Monday, May 28, 2012

Sensitivity, A Man like Me...

I feel like the man who is robbed once and is hypervigilant from then on about robberies wherever they happen.  As I write tonight, I see LeBron in his best Steve Urkel postgame uniform.  The ESPN anchor points to his partner Scott Van Pelt, saying, "Scott, you've got the height and the glasses to play LeBron."
Scott responds, "No way, man.  My Achilles would rip and I'm skinny fat."
Everywhere I go, I'm sensitive like Ralph Tresvant, as it seems to always hit my ears that someone has ruptured or partially torn his Achilles-Ryan Howard, Lee Suggs, Sir Chauncey Billups...
Has the incidence of these injuries spiked greatly, or is it just that my antennae is up?

It's Just like Chicken Pox

"How's the leg?" is the question from caring friends and family members (and acquaintances who are co-passengers in elevators--you know how awkward those rides can be). 
My answer varies from "Good," to "Getting better," to "Not bad."  Why the variation?  Because I am in a kind of awkward time where I am not yet healed but definitely not struggling down stairs or carefully negotiating street curbs as before.  Brittney Spears could write (lipsynch) a great song about me.
My running has reached an apex of 20 minutes and has hovered around the 17-20 minute mark for two weeks now.  The plan is to ramp it up to 22, 25 minutes in the next week.  I might even run a 5K in five days.
Then What?
My physical therapist, who I haven't seen in two-plus months, even gave me the thumbs-up to do sprints, tennis, basketball when you feel like it.
Do feel like it?  YEAH.  Yeah.  Yeah, I think. 
With the Master Plan being a full return to fairly-frequent (yes, purposely vague) tennis and basketball-playing, I wonder about the next, ahem, step.
Jump rope?  It'll be a pretty soft landing.
Tennis rallying while jogging to balls?  I'll need a patient partner.
Shooting around?  Can someone shag for me like I'm Jesus Shuttlesworth and his impeccable elbow-positioning before a game?
Half-speed game until I find a groove?  In the words of Tom Jackson: "C'mon, man!"
Who ever heard of half-speed games? 
As for the voice in my head that has been planted by my friend who insists that I hang up the basketball shoes lest I suffer another dehabiliting injury...
I tell myself, and anyone who deigns to ask, that my injury was like chicken pox.  C'mon, man, they only happen once.
Famous last words?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

No, not Me!

We drive our cars way too fast. We tell ourselves that we can take that turn at 60 mph. That we can drink that much. Eat that much sugar, that much fat. That we can smoke that much.

We tell ourselves that one more day spent at the beach with the purposeful intent of burning one's skin will not give us skin cancer.

Ernest Hemingway, in a masterpiece among masterpieces, wrote a short, short story called "Indian Camp" in which the main character, young Nick Adams, a central figure in many of Hemingway's short stories, determines that he will never die. Nick has earlier accompanied his father, a country doctor to a remote American Indian camp, where a young woman struggles to give birth. The woman's husband, temporarily crippled by an axe injury, sits in a nearby bunk in emotional agony as his wife goes through physical agony. As Nick watches and listens, his father performs an improvised Caesaerean section, using a jackknife and Nick as his assistant. The new father, strangely quiet for the last part of the Caesarean, is soon found to have sliced his throat with a razor--Nick's father speculates that he killed himself because his wife's pain was too much for him to take.

One reason why this story speaks to me is that Nick, in trying to comprehend one of life's greatest mysteries, fools himself like we do. He asks his father the unknowable--Why did the man commit suicide? Do men often commit suicide?--and twists the answers into the answer he wanted: the way to avoid death was to avoid it, to make a concerted effort not to believe that death will one day get you.

The more you say something, the truer it becomes, right?

Nick Adams sees his life stretching ahead interminably, his childhood but a wisp in the unfolding life story. We have this same selective blindness as Nick every time we eat that extra couple of donuts, drink to excess, smoke that cigarette (even the tobacco industry tells us that we are ingesting tar and other potentially-deadly materials!), or bathe in the sun with the intention of singing our skin.

I was always taught (and I always teach in my classes) that actions speak louder than words, and when it comes to mortality, our actions shout. While we pay lip service to our fragility, to the impermenance of this life, our actions are often right in line with the final line of Hemingway's short story, a description of Nick's thoughts: "...he felt certain that he would never die."

Saturday, May 19, 2012


The white flag is raised when the fanny pack seat belt is clicked.  The flip flops are bad enough, but then they eventualy morph into Birkenstocks, with or without socks, and often show off a terrible sock tan.  The outright surrender continues with the butt huggers that would make Daisy Duke proud.  If pants are worn, they are clearly high waters with a tucked-in shirt.
Nothing, says Kanye West, makes a bad hip like a fanny pack.
A recent trip to a school festival led me to come into contact with many members of this species; that is, The Man Who Doesn't Care Anymore.  It is to me a sign of capitulation when the belly falls over the belt, the sneakers become a shoe or sandal without laces and with velcro, and when style gives in to substance.
Maturity, maybe?  A maturity that leads one to eschew the trappings of narcissism? 
Perhaps.  But maybe these men should not be seen as ome sort of heroes of Zen simplicity.  As I see the man in a faded yellow tank top and crusty purple sweatpants approach, my gaze fixes on the vanilla ice cream sundae in his hand, cherries, caramel sauce, and crushed Oreo cookies. 
Sometimes, I think, surrender is pretty sweet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Into the Gray

In my dad's wedding photo-he was 25, almost 26, at the time-it had started to creep.  The gray hairs, while not prominent, stand out enough that they are visible to the trained eye, even interspersed in dirty-blond hair and in a yellowed, grainy photo. 
While not a curse (many men pull off the salt or salt-and-pepper look: we all know a few), the dawning of the gray hair is a harbinger of the adult puberty that turns temples, eyebrows, and long goatee hairs gray.  It's the Batsign that lets the world know it is soon (or not so soon) to see a more even ratio of nose/ear hair to head hair, crow lines to tan lines. 
My older sister, four years older than me, noticed the increase in gray the other day, and with a slightly-lowered voice, asked me, "When are you gonna start getting it dyed?  It's a family thing-we start to go gray around 30, 31."
Her observation, although not proven through a double-blind study, seems to be true enough, as pictures of her in her early 30s show a wisp of gray in her raven hair.
"Mr. Flaco," Jenni says today in class, not having seen me for about a week, "Did you dye your hair?"
Silence as my internal voice registers 8.0 on the Richter Scale..."Dang, those gray hairs I saw in the mirror today, the ones that seem to have sprouted overnight-they're that noticeable?"
"Yeah," Jenni says, "It looks darker."
Crisis averted.
For a few days, at least...