Game Six

It was fun to be at a conference in north Texas last Friday and Saturday, when the Texas Rangers were involved in the last two games of the 2011 World Series.  That they were in the Series at all was a bit surprising; six or seven weeks ago most people thought that the Red Sox and Phillies would be playing in the Fall Classic.  But the Sox collapsed in September on an epic scale, and the Phillies discovered in the league playoffs that even a brilliant pitching staff can’t win with an inconsistent offense.

For the Rangers it was the second series in a row, and this time it looked like they’d win it.  The Cardinals seemed to be something of post-season impostors, with a ragged starting rotation and unorthodox use of their bullpen.  But in Tony LaRussa they had a world-class manager.  Texas had a potent offense and a pitching staff heralded by Washington Post baseball guru Tom Boswell as being unexpectedly brilliant, if slightly nervous.

My conference was the Community College Humanities Association semi-annual national conference, held in Fort Worth.  For those not familiar with the former Republic of Texas (Texans are still proud of their penchant for independence, as well as most other aspects of themselves), Fort Worth and Dallas form a kind of urban megaplex “where the West begins,” having sprawled over the prairie and into one another over the last 40 or 50 years.  Arlington, where the Rangers play, is between and just south of the two bigger places.  The whole region had been passionately involved in the Rangers’ fortunes this year, though any such passion pales in comparison to that felt for the Dallas Cowboys and a few assorted college football teams.

On Thursday, when the conference opened, we’d arisen at 5:30 to make our flight, driven to the airport, endured the Airport Experience, flown in tourist class for 2½ hours, hopped a shuttle to the Hilton, registered for our room and the conference, spent a pre-conference afternoon touring two fine art museums, and attended an opening reception.  We’d also lost an hour by crossing into the Central time zone, so when mid-evening arrived we were tired.  By the time game six of the Series was halfway through, I had become very sleepy.  As the middle of the seventh inning rolled around the Rangers were up 7-4, and the Cardinals’ line score read 4 runs, three hits, three errors.  Neither team had distinguished itself; the game lacked the display of skill and command that might be expected of league champions.  With a sappy, hyper-patriotic rendition of “God Bless America” replacing the simple virtues of the seventh-inning stretch, I decided I’d seen enough and went to sleep.

That proves what sort of prophet I am.  Lo and behold, in the morning I discovered that the Rangers were not World Champions just yet.  I checked around on the media and by word of mouth, and quite a story emerged.  Shortly after I went to sleep, as Boswell, later wrote, the game really began.  David Freese, Redbirds’ third sacker, more than made up for his comical dropped popup error by getting two season-saving hits, a game-tying two-out, two-strike, two-run triple in the 9th (a hit a slicker right fielder might have caught, or at least gotten a glove on) and a no-doubt clout of a game winning homer to deep center field in the 11th.  Between his two marvelous at bats each team had scored two runs in the 10th, the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton belting a two-run homer, and the Cards tying it on a ground-out RBI and a two-strike, two-out single by Lance Berkman.

As I absorbed this news an eerie feeling crept over me.  Wait a second here.  The AL visitors, up 3-2 in games, take the lead in the seventh, but the home team ties it late and it goes to extra innings.  Then the AL team scores two in the tenth, not one, but two, a safe margin for any team with a decent closer.  They have the NL squad down to its last strike multiple times, but they can’t hold the lead, and the delirious crowd roars as the home team ties the Series.  I have heard this story before.  I have lived this nightmare.  It’s 1986, the AL visitors are the Red Sox, the NL home team is the Mets.  It is the worst night of my sports-fan life.  I am shattered at the end, having waited for many of the 68 years (at that point) since the Sox previously won the Series.  My kids say I was angry.  I remember more feeling empty, hopeless, helpless, having seen victory so close, and watching it ebb away.  I remember thinking that the Sox had been given their chance and they bobbled it.  Yes, the Series was simply tied.  All was not lost.  But the profound inevitability was that they would not, could not, win the seventh game.  And they did not.  They led 3-0, but the final score was 5-8.

And so it was with the Rangers.  In the seventh game they had two runs across before the second out of the game was recorded.  But they did not score again.  In fact, they allowed the Cards to break open a one-run game in the fifth with two runs on no hits, walking three and plunking two, including one HBP RBI.  Such ignominy.  But the outcome proves again that when you’re within one strike of the World Series title, you’d better get that last one right then.  Texas Rangers fans were pretty quiet on Saturday morning at the conference.  To their credit, unlike the good citizens of Vancouver, BC, they did not try to burn down their own city in frustration.  I hope they will not have to wait until 2058 for a World Series victory.

The good news for us all–Cards fans, Rangers fans, and those of us with no dog in that hunt–is that pitchers and catchers report about February 20th.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Advertisements

Steep Hills and Wooly Bears

On Sunday I felt so good that I tackled Hunter Station Road again.  I’ve blogged about this climb before; it’s relatively short but quite steep, and a real challenge to my current level of muscular, respiratory, and cardiovascular condition.  I used to ride it all the time, but this year I’ve limited myself to three or four attempts.  One of them was that cool autumn day before yesterday, the kind of weather I love for cycling.  Cool enough to wear a thinner headband, to forget being drenched in sweat, to take care of hydration easily, to breathe drier air without gasping, to maintain a low core temperature naturally.  All I needed was a long sleeve jersey: no wool socks, no leggings, no underlayer, no insulated gloves, no skullcap.  Easy, simple, perfect.

I did take my Fuji, the bike that provides the lowest gear ratio of any, and I did end up using 28×24.  But I could have gone two more clicks to 28×32, so I had a margin of error.  As I approached the climb by roaring past the 15 mph speed limit sign at a cool 24 mph (downhill curve) I noticed that the road had been repaved during my two-month absence.  That was good news, both for the smoothness of the ride and the general principle that the patchy, bumpy, crumbling eroded surface that had developed on some key parts of the uphill was starting to make the ride slightly precarious.  But now it’s a smooth, calm, no-hazards ascent to the top, not exactly a “glide” but eminently manageable.

It was fun to be on the rest of the circuit back to the W&OD as well.  After a short run along Lawyer’s Road, I turn right onto Twin Branches for another swift downhill that carries me past Lake Audubon on the left (every “lake” in Virginia–save two–is man-made, quite a shock to this New England boy when I first moved here) and up another challenging but more manageable hill, then a right onto South Lakes Drive at a shopping center and another almost immediately onto Sunset Valley Drive.  Right there is one of the best, most sustained downhills I do (I hit 32 mph on my “slow bike” Sunday), and that carries me around a curve and slightly uphill again through a traffic light and back onto the Trail.  Sometimes making the left turn off the 4-lane divided road that is Sunset Valley is difficult–and it needs to be done with caution–but this time the coast was clear and I didn’t have to stop.

Smooth open road, good speed, what more could I want to finish off the climb?

Also on Sunday I noticed that the Wooly Bear caterpillars are out in force.  They’re the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth, a yellowish moth that I’ve never been aware of in its adult stage.  But the caterpillars are quite noticeable with their 13 segments of black and copper-red hairs (technically setae).  The copper segments are in the middle, and folk tradition has it that they predict the harshness of the coming winter weather, with the broader band anticipating less cold, the narrower bands more.  If this folklore is true, and ample experimental evidence suggests that it is not, we’re having a warm winter in 2011-12 because the red bands are very wide.

What I noticed this year is that these buggers are almost always crossing the Trail rather than traversing along it.  I wonder why.  Do they sense that the asphalt is uncomfortable and seek the quickest way off?  That answer attributes a degree of perception which I doubt they possess.  Are they seeking a more distant goal, and just going there as fast as they can?  Or are they crossing the trail for the same reason that the chicken crosses the road?  Science has yet to solve this profound mystery.  But I didn’t see any climbing Hunter Station Road.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Good Samaritan

When I rode over the ridge of the ramp from the street level of Lee Highway up onto the sidewalk-level W&OD trail heading west, I knew it was a serious bump.  You have to cross that intersection at a decent speed, and they didn’t finish off the cement joint between street and trail quite smoothly enough.  But I’ve been over it hundreds of times.  This time, though, there was a good sound “thump.”  And sure enough, a few yards down the trail I heard the unmistakable sound of tire rubber rolling along the asphalt without its nicely inflated cushioning balloon of inner tube behind it.  I had scheduled the installation of the new rear tire for today, but the old Bontrager Race Lite fell one day short.  It wasn’t stiff enough to absorb the impact, and the tube, inflated to 120 psi, had flatted from excessive compression.

Just about three and a half miles from home, and totally out of luck.  I’d removed the little saddlebag when I washed my bike last week, and had forgotten to replace it.  So even if the tiny carbon hand pump in my Camelbak worked well enough, I had no spare tube or tire levers with me.  I was doomed to walk my bike those miles home, since Jane was at a book group meeting.

I’d gone a mile or perhaps a bit more when a guy stopped to ask if I needed help.  I said no thanks, I was almost home.  But he insisted.  He was riding a red Cannondale tri-bike, with handlebars that curved around to form a loop for the time-trial like position.  His back wheel had black wind disks mounted.  He was a smallish guy, with good upper body build, strong but skinny legs, and no hips at all.  He was maybe 30, with bad teeth when he smiled.  He looked hispanic, and as it turned out, spoke little English.  He was sweating; he was serious.

But he stopped, and attacked my flat rear tire with the passion of a Tour de France mechanic during the race.  Using two tire jacks, he had one side of the Race Lite off the rim in no time.  He then ruthlessly stripped the flat tube out, inspected the tire, and laid the wheel assembly on the ground.  Taking a spare tube out of his saddlebag, he quickly inserted the valve stem in the wheel, screwed on the nut, and inserted the uninflated tube under the tire and around the perimeter of the rim.  He then pushed the tire back inside the rim, using nothing but his bare hands.  He was strong, steady, and skilled in all these movements.  Then he pulled a solid, small hand pump out of the front of his jersey (was he carrying it under the top section of his bib shorts?) and got the pressure up to a pretty hard level quite quickly.  He had the wheel back on the bike, and the cogs back on the chain, in no time.  He seemed to have done this many times before.

A quick word, a smile, a handshake and he was on his way.  I wished him well on his ride today, and all success in his next triathlon.  Buoyed and relieved by this great help, I stopped off at home, washed my hands, pumped the pressure back to 120 psi, and took off for Herndon, my intended destination where we were baby-sitting that evening.  All in all, I got in a ride of 31.5 miles, plus a couple of miles walking.

Thanks to the good Samaritan, an elite cyclist who was not too busy or too focused on his own conditioning ride to help a modest rider like me.  The gratitude I felt warmed me for the rest of the trip.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Calvin

We first met Calvin when he was cowering under a bed.  We were visiting him to see if he would be a good fit as a permanent member of our household.  He and his housemate Frankie needed a change of scene.  Their human companion Andrea, a friend of ours in the church choir, had developed an allergy to their dander.  One must say that this was probably more Frankie’s fault,

Calvin

Calvin in thought

as she is the queen of dander.  We loved them both, but were only up to adopting one cat.  We thought Frankie would be the better bet, because she was younger, only 4 years old to Calvin’s 6.  Andrea accepted that, but worried tearfully about Calvin’s adoptability as an older cat, and the fact that the shelters were full of pets because of the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003.  So we found a place for Calvin, sending our household pet, the calico Charlotte, to live with our son Matt, who was always Charlotte’s favorite, the one she’d snuggle up to.  When we went back to get Calvin and Frankie, Calvin had to be extricated from under the bed by hand.  A shy homebody, he struggled the entire way into the cat carrier.  And for the thirty-minute ride back to Vienna, he howled every second of the way.

One is tempted to say that Calvin lived one quiet life at our house, instead of the legendary nine exciting ones allocated to felines. More truthfully he had three, the prior two of which we knew nothing of.  Andrea said he and his litter-mate began life with her and her ex-husband.  That was one life.  When Andrea and her spouse split, she got Calvin and he got the litter-mate, Hobbes.  (The allusion here is to Bill Watterson’s edgy and highly amusing comic strip Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, which ran from 1985 to 1995.  It’s about a boy (Calvin) and his (stuffed animal) pet tiger (Hobbes).  It is to the current strip Red and Rover as Get Fuzzy is to Family Circus.  In other words, it was hip, offbeat, and insightful, not sentimental slop.)  So Calvin is indirectly named after the great Geneva Reformer, “Mr. Predestination.”  Andrea adopted his mate, Frankie, from a friend, and when she came along with him to our house, she was renamed “Isabel.”

Having howled all the way home, Calvin immediately went silent at our house.  He holed up in the master bathroom, picking Jane’s wash basin to reside in for several days.  It’s in a room with only one entrance and exit, it’s quiet, the sink is a snug depression, which he neatly filled.  Calvin was a big silver-gray cat resembling a British Shorthair.  He measured a full three feet from nose to tail tip.

Calvin snoozing with Isabel

The tail was a foot of that.  Sturdy and bulky without being fat, he probably weighed 13 to 15 pounds for most of his life.  Having warily checked out his new habitat, he ventured into the world of the house.  But unlike Isabel, who had a huge array of sounds amounting almost to a vocabulary, Calvin was silent, as if the yowling all the way home had permanently damaged his larynx.  He communicated by body language instead, most notably by sidling up to you and deliberately collapsing sideways onto your seated or recumbent form.  He stared meaningfully.  In the kitchen he did a funny cross-legged, sideways walk when he wanted a treat.  He purred deeply and loudly. He seemed to actually grin by curling his upper lip and baring his long incisor tooth.  He could and would nip and even bite you when suddenly panicked.  You always knew what Calvin meant.

Calvin made his own fun.  He never did a lot of playing with cat toys, though a wand with a dangling feather-and-bell contraption could get him going now and then.  He’d be up for chasing a leather bootstring for maybe 45 seconds to 90 seconds at a time.  But he preferred his own sporadic mad dashes through the upstairs rooms–we could hear his feet pounding down the upstairs corridor.  Calvin liked catnip, but didn’t act silly like a lot of cats do.  He ate it, spread it all over the floor, and lay down to doze it off.  He adopted a soft magenta star meant as a Christmas tree ornament, and would both bat it around and walk around with it in his mouth like a parent with a kitten.  Once he re-learned to meow, he’d make proud, insistent yowling sounds when he was walking around with it.  His favorites, though, were the ornaments on the Christmas tree.  Our tree has ornaments of all sorts, and a number of them are soft stuffed figurines of kittens, rabbits, and other Beatrix-Potter-like animals.  When the tree was up and decorated every year, Calvin regarded it as his own private Pet Toy Tree.  His favorite thing to do was to pull low-hanging soft ornaments off the tree one at a time and put them in or near his water dish.  Many an advent morning we had to hang an ornament out to dry.  And Calvin liked to play with Isabel, on occasion.  One or the other would come around and goad the sleeping, lazy one, licking their face, their ears, their head.  Calvin was usually the recipient.  Though the interaction began in apparent affection, the real intent was always a rough-and-tumble sparring match, followed by a mad pursuit around the house.  If one of the couple was just too lazy, the pursuit might be curtailed after five feet or so.

Calving also liked quiet pleasures.  He would sit at the front door for long periods of time looking out the glass storm door.  He’d lie in the sun.  He spent his evenings where we were, in the study or in front of the TV in the family room, preferring to be in our laps for maybe 15 minutes before moving to the floor or the ottoman in the study.  He was especially tuned to the chair in the study, and to Jane, whose lap was usually in it.  He liked her lap best, and would tolerate being held like a baby and having his belly rubbed.  He also liked to help us when we were on the computer.  Especially he liked Jane’s computer, because she put a towel on the desk for him to lie on.  Of course, he’d rather have been walking back and forth in front of the screen, but he accepted some degree of training, and would settle down quite well.

Morning was Calvin’s favorite time of day, when the rituals he cared about were performed.  He sometimes went to bed with us, but was nervous about lying down between us.  After some socializing, he’d retreat under the bed.  He’d often await dawn impatiently in the master bathroom, where he enjoyed drinking the tap water as it flowed.  When he got bored he’d knock a drinking glass or anything else he could find into the wash basins.  Fearing breakage, we finally banished him from the bathroom by keeping the door shut.  He’d meow, and occasionally get on the bed, to remind us that, in his opinion, we ought to be out of bed and up.  Then the race began.  When we were set to go downstairs he would go bounding down ahead of us, stopping at the foot to “scratch” the bottom stair a few quick times with his clawless front feet.  Then it was on through the family room or the living room/dining room to the kitchen at breakneck speed, to make sure he was there first for his wet-food breakfast.  He’d get very intense and impatient if whoever was down there first dared to make coffee or take care of other matters before he was fed.  When the two bowls of wet food were down and his water replaced (he was quite fussy about fresh water) he’d dig into one, then switch with Isabel just to make sure he wasn’t missing anything.  Satisfied, he’d saunter out to the front door to take in the morning scene.  But he returned to those food bowls; they were almost always polished off by noon.

A timid soul, Calvin adjusted to more adventuresome behavior slowly, if at all.  When the occasional outdoor cat visited our front door, Calvin would hang back about halfway down the front hall while Isabel took charge to yowl, hiss, and/or bat the glass in the door.  In summer Calvin was spooked by something about the air conditioning unit’s noise.  So while we spent summers on the back porch,

Calvin in the conservatory

next to which the a/c resided, Calvin would stay indoors, spread out on the ceramic tile of the laundry floor.  Finally he got bolder about the noise, and we purchased a new and less noisy unit.  So he had his last couple of summers on the back porch, and he was in his glory.  But he still preferred the winter months in the upstairs study.

I would always say that animals don’t have souls . . . except, of course, for our cats.  But in truth even our cats have been beloved members of the household, but not “one of the family.”  They are not on our genealogy charts, they do not share our DNA.  We love them, and they love us–I think.  But not as we love our fellow human beings, and they love us.  There is something about the most domestic of cats that is aloof, feral, beyond human understanding.  Part of the attraction of cats is this very distance.  They seem to have auton0mous existences, and to enter into healthy relationships with their families.  This is in contrast with the unhealthy co-dependency of dogs, who seem to need constant affirmation and to offer slavish self-abasement to get it.  As one bumper-sticker slogan puts it, “dogs have masters; cats have staff.”  Nevertheless cats, including Calvin, give plenty of unsolicited affection.  He derived his happiness from our environment.  Our happiness was greatly increased by his being in the household.  We miss him.  We still look for him in his customary spot on the rug.  We wonder why the house is so quiet.  I was with him when he breathed his last, and Jane was only feet away.  We buried him under the same holly tree (evergreen, winter berries, new life) where three other of our pets lie, encased in a Herrod’s bag–first class all the way.  We’re looking for a suitable marker.  He will always be present in our minds and hearts.  He was a special cat: gentle, kind, dignified, quiet, and loving, shy but not unfriendly, always changing and developing.  A cat without peer.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Midnighting

I grew up in a house near the corner of Pleasant St. (Rte. 60) and the Concord Turnpike (Rte. 2) in Arlington, Massachusetts.  We were right about on the town line between Arlington and Belmont; Pleasant Street continued on to Belmont Center, having originated at Massachusetts Ave. in Arlington Center.  The Concord Turnpike at our house  came down a long, fairly steep hill from the west, went under Pleasant St. via an underpass, and went on along the south edge of Spy Pond toward Cambridge.  An access ramp from Pleasant St. to the Concord Turnpike westbound  went right past the back edge of our lot, separated from our yard by a sidewalk and a forsythia hedge (the hedge was better known to us kids as the center field and right field fence of our backyard baseball diamond).

My bedroom overlooked the backyard diamond, and the overpass intersection beyond it, from the second story.  The roads were always fairly busy, as they were both main arteries (though Pleasant St. was tree-lined and two-laned, and the Concord Turnpike open and a good four lanes wide).  When I couldn’t sleep at night, I would watch the traffic, and when I got bigger, I took some time exposures of the intersection at night, the streaks of light delineating the steady flow of cars, busses, and trucks.

When I was perhaps four or five, trying to figure out the logic of life (having possessed some innate conviction that there was in fact a logical order to things), I hit upon a great insight.  Watching the traffic one night, a moment came when there were no vehicles visible or audible on either road.  I had never ever seen this intersection without some vehicle in view.  Aha!  I thought, this must be it.  Midnight!  It made all kinds of sense to me that there would be such a moment just as the new day began, a kind of mystical cessation of activity for a moment before the next day’s hubbub began.  So, operating on my own set of a priori premises and orderly deductive logic, I enshrined this observation in my mental notebook of Facts.  And there it stayed for a good many years until more mature reflections dislodged it.

Flash forward more than 60 years.  I’m riding my bike on the W&OD.  I come to many road crossings, all of which require the cyclist to stop.  In Theory, I always come to a complete stop, at least for one second, just like a pitcher working from the stretch.  In Fact, I roll on through after a visual check if:

–there are no moving cars visible in any direction
–there are no cars visible that are moving in my direction
–there are no moving cars coming at me that would hit me at their current rate of speed
–there are no moving cars coming at me that I can’t beat across the intersection
–I can just close my eyes and pray

No, seriously, only conditions one and two apply.  The first condition, however, is just like the magic Midnight moment of childhood.  When I can hit an intersection that serendipitously, and even accelerate as I cross, I call it “Midnighting” an intersection.  Not to be confused with Moonlighting, that old, charming Bruce Willis / Cybill Shepherd TV show.  On Sundays and Holidays I can often Midnight many a crossing that usually gives me fits.  And every such Midnight can save me .05 to .10 mph in my ride average speed total, depending on how long the ride is.  Braking to a complete stop and then starting up again costs momentum, time, and efficiency big time.  So I’m looking to Midnight whenever I can.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Motivation

Sitting in the line of Sunday afternoon bike trail backup, waiting for the light to change so I could cross Maple Avenue and get on with my ride today, I overheard a couple of runners, jogging in place while the light changed, talking about running.  She was expounding her experience of feeling very positive about some aspects of running, but very negative about other aspects.  “When the bad feelings outweigh the good, I just want to stop doing it,” she said.  He started to say something along the lines of fighting through the bad feelings so the good could come forth, when the light changed and their conversation drifted away behind me.

Ah, the Aristotelian Pleasure Principle!  She was voicing that fundamental observation in her approach, and he was responding with something fairly idealistic and unrealistic.  Aristotle argued that we tend to want to do things that make us feel good, and avoid things that make us feel bad.  Not that such an idea makes us all into hedonists.  We simply do not seek out negative experiences, physical, moral, or spiritual.  Aristotle argues, among other things, that to a virtuous person, doing good deeds can create pleasure, even if doing so entails pain, physical or otherwise.  If we want to do our bodies good, and strive after health, we may repress the urge for too many hedonistic pleasures, such as high calorie, high fat foods.

But the jogger was right; fighting through pain, exercising when your schedule’s jammed, leaving a warm bed to run or ride in a cold early dawn rain, they all are big negatives for most people most of the time.  I myself am a relative motivational dilettante.  I really don’t like riding in the rain.  I don’t like low wind chills.  I can’t ride in the heat, because my body reacts badly to that.  I don’t like to go out unless I’m fairly certain I could be “rescued” fairly promptly if I had a mechanical problem.

But as for stress, exhaustion, and aches, I have a reasonable tolerance.  One has to if one pursues an endurance sport such as cross-country running or cycling for exercise.  Each of these negative factors, if pursued intensely enough, somewhat mysteriously reverses itself once you really “get inside” it.  Stress, exhaustion, and aches are all in and of themselves good feelings when you push their envelopes.  They feel good because you know they are temporary, but they are making it possible for you, the endurance athlete, to triumph, to revel in having survived.  It’s the feeling I always have when I’ve racked up the bike, taken off the hydration pack, left the cycle computer on my desk, and stripped off the sweaty gear, from headband to socks.  I did it; I did it again!  And I am only remembering the joy of it.  I could not have achieved that joy without encountering the negatives and reversing their meaning, their value, their elemental existential qualities.

So the joggers’ viewpoints are what I think of as “recreational,” and mine what I think of as “committed.”  For the joggers, negative aspects are to be endured for the sake of the good aspects.  For me there are no “negative” aspects; I never “want to stop.”  Not that every ride gets me deep into stress, exhaustion, or aches.  But to the extent that it does, or when it does so profoundly, I am ready for it.  Stress. Exhaustion. Aches.  I embrace them, because they bring me pleasure every time I ride.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011