Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Journey Back

"Oh, how far I have fallen!"

That's what I told my wife a few minutes ago when I returned from a one-mile bike ride.  Yes.  That is not a typo.  I meant to say:  "One-Mile."

You see, as I sit here, my legs feel a little like limp spaghetti.  I got a bit winded.  I even got a touch sweaty in the 60-degree air.  I just rode to the end of the road and back!  All I can think now is WOW!

Let's scroll back four years.  It was mid-September 2009.  I'd been training all summer, and I'd successfully completed a 108-mile single day ride.  I was in one of the best conditions of my life.  I was feeling great!

Then, I tore my right achilles tendon.

Folks, that injury takes a long time to heal...period.  After surgery, and weeks in a cast and on crutches, I had lost ALL strength in that leg.  It took months and months to gain any semblance of it back.  Then, the left achilles tendon started acting up.  It never tore, but it got very sore and tight which made me very afraid to put much pressure on it.  Weakness and fear led to inactivity.  Inactivity led to gained weight.  Gained weight and inactivity has led to additional weakness.  I've gotten to the point that I just don't feel good physically in almost any respect. 

It is a terrible spiral.

Finally, this last fall, I decided to break the cycle.  I saw a surgeon (Dr. Wendy Winkelbach) at the Southside Foot Clinic in Greenwood, Indiana, and I asked her if there was something we could do BEFORE my left achilles tore to fix the problem.  After some discussions and an MRI, she said that she could in fact take some preemptive measures to loosen up the tendon by lengthening it.  I had that procedure at the end of December, and now I'm ready to begin the journey back to fitness and health.  I am ready to once again become a cyclist.

Today, I picked a new bike at BGI-Indy.  A new Trek flatbar bike that I plan to use in my climb back to health.  It is my short-ride bike, and will be my primary bike until I can get my distance back up to ten miles or more.  And, my goal is to build myself back up to the point that I could attempt a 50-miler by September of this coming fall.

Each journey begins with a single step.  Or, in my case a one-mile bike ride.  I've got to start slow and cautiously; being careful and thoughtful in the process.  I'm the tortoise, but I plan to use this summer to morph back into the hare. 

And the journey begins.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Muncie Boyhood-Procrastination and the Term Paper

I’ve grown to the point in my life where I take the process of writing something sort of for granted.  Further, the actual act of typing is now second nature.  That wasn’t always the case…especially during my senior year at Muncie Southside High School.

As a senior in the graduating class of 1980 who was taking some college-prep classes, I signed up for a Term Paper Writing class.  Ruth Hillman’s class was designed to teach us how to properly research, prepare, and write a term paper once we were actually in college.  Instead, it just scared the living…uh…stuff out of me.

Overall, the process wasn’t all that bad except for two significant problems that became very apparent over the course of time.  The first is a problem I’ve struggled with all my life:  procrastination.  In high school, I would always put off homework assignments to the last possible moment, and then I’d cram it like crazy and get it done in time to turn it in.  Overall, it worked for me.  I was a solid “B” student.  But, sometimes it was a really tight situation and I barely got things done.  That was never more true than the deadline for the turning in of my final draft of my term paper.

It was only ten pages.  These days, I could knock out ten pages without too much sweat.  The problem back then was that those ten pages needed to be typed; a concept that I had not yet even remotely learned how to do.

My family didn’t even own a typewriter.  (Some of you are wondering what that even is…aren’t you?)

So, in light of the fact that I didn’t know how to type and we didn’t own a typewriter, I obviously planned way ahead, asked around for someone who could type, and gave them plenty of time to do the job for me…for pay. 



Instead, my two issues converged.  I couldn’t type…and I procrastinated.  So, the DAY BEFORE the paper was due, I went in search of a typewriter to borrow.  I figured I could “hunt and peck” my way through.  I had no idea how complicated it could be to add footnotes and bibliographies on top of the normal writing/typing process.  My ignorance was nearly my undoing, and I had to do well on that final draft to end up with a good grade.  A good grade in this class was pretty important.  Way too much was riding on this thing.  I had to find a way!

Enter the hero of my senior year term paper class project:  Delores Huffman.

She was the secretary at the Fairlawn Church of Christ, which at the time was located at the corner of 13th and Monroe streets in Muncie.  I was a member there and an active part of their youth group.  After school at about 3pm, I made my way to the church office.  My hope was that she would let me use the office typewriter to do my project.  Keep in mind, I had no idea how to use a typewriter or any of the tools (carbon paper, correction fluid, etc.) that went along with it.

She said, “No, but I’ll type it for you.”

“Are you sure,” I asked.  “Really?”

“Sure,” she answered.  “I’ll help you out.”

So, she typed…and typed…and typed...and typed.  I had to explain the detailed formatting along the way…and that was coming from someone who didn’t really understand formatting yet.  Spacing.  Footnotes. Indentations.  I think we got done (she was typing, I was keeping her company) sometime between 10pm and 11pm that night.  I could not believe what an ordeal it was, and I was soooooo happy she had agreed to help me out, because if it took her that long, and she knew how to type, then it would have taken me all night…literally...and I still would have failed.

The next day, I walked proudly into Mrs. Hillman’s Term Paper class and handed in my 10-page paper on “The Life of Jesus and the Way His Disciples Should Live.” -- an odd title and subject for an 18 year old boy in a public high school.  And, thanks to Delores' help, I got an "A."  At least that's how I remember it.  (I should dig that thing out again and read it.  I’m pretty sure I found it in some of my mom’s stuff and still have it around somewhere.)

The interesting thing that I missed at the time, and just in the writing of this story have realized was that I may have written a lame paper on how a disciple of Jesus should live, but Delores actually showed me.  I came to her with a desperate situation and no real hope of successfully completing that project, and she cheerfully sacrificed whatever else she was planning to do in order to stay in her office way past her time to go home so she could save my skin.  She could have just said no and went home.  Or, she could have given me the chair and left me to my own devices with that crazy contraption of mechanical letters.  But, she didn’t.  Instead, she stayed, and she typed.  That was a better testament to how a disciple of Jesus should live than any silly paper I could have written.

Anyway, you might think that after that experience I would have entered college confident of my ability to write a term paper, and committed to never procrastinate again.  You would be wrong.

In the fall of 1980, I entered Williamstown Bible College.  I spent two years there and exited with an Associate Degree.  And….I never wrote one single term paper.  Oh, they were assigned.  Nearly every class had one due.  I just never completed, nor attempted to complete one single paper.  That high school experience actually caused me to be so intimidated by the process that I skirted the whole issue.  Rather, I figured out that I could still pass all of those classes without writing the paper if I aced everything else.  So, that’s what I did.  I got top marks in every assignment leading up to the final paper, then skipped it.  I ended up a “C” student, but I passed every class without the paper.

Oh, and I promise you that I’m going to deal with that procrastination problem.  Tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Muncie Boyhood-Curiosity, the Candle and the Curtains

One of my favorite things to do in my formative years in Muncie was to burn the trash.  “What?”  You may ask.  “You didn’t wrap everything up in fancy Glad Bags and put them in fancy plastic garbage bins so that the high tech dump trucks can just pick them up and dump them?”


My dad had an elaborate garbage and trash system.  There were three containers in our kitchen: 

1.        A fully-opened paper ½ gallon milk carton for slimy, greasy, wet garbage.  This sat on the counter to the left of the kitchen sink, and you just scraped stuff into it as you cleaned off your plate.  We didn’t have a garbage disposal, so anything that today would go into that contraption would in those days go into the carton.  The thing caught everything from egg shells to bacon grease.  When the carton was full, the flaps would be folded back to a closed position and it was placed in the second container.

2.       A paper grocery sack that sat on the floor of the kitchen under the window in front of the refrigerator was the second level of the system.  This container caught all of the non-slimy, non-greasy trash that could not be burned, things like metal cans or glass containers that couldn’t be redeemed for money.  When the sack was near full, it got rolled closed and carried out to the steel garbage cans in the garage.  They were eventually put out on trash day beside the alley and a big truck with a couple of guys hanging off the rear would come by and empty them out.  Glad style bags existed back then, but my dad was too frugal to let mom buy them.  She would come home with multiple paper sacks from Ross Grocery or Wise Supermarket anyway, so she would just save them for this secondary duty.

3.     We had a kitchen trash basket that was positioned just beside the grocery sack.  Into this bin was placed anything that could burn, but primarily paper.

In my neighborhood, most folks had a place where they burned trashed.  It was common practice.  City ordinances forbid such things today, but back then….well,….it’s just what was done.  Cecil French had the best one in the neighborhood.  It was built up with concrete blocks, had a system for air intake, and the ash could be shoveled out when need be.  My dad, on the other hand, had the simplest.  It was an old oil drum with the top removed and some holes cut in the sides.

Our trash-burner drum was located on a tiny little strip of ground between our driveway and the alley that ran behind our house.  I would drag the kitchen container out there about once a week with a few matches or maybe someone’s cigarette lighter and burn the trash.  No big deal and not all that dangerous….unless….

Unless I decided to give the fire a little boost with the gasoline that my dad kept for the mower just inside the garage.  I’ve got to tell you, sometimes I think it is a wonder I survived my childhood.

I don’t think you could call me a pyromaniac.  I’ve never burned down a building or anything more substantial than trash or some brush.  My cousin Greg used to build these elaborate “houses” out of boxes and cardboard just so he could burn them.  I never got into that.  But, fire did sort of intrigue me.  Call it science.  Call it curiosity.  Call it stupidity.

I enjoyed small experiments.

I liked to augment the trash fire with different materials….rubber (makes noxious black smoke) or plastic (makes noxious, but colorful smoke).  I liked to see if I could get the fire going again when it was almost out.  Stuff like that.

The experiment that scared me the most though, didn’t involve the trash barrel.  Nope.  In this case, it was a simple candle.

My mom had some little candles in glass bowls.  The openings at the top curled in so that the bowl was wider than the opening.  The wick was about halfway down the bowl.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  Anyway, I had one of those in my bedroom, and I used to “mess” with it.  Light it.  Blow it out.  Light it.  Suffocate it.  Relight it.  See if I could suffocate it until it was almost out, but then give it the air back again just in time to revive it.  The trouble wasn’t this game.  The trouble was the tool I was using to suffocate the candle.

I was using my bedroom curtains.

You are saying something else right now.  You are saying:  “Was he nuts?”

You are right to ask that question.  I ask myself that every time I think about this story.  I think I'll plead temporary insanity.

Anyway, what I would do was light the candle, and then lay the curtain over the top of the candle bowl and watch the flame die down inside until it was just about gone, and then pull the curtain back to see the flame jump back to life.  I did this several times with no incidents….until one time I noticed that as the curtain lay over the bowl, its white color was turning black and a little tiny bit of smoke was rising from the material.

“Crap!” I said in a hushed scream!  And, I pulled the curtain free!

I was lucky.  It didn’t actually catch fire.  But, I think I was VERY close to catching my folks’ house on fire.   Another couple of seconds and this story would have had a very different ending.  That close call put an end to my fire games and experiments.  As I’ve said before in this series, it was one more thing that I never did again.
Curiosity almost burned down my parents' house.  I don't play with fire anymore, but if there is anything that causes me more grief in my life than anything else, it is my curiosity.  I have an intense amount of it, and it is a blessing in some ways, and a definite curse in others.