Tag Archives: navel-gazing

This Orange Headband Is My Orange Headband, or Relfections in a Muddy Eye

Tough-Mudder-2013-race-bib-No.-66304-writing

Some poor guy died. Hey, check out my awesome photos from the race!

I’ve waited a few days to write about my experience running the Tough Mudder last Saturday, both because I’ve had a busy week and because I didn’t — don’t — know how to address the fact that someone, a guy substantially younger than me named Avishek Sengupta, drowned during the event. Obviously, that’s a tragedy. I hope his family and friends will find some respite from their grief.

My teammates and I were all Mudder first-timers who regarded the race with intimidation and did our best to prepare for it. We joked with one another about signing the mandatory participant waiver, cheekily referred to as the DEATH WAIVER on the Tough Mudder website. But you don’t think much of it. Walk into any gym and they’ll probably make you sign something before they let you near a treadmill. And anyway you’re more likely to buy it in a car accident on your way to the race than you are while participating in it. Aren’t you?

The arduousness of the race is the Tough Mudder’s main selling point. It’s the Fight Club scenario. There are a lot white-collar shlubs like me, people of some means and privilege (I paid $161 to register) who sit staring at computers all day but would like to think of ourselves as physically hardy. Crossing a Tough Mudder finish line earns you bragging rights, plus a sporty orange headband and a free beer. (“You look like the bad guy in an 80s movie set at a ski resort,” my friend Liz told me when I showed up for a drinking session the day after the race in my hard-won headband. I regret nothing.) Continue reading

“It’s not an S. On my world, it means hope.”

Muddy BuddiesThis photo is from August 15, 2004. My race-partner Steph — HI, STEPH! — and I are competing in the Muddy Buddy running/biking relay race in San Dimas, CA, home of Bill & Ted.

I dug it up because at this time tomorrow I’ll be — I hope — more than halfway through the Tough Mudder, a 10-12 mile military-style obstacle course designed to be a physical and mental trial for all comers, no matter how fit and/or nuts they are. The Muddy Buddy is not all that similar: It’s only half as long as the Tough Mudder, and you’re not made to swim in icy water (they refresh the ice frequently to prevent the water from reaching a comfortable temperature) or run through a lattice of 10,000-volt live wires. (I’m not exaggerating. You can read about the Tough Mudder obstacles here.) But of the races I’ve done, mostly 10ks and 10-milers and half-marathons, it’s the one that most resembles the Mudder.

I’m starting to get nervous.
Continue reading

Looted

It’s nice to be liked, but it’s better by far to get paid.

— Liz Phair, “Shitloads of Money”

‘Tis better to give than to receive, goes the bromide. But gift-giving occasions are often stressful for me because I really, really want to pick something good; something that shows the recipient of the gift how much I understand them and respect their taste (secondary objective) and also, if I’m being honest, that they will forevermore remember came from me (PRIMARY objective).

I never give someone a book to keep without inscribing it, for example. I take something the author of the book spent months or years on, then spend maybe 10 minutes thinking of something to write in the flyleaf and sign my name to it. Admittedly, this sounds kind of obnoxious. I used to find the notion of wedding registries and requested gifts kind of gross, but maybe they take that narcissistic element out of gift-giving. Then again, if I really want to to give someone a present, as opposed to feeling obligated to, is it really so terrible if I want that gift to serve as a symbol for our relationship?

Anyway. I had a birthday earlier this month. While I’m way past the point of feeling delighted about packing on another treetrunk-ring, I was moved by the gifts I received, particularly from people I’ve only met in the last few years. They seem to understand me! And respect my taste!

These presents shall forevermore remind me of them. Continue reading

Mars on Earth

So I lucked into an advance copy of Stiff author Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. Set for publication in August, the book shows us the cosmic lengths to which space agencies must go to replicate off-world conditions here on Earth for the purposes of testing their equipment — and more to the point, the puny, hungry, fragile humans who rely on it to survive in a place nature clearly never meant for us to reach.

I haven’t read any of Roach’s prior books, but it took her about a sentence and a half to seduce me with the humor and sense of wonder she brings to her uncluttered reportage of complex scientific stuff. One chapter talks about an experiment called Mars-500 wherein Moscow’s Institute for Medical and Biological Problems locked would-be astronauts in a mockup spacecraft together for 500 days, the span of time required, using current technology, for a manned ship to journey to the Red Planet and back.

The test subjects faced simulations of the various emergencies they might have to cope with on a real Mars mission, but the primary purpose of the experiment was examine the psychological effects of so long an isolation. An similar experiment the IMBP hosted in 1999-2000, using an eight-member, coed, multinational crew, ended early. There was unwanted French-kissing and, in a separate incident, writes Roach, “a fistfight that left the walls spattered with blood.” Continue reading

Unreal estate. Mortgage-backed insecurities. And so on.

Looks a bit like a headstone, doesn't it?

I spent a couple of hours last week on the phone with two money lenders, one in California and one in Michigan. I’ve known I would eventually need to refinance the mortgage on my one-bedroom condo since I first got my mortgage. This, everyone assured me at the time, would be no big deal.

I’ve been putting it off, at my own expense, obviously, because I find this nexus of subjects — real estate, money, permanence — at once tedious and unfathomable and kind of morbid. I know people who spent years boning up on this stuff before buying a residence, or, you know, diving into the market — mature, financially responsible adults who pay attention to interest rates and property values the way I pay attention to what bands are coming to town. For them home-buying is a long-term, consuming occupation, the way planning a wedding is for other people. (Well, a lot of the same people, probably.) While mastering some 101-level finance is surely due diligence for the biggest monetary commitment most folks of my socioeconomic pedigree ever make, it never interested me. Yes, I do know. And I’m sorry. The brain wants what the brain wants. Continue reading

60 Miles to Studio City

What’s with the photos? Well, My City Paper review of the Belfast-set Kenneth Branagh play Public Enemy ran yesterday. It’s a confused and often confusing show, a very uneasy meld of character study and political parable. While writing about it I thought back to when I visited Belfast in May 2007.

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These political murals fascinated me. They were not subtle. The painting was often crude, the messages cruder. They were heartfelt as a heart attack, and they were everywhere. Continue reading

I’m with Coco, Too: This Time It’s Horribly Personal

Well, that’s that. Nothing important has happened in the world, but Conan and NBC have reached détente. Tonight’s Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien will be the last. Conan is walking away with more than $30 million in eff-you dollars, and NBC will pony up another $12 million in severance pay for his staff, said to number around 200 people. ($60k per if everyone gets an equal share.) A non-disparagement clause will bind Conan from talking any more smack about his soon-to-be-former employer, at least for a few months. Fear not, the rest of the world will pick up the slack, I’m sure. Best of all, he’ll be free to return to TV as soon as September 1st.

So far, so good-as-could-have-been-expected. But all wars claim casualties. I don’t just mean Conan’s lifelong dream. He understands now that the Tonight Show he coveted and the network that put it on haven’t existed for eons. Since he wrote that brilliant “People of Earth” letter last week rejecting NBC’s plan to put him behind Leno yet again, he’s been hotter than ever. While he clearly never would have chosen to have it go down this way, this whole saga has helped him shake off the mantle of history that seemed to hold him back at 11:35. We should all be the beneficiaries of such profound kicks in the creative pants — and be so richly paid to have them. Continue reading