Typing Away

I’ve been meaning to update here for about a week and a half, but something seems to always be getting in the way. So by the time I finally sit down and start typing, well, it all seems like old news. The “it’s a small small world” post-running brunch from last Saturday, or the former-AIDS-Marathon-staffers BBQ on Sunday just don’t seem to have the same punch in committing them to… well, I almost wrote “paper” but of course that’s not what it is at all. But you get the idea.

Strangely I have actually been writing this past week or so. I’ve been trying to get the fiction-writing part of my brain to de-rust and start moving forward again. Not too much just yet, but it’s been a start; a touch over 5000 words for an old club that I originally belonged to back in the early ’90s. So even though the short (very short) stories are only being seen by them (and what a good group of people they are, I might add), it’s a start. It actually feels funny to move that part of the imagination again after so many years of disuse, with the time being spent writing critical reviews and essays. (To say nothing of stuff for work.)

Oh, and the other reason for not writing much is that my home has been going through its regular cycle of clean-to-cluttered-to-clean. Right now it’s in a downswing and when that happens, it’s hard to sit down and do relaxing things because the place is a disaster. Unfortunately the downswing usually happens when things are crazy crazy crazy. The other half of my two-person department at work has been out of the country for a week and a half (plus a week last month) and he still has another week to go. I’ll be happy when he’s back and I have even a tiny bit more free time at home so that I can really deal with the disaster zone that is my home.

(Alas, it’s not this weekend that things get to be taken care of though. Fortunately it’s for a happy reason, heading out of town Saturday and Sunday to see two friends get married. It’ll be really nice.)

I won’t lie and say, “I’m going to update more now!” but I will say, “I will try to update more.” That’s all I can hope for on some sort of level.

P.S. Saturn Apartments is so far just as good as I thought it would be.

150 Words

About a month ago, I got a note from Simon Forward about a contest that the online e-zine Concept Sci-fi was holding, involving stories of exactly 150 words. (No more, no less; no, the title does not add to the word count.) If I remember correctly, the editorial staff of Concept Sci-fi would whittle down the entries to a shortlist, and then award-winning author (and super-nice guy in general) Walter Jon Williams would select the entry.

With about 24 hours until the deadline, I none the less sent in two submissions; one was a brand-new idea (“Instant Future”), the other was an unpublished writing exercise that I’d done a year ago (“Renewal”), but needed to be whittled down to even less words than it already was. (The original version was 289 words, meaning I had to hack out almost half of it. And I’d already thought it was brief!)

If you’ve never tried to write an entire story in 150 words, trust me, it is not terribly easy. My first short story sales back in the day were for an anthology of 750-word stories, and that now seems like a piece of cake in comparison. There’s very little room for filler of any sort. As it is, while I thought “Renewal” still worked in its new length, “Instant Future” is actually begging to be a lot longer.

Well, the decisions are in, and much to my surprise… “Renewal” actually won the entire thing.

What a nice surprise to start the morning. (And to think, I was even just staring at the library in Arlington Courthouse a few hours ago.) And a good way to start my plans of tackling fiction again, to boot. Yay!

Breathe Deeply

It’s a beautiful day as I sit in my car, waiting for the light to change so I can pull onto the George Washington Parkway. When I put down the windows is when I can suddenly smell it; the real scents of spring.

It’s mostly the Potomac River that I’m about to drive by that’s wafting into the car. It smells of green, and sediment, and strangely (and impossibly) of the ocean. Breathing deeply, as I slowly pull onto the road itself, I have to resist the urge to close my eyes for even a second to really savor its aroma. On the river itself, near Key Bridge, I can see scores of crew teams rowing their boats in perfect, even strokes. The sun is shining off of the shirtless men’s backs as they lean in unison, perfection from where I’m driving.

I finally stop the car on an overlook and gaze down for a minute, taking in the sights. My favorite e.e. cummings poem keeps leaping to mind, with one verse in particular. “i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth.” And that’s what it really feels like. After the grey skies and damp chills of yesterday morning, the world has come to life all around me this morning.

I gaze down on the fishing boats that have populated the portion of the river I’m now looking at, and I’m envious of the chance to truly enjoy the beauty of this morning. Instead I settle for rolling the windows down further and breathing deeply as I can. It’s a beautiful day, and the start to a truly beautiful season.

Some mornings you truly understand what a true gift, a real blessing it is to be alive and around the rest of the world. Those are really the best mornings of all.

Smells Like Spring

The Other Time I Passed Out And Hit My Head

When I had my series of mortifying moments at the gym at the end of January (calf muscle problems leading to nausea leading to passing out leading to cracking my head on a wall leading to blood on the gym floor, for those who came in late), one thing I didn’t mention was that this was actually a faint echo of something that happened before. The same superficial moments were there, but a lot of the other parts are quite different.

It was February 1988, about halfway through my freshman year of high school. A bunch of good friends that I’d had from 4th through 8th grade had also gone to the same magnet school as I, and up until that day I still thought of them as being just that—good friends. Then I got sick and to coin a phrase, that’s when I really learned who my friends were and were not.

Because our school had people from all across the county attending, morning transportation involved everyone taking a bus or walking to their “base school” (the location that you’d normally attend if you weren’t accepted to Jefferson Tech) and then waiting for a shuttle bus that transported all of us Jefferson students to our actual school. When the weather was good, we’d wait out in front of the school, but winter meant that we’d wait in the main foyer. People would play cards, or talk, or catch up on homework. I remember that two of my best friends from earlier years, Will M. and Steve S., were both there. And that was when I went to school with a nasty cough that turned out to really be bronchitis.

Continue reading The Other Time I Passed Out And Hit My Head

Trying to Say Goodbye

Last night I’d written about half of an entry before deciding that the rest could wait until morning. It was about how for most of Monday I’d felt really energized about, bizarrely, some bad news. How somehow I’d found myself finding the good side of it, and being really excited and curious for what this would bring for me. I’d been flipping channels when I finally got home and landed on an episode of Six Feet Under, just in time for a line from Claire that summed up so much of what I’d felt that I’d rewound it (god bless the DVR) and wrote it down word for word.

This morning I stopped feeling so charitable about the world and its wonders, when I got word that my friend John McCalla had been found dead in his apartment.

I met John through AIDS Marathon. Both of us needed a roommate for the Florence leg of the trip, and the program reps matched us up. “You’ll really like him,” Beth had confided in me. “He’s a sweetie.” Before we went to Italy we’d met up at a marathon happy hour, and we ended up spending almost two hours talking to each other and ignoring everyone else that we’d wanted to see. By the end of the night I was almost giddy about spending more time with him; we’d both just clicked with each other in that way that happens too infrequently.

He’d just received a huge promotion at work and was crazy busy, but we traded e-mails and played phone tag a lot. In Florence, we spent a lot of our time together; sprawled out on our beds and talking, listening to his choices in music, wandering around Florence, or trying to drink each other under the table. He had a new boyfriend, and I’ll admit that I was a little sad to hear that because I’d developed a big crush on him, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel really happy for him. He and I were both sort of fumbling through life and trying to find relationships, and his happiness with having met Ed was infectious.

After the marathon we kept trading messages and swearing to get together soon, but something always seemed to get in the way. I’d teased him that I’d stolen my recent facial hair from him and because he was such a Six Feet Under fan that I was calling it the “Nate Fisher” even as I really was privately calling it the “John McCalla.” I hadn’t heard from him in a couple of days and when my friend Dave had asked last night about John, I’d said that he was probably on deadline again, but that we’d probably talk once that was over.

Now all I can think about is laughing together in a hotel bar, or trying each other’s food at Gorga (which had taken us and Amana forever to find but was absolutely worth it), or drunkenly collapsing into bed the night after the marathon with him passing out in mid-sentence. He’d been trying to quit smoking after his relapse in Florence, and swore that January 2nd would be his new start date. We’d promised to go running together, and soon. He was already talking about participating in another travel marathon, perhaps Honolulu. I wanted to hear how he was doing, to trade MP3s, to continue laughing over our horrible official marathon photos. He was smart, and witty, and fun to be around. He’d strike up conversations with cab drivers about what music they were listening to, and loved to travel. His smile always felt real and he always listened to whomever was talking.

We only met two and a half months ago and I miss him so much.

John McCalla

John McCalla on a scooter; Florence, Italy

The Worst and Best $8 I’ve Spent in a While

My friend Katie found out I was thinking about canceling my Gold’s Gym membership and switching over to the (much) less expensive Arlington County Rec Centers. “You need to come to spinning class with me,” she said. “This Wednesday is going to be the last one I can go to for a while because of work so you have to come.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe. Won’t it be busy because it’s the new year?”

“I’ll see you at 6:30,” she replied.


I headed over to the Thomas Jefferson Community Center after work this evening, wondering what I was getting myself in for. TJ is connected to a local school (unlike Arlington’s Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center, which I’d seen once before) so it’s a pretty low-scale affair; an indoor track, weight machines, free weights, a lot of cross-training machines, a stretching area, and some spaces for classes. It was that last place that was calling my name. I’d paid for a $5 guest pass and $3 for a single spinning class (there are discounts if you buy more), so this was it. I was committed.

Katie showed me how to put the seat and handles onto the stationary cycle; I’d put the handles on backwards, and then didn’t tighten the seat enough at first so that it promptly slid back down within about a minute of be sitting on it. This was why I finally decided to go tonight—not only because Katie might have beaten me up otherwise, but because I’d have someone to catch my stupid newbie mistakes in the act rather than after I managed to eject myself into the air halfway through the class.

I wasn’t the only new person either, happily. Two other people were also rank amateurs. I vowed to keep an eye on them, especially after instructor Theresa told me that if I needed to stop and sit down from time to time that was all right. I wasn’t folding if they weren’t.

At first it wasn’t too bad. We were 15 minutes in and I was pedaling away, trying to remember to keep my shoulders loose, push with my heels, and everything else that Theresa was telling us. Then Katie turned to me and said, “I hate you.”

“Huh?” I replied.

“You aren’t even breathing hard,” she said back.

Now, I had thought I was working pretty hard. But suddenly I had a flashback to speed training workouts back in 2005 with Rick W., who yelled at me as I ran past him, “If you’re laughing you aren’t running fast enough!” Well, clearly I wasn’t trying hard enough. So I started upping the tension. And then a little more. And then a bit more after that.

The next thing I knew, we were 25 minutes into the class and all I could think was the worrisome thought that surviving another 20 minutes might not be an option. And if I died, would I get a partial refund on my $8? Now sure, I could just turn the tension back down a bit and save myself. And it sounded good. But right then Theresa yelled out, “Sure, this could be easier but then what’s the point? Everyone would do this if it was easy!” And you know, she had a point.

So instead I gasped and grunted my way through the full 45 minute class. When it was over and we got off our bikes, Katie turned to me and said, “What did you think?”

“I ran 12 miles faster than I ever had before on Saturday,” I replied. “And this kicked my ass in comparison.”

Afterwards was perhaps the best part of the evening; stopping by Pio Pio on the way home and eating some Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken and rice. Mmmmmm. Provided my run tomorrow evening doesn’t involve me whimpering and limping a lot? I think I might just go back next week and see if Theresa will be even tougher on me if Katie’s not there to shield me. After all, half an hour into the class I saw Theresa walk around and increase the tension on some other people’s cycles. It could happen to me next time. I just don’t know if this scares or excites me.

I guess there’s one way to find out.

Three times makes tradition.

It seems I have a New Year’s Day ritual; brunch at the same restaurant, followed by going to a museum downtown. It didn’t even hit me until Karon mentioned this morning that I’d done the exact same thing three years in a row, but sure enough, it started in 2005 with brunch at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington and the Dream Worlds exhibit at the Sackler Gallery. 2006’s museum trip involved The Spirit of Ancient Columbian Gold and Nature’s Best Photography Awards at the Natural History Museum.

CoasterThis year, brunch involved irish sausages, rashers, eggs, black and white pudding, home fries, toast, and a cup of the potato leek soup. A hearty breakfast, certainly, or at least one in which my pulse will be racing for quite some time as I try and digest all of that cholesterol and fat. A pretty satisfying way to start the morning, though, and we were seated right next to the fireplace which was particularly comforting. It was a foggy, misty, vaguely raining sort of morning in the DC area and it’s hard to get a more comforting place than Four Courts in the morning.

Then it was time to head downtown and finally see the National Museum of the American Indian. It’s rather silly the more I think about it, but the museum opened in mid-2004 and I think every year I’ve vowed that I will finally go and see it. In 2006 I ran right by the museum some 20-odd times as part of marathon training, and each time I would cringe and think to myself, “Why haven’t I gone there yet?” (I do remember trying to go on January 1st, 2005, but the museum was only a couple of months old and there was a long line just to get in.)

So, finally, the journey was made. It’s an interesting museum, and I’d heard a lot over the past couple of years about both its pros and cons with the way that its contents are presented. It’s a peculiar building, with the first two floors being primarily a cafe and two different gift shops, for instance. As you continue to ascend its four stories, you begin to see a wide variety of exhibits; ones about how different tribes and nations view themselves, their history, and the world. Some of the areas were fascinating, others felt completely flat. It’s a real hodgepodge of material to be absorbed.

Raven Steals the Sun

There are some moments of real beauty there, like Preston Singletary’s Raven Steals the Sun sculpture, or some of the materials on display, such as a graceful flowing pattern of arrowheads that looked like rivers of stone. I’m still not sure how I felt about two of the areas where all of the items were displayed in a series of large glass cases (some with additional pull-drawers beneath them) and computer screens about five feet away that would give you information about each object. The wealth of information on the computers was impressive, and being able to zoom in on parts of the objects was clever, but it made me at the same time feel disconnected from what was on the computer screen versus what was in the case.

I’m glad I went, though. I’ve felt very silly to have not gone for so long. And, more importantly, I like having my New Year’s Day tradition. It’s a nice way to start both the day and the new year with a bit of grace, a bit of culture, a bit of comfort. It would be nice to be so fabulously wealthy that any day could involve this sort of life of leisure, but until then I’ll hang onto my annual date. I’ll certainly go to other museums over the course of the year and have nice, slowpoke mornings as well, but for some reason this combination just feels a little more special.

Happy New Year, one and all.

Why I Cannot Be Trusted

It’s a strange thing; last night while out at dinner I ran into an ex-roommate, best known for being a pathological liar and thief. And this afternoon, I discovered, the encounter had rubbed off on me just enough in that brief (yet too long) encounter.

I was at Crate & Barrel, playing the eternal game of, “Do I really need this?” The answer to that question is always no, of course, but it’s not to be confused with the “Do I really want this?” game where the answer is always yes. I’d finally put down all the items I didn’t really need and was down to a singular gift to purchase for someone else. And then I made a big mistake: I got in line based on how hot the cashiers were.

There are a lot of good looking people who work at Crate & Barrel, and I’m still not sure if it is or is not a job qualification. (Sort of like needing a large chest to work at Hooters.) Today’s winner was working the middle register in the check-out station near the main entrance; tall, blond, and his short-sleeved shirt revealed a pretty nice upper body. Enough of a winner that I figured even though there was only a one-in-three chance of him actually waiting on me, just watching him pack other people’s purchases was more than enough.

Apparently luck was on my side for once, and suddenly I was face-to-face with my idle fantasies. This was good, because now I knew his name was Jed (a nice strapping name), and he had that sort of smile that close-up would dazzle your senses. Which, apparently, was exactly what was about to happen.

“Is this a gift?” he asked, taking the intended-gift out of my hands.

“Oh no,” I smiled back. A second later I realized what I’d just said and wanted to kick myself, but Jed flashed another smile and by the time I regained my ability to speak, it was too late to backtrack and admit my bold-faced lie. Suddenly I understood how Ralphie couldn’t tell the truth around Santa Claus in A Christmas Story, because I was experiencing the same thing.

“This is really nice,” Jed said, ringing up the gift. “They’re great to have.”

I think I managed an, “Uh huh,” by way of response but I’m not entirely sure. I do know that his telling me how much was left on my gift card was one of the most interesting things I’d heard all day, and that I managed to actually leave without walking into someone else. And then, once outside and the cool air began to circulate to my brain, my bizarre lie began to bewilder me.

Why had I told him otherwise? Afraid to be looking non-single? Too adrift in fantasies of after-hour trips to the furniture department? Guys I like bring out the liar in me? Or am I just plain stupid? (I suspect it’s the last one, but that makes for a boring story. So bear with me.) If I was a character on a sitcom, this is how I’d end up with the wrong name attached to me, or perhaps he’d now think I was a neurosurgeon. At least in this case all I got wrong was the kind of receipt I was handed with my purchase. But really, if a good body and nice smile is all it takes for me to sell myself out (or perhaps everyone else around me!), it’s probably just as well I’ve never actually met one of the major objects of my fantasies, like Matt Damon. At absolute best, I don’t want to have to legally change my name in order to keep from ever admitting I’d told him the wrong one.

Then again, that’s a small price to pay for meeting Matt Damon. I think I could deal with that.

And hey, at least I didn’t end up shoplifting the gift. It’s nice to know not everything rubbed off on me last night.