Friday, May 22, 2009

Randomly Yours

Random musings before a holiday weekend:

Bay to Breakers

I lined up with more than 50,000 other runners, walkers, drinkers, revelers, and assorted non-conformists last Sunday morning as temperatures soared near 90 at eight in the morning. I was with Verna’s brother, Marty, who’d trained for about three months for the 7.46 mile race, but is quite fit.

The Bay to Breakers is basically San Francisco’s version of Mardi Gras: you have costumed people clad in various stages of dress and un-dress and copious amounts of alcohol. Soul-pulsating music reverberates through speakers at different points along the course. No theme from Rocky, but plenty of foot-thumping music to make you shake your booty and run faster.

My goal was pretty simple: stay with Marty. We last ran together three years ago and he beat me by a few minutes. I have no problem losing, but Marty is a casual runner at best (although he is a better athlete by a long shot), so I hate getting whipped by similar runners when I’ve pounded the pavement for more than 30 years and finished four Boston Marathons.

“Oh, it’s going to be great,” said my father-in-law, Martin, as we walked to his car so he could drive us cross-town to the start. He lives two blocks from the Pacific Ocean, so the breezes there were misleading. “The temperature is going to be fine.”

However, the heat of the day made the initial miles of the race, when the course was clogged and we were chugging along at nothing more than a somnambulant trot, feel easily like the inside of a health club sauna. I was almost dizzy.

Marty and I ran together for about 100 yards. Then I had him in my sights for another mile, maybe, before relenting as an inner voice said, “Let him go. Preserve yourself and run slower. It’s hotter than hell.” Translation: OK, I am a wimp.

[Speaking of really hotter than hell: our neighbor Tony, 31 and nationally ranked at the club level in doubles tennis, ran a 50-mile race the day before Bay to Breakers in Bishop, CA, outside Sacramento, where the temps neared 100. He finished in under 12 hours. As his wife said, "The man's a freak."]

City officials and race organizers supposedly cracked down this year on alcohol and public nudity in an effort to curb highly inebriated people trashing the city and urinating in public. But I passed several people who were naked and several more who shouldn’t ever be sans clothing in public or private.

“There goes one who is uncircumcised,” I said at the end of the race as Marty and I watched finishers with Martin, my niece and nephew, and my other brother-in-law, Jim.

Marty pulled a calf muscle a half-mile from the finish but still managed to best me by ten minutes. He was limping badly, so I rationalized my performance by saying, inwardly, “I may be slower, but at least I’ll be able to run tomorrow.”

I wonder if I will ever push myself to the brink and embrace more than minor discomfort in order to succeed in a physical effort. I knew running under an hour, as I did seven years ago, was probably out of the question for me, but keeping pace with Marty should not have seemed impossible.

Oh well. But as someone once said, “The race does not always go to the swift, but to the ones who keep running.”


I subbed at Miguel’s school last Tuesday. And while I didn’t sub for his home room, I was the teacher for Ms. Naughton, who teaches Miguel’s class science on Tuesday afternoons.

“Miguel, you have to call me Mr. Friedman. Not Dad. Not Steve. But Mr. Friedman.”

He just nodded.

Sub Day started off quite easily. I walked into the classroom just before 7:50 and got myself organized, looking over the sub plan and breathing in the classroom. The students arrived at 8:05 and worked independently until 8:30. Then they went to PE until 9:20, which was followed by DARE (drug and alcohol education) and led by Deputy Hughes until 10:05. Then they had recess until 10:25, the first ten minutes of which I supervised. After recess, they finished up DARE until 10:45.

So I didn’t start teaching until 10:50, and that lesson was on narrative writing. After I did a five minute intro, they worked on their writing projects until 11:35, followed by group and self-directed math work until lunch at 12:05.

Miguel’s class was the first one I saw after lunch at 12:55. It was a science lesson, the differences between physical and chemical changes. Miguel raised his hand three times to ask thoughtful questions. Each time I waited to hear those magical words, “Mr. Friedman…”

But, alas, he did not address me as Mr. Friedman. Or Dad. Or Steve. Or anything. He merely posed his query, which I guess is better than some of the monikers kids have for their parents and teachers.

Last night at Open House, one of the 5th grade parents corralled me in Miguel’s classroom. “I heard there was some exciting news at Dixie.”

I figured another teacher was pregnant or getting married or there was some other gossip she was going to share. I waited. “Miguel’s dad was the substitute on Tuesday,” she said with a sly grin.

Ms. Naughton reported that the kids thought I was cool. “I only wish I’d asked you to sub in September,” she said.

As Verna and I trailed Maya (Miguel was already far ahead) last night on the way to the multi-purpose room and all the art projects, a fifth grader from Ms. Naughton’s class huddled against her mom greeted me: “Hi, Mr. Friedman,” she said, smiling.

At least one kid got it right!

Right On!

I won't go into the details of Miguel's Little League game tonight; OK, just a little: his team won, 11-4, he lofted a single into center-rightfield and also scored a run. But much more importantly was what happened after the game: the opposing team basically attacked our players with two coolers filled with water balloons. Fortunately, one of our team parents planned ahead so Miguel's squad was suitably armed.

As soon as the game ended, players rushed towards each other and started lobbing, tossing, firing, and pelting each other with water balloons.

It was awesome.

One kid said as soon as the fight ended: "That was the greatest water balloon fight I've ever been in."

Coaches from the opposing dugout lobbed balloons across the field at players, coaches, and the few parents (including me) stupid, er, daring enough to get near the battle arena. I was helping Miguel and his teammates reload balloons when I'd hear another parent yell, "Incoming," and then it was whoosh and water splashed on my pants or shoes.

Whatever enmity or tension that had built up during the game (if at all) quickly dissipated as players from both teams instantly turned into giggling ten, eleven and twelve-year olds having a summer-like fun with water balloons and ice cream.

Sometimes it takes someone trying to peg you with water balloons, as you bolt across the outfield screaming, to remind you the sports are just games to be contested and enjoy. And afterwards, a good old fashioned free-for-all never hurt anyone.

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