Just so you know, I make the best Chicken Marsala. My brother Paul thinks so. And I’m now convinced. I, of course, use mushrooms. And I don’t like mushrooms, though I’m coming around. Just as long as they’re on Chicken (or Veal) Marsala. That’s all you need to know.
I’ve got to unsubscribe from the Tampa Bay Times. It’s a good paper, but the problem is Karla reads it cover to cover. It’s fine that she keeps up on the news. That’s one of the reason I fell in love with her. As my father once said, somewhat amazed but not surprisingly given his chauvinism, “She knows things.”
But she reads everything, including all the announcements of upcoming events. And because she’s now retired and looking for something to do, she wants to go to all of them.
So Pride Week, we went. Actually, I was able to beg off a party and then the parade, but she wanted to go to the festival on Sunday. She said it was billed as an art show. It was a festival, all right, with plenty of edibles, though nothing you would call a cuisine. The art, alas, was trinkets and trash. But we got out on our bikes and strode through the sauna that was a Florida summer afternoon.
The one event I dreaded, however, was the Friday night screening of “Lady Valor, the Kristen Beck Story.” Beck is an ex-Navy Seal transgender. I was not looking forward to the movie, much less the reception with Beck beforehand. I successfully dawdled before we left, retrieving my glasses and then my wallet and then something that would get me through the evening. Once we got there, I found a reason to go back out to the car, so that by the time I set foot in FreeFall Theatre, the movie was about to begin.
I found sympathy with Beck’s mother who told her, “Why can’t you be sort of normal, like just being gay?” I know I’m not alone in this. There are plenty of guys who find transgenders just a little far a reach. Our youngest daughter is gay, so I’ve gotten passed that a long time ago. And my liberal politics help a lot. Intellectually, at least, I’m cool with transgenders.
But not really. It’s like dining formally and not knowing which fork to use. I’m just not comfortable. There’s potential for a hell of a lot of faux pas’s. And Beck’s appearance was not what I expected. She didn’t look feminine. Rather, she looked and sounded like a guy in drag—and not very convincing at it.
The movie was pretty good at first, though like many documentaries, a little too long. (Hell, most movies are too long for me!) Yet, I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for her. She apparently (because the documentary was a bit unclear of some key points) came out while working at the Pentagon. Safe to say, that’s a tough audience for a debut. She recognizes that she made some mistakes by not helping people come to grips with her journey. She suffered mightily as she not so much peeled off the layers from Chris to Kristen but ripped the scab off.
With two kids from her previous marriage cut off from her, her mother not accepting her, and the continuous hate mail, often from ex-Seals or military gung-ho types, she was alone and lonely.
But there were a few who stuck by her. Ex-Seals. Beck worked with a couple of them in various consulting assignments. She can still rip the bullseye out of a target. She is a woman. She is tough. And the ex-Seals still were there for her. Certainly not all. But how many good friends do you need?
She spoke to the audience after the movie. She is not particularly eloquent or concise, but she drove home a point: She would like everyone to accept her and understand what she’s going through, but she’s OK with folks just being nice to her.
As I listened to her speak, I began to think, hell, I can be nice to her. That in fact is pretty easy. She is a bit spiritual and new age, what we called in my generation a hippie: Peace and Love!
Yes, I could be nice to her. There was nothing not to like about her. If the Seals could do it, I could. After all, it’s about the only thing the Seals do that I can, too.
We left before we had a chance to talk to her one on one afterwards. I was OK with that.
At the festival on Sunday, I met another transgender, someone Karla had hung out with at the parade. We talked briefly. I tried not to stare at her head, which was half shaved and with hair on the other side down to her shoulder. I barely said more than, “Nice to meet you.” But I made it through without thinking, I don’t understand this. I was nice to her.
That is a step forward for me, and enough for now, thanks to Kristen.
My mother would have turned 96 today, if she were alive. But if she were alive, she would not be happy about it. She was rarely happy about anything.
I am always a little envious when people pay tribute to their mother’s on Facebook. The public accolades my mother would have loved. Public perception was big with her. She always was bragging on us kids.
I’m envious of my “friends” affection for their moms. Be sure, she was not a bad mom. In fact, in many ways she was the perfect mom of the 50’s and 60’s. She was always there when we scrapped a knee. Dinner was on the table like clockwork. She saw to it that we went to school and insisted we do well. She provided the basics impeccably.
But that warmth, that kind word or little affection that could make all right with the world was rarely there. I’ve often wondered why.
Why have I never seen a picture of my mom as a child where she was smiling? Admittedly, the sample size is small. Conversely, friends will see a picture of my mother in her later years and comment on the bright, broad smile. But that smile masked a certain sadness. My image is more of the long face with doleful eyes.
Mom didn’t talk about her childhood much. Never did I hear anything that would suggest dark secret of abuse. I knew both of her parents. While my grandfather was a quiet but seemingly gentle man. My grandmother, who lived until I was in my 40’s, was not phlegmatic but didn’t seem to allow much to bother her and was pleasant to talk to. She certainly did not seem the worrier my mother was.
But worried my mom did. So I come to it honestly.
But people change.
My wife also has few pictures of her as a child sporting a broad smile. As a teenager, she was almost brooding. She admits to being quiet, introspective, introverted and perhaps a little lacking in confidence. Yet, when I met Karla in her late 20’s, she was hardly Pollyannish, but certainly seemed to enjoy life. And over time she often displays a playful, silly side and has for many years, to the point where I can’t fathom her as brooding—ever. And she is the eternal optimist.
I was never the eternal optimist, and perhaps never will be. But I have changed, due directly to Karla’s influence. How can you brood when someone breaks out into a jiggly dance for absolutely no reason at all, if not just to make me smile. And of course, her optimism has been well placed. For all my concern as the kids were growing up, today they seem happy, no more neurotic than me and definitely not in jail.
Meanwhile, we’re “living the dream” in St. Pete and can transport it to Colorado when it’s too hot to dream in Florida. We ride bikes to very nice restaurants, walk along the water, or picnic by it as we did on Memorial Day without a long drive and a packed station wagon.
I want for nothing and worry for not much more. There’s little reason not to smile.
Sometimes it takes a while, but maybe the best lessons you get from parents are those you finally emphatically and willfully unlearn.
So it’s your birthday, Mom. Be happy.
After the National Senior Games, I can say that as a bicycle racer, I am, like Garrison Keillor’s mythical children of Lake Wobegone, above average. Nothing more.
In three races, I came in above the midpoint in all three races, barely in one case.
I had no business being in the 5k time trial. In fact, I was arrogant to ride it, with my endurance frame road bike. I placed 20th out of 41 riders. It was an insult to the riders who train for the time trial, buy special TT bikes, wheels, handlebars and helmets, and race often. With a time of 9:20, I was nearly 90 seconds behind the winner. Still, I finished with that taste in my mouth that I describe as blood in my lungs but is probably neither blood nor in my lungs, but it does make me feel that I gave it my all. As does the cough that starts immediately after finishing and which I still have a few days later. I averaged 265 weighted watts. I was disappointed, but unless I buy a TT bike and train on it, I think that’ll be my last TT race.
In the 20k road race, I finished with the leaders, number 10 out of 41 riders. I was with the lead group going into the last turn, but as often happens in turns, I got spit out the back. I can corner tightly, but I think I don’t trust my tires, afraid they’ll slide out from under me. My weighted power average was 233 watts. Being in the top ten in one of the races was my minimum goal, so I finished that day feeling, if not good, not embarrassed.
But good enough that I thought I had a chance to compete in the 40k. Yet, the day I reconnoitered the course, I was intimidated by a 0.8 mile, 2.5% grade hill. While I made it up the one time in the 20k race, the 40k required three ascents. The first I made with the lead group. The second time around, I struggled. My legs cranked as best I could. Then that sinking feeling commences as I see the wheels in front pull farther ahead and I’m powerless, literally, to do anything about it. It’s not that my legs are tired or hurt. They simply have no power. They are too weak to hurt. They turn, but the bikes stays still, seemingly not to move at all. By the time I reached the top, the group of 14 riders was too far ahead. They were within sight for a while. Then they were gone.
I looked around as I crested the hill and found no one behind me. The other 20+ riders had fallen off the pace. Could I keep them away? For the next 14 miles I did, save one who caught me near the end of the penultimate loop and then promptly announced he was abandoning the race. I placed 15th of 35 who finished. (Several either abandoned or were pulled so the organizers could start the next race on time.) My weighted average power was 215 watts. I was nearly five and half minutes behind the leader.
Despite these middling performances, I saw glimmers of hope. Keeping the rest of the pack at bay was cool. I blocked out the riders in front of me and pretended those behind were trying to catch my breakaway. Staying with the big boys until the end of the 20k was nice. A perhaps pathetic positive was knowing that I will move up to the 70-74 age group next year. Maybe they will be kinder to me. (My time would have placed me third in that group.)
But usually I tend to focus on what went wrong. I lose speed in corners. Need to fix that. I need to lose weight. Ten fewer pounds and I might have made it up that hill. Getting closer to the front at the end of the race gives me a chance to compete for a podium spot. Being at the back doesn’t.
And I look at the guys who beat me. They’re old men with wrinkly skin and thinning gray hair!
Maybe, too, I need to train smarter. By that I mean not harder, but even more systematically and perhaps a little easier. In the weeks leading up to the Games, I had some tough weeks. The production of endorphins and their impact on me are undeniable, so it’s hard for me not to go hard. At the end of a tough workout, I feel accomplished and energized, even if I need a nap later in the day.
I would have liked better results. In the days before the races, I visualized my hanging on to the end, positioning myself just on the outside of a wheel toward the front and then sprinting for the finish. I even allowed to see myself raising my arms in victory. But still, the vision of that hill kept intruding. It looked steeper than 2.5%. I felt heavier than 190 lbs. I could visualize my legs giving way. And as it turned out, I witnessed the power of negative thinking, something I’ve struggled with all my life, mitigated only by 32 years of being with the most relentlessly positive woman in the world.
As a kid I rarely competed in sports. I ran track for a year in high school, but that’s the sport for non-athletes, the guys who could claim to compete only with themselves. Or perhaps for those who weren’t coordinated enough to play any real sport. I didn’t play football except in the touch variety in the streets. My mother, who never took chances, didn’t want me to play so I wouldn’t get hurt. I let her be my excuse for not wanting to compete. Same with baseball. I couldn’t hit a curve ball and didn’t want to learn in public. As a young adult, I ran a lot, but always training, never racing. In competition, only one guy could win; the rest were losers.
As we were driving home from Birmingham, I was fresh off my disappointment of not staying with the lead group in the 40k, the fast guys, the big boys. Yet, I felt oddly satisfied at the same time. Perhaps it was because I competed and lost and survived to tell about it.
So I am not the national champion and there are no photos of me standing on the podium with my arms raised in triumph. But then, I’m staring 70 in the face, and I race bicycles, for God’s sake. And…I’m above average. I’ll take it.