Saturday, April 14, 2012


i stink.

in this world of denying all human functions that are deemed 'gross' or 'improper' or 'unacceptable', i excel at two elements of perceived effort: i sweat, and i stink.

there is something about watching the best people do what they do best. it always looks easy. the problem is, we never see or hear or smell them becoming the best. we don't know how many nasty pairs of sockless runners that sub-four-minute miler left on the porch because they were too potent to be inside. we don't see the saddle sores of tour de france stage winners, or the chamois so spent that it will be thrown away after a single race. we don't see the callouses or bleeding fingertips of that guitarist, or 3 a.m. when that adoring parent gets up without question and changes another diaper or soothes another crying beast. we just see the best. and we see it looking easy.

i got some new shoes, finally, recently, and they look ridiculously pristine. they are white runners, the kind that make me look even more like a grandpa, my grandpa, when i wear them with kakis, which, i am careful not to do. standing in the kitchen this morning, drinking coffee to lure myself out of the fog of friday night sleep, i looked down at the shoes and wondered: will they stink?

the obvious answer is yes. of course they will stink. they've not many miles on them yet, and i only wear them for running or crepes-making, and only with socks, except for this morning, but the weather is getting warmer, and i'm going to get faster and longer, and they will bear witness to progress. and progress stinks.

when i was a kid, i used to fantasize about being seen during my progress. i used to wish someone, a pretty girl or someone, would accidentally witness my training, the unflinching resolve to get out there and sweat and stink and become something, the hard way. of course, this was ridiculous. the whole point was to be seen excelling at that thing after so many unwitnessed hours of becoming excellent. i guess my problem was that i would never be excellent, so the most excellent thing would be to be seen as a work in progress. i have always been good at practicing, and training, and doing things over and over. i'll do it again. i'll do it to failure. i'll go back for another. but i'll never win on game day or race day or that Big Day.

in high school, the last year i was fortunate enough to play volleyball before work to rule ended all of our sports, i was the youngest and smallest and least-talented player on a senior boys volleyball team. i also had the highest academic average and the second-highest muscular endurance. of course i would be bullied. the oldest (shamefully so, at 19 years of age in high school!) and most experienced and tallest and best player on the team decided that he would be the bully. the coach was pretty much no help, except that, because i was so dogged about my attendance at practice, he would have me start every game. i would go on, i would try to do my job, much of the time i would suck at it, and then i would get myself rotated off as soon as possible to avoid the on-court bullies. i hated it. game day was hell.

practice, though, was beautiful.

as much as i was terrible at volleyball, practice allowed me the time and pressure-free environment to work on things over and over and get them right, no points at stake. and when i did screw up, and push-ups were involved, i could do them til the cows came home, and better than that 19 year old softie. i loved practice. all the physicality. all the work. all the getting things done with skilled people of like pursuits. that's what i loved about team sports. practice.

so today i'm going to get some sweat and stink into my shoes and helmet and gloves and shorts and jersey. tomorrow is the big day. race day. 60km of cross bike torture. should be fun. no pressure. i've never raced the cross bike. i haven't raced just a bike for years. and it's supposed to rain. no one will see it, but tomorrow, i'm going to progress.

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