“Susan”

susan-curios-on-window-sillKids these days. They have it pretty easy, don’t they? The Internet is everywhere, there’s no shortage of cable channels to choose from, and videogames are so embedded into daily life we barely even notice them. A trip to Grandma’s involves an hour or two of backseat gaming, a few more hours of television, a hasty meal and a bored visit to the garden, followed by tantrums over the WiFi password and an angry drive home because the iPad is dead.

In my day… oh, here we go, “In my day!” Really. I hate to say it, but it’s true. There were no microwaves, no cable channels, no smartphones, and no wireless Internet. A visit to Grandma’s usually meant watching trees zip by, a black-and-white television that was never turned on, a ponderously slow dinner, and a tour of the garden that was actually a highlight.

Then, for real entertainment, there were the trinkets on the windowsill. I think every grandmother had them. These little glass baubles were found in every window in the house, and they came in every shape and color. Little red cups, blue vases, pink ballerinas, butterscotch birds, and they weren’t just on the sills. Grandma had placed them on top of every sash, and there were extras on shelves throughout the house. The sun beamed through them, throwing beads of color across the floor and walls. When the colors rose just so far up the back wall of the dining room, we knew it was time to hit the road.

Those days eventually end, as they must for everyone, and the houses are sold, boxes are packed, and the trinkets are forever lost, to remain only in memory. Once in a while a cellar is cleared, and boxes of these glass curios are discovered, wrapped in old newsprint: a local sports team wins a trophy in 1954; Jackie Kennedy’s recipe for a noodle casserole; Comics lampooning Nixon. And inside, glass junk, fads from a bygone era, suitable only for a dumpster.

And that brings me to the Wakefield house.

———-
The house was a flip. I’d say it was a failed one, though most of the work was top notch. The failure was in the previous owner’s timing. Bought at the peak of the market, and unsuccessfuly sold at the bottom. They’d had the place for a year or so, and the bank had it for three. My wife Lisa and I bought it in a dusty, neglected condition, but with good ‘bones’, new walls and ceilings and updated heating and electrical. A steal, with only some cleaning to do.

‘Only’ can be a loaded word. The basement of this house was still packed with boxes and old furniture. We found stuff in the attic, too. The houseflippers gave all this stuff up, or maybe it was there before. Of course we determined that this was the end of the line for most of it.

While clearing out the junk, it was apparent that this house had been lived in for a long time by someone. What we could glean from the collection was that an older couple had accumulated clothes, books, old board games, tools, toys from every era. We figured out how to give a lot of it away.

For the old furniture and anything we couldn’t donate, dumpsters were hauled in, and out. Two twenty-yarders. I tried to keep anything worthwhile. Tools! A model railroad set (that has yet to be built). And there was one box of these glass trinkets that so closely matched the ones I remember, I couldn’t quite toss it. It stayed.

The house was interesting. It had a quirky sideways floor plan with a huge living room, an open kitchen with a dining area, a weird little den in between, and a short corridor that formed a loop. The main bedroom was double the size of a normal one, with its own full bathroom. Most, if not all, of the walls were new.

———–
Before long, Lisa started complaining about a feeling she was getting about the place. She was always into this kind of hocus-pocus, paranormal bullcrap, so when she said she felt a presence in the house, I treated it like so much nonsense. Her sister would visit, and, completely independently, mentioned a weirdness about the place. I was sure they were collaborating on some kind of practical joke.

The gist of it was that there was something going on at the bottom of the stairs. A chill, or a tingling, which they felt every time they walked past the spot. We rearranged the living room furniture so we were never sitting back-to the stairway. Before long, even I became a little anxious looking down the stairs after dark.

My dubiousness about the situation began to unravel after a number of strange incidents. One involved a friend who was having trouble with his family, and needed a place to stay. We were quick to offer up the couch, since we had two extra bedrooms but no beds. We left him stretched out on the couch with a sleeping bag, but the next morning, he emerged from an empty bedroom. As he told it, something down there spooked him. He wound up running right through it to get upstairs, and felt a cold spot.

Any concerns we had about taking in a new resident went out the window, but we gained a name for the phenomenon: the cold spot.

It was our first Thanksgiving in the house, when my mom, sitting at the table, looked toward the living room and asked us what was up in there. She’d felt something. A presence. I gave my wife and her sister a glance and dug back into my turkey and stuffing.

———-
Finally, on a severely cold evening less than a week before Christmas, there was a knock on the door. A woman about our age stood on the steps. Her name was Ashley, and she was visiting from Pennsylvania. Apparently she’d grown up in the area, and visited her grandmother in this house. She just wondered if she could see what’s become of the old place.

I don’t know if it was wise. I wouldn’t advise anyone do this, but we let her in. We believed her, and I think we were thinking the same thing: that maybe, just maybe, she held an answer to our shared question.

Lisa started a pot of coffee. While it brewed, Ashley gave us a tour of the house. My hunch about the upstairs was true; the master suite used to be two bedrooms. Downstairs, the renovators had made a ton of changes. The fireplace wasn’t always surrounded by ornate woodwork, the kitchen was originally closed off from the dining area, and the living room was now larger.

As we sat in the living room with our coffee, Ashley told us how there used to be a corridor leading to the stairs, where a rank of shelves opened to the living room. On these shelves, her grandmother kept a bunch of colorful little glass trinkets, and she’d often stand at the bottom of the stairs, contentedly arranging them.

Lisa and I shared a look. “Guess what?” I said. “We have something for you.”

I bounded down the cellar stairs and returned with the box. I placed it on the coffee table and opened it. Ashley saw exactly what was in there, and if it can be said that I’ve ever seen someone positively beam, it was then.

She pulled out several of the curios. She had a little story about them, and where they came from. Most of them, as far as she knew, her grandmother had always had on the shelves, but there were some that were bought at a county fair, a few at local yard sales. A blue seahorse that was given as a gift. A green teacup that she bought in Maine.

“You should have these,” I told her. “They belong to you. They’re your family’s.”

Ashley looked at me like I’d just told a hideous joke.

“Oh, no. No,” she said. “These could never leave here. They belong in this house.”

I will swear that I felt the presence then, standing just over Ashley’s shoulder. I’m sure my wife felt it. If Ashley did, too, she never let on. After a few more minutes talking about the house and her grandmother, we bid Ashley goodbye, and she left to brave the freezing night.

———-
I closed the door, and instantly knew what she meant about where the trinkets belonged. They couldn’t just be in a box. They stayed on the table another day or two, until I dug out a spice rack we kept in the basement (having never found a place for it). I installed the spice rack on the wall near the bottom of the stairs, and we arranged the colorful little glass things on it.

It was a nice addition to the Christmas junk we’d hung all over the house. Maybe it was a little tacky, but if it served a purpose, then so be it. For the rest of the holidays, we didn’t feel a presence, but it was likely because the house was in a state of constant noise as parties were held and family and friends were entertained. People asked about the trinkets on the shelves, and we said we’d found them in a box and put them up. Nobody ever mentioned feeling anything near the stairway.

Sometime in January, I noticed something about the glassware; they had been rearranged. Lisa swore she never touched them, and I believed her.

You see, we didn’t know how to arrange them. Should it be by color, by size, by type? This arrangement was seemingly random, but also had a kind of feel to it that was incomprehensible. An artistic intuition had been applied that neither of us had. We’d never heard any of them move, and certainly hadn’t seen it happen, but it was undeniable; they had been.

As time went on, we didn’t feel the presence any more, or at least I didn’t. Maybe I was imagining it, but occasionally, I could swear one of the trinkets would move.

We only lived there another year. When it came time to sell the place, I made sure to tell the new owners they’d be better off leaving the shelves of curios exactly as is. I’m pretty sure they weren’t about to do so.

I do know this: on the last night we spent in the house, we’d sat on the couch with a pizza, and Lisa went upstairs to pack the last few boxes of clothes. I poked at the embers in the fireplace, and suddenly felt the glare of eyes behind me. I turned to the stairs. No, I did not see anything, but I felt the old woman standing at the shelves looking at me. She wasn’t angry, wasn’t sad. It wasn’t happiness either, but I felt, almost imperceptibly, that she gave me a little nod.

I nodded back, and the presence was gone.

———-
Some time later that year I looked into the history of the house. The people who owned it, before the people who tried to flip it, had lived there sixty years. Adam and Susan Drexler. They were married for fifty-two of those years. Susan had outlived her husband by eight more.

We never heard from Ashley again, but I was able to find her grandmother’s obituary. She was found by her middle-aged son sitting peacefully, eyes closed, at the bottom of the stairs. She hadn’t fallen there, but it seemed she had been standing in the hallway, felt something, and simply sat down to rest.

May she rest well.

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Why Not Be Awesome?

This morning an interesting question was put to me at the gym: “You think that jacket makes you awesome?” The jacket in question; my 2015 Boston Marathon jacket. I considered a bunch of different answers, but in the interest of immediacy, I just went with, “Yeah,” as I headed for the door.

Now, maybe the person asking has several reasons to be awesome himself, but just chose not to wear it this morning. Maybe his car is emblazoned with bumper stickers declaring his membership in country clubs, his awesome grandkids, his service to his country, or his political persuasion, etc. Or maybe his Facebook profile is thick with “Likes” of all sorts of favorite movies, albums, stores, cars, and whatnot. In all likelihood, we can bet he’s got something, somewhere that he shows off on a regular basis.Tom in a whitewater kayak

And why not?

There’s something wrong with a culture that suppresses declarations of awesomeness. If I choose to be awesome, and you choose to be awesome in a different way, why the heck would we begrudge each other the chance to show it off?

Is it our American-ness that causes this? Or is it a global human trait? In this country at least, we’ve been on a depressing lowest-common-denominator cultural spiral for a long time. I mean, let’s face it; our culture has become like a Ford Taurus. Nothing special, does the job, doesn’t cost too much, doesn’t attract attention, or rock the boat.

(I mean, seriously, who thinks America produces a true luxury car?)

We don’t celebrate anything unless we can profit from it. We don’t create anything without a profit motive. We watch television shows about people jumping off rooftops (again, with a profit motive), or cunning political machinations, celebrities getting ‘fired’, entrepreneurs sniveling before loudmouthed capitalists, and even a long-running cable series about guys who write television ads. We don’t sneeze unless we can show a positive P&L.

Here in Boston, you see that with the negative reaction to the proposal for the 2024 Olympics. Remember when we used to celebrate the fact that athletes from every country competed on the field in a metaphorical pursuit of global peace? Remember when we launched fireworks and light shows just because? Now if it doesn’t sell enough Coke, iPhones and Adidas gear, the pencil pusher in all of us runs a spreadsheet to see if the margins are worth it.

We’ve become a nation of boring, no-fun, uninteresting, joyless people with no time to celebrate and no tolerance for those who do. We’re only focused on the financial payoff. “Money makes the world go ‘round.” “Greed… is good.” “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” It’s like the 1980s never ended. There’s plenty of wealth, but we’re impoverished in every other aspect of life.

Balance sheets and negativity should be left at the workplace. Wherever your awesomeness comes from, I say wear it, declare it, & share it. I guarantee it won’t be from something where you ran a financial projection before you started.

Here We Go Again: It’s Erie Marathon Weekend

Here we go again: The Erie Marathon | MyLeftOne

Now that’s a lotta kale.

So I’m two years into the grand experiment: Let’s run some marathons, eat some kale, and see if we can keep up with the five-year-olds.

So far, so good. I’ve trained smarter, and run more miles than ever. I’ve been eating stuff I never imagined I’d love so much, and regularly see good news on the scale, and on the mile splits.

The kids still wear me out, but breathing is easier, sleeping is easier, and most importantly, waking up is easier than it’s ever been. I don’t get up with the sun; I get up, run several miles, then watch the sun rise, thinking “What kept ya?”

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A Conversation During the Providence Marathon

A conversation with myself at the Providence Marathon | MyLeftOne Blog

That’s how I taper

Okay, here we go…

There was no starting gun, because that’s starting to seem a bit weird, after the moment of silence. Instead, somebody blew a horn.

I last ate two hours ago at a Providence Dunks. Bagel. Whole grain. No spread. Been guzzling electrolytes like a- do fish drink electrolytes? It is way too soon for these thoughts.

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What Real Running Looks Like: 700 Miles For A Cause

What Real Running Looks Like: 700 Miles For A Cause | MyLeftOneI’ve been on the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park. I even hiked it. It’s just over four miles up and back.

I’ve also been to Washington, DC, and did plenty of walking around. Probably 3 whole miles.

What I’ve never done is run the 700+ miles between these two places. If I were to try, I’d give myself a few months, maybe a year.

Gary Allen will run that whole distance in two weeks. Starting on January 7, he will leave the summit of Cadillac Mountain at 6AM. He will cover 50 miles a day, until reaching Washington, DC just in time for the Presidential inauguration on the 21st.

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Being The Lightning Rod: When A Social Media Disaster Strikes Unfairly

Have you seen a more egregious example of unfairness than this?

Facebook | The ING New York City Marathon

During Hurricane Sandy, aka #frankenstorm, some Good, Bad, and Ugly things happened on social networks. There were fake tweets about flooding at the NYSE, and of course the American Apparel #SandySale fiasco (WTF were they thinking?).

But the New York Road Runners, the running community and ING bank can hardly be blamed for the devastation wrought by the superstorm, yet the social backlash against the New York marathon dwarfs all the venom ever spent against McDonalds for #McDStories, Kenneth Cole for using the Cairo uprising to sell clothes or KFC Thailand for suggesting that a deadly earthquake was caused by people buying chicken.

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Marathons, The Wall, and Smart Strategy

Marathons, The Wall, and Smart StrategyI need a watch.

I learned that during the Maine Marathon, where I actually had a ‘strategy’, but having a poor one is really no strategy at all. My strategy? Just go as fast as I can until the wheels fall off, or I hit the finish line, whichever comes first.

The wall.

Did I mention that when doing that in a marathon the ‘wheels falling off’ comes first, for pretty much everybody?

Unless they have a smart strategy. And a lot of marathoners do (and I guess I’m a marathoner now, btw, I think, I kinda feel comfortable saying that, at least for this year). The human body is science, and the science is way more true than most people think. If you move this way, muscles will respond that way. If you eat this, that will happen. That means a smart strategy is similar for most people running 26.2 miles.

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