My Gridiron Glory Days (All Two of Them)

It’s football season once again, time for me to reminisce about my one year of tossing the ol’ pigskin in high school. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You played football?!? Was this two-hand-touch or flag football? Was it a league for boys 5 feet 7 inches and under? And what about cross country; didn’t you run that in high school?”

Look, I’m as surprised as all of you are to find out that I played football back in the day (not really, because I know this story already). And I honestly don’t remember the whole thought process that led me to join the team my freshman year. I think it went like this: my older brother really, really wanted to play football, but my parents said no, so he became a cross-country star. Since we shared a room and hated each other in the way that brothers do (sample conversation from the year 1984: My brother: “Shut up.” Me: “[incoherent mumble under my breath]” My brother: “What’d you say?” Me: “Nothing.” My brother: “I didn’t think so.”), I decided to go in the opposite direction, which I guess would have been to whine to my mom until she got so annoyed that she agreed to let me go out for the team if I would just stop.

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The only picture of me in a football uniform that has survived. That’s me, third row, third from the left. I was number 45, after my favorite player, Gary Fencik, the Chicago Bears safety. The dazed look on my face is because I removed my glasses for the photo and couldn’t see anything.

I didn’t do any summer conditioning before the season began. Unless riding my bike around and playing video games at the 7-Eleven counts as conditioning. (It doesn’t.) I just showed up on the first day of practice and got in line with the rest of the freshmen to pick up our pads and helmets, waiting and hoping that some adult would remove me and tell me I was in the wrong place. When that didn’t happen, I looked around and noticed two things: (1) I was tied for shortest boy on the team, and (2) I definitely weighed less than everyone else. I had a “growth spurt” over the summer to push my height up to 5 feet 3 inches, and I tipped the scales at about 110 pounds.

I realized pretty quickly that my size wasn’t going to intimidate anyone, so hopefully the look on my face would. Unfortunately, my parents got me sports goggles that didn’t fit under my helmet, so I had to wear glasses during practice and games. Yes, glasses, with a strap to keep them from flying out of the helmet. Any chance of scaring opponents with a sneer was lost.

We had to choose positions on both offense and defense. It was obvious that I should get with the smaller guys as a halfback on offense and a safety on defense. My basic goal on the field was to try and hide somewhere and not get killed; probably not the best strategy for winning, but I’m sitting here writing for you, so the not-dying plan worked. I played way more defense than offense; it turned out I was better at tackling than I was at taking the handoff from the quarterback, holding the ball in my arms, and figuring out what the 5 hole was and running through it. Early in the first week, I was playing deep safety (that’s not something I was told to do; I just figured I’d be most out of the way if I went really far back), and the offense ran the ball; the fullback, who outweighed me by about 60 pounds and clearly was dealing with some personal issues that he thought could be resolved by hitting people, blasted through the other ten defenders and had a head of steam coming at me for approximately 40 yards. I had enough time to go through the tackling checklist: feet squared, helmet to the side, hit with the shoulder pad, etc. I also had some time to wonder why the fullback hated me so much; steam was coming out of his helmet by the time he reached me. I went low, but he went lower and pretty much abused me on the field. I laid on my back for a little while and stared at the sky, thinking, “I wonder if anyone noticed how bad that looked.”

Apparently, the coaches noticed because I was placed on the C team. Our school was huge, and there were about 90 boys on the freshman team, so we had A, B, and C teams. It shouldn’t take you three guesses to figure out the talent levels on those teams. Anyway, we all practiced together, and our head coach, Mr. Curby, was a nice guy. The assistant coaches were monsters; we got called all kinds of female names, and we were publicly denigrated in new and creative ways on a daily basis.

One drill that haunts me to this day is Burma Road. Basically, we would split up into lines of eight and spread out about 10 yards apart from our line mates. The first person in the group would be given a ball and turn to face the next person in line; he would then try to run past that person, either by juking around him or running into him. Then get up, find the ball (and, for me, my glasses), and run at the next guy, and the next guy, until he reaches the end of the line. Then the second guy would go. So even when your turn was over, you still had to tackle seven other guys coming at you. To make matters worse, there were about nine of us who were small, so whenever Mr. Curby yelled, “Burma Road!” it would be a game of musical chairs to see which one of us ended up having to move on to a group of bigger boys. Mr. Curby could say anything that started with the letter B and the small guys would start huddling together.

I got stuck in the bigger-boy group only once, about midway through the season. I survived. But it was horrible. I had a friend on the team, we’ll call him Dave (because that was his name), and Dave was a nice guy but had a lot of rage, perhaps more than most 14-year-old boys. He was in a thrasher metal band called the Dead Youth. I still have their first demo cassette, with songs such as “Stonehead,” “Parental Abuse,” and “Smell My Butt Please.” He seemed particularly gleeful when someone my size ended up in his group for Burma Road. Dave loved contact so much that he craved it and missed it when he wasn’t at practice. He was right behind me in the Burma Road line, and every time we would tackle someone and move up one place in the line, I would glance back at him and see the gleam in his eyes, knowing he was that much closer to separating me from my helmet. The funny thing was, when it was my turn, he hit me so hard that getting tackled by the other six guys was relatively painless.

Something flipped after that. I, too, became fueled by rage. Rage and the baloney-and-mustard sandwiches my mom packed me for lunch every day. And I became a much better hitter. It led to my one defensive glory moment, which then led to my one chance to shine on offense, and two lion stickers. Our team was the Lions, and big plays would earn a lion sticker on your helmet. The A and B teams would play on Saturday, and the C squad would carry over to Monday. I got promoted to the B team and started, playing the whole game. I was even called on to return one punt. Near the end of the 4th quarter, our team was leading by 4 points, so the other guys had to score to win. They got to first-and-goal. We stopped them on the first three downs. On fourth-and-goal, they had to go for the touchdown. Our coach called a safety blitz; I was supposed to run between two of our lineman and get into the backfield. The quarterback hiked the ball and was going to do a bootleg to his left. I went to blitz, but my teammate on the line had his leg stuck out, so I tripped on it. I tumbled forward, threw my arms out to catch myself, and landed at the feet of the quarterback, who promptly tripped over my body and fell to the ground, ending the game. All my teammates yelled, “Great sack, Dudley!” I said, “I meant to do that.”

After that, I found myself on the bus to the C game on Monday, confident that I wouldn’t have to play. Mr. Curby, who usually only coached the A squad, decided to see how bad the C team was, so he was at the front of the bus with index cards and a pencil, calling out, “Who here is a safety? A cornerback?” etc. I raised my hand when he called my positions, but for whatever reason (perhaps my arm wasn’t long enough to go over the front of the bus seat), he didn’t see and didn’t write my name down. Again, I assumed that I wasn’t playing anyway because of my star turn in the B game. I spent my time on the sidelines chatting with the girl who was the student trainer. At some point during the second half, Mr. Curby noticed me on the sideline and yelled, “Dudley! What are you doing? I don’t have you on my index cards! Why didn’t you raise your hands on the bus?” I said, “But I did,” and looked around for support from my teammates, who all averted their eyes and pretended to tie their shoes. Mr. Curby yelled, “You’ve been spending the whole game flirting with the student trainer, haven’t you?” Oh, the truth hurt. Mr. Curby said, “Get in there, and run the 44 Dive!”

The 44 Dive was one of the only plays I ran on offense; it was the running back (the number “4″ person on the team) running through the “4″ hole, which was between the tackle and the end. Or something like that; I just know that Mr. Curby was using it to punish me today. So I ran up the middle and gained about 5 yards. Usually, our coaches would send in another player, who would relay a new play for a different person to run, to keep us fresh and switch it up. New player came in with the play: “44 Dive. Sorry, Dudley, Coach must be mad at you.” I ran it, gained another 4 or 5 yards. Next play: 44 Dive. The play after that: 44 Dive. This time, I broke free for a 50-yard run and used my blazing speed to get tackled from behind by a 200-pound linebacker at the 3-yard line. Surely, Mr. Curby would take me out to catch my breath and recover. Next play: 44 Dive. I ran up the middle and scored the only touchdown of my playing career. All because my coach was punishing me.

That Tuesday, we had our team meeting, where all the best plays were recounted and lion stickers were handed out. I received two: one for the sack on Saturday, and one for the touchdown on Monday.

At the end of the season, we had a team banquet. I remember my dad telling me on the way there, “I’m surprised you made it through the season. It reminds me of when I was in the Marines: I hated it at times and didn’t always want to be there, but I’m glad I did it.” The cafeteria was filled with all the players from the freshman, sophomore and varsity teams. The freshman coaches got up first and handed out awards: most valuable, most improved, etc. Mr. Curby had a few special awards at the end; one of them, for two players, was what he called the Cobra Award: silent but deadly, to two boys who didn’t say a lot when they were on the sidelines but were the hardest hitters when they were on the field. I was so shocked when he called my name that I didn’t go up right away and had to be pushed up there by my teammates.

There were some other moments on the practice field I won’t forget: I witnessed our star tight end get his leg snapped in half and have his season end by a teammate during a routine drill; I mistook a rare-for-our-area earthquake for just another ground-shaking hit from my teammates in another practice; and I landed on both elbows breaking up a pass on defense once, sending a numbing, tingling pain up both my arms to my shoulders. When I tried to raise a hand to get taken out for the next few plays, I couldn’t lift either arm, so I had to run three more plays covering a receiver without using my arms.

I switched to cross country after that. Purely from a social standpoint, it was the best decision I could make because I met my lovely wife Jen at a cross-country team get-together (future blog post). When my kids don’t believe me when I tell them about my football days, I break out the yearbook to show them the one picture of me in shoulder pads that has survived. And I break out the Dead Youth cassette.

Road Trip Playlist 2017! (Dad Pretends to Be a DJ)

I was driving with my brother, playing him my summer road-trip playlist and explaining the rules that I follow when creating it:

Me: “This first song is by Prince; I like to incorporate songs by artists who passed away in the previous year.”

My brother, scrolling through my list: “Green Day? Did one of the guys in Green Day die?!?”

Me: “No. I also include songs by artists who someone in the family has seen in the past year.”

My brother: “CeeLo Green? When did you see him?”

Me: “I didn’t; I just like that song.”

My brother: “Why is there so much ‘Hamilton’ music?”

Me: “JUST LISTEN TO THE PLAYLIST!!!”

So I should probably explain for you, faithful blog follower, and definitely for my brother. For the last few years, I have made a playlist for each of our family vacations, following an increasingly elaborate set of rules that I totally made up and that I thought would mean something to my family but apparently matters only to me. Not that I am bitter. Here’s how I choose songs:

1. First, I start with an overall theme. For example, in 2016, my son was graduating high school, so the obvious choice was songs from the Disney Channel “High School Musical” movies. This year’s theme was “Hamilton” because (a) three of us saw the show in Chicago, and (b) our youngest child obsessively listened to it at home and knows all the lyrics.

2. I also include artists who have passed away recently. This year’s list included Prince, Glenn Frey, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, and George Michael.

3. Musicians who we have seen in concert in the last year make the cut.

4. Songs that have a connection to the places were are traveling to are in the mix.

5. Songs that have a connection to our family,  for example, from a TV show or movie we’ve viewed.

6. Songs that have no obvious meaning but that I like are included. (Hey, I’m the DJ.)

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It wouldn’t be a blog post about a road trip without a “National Lampoon’s Vacation” photo.

Those are the main rules. Broadly speaking, there will be mostly fun driving songs with a few slower ones at the end, there will be songs that not everyone in the family enjoys but that someone will love, and there will be Taylor Swift (personal preference; my wife knows about my Taylor Swift obsession, so it’s not creepy). Sometimes, songs just don’t work with the rest of the list. In 2016, I included a new song called “Her Mercy” by Glen Hansard, one of my lovely wife Jen’s faves, and for whatever reason, it didn’t fit. The song before it was from “High School Musical,” the song after it was loud and fast, and it just kind of sat there in the middle. I really like it and would recommend Glen Hansard to anyone, but that was a screwup on my part.

This year, we went to Colorado. Our son stayed behind to work a job and earn some money for college, so it was Jen, the girls, and me. We started in Denver and moved up through Boulder to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here’s the list. (I still slip and call it a “mixtape” and get ridiculed mercilessly for being old. I remember a time when creating a mixtape involved having a double-cassette-deck stereo; I’d elaborate on the process, but I’m sure nobody under age 40 cares.)

Colorado 2017 Playlist!

1. “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain. So sad to see such a talented artist die relatively young, especially because he did us short people so proud. This song has a great start (“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life”), but frankly, it kind of drags on the playlist when it settles into the rest of the song.

2. “The Story of Tonight,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, and Anthony Ramos, Hamilton. “Raise a glass to freedom, they’ll tell the story of tonight…” Still setting the mood for the road trip. A great little song about the beginnings of the American Revolution.

3. “Welcome to New York,” Taylor Swift, 1989. Our middle child spent a week in NYC with the high school drama club; this was for her. Also, I’m a big fan of Taylor Swift; this is no secret.

4. “Castle on the Hill,” Ed Sheeran, Divide. Just because I like this song. I placed it after the Taylor Swift song because they have toured and recorded a song together (“Everything Has Changed”).

5. “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” The Clash, Combat Rock. This was the theme song to Season 1 of Stranger Things, a Netflix show that my kids forced me to watch. Not to get too deep here, but I put it after the Ed Sheeran song about longing for our childhood because the TV show takes place in 1983, when I was 12 years old, the same age as the main characters in the show. Plus, I got to see one of the Clash’s founding members in concert (Mick Jones when he was in Big Audio Dynamite).

6. “Move Along,” The All-American Rejects, Move Along. Great pop punk song that everyone can scream along with on a car ride. Our youngest daughter and I saw them open for Blink-182 within the past year.

7. “Still Breathing,” Green Day, Revolution Radio. I took both of our daughters to see Green Day earlier this year (my ears are still recovering). This new song off their latest album keeps me going, when I’m running and in life generally. Another pop-punk car-ride screamer.

8. “Say You Won’t Let Go,” James Arthur, Back From the Edge. Zero connections to this song; I just like it. A love song to my wife. Turned out, though, that our youngest hated this song because all the kids in her class at school would request that the teacher play it when he allowed them to listen to music. Well, too bad, Dad’s in charge.

9. “Rocky Mountain High,” John Denver, Rocky Mountain High. Too obvious? This is required listening for a trip to the Rockies. Interesting side note: John Denver’s real last name was Deutschendorf; an LA club owner recommended that he change it to Denver. He didn’t actually visit Colorado until 7 years after he picked up the stage name. (“He was born in the summer of his 27th year…”)

10. “Rocky Mountain Way,” Joe Walsh, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Also too obvious. Pretty sure Joe Walsh is not talking about the mountains here (“couldn’t get much higher…”). We did see a few marijuana dispensaries while in Colorado. Jen and I got to see Joe Walsh in concert when he was touring with the Eagles about 10 years ago.

11. “You’ll Be Back,” Jonathan Groff, Hamilton. One of the King George songs on the soundtrack, definitely the comic relief of the show. (“You’ll be back, time will tell, you’ll remember that I served you well; Oceans rise, empires fall, we have seen each other through it all; And when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!”) Jonathan Groff is a family favorite; he was the voice of Kristoff in Frozen and Jessie St. James in Glee. 

12. “On Hold,” The xx, I See You. Another song with no connections. I like the way it sounds, and when a song samples Hall and Oates’ cheesy ’80s tune “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” I’m in.

13. “The Weekend,” Modern Baseball, Sports. This song and this band remind me of my high school and college days. Hard to believe, kids, but there was a time when I went out to parties and had girl problems.

14. “In a Drawer,” Band of Horses, Why Are You OK. Before our middle child got her drivers license, I would drive her and her friends home from school. When this song came on the radio, she would complain about it (“It’s about a guy finding something in a drawer!”), but I knew that secretly she loved it and that it was destined to end up on our playlist. That’s the kind of keenly attuned dad I am.

15. “Good Help (Is So Hard to Find),” Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi. Great song with a good beat. Also, it sounds to me like a political statement (“You’ll never have to hear the word ‘no’ if you keep all your friends on the payroll”).

16. “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here. Taken at face value, this one was for our son, who couldn’t make the trip, the first time one of our kids missed a vacation. Personally, this song hits me because it reminds me of a childhood friend who introduced me to Pink Floyd who died while we were in college. Surprisingly, this song doesn’t work on the playlist; there’s too long of a buildup, and it’s too slow.

17. “All We Ever Knew,” The Head and the Heart, Signs of Light. Another popular song on the drive home from school (thanks, WXRT!). I hear about three or four distinct songs within this one every time I listen to it: there’s a slow part at the start of each verse, a pickup at the chorus, and a nonsensical singalong portion (“La la la la la la…”), plus a bridge that sounds like another song.

18. “Best of Wives and Best of Women,” Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo, Hamilton. I didn’t include any of the Hamilton songs that actually make me cry, but this one comes close. Alexander is about to go off to a duel with Aaron Burr, and his wife Eliza asks him to come back to bed. He tells her he’ll be back soon, and as she turns away, he calls out, “Hey, best of wives and best of women.” That’s an actual quote from the letter Hamilton wrote to Eliza on the event of his death.

19. “Mom,” Meghan Trainor, Thank You. Jen had been thinking and worrying about her own mother as we left for the trip. It’s also a fun song for moms and daughters to sing together (and I got to hear mom and daughters singing together loudly on this trip).

20. “F@#k You,” CeeLo Green, The Lady Killer. Well, ahem. Yes. We allow swearing in our family if you are singing along with a song. This is a great tune for a windows-down drive, except you might want to keep the windows up when the chorus comes around.

21. “Already Gone,” The Eagles, On the Border. Glenn Frey’s passing caught me off guard. I had seen him solo in a very strange setting: my brother-in-law’s company picnic up in the Santa Monica mountains sometime in the early 2000s. I saw Don Henley solo in the early 1990s, and I got to see the reunited Eagles about a decade ago. Frey was a great showman and a solid musician, and it can be argued that the Eagles are America’s greatest rock band. But that’s a story for another blog post.

22. “Johnny B. Goode,” Chuck Berry, Chuck Berry Is On Top. I was lucky enough to see Chuck Berry in concert before he passed, back when I lived in St. Louis. He was in his 70s and would play about once a month in the basement of Blueberry Hill, a restaurant in University City, MO. I had been told that he was very hit-or-miss; some shows were great, but in others he was disinterested, ornery, and ready to bolt early. I got a great show. What was fascinating was that he would start with a guitar riff (and if you know Chuck Berry songs, you know there are basically two riffs that his songs start with), and the other guitarist would figure out what song he was playing and yell it out to the pianist and drummer. Fun stuff.

23. “Modern Love,” David Bowie, Let’s Dance. Seriously, it’s getting harder to take, this aging and having all my music crushes die. David Bowie? Come on. Was there anyone more willing to reinvent himself and be different at the risk of ridicule?

24. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” George Michael featuring Elton John, Duets. Okay,  I get it, everyone dies. But George Michael? I don’t have to remind my faithful readers that Wham! was my first concert experience. I could have chosen any Wham!/solo song, but I went with this one because it’s a fun singalong and the video was recorded live in Chicago, my home base.

25. “Miles Away,” Goldfinger, Goldfinger. For years, I had this album on a poorly-recorded cassette, and I had practically forgotten about it. Then our youngest child, who fell head over heels for Blink-182, Green Day, and Fall Out Boy, started agitating for more pop punk music. I finally broke this album out for her and rediscovered how good it was. Plus, we were literally going, ahem, miles away from our home on this trip.

26. “Cynical,” Blink-182, California. I took our youngest to see Blink-182 in concert, and my ears recovered just in time for us to see Green Day. The reconstituted Blink-182 is unfortunately missing Tom DeLonge, their great co-lead singer, but Mark Hoppus makes this song off their most recent album sound as good as any of their early stuff.

27. “Packed Powder,” Blind Pilot, And Then Like Lions. How many indie bands can Portland, OR, produce? Here’s another. Love the feel of this song. “I started working as a tour guide, I thought it would make me believe my own words…” I am purposely winding the album down with softer songs at this point.

28. “Set ‘Em Free, Pt. 1,” Akron/Family, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. This one was a holdover from the previous year’s playlist, when our oldest went to college. I heard it (of all places) in a tire commercial. I interpret it to be about letting our kids grow and go. “Set them free, set them up, and let them be their own release, And when it’s time you can begin to let them breathe…”

29. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” the cast of “Hamilton,” Hamilton. I lied: I did include a song from the musical that brings me to tears. It tells the story of Eliza and Alexander, but it’s also a message about our limited time in this world from Lin-Manuel Miranda to all of us: “And when you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame?”; “And when my time is up, have I done enough?”

30. “Nightswimming,” R.E.M., Automatic for the People. I always planned on ending a playlist with this quiet song. There was a time before iTunes and Spotify when record companies would release albums, often on Tuesdays, and fans of a band would line up (yes, line up!) outside of record stores on release dates to buy the latest albums. When I was in college, R.E.M. was one of those bands for me; the band has retired, which is a bizarre thing to do for a band that produced so much vibrant music over the decades. The song “Everybody Hurts” got more airplay off of this album, but this song meant more to me. I think of Jen and me when I hear it, about how lucky we are to have known each other since we were teenagers. “Nightswimming, remembering that night, September’s coming soon, I’m pining for the moon; And what if there were two side by side in orbit around the fairest sun?”

 

The First 10 Marathons: How “Never Again” Turned Into “Well, Maybe Nine More”

Before I ran my most recent marathon, I was reviewing my last several marathons’ training plans and their outcomes to see what I could learn from them. (Lesson 1: When grabbing a Gatorade and a water at the same aid station, dump the water on your head and drink the Gatorade, not the other way around. I made that mistake around mile 20 of a hot race when my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and I spent the rest of the race wiping the Gatorade from my eyes and feeling sticky in the head area.)

My original goal with marathons was a general notion that I would attempt to run a marathon before I was 40 years old. I worked with a guy who had done one for his 40th birthday, and I thought that if he could find the time to train for it, I could too. Then my lovely wife Jen and I started to have children, and I figured I should try it before the family was too big. I ran my first when I was 32. It was such a difficult experience that immediately after the race, I told Jen, “I am never going to run a marathon again.”

However, I was running a 5K several years later, and this guy showed up wearing a Boston Marathon jacket. I was only somewhat aware that Boston was unique because of its qualifying times, but I didn’t really know what that meant. So I looked it up and saw how fast I’d need to go, and I thought, I might be able to do that. (Boston’s qualifying times are age- and gender-graded; broadly speaking, if you are in the top 10% of runners in your age group, you will qualify. The times are listed at the Boston Athletic Association website.)

Because the Boston Marathon has a 10 a.m. start time and starts 26 miles west of the finish line, the participants have to be bussed out to the starting line, starting at 6 a.m. On the 45-minute bus ride during my first time running it, I was talking to a group of runners who were asking everyone how many marathons they had run. One runner: “This is my 25th.” Other runner: “I’ve done over 70.” Third runner: “I have completed 152 marathons.” Me: “I’ve done 2.”

So I started to think about long-term goals and the whole “Why do I run?” question. The short answer about why I run marathons is twofold: 1. Because I can. I don’t mean that glibly; I know people who can’t or won’t run, and I am truly grateful that I’m able to get out there and do something that I enjoy. I don’t take it for granted. 2. It’s gotten me through some pretty low points in my life. Recently I was talking with someone who had a bad marathon experience, and we were  marveling at how you learn more about yourself and your character from your worst races than you do from the easy ones. And I’ve had to lean on “this isn’t as bad as the time I had to walk-jog the last 12 miles of that one marathon” several times in my life.

I told myself I’d finish 10 marathons by the time I was 50 years old. That seemed reasonable enough that I could justify the time and expense to Jen: “I’ll only be crabby about 16 to 20 weeks per year if I spread it out over a decade!” Then I started accelerating the timetable (and controlling the crabbiness).  Now I’m working on new goals; nothing super-crazy like Dean Karnazes‘ 50 marathons, 50 states, 50 days plan, but a teeny bit of crazy sounds about right.

Here’s a quick look back at my first 10 marathons:

1. 2003 Chicago Marathon, 3:28:00. I always have about three levels of goals for a marathon. For this initial one, I had two: first, to finish, and second, to break 3 hours 30 minutes. It was a relatively warm October day, I had no idea what to expect, and at the end, I was seriously dehydrated. Jen found me after the race with blue lips and lethargy (“Blue Lips and Lethargy” sounds like the name of an early Cure album) and nursed me back to health with chocolate and gummy candy.

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Yes! I’m in 1,940th place!

2. 2012 Chicago Marathon, 3:14:14. Note the 9-year gap between marathons. We went from one child to three, and it was getting harder to find the time to train. This was a cool October day, and I was attempting to reach my Boston qualifying time of 3 hours 15 minutes. I “banked time,” wherein you run a little faster at the beginning to build up a cushion (no one seriously recommends this method). I had a cushion of about 2 minutes with 6 miles to go. Then I ran 10 seconds slower than I should have. Then 30 seconds slower. Then another 30 slower.  It was panic time; for a fleeting moment, I had the thought that it would be okay if I didn’t reach my goal, but I refocused and pulled myself together for the last few miles. Incidentally, this is still my personal best.

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I was told that it would be cold. Turns out it was sunny and 50 at the starting line; I was hot the whole race.

3. 2013 Boston Marathon, 4:02:17. In the weeks leading up to the race, I had a nagging injury in my right hip that I couldn’t pinpoint. The whole Boston experience was great, and I was enjoying the first half of the race. Somewhere around the Wellesley scream tunnel (Google that), it felt as if someone stabbed me on the outside of my knee. The immediate, severe pain caused me to stop. It turns out I was dealing with iliotibial (IT) band syndrome; the IT band runs from the top of your hip to the outside of your knee, and it’s a very common running injury. I’ve since dealt with it on multiple occasions, but that first time is the worst. I ended up walking and jogging for the last 12 miles with a guy who owned a shoe store in California. If I had known how close I was going to be to 4 hours, I would have pushed it harder at some point.

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They were handing out toasted ravioli, cracker-crust pizza, and frozen custard at the finish line. That’s St. Louis style.

4. 2014 Go! St. Louis Marathon, 3:28:30. St. Louis was our home for 7 or 8 years, and the marathon ran right past our old hangouts. After running in two of the largest marathons in the world, I was surprised by how  mentally challenging it was to run a smaller marathon: there were 11,000 runners in the combined half and full marathons, and around mile 10, the 8,000 half marathoners split off and headed for the finish line; there was an immediate vacuum of energy and crowd support after that. It really felt as if I was running alone for the next 16 miles. I would periodically latch onto people, but I didn’t really know how to run a marathon without a large group around me. Plus, there are tons of small hills throughout St. Louis, and I faded in the last few miles.

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Look at the grit and determination on that face! (I had to go to the bathroom.)

5. 2014 Chicago Marathon, 3:20:10. This was the first time I attempted two marathons in one year. I was going for another Boston qualifying time; I had moved up to the next age group, so I was shooting for 3 hours 25 minutes. In the days leading up to it, I told Jen, “I feel good, as if I could go for 3:10.” She said, “Why not go for 3 hours?” So, casting aside all of my training and mental preparation, I decided on a whim to latch onto the 3-hour pacing group. (Many large marathons have pacers for certain time goals.) So I fell into a 6:52-per-mile pace for the first 13 or 14 miles and felt great. At mile 14, I slowed for a second to take in some GU gel and water; when I tried to catch up with the pacer, I had nothing left in me. The rest of the race was a slog; I ran the second half a full 20 minutes slower than the first half. Amateur hour. But I still qualified for Boston.

6. 2015 Naperville Marathon, 3:27:18. This small race had very few hills, but they came at inopportune moments. The last one was a steady rise coming out of an underpass, and it kicked my butt. I was starting to accept that I was a mid-3:20s marathoner, and that the one sub-3:15 was an outlier.

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Jen made me wear the shirt so that she could pick me out of the crowd. The whole race, I heard, “Go Captain America!” from the spectators.

7. 2016 Boston Marathon, 3:28:53. An acquaintance who had done Boston several times told me, “Just take it easy and enjoy the sights and sounds until after Heartbreak Hill (mile 21), and then see what you have left.” So I decided to try that, and it felt much better than running at breakneck pace. Perhaps my most enjoyable marathon to date.

8. 2016 Starved Rock Country Marathon, 3:27:53. This was 26 days after Boston, and I signed up because a friend told me the race organizer was considering not holding it anymore (which turned out to be untrue; he was looking for bigger sponsors and found them for the next year). Strangely, this course was hillier and harder than the famously difficult Boston course. I handled it well, though, because the hills are over by mile 15, and the last 10 miles are truer to Illinois’ flatlander reputation. By far the smallest race I’ve run: I came in 10th place out of 100 runners total. Talk about running alone out there.

9. 2016 Fox Valley Marathon, 3:24:38. Definitely the hottest marathon I’ve completed. A few thousand runners take part in this mid-September stroll along the paved path that lines both sides of the Fox River. The one part of the course that threw me off was from about mile 7 to mile 15, when runners are going in both directions of the out-and-back part of the race. Passing becomes a near impossibility. I had hoped to get under 3:25, and I barely held on during the last few very hot, very sunny miles. I did not order any of the official race photos because some dad invited his kids to run with him for the last 50 yards to the finish line, and my photos show me appearing to struggle keeping up with a 5-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy.

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Probably the most relaxed I’ve felt at the finish of a marathon. And yes, that’s the same hat in each of the pictures; it’s pretty disgusting by now and should be burned.

10. 2016 Naperville Marathon, 3:17:11. Note that this was the fourth marathon I did in a 6-month span, and the fastest of the four (my 2nd-fastest overall). Sadly, this was the last running of this fan-friendly course. Serendipity helped me at this one: at the starting line, I bumped into my childhood best friend who grew up across the street from my parents’ house, and he asked me to pace him to a 1:40 half marathon. We ran together until he turned toward the finish (he broke 1:39), and I continued on. Frustratingly, some young runner wouldn’t let me catch up to him around mile 16; every time I tried to run next to him, he sped up. I settled in behind him until he started fading at mile 23, so I picked up the pace and ran my first successful negative-splits marathon (in which I ran the second half faster than the first). I thought I’d be around 3:19, and I was surprised to be nearing 3:17 at the end.

 

My Indoor Track Career: Thank God No One Documented It With Cell Phones

I’ve been watching a lot of indoor track and field on TV and the Internet lately (it’s a cry for help, really), and it’s making me nostalgic for my indoor track days. And when I say “nostalgic,” I mean that I never want to relive the embarrassment of being a 14-year-old in 1980s short shorts again.

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Who’s that  handsome fella in the middle? The “L” on my singlet does not stand for “loser.” By the way, I am thrilled to be a freshman.

First of all, I didn’t even want to do indoor track, and definitely not distance events. My older brother was a distance runner, so I wanted to carve my own mark. (I ended up switching to distance my junior year because it was clearly where I belonged.) Plus, indoor tracks are notoriously small, and I didn’t want to run in so many circles. A standard outdoor track is 400 meters per lap, or about 4 laps to a  mile. However, indoor tracks are always much tinier. I’ve never seen a 400-m indoor track; good ones are 200 meters, or 8 laps to a mile. My high school looped a track around the main gymnasium, and it came out to something ridiculous like 11 laps to a mile. I’ve seen worse.

(Note that I use “mile” when I refer to 1600 meters; in the 1970s, most states switched to metric distances in high school events, and nowadays most high schools are running 1600-m races instead of the mile, which is 1609.3 meters. Just to clarify for you statistics nerds.)

So I decided I was going to be a sprinter. My best friend on the team, Keith, also wanted to run sprints; we went to the first practice as freshmen together, all wide-eyed and hope-filled in February. All the sprinters gathered along the wall as the sprinting coach, Coach Turnbull, stomped in to deliver his opening remarks. (His last name was actually Turnbull, and he was terrifying. I probably don’t need to mention that he had a crewcut and coached football in the fall.) Unbeknownst to us, the best sprinter on our team, who was a senior, had just informed Coach Turnbull that he was skipping track to focus on his studies because he was going to be a quarterback on an Ivy League football team after graduation. Coach T was not happy about it and took it out on the rest of us. The welcome speech went something along the lines of, “Brian doesn’t want to hurt his precious little fairy arm and is going to sit at home on his computer doing homework instead of being a real man!” and got worse from there. We ran extra laps, apparently to punish Brian for his selfishness.

Boys and girls shared the track, and on cruddy-weather days, even the distance runners were stuck inside running endless loops around it. It got crowded. Generally, the faster runners are given the inside lanes and the slower runners stick to the outer lanes. One day after a grueling workout, Coach T told us to get off the track and hit the showers. I was chatting with Keith, walking from the infield (the inner part of the track) to the exit doors, when I heard some girls yelling, “Track! Track!” I thought, That’s strange, we all know we’re at a track; I wonder what that means. After more screams, I turned around to find about 15 girls barreling down on Keith and me, hair flowing, determined looks on their faces. One of them lowered her shoulder into my chest and sent me sprawling across the track. She kept running and yelled at me over her shoulder, “When we yell ‘track,’ it means you get off the track, freshmen!” Duly noted. On the bright side, at least I got the ladies to notice me.

Here was something unique about our indoor track: It was made of this rubbery material that I guess helped make the basketball court in the middle of it be bouncy, but it was really slick. Since we couldn’t wear spikes on it, we had to have shoes with good traction to keep ourselves from slipping around turns. We had to practice block starts for the sprints. The starting blocks are these metal thingies that have one long piece of metal in the middle and adjustable foot pedals on which to push off your feet at the sound of the starter’s pistol. There’s a whole science of blasting off from starting blocks; see Usain Bolt for details. (Not to toot my own horn, but I was a  pretty good block starter; I was the fastest out of the blocks and for the first 10-15 meters compared to everyone on my team. If only the sprint races were 10 meters long instead of 50 or 100.)

The starting blocks came with spikes that kept them in place on outdoor track surfaces; but because we weren’t allowed to use spikes in the gym, the starting blocks had to be supported by another person. Keith and I paired up and grabbed some blocks. I went first. Keith braced the block by standing on top and putting all his weight on it. I took off from the blocks and got used to them.

Then we switched. Here’s where we ran into trouble: Keith was about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, and the freshman version of me was 5’3″ and 110 pounds. (Don’t worry, I’ve filled out over the last few decades and added an inch and a half and 10 pounds to my frame. I’m huge now.) Even a basic knowledge of physics would have come in handy: large Keith could nonchalantly stand on the blocks and my small force in driving off of them with my legs didn’t make them budge. What I should have done was sit behind the blocks for large Keith and put my feet and all my small weight against the back sides of the blocks. But I didn’t; there I stood on top of the blocks like the grinning idiot that I was, waiting for Keith to push off. I can only assume that it was a coincidence that the whole girls track team was looking over when Keith started. Or tried to start: When he pushed his legs back on the blocks, there was very little resistance from my weight holding them in place. Consequently, his feet slid straight back and he ended up on his stomach. Meanwhile, his force whiplashed me sideways, and I hung in the air for a split second like Wile E. Coyote hovering over a cliff, my body in a perfect line parallel to the ground, before I came crashing down on Keith’s backside.

I looked over at the girls track team and gave them the most relaxed “Well, hello, ladies” look I could muster before my teammates started in with a slow clap and someone said, “Nice job, freshmen!” I clambered off Keith, who said to me, “We must never speak of this.” (Sorry, Keith; readers of my blog deserve the unvarnished truth.)

We also practiced relay handoffs. A relay team consists of four runners, and each one has to carry a metal baton. The baton has to be handed off in an exchange zone marked on the track. Any sooner or later than the zone, and the team is disqualified from the race. In sprint relays, this exchange has to be carefully choreographed, and the person about to receive the baton usually times his takeoff so that he runs and reaches back with one hand without looking at his teammate. The onus is upon his teammate to say something aloud to indicate when he should reach his hand back. (Our team yelled “blue!” and hoped that no other team used that word.) I was practicing with another big guy (look, I know they were all bigger than me), a football player named John who loved to be cool for the ladies. Since I was going to be the leadoff runner on our relay and John was second, we were getting the timing right.

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Izod polo? Check. Feathered hair? Check. Jeff Spicoli facial expression? Check. Must be the 1980s! My freshman yearbook picture, 1986. Oh, what the ladies were missing out on.

After a few halfway-decent tries, Coach T told us to really turn up the heat and do it as close to full speed as we could. The thing about indoor tracks is that they are so small that you feel as if you are constantly turning left. So every time I came flying around, I was coming out of a turn, calling out “blue!,” and giving John the baton. So I got a running start, kicked into high gear, and ran as fast as I could toward John, who took off and waited for me to say “blue.” What I failed to do was to wipe the dust off the bottoms of my shoes, so that when I came off of the turn, my legs slipped out from under me on the rubber-surfaced track and I slammed down onto my side. Because the track was slippery, I kept sliding along the track, looking ahead of me at poor John. In his confusion about why I didn’t call out the signal and give him the baton, John came to a complete stop and looked back behind him. I can still see the look of shock on his face when he first saw nobody running toward him and then looked down to see me just as I swept under him and took his legs out, sending him crashing down on top of me. We slid together for another 10 meters or so. Another round of slow claps from our teammates, another special show for the ladies.

(Strangely, the only two girls that I dated in high school were runners; one of them witnessed all three of these events and still agreed to go to two dances with me. The other one transferred to our school a few years later, and I can only assume she wouldn’t have eventually married me if she had been on the track back then.)

Several years ago, our high school built a fancy, gleaming fieldhouse with an indoor track that puts their old one to shame. I only know this because some former teammates of mine told me about it. I’m surmising that the school purposely didn’t invite me back for the dedication.

Best Books 2016

I’m about to quote an article that quotes an article. That seems reliable. You can quote me and take it even further away from the truth. A blurb in the November/December issue of WebMD magazine reads, “Books could add years to your life. In a study of 3,635 people older than 50, book readers were 20% less likely than their peers to die during the 12-year study. (Source: Social Science & Medicine.)” So, the message is: Read books or you will die in the next 12 years. I might be misinterpreting, but you get the idea. Books = good.

Which brings me to my annual review of the books I read in the previous year. My tastes run toward a few types of books: memoirs, biographies, and humorous fiction.  Why memoirs and biographies? I like to learn about famous people for two reasons: 1. to learn how they were just like me when they were young (because it’s always, “I was just like a normal person when I was young!”), and 2. to learn the whats and whens about them becoming extraordinary. And why humorous fiction? Because the world is cruel and the bastards are trying to grind us down, so humor keeps me sane.

I read 34 books in 2016, a letdown from the 49 I read the year before. My excuses: my son graduated from high school, and we sent him off to college; I didn’t want to neglect my daughters’ needs; volunteer work got in the way; having a strong relationship with my lovely wife Jen is a constant work in progress; and I spent too much time watching TV and streaming movies. Mostly the last excuse. I read a book every 10 days and saw a movie every 4 days. (No comment on the TV viewing.) Anyway, here are some suggestions for you:

The_Martian_2014-21. The Martian, Andy Weir. First on my list is this sort-of sci-fi novel set only a little bit into the future. Mark Watney is an American astronaut who, through a series of incredibly unlucky events, is left behind on Mars by a crew that presumed him dead. Using only the few supplies abandoned by his fellow astronauts and his wits, he has to figure out how to “MacGyver” himself a way to survive until he can communicate with NASA. I haven’t seen the film version, so I can’t comment on it, but man, this is one thrill ride of a book with a surprising amount of humor. I couldn’t put it down. I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi, but this really isn’t anything other than a story of a guy trying to overcome his surroundings. Strangely, the main character reminded me of my father-in-law, a scientist by training with a curiosity for how things work and, more importantly, how to make workarounds when things stop working.

Unknown2. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist, Sunil Yapa. Up next is this fictionalization of the real events of November 1999, when 50,000 protesters descended upon the streets of Seattle during the World Trade Organization meetings there. This book is serious (a rarity for books that make my list), and I couldn’t shake it from my mind. Told from the viewpoints of several different fictional characters (the police chief, a protest organizer, a runaway, a diplomat, and others), this book weaves together their stories as they move toward a violent and potentially avoidable conclusion. The author doesn’t take sides, and everyone involved is shown as a human being whose motivations we can sympathize with.

Unknown3. The Emperors of Chocolate, Joël Glenn Brenner. Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate! In July of 2016, I was reading the obituary of Forrest Mars, Jr., the eccentric billionaire co-owner of Mars Inc. and the grandson of the company’s founder. This book was quoted in the obit to highlight the Mars family’s slavish devotion to two things: chocolate and secrecy. And eccentricity. This book is a combination history of the development of chocolate and history of the rivalry between the Hershey and Mars companies. Both companies have traded the title of “World’s Largest Candy Company” over the last several decades, and the top-level espionage between them would be unbelievable if it weren’t true. (Coincidentally, Mars’ headquarters is within 2 miles of CIA headquarters.) A fun read, although it’s pretty long and the last third gets slow.

Unknown-14. A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers. King Abdullah Economic City is a technology hub being developed in Saudi Arabia (that part is true), and Allan Clay is a consultant for an IT company trying to win over the good graces of the king’s nephew for a major contract (that part is not true); the nephew may or may not be jerking around Clay, whose 2 days in Saudi Arabia stretch into several weeks. This novel deals with culture clash, the frustrations of a middle-aged man dealing with family dysfunction and relationship problems, and the economic downturn of the 2000s. I read most of what Dave Eggers has written because I worked with him at our student newspaper in college (I’m 100% sure he doesn’t remember me), but he’s also insanely talented. The tension and frustration of dealing with politicians and not getting answers will remind some readers of “Waiting for Godot” and anything by Franz Kafka.

Unknown-15. and 5a. Quench Your Own Thirst, Jim Koch, and Shoe Dog, Phil Knight. This is cheating, I know, but these two memoirs are like bookends (I’m all about the wordplay) to each other. Koch, the founder of Samuel Adams Brewery, and Knight, the co-founder of Nike, have a few things in common: they were innovators in well-established industries that looked to freeze them out, and their personalities shaped the direction of Unknownthe company. Where they differ: Knight was hell-bent on making Nike the biggest shoe company in the world (he succeeded), and Koch wanted to bring craft brewing back to a beer industry that had foisted big-name beer with little regard to flavor on the world. Knight’s book was more than a business book: he was a runner first, and I appreciated that aspect of his life story. Koch’s book is for anyone who wants to know how to run a successful business and still be considered a nice guy.

Unknown-16. and 6a. Petty, Warren Zanes, and Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen. Rock legends and their stories. (And yes, I’m cheating again by adding an extra book to the list.) Tom Petty allowed Warren Zanes full access to tell the story of his life, warts and all; Zanes even interviews Petty’s exes and bandmates with whom he had a falling-out. Springsteen’s autobiography is way more of a fever dream by a poet-troubador recalling his younger days. You don’t have to Unknownlike either the Heartbreakers or the E Street Band to like these books, but it sure helps. The one takeaway from these books: a brutal upbringing can lead to some great art.

7. Mister Monkey, Francine Prose.  Under the guise of a straightforward story about the theater, this is a bizarre, funny, thought-provoking novel. Margot, a middle-aged actress stuck in a long-running, wacky off-off-Broadway play for children based on a Unknownbeloved children’s book called Mister Monkey (picture Curious George), has an awkward on-stage run-in with Adam, the 12-year-old boy who portrays the monkey in an ape suit. From there, we get glimpses into the lives and thoughts of Margot, Adam, the costume designer, the director, the original book’s author, an audience member, and others. “It kept me guessing” would be an understatement.

Unknown8. The Sherlockian, Graham Moore. Moore’s rollicking, funny historical novel/modern-day murder mystery starts in 1893 with Arthur Conan Doyle contemplates killing off his invention, Sherlock Holmes, having grown tired of the character. Flash forward to today, when Harold White, a copyright lawyer and Holmes enthusiast, is inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, one of hundreds of Holmes-obsessed societies. When a colleague suggests he may have found the long-rumored, presumed-lost Doyle diary from 1883-1901 that may have explained why Doyle killed off Holmes only to resurrect him 8 years later, an unexpected death and the search for the diary lead White on the trail of Holmes and Doyle.

Unknown9. Thomas Murphy, Roger Rosenblatt. Poet and raconteur Thomas Murphy battles against aging in this poignant novel. Murphy, a literary giant, feels his mind slipping from him but doesn’t want to give up his freedoms. His daughter, Maire, is onto him and tries to get him to the doctor. The reader jumps back and forth from his present-day Manhattan life to his childhood on the Irish island of Inishmaan.

Unknown-110. Nutshell, Ian McEwan. This modern tale of deceit and betrayal is told from the extremely unusual viewpoint of a highly, highly precocious 9-month-old fetus growing in the belly of Trudy, a woman who plots the murder of her husband John with her lover, John’s brother Claude (shades of Shakespeare in this one). The baby, whose college-level education and erudite thoughts are thanks to his mother’s tendency to listen to BBC Radio (just go with it), struggles with his feelings of hatred for his uncle, compassion for his father, and a mixture of both for the woman who is keeping him alive and growing. Gripping and provocative.

Other books I recommend that just missed the cutoff: Almost Interesting, David Spade; But Enough about Me, Burt Reynolds; The Bronte Plot, Katherine Reay; The Math Myth, Andrew Hacker; Modern Lovers, Emma Straub; Disrupted, Dan Lyons.

The Best Films I Saw in 2016

“Hey Dudley, when are you going to post your list of favorite movies from 2016?” is a question that exactly zero people have asked me. Well, too bad, it’s my blog! Just a reminder: These are not the best films released last year. These are the best movies I saw in the last calendar year, whether they were new or old. I’m almost embarrassed to say that, of the 87 movies I watched in 2016, only one was in a movie theater, and that was in late December. This means I streamed a ton of films into my living room and watched them by myself (I like to call it “Netflix and no chill”). See, my lovely wife Jen would rather spend her time reading books or going to work than sitting and staring at a screen (she’s weird like that). So it’s usually me alone, watching a movie and thinking to myself, Great job on another 2 hours well spent, Dudley! Add that one to the list for the blog!

But I’m okay with that if you are. Here is my list. Remember, just because I liked them doesn’t mean that you will. And vice versa; I mean, you probably liked some of the films I left off the list (e.g., “A Walk in the Woods,” “Ant-Man,” “Neighbors 2″). Clearly, we have different tastes. I’m not saying mine is better; I’m just mumbling it behind your back.

10. “My Architect,” 2003 documentary directed by Nathaniel Kahn. Louis Kahn, a celebrated architect who died in the early 1970s, had three separate families that he kept from one another. His son travels the world visiting his father’s colleagues, family members, and buildings he designed, trying to find out more about his father. Sad and redemptive; at one point, a relative challenges him to prove that he is his father’s son, and Nathaniel Kahn, obviously used to this sort of questioning from his father’s family, pulls out the birth certificate that he always carries with him.

9. “What If,” 2013 indie comedy directed by Michael Dowse starring Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe. Harry Potter in a romantic comedy? Yes please! Radcliffe is a medical-school dropout moping about his failed engagement; he meets Kazan at a party, and they hit it off. The only thing standing in their way is her boyfriend. Wizardry won’t save you now, Harry Potter! Yeah, he’s never going to outgrow that.

8. “Super 8,” 2011 sci-fi directed by JJ Abrams starring Kyle Chandler and a bunch of child actors you’ve never heard of. Abrams wanted to make a film in the spirit of early Steven Spielberg (who is the executive producer). A group of children spend the summer of 1979 running around and making movies. Late one night, they sneak out and accidentally capture a military train crash on film, leading to an investigation of unexplained events happening in their town. I remember seeing “E.T” in a Texas theater in 1982 while on vacation; this movie brought a lot of the memories of that movie and that time back.

7. “Gravity,” 2013 sci-fi drama directed by Alfonso Cuaron starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Every year, there are movies that I hear so much about that I’m like, Screw that, I know everything about that flick and won’t want to sit through it. I don’t know why, then, that I watched this much-talked-about film, but I did. I couldn’t get it out of my mind afterwards. I’ve always hated thinking about deep space; it makes my brain hurt. Still does, but what a powerful film.

6. “How To Be Single,” 2016 romantic comedy directed by Christian Ditter starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Lacy, and Anders Holm. I am a sucker for twentysomething, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,” relationship movies (see “What If” above). This ensemble comedy follows Dakota Johnson’s character as she navigates the wacky world of dating in New York in the 2010s. It’s better than I describe it; and for the second year in a row, Jake Lacy fills the nice-guy role with great comic timing (last year’s “Obvious Child”).

5. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” 2016 sci-fi directed by Gareth Edwards starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, and Riz Ahmed. Look, I get that people who don’t like the Star Wars universe hate hearing about it all the time. And I’ll be honest, after first seeing this, I said out loud, “That wasn’t my favorite Star Wars movie.” But then it stuck with me, the way “Gravity” did and the way other movies that aren’t exactly all rainbows and sunshine can. It effectively carried the story up until the moment the original “Star Wars” began. And now during trying times, I find myself muttering under my breath, “I am one with the force, and the force is with me…”

4. “Mortdecai,” 2015 mystery/action comedy directed by David Koepp starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ewan McGregor. I watched this silly movie and immediately made Jen and my daughters watch it. I’m not usually a fan of all of Depp’s goofy voices, but to hear him with a marble-mouthed upper-crust British action, and to hear Paltrow’s accent, made this movie worthwhile. Based on the late Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novels about Charlie Mortdecai, art dealer and scoundrel, this one follows Charlie as he and his wife attempt to solve a crime caper involving stolen art. I giggle thinking about Paltrow gagging when she attempts to kiss Depp with the handlebar mustache that she hates.

3. “Love & Mercy,” 2014 drama directed by Bill Pohlad starring Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Giamatti. I didn’t think it would work having Dano and Cusack play Beach Boys singer/songwriter Brian Wilson at different ages, but it does. I thought I knew the story of how Wilson suffered from mental illness and then lived under the control of his psychologist, Eugene Landy, but I didn’t really understand what was going on. Effectively shows what it’s like inside the head of a haunted musical genius. This is a truly American story of love, loss, and redemption; we love a comeback tale.

2. “The Nice Guys,” 2016 crime comedy directed by Shane Black starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, and Angourie Rice. Gosling and Crowe have great comedic chemistry in this action movie set in 1977 Los Angeles. They play private investigators working on a murder case that involves porn stars, government conspiracies, and eccentric hitmen. Rice plays Gosling’s preteen daughter, clearly the more mature of the two of them. I’m not one for bloody violence, but I could put up with it here to see Crowe and Gosling knock heads.

51PQ9syugdL._SX200_QL80_1. “People Places Things,” 2015 romantic comedy directed by Jim Strouse starring Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, and Jessica Williams. This movie came and went quickly. If you recognize Clement, it’s probably from the TV series “Flight of the Conchords.” Here, he plays a newly single father of twins in Brooklyn struggling to raise them while dealing with the breakup of his marriage, teaching art and animation to college students, and working on his own graphic novel. Funny and sad. Sometimes very funny, sometimes very sad. It’s my favorite movie of the year because it was so unexpected.

Movies that just missed the cut: “Dope,” “The Social Network,” “Ex Machina,” Mr. Holmes,” “Pride,” “About Time,” “Man Up,” “10 Years,” “Hail, Caesar!,” “Before We Go,” “Bottle Shock,” “Indie Game: The Movie.”

Daddy/Daughter Date to a Punk Rock Concert: What’s My Age Again?

Part of being a responsible parent is pretending to like godawful music and listening to it over and over again in a minivan. This was not covered in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. My lovely wife Jen and I will be forever haunted by having certain CDs on repeat when our kids were younger: Sesame Street’s Elmo’s Lowdown Hoedown (Big Bird, Elmo, and friends singing country songs about reading, friendship, and feelings), The Lilo and Stitch soundtrack, and Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0. 

I should note that I like early Justin Bieber. When that precocious kid sang “Baby” (“Ooh, baby baby baby oh, baby baby baby no, I thought you’d always be mine,” etc.), I was rooting for him to have long-lasting success in the music industry. But when our youngest was a  5-year-old music-selection dictator screaming for us to play that song nonstop on car trips while our other kids covered their ears and screamed, “Make it stop! Make it stop!,” it made me reevaluate my relationship with him and, frankly, my love of other things Canadian, like Pamela Anderson and Canadian bacon.

But I wanted to talk about taking my youngest daughter to her first legitimate rock concert. As the baby of the family, she has benefited from Jen’s and my (mostly my) slippery-slope parenting skills. With the first child, we were all, “His eyes won’t see a screen until he’s 3! And he’ll only listen to Mozart and Beethoven and James Taylor! And he’ll only eat organic foods harvested within a 100-mile radius of our home! And let’s bubble-wrap the crap out of this apartment so he never gets a boo-boo on his body!” We were pretty annoying. By the time Child No. 3 came around, our tune had changed: “How long was that hot-dog chunk on the floor? Was it longer than 60 seconds? Just brush off the crumbs and see if she’ll eat it. And is it 9 a.m. yet? ‘Dora the Explorer’ should be coming on soon; TV is our friend.”

I was the baby of my family, too, and I can pinpoint the moment I realized I was the beneficiary of being youngest: July 1980, when I was 9 years old. My mom took a much-needed vacation with her girlfriends to Florida. (My parents had four children in a 4-year span. It was so loud at our house that even I didn’t like to be around us at times, and I was one of us.) My dad took us to a double feature at the local theater: The Blues Brothers (the first time I heard the F word and the S word used repeatedly in a film) and Airplane! (the first time I saw a woman in a state of undress in a film). As we left the theater in stunned silence, my dad turned to us kids and said, “We probably shouldn’t speak of this to your mother.”

By contrast, I had a friend who was the oldest in his family, and when we were 15, his parents took me along with him and his little sister to see the re-release of Disney’s Song of the South. Which, by the way, was controversial for other reasons, but was still a Disney movie. I was like, “I’m too cool for this, man. Pass me some Jujubes.”

When my brother was 18, he convinced my parents to let him take his girlfriend to a concert at Poplar Creek, an outdoor music venue in the Chicago suburbs that no longer exists. The only way they would agree was if he took along his three younger siblings. (Well played, Mom and Dad.) This seriously cramped his style that night. The happy news for me is that I got to see my first band live in concert. I am not ashamed to admit that it was the UK pop duo Wham! with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. (The band’s official name includes the exclamation point; please don’t assume I am excited every time I type it out.) Which one of Wham!’s songs are you thinking about now? Is it “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or “Careless Whisper”? If you’re not familiar with Wham!, they were like the Justin Bieber of their time: catchy tunes, cute faces, lots of screaming fans, never meant to last. I was in love with the whole spectacle of that evening: the long line surging forward when someone thought they spotted George, an opening-act comedian (not something you see with most rock bands), girls crying when the boys took the stage, and the pyrotechnics and light show.

It was the summer before my freshman year of high school. You can bet I wore my “Whamamerica! tour” concert t-shirt to high school exactly once before burying it deep in my shirt drawer.

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As Mark Hoppus sings, “My friends say I should act my age. What’s my age again?”

In recent years, I also buried some of my music collection away so that my kids wouldn’t be exposed to it: AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, the Violent Femmes, and Blink-182. While it was easy to hide the cassettes and CDs, things got complicated when I switched over to iTunes. Our youngest child perused my music on the laptop and stumbled upon Blink-182′s 1999 album Enema of the State. The joke in the title reveals the level of the band’s juvenile humor (right in my wheelhouse). For whatever reason, our daughter took to this album. Sometimes you can’t explain why certain music appeals to you (e.g., I am a huge fan of Taylor Swift and will vigorously defend her right to pen breakup songs about celebrity ex-boyfriends; I wish I was kidding).

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This is Wham! I was lucky enough to see them in concert in 1985. If you got too close to them and looked at their mouths, their teeth would permanently blind you. Or so the rumor had it. From left: George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley.

We started running into the problem of what amount of foul language is okay to sing aloud if it’s not allowed in everyday talk. Slowly, our daughter pushed for more music along the lines of Blink. They’re a pop punk band, so she fell for the triumvirate of greats in that genre: Blink-182, Fall Out Boy, and Green Day. (Not to turn this into a lecture or to reveal my own ignorance on musical genres, but pop punk basically takes the “screw you” mindset of punk music with its fast chord changes and distorted guitars but adds a more listenable tune to it. To hear the difference, listen to the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and then listen to Blink-182′s “What’s My Age Again?”)

When our youngest balked at the increased amount of tennis lessons I had signed her up for this summer (I figured that if she liked tennis 2 times weekly for 3 weeks, she’d really like it daily for 6 weeks), I told her I’d make a deal with her: Make it through all the lessons, and I’d take her to the Blink-182 concert in September. (Bribery, ladies and gentlemen!) Originally, we were going to bring her sister and a friend, but they couldn’t make it.

Which is how I found myself heading out on a Friday night to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, just my 11-year-old daughter and me, to see a punk show: three bands, one DJ. When I was shopping for tickets, Jen convinced me to buy the lawn seats on the theory that our daughter shouldn’t have nice, sheltered, cushioned pavilion seats for her first show because then she might never want to get the cheap seats. “What if it rains?” I said. “What are the odds that that it would?” Jen said.

When we got to the parking lot, we could barely see the entrance gates because of all the rain. (Thanks, Jen!) It was coming down so hard that there was a chance that the concert would be cancelled. We wore raincoats, and I carried a poncho in so we could sit on something. I wanted to sit in the car as long as we could, but the kid was anxious to see the sights and sounds, so out we schlepped through the pouring rain. I mean, it was raining hard like a Taylor Swift song. In the first 5 minutes we were there, we got completely soaked. The good news is that we had our pick of the lawn and settled into a spot behind maybe 3 rows of people. We watched the DJ (DJ Spyder) and ate our soggy pizza and nachos. My daughter kept looking around wide-eyed and saying, “Look at all the black clothes! Everyone is so emo!” We bought souvenir T-shirts; my first choice turned out to be a woman’s shirt, of course, so I had to scramble to find something manlier.

The first band to play was the All-American Rejects, another pop punk band whose popularity was highest in the early 2000s. They were great, even though the venue was only about half-filled by the time they hit the stage. They played a short, 35-minute set of all their hits and finished with a new song, called “DGAF,” which stands for “Don’t Give A” and then the F word. The chorus was, “We don’t give a *bleep*,” screamed over and over again. Later, my daughter said she liked the All-American Rejects the best, better even than Blink-182. Hopefully not because of their new song.

By the time band number two came on, the rain had stopped for the night. And the crowd got thicker and pushier and scarier. I looked around at one point and realized that (A) my daughter was by far the youngest person in our vast section of the lawn and (B) I was by far the oldest person in the lawn section. I’m not kidding. Fortunately, my kid kept her hood up the whole time, so I’m not sure that anyone around us even knew how young she was. Also, I’m the height of a middle schooler, so she’s about my size now.

The second band was a group called A Day to Remember. Their music has been described as metalcore. I like all kinds of music; however, and especially when I am trying to protect my kid from the headbangers crowding into me, I can’t say I’m a big fan of them. I told her, “If things get ugly, I’m grabbing you and we’re pushing our way out to the right.” And she kept reaching over to hold onto my arm to make sure I was still there. When two guys started a mosh pit behind us, my daughter got pushed about 5 feet away from us, but I had my hand on her arm and stopped her from flying too far. I was never happier to have a band finish its set than when A Day to Remember said, “This is our last song!” I cheered the loudest.

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The nice gentlemen in Blink-182 who were sent to corrupt your childrens’ morals. From left: Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker, Matt Skiba. Photo: Robin Marchant, Getty Images.

Then Blink-182 was up. I went into the concert somewhat disappointed that one of the three original members, Tom DeLonge, wasn’t touring with them (he’s the guy with the nasally voice who shares lead vocals on their songs), but I have to say that I’m glad I went. Although, again, speaking as a dad, I’m not sure about the massive flaming sign behind their drummer, Travis Barker, that was simply an “F,” a “U,” a “C,” and a you-know-what-else. Some quibbles: they didn’t play enough songs off of their best album, they played too many songs that were closer to the metalcore of A Day to Remember and not enough that were closer to the pop punk of the All-American Rejects.

They were supposed to play from 9:20 until 11:10 or so; looking at other setlists from the tour, they’d do about 24 songs. About 5 songs into their set, my kid whispered to me, “I’m really tired. How much longer should we stay.” I was like, “Really? It’s 9:50 on a Friday. At sleepovers, you stay up until 2 a.m.” So I made her a deal: we could leave after they played “All the Small Things,” which I knew they would do as their 22nd song. (One suggestion for the guys in the band: When you have a song like “First Date,” whose chorus is “Let’s make this night last forever,” you should end with that song instead of playing it so early in the set.)

The closer and closer we got to the end, the sleepier my daughter got. As soon as we finished singing along with the crowd on “All the Small Things” (“Say it ain’t so, I will not go, turn the lights off, carry me home…”), we zipped out, hopped in our minivan (only the cool kids drive minivans to punk shows), and headed home.

I put Enema of the State on in the minivan. My little rocker was asleep as soon as we hit the highway.

 

Your Child Is Not You

A lesson 18 years in the making: Your child is not you. One would think I would have figured this out earlier, like when our oldest, the boy, grew to be 6 inches taller than me. So many times over the years (as recently as this week), I’ve heard, “He reminds me so much of you!” and “He has your eyebrows!” and “He’s like a mini-you!” (It’s been several years since I’ve heard that last one; I’m a mini-him now.) What finally helped this sink in for me is the college search we embarked upon over the last year.

Honestly, the boy could not have made this any easier for us. From his sophomore year of high school on, he said that he wanted to go to a college that met these criteria: 1. It was a big school, so that if he changed majors, he would have many options. 2. It was not in a big city. 3. It was reasonably close to home. That was about it.

Fairly quickly, we settled on two possibilities (again, how easy was he going to make this for us?): the alma mater of my lovely wife Jen and me (“We’re loyal to you, Illinois…”) and another Big Ten school (“Go Green! Go White!”).

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One of these people is the father. One of them is the son. (Hint: Only the son can reach the top shelf in the kitchen cabinets.)

I should state here that we were always clear that we were not going to put any unreasonable pressure on the kid to enroll at our alma mater. As I explained to the boy over and over again, “You should feel free to go wherever you want. You are under no obligation to attend my school. Even though it is one of the top 40 universities in the country according to every major college guide. And it has a top-five program in your chosen field. Plus it is close to home. And your mother and I had four of the greatest years of our lives there, got outstanding educations, and met people there who have become lifelong friends. Also, every other article of clothing that I own is orange and blue. No pressure.” (See how I played that? I am subtle.)

From the beginning, Dear Old Alma Mater U. was his top choice. I didn’t even have to steer him that way. He and I made a visit to the campus when he was invited to Scholars Day. The university reps and students put on the usual display (“You are smart, and we hope you come here; undergrads get to do graduate-level research; this is a big school with a small-school flavor,” etc.). The boy and I had an hour to kill, so I gave him a quick tour of campus before the official tour. I went overboard with the minutiae: “On your right is Altgeld Hall, designed by Nathan Ricker, the first graduate of an architecture program in the United States…” I couldn’t help it; my tour was more detailed than the official one.

Then he got invited to something similar at the other school. This one was more involved, and he was invited back to take a test to earn scholarships. The praise from the university reps was even more effusive. A direct quote from the admissions director: “We want you. I’ll go further: We need you. You will make us a better school.” Yikes! I thought; these folks are putting on the hard sell.

People would ask me which way the boy was leaning, and I usually had a percentage (completely made up in my head, not having anything to do with the reality of the situation): “Right now, he is 90 percent sure he will go to my alma mater,” or, “There’s really only a slim chance, maybe 5 percent, that he will go out of state,” or, “Really, the only thing that would change his mind is if the out-of-state school offered him so much money that it became substantially more affordable than the in-state school. Not likely.”

Then, something bizarre happened: The out-of-state school offered him so much money that it became substantially more affordable than the in-state school. Then the college-search process became easy. My son didn’t see a significant difference between the schools, so he reasoned (as did Jen, I might add), why go to the more expensive one? As decision day neared, I looked for all sorts of ways to justify my clinging to the hope that he would go to my school, but really, it was more of a process of my letting go of expectations and getting out of my own comfort zone.

Remember when I titled this blog post “Your Child Is Not You”? Here’s the thing: I could list a hundred different ways that my school is better than the other one, but it’s always going to come out like this to my kid: “You should go to my school because…” And it honestly doesn’t matter what the rest of the sentence is, because it sure sounds like I’m telling my kid what to do and not letting him make up his mind for himself. My school was great for me; maybe it would be for him, but maybe not. The actress/producer/comedienne Amy Poehler, in her memoir Yes Please, uses the phrase, “Good for her! Not for me.”

I was talking with my dad the other day about something, and he reflected back on when he first became a father nearly 50 years ago. He said, “I remember thinking, This will be great, I made so many mistakes in my life that I will tell my kids what to do or what not to do when they reach similar situations, and they will thank me profusely and their lives will be so much easier than mine.” You know how this story ends: None of his kids wanted to listen to him, and we all made similar mistakes. As he said, the cliche is that someone has to experience something for themselves to understand, and it’s true: even with a parent telling us, for example, not to touch the stove, we have to touch the stove ourselves to truly figure out that, hey, we probably shouldn’t touch it.

I saw a piece on ESPN recently about Tiger Woods and his relationship with his father, Earl Woods. Early in Tiger’s career, when he was having incredible success but also dealing with the celebrity that follows it, his father said to him, “I know exactly what you are going through.” Tiger replied, “No, you don’t.” That perfectly sums up the parent-child relationship. As parents, we think we know what is best for our kids because we believe that we went through similar circumstances. On the other hand, kids think their parents have no idea what they are going through. The truth is somewhere in between, and it’s up to us as parents to figure out how to pass on life lessons without lecturing.

For me, it seems as if the best way is to keep my mouth shut. Plus, do my own thing and let my kids see how I handle adversity and decision-making. Because clearly, wearing orange and blue almost daily didn’t work the way I thought it would. Now I have to add some green and white to my wardrobe.

Winter Long Runs: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Now that we are moving on to spring here in the Great Midwest and winter’s worst sting is over (am I jinxing myself on that one?), I can stop worrying so much about my long winter training runs. See, the problem with running a spring marathon is that I do all of my running outdoors. I prefer to run on this canal towpath near our home, but snow tends to linger on it, and snowmobile tracks that freeze over can be ankle breakers. Plus, do I have to mention the dog poop hidden under the snow cover? (Four sentences in and already I am using the word “poop.” My college writing professors would be proud.)

I run outside in winter for two main reasons: 1. I am a tough guy (have you seen me? I thought this one was obvious), and 2. I have a horrible treadmill. It is about 40 years old and is “manual,” meaning that it only moves if you slide your feet on it. This leads to an unnatural running stride. (And please don’t tell me to join a gym or buy a new treadmill; you obviously haven’t read my “I Am a Notorious Cheapskate” blog post yet.)

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That’s my breath and not drool that froze on the ski mask, I swear. Note the knit cap on top of the ski mask; that’s so my brain doesn’t freeze.

If there is a lot of snow on the ground, I am better off running on city streets, although that means I have to deal with traffic. I try to run against traffic, make myself visible by wearing clown clothes, and make eye contact and wave to every driver. (If you’ve seen me, I’m not so much waving “hi” as waving “thank you in advance for not putting me through your windshield.”) Because of the ice and snow, I have to run by “feel” rather than by time. I tried training at specific time paces one winter, and it was a disaster: knee problems and IT band injuries led me to fall far short of my marathon goal time.

The hardest part about winter running, though, is developing that “whatever it takes” attitude and not allowing the weather to play too big of a role in my training. Whether it’s 0 degrees or snow is falling or the plows have already come and it’s icy, the running has to be automatic. If I waver and think, Maybe it will be nicer outside tomorrow, I’ve lost the mental battle.

The number one way to deal with outdoor conditions is to dress properly. I’ve gotten to the point at which I am usually overdressed. Not suit-and-tie overdressed; that would be weird. Rather, I wear extra layers and can strip some off if I need to. I have a rainproof windbreaker that I can wear in all kinds of weather; it’s the most important item in my closet. I also like to keep my neck warm, so I wear an ear warmer headband around my neck. If it is 20 degrees or nicer, I go with one thin pair of gloves. Anything colder, and I have two warmer sets of gloves that do the trick.

During a typical marathon training cycle (about 20 weeks or so), I try to get in four runs of 18 miles or longer. Many training programs will have you run just once at 20 miles, on the theory that if you can make it 20, you can make it 26.2. But I have struggled with those final 6.2 miles, so I try to do a step-up plan where I add 2 miles to my longest run every third week: 16, then 18, then 20, 22, and 24. (Coincidentally, I am supposed to be doing my 24 today, but it is raining with potential lightning outside, so here I sit, typing.)

A few winters ago was historically cold for this area. I remember forcing myself to run, pretty much so I could humblebrag about it on Facebook (e.g., “Went running while it was 8 below! Time to use a hair dryer to unfreeze my contact lenses from my eyeballs!”). On my longest training run that winter, I planned on doing 20 miles, but the snow was falling, it was 10 degrees out, and there was deep packed snow on the towpath already, so I did a circuitous route around our town’s streets. I was wearing my hydration belt, which has two water bottles and a pocket for gels. (I use Gu Gel; my favorite flavors are vanilla and root beer.) I also carried a Gatorade bottle.

About 10 miles into the run, a few things came to a head: First, the snow was accumulating around the bottom of my running pants and then freezing, weighing down my pants and forcing me to stop to retie the pants so they wouldn’t fall off. (That would have been a sight.) Then, my water bottles started to ice up. Initially, I could shake the bottles to break up any slushy parts, but it got worse until they completely froze on me. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to run with two freezing-cold bottles of ice bouncing up and down on either side of your groin, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (Unless you’re into that kind of thing; I don’t judge.)

My cold groin and all the bouncing made me have to go to the bathroom really, really badly. Anyone who has taken a road trip with me knows that I have the world’s tiniest bladder anyway. Usually, I can sneak off into the woods next to the towpath; the whole forest is my bathroom. (Hey National Forest Foundation, here’s your new slogan: “The whole forest: it’s your bathroom.”) But on this particular day, I was running on city streets. I quickly calculated two options for public restrooms open on a Saturday morning: the library and the hospital. I settled on the hospital, mostly for logistical reasons: it was about a half mile closer to where I was than the library. I practically sprinted to the hospital and went through the front entrance. A volunteer at the information desk asked me if I needed anything (besides the obvious shower after a long run) and quickly pointed me toward the men’s room. I waited around for the water bottles to thaw, but it was taking too long.

By that point, my run had completely fallen off the rails, so I walk-jogged home. It would probably not surprise you to find out that I did not meet my goal pace in the marathon that I ran in the spring. My point is, I have been much more consistent with my training this winter, and Mother Nature has cooperated. Any failure to meet my goal this year is on me. At least, until I can think up something else to blame it on.

My Old Star Wars Toys Are Priceless! Wait, Does “Priceless” Mean the Same As “Worthless”?

I decided to wait until all the “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” hoopla died down before I posted this story. (Let’s assume that getting beaten in the domestic box office by “How To Be Single” and “Zoolander 2″ equals no more hoopla.) As I explained in my year-end review of movies, I was a Star Wars kid growing up and thus will remain ever devoted to the Rebel Alliance. I blame my parents for having me in 1971, making me 6 years old when Episode IV was released.

I should mention that I am not a true Star Wars geek. I don’t delve too deeply into the Star Wars Expanded Universe or even the Star Wars canon, I don’t follow Wookieepedia, and I definitely do not want to get into an argument over whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first in the Mos Eisley cantina.  (There’s no argument because clearly it was Han.)

When I was a kid, my parents had a strict policy on toys: my siblings and I could keep them as long as all of our toys didn’t overflow out of the toy barrel. (My dad had played in a golf tournament organized by his company, and he won a plastic garbage can in the shape of an old wooden barrel. He turned it into a fun toy chest: “Here, kids, keep your toys in this garbage can. Make sure the lid stays on it.”) The four of us Dudley children were in charge of getting rid of any toys that did not fit.

Consequently, I usually got small toys as gifts. (Please, stop weeping for me. Somehow I made it to adulthood relatively unscathed.) And my favorite gifts were Star Wars figures. I would spend hours playing with them all over the house, creating storylines that I am sure don’t fit into any Star Wars canon. Example: Luke and Chewbacca get stuck in the toy barrel under my sisters’ Barbie dolls and have to blast their way out. (All the storylines ended with “and have to blast their way out.”)

Along the way, I picked up some random figures that were the same size as the Star Wars guys but were not from the movies. My favorites were the Fisher-Price Adventure People. My neighbor had way cooler ones than me, but my brother and I got one set that had a Jeep and another that had a motorcycle with sidecar. We played with those indoors and outdoors, and we slept with them (we had no shame).

Like all kids, we were a little rough on our toys, and not all of the Star Wars guys survived. The original R2-D2 had its legs broken off, but was replaced by a newer toy when my son was younger. The Adventure People vehicles are long gone. A few of the other Star Wars guys had their heads popped off. None of them are worth anything at this point, I am sure.

I bring this up because of an article in the Chicago Tribune on December 15, 2015, that highlighted the worth of older, well-maintained Star Wars toys. A recent auction fetched $505,202 for the sale of a collection of over 600 Star Wars toys, including $32,500 for a 1980 boxed set of Boba Fett, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker figures. Yikes. The $25,000 sale of a Luke Skywalker with a double-telescoping lightsaber is no comfort to me: my Luke Skywalker was of the replacement single-telescoping kind, and the telescope on him and my Darth Vader broke off shortly after we got them.

My point: Let your kids play with their toys. They will destroy them, and that’s okay. You don’t want them to become like Al McWhiggin, the toy collector who stole Woody in “Toy Story 2.” They just might end up keeping those toys in their basement when they are adults, and then post an article about them. Complete with photos:

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This was the carrying case for my Star Wars figures. It has two trays and can hold 24 figures. The figures came with a sticker so you could label their slot in the case. The trays flip over and have plastic pegs so you can stand the figures (there are round holes on the bottom of their feet).

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These are all Luke Skywalker. Left to right: wearing his Bespin fatigues, X-Wing Pilot, and the original. Note the missing lightsaber on the original. You could open and retract it.

 

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“Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy!” Darth Vaders from 2005 and circa 1977. Poor guy lost his cape and lightsaber.

 

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The arm on this 2005 Darth is spring-action. But it can never be lowered, so that’s annoying.

 

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Bleep blorp bloop. R5-D4 from 1977 and R2-D2 from 2005. R2 makes noise, but I haven’t changed his batteries in a long time.

 

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I’m pretty sure I said I wasn’t a Star Wars geek, but apparently I lied. This is an Ugnaught (left) and a Power Droid (right).

 

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Oh, how I loved Yoda. He was short, smart, and funny. This figure came with a brown snake and a cane. I’m sure they were vacuumed up by my mom in 1983.

 

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“Going somewhere, Solo?” “Yes, Greedo, as a matter of fact, I was just going to see your boss. Tell Jabba that I’ve got his money.”

 

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Boba Fett and Lando Calrissian. Lando liked to make the moves on my Princess Leia figure. (I lost the Leia figure just before I started dating girls. Might have been a correlation.)

 

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Okay, now we’re getting obscure. These are a rebel soldier in Hoth battler gear and a Bespin security guard from Cloud City.

 

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This is a Tusken Raider. (Labeled as “Sand People” on the original packaging, although technically it should have said “Sand Person.”)

 

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C-3PO and Death Star Droid. C-3PO’s hands broke off. Chewbacca probably did it.

 

 

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Hey, it’s Hammerhead! And his brother Hammerhead! (I’m guessing my parents got sick of hearing my brother and me fight over our toys and so got us the same thing once. Even though it was the ugliest of the Star Wars figures that we owned.)

 

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The Chewbacca Brothers. Mine was the one on the left. Just kidding. But not really.

 

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Maybe these guys were the ugliest figures we owned. Snaggletooth and Walrusman.

 

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These are my son’s. Note the bendable legs and arms; clearly, that’s a 21st-century toy. Left to right, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Utapau Shadow Trooper, and Clone Commander.

 

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Original Tron figures. Made of translucent plastic. We welcomed all kinds in our game-playing.

 

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Fisher-Price Adventure People. These were part of the cycle racing team; the guy on the left sat on the motorcycle and the guy on the right went into the sidecar.

 

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Adventure People. These were my favorites. Two outdoorsmen and a cowboy. They had a Jeep. Note that most of the Adventure People had left hands that could curl around any vehicle’s steering wheel.

 

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Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (left) and as Han Solo (right). Indy had a whip, and his right arm is spring-action.