge for 10 minutes or so. Once we were cleared they explained to boats waiting on either side that Vice President Biden had been driving across the bridge. All in all it was a glorious day. In looking back, though, it’s hard to miss the basic messages:

1) Let the kids explore the universe, but keep the life jackets on.

2) White caps and turbulence make things interesting, and are seldom fatal.

3) The vessel with more power is supposed to get out of the way.

4) You can circle around someone who’s sinking, but he has to grab the lifeline himself.

5) On the other hand, when the sinker is you, be grateful for those circling around.

6) When you think the world’s going to keel over, there is ballast that brings it back to steady.

7) Sometimes the vessel with more power claims the right-of-way. Chill.

8) Wear sunscreen, and bring extra layers.

9) Don’t miss the scenery while you’re looking at your camera phone.

10) Life’s a breeze.

 

Sailboat behind Alcatraz

 

 

When Fences Come Down

Fence.Mtn Lake

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” wrote Robert Frost, and I think he was onto a larger truth. Of course, Frost – in his “Mending Wall” – was talking about rocks and neighbors, and the poem leaves us with ambivalence about the goodness of fences.

Fences and walls may, at times, make good neighbors – but the big ones tend to be symbols of enmity (think Berlin, Israel, Arizona…) and we just want them down.

A few months ago a high, dark fence went up around lovely Mountain Lake, in the San Francisco park that is one of my favorite spots on the planet. It’s a city park, but the lake (fortunately for us all) is part of the Presidio National Park and has been undergoing an extraordinary restoration for the past few years. It may not yet be back to the purity that made its water just fine for Spanish settlers (and probably the Ohlone and Coast Miwok indigenous people before them) to drink, but years of accumulated glunk, trash and sludge have been hauled away and the lake’s return to life has been a rare joy to watch.

The problem? Although the waters began to clear and native greenery emerged, a proliferation of non-native fish were quashing any hope of bringing back the fish who once belonged. We’re not talking just a couple of ordinary intruders. It was possible to stand on the beach near the murky water’s edge and watch goldfish the size of ahi tuna swimming casually back and forth. With native fish and turtles long displaced by casually dumped household pets, the lake was overrun with carp, bullfrogs – somebody reported a sturgeon – and who knows what else. This writer remembers the brief residence of an alligator, who famously evaded a gator hunter imported from Florida but was eventually removed to the local zoo.

Presidio Trust personnel tried snagging, netting and every known removal method before conceding that the only solution would be to poison the lake. They chose plant-based Rotenone, which kills everything with gills (and happily not much without) and disappears within three days. Thus the fence went up – presumably it was still not a good idea for gill-free people to be wandering near the water. Almost the moment the solution was poured into the four-acre lake, the alien fish died. They were scooped up by the thousands to be studied by ecologists (who reluctantly went along with the project) to determine their origin and soon composted as a final act of goodness. But the fence, for assorted reasons, did not come down.

Sign.Mtn Lake

And over the long weeks that followed it was as if the park itself was inhabited by an alien being. Children still played on the adjacent swings and slides, dog walkers still tossed tennis balls, this writer still exercised on the bars of the fitness trail – but the now-sparkling lake was hidden behind its foreboding shield. Even when the gulls could be heard returning beyond the black screen, and actually seen if you peered through the mesh, the park felt bifurcated and somehow forlorn. Thanksgiving came and went, Christmas was less merry, the New Year not yet happy.

A few days ago, the fence came down. Mountain Lake, the shimmering heart of Mountain Lake Park reappeared, putting on a show of new life. A few familiar ducks may never have left; now they have been joined by coots and grebes and a spiffy ruddy duck who is apparently courting two slightly less flashy lady ruddy ducks. Western pond turtles, chorus frogs and native fish will begin to return in the spring.

Lake.Mtn Lake

The metaphors are abundant: fences come down, sunlight spreads from reflected waters, varied creatures happily coexist, romance blooms.

 

Where is Robert Frost when we need him?

 

 

 

 

Spain wins World Cup, but not TV; Soccer from a soccer mom view

pivot soccer

Image via Wikipedia

Would soccer catch on in the U.S if our TV screens were bigger? Maybe so, but I still doubt it. Twenty-two — until you start tossing them out for misbehavior  — guys kicking a tiny ball up and down a field at warp speed without even the excitement of racking up a goal in regulation so you can stop and catch your breath, or a commercial break so you can go to the bathroom, I’m just not sure soccer will ever make it in America. Of course, your TV screen is probably bigger than ours, which is OK. On the giant screens at bars and coffee shops all along San Francisco’s Fillmore Street Sunday there was an awful lot of hoopla. There may have been some business for the restaurant owners, but it looked like a great deal more hooping and hollering than drinking.

It is safe to say that this space has been into soccer longer than any other T/S space. Dating, actually, from the day that #1 son came home from hanging out at some local playground circa 1968, and we said, “You’ve been doing what? A round, black-&-white ball you just kick? Soccer moms had not yet been invented, but this one was, at that moment. Three kids, a combined total of about 36 years at a minimum of 2 or 3 games per week; you do the math. The in-house soccer dad coached so many of them that he and his co-coach had to coach the local high school coach, who had never heard of soccer until then either. But our scruffy, inner city team beat the hoity-toity suburban high school for the state title in 1970-something (it’s all a blur) so it was certainly worth it.

Pro soccer, though, that’s another whole deal. By now every kid in the U.S. has kicked around a soccer ball, half of them are addicts, and still they grow up to be non-fans. Go figure. I think it boils down to the screen size, the warp speed and the lack of bathroom commercial time.

And it’s too bad. The primary emotion I recall from about a century-worth of soccer-game watching was empathy: everybody felt sorry for the goalie’s mom. Didn’t matter if your team scored the goal, you still felt sorry for the goalie’s mom.

The world needs a little more empathy. Meanwhile this space has to quit typing and send condolences to our good friends in Amsterdam.

Running for fun & medals: it's been (and still is) a long, good race

Sunset Runner

Image by joshjanssen via Flickr

We’ve come a long way since Chariots of Fire, as Denver runners, coaches and serious peak-performance guys Jon Sinclair and Kent Oglesby point out in a report for Coloradoan.com.
Their column was inspired, in part, by the FireKracker 5K which was part of the weekend festivities in Ft. Collins. As commonplace as it now is to see joggers and runners on the trails, in the parks and (sometimes noisily, I regret to say) on the urban sidewalks just below your bedroom window at 6 AM, it was not always thus.

Everyone stand up. All of you that began running after 1976 can sit down. Those that still are standing can smirk proudly at those sitting.

I’m (Jon) sure there aren’t many of you standing. For us “pre-boomers,” or pbers, the current state of running is amazing and we should all feel happy about it.

Pbers, remember when there wasn’t such a thing as a running store? We bought our running shoes at the sporting goods store, which usually was manned by some guy named Al or Bill and the selection consisted of two to three different shoes. The guy selling those shoes was (absolutely, definitely) not a runner and knew nothing about the sport but made some money off of the local high school kids who ran track.

Not only were the shoes different (and under $50), Sinclair and Oglesby point out, but the timers and timing devices were different, the attitudes (sneers from onlookers, not runners) were different and the races were few.

In the early 70s, the entire yearly road racing schedule for the Denver area could be easily printed on an 8.5-by-11 piece of paper. Really, all of it. In summer, there might be two or three races per month. That’s why to a pber, any race older than 30 years, should be treated with great respect. Pre-boomer races weren’t certified and most were measured with some guy’s old pickup … accurate to within 400m. Oh, and no meters or kilometers back then either; we used good old miles. Races in Denver might attract more than 100 runners, but a field like that was out of control big.

But about this “pre-boomer” business. This runner/writer was delighted to discover the designation. There is even a pber who blogs regularly on pbers. And all this time I thought we were just Children of the Depression, or, in a word, Geezers.

By whatever term, some of us who were running before 1976 had experiences that are a little hard to imagine today. Especially the distaff side of the aisle — we were few and far between for some time there.  Once, following a neighborhood 10k in Atlanta, I hung out watching the awards ceremonies. I was still in the high school PTA mode, feeling myself both fit and acceptably chic. “Oldest Male Finisher” was called to the front for his plaque, a balding, gray-haired gent on rather wobbly, spindly legs. We clapped loudly. Then they called out the “Oldest Female Finisher” plaque and — you guessed it — my name. Last year I paired it with my lady geezer award from the Rabun Ramble 5k, about the same time I decided a brisk walk beats running these days. The Rabun Ramble people (OK, my daughter Sandy started this nifty Lake Rabun, Georgia charity event) wised up after a few years of too many medals, too little time. My award is a generic medal on a blue ribbon proclaiming Best in Class. I’ll take it. Some things never change: runners are pushovers for prizes.

Sport of running has traveled a long distance since the ’70s | coloradoan.com | The Coloradoan.

Re eGadgets: will eReaders replace books?

In all the current talk about new eGadgets and their impact, the eBook has pretty much escaped condemnation — except for the dwindling population still committed to the printed page. And some of us hold-outs are beginning to waver.

Two old friends, Peter and Martha Klopfer, arrived from North Carolina yesterday with 60 or 70 books to get them through 10 days on the west coast. Peter, who is a Duke Professor Emeritus of biology,  and Martha, who is a thinker, runner, endurance rider and generally literate person, are prone to go off into the jungles of Madagascar or trekking in the Jordanian desert or climbing Machu Pichu. On these sorts of trips 30 or 40 books in their old-fashioned form are difficult to manage.

Enter the justifiable eReader.

There are by now enough eReaders to fill an old-fashioned 8 1/2 x 11″ piece of paper in 10-point Times Roman type. There’s the pioneering Kindle and the Kobo and the Nook and the Sony and of course the loudly heralded iPad, and there are probably a dozen others poised to debut.

But would you cuddle up with an eReader, asks Cynthia Ramnarace in an AARP Magazine blog?

Absorbing the written word isn’t what it once was. Whether you’re a new convert to e-reading or a die-hard fan of bound pages, you can’t ignore the evolution of reading. News reported by websites, e-mail and text messages is strangling printed newspapers. E-mail has replaced handwritten notes. And entire books can now be read on hand-held computers with a mere 6-inch screen.

The issue Ramnarace and others are debating is all about the reading experience. Can you be transported to another realm, as has always been true with paperbacks devoured on secluded beaches or under old trees in back yards — or under the covers with a flashlight for that matter, by a bunch of words on an eScreen? Maybe. But hard core print-book people think not.

“When books become computerized, you lose that contact with the maker,” says Cindy Bowden, director of the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. “When you pick up a book, you notice the feel, the touch, the way the ink bleeds into the paper.”

If anybody thinks the paperback or its big brother hard cover will ultimately defeat the eBook onslaught, however, it is probably wise to think again. The copies you can buy in a bookstore that can’t also be bought in an eForm are getting fewer and farther between every day.

Not all books are available as e-books, but many are. Of the two industry leaders, Kindle boasts a library of 285,000 books, most for $9.99 each. The Sony Reader provides free access to 500,000 books in the public domain, including classics like Jane Austen and William Shakespeare; the Kama Sutra and the Bible; and contemporary works like Sue Grafton and Dennis Lahane, even “The DaVinci Code.” Another 100,000 are available for purchase from the Sony eBook Store.

Over time, e-readers could prove more economical than traditional books. For the price of buying 26 new hardcover books, one could also purchase the same number of e-books, plus the Kindle itself. And the devices allow readers to sample the first chapter of any book for free before purchase. Digitizing words could help elevate the medium, and in turn, boost a struggling publishing industry.

Peter and Martha are en route to the 40th annual Ride & Tie championship in Trout Lake, WA, where there is great beauty but not library and where they will celebrate their 55th anniversary in a manner somewhat more strenuous than most post-50th observances. After the race, there will be eReading.

Can You Love an Electronic Reader as Much as a Book? The Debate Is On – AARP Bulletin Today.