Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guy Stuff

OK here's a disclaimer: No offense to gals, whom all Guys love, respect and adore, but there is Guy Stuff and Gal Stuff. This post is about Guy Stuff and if you want to communicate about Gal stuff find a knitting or a "chick lit" blog.

There are things Guys like to do together such as going to bachelor parties, sporting events, weekends in Vegas, happy hours, drag races, strip joints, golf clubs, taverns and pool halls. It's OK for gals to be there as long as they are not known or related to any of the Guys on site. When Guys are together at these male bastions of cultural interaction they feel free. When you look at them being Guys and hanging out with other Guys there is a relief and a joy that encompasses the entire group. They know they can tell dirty jokes, make up ludicrous stories, tell lies, swear, yell, fart, puke, pass out, turn up the music REAL loud and nobody is going to look at him sideways and whisper, "What's wrong with him doesn't he have any manners?" or "Is he like that all of the time?" or "Does his mother know he acts like that?" or "Doesn't he realize he's embarrassing his entire family and every relative who's ever lived?" It must be one of the many positive male characteristics; Guys just aren't judgmental of other Guys after they've had six to eight beers.

Just because Guys are hanging out with other Guys doesn't mean they are trying to pick up chicks or cheat on their wife or girlfriends. Invariably it means they are lounging around with big grins on their faces, their elbows on the table, a pitcher of beer between them, a wad of twenties on the table, talking about sports, movies or reminiscing about something that happened ten to fifty years ago. Usually these are events and incidents they have talked about many times before but because they were usually the highlights of their lives they bear repeating. When a table full of Guys is in a bar or a club that's where the laughter and noise are coming from as they respectfully over-tip the waitress without micro-managing the bill to make sure everyone pays the exact same amount. Guys know there is always one Guy who sneaks out without paying his share but so what, he's just another Guy.

If you're looking for things that Guys do or don't do here's a partial list: Guys don't go shopping with gals for wedding gifts, baby shower gifts or lingerie; it's OK to shop for women's clothes with a gal if there is a big screen TV in the store or in a bar within one to ten yards of the front door; Guys don't go to college sorority reunions, macramé stores, sewing stores or any store with large bolts of cloth stacked on ceiling-high shelves; Guys don't get their nails done, eyebrows waxed or have a massage done by another Guy or male, but it's OK to have a gal pay you for a massage even if you haven't been to a certified massage therapy school; massage is a skill where a Guy is allowed to learn "on the job" because of a Guy's natural "hand eye coordination" talents; Guys don't drink wine out of corked bottles with other Guys, or any liquid that is labeled with words that contain fruit, wine or cooler or any beer whose taste needs to be masked by the flavor of cherries, apricots, peaches or "exotic spices"; also Guys don't go with other Guys to movies starring Sandra Bullock, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, Jodie Foster, Keanu Reeves, Hugh Grant, anything with sub-titles or having scenes depicting gals ordering Guys around. If the gal has a whip and is wearing knee-high boots allowances can be negotiated as long as no video equipment or photo enabled cell phones are in operation.

Guys also don't play co-ed team sports such as: Ultimate Frisbee, slow-pitch softball or anything involving tu-tus, tiaras or long-toed padded shoes that wrap up their ankles and are the color pink. However it is OK to compete guy vs gal in dodgeball, touch and tackle football, rugby and hurling (Irish national sport that doesn't involve drinking) as long as no Guys are wearing a skirt. After the game it is OK to drink with any gal who is still able to walk. Any male seen wearing tight pants with shoulder straps, ruffled shirts cut to the waist or an outfit consisting of a red sports coat, black hat and black boots can not drink with other Guys unless it is Warren Sapp who has just finished his performance on "Dancing with the Stars".

Well there they are; guidelines on the do's and don't's of being a Guy and how to act when out in public with other Guys. Feel free to update my list or add your own. Being a Guy is tough work and the standards are rigorous. I'll tip one for you, hoping you make the grade.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What really ticks you off?

Thank God it's six o'clock and the pressure's off. You've walked out of your place of employment and you are free! Yah that's great but you're still ticked off! Or you are still feeling very uptight! Your eyes narrow as you remember that smarmy fellow employee who stabbed you in the back when he told your boss you had alcohol on your breath after yesterdays lunch and then that puke lunchroom drone, who can barely speak English, who hassled you because you didn't recycle your lunch waste into the proper "green" containers and then that fat doughboy security guard who said "excuse me sir but you should have parked in the "L" row and not the "K" row as you know you are supposed to; am I not correct mein herr?"

Man all you want to do is kick somebody's rear end, right? Or go to some bar and get hammered. But then you end up sitting next to that butthead who's yelling at the top of his lungs like he's some kind of real estate heavyweight and he wants everyone in the bar to know about the big deal he just closed. Then there's the bartender who won't change the channel from the Canadian National Curling Championships to the seventh game of the World Series. "We've got a lot of bacon-head customers dude". No problem dude, don't look at this change on the counter like I'm going to leave it when I'm out of here in thirty seconds.

And then you reach Lake Washington Boulevard for a nice relaxing drive home and you come up behind three chatterboxes blocking the road as they pedal their three thousand dollar Fuji bicycles at less than fifteen miles an hour. You shake your head at their color coordinated red and green shirts and shorts with enough advertising printed on them to rival a European Soccer Jersey. You can tell these Lance Armstrong wanna-bees are really hot bikers and are working up a heavy sweat as they pedal side by side with their heads jerking back and forth like a flock of chickens in a barnyard.

Then you look in your rearview mirror and there's a guy so close to your back bumper you can read the Obama label on his ball cap. You can see the sap trying to change channels on his stereo as he's juggling his cell phone with his Starbucks "double tall Americano" latte. A long time ago I learned when this happens you do not speed up because the wretch will just match your increase in speed, dogging you along the boulevard like Richard Petty in the last lap at Daytona. I don't know if it's a vision thing; as in the goofball needs a new pair of glasses and can't see the car in front of him until my bumper comes into focus or if it's territory issue, as in "you're in my space dude and I want it" or "I'm in a hurry to get home thirty seconds sooner than if I just sat back and enjoyed the drive" or maybe he's starting to taste that first cocktail and some sort of withdrawal has already started to settle in. Anyway the only way to make these morons back off is for them to suddenly see the red lights of your back jukebox. When those surprising reds pop on usually reality will set in and the piggybacking push-punk will back off. If he doesn't it's his "bad". He connects with your back bumper and it's on him, as in: "he was FOLLOWING TOO CLOSE Officer, he was dogging me when that flying squirrel landed directly in front of me; I barely stopped in time!"

And then you get home, get out of the car and the rabid mutt across the street is barking at an elderly couple who are tottering down the sidewalk minding their own business. And the thing that really ticks you off is that the dog's owner is standing in his front yard behind his white picket fence that is getting ready to fall down and watering his shriveled sorry excuse for a garden. The couple stop and attempt to befriend the extremely annoying animal who shoves his mangy muzzle between the fence slats and increases the rate of his barking. I can hear the mutt's owner talking to his obviously retarded rover probably saying: "I think it's OK to back off Fido I don't think these 80 year old folks who've lived in the neighborhood for 60 years present much of a security problem, would you lower your voice".

Don't get me started on dogs who dump in my front yard, run unleashed in City parks, sneak toward my left ankle with their teeth bared as I run down the sidewalk or their owners who don't get the part about "Yes all the City dog ordinances apply to your dog too" or who sneak their dog poop bags into my recycling container. Couldn't they at least put it in the garbage? I've been staying up late working on my new invention: a garbage can with mega speakers that yells BOO! when opened by someone with unauthorized finger prints.

There that felt better. Give it a try. If you get home and there's nobody to listen as you unwind from your day just start a blog and unload to someone at the other end. Somewhere there will be a sympathetic ear but the deal is that you have to share their day too. Then we're all a lot happier. What ticks you off?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Moment of Truth

At the Marines Corps reunion I attended last August in Philadelphia I was reminiscing with one of my great friends, Mike Newton. Wounded by an exploding mortar round the evening of July 7th 1968, Mike was med-evaced off Hill 689 by helicopter in the dead of night. Miraculously, today he is in fine shape with no lasting effects from his ordeal. One of the first things he said to me during our reunion was, "Remember that time you almost drowned in the Rao Quan River near Hill 558?" In a flash the chilling memory rushed back at me like it had happened yesterday. To this day I shake my head because having survived contact with enemy soldiers, mortars, grenades and bullets, the closest I came to dying was while taking a bath.

In June of 1968 I was a twenty-one year old Marine infantryman with only two months left before getting my flight date back to "the world". My unit, Charlie Company of the First Battalion First Marine Regiment, was occupying hill 558, about two miles from the Khe Sanh Valley in the northern part of South Vietnam. We had been there a month running daily patrols of platoon and company size. At night we ran squad sized patrols around the company perimeter. We had had no enemy contact for a month so we were allowed to relax a little during the days if our platoon was not on patrol. One day after descending a forty foot ravine bordering our position, we discovered a swiftly running river that widened into an idyllic pool of calm, clear water. As we scrubbed weeks worth of dirt off in the river's coolness, time stood still. I looked around and imagined myself only a year before on a family trip swimming with my brother in the Dosewalips River near Hood Canal, in the state of Washington. I laughed as some of the guys, Newton being one of them, scrambled bare-ass up the rocks, then leaped from a twenty foot high cliff, landing with cannonball explosions in the river. Although nagged relentlessly I didn't attempt any of the daredevil antics, saying "I'll stay down here and clean up the mess." I was a better than average swimmer and had developed a healthy respect for the water while learning to swim as a kid.

As I tread water in the peaceful stream I became curious about the loud roar that was coming from around a bend in the river a short distance away. I let the gentle current take me and I drifted to a large rock guarding the narrows. I slid my hands along the rock's surface and with my feet, felt carefully underneath the water for a foothold. Sliding to the edge of the rock, I stopped. The roar of the river was deafening. I braced myself and stretched around the corner of the rock. I knew immediately I had made a serious mistake. All I could see was foaming white water. I remember the mist covering my face like millions of tiny tears. I tried to pull myself back around the corner. I could not move. The river had me in it's grasp. Forcing myself to stay calm I gradually increased the pressure of my grip on the rock and pulled again. I still could not move. To this day I'm not sure why I didn't yell for help. Fifty feet away there were at least twenty strong and quick combat-ready Marines who could have banded together in seconds to get me out of my predicament. Maybe that was it. I was young, confident and fit and this was a situation I felt I could get myself out of. Or maybe I just didn't want to cry out like a wimp. Suddenly my feet slipped off the rock, my right hand followed immediately and I was jerked powerfully around the corner without a whimper. I found myself gripped in a brutal maelstrom of swirling, churning water.

Rocks flashed into my path and the rapids smashed me maliciously into them. I tried to grab on but was going too fast. I forced myself into a sitting position and was immediately slammed into a solid wall of boiling water. Just before being yanked under I took a gulp of air. In less that a second I was shoved into an underwater cavern. I was forced into a crouching position with gallons of water cascading down on me. I pushed myself to my feet. I could see the sunlight. It was a blur. I knew I had to get out of that hole! I reached up with both hands and grabbed onto a rock. Fueled by coursing adrenaline I pulled upward with all my strength. I did not move an inch. Images and thoughts ignited through my mind: "Nobody saw me go!" "I'll never see my mother and brother again!" "There's nothing I can do!" I almost gave up. The water was crashing down on me and I realized there was no way I would ever be able to pull myself out. All I had to do was breathe in and my troubles would be over. But a voice screamed into my brain. "No! Don't give up! Fight back!" I relaxed my body and let the torrent take me back down. I tucked myself into a ball trying to protect my head. The sunlight disappeared and I was driven into the darkness of my worst nightmares. My arms and legs ricocheted off the rocky tunnel. As I somersaulted out of control I was almost ready to black out. Light! It was coming at me fast! I shot out of the underground stream and into a raging pool gasping for breath and disoriented. My mind was devoid of everything but one thought, "Don't let the river take you down again! You won't survive this time!" The current pounded me against a jagged wall. I rebounded off it unable to maintain a grip. The river narrowed again and I realized that this was my last chance. Stroking desperately to guide myself, I used the river's power to catapult me out of the river and onto an outcropping of rocks. I held on. I vowed nothing was going to pull me down again.

I lay there teetering on the edge of consciousness then let the exhaustion take over. When I came to my right cheek was resting against the outcropping's rugged stone surface, my ragged breathing rendered silent by the thunderous sound of the rapids. My eyes began to focus. The first thing I could see was the smashed crystal of my watch. One hand was missing and the other was sticking up from the face, broken in half. Water dripped off my nose, running through my mustache. I licked my lips, savoring the coolness. I realized I was still alive. Elation and relief poured through me. I rolled over slowly and sat up, my body aching. I had abrasions on both knees and both elbows. Blood trickled in little rivers down my arms and legs. The toes on my left foot throbbed dully. The joy of surviving began to wear off. As I wobbled to my feet I started to shiver uncontrollably. I looked around and could see I was at the bottom of a small fissure cut out of the rock. I took a deep breath and began climbing. Reaching the top, I pulled myself out and began limping unsteadily over the rocks, back up the river. I slipped and fell a few times but was numb to any more pain. I just kept moving through the white noise of the river.

Finally I climbed over an enormous rock and into view of the other Marines. They had realized I was missing and were heading down the river to find me. They cupped their hands to their mouths and called to me but I couldn't hear them over the thunder of the roaring river. I gestured with both hands for them to stay where they were as I continued toward them. Exhausted, I collapsed next to my gear. I tried to stop the bleeding on my arms and legs but doc, our Navy corpsman, took over. My buddies gathered around me.

"What happened?" Newton exclaimed.
"I got sucked down the river," was my lame answer, feeling pretty stupid.
"Can you walk?" Newton asked.
"Sure," I said, "piece of cake."
Newton chuckled. "Come on let's get him dressed and up the hill, we're heading back."

That night I was unable to sleep in our underground bunker as the walls began closing in on me like the walls of the subterranean tunnel. In the morning my arms and legs were black and blue and further examination by our corpsman revealed I had broken the big and little toes on my left foot. The bruises would heal and there is no treatment for broken toes except time, so after a few days of rest I was getting around OK. A week later we did make contact with the enemy and I had few close calls, but none as close as the incident at the river. Since that day I've always had the feeling that if I could survive an encounter like that I could survive anything.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Give Me a Pitch

You've heard about the writer of a movie screenplay getting the opportunity to "pitch" his idea to a studio "big shot". It might be a producer, it might be an assistant to a producer, it might be the studio vice president, the president of the studio or a guy in the mail room. It doesn't matter, whoever it is you'd better have a quick description of your project that gets your guys attention, FAST! Don't expect to get any face time if you start out by saying "my story can't be told in one sentence, it's much more complicated than that" or "let me tell you about some of the great characters first". No way dude, you've probably just blown it because your guy is already thinking about his next appointment and the clock is ticking. These guys get hit up every day with ideas for movies and they have a sixth sense for a "pooch". Granted there are a lot of "pooches" that got filmed but the pitch sounded good. The powers that be don't deliberately try to to make a rotten movie, except for anyone who ever approved a Rob Schneider project.

So imagine I'm the "big shot", the head of the mail room, and this is your big chance. Pitch it in here. It's your job as the "pitcher" to say something intriguing, funny or catchy in a short amount of time so that your guy actually looks at you and gives you a second minute of his over-committed, super valuable time. Since I've never given a pitch to a Hollywood big shot or anyone else for that matter I can only guess what some of the classics may have been: The Poseidon Adventure meets Romeo & Juliet = TITANIC, The Great Santini meets An Officer and a Gentleman = TOP GUN, Ozzie & Harriet meets Rocky = CINDERELLA MAN.

Or how about the screenplay I am working on: The Candidate meets Monster or American President meets American Psycho or Dave meets Hannibal = THE CANDIDATE'S WIFE. The scoop is is that a charismatic but hollow Presidential candidate in a loveless but highly publicized marriage is married to a brilliant chameleon-like serial killer with a spooky past. Childless and with no immediate family Isis Stroud, during the campaign, trolls the dark streets at night disguised as hooker who in this case is not a victim but is searching for them. As a Senator based in D.C. Jeremy Stroud is basically in love with his own terrific self and is clueless re his wife's occasional forays into murder. Isis' style becomes cramped with the increased personal protection during the campaign. Secret Service agent, Trent Jennings and reporter Colleen McCrohan separately become suspicious of THE CANDIDATE'S WIFE. After Colleen narrowly escapes an attempt on her life, by a disguised Isis, she meets agent Jennings who is the investigating officer because the attack occurred in D.C. within the Secret Service's jurisdiction. Comparing notes and dates of murdered men, late at night, in seedy D.C. neighborhoods with the future first lady's movements, Jennings and McCrohan close in on a serial killer who may be untouchable if Jeremy Stroud is elected President.

OK back to you and maybe you don't have idea for a "pitch"? How about a book you've read or something you've seen on the news or a movie you paid good money for that was a "pooch" but just begs to be redone because you just knew it would be a terrific flick. It's not your fault the director, screenwriter or actors messed it up? Right, I understand that a movie can't be totally faithful to a book but it can sure try to emulate the "spirit" of the book. It's obvious that the book was optioned as a movie because there was something special about it. There's no way a movie can cram in everything about the book that was special but it needs to include the best parts. At that point you have the dilemma of keeping the movie "faithful" to the book to appease all of the people who liked the book. But the real truth is that, in the long run, the movie has to stand on it's own merits to increase to box office and draw people who didn't read the book.

An example would be CATCH-22 the "one hit wonder" written by Joseph Heller about his experiences as a B-17 pilot during WW II. i.e. Twelve O'clock High meets The Wackiest Ship in the Army. The book was filled with weird characters and situations all influenced by the dilemma or Catch-22 of: "Getting out of flight duty because you are crazy isn't possible because you can't be crazy if you think you are." The movie was OK, a little long, but Alan Arkin's portrayal of a shell-shocked pilot was knowing and humorous. However, compared to the book which I had read as a fascinated high school student, influenced by the stories of my mother who served in the Red Cross during the War, the movie was a disappointment. I have no idea what the box-office for Catch-22 was in 1970 but when I saw it twenty years later I loved it! Which I guess means that when the influences of the book wear off a person is able to watch a movie based on it's own merits.

Another example of translating a book to a movie is THE DAY OF THE JACKAL which was a terrific book and an excellent movie! A great leading man (Edward Fox) as the Jackal and long (2 hours and 21 minutes) but compelling! I know De Gaulle doesn't get assassinated but this guy sure has a shot at it! How could both mediums be such high quality? Frederick Forsyth the book's author, who had a history of international connections, kept the action moving and coolly hid the identity and the origins of the charismatic assassin while switching to the brilliant but plodding French chief detective and his dogged pursuit of the Jackal. Fred Zinnemann, the seasoned director, had a well-deserved international reputation for directing such diverse classics as: THE SEVENTH CROSS, THE MEN, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY AND OKLAHOMA orchestrated a superb cast of actors you recognize, but whose names you can't quite remember, back and forth across Europe.

How about a terrific book that should have been a great movie that turned into a "pooch". Try this: Wall Street meets To Kill a Mockingbird. Sounds good, right? How about this satire on corporate greed contrasted with a trial of a "fat cat" being prosecuted for a hit and run injury of a black man turned into a St. Bernard sized pooch called BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. Miscast (should have been William Hurt instead of Tom Hanks) and misdirected by trashy murder mystery specialist Brian DePalma (should have been helmed by Sidney Lumet, he wasn't busy) BONFIRE is a bloated exercise in ego driven desires designed to make a film statement that was already said with verve and humor in the best-selling novel.

Then there's the authors who've but pumping out good stuff for years but where are the movies? Lee Child and his Jack Reacher series begs to be translated to film. A big, tough, former military policeman with an instinct to defend the little guy or gal against forces he can't combat. Hollywood might have trouble casting Reacher since most of the current bankable stars are a tad wimpy and Tom Selleck, who would be perfect, might be too old. Also how about Michael Connelly and his Harry Bosch series about a L.A. police detective with a knack for solving complicated crimes. Hollywood may not "get it" because of the book's lack of violence and Bosch's reserved personality. Finally, Robert Crais' Elvis Cole series about a wise-cracking L.A. private detective who is VERY smart and along with his partner, the enagmatic Joe Pike, solve crimes, defend the weak and usually don't get paid.

Yah, I know, none of these guys are "politically correct" enough with the proper recipe for a "buddy" and Hollywood is probably worried about the dough it would cost to "pony" up for the film rights when some screenwriter can make up a story for just the cost of the screenplay. Plus the industry is always underestimating the audience's intelligence and usually ends up substituting characters you care about, compelling story and snappy dialogue for special effects, a phony love interest and a story that has more plot holes in it than a wedge of swiss cheese.

Don't worry I "get" the studio thing and budgets and the new "hot" director fresh from his triumphantly cool TV commercial or rock and roll video but what about the networks? Can't they develop new talent with "The Movie of the Week" by keeping the movies tight using a low budget but keep the soul of the book with an interesting script and no special effects. Don't tell me it can't be done, look at Tom Selleck and his Jesse Stone movies. Straight from Robert B. Parker. Clean, kept the soul of the books, no-name actors, tight like a short story.

Heck I don't know, I'm not in the business, maybe it takes a "name" actor to get it done? Or is it all being done on cable with Showtime and HBO or "B" movies that go straight to video? I guess I shouldn't expect too much considering my favorite gumshoe, Travis McGee, John D. MacDonald's "knight in slightly tarnished armor" who found missing things for people, only made it to the big screen once. Staring the unsung and highly underrated Australian actor, Rod Taylor, DARKER THAN AMBER followed McGee and his attempts to protect a young woman who had fallen in with a bad crowd. Displaying a heavy dose of blarney combined with barely concealed menace Taylor fit McGee perfectly. When he needed Taylor could turn on the charm or turn on the power; he was comfortable and believable using both.

So do you "get" what I'm offering? Right not much, but give it a shot; give me a pitch. How about Bonny and Clyde meet Ghostbusters? or Fight Club meets The Sting? or Thelma and Louise meet In Cold Blood? You get it. Go ahead right down the middle, I'm waiting behind home plate.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Get It Done

This is for all you runners, joggers and no-talent sloggers who've ever fantasized about winning an Olympic Gold Medal or accomplishing something else unbelievable as you ran down the sidewalk in a torrential downpour for the only reason being that you loved what you were doing. Remember those nights when you were the only one splashing down the sidewalk? You would get home and as you peeled off your sopping rain gear you would remember "man I was out there all by myself". But so what, does anyone else care? I don't think so. You were bumbling down the road in 30 degree weather with the sleet pistoning your sorry face for the basic reason being that you loved it. Most people would never understand what you were doing out there; as in "what's the point"? You can work up a sweat at the Y.M.C.A. or some toney exercise palace that costs a $100 a month to run on a treadmill with plugs in your ears, listening to wimp rock and watching fat boys like Will Ferrell and Hugh Black on high def. What I'm talking about are dreams that we all have that might not become real but so what, dreams are a big part of people's lives; dreams for yourself, dreams for your family, dreams for your kids. Some you attain, some you don't, but you don't give them up.

What I'm really talking about are the dreams you know you never had a shot at. Yah, right, you're going to be an N.F.L. quarterback like Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl driving down the field for the winning touchdown or you're going to invent a cure for a deadly disease or yeah it's you and Tiger Woods walking toward the clubhouse at Augusta on the 18th hole with all those fat-cat corporate hackers cheering you on. If you are going to dream it might as well be something big. Right, and it never happens for 99% of us does it? So what, we get on with our lives and everything is alright but we still have that fantasy of doing something amazing or heroic. Something that people will never forget.

Well so you're just a no talent fantasizer who's never done anything athletically or personally on the world stage, much less the national, local or neighborhood stage. What do you do about it? You don't have a clue do you because you're not only a no talent unathletic schmuck, you're too lazy to take the obvious next step of what.....? Let me spell it out for you! You use what discipline you might have to write a book! If you've got the intestinal fortitude to be out running in God-forsaken weather in the middle of the the night you can get it done! I'll guarantee you something has been inspiring you to be out there in the dark all by yourself. Something has been winding it's way through your imagination as your steamy cold breath billows in front of you and your running shoes send exploding geysers of icy water up your legs. Sure why not? Because anything can happen in a book, because it is what is in your creative mind that ends up on those pages and if it's your main character winning the World Series with a walk off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth or piloting a rocket ship to Mars or tracking a vampire through the sewers of London or climbing Mount Everest in a brutal storm you are only limited by your drive and imagination; it's what has pushed you out the door for all those years.

Yah, I know what you're going to say because I said the same wimpy stuff to my lazy/slacker self too. Whine, whine: I don't have the time, I can't spell, I never had good grammar, etc. etc.; in other words I don't have the guts to even try... to even give it a shot. Then you realize, yeah I've got a pretty good idea for a book that people might like (whether it's family, friends or people who feel sorry for you.) So what do you do next? You write a chronological outline of what is going to happen like you did back in school a hundred years ago. That's where it all starts because then you have something on paper which is more than you had last week. From there it's a matter of every day expanding that outline into scenes and chapters and amazingly your book will grow and develop before your eyes! It's not going to happen over night but if you keep at it someday you will be finished.

Hey it doesn't matter if one person likes it, the point is is that you put it on paper and it's there forever; you took the time to do it. You got up an hour early every morning or you spent an hour writing at lunch instead of socializing or when the rest of your family was in bed you were pursuing your dream. You were putting pen to paper. That's the only way it's going to happen and it happened for me! It took a few years but I got it done. And you know what? I don't know anyone in my life, as in family, friends, schoolmates or coaches who has written a book.

It's true, I haven't found anybody in the mainstream publishing world to publish my dream (although I'm still working on it.) Nobody in that rarefied industry seems to be interested. That's OK because no one can take away the fact that I did write a book. Maybe only twenty people have read it, but I don't care because I know my novel is a damn good story! I know because I read all the time; as in I have a book going every day. I know a good book when I read it and if I don't like it I'll give it a few more pages, then if I still don't like it I'll dump it and go on the the next one. In other words I'm not some rookie who reads their one book of the year and says "oh my goodness it's so relevant" or "what great characters, they are so unique and sympathetic!" My book is a terrific story with people whom I brought to life! My imagination introduced them to me and it was great to meet them! Just like you will know your characters in your story. You might not know them all at first but they will magically come alive with a joyous surprise and you will wonder where they came from. They came from you!

My story and the people who inhabited it were part of my life! I had something inside me that had to be written and I brought it out. (Like you can.) The very cool thing is that when it was all done I didn't feel embarrassed to read it. My story had good and bad people, it had humor, it had drama, it had individual and family love and it had failure and redemption. When I would proof read my novel one more time I would be amazed at the emotion that was inherent in the story. These were events and people that I had created that were based on reality and they would never cease to warm me with the recognition of what I had written over a whole lot of years.

Another cool thing about writing a book is that running seems to encourage the process. As you run you will think about your book and characters and scenes will develop from all that nourishing blood flowing through your body and into your brain. If you reach a point in your book where something isn't working or doesn't make sense just think about it on a five mile run. The clarity that comes from your body functioning at it's peak will find a solution.

So give it a shot. See what can happen when you commit yourself to your own dream. As it's been said: "Everyone has at least one book inside them but it's up to that person to bring it out!"

"Only you can make your dreams real!"

Friday, September 11, 2009

plantar fasciitis

June 28th: Man, what drag having my left heel "blow up" at the Shorerun 5k after 1-1/2 miles and having to walk in, beaten by women pushing baby strollers and porky guys with their running shorts jammed into their butt cracks. It's been a long road back (figuratively and literally) in curing my nagging case of plantar fasciitis but things are looking up. Since August 23rd I have been on nine pain-free runs in increasing distances from 1-1/2 to 4 miles. Today I added a gradual hill on 39th Ave. E. that, although it kicked my butt, my left heel felt OK after 3 miles.

With no medical credentials or podiatric (is that a word) expertise or schooling but having a lifetime (forty some years) of running experience and knowing my body, I know how I acquired this bothersome, hard-to-cure injury. First, I am 62 years old and have been running since I was a junior on the Garfield High School cross country & track teams. That's a lot of miles on the old dogs. Second, during every one of those years I have had flat feet. Third, the sandals I "knock around" in at home, that have an arch, broke a strap and I replaced them with sandals that do not have an arch. Fourth, when that happens the plantar fasciitis, a sheath that runs along to bottom of your foot and is attached to the back of your toes and the front of your heel, flattens out. Fifth, that's bad because then the plantar fasciitis starts to pull at the toe and heel connections. Sixth, that's REAL bad because until that pressure is relieved from those two points all the ice, heat, massage, ibuprofen, exercises & cortisone shots in the world are not going to cure your problem. (Actually my problem.)

What I needed to do was to "knock around" in a pair of sandals that not only had an arch but also a heel strap that kept the sandal attached to my foot. A pair of sandals known as "flip flops" wasn't going to get it done, according to my foot expert Dr. Larry Huppin at the Foot & Ankle Center, because the sole drops away from the foot's arch as you walk. This doesn't give the foot continuous support like mine needed. This information was confirmed by my shoe, arch, sandal expert Larry at REI where I spent $200 on Chaco Sandals, and Superfeet arches for both my dress and running shoes.

My doctor said if these solutions didn't work then custom orthotics (arches)or a cortisone shot were the final options. Yuck! Custom orthotics seem like a "con" because every one I've ever seen looks just like the ones I see on the racks at running stores and REI (but remember I'm not a doctor or a shoe professional) and no way is anyone going to stick a needle in my foot since I had an inherent feeling that action would be just treating the symptom and not the cause of my pain.

I had been following the treatment I outlined above about three weeks before the Shorerun but apparently it wasn't long enough for it to take hold but after "shutting down" my running for two months along with the new sandals, arches, ice and massage I'm back on the road. Also one other treatment I have followed (I was desperate!) was a Futuro foot support purchased from the Pharmaca in Madison Park for about $45. (Heartily endorsed by Steve Wood.) Made of light-weight plastic with soft Velcro straps you put it on at night and as you sleep it keeps your foot locked in a 90 degree position ("therapeutic angle") allowing the tissue in your foot to heal overnight. Normally as you sleep your foot points down and then when you step on it, first thing in the morning, the tissue that has started to heal overnight pulls away. This slows the healing process and causes continuous morning pain in your heel.

After finishing my first run back on August 23rd I noticed in my "Marty Jerome" running log that his "words of wisdom" for the day were: "When returning from an injury, plan about two weeks of retraining for every week you were sidelined to reach our previous performance." Hm-m-m-m eight weeks without running times two equals 16 weeks of training to get it all back. December 23rd, looking forward to an early Christmas present and a 5k in January of 2010!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Trip: 2009 "The Wall"

Just got back from Philadelphia after attending my First Battalion First Marine Regiment reunion, the unit I served with in Vietnam. On the way I stopped in Washington D.C. to visit my brother Terry at the Vietnam Memorial. I had been telling myself for forty years I was going to go see him when suddenly I was 62 years old and I realized that now was the time. Combining the visit with the reunion seemed like a good idea. I had been in touch intermittently with a few of my comrades from Charlie Company and they wanted me to come and my wife Gwynne and two daughters Caitlin and Charlotte encouraged me too. I have dealt OK with Terry's death but I still miss him a lot and going to The Wall was something I knew I had to do to honor him and the other Marines I knew who were there.

After getting off the Metrorail near George Washington University I headed down the gradual incline of 23rd St NW and could see the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. I didn't look for a taxi because I felt that the half mile journey I was taking should be walked; like a man, like an ex-Marine, like a brother should do. True I was dragging my suitcase on wheels like a wimp but it was hot and I didn't stop for a water break or a rest in the shade. At the bottom of the hill, at Constitution Ave., I stopped at the light and knew that through the trees and across the street to my left was my destination. After crossing the street then heading left I reached Henry Bacon Drive and I turned right.

I often wondered what I would do when I got the Memorial, would I circle it as if scouting on patrol? would I stand and watch the other visitors, putting off the moment until I felt comfortable? or would I turn away like a coward unable to face the truth? I knew the panel Terry's name was on and the line number. I immediately turned left and descended down the ramp with the Wall on my left and the people around me invisible. 12W, 19W, 23W. I was at Terry's panel and my eyes ran down the names until they stopped. -RALPH T.LOMEN- (His middle name was Terence) I knew his name was there and I wasn't trying to kid myself that it wasn't. I stared at his name for awhile lost in my thoughts, strangely calm and at peace. Then I crouched down, level with his name, and took three photographs from slightly different angles not sure how the afternoon sun would reflect off the black granite. Finally I reached in my pants pocket and removed items that I placed at the base of the Wall, underneath Terry's name.

Ralph Terence "Terry" Lomen

Prior to going on my trip I knew I wanted to leave something to mark that I had been to visit my brother but I couldn't think of the right memento. Finally the night before I was to leave I sorted through a collection of family items and found the perfect thing: a dog tag of Terry's from Vietnam, one of my dog tags from my service there and an American Red Cross dog tag belonging to our mother Rosanne Coyle from her service in Europe during the Second World War.

How did I feel reading that undoubting name on the Wall? Confirmation and relief are the the only words I can think of that registered at the moment because I had already been through all of the other words and emotions since June 7th 1969. I won't list them because there are too many but seeing his name made me realize that I had completed a journey of love for my younger brother and there would never be a day that I wouldn't remember him.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trip: 2009 1st Battalion 1st Marine Regiment Reunion

AUGUST 29, 2009 1:30pm - Because of an amazing coincidence I hit the ground at the Capitol hours before Senator Kennedy's memorial and as I stood at Constitution Avenue there was not a taxi to be found. Having been delayed at the DC airport and since my walk from the Metrorail station to the Wall had taken longer than I had expected I was "under the gun" to get to Union Station in time for my train's departure at 2:20PM. Walking the three miles was not an option as it was already 1:45PM.

Suddenly a taxi passed me on Constitution Avenue heading westbound but the station was due east. I didn't care as I ran into the street and raised my arm. "Taxi", I shouted. The yellow cab continued a few yards then it's brake lights flashed on, the driver flipped a yooey and headed back my way. After popping the door I shoved my bag in and announced "Union Station" to my driver, Muhammad from Ethiopia. I thanked him profusely and he picked up on my urgency in a moment and said I would make my train "with no problem". I breathed easier as I was already ticketed for Philadelphia and didn't want to deal with rescheduling fees, missing my train and not making it to the Reunion on time.

Muhammad was a good guy who was glad to be living in America but traveled back to his homeland yearly to see his family. Arriving at the station I tipped Muhammad well, found the Quik-Trak machine, scanned the bar code on my confirmation form and found the gate for my departure. Standing in line, I met a couple who were traveling home to New York who confirmed that I was waiting for the right train and heading in the right direction. Once aboard the #156 Northeast Regional I figured I would break out my newly purchased neck brace, kick back and snooze for the 2 hour trip to Philly (I've been told it's not presumptuous to use this city nickname). But I was too keyed up and I realized that the emotion of the moment was what was going to get me through the day. I welcomed it and pulled out my reading material: the latest novel from one of my favorite authors Michael Connelly titled: THE SCARECROW.

Before I left Philly I called my nephew Tyler at whose home I would be spending the night. His mom Mary Beth, dad Dale and brother Travis were visiting from Tacoma, WA. and they were all going to the "Jersey shore" for a few days. Another amazing coincidence that we would be "passing ships in the night" the only time I had been on the east coast in thirty years. (I ran the Boston Marathon in 1979 back when you had to qualify by running a sub three hour marathon. Another story.) He confirmed the key was underneath the white pot on the back porch and that his three roommates probably wouldn't be around until the next day. (It WAS Saturday night in Philly and they were all in their mid-twenties.)

I also was in contact with my Marine comrade, Mike Newton, who was going to pick me up at the 30th Street train station in Philly. Conveniently, Tyler's house was north of the city and on the way to King of Prussia Sheraton where the reunion was being held. Mike, when he worked for PBS, visited us in Seattle a couple of times so the girls had met him and he entertained Caitlin and her friend Nicole one night in Boston when he worked for the Boston Ballet. They were having a special performance for some "high rollers" so Mike invited them but didn't require them to make any donations.

Mike said he would meet me at the 30th Street entrance and it was a wonderful surprise to find two other former comrades: John Keeling from Houston and Joe Fulginiti from Fredericksburg, VA. in the car with Mike. All four us had been involved in a memorable battle on Hill 689 on July 6-8 1968 with both Mike and John being wounded and medevaced in a daring helicopter rescue at night and under enemy fire. I hadn't seen John or Joe for a long time and the drive to Tyler's and the hotel gave us time to "hash" over stuff we hadn't dealt with for forty years.

John, Will, Mike & Joe

Unbelievably, I had forgotten John had been wounded and seeing the scar on his cheek that curved down his nose confirmed that good luck is fleeting and unpredictable. He and Mike had been wounded by the same exploding mortar round with me close behind, untouched and suddenly thrust into the role of squad leader. The four of us, with our different perspectives, were able to piece together the events of that chaotic night. With Mike and John gone and after events of the following day and deadly night I found myself as the commander of Charlie Company second platoon. With Joe's recollection of the aborted rescue mission the next day and his revelation that Charlie Company fired over 400 mortar rounds the second night I found a lifetime of questions being answered. I remembered with awe knowing three of my nine lives being used up in less the 48 hours.

With Saturday traffic on Highway 67 backed up like rush hour Joe exited and entered the freeway in what he claimed were short cuts. In fact, like most guys, he would rather be moving in a longer route than crawling along bumper to bumper on a shorter route and taking the same amount of time. If didn't matter as it gave the four of us time to get reacquainted after a forty year separation. Joe is a corporate motivational speaker, married with two beautiful daughters (I know they are beautiful because they were at the reunion dinner), John is a hotel developer with a son and a daughter and a beautiful wife Evelyn (I know she is beautiful because she was also at the reunion) and Mike has a son and a beautiful wife Jenalyn (I know she is beautiful because he told me).

We dropped my gear at Tyler's and after using Mike's room at the hotel, to get squared away, I made it to the pre-function at 6:30PM with a Budweiser in my hand. With a lot of the remaining major breweries located east of the Mississippi micro/macro/specialty beers don't seem to be as prevalent as they are in the West. I settled for a "Bud" because my other choices were Bud lite, Miller lite or an "imported beer" Corona. Lite beer and a beer that can only gagged down with a slice of lemon are pretty sad options but the "King of beers" was cold and I had a designated driver (Mike) so I was a happy boy.

After I met John's wife Evelyn and Joe's two great daughters, George Dougherty Sr. the 2009 Reunion Chairman, sidled up to Joe and said "you're the man". They gave each other a long look and Joe said to our group "he means I'm the master of ceremonies AND the main speaker AND the guest of honor." Apparently because of the current activities in Iraq and Afghanistan our main speaker, a Marine General, had to cancel his speech to our group. We nodded to Joe and said "you are the man!"

Joe was in his element as for the next two hours he told jokes, reminisced about past commanders and cajoled his comrades to the stage to speak. Some of these men had never stood up in front of a group this large (three hundred) but they "spoke from the heart" giving the evening a uniquely personal feel. Sure it would have been informative to get a update on the next "surge" and it is true those are our brothers fighting over there now but it's not our war. Having the mother of Sergeant Alfredo Gonzales, a Medal of Honor recipient from Alpha 1/1, sitting at our table and hearing her speak was an honor and it personalized "our war" and made me proud of having been a Marine and having served with those men.

After the dinner and the speeches I mingled with Marines who had served in Vietnam before me and after me and in the other companies in 1/1 Alpha, Bravo, Delta and Headquarter & Supply while I had been "in country" but I didn't know or recognize any of them. In spite of that we still had at least three things in common; we were Marines, we had served our country when asked and we lived to tell about.

Finally my group ended up back at our table just as a waiter we telling Mike (who doesn't drink) that we were only supposed to have two bottle of wine at a time at our table, not five. Without hesitating, Mike said, "three of them are empty but bring us a couple more when you get a chance." You cracked us all up. What stamina John's wonderful wife Evelyn has! She helped us close the place down and probably listened to a lifetime of boring war stories in on night! She and my wife Gwynne are soul mates. Meeting Joe's terrific daughters, who love their dad so much that they would hang out with a bunch of sixty year olds for one long evening, was a wonderful replacement for missing my two daughters Caitlin and Charlotte. My girls have always been aware of my being in the Marine Corps and my serving in Vietnam and they know they will never meet their uncle Terry so they have been very curious about "dad's trip" and my visit to "The Wall". It took forty-some years to get there but the time was right and I'm glad we all made it. (In more ways the one.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Daughters Gift

A while back I put my pen down, as I sat at the kitchen table, looked at my wife Gwynne, and said, "I just finished my book." She looked at me like I'd just grown a second nose and said, "You're kidding." Since I had been working on Devon Loch for most of our wedded life I'm sure she thought I would be working on it for the rest of our wedded life. I smiled and said, "No it's done." The short version is that as I navigated the discouraging world of book publishing I stayed positive because no matter if Devon Loch never got published at least I knew I had finished my "labor of love". Semi-autobiographical, my book was influenced by family events growing up with my mother and brother, my service in the Marine Corps during Vietnam and my life long love of distance running. Like most of us who have been involved in sports throughout our lives I had often fantasized about competing on the world stage and being in contention to win against all odds. But like most of us that will never happen. Devon Loch was my, and anyone else who wanted to read it, chance at greatness with the world watching, holding it's breath.

After acquiring numerous rejections from publishers I received an amazing birthday gift from my two daughters Caitlin and Charlotte. Converting my book from it's floppies to a CD they arranged to have it published by an online publisher, Lulu.com. Not quite Random House or Simon and Schuster, but so what this was something my girls had done for me! Having a real copy of Devon Loch was an unbelievable gift of love and holding the book was something I secretly never thought would happen. Since then family and friends have had the opportunity to buy Devon Loch online through Lulu.com. The company is very professional and easy to deal with giving anyone who can't puncture the exclusivity of the publishing community the opportunity to see their dream published. Now my reader or readers have that opportunity too. We're not talking heavy reading here, Devon Loch is just a story about a man who is on a downward spiral who gets a second chance at his dream and it follows his family and friends and their journey toward the realizing of that dream.

Depending on how this blog goes I may end up serializing Devon Loch a chapter at a time or maybe in bigger doses. I'm just not sure at the moment.